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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

So the Conservative Christian Cult are arguing that corporations are people with deeply held religious beliefs.  And, as such, should be able to “opt out” of the contraception mandate of the ACA.  They are now arguing that Public Education is a “handout” to poor people and should be privatized.  In order to make their point, they are pushing vigorously for “voucher programs” which will take tax dollars earmarked for public education and offer them as sort of “scholarships” to private schools.  Of course, their argument is that public education is failing.

In 2012 Bobby Jindal introduced such a voucher program in Louisiana.  One problem, only about 8,000 poor students in the entire state were admitted into these private schools.  Furthermore, the data from the LEAP testing done each year showed that those students in the private schools scored drastically lower (40% at or slightly above grade level) than the state average (69%).

Not to be outdone, Milwaukee Wisconsin also has a voucher program.  Research shows that just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools.  It would appear that vouchers do not improve the education of students, but rather drag it down.  How could this be?  In the past, private schools had a reputation for providing excellent education.  So what happened?

What happened was that many of these private schools have adopted the A Beka Book curriculum.  I already wrote once about how they teach creationism rather than evolution.  They even villanize scientists and mathematicians.  But, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here are some wonderful things your children are being taught if they attend a school that uses these text books.

According to their book titled:  America The Land That I love In Christian Perspective the following are taught as “fact”:

The Great Depression was made up in order to spread Socialism.  That’s right, the Great Depression didn’t happen at all.  It was a left leaning propaganda ploy to spread socialism in America.  The book says:

“Some people wanted to create an imaginary crisis in order to move the country toward socialism. They spread rumors of bank mortgage foreclosures and mass evictions from farms, homes and apartments. But local banks did all in their power to keep their present tenants. The number of people out of work in the 1930s averaged about 15 percent of the work force; thus 85 percent continued to work. Most had to take a pay cut, but prices also declined during the Depression, enabling people to buy more for their money.”

What’s more, in the Propaganda section, students learn:

In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. This novel described the plight of the Okies, farm families from Western Oklahoma who went to California in search of jobs. Most families who went west did not experience the hardships that Steinbeck presented in his novel. Steinbeck openly supported labor violence and strikes instigated by socialist groups to keep the Okies from earning a living as migrant farm laborer in California…. Socialist photographers and artists produced misleading pictures of the… mountaineers of Appalachia. These mountaineers did not have the modern conveniences of homes in the town or cities but they did not consider themselves to be poor. The Depression actually had little effect on their lives.

They also teach that Carl Marx and Darwin brought the German people Hitler and the Nazis.  The book teaches, “as a socialist, Hitler believed that the government should own the nation’s industries and take responsibility for its people.” Through socialism, the book tells us, Hitler became “the absolute dictator of Germany. By embracing socialism, the German people lost their freedoms to a tyrant.”  They fail to mention that Hitler did not nationalize German industries and that many German Industrialists got very rich during his reign.

Freedom of Speech was the Gateway to Porn.  According to them,  “Pornographic films and books were legalized under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’.”  So even if you think Freedom of Speech is a good thing, according to these texts, it is really a freedom that is a dangerous gateway.

Other wonderful things they teach include little tidbits like the Clintons were Draft-Dodging, Economic-Crisis-Creating, Joint Presidents, or that George W. Bush was an awesome President because he invaded Iraq and saved mid-born babies, or that 2008 was a terrible year for America because Barak Obama a Marxist-Nazi-Muslim-atheist-homosexuality-approving Kenyan, was elected president.

Finally, private schools are not required to provide special education to anyone with physical or mental disabilities.  Therefore, they don’t have to take these children into their schools.  Nor, are they required to accept anyone who is not a member of their church group.  Or, if they do accept them, they charge significantly higher tuition.  Naturally, they don’t have to accept LGBT students either.  On top of all of that, if a student doesn’t measure up to their “standards” they can refuse to let them back in.

All the while, public school funding is being drained by the voucher programs.  Because the money intended to provide public education to everyone is being used as “scholarships” for these private schools, up to 65% of public school funding is going to voucher programs in many states.  That leaves practically nothing for everyone else.

If you want your children to attend one of these “so-called schools” by all means send them there.  But, I find it very offensive to expect me to pay for their lack of education.  Private means Private.  Private Schools are to be funded by students, not the tax payer who may or may not agree with their “ideology”.  Stop voucher programs wherever you can and give all of our children the opportunity of a good education!

 

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Every politician who runs for office has a bibliography.  One of the many items they often throw out is that they are “the product of public education”.  I find that almost traumatizing!  Mainly because most of these same politicians who claim to be “the product of public education” are the same people who once they get into office, do their utmost to completely shut down public education in favor of for-profit education.

The first attack on public education was the “voucher” system.  Under this plan, mostly pushed by Republicans but also backed by many Democrats, public education money would be used to send children to “private” schools.  Their argument was that public education was failing in many parts of the country.  To prove their point, they began to institute “standardized testing” as the only means to show progress.  Once the results of these tests were out, and many students did in fact fail, they argued it proved their point.

