Tag Archive | "education"

Education in our time of turmoil, more important than ever


Smart thoughts by an educator on why, in a time when it is obvious the US empire is crumbling, that education becomes crucially important. (Read these excerpts first, then click through to see who wrote it. You may be surprised  )

David Brooks, the moderate “human face” of the plutocrats and the dangerous fang faction, used his New York Times column to trumpet the need for “a national greatness agenda”

He asserts that “American ‘supremacy’ is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.” To Brooks the US Century must continue and the echoes of Rome and London and Berlin and Tokyo—pick your century, pick your conqueror—are unmistakable. The world will be a far, far better place if everyone will accept the obvious fact that the US makes a great ruler and that it should simply be allowed to run the whole show forever.

People around the world can’t possibly agree with Brooks’ assessment, and most never will no matter what the cost. Most people think the US (less than 5% of the world’s population, but capable of acting as if it’s some sort of entitled aristocracy or super-majority) has some noble traditions and hopeful rhetoric but it is also a misguided and menacing cowboy

This is precisely where a focus on education—on reason and evidence and argument—becomes essential. This historic moment, this epoch, could surely be increasingly violent and horrifying or it could be a time of new hope, beauty, and unforeseen possibilities. This is in part up to us: it depends on how we think and how we act. In education, this moment challenges us to reconsider every assumption and to reexamine first and fundamental principles.

Posted in News

Substandard American education threatens national security

The continued failure of the United States to provide decent education to its citizens threatens national security, says a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR.) The study was co-chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools and Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State.

The report is blunt about the national security threats due to the US continually falling behind in education:

I’m not sure why every problem has to morph into a national security threat, but our education system is indeed falling behind not just the educations offered by other industrialized nations but also behind those of developing nations too.

Plus, the trend towards ever-more expensive colleges will inevitably lead to a nasty two-tiered class system with resultant and utterly predictable political and social unrest.

Look at the chart. When I was in 4th grade I was an Advanced reader and so were most of my classmates. By 8th grade everyone in my classes was at least a Proficient reader. Yet two-thirds of 8th graders now are merely Basic (or Below Basic readers.) If a child has fallen that far behind in something as basic as reading by 8th grade, then chances are they will never catch up and will automatically be excluded from many jobs and much else too.

Reading is the prerequisite for virtually all education. If you aren’t a fluent reader, you really can’t get educated.

How did our education system get so abysmal and what can we do about it?

Posted in News

Philadelphia School District closes, students screwed

Our educational system continues to disintegrate.

Philadelphia will shut 40 schools next year and 6 per years after that until 2017 due to funding shortfalls and mismanagement. Their school district is shutting down. That’s right, shutting down.

Their Chief Recovery Officer says “There’s a redefinition, and we’ll get to that later.” Apparently the Education Fairy will sprinkle pixie dust upon the everyone. Then magic of the marketplace will allow public and private entities to compete to run schools in “achievement networks.” Yeah right. I am so sure that privatization hedge fund maggots will do just a stellar job at providing education. Their sole focus will be ROI and the lowest bidder will win. Children in public schools in Philadelphia can now forget about getting an education, if they can even find a school that is open.

Posted in News

Dueling education tax measures for California ballot


You may be startled to learn that California ranks at the very bottom in spending on education as compared to other states. It is 50th in the nation, dead last, in students per teacher and librarian, 49th in students per guidance counselor, and not above 45th is other categories. Clearly, California has been going wrong on education for years. It needs to change.

Gov. Brown is planning a proposition on the November ballot to raise money to close the budget deficit and fund education. He doesn’t want competing measures on the ballot fearing voters will then reject all of them. He probably will not get his wish since two competing measures, The Local Schools and Early Education Act and The Millionaires Tax of 2012 may well also be on the ballot. All three measures share similar goals in wanting to fund education, with different ways and funding methods of achieving that goal.

Gov. Brown’s plan would raise the state sales tax to 7.75% from 7.25% for 4 years and increase tax rates on high earners for 5 years. The tax rate for them would be 1-2% higher, maxing out at 12.3% for those making over $1 million. This increase would raise $6.9 billion, say proponents, and would be used exclusively for primary and secondary schools and community colleges. Yet Sacramento has a long and tired history of vastly overestimating expected revenues. Would this really raise $6.9 billion? We don’t know. Plus, people making over $1 million a year can hire tax lawyers to find legal loopholes and thus lower their taxes. I wonder how many of them actually pay the maximum tax rate now.

