Friday, October 17, 2008

The presidential debate and education: Same old, same old!

I watched the debate the other night, and I was depressed but not surprised by the discussion about education. Bob Schieffer got in the media's points about how much the U.S. spends on education and how terrible our test scores are, and of course, he phrased it all in crisis terms. Both candidates seemed to sadly nod their heads and look concerned.

I doubt that many viewers understood that the media and politicans have been referring to American education as being in crisis since the 1950s, and that the people who attended those schools continue to be the heart of what is considered the most productive workforce in the world. I doubt that many viewers realized that, as Jay Matthews pointed out, 70 percent of American public schools are actually quite good. Many parents and other viewers could probably figure out that in order to improve our test scores compared to other nations, we would have to put more emphasis on academics. They might not have thought about it enough, however, to realize that in order to do that we might have to de-emphasize high school football, basketball, hockey, etc., and their kids might not be able to have after school jobs. And there is no way that a politician running for office would tell them that.

Overall, I liked what Obama had to say about education more than McCain, especially about parents taking responsibility, but I don't think either candidate will make much of a difference to our schools. How many times and for how many years have I heard that we should recruit better teachers? I don't know for sure, but that sure wasn't the first time. I do have to agree with McCain, however, that throwing more money at the problem is not the answer. Oh, if you put the money in the right places, it might help somewhat, but it won't have us suddenly kicking the Korean's backsides on international math tests.

McCain is very big on vouchers, and I don't like that, but I have to admit that his position on them is more "honest" than Obama's. Both of the candidates are well-off financially, so both of them could afford to live in nice neighborhoods where the best public schools would be. Neither of them, however, thinks that those good public schools are good enough for their kids. I think they're wrong, but as I said, at least McCain is honest about it. When McCain says to Obama that more parents should have the opportunity to send kids away from the public school system that neither of them really believe in, it's tough for Obama to answer.

I'm not knocking private schools here, but it does bother me that so many liberals who pose as great supporters of public schools won't put their kids enrollment where their mouths are. To tell the truth, I don't think either McCain or Obama have a clue about what the real problems are in public schools.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A public gay and lesbian school?

I stopped by Ms. Cornelius,s blog today and found this interesting post. Chicago is considering having a public school for gay and lesbian kids. I think that is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

As I've expressed in previous posts, I feel great sympathy for kids with homosexual tendencies who are bullied and harassed by other students because of that. But there are bullies out there who will bully for any reason they can find. If we try to segregate kids based on anything they might be bullied or harassed for, we're going to have to have a lot of different schools. Should we have a special school for fat kids? For skinny kids? For kids with bad acne? I had a very distinct walk, and I got made fun of frequently for it. Should we have a special school for kids who walk funny? We have to learn to live together, and we also have to deal with idiots who want to make fun of us for stupid reasons.

The best way for dealing with students who are determined to harass and bully other students would be to allow and even to demand that public schools not tolerate it. That means it should be easier for us to dismiss the bullies from our schools.

It also seems to me that there are a lot of teenagers who are confused about their sexuality. I suspect that some of the most blatant teenage homophobes might fit into that category. In any case, that's another reason I think setting up a school based on sexual preference shouldn't be done. Some critics of public schools accuse us of promoting homosexuality, and this seems to come pretty close to doing just that. It certainly plays right into the hands of those who blast public schools because, they say, we are promoting a liberal agenda.

There are those who think public schools should be promoting a liberal agenda, and some of them are teachers. Those who are pressuring us from the outside are misguided, and those who actually work in the schools and do so are unethical. The same goes for those teachers who try to promote a conservative agenda. There aren't as many of those as there are on the left, but they are every bit as wrong.

Here's an idea! When it comes to controversial subjects, teach kids as many facts as we can, and encourage them to find facts on their own. Then, allow them to discuss it civilly and respectfully in class with students who disagree with them, and allow them to come to final conclusions on their own.

I think that's actually the way most teachers do it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Should high schools sponsor dances?

