May 31, 2010

Our Son, God's Child

Just over a week after his first birthday (May 10), we found out that our second son Vincent has a cancerous tumor in his liver. While there's more than enough bad news to call this a full blown family crisis, there's not quite enough to rule out the possibility of a full recovery. The scenarios are seemingly infinite at this point, not unlike the range of emotions that accompany this sort of thing. If fear and anxiety are like mosquitoes, we're navigating a swamp full of standing water.

And yet, there is light flickering in the darkness. I had no idea it was possible to feel so shocked, devastated, afraid, thankful, hopeful and at peace- all in the same moment. I'm certain it has something to do with the multitude of friends and loved ones praying for us around the globe. I suspect it also has something to do with my soul being anchored in the resurrection power of a Messiah familiar with suffering, a risen King who is before all things and in Whom all things hold together (Col 1:17).

In the midst of preparing for the worst, hoping for the best and praying for a miracle, I've found comfort from an unlikely source: theology. Yup, it turns out that theology, that supposedly dry and dusty set of doctrinal propositions, makes all the difference in the world when a crisis hits. Whether you're aware of it or not, your concept of God will affect how you pray in the midst of chaos and suffering. What kind of triune Being is He? Is the Father ultimately near or detached from those in pain? Can the Holy Spirit be called upon to work miraculous healings in the 21st century or not? Will Jesus really come back someday to vanquish all injustice and disease? Do we live with the recognition that His blood on the cross has inaugurated a reign of peace in which He is reconciling all things to Himself- including things like liver cancer?

John Stott put it this way: "I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross... In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?"

May the supernatural, unfailing, parental love of God for Vincent be sufficient for all of us who long to see him healed.

NOTE: Please visit Vincent's CaringBrige website for the most recent updates on how his treatment is going as well as prayer requests, photos and much much more!

May 27, 2010

School Every Friday? Now There's a Smart Idea!

To the astonishment of 170,000+ kids and their parents, it appears that Hawaii's politicians and labor unions have consented to the unthinkable idea of keeping our schools open 5 days a week!

All sarcasm aside, I was glad to receive the following email yesterday from James Koshiba of Kanu Hawaii on the subject of Hawaii's K-12 students finally getting their lost school days reinstated for next year. Not only does he thoughtfully express the concerns shared by many of us who want to prevent a debacle like this from happening again, he also recaps how the school furlough standoff reached its conclusion in case you (like me) weren't keeping track of each twist and turn. For anyone with kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, friends with kids or yet-to-be-born kids who might possibly attend public school someday in our beautiful state (whether in 2010 or 2025- the year my firstborn will graduate), I recommend reading what James has to say:

Aloha Friends,

Nine months after contract negotiations first cut instructional days for keiki, and seven months after the first citizen rally at the Capitol, Furlough Fridays have finally come to an end.

At a press conference this afternoon, the Governor, the DOE Superintendent, Speaker of the House and Senate President announced the plan to end school furloughs – essentially the same plan that had been floated by many, including us, as early as October of last year. Here’s how the furloughs ended:

The Legislature passed a bill allocating $67 million from the hurricane relief fund to reduce furlough days. The Governor said today that she would release $57 million instead of the full amount. Teachers apparently agreed to convert six of their paid planning days to instructional days. A small amount of federal stimulus funds ($2.2 million) and a $10 million, zero interest line of credit from private banks will be used if there is a remaining shortfall next school year.

We should take a moment to celebrate the fact that keiki will get a full school year next year.

Then, we should ask some hard questions about why it took so long to come up with a solution that is essentially the same as one proposed last Fall – a plan that, if adopted earlier, could have restored instruction for students this year, and left legislators, the Governor, the DOE and the teachers’ union time to come up with creative solutions for next year (or, at the very least, spread remaining furlough days across two years instead of concentrating lost learning). We should also ask some pointed questions of our leaders and ourselves:

What responsibility to the public do public unions bear during an economic and fiscal crisis? Did our unions’ actions help or hurt the public? Did it help or hurt the teaching profession?

What is the role of the Governor in negotiations? When parents and the public ask for a hearing with the chief executive, what is the appropriate response?

What was the proper thing for the Legislature to do? Did they act with the appropriate speed, thought, and resources? Did their actions encourage or discourage citizen participation?

Why wasn’t there more parent and community participation in the efforts to end school furloughs?

We should not ask these questions in a spirit of bitterness or blame (though righteous outrage shouldn’t be discouraged, either). Rather, we should ask to sharpen our understanding of what fundamental changes are needed to prevent something like this from ever happening again. And we should ask one final, important question of ourselves: What now?

Back in October, we wrote: “Getting 17 days back would be a real victory and good step. But, it's a step that only gets our kids back to where they were – behind other kids who are learning more elsewhere. We must channel the outrage about Furlough Fridays into a more sustained and organized effort to change our school system and support it with parent and community energy.”

That remains our charge today. For those willing to take it up, here’s a way to start:

The new Superintendent and many educational leaders are crafting a framework for reform. The framework is inspired, in part, by the federal Race to the Top program. Here are some essential elements that we may require citizen support:

  • Teachers and principals should be evaluated on a regular basis. Employment incentives (tenure, advancement, salary) should be based on performance, including student outcomes, parent surveys, peer reviews, and other metrics – rather than simple seniority.
  • We should invest in the collection and sharing of actionable data about students and their learning outcomes – data that can help inform planning for schools, parents, and the DOE.
  • Parents should be actively involved in education – supporting classroom learning at home, supporting teachers and schools through volunteerism, participating actively in parent-teacher dialogues, and advocating for their kids’ interests (at the school-level and higher levels of policy making).

There are more elements of the reform platform. We should get familiar with them. At the most basic level, though, it’s about shifting a pervasive mindset of low expectations to one of high expectations all around. Teachers should have high expectations of all students; they should believe that all students can achieve. Parents should have high expectations for every school and every teacher; they should insist that their schools and teachers be excellent. Teachers should expect much of parents in the home and at school; they should expect that parents are active supporters of learning. We should all expect more of our legislators, our BOE, our DOE, our unions, and our Governor.

Expecting excellence from each other doesn’t mean we have to be jerks – instead, it calls on all of us to be “critical friends,” acknowledging that we each have a role to play in education, and insisting that each puts forth our best effort for the sake of our keiki, speaking hard truths when someone isn’t pulling their weight.

Mahalo to all of you for doing your part to bring this crisis to a conclusion. Now, it's time to direct our energy to the hard work ahead.

Creating a system of education that calls on the best in all of us – parents, teachers, principals, and adult friends of children -- to shape an education that Hawaii's children deserve.

With aloha,


May 18, 2010

Emotional Men & Rational Women

Here's something I recently read in Jim and Sarah Sumner's book, Just How Married Do You Want to Be? (IVP, 2008):
Christians have to be careful not to buy into the paradigms of the world. It's the world that says that men, being masculine, are rational and women, being feminine, are emotional. The Bible doesn't say that at all. It flies in the face of Scripture to say that men are not emotional- because that would make them incapable of rejoicing in the Lord or mimicking Christ's anger or grieving about sin with the Holy Spirit. It likewise flies in the face of Scripture to say that women are not rational- because that would make them incapable of following the commandments to renew their minds and meditate on Scripture and take every thought captive to Christ. According to the Bible, men and women alike are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27); thus both are emotional and rational.