Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving Two

I have just returned from an ecumenical Thanksgiving service at a Methodist Church where the sermon was given by a Baptist Preacher. His text was the traditional one for Thanksgiving; the healing of ten lepers by Jesus who then sent them to tell the priests. One recognized that something more had happened than simply being cleansed. He came back to give personal thanks to Jesus who told him it was his faith that had made him whole. The preacher ended by saying that this leper was not just healed, he was changed.

Shifting from religion to education, I have spent a professional lifetime trying to make a similar point. All of the activities and information poured out in formal education settings should lead to one end: a changed human being. Absent that, the effort has mostly been a waste.

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Why Thanksgiving?

For most of my life Thanksgiving has shown up in my mind as the painting of Pilgrims walking through the snow to church to give thanks for having made it through the year. The other picture in my mind is Norman Rockwell’s family gathered around a table groaning with food-huge turkey-on Thanksgiving Day.

Food is still there for family and friends and church for far fewer people. What has been added is SHOPPING. Newspapers and TV screens are full of ads from stores that are outdoing themselves in opening earlier in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. This year Xmas TV ads began shortly after Halloween with the sales swathed in red, white and green. These ads are aimed particularly at the young who apparently have no idea what Thanksgiving day is about other than a big meal. Thus, stores are providing a meaning!

There is nothing unusual about this treatment. Christmas, Memorial Day, Fourth of July; all of our national holidays have been seized for commercial advantage, which also helps suck the original meaning out of the holiday.

So, what am I thankful for? Continued good health, wonderful family and friends, and the ability to live my life pretty much without restriction. I can’t change what commercialism is doing to holidays. I just try to focus on what the holiday commemorates.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Not Quite My Hero

This blog is about a man I used to heartily dislike. However, time may not heal all wounds, but it did move me to reevaluate Richard Nixon. While this reevaluation does not his remove his shifty image from my mind, he did act as President.

In the present ranting about government in the lives of Americans, it is worth noting that Nixon tried wage and price controls in his administration as a remedy to raging inflation. They didn’t work well, but at least he tried government as a remedy to a situation that did not seem to respond to capitalist principles.

He was also responsible for getting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration through Congress and implemented. Food stamps were the creation of his administration as well as tax reform that basically freed the poor from having to pay taxes.

And, he was a Republican

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Veterans Day

This morning the men and women of Veterans Day intruded into my mind and led me to think about war and veterans. When I was a child in eastern North Carolina, Confederate veterans were few but still part of life. Two elderly “cousins” sat on a porch we drove by on the way to my grandparents on Sunday, but they were gone before I got to the meaning of veteran. All of my relatives who served in the Civil War (simply The War) had been in the Confederate Army except one. He had left Germany to avoid conscription, arrived in Boston in the early 1860s where he was met on the dock, offered long term employment with good wages which he accepted and was shipped off to the Union Army of Northern Virginia. He survived to become my mother’s grandfather.

World War I had ended in recent memory and my father knew men who had been in France which they found a miserable experience. On November 11 we always went to the county seat, Wilson, where my parents bought poppies and visited with friends on streets full of people who were there for Armistice Day.

World War II arrived shortly after I became aware of world affairs and I followed its events avidly. I delivered an evening newspaper in a small town and in the process I watched the banner in the window of a subscriber appear with one blue star and be replaced until there was one with four stars indicating all their sons were in the military. Then I watched as all of the stars turned to gold, indicating that all the sons were killed. That was my first direct contact with war and I could never see the mother without feeling sad.

I volunteered for a navy OCS program shortly after the Korean conflict began which allowed me to finish college and begin active service shortly after the armistice was signed. I am a veteran simply because no peace treaty was signed and I have known enough real veterans to be thankful that I did not serve on the ground in Korea.

So, Armistice day became Veterans Day and we have been busy adding to the number of veterans from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan through the passing years.

