Friday, August 20, 2010

Some Early Thoughts on the Possibility of a Reformed Seminary in West Virginia

A seminary in West Virginia would make seminary education available to those within the State who might not otherwise have the opportunity or ability to attend seminary.

I don’t know any statistics to prove my case, but I am under the general impression that our State does not produce very many Reformed seminarians.  If this is true, there are probably many different reasons.  I am sure these reasons are not unique to WV.  Everybody who attends any graduate school in any field of study must overcome the obstacles of cost, location, time, and academic prerequisites.  Again, no real figures, but I believe that people in our State might be among the most disadvantaged with regard to these obstacles. 

So a centrally located seminary, say in the Charleston area, would make the possibility open to more people.  It would have to be exceptionally affordable in order for already financially-stressed people to even be able to consider it.  Since finances are already an issue, working seminarians would have to have the content delivered non-traditionally—a variety of class times and modalities that would fit most easily into a working family-life.   There is not much that any of us can do about academic prerequisites (chiefly a Bachelor’s degree) other than to just encourage and support potential seminarians in their efforts to finish college.

However, other Reformed denominations have lay-pastor training programs that might be exemplars.  If it is true that lack of formal education need not stand in the way of the spread of reformed theology, then perhaps we could provide pastors for churches who are educated at least to the level that increases the chances of their staying true to the tenets of historic Reformed theology throughout their ministries.  This might mean that graduate education is not absolutely necessary.  However, I wonder if the possibility of a generational slide away from Reformed theology might go along with this, ie, if this generation reduces its education and ordination requirements for the sake of training lay-pastors, what is to prevent the next generation from reducing them even more, to the point that eventually the purpose of a reformed education is undermined?  I speculate that this generational slide has already happened to Baptist theology.  Calvinistic Baptists were once influential, but could it be that their lack of clergy ordination standards resulted in a modern Baptist movement that hardly knows what Reformed theology is?

A seminary in West Virginia would allow us to really focus upon the spread of Reformed theology in the State of West Virginia.  I have already made some comments about the weak state of Reformed theology in our State.  Others have made some good comments in reply.  More Reformed seminarians might mean more Reformed missions throughout the State. 

A Seminary in West Virginia would also allow us to explore the unique cultural distinctives of Appalachia in general and West Virginia in particular.  Don’t get me wrong--what can be found here can probably be found throughout the country, but our culture is intense in its “You’re not from around here” mentality.  And what makes our culture unique is not that it does not exist elsewhere, but that it is so concentrated here.  And it is concentrated here to such a degree that statistics do indeed show that West Virginia is different from other States.   

In spite of this, West Virginia is not culturally monolithic, so this seminary would need to acquaint itself with the wide variety of cultural elements in our State.  We have college towns and industrial towns and coal mining communities and farming communities and communities that have virtually no predominate work or industry.  But whatever is unique about our State would need to be explored by this seminary and then passed on through pastoral theology to our seminarians.   Armed with a strong understanding of our culture, seminarians might have better opportunities to spread the Gospel, advance the Kingdom, and entrench Reformed theology.

So, like I said, these are early thoughts.  Lots of minds would have to come together on this one, but I am interested in at least beginning the process of considering the possibilities.  Feel free to add thoughts.

The State of Reformed Theology in the State of West Virginia

How many Reformed churches does West Virginia have?  

I know there are 10 churches affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (my denomination).  There are two Orthodox Presbyterian churches.  One Evangelical Presbyterian church.  One Reformed Baptist Church.  Perhaps three or four independent Baptist churches that have Reformed leanings, but do not claim to be creedally Reformed.   There are dozens of churches affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, but who knows how many of these are actually Reformed or even embrace the most basic Christian doctrines.   So the State of West Virginia has a very meager Reformed presence.  Why? 

