Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Real Ideas for Public Education

It is broadly (although not universally) accepted that the education of our country’s children is in the public interest. Therefore, I believe that all children should be able to receive some standard of education from their local public school. Unfortunately, too many schools are not performing that duty and vouchers are as good as accepting defeat.

As with most issues, the core of the problem is a lack of honesty and accountability. A recent Walter E. Williams column highlighted a shocking statistic that 77% of Detroit’s 8th graders scored “below basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. How many of those students were allowed to progress to the next grade level? Almost all of them, I would guess. Williams’ article was about Black Education, but, to varying degrees, this is a problem everywhere.

Passing these students only compounds the problem as most subjects build on prerequisite knowledge. How do you learn algebra if your arithmetic skills are lacking? How do you study grammar when you can’t read fluently? Yet we ignore these failures and shuffle these students along to the next level, setting them up for even more failure. Meanwhile, the next teacher has to hold the rest of the class back so he can re-teach the struggling students.

The blame can be shared by all of the involved parties, including: teachers, who see student performance as a reflection of their teaching and don't want to deal with those same bad students for another academic year; school officials, who need to keep their graduation rates and other statistics looking good; students, who do not value education and just want to get through; parents, some who don't want to subject their kids to the embarrassment of repeating a grade, some who hide behind over-diagnosed learning disabilities and some who don’t think they have any responsibility for their child’s education; taxpayers, who feel they are taxed enough for 13 years of education per student and don’t want to pay for more; the list goes on and the consequences are dire. If this continues, the rest of the world will be exporting their low-paying jobs to the United States.

The solution starts with an honest evaluation of students’ abilities, which requires meaningful testing and strict criteria for grade advancement. Then, establish accountability with a balance of penalties and support systems.

At the end of each school year, students should take entrance exams for each of the next year’s classes to ensure prerequisites have been learned. Allowing the higher level teacher to accept and reject students based on entrance exams prevents the lower level teachers from shuffling students along using lower standards. Those not meeting the next teacher’s standards should be enrolled in summer programs to address specific deficiencies; those that are still not ready should be required to repeat the subject.

Students should also have an accelerated learning track available on a subject by subject basis. This track would give faster learning students the opportunity to either finish early or go farther with a particular subject.

Teachers need to be honestly evaluated, and those with consistently under-performing students should be removed after being given the opportunity to improve. This means getting the teachers unions out of the way, which is admittedly easier said than done.

Administrations should provide resources for struggling teachers such as regional workshops to improve weaknesses like maintaining discipline and dealing with student performance and attitude issues.

The parent issue is a bit tougher. Parents and guardians should be engaged in their child’s education. Unfortunately, there is little recourse for dead-beat parents that doesn’t involve an invasion of privacy, which I cannot support. You can force parents to sign report cards and call them in for parent-teacher conferences, but you can’t go much farther than that. Many schools already provide before and after school programs, subsidized lunches and other resources to help parents and students.

I’m sure many schools have variations of these ideas already in place; but I’d be willing to bet that those schools are not the poor performers. In my lay opinion, instituting these or similar programs would serve our kids a lot better than throwing more money at the problem.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Real Goal of Green Politics

I followed a drudge link to a story about a speech given by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Copenhagen conference. In it, he said socialism “seeks to help all people” while “capitalism is the road to hell.” He proposed that the ”way to save the planet” is to “fight against capitalism and make it obey us.” What was the reaction from the assembled international community? He got a standing ovation, of course.

Just as national policies based on climate change seek to redistribute wealth and expand the size and scope of government at the expense of private businesses and citizens, international policies seek to redistribute wealth globally and expand the size and scope of international powers at the expense of national sovereignty. Unfortunately, the current Congress and President are supportive of these ideas at both levels.

Meanwhile, the “science” validating man-made global warming has been discredited. The core group of "scientists" that have shaped the IPCC position have been exposed as frauds. Predictably, however, now that they are so close to their goal of reshaping society and crippling the economic superpowers, world leaders are not going to let a little thing like facts get in the way.

