August, 2006

Aug 06

College as Birth Control

It Could Happen




According to a Chicago Sun-Times report, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley asked for a fifth year of high school and decried the non-stop increases in college tuition. As part of his response, he state that the cost of college tuition would drive the birth rate down.

OK, that sounds pretty reasonable. I’m sure that there have been and will continue to be a group of middle and upper-class folks who consider the rearing costs well in advance of slipping under the sheets. Its a safe bet that, however, that there’s another group who hasn’t given it the first thought.

The worst thing that could happen in this scenario is that the people who could afford college tuition will stop having as many children while those who can’t maintain the population. Fewer kids go to college and tuition goes up to cover the shortfall or colleges shrink. There will be more Americans who aren’t qualified for professional jobs (that require a degree) and poverty will stress the government and despair will grip the country that will lead to a class war between the haves and the have-nots. Eventually, Chinese kids will learn about the fall of the "American Empire" in the same way we learn about the fall of the Roman Empire today.

Alternatively, we could rein in the costs of college, improve the education system at the primary level and work toward a fair an equitable system that provides a sustainable course for the future of America. Also, Santa Claus is real; the Easter bunny lays eggs, and good intentions always make up for poor execution.

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Aug 06

Cult of Standardized Testing

No Child Will Be Left Behind



I read an article in the newspaper recently concerning the school report cards that were established as part of the "no child left behind" act. This sounds like a great idea. The act tries to eliminate disparities between schools from Maine to Hawaii and provides the ability to compare one school to another though certification requirements and standardized testing.

As I read, I can across a statement from a teacher who seemed excited to get back in the classroom. I have to paraphrase, but it went like this: "we will be working hard to get ready for the standardized test. . .". This statement made shivers run down my spine. The impression I got from this statement, and the article as a whole, made it sound like the most important thing in public education today is a successful test.

This blows me away. Granted, testing can be a valuable tool for ascertaining retention levels and proficiency, but testing is only a tool. You cannot use a single test to determine the course of education and under no condition should A test dictate curriculum.

To be honest, I did a little research on the subject; but like most propaganda, always consider the source. If you look at the NCLB website, it portrays the act as an improvement strategy for American education. At first glance, the act looks like the magic bullet that will reverse decades of inequalities in education. Of course, being that America is a huge and mind-bendingly complicated bureaucracy, the chances of it working as designed on a national scale is unlikely. If you think that this is different, consider the tax code, war on drugs, immigration, or any other law or program implemented nation-wide.

The NCLB act is a good idea in principle. In my opinion, the failure comes when you actually try to make it happen. It’s only natural that if standardized testing is the benchmark by which you will be judged, you will use your resources to get the highest score possible. If the test is comprehensive and it drives schools to reinforce critical thinking and problem solving over rote memorization then it could mean that the overall cognitive abilities of American students will rise as a result. The alternative is a system that teaches our children to be expert test-takers and memorization master. Keep in mind that "standardized" doesn’t mean better.

As a kid, I never thought much about the purpose of school, other than to keep me occupied for nine months of the year. As an adult, I must consider the purpose for classroom education as I routinely perform ‘teaching’ duties. The old axim, "you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day: Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever, comes to mind. The real world is far too complicated to fit into neat little multiple choice answers and too demanding to lack even basic critical thinking abilities. In my opinion, teaching to the standardized test is like giving away fish.

You’ve probably already walked into a restaraunt or coffee shop and asked for a slight variation on a menu item only to have that young doe-eyed helper look at you like you just asked them to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Imagine if your new doctor’s greatest academic challenge was to keep the pencil marks inside the circle.

P.S. The test for this year have probably been printed. Now that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, what’ll happen if the test asks how many planets are in the solar system?  Will 9 still be the right answer?

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Aug 06

Public School Dress Codes

Dress Code


Dress code



It seems that along with the start of school comes the call for school uniforms. Proponents of uniforms say that it will help keep students focused and reduce ‘gang’ type activity. The opposition, primarily retailers who sell the distracting clothes say it will hurt business.

I remember going to public school in Rockford and I agree that a uniform policy would reduce distractions — if the boys wear jumpsuits and the girls, burkas. It seems intuitive that forcing students to dress alike in clothes that reduce the possibility of distraction and impede the ability to hide guns, knives and drugs is a good idea. Nobody wants a gangland fight in the middle of algebra.

