Class Warfare Blog

July 22, 2013

Creationism . . . in Ireland . . . Oh, My!

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 3:22 pm
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I am part Irish and still have fond feelings for the home country, although I have never made my home there. And there are stirrings of creationism in Ireland, specifically in Dublin. According to a Mr. Givan of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP): “I have never believed in the theory of evolution and, like many people, believe in the teaching of creation. I believe science points to creation but our schools are teaching a very narrow remit and many exclude alternative theories to evolution. I have asked the Council to write to local schools encouraging them to give equality of treatment to other theories of the origins of life and how the earth came into existence.”

So creationist whackos are not solely from the U.S.! That is simultaneously gratifying and not. Apparently we are exporting our “particular delusion.”

Before anyone of any political standing should be allowed to speak on this subject, I think they need to answer a few simple questions.

Question 1 Who wrote the Book of Genesis?
This is fairly straightforward question. If one is to so deeply believe that a written document is the truth, one should know a little of that document, and who wrote it is a good starting point. And, no, it was not Moses. The Pentateuch, or first five books of the Holy Bible are generally attributed to Moses but it is clearly not the case as the author of these books refers to events that happen well after Moses’ death, including Moses’ death, so it is hardly credible that that figure could have done the job (and there is, additionally, no mention of Moses in any other records and the egyptians were crazy about keeping records of their officials, so we have no corrobarative evidence the guy even existed).

The answer is we do not know who wrote the Book of Genesis or who rewrote it, either as it has been written/rewritten by more than one author. And if you don’t know who wrote it, how can one be sure it was divinely inspired? And please don’t answer “it is a matter of faith” as that is simply a statement of “it is what I think it is and I don’t need any proof.”

Question 2 When was the Book of Genesis written?
Again, this is not a trick question. Obviously there were no reporters in the Garden of Eden, recording every breathless word spoken. There, obviously, were no eye witnesses (unless you count the serpent). So, the author has to have claimed to have received the information directly from God as there could be no other source, .  . . well maybe an angel but that would just be an extension of God, wouldn’t it. I can’t imagine a deity going on “. . . and then I said to Eve, ‘Blah, blah, blah’” so presumably it came as some flash of inspiration.

But who was chosen? Someone literate must have been involved as it would have done no good to flash some poor Israelite who couldn’t write, so since we do not know who, at least we should know when it was written. Best estimates are late seventh century BCE. This is some three thousand years after the events involved (by Biblical reckoning) so why the delay? Presumably God can’t forget the details, but what about all those people who were without the support of the written word of God for thousands of years. If we use as a rough estimate of a generation being twenty years or so, that’s 150 generations of people adrift with no guidance.

Question 3 Who told you that the Book of Genesis was true and the word of God?
This may seem like another a trick question, but if somebody told me he had a message from a god and I believed it, don’t you think I would remember that event? The question revolves around whether the person who passed on this revelation was in any position to know. Whoever it was wasn’t alive at the time of the events described, nor were his teachers. So, I think we need an argument as to why one should believe such a bold claim, other than just the word of somebody who was probably paid to tell you that.

I have a second set of questions with regard to whether they have any basis upon which to believe or disbelieve evolution, that is do they understand it, but I have written about those before.

If the answers to these questions are muddled or inaccurate or ignorant, then one must be suspect of a politician making any kind of claim for which he has no basis.


July 20, 2013

The Passionate Desire for Absolutes

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:35 am
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The title of this post is completely wasted here and should head a novel, but . . . what prompted this post is a university I ran across while reading another blog: the College of Biblical Representational Research of Trinity Southwest University. That’s a really intriguing name for a bible college, so I went to their website where I read this:

“We can confidently describe the Bible as a reliable history, the source of doctrine, and as instructions about how to be saved and lead the Christian life. But this Bible is under attack from within Christianity. Representational Research meets those challenges and demonstrates how the Bible is first of all a representation of the mind of God, and also a completely accurate representation of all of reality. Biblical people—from Adam to John the Revelator—found the same question that students of Representational Research face: How can I challenge and refine my own personal representations of reality, using the Bible only as my guide?” The italics are mine.

This is interesting because of the large number of contradictions to be found in their Bible (almost 500 by one count). Realize that contradictions in this context means that the Bible says one thing and then turns around and says something else which refutes what it says in the first place. This is hard to reconcile with being “a completely accurate representation of all of reality.” Similarly the science in the Bible is of the late Bronze age and contains inaccurate statements about physical reality.

