Tag Archives: education

The Least of Three Evils (for MA voters)

13 Jan

In Massachusetts, a state where gay marriage is legal, the representatives of the state ought to believe that gay marriage being legal is a good thing, right? Joe Kennedy is sort of for gay marriage, but only in that the government shouldn’t really have a say and that churches ought to be allowed to decide for themselves. Scott Brown believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

Viewed through this lens Martha Coakley is the only viable candidate. But Martha reeks of standard party-line politician, and I hate the party system. Nearly everything she says seems like it was pulled from the “how to be a democrat 2010” handbook. Maybe she believes it all, but it all reads and seems like it’s just politics. It seems like she says things because they are the-things-you-say-to-get-people-who-believe-what-I-believe-to-vote-for-you, and not because they are her true beliefs.

Aside from gay marriage, what I want from my government is the, well, the governance, that will lead us to a humane world. Everyone wants a humane world. We’re human beings. We ought to have a humane world. That said, the three areas which I think are most important for a humane world – Health Care, Education, and the Environment – are all poorly represented by these three would-be-representatives.

Joe Kennedy is by far the most realistic candidate of the three. His website shows that he’s familiar with bills currently under review by the legislature, and that he understands what the job he’s applying for actually is: he’ll be reading a lot of complicated bills written in legalese. He’ll be writing other bills, filing bills, and voting on bills. That’s it. Promises like

“Martha will fight to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities”

or

“I believe we ought to strengthen our border enforcement and institute an employment verification system with penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants (Scott)”

are un-detailed statements of large scope essentially beyond anything that a senator can actually do and they do little to convince me that Scott or Martha are actually aware of what the job is (odd for Scott, who is already a state senator). Joe Kennedy is, at least from the impressions he’s given, trustworthy. He makes his share of un-detailed statements of large scope too, like “I believe we must promote free trade and peace” (who doesn’t?) but he also includes detailed ideas about what bills he’s going to write and file, and how he’s going to vote on current ones. Unfortunately he seems to be wrong about Health Care, and claims to be against both income and sales taxes, which sounds nice but does beg the question of where he expects the government to get any money at all. China?

Like Joe, Scott is also wrong about Health Care. Both of them vehemently oppose the current Health Care bill (although only Joe claims to have actually read it) but neither of them provide any workable alternatives. The bottom line is that we absolutely have to change our Health Care system. It’s awful. It’s inhumane and utterly embarrassing that a country claiming to be civilized doesn’t provide healthcare to all of its residents. While Martha is at least vowing to support the reform the Obama Administration is hoping to pass, she doesn’t seem to be aware that it doesn’t go nearly far enough and that while changing what we have is extremely important (so important that we must change it even if it’s only for the sake of change), changing it into something which treats health care as the humane right that it is is even more important.

None of them seem to understand this.

Martha is also weak on education, seemingly pleased with the foundation of “No Child Left Behind” stating that it just needs “several reforms” in order to “deliver the changes students deserve.” This is, of course, ridiculous. Joe thinks we should abolish “No Child Left Behind” as well as the Federal Department of Education and instead let each state innovate their own educational systems. It might work… it might not, but at least it’s an acknowledgement that our education system is in need of truly radical reform, something neither of the other two candidates seem to know. Scott is politically vague about education, saying he is “passionate about improving the quality of our public schools” (who isn’t?) and that he “support(s) choice through charter schools, as well as the MCAS exam as a graduation requirement.” Goodie. Let’s first give them a “choice” about which type of school to go to but then continue using standardized tests as a way to determine the education level of our citizens regardless of which school they chose. Great plan.

Nothing short of a complete redesign of our educational system is good enough. We need a system which acknowledges that each individual student has different interests, different ways of learning, and different levels of understanding which develop at different rates. Anything less is inhumane.

None of them seem to understand this.

As for the environment, here’s Martha:

“I support common-sense environment policy that will help to reduce pollution and preserve our precious open spaces. I realize that without action now, future generations will be left to clean up the mess we leave.”

Here’s Scott:

“Our planet is in trouble. I believe protecting our environment must be a priority, not only for today but for future generations.”

No, I’m sorry, that’s backwards. The first quote is Scott, not Martha, she’s the second quote. Point is they sound basically interchangeable.

Give Joe points for being different at least:

“I would consider myself an Environmentalist and I am a strong advocate of green initiatives… The Greatest Polluter in America is the US Government.”

I kid (a bit) about the similarity of Scott and Martha here but give Martha credit for at least being thorough and detailed and stating that “climate change is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.” I’m not sure it’s a moral issue, but it’s certainly pressing. The only thing Scott’s website provides are vague promises and beliefs about the environment and his site doesn’t mention even once global warming or the climate crisis (neither does Joe’s) although I know from the debate that he’s not convinced it’s entirely caused by our actions. Scott says

“I support reasonable and appropriate development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and improved hydroelectric facilities”

as if there’s someone who doesn’t. Way to say nothing. I support the sky being blue. I support wheels being round.

Look, we can’t have a humane world if the planet our world is on is sick. It’s really more important than anything else. It doesn’t matter how well educated we are, how healthy, how safe, how peaceful, how anything, if our planet is sick.

