Student Technology Use

John-Francis when he was 6, learning (in World of Warcraft)


On Wednesday Thom Barclay and I did a presentation at Galloway on how 21st Century Students Use Technology.

The PowerPoint Presentation and all the supporting materials are linked here:

Student Technology Use in the 21st Century

There’s a decent bibliography section on gaming and pedagogy at the end of the page.   Hopefully that will be the topic of a subsequent session.


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How To Never Become a Grown-Up

"Daybreak" - Maxfield Parrish

“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish

If you wish to download this as a PDF formatted for a single page, click here: Never Become a Grown-Up (Printable).

Few people actually grow wiser as they age.  Even if we do, we all feel like we’re walking around in our parents’ clothes pretending to be adults.  90% of the time when an adult chides a teenager for something, the adult had the exact same idea.  But they know they have to sound like an adult, so they mumble the admonishments they think they’re obligated to repeat.  Most of the “wise, adult” things you hear adults say, especially the lame and irrelevant ones, are just them parroting what they heard growing up.

Ultimately, most adults journey through their lives jettisoning all the things that are truly wonderful about youth:  passion, creativity, freedom, spontaneity, and loyalty; while also clinging to the very weaknesses they hoped to outgrow:  insecurity, pettiness, jealousy, gossip, and selfishness.  It all looks very “grown-up” from the outside, but that’s just window-dressing.  Don’t let the nicer clothes and more expensive toys fool you.  Unless you choose your friends and your path very carefully, most of adulthood is just a larger version of the high school cafeteria, but the cliques are more stratified and their members are more tired.

Some people, however, manage to become adults without ever becoming “grown-ups” (a patronizing word I have never liked).  Over the years, I have tried to figure out their secret, and tried to incorporate what I could into my own life.

So, for all my younger friends and friends who hope to stay young, here is my advice for how to become an adult without selling out to a system that never grew-up but insists that you should:

1.   When confronted with doing something new or doing a familiar task differently, ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?” If you can’t think of a good reason why not to, then do it.

2.   You will constantly hear people say, “I always wanted to…” or “I wish I could…” When faced with those statements, ignore their excuses for why they didn’t/couldn’t/won’t and start thinking about how you can/will/must!

3.   Remember that most people are unhappy, most people are unfulfilled, and most people are not in control of their own lives. With that in mind, doing things the way most people do them is insanity.  If you’re not weird, you’re wasting your life.

4.   Pay attention. Most people don’t. Train yourself to look for patterns in the way the world works, and then take advantage of those patterns to gain more freedom for yourself and control of your environment.

5.   Morality is often the opposite of what you think it is. Most people define “morality” as “doing the same things they do.” They allow any compromises that they, themselves, make, and scorn anyone who doesn’t avoid the same things they avoid.

Real morality is very different, very rare, and most often found where you least expect it. Truly moral people have an inflexible code when it comes to two things: betraying another’s trust, and harming someone else for their own gain.

Everything else is bullshit.

6.   “Achievement” is a meaningless goal in and of itself. Even the greatest achievements – landing on the moon, curing polio – are infinitesimal when you look at them on a cosmic scale. It’s the small decisions that will ultimately lead up to your greatest achievements. In whatever space you are given, make the choices that will improve the lives of the people around you.

There will be days when crooking your arm so a baby can sleep more comfortably will be your greatest achievement. It seems a small thing, but  being someone who makes others safe and comfortable is an amazing accomplishment and a tremendous legacy.

7.   Do not waste time or energy on unhealthy people. Only a small number of people are worth making your close friends.  This bears repeating.  Choose your friends very, very carefully.  They can, and should, be different from you in myriad ways, but they must be people who value:  Loyalty, Integrity, Kindness, Generosity, and Intentionality.  There is no room for flexibility on these things.  Be kind to everyone, but you should only entrust your friendship to those rare people whose lives are defined by those five traits.

8.   Stand up to bullies, of every kind and in every place.

9.   If you don’t find yourself occasionally saying, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” then the joke is on you.

10. Remember that the silly stuff, the painful stuff, the embarrassing stuff, the icky stuff – that is where ALL of the magic in the world is to be found. Not some of it, ALL of it. If you pretend that stuff doesn’t exist, you will lead a life devoid of magic.

If you insist on seeking out those things, if you celebrate them, if you deal with them honestly and publicly you will scare people, but magic is not for the timid and afraid.

“Adults” become masters of pretending that stuff doesn’t exist. Don’t ever buy into that.

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Mothers Day Wishes

Banjo Lesson - Mary Cassat

The Banjo Lesson - Mary Cassat


As a child, I watched with some amusement the almost comical, fawning performances typical of Southern, evangelical churches on Mother’s Day.

