People vs. Ideas

Jesus wrote in the dirt before answering a critical question.

So I was scrolling through the old Facebook news feed this morning and saw a provocative post by our hometown Patch: “What do you think of Georgia’s waiver to the No Child Left Behind Law. Will this help our schools or hurt them? Anyone have an opinion I can use in a story on Loganville-Grayson Patch?”

And being an informed citizen, I naturally had no clue what the post was talking about. So I headed over to the local newspaper’s website (oxymoron?) and found an article detailing the latest–that President Obama has used an Executive Order to grant waivers to at least 10 states that allows them to avoid the NCLB law’s 2014 deadline, provided those states submit a comprehensive plan for meeting the law’s standards sometime in the near future. Georgia is one of the ten states receiving such a waiver.

Now, as a parent of a public school kid, I’m kind of torn on this. On the one hand, I want my child to receive a quality education from our public school system. I want teachers who are there to simply collect a check (meager as it may be) gone from the system. I want teachers to be held to high standards. I want kids to be encouraged and challenged in their learning. I want my child to succeed.

But as the spouse of someone who used to be a teacher, and the friend of many who still are teaching, I also know that instead of teaching our kids, our teachers spend a lot of time prepping them to pass tests. That may be generalizing (in fact, I’m pretty sure it is), but when my kid comes home with more homework than I had when I was in the third grade, something seems a bit off.

Regardless of whether you like the No Child Left Behind law or not, education reform is something that we’ve batted around over the last 10-20 years and still not gotten quite right. In fact, if you read the link to the story about the waivers, you’ll consistent read or catch the implication that the current bill is fatally flawed and, though everyone agrees it needs repair, the two parties can’t come to an agreement on how to fix it.

No suprise there.

What’s truly heartbreaking is that our elected officials have no problem coming out and saying, “We’re not gonna get anything done because this is an election year. There’s just no way to get anyone to compromise during an election year.”

On the local website where I blog, the Loganville-Grayson Patch, we’ve gone round and round on the matter of politics lately (just read here, here, here, here, or here) and the general consensus seems to be: things suck. We’re stuck in a quagmire where ideas have primacy; our leaders, and to some degree we as the vox populi, are content to choose our ideas over people. As fellow Patcher Gail Moore wrote about last week, we have sacrificed the common good for pure ideology, and as a result nothing gets done.

I taught my students on this only a couple of weeks ago. There’s a brief passage in the Bible where Jesus was presented with this dilemma; a woman, caught in the midst of adultery (a death-penalty offense in those days), was brought before him by some of the religious leaders. They threw her into the dirt before Jesus and gave him this test: We caught her sinning, and the Law says we should stone her to death. What do you say?

The Bible says that Jesus knelt down and started writing in the dirt. The religious leaders waited for his answer. The woman waited too. Finally Jesus looked up and said, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”

The religious leaders, ashamed in their own hearts, quietly slipped away, beginning with the oldest. Finally, they were all gone and Jesus was alone with the woman. He looked at her.

“Do you still have accusers?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Then I won’t accuse you either,” Jesus answered. “Go–but sin no more.”

I love this passage of Scripture because Jesus does what seems impossible: he maintains the Law and Grace. He didn’t declare her innocent, because she wasn’t; she was guilty under the Law and had to be judged accordingly. But he didn’t grab a stone and start chucking because he knew she needed forgiveness, since humanity is incapable of keeping the Law in its own strength. In his wisdom, Christ was able to keep both in balance because he had come to satisfy the Law and its demands within himself thereby offering Grace for our inability to do the same.

It’s the deep mystery of the Christian faith: a Holy God dying for unholy sinners.

And here’s the carryover into real life, where rubber meets road: sometimes, we have to set aside our ideological purity in order to find a real life solution. And other times, we have to set aside our high-minded compassion in order to establish a foundation for change. Lately, it seems, that ideology has won out over people: whether it’s conservative ideology or liberal, doesn’t matter–when you let the law of your ideas drive your compassion out of you, you have lost both the people and the integrity of your ideas.

Life is hard. We are constantly challenged by the decisions we face, and quite often it’s easier to live life on the poles than it is to find balance. Sometimes we need to hold hard and fast to our ideals; sometimes, we need to think more about the people. Circumstances can dictate, but not as much as our own will; what we often blame on circumstance is really just our own failure to choose against our own interests.

The fatal flaw in our system of government rests in the words of Lincoln: “government for the people, by the people”. Do you see the flaw?


Imperfect, occasionally myopic people.

But the flaw is also it’s strength. Here’s hoping that as we move forward this election cycle, we can remember that people matter as much as ideas.

2 thoughts on “People vs. Ideas

  1. The problem with NCLB is that it uses standardized tests to grade teachers ability to teach. When you do that, it causes the teachers to teach the test . That makes sure everyone goes to the next grade , but the kids do not receive a good education. 28 states , including GA are also trying to be exempt from the law also. By forcing teachers to teach a test instead of really teaching makes good teachers just as effective as bad ones, when you want to make it the other way around.


    1. Agreed. I think the NCLB law tends to mask bad teachers more than it unmasks them. If all we care about is test performance, then classroom management, temperament, instructive skill, and other factors that go into a “good teacher” are left unaccounted for. And those are precisely the metrics by which many bad teachers can be spotted.


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