Tag Archive | education

Twelve Conclusions From Reading Paul’s Epistles in Full

Hypatia of Alexandria - SmithsonianToday I read all of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament from start to finish, something I never did when I was a Christian. No, I haven’t “seen the error of my ways” and converted back to that religion.  Rather this is part of my ongoing research into the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria, the gifted astronomer and philosopher murdered in 415 CE by a mob of Christians in Alexandria.  I am seeking for the roots of her murder. Why was she considered a threat to the Christian community and why did that community believe it was morally justifiable to murder her so viciously when Exodus 20:13 is so explicit on the matter?

My reading of the epistles is first and foremost looking for bias — a critical job for any historian.  Who was Paul? What did he believe? What biases and bigotries did he possess? Here are my opening conclusions and impressions from reading the epistles as a whole:

1) Paul genuinely had one or more visions that affected him profoundly.
2) Paul’s legalism from his time as a pharisee did not go away. He believes in the written “word of God” as he experienced it as a pharisee.
3) Paul believes God has inspired him to write down what God wants for everyone. Because it comes from God, it must absolutely be obeyed without question or intellectual scrutiny.
4) Paul did not believe in individual liberty.
5) Paul believed in absolute obedience to authority without question. Especially slaves must obey masters. Women must obey men. Neither groups are persons with their own human rights.
6) Philosophy (the educational systems of his time) is bad. It leads you away from God and into sexual perversions.
7) Anything that takes you away from his view of Truth and God is bad and must be avoided at all costs. That includes people who do not believe or live as you do (though Paul contradicts himself on this point at times, depending on the letter).
8) God made women and slaves inherently inferior.
9) Women are innately perverse, sinful, lusty creatures.
10) Women need men as masters in order to be saved from Satan and hell.
11) Women lack the innate morality to lead men, especially in religious matters.
12) Sex and sexual desire, especially for a woman’s pleasure or between two men is gravely sinful.
cross 3
The final point about sex is especially important. Paul spends probably more time on sex and sexual mores than any other specific topic he covers.  It is almost an obsession for him.
For example, 1 Timothy 5 verses 11 and 12 says, “11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.”

This theme continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he writes regarding all people, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”

Paul sees sexual pleasure as a perversion that keeps men (males) from holiness and living godly lives. Women, seducers that they are, must therefore be tightly controlled and silenced because they through their sexuality are Satan’s tools who will sabotage men at every turn.

The birth of Pandora

This belief that women are seducers and Paul’s incessant missives to control women, to keep them away from places of influence and power, may be at the core of why church leaders in Alexandria were able to ignore Exodus 20:13 and command Hypatia’s murder.

It was not the first time the Bible was used to kill an innocent.  It was not the last.  But perhaps we can chart a different future, one where religion is no longer the excuse for the inexcusable.  Perhaps then we shall have peace.

Language Switching and why I do it so much

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History biographies or period dramas, you have no doubt noticed that I tend to bounce around languages a great deal, sometimes at the expense of being directly understandable in a given point in the book.  So why do I do it and why will I not simply put the whole damn thing in English like normal people do?

In a word, PARALINGUISTICS.  Paralinguistics is a social science term for the parts of verbal communication that are not inherent in the meaning of the words we use.  Paralinguistics is the HOW of our speech: its melody, its pace, its inflection and so forth.  Dialect and specific word choice is also paralinguistic. It conveys to listeners a great deal of information about a person and in particular information about gender, ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, socio-economic class, even race sometimes.  Different places have different names for the same thing.

soda-pop

The labels we use for objects varies greatly with our geography and our dialect. A classic example of this is our word for a sweetened carbonated beverage.

One classic example I studied in university in my “non-verbal communication” class was the word we use to refer to a sweetened carbonated beverage. No, it is not the same word everywhere.  In the southern United States, the word “coke” is used to refer to such beverages, regardless of brand (I heard this myself during my stay in Louisville, Kentucky).  In many Midwestern states such as Nebraska where I was born and raised, the word is “pop.”  In New England the preferred word is “soda” which is the word I default to. In fact I often very purposely avoid the word “pop,” much to the annoyance of my now late mother who complained that I “didn’t talk like a Nebraskan.” That’s because I had so thoroughly adjusted my dialect to what is normal in the greater New York City metropolitan area that I no longer sounded like someone from the Midwest.

crawdad crayfish

Is it a crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish?  The word you use is largely determined by where you are from.

