Friday, December 16, 2011

Council Rock, YouTube, and Common Sense

A student asks a teacher to let him play a video from YouTube. The teacher asks if it is appropriate. The student says it is. The teacher lets the student play it using the teacher’s computer and digital blackboard without ever seeing it. The video is of a “sexual nature and obscene.” A member of the school board finds out about it and says that school employees shouldn’t have access to YouTube or Facebook.

Can you believe it? Can you believe that something like this would happen? I can, but I am still outraged. What was Council Rock school board member, Patricia Vaccaro-Sexton thinking? In what world is making YouTube and Facebook off limits to all school employees the correct response to a failure in judgment on the part of a teacher? The problem isn’t the website. The problem is the teacher who would let a middle school student show something to other middle school students without checking first to see what it was that was being shown. The problem is students having access to teacher’s computers. The problem is that Ms. Vaccaro-Sexton isn’t focused on solving the problem.

The kind of hyperbole that Ms. Vaccaro-Sexton indulged in is an accepted part of politics. It should, however, be proof of incompetence. If one of our elected representatives is more interested in grandstanding, shouting at the wind, attacking the opposition, or whatever it is Ms. Vaccaro-Sexton was doing than they are in solving problems then we ought to replace them. That’s all there is to it.

YouTube is not the problem for the Council Rock School board. Poor judgment on the part of a teacher and a school board member is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Free Market Education

Today on NPR I heard someone say that there need to be fewer scholarships, grants, and the like and more loans because someone’s education is their own concern. I don’t know who said it, but I know they are wrong. First of all, I certainly am concerned about whether Americans have real educational opportunities. You should be too. Thriving economies need an educated workforce. Societies with less crime and drug use also tend to be more educated societies. Democracies with educated electorates would also figure to be places where voters make better decisions. Second, my concerns will only be alleviated if everyone has equal access to education. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to trust that to banks. I’m not going to trust that to the free market. I’m not going to trust much to the free market. We learned long ago that the free market needs to be a little less than completely free. I don’t see the need to learn all over again that effective regulation is necessary. I also don’t see the utility in being shown, yet again, that government support for its citizens is not just charity. It’s not even mainly charity. Everyone benefits from the support government (and ultimately all of us) provides to people in need. Also, if any of the grand language of freedom and equality that has been mouthed by Americans since the beginning of America is to be more than empty words, we need to make it real with government action … and one of the key actions is support to those who are willing and able to work on their own educations. It’s also worth pointing out that a model where education and prosperity are guaranteed only for a minority, leaving the majority with no real opportunity for success of any kind, is not one built for the long term. If anything, we are moving in the wrong direction. We probably should provide education for all Americans free of cost. We certainly should be making sure that people who can’t afford an education can get one anyway, without question and without mortgaging away their futures. We probably should be making sure that everyone gets a good K-12 education, but that’s a gripe for another time. The bottom line is that even the most coldhearted person should see that it is in their own interest to make it possible for people to get a good education. They also should see that the idea of the free market is a fairy tale that was long ago proven to be inefficient and cruel and that government is important and has a role, and that to deny any of it is to deny the experience of the last hundred plus years. The truth doesn’t ever live in the extremes. That’s just the facts of life, and its true in every case, including education policy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Homosexuality is awful because ...

A man has sex with a man. Then, what happens next? Are Einstein’s discoveries undone? Do children everywhere begin to masturbate? Do people just catch on fire? A young girl sees two women holding hands, does she immediately French kiss her best friend? Does she start refusing to go to church? Does she start listening to Melissa Etheridge? A gay couple is allowed to adopt a child … and the next generation turns to wicca? If two women get married, what is the next shoe to fall? Do people everywhere start divorcing? Do people everywhere jump into bed with goats? Do people become socialists? I don’t get it. How is anal sex a threat to the social fabric? Maybe the issue is that there are too few people in the world, and folks are worried that if we give homosexuals rights everyone will turn gay and we will just die out. That’s about the best I can come up with. Though, maybe gays are behind the financial crisis, are causing global warming, sabotaged the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and have just blocked the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. Maybe they are aliens from Kepler 22-b. No, that would be going too far, because that would necessitate the recognition of science. I guess I don’t know why gays are such bad news … but I suppose that shouldn’t stop me from hating them. It hasn’t stopped anybody else.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rick Perry ought to be ashamed

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school," says the Texas governor and Republican White House candidate. "As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again."

