Tag Archives: education

Who are today’s “Heroes”?

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan, one of several fine celebrities with photos hanging prominently in a local school. Evidently, celebrities such as Lohan are what pass as "heroes" to today's kids.

We had an event with our son today that was held at a middle school / high school in a nearby town.  Our son is in an elementary school just down the street, and obviously we’ve been in his school quite a bit, but this was the first time we’ve been at this particularly high school.  Here’s what struck me…

The hallways of the school had a lot of posters up.  Many were along the lines of what I’d equate to a motivational poster.  For example, right as you entered the big cafeteria, there was a large display that pointed out many “successful” people who were brought up by parents with alcohol or drug problems.  The display had advice and resources kids could go if they were having similar issues.  I didn’t have a problem with the display’s message.  But what struck me were the people who were featured as “successful” in not only this display, but displays that were plastered over walls all over the school.

The “successful” people who grew up with parents with drug problems?  There were big pictures of…Demi Moore.  Lindsay Lohan.  Angelina Jolie.  Charlie Sheen. Eminem.  I don’t remember the rest, there were probably half a dozen more photos, but EVERY single person was a “celebrity”.  Many of these celebrities have VERY checkered histories themselves, be it for drugs or other issues. But yet these were people who were prominently displayed as people the kids could emulate?

Perhaps I wouldn’t have paid much attention to that display, if I hadn’t also come across dozens of other posters and displays in the building that were similar.   I lost count how many times I saw posters or displays with pictures of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Rhianna, or some of the other celebrities noted above.  Some I guess were celebrities with a relatively “wholesome” reputation.  But really…photos of Lindsay Lohan plastered on the wall of a middle school and high school?  Charlie Sheen?  Demi Moore? Eminem?

I was rather disgusted to see the sheer number of celebrity photos on the walls.  I was even MORE disgusted to see celebrities with very questionable character plastered all over the walls.  OK, sure, I’m 45 years old, but I certainly don’t remember growing up in a culture where celebrities such as these are treated as heroes or role models. I CERTAINLY don’t remember celebrity photos plastered all over the walls at school. 

Are these what pass as “heroes” to our kids nowadays?  It’s one thing to flip through the channels on TV and see what’s popular in today’s shallow, pop-culture dominated America.  It’s quite another to see the same pop-culture crapola being actively promoted in our schools.  Are these people who we want our kids to emulate?  How many of you want your daughters to grow up to be the next Lindsay Lohan?  How many of you want your sons to grow up like Eminem, and write songs with such lovely lyrics such as “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore/till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?” (yes, I’m very uncool and had to look that up).

THESE are evidently what pass as heroes to our kids.  That’s awfully damned scary.

South Dakota House – Again Asserting their Brilliance

Mount Rushmore Faces

Washington. Jefferson. Lincoln. Roosevelt. And now, "Hickey" (aptly named) and "Bolin". I move we immediately honor South Dakota Reps. Steve "Redneck" Hickey, and Jim "Bible Boy" Bolin, for their sponsorship of the South Dakota bill that "recommends" bible study in public classrooms.

There are a number of terms you’d never likely use in the same sentence as “South Dakota House”.  “Progressive”, for example.  “Fair and Balanced”.  “Intelligent”.  My current state of South Dakota has the unfortunate honor of having the most idiotic, ass-backwards set of politicians this side of Newt Gingrich.  The pinnacle of achievement for the South Dakota House was during the 2010 session, when they passed a bill calling for “balanced teaching of global warming” in South Dakota classrooms.  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or the Onion couldn’t craft a more hilarious piece of legislation than what is contained in this bill.  But seriously, why SHOULD educators teach our children about climate change, when “there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics” that really drive climate change.  That, and the fact that carbon dioxide is “the gas of life”. 

Once again, the South Dakota House is feeling the need to assert their brilliance.  They recently passed a bill that recommends South Dakota educators add a study of the bible to the standard curriculum.  After all, according to them, the bible “permeates all culture, law, and philosophy“, and really, that’s all that matters to folks, right?  At least to white male Christian folks like those making up 99.99768% of the South Dakota House.  As R-Jim Bolin states, of COURSE we should have bible study in public schools, since such common catchy phrases such as “Old as Methuseluh” come from the bible and are SO prevalent in every day conversation today.  Just check your friends on Facebook, or listen to your teenage kids…they’re ALL saying it. 

Look, I have absolutely no problem with what people personally believe.  Live and let live.  Heck, despite my own beliefs, I even don’t have a problem if schools want to talk about the bible and it’s influence on Western culture….IF it’s done honestly and fairly.  But what are the odds of THAT happening in Hickville, South Dakota (99.2% of towns in South Dakota may qualify for the title)?  If a teacher cracks open a bible and starts spouting off bible verses in class…what are the odds that teacher will ALSO crack open a Koran and do the same?  What are the odds in South Dakota that the teacher will ALSO teach the philosophy of Buddhism?  Hinduism? 