Beyond geography, our paralinguistics tell listeners a great deal about our socio-economic status and education.  A person with a third grade education talks differently than a person with a university degree.  A person who has traveled a great deal also talks differently from a person who has never left her own town or village. The languages one speaks is a powerful communicator of this information and how that person is perceived.  As a rule, speaking multiple languages is a mark of education, travel, and often class.  It tells you very concisely who that person is and what her or his background is.

No where is this more evident than in the use of honorifics.

What is an honorific?  It’s a word we use to convey respect to another person.  A classic example is when we address a judge “your honour” and a member of a royal family as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” In medieval societies it was especially important to show proper respect with these honorifics which include “your grace,” “my lord/milord,” “my lady/milady,” “my liege,” “sire,” “master,” “mistress,” and so forth.

Honorifics in the Legendary Women of World History biographies almost always follow the person’s nationality or adopted nationality.  So Princess Nest ferch Gruffydd respectfully greets King Gruffydd ap Cynan with the Welsh “f’arglwydd” which means “milord.” Use of “f’arglwydd” (or its feminine form “f’arglwyddes”) instantly tells you the speaker is Welsh. Likewise French Princess Catherine de Valois (book two) periodically speaks French, both to her family members and to the monolingual King Henry V, particularly during their many arguments.

When Matilda of England returns to London after the death of her husband, Kaiser Heinrich V, her persistent use of German and German forms of people’s names is there to tell you very concisely that she identifies herself as “empress” (German, Kaiserin; Latin, Imperatrix).  This is absolutely historical and it is a major reason why the Anglo-Norman nobility found her impossible to work with. Using German powerfully conveys how Matilda saw herself and how she insisted on being treated.

The use of language therefore tells you who the person is and how s/he self-identifies.  The actual meaning of the individual words is far less important than what the use of them says about the person as a whole and in the given moment.  Queen Elizabeth Tudor spoke at least six languages and therefore very fluently moved across them as she desired and the situation merited.  The immediate descendants of William the Conqueror spoke both English and French with the same fluency as many Canadians do today.  By necessity they used English, French, and Latin in the day-to-day administration of their vast realms.  Medieval Europeans prayed in Latin so all of the prayers found in the LWWH are in Latin as well.

Language switching in the Legendary Women of World History series is therefore essential in accurately communicating who these people were and the societies in which they lived.  It might be easier to render a prayer in English from a reader point of view, but it would not be historically accurate to do so. It might be more comfortable for some readers if all dialogue were in English, but doing so would strip out all of the paralinguistics that we all use everyday when communicating with other people.  It would be akin to writers universally using the word “coke” to refer to a soft drink without considering if that word is what a historical person or character would actually label the beverage.  A person from the southern United States most certainly would — but not all people in the United States are from the southern region nor are all English speakers from that region either.

 

Whether we realize it or not our word choices are an essential part of our daily communication.  More than simply which words we use, our dialects and use of borrowed words from other languages communicates a great deal about who we are to people.  Fluency in many languages is driven by many factors in our lives:  social, economic, educational, and professional to name just a few. How we speak is a major part of the tapestry of our lives.  Embrace that tapestry in your own life and use your understanding of it to enhance your understanding of other people.

 

 

 

Language switching and “Empress Matilda of England”

empress-matilda-of-england-full-cover

As Matilda prayed King Henry quietly slipped into the chapel, “You are still in mourning, Matilda.”

Matilda turned to him and bowed her head respectfully, “Mein König!”

“You are not empress and this is not Germany.”

“Ja, mein König.”

“Stop calling me that and speak English, Matilda,” growled King Henry sternly.

“Pourquoi?”

“Parce que je suis le roi d’Angleterre et vous êtes ma fille!”

“Oui, sa est ta fille, Henri,” confirmed Queen Adeliza as she strode out from behind one of the chapel’s many columns. Adeliza curtsied to Matilda, “Guten Morgen, meine Kaiserin. Fröhliche Weihnachten.”

“Fröhliche Weihnachten,” smiled Matilda before switching to English, “You must be my step-mother.”