I'm afraid that if anyone has been wondering whether I am an old man who is losing touch with the younger generation, I am about to convince them. But if anyone decides that is the case after this post, I want them to know that I am not alone.

I recently came to the conclusion that high schools should not sponsor dances. But I came to that conclusion after a discussion with my daughter-in-law, Kelly, and she is definitely not old and out of touch. She's 33-years-old, intelligent, beautiful, and she also happens to be a probation officer at a high school in Iowa. In the last few weeks we have both had the "pleasure" of chaperoning homecoming dances at our respective schools.

In 1992 I became the sophomore class advisor at our high school, and despite the fact that I have been more than willing to give the position up to anyone who wanted it, I have been the advisor ever since. My one big responsibility in that position is being in charge of the homecoming dance. Of all the responsibilities I have in my job, that is the one that I am least comfortable with. Running a dance is just not my cup of tea.

For the last several years, there have been things that have gone on at the dances that have made me uncomfortable as the guy in charge. "Sex on the Beach," "I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt," and songs like that have always gotten a huge response from the kids, and although that bothered me, I dismissed it as simply being part of teenaged culture. This year, however, I was more aware of them than ever. Back in August on one of my posts, Anonymous implied that high schools promote high school sex. In a reply to Anonymous, I scoffed at the idea. But as I walked through the mass of bodies grinding back and forth at our homecoming dance, and listened to the words of the songs (when I could understand them), I could not help but think of Anonymous, and I was grateful that he wasn't there.

When I talked to Kelly, I found that she felt a lot like I did. In fact, the high school principal at her high school had announced on the intercom on the day of their dance that there should be "no inappropriate dancing." Good luck! The most popular "dance style" among teenagers today is for the male to stand as close as possible behind the female and for both of them to grind up and down in a motion that reminds me of what a friend of mine once said about dancing: "Dancing is expressing vertically what is best expressed horizontally."

One might suggest that those in charge of a dance should outlaw that particular dance move. But is anyone naive enough to think that these young people with hormones oozing from them wouldn't come up with something that might even top that one? And trying to enforce anything like that would be impossible. Even at our small school, there are 300 kids massed together in a dark room. Trying to walk 20 feet from the outside of the mass toward the middle is almost impossible. If a chaperone at a dance was going to try to keep students from dancing too close to one another, or to keep them from dancing "inappropriately," that chaperone would soon begin to feel like the little Dutch boy.

I do not mean this as a condemnation of our teenagers today. Sex is a huge part of our culture, and kids are constantly bombarded with it by our media. They are at a stage of their lives where that has to sound pretty darned good. The day of the sock-hop is gone; the day of the grinder is here. I'm also not arguing that kids should never be able to dance, but I am arguing that schools should not be in the business of sponsoring dances and the behavior that is bound to occur.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Can a Christian vote for Obama?

I've had a couple of posts recently about people who couldn't restrain themselves from endorsing political candidates in the classroom. Recently a number of pastors, who can't resist telling their parishioners who they should vote for, have made the news. They risk their churches' tax exempt status by doing so, and Minneapolis StarTribune carried an article about them yesterday. Gus Booth, a fundamentalist pastor in Warroad, has been very involved in this movement. He made headlines across the country last May when he told his parishioners that a Christian cannot vote for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because of their positions on abortion and gay rights.

I find pastors like Booth offensive for two reasons. First of all, I think they give Christianity a bad name. Like radical Muslims, or radicals of any other faith, they are convinced that they have a complete monopoly on the truth, and anyone who believes anything different is evil. I also find them offensive because of the effect they have on our politics. I am so sick of Republicans and Democrats who find it necessary to demonize the other side. Not only that, but they drive a lot of good people out of politics who don't want to associate with the extemists who have taken over the two parties. After Booth and his followers took control of the local Republican caucus in February, a number of local Republicans with common sense said they would never go back again.

When I read about Booth's idiotic sermon last spring, I was appalled. At that time, I was leaning toward McCain, but I was tempted to respond with a letter to the editor in our local newspaper. Since I always have some kids in my classes who go to his church, however, I decided that it probably wasn't a good idea. As it turned out, I'm glad I didn't, because Robert Baril, a former student who is now majoring in political science at Bemidji State University, wrote a better letter than I could have. Robert is more to the left than I am, but his letter made me proud to have been his teacher. Here it is.

