Why are Schools Secular?

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This test has been making the rounds through the various ways of the internet, and now that it’s been confirmed as being real (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2013/04/30/atheists-lash-out-at-a-christian-school/), I figure it’s time that I comment on it.

I don’t feel like it’s my place to criticize the school, as much as I do feel like they deserve it. It’s a private school, and so long as they receive no public funds, they can teach whatever they like. Of course, I have an issue with them teaching children information that is completely false, but I have as much business telling private schools how to run themselves as I do in telling any other business the best way to run things.

Instead, I think this test best presents me with a chance to talk about why our schools are secular, since this is an ongoing conversation and has been for a very long time.

To begin with, the reason why there’s such a big to do over this test is because of the heading of the test, ‘Science Quiz,’ when the information being quizzed has nothing to do with science. This all goes back to the purpose of science in the first place, which is to observe, test and inquire into the world around us. Science is basically a form of systematic inquiry with logic as one of our key tools. Much of the problem that many Creationists have with evolution is simply a misunderstanding of what science is (a problem that they share with Conspiracy Theorists), because so many of them conceive it as a conspiracy being waged against Christianity, which is, of course, patently false.

The thought then lines up with schools being in on this conspiracy and a front for it.

It’s actually fairly easy to understand their point of view, since schools are not in the business of pushing an agenda, which can then be confused as pushing an agenda contrary to that of a fundamentalist reading of a particular religion’s holy book. Fact of the matter is that this is the best way to conduct a school system, which is to say, a secular school system.

The reason why our schools are secular is simply that any organization that draws public funding cannot endorse any religion. The reason for this is easy to understand; a Christian wouldn’t feel comfortable funding a school that opens each day with Islamic prayers and vice versa. The same could be said for most of the world’s religions and most of the adherents of those religions. Schools are not in the business of teaching children what to think in terms of religion, they solely exist to educate students in the collected knowledge of human civilization and also the best ways to further that knowledge. Religion is then relegated to the home and to the church, which are the two best places to teach religion. After all, even within one single religion, Christianity, there are hundreds of different offshoots of that particular brand of Christianity, and then thousands of churches devoted to those particular offshoots and then thousands of families belonging to each church, all of whom believe different things and teach different things to their families. Even if your student goes to a class taught by a fellow church-goer, what’s the likelihood that teacher is going to be teaching something that directly lines up with what you personally believe and what you personally teach in your home?

The best approach is no approach. Schools adopt a hands off approach, which remains the best way for all people within a society to be free within that society. Free to believe and teach and worship (or not to worship) as they see fit. Any sort of adoption of any sort of religion is guaranteed to teach things that are totally contrary to most of the students in most of the classes in most of the schools believe. This all is true regardless of what is being taught in those classes, as well as its veracity.

It’s hard to accept sometimes, when you’ve held the top spot for so long, but a loss of privilege is not the endorsement of other visions of society. It just means that you’re on an even footing alongside everyone else.

Why Comic Books?

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In case you haven’t noticed, I’m into comic books. I know, it’s so hard to suss out, especially when I’ve gone to pains to make sure that I’m as anonymous on this blog as I possibly can be.

Sarcasm aside, this is something that I think about a lot, and it’s something that I’ve even considered going into. I even have Dennis O’Neil’s (the guy who created Ra’s Al Ghul) and Alan Moore’s (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. (the comics, not the movies)) guides on writing comics. I’ve written entire collegiate essays on comics and read several books on their history and the unique elements of comics. So, I guess you could say that this is sort of a ‘thing’ for me.

The question naturally arises why I read superhero comics since those are ‘supposed to be for children.’ The natural rejoinder to that is, ‘so?’ The question confuses me, since no one really seems to ask questions like that of people who devote their entire lives to other inconsequential hobbies and interests (I’m looking at you cars and professional sports). You ask a car enthusiast why they’re into what they’re into, and they’ll give you a list of reasons, none of which will really explain to anyone who isn’t into the hobby why they’re into it. At the end of the day, it’s just something that they enjoy.

