Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

A brief word from Brit Hume on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Even More on the Core

Previous posts at Right Detour asserted that some kind of common core knowledge standards, even national standards to facilitate measurements between states, makes sound pedagogical sense. See herehere, and here. Doubts remain about whether or not the CCSS pushed by the Obama Administration is the right set of standards. They have not been tested and will probably end up creating a multitude of additional problems similar to those the emerged after the Bush administration's push for "No Child Left Behind."

Objections beyond the question of pedagogy have been raised. Most of these seem ideologically based and only clutter the debate over national standards in general and the CCSS in particular. Many of these objections come across simply as "sloganeering" or "mudslinging" with the hopes that something sticks.

"CCSS creates a profit windfall for publishers promoting it"

Although true, it is not new. Curriculum developers, test developers, and textbook publishers have always made money for schools--public and private.

"Bill Gates stands to even make more money" 

Over at the Cato Institute, they saw now evidence that Gates will profit from CCSS. (The verdict is still on on Pearson Publishing.) Bill Gates involves himself in education and other public issues through his foundation, which exists because he gave money.

"Parents should control the education of their children"

Unless you home school, you have little say in how your children or educated.

"The CCSS destroys local control"

Local school systems have not exercised control for decades. Local school district hire teachers and do the hard work of trying to education children. In most states, however, they do not develop learning outcomes/ standards,  curriculum, or select the textbooks.

"The CCSS destroys state control"

This has an element of truth. States and locality should be leery when some senator, representative, or any candidate for one of those offices promises to "bring home the bacon" in the form of federal funds. The money more often then not comes with strings attached that coerce the state or local receiver of these funds to comply with a regulation placed by a lawmaker or bureaucrat. The CCSS does just that. It sets core standards and demands expensive testing of those skills. Some critics claim that CCSS requires that certain content be taught in schools and will eventually control textbook content.

On the contrary, the CCSS, at least for English and math, are standards of skills, not knowledge. It remains to be seen how the CCSS will approach history, social studies, and science.

Whether or not this demonstrates "control" is problematic. Some people talk as if the federal government already controls education--that is took over education years ago. States have the right, however, to reject most federal guidelines. In Georgia, for example, the federal government funds about ten percent of the state's education budget. The states spends 6,957,101,968. Local expenditures amount to 5,868,540,069. The federal government provides only 1,236,063,472.

For more one federal funding of education see  here

This brings up the most fundamental objection to CCSS: its lack of constitutional authorization.

The Constitution does not grant authority of the federal government to exercise any role in the various state education systems, especially a compulsory role. Now granted, the states can turn down federal aid. But it amounts of compulsion when the federal government takes tax dollars from the citizens of the states and then offers to return the money with strings attached.

This becomes especially evident given the current fiscal irresponsibility in Washington D. C. If the government was offering money from a budget surplus that came with strings attached, that is one thing. For the federal government to make the same offer while running trillion dollar deficits, is unconscionable.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fifty Years Ago Today

The Beatles released their first album in America.

The British version of this album actually had been released in America the previous year by a small label called Vee-Jay Records. With little distribution or radio play, the release attracted little critical attention and few sales.

By the time Capitol Records, the American affiliate of the Beatles's British recording company EMI finally decided to distribute their recordings in America, Beatlemania was stirring in the states. The Capitol version of the album differed slightly from the British version. One difference was that Capitol's American version included songs released as singles. In Britain, EMI released some songs exclusively as singles. The album quickly reached the top of the charts.

Capital quickly followed with additional releases. By April 1964, the top three albums and the top five singles on the Billboard charts were all by the Beatles.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Still More on the Core

The two previous posts here at Right Detour argued that some kind of common core standards and curriculum, even a national one, makes sound pedagogical sense.

Is the Common Core State Standards proposed by the Obama Administration the right one?

An assessment of that sort is above my level of competence.

Some thoughts . . . even if some of them are not mine.

Critics have argued that the CCSS on reading diminish literature through their emphasis on non-fiction writing. Their conclusions seem rest upon the "exemplars" provided in the CCSS for teaching reading skills. In some cases, only "excerpts" from great works of literature are recommended. However, these are only exemplars.States can assigned the complete works if they so choose. In addition, many reading skills standards pertain to non-fiction writing such as science or history. On the one hand, this is a positive note. Reading skills in different knowledge domains differ. On the other hand, devoting time in English class to reading science and history does take away from literature. The obvious solution (at least is seems obvious to me--a layman) is for states to write curriculum that place the development of reading skills for scientific materials in science classes and for historical writing or documents in history or social studies classes. Probably most states already do this.