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History Series, you are probably familiar with quick language switching from the above except from “Empress Matilda of England” that hallmarks the series. Historical persons speak many languages in the Legendary Women of World History, a reflection of their personal histories and the world around him. Speaking in one’s native tongue, at least occasionally, helps us remember who people are.  Language is a core part of our identity, our psychology, even when we are not conscious of it. Words carry not only their direct meaning, but a cultural subtext that literally alters how we think.  One of the many benefits of speaking multiple languages, at least partially, is the way each language forces us to work from a different point of view.

Chinese, for example, uses the same verb form regardless of singular, plural, or when something happened.  In Chinese things these are signaled through nearby words. For example 我说中文 means “I speak Chinese.” 说 is the verb “to speak.” 她们过说中文 means “they [female] used to speak Chinese. In spoken Chinese the words “he” and “she” are pronounced exactly the same. The ideas of “he” and “she” are contextual in Chinese. 她们过说中文 and 他们过说中文 sound exactly the same and in English are translated the same since English does not distinguish gender in the third person plural unlike French which does (ils sont verses elles sont).

Specific traits from our native language shape our view of the world. Gender is not immediately obvious in spoken Chinese (only in written Chinese) unlike many Western European languages where gender is instantly recognizable. Welsh often begins sentences with the direct object and puts the subject last. A famous example of that from Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd is my favourite line, “Cymraes dw i,” which means I am a Welsh woman. Cymraes means Welsh (person) in the feminine form (the masculine is Cymraeg which is the same word as you use for the Welsh language). Dw i means “I am.” Welsh often mutates. “Gymraeg” is the same word as “Cymraeg” and which one you use depends on context — and is one reason why the language is best learned in person with native Welsh speakers.

It is this massive role that language plays in our lives that requires the persons in the Legendary Women of World History series to occasionally speak a few words of her or his native tongue.  When Baron William Fitzgerald calls Matilda, “F’arglwyddes!” she and you along with her immediately know that William is Welsh. F’arglwyddes, if you haven’t guessed, means “Milady.” Incidentally “Fitz” in a name means “son of” and is the French equivalent of Welsh “ap” in a name.

Fortunately, most of the non-English in the LWWH can be figured out through context. Contextual reading is not usually the way Americans are taught to read, but it is critical skill to develop and one more reason why the LWWH make excellent texts for home schools. Contextual reading means you are working not only on the word level, but the sentence and paragraph level to discern meaning. In chapter one of Empress Matilda, I kick this up a notch in a single scene.

“Guten morgen. Sie müssen Matilda sein. Ich bin Heinrich, der römisch-deutsche Kaiser.” Smiling Emperor Heinrich looked into Matilda’s grey eyes, the blankness on her face making clear to him that she did not understand what he just said. Slowly Heinrich knelt beside her to meet her eyes, his voice soft and reassuring. “Ich werde dich nicht verletzen. Hab keine Angst. Ich bin derjenige, der dein Mann sein wird. Ich bin jetzt dein Kaiser und wenn du alt genug bist, wirst du meine Kaiserin.”

Here we are confused and meant to be confused. Matilda is eight years old and suddenly ripped from her home and family in London to be presented to Kaiser (Kaiser means “emperor” in German) Heinrich V to whom she is to be wed. Like most royal brides of the middle ages and early renaissance, she does not speak a word of her future husband’s language. Because we do not understand on a sentence level what he is saying to her, we share in her terror and confusion and in her relief when, soon after in the scene, the English ambassador steps forward and summarizes what Heinrich just said, telling her that this is the emperor to whom she is to be wed and conveying to her his reassurances that he means her no harm.

This is context on the scenic level which is the level that we operate on when in social situations. For example, a simple “Merry Christmas” can express completely different ideas and intentions depending on who we are speaking to, when, our tone of voice, and our histories with the person or persons we are saying it to.

This is the level you are sometimes asked to work on when reading Empress Matilda of England. This is a major reason why Matilda is for ages twelve and up; it requires a more advanced reading proficiency than the six previous books in the series.

Whether Empress Matilda of England becomes your next favourite book or not, it is my sincerest wish that you will never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop seeking to make tomorrow better than today. Let’s roar!

 

 

My gift to teachers: free LWWH books for your classroom

Education is very important to me.  Education is how we best combat violence, hatred, and hopelessness.  Learning is the key to problem solving, to living life deliberately instead of simply reacting to whatever problems come our way.  Learning is empowering.

 

Sadly changes in our educational systems too often focus on teaching to the test.  Gone are the days when teachers could tailor activities and studies to the individual needs and interests of each class, when development of critical thinking and creative problem solving skills infused each day’s lessons.