I hope to be able to explore this question in detail in a doctoral dissertation at Pittsburgh Theological  Seminary within the next couple of years.  I have a feeling that at least some of the reasons are related to reasons West Virginia is consistently at the bottom of good lists and at the top of bad lists.  But here’s a few observations for the moment.
  1. It is difficult to find pastors for Reformed Churches in our State.
    •  It is hard to bring them in from the outside because there is a dearth of Calls within the State.  Even when Calls are available, West Virginia doesn’t tend to attract people easily.  There are not a lot of churches and not a lot of ministers for those churches. Five of our ten PCA churches are without pastors at the moment, so they are being filled by “stated supply,” which is a sort of interim. The vast majority of the dozens of PCUSA churches in the State are filled by lay-pastors, interims, and stated supply.  This is probably because they are too small to support full-time, ordained teaching elders.
    • It is hard to bring them in from the outside because most of those churches are not able to support full-time pastors.  Low salaries do not attract pastors who need to support families.
    • It is hard to bring them up from the inside because educational standards are poor within the State.  West Virginia trails the nation in the percentage of college graduates.  People who do not go to college cannot go to seminary.  Someone who “desires the office of a bishop” has a long row to hoe before he can even begin to consider pastoring a church—at least 7 to 10 years of undergraduate and graduate education.   Who wants to bother with this?  It is a tough and rare achievement even in States with higher rates of college completion.  How much more in a State where college degrees are few and far between.
    • It is also hard to bring them up from the inside simply because Reformed theology is not widely understood even in Reformed churches.  That leads to the second observation.
  2. West Virginians have a hard time accepting Reformed Theology and Presbyterianism.  Why?  I am not dogmatic, but I wonder if the following has any merit:
    • Our Appalachian culture has been dominated by easier theology.  Frankly, we are flooded with free-will theology, churches, and culture.  Baptistic churches have spread throughout our State in part because there are no universal ordination standards, such as seminary education, and because baptistic theology is easier to both preach and digest.  "Low ordination standards" means that literally anyone can be a preacher and a pastor.  Baptistic churches can and have spread quickly and easily.  It also means that their preachers and pastors tend to be unschooled in theology and exegesis.  In many cases, West Virginia preaching is simplistic, containing very little theological instruction or exegesis.   People have been digesting this type of preaching for decades.  It is all they know.  Bring in something different and people immediately recognize it.  And that is not a good thing in their eyes.   They may be getting the Word of God more richly and deeply than they ever have before, but they will still yearn for "hard preaching" and a some good ol' fire and brimstone.   Can I get an "Amen?"
    • The result is that Reformed theology is an affront to widely accepted and deeply pervasive free-will theology.   Election is a bad word, as is the word "doctrine."  The local Christian bookstore owner assured me that her Sunday School Quarterlies don't contain "doctrine." She said that as if it were a good thing, revealing at the same time that she was unaware of what the word "doctrine" even means. Even in Presbyterian churches, many congregants are suspicious  of Reformed doctrines that have been taught elsewhere for centuries.   
    • There might also exist a blue-collar distrust for white-collar Presbyterian ministers.  This is compounded by the simple fact that any serious attempt to teach theology must include terminology and complexities that many see no practical need for or have a difficult time understanding.   The education and experience of those who labor in the Word varies so widely from those who labor with their hands that it is qualitatively different in comparison.   This difference is not always viewed favorably.
    • I also do not want to underestimate the dark and difficult history of West Virginia. Our history flavors who we are as West Virginians. I would even speculate that the deeply ingrained historical animosity between Company men and miners might play some sort of a role in the entire culture.   Sometimes I wonder if the Presbyterian distinctions between ordained ministers and laymen might mirror the Company/miner distinction in disadvantageous ways.  Is overarching presbytery action inherently perceived as analogous to Company dictates and abuses of power?   This is union country.  The Presbytery, by analogy, might be the Company.  Union members are raised to distrust the company from their earliest years.

In short, our more complex theology and higher ordination requirements, among other cultural distinctives, might be responsible for reformed theology's lack of success in this State. But it does not seem that a simpler theology and lower education requirements would fix this problem. A simpler theology would be less likely to be a Reformed theology. Similarly, lower education requirements would eventually result in a simpler theology and less Reformed theology. One of the reasons we have such high education requirements is because it enables the preservation of the Reformed faith.

So are we in a straight betwixt two?

I think we are, but I think that if the state of Reformed theology in the State of West Virginia is going to improve, we will likely need to explore, expand upon, correct, and address some of these ideas. 

As I say all these things, I want any reader to understand that the people in our State are just as intelligent as the people in any other State. They are hard working and wise in ways that the rest of the country cannot even identify with. My church members have been drinking in the Reformed faith and I have enjoyed every minute of my preaching and teaching ministry to them. I find them very capable of understanding and embracing Reformed doctrines that are taught well. 