In addition Israeli archeologists now say that much (if not all) of the “history” in the first five books of the Bible did not happen. This is risky for Israel in that their claim to the territory they currently occupy is bolstered by their feeling that it is the territory that God granted them (the story of which is in the first five books . . .).

So why the insistence on these absolutes, exemplified by the CBRR above, but typical of evangelicals all over this country (not so much anywhere else)?

I find this interesting because in the U.S. life is about as secure as it can be made (albeit we could do a better job on poverty, etc.); it is hard for these particular folks to feel threatened in this country. What country can challenge us militarily? Or economically? They don’t live in the dreaded “inner cities” where all of the crime is. So, why the need for absolute truth?

Their behavior is exactly the opposite of John Donne’s “no man is an island” sentiment. If these folks really felt a connection to the divine, why are they so fearful that they have to insist on absolutes. Is there any other example of a book with no errors? Of a person who spoke only the truth? If the good people at the CBRR were to invest in a bit more unbiased scholarship, they would know that the Bible was written largely out of political uncertainties felt by the authors. Each gospel represented factions in the Christian community fighting for their place among the other Christian communities. So, other texts were rewritten to express what they felt was right. This is why the New Testament is full of contradictions. They were placed there deliberately to make political points. (This warfare continues today in that over 40,00 sects of Christianity exist, each insisting that the others are wrong about something.)

Maybe the reason is the same reason they are a Bible University and not a Bible College (FYI a university has graduate programs, a college does not) in that their Ph.D. in BRR consists of only 45 credit hours (1.5 years) of work, whereas a typical Ph.D. program requires 4-6 years of work. Maybe if they spent more time reading without an agenda . . . nah! Reality may not be absolute, but it certainly is personal.

July 19, 2013

No Child Left Behind—Part of the Corporate Takeover of Public Education?

Okay, folks, this is rather easy. Under which president was the No Child Left Behind law passed? George W. Bush. That’s correct!

Now think of the Bush Administration’s policies and accomplishments: the wars for the war profiteers, the voiding of environment rules for their corporate sponsors, the regulations written by corporate lobbyists from K Street, the regulation of the oil drilling companies by former oil drilling corporation employees, the Energy Policy written in secret by VP Dick Cheney, former Halliburton CEO, and his coal and oil company buddies . . . are you remembering this stuff?

Now ask yourself, if NCLB wasn’t good for Bush’s corporate sponsors, would they have paid any attention to it at all?

Think about it.

The Many Errors of High Stakes Testing

I have been writing a lot about education lately and, yes, it does have a connection to Class Warfare, the topic of this blog, as the current efforts to corporatize our public schools is yet another effort of the monied interests to exert their control over the “proles.” To them, an education has one and only one purpose: to prepare youth for a job in one of their corporations. They care little about citizenship, personal happiness and growth, leading a well-adapted life, etc.

One aspect of their attempted takeovers of public education is the demand that tests be used to not only rate schools, but also to rate teachers. This sounds not all that unreasonable, but consider the reality of this. As just an example, consider an urban or suburban school almost anywhere in the U.S. In many of these schools, students come and go at quite high rates. We are blessed in this country with the freedom to travel and live wherever we can afford to and people avail themselves of this over and over. It used to be military kids that ended up hopping from school to school as their parent got transferred, but now it happens to greater numbers of parents scrambling to find decent work.

So, you test all of the students in a school district and, this year, “good news!” Scores are up 3.4% in reading and 2.8% in math! But 24% of those students weren’t part of the district last year to be part of that comparison. So what does those score improvements mean? They mean absolutely nothing as they are a comparison of apples to oranges, as the cliché goes. You tested two quite different groups of students and their scores came out different; no surprise there.

I used to hammer away at my chemistry students that numbers are fine and good but don’t mean anything until you can interpret them, that is make sense of them in context. Apparently that is not the case for educational “reformers” pushing high stakes testing.

With computers we have the capability to track the performances for those students who were in the district last year and compare their scores to those that are still here this year, but do we? I haven’t seen this done. And if we were to know those numbers what would those mean? I suspect they would mean very little, as you would be comparing fourth graders to third graders, for example. But, we must then set up standards for what a fourth graders and third graders know and can do, no? Ah hah, these have been set up, but are they accurate? If the third grade standards are just a little bit high, the scores for third graders would be artificially low and if the standards for fourth graders are a little bit low, the scores would be artificially high. And any measure of how fourth graders have “progressed” from the third grade would show an increase that has nothing to do with reality.