But for me, it’s a little bit more than that, because I have an intellectual interest in superhero comics. Most of this goes back to mythology and the notion that the superhero is the American mythological figure. Sure, there are plenty of other cultures that have thought of purely fictional super powered characters in the past, but not in the way that superheroes exist right now. A good example are the characters that Alan Moore adapted into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all of whom are invariably in the gray spectrum of morality. Even King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are morally ambiguous at times. But when we get into superheroes, even the most morally ambiguous hero is still in possession of a heart of gold (Batman may be clinically insane, but he stills leaps to the cause every single night, no matter what).

But that’s not why I’m into them. The reason that I love them is because of their imagination, and the vivid storytelling. The writers care little about being remembered for all time (for the most part) and are instead writing what they want to, because it’s what they want to. They don’t get all that much money and they get little fame. It’s as close to ‘art for art’s sake’ as you can get anymore. There’s one more element to superheroes that I just realized the other day, with the help of a friend of mine, while reading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

I was always curious about what happened next when reading about old mythology when I was a kid. What happened after Herakles completed his tasks? What about Ulysses after he returned home? Did anyone remember Icarus after he fell from the sky? Why didn’t anyone else make wings out of wax and feathers? What happens next?! It only came to me while reading If on a winter’s night a traveler (which is sort of strange because I only recently picked up the book and I’ve been into superhero comics for most of my life) because the book is a series of beginnings without anything after it. The main character in the book (so far as there is a main character) wants to know what happens next in the books that he’s reading so badly that he’ll do anything to find out. That’s what superhero comics are for me, a collection of beginnings without any middles and certainly without any ends.

A lot of to do has been made of the impermanence of death in superhero comics, but even that keeps with the aesthetic, because these characters are understood both as characters and as concepts at the same time. As such, they can never die, but are only put off on the sidelines until a future date and a future writer decides to do something more with them. So what if Damian Wayne is dead now? In the future, he could be brought back to life and his story can continue. But for right now, he’s dead and there are other stories that are happening. This continues on and on, with old characters understood in new ways, becoming bigger and grander all in the search of an ‘ultimate’ understanding of these characters, an ‘ultimate’ understanding that no one will ever arrive at.

I think there’s something really American about that idea. We all have a potential to pick up, right where we are, and continue our story elsewhere, in a totally different and totally fresh way. The character remains the same, but the concept is just a little different. And that changing concept in a new setting makes all the difference.

Skepticism and Conspiracy Theories

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They had better bring Damian back soon, I’m going to run out of material before too long.

One of the things that conspiracy theorists describe themselves as is ‘skeptics.’ They don’t accept the ‘official story’ because the facts don’t line up! This is all well and good, or it would be, if their cases actually stood up to critical scrutiny, which they almost never do.

By no means am I suggesting that anyone should ever accept anything that smells fishy to them at first glance, but on that same hand, no one should continue to disregard anything once the evidence against their case starts to stack up. This is the problem with conspiracy theorists and this is why they shouldn’t consider themselves to be skeptics, since an actual skeptic can be swayed in one direction or another according to the evidence.

Take the 9/11 conspiracy. And I’m not talking about the conspiracy that’s been constructed By Alex Jones and his like, I’m talking about the conspiracy that was concocted by the pilots of the jets. One of the complications that are involved in talking about conspiracy theories is that there really are secret plans that are put together by confederates in darkened rooms. There are testimonies, passports and other pieces of evidence that link the people identified in the official story to the actual crimes. That’s one of the problems with conspiracies, is that their coordination and execution tends to create a lot of evidence that can then be used against them by police agencies and prosecutors. That’s what happened with Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, which was another conspiracy.

That’s the larger problem that conspiracy theorists need to contend with, that there’s often no evidence that connects the dots that they’ve created. Their cases often have to deal with problems that they see with the official story (one example is the hole in the side of the Pentagon building that they allege couldn’t possibly have been made by a jet and had to have been made by a missile) while they often fail to provide any actual evidence (and not just circumstantial evidence (like the Bush administration invading Iraq, even though Iraq had no connections to 9/11)). I say often because conspiracy theorists can provide evidence that gives the illusion of confirming their narrative, but that’s often due to a lack of inquiry into that evidence.

