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A Divergent Review

  • Posted on August 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I can’t remember for sure, but I think my initial reaction to the buzz about Veronica Roth’s Divergent was, “Not another dystopian novel!” I didn’t pay much attention to the hype; then again, I rarely ever do. Besides, I rarely have the time to devote to leisure reading, so I tend to stick to books that I know I’ll like—it’s not like there aren’t enough of those to keep me entertained for the next few decades.

At some point, I caught on to the premise of the story. Tris, the main character, is different in a world (or what’s left of it) that considers difference a bad thing. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Except, this story is set in the remnants of Chicago after a cataclysmic war. If you know anything about contemporary Chicago, then you know its population is full of diversity and probably couldn’t get over being different in any foreseeable future, no matter how devastated that future might be. If the movie is any indication, then this attribute of Chicago is at least partially recognized in Roth’s vision because the movie shows at least some of the racial differences that can be seen in contemporary Chicago. The cultural differences, however, have been sacrificed for the sake of survival. In their place, new differences have emerged, dependent solely on the dominant nature of the individuals: intellectuals, self-sacrificing servants, compassionate agriculturalists, honest judges, and courageous warriors.

Based on the movie (I still haven’t gotten a chance to read the book), I’d have to say that I fit most closely with the Erudite or intellectuals. It’s not because I’m power-hungry, as they prove to be in the movies, but because, especially through my young adulthood, I have usually valued my intellect the most. I can be selfless, I can be brave, I can be kind, and I can be honest. In fact, I try to be all of those things most of the time. But if I had to choose just one, then I would go with intelligence, because I like to solve problems by thinking them through.

Based on the issue of conformity, rather my lack thereof, I would be divergent as it’s described in the movie. Then again, so would most of the people I know. Whether that’s a reflection of the people I know or whether it’s a reflection of the impracticality of the faction ideal, I don’t know. Still, the idea that nonconformists are perceived by those that hold down the status quo is very familiar.

The world is full of people in the here and now that view difference, divergence, and non-conformity as threats to their way of life, even when the people who are different, divergent, and non-conforming don’t actually have anything to do with their life. That is very true to human nature and that fear is the source of the most violent, dangerous aspects of human nature. Ironically, it’s also those parts of human nature that Erudite Jeanine embraced—that and the desire for power.

Giving the selfless the responsibility to govern and administer was a wise allocation of human resources, if a rather futile one. The people who want power the least are those who are going to treat it most responsibly, but they are also the least likely to hold onto it. This is why, despite our best efforts and our best claims about public service, we haven’t been able to create a government or nonprofit sector that consistently serves and protects the interests of all of the people. Unfortunately, these sectors tend to fail the people who are in the most danger the most frequently, because they are inevitably those with the least power.

In the movie, the solution is for a few brave souls to stand up, challenge the power-hungry destroyers, and save the day. In reality, it’s rarely so simple. Government bends in the face of power, especially the power of the most powerful of its own people. The least powerful are in the most danger, precisely because they lack the power to make the government bend towards them. In a democratic state, the only defense we have is to stand together; weaving what power we have into a stronger tapestry than any of us can make for ourselves. By working together and fighting for and with each other, we show those in power that we have enough power that we’re worth bending towards. This isn’t accomplished by separating into factions, but by uniting under a banner of freedom and equality, regardless of the differences that make us “divergent.” Therein lies our power.

What’s Your Stage?

  • Posted on March 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Lawrence Kohlberg researched cognitive moral development across fifty or so countries in an attempt to discern the different ways people think about ethical issues. Based on this research, Kohlberg created a six-stage model of human moral development:

  1. Stage 1: Obedience and punishments are the main determinants of behavior.
  2. Stage 2: Satisfying one’s own needs regardless of the cost are the main determinants of behavior.
  3. Stage 3: Gaining social approval are the main determinants of behavior.
  4. Stage 4: Following established rules and supporting established authority are the main determinants of behavior.
  5. Stage 5: Principled thinking that transcends rules, authority figures, punishment, rewards, and social approval to seek after the welfare of your society are the main determinants of behavior.
  6. Stage 6: Principled thinking that transcends rules, authority figures, punishment, rewards, and social approval to seek after the welfare of all people are the main determinants of behavior.

