Chavez Charter Chain Teachers, Newly Unionized, Decry School Closing

Last night I attended a hearing at the ‘Public’ Charter School Board on 14th St NW here in Washington DC to support the teachers at Chavez Prep Middle School, which the un-elected chain’s board has decided to close.

Mark Simon wrote on Facebook,

“Chavez teachers did an amazing job last night! PCSB members asked some good questions of trustees, but avoided the Obvious role of Ten Square, which was simultaneously advising on contract negotiations and bank loan negotiations. Getting no concessions from the bank conveniently busts the union. Coincidence? Victory Ten Square. So why is the PCSB pushing Ten Square on schools anyway? Could preventing charter unionization from spreading be a bigger agenda than keeping one successful school open?”

I wrote:

I was there too, but didn’t stay until the very end- my back hurt from standing so much. (in the overflow space out in the hall) It’s definitely not a coincidence that they closed those particular schools; it’s clearly union-busting, just like McDonald’s or Walmart closing the few of their stores that unionized.
I didn’t hear anybody mention that, though they may have done so after I left.
BTW about 8-9 years ago I attempted to mentor a young math teacher at Chavez Parkside (Anacostia) through the Math for America [which is pretty much the diametric opposite of ‘Teach for Awhile’ in policy and training]. I was appalled at how poorly run the program was for both the students and the teachers.
So while on the one hand, I am pleased that all these young teachers united and joined the WTU and organized to fight back over their administration’s malfeasance, on the other hand I think as an institution, the Chavez chain leadership is morally and educationally bankrupt and SHOULD be closed down and revert to the actual public schools of washington DC.
IMG_3166
I could also have written:
These are not the stereotypical veteran, burned out, lazy teachers trying to shirk their responsibilities. These are passionate young people, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, who have a real desire to help young people, especially the poorest, those of color, and the most oppressed. They pointed out how their management seems able to spend millions on consultants who meet only with administrators, not teachers, not students, and not parents, yet the chain’s board claims that money problems forced them to close  two of their schools.
Yeah, right.

The Myth of the Super TFA Teacher is Crushed by TFA’s Own Research

A study conducted in Texas with the cooperation of Teach for America claims to pretend that TFA teachers are more effective than their peers. We’ve all heard this claim before, including from frauds like Michelle Rhee, who made up fables about her mythical and fantastic successes during her three years as a TFA newbie in Baltimore.

However, the facts and tables in the report itself shows exactly the opposite, at least for TFA members who are in their first two years (and for many of them, their only two years) in the classroom.

For example, look at the following tables, which I cut and pasted from the report:

how TFA teachers compare with their peers

Notice what the data is saying in the first four bar graphs above. Dark blue means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were significantly more likely to pass the STAAR test than the students of other, matched, non-TFA teachers. Black means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were NOT more likely to pass, and that this is statistically significant.

Also notice that they do NOT ask the question of whether students of TFA teachers do significantly worse on that test than do students of other teachers. We can only guess.

(1) During the first year that a TFA ‘corps member’ is in the classroom, in 44% to 46% of the cases, their students do NOT do significantly better than their peers on a state-wide standardized test than do the students of non-TFA teachers. We don’t know for a fact that the students actually did WORSE than those taught by non-TFA teachers, but it is certainly a strong possibility. Only in 1/6 to 1/4 of the cases (16% to 26%), do the students of the TFA first-year teachers do significantly better than the students of other, comparable teachers.

(2) Apparently students of second-year TFA teachers in Texas do even worse than those of first-year TFA teachers, especially in reading, because the dark blue sections of the third and fourth bar graphs are significantly smaller than those for the first and second bar graphs, and the black section of bar graph 3 (reading) is much larger than it was in bar graph 1.

Bar graphs 3 and 4 include both first year and second year TFA teachers; since the combined figures for both years 1 and 2 are much worse than for just year 1, that must mean that TFA teachers get worse at preparing their students for the STAAR test during their second year.

(3) However, the relatively few TFA corps members who successfully exit TFA and go on to remain as classroom teachers apparently do much better than the peers that were selected by this study (that’s bar graphs 5 and 6; note the dark blue sections are much larger).

However, let me quote the conclusions written by the authors of this report concerning this graph:

“Students of TFA alumni were significantly more likely to pass STAAR Reading and Math in 77% and 82% of all Reading & Math analyses, respectively. TFA corps members are more effective in Math than Reading. ”

I will let you, the reader, make your own decision as to whether preparing students to pass tests like the PARCC or the STAAR is a worthy goal. But it’s almost all the data that we have.

