Tag Archives: Education

A Short Question. A Longer Answer


I wish to propose a question. It’s likely to be held in contempt by a number of people. Some might even condemn me to Hell. However, society has gotten nowhere by keeping its mouth shut. It progresses by the asking of questions. So here I go.

Are Judaism and it’s spin-off of Christianity supposed to be monotheistic religions?

Most people would probably say yes. Jews and Christians worship one God, not many Gods. That answer misses the point of the question. I’m not asking if they do worship one God. Instead I am asking if they are supposed to believe that there is only one God. Let’s look at the 1st Commandment:

6 I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 7 you shall have no other gods before me.” Deuteronomy 5:6-7

That doesn’t say there is only one God. It just says you only get to worship one God. Maybe it’s heretical, but I’m just trying to ask a question that I don’t hear anyone asking. Like I said, society progresses through the asking of questions and the search for answers. That is what made Newton question why things fall to the ground. It led Franklin to investigate lightning. In 1969 that spirit put a man on the moon. We should stop accepting what we have been told and go out and discover for ourselves.

It is of interest that this is the very problem with American political participation. We are far too willing to accept something that is said to us repeatedly. Karl Rove can raise millions of dollars and use it to sway elections because a 30 second attack ad is easier to absorb than a complicated argument. Everyone complains about attack ads during a campaign, but they are there because they work. It easier to say, “raising taxes is bad.,” than it is to go out and find the information that shows those tax increases would be on %2 of the population. Guess what? You’re not one of them.

What truly saddens me is that we don’t have the desire to even question the most simplistic statements. If we can’t get past those, then no one questions the 1st commandment. Many people would tell me that my argument about Deuteronomy isn’t really that important. There are roughly 2 billion Christians in the world. How is it not important?

Questioning our leaders, in our communities, government, or churches is very important. One fact that is often forgotten is that those people work for us. Ministers are supposed to be servants of their congregations. Government employees work for the public good. We are their boss, and any good boss pays attention to what his employees are doing. I’d say it’s about time we check in on ours.

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The James Tate Affair


Just who is James Tate? If you don’t already know, he is the target of this week’s unbelievable piece of irony. Tate is a high school senior who attends Shelton High School in Shelton, Connecticut. He’s been thrown into the public eye because he has been banned from his high school prom. Why? Because he asked a girl to go with him. I was going to talk about voting to raise the debt ceiling, but this is too good to pass up.

To be fair, he wasn’t banned for asking the girl, but for the way he asked. He sent her a message. The message was in giant cardboard letters taped to the side of the school. I’m not kidding. Tate and some friends made cardboard letters and like Navy SEALs, snuck up to the school at night with a ladder and posted an old-fashioned text message. The school principal in response punished Tate for trespassing (because it was not during school hours) and putting students at risk of injuring themselves (because he climbed a really tall ladder.) The real punishment was an in-school suspension. Apparently, at Shelton High, a suspension after April 1st also gets you banned from the prom.

I have a couple of problems with this decision. One question is, what’s the deal with April 1st? My guess is that the policy was put in place to deter would be April Fool’s Day pranksters. It is not fair, however, to prevent those suspended one day from attending prom, while allowing those who were suspended the day before to attend. If the policy said if you are suspended at all you can’t go to the prom that would be fine. I think it would be a stupid punishment, but that’s just my opinion. The bigger question is what kind of message does this send? James Tate was being bold and creative. Aren’t those attributes that school’s should promote? We want kids to think outside the box. We want them to find new and creative ways to accomplish things. This is the most creative way to ask a girl to a dance that I have ever heard of.

Yes, he broke the rules but how is preventing him from going to prom a reasonable punishment? He has asked for some alternative, like community service and the school denied him. This thing is not going away though, because somebody in Hartford caught word of the story. That’s right, a state legislator is getting involved. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, Rep. Jason Perillo in offering an amendment to an education bill that would require Shelton High (and all Connecticut schools) to offer community service as an alternate punishment for being barred from any school function. I like that idea. I don’t like barring kids from school functions. These events define a school community and it is important that everyone be able to be involved.

I already saw cast suggestions for the film about this event. You gotta admit that if Tate and his date get to go, she did say yes, there will probably be applause when they walk in. It would be a genuine coup d’etat if they aren’t voted Prom King and Queen. It might not make such a bad film. We’ll have to see what happens next.

So There’s An Imaginary Forest. . .


Really, there’s an imaginary forest. This forest has trees and plants, but no animals, nothing that can hear, except you. Suddenly a wind picks up and a huge tree starts falling to the ground. Now think, if you weren’t there did it make a sound?