That’s where the Legendary Women of World History series comes in, filling in the gaps created by “No Child Left Behind” and similar measures to empower parents, students, and educators to make learning fun again and the study of history relevant to young people again.

Broadly available through retailers world wide in digital, paperback, and audio editions narrated by Richard Mann, I have decided that this work is so important it needs to be in every classroom in every school worldwide.

So here’s my offer:  I will provide a digital copy of any LWWH free of charge to any educator requesting it involved in teaching classrooms of six or more students. Simply fill out the form below and if I approve your request I will be in touch within 1-2 business days.

 

Fines not Jail Time — A Better Solution to America’s Incarceration Epidemic

Incarceration_rates_worldwideAmerica has an incarceration problem.  The United States has only 5% of the world population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.  Since 1972 the US prison population is overwhelmingly for non-violent crime, especially drug offences.   Most American prisoners are poor and non-white.  Enforcement is overwhelmingly higher among non-whites and sentences are stricter as well.  Recent statistics show that many states pay over $40,000 per prisoner per year to keep them in jail — that’s more than what many teachers are paid.

WI_Incarceration_rates_by_race_0The social consequences for incarceration are even higher.  Our tough stance on non violent crime has wrecked havoc on our communities and broadened the race divide.  What is worse:  given the poverty of most prisoners and the reduced employment opportunities to ex-convicts, there is far less incentive for most ex-cons to stay out of jail.  When life in jail is better than life outside of jail, it becomes understandable why so many choose to return to prison.

There has to be a better way.  I think there is.  Instead of sending non-violent offenders to prison, we FINE THEM.  Money talks.  Money motivates. Just think about how many people take care to follow traffic laws for fear of a speeding or parking ticket?  How many people will park in the correct spot because they don’t want the expense of their automobile being towed?  If we levied hefty fines instead of jail time on non-violent crime, we would save taxpayer money while increasing revenue through the fines themselves — once we close one critical loophole:  bankruptcy.

StudentLoanDebtMap440x281In the United States filing for bankruptcy will discharge your debts — including fines for breaking the law — but it WON’T purge your student loans.  This of course is completely backward.  Student loans need to be forgiven after ten years.  Period.  No one should die still owing student loans.  Twenty years after I graduated student loans, I still owe more than it costs to buy a house in my local area.  Yet if I failed to mention a box of crackers at customs returning to the USA from a trip to Canada, I could get out of my $10,000 fine just by declaring bankruptcy.

This is backwards.

So let’s reverse this.  Let’s increase fines on criminal offences.  Let’s punish with fines instead of jail time.  Let’s prevent bankruptcy from discharging debts owed to states for criminal offences (even parking tickets).  And at the same time, let’s forgive all student loans after ten years, including and especially for those who graduated university before 2005.  You shouldn’t be paying student loans while receiving medicare — but you should be paying back child support if you skip out of your obligations.

To make the system even more fair, let’s make fines follow income resources with the wealthiest paying the highest fines for the same offences.  Earn less than $20,000 a year and your parking ticket (as a simple example) is $25.  Earn $25 million a year and your parking ticket is $2500.

We need fines to work this way because at present the wealthiest Americans feel they are above the law.  Of course they are:  they have loopholes they can use to avoid taxes.  And if they receive the same fine for the same crime as someone making minimum wage, they have no deterrent.  What is $100 to a billionaire?  They spend more than that on lunch everyday.

We can make the system fairer.  We can bridge the gaps between us.  We can close loopholes and use the power of money to reduce crime.  And we can use that savings to fund education and forgive educational debt.

We can and must do better, forgiving educational debt while using monetary incentives instead of costly jail sentences to reduce crime.

Why some book series should be read in the order written

Goodbye 3D

Good-bye A672E92 Quintus is chronologically the first book in the Peers of Beinan Series. However it was actually written FOURTH of the six books.

I love a great book series.  From the JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon Series, I find it satisfying to stay within the same world, getting to know characters, places, and events intimately.  It’s one reason why serialized fiction is so popular and entertaining.

Like both my aforementioned literary mentors, I do not write in chronological order.  With the Legendary Women of World History series this makes sense:  each biography is a stand alone book.  The series designation signals consistency in theme and approach to historical data.  But the books themselves are not necessarily strongly connected (the exception:  Mary Queen of the Scots and Journey to Gloriana).