However, they never did confess that all the while they were spending large amounts of money to have vendors develop these standardized tests, they were cutting public education funding and teacher staffs.  Teachers were being laid-off by the thousands, and school buildings were allowed to nearly crumble down around the students.

Then the next big thing was “Charter Schools”.  At first many people thought this was a good idea.  However, over the years we are finding out that they are not as good as they were hyped to be.  Thus, the backlash about Charter Schools in New York City.  Problem is that these companies who run Charter Schools are making so much money they are probably not going away anytime soon.

What Charter Schools are really doing is laying the foundation for a two-tiered education system.  Under this program, Charter Schools get to “pick-and-choose” their students.  If one of the students they choose doesn’t do as well as expected, they are allowed to “toss them out”.  Additionally, they are not required to take any children with special needs.  Nor are the required to take students with English deficiency.  So, they get to pick the students they want, throw out anyone they don’t like, and then say we are better than you.

This attack on public education is nothing new.  Nor, is it relegated to one political party.  Both sides are just as guilty as the other when it comes to public education.  The real problem is that we have become too enamored with standardized testing.  We have allowed our schools to become test preparation institutions and not places of learning.  I don’t care if you talk about standardized tests of the past or about Common Core that is now being pushed.  Standardized Testing is bad for education.  It doesn’t show anything significant in regards to the viability of education, just that some students do better on tests than others.

Additionally, the standardized tests reveal something we already knew.  If you come from a part of society that has you are more prone to be successful on standardized tests.  If you come from a part of society that doesn’t have” you are or prone to be less successful on standardized tests.  What in essence we are telling children is that some are losers and some are winners.  If you come from poorer neighborhoods, you are probably going to fall into the “loser” category.

Teachers all across the country have been under attack for years.  Somehow it is their fault that education isn’t good enough according to these standardized tests.  They are forced to prepare their students for the content of the test rather than spend that time in class to educate our children.  On top of all of that, school districts are spending millions of dollars to obtain standard test preparation materials.  All the while things like art and music are being dropped from the curriculum.

For example, Texas a couple of years ago cut $5.3 Billion from public schools while giving Pearson a $500 million contract.  They even went so far as to say that there would be 15 end-of-course exams in order to pass high school.  Fortunately for those students in Texas their parents fought back.  A group of Texas Moms formed a group called TAMSA – Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment — better known as Moms Against Drunk Testing.  I like the second name better myself.

What all this proves is that in order to “balance budgets” state and federal governments are using our children’s education to cut money.  We have become too dependent upon standardized tests.  We are failing our children miserably!  The worst part of all of this is that educators are not the ones writing these standardized tests.  They are being written by corporations, some of whom don’t even have professional educators on staff.

I remember a time when teachers were valued by society.   They were role models.  The teaching profession was looked upon as a great meaningful career.  Children and parents looked up to teachers and their dedicated work.  How is it that too many people are demonizing teachers today?

Why is it that it is okay to spend millions of dollars on standardized testing that don’t really measure accomplishment or knowledge, but not on teachers and school buildings?  Why do we, as in Los Angeles, take money from repairing schools to purchase Ipads for every student to prepare for standard testing?  These Ipads will be antiquated in two to three years, schools should be permanent pillars of education.  Why are places like New York City being forced to give free rent to private, for profit, Charter Schools?

President Obama is, in my opinion, just as guilty in all of this as everyone else.  His program of Race to the Top sounds excellent.  But in practice, this ongoing movement of having a two-tiered education system is really becoming a Race to the Bottom.  The President is very good at talking about education.  I truly believe he wants the best for our children.  However, I believe he has become blind to the negative effects Charter Schools and Voucher movements are having on public education.

In the meantime, Governors like Perry in Texas, Scott in Florida, Walker in Wisconsin, Christie in New Jersey, and McCrory in North Carolina continue to go after teachers and their unions.  All the while trying to privatize public education.  None of these governors has said anything about the children with special needs and how they plan to deal with them.

So, we must ask these politicians if public education was good enough for them to move up the economic ladder, why can’t our children be offered the same opportunity?  Why are they taking money away from public education and putting it in the hands of corporations?  Why are they not investing in the quality of public education so other children can move up as well?

I have always believed in education.  I firmly believe that if you want to measure the very heart and soul of a country, all you need to do is look at how they educate their children.  A country’s future and growth are directly tied to the education of its children.  Without good education for all, the country’s future is in jeopardy.

You can be sure of this, if public education is allowed to become a two-tiered system, that is also the plan for the economy.  With the attacks against public education going on, we can only assume that these politicians want a two-tiered economic system.  Those with, and those without.  Is that what we really we want for our children’s future?

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Millions upon millions of people around the world believe in extraterrestrial life.  There have been over 15 million witnesses who claim to have seen a UFO or been abducted by an ET.  There are those who believe that man’s great leaps and bounds in evolution are the direct result of ETs changing our DNA or coming to our planet to “teach” our ancestors how to make civilization.  There is a show on TV that is called “Ancient Aliens”.  The people on this show are determined to convince us that we are descendents of ET.

