Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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Doubling Down on Ignorance: Arabic Classes Axed From Texas School Curriculum

02.10.11

In another case of knee-jerk decision making, the Mansfield school district in Texas quickly ended their curricula that would teach Arabic language and culture in K-12 classes because local parents raised concerns over the spread of Islam.

The notion behind this is absurd – that if we teach children about something, they’ll then take that knowledge and use it only for horrible things — or that if we don’t teach them about it, they won’t learn about. Because some people are promiscuous and catch diseases or get pregnant from unprotected sex, let’s just not teach our kids about it at all in school! (We know how well that works out.) Same goes for the Middle East, apparently.

But it’s just beyond ridiculous. As if kids don’t already learn about sex from other sources – usually completely false crap from their friends like you can’t get pregnant if it’s your first time and other random nonsense. And as if kids aren’t going to learn something about Arabic cultures through the news. Newsflash: we’ve been at war with two Arabic countries for the past decade, roughly the entire lifespan of your average fourth grader so I think they may already have gleaned a thing or two about those peoples. (And depending on which news source you frequent, it might not be the most accurate things, either.)

But do they know that Iranians aren’t Arabs, they’re Persians? Or that Iraq has inner turmoil between warring factions of two different sects of Islam – Sunnis and Shiites – as well as Kurds? Or that there are even small groups of Christians in the mix in both countries, too? Does teaching them that terrorists only compromise a minute fraction of a percentage of the overall Muslim population of the world endanger them in some way?

Cindy Henderson, the mother of a fifth-grader in that district, said:

“We don’t want to discriminate against the entire Middle East, but [9-11] is hard to forget. They said they aren’t going to teach religion, but I don’t see how you can teach that culture without going into their beliefs.”

It’s just plain old bigotry and ignorance wrapped up to look like a genuine concern for safety. Should we not teach them about Ancient Greece because it’s impossible to teach about their society without talking about their religion? No more learning about the Parthenon, kids, since it was built as a temple to the goddess Athena.

The other decoy issue to distract everyone from the real reason of prejudice against Arabs is that somehow it’s unacceptable that these Arabic classes were going to be mandatory. It’s not even clear that this was even the case. Per the Mansfield school district’s website, there’s nothing mandatory:

There are no “mandatory Arabic classes” as being falsely reported in the media.

Their emphasis.

But, Cindy Henderson seemed to think otherwise:

“I don’t think we should spend all our time on one culture,” she said. “I think we should spread it around and be fair. I don’t like it being stuffed down our throats.”

I mean, if that’s the case then everything from algebra to the alphabet is “stuffed down our throats.” But, it does bring into question of whether foreign cultures are worthy of being mandatory classes in our K-12 curriculum. I, for one, think that yes, absolutely they should. I also think that there should be options.

When I was in middle and high schools, we had to take language courses, with the options of Spanish, French, or German – and then a couple semesters were offered of Japanese. Considering we’re going to be intertwined with the Arabic world most likely for the rest of our lifetimes, providing the opportunity for students to get a start of their culture and language in secondary education can hopefully only help our diplomatic endeavors in the future, perhaps leading to less military intervention. Sure, that’s ridiculously idealistic and I know that we aren’t going to be changing the minds of any extremists any time soon; but, that’s not the goal. The goal is to shift our own culture away from bigotry, away from xenophobia, and away from reducing vast groups of different cultures into the lowest common denominator of terrorism.

Simply not teaching children about an entire region of the world, especially one in which our country is already so involved and full of such stereotypes and false beliefs, will not protect them or us from the dangers of the world. We don’t rid the world of ignorance and negativity through burying our heads in the sand; we do it by collectively raising all of our awareness, so that we don’t base our decisions on fear and prejudice.

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Obama Shockingly Out of Touch with Technology and Social Media

05.10.10

These latest comments from President Obama seem rather odd considering he blasts the very media that helped spread his hugely successful grassroots, Web 2.0 campaign that got him elected less than two years ago.

President Obama:

“With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

First off, lumping together iPads in with PlayStations shows the kind of ignorance that I don’t expect to see with him.  Especially not from a president whose administration spends so much time tweeting, blogging, vlogging, and reaching out to the masses through all of the social media networks.  While Xboxes and PlayStations remain predominantly video game consoles – although, more and more connectivity to the web and social media channels happens constantly, like being able to stream video from Netflix and YouTube – the iPod and iPad are much more than mere distraction devices.