None of them seem to understand this, though Martha comes out as the strongest of the three here if only because she’ll support the progress that the Obama Adminstration is trying to make in this regard.

So I’m genuinely stumped here. I have no idea which of these three represent the least of the three evils. I’ve read and heard that a lot of people are voting for Scott simply because he opposes the current party that’s in power. This is true, he does, but he represents the other party. Checks and balances aren’t supposed to work the way the party system works. If you really want to elect someone who is going to ensure that one party isn’t in control, vote for Joe. But is that even a good reason to vote? If I truly don’t want any of these people to represent me, shouldn’t I not vote for them? Isn’t that how a democracy is supposed to work? Votes are our way of saying “yes, I agree with you. You represent me.” Isn’t there more to you than just “I oppose large government” or “I oppose the currently-in-power party”?

How about “I support a humane world with an effective government”? I’d vote for the one who could back that up with details about how they’re going to do it.

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Things to learn from history

1 Aug

A few facts we could learn from history:

– Making war, engaging in war, declaring war, etc. does not produce peace.

– Manufacturing goods in the most financially lucrative ways is destructive to the planet and to the human beings that live on it.

– An education system based on regimented levels and common-to-all curriculums does not result in citizens who are educated in humane well-being.

Writing in the Digital Age – how about learning in the digital age?

10 Oct

John August, screenwriter and director (Go, Big Fish, The Nines), has a very informative blog where he just posted the transcript to a speech he recently gave called “Writing in the Digital Age.” Some choice quotes are below, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

“as more aspects of our lives are conducted online, how we present ourselves in writing will only get more important.”

“The internet has billions of readers. What it needs are writers who write with authority.”

“No matter what career you end up choosing, or what career is chosen for you by fate, you will be a writer for the rest of your life. As the digital age accelerates, I’m convinced that writing is going to get more important each year. It’s not a noun anymore. It’s not the term papers and the memos and the screenplays. Writing is a verb. It’s an action. It’s a crucial way in which we process the world around us.”

Reading this brought to the forefront of my mind thoughts I’ve been having recently about the state of learning/information/knowledge in “the digital age.” The boy I tutor has an iPhone and a laptop, which means that he’s able to connect to the internet virtually anywhere and at anytime. That means he carries the entirety of wikipedia and infinite google search results in his pocket. If he carries all that information there, what does he need to carry in his head?

I don’t have some climactic revelation to all of this, but I do think it’s fundamentally changing something about the purpose of learning, or at least what is fundamentally important to learn. On another angle, if the space in our brains that we spent on memorizing facts can be used for something else, (since the iPhone/internet can be used as a repository for facts) what can we do with this newfound brainspace?

Hampshire College denies existence of black people

11 Jun

In the latest issue of Non Satis Scire, the Hampshire Magazine for Alumni and Friends, there is an article about Alan Goodman, the president of the AAA (American Anthropological Association) who happens to also be a professor at Hampshire. He’s been involved, for a decade, with “the largest-ever public education project on race, racism, and human genetic variation.”
The result of this decades long research?
“Race is no longer a valid scientific way to describe human genetic variation, Goodman explains. Race should be understood as a social, historical concept, not as a genetic concept; the idea of race maps very poorly onto the structure of human genetic variation. But race is also real as a very powerful ideology with enduring consequences…”

You know what else was once “a social, historical concept” that was also “a very powerful ideology with enduring consequences”?
The “fact” that the world is flat.

Boofies need to evolve, yo.

Free knowledge is free power

9 Jun

Over the past week or so I’ve been attending the Energy Crossroads Panel at Stanford University which already happened. For free, and without a time machine.

If knowledge is power, and knowledge also becomes free and accessible to everyone, what happens? I think we should find out.
I paid (or now owe) for a massively expensive education at a top-level Institution. (Is Hampshire College Ivy League? There is ivy on the walls…)
In retrospect I could have learned everything that I did at Hampshire for a lot less money. How much should the experience of going to a college really cost? What about the information gleaned at college, isn’t it inherently free?

One of the new features in the newest version of iTunes, which is likely to be overlooked since you have to enter the iTunes Store to get to it, is iTunes University(iTunes link). Free educational material from top universities, most notably (right now) Stanford and Berkeley. It sounds really cool, and almost too good to be true, which it partially is. While there are a handful of full-fledged classes, where you download lectures and tests and slides and everything, a majority of the stuff available (all for free still) is clearly designed as advertisements for the college. You can get video clips of students talking about their time there, download student media projects, watch introductions to various programs, etc. Still though, it’s free knowledge which until recently was unavailable unless you were actually at the University. In addition to classes there are also special events like panels, commencement speeches, and other presentations by various certified smart people (such as the Energy Crossroads Panel (iTunes link) I listened to) which are now all available to anyone with iTunes and the internet, which is a lot more people than any of this was previously available to.

Want to take a class on the Historical Jesus at Stanford? Go ahead. Want to take a computer programming course, a class on Modern Theoretical Physics, watch Steve Jobs give a commencement speech, find out what existentialism is, learn the Geography of World Cultures, or all of the above? Go ahead. It’s free.

I’m eager for Hampshire to get in on the game, I’d love to download one of Mario’s religion classes, or the student projects from one of Bill’s Film Classes…