Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Close, but No cigar

I’ve been following the controversy over Mr. Obama’s speech today (9-8-2009) to the nation’s school children and decided to watch the speech myself. It appeared to be nothing more than a pep talk geared toward getting students to work hard, be respectful and stay in school. The general message to the children was fine. I’m more concerned with the message that was sent to parents.

Why was the speech broadcast live during the school day instead of in the early evening when parents could have watched it with their children? Educators, lawmakers, employers and well just about everyone talks about the importance of parental involvement in our children’s education. Here was an opportunity for parents and children to watch the speech together and discuss it. Yet Mr. Obama chose to bypass that opportunity in favor of speaking to a captive audience. Did Mr. Obama not trust parents to be interested in his pep talk? Was he afraid that his critics would find ammunition in the speech? One has to wonder.

Do those who champion parental involvement in education really mean what they say? Government run public schools are the norm in this country. My own experience as a parent has shown me that taking the path of least resistance and sending my child to the local public school was not the best way to draw me into my child’s education. Let me explain. I did check my daughter’s homework when she went to public school. I listened to her read from the reading books she brought home. I looked at her progress reports. I helped with spelling words. I went to conferences with her teachers.

Even with all of that, I realize now that I had a certain fatalistic attitude toward the whole situation. My daughter’s public school used a substandard math curriculum called Every Day Mathematics. I researched it on the internet and found that it is thoroughly reviled by college level math instructors. I mentioned this to other parents. I mentioned this to my daughter’s teachers. Nobody seemed concerned about it. What did I do? Nothing. I thought about complaining to the principal, the school board or the superintendent, but I never did it. I felt it would be hopeless to buck the system, to be the lone voice crying in the wilderness.

At the end of the last school year, I found out that the main thing my daughter thought she learned in school that year was to not pollute the earth. Sure, I knew that my daughter was being taught about the rain forest and to recycle. I didn’t realize just how ‘green’ her education really was.

My husband and I decided to put our daughter in a private, Christian school this year. There is a difference in my attitude. Every night, my husband and I try to pull out of her what she learned at school that day. Not only do we see the money coming from our bank account and want to be sure we are getting the most from out money. It is also about wanting to be responsible for the choice we have made. We want to be sure we’ve made the right decision and change things if we haven’t. With most public education, parents don’t really make a choice. They just go with the flow.

I believe that the public school concept as it operates today is not the optimal solution for encouraging parents to be involved with their children’s education. I don’t have a solution. I expect that someone a good deal smarter than I am will have to figure that out. What I do realize, though, is that having choices and making choices about a child’s education forces parents to pay more attention to what their children are learning in school.

Vouchers which allow children in underperforming school districts to attend a private school are a good first step. The problem is that the same people that dictate public school curricula are also measuring performance. Their standards of what is acceptable performance may not agree with mine or that of other parents. The public school my daughter attended is considered to be one of the best in the county. However, their math curriculum did not meet my standards and their worldview did not agree with my own.

In our situation, there is no possibility of a voucher. As a middle class family, we can manage tuition for one child, but when the second one goes to school things will be tight. How many middle income families find themselves stuck in a neighborhood public school because they can’t afford a private school? Because there are no charter schools nearby? Because there are no alternative schools in their school district?

One way to increase the choices parents have for their children’s education would be to return tax dollars that are paid into the local school system to the parents of children attending private school. This wouldn’t mean that tax payers at large are paying for private education for some else’s children. It would be a simple matter of parents being allowed to use their own tax money for the school of their choice.

While Mr. Obama’s pep talk was all well and good, the parents and students of this nation would be better served by a dedication to school choice rather than a perpetuation of the government education monopoly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Muslim Cleric in Iran has this to say about raping prisoners..

(IsraelNN.com) A highly influential Shi'a religious leader, with whom Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, apparently told followers last month that coercion by means of rape, torture and drugs is acceptable against all opponents of the Islamic regime. [...]

"Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?" was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it's acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed."...

A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:

"If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi'ite holy city of] Karbala."

One aspect of these permitted rapes troubled certain questioners: "What if the female prisoner gets pregnant? Is the child considered illegitimate?"

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The child borne to any weakling [a denigrating term for women - ed.] who is against the Supreme Leader is considered illegitimate, be it a result of rape by her interrogator or through intercourse with her husband, according to the written word in the Koran. However, if the child is raised by the jailer, then the child is considered a legitimate Shi'a Muslim."

The man who lives in the White House has the unmitigated gall to say we should respect Islam ...

"a great religion and its commitment to justice and progress."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Extreme Makeover: DHS Edition

The Department of Homeland Security has recently issued a report to law enforcement agencies regarding the dangers of ‘rightwing extremism’. Some of the beliefs considered to be extreme are “rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority’, fear of an ‘impending economic collapse’, ‘frustration over a perceived lack of government action on illegal immigration’, seeing ‘recent gun control legislation as a threat to their right to bear arms’. The DHS also fears ‘disgruntled’ military veterans might use their skills for nefarious purposes. Coincidentally (?), the DHS report was released just one week before the tax day tea parties.

The word extreme can be defined in various ways. Here are a few that I found:

Being in or attaining the greatest or highest degree
Extending far beyond the norm
Exceptionally unusual
Very great
Not ordinary

In 1776 the thirteen British colonies in North America had the unmitigated gall to tell the king of the most powerful nation on earth to take a flying leap. That is extreme. The Declaration of Independence was written to explain to the world why the colonies were separating from the mother country. There was no attempt to hide what they were doing. That is extreme.

In 1787 the nation that sprang from those thirteen colonies produced a constitution. A constitution that created a system of government that would be accountable to its citizens. That is extreme. This system of federal government did not aggregate all power to itself, but rather allowed state and local governments to manage their own affairs. That is extreme. This constitution guarantees basic rights to its citizens. That is extreme.

Never in the history of the world have any people lived in such liberty and prosperity as have the citizens of the United States of America. From the Persian Empire to the iron fist of Rome, from the despotic Muslim caliphate to the rule of medieval European monarchs, from the absolute power of Chinese emperors to the blood lust of the Aztecs no nation has ever had the peace and freedom that have been found in the United States of America. This nation is an anomaly. This nation is extreme.

Is the DHS report on ‘rightwing extremism’ wrong? The report makes it clear that the extremists are people who want their states to have the rights guaranteed by the tenth amendment, people who want their second amendment right to bear arms, people who expect the federal government to do its constitutional duty in securing our borders, people who have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution. Given that our constitution and Declaration of Independence are extremist documents it is only logical that anyone who holds to the principles stated in those documents is in fact an extremist. For our own government to take exception to that kind of extremity can only tell us that our government no longer adheres to the ideals of the constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Hold on to what is right. Do not bristle at being labeled an extremist. Wear the title with honor and dignity. Wear it like an American.