American Elephants


Ladies, We’re Screwed! by The Elephant's Child
November 16, 2012, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Education, Health Care, Politics | Tags: , ,

From Reason TV, a look at some of the results of the election you may not have considered.



To Fix The Schools You Have To Stop the Machine! by The Elephant's Child

One constant theme on the campaign trail is always education. People care deeply about the education their kids are getting, and about education in general.  Often, people think education in general is dreadful, but are fond of their own school.

That gets into the “likeability factor” where you think your kid’s teacher is really nice, but don’t really have all that much information about what your kids are really learning. As a parent, I am sure I have communicated the really important things , but then the subject comes up and you discover they are clueless. I believe I have just suggested a big reason for home schooling.

International test scores show that our kids are not doing well, as does any trip to a fast-food place. There’s a reason why cash registers total everything for the clerk and tell them how much change to give back. They have enough trouble figuring out how many of which coins you need to make 39¢.

Everybody has an opinion about education. We have all experienced something close to 12 years of schooling at least, so we have first hand knowledge. and if we have become parents and sent our own children off the school, we are apt to be opinionated. Politicians are clear. The answer is to spend more money on education.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek as shown that better-educated students contribute substantially to economic growth. If U.S. students could catch up with the math performance of their Canadian counterparts, it would add roughly $70 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next 80 years.

Obama wants an army of new teachers, and a federal government curriculum, and federal control. My response is easy: 1) Washington DC schools are usually rated as the worst in the country— and the capitol city spends $30,000 per pupil.  2) Since 1970, the public school workforce has doubled, to 5.4 million from 3.3 million, and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Enrollment over the same period has grown only 8.5 %. Employment has grown 11 times faster than enrollment. We have too many teachers.

You know what the problem is. We all know. Republicans want to encourage charter schools (which are public schools) but the innovation underway will change schools as we know them anyway, and that’s online education. Long way to go, but the potential is clearly there.

As David Gelernter says:

Where is the politician who’s willing to say that this nation demands public schools and public colleges without political bias, without anti-American bias, without anti-Jewish or anti-Christian bias? That this nation demands public schools and colleges whose first mission is to produce patriotic American citizens, who know who they are — who know their own history and culture, the history and literature and culture of this country and this Western civilization that belongs to them, that will stand or fall based on their stewardship of the future?

We make a big deal about bigotry and bias in this nation, and it’s right we should; but it’s crazy to ignore the biggest bigotry engine in the nation today, the US Education Establishment — our school systems and text books and some — not all, but too many — of our school teachers and college professors.



Your Tax Dollars At Work! by The Elephant's Child

Let’s all fix education with stimulus dollars.  The Detroit Free Press has reported that Detroit Public Schools, one of the nation’s most chronically corrupt school systems, will receive $355 million from the federal stimulus package — with no strings attached.

The Detroit Public Schools have a $1.5 billion annual budget, but they are currently running a $150 million deficit, with finances so tangled that the state of Michigan has recently appointed an emergency financial manager to oversee its operations.  Since the declaration of emergency, DPS has failed to hand over at least five financial reports required under the state’s consent agreement.

The Brookings Institution has ranked Detroit as America’s worst major urban school district.  Detroit Public Schools only graduate 24 percent of its students.  The Superintendent was fired in December for incompetence, the second superintendent fired in three years and the eighth in the last 20 years.

A 2001 audit found $600,000 missing or misspent.  A 2004 audit of the district’s central warehouse found budget over-expenditures of $1.9 million, and that furniture purchased as part of a $158,000 purchase order is missing.

Expectations of improvement might be a little hasty.  Handing out funds with no strings attached sounds more like payback than stimulus.  Good politics, maybe, but the kids are, as usual, the ones who really get hurt.



Is The Internet Making Us Stupid? by The Elephant's Child
December 16, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Freedom, History, Literature | Tags: , , ,

One of the great problems of education has been the desire to make education easier — easier and more interesting for the teacher, who finds it boring to have to do it all over again each year with a new batch of children, smarter or dumber, quieter or more obstreperous.  And of course, if a way could only be found to make kids enjoy learning the basics of civilized life, then it would all be so much easier, and more fun.  After all, things should be fun, shouldn’t they?

When television first arrived on the scene, everyone was sure that we had found the magic key.  Symphonies, uplifting plays, history as it was being made. That turned out well.

The computer and the Internet are still thought to be some sort of magic in the education of children.  President-elect Obama apparently believes that much good will come from greener school buildings and more computers in the schools.

An elementary school principal noted that “fifth graders proceed as follows when they are assigned a research project; go to Google, type keywords, download three relevant sites, cut and paste passages into a new document, add transitions of their own, print it up, and turn it in.” This is not knowledge formation, but information retrieval.

Anyone who has Googled for information knows the difficulty of separating the valid websites from the junk.  Keywords get you keywords, not necessarily deeply informed information from a reliable website, and not even correct information at that.  Discernment is not much taught in fifth grade.  That takes long education in reading and history and the other basics.

A number of writers are suggesting that reading on the web is changing the way we read and the way we think.  Nicholas Carr has written recently in a piece titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic Monthly that he is now having trouble with lengthy reading.  The deep reading that used to be so enjoyable has now become a struggle.

[M]edia are not just passive channels of information.  They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.  And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.  My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it’ in a swiftly moving stream of particles.  Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet ski.

