Science

Politics and Science

This post is a bit of a departure from what I usually blog about and I hope regular readers won’t be offended.  Bear with me, there’s more of the usual stuff coming soon…

I work hard to keep my religious and political views out of this blog.  I don’t think that these issues really matter when we’re talking about improving the public education system in this great country.  I used to feel the same way about science–my first career–and my views came from a place that I don’t talk about very much.  I have strong feelings about the size of government, but there are three major roles that I think are worthy of our tax dollars: healthcare, education, and science research.

While we have recently witnessed a remarkable erosion of the public’s perception of educators, I always (naïvely) believed that scientific endeavors would remain above the political fray because of the obvious value they bring to our world.  In our everyday lives it would be difficult to name even one minute when we aren’t benefitting from the work of scientists.

And so, it is with tremendous sadness and fear that I watch the Republican candidates for U.S. President trip over each other trying to be the most ignorant and anti-science.  I don’t understand how disparaging scientists and denying proven scientific evidence can make a public figure popular.  Who are these members of the voting public who value candidates oblivious to the world around them?  Who are they pandering to?  What happened to the old Grand Old Party?

Michelle Bachman’s latest rant, during the recent Republican debate, about the Gardisil HPV vaccine is full of ridiculously false accusations.  And, thankfully, even pundits in her own party are challenging her:
http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/pl55.swf

But, she’s not alone… or unpopular.  How bad is it?  Even Republican candidate John Huntsman said in a recent debate,

“Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science.”

My frustration is eclipsed only by the fear I feel for our students.  How many of their role models will make clear the importance of science?  What will their science classrooms look like?  Their textbooks?

Education

My Electoral Two Cents

I am not generally inclined to discuss politics in this forum, but ‘tis the season.

When it comes to selecting a new leader for our country, state, town, etc., I am a fairly cynical individual.  I have followed electoral issues and political races for most of my adult life and, perhaps, this is why I have so little faith in the “truth” that one can ascertain from the mainstream media.  Most national candidates are so highly scripted that there is little room for candor or spontaneity (See, that’s the name of the blog.  Ok, you got it, moving on).  I watch all of the candidates say the same things in different ways, and I listen to the partisan bickering, and I want to believe that they can change this country.  But, the sad fact is, by the time candidates have risen to the level of a Congressional race or Presidential election they are like the final four on American Idol: attractive, empty vessels filled with someone else’s words. I know that maybe not all the finalists are aesthetically perfect, but you get my point.  It’s pretty jaded stuff, I know.

As a result of my weary attitude, when it comes to politics, I tend to be very philosophical and principled.  I am the kind of guy who votes for third party candidates, “wasting my vote” in the process.  You see, I want to change the future of our country and I know that it is not going to happen by continuing down the path we are on right now.  I know that there is no chance of a Libertarian winning the Presidential election in 2008 (or 2012, 2016, 2020, or even 2024), but I am not trying to pick a winner.  I am choosing the person whom I believe is going to put our country on the right track.

Being a Libertarian and a teacher puts me in a very small demographic group, and the philosophical challenges can be difficult to resolve.  I can’t argue too loudly about changing the way we pay teachers, if I truly believe that government shouldn’t be funding education, right?  Sometimes it’s easy (how many of my colleagues enjoy the intrusion of the federal government into our schools?), but most of the time I struggle to reconcile my deeply held notions of the role of government with my desire to improve our education system.  Wouldn’t vouchers impoverish the public school system, even as they give more freedom to working families?  If our taxes were cut by 90% and private schools were the only option, would charities really step up to ensure that poor kids still get a fair chance at a top-notch education?  Smarter people than me have tried to answer these questions, so I’ll leave the policy discussions to them.

I don’t really expect any of my regular audience to switch parties (assuming you even can vote Libertarian in your state), or go to the polls and choose Bob Barr on November 4.  My only hope is that a few more people will realize that there are other options–you don’t have to settle for one of the two major political parties.  H.L. Mencken once said,

“Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

Do some research and vote with your brain, not with your heart.

photo credit: iStockphotos.com
Education

Crisis of Conscience

I have found myself over the past few weeks reaching a philosophical crisis. My views on the future of education in America, and my political inclinations are at odds.

Many of you know that I am an admirer of Bill Ferriter, the blogger behind The Tempered Radical and a freakishly charismatic middle school teacher who uses Web 2.0 technology in his lessons in ways that I can only dream of. To boot, he earned the title of Teacher of the Year from his our school district last year. It’s enough to make a fellow educator either seethe with envy or long to emulate his success. I have converted this year from the former group to the latter.

Over the past six months, as I have begun to frame my own opinion on the ongoing debates over teacher accountability and the reauthorization of NCLB, I have been reading much of what Mr. Ferriter writes for his blog (as well as others hosted by the school district), and I find that it strikes a chord with me. I wholeheartedly believe in his philosophy about the importance of teachers taking control of the conversation about where the responsibility for learning resides. I share his contempt for those in our profession who are content to wallow in their antiquated teaching methods, wishing for the “good old days”. I had all but built a website in homage to the Ferriter mystique when I followed one of his conversations to another, very different blog.

When I arrived at EducationMatters.us, I was immediately taken aback by the format of the site. I mean, is it me or is this one of the most painful blogs to read in all of the Great Blogosphere? I honestly don’t know if it is the fonts or the logo or what, but I cringe every time the page loads in my browser window. Once I got over the presentation, I got back to being hoppin mad about the content. I wanted the author, a man evidently named “Lennie” (based solely on his email address which is the only information about the author that I could find on the site) who writes for the John Cox Presidential Campaign, to see that he was treating teacher like public slaves. I wanted him to understand that we are educated, trained, and experienced professionals who take our vocation seriously and can be trusted to do it properly without public scrutiny over the minutiae.

That was all well and good until I began to read what he was posting. While I didn’t agree with a lot of it, I felt a sense of appreciation for some of what he was writing. When I came out of the daze in which I found myself, I realized that Lennie was spouting a largely Libertarian philosophy about how public schools should be run. It may help, at this point, to explain that I have been a registered Libertarian for as many years as I have been able in the ridiculous state of North Carolina where ballot access laws are more strict than any other place I have ever lived.

I came to the painful realization that my soul agreed with the reasons behind the opinions expressed on EducationMatters.us, even if I found fault with some of the specific ways in which my profession was portrayed. And all of this left me with a conundrum: how do I reconcile my political views with my professional ones? I have a feeling this one isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.