Thanks to Gary Rubinstein for his blog post, pointing me towards this study.

Why ‘De-Facto’ Segregation is a Myth: Richard Rothstein Explains

The terrible and vicious segregation we see in cities all across America did not happen by accident. It is a myth that placing black, brown and white folks into neighborhoods segregated by race and income just ‘growed’ naturally.

In fact, the government, at levels from towns and counties to the state and federal, made sure that certain benefits (such as low-interest home mortgages) would only accrue to white families and be denied to African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, or Asian origin – often violently.

Richard Rothstein explains many of the details in this article at the Phi Delta Kappan.

He also asks, “How can we ever sustain a common national identity if so many of us live so far apart from one other that we cannot possibly understand or empathize with the life experiences of people from other races? “

He continues:

There are many possible ways to desegregate housing, which might enable the most disadvantaged children to grow up in diverse, higher-opportunity neighborhoods. Further, when researchers have looked closely at the handful of experimental programs that have assisted low-income families with young children to move to integrated housing, they have observed positive effects on those children’s performance in school. 

Such reforms might range from subsidizing first-time homeownership for working families to modification of zoning ordinances in affluent suburbs that prohibit construction of town houses or even single-family homes on small lot sizes to the revision of programs that help low-income families rent apartments. (For example, the “Section 8 voucher” program is long overdue for a redesign. As it stands, it reinforces residential segregation because vouchers tend to be usable only in already low-income neighborhoods.)  

But such reforms will never become politically or constitutionally feasible if we hold onto the myth of de facto segregation. That’s why it’s so critical, for example, to challenge those who would misinform young people about the country’s recent past. Even today, the most widely used middle and high school history textbooks neglect to mention the role of public housing in creating segregation, and they portray the FHA as an agency that made home ownership possible for working-class Americans, with no mention of those who were excluded. Likewise, they describe state-sponsored segregation as a strictly Southern phenomenon, and they portray discrimination in the North as the result of private prejudice alone, saying nothing about the active participation of local, state, and federal governments. 

Such miseducation — though I’m tempted to call it indoctrination — undermines the possibility of future progress toward residential and educational integration. As New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu put it, referring to the glorification of Confederate generals who fought to maintain slavery, “We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial.” The next generation will do no better than the present one unless we teach young people an un-sanitized version of the past. And if we do not, they too will wonder why the achievement gap so stubbornly persists, and they too will pursue flawed policies that attempt to raise the performance of segregated schools without addressing its underlying cause — the ongoing segregation of the neighborhoods in which those schools are located.   

How To Make a Fortune in Education: Become A Charter School CEO!

I’ll point you to two sources on this hot tip: Washington City Paper and Curmudgucation, which can point you to other sources as well.

In general, the heads of charter schools – who receive lots of tax dollars but who don’t have to let the public know how they are using those funds, not even through FOIA requests – make a LOT of money, much more than a mere principal or superintendent, even though they are in charge of WAY fewer students or staff.

Charter school teachers? They often don’t earn even as much as their public-school colleagues.

I’m cutting and pasting the WCP article, and also suggest you read Peter Greene’s post at Curmudgucation.

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D.C. Charter Administrators Have Some of the Highest School Salaries in Town; Their Teachers, Some of the Lowest

The head of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School made $541,000 in 2017.

RACHEL M. COHEN
 JAN 30, 2019 6 AM
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Cover Rosario 596671c68f993Carlos Rosario International Public Charter SchoolDARROW MONTGOMERYLiz Koenig has been working in D.C. charter schools for seven years, and at the same charter for the last five. She used to be a lawyer. “My first-year salary as a teaching assistant was less than my year-end bonus as an attorney, which blew my mind,” she recalls.

When Koenig took her current teaching job, she didn’t know anything about her charter’s salary schedule, other than what she had been offered to start. In the middle of her third year, she asked HR if she could review her school’s pay scale, because she was trying to figure out how her salary might increase if she obtained additional teaching credentials.

“I’ve always been interested in getting a master’s in dual-language teaching for ELL [English language learner] students, or a master’s in curriculum and instruction of literacy, but I’m a mother of two kids, and before I take that leap, I wanted to understand what I could expect to earn at my school if I did get those credentials,” she says. “I can’t take on any more debt. I still have debt from law school I’m paying off.”