My heart goes out to conspiracy theorists though, which is one of the reasons why I’m so invested in them. I get where they’re coming from, because I have a natural lack of trust when it comes to official agencies. This is where they actually do have a point, because the absolute worst reason to believe anything is because someone else said that you ought to believe them. This is what’s often referred to as an argument from authority (you should believe in X because person Y says so). This is rather tricky though, because in order to find evidence, it has to come from someone. So, whenever anyone comes out in favor of evolutionary theory, they’re often accused of being ‘Darwinists,’ which carries the implication that people agree with evolutionary theory on the word of Darwin. It doesn’t matter who discovered whatever theory or whatever line of evidence, all that matters is that the theory or the evidence stands up to scrutiny. It’s the data that you need to follow, not any person or any agency.

A good example of this is the Popular Mechanics issue that was devoted to debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories. It’s not a good idea to side with the evidence because it came from Popular Mechanics, but to side with Popular Mechanics because they side with the evidence.

At the end of the day, that’s a good rule of thumb to follow. Remain skeptical of claims until the person making those claims comes up with evidence that supports those claims. Then, only accept that evidence if it corroborates with other data that links persons or agencies to the crime. But, most importantly, be ready and willing to accept the truth whenever the truth is arrived at. That last bit is one of the most important, and one of the most often forgotten, because we all hate to be proven wrong, even when we say that we’d be ready to give up the ghost if we were shown to be in the wrong.

Boston Marathon and Conspiracy Theories

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Last week, according to the evidence that’s available at hand, a pair of Chechen immigrants (who, once again, according to the available evidence, both emigrated to America legally) used several bombs to attack spectators and runners in the Boston Marathon. Three people are, as a direct result, dead and many more are injured. We have since captured one of the bombers while the other was killed in their attempted apprehension.

All’s well that ends well, right? Unfortunately, there are certain elements in our society that will seize on anything in order to either pursue an agenda or to make a few dollars off of the credulous. Alex Jones is precisely one such person.

Mere moments after the attacks, he was using his Twitter account to espouse theories on what was ‘really’ going on, when there was little to no information available. This is irresponsible at best and destructive at worst. I try my best to take people at their words and believe what they’re saying as being their genuine thoughts and values. When it comes to people like Alex Jones, I really can’t do any such thing. He’s made a very successful career out of sewing discord, enmity and distrust by making incredibly paranoid and totally invalid opinions readily available to people who are ready, willing and openly desirous of having those opinions fed to them.

As I’ve said in previous postings, I love conspiracy theories. The reason why I love them so much is because of the opportunity that they present to learn more about how the world works. Take, for instance, the 9/11 Attacks and the conspiracy theories that surround it (theories that I won’t dignify by referring to them as they want to be, with the word ‘Truth’ attached). These theories operate on people not understanding the entire attacks, or being too ready to seize upon an anti-government mindset rather than being willing to suspend an opinion until they’ve weighed up all of the facts. Since researching the conspiracy theories that surround 9/11 I have learned quite a bit more about engineering, psychology and physics than I had before. It’s actually an incredibly interesting line of inquiry, if you’re willing to have some of your pre-existing opinions challenged.

That really isn’t the case when it comes to the Boston attacks, where the conspiracy theories rely on people already having an overwhelming sense of suspicion about everything that surrounds them. These conspiracy theories rely on people being ready to leap to conclusions and then rejecting any sort of evidence after having arrived at that conclusion. This is because there is no direct evidence, or any other kind of evidence, that lends their theories any sort of credence. These theories are built around drills being conducted in the area as well the presence of trained professionals at the site. From these facts, we then make any number of assumptions to then arrive at a conclusion that isn’t supported by any facts. As a rule, when it comes to critical thinking, we have to outright reject any sort of theory that requires us to make any assumptions, not just assumptions that aren’t supported by any facts. This is what’s required as magical thinking, where a theory starts with evidence A, adds it to assumption B to arrive at conclusion C. For instance. I go out to a restaurant and order a hamburger. I didn’t see the hamburger made in the kitchen, but the hamburger is in front of me. I walked into the restaurant with a conclusion that food that’s served at the restaurant is beamed into the kitchen from a flying saucer that has avoided detection. So, I have my conclusion (C), and then I get my burger (A), which I make my assumption about (B). Once I’ve formed that line of reasoning, even if I’m showed the kitchen, there are any number of justifications that I can make that will continue to support my unsupportable theory.