This brings me to my next issue.  Perhaps if Obama himself knew how any of these devices – which is rather pathetic to admit that he doesn’t since he’s collecting income on all of the e-books he sells of The Audacity of Hope via iTunes – he’d know that just because newspaper circulation is plummeting, the subscriptions to newspaper and blog feeds are skyrocketing.  And where do people read those online newspapers and blogs?  Yup: on their iPods and iPads.  It’s one thing to not yet come to terms with the fact that Facebook isn’t just for teenagers to gossip anymore; it’s quite another to think that the iPod is just the modern-day Walkman.  I doubt colleges would be providing iPads to students instead of email accounts if they were only useful for dispensing entertainment.

It seems that Obama’s central argument is that there’s too much misinformation out there and the root of this is the proliferation of outlets for anyone with a voice (or fingers to type, most likely) to be read by the whole world.  I agree with him that there is far too much unsubstantiated opinion passed off as fact out there in the news-ish realm of blogs and the mainstream media; the insane necessity for balance has caused the misunderstanding that every position on an issue has validity simply because it provides counterbalance to the other positions to which it opposes.  Our media has forgotten that some positions are just wrong.

Where Obama and I differ is that I don’t think this misinformation problem lies in our modes of technology.  The problem is the widespread lies that people eat up as facts, not the way they happen upon those lies.

Despite this lack of awareness (how do you promote education yet admit knowing nothing about the very devices you blast — especially ones that are as ubiquitous as iPods), I agree with Obama’s conclusion that a strong education is the prime form of combating this misinformation.  And instead of blaming the increased democratization of information, perhaps we ought to focus our efforts on teaching people how to sift through the mounds of non-facts to find the basic truths of issues.  Those basics might not direct us all to the same conclusions, but at least we should arrive at them from an objective foundation rather than a disparate array of opinions.

I just don’t see how having unprecedented ease of access to both up-to-the-moment news as well as classic tomes of literature and everything in between could impede education.  Like NBC’s public service announcement slogan goes: the more you know.  There’s a reason it’s not “the more you believe.”

Image courtesy of DayLife/Getty Images
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The Senate Immigration Reform and My Case for Humanities and the Arts

04.30.10

Apparently amid all of this Arizona immigration law controversy, Senate Democrats in Washington have actually released an immigration reform plan.  It seems extraordinarily unlikely that this will go anywhere in 2010 since this is an election year and nothing is more polarizing than tackling immigration.  (Except maybe health care reform.)

You can download the REPAIR (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform) proposal here.  (I wonder how long it took them to come up with that acronym and I wonder how excited they were when they finally made it work.)

I haven’t had a chance to study this 26-page document but I stumbled upon this excerpt that caught my eye, which shot me off into a completely different topic entirely but one still worth talking about:

This proposal will reform America’s high-skilled immigration system to permanently attract the world’s best and brightest while preventing the loss of American jobs to temporary foreign labor contractors. At the moment, high-skilled workers are prevented from emigrating to the Unites States due to restrictive caps on their entry. In order to accomplish this goal, a green card will be immediately available to foreign students with an advanced degree from a United States institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and who possess an offer of employment from a United States employer in a field related to their degree. Foreign students will be permitted to enter the United States with immigrant intent if they are a bona fide student so long as they pursue a full course of study at an institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. To address the fact that workers from some countries face unreasonably long backlogs that have no responsiveness to America’s economic needs, this proposal eliminates the per-country employment immigration caps.

My emphasis.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the real-world necessity of having the best and brightest minds in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics here in the States working for American companies.  Our ability to compete with China, Russia, and India depends on it.  But, I have to say that the total lack of respect and throwaway mentality that is associated with the arts is appalling and depressing.

Upon telling inquirers that I was studying film in college, I couldn’t count how many times they would respond disdainfully with: “Well, what are you gonna do with that?”  As if learning about dozens of cultures all over the world through over one hundred years of celluloid art was a preposterous waste of time, money, and energy.  The change from excitedly curious to holier-than-thou tones in their voice still hasn’t escaped me to this day.  And I know that I still feel slightly ashamed that I haven’t become a successful filmmaker only because it would truly spite those people and their ignorant disapproval — and another part of me is slightly ashamed to admit that.

