Raven Osborne and the Future of Free Education

raven-osborneI have a strong interest in all things educationally related as I once worked as a Technology Trainer. One of the big topics we see in this field is the so-called Right to an education. A young woman named Raven Osborne, and her accomplishments, give what I believe is a peek into what education will eventually be for everyone.

Osborne was able to take a number of college credit courses through her high school. She also completed courses online. She will now get a college degree in Sociology at the same time she graduates high school. All at no cost.

One of the most interesting things about this is that it harkens to the past. In the old days, we did not have nearly the formalized schooling environment we see today. It was quite possible to obtain a license to practice law without attending law school. You simply educated yourself through available resources and then proved an adequate knowledge of the material. Can you say Abraham Lincoln?

While Lincoln had to read books, we now have the Internet and people can take many classes online. It’s certainly possible to pay for these classes and accumulate college credits but it is becoming increasingly easy to simply watch videos for free. I’ve always had an interest in law and I’ve been watching YouTube videos about Contract Law. I think it’s quite likely if I studied diligently enough, I could learn as much as was necessary to pass the Bar Exam. I could do all this without a single payment of any kind other than internet access.

As more and more educational opportunities became available through the Internet, it seems increasingly likely people will take advantage of them, as did Osborne. We’ll see a whole new generation of doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, and professionals in every field imaginable simply learning their skills through free sources and setting out in the world to make a living.

There is a huge debate among various factions about how education is a right. In a number of countries, a college education is paid for by the state. There are those who want such a system here in the United States. There are many who think this is prohibitively expensive.

Well, I’ve got good news. It’s all going to happen without any government intervention. It’s just going to require the sort of personal initiative that we see from Osborne and we saw from Lincoln. There is coming a time to this world where an education, in any field you might want to pursue, is completely available for all; at the cost of an internet connection. How incredible is that?

Technology and innovation is going to completely solve the problem. It is based on the personal initiative of educators posting their knowledge and colleges making classes available online to view. I challenge you to go, right now, to the internet and search for an educational topic that interests you. Find some videos and learn. Become a Photoshop master. Learn the law. Start on your way toward a career in veterinarian care. It’s mostly out there already and the catalog of available information is growing quickly.

I foresee a time when there are no schools at all. Every person will have the opportunity to get any education they desire for free. Then there are no excuses. If you want to be a lawyer but don’t take advantage of what is available, the onus is upon you.

The future is impossible to predict but it seems quite clear to me that education will be free. That more and more people will have the opportunity to enrich their lives without being limited by financial wherewithal. This means those most motivated and talented will succeed regardless of the circumstances of their birth. One of the great tragedies in this world is when a person with ability and desire is unable to fulfill their potential because of economic or social circumstances.

When the most motivated and the brightest are allowed to succeed, that is good for all of us.

Tom Liberman

Eager Students Need Motivated Teachers

eager-studentsA friend of mine who taught philosophy years ago, recently recounted a conversation he had with a student and it brought to my mind the nature of learning. There are two facets to the teacher student relationship that must be in good working order for learning to occur in a meaningful way. The teacher must want to impart information and the eager students must want to learn. I think this is fairly self-evident but I asked myself, after reading the dialog, how can we improve the current status?

How many of you had instructors who weren’t much interested in teaching? I know I did. The worst teacher I ever encountered likely changed the course of my life. She was a history teacher in high school and her lessons consisted of putting transparencies on the overhead projector and changing them every ten minutes or so while we wrote down their content. She had the entire semester laid out on those transparencies and, from beginning to end, we barely had a discussion in class.

Tests consisted of her writing the questions on the chalkboard and sitting at her desk while we took the test. From this teacher, I learned to hate history.

In college, I was friends with a history major and he convinced me to take a high-level class in European history that had no prerequisites. The professor was engaging, interesting, and taught with enthusiasm. I learned, contrary to what I believed, I love history. I’ve been a history buff ever since. If I had that teacher in high school, I am all but certain I would have followed a very different course in my professional life.

Therefore, we see the importance of a teacher who wishes to teach. If the teacher is willing to engage and challenge the student; the chances of learning increase dramatically.

Now I must also face a harsh reality. I was an indifferent student. I didn’t pay much attention in class and I shirked doing homework or any sort of schoolwork at all. I wanted to play sports and, later, Dungeons and Dragons. That was about it. I had an incredibly engaging chemistry teacher in high school. Perhaps one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. I learned more about chemistry in that class than any other but I also, most likely, learned a lot less than other students who were eager for the lessons.

