Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parents and education

I'm done, I've had it, up to wherever here is! Politicians are not going to want to hear this, neither are parents, but if you want to improve education it has to start at home. I grew up in the 60's and 70's and went to, what were considered good suburban schools.  During that time I had some good teachers and some horrible teachers. Education in that period often consisted of sitting at your desk, doing rote memorization, or copying off the board. Many of my teachers were barely adequate, some wonderful, and a few just downright mean and spiteful. Teachers did not spend a lot of time working on their craft, or modifying their lessons for the different learning styles of students. Yet between the 50's and early 70's education in America was considered great, and our nation excelled in technology, science and innovation.

Today, teachers ARE held accountable. They are expected to attend workshops to improve their skills. They have to get master's degrees if they expect increase their salaries. They are expected to teach a range of student abilities that the teachers in my day would never be expected to teach. Most teachers I know work very hard to improve their craft and often bend over backwards to help their students. And yet the focus continually is on the teacher, as though they alone can fix the problems of education. Teachers are facilitators of knowledge and skills, and that is all they can be.

"You can lead a horse to water......" Familiar? So if teachers are better prepared today to teach a diversity of students, why are we faltering educationally? I'm sorry, but the first cuprits are the parents (it should be the students, but kids learn what they are taught at home). Parents somewhere around the late 70's came to believe that education is the complete domain of the schools. Most parents at this time washed their hands of education as if shedding a terrible burden. They lost the understanding that education starts at home, not in the schools. This is not to say that parents should be doing their children's homework, or standing over them all night long. Helicopter parents only keep therapists in business. It is the attitude towards school and teachers that have changed. Children today learn from their parents, politicians and the media that teachers and schools are inadequate and that you cannot learn unless you have the very best teachers in the world. In other words, they have been taught that they are victims, incapable of learning anything on their own. In the classrooms, only the teachers are supposed to work, somehow this will trickle down to the students. They have been told that education should always be fun and easy. Teachers can and do try, but in my case math will never be fun, but I still needed to learn it, and wish I'd applied myself more. They have learned that homework is useless, and that you should never have to ever memorize anything. What they have not been told is that they are responsible for their own learning and that although a great teacher can make learning easier, you can still learn even with a poor teacher. My parents didn't care about the teacher's skill level, they cared about how much effort I put into the work. They taught me self reliance and the importance of a work ethic. They made school my number one job. They did not pull me out of school for vacations, or to clean the house. They did not keep me out late on a school night, and then let me stay home, because I was tired. And always they emphasized my role in my education and did not make excuses for my behavior. Parents now feel that they should be their child's friend, and  make excuses for their child's poor work habits. Children have to feel that school and learning are important and only parents can truly do this. Turn off the TV. If your child is not doing their work, take away the cell phones, the unsupervised computer time, sports and clubs. Insist on study times, and take some time to look over their work. Even if you are not a great student yourself, you can check to see if the work is complete and neatly done. Read to your kids and read in front of them, even if only magazines, or the back of the cereal box. Kids mimic your attitudes and behaviors so that what you see as important is what they will learn is important. And please have conversations with your kids, which is more than just telling them to get out of your face. If your texting, phone conversations and TV viewing is more important than talking to your kids, that is what your kids will see as important. My father used to love to say, "Do as I say not as I do", but the truth is your kids are much more likely to do as you do rather than as you say.  Do this all early, since trying to start this when your kids become teenagers is impossible.

Check in with the teacher to find out about your child's progress, before they call you to tell you your child is failing. Please don't tell me you don't have the time. Your children should be one of the most important things in your life. If not, do us all a favor and please stop breeding. Your educational level is not paramount, your attitude is! If you think school is a waste of time, that learning is boring, and that anyone who is intelligent or well educated is a nerd, then don't expect your kids to do well in school. However, if that is your attitude stop blaming the teachers and take a look in the mirror. It's kind of like never changing the oil in your car and then blaming the mechanic when your engine blows. Teachers are not miracle workers. They can't fix in six hours a day (or one 40-50 minute period a day) what you have taken years to destroy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I just heard that the Education and Jobs Bill passed, no thanks to most of the republicans. Why is it that it seems to be OK to spend billions and billions on a war that shows no sign of ever ending, but spending money on education is considered wasteful? Guess what, we are already behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to education, and are falling farther behind every year. We are rapidly losing our position in regards to science, technology and business, but somehow spending less money on education makes sense. Really?  A general will beg for more money if they feel they are losing. A company will go out and pay millions for a CEO if they think it will improve the company. Our students are doing worse compared to the rest of the world, well then we should cut back on teachers, reduce classroom expenditures, increase class sizes and cut back on the number of days or hours students spend in class. Yeah that should fix it.

Oh, and if you have to pay big paychecks to get the best CEO's, basketball players, lawyers or doctors, what makes you think that a small paycheck will bring in the best teachers?

PS - teachers cannot fix this issue alone. We need parents, students, communities, businesses and government. If we all simply try to pass the buck off on the teachers this problem will never improve. They cannot do it all alone.