Now, the rejoinder to my thinking will of course be, “What’s the harm?” This is often said whenever anyone tries to debunk or dispel any sort of subject whose harmful consequences are not readily apparent (opposition to inoculations, astrology and homeopathy being three good examples). This is usually because we give an air of credence to any party that seems to be in an underdog position, because we don’t see a ready reason for why people would run contrary to the ‘official story’ if they weren’t right, or if there wasn’t an aura of truth to what they’re saying. The problem could run from feeding into a conspiratorial mindset that could then lead to disastrous consequences to people being swindled out of money. But sometimes the harm could be as simple as someone suspending their rational judgment to believe something that has no empirical evidence to support it. Whenever we suspend our rational judgment, we run the risk of that suspension forming a pattern that could be hard to break out of. Once you’ve started down the path of assuming something that we have no reason to assume, it becomes easier to continue to do that until we only have a passing relationship with reality.

Generally speaking, a doss of healthy skepticism and an incredulous mindset towards ideas and concepts that have no support will never lead you astray. After all, the real world is already a fabulous place to live in, and anything that expects you to believe ridiculous things will detract from your ability to absorb the wonder and the mystery of that real world.

Accountability

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One of the key issues in genuine school reform is the question of accountability as it applies to both students and teachers. It isn’t enough that a student is said to have learned something, it’s that the student is capable of applying and demonstrating that knowledge. Likewise, it isn’t enough for a teacher to say that they have taught a student something, it has to be proved that the teacher taught the student. With this in mind, the larger question is how do we hold both subjects, the teacher and the student, accountable?

Standardized testing has been the norm, and will continue to be the norm, and it carries with it a fair amount of problems that I believe are, at best difficult to address and at worst, impossible to address. The largest problem as it applies to teachers and to administrators is making a test that is equitable, which is to say, a test that every student in the district is capable of passing in an ideal situation.

So, take the best possible teacher. The teacher is capable of doing their absolute best for every student that they take in. The problem comes in when you accept that every student, regardless of district, comes from a very complicated set of circumstances. There is not going to be a single student in any district that can go through grades k-12 without any difficulties or problems, and is going to be able to apply themselves one hundred percent of the time, which is basically what standardized testing demands of students. This is the main problem with tests as they apply from the top to the bottom: that they are, basically, a rolling pin that goes over every student in an attempt to flatten them all out into a uniform shape. This is not possible.

Along with this comes the concept of competition being built into the structure of schools. Some will say that this is a positive, but this is mainly because the concept of competition is taken, prima facie (at first sight), to be a positive in American society. The problem with this is that, in any competition no matter how it’s constructed, there are going to be winners and losers. Lets use baseball as an example. On one hand, we have the New York Yankees. The Yankees are, historically, the team that is most able to gather the money to get the best teams, the best trainers and the best field. On the other hand, we take a team like the Angels, a team that is going to be able to gather a fair amount of money that can then be used to get a fairly good team, with fairly good trainers and a fairly good field. There’s going to be pretty good competition between the two teams, but the Yankees will have the advantage over the Angels more often than not and the Angels are going to lose more to the Yankees because of this advantage more often than not. And this is fine when it comes to baseball, because, despite how seriously some fans take the game, at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. When we start talking about education, we’re no longer talking about something frivolous. We’re talking about a situation that is deadly serious.

