What we might learn about education and opportunity from Joe Wright

JosephWright Humphrey Carpenter describes Joseph Wright (October 31, 1855-February 27, 1930), J. R. R. Tolkien’s most influential college professor:

Joe Wright was a Yorkshireman, a truly self-made man who had worked his way up from the humblest origins to become Professor of Comparative Philology. He had been employed in a woollen-mill from the age of six, and at first this gave him no chance to learn to read and write. But by the time he was fifteen he was jealous of his workmates who could understand the newspapers, so he taught himself his letters. This did not take very long and only increased his desire to learn, so he went to night-school and studied French and German. He also taught himself Latin and mathematics, sitting over his books until two in the morning and wirsing again at five to set out for work. By the time he was eighteen he felt that it was his duty to pass on his knowledge to others, so he began a night-school in the bedroom of his widowed mother’s cottage, charging his workmates twopence a week for tuition. When he was twenty-one he decided to use his savings to finance a term’s study at a German university, so he took a boat to Antwerp and walked stage by stage to Heidelberg, where he became interested in philology. So this former mill-hand studied Saskrit, Gothic, Old Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old English, eventually taking a doctorate. Returning to England he established himself in Oxford where he was soon appointed Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology. He could afford the lease of a small house in Norham Road, where he engaged a housekeeper. He lived with the native economy of a true Yorkshireman: he used to drink beer which he bought in a small barrel, but he thought that it went too quickly, so he arranged with Sarah the housedeeper that she should buy it and he should pay for each glass as he consumed it. He continued to work without ceasing, beginning to write a series of language primers, among which was the Gothic book that proved such a revelation to Tolkien…

Obviously, Wright was a genius (though it is not clear that anyone would have known that before he started teaching himself to read a newspaper at the age of fifteen). It is not possible to use Wright as an example of the success that everyone can have. I have no intention of doing so.

But what about an illiterate learning to read his native language as a teenager if he wants to? I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible for a normal or even a slightly below-average individual.

Whenever I hear people talking about the importance of “education” (i.e. childhood and teen schooling) I think about Joe Wright. What are we telling people when we pump out government messages about staying in school? Are we pushing success? In some cases undoubtedly we are. But we are also saying something else: If you can’t make it in school or if you graduate without acquiring basic skills you are done for. You have no chance.

I think this is a self-fulfilling deception. The majority of forces that keep a person from succeeding are 1) his belief that what he is told is right, that he has no chance, and 2) the fact that a diploma (at whatever level) functions as a license to get a job. I don’t want to fix #2 by outlawing it. But I don’t want my tax dollars used to perpetuate the idea either. If we would get rid of minimum wage laws and other barbaric regulations that punish people for paying other people to do work, then alternative paths to productivity would not be barred. People without the piece of paper could prove themselves in other way to employers.

The entire idea of schooling and education needs to be rethought. In the nineteenth-century education was valued and people would go to school when they could… and they would stop and work to help support their families as well. Under that regime of freedom, the US as an economy and culture did not stagnate but grew tremendously.

We act like this bureaucratic, tax-fed, legally-constructed road we have created is some kind of universal path to prosperity. It isn’t. We need to kick over the fences.

Applying this idea to just one problem, I constantly hear that some zip codes are ruled by horrifying public schools where graduates are not even literate. I hear from the same sources in the same context that the drop-out rate is a scandal.

No. Willingly attending a useless dead-end skinner box ruled by bell signals for moving into the next room is the scandal. No one should put up with it.

Preaching to those “drop-outs” that their lives are now doomed is crocodile tears. Their lives don’t have to be doomed. Stop trying to doom them. Point out the value of education and encourage them to find both jobs and means of learning to better themselves.

I do worry about one potential pitfall in what I am saying. Telling a person that they can still succeed in the future can lead a people to think they don’t need to work hard “yet.” Obviously, that is a foolish attitude. That kind of attitude is addictive with the “success” always staying in the future. I don’t mean to encourage such sloth in any way.


Dr. Robert L. Reymond, R. I. P.

robertreymondMy first seminary course was at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I got to participate with Dr. Reymond in a radio program he hosted in which he taught Habakkuk and promoted the seminary (I had a very small role in the program but I got to listen to him). However, my main memory of Dr. Reymond was the first sermon he preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church where I was a member.

Jennifer and I were not dating yet, but I seem to remember sitting near her that Sunday. Maybe that’s an impression left over from us discussing it at work (she was my immediate supervisor at Coral Ridge Ministries; let the wisecracks begin). Whatever: I remember we both really were transfixed and enthusiastic about his preaching.

I found another version of the sermon on Sermon Audio: “Our Man On Top of the Hill.”
He preached this version when he was 43, which I think means it was done earlier than the version I heard at Coral Ridge.

I listened to it and really appreciated his words. I don’t remember some of the things he mentioned, either because this version is different or because remembering a sermon from 1991 is probably above my pay grade. But it was good and edifying.

