Monday, November 26, 2012

Let College Athletes Major in Pro Sports

As an academic and a teacher and a parent and a citizen, I am absolutely opposed to the idea of paying college athletes for participation on their teams.  Even a monthly stipend is absurd, considering the "payment" in the form of room, board, and tuition they are already receiving.  And, for the major sports - predominantly basketball and football - the students are given a free platform on which to audition or "interview" for their first job.  Additionally, I am truly bothered by the clear lack of academia in the ranks of these athletes, and I would not be opposed to revoking tax-exempt status for colleges that fail to produce educated athletes who earn degrees.  They are tax exempt based on an "educational mission," and that is clearly far from reality.

However, there may be another option.

Last year, Jose Nocera of the New York Times posed the taboo idea - Let's Start Paying College Athletes.  Ultimately, Nocera took the issue to a new and intriguing level when he posed the idea of letting college athletes major in "professional sports."  This idea was intriguing on multiple levels, and it honestly addressed the issue in a way the NCAA - and NBA/NFL - never will.  Many athletes are at college simply to audition for pro teams.  They know it.  Their coaches know it.  Their future employers know it.  Their friends and family not only know, but endorse it.  And everyone else, including the government agencies that look the other way, know it as well.  Now, perhaps that idea is gaining credibility, as it has been posed again by David Pargman, a professor at Florida State University, who says End the Charade: Let College Athletes Major in Pro Sports.

Clearly, there is a business element to professional sports, and such "business" concepts could be studied in a manner that at least "resembles" higher education.  Both Nocera and Pargman argue that aspects of business and conditioning and critical thinking and psychology and marketing could be part of a college major that would serve future pro athletes.  We all know from the tabloid stories that many of these future businessmen could benefit from some classes in basic business contracts and personal finance.  Marketing classes aren't a bad idea either.  After the students complete the general  education requirements that all students take, they could declare for "Pro Athlete," rather than pretending to be a communications major.  And a series of legitimate classes refining skills they might need could be crafted.  It just might make sense.

Of course, there is a counter-argument presented by no less of an authority than the NCAA. However, Nocera and Parman are correct about one thing: it is a charade.  And perhaps it's time stop playing games with the world of education.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mike Rowe & Discovery's Dirty Jobs Comes to End

Jobs.  Any jobs.  Even "Dirty Jobs"?

Jobs have been the talk of the country for the past four years as the country continues to limp its way to recovery from a financial crisis, crash, and recession that cost Americans 23 million jobs.  And, now works' greatest advocate - Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs - is facing the end of one of his greatest gigs.  Via his blog Mike Rowe announced the end of the series that had been one of the Discovery Channel's most popular.  And with that, the voice of labor has been dealt a blow.

For almost a decade, Mike Rowe has been singing the praises of "working people," and reminding Americans of the glory in hard work, even if - especially if - it's one of those jobs that people won't normally take.  As host of Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe and his now iconic voice spent an hour each week educating people about the intricacies of miners and roadkill picker-uppers and steelworkers.  And Mike Rowe didn't comment from the sidelines - he got down and dirty with the people who make the country run.  Acting as an apprentice, Mike would spend a day with the "dirty jobs" workers, doing what they do and seeing the world from their perspective - which could mean from the inside of a septic tank.

However, Mike Rowe wasn't just a TV personality, spotlighting the news and offering a point of view

In the past decade, Mike Rowe has become a significant proponent for what he calls "A P.R. campaign for work."  During his popular TED Talks speech about the the issue of work, Mike Rowe argued that America had "declared war on work."  There was a growing contempt for labor, even as the country saw a rising need for skilled workers.  Fewer people were interested in becoming plumbers and electricians and welders because they have been steered toward bachelor degrees for "better jobs."  This is not good in a country that needs almost $4 trillion in infrastructure work and has seen many manufacturing and college-educated jobs move abroad in recent years.  Something need to be done to return a degree of respect for labor and Career and Technical Education.  Rowe responded by stepping up and doing just that - he's promoting work.  In creating a website - which is committed to developing the profile of work, of labor - Mike is hoping to contribute to putting people back to work.

Through his "work" advocating work, Mike Rowe has played a role in developing conversations for the United States to rethink the way it educates its young people and trains people for the future.  The website continues to grow, and Mike's ideas were even drawn in to the arena they belong - the political world of the 2012 campaign.  Speaking at a rally for Mitt Romney, Mike Rowe did not stump for the candidate or promote ideology or partisanship.  He simply talked about the importance of working people and the importance of putting people back to work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skilled Labor is as Important as STEM Classes

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is the key to solving the unemployment problem for millions of workers - if only schools and the government would respond.  Even as Marc Tucker tells us of the brilliance of Singapore's educating of skilled labor and news reports abound with millions of mechanical jobs going unfilled, the country still faces a serious problem in educating its people for a changing world.  Most recently, New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman has picked up the call noting If You've Got the Skills, She's Got the Job.