Last night I happened to watch this particular show.  I don’t take very much of what they say as serious science, but it is somewhat amusing to watch anyway.  Then I suddenly got a thought.  What if these people are actually right.  What if the gods humans have worshiped for thousands of years are actually ETs.  But, more importantly, what would that mean to Christian Conservatives and their belief that the bible is true science and that the world is only 6,000 years old?

I began to laugh out loud thinking about what Pat Robertson or Mike Huckabee would say if it were determined that ETs made life on our planet possible.  What would happen to their whole concept about god and their belief that humans were created in god’s image?  Since the most popular ET is what people call the “grays”, that might put a crimp into their belief system.  Grays are described as humanoid, but they do not look exactly like us.

Then I thought their first reaction would be to denounce the “science” as fantasy.  That is their easy answer.  But, some might even say that the ETs were sent by God to develop our ancestors.  Even still, that may be difficult to swallow if it means the earth is more than 6,000 years old and the grays don’t look exactly like us.  Then, if the ETs were sent by God, what does that do to the divinity of Jesus?

But, I began to come to the realization that if these ETs reappeared to check on their work, the Christian Conservatives would immediately call for their extermination.  After all, if we were created in god’s image, and ETs look like the grays, the Christian Conservatives will argue they must be “spawns of the devil” and must be destroyed.

On the other hand, don’t forget, that these very same Christian Conservatives argue that Intelligent Design is a fact.  They even use the argument that if god was not the intelligent designer, someone was.  That leaves open the possibility of ET creating the human race.  I just hope they look like us, or we will have an intergalactic war on our hands.

The one thing that always amazes me in watching stuff like this is the certainty that these proponents have about the topic.  They don’t talk like it “may be a possibility”, they talk like it is “fact”.  Then it occurred to me that is how the Christian Conservatives view their beliefs.  It also occurred to me that whenever humans look for that big question of “why am I here”, they always have to find some kind of intervention by an extraterrestrial or god to find the answer.  That in itself is not a bad thing.  It becomes a bad thing when it takes the place of common sense and reasoning.

Once humans fixate on mythology and believe it to be true, they lose sight of the common decency that is supposed to bind us all together.  That is when things like hate, discrimination, and misogyny all take root.  It is the one thing that causes most of our troubles as a species.  The idea that one group is better than the other simply because they believe one mythology over another.  That is the primary focus behind the intolerance laws against all minorities that are being raised in several states.  It is what causes men to think of women as “pawns” and an “inferior” sex.

I know that belief in religion can be comforting to some.  That does not excuse the vitriol hurled at others who believe differently.  That is the one factor that Founding Fathers wanted our Democracy to overcome.  Allow each group of myth believers to believe what they want.  But, not to be able to impose their myth on others.  I am afraid that is something Christian Conservatives will never accept.  Thus, they will never accept democracy.  That is the real danger facing us today.  Intolerance is a vicious cancer in society that kills freedom and the very soul they claim to have.

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Call them what you will.  Far Right-Wing-nuts.  Conservative idiots.  Christian Conservative bigots.  Patriotic Icons of liberty.  Delusional Morons with no sense of dignity.  All could be appropriately used to describe the Tea Party, Christian Conservatives, and right-wing conservatives depending on your point of view.  As diverse as they may appear at times, they all have one thing in common.  They are all terrified that they are losing or have lost control of the political arena.  They are right in their assessment too.

But, that does not allow the rest of us to sit back and relax.  Instead, we must maintain the pressure on these people because there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.  If you think all of the nonsense that has appeared over abortion, rape, homosexuality, race, religion, and immigration is a last gasp from these folks, you better think again.  They are really an attempt to usurp the Constitution and replace it with a Theist Philosophy that would enslave anyone who doesn’t think like they do.

I am going to be very clear about this.  Christian Conservatives, who have completely taken over the Republican Party, are not interested in what the Constitution says.  They do not care about civil liberties.  They do not care about religious freedom.  They do not care about “small government”, or any of the other things they claim to be in favor of.  They only care about taking over the government and replacing it with a theist document that only fits their narrow, and mostly wrong, interpretation of the bible.

They have been carefully planning this for over 30 years.  They realize that the changing dynamics of the country’s population is a threat to them.  The fact that recent surveys shows that the “milenials” have less to do with religion than almost any other group is a threat to them.  The fact that over half of the country believe same-sex marriage should be legal is a threat to them.

The recent attacks against the LGBT community is just the starting point.  They believe they can generate enough hate against LGBT from their base that they will be able to effectively outlaw homosexuality altogether.  That is what Arizona SB 1062 and others around the country is all about.  First you demonize a group of people, then strip them of their civil liberties, then outlaw them altogether.  But, if you think that is the end of it you are totally wrong.

After they outlaw homosexuals, they will go after someone else.  Their first target will be immigrants.  They don’t want any more immigration into the U.S., period.  It doesn’t matter where these immigrants would come from.  They don’t want them, because these immigrants would only add to the diversity of the population.  Diversity is something they absolutely hate.