But Koenig was denied that information, as are most charter teachers in D.C. “There are 120 schools but you can’t just call them up and learn their salary schedules,” she says. “It puts us in a position where we can’t make informed choices about where we work. Charter schools are free markets for all the parents and kids, but screw those teachers.”

Koenig says if she leaves her school, she’ll probably head to DC Public Schools, “where at least I’ll have the transparency.” Even without getting extra credentials, Koenig estimates she could be earning about $15,000 more right now in DCPS.

D.C. is nationally noted for its above-average teaching salaries—the minimum starting rate for a full-time DCPS educator is $56,313, and the average DCPS teacher earned over $76,400 in the 2016-17 school year. But publicly available information about D.C. charter school salaries is surprisingly scant. And unlike DCPS, charter schools are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

This past fall, the State Board of Education released a report on teacher retention in D.C. schools, prepared by Mary Levy, an independent budget analyst. As part of her research, Levy combed through the annual reports published by each individual charter school organization, where, in addition to publishing information about teacher attrition, most schools also report their minimum, maximum, and average teacher salary. The DC Public Charter School Board requests charters report this information, but does not require it, and so some charters, like DC Prep and Washington Global, decline to provide the salary data.

Still, using what information she could find, Levy estimated the average D.C. charter school teacher salary in the 2016-17 school year amounted to $60,499.

Yet she has reason to question the precision of these self-reported figures. When Levy was compiling data for her SBOE report, she found that most of the charter schools that reported attrition of over 50 percent in fact had far less. “What that says is there’s an assumption that nobody would look at these annual reports, and whoever filled it out apparently confused the words ‘attrition’ with ‘retention,’” she says. “It makes a big difference if anyone actually uses the data. Then the people who are submitting the information tend to be more careful.”

Tomeika Bowden, the spokesperson for the DC Public Charter School Board, confirmed that her organization does not collect any additional information on charter teacher pay.

City Paper asked the State Board of Education if it had ever tried to learn the salaries of D.C. charter school teachers. “The SBOE has not requested that information because it does not fall within the purview of the Board’s work,” answered John-Paul Hayworth, the board’s Executive Director. When pressed on how that squares with the SBOE’s focus on teacher retention, Hayworth said the State Board generally avoids making recommendations on hiring practices, including contract length, performance assessments, and salaries. While the board might recommend that schools report the overall expenditure on teachers in a school, Hayworth added, it “wouldn’t request individual-level information.”

***

Though charter teachers earn much less than their DCPS counterparts, administrative pay in the charter sector has been rising at a fast clip, according to public records.

According to salary information posted each year on the DC Public Charter School Board’s website, between 2016 and 2018, staff working at the DC Public Charter School Board received raises averaging 12 percent annually. And in 2017, according to nonprofit tax filings, the average annual salary for the top leader at each D.C. charter was $146,000. Only three charter heads earned less than $100,000, and eight earned more than $200,000.

Summary statistics aside, the sector is replete with examples of steep salaries and quick raises. Allison Kokkoros, the head of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and the highest-paid charter official in D.C., received a 24 percent salary increase between 2015 and 2016, from $248,000 to $307,000. Then, in 2017, she received another 76 percent increase, bumping her compensation to $541,000. Patricia Brantley, head of Friendship Public Charter School, received a 33 percent raise between 2016 and 2017, increasing her pay from $231,000 to $308,000.

Outside of school heads, other high-ranking charter administrators also claimed significant salaries. In 2017, KIPP DC had four administrators making approximately $200,000 annually, and its president earned $257,000. The chair of Friendship, Donald Hense, earned over $355,000 annually between 2015 and 2017, and its CFO earned between $171,000 and $197,000 in each of those years. DC Prep’s Chief Academic Officer earned $203,000 in 2015, and $223,000 one year later. The board chair of AppleTree Early Learning earned over $231,000 annually each year since 2015, reaching $245,000 in 2017. 990 tax forms list another 110 charter administrators earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, although this list is likely not comprehensive, as schools are only required to disclose their top five highest-paid employees. 2018 figures are not yet available.

In one remarkable instance, Sonia Gutierrez, the founder and former CEO of Carlos Rosario, who now sits on the school’s board, earned $1,890,000 between 2015 and 2017. Board chair Patricia Sosa, when contacted about this large sum, says much of that had been awarded as deferred compensation from Gutierrez’s time working between July 2010 and December 2015. However, according to tax records, she was also paid an average of $326,000 annually during that period.