One key profession touted by Friedman and others is professional welding, which is in high demand, but faces a serious shortage of workers.  Important to remember is welding is not for the uneducated - for in today's age "Welding is a STEM job."  The problem, of course, is the coming lack of skilled workers to take the jobs.  Schools facing budget cuts and a myopic focus on test scores, emphasizing university degrees for all people, are unable to provide the sort of support the country needs to develop skilled labor.

Friedman argues that the USA needs a new Race-to-the-Top with new stimulus spending to revamp the education system that cannot provide the training workers need.  Whereas, companies used to train their own workers in less skilled jobs fifty years ago, there are few corporations or small businesses that can afford to foot the bill.  Thus, we need a business-government partnership to fund the training for the jobs that are waiting.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New Movers & Shakers in Education Reform

Education reform is a buzzword - as well as a billion dollar industry - and it has been increasing its market share of the headlines over the past decade.  From charter schools to online learning, the education paradigm has shifted, if not quite been turned on its head.  For the vast majority of people in developed countries such as the United States, public education still happens on the Carnegie unit K-16 of the past century.  However, many visionaries - both young and old - are revolutionizing education, and the list of reformers is growing fast.

The most well known names in education reform these days are people like Bill Gates, whose Gates Foundation has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reforming schools.  Other people like Wendy  Kopp who founded Teach for America and Sal Khan of the online teaching system Khan Academy are becoming more prominent as their influence grows through the changes they make.  Sal Khan, for example, is funded by philanthropists such as the Gates Foundation, and Khan's concept of the "flipped classroom" is taking innovation to the most entrenched system in American culture.

Forbes Magazine has assembled a more extensive list of people who are changing the education paradigm through new "education start-ups."  People like Daphne Koller whose online platform Coursera is offering world class university classes online are breaking down the barriers by granting access to classes at Harvard and MIT for people who could never afford nor be admitted to the elite institutions.  Numerous reformers have developed platforms for increasing access to education.  These are the ones to watch - or for future reformers, the ones to emulate.

As Steve Jobs of Apple told us, "Think Different."

$100K Jobs Available - Skilled Labor

Continuing on with Marc Tucker's points about highly paid skilled labor, the job market continues to hunt for skilled workers even amidst high and stagnant unemployment.  The problem is few people are either trained or willing to do the jobs available.  The auto industry is looking for thousands of highly skilled mechanics and will need hundreds of thousands in coming years.  These are not your old garage jobs that required a few hours of tinkering around in shop class - these jobs pay comfortable middle class wages, with some workers hitting six figures.  Additionally, the transportation industry is facing a shortage of big rig drivers who can also command high salaries.  A generation of retiring workers and a growing industry needs skilled people.  The problem, of course, is training for many prospective workers.  And that's something European and Asian countries do much better than we.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marc Tucker on Singapore and Career & Technical Education

Singapore is an exotic destination that fascinates the West for all its successes.  Of course, it also shocks people who wonder about the truth of jail sentences for spitting and chewing gum - which is an exaggeration.  The truly admirable part of Singapore is its education system, which has far more effectively than most countries been able to produce a higher standard of living for its skilled labor.  According to Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, Singapore has much to offer to a nation and world changed by automation.

With a combination of determination, persistence and smart policy, the Singaporeans have been investing wisely in their future for half a century.  When other countries in the East saw their future in offering cheap labor to global companies, Singapore was trying to figure out how to raise the cost of their labor--and therefore the standard of living of their people--by providing higher educated and better-trained labor.  They made life difficult for their low-value added producers and made it very attractive for their high value-added producers.  They made very close partners with the world's leading high tech companies, figured out just what kind of skills they needed most and made sure that they could get those skills in Singapore.  They paid very close attention to every segment of their workforce.  They built a very high floor under the entire workforce by providing a world-class academic curriculum to all their students and creating a world-class teaching force to teach that curriculum.  They built a system of polytechnics as good as any in the world to provide very highly skilled senior technical workers for a wide range of industries.  Perhaps most impressive, they created a set of post-secondary vocational schools for the bottom quarter of their students as fine as any I have seen anywhere in the world, with facilities that rival those of many American universities.  They turned vocational education and training from a dumping ground into a sought-after alternative that attracts more and more students every year.  

