February 16, 2010

In Utah, a plan to cut 12th grade

Can you spell "third world country"?

In Utah, a plan to cut 12th grade -
The proposal by state Sen. Chris Buttars would chip away at Utah's $700-million shortfall. He's since offered a toned-down version: Just make senior year optional.

February 16, 2009

Our Greatest National Shame

Sometimes, someone just puts into simple words the plain logic, and its pretty irrefutable:

Our Greatest National Shame:

So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

October 04, 2007

Cato-at-liberty » Clinton’s $5,000 Baby Giveaway

(What, more on the dumb baby bond idea?)

I think Hillary Clinton's baby bond is a bad idea, and on this the libertarian Cato Institute and I agree (this is about the only thing other than Bush's impeachable offenses against the constitution we agree on), but we part ways quickly on solutions.  Their solution is a non-solution:

Re: Cato-at-liberty » Clinton’s $5,000 Baby Giveaway:

To boost savings, we should eliminate current government tax hurdles through universal, all-purpose, tax-free savings accounts.

The root failure of so many free-market fundamentalists is shown in this tiny example: “universal, all-purpose, tax-free savings accounts.”  That solution, like mandating health insurance purchases, only works for those who already have a fair amount of money; it doesn't help the poor at all.  Now, I am all for systems that help middle class upward mobility, but let's not let this obscure the need for upward mobility out of being poor.

What free-market fundamentalists forget is that being poor means not having any money -- to spend or to save.

Just as conservative supply-siders forget that being rich means you already spend as much as you want and don't need tax cuts to encourage it.

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February 02, 2007

Clip: Study Disputes Philadelphia School Changes

Re: Study Disputes Philadelphia School Changes -

Philadelphia students who attended public schools managed by private operators fared no better academically than other students over the past four years, an analysis by Rand Corp. and Research for Action shows.

May 16, 2006

Re: Science and the First Amendment

[Re: Science and the First Amendment in The Nation 5/16/2006]

Excerpts from a great piece by a science teacher about what keeps her going in the fight with the right over teaching science:

The past five years have shown me that the Constitution is valuable only insofar as people are willing to stand up for the rights it protects. Our freedoms are guaranteed only as long as ordinary, everyday people are willing to claim them--indeed, to insist on them.

... freedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don't hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything.

... The lies about science are not limited to evolution. .... Lies about stem cell biology, lies about global warming, about clean air and water, lies about sexuality, about conception and contraception, lies about the effects of hurricanes on metropolitan infrastructure.

... it really is fair to forbid teachers to lie to students, to prohibit school boards from using the power of the state to convert children to other peoples' religions.

... But it turns out that standing up for freedom and democracy is a lot like doing science. You start with noble principles and do the best you can, but when you get right down to it, you spend a lot of time dodging elephant dung.

Defending the Constitution is a messy business, but is it worth it? You betcha. Our future depends on it.

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April 03, 2006

Soul of the neighborhood community

A  friend concerned with school closures planned in Portland, penned an email to a few ;-) of his closest friends.  I helped edit down to this, then again down another 400 words to the 500 words published in the Oregonian as Finding our soul in neighborhood schools.  One of the reasons I found it interesting is that find it interesting is as a progressive counterpoint to the conservative “cut taxes, be more efficient” mantra (that has no defined stopping point) -- and the importance of community and where we find it (which is not only where we worship).

Finding community soul in an elementary school
            Prashant Dubey

My friends have wondered why a fellow like me, who is usually pretty good about maintaining balance, is so worked up about the Portland Public Schools closure plans.

Let me explain.

I was born in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio and then moved to Bombay, India, then to St. Louis, Missouri, then back to Bombay, then to Chicago, and finally to here to Portland.

When I arrived in Portland, I was absolutely bewildered by the level of “contentment” amidst Portlanders. I was enthralled by the feeling of community I experienced, despite the fact that I was a newcomer.  I couldn’t really put my finger on it.  Since then, my wife and I have bought a home together in the Grant Park neighborhood -- 2 blocks from Hollyrood elementary school.  We are now blessed with school-age children.

I have never felt so “at home,” so much a part of a community. And I had never realized how much my local elementary school contributes to this.

I walk my son to school through the park. As we meander through the trees on the gravel path, I see neighbors concluding their morning dog walk and we wave to each other. I see other parents with their kids on scooters approaching the school. I enter the school and see the kids lined up, eager to dash to their classrooms, competing for whom will enter their class first. I wonder about the last time I ran to be the first one at school. I see parents who are professional colleagues. I see parents who are next door neighbors. I see parents who I ran into at the local Mexican restaurant over the weekend. I see parents who join me at the edge of the baseball field during Friday practices. I see parents who worked on the school garden on the south side of the school. I see parents who organized the Halloween extravaganza. I see parents who volunteer in my son’s classroom during writers workshop. I see parents who help with art projects. I see parents who indefatigably organized the school auction.