Research conducted on other cities has shown that administrative spending tends to be higher in charter sectors than in traditional public school districts. Still, administrative spending has also been a concern in DCPS, and it was one of the major points Washington Teacher’ Union leaders brought up during their last round of contract negotiations. And in Denver, Colorado, public school teachers are currently threatening to go on strike over wages, with teachers calling attention to Denver’s above-average spending on school administration.

For their part, charter school executives defend their current salaries as standard for the sector and necessary to retain top-tier personnel. But there may be a risk that within-sector salary comparisons result in administrator paychecks rising in sync with each other, rather than reflecting an underlying demand for staff.

***

Ironically, as charter administrators claim they need high salaries to compete for executive leadership, teachers complain that the opacity of their salaries makes bargaining for higher pay near impossible.

Last week, Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy—a network of four charter schools in D.C.—announced it will be unilaterally closing its Chavez Prep Middle School next year, and merging its two high schools. The network says this new closure and merger are due to lower-than-expected student enrollment, i.e. a revenue shortfall.

Chavez Prep is the city’s sole unionized charter school, and Christian Herr, a sixth grade science teacher at the school, says the lack of a clear salary schedule was one of the main reasons he and his colleagues were motivated to form a union. “When we were organizing our union, we learned things were just all over the place in terms of who got paid what, and there wasn’t a clear progression,” he says. “Your salary basically depended on how much a principal liked you, or what you were willing to ask for, or demand. The people with the same amount of experience and degrees got paid differently.”

The Chavez Prep union has been negotiating its first contract since the summer of 2017, and establishing a more transparent salary schedule has been one of their top priorities. What will happen to the union next year is not yet clear, and teachers say they plan to launch a full investigation into the reasons behind the closing of Chavez Prep.

Emily Silberstein, the CEO of the Cesar Chavez network, tells City Paper that her organization “has a long history of implementing a teacher pay scale that includes educational degrees and years of experience as factors in pay. Each year, the pay scale is reviewed as part of the network’s budgeting process. When updating the Chavez pay scale, we consider the network budget, pay in the D.C. charter sector, and the DCPS teacher pay scale.”

Silberstein says their updated pay scale is shared annually with teachers, and she defends her network’s compensation rates as competitive with other D.C. charter schools—citing a recent study by EdFuel, a nonprofit that helps schools recruit and retain teachers.

City Paper reached out to EdFuel to review the aforementioned compensation study, but Kelly Gleischman, a managing partner, said the study is not publicly available, as it’s currently shielded under a non-disclosure agreement. She says it was published March 1, 2018, and is under an NDA for eighteen months after that.

DCPS gets about $16,000 per pupil from the city’s operating budget, and charters receive a little less than $15,000—though charters also shoulder some additional costs like retirement and building maintenance. Silberstein says she understands why teachers would choose to teach in DCPS if pay was a top consideration. “For highly effective teachers, DC Public Schools is one of the highest-paying school districts in the country,” she says. “I admire DCPS for that and wish D.C. charter schools received the same kind of public and philanthropic support to make such salaries possible.”

“Speaking personally,” says Herr, “if I were at DCPS I would get paid $14,000 more than I do now, and my wife, who has worked at Chavez Prep as long as I have and has two master’s degrees, she’d get paid $19-to-$20,000 a year more.”

Post-publication, Carlos Rosario contacted City Paper to clarify that Allison Kokkoros’ 2017 pay, as reported in tax filings, included deferred compensation from previous years. Per their request, we have updated the headline of this story to specify that Kokkoros “made $541,000 in 2017” rather than having “earned $541,000 in 2017,” as was previously stated. We have updated the story to reflect that $541,000 was her compensation that year, not her salary.

Peter Greene on Raising Children, Not Meat Widgets

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation is the most down-to-earth and level-headed blogger I know of, and he writes wonderfully. One of his columns today has to do with the beauty and awe of being a parent, watching your children going up and moving out and raising their own kids someday, probably far away from you.

He recently retired from teaching at age 60 or so, and has two 20-month old kids. He is appalled at how billionaires and CEOs and engineers are trying to force kindergarteners to do things that used to be taught in 2nd or 3rd grade.

Read his column.