But the people of our State have simply not had the same opportunities that other parts of the country have enjoyed. Poverty has played a role in this. The abuse of our people and resources by the rest of the country has played a role in this. Closed geographical communities have played a role in this as well. Just as Robert Byrd couldn't change these things over course of fifty years in spite of his best intentions, I do not expect that we will be able to change these things either. The job is more difficult here than it might be elsewhere.

What that means is that the burden is upon the Presbyterian church to meet our people where they are. We must find some way to do this or the Reformed faith will continue to struggle in this State.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Dealing with School Dress Codes: The Big Picture

    The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2008 by Dennis E. Bills.

    School dress codes are notoriously controversial: “How dare schools tell me how I should dress! They should stay out of my family’s business!”  Educators do not enjoy enforcing them, and parents enjoy it even less.   Students enjoy it least of all. 
        Most students handle dress codes very well. But occasionally dress codes irritate everyone. Parents and teachers would be much more comfortable letting children make their own decisions. We do not enjoy the disappointment and frustration of children who have been told to wear something they do not like. But a visit to schools, dances, malls, or around town quickly reveals that many teens gravitate toward shabbiness, immodesty, and exorbitant fads and fashions. Parents who have higher expectations for their children have the right to expect a difference at school.  
        When dress codes become irritating and intrusive, it is important to remember the big picture. Dress codes serve many different purposes, but most address at least three concerns that many families hold in common:  decorum, modesty, and priority.
        Most people believe that certain types of clothes are more appropriate than others for different environments or activities. For instance, what one wears for yard work differs from what one wears to work in an office. Likewise, what one wears to school will often differ from what one wears to the mall on Saturdays. Common sense says that dressing up for a job interview can greatly impact the impressions of a potential employer. Learning to dress appropriately for the occasion serves children well in life. Schools desire children to understand that sharp, neat attire is perfectly appropriate for school. As an academic environment, school is an excellent place to practice discernment in dress decorum. 
        Most parents are concerned that their children learn some standard of modesty. Since this standard obviously differs from family to family, schools tend to draw the lines as best they can. Frequently, these lines are not popular, so parents lives are sometimes disrupted by unhappy children.  
        It may be helpful to realize that schools do not intend to judge or condemn the preferences of individual families through dress codes. Educators agree that each family has the right to apply its own standards as it sees fit. However, since families vary greatly in their understanding of what is modest, schools develop reasonable and common expectations that they hope will be agreeable to the majority of their families. Producing a standard for modesty that is acceptable to most families is difficult but necessary. 
        Clothing needs to be seen in proper perspective. Fads and fashions sometimes overwhelm all sense of what really matters in life.  None of us objects to wearing nice, up-to-date clothes, but fads and fashions can easily be overblown and superficial. Learning to place clothing in proper perspective is a valuable life-skill that encourages priorities independent of the whims and shallowness of celebrity or popularity.  
        Learning to put fads and fashions in their proper place helps our students stay focused on their primary reasons for attending school. Instead of “expressing their individuality” by means of dress (one of the most frequent dress code objections I have encountered), students should see the greater value of expressing their individuality through the focused development of personality, character, knowledge, reason, and communication skills. When a student applies himself or herself to studies, a unique personality will come through loud and clear in valuable, impacting ways. 
    The Big Picture: Principles are More Important than Rules
        As parents, we desire our children to internalize these principles and make them their own so they can face life with significant social, developmental, and occupational advantages.  Eventually students make their own decisions without someone looking over their shoulder telling them what to wear. That is the time when the value of these principles will be most evident.   
        If adults could rely on children to always use discernment, dress codes would not be necessary. But we ask them where they are going on Friday nights, we tell them to be back by a certain time, and we refuse to allow them to watch certain things on TV or at the movies until they are mature enough. Our instruction as parents is crucial to helping children develop discernment. Over time, their character develops, and they learn to live by principle rather than by parental or school dress codes. Gradually we loosen the strictures and allow them to test the waters, to succeed, and to fail, and to learn how to live life as blossoming adults. As young adults, they will take the principles of their youth with them and leave the rules behind. This is one reason teachers are expected to model dress code principles, but are not themselves subject to the same dress code rules. Rather than being a stumbling block to children and families (“Why don’t the teachers have to dress like we do?!”), teachers should become examples of what it means to live by principle. 
        When the dress code becomes a point of contention, schools and families need to remind themselves of the big picture that sometimes gets lost in the details: the principles underlying the dress code are more important than the rules themselves. Students also need to remember that, in the big picture, being asked to dress a certain way for a few hours a day is not really as arduous as it might seem. Hopefully, the “big picture” perspective will help parents and faculty enforce dress codes with balance and understanding and will help students understand the heart behind the rules. Of all the lessons to be learned in school, decorum, modesty, and priority in dress are not the most important. But understanding these principles will help us all keep the dress code in its proper place so that it does not become a bigger issue than it should.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Parents Have Homework Too: Some Suggestions to Help Children Make the Most of Homework