I have to think that our society wouldn’t be dealing with some of our current woes were we not so dismissive of the studies of humanities and the arts.  We need English majors.  We need Philosophy majors.  We need Sociology majors.  We need Fine Arts majors.  We need Comparative Literature majors.  We need History majors.  We need Psychology majors.  We need Photography majors.  These studies matter.  These studies provide value.

Perhaps they’re not the sexiest of degrees, nor do they promise immediate paydays upon graduation.  Admittedly, many of them don’t even guarantee employment in their respective fields once those students enter the workforce.  But what these studies and those who study them provide to our society and culture can be measured in countless other ways.  Not everything worthwhile in this world can be calculated by how much you bring home each paycheck.

If everyone became an engineer, who would actually assemble the product?  Who would interview the designers for the newspaper article that brings them attention and acclaim?  Who would film the inaugural release of that innovative creation, showing the whole world their success?  Who would turn that amazing story into a bestselling book and subsequently (less) amazing movie?  Who then would catalog these historical documents and relics so that this feat can be remembered forever?

(H/T The Daily Dish)
Photo courtesy of MLibrary

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Fox News: Being Liberal is Un-American

02.20.10

Before you listen to the fair and balanced reporting over at Fox News about this topic, check out the actual article for the raw facts.  According to a new report by The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, those with higher eduction degrees tend to have more liberal opinions on controversial social issues:

The institute found that people who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree were more likely than Americans whose formal education ended with a high-school diploma to take a liberal stance on certain controversial social issues. For example, 39 percent of people whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree supported same-sex marriage, compared with 25 percent with a high-school diploma. The trend continued with advanced degrees: About 46 percent of people with master’s degrees supported same-sex marriage, as did 43 percent of people with Ph.D.’s.

(I couldn’t figure out how to embed the video so click the following link to watch it and then continue.)

From watching the interview, it’s fair to say that Tucker Carlson at Fox News interprets this data as such:

1) College professors push their liberal agenda on impressionable youth

2) Going to college makes people liberal on specific social issues – gay marriage, abortion, and capitalism

3) College doesn’t raise graduates’ level of civic knowledge

4) This makes going to college potentially more harmful than not going at all

5) Going to college is mainly about learning civics

6) College makes people promote no school prayer and less American work ethic

7) People becoming liberal is a problem that needs to be fixed

8) Colleges need to be more diverse with their professors – allowing more moderates and conservatives to teach the liberal arts

Here are my rebuttals:

1) How do these data at all prove that all professors are liberal and that have any sort of agenda of pushing propaganda on their students?  In fact, the data doesn’t say anything about how the students are becoming more liberal – I’m sure Tucker knows (being a college graduate and all himself) that there’s more to college than just going to class.

2) Tucker takes an extreme liberty by throwing “capitalism, the larger question of capitalism” into the list of socially liberal beliefs that are held by college graduates.  He’s insinuating that liberal college graduates are likely to question capitalism, the American way of life, and – most likely – communism.  He’s playing into the base who already think that Obama is a socialist.  The study doesn’t say that at all.  And, perhaps the reason that educated people support gay marriage is explicitly because they know more about American history – the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage – and the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution than someone with only a high school diploma.  Not because they’re being fed some liberal propaganda.  They’re educated on worldly matters, which has made them more tolerant of other people’s beliefs.  This is a good thing.

3) It is troubling that more people don’t know basic civics, but they certainly don’t learn less by going to college.  Tucker makes it sound like going to college makes you dumber with regards to basic knowledge of the Constitution.  Given the fact that many liberals are against school prayer and in favor of same-sex marriage, I’d say they have a much better understanding of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment than most Republicans.

4) Really? You’re going to say that going to college might be a bad investment?  That it will do more harm than good?  That could be one of the most irresponsible things to say.  There are tons of data showing that people with a college degree make way more money – and are actually keeping their jobs during this recession at a much higher rate – than those with only high school diplomas.  And this is coming from Tucker Carlson, who went to college, and know enjoys a high-paying, high-profile job (not that one needs to be a college graduate to work in conservative media – see, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck).