The Local Schools and Early Education Act is spearheaded by Molly Munger, daughter of a wealthy business partner of Warren Buffett. She is a decades-long proponent of education and is described as “ferocious” in her advocacy. She has already funded the ballot drive with $800,000 and is prepared to spend whatever it takes to get it on the ballot. Her plan would introduce a sliding scale of tax increases on all except for those with very low incomes. 30% of the money would go to paying off education debt. 60% would be allocated to all public schools including charter schools. 10% is earmarked for pre-school and kindergarten. The money cannot be raided by the state and there are criminal penalties for doing so.

Munger and Brown plan supporters have already sparred on this. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says “”Her intentions are good and her goal is pure … but I continue to believe that if there are multiple tax measures on the ballot it hurts all of us. I believe that tie base goes to the runner. All things being equal, deference ought to be given to the elected governor of California.” Munger responds “I don’t think we’d have a very good functioning democracy if we always just did what one person at the top wanted.”

The Millionaires Tax of 2012 raises the tax rate by 3% for those earning more than $1 million and 5% for those over $2 million. 60% would go to education, 25% to children, seniors, and the disables, 10% for public safety, and 5% for road and bridge repair. They provide a convenient chart for comparing the three plans.

None of these measures do much do to reducing the gaping budget deficit. They also mandate that the money can only be spent in a certain way, which is one of the reasons California has budget problems. Too much money is earmarked leaving much less with which to pay other obligations. Yes, the California education system is in dire shape and something needs to be done. But having three similar propositions on the ballot seems more indicative of a broken proposition system that anything else. If you have the money and resources, you can pay people to gather the necessary signatures. This is contrary to the original intent of the proposition process whereby citizens could have a direct impact. I think paid signature gathering should be banned and be done by volunteers only.

Will three competing education measures on the ballot confuse and turn off voters? So far polls show all three measures could pass. But November is a long way from now.

(crossposted from IVN)

Posted in News

Promoting critical thinking and academic symbiosis in education

One of the characteristics of our educational system has different subjects put into neat separate boxes. Math, reading, art, science. Today, we see much more blurriness and convergence between subjects like science, religion, philosophy.

This “Gnostic syncretism”—the combining of knowledge—is especially apparent when teasing out the details surrounding revolutionary innovations. The inspiration that leads to breakthroughs in technology, science—even cultural breakthroughs—many times involve a bringing together and merging of ideas formally not associated.

Many pivotal inventions, ideas, concepts have been birthed through a sort of revelatory experience breaking down barriers and opening up the mind to new ways of doing things. For example, Nobel Prize winner Charles Hard Townes describes the unconstrained interplay of “how” and “why”—questions that both religion and science seek answers for—as he developed the principles for masers sitting on a park bench in Washington, D.C. in 1951. Masers led to lasers and an amazing plethora of inventions and discoveries in medicine, telecommunications, electronics, and computers in common use throughout the world today. Townes describes the genesis of his idea as an “epiphany”, and “revelation as real as any revelation described in the scriptures.

Are there ways to prepare student’s minds to have revelations such as Townes had?

Read the whole article.

Posted in News

Our educational system is inadequate and counter-productive

Surely I'll be able find a job armed with new shiny new degree. And I'm only $60,000 in debt!

From Bill Gross, Managing Director of Pimco, in another of his wondrous monthly rants.

American citizens and its universities have experienced an ivy-laden ivory tower for the past half century. Students, however, can no longer assume that a four year degree will be the golden ticket to a good job in a global economy that cares little for their social networking skills and more about what their labor is worth on the global marketplace.

College was great as long as the jobs were there.

He advocates skill-based education, forget liberal arts. Further, both parties are wrong in believing that balancing the budget will somehow magically lead to job creation. Nope, the government needs to get involved, and in a big way. The private sector can’t do on its own. The government should be the employer of last resort, “I’d have a shovel in the hands of the long-term unemployed from 8am to noon, and from 1pm to 5pm I’d have them studying algebra, physics, and geometry.”

Those who advocate that job creation rests on corporate tax reform (lower taxes) or a return to deregulation of the private economy always fail to address dominant structural headwinds which cannot be dismissed: 1) Labor is much more attractively priced over there than here, and 2) U.S. employment based on asset price appreciation/finance as opposed to manufacturing can no longer be sustained. The “golden” days are over, and it’s time our school and jobs “daze” comes to an end to be replaced by programs that do more than mimic failed establishment policies favoring Wall as opposed to Main Street.

The entire student loan program is just another Wall Street scam and growing bubble that will pop. It needs to be reworked too.