I wanted to know if there was a test to assess your cognitive moral development. I found one, but I found that most of their choices were inconsistent with my reasoning, even if they reflected a portion of the action I would take. For example, one scenario involved stealing or not stealing a life-saving medicine; using creative problem-solving to create an ethical alternative means of accessing the medicine wasn’t an option. If you want to take the test, you do so at your own risk. Personally, I don’t put much stock in it.

Nothing About Us Without Us: A Presentation

  • Posted on March 17, 2014 at 9:39 AM

Autism: A Christian Perspective

  • Posted on March 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Faith is transformative. When you develop faith in something, your faith transforms who you are, how you see yourself, how you see the world, and what you do. The stronger your faith becomes the more transformative it becomes.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe He took upon Himself earthly flesh in order to be a living example unto us and in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I believe human beings are fallen: Fallible, corrupted, and imperfect. I believe human beings, at least in our earthly forms, are finite: All our abilities are limited, including and especially our abilities to observe and understand the world around us. I believe we are capable of greatness, for good or for evil. And I believe that evil is a real force in this world that affects us all.

These beliefs transform me continually. They shape how I see the world and they shape how I see my fellow human beings. Yet, I also believe in the freedom of mind, the freedom of thought, the freedom of belief (especially, but not exclusively, religious belief), and the freedom of speech.

I am a Christian, but I don’t expect you to be a Christian. I look at the world around me and see a multitude of beliefs and I am content. One of the beliefs I see is a conviction in science. There are people who believe in science the way I believe in God. I can’t do that. For one, according to my faith, that would be idolatry. For two, science is a man-made discipline, which according to my faith means it is finite, fallible, corruptible, imperfect, and limited.

The irony I see is that these beliefs are reinforced by science itself. Scientists have demonstrated their finite abilities to observe and understand the universe. They have proven themselves to be fallible every time they correctly apply the scientific method to reach a conclusion, which is later disproven by yet another application of the scientific method. Scientists have recognized the corruptibility of their discipline, whether intentional or unintentional, which is why they use double-blind studies—so their assumptions, predispositions, and inclinations are not as likely to influence their results. Scientists recognize the imperfection of their discipline—at least, they used to—which is why they call their conclusions theories, signifying that a proven theory is the best they can do to explain a given set of variables to the best of their abilities within their current limitations. Scientists recognize—at least, they used to—that theories have a nasty habit of being disproven and reconfigured over time. While I don’t understand advanced physics, I do know there are active (i.e., not disproven) theories that directly contradict each other alive in physics today. As per my limited understanding, these conflicting theories work to explain current observations and have mechanical application, but that they require a unifying theory that does not exist yet. I am, however, much more familiar and comfortable with the conflicting theories that abound in social sciences, like psychology and sociology.

Science provides us with a limited and imperfect way to understand the world we live in and the universe in which our world resides. As such, I respect it. But I do not, cannot, and will not put my faith in science.

Now, if this was a treatise against science, I would point out how inconsistent it is with scientific methodology and principles to assert that man-made global warming, i.e. climate change, and human evolution from animals are facts. A fact is something that we know actually exists, because it has been observed to have happened. We have NOT observed man-made global warming and we have not observed human evolution from animals. We have, however, observed facts which support the theories of man-made global warming and human evolution from evolution. The fact that even scientists have made these erroneous assertions is further evidence that science itself is corruptible.

But this is not a treatise against science. This is a post about autism. Really, it is. You see, science (i.e. doctors) tell us that autism is a disorder: The implication is that there is a “correct” order for a human brain to be in and that autism isn’t it. Science will tell us that autism can and should be cured. Science will tell us that people with disabilities are broken and that science can fix them.

My Christian faith tells me something else. My Christian faith tells me that my children were knitted together by God in the womb. My Christian faith tells me that the inherent people my children are is exactly who God made them to be, which is not to say “perfect,” because we’re all fallen. But, and this is a big BUT, God does not make broken people. Now, it’s true that people have free will and people have a tendency to break each other for their own sick purposes, but that’s a whole other thing having to do with abuse, neglect, and other forms of man-made trauma. The point is that my Christian faith tells me to love and accept my children as they are, to raise them up to be, to the best of my abilities, the people God wants them to be, and to treat them with charity, which is love not donations.

