Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Philosophy of Education (Why do we have schools, anyway...?)

Summer is a good time to think about WHY we do what we do. Whether you're a teacher of a parent, time off gives us all time to reflect...

A philosophy of education should include discussion of several basic components. Central issues should include the purpose of education, the nature of the curriculum, the place of students, and the role of teachers.

meEducation in America has no purpose - at least no one, singular, canonical purpose. The purposes of education are multiple and interwoven. Those purposes change with age, environment, and the peculiarities of individual students so that even within a specific classroom the primary purpose of schooling for this child may be one thing and the primary purpose for that child may be yet another. In the case of any given child, the parents' purposes for sending the child to school may differ significantly from the purposes of the educational agency requiring the child's presence. And in as much as the provision of educational services is a joint venture that usually involves at least three different government agencies (a local city or county, a state, and the federal government) the purposes of the various agencies taking part in this partnership may vary significantly, or even be at odds.

For all parties involved, the purposes of education change significantly with time. Kindergarten has a unique set of priorities for everyone engaged in the educational process. The nature of those priorities change significantly by middle school, are additionally altered in high school, and are further renovated in the college setting.

I am not avoiding the question. I am simply acknowledging its complexity - and the ambiguity of the semantics involved. "What is the purpose of education?" The answer depends on who you are, and on whether you're providing it or receiving it. And that is what the answer should depend upon. Because somewhere high on the list of the many and various purposes education serves in our society, the preservation of pluralism, the equipping of those who are somehow different in our society to maintain their membership in it nonetheless, holds a now prominent (and hopefully permanent) spot.

My view of the purpose of education (now, at the age of 47, with three degrees and 100 some odd graduate hours already under my belt) is mercenary: I continue to participate in education as a student for economic reasons. I'm paying through the nose for out-of-state tuition because doing so keeps me my job. That's not very philosophical; nor is it a complete picture. I have three degrees and 100+ graduate hours because I like going to school. And if I came into some large and unexpected inheritance this week (or won the lottery), my new financial security would probably only result in a change of major, not in a change in my status as a student. In the meantime, I am compelled to pursue professional development goals; I would prefer to have the time and resources to use education as tool in the hunt for self-actualization.

If the question were put, though, to me with the idea of determining why I want my children (ages both now adults) to continue as students in some educational setting my answer would be somewhat different. I see college (preferably at a liberal arts-oriented institution) as the logical place in our society for them to obtain skills (some cognitive, some technical) that will improve significantly their vocational prospects and the general quality of their lives (by which I mean their ability to understand the news and appreciate Steinbeck).

In both of these cases my answer to the question differs significantly from my answer when the question is rephrased more abstractly, more globally. If the question is phrased in such a way as to ask why I think that educational services (schooling) should be provided universally in my society at my expense (through tax dollars), I'd say that I am not particularly concerned with my next door neighbor's self-actualization. And while I think in terms of maximizing benefits from education for my own children, I understand that not everyone shares my values in this regard. Instead, I would say that school should be a universally available service in our society and that participation in it should be mandatory because it provides a huge number of safeguards (for lack of a better term) within our society.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

The palm-line courtyard inside Atalaya.On Tuesday, June 19, we visited Huntington Beach State Park and walked through Atalaya Castle.

The castle was a winter home for Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington built in the style of Moorish architecture from Spain's Mediterranean coast.

Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was a well known American sculptor. Her father was a professor of paleontology and zoology at Harvard and MIT. Archer Huntington was the son of 19th Century railroad tycoon Collis Huntington (for whom Huntington, WV, is named. Archer himself is best known for his scholarly work in Hispanic Studies and for founding The Hispanic Society of America.

We weren't fortunate enough to be at the park when a tour was available. There are, however, narrated tours of Atalaya on a regular basis.

Evidently it was possible to see the ocean from the house when it was built in the early 1930's. Now the house is separated from the sea by a few sand dunes.

The castle is built in a 200-foot square with a large inner courtyard. Living quarters were spread over 30 rooms along three sides of the structure. Of those, 18 rooms were occupied by the Huntingtons and the other 11 were servants' quarters. A large square tower made from cypress wood sat in the courtyard; the tower held 3,000 gallons of water.

The covered walkway...When you come in the front of Atalaya you see a gated doorway into the courtyard. To the left are the stables and kennels. To the right is the oyster shucking room. having shucked our own roasted oysters at a local seafood restaurant, we thought the oyster shucking room was delightful.

When you enter the courtyard you find a covered walkway of open brickwork. Planters still line the sides.

The portion of the house the Huntingtons lived in had a dining room, a separate breakfast room, a bath for him, a bath for her, a sunroom, a library, an indoor studio for Anna, and indoor studio for Archer, and bedrooms.

Fig vines on the courtyard walls.Most of the inner walls were covered with creeping fig vines.

Most of the rooms had a fire place that I'm sure heated the rooms during the winter. But during the summer I suspect the house was insufferable. There was a freezer room in the kitchen and note that said that 300 pounds of ice were trucked in each day. I suspect it was a pleasant room to stand in during the month of July...