Then they will go after race.  They will make sure that creationism is the only science taught in schools.  They will go after other religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, Judism, Catholicism, and other “Christian” sects that do not adhere to their limited, narrow scope of biblical interpretation.  Their goal is to set up their own theocracy based on their rules and the rest of us be damned!

All you need to do is look at the outrage that came from Gov. Brewer’s veto of the SB 1062.  The fat, loud-mouthed, bigoted drug addict said she only vetoed it because of “inherent fear of minorities”.  Tea Party National President Judson Phillips completely lost his mind over the veto.  He accused Brewer of buckling under pressure from “the left and the homosexual lobby” and condemning Arizona to a dystopian future in which LGBT people force God-fearing Arizona cake makers to provide them with penis-themed sweets.

He continued his rant saying vetoing of SB 1062 was “tyranny on the march,” Phillips writes that opponents of SB 1062 want to enslave its supporters. According to the remarkable Mr. Phillips, SB 1062 was never just about “the story of a cowardly governor who has no core beliefs.” On the contrary, SB 1062 was, in Phillips telling, “the story of liberalism at work in America.”  From what I read, it is more likely she only vetoed the bill so the NFL wouldn’t cancel next year’s Super Bowl in Phoenix.  If I’m right, look to seeing it brought back up this time next year.

The proponents of bills such as this and all of the bans against same-sex marriage all claim that allowing same-sex couples to marry or not allowing people to discriminate against homosexuals is violating their “religious freedom”.  I defy any one of these scholarly people to give me one reference from the New Testament where their savior said it was okay to discriminate against or hate anyone!  Their savior only preached about inclusiveness, the brotherhood of man, and loving one another.

They are also fond of saying that same-sex marriage is destroying the traditional family.  Funny, I have a very traditional family.  I even have friends who are gay and married.  Their marriage has done nothing to ruin my family.  It hasn’t even hurt it.  No, traditional families are ruined more often by infidelity, finances, and abuse of one of the partners.  I have never heard of a single divorce case using the cause as “the gay couple down the street was allowed to get married”.

The Christian Conservatives are a very dangerous group of people.  They see the world around them and are saying “oh shit!  We are losing control”!  Rather than practice what their so-called savior preached, they instead preach hate, discontent, discrimination, and loathing.  These are the real philosophies of the Christian Conservative.  It is seen everyday in their attempt to usurp the Constitution along with their political pals in the Republican Party.  They are more dangerous to American Freedoms than any other terrorist group!

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Last night President Obama gave his State of the Union Speech.  I watched it with some real interest.  I wanted to know where the President was planning on taking the country, and I was really hoping he would finally show the same outrage and anger at the Republican obstructionist agenda as the people have expressed.  I was pleasantly surprised when he did.  Yes, he made it a joke, but everyone watching knew what he was talking about.

Now, I don’t know what you think of the speech.  Personally, I liked it.  I thought he brought up the very points that need to be addressed in order to move the country forward.  But, I was also interested in was what the Republicans would say about the speech, and their response to it.

Before we get to the “official Republican” response, let’s set up a little background.  The President let slip yesterday, and announced it in his speech, that he was going to use his Executive Power to raise the minimum wage for all future Government Contracts to $10.10 per hour.  Of course as soon as it was out, Mr. Boehner stated that it won’t help anyone currently under contract and that it will only help those in the future.  However, he never said he would take action to cover the current contract workers.  Or anyone else for that matter.

Yesterday two votes were taken in the House.  The first was in the House Committee for Space, Science, and Technology.  In a partisan vote, the Republicans passed a proposal that simply states that “Climate Change Is A Fallacy”.  So, even though the President and almost every scientist in the country agrees that climate change is a fact, the Republicans have gone on record in the other direction.

In a very little covered vote in the House yesterday, Republicans passed a measure to impose a tax penalty on businesses and individuals with insurance plans that cover abortion services. The bill would also enshrine the Hyde Amendment into law, making current restrictions on federal funds for abortion permanent.   The second part is no surprise.  Republicans have always been opposed to federal funds being used for abortion.

But the first part is in stark contrast to their open hypocrisy about “freedom of choice”. Just so you understand what they are doing, if you own a private business that offers health insurance to your employees, and that health insurance covers abortion, the government will fine you for offering it.  If you are a private individual and have purchased private health insurance for you and your family, if that policy covers abortion, you will also be fined by the government!

In a final insult to the intelligence of the American People, that wonderful Congresswoman from North Carolina with the intelligence of a doorknob, Virginia Foxx clearly stated:  “I will say it again, we are not attacking women’s health care.”  In a pathetic way she is right.  They are not attacking women’s healthcare as long as you are a woman who totally agrees with their viewpoint.  Otherwise, you must pay a fine to the government because you have the audacity to disagree with doorknobs like Virginia Foxx.

During the speech, several Republicans tweeted how the President was a “socialist”, a “communist”, a “dictator” and a few other well-chosen phrases.  After the speech, that wonderful, clear thinking Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, predicted that the world is about to blow up catastrophically because the President won’t start another Mid-East war.  Those weren’t his exact words, but the meaning was very clear.