My faith also tells me that God can heal. Jesus Christ healed the sick, the infirm, the lame, the blind, and even the dead. According to my faith, I believe that if God healed my children they would still be autistic in the sense that there neurology would be profoundly different from “normal,” but that their neurological differences would no longer be a source of aggravation, discomfort, and frustration for them. Science, on the other hand, tells us that if my children were healed, then they would be normal.

Now, I know and freely admit that there are Christians who have a very different perspective from my own. This is a Christian perspective; not the Christian perspective. I also know there are scientists who have a very different perspective than the one, which in my experience is still dominant, which I’ve presented here—I salute you! I also know that I am just as limited and fallible as the rest of humanity and acknowledge, quite freely, that I very well could be wrong. But I also know that I’ve spent over a decade studying, praying, exploring, questioning, and informing my beliefs. I’ve tested this by everything I know and everything I’ve learned and I am confident that, within my own limitations, I can do the best for my children, for our society, and for the world by sharing my beliefs with others. It is only by sharing that we can instruct, edify, admonish, correct, and uplift one another. And we all need that, whether we know it or not.

The Right Decision Done Right

  • Posted on February 14, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Ben’s IEP meeting went better than expected, just as I hoped. When I invited the gentlemen from the Richardson School, I informed Ben’s teacher that I was doing so. I knew the school’s reaction would be to have someone with especial authority from the district attend as well, and that’s what I wanted to see. It wasn’t a manipulation, I assure you. I genuinely wanted the gentlemen to attend and I genuinely wanted their input. I knew, however, that the IEP team would need more authority than usual in order to make a truly effective placement decision. So, the extra authority was necessary and welcome, even if other parents might feel the district was stacking the deck against them.

You see, I wasn’t going into the meeting with the intention of “winning” what I wanted from the district. If I learned anything from editing Vaughn’s book, it’s this: What I want isn’t important, what the school district wants to provide isn’t important, the only thing that’s truly important is what the child needs. Getting Ben what he needed was my only goal.

They opened the meeting by telling me their objectives: determining whether Ben continued to qualify for special education services (he does); reviewing past progress (which we did); and setting his goals for the next year (which we also did). They then asked me what my concerns were, since it was obvious that I had at least one. I told them that my main concern was regarding Ben’s academic progress compared to state standards and his placement.

I was then given the opportunity to address these concerns and basically build a platform that would be addressed throughout the meeting. I explained that, as I saw it, Ben had reached the point where he was especially open to learning. My fear, then, was that if this window of opportunity wasn’t taken advantage of, he’d grow frustrated and the window would close. I knew that was a real possibility, because that’s what seems to have happened with Alex; which is not to say there will never be another window, but that it is an opportunity too precious to miss. My goal was to make sure Ben was placed in an environment where this window would be taken advantage of, where he’d learn and be challenged.

We talked about the progress Ben has made so far this year. As it turned out, he was making a lot more progress with social skills and language than had previously been reported to me. He was no longer spending his entire day in an isolated environment. He would have visitors and he would go around visiting, using practical language skills throughout the day. He had also made significant academic progress and his goals were either attained or emerging. As I put it, Ben tends to get stuck on a frequency. If the adults around him can tune into his frequency, they can access what he’s really capable of and help him develop that. His new teacher can!

It was great to hear. As the meeting progressed and the accomplishments piled up, I knew that we wouldn’t be changing Ben’s placement. I wasn’t disappointed the way a few seemed to expect. The point was not to get Ben “where I wanted him to be,” but to make sure Ben got to be where he needed to be. With the new teacher, he was right where he needed to be!

We talked about past goals, we talked about new goals, we talked about formal testing and accommodations and upcoming changes to state testing instruments. We talked about Ben’s services and what he needed to achieve his goals. There was a lot of excitement in the room, because Ben was doing quite well, and there was no hostility.