Using the baseball metaphor, we have school districts that are wealthy and school districts that are poor. The wealthy school districts, because of No Child Left Behind, are only going to continue to get as much funding as they possibly can, while the poor districts are going to continue to lose funding. Because of this, the wealthy school districts are going to be able to get better teachers, better facilities and are going to have a greater advantage over the poor districts that are not going to be able to get the best teachers or facilities. And, because of NCLB, the test scores are going to mean that, with every testing period, the wealthy districts will receive more funding and the poor districts will receive less.

So, the question then becomes, what are we to do? Unfortunately, individual citizens don’t really have that much power anymore (as was demonstrated this week with the failure of the gun control bill with a background check that enjoys more support among the citizenry than nearly any other factor of daily life). But, in an ideal world, the solution is fairly simple and fairly clean cut.

One of the ideas that’s sweeping across the country is electronic portfolios. Students upload their school work onto this portfolio, take tests and do other required school work on these portfolios that are then kept throughout their career in school. Now, as I’ve said in the past, greater reliance on technology is highly problematic when it comes to public education. However, when applied in the way that I’m suggesting, with in-class exams, school work and essays, this approach can be applied in an equitable way that can be used by nearly any student in nearly any school in nearly any district. This is not a perfect solution, but no solution is.

Portfolios have the advantage over standardized tests because it approaches every student as individual human beings, as opposed to merely numbers that are then entered into a system. These individuals are then measured in the way that individuals are usually measured: they get better over time, or they get worse over time, and there are attendant reasons that go along with that improvement or failure. Their improvement or failure doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere, but can be measured against other data as it appears in the system. This data is then made available to administration, teachers and other such figures in the district. And, because nearly every assignment is then entered into the system, the students are made accountable for their school work, and the teachers can follow-up as required with school work and other such assignments until those assignments are completed.

Not only is this a much more equitable way to approach school work, but it’s also a much less time consuming and much more affordable approach as well. Teachers will be able to devote more time to instruction and have more freedom over curriculum. In general, it’s a situation in which nearly all individuals in question win. It’s the solution that, at least to me, stands the best chance at actually turning out the desired end: every student having an equal chance at success.

Like Castles Made of Sand

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One of the realities of being alive is that death is an eventuality. Over each of our shoulders looms the spectre that will some day come for us all. Despite our growing comprehension of life extension, this is something that is an absolute certainty. Whether it’s five minutes, five days, five months or five hundred thousand years from now, each of us will die and a few generations past that time every bit of evidence of our lives (unless we are truly exceptional) will be erased.

Even beyond then, millions of years into the future, the Earth will eventually be destroyed by the expansion and death of the sun. After that, the galaxy Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way which will dissolve our current solar system as it exists after the death of the sun and billions of years after that will be the death of the universe itself. These are all certainties, and despite our growing grasp of scientific knowledge, there is precious little that we can do about any of these things. Death is a built-in part of life that we must all face sooner or later, with the only dignity available to most of us is being able to ward it off for as long as possible.

To this, I recommend that all of us consider the sand castle.

I grew up in Southern California, though I now live in Wisconsin. Every year, when I was little, my parents would take me to some fair or another and at most of these fairs would be these beautiful, intricately created sand castles. They were all enormous, and they would all be strikingly beautiful, with an unbelievable amount of effort put into them. I can still remember most of them quite vividly as they stood under the baking, California summer sun. These were always one of my favorite parts of going to these fairs, even if I wasn’t completely enamored with every other part of them.

Despite the fact that these construction projects were built miles inland and far away from the ocean, eventually they will be destroyed. Sure, there will be pictures of them, but those pictures will be totally forgotten sooner or later. They’ll vanish and there will be nothing left of them aside from fleeting memories that will also be gone in a few fleeting moments. And what of it? What of their temporary states?

Life is brief, but it’s that very briefness that makes it as beautiful as it is. If life was eternal, there would be no urgency to anything. What would it matter if I get my degree in a month or a million months from now? The transitory nature of these things is what makes them so beautiful, so shocking in their current states. That’s what makes sand castles and ice sculptures so wonderful to look at, because we know that there is a built in expiration date to these things and that expiration date is fairly soon. We do what we can at the moment that we can, and if we hold on too tightly to the moment that we’re in, we’ll miss the next one.