That wonderful compassionate and understanding Representative from Texas, Steve Stockman, actually left the room half-way through the speech, of course that is not unusual for him, you won’t find him anywhere in his run for Senator either.  He tweeted among other things “Obama has openly vowed to break his oath of office and begin enacting his own brand of law through executive decree. This is a wholesale violation of his oath of office and a disqualifying offense.”  Maybe someone should remind this crack-pot that in the same amount of time in office, George W. Bush issued over 275 Executive Orders, and Ronald Reagan issued well over 300 Executive Orders.  So far, President Obama has issued 144.  It sounds like he has been much less willing to issue Executive Orders than his two of the previous Republican predecessors.

In order to make sure everyone on the Right Wing Conservative side got a crack, there were three Republican responses to the State of the Union Speech.  Some say four, but one was simply the same “official response” only in Spanish.  Which I find amazing since over 50 House Republicans have voted several times to ensure that “only English” can be used in government speeches, ads, posters, forms, etc.  We were spared from hearing from that nut-job Senator Mike Lee for the Tea Party and the liberty for all white protestant men Senator Rand Paul.

The “official response” was given by Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wa.  I listened to her with some real interest.  I was hoping I would get at least an idea of the Republican Plan to move forward.  I heard a lot that they had one, but I never heard what it was.  I even had pen and paper in hand to take notes!  Additionally, was it just me, or did she seem to “choke up” when she mentioned the Republican Plan?  While I watched, she was very fluent and quite calm while speaking about herself and her family.  But, every time she mentioned the “Republican Plan” she seemed to suddenly choke up.  Was that because she is so impressed by it?  Or, was it because they don’t have a plan and she knows it?  Now think back to my comments about the ban on insurance coverage for abortions.  Ms. McMorris-Rodgers said about healthcare:  “Republicans believe healthcare choices should be yours, not the governments.”  Oops!  Looks like someone got their wires crossed, again.

Finally, Republican Representative Michael Grimm from New York physically threatened a reporter after the speech.  Seems Mr Grimm is being investigated for campaign finance fraud.  The reporter, Michael Scotto from NY1, had the audacity to question Mr. Grimm about the investigation.  Mr. Grimm, while the camera was still rolling, but after Scotto signed off, approached him and threatened to “throw you off this f—–g balcony.” He also told Scotto “I’ll break you in half.”  Of course after he originally refused to apologize in a formal statement last night, this morning he did apologize to Mr. Scotto.  Mr. Scotto accepted the apology and seems all is forgiven.

So, what an interesting evening.  The President stood before the Congress and offered his ideas on how to move the country forward.  Whether or not you agree with him, he at least gave concrete proposals for the American People to consider.  The Republicans meanwhile continued their venomous attacks against him and offered nothing concrete to the American People.  What they did do was show the American People their utter contempt for us.  I really do believe that they think we should just “take them at their word”.  They don’t have to be “for” anything.  Unfortunately for the country, that seems to be their strategy for the future.

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Schools are letting out for the annual Christmas Break.  Everyone is beginning to think about Christmas, presents, and family gatherings.  During the last month or so, there has also been a lot of chatter on both sides about economic inequality.  But, there is one inequality that is not being targeted very well.  It is the inequality in education.  And, quite frankly, both sides of the aisle in Congress are to blame for this inequality in education.

Education is supposed to be the “great equalizer”.  It is supposed to allow someone from the poorer classes in this country to get ahead.  Once they have received a good education, it is supposed to be “the sky’s the limit” for them.  However, that is not happening.  Education “Reformers” on both sides have made such a mess of public education in this country, that we lag way behind the rest of the industrialized world.  Not long ago, we were the envy of other countries when it came to education.  Not anymore.  We have fallen extremely low in the rankings world-wide.

This has been going on for several years.  It has been going on in both the north and south for a long time, and there is no end in sight.  That is because these so-called “reformers” are both arguing for the same thing and that is resulting in a “race-to-the-bottom” of American Public Education.

The first hoot and hollers in education reform was a voucher program.  That means you can get tax vouchers to send your child to a private school.  That also means that public schools lose income needed to properly educate the remaining children.  Then, the cry came for “Charter Schools”.  Charter schools may sound nice, but they are run by “for profit” companies.  These companies actually decide on the curriculum of these schools.

In state after state, education budgets are being slashed.  Teachers are being laid off.  And the children are the ones suffering.  So, President Bush came up with “no child left behind”.  Then President Obama came up with “race to the top”.  Problem is that these two “plans” mirror each other.  There is really no reform in either.

The next problem has come over the “Core Standards”.  Now, I don’t really have a problem with the basic formula of “core standards” except it is not based on a “core curriculum” and it requires constantly testing children to see if they are meeting these core standards.   As a result, core standards are bound to never happen because states and local school boards are still the ones who choose the curriculum, and that makes core standards a pipe dream.

Recently there was a popular rebellion that played out that drove thousands of Americans into the streets – from Maine to San Francisco, New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul – to denounce the nation’s current education policies.    Participants at these events complained of lack of resources for their schools and inequality of how resources are spread. Protesters – whether they were teachers, parents, students or community activists – expressed feelings of no longer being in control of their education destinies. And they pointed to governing policies that are increasingly perceived as being driven by corruption and profit-making rather than the best interests of students.