I was stunned recently to hear that a pastor in Warroad was using his sermons to tell people who they should vote for. Apparently, his message was the "good Christians" should not vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because of their stances on abortion and gay marriage, which seems somewhat lmiting as there are plenty of other reasons not to vote for them (though I did).

Now, I have seen Pastor Booth administer a wedding, and he came off as both warm and funny. He seems like a decent man, and I understand his passion for politics. What I disagree with is by making statements like that, Mr. Booth is turning the 2008 campaign into a two-issue election: abortion and gay marriage. This may be painful for some to hear, but this is exactly what the Republicans want, because they use the religious vote to win elections.

The same thing happened in 2004 when gay marriage was the big issue for religious voters, instead of the war in Iraq--currently in year five. As soon as they won, what? That promised gay marriage to the Constitution? Didn't happen. What did happen? A disastrous foreign and domestic policy that has left us militarily vulnereable abroad and financially unstable at home.

The only role these issues really play in elections is to serve as a conservative distraction from issues they're less inclined to talk about, such as the deficit. Could we at least make China work a little bit for their ultimate takeover?

This also may be tough to hear, but it's the truth: abortion will never be completely banned in this country. The closest you can come is to make it a state's issue and limit it to the first or second term. I don't agree with the practice myself, but at the same time recognize that others may live under circumstances that precipitate a different belief and ulimately their call, just as it should be a consenting adult's call to marry the consenting adult of their choice.

I'm sorry, but I fail to see how a gay couple threatens the sanctity of marriage, which straight people can't seem to get right, having a roughly 50% divorce rate. The Bible is often referenced to combat the argument for gay marriage. The problem is that it has also been referenced to justify slavery. There are so many alternate translations that practically anyone can use the Bible to justify their actions.

Our death penalty is based on eye-for-an-eye vengeance, yet there's a commandment against killing. And if the Bible is excused from participation, the argument against gay marriage falls through. For procreation only? Well, sorry infertile people. They'll raise gay children? We'll just elect them to be vice-president.

What issues should matter? Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, universal health care (something I think Jesus would be just alright with), our painfully degraded infrastructure, taxes (this is the first time the country has been at war and we haven't raised taxes. I think if we ask our soldiers to sacrifice their lives, we can sacrifice a few extra cents), and the environment...

If you want to vote for John McCain, that's fine. I'm not. If that makes me a bad Christian, I ask you to pray for me. But I'm choosing to base my vote on issues that affect me directly: the economy, the wars we're deeply involved in, and health care.

It's not that issues like abortion and gay marriage don't matter to me, but I know that whoever I elect is not going to affect these already contentious issues that much. Because these areas are such political land mines, and politicians are all about career survival, they try to avoid dealing with them as much as possible. They're much more satisfied with the status quo because that gives them something dependable to complain about every four year to stay in power. Conversely, on matters such as foreign policy and economic strategy, our future president will have a significant and profound influence. That is why I feel they are of greater concern when it comes to basing your electoral choice. Your vote is your choice, for your reasons. I didn't write this to tell you who to vote for. I just wanted to remind you that there's too much at stake in this presidential race for it to be reduced to a two-issue campaign.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This time the conservative is right

While browsing through Joanne's site today, I came across this article about teachers who were wearing "Educators for Obama" buttons to school. How dumb can you get?

It would be bad enough if it was just one teacher who was foolish and unprofessional enough to push his political beliefs while in the classroom teaching high school kids, but apparently there were a number of them. What makes it even worse is that it took a parent complaint to get them to put their buttons away. Couldn't anyone else in that building figure out that there was something wrong with what they were doing?

Last week I complained about a conservative nut-case who was using his child to push his political agenda and to get a little ink in the press. The reason he gave was that public schools are "full of liberal loons." It is unfortunate that some people in our profession provide support for statements like that.