Then, we started talking about placement. I made it clear (directing my comments to the senior district representative) that this discussion shouldn’t be about what the district had available (she nodded) or about what I wanted (she nodded again), but that the decision was supposed to be based on what’s best for Ben (she nodded and smiled). I described briefly how the decision to transfer Ben from Kennedy to Wilson was made, how the decision was presented to me as “It’s either Kennedy or Wilson and Kennedy doesn’t work, so it’s Wilson.”

At this point, someone from Wilson broke in and asserted how much Wilson had done for Ben, basically defending the school. The hostility was suddenly palpable, and it was obvious to the right people that the hostility wasn’t coming from me. So, when I had a chance to speak again, I reiterated my point that this wasn’t about Wilson, but about making sure Ben was placed where he needed to be to take advantage of the open window. I made it clear that I wasn’t “against” Wilson and that I definitely recognized the teacher’s skill and connection with Ben. My point was that, for Ben’s best interests, we needed to have an open, honest discussion about where Ben needed to be, knowing there were real options (like the Richardson School), instead of anyone telling me there was only one choice.

That’s exactly the kind of discussion we had. And, in the end, considering the dramatic progress Ben is making, we decided—as a team—that Ben would stay at Wilson. The people from the Richardson school even said, “You’ve got a great team here and while, a year ago, yeah, Richardson might have been the right place for him, but he’s already making the kind of progress we like to see in our students.” I agreed. The point, however, was this time around it was a team decision made with real options, which is what it’s supposed to be.

I can handle the hostility. I’m especially glad I’m not the only one who saw it—I was looking at the senior district person when the person in question started her “defense” and her face was sufficiently expressive considering I was looking for her reaction. Hopefully things will improve in that quarter now, too!

No Title

  • Posted on January 31, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As I start my second semester of public administration studies, I embark on a study of administrative ethics. Ethics has always been of great interest to me, because I feel it is very important, even essential, to do what is right as much as possible. If I am to increase the opportunities for me to do what is right, then I have to better understand what the right thing to do is. Ethics helps in that goal by helping me construct a framework to use when making decisions.

In my recent reading, I learned something new, something rather unexpected, and I’d like to share it with you. The text I’m reading now is The Responsible Administrator by Terry L. Cooper. According to Cooper, responsibility is a relatively new term coined after the American and French revolutions in response to the need of a new way to define “a common set of values among people of divergent cultures and traditions.”

Apparently, the change of political and governing structures did so much damage to our ideas of roles, structures, and obligations that we had to create a new framework for understanding and expressing our expectations for ethical behavior. Responsibility asserts obligations on individuals in order to describe and attribute obligations for achieving what is right.

In this sense, the idea of responsibility is evolving and adaptable as we learn more and more about what the consequences of behaviors and values can be, thereby bringing us—as a society and as individuals—closer to what is right.

Cooper asks, “What does it mean to be a responsible parent in the first decade of the twenty-first century? Or a responsible spouse, responsible citizen, responsible politician, or responsible public administrator?”

As a partial answer to this question, Cooper proposes, “Responsible administrators must be ethically sophisticated enough to reason with others about the ways in which their conduct serves the public interest and have sufficient clarity about their own professional ethical commitments to maintain integrity and a sense of self-esteem.”

Remembering that I am studying public administration with the intention of learning what I need to know to found my own nonprofit organization, which will serve people with neurological differences, I cannot help but apply these questions and this answer to my own areas of interest.

What does it mean to be a responsible parent of a child with autism? What does it mean to be a responsible citizen in a society with people with neurological differences? What does it mean to be a responsible founder of an organization intending to serve the needs and interests of people with neurological differences?

It is not enough to simply do what you believe is right. You need to be able to explain, articulate, and justify why it is right, because then you can apply the ethical standard more generally. For example, a responsible parent of a child with autism will not pursue treatments that endanger the life of their child, because the life of their child is more important than the outcome of the treatment. Projecting this value further, a responsible parent of a child with autism will not kill their child because the child’s autism is incurable, because the life of their child is more important than whether or not the child is autistic. By understanding and articulating our reasons and our justifications, we clarify our ethical standards and reveal lapses in ethical judgment.