Here’s the problem. We already have school uniforms. In my day you had the Jock, the Cheerleader, the Nerd, the Outsider and the Stoner; they’ve all got their own uniform. See The Breakfast Club to get a good feel for my generation. Add to that, Goth, Pop-stars, Urban wannabes, Cowboys and for lack of a better term, Future Porn Stars. All of whom you will find in public school today. It’s the place where our children develop personality and style (well, before Paris Hilton) and it’s not like it would really matter that much anyway. Let’s not forget that the Catholic school girl is probably one of the most sexualized images in the world. If you don’t believe, open your search engine and query "Catholic school girl" to see what comes up.

As for gang activity. Today a gang kid will wear his hat a certain way or show his "colors" and the wackiness ensues. Schools ban hats and certain colors to combat the problem. Put the same kids in dress clothes and they’ll find a way to express themselves in the same way — just in a way that isn’t so obvious. An upside down wristwatch, a certain color or pattern tie, etc.      

The biggest problem with school uniforms is that you already know that the jock will be allowed to wear their jerseys on game day and the cheerleaders will be given carte blanche to wear those short, and extremely distracting skirts. While the guy who wants to show up looking like Robert Smith (the Cure) or that guy from Green Day who wears eye makeup (and who hasn’t) has to settle for khaki’s and a polo because self-loathing and disdain for existance isn’t a spectator sport.

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Aug 06

Rockford City Council Attendance

A public life


A Ferris Bueller Parody


Published in the Rock River Times on August 23, 2006 

My Thoughts, 

Recently, the Rock River Times published an article concerning the attendance records of the Rockford city council. First off, let me clear — this cartoon is not necessarily directed at either of the Aldermen mentioned in the cartoons, but based on the information presented in the article, have the worst record for attendance.

American politics seems to be rife with absenteeism. I would give a relatively wide berth to those who are part-time, low or unpaid representatives as they don’t stand to gain as much as the "fat-cats" in Sprinfield or Washington. If you watch CSPAN you will likely find nearly empty chambers and during elections, the opposition will happily tell you how many time the incumbent failed to be present for a vote.

A political office, especially a part-time political office, can be a daunting task for the average citizen. In fact, it may be beyond the capacity of the "average" citizen (as evidenced by the number of candidates). An Alderman must balance a homelife that will be constantly interrupted by constituents, a worklife that is constantly interrupted by city business and all the other challenges in American life today. So, I respect the sacrifice that our politicians make and admire those who stand up to ethically represent us. Thank you for being there.

However, there comes a time when not "being there" becomes a burden for the constituency. Some would say that every meeting is important and that it’s the Alderman’s (Congressperson, Senator, Dog-catcher, etc.) job to attend and be engaged in the process. Every meeting IS important, but there should be an allowance for emergencies and appointments and other things that cannot be postponed or rescheduled. Ultimately, it is up to the voters to determine if their representatives are engaged and will vote accordingly. in-between elections, and everyday, our elected officials need to be cognisant of the impact their absence will have on the constiuents — both positive and negative.

If your life is so full of emergencies that you cannot meet the rigorous demands of the position at least most of the time, then it is in the best interests of the city and its’ people to step aside.

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Aug 06

Smoking Ban 1.0

Everybody is trying to establish a smoking ban in public places.

In the greater Rockford area, at least 5 municipalities are considering a public smoking ban. Apparently, the Surgeon General has published a report that second-hand smoke is just as dangerous as "first-hand" smoke and lives (billions and billions of lives) will be saved by preventing smoking in public places.

The anti-smoking crowd will cite this report as gospel and push forward. The pro-smoking groups, which include smokers, and business owners who rely on smokers for income (bar and restaraunt owners), will cry foul and say that their freedom is being trampled.

As a former smoker (hard-core 2 pack a day smoker), I would like for cigarettes to disappear from the face of the Earth. Addiction to tobacco is hard to break and the desire never quite goes away.  It’s easy to say "get rid of it", and to place all kinds or restrictions on it, and to "sin-tax" it and on and on. Tobacco is, however, a legal substance in America.

After listening to both sides in the argument, I am left with two questions: When did business lose the right to engage in legal activities in their operations? When did America stop being the land of the free and become the land of the fearful?

Smoking Ban 1

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Aug 06

Israel versus Hezbollah

After agreeing to a cease-fire, both the Israeli government and Hezbollah claim victory. Keep your eyes peeled for a "mission accomplished" banner.  

It would appear that both parties went to the "George Bush School of Crisis Management".  


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