As a teenager, I came to realize that much of the rhetoric contained therein actually functioned to reinforce patriarchal structures that intentionally excluded women from leadership roles, and limited their options to those matching certain gender stereotypes.

When I became a pastor, I came to realize how much grief was centered on Mother’s Day for many people. Some congregants had lost children, or never had them despite wanting them desperately. Others grieved the loss of their mothers. Still others had suffered abuse at the hands of their mothers, and Mother’s Day caused them to relive that trauma.

And yet, amidst all of these feelings, there are many who wish to honor their mothers and all the diverse expressions of motherhood. Some mothers are quietly supportive and deeply compassionate. Others are strict and uncompromising. Some mothers are corporate executives. Others are accomplished professionals. And other mothers dedicate themselves to creating healthy homes. There is no single best way to be a parent, and the many incarnations of motherhood remind us of that.

Whatever this day means to you, I hope it is a happy one, and I hope that you find the opportunity to honor the best of what this day can represent: celebration of those who nurtured us as children and sustain us as adults.

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25 Random Things

This actually turned out to be a really enjoyable exercise. My thanks to the Facebook friends who encouraged it:

Tiger Drinking

Source: Flickr

1. I rarely drink anything besides water (sparkling or still, I do like variety you know). The usual alternatives are juice or a fruit smoothie.



Joshua as a soldier.


2. I have worked as: a soldier, police instructor, a counter-terrorism consultant and trainer, a crime prevention expert, a pastor, a writer and editor, a bodyguard, a private detective, an interpreter, a photo-processor, a professor, a and a stay-at-home parent. I’m currently looking for more jobs that start with “p.” (And I was a paratrooper when I was a soldier, so there’s a preponderance of p’s already.)



Family snowman picture.3. I value time with my wife and son over anything and everything. I don’t care who you are or what the personal or professional gain might be from attending a particular event, I will blow you off to spend time with Brigit and John-Francis.



Secret Lives of Mobs4. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, and have edited a few of them.



Rainy Day photo from freephoto.com5. I really like rainy days.



Joshua & Sean6. I am highly selective about my close friends, and fiercely loyal to them.


Tie-dyed Peace Sign


7. I never outgrew my hippie idealism from college.



Monty Python and the Holy Grail8. I think that doing something because “most” people or “normal” people do it is a really terrible idea. In fact, I immediately question the logic or quality of an idea or behavior if it’s popular.



Smooching Brigit9. My wife is my best friend, and our relationship is one of affectionate intimacy. I’m amazed by how many people don’t seem to want this from a spouse, and instead spend much of their lives bitching about how little they have in common with the person they married.




10. I like organizing physical objects as well as ideas. This is obvious if you open any drawer I’ve been near (mine or otherwise) and if you read my research. I like taxonomies and putting things in boxes, which drives my dear friend Katy crazy. (I’ve put her in the “doesn’t like to be put in a box” box.)


Carter Family11. I love roots music and old shape note gospel hymns.



Die Hard Poster12. I enjoy banal TV programs and feel good movies (especially with gratuitous nudity and/or explosions), and I usually have the TV on while I’m working.



Grandpa Vanderhof13. I want to grow up to be Grandpa Martin Vanderhof from Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You.”



Karl Barth14. I think the profound spiritual insights of our ancestors in the faith should be preserved without fettering them with the cultural assumptions and superstitions of the eras in which those ancestors lived. If that sentence makes sense to you, you’ll understand my theological writings and public stances on social issues. If it doesn’t, no amount of explaining on my part will help.



It's a Wonderful Life cast15. My greatest hope for John-Francis is that he will grow up to be someone who thinks deeply and loves generously.


Bread and Cheese


16. Fresh-baked bread and sharp cheese is one of my favorite combinations in the world.


Poetry Magnets


17. I used to write a lot of poetry, now I write a lot of prose. I think that what I lost in artistry I gained in clarity.



Dad and Me by the Chattahoochee18. I’ve learned more from Dad than I have, cumulatively, from everyone else in my life.





19. I wish I were more kind.


Car Wreck


20. When I think about the number of stupid things I survived to learn the lessons I have learned, I am tempted to lock John-Francis up until he’s 30.



Source: Troy University Tech Tip Tutorials

21. I can design web pages from scratch using a text editor, but I prefer not to.


Parts of the Brain


22. I have never done any illegal drugs or smoked cigarettes. I hate both vices with a passion, the former because it makes you stupid and the latter because it killed three of my four grandparents.



Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast23. Although I test as highly extroverted, and think of myself as one, I rarely enjoy parties with large groups of people I don’t know these days. I find I like fewer and fewer people the older I get, and that my tendency to speak frankly offends most people.