Maybe There Actually Is A Reason To Go Slow on GMO Foods

Interesting article about Caius Rommens, one of the original creators of genetically modified organisms. He has changed his position and says that there are actually serious grounds for concern, unlike the nonsense being peddled by some anti-vaxers and vegans.

The way I understand it, he says that when researchers like himself changed a gene inside a potato in order to reduce bruising, that change means that certain complicated pathways de-activate certain cellular processes in the potato — but also IN US. If they add in genes that produce poisons that are toxic to nematodes or other soil organisms, well, that is often poisonous to us as well.

Before we put these on the market in a big way, we should have checked all that stuff out beforehand. Here is the link:

https://johnhively.wordpress.com/2018/12/21/gmo-potato-scientific-founder-says-gmo-potatos-are-a-pandoras-box-of-troubles/

Even more interesting is the review of Rommens’ book at Amazon, which is apparently no longer for sale:

-THIS BOOK HAS SERVED ITS FUNCTION AND IS RETIRED- GMO potatoes are quietly entering the market place with innocuous names such as Innate, White, and Hibernate. They are suggested to have maintained all the original traits of normal potatoes and to have gained three new traits: enhanced disease resistance, enhanced uniformity, and enhanced healthiness. However, the reality is different. As a crop, the potatoes contain genetically unstable traits, two of which appear to have been lost already (or are in the process of being lost), suffer a significant yield drag and reduction in size profile, conceal bruises and potentially spread diseases, may be grown and stored in ways that maximize disease and pest pressures, and were developed through an act of biopiracy. As a processed food, they lost the sensory attributes that make normal potato foods so attractive, and they are also likely to contain new toxins. If it were up to me, the creator of these potatoes, I would call them Pandora’s Potatoes. They are the worst GMOs ever commercialized.

 

Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’

This is an excellent essay at Medium that I learned about from Peter Greene of Curmudgucation. I copy and paste it in its entirety in case you don’t like signing into Medium.

Why New Educators Resent “Reformers”

Let’s consider why so many young educators today are in open rebellion.

How did we lose patience with politicians and policymakers who dominated nearly every education reform debate for more than a generation?

Recall first that both political parties called us “a nation at risk,” fretted endlessly that we “leave no child behind,” and required us to compete in their “race to the top.”

They told us our problems could be solved if we “teach for America,” introduce “disruptive technology,” and ditch the textbook to become “real world,” 21st century, “college and career ready.”

They condemned community public schools for not letting parents “choose,” but promptly mandated a top-down “common core” curriculum. They flooded us with standardized tests guaranteeing “accountability.” They fetishized choice, chopped up high schools, and re-stigmatized racial integration.

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They told us the same public schools that once inspired great poetry, art, and music, put us on the moon, and initiated several civil rights movements needed to be split, gutted, or shuttered.

They invented new school names like “Green Renaissance College-Prep Academy for Character, the Arts, and Scientific Careers” and “Hope-Horizon Enterprise Charter Preparatory School for New STEM Futures.” They replaced the district superintendent with the “Chief Educational Officer.”

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They celebrated school recycling programs that left consumption unquestioned, gave lip-service to “student-centered civic engagement” while stifling protest, and talked up “multiple intelligences” while defunding the arts.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They expected us to believe that a lazy public-school teacher whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” was endemic but that an administrator bilking an online academy or for-profit charter school was “one bad apple.”

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

They promised new classroom technology to bridge the “digital divide” between rich, poor, urban, and rural, while consolidating corporate headquarters in a few elite cities. They advertised now-debunked “value-added” standardized testing for stockholder gain as teacher salaries stagnated.

They preached “cooperative learning” while sending their own kids to private schools. They saw alma mater endowments balloon while donating little to the places most Americans earn degrees. They published op-eds to end affirmative action but still checked the legacy box on college applications.

They were legitimately surprised when thousands of teachers in the reddest, least unionized states walked out of class last year.

Meanwhile……

The No Child Left Behind generation continues to bear the fullest weight of this malpractice, paying a steep price for today’s parallel rise in ignorance and intolerance.

We are the children of the education reformer’s empty promises. We watched the few decide for the many how schools should operate. We saw celebrated new technologies outpace civic capacity and moral imagination. We have reason to doubt.

We are are the inheritors of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We have watched democratic institutions crumble, conspiracies normalized, and authoritarianism mainstreamed. We have seen climate change denied at the highest levels of government.

