Posts Tagged ‘education’

By now it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. But rather than putting up yet another pro-Bernie post, I’d like to put a discussion topic out there for everyone’s consideration.
The estimated combined annual cost of Sanders’ single-payer health care plan and his tuition-free college plan is, by any estimation, substantial. Between the two, it’s about one and a half trillion dollars. (!)
But let’s compare that against current expenditures. The 2015 federal budget, between mandatory and discretionary spending, provides for just over a trillion in Medicare and health spending, and a further fifty billion in tertiary education (college-level) spending.
So we’re already spending 70% of what Sanders is proposing.
Sanders further proposes to levy a tax of “a fraction of a percent” on Wall Street speculation, which he believes would bring in revenue of seventy-five billion. A fraction of a percent doesn’t seem unduly onerous to me, and that gets us to 75% of goal.
What he suggests in order to defray the health care costs are a personal income-based tax of 2.2%, which is substantially less than most households currently pay for insurance, deductibles and the like, and a business tax of 6.2% of the employees’ income – again, substantially lower than what most employers are currently paying to their benefits providers. These two tax increases are estimated to generate eight hundred and thirty billion dollars in revenue.
That brings us to 130% of that goal – fully paid for and then some, and saves money for businesses, workers and students alike into the bargain. That seems pretty good to me, and the benefit of a healthier and better-educated populace seems like an obvious choice at that point.
Sooooo… since I will admit that I am by no means an economist, I would like to see a conversation *WITHOUT partisan rhetoric, please*, in which someone explains to me why this scenario is apparently so undesirable to so many.

Read Full Post »

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the United States and many other countries today is that of education. It has been argued that many of our society’s ills – ranging from declining literacy rates to teen pregnancies – could be ameliorated to some extent by better education.

Unfortunately, much of the extant educational policy has been going at this in a half-assed manner, due in some part to the lack of funding. The lamentable No Child Left Behind initiative was conceived with good intentions but the required infrastructure to make it truly work is not, and has never been, a reality. Not since Brown has there been a paradigm shift in education profound enough to change the way the system works. However, there are some schools out there whose students are interested and engaged, whose test pass rates are exceptional and whose staff are intelligent and dedicated. With the right methods, even in adverse financial circumstances, a school and its students can succeed.

A major problem in the educational field right now is that there are simply not enough qualified teachers out there to make every school work. Most of us harbor fond memories of at least one teacher who really ‘got it’ and would go the extra mile to see that a student grasped the material at hand and indeed cared enough about it to do the work and get the A. Those teachers are worth their weight in diamonds and should be immensely proud of their achievements – and should be the model to which education graduates aspire. What we sorely need is a few thousand more teachers just like these latter-day heroes, and school boards with the vision to allow them to perform their often thankless task.

This is where the funding problem comes into play. In an ideal world, every teacher would be paid a very healthy salary and be provided with the facilities and resources to be able to guide our kids through the rough waters of the school years, channeling their intelligence and talents into not only academic progress but a keen awareness and understanding of the world out there.

The costs involved in turning every school into a temple and every teacher into an admired mentor are immense in the short term, but the long-term payoff absolutely dwarfs them. How many potential Einsteins have never had the opportunity to pursue science enough to blossom? How many Mozarts has the world missed out on? How many Ronaldinhos, how many Gandhis?

We can, to some extent, take our children’s future into our own hands. We all need to be writing, calling, even Tweeting – everything we can do to let our legislators know that we want better schools, more teachers – and increased financial support for both. Tell them we want more incentives for people to become teachers and more recognition for the teachers who really ‘get it’.

You can also help by making donations. Almost every school is suffering from a dearth of resources, but if you can buy ONE more textbook, or a map or periodic table for a classroom wall, or even whiteboard markers, you’ll be helping to make an investment. It’s a very small investment, but if enough people make it, we can see a real difference. The $5-level donations which fueled the President’s ‘netroots’ campaign can be felt here too.

Finally, I’d like to give thanks to a few teachers who really made a difference, people who have made my own little world a little better by their efforts. This is by no means an exhaustive list, since I have had the privilege of learning from a great many wonderful and motivated people, but I specifically would like to call out Gerry Rafferty, Wendy Winnard and Dave Shaw. Even if none of the three of you ever read this, your efforts will forever be appreciated in my little corner of the world.

So, my faithful readers, please follow suit, either by commenting here or through your own blogs – who do you feel deserves a thank you? Let’s hear it for the world’s great teachers!

Read Full Post »

Throughout its history, Western science has had one major failing – its inability to ‘think outside the box’. Each passing day brings a new theory or discovery, most of which are ignored or derided by ‘orthodox’ scientists who cling to their safe, comfortable dogma. In the 1860s, chemists refused to acknowledge John Newland’s idea that the elements might fall into eight distinct ‘families’. Later on, Dimitri Mendeleyev was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same idea, which led to the periodic table that hangs on the wall in every high school. The stories of Copernicus and Galileo have become famous examples of maverick scientists proving the establishment wrong. Even such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein suffered the disbelief of their contemporaries at one time or another.

Due to this hostile, neophobic academic climate, few scholars are willing to stick their necks out and embrace a novel idea, regardless of its merits, for fear of losing their reputation or – worse yet – their funding. Indeed, it is an unwritten rule of modern science that the investigation of certain subjects is tantamount to professional suicide. No chemist today will seriously experiment toward the alchemical ideal of ‘transmutation’. Few anthropologists will accept the possibility of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific contacts before the days of Columbus (pr at least Leif Erikson), and even those few will guardedly admit that a few small-scale events could have occurred, but no major communication. It is a rare Egyptologist that will look twice at the notion of the Sphinx being older than the Fourth Dynasty, and a still rarer geographer that truly believes in Atlantis.

