The Sixth Day of Christmas

So here it is, December 30th, the sixth day of Christmas. And I know what you’re thinking: “Where am I going to find six geese for my true love? *Do geese even lay eggs in late December?” (See end of post for answer.)

And adding to the problem, yesterday’s five gold rings didn’t come cheap — and now you’ve got five more to buy today, plus all that bird food!

As my gift to you… Consider these more practical, marginally more affordable alternatives:

Instead of six geese-a-laying… Six chickens pecking — for a family living in poverty.

It’s become almost cliché for charitable organizations to encourage end-of-year giving through “gift catalogs,” and I’m sure there’s an argument to be made that it’s better to simply give where the need is highest. But in the spirit of “a rising tide floats all boats,” consider giving a gift through an organization like World Vision, which points out that buying six chickens for a family mired in radical poverty not only enhances their diet but provides some additional income. In this vein, I’d also recommend the catalogs now used by the Evangelical Covenant Church and International Justice Mission.

Instead of five gold rings… Five good books.

Gaddis, Kennan: An American LifeMany to choose from, but in keeping with some of the common themes of this blog…

  1. If you’re interested in the two world wars from the perspective of the ordinary (but extraordinary) people caught up in it, read Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War
  2. …and Max Hastings’ Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.
  3. Devotees of the “cold” conflict that never did become a third world war should read John Lewis Gaddis’ long-gestating biography of George Kennan. (Or just read Louis Menand’s extended review in The New Yorker.)
  4. Those of you taken with Pietism’s emphasis on Christian devotional practices might want to add to your reference collection and pick up Zondervan’s Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, whose editors include two of my colleagues out at Bethel Seminary’s San Diego campus, Glen Scorgie and James D. Smith III. (Here’s a very recent review.)
  5. Glen and Jim also contributed chapters to our Pietist Impulse book — hey, have I mentioned? That’s out in paperback and for Kindle.

Instead of four “calling” birds…Four of anything else.

See, it’s really four “colly” birds. And this is a colly bird.

Instead of three French hens… Three letters (one to your governor, one to your state senator, and one to your state representative) encouraging politicians to restore funding to state universities.

The Washington Post‘s recent profile found even a “public Ivy” like Cal-Berkeley reduced to “perpetual austerity,” with its faculty (whose ranks include nine Nobel laureates) forced to take furloughs and its students struggling to find enough open classes to graduate in five or six years. Here in flyover country, the University of Minnesota (and the MnSCU system) have had their state support steadily trickle away, with the result that tuition for in-state students has risen dramatically. According to the report of a task force on higher education funding, as late as ten years ago these schools received about two-thirds of their funding from the state; by the time the task force concluded its work in 2007, the figure was close to 50% and falling rapidly. The terms of the deal struck to end last summer’s state government shutdown led to a further cut of 10% below what was allocated in the previous biennium.

Weisman Art Museum
Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota - Wikimedia

Restoring funding (or simply stopping the decline) would be a gift to students, faculty, and staff at such institutions, of course, but also to lots of other people in their communities. While the U of M is one of Bethel’s main competitors for students, I’m happy to acknowledge the hugely important role it and other schools like it play in their communities and beyond. I’m one of the 75-80% of Bethel faculty (depending how you count Canadian and European universities) who received at least one degree from a state university, with our sciences and professional divisions especially benefiting from the training provided by such institutions. And as the Post article put it, such universities are “engines of upward social mobility,” making world-class education available to those unable to afford the ludicrous cost of private universities. Here’s how one graduate described the University of Minnesota when he attended it in the 1960s:

The University was a monument to the Jeffersonian faith in the power of learning and in the ability of all people to recognize and embrace excellence, a grand old American notion. To offer Jussi Bjoerling and Arthur Rubinstein to 18-year-old kids at prices they can afford is an astonishment. Utterly. To witness such grandeur can change a person’s life. But that was the spirit of the Morrill Act of 1862 that granted to the states a tract of land in proportion to their population for the endowment of a state university to teach the classic curriculum as well as courses relating to agriculture and industry, open to qualified students regardless of financial means.

…American universities have seen plenty of radicals and revolutionaries come and go over the years, and all of them put together were not nearly so revolutionary as a land-grant university itself on an ordinary weekday. To give people with little money a chance to get the best education there is—that is a true revolution. (Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat, pp. 87-88, 94)

By his recollection, Keillor paid $71 a quarter for this opportunity. And while it helped make him a Democrat, there was bipartisan support for this kind of investment in a land-grant institution — the land having originally been granted under the greatest Republican president in American history (according to the terms of an act of Congress named after one of the GOP’s founders), after all.

Just a few years after Keillor, my father attended the University of Minnesota and graduated — first with a bachelor’s degree and then from its medical school — without owing a dime of student loans, in no small part because state support of the post-WWII ‘U’ was so strong that tuition (even for med school) remained well within reach of the middle class and beyond. The return on taxpayer investment was substantial: Dad helped found a pediatric intensive care unit in St. Paul, trained hundreds of other doctors as a member of the U’s faculty, and helped make the Twin Cities one of the world’s leading centers for medical research.

Here endeth the sermon. Back to Christmas gifts…

Instead of two turtle doves… An iPad 2.

This doesn’t quite fit the “marginally more affordable” criterion, but… It’s what my wife and I got each other this year, and it’s lived up to the hype. I downloaded the iPad Garage Band app the other day, and I think it might single-handedly revitalize my dormant songwriting/recording hobby.

And we’ll make back your money with the last gift — it’s completely free…

Instead of a partridge in a pear tree… A subscription to The Pietist Schoolman on Google Reader.

Happy gifting, everyone!

*Answer: No, geese lay eggs in February and March — according to my local land grant university’s extension program.

One thought on “The Sixth Day of Christmas

  1. Great post. Thanks for shedding light on issues that really matter in this day and age. There is no better way to draw attention to what needs to be said than to present it a manner that will make people sit up and take notice!


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