I’m not the only one.  When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances — literary types, most of them — many say they’re having similar experiences.  The more they use the Web, the more they  have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

James Bowman expands on Mr. Carr’s essay in The New Atlantis with his recognition of the changes in his own reading patterns, and evidence from other authors that there is something going on here that is as yet untested by those who explore and test the functions of the brain.  If  you have children and are concerned about their education, these two essays provide food for thought.

I would suggest that schools have it backwards. Students need to learn deep reading, discernment, judgment and how to cope with the overflow of information characteristic of our age before they learn about how to retrieve information.  In elementary school math classes, students are taught with the assumption that they will always have a handy calculator.  Cursive writing is no longer taught in many schools, for it is assumed that students will always have a handy keyboard.  Is there a relation here to declining math and science scores and the decline in SAT scores?

There is, however, plenty of time to teach children of the dangers of global warming and the importance of recycling and the pressing need to save the polar bears.  Go figure.



Understanding affirmative action… by The Elephant's Child

The idea of “affirmative action” is widely misunderstood.  Philosophy Professor John R. Searle of the University of California at Berkeley explained it very well in an article in Reason Magazine in February of 2000.

[A]ffirmative action had a disastrous effect.  We created two universities during affirmative action.  We had a super-elite university of people who were admitted on the most competitive criteria in the history of the university, but then we had this other university of people who could not have been admitted on those criteria, and who had to have special courses and special departments set up for them.

Now affirmative action meant two completely different things.  When it first started out the definition was that we were going to take affirmative actions to see that people who would never have tried to get into the university before would be encouraged and trained so that they could get admission.  I was all for that — that we were going to get people into the competition.  What happened though, and this was the catastrophic effect, is that race and ethnicity became criteria, not for encouraging people to enter the competition, but for judging the competition.



Obama: Spam, Spam, Hope and Spam! by American Elephant

Obama mania

Barack Obama sure talks a pretty talk.

To me, however, and almost anyone I’ve encountered who no longer has the suffix “teen” included in their age, it has been almost universally decried as empty, vapid and disturbingly ignorant. Even my staunchly liberal friends tell me they are frightened by his utter lack of qualification and the cult-like following he has developed in spite of it.

Obama loves to talk about hope. Hope and change, and change and hope. Hope, hope, change and hope. He uses the word “hope” like  the Monty Python players use the word “Spam“.

And his followers eat it up.

He likes to talk about uniting America. “We are not red-states and blue-states,” he says to deafening cheers, “but the United States!” And yet, as the non-partisan National Journal has verified, Barack Obama has the singular most liberal voting record of anyone in the senate. Which by implication also means he has among the most, if not the most partisan voting record of anyone in the senate. Indeed, despite all his flowery rhetoric, Obama hasn’t co-sponsored one single bill with a Republican.

He has flatly refused to reach across the isle, he has zero experience uniting anyone but the far-left wing of the Democrat party, and has proven he is as partisan as they come. Yet his followers believe he will change Washington and unite America.

Which finally made me understand Obama’s appeal. (Aside from the fact that he’s the first viable candidate Democrats have had in 12 years with any semblance of a personality.)

Obama is the candidate who won’t make you feel bad that you don’t know anything about anything — because he doesn’t talk about anything. He doesn’t talk policy, he talks about feelings.

He is Oprahbama.

When Obama recently held a rally for 20,000 people in my area (Seattle), reporters asked a supporter what she thought the average age of attendees was. She guessed 16-22. Judging from the footage, and other reports, I would say she was right.

A recent survey shows that two-thirds of people in this age group can’t even find Iraq on a map after three years (at that point) of war. Yet Obama’s supporters are universally certain we should not be there — wherever there is. Twenty-nine percent couldn’t locate the Pacific Ocean, yet are convinced man is causing global warming.

No wonder they love Obama! He doesn’t require them to know anything about the issues, he only asks them to “hope” and “believe“. There won’t be any knowledge of math or history required and no one will ask them to find anything on a map!

Everyone will prosper if only we raise taxes enough! The reason healthcare is so expensive is because government doesn’t regulate it enough! Everything would be better if only we would abandon our fledgeling democratic ally in Iraq and allow terrorists to take it over!

These are the fantasies people believe when they “hope” instead of think.

And yet, if his naive followers get their way, with his $900 billion in new spending proposals (thus far), mammoth tax hikes, his Carter-era advisers, and dangerously naive foreign policy prescriptions, if Obama were to get elected, it will be the rest of America, and the world, that will be in very serious need of hope.



Pop Quiz! by The Elephant's Child
November 29, 2007, 8:40 pm
Filed under: History | Tags:

Titanic

Do you like quizzes?  I can’t resist.  Not the kind where you’re sweating it out for a grade, but the fun kind in magazines in the doctor’s office.   Just a little series of questions to see what you know.  Here’s one, just for fun.  What do you know about the famous ships of the world, and why they were famous?  I’ll bet it’s more than you think.  Identify as many as you can (click links for answers):

  1. HMS Victory
  2. Speedwell
  3. HMS Repulse
  4. USS Lexington
  5. Graf Spee
  6. USS Hornet
  7. Mayflower
  8. USS Enterprise
  9. USS Constitution
  10. USS Arizona
  11. Monitor
  12. Pinta
  13. RMS Titanic
  14. HMS Prince of Wales
  15. Akagi
  16. USS Maine
  17. Rainbow Warrior
  18. Flying Cloud
  19. Mary Rose
  20. Soryu
  21. Lusitania
  22. Empress of Ireland
  23. Andrea Doria
  24. Edmund Fitzgerald
  25. HMS Bounty



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