I think it was most frequently said about my academic career that I was intelligent but didn’t put forth the effort required. That is more than fair, generous even. I was lazy or perhaps just completely uninterested.

In my later life, I’ve developed a strong desire to learn although, as in my youth, only in topics that interest me. I suspect if I were to go back to what we call traditional school, teachers might well give the same evaluation report.

To me it’s fairly clear that a desire to learn by the student and an eagerness to impart information as a teacher are an indispensable couple in the quest for education.

What is different in this information age is students have a much broader pool of instructors. With YouTube and colleges offering Video on Demand courses, there is an ever-increasing amount of fantastic knowledge out there. I’m certain this is going to grow larger and larger. There will be a time in the not too far distant future when anyone can learn anything while sitting at her or his computer.

Perhaps if I was born fifteen years ago instead of fifty-two, I would have learned my love of history when a lad. Perhaps my life would be very different today, at least professionally. That’s an astonishing thought. Today I spend hours learning about history through various sources, including college courses available to watch on YouTube.

It’s quite possible that any number of young, eager students, might someday watch videos created by my friend and go on to distinguished careers in philosophy. That some young girl or boy might watch one of his lessons on YouTube and eventually come up with a revolutionary idea in the field. In the past, my friend was limited to students in the classroom. That limitation no longer exists.

To sum it all up I say to my friend, get cracking.

Tom Liberman

Why Should the Government Mandate Cursive Writing in Schools?

cursive-writingThe answer is simple. They shouldn’t. Yet it’s a trend that just added Alabama and Mississippi and which already includes fourteen states. Fourteen states think the government should mandate spending time to learn something that is largely useless in modern society. There is little need of cursive writing but for some reason legislators and, judging by the comment section, lots and lots of regular folks, approve of these laws.

Those who support such measures make any number of claims including the ideas that it helps students think through ideas, helps creativity, it helps train the mind, and helps grammar. The reality is different and I think important to understand. The people who support such laws were taught cursive writing in school. They don’t want students today taught things differently because they are threatened by and scared of this new world in which we live.

There is very little need for cursive writing anymore and soon there will be none. We use computers, tablets, phones, and other devices to type our messages, this is self-evident. There is no need for me to argue this point. Cursive has less relevance in the modern world with each passing day. It will not return as a useful means of communication. The purpose of teaching cursive writing was to allow people to write down their thoughts more quickly than block printing but with the legibility of that style. That’s why cursive writing was taught, because it was an incredibly useful skill for people to know. We did not teach it to encourage creativity, to train minds, to help thinking, or to help grammar. We can teach those things in other ways.

Cursive was taught because it was useful to know. That is the most important thing and the basic reason it was taught. It’s not important to know anymore so we shouldn’t be teaching it. We should spend time teaching other things.

I’m not opposed to teaching grammar. I’m not opposed to teaching students creativity. I’m not opposed to teaching students how to think through an idea. I’m not opposed to teaching students to use logical thought processes. I am, however; totally and irrevocably opposed to teaching cursive in school.

The people who argue for this seem to universally lament the fact that students today are unprepared for life and that somehow spending many hours teaching them a useless skill will help this problem. Let me be clear, the people who claim young people are stupid and unable to handle the modern world are wrong. Young people today face a very different world and very different challenges than I did and they are well-equipped to handle such a life. College students, high-school students, and young adults are often intelligent, smart, capable, and largely better educated than their parents.

This insistence on cursive writing is almost solely based on fear that kids today are learning things that adults don’t know or understand. People feel safe in forcing  kids to learn the things we learned, it gives a comforting sense of continuity. It’s a bad idea.

This fear drives much in our lives. This fear holds us back. This fear will hold back millions of kids in Alabama, Mississippi and twelve other states.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

It’s not the Beard, it’s the Rule – Andrew Jones Graduation

Andrew-Jones-beardThere’s a story all over the news this morning about a young man who was not allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony with his class because he had a beard.

There seem to be largely two takes on the story.

1. A rule is a rule and Andrew Jones should have followed the rule. He was given a chance to shave his beard but refused.

2. He was allowed to wear his beard all year long at school but the district decided to enforce the rule only at the graduation, therefore the rule is being arbitrarily and unfairly applied.

I have a third opinion, no surprise. Why is there such a rule in the first place? What does a beard have to do with a public education? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against rules. No running with scissors. Why? Because you might take out your eye or stab someone else in a fall. No talking in class. Why? Because it prevents the teacher from communicating the lesson.