How long did it take before you said, “Of course.” Not very long, I’m guessing. It isn’t such a simple question though. Let’s talk a little about our sense of hearing. Hearing is an example of mechanosensation, meaning that our hearing organs, the ears, are interpreting the movement of molecules around us and sending that information to our brains. Sound is a wave, which means it is not a physical object. It is really just energy that causes molecules to vibrate. They bump up against other molecules and transfer that energy. That happens countless times until some of those molecules bump up against your eardrum. That information is then translated into nerve impulses that shoot up your auditory nerve to your brain. Then you hear something. This happens extremely quickly and is going on constantly. So a tree falls and vibrates the world around it eventually those vibrations make it to your ear and you think “I think a tree is falling.” Hopefully you look around to make sure it’s not falling on you. People usually argue that sound waves are still sent out even if no one is there and so the tree still makes sound.

The presence of sound waves isn’t the question, however. The real question is what is the very nature of sound. Is sound something that exists in the environment? Or is it merely our brains interpretation of something in the environment? Does the physical sensation of sound exist outside our heads or is it created by our brain? Imagine if humans lacked a sense of hearing. We could still discover sound waves in the environment. We could make machines that would detect them. We might still call them sound waves, but they wouldn’t mean the same thing to us. If we lacked a sense of hearing it would fundamentally change the way we think of sound, because our brains would not interpret that information the same. In essence, sound as we know it would not exist. So is the “tree in the woods” question really so simple? Should you have answered so quickly?

The “tree in the woods” question is perhaps not important in our lives. People certainly have more important things to worry about. The nature of sound and hearing doesn’t usually make the top 5. What’s the problem with that? The problem is that we answer so many important questions with the same quick, “of course.” Questions about government, politics, education, any number of important things get brushed aside and we just believe what we repeatedly hear. That’s why FOXNews can say the President is spending $200 million a day on an Asia trip and people believe. “Do politician’s waste our tax dollars? Of course.” We can be convinced that teachers have easy jobs and are overpaid. “Teachers only work 9 months a year, of course they’re overpaid.” We don’t demand thorough arguments and answers, so we don’t get them.

When I was a child I dreaded hearing one of my say four words. “Because I said so.” I hated it, because it was simply not an answer. I’ve always asked questions and I wanted a real answer but sometimes “because I said so” was just easier. For example, my mother would tell me to put on my coat. I would ask why, and she would say “because I said so.” She could have said, “It’s the middle of winter and if you don’t put on your coat you’ll have hypothermia before we reach the car.” That would have taken much longer I  would’ve needed an explanation of what hypothermia was. She went with brevity instead.

I only mention this because we are getting “because I said so” arguments and we’re responding with “of course.” The new Republican budget was unveiled recently. In a video Rep. Paul Ryan, showed that his budget would avoid a debt crisis. How? Well he had a graph and he said so. He doesn’t want people asking too many questions. We are being force-fed a mantra that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs. Republicans say it so often I’m beginning to think they have a “millionaire tax cut” button. Why do tax cuts for the rich create jobs. Because they said so. You could argue that the people who really create jobs are consumers, because they buy products and services thus creating demand for more products and services. This in turn employs more people to manufacture and sell those products and to provide those services. Virtually all of those consumers are not wealthy. So perhaps cutting taxes for them would make more sense than cutting taxes for the rich. You could make that argument. They would rather you didn’t. I’m amazed at the number of people who just assume the “tax cuts create jobs” argument is  true without taking the time to think about it. This brush-off by the public is how we ended up with “death panels.” Sarah Palin hopped on FOX and did some “golly gee Democrats want to kill old people,” number and we were off to the races.  Pres. Obama might not be a citizen. Why? Donald Trump says so. He said so multiple times so it must be ultra-true. These questions are far more complicated and take far more attention than we are willing to give. Yes, people are busy. They have families, and jobs and any number of things to do, but we are at the beginning of the next presidential campaign. If we want real leadership, we have to demand it.

I wrote 402 words about the tree in the woods question. Imagine how many more words could be written about taxes, healthcare, and education. All of these discussions are going on in the federal government, and state governments. In the movie “Uncle Buck” there’s a scene where Macualay Culkin is asking rapid-fire questions of his Uncle Buck. Buck (played by John Candy) tells him he asks a lot of questions. Culkin replies, “I’m a kid. That’s my job.” When did we quit that job? When did we become so disillusioned that we decided it wasn’t worth asking anymore? We need to take up that job again, but it won’t work if we just accept any answer. So we have to ask, How many “because I said so” arguments are we going to accept before we ask for real answers? How many times are we just going to say, of course?  I used to think that Americans were just apathetic when it came to holding government accountable. I was wrong. We just don’t want to take the time to really examine the questions. So, I’m extending an invitation. It’s to a rally. A rally where we start asking the tough questions and demanding real answers. Where is this rally? It’s on your computer, in you living room, in your statehouses, or an imaginary forest. It’s anyplace where we know that sound exists because we make sure that people can hear us.

Arizona Doesn’t Support Religious Education. They Just Pay For It.