There are no quick or easy answers, but education in this country will never improve as long as it's looked at as some sort of wasteful luxury. We cannot write off educating the poor, because it's harder. We can continue to scrimp on education, but we'd better plan on spending more on prisons, and losing our edge over the competition from other nations, because without an educated involved population that's exactly where we are headed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gay Marriage


There is at least one judge in California who's not prejudice, but is willing to realize that proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Do we not have any bigger fish to fry? (War, economic collapse, educational failures, etc...) Personally I don't care which adult humans marry which other adult humans. The sanctity of marriage. Please! If you can rationally (without religious dogma) show me how gay marriage will make it difficult for heterosexual marriages to take place, please do.

 "The US Bureau of Vital Statistics last estimate (from 2005) puts the divorce rate at: 0.38% per capita* or 0.76% per capita* (corrected).
This "Per Capita" estimate includes non-married people as well however and gives a low number because non-married people do not get divorced / newer studies only offset new marriages against new divorces. The 'real' numbers are a lot higher: 40% to 43% of all marriages end in divorce per the last estimate by the US Census bureau (This estimate has been accepted by statistics as a truer representation than VS records). "

With so many heterosexual marriages failing, what makes marriage so sacred? Originally (and still in many places around the world) marriage was a property agreement between two families, usually created to make connections and increase family wealth. It was nice if you loved your partner, but not necessary. Women in the past and still today been imprisoned or impeded by marriage. The idea of romantic love and marriage is fairly recent western European concept, and often very unrealistic. Today marriage is used to include or deny people access to health care, property and major life decisions. If two people wish to create a legal bond, called marriage, that will create a partnership which allows them to make major life decisions together, it shouldn't matter what gender they are. A religious organization still has the right not to marry them. So once again how about the separation of church and state? The government cannot go into churches to tell them how they should run their lives so what gives religious groups the right to tell everyone in this country how they should live? Do we really want a government like Iran where religion rules all aspects of law?

What are these prop 8 people so afraid of?  Are they worried that everyone will then want to become gay, and then no one will have children and the human race will become extinct?  I had a friend who had unknowingly married a gay man and when he came out of the closet and asked for a divorce she was very hurt, and today harbors resentments towards gay individuals. The thing is, if this man had not felt the pressure to hide his true nature, they would never have gotten married in the first place. It's time to stop forcing people to deny their true who they are. As long as you are not causing another harm what is the problem?

Let's try to get religion and emotion out of this subject and look at it objectively and rationally.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


We are flushing away trillions of dollars on an endless war. It is time to STOP the war and reinvest the money in our children and our future as a nation. What will it matter if we win this war (highly unlikely) if the payment is the education of the next generation, who will be unable to lead our country forward, because we let them down? This country is great at sounding off about how much we care about our children's education, but people always put their money where their priorities lie. So where are our priorities as a nation? Right now they appear to be fighting useless wars, and compensating rich corporations.

We have laws in place (NCLB) which claim that every child can reach a certain level of education: the same level of education. People forget that humans are not products on an assembly line, and even if they were, factories can't manage to make all their products perfect, every time (Toyota, etc...) We have turned education into a breeding ground of mediocrity. Everything is about passing some multiple choice test. We have a nation that is losing ground in science and technology. Soon we will be dependent upon other nations for our satellite communications, for medical research, for space exploration and all other basic scientific research. You cannot focus on making students great at passing a once a year test, and at the same time create good critical thinkers, and problem solvers. The time it takes to do the latter is great, but it produces people who can think, reason and invent. The former just creates people who are good at taking multiply choice tests. Personally, I think we need a lot more of the latter than the former.

It's time we put our money where our mouth is! Let's spend our money on education, research and development. If we are not careful we will become another USSR or Roman Empire. Let's get back to making this country great and stop trying to fix all the other countries.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Black and White

No this is not a discussion of race, although it could fit here, as could most topics. Black and white is how most people want to view the world. It is easy. A thing is either right or wrong, good or bad, proper or improper, and there is no middle ground. People like this kind of thought because it requires no effort of thinking on their part. Usually it's a religion that makes these determinations, but political parties do it for us as well. It is the reason for flawed policies such as "zero tolerance" in schools, where a very young child gets expelled for bringing in a toy soldier or plastic weapon. The thinking is that if everyone is punished the same, then no one will dare to cross the line ever again. Of course we are talking about children in this case and children don't always think things through very well.

Does anyone remember the philosophical story that was often posed to students in English and sociology classes in the 60's through 70's?
"A man is very hungry and without food. His children at home are dying of starvation. (The welfare system does not exist in this story). He walks into a store and steals a loaf of bread. He is caught and sent to jail and his children starve to death."
The question: was it OK in this instance for the man to steal, or is stealing always wrong?
Classes of high school and college students would argue this case, with most siding with the man, and realizing that although we should not steal, sometimes very dire circumstances make doing wrong things necessary for the lives of those we love.