We still see too many of our black brothers and sisters targeted by law enforcement. We watched as our neighbor’s promised DACA protections were rescinded and saw the deporters break down their doors. We see basic human rights for our LGBTQ peers refused in the name of “science.”

We have seen the “Southern strategy” deprive rural red state voters of educational opportunity before dividing, exploiting, and dog whistling. We hear climate science mocked and watch women’s freedom erode. We hear mental health discussed only after school shootings.

We’ve seen two endless wars and watched deployed family members and friends miss out on college. Even the battles we don’t see remind us that that bombs inevitably fall on schools. And we know war imposes a deadly opportunity tax on the youngest of civilians and female teachers.

Against this backdrop we recall how reformers caricatured our teachers as overpaid, summer-loving, and entitled. We resent how our hard-working mentors were demoralized and forced into resignation or early retirement.

Our collective experience is precisely why we aren’t ideologues. We know the issues are complex. And unlike the reformers, we don’t claim to have the answers. We simply believe that education can and must be more humane than this. We plan to make it so.

We learned most from the warrior educators who saw through the reform facade. Our heroes breathed life into institutions, energized our classrooms, reminded us what we are worth, and pointed us in new directions. We plan to become these educators too.

PISA International Test Results Are Rigged

If you read the article, you see how the international student tests known as PISA are rigged. It’s rather simple: the high-scoring countries choose their wealthiest cities; in those cities, they choose the highest-performing schools; and at those schools they don’t let the low-performing students take the test.

In this way, Washington, DC could be the highest scoring “state” in the USA if it only allowed the highest-scoring kids from, say, Janney, Murch, Deal, Walls, BASIS, St Albans and Sidwell participate. Easy-peasy!

The Chinese government could give lessons to Cheeto45 on how to obfuscate and lie.

“And forgive our debts, as we forgive those who owe us!”

The title of this post might remind you of part of the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which in English is usually rendered “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

This sounds like forgiving sins, but in Latin, which I studied for about six years, the prayer is really about forgiving debts:

“et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris”

I don’t know enough Greek to be able to comment on the original meaning of the words as apparently written down in the New Testament in that language, but it is generally accepted that Jesus (if he really existed) spoke Aramaic – but only a few of his (alleged) words were recorded in that language, since the entire NT was written in Greek, not in Hebrew or Latin, and definitely not in English!

The following book makes the argument that forgiving debts, wholesale, was essential if you wanted to avoid stratification of society into a class of oligarchs and a class of everybody else, who were essentially little better than slaves. They make the point that compounded interest grows exponentially and without limit, but economic growth does NOT: it follows a logistic curve at best, which means that there are certain limits.

For example, while bacteria growing in a petri dish appear to grow exponentially for some hours, perhaps for a few days, eventually, there is no more uncontaminated agar for the bacteria to eat, and they start drowning in their own waste products. So despite what one learns in most Algebra classes (including my own), bacterial growth is in actually logistic, not exponential. However, unless debt is periodically forgiven – which seldom if ever happens these days – the debtors end up drowning in debt, as you might be able to discern from this little graph I made:

logistic versus exponential growth

I haven’t read the book, but the review is most interesting. Here is a quote:

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualizedunderstanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

Were All Religions Started As Con Jobs?

Steven Ruis makes a very good case that all world’s religions started out by some bullshitter making up a story (out of whole cloth) in order to gain power, prestige, wealth, and so on, and then somehow figuring out how to get his/her fellows to believe the bullshit story.

Those of you who are religious (as I used to be), probably believe that all the OTHER religions are made-up lies. Naturally, one is far more likely to see the wrong things in what OTHERS believe than in what we ourselves believe …

We all agree now (don’t we?) that all that stuff about Zeus and Hera and Minerva and Thor and so on was all made up: the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths were not accurate accounts of how the world began or guides to how we humans should behave. However, the Roman poets that I read back in Latin class in high school got a lot of praise and wealth by helping make up those myths  — and I don’t even recall Homer, Ovid, or Vergil pretending that they actually watched the gods or heroes doing any of that stuff they wrote about. I don’t know of anyone who seriously believes in the old ‘Classical’ religions today, but at one point you could be killed for not doing so.

And as far as my Buddhist or Hindu friends are concerned, I don’t recall there being any technology being around under that Bo tree to verify whatever it was that Gautama was (or was not) experiencing when he got ‘enlightened’ (or whatever), and we certainly don’t have anybody claiming to be an objective reporter on the doings of Krishna or any of the other pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.

