Sunday, May 25, 2008

Controversial Education Standards

We've heard from places all across the country and the internet about controversies surrounding school science curriculum. Specifically, that of biology. There is a conflict going on in this country regarding evolution being taught in schools. This is not to say that there is an argument among scientists as to whether evolution occurs. Evolution is observable on a fairly consistent basis, and in more places all the time. The only question at hand is the causes and the processes by which evolution occurs. There is certainly room enough there for disagreement. However, we have seen calls for Creationism to be taught in our schools and, more recently, Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design effectively amounts to personal disbelief; an argument that the world is simply too complicated for people to believe that it arose by "random chance." Evolution is about anything but random chance, but that's not what I'm here about today.

On Friday, the Dallas Morning News ran an article about the Texas State Board of Education, and their approval of a new set of standards for the English curriculum in the state of Texas. A collection of teachers and experts have spent the last two and a half years putting together a set of standards on how English should be taught. This plan was passed over by the board in favor of a tentative approval of a curriculum proposal from the group StandardWorks, which was brought in to facilitate the approval process. That tentative approval came with a 9-6 vote in favor, but a rewrite was undertaken by the three members of the board who are apparently the social conservative bloc. They seem to have merged various aspects of both plans into some sort of hybrid document, in an attempt to bring around the remaining six board members. In theory, this is perfectly fine. But here is where the problem comes in:

"I'm appalled by the process that we've taken part in," said board member Bob Craig, a Republican from Lubbock. There's been "no opportunity to review it, no teacher group is involved, not even the (Texas Education Agency) staff was involved or had seen it."

Apparently, this new set of standards was slipped under the hotel doors of the board members less than an hour before they met to vote on the proposal. They were given insufficient time to review it, and then when they arrived at the board meeting, Don McLeroy, chairman of the SBoE proceeded to rush them through the changes, not allowing time to find the pages that said changes were made on. When complaints were made about the speed with which this was being covered, "... you're being dilatory in dragging this out," McLeroy said. This new package was then sent for a vote; it passed, 9-6. The stated goal of the rewrite was not achieved, and at least to me, raises questions as to what the results might be from this hodge-podge of standards. It could of course be just fine. But at the same time, doing an overnight redraft, without sufficient time to review, mistakes can be made.

Up next, science curriculum standards. Chairman Don McLeroy is a stated skeptic on the issue of evolution, and he's not the only one on the board. There is a good deal of interest in pushing textbooks that present "minority views" on evolution. Specifically, that it doesn't happen. If that's the view to be found in textbooks in Texas, I worry for the future of students in Texas. Advancements these days in almost every portion of the biology field requires knowledge of evolution, because it is based on evolution. It will be important to keep an eye on that meeting, and watch for this same kind of actions. If board members are again asked to vote on something that they effectively have not been allowed to review, Texas is in trouble.


Also referenced:
KXAN News - Austin, TX
Dallas Morning News

Listening to: Arash - Tike Tike Kardi (Sodaclub remix)
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Politics

If one of the primary topics here is going to be politics, I suppose I should lay out my own views, if only in a general sense, right at the start.

I am current registered as a Democrat, though I have in the past (and almost certainly will in the future) voted for Republican candidates. I think of myself as fairly moderate, and I'd like to think that I listen to the opinions of the other side, so long as they're supported by some kind of facts. Honestly, my biggest problem with Republicans right now is that they're no longer standing up for conservative principles. George Bush has taken the party off a cliff, and almost every Republican member of Congress has been content to vote for whatever the President says, because he's a Republican, and the leader. What we need is people who can think for themselves.

I've been politically classified as a libertarian-socialist. Specifically, I think that less government involvement in day-to-day life is better. Privacy from government intrusion, especially into our homes is important to me. If you can imagine, I'm not much of a fan of the Patriot Act. I'm not going to go into all my policy positions here, I'm sure that over time they'll mostly be brought up.

