Posted in Education, Life

I need a scholarship to be a scholar: updated

It’s funny (not funny) to think about how expensive education has become. These repositories of knowledge called universities that, supposedly, provide the key to a better future seem to thrive on burying the lower to middle class student in debt. First, they require you to leverage this future in the form of student loans. 30k later and half a Masters degree (the 1st 20k was from those good old undergrad years) and I am just now figuring that out. By the time I am done with my education I could possibly spend over $100,000 [update: final total with PhD- over a quarter of a million dollars, that’s $250,000!] for a fancy piece of paper, a little prestige, and the ability to teach others while they wallow in their own debt, wondering how to buy groceries for their kids.

Sadly, receiving a “Christian” education is even more expensive than a secular education, because “Christian”  means “private”, which, in turn, means $$$ (or £££). An analogical form of Darwinism seems to apply here; a person’s education and the future of education as a whole is based on the fittest (or fattest) wallet.

I wonder what the world would be like if someone were to offer free non-merit based higher-education. Would the local economy go up? Would gas prices go down? Would colleges have gang signs etched into the toilet seats and graphic art on the bathroom stall walls? Would the private Christian education bubble burst and unsaved kids might actually meet Jesus in the classroom?

Ah, but that is why we have scholarships! So the underprivileged sons of the middle-class working man, like me, can attend a fancy University. But, we all know that scholarship money provides just enough to entice us to enroll in the institution. So, we turn to student loans in order to buy Mac & Cheese to feed the kids while providing warm socks and the occasional soccer ball for entertainment. Don’t kick that thing to hard! It has to last until Dad’s next loan check comes in! Higher-education is supposed to make our future look bright, but, actually, the hole which we find ourselves in afterwards is dark, smelling of fatalistic necessity and institutional corruption.

How does acquiring this sanctified debt prepare me for the mission field? How does a monthly payment of hundreds of dollars make me a better Pastor (or, God forbid, the underfunded and unappreciated Youth Pastor)? How does buying overprice textbooks help me learn more about the free gift of grace? Maybe we can recoup some of the costs by charging for discipleship? Or, at very least, require a minimum donation.

I can’t help but wistfully think that, maybe, some founding university president set all of this up by accidentally misconstruing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on “this” subject when he read the following quote out of context: “…. a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship.” Raise those prices, we got a great product to sell, everlasting life and how to use it. For a limited time only we will throw in a 10% discount because you are a grad student.

A Tongue and Cheek Blog by Josh Carroll

Posted in Education

ISBL Trip Day One

This year the Society of Biblical Literature is holding its annual international gathering at St. Andrews. Since it is only about an hour or so train ride from Aberdeen and a pretty important conference for Biblical scholars I decided to go. The adventure began with my first long distance train ride in Scotland. My friend Eduard and I bought our tickets way in advance and got a pretty sweet deal. The only catch was we would have to leave the train station at 9:17pm. Yutaka, that amazing office mate of ours, dropped us off in his new car. The experience began with our train running about 20 minutes late. So after waiting on the platform for a while we boarded the train and found some nice seats that sat across from each other with a table in between. My abnormally large bag barely fit under the seat but we managed to jam it in.

Why did I have an abnormally large bag you ask? Melodie wanted me to be prepared for just about any circumstance so she helped me pack. (When I say “helped” I really mean she packed for me:) So I left Aberdeen with a large duffel bag full of clothes. Eduard on the other hand had on small backpack. I’ll get the last laugh though when he is the first to run out of socks and having to go barefoot!

Back to the train ride: We were alerted to our stop by the overhead speaker and, after unjamming my abnormally large bag from under the seat, we rushed to the door only to have it refuse to open for us. The train started to pull away from the station and we found a call button to alert the porter but, wouldn’t you know it, the button was not functioning either. We ended up having to ride to the next station, Cupar (which was 5 minuets away) and wait there another 20 minuets before the next train could come and take us back the to the station we were supposed to get off at. This time we never left the door area and made sure we could get the door open. By this time it was almost midnight and we took a taxi into St. Andrews to stay at our friends house.