Critics also have argued that the CCSS for mathematics are too low. Professor Jason Zimba, one of the lead writers for the CCSS math standards both acknowledged and defended it:  The standards will prepare students “for the colleges most kids go to, but not for the college most parents aspire to.” Other members of the CCSS validation committee refused to sign off after the completion of the development of the standards. Critics point out that Massachusetts, California, and Georgia had state standards that exceeded those of CCSS.

On the other hand, many states have seen their scores drop after the first assessment tests under the CCSS, including Kentucky, New York, Minnesota, and Georgia. Why is this? First, the assessment tools might be faulty. The official CCSS assessments will not be out until next year. To prepare for them, however, many states have designed their own assessments. There is no obvious reason, however,  why state departments of education should be judged inept on this score. Second, the curriculum may not be so closely aligned with that standards. Students will experience difficulty succeeding on a test that does not measure what they have actually learned in class. Finally,  it could mean the students in those states simply were not as bright as everyone thought.

With all these uncertainties ( and the incredible expense involved), rushing to implement CCSS seems unwise. The standards have never been tested. This is one of the reservations expressed by CCSS supporter E. D. Hirsch and one of the chief reasons respected educator Diane Ravitch opposes them outright. In my company (retail) we roll out new programs as "pilots" for months before implementing them company wide. Perhaps the CCSS should have been piloted in several states before foisting them nationwide.

It seem the only program the Obama administration seemed more eager to rush was the debacle of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

We do not need another debacle.

Friday, January 17, 2014

More On The Core

The previous post here at Right Detour noted that the idea of some kind of common core has been around for decades and represents a sound pedagogical alternative to progressive education.

Among other things, modern progressive education embraces the idea of multiculturalism. This includes educational strategies adapted to the increasing cultural diversity of students. According to this view, education must be tailored to these different cultures. This also includes a move toward "critical thinking skills" at the expense of content based learning. Multicultural education theory seems to hold that a culturally diverse student population requires diverse content or as little content as possible.

In contrast, the idea of a common core includes the belief that every field of knowledge has core concepts that every student should know and that some kind of national common core will also help forge and maintain a common culture amid the cultural diversity of our country.

This is what make the video bellow so disturbing. This is one of five videos that raise serious questions about the CCSS being pushed by the Department of Education. It is narrated by Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy group formed by Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton University. While the setting of this video is a classroom, Robbins is actually a lawyer. For a detailed critique of CCSS by the American Principles Project, see here.

In contrast to the other presentations, this one makes several bogus and empty assertions.


One of the benefits of  national education standards is that they will allow better comparisons between students of different states. Without national standards, students know only how well they perform as measured against other students within their states. National standards do not guarantee improved performance; they are only an information gathering tool.

Robbins brushes aside this claim by asserting that we can compare students of different states already through the NAEP, the ACT, and the SAT. She acknowledges the limitations of the NAEP, but ignores the severe handicaps  presented by the other tests.

Students of states that use the ACT cannot really be compared with those from other states who use the SAT. Moreover, doubts exist about even comparing states that use the SAT. States with high scores brag about their education system based upon those scores. States with low scores, however, deny that the scores can be used for making valid comparisons between states or even between school districts within the same state.  They usually argue that in some states or districts so many more non-college bound students take the SAT that it drags down their scores to artificially low levels. This makes comparisons invalid.

Next, Robbins recognizes the truth that no direct connection exists between national standards and academic performance. She overreaches, however, when she attempts to  buttresses this truth with the statement that "the thought that we can successfully nationalize and standardize education with a Bill Gates common core type operating system in a country of 300 million wildly diverse people is frankly ludicrous."

Aside from her  humorous but irrelevant snark about Bill Gates, Robbins forgets the most fundamental fact about education: in every field of study, core concepts exist that every student should know. For example, in civic or American government, all students need to be able to distinguish between the three branches of government no matter how wildly diverse they may be. And a national common core helps establish and affirm a broad general cultural unity even among our diversity. Before the rise of progressive education, we had something close to this even without national standards. In the past, textbooks routinely taught the same core ideas and, equally important, affirmed the same values, even without central direction.