This demonstrates a point that is often lost in all our arguments over what is right and what is wrong, laws and ethics are not the same things. A law is a law and is set in stone and is supposed to be obeyed without question. Ethics have to do with moral obligations and duty to one's self, family or group. Laws are imposed to create some order and consistency to a culture. Traffic laws help to maintain a consistent pattern of traffic flow, thereby reducing accidents and deaths. Morals and ethics have to do with what we feel is right as a human being to do. Most people would not want to put someone to death for speeding, or stealing bread when you are starving, but in some cultures that would not be a problem. The law may be black and white, but ethics rarely are. I've always thought of ethics as the Golden Rule, which has been stated by every great religious leader. The gist of it is that we are suppose to treat everyone they way we would wish to be treated. So if we don't want to be thrown in jail for stealing bread to keep our children alive, then we shouldn't do the same to anyone else. The rub comes in when we have large groups of people who feel that they are so perfect that they would never, ever do such a thing and therefore people who do should be condemned to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Plus these do's and don'ts change over time and between cultures. Fashion is a prime example, as is marriage, drugs, food, health.... As cultures and technology change so the world changes, but in some ways we have not. We will send the bread stealer to jail, but the executive that has swindled millions often still slips away with his cash in hand. We often reward the sly and crafty for their indiscretions, but punish the weak and ignorant.

Then there are the paradoxes that make no sense. We glorify alcohol and its use, but throw the pot smoker in jail despite the fact that each of these drugs is very similar in its potency's. Millions of people smoke pot at the end of a long day to relax and unwind, which should be seen as no different to the people who have a drink to find the same relaxation. Perhaps neither is good, but perhaps neither is really that bad either. The average pot smoker is much like the social drinker, yet they are treated as a hardened criminal, the same as someone using heroin, morphine, or meth amphetamine. It makes no sense, but it's a law and since pot is placed in the same category as these heavier much more dangerous drugs, offenders are treated the same way. Whether it makes sense or not.

It's time to stop looking at the world as black and white and start seeing things as they are and not as others (religions, governments, social groups) would have us see them. Yes, the gray zone is more complicated and difficult to manuver through. And Yes, we need some laws that are fairly black and white in order to protect our citizens, but seeing everything in terms of black and white makes us less human. Looking for the truth in order to make decisions is hard. It is much easier to take what others have said and live according to their ideals, rather than make up our own minds, but that is just what we need to do if we are to evolve and improve as a species.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quick question.

Why is it that when a company is questioned about why their CEO needs a salary of four million dollars, or a sports star requires 10 million we are told that it is necessary to spend a lot of money to get good people; yet when a teacher, fireman, or police officer asks for more money we are told that they make too much money? I guess we don't need good teachers, firemen, or police officers.

Yes, these jobs are paid for by tax payers. Guess what teachers, firemen, police officers and other civil servants also pay taxes. They in effect pay part of their own salaries. If I use the bank you work at, I in essence pay part of the salaries of the tellers, clerks and bank officers with the money I store in your bank. If I purchase goods at a retail store, part of the money I spend goes to paying the people who work for that store. Pay people low wages and you will not bring in the best people. Yes, there are some saints out there, but most people will go where they can get the best paycheck. Good civil servants will get the best paying jobs they can. That leaves the worst civil servants working in the places with the poorest pay or working conditions.

You want really good help, or just cheap taxes?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taxes and wars

Normally, in the past, when there have been wars, there have been war taxes. Why is it that we spend trillions on a war, but everyone gets up in arms when the mention of additional taxes hits the airwaves. The republicans, who seem to be the most pro-war, are the first to scream, "no new taxes".

No one likes taxes, but you can't expect to wage an extremely expensive war, plus take care of all the problems this country has on the home front, by continuing to reduce taxes especially on the rich. I'm really sorry rich people, but guess what, taxing the poor doesn't bring in much money, because they don't have any. If you really believe this war is beneficial to your country you should be proud to pay the taxes necessary to its continuation.

Here's a thought; stop the war and use the money saved to improve our economy, increase job training, increase our focus on education, improve our scientific research base, our focus on alternative fuels, our infrastructure and bring our country back up to the forefront of industrial and scientific knowledge. In all the afformentioned topics, we are falling further and further behind the rest of the world.

So how do we stop the war? Simple. Reinstate the draft and impose a war tax! As soon as that happens, people will be out in the streets begging and demanding that the war be stopped. As long as the poor and lower middle class have to bear the brunt for most of the sacrifices made for this war, most people just don't care how long this stupidity goes on.

So raise taxes (especially on the rich), and reinstate the draft and we'll be out of this war in six months or less. We can then use that money to bring the U.S. back up to it's former educational and technological levels. The question is which is more important, the war or the condition of our country. Some will insist that the war is keeping us safe (of course I never see these particular people running out to inlist), but as we spend trillions over there, we allow our country to slowly disintegrate, and how does that keep us safe?

Does anyone remember the United Soviet Socialist Republic? Does anyone remember one of the reasons that government finally fell? It had to do with their obsession with military might and the fact that they put so much money into "protecting themselves" from the world that there really wasn't much left in the USSR to bother protecting. In other words the country fell from within first. A strong military is important, but not to the detriment of everything else.

It's time to reinvest in our country. Start up the draft. Let's face it rich people will do anything to avoid sending their children to war, add a war tax and the rich will be picketing in the streets against this war. Enough is enough, lets get out before it's too late.