You’ll notice the white Christian males of the South Dakota House ONLY said that teachers should talk about the Bible in classrooms.  What a shock.  Gotta love good ol’ state-sponsored bigotry, which is what this bill amounts to. 

Do us a favor, South Dakota legislators.  Stick to what you know best…things like your attempts to make sure every South Dakotan is armed to the teeth with the latest concealed or automatic weaponry.  Leave educational issues to those who are, well….educated.

Fight for teaching climate change and evolution

Climate Change and Evolution

There are remarkable similarities in the growing fight to just teach the SCIENCE of climate change, and the SCIENCE of evolution.

The National Center for Science Education has long been fighting a battle to teach the science of evolution in the classroom.   Note the organization’s name…SCIENCE EDUCATION.  Theology has no place in the science classroom, unless what’s being taught has an actual scientific foundation.  The NCSE has been fighting to keep theology out of the science classroom, and focus on the actual science of evolution.

Well, add another topic to the NCSE’s agenda.  The NCSE has now also started to push back against those trying to introduce “both sides” of climate change science.  There are striking similarities between the issues of how evolution and climate change are viewed in the U.S.   From a scientific standpoint, from the standpoint of evaluating empirical evidence, there IS no controversy behind either issue.  From a scientific standpoint, evolution is obvious and well established.  It’s a real, measurable, observable phenomenon, one with a wealth of supporting data in the fossil record, and one that we can actually see happening in the present day.   There IS no “other side” of the issue to examine.  There IS no scientific controversy between evolution, and the belief in creationism.

The same can be said for climate change.  There is no doubt that climate change is occurring.   The empirical evidence is overwhelming, from measured temperature increases, shocking declines in the Arctic ice pack, melting of long-stable permafrost, retreat of glaciers all over the world, etc.   There is overwhelming empirical evidence that human activity is the major contributor to climate change, with measurable, unprecedented rapid atmospheric increases in greenhouse gases. 

For evolution, those that are pushing to teach “both sides” of the issue are those that feel their religious beliefs are threatened by the science of evolution.  For those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they SHOULD feel their religious beliefs are threatened by the science of evolution.  The earth is not 5,000 years old.  We ARE descended from more primitive primate forms.  There is simply zero doubt on those facts.  For those pushing to teach “both sides” of the climate change issue, the primary driving force isn’t religion, it’s $$$$$$$$.  

Oil companies and others with a financial stake in keeping the status quo in terms of energy use and our treatment of the environment have been funding a massive misinformation campaign on climate change.  Given that the Republican Party is THE party where the almighty dollar trumps everything else (including the future welfare of the planet for our children), the GOP has picked up on climate change as a core issue they think can resonate with their (ignorant) masses.  And they have been correct!!  The Republican masses have fallen for the hype, have IGNORED the actual science, and now (stupidly) believe there ARE two “sides” of the climate change issue.  And just as with those backing evolution, there have been efforts to introduce the “other side” of climate change in our children’s classrooms.

THANK GOD there are groups like the NCSE who are fighting the anti-science nonsense that is being pushed on our children.  People are currently concerned about the future of the U.S., with the focus right now seemingly being on the economy, and global economic competitiveness.  The best way to ensure a strong future is through investment in education and our children.  There ARE
“two sides” to our future.  The first future has a well-educated workforce, one where our children were indeed brought up to examine issues on their own merit, but one where SCIENCE and empirical data forms the backbone of their reasoning. 

The second future is one where religious and political forces result in our children becoming global laughingstocks, where science plays second-fiddle to religious belief and the politically driven propaganda.

Record-low SAT scores – Let's cut education spending!!

American Education - Grade of FAmerican investment in education and our future is paying off!!  We are getting EXACTLY what we deserve!! And what are we getting?  Dumb children.   SAT scores in reading for last year were the lowest ever recorded.   Very surprising…we continue to cut education funding, and our children continue to get dumber and dumber. 

 Out of the 41 countries tested in 2003.  U.S. students scored 28th in math testing.    Latvia just edged us out for 27th.  In reading, we scored 18th out of 41.  In science, we scored 22nd out of 41.  But who can blame us?  The United States just doesn’t have the resources to spend on education like Latvia does!!  Right????   Well, no, that isn’t quite right.  In 2011, the Federal government spent 12 times as much on the military as we did on education.   We spent nearly 10 times as much on the military as we did on science, environmental, and energy programs, combined.  Our military budget nearly matches the rest of the WORLD’S military budget, combined!!

It’s all about priorities.  Education funding seems to be one of the first things on the chopping block when there are budget issues.  Raise taxes?  Or fire teachers?  9 times out of 10 in the U.S., the answer seems to be to fire teachers.   Now we unquestionably have issues with federal deficits and debt, and what are our priorities for addressing that debt?  Do we raise taxes to ensure our ability to invest in our future?  GOD NO!!  This is America!  Land of the brain-dead GOP!   Raising taxes is COMPLETELY off the table!!