I’m also not pretending there is no reason for the rule. It has a very definite purpose. It is a rule created to show the students who is in charge. It is a rule designed to acclimate young minds to the idea that they must follow pointless guidelines instituted by small people who delight in their trivial taste of power. Who all but masturbate because they get to enforce their will upon a captive audience.

Jones attends Amite High School in the Tangipahoa Parish School System in Louisiana. Tangipahoa Superintendent Mark Kolwe insisted the rule was fine and they would enforce it the entire year in the future rather than selectively at graduation.

Yuck. Petty bureaucrats reveling in their power and enforcing their stupidity.

Mr. Jones. You graduated. You excelled during your time in high school. Small minds stole your moment to celebrate with your fellow students. I have a lesson for you. It won’t be the last time your inferiors try to bend you to their will with useless and petty rules. Sometimes you will be tempted to forgo you principles, to shave your beard, so that you might get along. My advice? Fuck them.

If you must give up things like a graduation ceremony in order to be true to yourself, you have won. You have defeated the reptiles of the world who hope to destroy you for the simple reason that you are better than they will ever be.

Success lies ahead. Keep on your path, Mr. Jones. Stay your course.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

I’m Smarter than Them

smarter-than-you-minI just added a blog to my Stupid Comment of the Week collection and, while discussing it with my co-worker Joe, found his observation to be extraordinarily intriguing. His thought essential involved the idea of perceived intelligence. Let me explain.

The original stupid comment involved a mathematical equation involving prime numbers but it is the implications of that comment that intrigue me.

The commenter got themselves involved in a complex mathematical discussion in which they felt their ideas would easily trump that of the established mathematic community. Their idea was nonsensical and well-worthy of inclusion in my Stupid Comment of the Week blog but it was the idea behind it, that Joe so ably pointed out, that I find so interesting.

Why would someone, without much thought or hesitation, enter into a complex mathematical discussion? I think there was a time when the sciences, as a whole, were respected and admired by the population. But in the last few years we’ve seen a stark politicization of science. When the science agrees with my political philosophy I respect it but when it does not I ridicule it. This attitude has filtered down to the average person so much so that they think they know better than scientists.

That is clearly what drove the comment in question. Anyone who had respect for the all but unfathomable nature of higher mathematics, which I do, would never so much as dare enter into an opinion that countered the established thought. At least not without considerable research. Yet the fellow in question, one assumes without hesitation, had the absolute arrogance to assume a greater knowledge than those who spent countless hours in study. The fellow in question did not hesitate to assume that their ten seconds of thought, if that, could simply and easily dispose of astonishing intelligence and hard work.

What does this tell us? That the average citizen believes they are smarter than those who work, who study, who spend hours in deep discussions with colleagues, who are clearly of superior intelligence? That the average, or below average, person thinks they know more than she or he who has spent a lifetime studying and learning?

It is a disturbing thought. If the average person believes they are smarter than the intellectual giants; what does it tell us about where the United States of America is heading?

I think this is a question well worth examining and I find I do not like the answer.

If the average person does not respect, does not admire, does not even so much as admit that the intellectual elite are in fact, elite, where is our nation headed?

The only answer I can come up with is that we are headed for obscurity. The United States will become an afterthought in the world. A has-been. A once great fallen into laughable disrepair.

I hope this is not the case but evidence is growing.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Monica Pompeo, Lesbians, and Academic Standards

critical-thinking-abilityI just read an interesting case that has largely concluded in New Mexico wherein a student named Monica Pompeo filed a lawsuit against the University of New Mexico.

Pompeo took a course called Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts in which the syllabus suggested that students have open minds to examine representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities. Her opinion of lesbians was that they were perverse and had barren wombs.

The original story about the lawsuit describes how professors seemed to harangue Pompeo for her negative comments about lesbians in the essay but the updated article tells a different story. Had I only read the original story I would have sided with Pompeo. In the updated story where the judge did further examination it was found that Pompeo was not asked to change her opinion but simply to substantiate it with critical thinking as is required in an academic environment.

Pompeo was spoken to about rewriting the paper so that it conformed with the requirements of the course, critical thinking, rather than rewrite it to conform with a particular ideology. Pompeo refused. Her academic advisor, the professor, and the professor’s immediate supervisor all reviewed the paper and came to the same conclusion. That the thoughts Pompeo laid out were not properly substantiated.

Rather than perform a rewrite of the paper, essentially attempt to prove her point, Pompeo resorted to a path more in tune with the United States of whining America. She filed a lawsuit because people were forcing her to adhere to high standards. The judge dismissed the case.