ENTP - with Lightsabers and Squirrels and Whooshing

24. I think scientifically calibrated personality assessments are useful, and that Internet ones can be fun, so I keep results from both on this page.  I am definitely an ENTP.


Bernard Fall

Bernard Fall

25. Nearly all of my diverse skills have something to do with words or weaponry, and I think it’s important that every person be willing to use both to defend those who are in positions of vulnerability.

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Why I Loved Avatar

Avatar Movie Poster

“I thought the cinematography was breathtaking, but the story was weak and derivative.”  That seems to be the consensus critique of James Cameron’s Avatar.  I think this critique misses two key points about storytelling.  One:  movies are not novels.  Two:  great storytelling is not necessarily about having an original plot.

For the record, I’m a word guy.  I love novels, and will often read a couple in any given week.  I also love movies and television shows that replicate the sophisticated wordplay of good novels.  Atticus Finch’s closing argument, Lorelei Gilmore’s run-on pop culture references, Will Hunting’s dressing down of a pretentious grad student, Malcolm Reynolds’ pithy observations about life on the lam, Hynkels closing monologue in The Great Dictator – I can think of countless moments on large and small screens that have rivaled the awe I have experienced and the brilliant craftsmanship of a thought-provoking novelist.

Words, however, are not the only way for a moviemaker to tell a story.  The clever minds at Monty Python built a creative empire by creating visuals whose humor actually undermined the words of the narrator.  In his “Man with no Name” trilogy, Sergio Leone allowed the landscape and the wrinkles at the corner of Clint Eastwood’s eyes to carry forward the story.  Michael Winterbottom’s controversial 9 Songs told the story of a relationship almost entirely through the two characters’ body language and sex life.

Music, landscape, movement, expression are all part of the filmmaker’s palette.  In Avatar, James Cameron has chosen to tell a story by creating a fully-immersive, coherent world.  For fans of science fiction, that alone is a huge gift.  Unlike books in the genre, science fiction movies only use as much pseudo-science as is necessary to tell their traditional stories in non-traditional settings.

The most successful science fiction movies make this clear.  George Lucas recreated World War II in space, even though dogfighting makes no sense in zero-gravity.  Gene Rodenberry wanted us to focus more on ethnic, class, and religious conflicts than on the fact that a “universal translator” is an impossibility.  The Wachowski brothers could not have asked their questions about identity and reality if they had allowed physicists to ask basic questions about the efficiency of using human beings as batteries.

In other words, if we look too closely at the world in which a typical science fiction movie is set, the story actually gets derailed.  In Avatar, the world is the story.  The ecology of Pandora is supposed to be completely real and breathtakingly alien.  Its humanoid and non-humanoid characters are familiar enough that we can predict their behavior, yet foreign enough that we can watch them in wonder.  Along with Jake Sully, we fall in love with Pandora – and along with him we feel it viscerally when greed and ignorance wound her.

The dialogue is secondary.  Even the specifics of the plot are secondary, most especially when they are obviously silly (unobtanium?  really?) or contrived (the only place you can get the rare ore is where the Na’vi live?  really?).  The story of Avatar is Pandora, and the way in which it swiftly and completely becomes our world too.

The plot that draws us into that world is hardly original, especially since it is a true story that residents of the Amazon would gladly tell us they are living out every day.  This is not the unpardonable sin some of Avatar’s detractors would have us believe it to be.  Some brilliant stories are completely derivative.  The story of star-crossed lovers preceded Romeo and Juliet by hundreds of years.  Surely Homer would recognize the plot of Oh Brother!.

Some stories are worth telling in new ways, so that new generations can hear them in their own language.  We can never be reminded too often that there are people and places with truths we might not understand.  We must constantly re-teach ourselves that power and selfishness can blind us to the destruction we wreak in our arrogance and greed

Quibble all you like about gravity inconsistencies and weak dialogue, James Cameron has crafted perhaps the most internally-consistent, immersive, extra-terrestrial world ever brought to life on the large screen.  In so doing, he has made the atrocities of ethnocentric consumerism real in a way that a cleverly contrived plot alone would not have.  For threats of mass destruction or genocide to be real to us, they must threaten our home.  This is why the apocalyptic scenes of Terminator are so much more terrifying than the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope.

Avatar tells us how an alien land can become our home, and it does so by making Pandora our world, causing us to feel her wounds, and cheer at her defense.  James Cameron did not accomplish this with brilliant writing or an innovative story, he did it by making even the tiniest details of Pandora as real and vibrant as possible.  It works, spectacularly.

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