If the sand sculptor held on too tightly to what they were doing, then it would never be created. That sculptor would never move a finger, because they would be transfixed with the knowledge that what they do is going to be erased in a few minutes and we would all be deprived of that wonderful sight that they could otherwise give us. So to is it with our lives. If we lament over eternity and if we despair at the transitory nature of our lives, then we will never actually live them.

So, I say, be like the ice and sand sculptor. Embrace the brevity of what we have and make something beautiful with it. After all, tomorrow it may be too hot for ice to stand for very long outside, or it may rain. Embrace the moment and forget about eternity.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The idea of a totally morally corrupt society is one that feels sort of alien to most people living in America in the twenty-first century. There’s a lot of problems that we have to contend with at the present moment, but it’s nothing like the systematized enslavement of our fellow human beings. Just because it’s morally repugnant doesn’t mean that it isn’t fascinating to think about, though.

The problem with a totally depraved society is the ability to actually recognize that it’s depraved, or what you can even do about it, and that’s the crux of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The main character, Huckleberry Finn, is one of the most beloved in American fiction, and for good reason too. It goes without saying that he’s one of the most complex fictional children in the canon, and for good reason. Like every child of Huck’s age, he’s always testing societal boundaries to find out what he can and can’t get away with so that he can create his own personal moral code to live by. He causes problems, he gets in trouble, but he doesn’t do anything that he can actually recognize as bad (for instance, he’ll steal things, but he’ll always justify it as ‘borrowing,’ with the full intent of bringing back whatever it is that he’s ‘borrowed’).

The trouble is when he helps his neighbor’s slave, Jim, run away from his mistress so that he can get back to his family. Being a good person at heart, Huck wants to help Jim get back to his family, but he also doesn’t want to do something as reprehensible as steal private property without any intention of bringing it back. The institution of slavery was so deep, and had such a profound hold on American culture that Jim, someone who Huck had always considered to be a good man and a friend, wasn’t even a person to Huck.

A morally depraved society isn’t evil in the sense that it’s without laws, but rather it’s a society where evil is considered to be moral. Slavery wasn’t just considered to be useful, it was considered to be perfectly within the rights of white people to enslave other people. For instance, there’s a scene early on in the novel where Huck’s father (a degenerate drunk, constantly looking for ways to take advantage of other people and live in a way that he can be comfortable without doing any work) sees a free black man walking down the street. The man is well employed, and a respected part of the community (despite the fact that there are other blacks in the community that are enslaved). But Huck’s father is so disgusted with seeing a free black man, that he considered kidnapping the man and taking him to another state for sale.

The journey for Huckleberry Finn isn’t just a trip down a river with Jim and then several associates, it’s a journey into manhood where he discovers his ability to make moral stands. It’s a profound moment when Huck makes the conscious decision to actually steal Jim away from people who had imprisoned him, even though those people were treating him very decently, just on the single principle that slavery is a moral evil. Even if every other scene in the book wasn’t fantastic and it was just this part of the novel and this part alone, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would still go down in history as one of the great American novels. Huck’s profound moral courage doesn’t just make him a good child, it makes him a good man and one well worth respecting.

Children in Society

Before I get to the subject matter of the video, I want to address the idea of ownership as it relates to children, which is something that I find very troublesome.

Whenever we talk about what’s best for a child, we often talk about the ‘rights of the parent,’ as if they somehow supersede the rights of the child. This may not be easy to digest for some, but whenever the topic comes up, it’s often the child who is totally forgotten and who is then treated as if they are the property of the parent. The discussion goes something like this, “As Johnny’s parent, I know what’s best for him,” which is then turned into an argument in favor of Johnny receiving abstinence only education, or being prohibited from learning about the theory of evolution or Johnny not receiving a vaccination. In all of these cases, and numerous others, the selfish whims and desires of the parent are the sole concern, while what truly is best for Johnny (robust sexual education, knowing and understanding the theory of evolution and being vaccinated) is totally forgotten as well as the concept of Johnny being an agent in and of himself. While it is true that minors lack the ability to make informed decisions, their agency ought to be remembered, as well as their ability to solve problems and think critically for themselves.