Our new friends are great! They put us up in their spare room and have been very accommodating and hospitable. They have two little girls age 3 yrs and 5 months that are super cute! Their oldest girl is starting sports camp this week as is going to have a blast.

Eduard and I trouped around St Andrews this morning looking at all the sites and just experiencing this beautiful town. My feet are pretty tired. After our exploring we went to register for the conference. We arrived at the place where the conference was taking place, the Younger building at the University of St. Andrews, only to find a sign saying that registration was taking place at the Marquee. Sadly, we didn’t look close enough and the registration that the sign indicated happened to be for some other event. Basically we got lost and couldn’t find where our registration was taking place. After locating someone with a SBL badge and receiving some really bad directions, we stumbled into to another guy coming back from the correct registration. We barely made it in time to get our sweet SBL bags and programs. (At the very worst we would have had to wait until the morning but I wanted to sport mine tonight!)

After registering, which -by the way- was just about as far away as you can get from the place the actual conference was taking place, we stopped at a little cafe called Taste. The coffee was pretty excellent and I would highly recommend it to anyone coming out this way. A mocha was just the boost I needed to make it back to the conference and sit through some pretty intense introduction lectures. After learning some intro facts on the Qumran Community, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, Rabbinic Judaism, and a complex new computer algorithm that could help NT critical scholarship, we went to a reception filled with people I had never met and were supplied with posh food and some wine.

Since I am not big fan of fancy food (ie. mutton kahbabs infused with mint flavoring, vegan friendly pies, fried king prawn sprinkled with coconut, etc), I stuck with a mini ham sandwich. I did try the minty mutton and a goose Chinese roll but I just couldn’t wrap my taste buds around the fancyness. Eduard and I found a great walking path on the way home that I can’t wait to explore. At the end it has something called a Botag Cootoon which, judging by the picture, looks like some sort of giant beehive hut. We didn’t make it all the way to find out but I am definitely curious!
Well tomorrow, hopefully. Please pay for my wife back home with the boys, they are out of school for summer stating this week.

Posted in Education, Parenting

Aristotle on Parenting Younglings

aristotle_teaching_cropIn my quest to uncover Philo’s thought concerning the education of young people, I found some interesting things in Aristotle’s Politics I thought I would share.

Aristotle thought the soul had two parts. The first was the irrational (αλογον) part. The second the rational (λογον) part. His idea was that the irrational part of the soul needed to be trained and tempered before the rational part could engage in the important work of philosophy. So, in his conceptual development of the ideal city, he prescribed the following things that should happen to the child in his/her different developmental stages. Overseeing all of this child development was an official of the city dubbed the Children’s Tutor (παιδονομοις). He was the CT of the City:)

Newborns to 5yrs old:

  • Needed to keep moving so their limbs don’t twist up.
  • It was a GOOD idea to expose them as much as they could handle to the elements (i.e giving them a cold bath in the river right after birth and leaving them uncovered when nursing). This served to toughen them up from the start and prepare them for life’s hardships. (Pol. 1336a. 20)
  • Let them play BUT
  • Only games appropriate to their civil status. And it would be best if these games were designed to imitate their later life occupations. (1336a. 35-36) [I shudder to think what the playground rules for Castrate the Cow would be!]
  • They were not to engage in compulsory labor because it would put undue strain on their fragile bodies. (1336a. 25) [Take that Industrial Revolution!]
  • Tell tales and stories to them. But these must be approved of by the CT (1336a. 30)
  • Go ahead and let them throw massive tantrums when they don’t get their way. This improves their lung capacity and makes them ready for a life of hard labor. (1336a. 35) [My kids get to take part in hard labor when they throw tantrums, a win for both parties!! Clean those dishes Ethan!]
  • Don’t let them associate with slaves
  • Don’t expose them to indecent talk or images. And while you are at it Mr. CT, give those that intentionally expose children to these kind of things a good beating!  (1336b. 1-35)

Remember, all of these things we designed to create the ideal citizen who would then be an important part of the ideal city. The CT was a little bit of a teacher and a lot of a Moral Policeman. Can you imagine seeing an add for this positon on

Who of my faithful readers would apply and why?