I don’t know if I ever told him how much I appreciated the sermon. But that doesn’t matter now. He’s hearing about what a great job he did from someone a lot more important than me.

Rest in peace, Dr. Reymond.


No, if the government was the “single payer” for food, the price wouldn’t go down

printing-moneyJohn Green posted an educational “rant” about health care costs in the US:

He says some interesting and true things in pointing out the difference in price between what Americans pay for healthcare and what people in other countries pay. He also did a gratifying job of knocking down some simplistic explanations for that discrepancy.

In my opinion, he does not satisfactorily address the possibility of differences in quality. If I have to wait two years for a hip replacement in one country, and can get it in a week in another country, that datum must be accounted for. But I am not arguing for that explanation for the difference in price. I’m just mentioning that I wish he had addressed it more thoroughly.

Green’s real problem is six minute in. Supposedly, other countries keep health costs down by taking bids from manufacturers and only giving the contract to the lowest bidder. According to Green, the government has more negotiating power than individual consumers and only the government can get corporations to really offer low prices because they want the government contract to provide a good or service to the everyone in the entire nation that needs that service.

But why shouldn’t the government take national supply bids on everything and thus provide consumers with goods and services at a lower price then they can ever get for themselves? (Side note: don’t people hate Walmart for allegedly doing something like this? Does the government sanctify the action?) According to Green, the alleged inability of consumers to get a lower price is due to “inelastic demand.” Because the person needing the hip replacement really needs it and cannot live without it, the corporation can charge him more.

John Green’s reasoning cannot be right.

Go to any grocery store. Food is necessary. It is more continually necessary than medicine. As Megan McArdle writes:

Food and water are far more vital than health care, let alone higher education, which the human race managed to do without for a few hundred thousands of years. You can go quite a while without blood pressure medication or even insulin — much longer than most people could go without fuel for heating or cooking. Clothing and some sort of shelter would also rank higher on the list of imminent necessities than health care and education. Yet none of these goods displays health care and education’s pattern of above-inflation cost increases. It’s true that demand for education and health care is what economists call inelastic — meaning that the demand doesn’t decrease very much even when the price rises — but that doesn’t explain why the prices of these two inelastic services, and no others, has risen faster than inflation for decades.

You will notice that McArdle is responding to someone who is attempting to explain both why health care costs in the US and also why education costs so much. I’d be interested in what John Green thinks of this argument since Green gets so eloquent about how badly health care is needed. He certainly can’t claim that education rises to that level.

But that’s the point: treating the cost of health care as a single problem in the American economy is a fundamental error. Historically, we have more than one industry that is or was characterized by prices rising faster than inflation. Housing was one until the country could no longer take it. Education is another one. Perhaps energy/utility costs are another one.

The problem is not in the health care industry. The problem is the Federal Reserve and corrupt monetary policy (to be redundant). The American financial “system” produces booms and busts. Some, like housing, expanded and then contracted relatively recently. Others might have started earlier and yet not collapsed yet.

If you run ten times the allowable amount of water pressure to run through a hose, the hose will spring leaks. Each one of those leaks might be explained as a weakness in the hose, something that allowed water to flow at that point. But the weaknesses in the hose are not really an explanation of why the hose leaked. It leaked because there was too much water going through it.

Likewise, there are reasons why price inflation is hitting the health care industry and not groceries, but those reasons are not “why” we pay more. We pay more because of the Federal Reserve’s manipulations. We have a bubblicious economy. That is where people should focus their attention if they want to see prices get reasonable.


The cry for American world “leadership” shows us that C. S. Lewis was right about punishment – Kuyperian Commentary

One of my favorite essays by C. S. Lewis is his piece collected in God in the Dock on “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” You can read it in the internet graveyard here (by “graveyard” I mean Angelfire; my older readers will understand). Lewis viewed himself as defending the traditional view of punishment–people were punished if and when and to the extent that they deserved to be punished. Lewis’ view leaves me with questions about the history of punishment in Christian lands, but I think his basic thesis holds up.

READ THE REST: The cry for American world “leadership” shows us that C. S. Lewis was right about punishment – Kuyperian Commentary.

Victor Davis Hanson and I remember Saruman differently

saruman orcHe writes:

So what to make of Putin?

He is Tolkien’s melodious and fatherly Saruman come alive.

Hanson is not wrong about Tolkien’s fictional character, but I had forgotten that aspect of Saruman–his “melodious” persuasiveness. Frankly, I don’t think Putin is charismatic enough to qualify.

When I think of Saruman, what first comes to mind is Saruman and his orcs. He used them and bred them to wage his wars.