Science holds tightly to its predetermined ‘facts’ – indeed, just as tightly as religious people hold to their own. Each accuses the other camp of trying to ‘undermine’ theirs with ‘obviously untrue’ statements. Such tensions are understandable, since science and religion are in a sense two roads leading to the very same goal; each is on a quest to understand the ultimate truth of the Universe. I believe it is time that these two take a long, hard, objective look at each other, since there may be a wealth of information in each that would benefit the other. Perhaps Aleister Crowley said it best:

We place no reliance
On Virgin or Pigeon –
Our method is Science
Our aim is Religion.

Crowley’s own unorthodox religious leanings and somewhat dubious reputation aside, this example of his thinking bears remembering. The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin roots meaning ‘re-tying’, more specifically a re-establishment of one’s link with the Divine. ‘Science’, on the other hand, means ‘knowledge, and the pursuit thereof’. I can think of few better ways to be bonded to any God or Goddess than through knowledge – detailed study of Their greatest work, upon whose verdant bosom over six billion of us have made our homes.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”.
– Socrates

In our arrogance, we claim to know many things. Just as we once ‘knew’ the Sun revolved around the Earth, ‘knew’ the world was flat, we now ‘know’ that we cannot travel faster than light, we ‘know’ the reasons for rainfall and tides and comets and black holes. We couldn’t possibly be wrong, since we’re such smart, highly evolved creatures.

I’m sorry, I said the E-word. Evolution? Creation? A little of both? Who knows?

Today more than fifty million Americans went to school. They learned, or at least heard, certain key factoids which make up a part of the accepted body of American knowledge. Few will have thought to question anything stated by their instructors – indeed, the most frequently asked question across these schools today was probably “will this be on the test?”. Millions of notebooks were half-heartedly flipped open to record unthinkingly the words of the curriculum.

Western society in particular is guilty of this practice; we place inordinate value on sameness, such that within any given socioeconomic group most people will dress the same, listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows. Fashion statements are generated by large corporations, whose subsidiaries pander to the similarly slavish fashions of the niche markets. Record companies churn out new clones of old artists, the promotional machine turning them into superstars and ensuring their marketability. Ultimately, a tiny élite controls the behavior of most of tomorrow’s leaders, who are mindlessly following orders as they are taught more and more definitely how to think – or perhaps more importantly, how not to think. We read Orwell’s 1984 and think of it as fiction when in fact it simply mirrors today’s reality so perfectly that one must almost ask whether Orwell was a latter-day prophet.

We believe that our government has our best interests at heart rather than its own; we believe that the news media is always telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; we believe that accepted scientific principles are always right and we believe that our textbooks, encyclopedias and religious works provide an unerring guide to the world and everything in it.

Where am I going with all of this?

If the patterns of today continue, it is conceivable that within a few generations humanity will be faced with a completely new scenario, an event which we are unable to predict today, and that the billions of Earthlings faced with this problem will be unable to devise a single new idea between them and will thus perish.

Some may consider this a needlessly alarmist hypothesis. Others may sit comfortably and say that God – and I use the term to indicate any religious figure or figures – will no doubt save us from any such catastrophe. Others still may cling to accepted scientific dogma, believing that the corpus of accumulated data will no doubt yield a solution. What if these people are all wrong?

I believe that it is the duty of today’s Westerner to make himself a royal pain in the tail for the establishment. Perhaps the scientists are indeed right, or the Church, or the historians. I am not willing to bet the continued existence of my species on it. The class of 1491 believed that the world was flat even though the Egyptian, Minoan and Greek civilizations had already mathematically determined otherwise and certain Asiatic folks had already visited the American continent. The learned elders of the sixteenth century were convinced that the Sun revolved around the Earth, going so far as to revile and punish the mavericks who proposed a heliocentric system, notwithstanding teachings from the past suggesting otherwise. Today we all accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, albeit in a rather distorted way that would horrify Darwin himself, though many of us are aware of the establishment’s reluctance to believe him. What do we “know” today that the class of 2100 will ridicule? Nothing, say the scientists. What we know now is obviously the shining, unassailable truth. Their word does not satisfy me any more than the “truths” of yesteryear satisfied Columbus or Galileo.

The Real Truth as we know it today is not an ultimate destination; it is a claim made by closed-minded people who wish to keep their books in the accepted literature and their royalties in their wallets. It is a system of denial whereby anyone proposing a different scenario is immediately dubbed a ‘crank’ (at best) or a ‘heretic’ (at worst). Few members of the establishment are open-minded enough to accept that if a well-loved article of established dogma is proven incorrect it must be amended or replaced. Even on those rare occasions when the ‘lunatic fringe’ is proven correct about something, those very lunatics who dared to dream of something new gather their followers about them and begin to cling to their own discoveries as tightly as the now-discredited generation before them, and before long the new knowledge is just as entrenched as the old, accepted just as blindly by the next generation of students.

If we are to progress, to advance our understanding of Science, of Nature and of God, we must question everything. Only those who believe that faster-than-light travel is possible will have the impetus to make it possible. Only those who believe in human immortality will find the way to make it happen. Only those who learn the lessons of the past will be able to carve out a meaningful future for the human race.

I’m sorry, Henry, but history is no longer bunk. Let’s take another look.

Read Full Post »