Category Archives: Education

We’re All In This Together


Harris Rosen is a real person.  He really did give free daycare and college scholarships to all high school graduates in this very poor little neighborhood in Orlando, FL.  It is unclear for how long he did this or if he continues to do this now and the graduation rate statistic is suspect, but it’s still truly inspiring.  What is interesting is how different people find this inspiring.  A conservative friend is the one who posted this on Facebook (Yes this is another Facebook argument.  Yes something is wrong with me.).  My response was this:

Imagine all the money the government is going to save on welfare. Imagine all the extra money the government is going to make in taxes from the increase in income that comes from going to college. Imagine that instead of one neighborhood winning the rich-guy lottery, we all got together and pooled our resources to make this a reality for all. Imagine if everyone in the U.S. had free daycare and college scholarships. Imagine how much better the U.S. and the world would be as a result.

When talking to conservatives, use conservative talking points.  Don’t throw in inflammatory barbs like “Imagine if there were someone running for president right now that has promised to provide these things.  Feel the Bern!”  Though I was sorely tempted, that’s just poking the bear.  His response was:

I get it dude, but forced philanthropy breeds resentment and entitlement. There’s no substitute for a kind heart with a smiling face, proving to a neighborhood that they matter, are not forgotten, and have a gift that requires stewardship.

Which is really along the lines of “That’s all fine and dandy but if you force people to do the things that inspire them they’ll resent you and the people that benefit from it will feel all entitled and stuff.”  It’s such a low view of humanity.  It’s as if benefits don’t count unless you can put a face to the benefactor.  Which is absolutely hilarious when you realize that this seems to be a very popular view in certain Christian circles.  Maybe it has something to do with being told from birth that you’re a dirty sinner and undeserving of anything and thus must work hard from conception to get what you want.  Try to pinpoint exactly who would be resentful and who would feel entitled and you can’t (You know, people.  Not me.  Not my friends.  Those other people.), which was my next point:

 Resentment from whom? Entitlement from whom? Those who would resent this are already resentful. Those who would feel entitled already feel entitled. I think most would feel grateful. Most would feel empowered. Everybody would win; the resentful, the entitled, the rich, the poor. If you’re the one who would feel resentful, fine, conversation over, but if you wouldn’t feel resentful, you are much closer to those that are resentful than I. Change minds. Change spirits.

He “liked” this which is basically a polite way of ending the conversation, but then someone else posted something that I think gets to the heart of why conservatives don’t quite get what the stakes really are even though they should be blindingly obvious:

Let me empty your bank account to pay for my sister’s medical bills and we’ll see who’s resentful.

If you legislate charity, it becomes theft. If you force someone to’s not giving. And if you didn’t make the money, it’s not yours to give.
I’d like a great many things, doesn’t mean I should get them. And just because someone is in unfortunate circumstances, doesn’t mean they should have someone else solve their problems.

I wanted to concentrate on the first sentence only because the rest is just boilerplate libertarian nonsense that people reflexively repeat.  The last sentence is also worth commenting on briefly, though.  This person is obviously Christian and obviously cares about certain things.  These things even correlate very closely with the goal of providing basic childcare to all children.  But she wants to decide exactly whom to help.  She wants to be able to pick a winner and loser.  Take that agency away from her and you suddenly go from an obvious good to grounds for rebellion.  But back to the first sentence:

Um, I am a perfectly healthy male with insurance. I DO pay for your sister’s and hundreds of thousands of other people’s medical bills. Probably not your sister specifically since we are almost assuredly on different health plans, but you get the idea. Plus, we’re kind of switching subjects from education to healthcare, but the whole point of pooling resources is so that any individual DOESN’T get their bank accounts emptied. That was the biggest problem with insurance pre-Obamacare. Have a preexisting condition and you’re uninsurable and you either find a way to pay for your condition or find a magical benefactor or you die. I gladly pay property taxes for the education of children that I won’t have because a better education for all makes us all better. I would gladly pay more in taxes to provide daycare for all because well taken care of children make better prepared children makes us all better. I would gladly pay more in taxes to provide a college scholarship for those that graduate highschool because smarter people get higher paying jobs which allows them to buy more things and provide more things which makes us all better.