Do we need any further proof that the end goal of the green movement has more to do with politics than science?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Global Warming Politics

Is anthropogenic global warming threatening the planet?

Al Gore and the IPCC would answer that yes, the Earth is warming because humans are emitting too much carbon into the atmosphere and unless we all immediately give a whole lot of money and power to the government and significantly reduce our standard of living, the Earth will self-destruct around us.

I have been a global warming skeptic from the first time I learned of this issue. One of the main reasons is the politics involved. For one thing, there is too much money involved. Yes, grants are given before results are provided, but researchers know that the "right" results will yield follow-on research funding.

To understand the political motivation, look at the proposed solution: give money and power to the government and reduce our standard of living. This begs the question: do progressives subscribe to AGW theory because they really think the planet is in danger; or do they just see another opportunity to redistribute our wealth and control our behavior?

The answer is clear after examining the legislation that passed the House of Representatives. The CBO estimates that the Waxman-Markey “Cap and Trade” bill would tax and spend about $870 billion over 10 years. The bill would also set up a carbon trading system that transfers even more wealth away from producers. Finally, it would give the government tremendous regulatory authority over private businesses. So far, this is a progressive’s dream.

So what are the benefits of this more-government approach? While it claims to create green jobs, the Heritage Foundation estimates a net loss of over 1 million jobs per year. The environmental impact, the stated reason for this legislation, is almost negligible. Even if you accept the questionable models that the AGW alarmists use, this legislation will only pull back warming by about 1/10 of a degree.

So, this bill gives money and power to the government, lowers our standard of living and doesn’t really fix the stated problem. Even if the science on global warming is true, this is definitely not the best solution. Is there any hope of getting politics out of science? Here is an excerpt from a speech President Obama gave on the topic of science.

This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

By doing this, we will ensure America’s continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.
Given recent news, you may think these words perfectly capture our objections to the "settled science" of anthropogenic global warming. It expresses how many of us feel the IPCC, environmental groups and politicians have been using the issue to push a purely political agenda. We now have evidence of distortion, concealment and destrucion of data that does not support their desired conclusion and of suppressing dissenting research.

If nothing else, President Obama is an excellent orator. His speeches articulate many universal, often conservative, principles that give an impression of an intelligent, thoughtful man worthy of the office he holds. After reading this, I was intoxicated with a sense of hope. I started to question my disagreements with the President. Maybe I'm the one that has been corrupted by the very politics I loathe. He continued his seduction.

That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions.
Bravo, Mr. President. From this, we should be able to extrapolate the President's response to the new evidence that casts doubt on the "science" behind AGW theory, right? Based on his own memorandum, we should fully investigate this issue or we risk basing public policy on unsound science. But wait.

The above quote was taken from a March 2009 Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum that was coupled with the signing of the Stem Cell Executive Order to restore federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Apparently the President considers objections to human embryo destruction an ideological argument that should not enter into scientific decisions. The seduction wore off and my senses returned.

So what is his response to the recent evidence that global warming science has been corrupted by politics? White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continues to spout the same old talking point, that global warming is “not in dispute anymore.” So much for “restoring scientific integrity.” Until the politics can be separated from the science, count this layman as a skeptic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Human Life is Precious in All Forms

Abortion is a hot button issue, no doubt about it. Many people shy away from talking about it, and with good reason: this issue blends two controversial topics - politics and religion - and has the potential to destroy personal relationships. Nevertheless, people feel compelled to argue their side because it is too important to ignore.

The first, most fundamental disagreement has always been the answer to the question, “when does human life begin?” There are three popular answers to this question: conception, viability, or birth. Let’s work our way backwards.

Birth: there is little argument that once a baby is born, he is a separate, whole human being and is entitled to all the same legal rights and protections as the mother who carried him. Unfortunately, supporters of partial-birth abortion draw a horrifying conclusion as to the exact conditions that constitute “birth.”

