What’s Wrong With Vouchers? We’re About to Find Out

Get ready. The United States seems primed to undergo the largest experiment ever pitting public versus private education. Never mind that similar smaller scaled experiments, such as the 20 plus year Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, and voucher programs from Cleveland to Louisiana to Chile, have all produced results ranging from mediocre to sub-par; Donald Trump’s recent announcement of Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education has indicated a new scale to this battle.

DeVos is one of the central soldiers of a small army of wealthy conservatives who have relentlessly fought to funnel funding from public to private, under the guise of giving parents greater choice. She seems to have no experience in education, other than her part in this long battle, detailed here. Despite losing the overwhelming majorities of these battles in the form of failed voter initiatives, and legal challenges, a small handful of wealthy conservatives have used their clout and incredible persistence to continue the fight. And now, with DeVos as the key leader of American education, and with the Tea Party in control of vast swathes of America, from congress to the state legislatures, to the presidency, the voucher movement appears to have the wind at it’s sails like never before.

On the surface It sure sounds like a nice idea that if you don’t like your kids’ current schools, you should have the ability to enroll them in a different school – without moving yourself – but this notion consistently whitewashes the fact that what tends to bring many public schools down are the requirement that they educate the less advantaged, from the disabled to the poor. So what’s wrong with vouchers? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • There’s no accountability. There are no voter chosen school boards, no mandated reporting of test scores, and multiple reports of corruption that so frequently follows a lack of accountability.
  • There’s no proof they work. Earlier reports of their efficacy in raising student achievement have not held up under recent scrutiny. Now the consensus is that there’s no good evidence supporting them, and the research that has been done has not only not been able to weed out extraneous variables, it may even suggest that public education is better. And, not only is there absolutely no evidence that they’re cost effective, what evidence there is suggests otherwise.
  • They often use public funds to support religious institutions. This article excellently describes how the racist origins of America’s voucher movement have come to be intertwined with the Religious Right’s more recent acrimony against public school’s secularization.
  • They’re discriminatory. Private schools can always choose who (and critically, who not) to accept. Get rid of this allowance, and any private school immediately gains the problems inherent in public schools.

Few come out and say it, but many educators have experienced first hand the hostility of some whose taxpayer dollars have to go toward special education. Ultimately, this discrimination is what has fueled much of the voucher movement. Many people continue to be outraged that “my money” is used to help “other people,” without “my consent.” The voucher battles are just another in a long list in the overall culture wars, the ultimate crux of which continues to be: Do we want to live in an inclusive or exclusive society? Of late, the allies of exclusivity have been organized, powerful, loud, and winning.

Best Bits of Great Philosophy – Nietzsche

I feel like digressing.  My purpose in doing these “Best Bits” is to create something I believe should, and doesn’t yet, exist.  It is to create an easy to remember encapsulation of those aspects of famous philosophies most relevant to the lives of ordinary people.  If you want more information, many others are out there to help you.  Many others, with much more.

Anyway, on to Friedrich Nietzsche’s best bits:

  • We should each strive to create for ourselves the kind of life we would not mind repeating over and over again.  This is what we should take out of Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence.  When evaluating a future course of action ask yourself if you would want this in your “do over” life, if one were to exist.
  • Nietzsche’s will to power depends upon a desire to improve and to move forward, and is highly individualistic, as opposed to the humility and submission advocated by certain religions.  Having this will to power helps to deter exploitation.
  • His Ubermensch, loosely translated as Superman, was meant to be the ultimate aspiration of every man.  Ultimately we are each responsible to create our own life’s meaning, and Nietzsche created an exemplar model of how this may look.  The main point is that we do it ourselves, for our own lives, especially by rising above the herd mentality of others.  If your values come uncritically from others, it’s time to at least begin critically examining them.
  • Nietzsche’s idea that God is dead was not presented as something good or bad, but as an observation, the point being that people create values based on themselves.  Since there’s no omnipotent father figure looking out for our needs, we better do our best to help ourselves.
  • Probably my favorite of Nietzsche’s many quotes and aphorisms, (here slightly paraphrased):  “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  Sure, it benefits mankind to critically examine bad stuff, but take care not to dwell, and make sure not to forget the positive in life too.  Our worry itself too easily makes things worse.  Our worries deepen the abyss.  Even when things seem bad, at least you’re alive, and it helps everybody not to forget to focus some on that.