The Supreme Court ruled on an important case today. In a 5-4 decision they upheld an Arizona law that provides a tax credit to citizens if they donate to a “school tuition organization.” This tax credit, called the “Private School Tax Credit Law” gives citizens somewhere between $500-$1000 dollars in a tax refund if they donate to one of these “STOs.” The real question is whether this is government support of religion. There are a few very important questions that need to be answered about this law.

First of all, how is it not government support of religion when government is providing money that supports religion. The Arizona state government is saying if you promote private education they will give you the money to do it. A tax credit means that they reduce the amount of taxes you pay. This is different from a tax deduction that only reduces your taxable income. How is that not government support of private education? It is true that not all private education is religious, but most of it is. When it gets down to the facts of the case, government should only be funding private education because it is the only way government can control the agenda. Religious schools teach only their view of the world. That’s why children brought up in religious schools may not be taught evolution for example. Government should provide education for its children without religious influence.

It would be very interesting to find out if those people who support the Arizona tax credit would support it if they heard that the money was going to Muslim schools. It shouldn’t. It also shouldn’t support Christian, Jewish, or any other religious schools. It is important that education explores world religions. It is also important that they do not show a bias. Education is something that should provide a broad worldview. It should never narrow that view to support any one viewpoint.

President Obama Should Fight For Education . . . Now


In his speech on public education in America, the President made many grand statements, but offered few solutions. It’s good that the President is taking up the issue of public education. Public education is the single most important issue in this country.  It affects every aspect of our lives. It drastically affects our economy. The United States will be better off it our workforce is more educated.

In his speech at Kenmore Middle School, the President stressed that it all begins at home. Instilling a desire for education and the discipline to obtain is the responsibility of parents. What he didn’t address is how do we help kids who don’t have that. As much as we don’t like it, some parents are not responsible. Some parents will not instill those values in their children. Some children will show up at school tired and hungry. We have to address these children’s problems. One step is providing breakfast at schools in the same way that we provide free and reduced lunches.

The President also stressed his program, “Race to the Top.” This program told states that if they showed progress then the best of them would see federal money. While you can say the program caused states to raise standards, it raises the question, “Is competition the right model for public education?”

This is a very big question. The President called on Congress to send him an education bill that he could sign by the beginning of the next school year. He put the responsiblity on Congress. The reason that the competition question is so important is that Congress is increasingly under Republican influence and they believe competition is the answer to everything. Republican views of education range from promoting school choice and voucher programs to dismantling the Department of Education and saying, “Screw the public, they can educate themselves.” Public education cannot be subject to this idea. The very idea of public education is that it is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, or socio-economic status is. Every child deserves a certain level of education, and the government should give it to them. Competition doesn’t work because in a competition someone always loses. Right now the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are taking place. Every team cannot win. That’s not how it works. In public education, however, everyone is supposed to win. We cannot let the free market, competition standard be applied to public education.

The President did mention a number of important points. He repeatedly stressed that education is about abstract skills like critical thinking. He said they were more important that test scores. He stressed that we need to revamp teacher education. We need to give teachers more time to collaborate and more time for veteran teachers to mentor new teachers. Most of all he highlighted the fact that education costs money. He pointed out that reform is necessary but we will also have to spend money. While money is tight, he said we cannot cut education funding. With Republican’s trying to cut spending on everything from the IRS to Pell grants, this is an important statement, however, the President did not threaten to veto a bill containing cuts to education.

President Obama’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place. He seems to truly value the idea of educating all children. He said, “In the 21st century it is not enough to make sure that no child gets left behind. We need to make sure every child has a chance to get ahead.” That is the right idea. He said educating every child is important. “That is who we are.” The President has stopped short of leading the way. His speech on Monday had the right goals, but now we must ask if the President has the political will to push for those goals.  If the job is left to Congress, we will see the same fight we have seen over the past 50 years. The nation will continue to decline in education, because we refuse to invest in it. President Obama has fought for healthcare, and financial reform. Now is the time for him to fight for education.

A Quick Thought, Again. . .


I’m working on my reaction to the President’s speech on education reform that I posted yesterday. In addition I’m continuing my work on our addiction to technology. Since neither of those is finished, I would like to leave you with this question. How confusing must it be to someone learning English that “Indian-American” and “American Indian” mean two very different things?

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, listen to the President’s speech, and check in tomorrow for my reaction.

My Spending Fight Continues. . .


I will post a more in-depth look at this issue tomorrow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get started early enough today to finish it. Just as a preview, the House voted to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting. Like American children since 1969 I was raised on Sesame Street. This is one of those things in the budget that really gives back to society and to cut funding for informative, educational programming is disgusting. Without getting off on a rant, I believe we should all write our Congressmen and Senators; write the President if you want and say keep funding public broadcasting. It’s the right thing to do.