5) Not that this says anything good about college, but since when was attending higher education ever about learning civics?  Sure, there are prerequisites in the humanities, languages, and math that all universities have but students still get to choose which courses they want to take to satisfy those requirements.  But not everyone is interested in politics or government at 18 years old when they go to undergrad.  I certainly wasn’t.  And I wasn’t going to take a political science course when I didn’t have to; I already had enough required courses to fit in to finish my major in four years.  Either way, I do think that there should be more required studying about these civics basics… in high school.  Students should learn basics like, how to file your taxes, what FICA means on your paycheck, how to vote in elections, as well as the way our government works and what the Constitution says.

6) According to the report, college grads are more likely to disagree with this following statement: “With hard work and perseverance anyone can succeed in America.”  This is not how it’s phrased in the Fox News interview, which implies that liberals don’t have a strong, American work ethic.  It’s more that college grads are more disillusioned with the “American Dream,” or at least: they’re not ignorant of the fact that lots of people work hard, but not a lot of people are well off.  Just ask any number of the millions currently jobless right now.  Also, the stance on public prayer isn’t that college grads think that it shouldn’t ever take place.  The actual wording in the report is that they disagree that public school teachers should be able to lead prayer in school.  This is vastly different.  Having the freedom to express your beliefs is one thing.  Having the public school align itself directly with one religion is quite another.

7) Fair and balanced, indeed.  If you’re not conservative, there’s something wrong with you, apparently.  Thanks, Tucker.  I didn’t realize that the words “American” and “conservative” were synonyms now.  Talk about someone needing to brush up on his civics.

8)  Really? The whole nature of the liberal arts are that people who study them have a liberal mindset – one that is open to new and conflicting ideas.  Can you imagine a fundamentalist Christian learning about sound arguments for and against the existence of God in Philosophy 101?  This actually brings up an interesting question about this survey.  I would like to know more about the demographics of these college graduates and what their majors were.  It won’t be all too surprising if most of them end up being liberal arts majors.  If most of them are business majors or engineers, I’d be intrigued and surprised.

One thing in the report that wasn’t mentioned in the interview is that college graduates are more likely to not believe that the Bible is the word of God.  Not at all surprising.

You can form your own opinion.

Tucker Carlson and the Fox News anchor, Clayton Morris, make this out to look like there’s some vast collusion amongst all of the universities in America to indoctrinate impressionable young adults as liberals.  It’s a theoconservative’s wet-dream of a conspiracy theory.  The partisanship has gotten out of control.  The nature of being socially conservative is staying rigid, having traditional, old views on the world, being closed-minded.  In essence, not being open to the new or different.  I can’t imagine that mindset would cause many to rush out to some new city, to take new classes with a diverse group of new people with various, different faiths and cultures.

There’s another article about college that maybe Tucker and Fox News can investigate while we’re on the topic: College Dropouts Record Higher Divorce Rate.   I wonder how they’d spin that one.  People go to college, can’t handle being indoctrinated by liberals, so they drop out, become depressed, and get divorced.  I can see the headline now: “Liberalism Breaks Up Happy Families.”

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Dinosaurs and Humans! Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

02.18.10

According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll (you know how much I love these*):

Nearly a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time, and more than half disagree with the theory that humans developed from earlier species of animals.

For those keeping score at home, that means that 50% of Texans don’t believe in the theory of evolution.  (It also means that they consider the theory of evolution a belief system, which means that they don’t understand the definition of scientific theory.)  And that about 30% think that Grok had a pet Triceratops and had to avoid being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex when out hunting.

If this were contained simply within the Bible Belt, it would still be intellectually depressing but somewhat understandable.  But when  the Texas Board of Education essentially determines what gets taught in history textbooks that become the standard for nearly every public school across the country, this ignorance cannot be ignored.

…the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years

(My emphasis.)  Note that these changes to the textbooks – including changing the previously established language describing the U.S. Constitution as “living” to “enduring”; requiring teachers to go over the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution; and pushing forth their main goal of establishing the U.S. as a “Christian nation” by revisionist accounts of the Founding Fathers and a unique interpretation of the First Amendment – will end up in nearly 48 million textbooks distributed to at least 46 of the 50 states to use in their public school systems.