Yeah. If that’s what Christianity is about, color me ashamed. Color me whatever you want to, but I am proud to live in a country where, finally, every citizen can openly serve in the armed forces regardless of who they fall in love with. I’m also proud that there is some respect in this country for non-Christian religious traditions and a robust and well protected separation between Church and State. I find it reprehensible that a political leader would label his political opponents as somehow opposed to Christianity. I find it offensive that Perry would treat Christian and American as if they were synonymous and somehow only labels that apply to people he shares political views with.

Here is the bottom line. All Americans aren’t Christians. All Christians aren’t Americans. All liberals are Americans. Some liberals are Christians. Some conservatives are Muslims. All people who traffic in hate and fear and lies like this should be ignored.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Searching for Intelligent Life

Scientists have just discovered Kepler 22b. It is a planet that is 600 light years away. Kepler is a little on the big size, more than twice the size of earth, but otherwise has a lot in common with earth. It has temperatures that average around seventy degrees. It is closer to its sun than we are, but its sun isn’t as hot, so it is right in the zone where a planet has to be to support life. It might well be habitable. It might be inhabited. This means that we might be on the verge of showing, definitively, that life exists elsewhere in the Universe. The truly amazing thing is that as we sit at the edge of this major scientific milestone, we have a Presidential candidate who associates with folks who claim to talk to God. How is it possible that I can live at a time when people are discovering potentially habitable planets hundreds of light years away, and still know people who think the world was created by God in six days and that we all can trace our lineage to some dude who hung out in a boat with a lot of animals for a few weeks? Yes the universe is expanding, and oh by the way God hates homosexuals and evolution should be taught alongside intelligent design in our schools. I don’t get it, but I also don’t get how someone could have lived through a financial crisis that was partially caused by an unregulated financial sector and then a few years later claim that regulation and big government is the root of all our problems. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly psyched about Kepler 22b. I think it is awesome. It would be truly amazing to be alive when we are able to confirm that there is indeed life on other planets. If we were able to find intelligent life, well that would be indescribable. I just wish I was more confident that there was intelligent life to be discovered right here on earth.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Occupy What?

There really is little to be gained from squatting in a park. It is not physical space that we need to occupy. We need to occupy the airwaves. Call in to every radio show that has a phone number and let folks know that there is much more to be concerned about than big government. We need to occupy the internet. Be in every chat room and every comments page, and demand that everyone there drop the insults and support their assertions with facts and logic. We need to occupy the print media. Let no outrageous fallacy filled diatribe hit the press without a logically based counterpoint being a day or so behind. We need to occupy the polling places on each and every Election Day. Tell people what you think when it counts. We need to occupy our wallets. If a corporation spends money to fight gay marriage or tear down regulatory structures, don’t let it be your money that gets spent. We need to occupy the texts that are now being used against us. Go to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, even the Bible, and find out for yourself what is in there and what isn’t and tell people about it. We need to occupy our history. This is not a country based on a struggle to free itself from federal government control, quite the opposite in fact. It is also not a perfect place. Make people see the totality of our history, from sit in strikes to internment camps to national parks. We need to occupy our interactions with others. Say please and thank you and mean it. Ask people what they think and listen to the answers. Always be open to compromise and collaboration. Most of all, we need to occupy the problems facing our country. Solve a problem. Challenge anyone who doesn’t seem to have solving problems as their goal. It is way past time for the rest of us to occupy something … a lot of things. We just need to shoot a little higher … and save the parks for picnics.