Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Story Behind The Story: "So"

So. So? So...

     What a unique word is the word, "So".

     I was lying in bed, as I am prone to do before I fall asleep, and the word "so" came to my mind. Things like this happen from time to time with me. I don't know if this is normal or not but it is normal for me. There are a lot of language things happening around me recently. I am trying to learn German. My son is learning Spanish, a language my wife speaks rather fluently. A friend of mine has been messing around with Chinese and Arabic. Therefore, when this word "so" popped into my head, I immediately thought about how I would describe or define this little word for someone who was learning English for the first time.

     I began running through its uses, in trying to determine a proper definition for this word that I use many times everyday. My son often quizzes me on the meaning of words I use that he doesn't know. What I have been finding is I can use a word properly yet have a difficult time actually stating the definition.  This was exactly what happened when I began quizzing myself on the meaning of the word "so". As I listed its uses in my mind, I came to the realization that this word could not be confined to a single definition. Its uses are great and varied.

      I rolled over and asked my wife to name off as many uses for the word "so" as she could. She came up with no less than 8. I came up with a few more. Now my interest was piqued. I took my iPhone from the nightstand and searched for the definition of this small word. What I found astounded me.

     Different dictionaries offered different lists of usage for this word but overall it was consistent that there are four main uses for the word "so". Within those four different uses, there are at least 20 and as many as 30 different definitions for "so".  No wonder I was having difficulty defining this word.

     The four uses are  1. an adverb having to do with degrees, 2. a conjunction, 3. an adjective having to do with agreement, and 4. a pronoun referring to something previously stated. This is pretty remarkable when you think of it. This two letter word can be used in nearly every part of speech save a verb. Is there another word in the English language, or in any language for that matter, that is as permeating as "so"?

     Here are just a few examples of the different definitions of "so" within its four main uses:

In the same manner or way :  "worked hard and so did she"

In a manner or way indicated or suggested : "do you really think so"

To an indicated or suggested extent or degree : "had never been so happy"

To a great extent or degree : "loves her so"

Therefore : "the witness is biased and so unreliable"

In order that : "be quiet so he can sleep" 

For that reason :  "don't want to go, so I won't"

Used as an introductory particle : "so here we are"

Often to belittle a point under discussion : "so what?" 

Used interjectionally to indicate awareness of a discovery : "so, that's who did it" 

Conforming with actual facts :  "said things that were not so"

Used in the phrase or to indicate an estimate, approximation, or conjecture: "stayed a week or so"

     And these are only a few of the 30+ definitions I found for this inconspicuous word.  This is just amazing to me. How does such a seemingly insignificant word become so integral to our everyday language? As you may or may not know, our English language owes more to the German language than anything else. When I went in search of how this word came to be, I discovered that this is a word taken directly from the German language. It is a word that is spelled, pronounced much to the same degree and used in the same fashion in both English and its original language, German.  The mysteries of this word continue to grow.  

     "So" is described by some as the most complicated word in the German language. The Grimm has 114 pages dedicated to the definitions and usages of the word 'so" in German. Unfortunately I do not read German fluently so I am unable to know if that document reveals the distant (it has been seen in the English language as early as 900 AD) origins of this astounding word. To think that this word has been completely absorbed into English from German without much departure from its original usage in German, and this over more than a millennium, boggles my mind.

      And still, as common as it is, how do you explain this word to someone who does not speak English or German as a first language? I have found this challenging. 

     So, the next time you find yourself using this little word, let come to your mind the vastness of these two letters and the magnificence of human language that can turn something so small into something so meaningful.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Is Eliminating Sports in Schools the Answer?

     A few years ago, a new principle of Premont High School in Texas was faced with a school failing so badly at its task of educating its students that it was in threat of being closed down for good. The actions he took to try to save his school were extraordinary.

     Among several actions he undertook to save a school over $400,000 in debt, while still educating it's students and adding two science labs, the most dramatic of all was the elimination of all sports for the following year. It was estimated doing so would save the school about $150,000 that year and allow them to focus on the task of educating their students. 

A good week in Premont
     As you would expect, there were many who disagreed with this extreme approach. At a school where the daily average percentage of absent students was around 20%, many parents and students alike claimed the only reason the attendance was even that high was due to sports. Without sports, no one would come to school, they said. 

     North America is unique in the world in regards to how sports are integrated as a part of our school system. With the dismal ranking our students achieve when compared to other countries, many who spend much less dollars per student than we do, the question must be asked, is school the proper place for youth sports?