Posted in Education

My Failure to be Properly Educated

Dear MathIn my quest to explore the background of Philo of Alexandria’s thoughts on education, I came across one of the most influential individuals to every write on the subject, Plato. Philo was a notorious propagator of Platonic thought. In fact, many scholars consider the Jewish theologian one of the most essential voices of what has been referred to as Middle-Platonism. I’m a big fan of Philo, so much so that I wrote my PhD thesis on his understanding of the concept of paideia. I could go on and on about how awesome he was but this post is about Plato, so, with a mind wrenching return to purpose, I’ll stop this potential tangent ramble get back to Plato.

Anyway, I have been reading up on Plato’s view of education and, much to my chagrin, I fall hopelessly short in his understanding of a properly educated person.

First of all, it’s painfully obvious, in several of Plato’s writings, that this esteemed philosopher placed a very high emphasis on mathematics. I didn’t appreciate mathematics even a tiny bit during my undergrad days and ran away from formal expressions of this subject as quickly as possible. I escaped straight into the liberal arts where my university math courses consisted of only two things: Intermediate Algebra and Math Appreciation. I adeptly avoided the former by finding a little known loophole in the course catalog. I had to take the latter, which consisted of some kind of math as the universal language rhetoric. It was taught by a visiting Russian professor with such a thick accent that no one was able to comprehend what she was trying to teach. She eventually gave up communicating anything of significance and finished out the semester by showing us a cadre of videos about how great math was. Needless to say, the only thing I ended up appreciating was…. well… you can probably guess.

Plato would have been aghast at my lack of education! In fact, his emphasis on math seems a little extreem to me. But, then again, he didn’t have the luxury of graphing calculators, super computers, and ipad apps to contribute to the mathematical apathy I experience today.

So what does Plato’s ideally educated person consist of? Well, since you asked…

Plato laid down quite a bit of his educational theory in The Republic, his work concerning the idea city state. (Education in Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics by A.W. Nightingale was very helpful in outlining all of this.)

It appears that Plato had two stages of education in mind when he wrote The Republic. The first stage focused on the student’s ability to imitate an appropriate model. It was mainly designed for those who were under 20 years old. Plato understood that, by imitating a good model, the student would absorb virtuous patterns into their own lives and create harmony in their own soul. This kind of imitation freed the “lower parts” of the soul to govern the human tendency and enticement towards the irrational. It also prepared an individual for good action that practically worked itself out in the development of good habits and good character.

Poetry was essential of this process. “Socrates places special emphasis on the use of poetry in education, since this has the greatest impact on the formation of character. In particular, poetry produces an ‘imitative’ response in those who preform it; this response can be beneficial or harmful depending on the content and form of the poem (in the latter case, because the imitative effect is increased when the discourse is dramatized rather than narrated). (Nightingale, 137)

The Second Stage of Plato’s ideal education of an individual is designed to mold a person into a Philosopher. This stage focuses on a student’s intellect and ability to engage in deep contemplative thought when focusing on a certain thing. This contemplation should achieve a depth that it transcends the thing itself, recognising the form existing behind the object of contemplation. “It is only philosophic education that can ‘draw the soul away from the world of becoming and towards true being’ (521d), thus turning it in the proper direction.” (Nightingale, 145)

In this stage of education, which begins at the age of 20, the idea of a performance based political life is snubbed in favor of philosophical contemplation. Through the educational disciplines (see below), reason permeates the soul and shapes it towards preexisting knowledge. In effect, what Plato calls “the eyes of the soul” are trained to look away from the world and recognize the forms behind creation. Unlike other virtues that are created by habit and practice, reason has a permeant place in the soul. “But the excellence of thought [Reason], it seems, is certainly of a more divine quality, a thing that never loses its potency, but, according to the direction of its conversion, becomes useful and beneficent, or, again, useless and harmful.” (Rep. 518e)

Practically this shaping takes part through the 5 educational disciplines: (1) Numbers and Calculation, (2) Plane Geometry, (3) Solid Geometry, (4) Astronomy, and (5) Harmonics. Each discipline is designed to help an individual gain a perspective of the form behind objects that can be observed by the senses.

