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Treadmill books

Books | Authors write of distant classrooms, nearby prisons, and a distant country that is a prison

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

Teaching in a Distant Classroom, by Michael Romanowski and Teri McCarthy (IVP, 2009) is a valuable thought-provoker and helpful-tip-provider for the thousands of Christians who go abroad to teach. It will help such pioneers both to deal with culture shock and to shock students (who may be looking only to learn English) into rethinking their worldview assumptions.

The authors rightly criticize the sacred-secular distinction that leads some Christians to say or think, "I'm going as a teacher to get into the country so that I can do my real job of evangelism." But they're only partly right to say that "this undercover agent approach to missions lacks integrity." It lacks integrity if teachers shirk their classroom duties, thinking them unimportant: Hosts and the Lord of Hosts want dedication in the work teachers are hired to do. But those given God's gift of faith should not hoard it: Inside and outside the classroom they should transmit truth whenever they can.

In this country a bad education enormously increases the possibility of spending time in prison, and a Christian education decreases that possibility. Mark Kleiman's When Brute Force Fails (Princeton Univ. Press, 2009) doesn't get into such issues, but he nevertheless offers many practical suggestions for reducing crime. Here is one: "Deterrence efficacy may relate much more closely to the aversiveness of the prison environment, especially at the end of a sentence, than to its duration."

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He spells out what this means: "shortening sentences while making them more unpleasant, for example, with social isolation, deprivation of television and radio, lack of opportunity to exercise, and a healthy but uninteresting (e.g., low-fat, low-sodium, low-sugar) diet. The apparently common-sense practice of moving prisoners down levels of supervision, which generally means more pleasant conditions, as their release dates approach may be counterproductive; perhaps the last two weeks of every prison term should be spent in solitary confinement on bread and water."

Venezuela has tragically become a national prison of sorts. With Russian despot Vladimir Putin stirring the pot as the old Soviet Union did with Cuba in the 1960s, Brian A. Nelson's The Silence and the Scorpion (Nation Books, 2009) is all the more relevant to today's headlines. Nelson's gripping narrative of Venezuelans' failed attempt to overthrow Hugo Chavez in April 2002 shows that even some on the left can no longer stomach the dictator.

Nelson notes that when incompetent or corrupt politicians squandered Venezuela's oil blessings, the backlash brought Chavez to power in 1998 as an agent of change. The 2002 coup was an attempt to stop the descent into tyranny, and it almost succeeded-but now the question is whether Venezuela will face a miserable half-century similar to Cuba's.

Bruce Feiler's America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story (William Morrow, 2009) is a light read with many miscellaneous facts of interest: how Columbus likened himself to Moses, how two-thirds of the eulogies for George Washington likened him to Moses, how the Pilgrims in 1620 likened King James to the pharaoh, how the Jewish creators of Superman in 1938 borrowed from Exodus.

Really? Superman, like Moses, is born into a world where his people face annihilation. Superman is put in a small rocket ship and sent out into space, and finally rescued from death by people of a different culture. He is raised in an alien environment where he conceals his true identity. As Moses became the leader of Isra-el (el as in Elohim or El-Shaddai), so Superman's original name on Krypton was Kal-El and his father's name was Jor-El.

Hugo Chavez, of course-will Venezuelans be told to call him Hugo-El?-styles himself as a deliverer, and some domestic leftists do the same. Patrick Garry's Conservatism Redefined: A Creed for the Poor and Disadvantaged (Encounter, 2010) offers a better alternative. Although he criticizes "compassionate conservatism" because he attaches the idea to the Bush administration's big government tendencies, what he proposes is in accord with the concept's meaning during the 1990s.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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