Tucker notes that Singapore consists of roughly five million people - a similar range for many American states.  Thus, a more parochial approach to education, focusing on a skilled labor approach could be just the right formula for reformers looking to decrease America's rising inequality.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Farewell to Twinkies - It's About Time

Organized labor, entrenched executives, and bankruptcy laws gave the world a gift today.  There will be no more Twinkies made - though they may be consumed for hundreds of years, considering the stockpiles and infinite shelf life of the most "un-food-like" of all snack products on supermarket shelves.  Simply by the announcement of the closing of Hostess factories, the overall health of Americans has instantly improved.  And we should not lament the bankruptcy and going out of business news for a company such as Hostess.

Certainly, some people have concerns about the 18, 500 workers who are now out of a job.  This is not a good time to be out of work.  But the job was making Twinkies, only a little less bad for all involved than a guy selling cigarettes at the convenience store.  I won't go as far as to say it's the equivalent of thousands of crack dealers being taken off the street - but I'm tempted to.  Perhaps in a culinary and nutritional rendition of creative destruction, the former Hostess workers can return to school or learn a new trade or simply not be responsible for producing a truly disgusting and worthless "food product."

The Twinkie has been the butt of jokes for years, and no one could or should or would truly lament the loss of the golden logs of synthetic pastry "stuff."  From the abomination that was deep fried Twinkies to the urban legend that only Twinkies and cockroaches could survive a nuclear blast, stories of Twinkie legend have been fodder for pop culture criticism.  In fact, author Steve Ettliner offered up the treat in a new way when he explored the "ingredients" of a Twinkie in his work Twinkie Deconstructed.

So, in a perhaps hopeful trend as people shy away from the more audacious junk food and consider more healthy options for snacks, the era of Big Twinkie is over.  May it rest in indigestive peace.  And, if you've got some lying around the house, hold onto them for a while ... or a couple centuries.  For boxes are going for big bucks on Ebay.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Support Wikipedia

Everyone uses Wikipedia.

This is not an exaggeration - or not much of one.  These days everyone says "Google it" when they have a question about anything.  But they might as well say "Wiki it" because most likely the "top hit" for information about Sophocles' tragic hero or the Bush Tax Cuts or a chronological list of the Simpsons or the career of Taylor Swift is going to be Wikipedia.

Some people believe Wikipedia is the bane of teachers' existence.  In fact, I've heard students say teachers "hate Wikipedia."  But that's not true.  Teachers love Wikipedia - even if they hypocritically deny doing so to their students.  The reality is that teachers discourage - and rightly so - the citation of "Wikipedia" as a credible source.  It shouldn't be cited in research.  However, it is credible information, and students should logically use it as a starting point or "springboard" for any research they need to do.

Thus, at this time it's important to note that Wikipedia is having its annual fund-raising drive, and the best online source for credible information - or links to credible information - needs your help.  One of Wikipedia's primary strengths is its desire to remain open source and commercial free.  By avoiding a reliance on ads, Wikipedia can offer greater objectivity to its offerings.  This is something Google can't do.

So, if you've been on Wikipedia lately, and you know you have, float a little cash their way.  Consider it your user fee.

Support (financially) Wikipedia.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Let Texas Secede from the Union

It's a little known fact - though it gained more prominence with the weak and fated presidential campaign of the hapless Governor Rick Perry - that petitions to secede from the union creep up in Texas every now and again - even every year.  It seems to be a regular bit of Texas business for one of their state legislators to introduce a resolution of secession into the Texas legislature.  However, with the re-election of President Barack Obama, the calls for secession were bound to grow louder, and now it's official.

Texas wants to secede from the Union.

Actually, about 30,000 Texans want to do so.  And a smattering of citizens nationwide in as many as twenty other states want to secede as well.  The number of signatures on a petition submitted to the White House website is enough to reach the "respectable" level where the administration usually responds.  It will be interesting to see if they do on this one.  My hope is that they will, and I already know what the response should be.

Go then.

Let Texas secede.  There isn't necessarily a lot of great reasons to force them to stay.  And I'd be sort of amused to watch Texas exercise its sovereignty.  In many ways, Texas has always been a reluctant member of the United States of America.  And Gail Collins offered a fascinating study of how the reach of Texas influences the country - and mostly not for the better - in last year's best seller As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.  The country is certainly not in favor of more George W. Bush or Rick Perry or Ross Perot.  And there isn't much favorable to say about a state school board committed to censorship and ignorance.

So, let's not too hastily reject their offer.

Maybe we should let Texas secede.

The Amazing Race - To be Continued?