I realize I know every face in the school involved with our 216 students. I walk out of the school, having bid farewell to my son for the day and exchange glances and smiles with parents – we have dropped off our children in a safe place. We can now go earn a living.

As I walk home, I see neighbors whose children have grown up and have kids of their own. They smile as they reminisce about the memories created at the school. I pass by the pediatric dentists office and recognize it as a sponsor of our recent school auction.  I feel a sense of pride that my neighborhood school is not just an exceptional achievement school, but is full to the brim and is efficient to operate. It feels good. Really good.

A school building is a public asset. It is a community gathering place. It is the nucleus of the local business community. It is the soul of a neighborhood. I never knew this. I never imagined that I would care so much about a building. Public spaces, especially houses of learning, have a way of creating community and connections unlike any other mechanism. These spaces inspire the community to involve themselves in the betterment of the school. Play structures are installed. Playgrounds are cleaned up. School gardens are weeded and vegetables are planted. On weekends, children play on the play structure of their school and feel a sense of belonging themselves. Children are tangible manifestations of hope.

Widespread school closures are planned -- and the creation of larger schools -- purportedly as a means of achieving “better educational outcomes” despite the limited body of evidence to support this and despite the outcry by those with the greatest stake in the educational outcome: the childrens parents.

There is no substantive acknowledgement of the contribution of a (public) school building to the soul of a community. Closing performing neighborhood schools that are community anchors will irreversibly change the landscape of our great city. Once a public asset is relinquished, it is next to impossible to re-claim it. The walks to and from school will be more anonymous. The march to the classrooms will be increasingly mechanical. The school garden will rapidly disappear. The rush to drop off and abscond to the day gig will become routine. The meandering in the hallways will be replaced with elbowing for position in the parking lot. Families will be disillusioned. The urban public school fabric will wear thin. The net loss of soul will be measurable but largely unaccounted for.

I have waited for 40 years to feel like I belong. I believe very, very strongly that closing schools in the name of a uniform curriculum and (alleged) efficiency fundamentally ignores a true value of a school building -- to be a tangible manifestation of the soul of a community.

While I have been discouraged by the fatigue of the body politic in Portland, for me this is about the soul.  The collective souls of communities are the primary means of enhancing the livability of a city. And it is of great and deep concern to me that value of our civic soul is not being acknowledged.  Our individual souls are the means of guiding our beliefs.  I will measure my success by my journey as much as my destination. I will show my children that even if the odds seem stacked against you, your belief system should always be your guide.

We need to keep our performing neighborhood schools, the soul of our community.

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March 21, 2006

Re: Portland Public Schools--major changes ahead

[Comment posted re: Portland Public Schools--major changes ahead 3/21/2006]

I find some of these comments hard to understand.

In order save children the “trauma” of major school transitions, we’ll close 11 schools, thus forcing every one of those students to undergo a major school transition right now!  In other words, for a K-6 school, the net marginal savings in child-school-transition-trauma will become positive 7 years from now when the kindergardeners of today would be graduating from grade 6 and going to a new school.  What hokum of an excuse.

“Portland's system of tucked away neighborhood schools is romantic and parent friendly, but not necessarily economical and education friendly.”

So, you’re saying the goal is parent-unfriendly elementary schools?

Since when should the overriding objective of schools be “to be economical”.  And what makes neighborhood schools “not education friendly”?  If they are so bad, why do all the parents want them?  Are parents unreasonably selfish or spiteful of taxpayers?  One of the major factors in childrens’ success is parental involvement, so why would we be breaking the neighborhood school-community link and accessibility and convenience for kids and parents?  We should be encouraging, not discouraging this.

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November 09, 2005

Re: Kansas Board Approves Challenges to Evolution [NYT]

[Re: Kansas Board Approves Challenges to Evolution 11/9/2005]

To the Editors of the New York Times:

The Kansas School Board requires teaching the “controversy” about whether life on earth has evolved.  With the principle established, let’s apply the standard to every part of the curriculum.

Creationists dispute radioactive carbon dating: a “controversy” that physics isn’t real.  They say fossils can’t have formed by chemical replacement over millions of years: we’d better warn our kids that chemistry may not exist.

Most of history is just things written down by people who weren’t there, so off with its controversial head!

No one has produced an authenticated birth certificate for Jesus Christ and there are billions of adherents with competing claims for God, so “controversy” stickers must be placed on any bible, Koran, or other document making theistic claims that children might see.

The Board’s lesson?  There are no facts, just opinions; every kid should be free to choose to believe what they want.

Heavens, it makes you wonder why we have public schools anyway when it is all just some fluff that those darn liberals made up to confuse us!  With no facts to burden us, our minds will be free at last!