There was very little press coverage of these protests.  You can see the terrible crisis all across the country.  Gov. Christie in New Jersey is touted as being a “moderate” Republican.  Yet he cut about $1 Billion in education funding all the while criticizing teachers.  Mayor Emanuel in Chicago closed several neighborhood public schools.  North Carolina has cut spending on education so drastically that the teachers have not received a pay raise in over 5 years!  Just about every public school teacher spends hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket each year just to make sure their students have the simple supplies necessary to do their work.  That is unacceptable!

Additionally, in both urban and rural areas, students are attending classes in schools built in the early 1900′s.  They are poorly equipped for science, math, computers, etc.  States can spend billions on building new prisons and sports arenas, but not a dime on building modern up-to-date schools in poor urban and rural areas.  What is wrong with that picture?

The concept of school vouchers that enable families to redirect public funds to private schools and privately operated charters are not something that appear to do anything to improve academic achievement.  Stephanie Simon recently wrote for Politico,

“In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading. In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools.”

As one school advocate put it “A universal public school voucher? Wouldn’t this be merely another tool to discredit and close the public schools in the poorest communities where the remaining children still need a good education?”  Further, school voucher programs have been defeated at the ballot box all across the country, even in red states like South Carolina.t

he Center for American Progress has joined the “missing the bus” group on this issue.  For instance, CAP has promoted charter schools expansions, “value-added models” of teacher evaluation that base education practices on test scores, and using standardized test scores as a way to measure a return on investment in education.  These are all positions any education “centrist” would love – and exactly what Americans protesting in the streets this month are against.  Return on investment is a very nice “business” model.  But does it really pertain to education?  What actually determines this return on investment?  If you don’t get it, are you going to close the schools?

Education in this country was always designed to be the equalizer.  It allowed people like me from working class and poor families to get the tools they needed to go further than their parents did.  It allowed us to be free from economic worry and allow us to raise our families looking to a bright future for us and our children.  However, education, especially public education, is severely under attack.  With the so-called “reforms” going on, there is no bright future for our children.

If we really want to eliminate the economic inequality in this country, we need to look at several items.  But, the first and foremost item needs to be to eliminate the education inequality in this country.  Teachers are not the problem.  Politicians are the real problem.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle!

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A couple of items caught my attention today. One concerns the Charter Schools in Texas, and the other a supposedly “scientific” research project approved by the Nebraska legislature.

First, the Charter Schools in Texas. A Charter School in Houston, claims to provide college preparation for its students. However, the school apparently uses religiously motivated anti-scientific texts. One such text states:

Hitler wrote that the Aryan (German) race would be the leader in all human progress. To accomplish that goal, all “lower races” should either be enslaved or eliminated. Apparently the theory of evolution and its “survival of the fittest” philosophy had taken root in Hitler’s warped mind.

This is an obvious attempt to link Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to the Holocaust! That is sick at the very least.

The group ResponsiveEd is responsible for the Charter Schools and their curricula. ResponsiveEd was founded by Donald R. Howard, former owner of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE).  ACE is a fundamentalist curriculum that teaches young-Earth creationism as fact.  They made headlines a few years ago because one of the ACE’s science books teaches that the Loch Ness Monster is real and that this was evidence against evolution.

After Howard left ACE in the 1990s, he founded Eagle Project charter schools, which became Responsive Education Solutions, or ResponsiveEd, in 2007. ACE’s selling point was that it integrated Bible lessons into every academic subject. ResponsiveEd planned to do the same, but hiding the explicitly religious basis. Howard told the Wall Street Journal in 1998: “Take the Ten Commandments ­– you can rework those as a success principle by rewording them. We will call it truth, we will call it principles, we will call it values. We will not call it religion.” In the end, what they are really doing is teaching religion in the classroom using public funding.

ResponsiveEd’s teaching on evolution promises that students will, among other things:

•Explain the difference between microevolution and macroevolution.

•Describe the theories concerning the origins of life.

•Discuss theories of human development.

•Express opinions regarding evolutionary theory in general and human evolution in particular.

•Describe controversies regarding evolution.

A I’m sure you are aware: Microevolution and macroevolution are frequently used as a false dichotomy by creationists, who say they accept the former and reject the latter. Biologists say that the two terms refer to identical processes over different time scales, so there is fundamentally no difference. The references to “theories” of origins of life and of human development implies that rival theories will be discussed. Since mainstream science has no rival to evolution, this can only be a reference to creationism or intelligent design.

The harshest criticism of these curricula came from a 1987 article in the Phi Delta Kappan that stated:

If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world – one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall – then the ACE materials do the job very well. The world of the ACE materials is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.

The criticism did not only come from secular sources. Educators at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University also reportedly criticized ACE’s academics. According to BJU writers, the ACE and A Beka curricula failed to adequately educate their students academically or spiritually by neglecting … higher-order thinking skills.