I’ve been thinking of Saruman a great deal lately because his strategy of conquest seems so familiar to what I see, not in Putin, but in US policy. We flooded Libya with orcs and gave them air support bombed their enemies. They  murdered many sub-Saharan Africans and flew black flags over the conquered towns. Later, at a time when they escaped Saruman’s grip, they killed our ambassador and others in Benghazi.

Now we are using them to overrun Syria so they can rape Christians and burn down churches and overthrow a secular dictatorship in order to replace it with an Islamist nightmare.

As far as the “melodious” aspect of Saruman is concerned, that would be the pseudo-conservative writers and speakers who are doing all they can to prevent an anti-war, anti-establishment movement from growing and to turn it into a partisan anti-Democrat-Party, pro-GOP movement that will froth at the mouth when the next Republican President attacks another nation.

mccain Syrian terrorists

Worship: The Time & Place of Personal Integration – Kuyperian Commentary

One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous descriptions of the church involves an individual human body:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)

One could easily think that Paul is arguing from the premise that every human person is a unified body. In a biological sense that seems self-evident. But the Bible can speak of people as driven or controlled by various body parts. Paul must be arguing here from the ideal human person–the one who has matured. Paul himself is a large part of the Scriptural witness that affirms that human beings are often bodies in which the parts are at war with one another.

READ THE REST: Worship: The Time & Place of Personal Integration – Kuyperian Commentary.

Jesus is coming soon if, by “soon,” you mean no sooner than 100,000 years in the future – Kuyperian Commentary

I was getting my hair cut the other day by someone other than my wife, for a change. As a result I got exposed to Christian culture outside my own personal sociological safe room. I am ashamed to say how seldom this happens. Of course, by not “getting out more” I help other Christians form their own little bubbles of idiosyncratic belief and theological naivete.

But not this time. The barber learned, as he cut my hair, that I was a seminary graduate and had pastored in a number of places around the country. So, as he finished up shaving the back of my neck, he let loose with his camaraderie question: “Before I let you go, I have to ask you: Do you think the Lord is coming back soon!”

The sound of his voice alerted me this was, in his mind, a rhetorical question. We were supposed to share in the joy of the soon return of Jesus to earth.

READ THE REST: Jesus is coming soon if, by “soon,” you mean no sooner than 100,000 years in the future – Kuyperian Commentary.

“It didn’t happen and we are not able to comment on what happened.”

The American ambassador to London has been forced to retract his categorical denial that the US had sent any terrorism suspects to Syria, a country that routinely practises torture.

It was the second embarrassment for Robert Tuttle, a millionaire car dealer and art collector, who last month vehemently denied that US forces had used white phosphorus as a weapon – only to be contradicted by the Pentagon a day later.

Mr Tuttle’s latest mishap came during a radio interview in which he defended America’s controversial policy of “extraordinary rendition” – secret operations to capture and move terrorist suspects to US custody.

It is alleged that America has secret prisons in eastern Europe.

Asked about suspects being “dumped” in Syria, Mr Tuttle told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think there is any evidence that there have been any renditions carried out in the country of Syria. There is no evidence of that. I think we have to take what the Secretary [Condoleezza Rice] says at face value.

“It is something very important. It is done very carefully and she has said we do not authorise, condone torture in any way, shape or form.”

The interview was recorded last Thursday and broadcast yesterday. But on Friday the US embassy sent a clarification that was broadcast at the end of the interview.

The statement said: “The ambassador recognised that there had been a media report of a rendition to Syria but reiterated that the United States is not in a position to comment on specific allegations of intelligence activities that appear in the press.”

via US ambassador corrects slip-up over sending suspects to Syria – Telegraph.

Another point: If only Assad were as civilized as us and used white phosphorous instead of (pick one: saran gas/chlorine ?).

Recent Memory: When we valued Assad precisely for his cruelty

When memos surfaced this year showing top Justice Department lawyers trying to justify torture, Attorney General John Ashcroft moved quickly to stake out the moral high ground.

“This administration rejects torture,” Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I condemn torture.”

Maher Arar, 34, however, doesn’t buy it. For 10 months and 10 days, Arar was in a Syrian prison, where he says he was beaten and confined to a cell not much bigger than a coffin.

Arar was picked up by U.S. authorities at Kennedy International Airport in New York, accused of being a terrorist and then shipped on Justice Department orders to Syria under a secret policy known as rendition.

READ THE REST: The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Man blames U.S. for Syrian torture.

If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why: – Kuyperian Commentary

Let me start with a brief story about a society in which some people had slaves and attempted to use those slaves for income:

David thought the interview had gone well so far. Huxley Industries needed a slave to answer phones, keep records, and do other office work. David needed some better income and he had a slave to rent. His slave could easily do the jobs that they needed to be done.

“So can your slave be here by 7:30 am every weekday morning?”

David’s heart lurched. “You start that early?”

Well, we need him ready to go before others come to work. We found this position works better if he starts a half hour earlier.”

READ THE REST: If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why: – Kuyperian Commentary.