I think this sequence of events tells us a great deal about Pompeo, those commenting on the story, and our nation as a whole.

It’s my opinion that those who vilified Pompeo after the original story were completely wrong and those who trumpet her cause after the updated story are also mistaken. That is what we have in this country these days; a complete lack of critical thinking and blind loyalty to a particular cause.

If Pompeo was being told to rewrite the paper in ideological grounds then she is in right, whether you support lesbian rights or not. Pompeo is most certainly entitled to her opinion and all the more so because it is in an academic environment where individual thought is encouraged, even more so if it is against the mainstream. The “Liberals” who applauded such treatment were guilty of supporting bullying and closed mindedness.

However, if Pompeo was being asked to merely substantiate her claims then it is those who continue to support her that have failed in their analysis. “Conservatives” who support Pompeo are guilty of saying that standards do not apply. That clear and well thought out arguments are valueless. You need not understand or explain a position, it’s enough to simply have one . This attitude is also an utter abrogation of the responsibility of an academic institution.

And, by and large, I think that’s where we are in this country. It matters not if you have facts to support a position. It matters that you hold a position strongly and you talk louder than anyone else.

What I find discouraging is that I think the vast majority of people who originally disagreed with Pompeo will continue to do so and those who supported her originally will continue to do so. Only a small minority will have changed their opinion based on an evolving understanding of the case.

It’s my opinion that bad decisions are often rooted in this kind of thinking. People stick with an opinion and a plan despite evidence that it is wrong and will fail. The result is failure.

What happens when men and women who think like this run our municipality, our state, and our country?

All one need do is look around.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Woodrow Wilson – Embrace History or Erase it?

Woodrow-Wilson-President-PrincetonI just read an interesting story about how students at Princeton are demanding the school remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from various buildings and programs.

For me it brings up the question as to whether erasing history is a better solution than understanding it. I think you can probably guess my opinion on that subject. Let’s examine the story first.

President Thomas Woodrow Wilson was many things including, President of the United States during World War I. He was also the President if Princeton. He was very effective in both positions. He managed to institute massive changes while in power working to bring together disparate points of view into acceptable compromises.

He instituted many policies some of which are reviled and some of which are hailed as having allowed the United States to become a world power. His racial thoughts were a mixed bag. He opposed slavery on economic grounds rather than moral ground. He certainly discouraged black students from applying to Princeton. The leader of the NAACP, W. E. B. Du Bois, was a supporter of Wilson.

All that being said, I am not here to debate if Wilson was or was not a racist. I am not here to debate his fiscal policies.

I’m here to talk about why we shouldn’t ignore history. Wilson was President of Princeton and to ignore that is to ignore history.

To put the question more personally to me; am I offended by many memorials to Ulysses S. Grant? Grant issued the infamous General Order No. 11 which ordered the expulsion all Jews from military districts.

I must ask myself if I am diminished by the fact that there are many memorials to Grant. The memorials do not lessen me by honoring their arguably anti-Semitic founder. I am the one who takes offense. I am the one whose feelings are hurt.

Should we simply wipe the knowledge of Grant’s existence from every public place? Should we raze all pieces of art depicting him? Should we pretend he didn’t do the things he did because he also did awful things?

No one is all good or all bad, not even Adolph Hitler. The founders of our nation were largely, with a few notable exceptions, racist slave owners.

Will taking the name of Grant off a building erase his contributions to our nation? Should we only honor people who did no wrong in life? Can we not acknowledge and honor the good while still recognizing the bad?

The question for Princeton administrators is to ask themselves if they are willing to remove the legacy of the man who did so much for them, despite his flaws.

On a much broader scale I must ask myself if erasing the names of people who did wrong from memorials is helpful. My answer is no. It’s much better to let plain truth shine through, though it may be painful.

I am not offended by Grant’s name being honored in memorials. I think it rather self-centered for anyone to be so angered, Jewish or not. Grant did nothing to me and the honors being given are based on other things the general accomplished. That being said, I also think people should know about General Order No. 11. It happened. It was awful.

There are many who try to pretend their heroes did no wrong. They attempt to hide the misdeeds of those they generally admire.

Those who wish to take Wilson’s name off the Princeton building are exactly the same as these people, just in reverse.

No, I say. No. Honor the good, acknowledge the bad. They are not mutually exclusive.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

$400 a Month Forever Student Loan

student-loansI went down to my corner bar the other night to watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals play, eat a delicious burger, have a nice gin & tonic, and generally try to shake off my anti-social tendencies. The place was largely empty and I struck up a conversation with the young (and attractive) bartender. What I learned was disturbing. She’s been paying $400 a month to pay off her $35,000 student loan for seven years and she still owes $29,000.