As the most recent episode of The Amazing Race neared its conclusion - and the top of its prime time hour - I was wondering how the show would wrap up with several contestants still out and more than one task to complete. And, then it became apparent the show was going to continue next week.  The "To Be Continued" message was somewhat of a shock because the Race has never ended quite this way.  Normally, the episode will be a longer one with multiple teams out when it "cuts off," or it will be an episode where Phil tells contestants on the mat "You are still racing."  So, this ending was a bit unorthodox.

I am quite disappointed by the travel fiasco of the goat farmer and Abby/Ryan, though it has, I guess created this conundrum which is "To Be Continued."  The key question is how they can catch up being "nine hours behind."  Certainly, the expectation is that Abby/Ryan will go on because the Goat Farmers can't complete the swim and the Lawyer/Rock Star will be eliminated for losing their travel documents.  Trey and Lexi may be out front but I can't imagine too many people rooting for them - they're just so ... vacuous.  And, of course, the Sri Lankan Twins continue to annoy most people.  The twins' nasty language and contempt for each other makes them almost unwatchable.  And I can't wait for them to slip up.  But time is getting tight, and we might be cursed with the Twins in the final.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nate Silver & the Rise of Math Geeks

"Nate Silver is God."

At least that's the sentiment of people like Jon Stewart and Democrats across the country who have been calmed and reassured by Nate Silver for the past year that Barack Obama had a 70-90% chance of being re-elected, despite all the press and the abysmal first debate in Denver.  Much of the rest of the country is just now waking up to the significance of this man and his particularly astute mathematical models for prediction and probability.  So, who is Nate Silver?  And how does he know what everyone else didn't?

Nate Silver is a writer and statistician who publishes his insights on election probability on a the blog for the New York Times.  He rose to prominence among the geeks and nerds - and Democrats who read the Times - during the 2008 election when he accurately predicted all fifty states within percentages of 1%.  The key, according to Silver, is his aggregation of the results of numerous polls without bias or prejudice.  Though Silver is clearly a Democrat, he confidently asserts his predictions are simply about algorithms, and the rest of the country - most notably people like Karl Rove - simply don't understand the difference between probability and prediction.

Nate Silver caught the nation's attention the final weeks before the election as many Republicans began to publicly criticize his predictions that Mitt Romney only - at his best polling - had a 25% chance of winning the election.  In fact, after MSNBC conservative commentator Joe Scarborough publicly chastised Nate Silver for "claiming this is anything but a toss-up," Silver responded by crossing the line of journalistic integrity by publicly betting Scarborough $1000 (to the charity of the winner's choice) that his calculations were correct.  While Scarborough didn't - as far as we know - follow through on the bet, the clear winner in this battle is Nate Silver and statisticians.

Nate Silver, who has heavyweight math degrees from both the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, entered the career of mathematical probability and statistics by honing his craft with number crunching in the world of major league baseball.  This approach of sabermetrics, known to the masses now from the movie and film Moneyball by Michael Lewis, who publicized the approach used by Billy Beane with the Oakland A's and Bill James with the Boston Red Sox.  The phenomenal success of the Oakland A's again this year, despite a low payroll, has continued to validate the role math can play in the unlikeliest of places.  Of course, Nate Silver is the current rock star of mathematical probabilities, and for those who seek to understand it better, he has published a engaging and surprisingly readable book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don't.    As a testament to Nate Silver's newfound significance, Silver's book sales jumped nearly 800% in the days after the election, as the nation sought to catch up with the "boy who knew."

Mathematics - and geekiness - is definitely basking in some glory right now, as the press shines a spotlight on not only Nate Silver but also the mathematical models that were able to accurately predict the coming threat of Hurricane Sandy.  The role math can play in election prediction or baseball recruiting or even gambling in Vegas - which was glamorized in Ben Mezrich's fascinating "realistic fictional novel" Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions - is great publicity for math and the promotion of STEM emphasis in education these days. Certainly, this is a logical development of the rise of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs twenty years ago.  Being smart - really, really smart - can be cool.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

50 Wall Streets & the GOP Revival

Fascinating little bit of soul searching going on in the GOP these days in the aftermath of the disillusioning Democratic victory in the 2012 elections.  Many voices are offering excuses and explanations, but the party really needs to "look backward to go forward" according to writer Craig Shirley in today's Wash Post.  I am fascinated by Shirley's comments on the ideas of limited government according to conservatism:

But conservative populism should not stop there. If we rightly fear all concentrations of power, then the first order of business must be to break up the five big banks. The rationale is simple: Since the banks used illicit means via lobbyists and government to acquire such power, then government can be used to undo their ill-gotten authority.
Wall Street is too fearsome and corrupt for anyone’s good. We should find a way to create 50 Wall Streets so that money can stay in the states, and corruption can be kept to a minimum and law enforcement to a maximum. In the era of the Internet — which empowers the individual — can there be any doubt that scrutiny of local Wall Streets would keep bankers and brokers on their toes?