Viability: there is at least a legitimate argument to be made - however weak - that if a being cannot survive outside the womb, it is not a “life” yet. The problem is that this boundary is constantly being pushed earlier by technology. Does this mean that life begins earlier today than it did 10 years ago? Will it begin earlier 10 years from now than it does today? The fact that this line moves means that it can never be the right answer.

Conception: a fertilized egg contains a full compliment of human DNA. Some consider this single, unspecialized cell to be a part of the mother’s body. It is, however, a separate individual. Some conclude, because it is completely dependent on the mother’s body for life, that it is naught more than a parasite or a cancer. The difference is what it will grow into.

This single cell contains a complete human blueprint. The only thing remaining is gathering the right materials under the right conditions. For these, an embryo is completely dependent on his mother. I believe that a mother has no right to deny these conditions; in fact, she is already responsible for providing them.

I am against in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research because embryos are destroyed in the process. While sacrificing life in order to create, save or enhance other lives may present a gray area for some, the difference is who is making the choice. An adult can choose to be an organ donor or take part in a drug trial or other medical research; embryos destroyed through research or IVF are not given that choice.

Are there any exceptions? I leave only one: the life of the mother. When faced with a painful decision on which life to save and which to sacrifice, there can be no wrong answer.

Unfortunately, even some conservatives leave the door open in cases of rape or incest. To them I ask: how is a life conceived through rape any less valid than one conceived through love or lust? While the choice was not made by the victim, the new life inside her is no less precious. As for incest, I will concede that the risk of birth defects is higher, but this is no different than any other baby found to have birth defects in utero. Perhaps, in both of these cases, the children can become wards of the state paid for by the guilty party. They certainly need not be destroyed.

That is my lay opinion. It guides my view of all related issues. Note that none of it requires the endowment of a soul or any other theological position as I am not a believer. Even without God – I would say especially without God – human life is precious in all forms.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts On Veterans Day

Is it possible to express support for our troops without getting caught up in politics? Can we simply say "thank you" without arguing about what we're thankful for?

I proudly fly the US flag and POW/MIA flag in my front yard. They are on a 20 foot pole and, to the chagrin of the Dark-Sky Association, are lighted from dusk to dawn by two 50W halogen up lights. Clearly visible for a block in each direction, many pass it in their daily travels; but I do not fly it for them.

I don’t want to forget the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much so that I can enjoy the spoils of a free society. I don’t want to take for granted the opportunities my children will have because others have fought to protect our way of life.

As I leave for work to earn an honest living, as I come home to my safe, warm house and beautiful, loving family, as I cut the grass and maintain the property I have the right to own; the flag is there for me as a constant reminder.

Men and women in uniform risk more than their lives and limbs. Even those who make it back with their bodies in tact are rarely left unscathed by the horror of war. The POW/MIA flag reminds me that our troops face worse things than death.

I remember them every day. I try every day to live my life in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice. I say “thank you” every chance I get. In future posts I will argue and debate the attacks on the freedoms they protect and I will chastise those in government who chip away at the constitution they have sworn an oath to uphold. Today, though, let me just say “thank you.”

To all who have fought, to all who have died, to all who have made sacrifices to protect and promote freedom for our country and our world, thank you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Introduction to Lay Opinions

Thanks to the internet, everyone can join in the discussion of any topic imaginable. Conservatives in Texas can exchange opinions with Liberals from New Jersey and Moderates from Ohio. Unfortunately most of it is lost in the noise. What's worse is that most discussions degenerate into personal insults, off-topic rants and other garbage that stifles any chance for real debate.

Through this blog, I will attempt to create a forum where honest, articulate opinions are collected so that everyone can walk away more informed. I plan to strictly moderate comments and maintain a respectful tone. I look forward to the debate.

Disclaimer: I am an unappologetic conservative. I belive in traditional values, limited government and fiscal restraint. I am a registered Republican - so I can vote for conservative candidates in primaries - but I hate partisanship and hold both sides to an equally high standard. My own opinions will be written from that perspective, but my comment moderation will be non-partisan. If anything, I will probably be a little looser with opposing viewpoints.

Let's have at it!