    The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2007 by Dennis E. Bills.

    “Mommy! Daddy!  Guess what!  I have lots of great homework to do tonight!”
         Some children carry their schoolwork home with glee and great anticipation, but I would venture to say that this child is not your own. 
         While some children dutifully complete assignments with little or no help from parents, other students struggle.  If your child is like I was as a student, he will find a paper clip more interesting than his division problems, bending them into flocks of fascinating figures (this is called “avoidance”).   Meanwhile, assignments take longer than the teacher intended, and the student grows bored and frustrated.  What was intended to be a simple, brief assignment becomes tedious and time-consuming.   Because they have not used homework time efficiently, some students then return to class unprepared, with incorrect answers, and having made little effort. Their homework time has not been profitable. 
         Teachers cannot be there to tell a child to “please put down that paper clip, keep your eyes and pencil on your paper, and move on to the next problem.”  That responsibility falls to parents. Parental involvement is essential for these students as they develop their own sense of responsibility and diligence. 
         So what can a parent do to make homework time more profitable?  Perhaps the most important parental action is supervision and accountability.  You might be surprised at how many parents do not check assignments for completeness or do not know the type, amount and difficulty of the homework their children bring home.  In order to prevent that, here are some suggestions for parental supervision and accountability: 
    • Set a consistent time and place for doing homework so that the child knows exactly what to expect on a daily basis.  For example, make sure your child begins homework consistently at 6:00, after she has eaten and had some time to play or spend with her friends outside. 
    • Make sure the place of work is comfortable and free of distractions.  If a paper clip can distract a child, imagine what TV or family members within earshot can do.   A desk in the bedroom might be a good place. 
    • Know what assignments your child must complete each night.  Check her homework notebook before she begins.
    • Check in on your child frequently and ask how things are coming along.  Make a note of how far she has advanced since the last time you checked.  Your purpose is to make sure she remains diligent.
    • Allow breaks periodically.  No student wants to sit at a desk for an hour at a time without some mental and physical escape.  
    • Make sure that the student balances speed, diligence, and accuracy.  Do not allow the child to rush through an assignment so that she can answer “yes” when you ask her, “Have you finished your homework?” (which by the way is one of the worst ways to provide accountability for many students). 
    • Check assignments for completion, effort and accuracy.   It may be a good idea to set aside the last 15 minutes or so of homework time for a joint review of your child’s assignments.   You will not know all the answers, but you do know your child well enough to evaluate whether she is trying as hard as you know she is capable. 
    • Communicate frequently with your child’s teacher.  Tell him or her your opinions about the homework.  Do you think it was too much?  Did it take too long?  Was it too hard?  Does the teacher need to give more explanation?  As you become more familiar with your child’s assignments, you can become a valuable aid to both your child and her teacher. 
         Teachers should go the extra mile during the class day to see that your child is learning.  However, they are incapable of providing academic supervision and accountability for the student at home. It is up to Mom and Dad to provide that accountability.  You see, parents have homework too.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    The Misguided Messianic Character of Conservative Christian Politics

    Many conservative Christians believe they have a divine mandate to restore the United States of America to its Christian roots by force of law.  I believe these efforts are misguided and unbiblical.  