It is ironic how quickly  conservatives who oppose multicultural education directed to our diverse student population will appeal to the assumptions of  multicultural education in opposition to  uniform common core standards on the basis of their lack of attention to diversity.

This brings us to the final empty claim. Robbins asserts that "parents and localities" should enjoy the "kind of control they use to have before the federal government took over."

She never identified when this takeover occurred. Does she mean CCSS or something else? Moreover, she never specified what kinds of control "parents and localities" exercise. Even before those 45 states adopted CCSS, parents and localities exerted almost no control over education. Localities do the hard work of actually educating the children. That's about the only control they possess.  Establishment of learning standards, curriculum development, and textbook selection, however, all occur at the state level in most cases across this country.  It is good and effective "sloganeering" to call for parental control over education. Who could object. But unless you are a home school parent, you have experienced almost no say in how your child is educated.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What's Wrong With A Common Core?

Some thoughts on education . . .  even if they are not mine.

At our most recent Patriots meeting about the Common Core State Standards, one person in attendance asked, "What's wrong with a common core, one that all students must learn?" Well, in theory, nothing. 

The idea of a common core curriculum has been around for years. Its most well known advocate is E. D. Hirsch of the University of Virginia and author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. The basic idea is that education should be content based--every branch of knowledge has core ideas that every student should know. Moreover, the curriculum should be cumulative--each step in the curriculum sequence should build coherently upon earlier steps. In other words, knowledge builds upon knowledge. He established the Core Knowledge Foundation and now over 1,000 schools participate using the Core Knowledge standards and the Core Knowledge curriculum developed by the foundation. For an overview, see here.

Hirsch's approach won him the animus of progressive educators, who seem to think that content based education is elitist--if not racist. Progressive educators sometimes contrast content-based learning with the teaching of "critical thinking" skills. Hirsch does sees them as complementary. Before one can think critically, one must have some content about which to think 

Progressives immediately linked him with conservatives Alan Bloom and William Bennett, although Hirsch is a liberal Democrat.

The Manhattan Institute's City Journal has featured several articles of Hirsch and the success of his Core Knowledge program. One writer's experience with progressive education at his son's school here. And on E. D. Hirsch's take on what went wrong with American education and the improvements made in some of New York City's school through  E. D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge standards and Core Knowledge curriculum see here.

And here is E. D. Hirsch on the importance of vocabulary in educational success and economic mobility.

                                                            Look!   It's E. D. Hirsch

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dennis Rodman: Court Jester

For several years Dennis Rodman dominated NBA courts with his rebounding.

Now he has descended to the level of a sort of "court jester" for the Kim Jong Un.

Like the jesters of the courts of medieval Europe, Rodman and his friends are the fools that provide entertainment for Kim and the rest of the North Korean ruling class.

Kim,of course, rules as a classic tyrant along the lines provided in the regime analysis of Aristotle.

Readers will recall (if they paid attention in school) that Aristotle classified regimes into rule by one, rule by the few, and rule by the many. Each of these classes of regimes have legitimate and illegitimate examples.

The legitimate regimes are those which rule for the common good of the citizens. These include monarchy (rule by one), aristocracy (rule by the  few), and polity (rule by the many).

The illegitimate regimes rule for the benefit of the ruling class. These include tyranny (rule by one for the benefit of the tyrant and his supporters), oligarchy (rule by the rich for the benefit of the rich), and democracy (rule by the poor for the benefit of the poor).

Kim's regime operates for the benefit of himself, his family (the late uncle excepted), and the military that empowers him. They enjoy food, shelter, electrical power, indoor plumbing, and entertainment by court jesters while the subjects of his tyranny (not to be confused with citizens in a republic) starve.

Rodman opines that the Kim tyranny is not so bad.

The criticism he has received might tempt him to pull out the "race" card.

The only one he has in  his current hand, however, is this one:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Action Jackson

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribute reports that the increasingly irrelevant Jesse Jackson attempted to wedge into the controversy over Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson's comments in GQ magazine.

Jackson, to no one's surprise,  picked up on comments Robertson made about race relations--or the lack thereof--when he was growing up. Robertson said that most of the black neighbors around him seem happy despite segregation.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person.Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

In a typical example of Jackson's lack of proportion and clumsy historical analogies, he essentially argued that Robertson's opinions exceed the enforcers of Southern segregation laws for moral turpitude.  