The Necessity of Noise

My plan was to, after the election, return to writing stories solely on language and learning, as I have done with this blog for over eight years. But then the unexpected happened this past Tuesday, and while I still have the desire to write, my desire to write specifically on language and learning at this moment is severely muted. I understand that followers of this blog have done so with the expectation that because of the previous language and learning focus, these type of posts are likely to continue. I know that I still retain a passion for both of these general topics, and fully expect this passion to be fulfilled in the form of these sorts of posts sometime down the road. Probably even soon down the road. On election day, though, something horrible happened, something ultimately shaped by years marred by incorrect “learning” and intentional misinformation. A political blog has never been my intent, but my sincere belief that too much acceptance of this misinformation has played a big part in what has happened, and I just find myself able to focus on anything else while this acceptance goes unaddressed. So here goes my catharsis.

Trump = hate, hate of others, hate of Jews, blacks, gays, women, Hillary, Obama, and yes, liberals. He ran on hate, and won because he too easily convinced his hate filled supporters to hate his opponents more than him. I have no reason to believe other than that he will continue to use this hate to his benefit. While not certain, the likelihood seems very high that his benefit will damage many in this country. The evidently recent spike in hate crimes seems likely to be only the beginning.

Many events conspired to all fall one way, aligning perfectly to bring about what happened Tuesday. But there is one more insidious than the rest, one perhaps more powerful than all the rest, and one that evidently continues to go largely unnoticed. Here it is – There is a Republican narrative, and Fox, Breitbart, Rush, etc. all share in it. This narrative is a tool in the Republican agenda, and that is to win at all costs, even if that means using hate and lies to do it. By not verifying the assertions of those with this Republican agenda, many otherwise non-hateful people have been unwittingly serving their purpose. I’m truly saddened that it has come to this, but the support of this agenda speaks louder than any response these people can give, other than a complete repudiation of Trump and the modern day conservative movement. For years our attempts at dialogue have been met with hate, misdirection, and attacks, and I have come to the point that sometimes words just don’t work. This Republican narrative is a virus, one so far immune to words. But those of us who remain uninfected must continue to fight, or this virus will continue to spread. The defeat of how we previously chose to fight has shown the necessity that our actions must be ratcheted up, now with more and more harshly condemning words and PEACEFUL protests. Hopefully this will work.

The kinder Trump voters keep pleading to just give him a chance. The harsher ones have been telling the rest of us to just quit being crybabies. Both requests are shaded by the implication that those of us who are upset by Trump’s election should just shut up. Well, we have no choice but to give him a chance. I can’t vote against him for another four years. But I refuse to be quiet about the poisonous stew of hate, fear, and misinformation that brought him to power. Also, I sincerely believe that too much of this recent quiet itself on the part of Democrats, and the non-Republican media (now maliciously referred to as the “main stream media”) has contributed to this stew.

I realize how it seems that I’m only hurt and frustrated because Trump won. Many on “my side” seemed content with the status quo before only because it seemed as though we were winning. This, unfortunately is true. What Trump’s victory, and the sweeping victories of the Republican party on November 8th , however, has done is this: it has hammered home how wrong this apathy was. None of us should ever be content to allow hate, fear-mongering, and lies to go unchecked, no matter who controls what.

For too long nobody believed Trump could win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. Often what allows horrible things to happen is the belief that they can’t.

(This Slate article shares my sentiments pretty well.)

A Critical Comparison of the Pros and Cons of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

The people of the United States are about to elect a president in what may become one of history’s most influential democratic elections – and they are about to do so with an astounding lack of the information normally necessary to make decisions of much lesser magnitudes. Critical examinations of the candidates have been consistently marred by both deliberate misinformation and a ratings obsessed media circus in which an ever-changing stream of one absurd headline after another continuously supersedes in-depth analysis. The two remaining candidates have been treated as near equals, both positively and negatively, despite the contrary facts. These facts are out there, but their scattered nature makes it far too easy to lose track. This post will be far different from any other previous posts to The Language Fix, but the magnitude of this election, the direction it seems to be heading, and the continuous misuse and abuse of information makes action critically important. And so here it is: a collection of the facts, and a side by side display of the pros and cons of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that highlights how apparent it is that not only are their accomplishments and negatives not equal – they’re not even close.

(Click on image to enlarge.  Click on PDF or DOC for files in those formats.)

hillary-vs-trump-pros-and-cons-image

 

The Best Schools Do What?

Last week came the final report of a bipartisan group of more than two-dozen U.S. state lawmakers and legislative staffers who took 18 months to study some of the world’s top-performing school systems, including those in Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Ontario, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan.  The group, part of the National Conference of State Legislatures, released its findings, titled No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State, which specifically looked at what the top schools do that schools in the U.S. don’t.

There were three big takeaways, as reported in this story on the report.

