Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Education Professionals and Non Professionals Running Schools

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

So my thing to wonder about today is the various attitudes about non-education professionals in education. Specifically it seems that a lot of education professionals attack people like Bill Gates and other would be school reformers from industry and politics for their efforts. They say these are not professional educators and so should stay out of things. OK I can see that line of argument but here is the rub. Most of those same people are strong supporters of local school boards whose memberships are totally made up of, wait for it, non education professionals.

And in fact my experience is that most school board members do less homework and study about education that the big name non-education professional “reformers.” Anyone else see the contradiction here?

Now I have spent time on a school board, six years on the board of a private Catholic K-8 school, time on a public school budget committee (an elected position BTW), and 9 years as a classroom teacher. I’m not sure that makes me an education professional but I do think it makes me more aware of the issues than the average person. And based on those experiences I have concerns about the way we fill school boards for public schools. Some concern about private school boards as well but actually less because the process of selecting board members is very different. But that is a topic for another post.

What I want in someone who makes policy suggestions/decisions for schools is someone who knows what they are talking about. Ideally they read a lot, talk to a lot of people who are education professionals, and have some experience in the classroom – not as a student. This does not fit most school board members but except for the classroom experience does fit a lot of the business and political people who are interested in the issues. So why do people who oppose them support local non-professional school boards? I have a theory.

School boards get almost all of their information from the professional running the school/district. The control of information is the control of the agenda and for the most part of the decisions. The result is that the professionals largely control the board’s decisions. You can see why the critics of school reforms would like this. Educated free-thinkers are generally not welcome on school boards. By controlling information to other interested groups (the PTA can be a very powerful force especially in small town elections) superintendents can often help make sure that board members who disagree with them have a short tenure in office.

Am I being cynical? I don’t think so. I think that many educators who oppose outside reformers and yet support non-professionals on school boards do so only because they know that opposing any sort of outside control is doomed to failure. having ignorant school boards is the next best thing, in their eyes, than no school board at all.

Am I wrong? I’d love to hear (read) a better explanation.

Anyone But the Lawyer

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I was reading an article about Bill Gates (The New Bill Gates, Philosopher-King of the Nerds) which spent some time talking about the differences between scientists and engineers. And brought up that most of the government leaders in the US are lawyers. China is lead mostly by engineers. This hit home because I think we have too many lawyers in the US. Plus being a lawyer and being in the government, especially in the legislature, has always struck me as an obvious conflict of interest.

Now sure we have had some good presidents who were  lawyers. Not sure I can name one during my life time though. I think the nature of the law has changed in the last 200 years though. And not always in a good way. But lawyers do a lot of good – we need them. I even have friends who are lawyers who I respect.  I’m just not sure they (for the most part) are the problem solving, clear talking, make is simple and make it work sort of people we really need in office. Engineers on the other hand are.

In any case, I have decided that if an engineer runs for office I will vote for them. When the choice is between a lawyer and someone else I will vote for someone else. When the only choice is between lawyers I may sit it out.

Usual caveat – I may change my mind on a case by case basis. But I think as a general principle this may be a sound idea.

Some things are dumb

Friday, June 25th, 2010

So Al Gore is in some hot water because a masseuse says he sexually assaulted her. Now maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. If he did that was really dumb. Famous people don’t get away with that anymore. There is just too much incentive to turn him in and he has way too much to lose. But suppose he didn’t? And I believe it unlikely that he did so there you go. What he did was to pay a woman, not his wife, to come to his room while he was going to be both alone and naked. That’s pretty dumb as well. As rich and famous as he is he should have had someone on his staff around just to prevent false charges.

You think that is paranoid? Nope, just common sense. When I first started teaching it was drummed into me that I was never to be alone in a closed place with a student. Period. All a teacher needs is one accusation of sexual impropriety with a student and their career is pretty much over. Now if there are witnesses and you were never alone you’re pretty much protected. Well mostly. But you want to minimize the opportunity for a false accusation. Doctors are the same. There is always a nurse around who if not in the room can at least hear what is going on. Again, common sense.

So Al Gore was dumb. Naive? Perhaps he just assumed he was above suspicion or he is convinced of the good of people. The latter is pretty dumb for a man who was the victim of lots of political dirty tricks over the years though. So what was he thinking? I have no idea but it makes me question his judgment.


Sunday, December 6th, 2009

So I keep seeing pro-abortion people complain about clergy, especially but not exclusively Catholic priests, trying to influence laws and lawmakers in the battle against abortion. But here is the thing. These same people seem to always support clergy involved in civil rights changes to the laws. These same people support Martin Luther King day for example. There was a prime example of a cleric moving beyond his church and trying to influence lawmakers, change the law, and be a political activist. And yet the same people who say that clerics should be punished for political activism against abortion support all the honors and accolades that MLK gets.