This matter is a clear attempt to include religion into curriculum that is supposed to prepare our children for college. One could even say that is violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution, which Rick Perry and other Texas Republicans claim to defend.  The scary part is that ResponsiveEd already has over 60 schools and plans to move into Arkansas and Indiana.

The real problem is that when religion is hidden in school curriculum, it not only slants scientific study, but it also makes a real attempt at brainwashing children to think one way.  Besides, who gave these people the right to determine which religion is taught in public schools.  Not everyone who is in school is a Christian.  And even all Christians don’t believe the same things!  Just look at how many denominations of Christianity there are.  Just look at the fighting between these denominations that goes on as to who is “the true Christian”  So, regardless of which side of this issue you stand, your children could be forced to believe something that you do not, nor want them to believe!  If you want your children to get religious education, either send them to private schools or bible studies.

The other item comes from the State of Nebraska. They approved a study of the effects of climate change on Nebraska. Problem is none of the State’s scientists are willing to conduct the study.

The problem, according to members of the governor-appointed Climate Assessment and Response Committee, is that the bill behind the study specifically calls for the researchers to look at “cyclical” climate change. This means it completely leaves out human contributions to global warming.  Meteorologists don’t even consider “cyclical” as a scientific term.

State Sen. Beau McCoy, who added the word to the bill, is a known climate denier. “I don’t subscribe to global warming,” McCoy said during an earlier debate about the legislation. ”I think there are normal, cyclical changes.”

University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientists at the meeting said they wouldn’t participate in the climate study if it excludes the influence of humans.  Some said they wouldn’t be willing to ask others to consider doing the study, either.

One state climatologist reportedly told the committee: “I don’t want my name on something … and be used as a political pawn.”

So here we have two perfect examples of Republicans trying to make sure all future generations only get an education on what these people believe.  Higher-order thinking skills seem to be a danger to them.  But there is a true logic behind their plans.  Don’t teach the electorate to think, and your job is safer because everyone will begin to think, or not think, like you.

There is a real danger in teaching our children not to think for themselves.  School is supposed to be where we learn to think critically.  Scientific research is supposed to look at all sides and come to a determination of what is going on in the world around us.  Not teaching children to think is tantamount to brainwashing, in my opinion.  Conducting research with the simple aim to prove your point and not look at all factors is not only poor science, it is genuinely dishonest.  Aren’t we supposed to be better than that?

I went to private schools.  At no time during my education was I ever taught not to think, question, probe, or examine before making up my mind.  I tried to give my children the same type of education.  One thing I did learn is that thinking is only dangerous if you consider a closed mind the perfect way to exist.

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Conservatives mostly come in two broad varieties: infuriatingly stupid and amusingly stupid. (Note: “stupid” embraces “racist”, “religious nut”, “economically ignorant”, and other sub-categories.)

“Vox Day” – normally the amusingly stupid kind – today manages to be so stupid as to defy categorization. It’s just kind of depressing.

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I picked up Penn Jillette’s new book God, No!, yesterday, and am already most of the way through it. It’s pitched as an atheist’s version of the “Ten Commandments”. (This apparently was prompted by an exchange Penn had with Glenn Beck that resulted in Penn dashing off his own version of the Ten Commandments and Beck distributing them at his right-wing rallies. I’m still not entirely clear how that makes any sense.)

In fact, the book – like most of Penn’s stuff – just turns out to be a loose collection of breezy anecdotes and rants, dubiously organized thematically around his “Ten Atheist Suggestions”. It’s basically a compilation of Penn’s show-biz stories and video-blog ramblings, apparently intended to illustrate how his “Suggestions” work in his daily life – the connections are thin in most cases. The first chapter is a lengthy and utterly pointless, but fascinating, profile of Vegas performers Siegfried and Roy; it has about one paragraph of material that even mentions religion, and ends with Penn paying several thousand dollars for a pair of tight leather pants as a kind of tribute to Roy after he was injured in his tiger-taming act. That also makes no sense, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Many of the chapters are hilarious (his story about being one of the first to ride the civilian “vomit comet” zero-g plane, while doing a striptease with a member of ZZ Top and a woman with huge breast implants, is indescribably bizarre; his visit to one of San Francisco’s infamous gay bathhouses at the height of the gay-bar scene – in which he couldn’t get a single gay guy to hit on him in a place that exists only for men to have sex with each other – is equally whacky). Many are touching, especially when he talks about his family. But many have virtually nothing to do with religion, or even with the moral principles that open each section of the book. (He includes a long story about his $100 bet with radio host Alex Bennet – that he couldn’t have sex while SCUBA diving with a fashion model – that is clearly in there only for the purpose of bragging. He even includes the text of his unpublished letter to Penthouse magazine about it.)

On only partial familiarity, my reaction is that the book is vintage Penn – funny and irreverent and not too rigorous. I am enjoying reading it, but I don’t think it contributes anything to the “New Atheism” or to any understanding of atheism or religion. Fans of Penn & Teller – and I am one – will find it a lot of fun, but I don’t think it rises above that level. And that’s what really gets me – not so much about the book, but about Penn himself.