     I grew up playing sports in school. During my grade schools years, mainly hockey and baseball were the sports offered. These were club sports at that age. Both cost money. Once I moved into middle school, sports were offered by the schools. I was involved in american football, then soccer and eventually, basketball. Sports were a significant part of my school life, even into college.

     Yet, with failing schools in America and growing expense of playing sports and the facilities required, it may be time for a serious discussion about whether or not sports have a proper place within the school system.

Premont football
     There are pros and cons to playing sports and likewise, for the main engagement of sports to be run by the public school system. There can be no denying the benefits of playing sports for the youth who play it. Learning hard work, teamwork and dealing with disappointment are all important aspects to becoming a mature adult. No activity teaches a child these things with more intensity than sport. The health benefits are obvious as well.

     There are of course negatives. The damage that can be done to a child by a poorly motivated coach are much more devastating than many would let on. Coaches are allowed to treat students in ways that would cause other school staff to be dismissed. Being bullied by the resident jerk in your class is wholly different than being bullied by your coach. Sadly, it happens every single day. And the physical damage that can be caused to growing bodies through repetitive and overly competitive training and playing can have lasting and negative effects on the student athletes.

     However, are the benefits of youth sport worth the cost in time, money, risk and health? I think they are. Nothing is without risk. We must always weight the cost.

     So the question isn't to play sport or not but rather, where is the proper place for sports in our society?

     There are two main benefits to having sports controlled by the public school system. This system allows almost anyone who wants to participate in the sport to play at some level. Of course this sin't the case throughout the entire United States or every sport offered. There are some schools that have tryouts because their systems can only handle a certain number of athletes. But it stands that many students who want to play are given the opportunity in school who would not have the same opportunity if sport were left solely to clubs. In many schools, ability isn't the deciding factor and cost is kept to a minimum because of the offsetting of the cost by the school's budget.

     The other claimed benefit is that having sport in school generates interest in attending school that may not be there for many students. This was one of the main arguments that pressed against the principle of the school in Texas. They argued that having the football program was, for many student athletes, the only reason they came to school at all. This, from a school that ran a daily average of 20% absenteeism.

     Yet, there are negatives to having sport in schools. The amount of time taken away from class by sport activities is substantial. From pep rallies, to team travel time and early dismissals due to tournaments, there is a definite impact on education time, not just for the athletes themselves, but for every student. For the athlete, it becomes even more of a burden. There is very little time to do homework or study for tests during the season. Especially for basketball and football players.

     Cost is another issue. Just because having sports in schools makes it affordable for students who might otherwise not be able to play a particular sport, it doesn't mean the sport is affordable. The costs do not change. What changes is who is paying for it. We often hear complaints about how much we spend per student in our public schools and yet fail to produce good students. What portion of that expenditure is going towards sports rather than education?  In the Premont school in Texas, the estimation was about $150,000 per year. This was for a small school district. The amounts for a large school district in a metropolitan area would be considerably higher. And this amount didn't include the upkeep that continued to be needed for the facilities. Nor would it have considered how much the School District could have recouped through the sale of facilities it would no longer need if sports were removed permanently.

     I tried to determine how much my local school district spent on sports overall but looking through the budget, it was impossible to tell. The budget is not itemized in that way. If I had to guess, I would say it was in the millions. This is still a small percentage of the overall budget. But it is a significant amount of money nonetheless.

     This is money that is collected from taxes and other sources for the education of the students yet is not used for education in any way. In fact, it could be argued, it is being used for activities that actually work to hinder the very education it was collected to provide.

Club sports start at a young age
      What would the alternative be? Creating privately funded sports clubs in each city would provide the opportunity to play sports while not interfering in schools. As one can imagine, there are positives and negatives to this situation as well. There may not be as much opportunity for less athletic students in clubs as there is in some school districts. The costs involved for the athlete would be higher than they are in the schools. This might keep some athletes from being able to participate as well. So you may have lower participation than currently is the case. But, you may not. There is always the possibility for the clubs to provide scholarships for athletes and the creation of leagues for players who are not able to play competitively with the better athletes. That would be up the people running the clubs.

     The benefits of having a club run athletics are numerous. The club can focus more on player development than simply winning championships. With athletes joining as children and remaining in the same programs through high school, the chance for proper development of the athlete is much greater than the current system. There would be greater emphasis in the clubs to provide quality training at the younger age levels because there is ownership of the program throughout that child's sports career. I firmly believe that the United States would develop even better athletes than we currently do, through a club based program rather than the current school based programs.

