Until Midterm Elections...

Scott versus Scott

Welcome to our blog. Here we will debate the days most serious topics and allow users the chance to discuss the topics as well. The range of topics will vary, but one thing will remain certain, the debate will rage on. Scott Lesinski is a proud conservative and Scott Jones is a proud liberal. However, the roles will switch on some topics. Stay tuned.

Scott Lesinski is currently an actuarial associate for a large human resources and insurance consulting firm in Saint Louis. He is also an avid student of US history and enjoys following current events, with an eye to their contextual relationship to the past. He is also, in fact, a former student of Mr. Scott Jones. Scott is working toward his FSA credentials, which is akin to earning a PHD in Actuarial Science.

Scott Jones is currently a high school social studies teacher at a high school in suburban St. Louis, MO. He teaches World History, AP American Government and Senior American Foreign Policy. He has a BS. Ed. (Secondary Social Studies) from the University of Missouri - Columbia and a M.A. (History) from Southeast Missouri State University. He is currently working on a dissertation in character education to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fixing American Public Education

I posted this some time ago as a note on Scott L.'s Facebook page. Since I've been on vaction last week and it continues this week, I thought it would be a good time to post this on this blog.

______

Education is the single most important a society based on the principles of democracy can do for its citizenry. In fact, it was the development of civic character (i.e. literacy, respect, responsibility, civic participation, a commitment to social justice and rule of law, etc) that our Founding Fathers thought was the most important task of the schools (Pangle & Pangle, 2000).

This important purpose of education was shared by people of diverse political philosophies as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (ibid).Other educational theorists have developed this purpose even further (Dewey, 1916; Westheimer & Kahne, 2000). Essentially, the best development of civic character comes from the direct teaching of civics and character (i.e. character education) and allowing students to practice these skills (i.e. service learning) as well as indirect methods of teacher personality, teacher actions and teacher commitment to students. Fleming et al (2006) found that students who had a teacher that was committed to practicing the ideals of democracy in the classroom had students more likely to become active politically and committed to the democratic process.

So what is happened? I blame two things: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 (No Child Left Behind) and teacher special interest groups (i.e. National Education Association, National Federation of Teachers).NCLB in and of itself is not a bad idea. After all, no one is in favor of leaving kids behind. However, it is the continuation of scary trend in public education.

Prior to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, character education and civic (citizenship) education was the core of what was taught in schools. Whether the subject be math, science, English and, of course, social studies, everything was framed in terms of civic responsibility as the key of why the subjects were important to learn (McClellan, 1999).

However, since the 1960s, schools not only have been loaded with other programs (i.e. breakfast and lunch programs, practical arts programs, special education) that while are important things a society needs to do for its less fortunate, but drain resources from public education that, when adjusted for inflation, remains at the 1950s level (Tuerck, 2008). In other words, schools are asked to do more, but with less real dollars. On top of this, schools must now use these limited resources (and in many cases, inefficiently, but no more inefficient than the Department of Defense) to not only serve these other functions, but also make sure that students succeed in developing literacy and numeracy skills that are the focus of the standardized tests brought on by NCLB. Furthermore, a school’s accreditation is dependent on enough students passing this test.

While NCLB has its flaws, in and of itself, I can’t disagree with its goals. However, NCLB becomes a problem because teachers are too insulated from the realities of poor student performance.

This is because of the teacher tenure system, which has destroyed teacher initiative to improve their practice (NOTE: While I will argue against teacher tenure, I am not volunteering to give up mine so long as the current system remains in place).

Why on earth should I be rewarded with consistent pay raises despite my inability to motivate students to perform? Yet, under the current system, my job is perfectly safe and there is no real motivation to improve.Closely related is the way teachers are paid. I argue all time about teacher pay with my more politically conservative colleagues who ironically support collective bargaining for teachers. I am close to earning my doctorate and I am paid at the same basic level as other teachers. My dissertation will prove (I’ve already run the data) that students who take my sophomore world history class score higher on the MAP test and have significantly higher junior American History grades.

My reward for my own personal research that has guided my efforts to get better as a teacher, NOTHING!!!! A BIG FAT 0!!! I guess I can say that I sleep better at night because of my hard work, but….