Do we cut our massive bloated military budget?  GOD NO!!!  This is America!  Land of the brain-dead GOP!  Cutting the military budget is COMPLETELY off the table!!!

Do we foolishly cut our investments in education and science?  GOD YES!  This is America! Land of the brain-dead GOP!  Michele Bachman has advocated that we simply CUT the entire Department of Education.  Rick Perry and Herman Cain also strongly advocate moving all control of education to states and local governments.  Surely state and local control would result in a better education system, right?  GOD NO!!  In my current state of South Dakota this past year, when budget issues arose, one of the first things cut (surprise!!) was education funding.   When push comes to shove, be it at the Federal, State, or local level, people consistently choose the short-sighted view to handle short-term budget issues by cutting long-term investment in education and science.

America land of the free, and home of the brave.  OH, and also the land of dumb children.  And there’s no one to blame but ourselves and our screwed up priorities.

GOP War on Education

Lord Voldemort, Victim?

Lord Voldemort...victim of government oppression, and new face of the Tea Party

Government is evil.  The tea-party take-over of the GOP has simplified the GOP message into one simple statement…government is evil.  It doesn’t matter if it’s government funded science, programs for the poor….heck, it could be a government sponsored program to hunt Horcruxes and prevent Lord Voldemort from destroying mankind, and the Tea Party would end up carrying pro-Voldemort posters and rallying against government oppression.

As a scientist, I find it incredibly disturbing that political ideology trumps sound scientific research when it comes to artificially politicized issues such as climate change and evolution/creationism.   In the short term, such short-sightedness (I’m being VERY polite by not using a more vulgar, but appropriate term) may not do significant harm.  However, the GOP’s attacks on science and government’s role in providing education also is likely to have a devastating long-term effect on American innovation and our place in the world. 

Here’s a terrific piece from Slate on GOP’s changing stance on education.  Terrific, but damned scary.  Instead of ensuring every child has the same educational opportunities, instead of making sure that a basic curriculum is provided which lays the educational foundation for our children, conservatives have twisted the discussion towards whether we’re (GASP!!) mentioning homosexuality, teaching evolution, or (GASP!) discussing contraception instead of abstinence.

In a Tea-party world, our children will be wearing chastity belts, will think babies are delivered by stork, and will have no concept that a substantial portion of the human race are (GASP!) homosexual.   In a Tea-party world, we may end up with good little children who obey their parents, go to bed on time, and faint if they should even hear someone say the f-word. 

In a Tea-party world, our children will also think Great Grandpa Jones had to fight dinosaurs on his way to work, that rain is simply angels crying, and that calculus is some kind of a fungus you get on your feet.  Our children will also UNDOUBTEDLY end up being low-paid lackeys working for foreign bosses, foreign heathens and sinners who foolishly were raised with an education focused on science, mathematics, and an unbiased historical view of the world.

As a scientist, I can’t help but think that much of the world is simply laughing at what passes as “educational issues” in the U.S.   Laughing, and smiling as they watch the era of American dominance in science and innovation get flushed down the drain for the sake of artificial morality.

My LAST Letter to the Editor!

Last Letter

This is my LAST letter to the editor! Blogosphere, here I come!

And THIS is one of the reasons for this blog now existing!!  I’ve decided that instead of wasting my time spouting my opinions in letters to the editor, it might be more efficient to waste my time spouting my opinions in my own blog.   I thought I could be even more obnoxius that way, as I can update a blog a lot more than I can have letters to the editor published.   And as my wife will attest to, I enjoy being obnoxius.  :-)

So, my LAST letter to the editor dealt with the baffling way that Republicans seem to come up with their own conclusions on scientific or economic issues, facts-be-damned.  Here’s what I wrote…

Terry L. Sohl, Brandon

Tonight as I pondered my young son’s eventual college education, I had an epiphany. After reading the news online, I realized my son won’t need a college education. All I need to do is instruct my son to register as a Republican on his 18th birthday.

My logic is apparent when reading the news. Republicans have proclaimed global warming to be a sham. Republicans say we don’t need the EPA to protect us from harmful pollutants. Republican politicians are criticized if they believe in evolution. And finally, Republicans are scoffing at current doomsday scenarios about not raising the debt ceiling.

When my son registers as a Republican, it’s obvious he will magically be given a level of understanding of climate change, toxicology, biology and economics that far surpasses the wisdom of those who have earned Ph.D.s in these fields. By our youngsters all registering as Republicans, we will solve the decline of American dominance in science and research.It’s a simple, cheap and immediate solution that doesn’t require a lot of hard work or thought. And sadly, this method of solving our problems also seems to be both the new American paradigm, and simultaneously, the reason for our decline.