And we wonder why so many people don’t believe in evolution.  Or in climate change.  Or who think that the earth is 6,000 years old.  Or that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

* With regard to polls, I feel that the associated NY Times article lends this data some weight.  The questions asked are also much more straight forward than some polls that I’ve seen – like the ones Rasmussen conducts where they ask people “Do you like the health care bill?” or “Are you happy with the current government’s policies?” that provide no context for people’s discontent or allow them to provides reasons that might clarify just what they don’t like about policies, which is the important information to know.  This poll asks value questions on purpose rather than skewing value questions as policy questions.  Also – this isn’t the only poll that has found these kind of numbers.  According to this article by the Pew Research Center from 2009:

Opinion polls over the past two decades have found the American public deeply divided in its beliefs about the origins and development of life on earth. Surveys are fairly consistent in their estimates of how many Americans believe in evolution or creationism. Approximately 40%-50% of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while comparable or slightly larger numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time. The wording of survey questions generally makes little systematic difference in this division of opinion, and there has been little change in the percentage of the public who reject the idea of evolution.

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Palin Dismisses Climate Change as “Snake Oil Science”

02.09.10

Ex-Governor Sarah Palin at a logging conference in Northern California on Monday with regards to why she sued to repeal the Endangered Species Act in Alaska:

“We knew the bottom line … was ultimately to shut down a lot of our development … And it didn’t make any sense because it was based on these global warming studies that now we’re seeing (is) a bunch of snake oil science.”

Right.  Because she’s such a trusted authority on all things science.  This coming from a person who favors having creationism taught in public schools and believes that dinosaurs and humans co-existed.

(H/T LAist)

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Michigan Senators Want Guns on College Campuses

12.21.09

Michigan State Senator Randy Richardville (R-Monroe):

“Universities shouldn’t be allowed to choose what parts of the constitution they think are good enough for them or not.  It would be tantamount to saying illegal search and seizure can be allowed on a college campus.”

Sen. Richardville sponsors Senate Bill 747, which would give universities the ability to decide whether or not to allow concealed weapons on their campuses.  Other senators want the bill to go even further, to get rid of all gun-banned areas in Michigan – hospitals, theaters, etc.

This reminds of me the part in the movie Tombstone, when the Earp Brothers – deputies of the eponymous town in Arizona – declare that no one can carry a gun in town.  Naturally, it being the wild west, there was some rather vocal opposition, to which the elder Earp brother, played by the inimitable Sam Elliott, stated: “No one’s saying you can’t own a gun.  No one’s saying you can’t carry a gun.  You just can’t carry a gun in town.” (Forgive me if that’s not perfect as I’m quoting from memory but you get the idea.)

Concealed gun permits require the owner to be “21 years old, a U.S. citizen and a Michigan resident for at least six months, with some exceptions. Applicants must have a record clear of various crimes, a clean bill of mental health and complete a safety training course.” Of course, one could have a clean record up until the point he or she goes on a killing rampage in the middle of class so that’s not exactly preventing a massacre.  Although, Richardville disagrees:

“One of the things that came up were the shootings down in Virginia Tech. The professor in that class was a CPL holder. His university did not allow him, because of a no-gun rule, to have his concealed with him. It was in his car, in the parking lot locked up. He was murdered and so were 31 other people.”

It’s that whole argument that if everyone had a gun, there’d be no violence because everyone would know that the other person is armed.  This is a ridiculous statement.  Just about everyone has a pair of fists, yet that doesn’t prevent two people going to fisticuffs to solve a problem.  In fact, Richardville’s terribly misguided ideas might have no basis in reality if this study by the New Scientist has any merit, which says that “people who carried guns were 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to get killed compared with unarmed citizens.”  Introduce those statistics into a population that is rife with underage binge drinking and raging hormones and you have a firestorm of death waiting to happen.

To be fair, there are other factors that aren’t figured in that study, namely that people who carry guns might simply be more apt to be in life-threatening situations independently of their decision to carry a gun.  Regardless, this bill is dangerous and pointless.

Instead of worrying about making sure that college kids can carry guns to class, maybe more attention should be placed on mental health awareness programs, gun safety, and the possible perils within the college culture.  Education and awareness would go a long way to curb violence rather than simply adding more weapons to the mix.  Adding fuel to this fire wouldn’t cause a flame out, it’d just set everyone ablaze.