Furthermore, I have found that students who take my Honors Government class have significantly more complex understandings of the Federal Government and the United States Constitution than before they took the class. This is due to my direct instruction, the issue debates, moot Supreme Court and, online current events discussion board and class discussions on the issues related to the Federal Government. Students who take my International Relations class start with very little understanding of how American foreign policy develops and through my direct instruction, online discussion board on international current events, in class policy discussions and my National Security Council simulation.

My reward for my own personal research that has guided my efforts to get better as a teacher, NOTHING!!!! A BIG FAT 0!!! I guess I can say that I sleep better at night because of my hard work, but….

In other words, I’ve worked my ass off to improve as a teacher However, my efforts are not just for those who have academic success come easy from them. From my own research and discussions with students, not only have I found the academic success I mentioned earlier, but I’ve also found that over the last three years, I’ve had 100% of my students report that they love my class and appreciate my efforts as a teacher. (NOTE: my overall failure rate in my sophomore classes is around 13%). I have no discipline problems; in fact, I tell students I will NOT send them to the office or write detention, which has resulted in exactly zero incidents that would even warrant outside interventions.

My reward for working to get ALL gets to learn, NOTHING!!!! A BIG FAT 0!!! I guess I can say that I sleep better at night because of my hard work, but….

SOLUTIONS

I don’t favor vouchers, because it doesn’t fix the problem. Sure, it would help a small percentage of students who probably don’t need help anyway. With solid parental guidance, a student will have academic success despite the school’s condition and the teachers. Anyway, most of the arguments I’ve heard about the benefits of vouchers has sounded like conservative attempts to get around the Supreme Court’s Brown decision. Vouchers would essentially re-segregate schools with only a few “acceptable” minorities accepted into the private all-white schools. The Declaration of Independence states that “all” have inalienable rights, which education is the best known way to guarantee life, liberty and pursuits of happiness.

Vouchers would seriously violate the ideas of “all” having access to this system that allows for success in life. Also, many teachers in private school have some of the same afflictions as those in public schools. The main difference is that they are easily fired if they don’t perform well and financially rewarded for making improvements (i.e. higher test score performance, advanced educational degrees). Once the slacker teacher is removed, the climate of teacher performance becomes the norm and the group of teachers inspires other teachers to become better.This professional environment does not exist in most public schools, at least at the high school level that has been my experience and the focus of my doctoral studies.

There are no avenues for a teacher to seek ways to improve instruction within the school (I had to commit to my doctorate in character education in order to seek improvement) and no reward/punishment for improvement, or the lack thereof.

Therefore, my solutions to fix the main problems of public education:

1) Return to a focus of character and citizenship education. Many research studies have shown schools that have focused on these original purposes of education have fewer behavior problems and higher test scores than comparison schools. The other things added to the school day that includes practical arts, fine arts, etc are valuable programs for students, but we need to return to a more simple purpose for schools. Teaching respect and responsibility. Once we do that, then the other programs became even better. This is not take something away to add something new. It is creating a foundation of character so that the other programs in the school become stronger.

2) Professionalize the teaching profession. Teacher associations and unions have for too long controlled the way teachers are viewed. We are professionals with college degrees and many with advanced college degrees and a few with advanced advanced degrees.

3) Get rid of collective bargaining. Teachers should not be paid just because of the number of years they’ve taught. They should be paid like every other professional person in the Western world – on their performance. In education circles, this is known as merit pay.

4) Destroy teacher tenure. If you aren’t doing a good job, you are fired. Isn’t that at the cores of being a professional?

5) Increase funding to lower class size (this can be done, in part, by streamlining local educational bureaucracies and reducing the number of programs expected of public schools). Let good teachers have ten students per class and watch them solve motivation and behavior problems. Then test scores will go through the roof. America has for too long tried to educate its population on shoestring budgets.