I suppose one of the more current barometers for political position is the US Presidential race. I'm supporting Barack Obama. He's been my candidate from the start, and despite what's approaching 10 years of interest in politics, this is the first time I have made a donation to a political candidate of any sort. At the start of this whole mess of a primary, the two candidates I was most worried about were Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani did his best to out-hawk George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton was horribly divisive, and watching how she has worked ever since the 90's, she would seem to offer the same style of governing we've seen from George Bush, if somewhat more intelligent; lots of unnecessary secrecy, people appointed for loyalty over ability, abuses of power, etc. I actually liked Romney and Huckabee initially. Romney has an excellent resume, and I felt that even if I didn't care for many of his policies, he could at least likely be trusted with the budget. Mike Huckabee had a populist message that I liked a fair portion of. He kind of lost me when he suggested that the US Constitution should be changed to match the principles of the Christian Bible. Ron Paul...well, he's Ron Paul. Half of what he had to say made a lot of sense, the other half was kind of crazy. The only other candidates I liked on the Democratic side were John Edwards (who was my second choice after Wesley Clark in 2004) and Bill Richardson, who certainly had the experience argument down.

In the end, I had to go with Barack Obama for his inspriational message, and his honest attempts to reach out to younger voters. He's the first national-level politician that I've felt honestly cares about issues important to us. Admittedly, we don't usually vote, so caring about us is not normally something that gives returns. I also really like Obama's policy papers on technology and transparency in government, and his history of actually reaching across the aisle and working with people who don't always agree with him initially in order to actually get things done.

My second choice was John McCain, right from the start. He was the candidate I was rooting for in 2000, and I was rather upset that he lost the primary. It essentially left the 2000 election as a choice between Boring (D) and Stupid (R). I supported Boring, because there are worse sins, though I never expected the level of damage that was to be dealt by Stupid. In any event, while I disagree with John McCain on many policies, I at least respected him greatly for standing for what he believed in , rather than simply following party lines (not that he often diverged). He was someone who would say what he thought, and that counted for a lot with me. Then he seemed to lose his way. He sought out endorsements of Evangelical preachers spouting hate speech, ones he would have labeled "agents of intolerance" back in 2000. He abandoned the idea of a balanced budget in favor of Bush's tax cuts.

At this point, I don't think I could support John McCain anymore, but if Hillary were to snatch away this Democratic nomination, I don't think I could support her, either. Likewise, I would lose a good deal of faith in Barack Obama were he to select Clinton as his VP. She runs so counter to his idea of what government should be that an appointment of her as VP would be a betrayal of what he seems to stand for.

I refuse to be swayed by fears of potential terrorist attacks. I refuse to be influenced by personal attacks on the candidates. This year, I am going to vote on the issues that truly matter to me. I'm going to vote my hopes, rather than my fears.


Listening to: Powerspace - Sleep, Everyone
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Starting Out

For any readers here, I'd first like to say welcome. I never expected to see you here. I've really only started this because I have so many things that I want to express to people, but after I've told a few friends, the issue will still be bothering me, and I want to just find people to tell. I'm just a little crazy like that.

This blog will cover whatever topics happen to be of interest to me when I think to write about them. The largest portion of this is likely to be politics-oriented. Whether national or local (and not even necessarily my local), politics have long been of interest to me. This includes economics, foreign policy, civil rights, etc. Aside from that, you're likely to find odd bits of other stuff; internet humor, technology, video games, movies, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Yes, I realize that this will likely be far from original, and may not bring anything notably new to the conversation, but at this point, I felt like I had to join in. In the interests of continuing the conversation, I'm leaving comments open. I'm hoping (against all previous evidence) that any comments left here will be of a vaguely positive/constructive tone, rather than name-calling/personal insults. Please, let's keep it civil.

So, having covered all that I can think of for now, once again, welcome.

Listening to: Foo Fighters - Disenchanted Lullaby
via FoxyTunes