    The Constitution is not a Christian document in spite of what we believe the religious commitments of its authors to have been.   A simple return to strict interpretations and applications of the Constitution as the Founders intended should never be equated with Christian righteousness.  More than this, it should not be made a standard by which one judges the “Christianness” of a politician or policy. Nowhere in the Bible does God endorse either our constitution or democracy as the standard by which to define a God-glorifying, "Christian" nation.   Waving an American flag or being a patriot is not tantamount to being a Christian.  If it were then the larger majority of Christians around the world and throughout history have lacked the Christian wholeness that being a U.S. citizen apparently provides. Even more, to say that Christians must “pledge allegiance” to conservative politics is to violate the Christian Faith in ways that border on idolatry.

    At best, the Founders allowed for democratic rule by the majority, circumscribed by certain generic inalienable rights, regardless of the religious commitments of that majority. What this means is that the prevailing perspectives of the people, whether Christian or not, are constitutionally authorized to become the prevailing policy of the nation.  Thus the Constitution itself may very well inhibit the rechristianization that many political Christians are fighting for.  The Constitution endorses the platitude, “As the people go, so goes the nation.”

    Besides the dubiousness of the mission to restore this nation to its "Christian" roots and constitution, the legislation of Christian morality is not an effective tool for accomplishing national repentance. In fact, it is a waste of political time, energy, and influence. Even if Christians could prevail in policy by democratic means, government is still incapable of preventing sin by force of law, because sinfulness is first and foremost a condition of the heart.  Since no law has ever existed that could change the heart (a fundamental tenet that many Christians appear to be ignorant of), the prohibition of sinful behaviors will neither fully prevent them nor alter the sinful heart-condition that spawned them.  On the contrary, according to Scripture such prohibitions will frequently exacerbate sin.  Therefore, governmental efforts to effect behavioral change for merely moralistic reasons are futile.

    National repentance can only be accomplished by preaching and teaching God’s law as part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Preaching and teaching the Gospel is exclusively the domain of the Church.    Government can and should maintain the right of Christians to preach and teach.  If it does not, Christians should preach and teach anyway, for we should obey God rather than men.  But government itself is neither responsible for, nor capable of, effecting the goal of preaching and teaching.  These separate spheres of responsibility for both Church and State comprise the biblical doctrine of what is secularly called “the Separation of Church and State.”   According to this doctrine, the exclusive authority of the Church to preach and teach the Word of God is an inalienable right bestowed by the Creator. 

    What then is government’s separate responsibility with regard to the law of God? It is primarily to protect innocent people from the harmful effects of others’ sins.   By “harm” I do not mean simply the offence of someone’s sensibilities, but actual harm (material or immaterial) to another human being’s person, rights, dignity, or property.   Since government cannot change hearts, it can only protect the innocent from the actions of evil doers.  Government cannot change a thief’s heart, but it can and should prevent a thief from taking someone else’s property. Government cannot change a murderer’s heart, but it can and should prevent the taking of someone else’s life (note that abortion falls here).   These protections from sinful acts fit with the biblical description of government as “God’s servant to bring wrath upon the wrong doer” and the biblical mandate to enforce justice on behalf of constituents.

    Although government is powerless to prevent sin and change sinfulness, it stands to reason that it has no right to authorize, endorse, command or empower sin.  It may not be responsible to apply the law of God beyond what is necessary to protect people, but it has no right to fight against the law of God.  By way of analogy, I may not be responsible as a private citizen to punish criminals, but that does not mean that I have the right to aid them in their criminal endeavors.  Similarly, the doctrine of “separate spheres of responsibility” does not mean that government itself is authorized to violate or endorse the violation of the law of God. For example, it is possible that a certain immoral behavior might not have any harmful effect upon anyone other than the willing participants.  Government will overstep its bounds to legislate against this behavior, but at the same time it cannot and should not authorize, endorse, empower, or command this immoral behavior.  Government might not be authorized to legislate against homosexuality or premarital sex, for instance, but it has no right to endorse it.

    Therefore, the two most pertinent initial questions for evaluating whether Christians should support moral legislation are these:  1) Is this law necessary to protect the innocent from others’ sins?  2)  Will this law authorize, endorse, command or empower violations of God’s law?   The question of whether or not a law will restore a nation to its Christian roots or bring about a revival of Christian moralism is irrelevant.  There will never be a law that can do such a thing.   Christians who use political activism to accomplish these things are wasting their time with useless efforts that God neither endorses nor commands.   They may even be unwittingly working against God’s created order and his Gospel.