The discipline of Numbers and Calculation (Rep. 522b-526c) helps differentiate between small and large objects and the understanding of the nature of a number by pure thought. “…it strongly directs the soul upward and compels it to discourse about pure numbers, never acquiescing if anyone proffers to it in the discussion numbers attached to visible and tangible bodies.” (Rep. 525d)

The discipline of Plane Geometry (526c-527c) directs our sense faculties away from the thing that is observed and enables us to understand the “spectacle of being” (Nightingale’s translation) or form behind the mathematical equation: Geometry say Plato, is “the knowledge of the eternally existent… Then, my good friend, it would tend to draw the soul to truth, and would be productive of a philosophic attitude of mind, directing upward the faculties that now wrongly are turned earthward.” (Rep. 527b)

The discipline of Solid Geometry does the same thing with 3 dimensional objects. (Rep.528a-d)

The discipline of Astronomy (528e-530c) helps one understand the mathematical principles that govern the motions of the heavens, perceiving this motion with the mind instead of the eyes.

The discipline of Harmonics (530d- 531c) does something similar to Astronomy, creating an awareness of a greater “movement” happening behind the scenes. “That as the eyes are framed for astronomy so the ears are framed for the movements of harmony; and these are in some sort kindred sciences, as the Pythagoreans, affirm and we admit, do we not, Glaucon [Plato’s brother and imaginary interlocutor in the Republic]?” (Rep. 530d) Those that abuse the study of harmonics and stop their investigation of the tones played at their ears, never engaging their mind to “ascend to generalized problems and the consideration which numbers are inherently concordant.” (Rep. 531c)

After mastering these five disciplines at the age of 30, the individual prepares for the pinnacle of their education, the discipline of Dialectic (Rep. 532a- ff.)

“This, then, at last, Glaucon,” I [Plato] said, “is the very law which dialectics recites,the strain which it executes, of which, though it belongs to the intelligible, we may see an imitation in the progress of the faculty of vision, as we described its endeavor to look at living things themselves and the stars themselves and finally at the very sun. In like manner, when anyone by dialectics attempts through discourse of reason and apart from all perceptions of sense to find his way to the very essence of each thing and does not desist till he apprehends by thought itself the nature of the good in itself, he arrives at the limit of the intelligible, as the other in our parable came to the goal of the visible.” (Rep. 532b) Through the discipline of dialectic an individual become a philosopher and is able to begin to give an account of the essence of things.

As I stated before, I was not, am not, and never will be a mathematician! In fact, when my youngest son brings home his 5th grade math homework, I have no clue how to help him! Thank God for people that are good at Math and are only a phone call or Skype session away!

So, by Plato’s standards, I would have a pretty poor background to engage in the art of philosophy. But, let’s not miss the main point here. Plato understood mathematics as a means of preparing the soul to see beyond what the senses can perceive. When you think about it, it’s kind of like taking a written story and reading between the lines… or maybe more like reading above, below, between, and all around the lines. All this required training in mathematical equations and geometric measurements helped prepare the individual to recognize what Plato deemed the world of forms (wikipedia that one if you dare!!). So, as long as I have access to some fancy iPad app to compute mind numbing math problems on my behalf, I think I’ll be just fine. I’ll save my brain for heavy duty contemplation and deftly continue to bypass the need for math itself.

Would Plato have approved? Probably not. However, I’m pretty sure that I can still contribute to a philosophical discussion, despite my failure to be properly educated.