I don’t want to live in a world which depends on a magical benefactor who sweeps down on a vanishingly small subset of humanity to provide for a basic need like a child’s education. I want to live in a world where we all recognize that childcare and education are a fundamental necessity for children who had zero choice in to whom they were born and where they were raised. I want us to recognize that this benefits not just the children but all of us. I want to live in a world where the popular belief of “I suffered and so should you” is replaced with “we suffered now let’s try to make things a little better for you”. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. My brother is not just Tangelo Park. My sister is not just Orlando, FL. My brother, my sister is the United States of America. Harris Rosen has proven how beneficial childcare is to primary education on a small scale. Let’s make it nationwide and reap the whirlwind of benefits together. No child is not deserving.

It’s a little speechy (I sometimes get like that when I write), but I believe it hammers home my point.  We’re all in this together.  Not a single one of us has the wisdom to decide who is deserving and who is not.  This is true for every single human being, but especially true for children who should be considered deserving by default.  One person proving that providing basic childcare benefits those children immensely is absolutely inspiring.  Learning from that and pooling our resources to make it a reality across the entire United States would be awe inspiring.

How To Describe Gender

For someone who doesn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to talk about gender clearly, this cool infographic is a great starting place.  I’m sure it’s not all-inclusive, but it’s certainly better and simpler than anything I’ve ever come across.  It does get across the point well that gender is far from a binary position.



Crash Course Astronomy

Ever wanted to know a bit more about astronomy?  Well, astronomer Phil Plait is here to teach you more!  It’s a great series so far at three episodes and well worth your time if you want to get some basic astronomy under your belt.  I wish they’d do it more like Netflix does and just release them all at once.

Rediscovering i

No, this is not going to be a post about me reacquainting myself with my inner child.  This is going to be a post about imaginary numbers!  Yay!

Yesterday, during a conversation with friends, we somehow got onto the topic of i.  I know what you’re thinking, how can you NOT have a conversation with friends and have the topic turn to imaginary numbers?  Am I right?  You remember i, right?  i = \sqrt{-1}?  Of course you do!  We were trying to remember what i^2 equaled.  Having worked with imaginary friends much more recently than I’ve worked with imaginary numbers, I was leaning towards i^2 = 1.  A friend, who happened to be a math major in another life, was leaning towards i^2 = -1.  Neither of us were confident in our answer, though, so I did what any smartphone wielding dork would do and looked it up.  Yeah, i^2 = -1.  Never doubt a math major.  About math.  Doubt them about everything else because they thought it was a good idea to be a math major.

This whole exercise, of course, got me thinking about one of my favorite subjects; how we teach our children.  Given the way we learn about squares and square roots, it would be perfectly natural for someone to think that i^2 = 1.  After all, we have it drilled into our heads that the square of any number results in a positive number.  I had that in mind when I was leaning towards i^2 = 1.  I remembered enough about all the stuff that we were taught were rules that turned out to be more like generalizations to be unsure that I was right, but someone who was never exposed to imaginary numbers would likely encounter a cognitive dissonance that would be difficult to overcome after years and years of believing one thing.

So why don’t we teach children about imaginary numbers immediately?  We don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of how to figure out that i^k = i^{k\mod{4}}, but it sure would be nice to stick something into the back of those sponge-like minds that there are these things called imaginary numbers that they may run into someday that don’t fit the mold that is being taught.

The big problem, of course, is that we teach children individual things and we require them to understand that one individual thing as quickly as possible.  If you can’t add two numbers together after second grade, you are a failure.  If you can’t multiply two numbers together after third grade, you are a failure.  Our standardized tests show it to be true.  Nonsense, I say.  I cannot count the number of times I attempted to learn some math subject only to have it make complete sense after something in another subject made the pieces all fit together and I would wonder why these discrete pieces weren’t taught together as part of a whole.  We need to stop teaching children answers and start teaching them solutions.