6) Stop using age as a measure of achievement. Sure there are things that we are able to do cognitively as we get older, but just because I am 13 years old, does not mean that my development is uniform. We all develop cognitively at different times. If I am 7 years old and I can do the work of someone who should be in sixth grade, then I should be allowed to do that work. At the same time, just because I am 14 years old, does not mean that I am at the same level of development as others my age. I might need to be doing working that some 8 years old are doing, because that is there level of development. Once a student gets to the high school level, then allow for yearlong classes because the academics become more specific to its discipline. Also, cognitive development becomes more uniform around the age of 16. For younger students who already show the cognitive ability of a 16 year old, why not allow them to stay cognitively challenged? For students who are 16 years old but do not have the cognitive ability of their peers, why force them to continue to fail? While some people have argued this is a bad idea because of the problems of having a 16 year old boy in class with 8 year old girls, there is no reason to discredit the idea. After this problem could be easily avoided by adopting same-gender schools. This is another benefit because boys and girls develop both physically and cognitively at different ages.

The reform of public education is critical to the continued success of our democratic principles. However, this must be for all Americans. The number one cause of poverty is the lack of a good education. Poverty causes almost all of the societal problems in America (i.e. crime). California, after all, is able to predict the number of prison beds they will need based on third grade reading scores from 10 years ago. THIRD GRADE!!! Voucher programs will not fix this. You want to get rid of welfare programs? Solve the problems with public education and watch poverty disappear. Watch poverty disappear and watch crime drop. Watch crime drop and watch every politician try to take credit for it. Education and crime, not only are the highly correlated inversely, there is a direct cause and effect relationship as well.

Let's be honest about the state of our education. If you are a white person, you will receive the second best education (minus good character education for the most part) in the Western Industrialized world. However, our education for minority students ranks 24th out of 25 Western nations when compared to the minority education in other countries. We must do better and reward those teachers who strive to make American education more equitable, more character based and more challenging.

I’d be willing to listen to everyone’s comments on these solutions. I know I haven’t thought of them all. I think there is enough in here to upset both liberals and conservatives. My professional colleagues (most of whom are conservative) call some of my ideas too radical. Most of my doctoral school colleagues (most of whom are liberal) call some of my ideas too radical.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama is succeeding! Unfortunately, this means America is not.

Well, I’ve always stated that I am a results-oriented person, especially regarding politics and economics. I want to put policies in place that I know, from experience, will work.

But alas, do we all agree on the functional definition of “work” or “succeed” when it comes to economic policies? I value low unemployment, GDP growth, net income growth, and steady, low inflation. I value a strong dollar. Barack Obama seems to value “fairness” over these sound economic precepts. I railed about how his policies would fail prior to the election and ever since, but let me put my money where my mouth is and dive into some actual data.

Per the Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget, here are some timely statistics, that will help us gage whether Obama’s socialist policies are working.

Unemployment Rate
Sep-08 6.20%
Oct-08 6.60%
Nov-08 6.80%
Dec-08 7.20%
Jan-09 7.60%
Feb-09 8.10%
Mar-09 8.50%
Apr-09 8.90%
May-09 9.40%

Jobs Gain/Loss
Sep-08 (321,000)
Oct-08 (380,000)
Nov-08 (597,000)
Dec-08 (681,000)
Jan-09 (741,000)
Feb-09 (681,000)
Mar-09 (699,000)
Apr-09 (539,000)
May-09 (345,000)

Debt held by the public in 2008 dollars by year
Year (trillions) %increase Debt/GDP
2001 3.97 N/A 33%
2002 4.16 4.79% 34.10%
2003 4.51 8.41% 36.20%
2004 4.82 6.87% 37.3
2005 4.99 3.53% 37.50%
2006 5.08 1.80% 37.10%
2007 5.15 1.38% 36.90%
2008 5.8 12.62% 40.80%
2009 8.41 45.00% 59.90%
2010 9.64 14.63% 67.10%
2011 10.47 8.61% 70.10%
2012 10.86 3.72% 69.60%
2013 11.16 2.76% 68.70%
2014 11.51 3.14% 68.50%

The first two sets of data demonstrate that I was right; Obama’s stimulus/porkulus socialist redistributive policies are not working. We have to hold Obama accountable; he said in a press conference in January or February that the way we were to gauge whether his policies were working was to look at the number of jobs. He promised to “create or save” 2.5-5 million jobs (the number fluctuated depending on the day). He invented this totally unmeasurable factor of “jobs saved” as a way to conceal the true failure of his policies. There is no way you can claim a job was saved as a result of Obama’s policies (unless you want to look at government jobs…he has added quite a few of those).