What, what, what?

There’s a problem here. Let’s solve it.

The first step is to identify the problem. It turns out to be systemic and rather like the 2008 housing crisis that cost We The People billions of dollars.

Colleges are charging huge fees for tuition that are far above the value of the education. Banks are giving out loans to people who cannot afford to repay them in a timely fashion. Loans are structured in a predatory fashion to ensure people pay essentially forever. People are willing to take out ridiculous loans. People who should never go to college are going and incurring debt. Lots of blame to spread around.

The next question is to find out how this all came to be. The root cause is money, as is often the case. The federal government, banks issuing loans, and higher education facilities can make huge amounts of money from these loans. 2005 legislation, The Bankruptcy Reform Bill, included provisions that meant declaring bankruptcy did not absolve students of debt. This means that you can’t legally get out from under the debt, you owe forever.

So we understand the problem and its causation, what’s the solution?

I’m no Socialist. I don’t think making higher education free for all is a reasonable solution. It sounds good and it certainly has some appeal. The big problem, from my perspective, is that higher education costs will rise to take advantages of this government larder. Many students who have no business going to college will do so at a cost to the taxpayer.

I am a capitalist and I think loan institutions should make money on their loans. The loans are a good thing in that they provide young people a chance at a higher education when they otherwise could not afford such. They also make money for the banks. That’s good.

So where does that leave us?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created something very useful called the Perkins Loan. It is more like a car or home loan as opposed to a never-ending credit card charge. It’s a ten year loan at a fixed 5% rate.

Let’s take my new bartender friend’s case. She has paid $400 a month for seven years. That’s $33,600 off a $35,000 loan. Add the annual 5% to the principal and she’s pretty much got the thing paid off. Another three years and she’d be done. However, she didn’t get a Perkins Loan. Seven years into it and she’s nowhere near paying it off and there is no end in sight.

The problem becomes how to limit student loans to just Perkins type structures. If a student agrees to pay a ridiculous loan is it the bank’s fault for offering it? If banks give out insane loans are higher education institutions wrong to raise the fees to absurd amounts? Can the government legally force banks and schools to be less predatory and make a reasonable profit while allowing students to get an education without mortgaging their future? Can we force students to be reasonable about their future and crush their often misguided dreams?

No easy answers here.

I do think predatory loan practices are essentially stealing. It’s more egregious than taking money from a person via direct criminal actions. Yes, people are foolish to willingly sign for a loan that will essentially keep them in debt forever but fraud is a crime. I see no issue with charging people with theft for loan conditions that are unmanageable. Put a few loan officers in jail for issuing such loans and I think the problem would largely be solved.

Yes, fewer students would get loans. Yes, higher education facilities would see drops in enrollment. Yes, lenders would take a hit to their profits.

The other option is sit idly by while really nice girls like my bartender are made slaves to debt. Oh, and destroy the economy with a huge student loan default.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Charged with a Crime for Cheering at Graduation Ceremony

warrant-high-school-graduationThere’s an interesting story hitting the news about three people who have been served with a summons for misdemeanor disturbing the peace after cheering at a graduation ceremony.

There seems to be pretty passionate and high levels of disagreement about whether the charge was appropriate under the circumstances.

Some think that the charges are ridiculous and that Senatobia school district Superintendent Jay Foster is a power mad educator forcing his view of the world on a few parents who dared commit the crime of cheering their children at graduation.

Others believe that Ursula Miller was well aware of the rules prohibiting cheering while the students were receiving their diplomas. The rules stated clearly that all cheering be reserved until after all names had been called. Miller states she was aware she was breaking the rules and assumed that she would be asked to leave, which she was, but had no idea criminal charges would be forthcoming. Many think she knowingly broke the rules and should be punished.

Those who think Miller should not be charged largely come in two groups. Many say she was clearly rude and disrespectful to all the other students but her rudeness does not amount to criminal behavior. The other group thinks parents and family members should be able to cheer all they want when their loved one’s name is called.

Those who think it is a crime largely have seen high school graduations deteriorate into screaming contests in which one family tries to outdo the other and the kids getting their diplomas are largely overlooked in all the cheering.

I place myself with this group. I didn’t much care about my high school graduation but listening to the screaming and yelling of a few families drowning out the calling of my own name did rub me the wrong way. I wasn’t furious or anything but I did think about the abject selfishness of their behavior.