Gross focuses on making education useful. I agree. Years ago, after bouncing around in a series of dead end jobs, I went back to college and got a two year degree in computer programming from Pierce College in Los Angeles. One of the professors said, we don’t teach much theory here, we’re like a trade school, we teach you enough so you can get your first job as a programmer. I graduated, got that first job as a programmer, and never looked back, and will always be grateful to Pierce College for their pragmatic approach. But much of our educational system isn’t pragmatic. Students graduate heavily in debt with no job opportunities. This needs to change.

Posted in News

Climate Change: How bad can it be?

It is easy to become lulled into intellectual somnolence by the seemingly gradual changes we are incurring in our weather. After all, just how bad can a couple of degrees be?

Oh, we wake up every once in a while when our catastrophe leads media reports on some hurricane, flood or tornado, especially if the event is half-a-world away. We all thought that the outbreak of tornadoes that struck the Southeast this spring was bad enough It truly was in Tuscaloosa. Then, we had to live vicariously through Joplin again. I remember May, 1971 tornado that hit Joplin. But we need to pay more attention to the facts of what is happening rather than jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

Heidi Cullen give a good summary of what we know about climate change and tornadoes in this post at Huffington Post and then repeated, with comments, by Joe Romm at Climate Progress I give you that link as Joe’s bracketed comments point to additional information

Still, we need more understanding than that and this Mother Jones summary of a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists does just that, bringing attention to the relationship between climate (temperature), ozone and health. There is a lot to piece together and the collage is not a pretty picture or a wonderful future.

The report, published yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that CO2-induced temperature increases will worsen ground-level ozone concentrations (the kind coming from power plants and exhaust pipes, not the kind that shields the Earth from UV rays). Higher concentrations of ground-level ozone threaten the health of millions of Americans, an impact that could cost the US $5.4 billion in 2020.

As someone who suffered with asthma as a child, and that was long before we had inhalers or corticosteroids to deal with the symptoms. Asthma is not what I would wish on any child but that is what we are doing.

There are two recent takes on the effects of this. One is a post at Climate Progress that recognizes asthma as an environmental justice issue facing, primarily, people of color. The other is a rather straight forward determination that Californians will be the most affected and shows up on the KQED (SF) blog: Climate Watch. They both comment on the same report, just frame it differently.

This is going to be additive to the problems that we already have in California. A 2006 report from CSU Fullerton found that air pollution was costing California’s some $3 billion annually. Included in this finding were:

23,300 asthma attacks
188,000 days of school absences
3,230 cases of acute bronchitis in children

The authors updated and expanded that study in 2008. This time they included the corridor leading away from the port at Long Beach and all that diesel traffic. Now the cost to California was $28 Billion annually and the costs to our children, in terms of health and education were more striking;

Asthma attacks: 141,370
Days of school absence: 1,259,840
Cases of acute bronchitis in children: 16,110
Days of respiratory symptoms in children: 2,078,300

This is the base problem to which we are adding an additional load from increase pollution.
While the current economic conditions will alter the monetary value, the number of events do not change. Even with school funding being cut and cut, those lost school days deprive our education system of what it really needs to do its job as funding formulas use average daily attendance.

If Greens want to work for better education, if we want to lower the cost of health care, if we want a better future for our children, then we had better be spending a lot of time on the battle for a rational climate policy. It is as important as anything else we do, since it deal with everything at once: energy, the economy, health care, education. The economic cost for California would be as high as $1.8 billion / yr by 2020 if we do nothing. The cost to our children can not be so easily calculated.

Posted in News

Changing education paradigms

This animate
was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.

Truly amazing, fun to watch, filled with ideas how to change education.

Posted in News

2010 Midterms: Jobs vs. Wars in California

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Do you know someone in California? Have they seen this?

California’s economy is in a tailspin. One in 5 Californians is out of work. Over three quarters of a million have lost their homes. Desperately needed social services have been cut to the bone. Yet residents of our state continue to pay for a senseless war in Afghanistan that’s not making us safer – a war that has cost California taxpayers nearly $38 billion already.

OK, hold on a minute. $38 billion for war? Just from California? Take a look at California’s financial situation:

Jaws dropped from coast to coast at the size of [California’s] $26.3 billion shortfall, a quarter of the general fund. Even more astounding was state leaders’ difficulty in reaching a budget deal—not just this year, but year after year. With its repeated use of borrowing and IOUs, the Golden State has become the poster child for fiscal irresponsibility.

That’s right, their apocalyptic budget crisis is actually much less than they’re spending on the war in Afghanistan. $26 billion for the budget vs $38 billion for war. And what do they actually get for that money? It’s not like it’s way better to live in California thanks to the war. In fact, it’s actually getting much, much worse.