    [I recognize the theoretical nature of this essay but hope that it spurs some thoughts. There are huge holes in the theory.  For instance, how does cruelty to animals and conservation of the environment fit into this paradigm?  Granting the need for further consideration, I do believe the basic framework has validity, usefulness, and biblical support.]

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Excuses, Excuses Excuses: How Parents Sometimes Undermine Character Development in Their Children

    The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2007 by Dennis E. Bills.
    “I am not trying to defend what my child did, BUT . . .” or “I know what my child did was wrong, BUT. . .”  As a school administrator, I have heard these words all too many times.   Few parents like to think that their child has a behavior problem, but parents who excuse misbehavior risk stunting character development.     An important part of character development is learning to take full responsibility for mistakes, accidents, errors, and especially wrongdoing. 
        Unfortunately, children do not need help excusing bad behavior. They are adept at either explaining it away (“My fist slipped and I accidently hit him”) or generously sharing blame with others (“He hit me first”).  Parents who also make excuses are subtly teaching their children that such behavior is not really so bad, and that they can get away with it regardless of their own culpability.  
        There are several reasons why some parents excuse their children so quickly and easily.   Some parents who believe their children are unfairly accused may be overly protective, resulting in blind defensiveness.  Other parents cannot accept that alleged misbehavior is really all that bad, failing to understand that perfect children are few and far between.   Still other parents are simply unwilling or unable to face their child’s problems.  Often they observe the same problems at home and feel helpless to deal with them. They find it easier to deny or excuse misbehavior than to address it head on. Parental excuses for misbehavior usually fall into three categories:

    Blame Circumstances

         “If such and such had not happened, my child would not have misbehaved.”   Other versions include “My child is rowdy because he’s not been feeling well,”  “He is disruptive because he is bored,”  “If the notes had been sent home on time, she would not have cheated,” and “She hit Sam because they were sitting too close.”  While circumstances may sometimes contribute to misbehavior, they are not themselves the cause of it.   At some point, children must learn they are responsible for their actions regardless of the circumstances surrounding them.    

    Blame Other People 

        “I know my child did wrong, but what are you going to do about that other child?”   A common ploy of those who wish to excuse their child’s behavior is to point out what was wrong about another child’s behavior.  They do this for two reasons:  1) to minimize their own child’s blame, and 2) to satisfy some notion of justice.   While it is important for children to see discipline as fair and impartial, fairness is not nearly as important as taking full responsibility for one’s own actions, regardless of what punishment befalls another. The thought that someone else is not getting what they deserve too easily distracts from the full weight of one’s own guilt.  A child who is focused on “fairness” will not be willing to face his or her own responsibility.   Likewise, parents who are preoccupied with fairness are stealing from their children even more valuable lessons about personal accountability. 

     Blame the Brain

        “My child has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).”   When a parent announces this to me, I know to brace myself for two things:  1) the child will likely have behavior issues, and 2) the parents have already begun the process of excusing them.  Now, I have no doubt that a real, organic condition known as ADD exists.  However, the label is often bandied about apart from a professional diagnosis or without adequate exploration of its causes.   ADD is a label for a particular set of symptoms, such as “does not pay attention” and “does not sit still.”  It is a description of, but not an excuse for, behavior problems. Even professionals are coming to realize that ADD is often an unhelpful and overly diagnosed label.  ADD cannot and should not be made to imply that morally wrong behavior is acceptable, that such children are incapable of doing right, that there might not be additional reasons for misbehavior, and that normal, consistent discipline is inappropriate. 
        Most parents work very hard to teach children right from wrong, but sometimes they undermine their own efforts by making excuses for them.  Parents who excuse misbehavior are not teaching their children to take responsibility for their actions. Children who do not take responsibility for their actions will not adequately recognize bad behavior or have incentive to change.  Parents will do better for their children if they help them identify and take responsibility for the full measure of their own wrongdoing—without making excuses.

    Post-Publication Note:  Fairness and justice is a crucial issue for parents to teach their children.  Unfair discipline can cause bitterness and hopelessness within a child, so I believe that parents should fight for fairness in discipline in schools.  However, my experience has led me to believe that "fairness" can very frequently be used to deny or distract from the culpability that a child bears for his or her own behavior.  A best case scenario would would include encouraging  children to take full responsibility for their own behavior while fighting for fairness in school discipline.