"At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law. Robertson's statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was white privilege."

Jackson followed up by demanding a meeting with A&E Television.

                       Jackson issuing his demands

 So far, his demands have been ignored.

Meanwhile, Jackson's comments evoked this response from America.

Jackson seems to have lost whatever moral authority he possessed when he used and ethnic slur for New York, calling it Hymietown, and later confessed to adultery and fathering a child out of wedlock. According to the National Enquirer, he is now a party in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment of one of his staffers.  Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that Jackson has had affairs with numerous women, including FOX News liberal commentator Tamara Holder.

It has not been confirmed that a sex tape exists of those two Democrats going at it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Duck and Cover

Arts and Entertainment Television (A&E)  announced the return to filming of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. In a lengthy statement to The Hollywood Reporter, A&E explained that the network's commitment to "inclusion and mutual respect" led them to suspend filming because of controversial comments about homosexuality made by Robertson in GQ magazine. This decision created more outcry than Robertson's theological views. Duck Dynasty is the most popular cable television show in history. Its debut episode attracted 12 million viewers.

In a quick reassessment of its financial bottom line, A&E explained that its other core values, "Unity, tolerance, and acceptance among all people"--values it says are shared by the Robertson family--compelled them to rescind the suspension.

This decision followed on the heals of Cracker Barrel's decision to restore Duck Dynasty themed merchandise in its gift shops, in response to a similar outcry in support of  Robertson. The restaurant had pulled the merchandise while it "evaluated" the situation. 

Companies such as A&E and Cracker Barrel these days crafts "mission statements" and lists of "core values." They attempt to operate with those values in mind. The most fundamental value of any commercial enterprise, however, is to stay in business. 

Of more interest are the values of the those Americans who have aligned themselves on one side or the other of this controversy.

Those who support Phil Robertson framed the controversy around freedom of speech and freedom of religion. For some reason, many religiously oriented Americans believe that when free speech is exercised as an expression of one's religious convictions, it assumes an import not possessed by speech expressing one's political views, aesthetic tastes, or other nonreligious sentiments. No one explains why this is so. Perhaps this belief simply  reflects the cumulative effect of asserting multiple provisions of the Bill of Rights. 

Of course, the Bill of Rights protects one's right to speech from government interference.

It does not protect one from interference from employers or contractors. It does not mean that Phil Robertson possesses some constitutional right to a television show. Americans who support him, however, can  mobilize pressure on A&E to keep his on the airwaves, er, on the fiber optic trunk line. They have successfully done so.

Those who oppose Phil Robertson unwittingly raise the more fundamental--and frightening--question about free speech: should  speech expressing disapproval of homosexuality be suppressed or even criminalized?

Over at Ross Murray, news director at GLAAD,  described Robertson's comments as "the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication . . . . "

What did Cruz find so vile?

First, this quote:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical."

Robertson states he prefers a woman's vagina to a male's anus.

Roberts states that to have contrary preferences is a sin.

Robertson states that such preferences are not logical.

Then there's this:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

He mentions bestiality, describes general sexual promiscuity, and quotes the Bible.

Murray never explains why these are the "vilest and most extreme" comments. He only counters that they conflict with majority public opinion in Robertson's home state of Louisiana.

Is expressing views contrary to popular opinion now vile and extreme?

The article concludes with the note that "GLAAD reached out to A&E to speak about if the network stands behind Robertson's comments." The expression reach out is an idiom for making a special effort to communicate with someone, usually on in a positive way in order to secure an agreement. What GLAAD apparently meant, however, is to communicate a threat in order to secure an agreement from A&E to fire Robertson and cancel the show.

Readers recall that Robertson did not make these comments on the Duck Dynasty television show; he made them in an interview for GQ magazine. Whatever controversial comments Robertson or any other cast members may have made about homosexuals on the show ended up on the cutting room floor. But apparently Murray, and other members of GLAAD,  believe that no negative comments about should be allowed to be uttered by anyone anywhere. Expressing disapproval for homosexuality, whether  on religious grounds or simply on the "ick" factor, or even expressing a preference for heterosexual intercourse is now verboten. 

Slippery slope arguments are not logically valid. But a glance at Canada and Europe portend what's next on the frontiers of "gay rights"--criminalization of pejorative expression regarding homosexuality. The "legal" argument for this is summed up in the placards sometimes seen carried by activists: 

"Hate speech is not free speech."