Today, we teach kids that 123 + 321 = 444.  Add the ones and carry the remainder, then add the tens and carry the remainder, then add the hundreds and carry the remainder.  It works, but it’s not getting kids intimately familiar with numbers like they need to be if they want to succeed in more difficult subjects.  Kids need to learn that numbers can be split apart and replaced and moved around using a set of very simple rules.  Yes, 123 + 321 = 444, but it also equals 100 + 20 + 3 + 300 + 20 + 1 = x + 300 + 20 + 1 = x + y = 444.  I don’t think things like this are too difficult for the second grade mind to be able to grasp even if it takes them years more to fully grasp the implications.

Anyone Remember These Commercials?

I was in the shower this morning when this randomly popped into my head:

I have no idea why that popped into my head.  It’s best not to ask questions of my brain.  It’s an incredibly creepy but effective ad.  That sent me spiraling into a Youtube vortex of Mormon commercials from the 80s.  Remember this one:

Or this one:

The last one is interesting because it features a black kid.  Why is that interesting?  Let’s just say the Mormons aren’t know for their racial sensitivity towards Blacks.

There are other commercials too, but the above are my favorite.  They’re simple, catchy, and tell an important moral lesson without being preachy aside from the memorable “From the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints, the Mormons!” at the end.

Teach For America Is Evil

Teach For America sounds like a good idea.  Train young people to teach and send them to places where they are most needed.  Places like rural areas or low income areas where nobody is willing to teach.  Places like Chicago.

Wait, what?  Chicago?  The place that recently laid off over one thousand teachers?  The place that closed a whole bunch of schools because of low attendance?  Yep.  Chicago signed a contract with TFA to add 325 new teachers this year while firing 1,000.  Where is the sense in that?

Union busting, plain and simple.  It’s brilliantly Machiavellian.  Get a bunch of mostly idealistic highly privileged youth and sign them up with promises of changing the world for our most underserved citizens while bringing them in to localities that have a strong union presence and don’t need new teachers.  This combination makes TFA almost immune to criticism.  You can almost smell the righteous indignation in the air.  “How dare you criticize me!  I’m doing it for the children!  We do a lot of good!  Look at how well the kids are doing!  Why do you hate the children?”

Look, this isn’t difficult.  You can be performing a very visible societal good while at the same time performing an invisible societal evil with equally dire consequences.  It’s easy to ignore the evil that you can’t see for the good that is right in front of your face day after day.  What’s happening in Chicago is the best example of that generally hidden evil.

Teaching is one of those few jobs where two (or even one) years of experience makes a huge difference.  No amount of schooling in the world can adequately prepare you for putting yourself in front of 30 kids for the first time.  What’s happening in Chicago is the removal of one thousand union teachers who have that couple of years’ experience and replacing them with a couple hundred non-union rookies who have none.  This is not in the best interests of the children.

One of the major counter-arguments you will hear is that TFA is building for the future.  Sure, these are new teachers, but they’re people who WANT to teach as opposed to teachers who are just doing it for a job.  These TFA teachers often stay on after their two year contracts.  That may be true, but they don’t want to stay in teaching in any greater frequency than their unionized counterparts.  Plus, who’s to say that Chicago will decide to keep you?  There’s already a precedence for firing experienced teachers and hiring TFA teachers.  Why should that change?

There are many things wrong with how we educate our teachers.  A teaching degree is filled with mindlessly wasteful courses only to be followed by a year of slave labor (aka, internships).  Those things need to be fixed, but TFA is not the solution to the problem.  The solution will likely look like this: Allow anyone with an advanced degree to be hired as a teacher at locally comparable cost of living wages and pair them with a rotation of experienced teachers to show them the ropes for a year.  At the end of the year, the teachers vote on if you have what it takes to teach.

TFA does nothing to solve the various crises our school systems are suffering from.  They only exacerbate the problem by allowing places like Chicago to bust unions and drive down already low teacher’s salaries.  I can only hope that TFA gets morphed into something like I describe above because there is a lot to be gained by broadening the pool of available teachers but TFA is only succeeding at replacing the pool.