To be fair, we were headed into a recession before Obama took office; the data clearly support that statement. I firmly believe unwise liberal policies were the initial impetus for our economic woes, from the Carter/Clinton/Barney Frank/Chris Dodd housing bubble burst to the continued lack of consumer confidence I believe the first round of stimulus caused. I spoke out against the Bush administration, so please don’t try to just dump on Bush. I am not a sycophant of Bush and never was, plus, he is in Crawford and can’t do anything any longer. Obama has a responsibility to correct the wrong action of Bush near the end of his term, not exacerbate the problem by just accelerating the spending and government control.

Lets dive into the data. Since Obama took office in January, we have lost 2,264,000 jobs (I’ll go ahead and attribute January’s losses to Bush, since Obama hadn’t done anything yet). Based on Obama’s metric of success, he is failing miserably.

The May unemployment rate was 9.4% - a 26 year record high. This does not convince me that we are going in the right direction under Obama.

But Scott, we haven’t given Obama enough time yet! We must have faith!

Well consider this, of the $461 billion called for to be spent by the end of 2010, a mere $37 billion has been spent. That is 8%. Much of the stimulus bill is so back loaded into 2010, that many are predicting the economy will have recovered by the time it gets spent! Now why would this be? If “only government has the power to fix the economy”, then why isn’t Obama using government to fix the economy? He has the spending passed, why not ask that it be accelerated if it is truly the only thing that can cure our woes?

The third data set is the real scary one, in my opinion. Remember, these numbers are coming from the Whitehouse website, the OMB. These are Obama’s numbers. His office is projecting that publicly held debt of the government will increase by 45% in one year under his leadership, and will almost double in five years. This is unsustainable debt, my friends. No bleeding heart ideology can counter that fact. We cannot afford Barack Obama and his own projections prove my point.

That last column of data is debt as a percentage of the GDP. Notice that it jumps 20% in Obama’s first year in office. Folks, when our debt is 70% of our total production, we are totally screwed. It is not a matter of my conservative principles or your liberal ones; arithmetic cannot be biased. We won’t have the money to pay for our interest on our debt, much less try to pay it off.

And here is something else, with all these people unemployed, they are not earning incomes and paying income taxes, nor do they have as much cash to spend into the economy. Exactly as I have predicted and claimed, Obama’s policies are causing “trickle up” poverty.

All this bad economic news, yet Obama is full steam ahead. His next policy initiative in National Healthcare, which we’ve debated, but which would just add another crushing weight to our already bloated budget. And another point that must be brought up about healthcare:

Folks, if we get public healthcare, we will lose our freedom. Government will assume total control over our personal lives. They will claim that they are paying for our healthcare, therefore, we must not eat this, drink that, do this activity, drive this car, smoke cigarettes (not that I do, but its freedom I’m about)…the levels of dictatorial control are literally endless. All of this will be done “on our behalf” or we’ll be asked (told) to sacrifice for future generations. Not to mention all the rationing of care that will necessarily follow government involvement.

Obama’s budget masters have projected that his health proposals will actually decrease the deficit in future years, but that is a total laugh.

Something else, Obama wants all these green jobs. He says he is going to create thousands of new Green Jobs with all of his “investments” in green energy. He cites Spain, Germany and Japan as countries we ought to emulate when it comes to adding green jobs.

A new Spanish university study suggests we probably shouldn’t be going this way.

“Gabriel Calzada Alvarez, a professor, has released a study with startling claims about what's happened in Spain and what he predicts will play out in America.

Calzada says for every green job that's created with government funding, 2.2 regular jobs are lost and that only one in 10 green jobs wind up being permanent.

With billions slated to go toward similar programs in the U.S. the study is sparking new concerns.”

This study is out of La Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. With our already suffering jobs figures, lets not go this green route, how about that?

I mentioned at the beginning of my post what my definition of “work” or “succeed” was when it came to the economy. As stated, Obama’s policies are not working. However, from Obama’s perspective, I believe they are working quite well.