While the GOP has simply come to be known as the party of the wealthy who seek to avoid higher taxes and redistribution, it should divorce itself from mindlessly defending "wealth."  Clearly, there are deep ethical problems with the business world - and blaming the poor for draining the Treasury is simply not enough.  Thus, the GOP needs to honestly accept the role an unregulated financial system played in the problems of the past twenty years.

Craig Shirley's comment on the need to create 50 Wall Streets is truly fascinating to me - and it is the purest idea on the idea of state's rights in face of a growing federal government I have heard.  Living and teaching high school in Colorado, and being a proponent of a return to Career and Technical Education, I have often hoped to see the state become the "Germany of the United States" by developing a reformed education system and manufacturing base in spite of the denials of the rest of the country.  As Shirley notes, the open nature of the Internet economy offers more opportunity for individuality and self-reliance and personal responsibility and growth.

Think Globally but Act Locally has long been a catch-phrase of the Left.  However, the idea of self reliance is every bit as much a conservative idea, as noted by such Crunchy Conservatives as Rod Dreher and Joel Salatin.  From home schooling to organic farming, conservatives might think about supporting true self reliance and individuality by cutting ties with multinational organizations such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical and Archer-Daniel-Midland and General Electric and Bain Capital and Goldman-Sachs.  These large companies might need to be busted up to protect self-reliance just as Republican Teddy Roosevelt did to bring about the end of the Gilded Age.

There is a solid way back for conservatism, and it includes returning to their roots which preceded a blind faith in low taxes and "job creators."

Just a thought.

5 Qualities of an Effective Secondary Education Teacher

Are you thinking of working toward a master's degree in secondary education?

As a veteran teacher of twenty-plus years, I've counseled many young people and adults about the teaching profession, and I am always excited to speak about the career of molding and inspiring young minds.  I am always amused by people who are surprised and impressed that I can spend my days with teenagers and not go crazy.  It is a true calling, and it's a labor of love - both of content and people.

If you have aspirations of a teaching career, you should consider the qualities of secondary education teachers.  What makes a great teacher?  Do these qualities fit your personality and style?  If the following qualities match your identity, teaching may be a great career option.  And the field needs qualified and inspired people who seek to improve the world through education.  Consider the following qualities.  Do they sound like you?

  1. Passionate - Students can read a teacher very easily, and they respond to people who are passionate and excited about what they are teaching.  For, if the teacher doesn't care deeply about the subject - about the class and the lesson - why should the kids?  No matter what you are teaching, you must be passionate - you must find something about the topic which excites and inspires you.  When you are a teacher of secondary education, you may end up teaching a course or a lesson or a topic you don't absolutely love.  However, it's important to avoid letting this lack of enthusiasm show to your students.  They follow your lead, and finding something engaging about the topic is essential to success.  Approaching a new and less-than-appealing course with an open mind, you may be surprised by the joy you find there.
  2. Creative - See the world - and your subjects - the way a teacher or artist or inventor does, with a fresh eye.  Avoid simply teaching straight from the book, and, instead find a new angle when planning lessons.  Consider what might excite you, or how you may connect the subject to something you enjoy.  That could be a story or a movie or a game or a personal experience.  Read voraciously and look for connections to your lessons.  Switch up and adapt materials on a regular basis to keep students engaged.  A successful class is an engaged one.  The world - and your school - is filled with creative teachers willing to share ideas.  Look online, follow some blogs, attend conferences, and network with teachers to keep creative ideas flowing.
  3. Flexible - Any programs for a master's degree in secondary education will emphasize the importance of flexibility in teaching.  Teaching is a fluid and always changing career - from year to year and day to day, your teaching schedule is never set in stone.  While it's important to plan ahead and be prepared each day, it's important to be comfortable with change.  No lesson plan should be so rigid it can't be adapted to meet the changing nature of the day - a fire alarm or an assembly or a teachable moment or a great digression can take precedence.  That's OK.  It's always about what is "best for kids."  If students seek extra help, be available for them.  Work the time for extra help or review sessions into your schedule.  If students come for extra help, embrace and appreciate that desire for learning.
  4. Openness to Integration and Connection - Subjects become more meaningful to students when they understand how it connects to other subjects as well as the real world.  Be that connection - or connector - for them.  Justify and explain why what you are offering is valued.  Seek out opportunities to present real world examples and integrate other disciplines or subjects with your own.  The teaching profession is about integration and connection.  Share your thoughts and connect with others.  You don't need to invent every lesson yourself.  There is nothing wrong with borrowing from the best and making it your own for your classroom.
  5. A Mentor and Educator, Not a Friend -  Any program for a master's degree in education will address the unique nature of the teacher-student relationship.  However, this quality isn't always fully understood by teachers until they are in the classroom.  In an era of Facebook, the personal connection between teacher and student can be blurred.  And students often see no difference between caring about them and being their friend.  And some teachers feel they can create better relationships by being friends with their students.  But they have friends - what they need is a teacher.  They are looking for educators and mentors.  Embrace this honor and do it well.  They look to you for leadership and guidance.
Teaching is a wonderful and inspired and necessary and meaningful career.  A master's degree in secondary education is a great investment, and one that is in demand.