A Million Times This!

It turns out that the simple act of asking a kid that’s acting up in school what’s wrong solves a lot of problems.  I’ve been saying this for a long time to whoever will listen.  Which is pretty much no one.  Oh, the irony!  Or something.

Too many kids have adult problems.  Educators in particular, but society in general, owes it to the kids to try to help them solve those adult problems.  Unfortunately, that is not always possible.  Listening to the kids is a great intermediary step.  The sheer act of a kid being able to speak about her problems can do wonders for her ability to at least cope with the problems.  It is far from a perfect solution, but it costs little time and no extra money.  All it takes is a person of authority to be able to listen.  Sadly, they are in short supply.

If I had my way and schools were financed the way they should, I’d have psychologists in every school.  One per thirty students or so.  All students would be required to visit the psychologist once a month.  Disciplinary problems would be handled much like described in the linked article above.

I think this approach would do wonders to our educational system.  For most troubled kids, it’s not that they are unable to learn, it’s that they’re incapable of learning because of outside stresses.

Listen and they will learn.

An Entertainment Complex In The Middle Of A Sewage System

Oh, Neil deGrasse Tyson, why must you be so awesome?

When giving a speech on Intelligent Design, he had a segment about how stupidly designed the entire universe is.  He went on to describe how stupidly designed humans are.  He called the human reproductive system “an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system.”  He also railed about the idiocy of using the same mouth to both breath, talk, and eat guaranteeing that a certain portion of the population will choke to death every year.  No engineer worth a damn would ever have created the human.

The larger point of the speech is that every well known scientist in history has proclaimed Intelligent Design in their careers to describe what they can’t describe despite the fact that someone came along later to fill in the gaps.  It’s even true today to a lesser extent.  85% of the top scientific minds in the world do not believe in god but what about the other 15%?  If the scientific community can’t even convert that 15%, what can they possibly expect to establish inroads with the general population who have no idea how science actually works.  The answer is you can’t.

You should watch the speech in its entirety.  It’s well worth it.


When It Comes To Education, Is Equality All That Matters?

If you look at Finland, the answer seems to be yes.  Finland has some of the highest test scores in the world.  There is no one more surprised at this than Finland.  They aren’t worried about tests or grades or measurements or performance.  Their education is based around one principle: equality.

Starting from the top, there is no such thing as a private school.  No one pays tuition.  Your billionaire’s son gets the same education as your pauper’s daughter.  Students are fed and both their physical and mental health is taken care of.  Early education is based more around creative play than tests, lessons, and homework.  Teachers are required to have a masters degree.  They are well paid and well respected.  Principals are expected to root out problems with teachers and fix them.  This combination apparently allows students of all backgrounds to thrive.

Education is the great equalizer.  We owe it to our children to have an equal education regardless of background.  This, unfortunately, is anathema to the American experience so it will likely never happen.

Highlights From The State Of The Union

Last night’s State of the Union Address was mostly boilerplate Democraty feel good circle-jerky material, but there were some interesting highlights.

  • The announcement of a bipartisan panel to investigate voting irregularities that led to long lines at the polls.  No one should have to wait six hours in line to vote.  Of course, much of this can be tied to Republican governor shenanigans (I’m looking at you, Scott Walker), but there were other issues as well.  It will be interesting to see what comes of the commission.
  • Universal pre-school!  This would be huge if Obama can pull it off.  Kids that age are sponges soaking up everything around them.  Getting them into a learning environment just a year earlier than they are today will have enormous implications to every avenue of social justice.
  • Raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  A somewhat better living wage for all!  People complain that it will cost jobs, but there is zero evidence to show this and some evidence that shows the opposite.  Counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s true.
  • Tying governmental scholarships, in part, to affordability of education.  This is a great idea.  There is some decent evidence that some of the meteoric rise in college tuition is due to the availability of governmental money.  Telling colleges that they have to be affordable is a great way to rein in costs.

I hope all of the above get a vote this year.  They are a good mixture of sound investments in the future and immediate economic gains.