Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jazz in the Classroom

What teachers and students can learn from Miles Davis and John Coltrane 

One of the many great Miles Davis units was made up of Miles, Ron Carter (bass), a very young Tony Williams on drums, Herbie Hancock on piano, and Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone. While listening to the complete "Live at the Plugged Nichol" is was again obvious that these musicians listened intently to each other. The give and take of the playing is uncanny. This does not come naturally. One jazz virtue is developing and keeping "big ears" or being keenly aware of what your bandmates are playing and responding accordingly. Of course, this is improvisation; but it is group improvisation, not solos per se.

The same is noted in Coltrane's "classic quartet," which took on the world from 1961-1965. Trane, of course, played tenor and, later, soprano saxophone, along with McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Elvin told an interviewer that they relationship was "almost telepathic." They, like all good jazz groups, never played the same tune the same way twice. Rather, each piece provided some form for their collective freedom.

Take this into the classroom. Students and teachers must develop big ears. What is the teacher saying and why? How are the students responding? How can teachers and students spur each other on, challenge each other to play better? A jazz performance is not distracted by people checking their watches or cell phones or sending text messages. The musicians focus; it is uni-tasking, not multi-tasking. The classroom should be the same. The center point, the reason for being is knowledge discovered through group improvisation: form and freedom. Technologies such as PowerPoint, and the use of most video clips, detract from this magical dynamic. As such, they should be eliminated. For some teachers (or presenters), when the PowerPoint fails, the class is over. Why is this? The teachers lack the chops to improvise within a theme with a class. They are beholden to the technology and become its servant (slave). Teacher and students with big ears are no thus hindered. They can swing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

C.S. Lewis

My former student, friend, and scholar, Robert Velarde, is an expert on C.S. Lewis and an excellent writer. Please consider getting his on line book at Amazon. 


The word "hate," as popularly used, is the new thought-stopper. Take any idea you do not like and say it is based on "hate," and you have refuted it. It is that simple. Of course, some things are worth hating--anything that dishonors God or debases beings made in his image--and one can disapprove of many things without hating anyone. 

Further, one can wrongly hate something (since it is the wrong emotional response) and still be correct in one's judgment. For example, one may hate an abortionist and call him a murderer. He is a murderer, which is especially obvious if he performs late term abortions. However, one should not hate the murderer, but love him. That is not incompatible with deploring what he does and wanting to put him out of business. Love does not mean enabling evil.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Renew Your Mind

Decide for Yourself: A Community Course at Denver Seminary

Are you interested in deepening your understanding of the Christian worldview? Sign up for our eight-week class on the fundamentals of Christian theology and philosophy. The class will run from 6:45-8pm on Tuesday nights, and will be held on the Denver Seminary campus. We will use Dr. Gordon Lewis's excellent book, "Decide for Yourself: A Theological Workbook." This course will be taught by a hand-picked group of some of our very best seminary students, alumni, and professors. The learning level will be geared toward adults, but will also be suitable for mature high school students. If you can think of someone who may benefit from this course, please let them know soon. We have 20 seats available. 

Dates: Tuesdays, February 11th through April 1st
Time: 6:45-8pm
Cost: $15 per person (textbook included)
If you or someone you know will have difficulty paying the $15, ask us about scholarships. 

To register, please email The Lewis Center director Douglas Groothuis ( or associate director Sarah Geis ( with "Decide for Yourself" in the subject line. 

Upcoming Event: Spiritual Formation and the Life of the Mind

Join The Lewis Center for our first event of the spring semester. On Mondaynight, February 3rd, Dr. Douglas Groothuis will explore how philosophy, theology, and the Christian spiritual life relate. There will be a question and answer time after the lecture. We hope to see you there! 

Cost: Free
Time: 7pm 
Location: Room 100B on the Denver Seminary campus (6399 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO, 80120)

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Teachers are unreliable. They are late. They grade unfairly. They talk too much or talk to little. They even mumble at times. And they play favorites. They are slow to give back papers.

This should all end, and end soon. It can.

Pedagobots are reliable; the are never late; they grade fairly (the algorithm); they talk the programmed amount; they never mumble (the volume is regulated); they are fair (you are a number, not a face); they are always on time.

Pedagobots are also less expensive, take no sabbaticals, and never come to work drunk.

Pedagobots: the future of education