September 07, 2005

No alternative theories to evolution [News-Register]

[Submitted 9/7/2005 to the New-Register published 9/17/2005 as Scientists have explored and rebutted Creationism]

To the Editor -

Lately, some readers have written to extoll the idea of teaching creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution because, they assert, these are alternative theories that address perceived weaknesses in evolution.

Over the years, literally hundreds of claims against evolution have made by creationists and “intelligent designerists”.  Yet, every single claim has, in fact, been subjected to scientific inquiry ... and found to be wrong or not applicable (not relating to scientific inquiry).  One can find a compilation of some 600 claims and read for each claim a summary of the investigation rebutting them here.

There is no alternative scientific explanation, not a bad one, nor a weak one, nor even one that scientists are too close-minded to consider: on the contrary,  scientists have looked at every claim in order to see if there was anything there!

This is a serious issue because evolution rests on the underlying science of physics, chemistry, etc.  Once, as a society, we choose to be relativists about evolution and leave it up to each school kid’s opinion, then that is a slippery slope: to reject evolution requires rejecting the other underlying science and this becomes rejection of science in general over time.

Instead of using science to tell us if a species is threatened with extinction, we’ll ask the politically appointed Interior Secretary to choose.  We’ll ignore global warming.  We’ll decide more arsenic in water is cleaner water.  Whatever!  After all, it is all just opinion!

So then those with political power will decide what the "facts" are in order to justify pre-ordained policies instead of politics being used to determine what policies should address the facts.

July 18, 2005

Intelligent Designerists [Oregonian]

[Submitted to The Oregonian 07/07/2005, published 07/16/2005 with edits as An evolving state of mind over matter]

Additional humor:
  Open Letter to Kansas School Board
  Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory
  Okay, We Give Up
  No Free Hunch

  To paraphrase Douglas Adams' in A Hitchhiker's Guide: “

I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “Intelligent Design is a dead giveaway, isn’t it?  Life could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.

  What Do You Know?
  15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense
  Other Resources for Defending Evolution
  Intelligent Design? a special report reprinted from Natural History magazine
  National Center for Science Education
  'Intelligent design' camouflages religion
  New York Times series: Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive and In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash and Show Me the Science and full coverage
  The Hitchhiker's Guide to Intelligent Design
  The Republican War on Science
  Kansas State Department of Education State Science Standards
  TalkOrigins' Index of Creationist Claims (rebutts each of 100s of claims) including “Intelligent Design
  Talk Reason - Arguments against creationism, ID, and religious apologetics

[As submitted to The Oregonian:]

July 10th is the anniversary of the start of the Scopes trial about the teaching of evolution.  I have to admit that I continue to harbor a certain skepticism about people that claim that they have a better scientific explanation for the diversity and structure of life than evolution provides ... just as long as you first accept that fossils aren't really old, that isotopes don't really decay over time (and thus nuclear bombs and nuclear power don't exist, stars don't die out).  You know, that physics isn't true, and stuff like that.

I may be old fashioned, but to accept the latest notion, called “intelligent design”, as a science it needs not only to poke fanciful holes in obvious, tested reality by using semantic obscurantism, but also it needs that bedrock of the scientific method: a testable hypothesis about its own claim that there was an intelligent designer of life, tests that can be independently repeated and verified.

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But for some reason “intelligent design” supporters often skirt their own big question which is, obviously, “Who was the designer?”

Fortunately, I recently realized that we have an excellent way to directly search for our intelligent designer and put the question to the test ... and perhaps to rest for all time!  Each spring, the small town of McMinnville, Oregon is host to an annual UFO festival and parade.  The second largest in the country, I hear.  So here, right under our very noses, has been the laboratory intelligent designerists have needed!

No more searching for evidence of our designer by listening with our electronic ears to the heavens (oops, “skies” -- remember we are talking science here!) listening for the alien equivalent of endless Gilligan's Island reruns beaming toward us from our designer now that he's done with us.  No, we can simply wait at the end of the parade, and ask each Klingon and Wookiee and every other creature, “Are you my designer?  And if not, do you know who is?”  After all, surely the proud designer will turn up some year.  I mean, any good designer would want to come back now and then and just sort of admire how well his things are living, don't you think?

Oh, but wait!  This may be more difficult than I thought: based on the poor quality of the design of my eyes, leading to the need for very strong prescription glasses, and the vast array of debilitating and tragic diseases affecting that ultimate creation, Homo sapiens, it would appear that life was designed by some fractious committee who couldn't quite agree on how any of it really ought to work, or some evil designer inventing diabolical miseries for us to endure, or perhaps just someone who never quite got the hang of this designing life stuff.  And since no one ever takes credit for failures, let alone failures on such a colossal scale, the search will likely be a long one as each alien tediously denies having anything to do with us.

Sigh.  Well, back to the drawing board.

Oh, but wait!  I've got another idea: what if we were to just redefine science to mean not science?  Yes, the pieces are all starting to fit together ... now it is all starting to make sense!  (Well, not sense.)

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