The previous entry is a sponsored post.

Friday, November 9, 2012

University of Illinois - Top Party School for High Post-Grad Paychecks

Having attended the University of Illinois for a degree in secondary education, I have fond memories of both my social life and education.  That view has been endorsed by in an article which found that of the top twenty party schools on the Princeton Review, graduates of Illinois could expect the highest starting salary after graduation as well as the highest mid-career salary.  While Illinois is located in the heart of the Midwest and surrounded by a hundred miles of corn and soybean fields, it has a thriving social scene on the campus of nearly 40,000 students - and it's located in a metro are of Urbana-Champaign, twin cities of more than 100,000 residents.  Illinois' party reputation comes from its extensive greek system which is the largest fraternity-sorority system in the country.  The high pay expected by graduates results from one of the top engineering programs in the world, as well as highly ranked finance and business programs.  Illinois is definitely a great investment for the finance and the fun.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Can Liberals and Conservatives Ever Understand Each Other

"Can't we all just get along."

These words - a frantic plea really - from Rodney King after the LA riots have almost become a punch line in contemporary America.  And, of course, the recent never-ending campaign season did nothing to soothe the divide among the American people.

Writer Stephanie Pappas investigates the dubious nature of our political in-fighting, and she cites some great insight from the obscure field of "political psychology."  Basically, liberals and conservatives simply see the world differently and emphasize different values.

The most important avenue on the way to consensus and understanding is the ability to see the other point of view.  And psychologists advise asking questions and listening to answers as a way to move in that direction.  People establish their views based on six domains:

  • Care versus harm
  • Fairness versus cheating
  • Liberty and oppression
  • Loyalty and betrayal
  • Authority versus subversion
  • Sanctity versus degradation.
As a recovering Republican, I became a disgruntled Democrat.  Now, I'm a unencumbered independent, which is why I did not see the election of either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama as the Second Coming or the End of the World.  Perhaps, this recent election - which surprised many Democrats and shocked lots of Republicans - is a step toward trying to reach consensus.  Goodness knows if John Boehner can start talking compromise, we all can, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mail-in/Drop Ballots are the Way to Go - Florida Fails Again

It didn't even take until election day for the clueless state of Florida to screw up the voting process again.  As voters attempted to navigate the early voting process, Florida was plagued by the sort of election incompetence that has become synonymous with their name since the fiasco of 2000.  A strong democratic republic deserves better than this, and the voting process should not be this hard.  While this sort of disaster has become great fodder for humorists like Dave Barry, electoral ineptness at the state government level is no joke.

The easy solution to this voting problem is a mail-in/drop off ballot like we've been using in Colorado for years.  The system is very well run, as I simply receive my ballot in the mail, vote at my convenience, and mail in or drop the ballot off at any one of numerous voting centers up till election day.  Years ago, I knew several elderly voters who would request absentee ballots because "they needed more time" and the burden of making it to the polls was prohibitive.  About that time I realized any citizen could request the ballot and take the necessary time to vote at their convenience - not the election bureau's.  Soon, it seemed Colorado election leaders listened, and we adopted a statewide system for getting ballots early and dropping them off as we could.

Get a clue, Florida.  Voting should not be difficult.  Of course, with a governor like Rick Scott, I guess we have to recall the words of PJ O'Rourke on the GOP and government - "Republicans run on a platform that government doesn't work - then they get elected and prove it."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Amazing Race Ignores Cheating and Stealing

Last night's episode of The Amazing Race was truly disappointing for what didn't happen - the two teams of the Twins and the Texans were not penalized for basically stealing the money of the Rock Star and the Lawyer.  Obviously, Race officials and videographers knew about the act because they made such a big deal out of the Twins "finding" the money and the Texans debating what to do with it.  And I fully expected a huge penalty when both teams checked in - but nothing.  Phil didn't even mention the "loss" of the money to the Rock Star/Lawyer team.