The Huntingtons returned to Atalaya after the war for their usual stay in 1946 and 1947. These were the last years they used their home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Evan Almighty" and Our Moral Categories

One of the blogs I look at periodically belongs to Dr. Ron Ethridge, the pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This week Ron posted a blog entry about whether it would be wrong for his flock members to go see the new movie "Evan Almighty." I enjoyed his opinion on the matter, particularly the Bible quote he used. Ron said:

“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is profitable!” (1 Corinthians 6:12) I think that applies here…

I commented on Ron's site and told him that the quote reminded me of a conclusion I drew during my time overseas. As Christians from a Western European cultural background, we tend to want to reduce all moral choices to good vs. bad, right vs. wrong. We love morality, but we limit our way of thinking about it. Those limits are cultural, and not really Biblical (as this passage shows). And the desire to divide things up into binary “yes or no” categories comes from our pre-Christian philosophical roots, from Aristotle (not Paul or Moses). That desire for "yes or no" answers also tends to lead to extreme conclusions (followed by extreme actions, with Prohibition being a classic example).

I’ve lived in places where Muslims made up the largest portion of the population and I’ve worked with Muslim college students in an ESL setting. It struck me some years ago that for all the problems that a legalistic religion like Islam presents, their moral categories seem more Biblical to me than those of my own culture.

meIn Islam there are four main moral categories:

  • Some things are commanded, or required in their moral framework. You simply must pray, for example.

  • Some things are encouraged, like charity.

  • Some things are allowed, or permissible. The Arabic word is halal and it means much the same think as “kosher.” You don’t have to do it, but you can it you want to.

  • Some things are forbidden, or impermissible. The Arabic word is haram.

So in Islam, you must pray, you should give to the poor, you can eat beef (or be a vegetarian if you’d prefer), and you cannot eat pork (because the Qur’an teaches that it is unclean).

I think American Christians would do well to reconsider what moral categories they use and examine whether the Bible or the Ancient Greeks have more influence on their thinking…

My thoughts, at least...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Eating in Myrtle Beach

Nance's Creek Front Restaurant in Murell's InletFrom our house it is 18 miles to an Applebees. A Bob Evans sits beside that Applebees. There is a Shoney's 26 miles from our house. And if we drive 35 miles to Princeton, WV, there's a Cracker Barrel, a new Chilis, another Applebees, another Bob Evans, an Outback, and another Shoneys. The nearest Red Lobster or Ruby Tuesday's? That's 67 miles. The nearest Olive Garden or TGI Fridays? They're about 125 miles from us, in Charleston, WV. heck, it's 55 miles to a danged Waffle House from where we live...

When we go to places like Myrtle Beach, we enjoy the opportunity to eat in nice restaurants. On our way to Myrtle Beach we ate at the Olive Garden in Florence, SC (and discovered you can't buy alcohol on Sunday there); on the way home from Myrtle Beach we ate at the olive Garden in Greensboro, NC. In Florence I had the Chianti Beef and Cheryl had the Mixed Pasta Misto with Shrimp and Alfredo Sauce. In Greensboro I had the mixed grill (skewers of Chicken and beef with grilled squash and zucchini) and Cheryl had the Tour of Italy.

The best food we had in Myrtle Beach wasn't in Myrtle Beach; it was in Murells Inlet, ten or 12 miles south of Myrtle Beach. On Tuesday we ate at Nance's Creek Front Restaurant and Oyster Roast. We both ordered a seafood platter and we got an oyster roast as an appetizer with the intention of having leftovers to take back to our room. The oysters can in a plastic bucket - about 30 of them - along with a shucking knife. We pried them open and dipped them in butter and lemon juice. Shucking the oysters was work; I'd guess we spent half an hour opening them. The restaurant had a beautiful view of the inlet and seated about 200 people, I'd guess. We spent about $60. I gave it a "nine." We'll go back...

Myrtle Beach acts like it invented the buffet. There are probably a couple of dozen buffets in the city. All of them have a variety of calabash seafood items ("calabash" is a batter fried seafood dish where the batter includes milk instead of water and more flour than corn meal). Almost all advertise crab legs (meaning snow crab legs), You get what you pay for. The cheaper places ($17.99 range) have a buffet with 50 or so items and crab legs at an additional price, not included on the bar. The top of the line places have 120 items on the buffet - raw oysters, crab legs actually on the buffet, prime rib or t-bones (though not cooked to order), desserts, soup and salad, etc.

We ate at the Sea Trawler on Monday because it was close by the hotel, on King's Highway in South Myrtle Beach. It was the bottom side of okay; we gave it a four or five on a scale of one to ten. It was abut $33 with a coupon that saved us eight bucks and it did not have crab legs on the buffet. On Wednesday we ate at Bennetts. Bennetts claims to be Myrtle Beach's first buffet; it was started in 1984, I think. The 120 item buffet included prime rib and t-bone (I ate some of both). I tried crawfish for the first time (mostly they were small). There were several shrimp dishes. The raw oysters were still in the shell and soaking in warm water (I'd rather have the cold). And I had a cluster of crab legs. The food was good (I'd be stretching it to say "great") and the buffet was $55 with tax for the two of us. We gave Bennetts a 7.5 on a scale of one to ten.