Does that constitute hypocrisy? Of course it does. No reasonable person could disagree. But the way these people seem to see it clergy should fight with them and that’s ok and their obligation. On the other hand clergy taking opposing views (to these people) is wrong and a violation of some kind of  the separation of church and state. Complete hypocrisy.

If you want to complain about clergy trying to influence abortion laws go ahead. It’s free speech. But unless you also complain about the “medaling” of MLF, Jesse Jackson and all the clergy who fought slavery before the Civil War you are a hypocrite and I reserve the right to think far less of your integrity and honesty.

When will people stand up for themselves?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The sad truth is that generally wars are not won  by people dying for their country or their beliefs. Wars are won by people willing and able to make other people die for their country or beliefs. This is of course why we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “other side” is more than willing to kill other people while the people we are supposedly fighting with (as opposed to against) are either unwilling or unable to do the same.

I was listening to a news report on Afghanistan this morning. People are talking about Taliban setting up road blocks. Well why doesn’t the first person through a Taliban roadblock go to the nearest village and come back with 50 armed men and blow the roadblock away? Well obviously because there are not 50 men armed, ready, willing and able to make that sort of thing happen. Why not? It’s not like the Afghan people are known for being cowards and unarmed. To the contrary the Afghans have a long reputation for being fierce and fearless fighters. Is that a myth? Listening to the news you would have to conclude so.

And the government? Bah, in both Iraq and Afghanistan it appears that government officials are more interested in retaining power and feathering their own nests than providing good honest government and taking care of their people. No wonder the people are not that interested in protecting the government. And yet they show little interest in raising up and voting in honest people either.

Corrupt governments are a problem everywhere of course. But if you notice they are more common in less developed areas. Coincidence? I think not. I think these areas remain under developed precisely because the people there are unwilling to get rid of their corrupt governments. 

Oh I hear the lines about the government has all the power, all the guns, and blah blah blah. This of course explains why communism is still rampant in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and East Germany. And also why the north American colonies are still firmly under the control and the incredibly powerful empire of Great Britain. What was I thinking?

Oh wait, there is no more USSR and East Germany has been part of a united and Democratic Germany for years now. I’m pretty use the north American British colonies have been independent for a couple of years as well. Weird. None of that should be possible.

I have long ago lost patience with Iraq and Afghanistan. The people there seem all too willing to let the Islamic militants kill them and to let the US and others die trying to protect them. I say we let them decide on their own what they want. If they want to have an Islamic militant dictatorship let them have it. Of course they should also know that if their government attacks the US we’ll not feel too sorry for them when we have to bomb the heck out of their country to stop it all. It is after all what they, if not actually want, are willing to put up with.

None Dare Call It Racism

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’ve been following a number of political Twitter people on Twitter lately. Some on the right and some on the left. For the most part the people on the right have really be upsetting me because they go over the top a lot. But today I read a Tweet by Newt Gingrich that got me thinking. He said “Imagine a judicial nominee said "my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman" new racism is no better than old racism

I mean really just imagine a white man saying that his race and gender better qualified him for a position on the Supreme Court. What would be the reaction? Would he be forced to withdraw his name from consideration? I have no doubt that he would.

Now as I understand it what Judge Sotomayor actually said was a Latina would often "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." Yes I can see that a person’s life experience would influence how they decide cases. I’m not sure that different always implies better or worse though. Was her statement racist? Would it be racist if a white man said he could “reach a better conclusion than a Latina/black/woman who hasn’t lived the life” I think who many who would agree with Judge Sotomayor on the first statement would be quick to damn the white man for the second statement. Am I wrong? Who would be willing to defend both those cases?

Personally I am not willing to write someone off as a racist on the basis of one statement that I don’t have full context for. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Sotomayer or some white guy. I want to know context and I want to look at a broader history. But if I don’t hear some Democrats expressing some concern about that statement and asking some tough questions about it I will view them negatively.

I should say that at least one left wing friend of mine once insisted that only people with power could be racist. That a person who was out of power (say a black person or a Hispanic person) could never logically be called racist. I find that argument preposterous and completely lacking in credibility. But you know I would also hardly call a Federal judge powerless or less powerful than the average person of any ethnic/racial/gender group no matter their own race/gender/ethnicity. People of all races, gender, religion and ethnic background can be racists. We don’t want racists in positions of power no matter who they are.

I’m predisposed to like Sotomayor because she was first appointed by George H W Bush and she’s from New York. Yeah some bias there. I am impressed with much of her personal story. Her race and gender are pretty much meaningless to me. For the most part though I see myself as being open-minded on this nomination. As with any appointee to the Supreme Court I expect the Senate to do a pretty through and non-biased review before confirmation.  I always hate to see these things fall on pure party lines.

Reasonable Common Sense Laws

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

I really start to worry these days when someone uses the terms reasonable and common sense to describe laws. It reminds me of the story of the Emperors’ new clothes. In that story people were told that only smart people with good taste could see the clothing and no one wanted to “admit” that they were stupid or had bad taste. The same is true with the terms reasonable and common sense.