This Veterans Day I am thankful that our President has avoided trying to straighten out the world by intervening in the recent Middle Eastern disorders. I have seen too many mentally, emotionally and physically maimed American veterans who will live out their lives in a very different way from that which I, and most other Americans, have lived ours.

For this, President Obama, thank you!

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Schooling 101

 

All modern societies have vested their major education efforts in institutions of several different kinds, but all called schools.  There are schools bursting at the seams in urban areas with extensive variety of courses and in different parts of these urban areas schools struggling to keep students and financing.  At the other end of this social gathering are small schools in rural America to which youngsters ride long distances in public school busses to attend a limited number of classes.  This article from the Washington Post discusses poverty’s growth on Southern and Western public schools.  Some parents prefer to send their children to private secular schools or religious schools, or teach them at home

Some idea of the diversity of the education of youth effort can be seen in the figures below which I have tried to keep to a minimum.  This information is drawn from the Center For Education Reform and mostly from the 2009-2010 school year.

98,817 public schools during 2009-2010

TOTAL NUMBER OF PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS: 13,809  2010 yr

TOTAL NUMBER OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS: 98,706

TOTAL NUMBER OF K-12 SCHOOLS: 132,656
TOTAL K-12 ENROLLMENT: 55,235,000TOTAL PUBLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 49,266,000

TOTAL CHARTER SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 1,941,831
(The Center for Education Reform, National Charter School & Enrollment Statistics, November 2011

TOTAL PRIVATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 5,165,28

Elementary: 2,462,980

Secondary: 850,750

Combined: 1,851,550
(Digest 2010, Table 63)

TOTAL HOME SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 1,508,000 (estimate) or 2.9% (estimate) of America’s school population
(Digest 2010, Table 40)

TOTAL CATHOLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 2,224,470

Elementary: 1,457,960

Secondary: 620,840

Combined: 145,680

(Digest 2010, Table 63)

TOTAL FULL TIME ONLINE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: approx. 250,000

– See more at: http://www.edreform.com/2012/04/k-12-facts/#sthash.mUnu3KEj.dpuf

TOTAL FUNDING OF PUBLIC EDUCATION: $593,061,181,000

Federal: $56.7 billion (9.6% of total)

State: $277 billion (46.7% of total)

Local: $259.25 billion (43.7% of total)

(Revenues and Expenditures: School Year 2008-09, Table 1)

So, what does this leave us with?  An enormous bill for schooling from all three levels of government with the least coming from the federal level and that devoted mostly to special categories of students.  Approximately 3% of youngsters are home schooled and about the same percentage go to charter schools which get some public control and financial support.  The Roman Catholics operate a substantial school program, but on a lesser level, so do other religious groups.  A fraction of the total participate full time in online course work.

Education is a process in which there is a learner and a teacher.  The term learner implies that the person is intellectually, and perhaps, physically involved in the process.  The learner may watch another person do something and try to emulate them, or read a book and try to figure out what it means and how to do what it says.  Or, as happens in schooling, sit with other students while a teacher explains, demonstrates, shoves, cajoles, while delivering a standardized curriculum agreed upon by professional and other special interest groups.

Governments make much of the kind of figures cited above in an effort to prove that “education” money is well spent.  We must not forget, however, that much of this money goes for school buildings, cleaning and repair, buses for transportation, meeting states and federal regulations, salaries, retirement and on and on.

Schools do not belong to teachers and children.  There are other concerned players.  There are no “solutions”.  In the end, does good education simply depend on the people in each school?

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Thoughts of Eric Hoffer

“All great movements start as a cause, evolve into a business and end up as a racket.”

 

Democracy depends upon a sense of membership in a large, diverse community.  In this case, membership is not a contract, but a bond formed through a common experience.  This sense of membership is a bond formed through experience comes through participation with other people that give one the opportunity to acquire a view of life broader than one’s own immediate group.

 

In democracy complexity cannot be managed through centralization.

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