  1.  They level the playing field of the youngest learners.  Ontario, for example, offers free, full-day kindergarten not only to 5-year-olds but to 4-year-olds too.  They provide more resources for schools in disadvantaged areas, and provide incentives for the best teachers to teach in these areas.
  2. They emphasize better teacher preparation.  Not only are teaching programs better, but they spend a lot more time on activities such as working in teams with other teachers to develop and improve lessons, observing and critiquing classes, and working with struggling students.  And yes, pay is higher, resulting in more selectivity at the top teaching universities. Teachers in these top performing countries are often paid on par with accountants and engineers.
  3. They emphasize vocational education.  Classes for auto repair, welding, carpentry, etc. are better funded, and more up to date.  They are not considered lower esteemed as they often are in the U.S., and are funded accordingly.

Sure, the U.S. has fermented many obstacles toward attaining these things, such as bitter politics, and severely unequal funding with a tremendous emphasis on local wealth.  For a long time the answers to these problems have been obscured by different opinions on what the end result should be.  But this report and other recent ones like it have cleared the fog and hopefully, removed the excuses.

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

Ad Hominem means “against the person.” It is an attack on an aspect of someone rather than on the argument of that person. These often emotional attacks are usually against the character, background, or belief of a person.

Examples:

  • Oh, so your statistic shows that plumbers are successful 95% of the time? That’s obviously false because you got that from The Plumber’s Digest magazine.
  • The only reason that he thinks that Republicans are against the government is because he’s a Democrat.
  • Kid talking to teacher: “You just want me to do my homework because you’re a teacher.”
  • Susan thinks that George Washington could not have owned slaves, because Wikipedia says he did, and she thinks that Wikipedia is biased.
  • A son speaking to his mother: “Of course you want me to stay out of the street. You’re my mother, and mothers always want their kids to stay out of the street.”

Sometimes a person’s background or belief is actually relevant to the argument. The difference is that ad hominem fallacies are often emotional attacks, or claim a causal relationship when one doesn’t exist.

Examples when background is relevant: A reporter says to a lawyer, “You’re only arguing that your client is innocent, because you’ve been hired to be his lawyer.” The lawyer responds, “Well, that is my job.”

Farmer speaking to friend from the city: “You don’t know what it’s like to raise cattle. You’ve lived in the city your whole life. (It is a valid point that if he’s lived in the city, he probably hasn’t raised cattle.)

Examples of attacks or when background is not relevant: A reporter says to a lawyer, “You think that your client should go free because you’re nothing but a sneaky lawyer.”

Farmer speaking to friend from the city: “How could you possibly like the show, Hee Haw, when you’ve lived in the city your whole life?” The city friend replies, “They air Hee Haw in the city, and I’ve never missed an episode.”

 

Language in Symbolism

Many symbols exist as images.  Because the Maori people of New Zealand were fishermen, for example, the fishhook became a symbol of prosperity and good health often worn around the neck.  For many cultures the dove has been a symbol of peace.  Visual symbols have been prevalent for as far as known human history, from the cave paintings of the ancients, to castles, flowers, and animals common in medieval crests, to the stars, leaves, stripes, and moons so commonly found on flags today.

The imagery can often be profound and deeply meaningful, but the meanings always absolutely require one thing:  language.  This goes without exception, for a visual symbol without its accompanying description is just a picture.

snake png drawing.png
How this story wraps itself around a novel concept.
A snake.
A snake.

Only one of these pictures is a symbol, and the only thing that makes it a symbol is the description attached.  The other one is merely a picture with a label.  The thing is, though, that people often forget the language.

There are only two ways to understand the use of a symbol:  1)  having it explained to you, using language; or 2) luck.  Whenever one person understands the symbolism of something such as a painting or an album cover, and another person doesn’t, the non-understanding person sometimes receives the blame (often from him or herself) as if a more in-depth look, or the putting of more thought into it might be all that is in the way of understanding the creator’s intent.  This is never the case.  The first person has either gotten lucky, or has had the symbol explained.  Now luck can be intensified, sure, by such things as knowing what the symbol’s creator has previously meant with similar symbols, but one still needs the creator’s explanation for verification.

The problem lies not just in visual symbolism either.  Songs, religious texts, and literature are among other examples often bursting with symbolism.  The writers of many nineties grunge songs often attempted to stuff so many symbols in their songs that they forgot the explanations, resulting in basically nothing more than gibberish.  “Make your own meaning” is just not how symbolism works.  The fact that so many of the Bible’s symbols have had various interpretations, without really knowing the author’s actual intent, has led to centuries of schisms and divisions.  Again, symbols without explanations are not symbols – at least not ones with meaning, anyway.

I recently saw a travel show where after looking at a Polynesian drawing, the host asked, “What does it mean?”  The images appeared so powerful and mysteriously captivating.  His and my curiosities were piqued.  Mystery seems a large part of symbolism’s allure.  The answer came in a satisfying stream of words passed down from previous generations, demonstrating how symbols are like puzzles that can only be solved by answering their inherent questions – with language.