Disability Employment: Schedule A

  • Posted on December 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM

While preparing for my first set of finals for my MPA degree, I encountered an unexpected opportunity for disability employment. The federal government of the United States of America is attempting to increase their hiring of people with disabilities, even people with severe disabilities, with the creation of the Schedule A.

The Schedule A provides excepted authority, which is used to appoint persons with disabilities to government jobs. If you’re interested in this process, you should take a look at this guide. If you fill out the paperwork and qualify for the program, you can seek a government position without facing the usual competition for the position. You will need to be qualified for the position you apply for, though internships and other training may also be available.

There are reasons to work for government organizations, including stability, benefits, and other perks. However, government is in a state of upheaval, so some of the long-regarded perks of government employment may be vanishing. It’s also important to note that my preparations for my finals also revealed that the federal government, i.e. the sponsor of Schedule A, has been losing more workers than they’ve been hiring in 2013. State and local government agencies are only hiring slowly in most areas, and I do not know if any state or local governments have a similar program.

Disability Employment: The Chronic Crisis

  • Posted on December 16, 2013 at 10:00 AM

In November 2013, 68.6% of Americans without disabilities participated in the workforce. Only 19.6% of Americans with disabilities participated in the workforce. Of the 68.6% of Americans without disabilities who participated in the workforce, 6.4% of them were unemployed. Of the 19.6% of Americans with disabilities who participated in the workforce, 12.3% of them were unemployed. This isn’t a lingering effect of the recession. This is a chronic problem that has gone on for years.

If it were any other American minority group, there would be public outcry and a demand for action. Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t warrant that much attention from the general public. Despite the persistent prejudice against people with disabilities:

  • People with disabilities are employable.
  • People with disabilities can make substantial contributions as part of our workforce.
  • There is no excuse for these discrepancies.

I’m not going to dwell on this. The numbers speak for themselves. But I will return later this week with more information.

Voices: Susan Senator

  • Posted on December 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Though her son, Nat, is older than any of mine, I can’t help but find something of a kindred spirit in the voice of Susan Senator. I’ve agreed with her and disagreed with her in times past, but I’m not going to dwell on the totality of the autism dialogues. Instead, I’m going to focus on two of the sentiments she shared in this piece.

First, there’s this passage, which highlights a problem we both see:

And nothing really changed for him until he was nearly 6, in a school that practiced a strict behavioral approach. Behaviorism was the only thing that could puncture that apparent indifference of his. I didn’t like this approach for that reason. It seemed almost mean-spirited, to force him to pay attention all the time to others’ trains of thought, to reward him like a puppy, with treats, to make him work every waking moment to correct himself. To learn that everything he did was wrong.

Even though my children are so much younger than her on (my oldest is not yet 15) this is still the dominant, prevailing attitude and approach to autism treatment.

Then, there’s the alternative she highlights, which I propose as a widely applicable solution:

Somewhere along the line I let it go. But when he reached his late teens, there was a stunning burst of growth. The sun’s rays shot out from behind those clouds and suddenly he wanted to be with people. No, he did not de-auticize. He just wanted friends.

It was plain old being ready. Time. And the nurturing acceptance of Special Olympics coaches. The message that you are perfect just as you are, now let’s play ball.

Children grow up, whether they are autistic or not. Acceptance nurtures that growth, whether the one who is accepted is autistic or not. Think back to your own childhood. Who made the most positive differences in your life? Did they treat you like a problem that needed to be fixed? Or did they treat you like a person who was worth helping? Does your child deserve any less?

Worth

  • Posted on November 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM

What do you do to reinforce the worth of a child in a world that’s better at tearing people down than building them up? The schools have their own strategies, though those seem to be better at making people feel good than enabling abilities. What do you, as a parent, do to build up your child’s worth?

Do you tell them you’re proud of them? Do you tell them why? Do you encourage them in their interests? Do you continue to support them when their interests change? Do you recognize both the good and the bad, and encourage them to be all of who they are? Do you tell them you love them? Do you show them you love them unconditionally?

Worth is something that must be instilled. A lot of people erode others’ worth for their own sense of self importance. You need to instill more than others erode. It’s just part of a parent’s job.