By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

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From the New York Times :

BHOPAL, India* (AP) -- Crawling painfully on her hands and knees, Shakira Ehsan moved awkwardly to the doorway of her dim two-room shanty, located just across the street from an abandoned pesticide plant. In 1984 the plant was the site of the world's worst industrial disaster. Twenty years later, Shakira is one of the thousands of child victims who have carried its toxic burden. Years after her mother was exposed to the cloud of lethal gas that leaked from the Union Carbide plant, Shakira's spindly legs are too weak to carry her body. Her mind has the abilities of a child. … Activists say the area remains a danger, leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater. But the company says the groundwater around the plant is free of toxins and any water contamination was due to improper drainage and other pollution, not Union Carbide chemicals.

LAIE, Hawaii* — Several changes are under way here in Laie, a little town on Oahu's north shore that serves as the Hawaii center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But none are more striking than those that created this view, at a cost of $5.5 million. Since late last year, a church-affiliated property management company, Hawaii Reserves Inc., has been renovating the wide avenue that leads to the Mormons' showcase Hawaii temple. Termite-infested Norfolk pines have been replaced by more than 70 royal palms. Stout lamps have been added, carrying the eye up the terraced reflecting pools. Then there are the new roundabouts, which when fully planted by the end of the year will burst with color.


• Scholar Thomas Lickona once said that "education has had two great goals: to help young people become smart and to help them become good," observes Wooster student Marissa Bambrey in a paper entitled "Becoming Good: A Pentadic Analysis of the Moral Messages in Elementary School Curricula and Textbooks from Two Contexts." (Pentadic analysis means examining the "act, scene, agent, agency and purpose" of rhetoric.) Bambrey cites David Purpel, who says modern secular education has largely become "a process of learning information and gaining intellectual insights that are presumed to be independent of moral and political considerations" (see the Purpel citation in a partial source list here). In truth, Purpel says, any school always has a "hidden curriculum"—which sounds sinister but simply means "the values, attitudes, and assumptions toward learning and human relationships reflected in the school's policies and practices." Public school textbooks, Bambrey shows, contain myriad moral messages about being a good citizen and member of a community. In fact, one of her most intriguing findings is that secular textbooks tend to emphasize the student's communal identity and obligations, while Christian school textbooks "concentrate on the student as an individual rather than as part of a larger group." (I would have expected the reverse, since individualism is an American creed while Christians are members of a body of believers.) Bambrey concludes that "the teaching of morality is not complete in public and private schools"; both, she says, "give a limited view of morality." She states, "So now, not only are children receiving moral lessons from several conflicting perspectives, whether that is home, school, church, or elsewhere, but they are also receiving incomplete perspectives."

• Speaking of cultural divides, we know the media has a hard time with the terms "evangelical" and "born again," throwing them around without clear definitions, especially after the recent election. But do evangelicals have a hard time with the words themselves? Syndicated religion columnist Terry Mattingly recalls asking Billy Graham once to define "evangelical." "Actually, that's a question I'd like to ask somebody, too," Graham told Mattingly in the late 1980s, saying the word had "become blurred." "One man's 'evangelical' is another's 'fundamentalist,'" Mattingly observes. Graham said the mark of an evangelical is one who affirms the Nicene Creed. The Associated Press stylebook defines evangelicals as "doctrinally conservative Christians" who "stress both doctrinal absolutes and vigorous efforts to win others to belief." Pollster George Barna says all evangelicals are born again, but not vice versa, even though the media tend to use the two interchangeably. Other pollsters seem to be fumbling around for the right words. Exit polls four years ago asked voters if they would consider themselves part of the "religious right"; according to the PreachingNow newsletter, 14 percent said yes. This year voters were asked if they would call themselves evangelical or born again, and 23 percent said yes. The change in wording makes any comparison between the two worthless. Mattingly's column / PreachingNow on exit polls

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