He has nationalized several banks and insurance companies. He threw out the CEO of GM and has nationalized both GM and Chrysler. He is steadily increasing the level of dependency of all of us on government. He has capped executive pay. He has a state-run by proxy media that is trying desperately to spin these horrible economic numbers as good news. CEOs everywhere are cowering in fear of him. He has appointed 21 czars in the Whitehouse as a way to circumvent the constitutionally required senatorial review process of cabinet members.

He is restoring the nation’s wealth to its so-called rightful owners.

Rush said it best when he said he hoped Obama would fail, and that by virtue of Obama failing, America would succeed. Unfortunately, Obama is succeeding.

We can stop this decline. We get to speak up in 2010. We must elected people to Congress who will fight against the takeover of the private sector and the limitless government spending. I am telling you friends, if we implemented my proposed policies we could see this economy come roaring back next year. Because my proposals would help individuals succeed, not the government.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Individual Responsibility and Empathy

On a recent post, one of the comments concerning my liberal ideology was that we (the liberals) want the government to take care of us. The implication of this, of course, is that I do not believe in individual responsibility.

That could not be further from the truth.

I do believe in individual responsibility, but it is much more complicated than that. In fact, the breakdown of individual responsibility is exactly where the need for a referee, the government, is much needed.

Psychologists refer to a phenomenon known as fundamental attribution error. This error is defined in the textbooks as a theory describing cognitive tendency to predominantly over-value dispositional, or personality-based, explanations (i.e., attributions or interpretations) for the observed behaviors of others, thus under-valuing or acknowledging the potentiality of situational attributions or situational explanations for the behavioral motives of others.

In other words, people predominantly presume that the actions of others are indicative of the "kind" of person they are, rather than the kind of situations that compels their behavior.

For instance, when someone fails to hold the door open for you at QuikTrip, you immediately brand them as rude. Or, for a more practical application, you cuss the driver who cuts you off in traffic.

However, when it is you doing it, you have a different view of the events. You don’t hold the door open, because you are in some other world thinking about what you need to do at work that day. You cut someone off on the highway, because you are late and need to move faster than traffic is currently moving.

Basically, I don’t think individual responsibility exits. At least in terms of how it used by conservatives. We always hold others individually responsible for their actions, but we have an excuse for our own. That, my fellow friends, is the very definition of a hypocrite.

Furthermore, individual responsibility cannot exist. No one has ever made it on their own in this world. In fact, some people try, but they die of malnutrition at birth because they refuse the help of their own mother’s milk.

On a practical manner, we have the freedom to do whatever we choose so long as another person is not hurt by our actions.

The smoker has the freedom to light up, but only in a way that does not hurt the nonsmokers desire/freedom to breathe clean air.

The driver has the freedom to drive on the highway, but only in a way that causes no hurt to the other drivers.

The factory has the right to make stuff, but only in a way that does not harm the people living in the area.

I could give more examples, but for the sake of space, I will move on.

In a perfect world, everyone would always be aware of how their actions and be able to see the actions of others from that person’s perspective. However, empathy, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective, is the hardest of the moral traits identified by Aristotle and Immanuel Kant to develop individually.

I know the word empathy drives conservatives nuts right now, but if we all used it perfectly, there would be no need for the government to act as a referee between two individuals acting on their conflicting own best interests.

Since it is impossible to act with empathy all the time (self-interest isn’t always a bad thing), we must have government regulate behavior in a way that keeps us from harming one another.

Bernie Madoff’s actions did not benefit the other. In fact, if he would’ve had some empathy, then no Ponzi scheme.

Smoker believe they have a right to light up (a closer look at the Constitution does not find such a right exists) whenever and wherever they want. If they had some empathy, then they would be willing to take the comfort of the nonsmoker in mind before lighting up outside instead of in the next booth.

While the government won’t always make the most empathetic decisions (see slavery, Japanese-American internment, Tuskegee – it seems that minorities have the least empathetic decisions made towards them) we have no other mechanism in American society to act as the arbiter between/among conflicting freedoms.

Conservatives claim that empathy isn’t in the Constitution and plan to protest Sonia Sotomayer’s nomination because of her claim that it is in the Constitution.

To claim that empathy is not a part of the Constitution and not a relevant factor in making legal decision is to claim that the Founders lacked the most important moral trait.

Conservatives believing the The Founding Fathers are immoral…Unbelievable.