The depth of the crisis faced by California screams out from the cold hard data. Over one in five Californians are unemployed, underemployed, or have simply given up searching for work. Nearly another one in five lives in poverty. Low-income workers fortunate to have a job have seen their wages decline since 2006 – with middle income worker salaries remaining stagnant. 8.2 million Californians – up from 6.4 million in 2007 – lack health coverage.[…]

Over three-quarters of a million California families were ousted from their homes in 2008 and 2009. The Center for Responsible Lending projects another 2 million foreclosures through 2012 – with nearby homes losing an average of over $50,000 in value. 2.4 million California borrowers – 35 percent of all properties with a mortgage – are currently under water (e.g. owe more on their home than it’s currently worth). By 2011, that number will increase to nearly 70 percent of homeowners.

It’s just dizzying. We’re looking at the vaporization of California’s social fabric, something we supposedly care a lot about it in Afghanistan. And yet all they need is a little over half what they’re spending on crooked dope dealers, murderous robots, and Soviet-style police states. Look at the ridiculous stuff they have to cut thanks to the war:

As Californians depend on core public programs in increasing numbers and need – from the state’s welfare-to-work program (CalWORKS) to In-Home State Services to the Healthy Families Program – the state’s ongoing budget shortfalls have lead to draconian cuts in the very services that have functioned as a lifeline for millions and prevented a more pronounced economic collapse.

Yep, at some point up in Sacramento, the people’s representatives got together and decided, “Sorry guys, we just don’t have room for HEALTHY FAMILIES anymore.” If that doesn’t deserve a giant, full-throated WTF, I don’t know what does. Go read the whole thing, I could literally spend this entire post just block-quoting all the crazy programs they had to cut. 35,000 fewer college students? Come on now, is the debate really going to be Healthy Families vs. War?

If you’re having deja vu, that’s because we’ve had the California conversation before about Winograd and Harman. Jane Harman is just one of the California politicians finding themselves on the wrong side of the Healthy Families vs. War debate. And she’s taking a vicious beating from challenger Marcy Winograd on exactly those grounds. Remember what Winograd said in that Politico piece?

“As we approach our state party convention, we are prepared for a floor fight — Winograd vs. Harman. But it’s not just about the two of us. This is a fight to determine: Jobs vs. Wars, Homes vs. Banks, Your Street vs. Wall Street,” Winograd wrote in the appeal.

“Jobs vs Wars.” Very clear. And that wasn’t just about the party convention, she’s still saying it:

Winograd pointed out that she shares the ILWU´s historical commitment to ending unnecessary wars and investing resources in strengthening our middle class. “Our district alone has spent almost 3-billion dollars to wage perpetual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Congress, I will vote to end the squandering of taxpayer dollars better spent on explicit federal job creation.”

Remember, Harman is the one who said a withdrawal would create “grievous risks” for our national security. She’s like The Afghanistan War Candidate, the Senator from ISAF. She voted down H.Con.Res 248, a clear sign that she sees $38 billion for military aggression as better for California than $26 billion for little things like healthy families and jobs. And y’know, it’s stupid that we even have to have this conversation about Harman and all the other Team War politicians. The solution is so mind-numbingly simple:

Today, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced they are introducing legislation requiring the president to develop a flexible timetable to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan, in order to enhance our national security and reduce the burden on our armed forces and on taxpayers. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would require the president to provide a plan for drawing down our forces in Afghanistan. The legislation also increases oversight by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over work done by private contractors with records of waste, fraud and abuse in order to safeguard U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Set a date and get out. That’s it. We’ll even be “flexible” with it, so that if Godzilla or the conquering Martians appear in Afghanistan, we’ll definitely consider keeping troops there. But as long as we’re there in the middle of an Afghan civil war and blowing all our jobs and families money on Hamid Karzai’s Excellent Adventure, we set a date and get the hell out. Super easy. If Harman could get on board with the people of her state and end this war, all of this awful stuff we’re talking about would just vanish. Harman would be a hero, California’s budget would stabilize, and Winograd would be back organizing voters for Democrats like Harman. But no, Harman and dozens of other politicians in California insist on making Jobs vs. Wars a fight.

Last month, facing tuition and fee hikes of over 30 percent, public university students all over California said enough is enough, organized and went on strike. Now these students have a new message: California is wasting tens of billions of dollars on war even while making public education accessible only to the rich.

We can’t afford to continue a war that does nothing to make us safer.

So, take that video above and forward it to the people you know in California. Let them know that the solution to their budget crisis is ending the war in Afghanistan. Let them know there are candidates out there somewhere who do side with families against the wasteful spending in Washington. All it takes is a little public pressure. And don’t forget to join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page. Collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

Posted in Anti-war


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