Thursday, August 08, 2019

Notes From My Knapsack 8-15-19

Notes From My Knapsack 8-15-19

Jeff Gill


School is beginning again, always



While writing newspaper columns is one of my favorite hobbies, I am employed other than tapping away at my keyboard. One of those vocations I serve is that of mediator, and I am employed by the county Common Pleas Court system to provide mediation services, mostly in regards to youth and families.


We had a meeting recently at Family Intervention Services downtown (years ago, we were in the now demolished county Children's Home on the East End), talking about online education and how we as a court interact with families, helping them get their students on track for a high school diploma. And talking about the changes we've had to adapt to in the last few years about testing, graduation requirements, and open enrollment, it got me to thinking.


When I began working for Judge Hoover and the Licking County Juvenile Court in 2005, there was no Facebook. There were no iPhones, none; "candy bar" cellphones were popping up in student bookbags, and occasionally early flip phones, but they were expensive and rare.


Tablet computers were essentially non-existent, laptops unusual, and my desktop Dell ran Windows 98 SE. E-cigarettes did not exist, and we still handled unruly cases based on a complaint from a parent that a child was swiping their cigarettes. We'd still take one down at the courthouse, but as far as I know such a stand-alone complaint hasn't been made in a decade.


For my first dozen or so years, I was an un-official resource in our office helping explain computers and devices and platforms and apps to our staff . . . now, I'm playing catch-up along with everyone else, as newer staff is more familiar with technology but newer developments keep us all back on our heels. But my office computer is all the way up to Windows XP!


Online schools didn't exist, not as they do now. Credit recovery was a by mail thing. Our vocational education was at a place called JVS, now known as C-TEC, and the offerings were fewer than they were now. Home schooling was an option, but if you wanted to participate in your school district's extra-curricular it was effectively not an option.


Today, as the 2019-2020 school year begins, for the vast majority of students school looks, on the outside, largely the same as it did for their parents, and even for their grandparents. Student registration and the handbook is online, and Mom and Dad complain about not understanding the way they teach math nowadays, but in general you go to a building in your geographic area, walking or by bus or dropped off at the door, find your rooms and take your classes and get grades and aim for graduation in the twelfth year after kindergarten at around age eighteen.


But in 1970, a school district that graduated 50% of the students who began first grade with a diploma was considered successful. Today, a district that graduates 95% is just crossing the threshold of acceptable. Not until 1975 was the education of children with disabilities a legal requirement; Licking County was an early adopter in the 1950s, but many students in outlying areas were missed and it wasn't the school's responsibility to find them or educate them until after '75.


We are educating more children on more subjects with a higher level of success than ever before. And as the environment children are being raised in changes, we're going to see the school environment continue to change. I suspect in another fifteen years we will see changes in the nature and structure of schools that will surprise even me.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's fascinated by what's changed and what hasn't in education in general. Tell him what changes you think are coming at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Faith Works 8-10-19

Faith Works 8-10-19

Jeff Gill


The Church's One Foundation



Thirty years ago, we were worried about instability in the Soviet Union while welcoming the dawn of democracy in Russia. As I graduated from seminary, we watched uneasily the Tiananmen Square protests play out in China, and by the time of my ordination service hundreds had been killed in the suppression of that gathering, with a like number executed for promoting it, possibly including the inspiring Tank Man whose identity and fate are still unknown today.


Thirty years ago, the first cracks were appearing in the Berlin Wall following the rise of democratic representation in Poland through Solidarity, and other Warsaw Pact countries began to take down their barriers to free movement across national borders. Mid-August 1989, the final outcome in Berlin where so much tension had played out literally my entire life (the wall and I were born within a few weeks of each other in 1961) was still more than somewhat in question. F. W. deKlerk was voted into office in South Africa, but few saw the end of apartheid coming soon, and most feared a bloody and terrible end to white minority rule. Bombs were still going off in Northern Ireland, and that conflict seemed to have no end in sight, either.


Thirty years ago, the World Wide Web was being started by Tim Berners-Lee in Switzerland at CERN; the first commercial dial-up connections were available before the end of the year for businesses, but as Thomas Watson of IBM had said years earlier, how many households would want a computer? Apple came out with its first notebook or laptop type computer, but most of my seminary classmates were using computers with maybe 4 MB (even commercially you couldn't get more than 2 GB unless you were the Pentagon).


Thirty years ago, savings and loans were closing fast, ultimately a third of all of them across the country. People were anxious about the increase in illegal drug use, and Pres. George H.W. Bush's drug czar, William Bennett, asked him to approve a temporary ban on the importation of semi-automatic rifles, which was done after 34 children and a teacher were killed in a schoolyard in Stockton, California. Health insurance premiums went up that spring across the country an average of 18%, triggering talk of a health care insurance crisis, with many denominational plans hit with increases from 23 to 40%; as I approached graduation from seminary, the seniors were gathered together for a workshop on clergy and church approaches to health care insurance, and were assured that increases of this size couldn't continue indefinitely.


Thirty years ago, electrostencil machines entered the church office where I worked, and you could put original art alongside of text and cut a stencil (can you feel the excitement, kids?) right off of your page, from which you could run hundreds of copies through your mimeograph machine. Oh, and we had a small desktop copier secondhand but the supplies were expensive so we just made a few copies at a time on it. The newsletter and bulletin were mimeo produced; or you could find a copy shop with a professional copier to make hundreds of pages, but usually at 10 cents a page, fifty cents for color. Answering machines were rare in church offices, but since even small congregations had a full time secretary (plus a full time custodian) it really didn't matter. You heard that pastors of big city churches had beepers, which sounded cool.


Thirty years ago, I was ordained to Christian ministry. My home congregation and the church I served in seminary plus a UCC church I had some wonderful history with jointly sponsored me, and I was blessed into the work of sharing the Gospel through preaching and teaching ministry. I had some vague general ideas about what the future would look like; I'd had a preliminary interview with a church in Ohio looking for an associate pastor, but I kind of figured that I'd end up staying an Indiana preacher. My eight years of student ministry in a campus ministry and through seminary had given me a healthy sense of what the Hoosier State had to offer, and it seemed like enough.


But a month later, I'd drive a 20 foot U-Haul truck across the Indiana-Ohio line on my way to Newark. Turned out I was wrong about some of my assumptions about the future. Of all the things I was sure of then, about only one thing has remained certain: the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he arrived an associate minister, and now is a senior minister, but he doesn't know that much more than he did then. The difference is that he knows it: tell him what you think you know at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.