So, what about comparing the third graders to the fourth grades and tracking that improvement over time? Now we are starting to see approaches that might characterize whether students are getting better or not. But what if there is a Great Recession and student’s parents are out of work and can’t support them as well as they did before? What happens to their performance then? Do the comparisons and standards take “externalities” into account? I think not.

I am not opposed to measurement in our schools. In fact I am an advocate of measurement. But I strongly oppose stupidity in all of its forms and I more strongly oppose the pushing of high stakes testing by groups which have motives that are very, very suspect. And isn’t it interesting that many of the reform efforts are fueled by funding from corporations who sell tests and testing equipment, and who manage “charter” schools, and . . . I think you can see where this is coming from, no?

July 17, 2013

Advice and Consent Bullshit

The Democrats have once again failed at filibuster reform. They say they have succeeded because the Republicans have decided to go along with the Constitution and centuries of Senate practice for a while, but the rules are still the same and the Republicans can go back to their obstructionist ways at any time.

Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, said that if Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster rules so that they could not be used to block appointments to the President’s administration, that he would be remembered as the worst Majority Leader in history, that the Constitution calls for “advice and consent” not rubber stamping of nominees.

Sen. McConnell’s logic is appallingly bad or possibly missing. By claiming that Republicans must be able to filibuster such appointments, he is apparently claiming that the thousands of nominees passed by the Senate by a simple majority were somehow mere rubber stamping exercises and only a super majority of 60 votes would constitute “advice and consent” of the Senate.

“The talking filibuster should be reinstated as the historical and traditional function of the Senate that it is.

Article II of the Constitution (remember the Constitution?) provides that the President “. . . shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.” Note that treaties require a two-thirds majority while others are “ordinary business” which for many decades were decided by simple majority vote.

To argue that the Senate can say “no” is correct (they must give their “consent”), but the common feeling on cabinet and administration appointments is that the President should have who he wants working them, unless there are really serious reasons to not have such persons on board. But this is not what the Republicans are doing. They are clearly trying to cripple some of the Executive branches functions (Labor Relations Board, Consumer Protection Agency, etc.) by denying them leadership, even sufficient members to function at all, which is an attack upon the separation of powers and must not be tolerated.

And the filibuster rules still need reforming: the talking filibuster should be reinstated as the historical and traditional function of the Senate that it is, for one.

July 16, 2013

Solving the Edward Snowden Conundrum

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:25 am
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Journalist Glenn Greenwald has revealed that Edward Snowden has in his possession a complete blueprint of NSA’s entire snooping operations (and apparently a great deal more). If this were to fall into the wrong hands, say Russia, it could be a great deal of trouble. There seems to be general agreement on that. Snowden is hung up in an airport in Russia and we have revoked his passport, so travel now is high risk. So, he has asked Russia(!) for asylum.

I can solve this conundrum simply.

Offer Snowden a complete pardon if he returns the information to the appropriate officials.

Oh, but that would be rewarding bad behavior, you say. We pardoned Richard Nixon for all (really all) wrongdoing he might have commited as president. We also don’t seem to have any problem rewarding the bad behavior of white-collar criminals: bankers, real estate brokers, crooked politicians, etc., so why is this a bad idea for Snowden? Do you think Snowden is going to have a life of luxury when he returns, that anyone will trust him with an important job? I think any chance he had for a high quality public life is over.

Bring him and his information home by offering the only thing that will accomplish that. Otherwise be prepared to face the consequences of extracting revenge.

July 15, 2013

Public School Teachers Unions: The Culprits?

In my last post I alluded to the belief that for conservatives, public education would be a lot better if we got rid of those damned teacher’s unions. I gave the example of a conservative pundit on Bill Maher’s show (Real Time), who blurted out that teacher’s unions are trying to keep our education system in a eighteenth century mode by insisting on a ten month calendar. This moron apparently doesn’t know that school calendars are set by state boards of education, which are closer to the centers of political power than they are teacher’s unions. Unions cannot bargain the number of days in the calendar, it is a nonnegotiable matter. But according to all true conservatives teacher’s unions oppose reforms and negotiate lavish salaries for teachers from limpwristed boards of education. Is there any support for this belief? (Take a wild-ass guess.)

