Friday, October 11, 2013

Prayer in Schools - just thinkin' ....

     In an 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of Church and State.” He used it to explain his conviction that the first amendment to the Constitution was meant to “restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties;” that there should not be an established church by the State, but that all citizens should have religious freedom in this nation.
      His was a time of forced tithing to the Anglican church, with its doctrines carrying the essential force of law. Because Jefferson was tolerant of all religions, he was attacked as atheist, just as Socrates was called “that atheist who only believes in one god.”
      The phrase, “separation of Church and State,” has been held as a banner by both sides of the prayer issue. The issue, actually, is moot.
     There is no prohibition on prayer in schools.
     What there is, however, is a prohibition of an adult authority figure, whose salary is paid by public funds, to initiate a group prayer activity toward impressionable youth who are heavily influenced by peer pressures.
     Those who contend that prayer is “forbidden” are actually upset that “their” prayer is forbidden. The Gallup and Lindsay poll of 1999 indicating that 2/3 of the population supports an amendment that would permit prayer in school shows how effective that campaign has been to give the perception that prayer is somehow presently disallowed.
      I grew up in a time of public school, teacher-lead prayer over our mid-session Kindergarten snack of dubious nutritional value.
     The rote repetition of “GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankHimforourfoodamen” meant nothing to me, and its court mandated absence in 1962 also meant nothing. I only recall asking my teacher about the word “amen,” thinking it should be “a man” or “the men” and being told it was time for my nap.

Language as a function of culture

(trimmed from an assigned essay for an MCTE program at FSU, ca. 2002, discussing whether "ebonics" was a language or a dialect...)

      At its most basic, language signifies “any sound utter’d by an animal, by which it expresses any of its passions, sensations, or affections. The amorous pigeon does not trust solely to his plaintive cooing in order to soften the rigour of his reluctant mate, but adds to it the most submissive and expressive gestures.”(Encyclopoedia Brittanica, 1771)
      The definition of two centuries past correlates well with the concepts with which we regard language among societies and civilizations today. Language both represents and reflects many aspects of a culture, and it can be seen as a sign of unity among members of a particular culture group. It can be analyzed—in terms of vocabulary and structure—for clues about the values and beliefs of a culture group. When communicated in writing, language can also become a visible marker that provides a way of tracing the history of a culture. Language also includes the non-spoken expression and gesture, with a wiggled eyebrow or smile adding depth of meaning beyond the uttered word.
      Language may represent a means of stereotyping one group or another. It may be used as a means to classify one’s educational background, or receptiveness to its enhancements.
      The wrong choice of words may come across as substandard or crude. When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought with them their French culture and Romance-based language to the Saxon throne. Words that were derived from the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon background became considered crude and have carried this stigma to the present day (many of the seven words George Carlin explained you “could not say on TV” descend from Anglican and Germanic, not Latin, roots; the same words in Latin or French are considered medical diagnoses).

Tips on Writing Essays - a revisit from the past (ca 2003)

    My basics of writing a theme make use of the theories of three fairly important writers. First, I consider Peter DeVries, who wrote that all stories should have a "beginning, a muddle, and an end." Then I move on to Aristotle and his contention that we begin with a "thesis," create its opposite, or "antithesis," and then find a manner of integrating the two by creating a "synthesis." Finally, I bow to the venerable and often veneered Benjamin Franklin, a writer who took the pragmatic approach of creating lists as a means of reaching a conclusion on nearly any subject.

The approaches of these three men forge a universal template I use in my general, theme-based writings. I sum up the ideas as follows:

1. State your thesis in unequivocal terms in an opening paragraph. Strive to be definite about your thesis, avoiding "seems" and "could be" and "perhaps" in your wording. The idea is to sound authoritative, thus giving the opportunity to promote discussion and interaction. (This is a variation on the Strunk and White adage of, "If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud.") To make things sound more "worldly" try to incorporate something you have recently read, or may assume many others have already read, as a reference (and if not recent, well, use something you remember well). This will make your thesis sound knowledgeable, or at least give the impression that you have examined more sources than the primary assignment stipulates. Again, using "public domain" material, or easily recognized material helps considerably, and if there is a special niche to which you have intimate knowledge, incorporate that as well.

2. At this point, take full advantage of the miracle of word processors and write your concluding paragraph. You should restate your thesis in new terms, perhaps adding a generalization about society that can be drawn by common knowledge. This may end up sounding like a load of "yadda yadda yadda," but it gives closure to the report. It may seem out of place to do so at this time in the writing, but you have your idea still fresh in your mind at this point. The first and final paragraphs are the most important for demonstrating your creativity, since teachers are (often) human and sometimes struggle with deadlines of their own.

3. Now the listing starts. Between the two paragraphs you have now written, generate a list of "pros" and "cons" that can bolster or shatter your thesis. Having now followed the lead of Dr. Franklin, consider Aristotle–is there a way that an "antithesis" can be assimilated into your initial "thesis" as a point of discussion?

4. If you find you have at least a half dozen points supporting your contention that outweigh those that could dispel your statement (by number or by strength), then begin the task of creating sentences for each of the points. Here is where a thesaurus is vital, or better yet, with modern word processors, practically every word in the English language is listed with its synonym or antonym available in the menu bar. USE THESE FREELY. Often you will find that a new word can generate a completely new idea or help create a completely new sentence.

5. Now cut and paste. Move the sentences around, adding whatever thoughts may emerge as you do. You will find that certain sentences are redundant or that some of your ideas "don't play well with others." You may find you have several ideas that emerge and then seem to naturally group together. To state the obvious, group them together! If enough of them emerge that your paper is becoming larger than anticipated, list the general ideas at the start of the paper and then break your composition into sections that elaborate on each of your ideas.

6. Provide transitions between your discussion topics. If you are talking about the weather in one part and then jump to analytical chemistry in the next, you will need to toss in a few lines as a separate paragraph to ease the reader to the next subject without the transition becoming abrupt.

7. Finally, if you have a "grammar check" with your word processor, USE IT FREELY. Often such a check will help you identify sentences with changes in verb tense or conjugation. These things can occur very easily when tossing in ideas as a general list. They often give you a word count as well, so you can feel properly amazed at how quickly you were able to generate a load of material in a relatively simple (if somewhat mechanical) fashion.

I use this approach whether writing the interminable reports or generating the rather mundane monographs for pharmacy journals. I also wait until the very end to do things like double spacing, tabs, and's always more important to clutter up that intimidating blank page with ideas first.

    Of course, I also throw many of these concepts to the wind in blogosphere rants, just because I never listen when I talk to myself.

PS - if you have the luxury of time, once completed with your opus, let it sit alone for at least a day and think about what it has done... then revisit it with a clear head... that's when the fun (rewrite) begins!