I recently attended my nieces graduation and they clearly stated, multiple times aloud and in the literature, that no cheering would be tolerated until after all names were called. This rule was followed universally without issue.

The reason I’m in agreement with Superintendent Foster is that a simple summons for a misdemeanor is an appropriate punishment for the behavior. Miller did disturb the peace of all the other students and parents. The punishment is potentially $500 and up to six months in prison. I would imagine a far lesser sentence will be apportioned by the the judge.

I think the crux of the issue is if what Miller did was just rude or illegal. I dismiss those who think everyone should cheer as much as they want at such an event. It is incredibly rude at the very least and not an expression of joy. It is an expression of selfish disregard for anyone else. It is simply yelling out “Me, Me, Me.” Nothing more and nothing less.

The question then becomes if such behavior was illegal. Did she disturb the peace. Should disturbing the peace be a crime at all.

My answer is straight forward. The legislator of the community in question has legally passed an ordinance and a crime has potentially been committed. The Constitution of the United States is silent on the subject of cheering at graduations. Therefore it is up to the community. A judge will decide if the law has been broken or not.

If the judge agrees with me, I suspect next year the ceremony will be much more dignified. Good.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Texas A&M Professor Flunks All Students – Libertarian Perspective

irwin-horwitzThere’s been an interesting story in the news the last couple of weeks about a professor at Texas A&M who decided to flunk all of his students and refused to finish out the semester. It’s an interesting decision to analyze from a Libertarian perspective.

Let me preface my remarks with the note that I do not speak for all Libertarians.

There are certainly many different possible realities to this situation and I would guess that there is a fairly large amount of blame to go around, but I want to examine this from a point of view that assumes one side of the story and then analyze it from there.

A quick recap of the story is that Professor Irwin Horwitz of Texas A&M – Galveston sent an email to all of the students in his Strategic Management class informing them that he planned to fail every student and would not be finishing his duties as instructor that semester. He cited his reasons as being general disrespect, rampant cheating, threats of violence, and unpreparedness for life after college.

The extreme viewpoint is that Horwitz is telling the absolute truth and his students were uniformly guilty of these transgressions. A second idea would be that Horwitz is an awful teacher and the students are not guilty of the behaviors listed. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle but for the purpose of this post I’m going to look at if what Horwitz did would have been appropriate in the first case.

Let’s imagine all of the students were cheating. Let’s assume he did face threats of physical violence. Let’s assume the students were uniformly unprepared to move on in life.

I still have a huge problem with his behavior. To begin with he has an obligation to finish the class. The students signed up for his class under that understanding. I’m not talking contract law, I’m talking about honoring your word.

My second big problem is that if cheating was rampant he should have immediately reported it and flunked those who were doing it. If several students are cheating and the professor lets them get away with it then the other students immediately feel cheated themselves. If cheaters are allowed to cheat then what good is being honest? I have the same attitude in regards to students who made verbal threats of physical violence. Why were they not immediately reported?

Professor Horwitz behaved atrociously even assuming everything he said is true. The reality is, as I mentioned above, there is probably blame to go around. In that case he is even more culpable.

The University has stepped in and the situation seems to be fairly well under control so that’s a good thing.

I also wanted to take a second to assign some blame to the students. If students are aware other students are cheating and don’t report it they are likely in violation of ethics rules at the school. If they were aware of threats of violence and did nothing to stop it then they have failed as humans.

Not a lot of good in this story. 🙁

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Michael Diggle and the School Bras

southfield-school-michael-diggleThere’s a fascinating story making the news in England involving a drama teacher named Michael Diggle who has been fired for asking two female students to take off their bras in order to apply body make-up and take pictures.

It sounds like an easy decision to make but I don’t think so and I’m going to tell you why. I suspect a lot of people are going to disagree with me.

Diggle was a respected drama teacher and his students were practicing to perform a play called Crave. I’ve never seen it but it clearly involves some dark and sexual themes. He applied bruise make-up to one of the girls on her upper back and neck requiring she remove her bra. During this time he apparently commented on the girl’s figure. He also took sexy, or what is being called provocative, pictures of the girls because such photos are used in the play. Said pictures were used in the play. He did both of these things without supervision and while alone with the girls.

School administrators spoke with both of the girls in question and others in the play. All apparently describe Diggle as excellent at his job as Director of Creative Arts at Southfield School in Kettering. He is described by students as being devoted. He is the sort of teacher who apparently asks his students to stretch their ability and become better. His actions were determined not to be sexually motivated. He has a good history with the school and apparently no other disciplinary problems.