After Bennetts we stopped eating at buffets. The bottom line is that you get a lot of food (more than we wanted) for the same money you'd pay for a menu item at most restaurants. And the quality of menu food is better (IMHO).

Country Kitchen on Kings Highway in South Myrtle Beach - DON'T go there...Breakfast buffets are different. It's hard to screw up bacon or scramble eggs wrong. Our best breakfast was at Mammy's Kitchen on the corner of King's Highway and 10th Ave. N. It's a buffet. Our worst breakfast was at County Kitchen the morning we left; the establishment is at the corner of Kings Highway and 2nd Ave. S. My pork chops were good and my hash browns were crunchy. Cheryl's biscuits could have been used for golf balls at a nearby putt-putt. We sent them back because she couldn't cut them and the replacement biscuits never came. The manager figured it out at the cash register and got us to hang around an extra 6 or 7 minutes waiting on a complimentary "to go" order of them. To be fair, it was Saturday and they were busy; but the waitress took a 10 minute break in the middle of our meal. Their bathrooms were truly disgusting.

Other meals included the free breakfast at the hotel, Denny's twice, a dinner at TGI Fridays, and a dinner at Cheese Burgers in Paradise.

Georgetown: The Shelling and Lighthouse Cruise

The lighthouse on North Island at the mouth of Winyah Bay, South CarolinaOn Tuesday, June 19, Cheryl and I drove to historic Georgetown, SC - about 35 miles from our hotel in Myrtle Beach. We had a 1pm reservation for the Carolina Rover's Shelling and Lighthouse Cruise.

Georgetown is a beautiful old historic town. The streets are lined with huge oak trees. The downtown area includes a small waterfront where the boat we were taking docks.

Cheryl, outside one of the stores at Georgetown's waterfront.The "shelling and lighthouse tour" that the Carolina Rover offers was pleasant - but it was also badly named. We spent about two and a half hours on a pontoon boat listening to an individual give us narration as we motored across Winyah Bay. Tidbits included:

  • The water in the bay is brown because plant life in the bay produces natural tannins similar to those in tea. Pirates used to come and soak new white sails in the water in Winayh Bay to turn them brown.

  • The brown pelicans that populate the bay dive into the water for their food. They live to be 12 or 13 years old and then begin to develop cataracts on their eyes from all the diving. The end result is that they can't see to catch food anymore and they die.

  • A Union ship, the USS Harvest Moon, was sunk in the bay and its smoke stack is visible above the water.

  • In the 1800's a young girl whose father ran the lighthouse drowned in the bay in a storm. Her ghost sometimes warns sailors of impending storms...

If you go on the "shelling and lighthouse tour" to tour the lighthouse you'll be disappointed. The lighthouse is an active navigational beacon, so Homeland Security won't let tourists walk through it anymore. The picture at the beginning of this blog was as close as we got.

Our group looking for shells on North Island in Winyah Bay.If you go on the "shelling and lighthouse tour" to gather shells you'll be disappointed. The North Island has lots of shells. But the Carolina Rover takes groups of 50 people there three times a day to spend half an hour picking over the shells. What good shells there are become the property of the first few kids off the boat. Extensive beach combing is limited by the fact that you have 15 minutes to walk down the beach before you have to start back toward the boat. Two or three people in our group found something other than run-of-the-mill cockle shells. We did better ourselves on Pawleys Island.

The trip was relaxing, educational, and $56 (for the two of us)...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pawleys Island

Note: Clicking on the pictures will take you to a larger photo gallery of Pawleys Islands...

The beach at the south end of Pawleys Island. A sandbar develops in the mouth of the inlet at low tide...On Monday, June 18, knowing that low tide (the best time for shelling on a beach) would be out before noon, we got up and headed south from our hotel in Myrtle Beach toward Pawleys Island - about 20 miles south of Myrtle Beach.

Pawleys Island is a town that includes a barrier island. The island, for which the town is named, claims to have been America's first resort. The families of South Carolina rice farmers came here to vacation during the 1700's. Twelve homes on the island date to the middle of the 19th Century or earlier.

We didn't look at homes on the island. On Monday we did spend about an hour at the beach on the south end of the island. Pawley Island has a number of beach accesses where five or six cars can park and you can walk 30 yards or so to the beach. The south end has a parking place for 30 or so cars. we parked there on Monday. We weren't sure what we'd find and hadn't brought our swimsuits.

Two snowy egrets stand on a dock on the inlet side of Pawleys IslandWe came back to Pawleys Island on Thursday, June 21. It was the first full day of summer and, wouldn't you know it, the town had chosen that time to close the biggest parking lot on the island and renovate it. Go figure. We parked at an access spot about half a mile away and walked down the beach to the south end. It was a pleasant walk. We found a few nice shells.

In all we spent about three hours on the beach on Thursday - the longest stretch we spent in the sun. Both of us got a little burned. We'll probably be back to Pawleys Island, though....