My teaching career began in 1972 right around the time that my home state created a right to collectively bargain for public employees like teachers. So I decided to look back to see if there were any studies about the impact of the unions on teacher’s remuneration, working conditions, etc. I found a Rand Corporation Report by Linda Darling-Hammond produced in 1984 with the lovely title: Beyond the Commission Reports: The Coming Crisis in Teaching.

Here are a couple of quotations from that report:

“Although there is a common perception that teacher’s salaries have improved as a result of collective bargaining, average salaries for teachers actually declined by nearly 15 percent in real dollar terms between 1971 and 1981, even though the average experience level of the teaching force increased over that period, as did the average education level.” (italics are mine)

“As bureaucratization took hold in American schools, teacher salaries slipped from 49 percent of educational expenditures in 1972 to only 38 percent in 1982.”

Once again, reality and the conservative world view don’t seem to connect. As a participant in the fray and a teacher who started out as quite anti-union and ended up a union president and chief negotiator, I can say it was quite the opposite. Union members were all for innovations that we could not get through the powers that be. For bureaucrats, change is more work for the same pay—teachers were good to go, but administrators not so much.

And as far as the argument that teachers have gotten fat at the public trough, I don’t think you can support that notion. Here is a chart from that report and I guarantee you things have not gotten better.

Rand Report The Coming Crisis in Teaching (1984)_Page_20

Teachers start at lower salaries than just about any other profession and then continue to fall behind from there. When I reached full salary as a teacher I was making 50% of what someone with my academic credentials made working in my chosen field (chemistry). We knew that going in but we also bargained for substantial, but not extravagant, pension plans because of the lack of salary. My pension (from California) is rock solid, because everybody (me, my school districts, and the state) all met our obligations. I now live in Illinois, a state which decided that they not only didn’t have to meet their obligations to their pension funds, but they felt it was okay to give less than 50% of what they were required by law to give year after year. Anyone who understands compound interest knows that it is impossible to catch up from that, even from a year or two of that. So, now in Illinois there are criticisms of teacher’s pension programs based on a huge state government obligation that it cannot now pay and which would not exist if they had met their obligations like California did. (I obviously cannot hold up my home state as a paragon of state government responsibility as everyone now knows, but they did meet their mutually agreed upon obligations and teacher’s pensions in California are rock solid even with the financial mess of the past three decades.)

So, unions are a problem in public education? Uh, no, but hating unions is a conservative meme. Look a conservative in the eye as say the word “union” and step back. After the vitriol subsides, ask them if they have ever done any business with a union. Most will say “no,” which means their knowledge is second hand and I can tell you that this comes from the fact that you cannot hang around conservatives and utter anything pro-union. You will be shunned completely. Consequently, if you want to fit into a crowd of conservatives, you have to toe the conservative line and loudly state “all unions are bad, really bad” even when you have no evidence or the evidence, as in often the case, is entirely the other way.

Whither the Trades? Or is it Wither the Trades?

According to Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs host) there are three million jobs going begging in the U.S. because they basically involve working with one’s hands rather than primarily with one’s brain. There has been a well-known crisis in the “trades” as we call them (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, etc. are referred to as the “trades”) and also there is a need for people in skilled positions outside of the traditional trades. So where are these people? These “professions” are assumed to be fairly well-paid and secure, but there are no takers.

Here are some of the factors.

Conservatives have waged war on middle class wages. Wages have increased only 4% in the last 36 years while productivity has gone up 98%. Back in the 60’s there was general agreement that when productivity increased, all phases of the operation benefitted from that. That is no longer the case, partly because. . .

Conservatives have waged war on unions. Our neighbor Canada hasn’t done this and about 30+% of jobs there are union jobs. We are down to less than a third of that, where we had the same level as Canada did just 40 years ago. If unions were so bad, shouldn’t Canada have collapsed under the boot heels of the unions? Instead, they sailed through the Great Recession with ease and had no, count them “no,” bank failures or bailouts.

Parents and school officials have been sold a bill of goods on the “future” to a large extent by business futurist types. Parents were told that if their kids didn’t have a college education, they would be doomed to a second-class life. Consequently they and the school officials who were taught to believe the same thing, moved their kids out of tracks leading to a trade and into academic tracks. The consequences? As dismal as you would expect. Some kids just flat out do not like the academic life. These kids are perfect to learn a trade. They weren’t allowed the choice. If I may use my own high school as an example. Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA had, when I graduated in 1964, a well-known “shop” program. They taught mechanical drawing and architectural drawing (four years), they had metal shop classes, wood shop classes, automobile shop classes, and more. (This was pre-computer.) When I last was on campus, about 15 years ago, these shops, which were the subject of visits by delegations of educators from all over, were closed, chained and locked. Those trades were screaming for qualified applicants for good jobs and there were no training programs in the schools.