Several years ago, a team was heavily penalized for hiding some necessary Race materials from another team.  It was dishonest and interfered with the team's ability to complete their tasks.  The same is - or should have been - true for this theft.  I am still not liking the Twins at all, and this just further exemplifies what kind of team and people they are - manipulative, crass, dishonest, and classless.  Very disappointed in the producers of The Amazing Race for letting this crime slide.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How to Become a Straight A Student

School just seems to come easier to some students - and that leads many others to believe they just can't "do school."  Much of the earlier success can be pretty easily linked to family background and the sort of structure and social expectations that lead to success.  I must admit that my k-12 experience was pretty much a breeze, not due to any particular effort on my part.  That said, once I got to college, I had to learn how to learn all over again.  Graduate school brought even more challenges.  And, as a teacher, I realize that many students are not well-equipped or trained to be successful.

So what happened to study skills, huh?

Having become a stronger proponent of teaching reading, rather than just assigning it, I am giving more and more thought to how students learn.  In the course of my recent reading, I have been impressed by some study assistance from MIT professor Cal Newport, who has written several books about being a successful student.  One worth picking up - or recommending to students - is How to Become a Straight A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less.  Professor Newport - both as a student and a teacher - took the time to study and document how those "uber-students" do.  And he has crafted a really helpful - and readable - guide to academic success.

Among other things:

  • Don't Read Everything - there is no way to successfully digest all that is asked of students these days, so they need skills in determining "what is important."
  • Manage your time using lists and calendars - seems like common sense, but many kids need help in the field of time management.
  • Choose where, when, and how long to study - those marathon sessions are beast and not helpful.
  • Utilize resources

Peter Mayle Returns with French Culinary Fun

Hard to believe, but it was twenty-one years ago that British expatriate author Peter Mayle first entertained us with his whimsical tales of A Year in Provence.  At that time I was a newly transplanted young expat living and teaching English in Taiwan for Hess Language School, and I was first drawn into the wonderfully engaging world of really great travel writing.  For a short time, I imagined myself in the career and made several fated attempts at creating similarly engaging tales of living in Southeast Asia.  Needless to say, I was gloriously unsuccessful, and I decided years ago to leave the travel writing to the experts.  And Peter Mayle is one of the best.  Now, Mayle returns with new tales of the lifestyles of southern France in a The Marseille Caper, which is superbly reviewed this week in the Denver Post by travel and food writer Tucker Shaw.  Mayle (and Shaw actually) has a way of capturing French culture and viewing it through a culinary lens that makes us all want to chuck it all and escape to the French countryside - or at last go out for a great French and some excellent French wines.  Mayle's latest once again casts the French lifestyle against an expatriate - this time an American named Sam.  For a delightful adventure in southern France, consider returning with Mayle once again.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

No Shortage of Jobs - Just Shortage of Workers

While the politicians and the press and the pundits and the critics continue to rail about the unemployment and how to return jobs to Americans, the data continues to show plenty of jobs with no qualified workers.  The real drought in American society is training and skilled labor.  The national unemployment rate would probably be closer to 6% if we had more machinists and welders and drillers and IT technicians - all the jobs we have steered young people away from during our mindless push toward bachelor degrees for all students.

There are as many as 3.6 million unfilled jobs across America - the highest number of vacancies in years.  To his credit, President Obama has made this more of a priority, calling for increased investment in community college and job training programs.  That is certainly more than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have offered - as they simply believe that cuts in dividends and marginal rates will magically spur hiring.  It won't.  But at the same time, President Obama's plan has not seen the investment he touts - for his Race-to-the-Top has done nothing to promote Career and Technical Education.

Perhaps, if our leaders simply checked the news and asked employers, we might start putting people back to work.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reasons to Vote for Mitt Romney

As I noted with the recent post on reasons to vote for President Obama, moderate voters look at the issue rationally and concede that neither candidate is going to destroy the country.  The average American is looking for candidates who can present a moderate platform and plan which ignores the extremes and the exaggerations of his party and governs for all Americans.  Certainly, there are reasons to criticize Mitt Romney - and much of it comes from comments he has made, notably the disparaging words about 47% of Americans.  However, to focus on that is to ignore the achievements of a man who is by all accounts a successful businessman and political leader.  From his stellar business career to his work with the Olympics to his term as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney offers countless reasons why moderate, rational, genuine people would think he is the better choice for president.  For example, they know/believe:

1. His successful career as governor of Massachusetts where he balanced the budget every year by working with a legislature that was heavily weighted toward the Democrat Party.