So today when someone says that a law is a reasonable and common sense answer to some problem I immediately assume that the law is neither reasonable or common sense. Instead I assume someone is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and to distract them from the parts of the law that must certainly be either unreasonable or lacking in common sense.

Now in many cases the law may seem reasonable or a part of common sense to the people proposing it. After all few people propose things they believe are unreasonable or illogical. But if they have to announce those attributes than they must clearly understand that others will not share those opinions. So I see their claims as an attempt to short circuit arguments and a de facto admission that they have a weak case. It’s like waving a red flag announcing “this law has huge problems!”

But people keep doing it. Why? Maybe they think most people are stupid and will fall for it. Maybe they’re right. But its pretty scary.

The Impressive Thing About the Inauguration

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

No, it is not that an African-American is taking office. That is trivial. No what is impressive about this inauguration is the exact same thing that was impressive about the inauguration of John Adams. The impressive thing is that a change in the highest office in the land is taking place without bloodshed. No one was killed to make it happen. No one had to die to leave the office vacant. An election happened and the current office holder vacated the office and handed it over to a new president in accordance with the law.

Actually that this is happening for the 43rd time may make it more impressive than that it happened the first time.

I wasn’t so sure that Clinton would give up the office. I half expected a Y2K issue to enable Clinton to illegally hold on to the office. No I didn’t trust him. Still don’t. He owes Bush of huge debt for making him look less bad.

I had some concerns about Bush as well. The whole war thing and the “I’m the decider” thing. But he did give it up and seems to have done so quite graciously.

This sort of thing happens in other countries today but few for as long as it has happened in the US. And of course in many parts of the world it almost never happens.

In the US the rule of law rules and that is the thing that makes the inauguration special.

In Search Of Common Sense

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

In just about a month from now the US will have a new President. He will bring change both foreign and domestic. Will he bring in common sense as well? We al hope so. Common sense has long been lacking in American policies. The last President with any serious  foreign common sense was  Nixon. Both men had other flaws of course but at least in this area I was impressed with them. Carter and Reagan? Not as bad as the last two Presidents but and they seemed focused on small parts of the world. They didn’t pay that much attention to south America or Africa. Not enough anyway. And forget India because most of our recent Presidents seem to have while in office. And in my mind the only President who really understood China was Nixon.

China and India are two of the main focuses of Fareed Zakaria‘s book The Post-American World. It’s loaded with common sense as well. I think there are two types of people who absolutely must read this book. People who are interested in politics/foreign affairs and people who are interested in business. Matt, if you haven’t read this book yet what’s wrong with you. 🙂 This book lays out not the decline of America but the rise of other parts of the world. It brings a lot of history into it as well.

I’m a strong believer that to understand the present one has to understand history as well.  This book taught me a lot of history of both China and India that I didn’t know before. Of course US schools are notoriously bad for covering history other than of the west which is probably why we screw up so badly in the middle east, the far east and Africa and South/Central America. We just have too few clues about what is going on and how things got the way they are. Common sense requires knowledge.

So what are my key take aways from this book? Close to home we really need to do two things. Get our energy house in order and get our schools in better shape. Some greater level of energy independence would greatly increase our future development options. China and India are going to require a lot more oil and if we keep our current level of dependence on it prices are going to get higher. Education is the key to innovation and we are going to need that. Really our education system is not as bad as a lot of the media would have us think – at least in the top students – but clearly we need to do better to stay competitive. We do a better job of teaching creative and critical thinking than the rest of the world but that edge is shrinking and we cannot afford that. And by golly we have to turn out more people who have a clue about the world outside our boarders.

Globally the growth of China and India can be a huge opportunity for us if we just grasp it correctly. And as long as we keep our innovation lead. I tell you if every America needed a program like FIRST its now.

But I fear that too much of America, including its politicians and business leaders, are focused on short term fixes, ignoring history and a quick buck over long term growth and stability. How else to explain the current financial melt down? And our failures in the middle east with regards to terror and stability. Of course we are not alone in this. In my opinion both sides in the Arab/Israeli conflict are lacking in common sense. The situation in Saudi Arabia is of dubious stability. And could Africa possibly in a bigger mess? Darfur in the Sudan, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and piracy off the coast of Somalia, just to name a few!  But we can’t count on the rest of the world to screw up worse than we do. Clearly it is time to really get smart about some things.

Civics Quiz

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

I found this interesting civics quiz on the Internet today. So far this month the average score is 75% but over a longer time it is apparently much lower. Perhaps more people who think they know stuff are self selecting to take it.

I missed one question (out of 33) and am somewhat embarrassed about that. I blame the question in part. 🙂 But in all honesty I am somewhat of a history/politics/social studies geek. I read a lot about this stuff. So I can see a lot of people missing some of the questions.

For example the main item in the Lincoln/Douglas debates. But not being able to name the three branches of government? Yeah I don’t get that one.

Take a look and let me know what you think. You don’t have to report your scores.