But the unions had apprentice training programs, didn’t they? Oh. . . .

Get the picture?

The Corporatization of Public Education Lacks Reality, Logic, Sense, . . .

The latest wave of public education reformers have pushed an agenda that “business models” and “market driven models” are to be pursued to “rescue” the “failed” public education system.

It is debatable whether the public schools have failed. Certainly some individual schools have, but there are public schools that are spectacularly successful, so clearly there is a range of success. Why some fail and others do not is a legitimate point of discussion.

But reality and facts aren’t needed here as conservatives are in charge of this effort. A recent study of the school reform efforts in Washington, D.C. (Michelle Rhee’s old district), Chicago (Arne Duncan’s old stomping grounds), and New York (Mayor Bloomberg’s bailiwick). These were chosen to study as they had accessible data to compare and were touted as “success” stories. Apparently “success” to the conservatives means “we changed everything” not “everything got better.”

Here are some of the findings of  The Broader Bolder Approach to Education’s study:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test-based accountability prompted the ranks of experienced teachers to diminish, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
  • Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.

Many of the claims made by politicos proved to be quite outlandish, for example N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg claimed that his reforms had cut the black-white achievement gap by 50%. The reality: the gap declined by 1%.

Reality is not something conservatives do well with, especially when it conflicts with their cherished beliefs. The logic behind a “business model” for public education is appallingly vacant. What is the basis of the competition? Do schools compete over test scores? Only students get test scores (except in Michelle Rhee’s districts where her administrators changed incorrect responses to correct responses to get the results desired) so what is their motivation to score better? I understand why high school athletes want to shine on the athletic fields, but what is the payoff for testers? The answer is there is none, so there is no competition and without competition, there is no basis for introducing models based on competition. Conservatives are playing a word association game. “Business” = good, “union” = bad, etc. On Bill Maher’s show Friday night, a panelist blurted out that teacher’s unions are trying to keep our education system in a eighteenth century mode by insisting on a ten month calendar. Hello? This moron apparently doesn’t know that school calendars are set by state boards of education, which are closer to the centers of political power than they are teacher’s unions. Unions cannot bargain the number of days in the calendar, it is a nonnegotiable matter. But “public schools” are bad, “unions” are bad, therefore. . . .

Apparently the only evidence these conservatives can offer about the failing of our public schools is their complete lack of the ability to make a coherent argument above a third-grade level.



July 13, 2013

Can Anybody Name One Educational “Reform” That Worked?

Filed under: Education,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:17 pm
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As a teacher, I went through several periods as a “reformer” of public education. In other words “I knew how to do it better.” I was wrong each time. I have read histories of public education and public education reform efforts and am left with this question:

Can you name an educational reform that worked?

My guess is that you can’t. Sure there have been little tweaks to the system that succeeded  but they don’t qualify as “reforms.” To be a reform you must re-form the system, that is change it substantially.

Now, with this kind of track record, why is it we bite on every cockamamie reform agenda that is floated as a trial balloon. I give for your consideration: charter schools, school vouchers, No Child Left Behind, self-paced education, mastery learning, etc.

It is as if we are desperate to lose weight and are willing to do anything . . . well, anything but eat less and exercise more.

Here’s an approach that might work. Imagine we had a military that was woefully inadequate to the task at hand, say like we had just before World War II. What did we do? Well, we spent a shitload of money, we drafted people, and trained the bejesus out of them, gave them somewhat good leadership, established objectives, and set them loose to do what they were trained to do. What if we were to do the same for our teachers?

Currently, teachers are “evaluated,” that is their performance is assessed, on a frequent basis and they are threatened with repercussions if they don’t meet goals that are pretty much beyond their control.

What would you expect if you told soldiers that their pay was going to be determined by how many enemy ears they brought back? What if you had a lieutenant with a clipboard behind every grunt? I think what you would have is a lot of dead lieutenants and a lot of people walking around with missing ears.

If we want teachers to behave like professionals, why are we not treating them like professionals. The idiots currently in charge of educational reform efforts seem to be getting their ideas from nineteenth century factories.

We can do better by stopping all reform efforts currently in motion and declare a moratorium on stupid ideas for a decade (renewable for another ten years by vote of the teachers).

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