2. His work in the Olympics in which he was literally called in to "save" an organization that was plagued by scandal and cost over-runs and waste.  By cutting unnecessary spending and securing corporate sponsorship to fund part of the games, Mitt helped lead one of the most successful Olympics in history.

3. As a man who worked most of his career in finance, Mitt Romney proved he knows how to analyze data as a way of helping companies operate more efficiently.  Granted, that sometimes means cutting aspects of a company that are a drag on the success of the company.  However, that is necessary, and it is a skill that the federal government has clearly lacked for decades.

4. Along with Paul Ryan he is proposing bold and necessary changes to the entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid which are on unsustainable financial courses.  Despite cries from many people, these changes must be made.

5. He will lower tax rates and encourage investment which will spur economic activity and produce jobs. By closing loopholes in a tax code that is ridiculously convoluted, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's plan will repair a disaster of special interest government.

6. He will cut out unnecessary and wasteful government programs that our current government has been reluctant to challenge.  This includes subsidies to organizations such as the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.  While many decry this as an attack on Big Bird, there are many Americans who do not believe the government should be in the business of funding broadcasting - especially when news sources such as NPR have a decidedly liberal slant.

7. A majority of Americans for a variety of reasons oppose the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - and never asked for such a monstrous piece of legislation - especially one that requires the purchase of a product like insurance.  This was a huge overreach by the Obama Administration during a time of economic crisis.

8. Free birth control?  People can pay for their own birth control.  And Planned Parenthood is an organization that can - and maybe should - be entirely privately funded.

9. Mitt Romney will appoint federal judges who will rule against Roe v. Wade - which won't outlaw abortion, but would simply return the issue to the states.

10. They just like Mitt Romney better - they trust him to fix the economy in a way that they feel President Obama hasn't

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reasons to Vote for President Obama

As the election nears its home stretch, and Hurricane Sandy opens up all sorts of new conversations regarding government and its role and bi-partisanship and the common good, it's worth taking a look at why we would vote for either candidate.  More importantly, it's worth acknowledging that both candidates have the good of the country at heart, and, as I told a woman who knocked on my door the other day, "If President Obama or Mitt Romney wins, the country is not going to fall to pieces."  We aren't going to go over the fiscal cliff, the government won't take over our lives, and America won't be on its way down.

With that in mind, I am considering the naive hope that we can simply learn to concede and acknowledge opposing view while moving toward more moments of consensus, such as we saw between New Jersey Governor Chris Cristi and President Obama this week.  Despite a move toward political division and intransigence, we are all Americans first.  This is a point we are reminded of in the new book by former moderate Republican congressman Micky Edwards.  Edwards posed some valuable ideas about partisanship in the Atlantic Monthly when he considered How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.  His ideas about partisanship are worth considering.

So, even though there are many arguments against a second term for President Obama, here is a list of reasons why rational, educated, and genuine Americans would think President Obama is the better choice for president.  They probably know and/or believe:

1. The American economy that was about to go off a cliff in 2008 didn't, and has rebounded to a stable and growing - albeit weakly - status.

2. The stock market has been hovering near 14,000 for a while now, and corporations are posting record profits while sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash reserves.

3. The economy that was hemorrhaging jobs is now adding them, even in manufacturing areas like the auto industry.

4. The auto industry and all its related jobs is doing quite well.

5. They cannot be kicked off their insurance coverage for getting sick and they are allowed to access coverage even if they have a pre-existing condition.

6. They don't trust health insurance companies to have their best interests at heart.

7. They acknowledge the jobs saved by the stimulus program - which may have included teachers, police officers, and firefighters in their town.

7A. They understand the stimulus program was 40% tax cuts insisted upon by the Republican party.

8. They know jobs were lost because of corporate misdoings, not government interference.

9. They don't believe that education budgets need to be cut.

10. They don't blame poor people and food stamps and foreign aid for the rising debt and deficit.

11. The Iraq war is over and soldiers are coming home.

12. The war in Afghanistan is winding down and Al-Qeada has been massively weakened and disrupted across the world.

13. No terrorist attacks in the US.

14. Osama bin Laden is dead.

15. The believe a woman's reproductive system is her private medical issue.

16. They simply like him better.  They feel he understands their problems more.  They think he shares their values and is committed to their well-being.