By contrast, the Peers of Beinan Series is much more traditional with the same cultural, historical, and environmental setting across the books.  The books were written in the following order:

  1. The Great Succession Crisis (along with its companion Data Files, now out of print).
  2. The First King
  3. The Ghosts of the Past
  4. Good-bye A672E92 Quintus (most editions integrate The First King into the text)
  5. The Poisoned Ground
  6. Princess Anyu Returns

This means that the bulk of the world building and explanations of the world building are achieved in The Great Succession Crisis and The Ghosts of the Past — much like George Lucas establishes his world building in Star Wars (A New Hope) and The Empire Strikes Back.  Viewers of Return of the Jedi and of the three prequel films are expected to know ideas like Jedi Knights and Sith Lords before viewing these films.

And so does the Peers of Beinan Series.  The result:  a chronological reading of the series as the first reading of the series is a little bit confusing.  Especially with the novellas (Good-bye A672E92 Quintus and The Poisoned Ground) I found myself not re-describing the wheel already built.  And, to risk sounding pompous, I honestly did not expect to need to do so.  These books are for young adults and adults, after all — not middle grade children like the biographies.  So I expect a higher level of education and deductive reasoning/critical thinking skills from Peers of Beinan Series readers than I do with the biographies.  After all, science fiction readers are some of the smartest and best educated of literary audiences.  As lovers of science fiction we expect our books to be factually accurate, imaginative, and thought-provoking.   We expect to be challenged intellectually and emotionally.  As a life-long science fiction fan, I wrote the books that I most want to read myself.

And so the series best makes sense when you read it in the order that I wrote it in with a chronological reading (such as you find in The Complete Series) best for the second and subsequent readings.  In that, I continue to follow the greats I love:  JRR Tolkien, Frank Herbert, George Lucas, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana,  J. Michael Straczynski, and Stan Lee.

Read these in the order I wrote them and i know you will love them too!

We Need to Free Teachers: How Micro-managing Teachers is Undermining American Education

Originally posted June 26th, 2012

 

Recently a 16 year old friend complained about spell check trying to insert an apostrophe in one of her contractions on facebook. Whenever I speak to her in facebook chat, I find her words are so filled with mis-spellings and incorrect grammar that I cannot understand her. When I try to speak to her about this, she ignores me (typical of a 16 year-old!).

Dismayed, I spoke to several public school teachers and university professors I know through both my education and facebook games. I asked them about what is happening in the classroom. Their answers revealed just how much has changed in public education over the last 20 years.

During my education in the 1980s and 1990s, teachers were trusted as the professionals they are, allowed to adjust their lessons to each class they were teaching, accelerating or slowing down the pace, providing enrichment activities that made learning fun, and above all else, free to do whatever they felt would be effective in empowering their students to think critically and apply lessons to the real world. Standardized tests were issued from time to time, but never focused upon. Instead, my teachers focused on making sure every student grasped every subject competently.

Things have changed. Since my high school graduation in 1990, governments on all levels have decided to supervise and micro-manage to levels unheard of in previous decades. Today’s professional educators no longer possess the freedom to adjust their lessons to specific classroom situations and specific student needs in order to maximize student learning. Instead THE TEST has taken over class room time to a degree I find barely plausible. Now, instead of engaging and challenging students, both teachers and students are frustrated and bored. More importantly, students are advancing to the next grade with few critical thinking or researching skills, no ability to apply the classroom to the rest of their lives, and little permanent knowledge.

This trend is so severe that university professors now have to dummy down their curricula. If this seems unimportant, then consider that our most sensitive professions require graduate degrees. Do you really want the doctor operating on you to graduate with less knowledge and competence than a physician educated in the 1980s? Do you want your lawyer to not know the law expertly?

All professions build upon the foundation our public school teachers provide across a person’s early life. We cannot afford for university professors to dummy down anything; doing so puts every aspect of our lives in danger.

It is time to reverse course in education and return the classroom to our dedicated education professionals. It is time trust our teachers to know their jobs. It is time to get government, even local government, out of the classroom and restore control to those best able to handle the responsibility of educating our youth: our classroom teachers. When we remove teacher control from their classes, we undermine our entire society. Let’s stop politicizing education and let teachers teach. Not the politically correct version of their subjects, but each subject taught to prepare each student for the high standards expected of them in university. We all deserve nothing less.