Another important factor, from my eyes at least, is that Diggle maintains he did nothing wrong. He merely wanted to help his students become better actors, to apply themselves in difficult ways. Being a great actor requires such ability and it seems clear to me that Diggle is the sort of teacher who helps young people reach their potential.

I’m not completely on Diggle’s side in this. He should have had other people present when applying the makeup and taking the photos; perhaps the parents of the girls or at least another adult. That being said I think firing him is totally inappropriate. He is the sort of person who should be teaching our children. He is clearly not frightened to take on difficult topics and forces his students into unfamiliar situations. This is something a great educator must do.

I’m not opposed to a reprimand or lesser punishment but does it help the children of Kettering to lose such a teacher or does it hurt them? Isn’t that the bottom line? Is a teacher effective? That’s the question. We all make mistakes and such draconian punishment ensures that those who are bold, those who take risks, those very people we want to motivate children are driven from the field of teaching. We are left with those who don’t take chances, who don’t ask tough questions, who go down the easiest path, and take their charges with them.

I understand the investigation but I don’t agree with the final decision. Others may disagree.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

School Lunch Reprimand from Teacher

school lunch reprimandThere’s an interesting story from the field of education making the rounds this morning and I think it’s pretty instructive in a couple of ways.

What happened is that a teacher at an elementary school in Kirksville in my home state of Missouri sent home a note asking parents to pack a better lunch for their child. According to the information given to the teacher the child’s lunch consisted of four chocolate bars, marshmallows, crackers, and a pickle.

The parent wrote a rather nasty reply that described the lunch contents in a more favorable light which included meat and cheese and an absence of crackers as the contents. An administrator apologized for the note and made it clear that it would not happen again.

The comment section seems pretty heavily in favor of the parent and suggest that the teacher overstepped his or her bounds (no information was given on the teacher in question). I largely disagree although I’m not completely on the side of the teacher. I think the note should have taken a gentler tone and first confirmed that the lunch was as described and then perhaps included information and links to studies on the importance of eating a healthy lunch as it pertained to performing well in school. That being said, I think the note as a concept was absolutely appropriate for someone with Libertarian beliefs.

I’m reminded of one of the early scenes of Atlas Shrugged when the train is in danger of running late and the man responsible for making sure it won’t happen refuses to accept the responsibility and eventually Dagny Tagger is forced to step in and make the decision.

In this case the lunch as reported to the teacher was clearly substandard. The teacher, being someone of conscience, someone of personal responsibility, decided to take on the matter personally. This teacher clearly takes an interest in his or her children and wants them to succeed. The teacher did absolutely the right thing in writing the note. As I said, the note should have tried to confirm the lunch contents and been gentler in tone, but it is the hallmark calling card of someone who cares, who is willing to make a decision, and most importantly, willing to take action.

The father should have written back explaining that the lunch was not as described and THANKED the teacher for caring, for taking the time to worry about his child. He should have told the administration that they had a great teacher and he was proud his child was in that class.

The result? The teacher shamed. Any other teacher who sees a problem with a student will now be reluctant and probably unwilling to take any sort of independent action. Teachers will have to check with ten layers of administration before sending a note home to a parent.

The losers? Children everywhere.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Corporal Discipline and a Child’s Future

corporal-punishmentChild abuse is in the news in the NFL these days because of incidents surrounding Minnesota Viking’s running back Adrian Peterson and his four year old son. I’ve been reading and watching comments on the story including those made by Charles Barkley and everyday people in the section below the stories themselves.

There seems to be a trend that while Peterson may have “gone too far” that the old biblical admonishment to spare the rod is to spoil the child holds wisdom.

I’m going to be clear. Every time you use corporal punishment on your child you increase the odds the child will grow up and commit crimes. The more you hit a child the better chance there is that child will break laws, will rape women, will murder, will become a sociopath. Every time. The statistics are overwhelming. Children that suffer more physical violence in the home are more likely to be violent in society, to break laws, to hurt others. Study after study shows the same thing.

Children who grow up in homes where violence is not used are generally not violent themselves. The biblical adage is the opposite of the truth. It’s called a lie.

Children subject to violence become violent themselves. The more violence to which they are subjected the more anti-social they become. It is readily obvious to me that children who learn violence as a way to solve problems will naturally gravitate towards violence themselves. I don’t need a million studies to prove that point. The studies exist. I’d urge anyone who disagrees with me to do some research on the subject.