And Scientology? The only amazing thing about that total pile of bullshit* is that anybody at all believes any of it!

* (Actually, I should apologize: that’s an insult to male bovine feces: they are excellent fertilizer for your garden, as long as you let them ferment in your compost pile for a while. They sometimes contain a lot of weed seeds that will germinate in your garden where you don’t want them to. Horse manure is much less useful to most gardeners, because horses don’t ruminate (chew their cud and digest and re-digest their food in the presence of lots of microorganisms in various stomachs order to extract every gram of nutrients). Horse manure is the best thing for growing many types of mushrooms… But I digress. Maybe I should call it ‘blatherskite’ or  ‘codswallop’?)

You can certainly extend that skepticism on to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are all based on the first five books of what we call the ‘Bible’ or Tanakh. Think about it. While many folks (including me at one point) believe(d) those stories literally, if you look at it objectively, we don’t have any trustworthy witnesses that recorded the words, thoughts, or deeds of God, Adam, Eve, or Moses at the time or right afterwards… I mean, how could you be present at the creation anyway?

Also this: historians and archaeologists have shown by very careful, painstaking research that pretty definitively that essentially none of the Exodus story ever happened in real life: Serious Biblical scholars now conclude that the first five books were all made up during the Babylonian Captivity (which really DID happen). The later books did have some historical basis, but they are far from being an objective source. (Nor are the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus, Livy or anything else. If you think today’s news stories are biased (and of course they are – even the choice of what stories go on the front page or are the teasers on the TV broadcasts are editorial choices), then try journals of 100 – 200 years ago. Even Faux “news” almost looks even-handed compared to reporting during the Civil War, etc. It seems to me that today’s reporting is much more complete and makes much more of an attempt to be unbiased and objective than ever before. But I digress)

Back to Ruis’ thesis, the ‘Old Testament’ then served to cement the Hebrews into a separate tribe which obviously still exists today (no mean accomplishment). Don’t forget that Judaism (as with all other religions from Central America to Africa to Europe) ended up supporting a privileged caste of priests, who got to eat the fatted calves and perfect poultry that was brought to the temple as offerings to God. ‘God’ got to smell the aroma, the priests got to eat the nice barbecued meat… Nice work if you can get it and don’t have a conscience!

Again: it’s not like people really thought that calamities were because so-and-so didn’t sacrifice his/her own children. They didn’t exactly do a double-blind test to see what would happen, unlike scientists of today who do their level best to weed out their own biases, LEST THEY BE MOCKED BY OTHER SCIENTISTS for falling into a logical fallacy! In which case, the ideas exposed by the erring scientist are discarded or modified by others. Unlike with religion, where somebody who lived a long time ago supposedly knew everything, predicted everything, and nothing in the writings can ever be changed; anybody who dares to try to make changes is accused of heresy. That’s completely the opposite of the way science works. As scientists keep learning more and more about the way the universe actually works, the more they discover that their initial ideas were incorrect. No doctor is going to use the theory of the Four Humours to diagnose your ills, for example. NASA’s spacecraft don’t use astrological signs or the Ptolemaic model of the universe, and they keep finding brand-new worlds that we never dreamed of even a few decades ago!

That’s one of the reasons why I prefer science to religion or even novels: there’s always something new being discovered; there is lively debate about what evidence is admissable and what it proves; and nobody is considered to have all the answers. (Yes, any serious amateur astronomer today can point out to you places where both Einstein and Newton were wrong — as great as their insights were!)

There are still billions of people who take on faith one or the other version of the Big Six Religions; one clue that these religions might not be all so wonderful is that throughout history, governments have waged untold wars and committed countless massacres, supposedly because other people didn’t believe as they did and didn’t offer worship and respect to their own doctrine and group of ‘spiritual’ leaders.

Now, when scientists propose explanations

Now, there are plenty of wonderful people that believe all kinds of nonsense, and I am very sure that I, too, believe a lot of things that are just plain wrong. But what one thinks, believes or says doesn’t necessarily dictate how one behaves. I bet that there are all kinds of really cruel things advocated in the sacred texts of any religion. Fortunately, most people do NOT practice those things any more. Unfortunately, there are those who do: those who bomb, behead, blow up, beat up, imprison, incinerate, or shoot others for not following the rule of God or the Leader …

Here’s the link:

https://stephenpruis.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/marks-and-con-men-in-the-religion-con/

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