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The onward march of progress: Gallup reports today that overall US public approval of interracial marriage stands at an all-time high of 85% – up from 4% barely 50 years ago. What’s really striking is the almost linear trendline:

Marriage Graph

Predictably, it slows during Republican administrations, and jumped dramatically during the Clinton years, but overall that’s a steady straight line from virtually universal, open racism (at the height of “The Greatest Generation”‘s pro-segregation stagnation) to overwhelming acceptance just two generations later. There are no significant reversals of the trend over that period.

Even more interesting is that the trend is the result of major shifts in opinion within generations: even older people, taken in groups, have shifted their opinions 30% or more in only 20 years.

Of course, the news isn’t all positive. The lowest percentage approvals are found among the typical troglodyte contingencies: “Southerners, Republicans, conservatives, and those with no college education”, as well as the oldest age cohort. But even among those groups the vast majority approves, and the shifts have been huge (again: 50 years ago, 96% of the entire population disapproved).

Which goes to reinforce a general point about progress: it surely isn’t guaranteed, but it is not impossible, or even rare. And it is incremental: when irrational prejudices are dissolved, they don’t return. And it feeds off of almost-inevitable demographic trends: as the population becomes more diverse, as people become more educated, and as more-prejudiced generations die out, large-scale shifts occur in the direction of greater comfort and greater knowledge (i.e., away from prejudice and toward acceptance). Conservatism and prejudice are both doomed for the same reason: people don’t voluntarily give up what they’ve learned, and when they’ve learned the truth – about so many things – they turn away from conservatism, reactionism, and prejudice.

As Gallup notes:

The trend mimics the growing support for gay marriage — though Americans are still less likely to accept that practice than interracial marriage. It also follows the trend toward increasing racial tolerance on other measures such as voting for a black president and an increasing belief in progress and equality for blacks in the U.S. more generally.

In all of these cases, opinion shifts have been dramatic. In all of these cases and others, the eventual cure will be the same as regarding marriage: truth, time, and demographics.

This has implications for other progressive causes. Ethnic prejudices are relatively responsive to education because they are so fully grounded on stereotypes and prejudice, and also because it doesn’t cost anything to give them up. Other conservative issues persist because they have been deliberately obfuscated as to their factual basis, they depend on scientific questions that may seem counter-intuitive to people who are ignorant of the facts, and they have been worked into religion in such a way that giving up one’s prejudice regarding the factual issue also requires giving up some part of one’s religious beliefs. This is true in varying degrees of all the hot-button “red meat” issues that conservatives continue to inflame to maintain their base: abortion, birth control, evolution, global warming, environmentalism, economic policy, and a bewildering variety of other issues – all of them issues on which there are clear and established facts that lead to an unambiguous enlightened or progressive position, and which have been systematically distorted through lies and religious demagoguery.

The solution in these cases is to create a dynamic similar to that in cases of prejudice pure and simple: create familiarity, expose the lies, create conditions in which the younger generation grows up with the un-prejudiced perception as a default. In some ways progressives have done this (the “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt is one attempt; Gay Pride parades are another). In many ways reactionaries have chosen the same tactics (the desperate proselytizing you see on high school and college campuses is an attempt to convert the young before they get too comfortable with progress; home-schooling and public-school creationism are attempts to shut out the truth before they learn it); they’re fighting a battle against reality itself, so it’s more problematic for them, but they at least know how to fight it. The increasingly-visible atheist contingent is an important trend as well: whether or not most people become atheists, it does a lot of good to put the idea in their minds that they can make their own decisions about religion, and that religion is not a default social constraint that everyone has to live by against their will.

Nothing is certain, but history is inherently progressive.

Addendum: The dumbest headline on this issue comes from Andew Malcolm’s column in the LA Times: “Not that it matters to interracial couples, but Americans near unanimity in approval”. Well, of course it matters. That headline could only have been written by someone (probably an editor, not Malcolm himself) who had the luxury of ignoring the issue. Even though interracial marriage has been legal since Loving v. Virginia in 1967 (back when less than 20% of the nation approved of interracial marriage, and the Supreme Court did the nation a favor with its judicial activism), the fact that prejudice has always existed has always mattered to those who were its targets. I presume the headline was intended to reflect the fact that interracial marriage has always existed regardless of public feeling – which is true. But changes in public feeling have a tremendous impact on how well people can actually make use of the legal rights they nominally have – consider current attempts to block legal gay marriages by allowing Christians to refuse to provide services to gay couples, or even register the fact of the marriage in county clerks’ offices; consider also attempts to block access to abortion through legal restrictions that make it inaccessible even though legal, and to allow Christian healthcare providers to refuse to provide services they personally disapprove of. In addition, the simple ability to feel that one has a place in one’s own community – to be free from prejudice and harassment even when it does not amount to legal discrimination – is of immense importance, and something that people from majority groups take for granted. Prejudice has a tremendously debilitating affect, even when it does not amount to legal discrimination. For that reason, progressivism in all its aspects is a great victory for so much of society whose interests can otherwise conveniently be dismissed.

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