I’m probably wrong, since I’m not privy to every conversation about children and childhood that anyone has ever had or ever will have, but this point of view isn’t often brought up when we talk about what’s ‘best for children.’ And, as is typical whenever we talk about children, the moment that the above video was seen by the nation, a furor was kicked up with numerous different voices and opinions joining the fray. What I find distressing, however, is the voices of those who often use children as vessels that are waiting to receive views that are thrust upon them and then can regurgitate those views. The concern is that children are supposed to be the property of their parents, and not an active member of a local, national and global community.

This is often an issue when talking about children and childhood as it pertains to political concerns, and this is one of the reasons why I wrote the preface that I did. Mrs. Perry’s choice of words may be misconstrued or misunderstood, but the meaning is fairly clear, and its message is very much in the spirit of helping children to become active agents and future participants in a society that’s waiting for them. Whether we want to accept it or not, children are, in and of themselves, individuals and participants in society from the moment that they leave their parents home for the first time. Their impact may be small at first, but it reverberates outwards in ways that we may never be able to fully perceive. We cannot treat this participation, and we cannot treat the agency of children as if neither exist or matter.

We need to be able to look past our own selfish desires when it comes to children. We need to put away what we want to impress upon them, and we need to actually understand that these are not homunculi that are merely being rolled off of an assembly line, waiting to be filled up with the views of those who came before them, ready to pick up from where their parents left off. It may be desired for these children to become whatever their parents want, but that is often at clear odds with what the children themselves want, and that desire must not be put away and must not be forgotten. We need to consider what is actually best for these children, rather than mistaking what we want for them with what is best for them. This is, of course, a difficult task, but it’s one of the most important that anyone can take upon themselves.

Show Your Work

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One of the most annoying things about doing math, in the minds of the k-12 student, is being reminded to ‘show your work.’ Don’t deny it, either. If you don’t remember being irritated about being asked to ‘show your work,’ then you either have a faulty memory, or you were never a kid. After all, we have calculators! And besides, everyone knows that six times seven is forty-two.

I’m not going to try to convince you that we should be teaching students to show their work, since that debate has come and gone, with universal agreement that, after a certain point, students should have to not just show that they can do math, but demonstrate how they do math. And, what I think is vital, this extends to every other discipline, and is a fantastic way to teach in a cross-disciplinary way.

There are elements of every discipline in every other discipline, and not just in the overt ways (reading a novel in history class, learning vocabulary in math and science, having a good grasp of history in ELA, etc.) but in subtle ways as well. Take, for instance, evolutionary theory. It isn’t enough for Darwin to have noted that there is variation within every species and that this variation caries with it survival advantages, and that over time, that variation will bring about new species. He had to demonstrate how this would happen, and bring forth evidence of that. And then, the work that he did had to go through committees and peer-review, a process that Darwin’s work is still subjected to.

But what does this have to do with the ELA classroom? Lets say that a class is teaching Othello with the thesis that the main reason Iago is trying to destroy Othello stems from racist ideologies. The next step would be to use the text in a way that will prove the hypothesis being pushed by the teacher. You have to have evidence to support your textual claims, and if you do not have that evidence, then you cannot push a theory.

That covers science (having to draw on evidence to support claims) and mathematics (having to demonstrate that evidence in a way that supports your ‘answer’), but what about history? Once again, we’re going to go with Othello. The play itself was written in 1603 or thereabouts, and the source that the play is derived from, “Un Capitano Moro,” places the setting around the beginning of the sixteenth century. With a thorough examination of attitudes pertaining to race in Cyprus and Italy around the sixteenth century, you may be able to make a case that Iago’s attitudes towards Othello are derived from racist ideologies. The question is, whether or not Shakespeare is counting these historical attitudes towards the way that he wrote his characters and his plays. The issue remains whether the text supports the claim or not. A much better use of historical exegesis would be to explore Othello’s historical character, the place that someone like him would have in the military during the sixteenth century since there are certainly some characters in the play (Brabantio and Roderigo most notably) that do have prejudicial attitudes towards Othello due to his race. This would make a rather interesting study, and could be supported by the text, unlike an attempted analysis that would paint Iago as a racist.