     But the largest effect would be how it changes the school system. Imagine a high school without sports. Imagine the change in the facilities. Imagine the changes to the the staff. Imagine the difference in the transportation systems. Imagine the difference in focus within the school day. Imagine how much time would actually be required each day to properly educate the students of the school. Imagine a school system where the students spend a third less of the day in school, with no homework.  What could be accomplished with an extra 4 to 6 hours a day?  The student would be free to join a sports club, and not be arriving at home after 6 pm to eat supper and then hit their homework. The student would be free to spend time learning an instrument or working a job, or spending time with their family or friends.

     This concept might be a huge shock to your way of thinking. But just spend a few minutes really thinking about how the typical school day would be effected if sports were removed from the responsibility of the school system.

Premont graduation
     When one weighs the negatives and positives, I cannot see a better way to help solve the issue of education in this country. With this one single change, we would be able to develop more highly educated students, students better prepared for their careers and better athletes. Accomplishing all this with potentially, a smaller burden on the tax payer.

    It at least deserves consideration. It worked in Premont. Attendance increased. Test scores increased. The budget decreased. The school was saved. Just think what it could do for your local school.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I would like to take the pleasure of introducing my first guest blogger on Nyk.pm. Steve Park has been a friend of mine for many years. He lives in the Kansas City area and his ability to see inside music and movies and theological issues has always impressed me. that is why I asked him to write for my blog when he can. I was very interested in hearing his take on the new movie Noah. I am sure you will enjoy it as well.


In life, as with this movie, we mustn't let our unmet expectations drive us to wallow in disappointment. Upon first hearing of a Noah movie I thought, "its about time someone tackled this epic". If Matthew 24:37 is any indication, one might say it's rather timely. Yet immediately, the debate and controversy began. A battle really, and not just over the minute details. The conversation over precision is unfortunate if necessary, yet it should at least be leading back to the main point, that Noah's story is a part of the gospel as a whole. I thought how can, or who would want to get the story of Noah wrong? Then I hear of Jewish atheist writers and a typical save the planet theme and my disappointment nearly brought me to just dismiss it. However, this is such a crucial story, a crucial part of history, and I'm not usually quick to boycott Hollywood's ignorance anyway (usually its just more of a consistent avoidance). Still I remained guardedly hopeful.
My growing skepticism made it difficult to apply myself in the theater at first, as the "earth first" plot began to unfold. However the movie eventually began to run along the ever familiar storyline, albeit about as parallel as a set of non-identical twins. Maybe a caveat would have been in order, "based on true events".
While the Biblical record of Noah and the flood is quite detailed in some ways, well researched extra-canonical liberties were taken to fill in the possibilities which were, for the most part, left to us as mysteries, such being the Nephilim, or Watchers, represented here as Tolkienish Ent-like stone beings capable of repentance and redemption. The more bothersome inclusion for many would have to be the anti-civilization theme so common today. It is true, sin thrives in the city yet it is first bred in the heart. So the real answer is responsibility, not this heartless, constantly forced religion of "sustainability".
Somewhere through the film as I engaged, I began to recognize the struggle often only attributed to our own personal one, where we wrestle with God alone in secret at night. This was quite vividly demonstrated by the villain, city ruler Tubal-Cain in his calling out to God, "I am a man made in Your image! Why do you not converse with me?! …Speak to me!" I thought, "sure, most of us at times come to that point, yet for sure 'the heart is selfish and desperately evil'". Everyone knows of the Creator, it's just that we wish to create Him in our image instead. This honest struggle seen also in Noah, began to be one of the most crucial aspects of this story, and in the end, nearly caused the earth-focus to seem unnecessary. Except that, in reality, its as though Noah, being an imperfect person, had simply gotten God's purpose for this mostly wrong. He had misunderstood God's main reason for this cleansing, and though that care of creation drove him to fulfill his understood purpose, in the end he found out this renewal was all meant for a restoration of the proper intention for our relationships, that being love and grace.
Ila and the wizardly Methuselah
In light of that, some who left the movie early in discouragement, may have avoided a blessing. Just as Ila, Noah's adopted daughter could have given up on God and then missed that encounter with the wizardly Methuselah, a turning point giving her a way to soon see life as through the eyes of the Creator.
God chose Noah, however imperfect, because he knew through him and his steadfastness He could mete out, not just His justice, but His love and mercy... eventually being ultimately accomplished in Christ.

::Steve Park