This is what makes ELA such an exciting and compelling subject to teach and to study. There are so many different disciplines that go into the subject, and so many different ways to study a text, but just like science, mathematics and history, if there’s no support in the text for the claims that have been made, then it has to be dropped. You cannot just make ideas and analysis up out of thin air, just as you cannot say that Ï€ = 3.

Governor Walker and Wisconsin’s Education Budget

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Sorry about the lack of blogging, I’ve been down in the dumps about money concerns and job prospects, two concerns that have made it difficult to think about anything else. I can’t promise that I’ll be blogging on a regular basis, but this is definitely worth remarking on.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/173644/educator-who-challenged-scott-walkers-vouchers-agenda-wins-61-39-wisconsin#

There are many issues at play when discussing the state of education in Wisconsin, one of which is the place for alternatives to traditional public education. Unfortunately, the administration in Madison isn’t interested in having a discussion, and is content to push an agenda.

I firmly believe that one of the things that needs to change, in the field of politics, is for opponents to take one another at their own terms. If someone says, for instance, “We need to fight in Afghanistan to stabilize the region and help foster lines of communication between the middle eastern nations and ourselves” then I think we ought to take that person at their word, whether or not they may necessarily deserve that or not. It’s the only way that the political conversation is going to be altered from its present course, since it remains difficult to have a useful conversation if the participants of that conversation are attempting to strangle one another. So, rather than accuse the governor of trying to disenfranchise minorities or the poor from education (two claims that I, at least, aren’t substantiated by the facts), lets take him at his word that he wants to foster a positive environment for education.

The problem is that such a statement, and such a belief, is not reflected in the budget. After cutting just barely less than two billion dollars from public education, the Walker administration has decided to increase funding of voucher programs, while keeping public school funding at its current (woeful) state. So, what’s the problem with this? There’s a few, but to keep it brief lets just concentrate on these two issues: the need for public education and public funding of religious programs.

I was careful to include a literal analysis of the First Amendment as my second blog post, since I consider the First Amendment to be integral to all other rights in America. Every provision in the First Amendment is very important, but the one that I want to concentrate on is the guarantee that “Congress (the government) shall make no law (a budget is a legal document) respecting the establishment of religion.” What vouchers do is pay the tuition (using public funds) for students to enter into private schools, which amounts to a once-removed funding of religious schools using public funds. This is a flat out violation of the First Amendment no matter how one looks at this issue.

Beyond the First Amendment violation, the other problem is that these private schools are, as the name implies, private. That is to say that, regardless of how much public funding goes towards these schools, they are unaccountable to the public. Public schools are far from perfect (as firm of an advocate of public schools as I am, it’s impossible for me to say that they are not flawed and in need of serious reform (serious reform, of course, does not imply shutting down troubled schools or dismantling the still very important teacher’s unions)) but their greatest advantage is also implied in the name: public. Because these schools are public, they are owned by every person in the community that they serve and are, ostensibly at least, accountable to that community. Private schools, whether they receive voucher money or not, are not accountable to the public in any way. This wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t being held up as alternatives to public schools, and wouldn’t be an issue if they didn’t receive public funding. Private schools are perfectly within their rights of doing what they wish, so long as it doesn’t violate either the constitution or break any laws.

These issues lend credence to those who take the tack that Governor Walker is merely seeking an agenda in regards to education, that being the dismantlement of public education while pushing endorsement of religion by government, which is, once again, a blatant violation of the First Amendment. I know I’ve said that repeatedly, but it needs to be said as often as possible.

The public funding of education is one of the finest ideas that we’ve pushed forward in this country. Taking control of those schools away from the citizenry is not just an error, but it puts the entire endeavor at risk. If schools are not accountable to the population that they serve, then there’s nothing to indicate that these schools will actually act in the best interests of that population.