They’ve put video cameras in the homes of parents who claim they only hit children who are misbehaving and always do it with an explanation of what the child did wrong so it is a learning moment. It turns out most of the time the parents hit the child on the spur of the moment with nothing more than a “no” or a “stop”. That the intensity of the punishment is generally without regard to the transgression of the child but completely related to the mood of the parent. Tired parents, frustrated parents, angry parents, hit longer, hit harder, and do it with less provocation.

I can’t really write a lot more on this subject. Virtually every scientifically sound study shows exactly the same thing. There is no benefit to corporal punishment and great harm is possible.

It is certainly possible that parents use such punishment as measures of last resort and that children who were punished fairly, judicially, and with an explanation will grow up to be outstanding adults. It is even possible that children who are punished more egregiously will grow up to be excellent adults.

The statistics just tell us patterns and trends. They do not predict exactly what will happen to every child in every situation.

My advice is simple. Don’t hit your child.

I don’t have any children although I think I can understand a parent’s frustration and anger at a misbehaving child. I can understand the desire to lash out. To harm. I don’t think a well-deserved spanking is going to turn a child into a criminal. I do think the statistics are clear. The evidence is clear.

Avoid corporal punishment as much as possible and your child will be better off. That is the outcome we desire. Healthy and well adjusted children who grow into better adults.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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Suspended for Tweet – Reid Sagehorn Story

Reid-SagehornI’ve written in the past about social media and the dangers it presents because our words are forever preserved and a case involving Twitter and a young student suspended from school is making the news in Minnesota. It’s an interesting case from a legal perspective but my take is that it never should have come to what has happened. Read on!

In this case the student, Reid Sagehorn, was subject to anonymous tweets that he had kissed one of the teachers at his school. He responded to this with a tweet reading, “Actually yes.”

Other parents apparently saw this tweet as confirmation of the idea that he was engaged in an illegal sexual relationship with the teacher in question and reported it to the authorities. An investigation ensued. It was determined that there was no such relationship and Reid says his reply was intended to be sarcastic.

The problem is that the teacher in question had her reputation unfairly besmirched and the school had to institute an investigation which took time and resources. Thus they decided to suspend Sagehorn. First for five days and then for ten days. Eventually they even moved towards an expulsion which forced him to enroll in a different school to finish out the year. Now he has filed a lawsuit claiming the school violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

The legality of the suspension is a fairly interesting question in its own right because schools are generally given pretty wide latitude in dealing with speech that causes a disruption in the school. The tweet clearly caused a disruption and just as clearly was not taken as sarcasm even if it was intended as such. I’m of the opinion the school does have the right to suspend and even expel Sagehorn. I’m also of the opinion that doing so was absolute nonsense.

Sagehorn’s tweet was potentially damaging and ill-advised to be certain. The school pretty much had to institute an investigation and I think Sagehorn owes the district and the teacher in particular a big apology. However, that’s where I think things should have stopped. It would have been a good “teachable moment” as we like to say these days. In my opinion punishment should have been a public apology to the assembled students, a private apology to the teacher in question, and a one day suspension. End of story. Move on with the business of educating young Sagehorn and the rest of the students.

Such an approach was not taken and now we are where we are. Sigh.

What do you think? Was the long-term suspension merited? Is this a First Amendment violation?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

 

Dr. Mehmet Oz Testifies about Weight Loss Scams

Dr OzI’ve long known that most diets are merely money-making scams designed to fleece desperate people from their money and I don’t really follow the industry with much interest. Today I spotted a blog post about a fellow named Dr. Mehmet Oz who has been invited by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to testify to the Senate about weight-loss scams.

I’m a bit jaded when it comes to irony, hypocrisy, and outright lying from our elected officials but when a senator from my home state invites possibly the biggest purveyor of fake diet scams to the rather less than hallowed halls of Congress to testify about the dangers of weight-loss scams, well, how can I not write a post about it?

The original post from Orac at Science Blogs does a great job of providing all the links you need to determine for yourself the nature of Dr. Oz and his various business operations. Oz is a recipient of the Randi Pigasus Award for Refusing to Face Reality and his various forms of weight-loss and medical advice are cited as doing more harm than good.

All that is well and good. It’s clear to me that Oz is a charlatan preying on people’s desire to lose weight quickly and easily so as to fleece them of money. As far as I’m concerned he’s allowed to do that as long as his actions don’t cross over into criminality. Apparently he has not yet crossed that line so he continues to sell goods on his television show without interference.

We live in a free country and if people are gullible enough to believe his obvious fabrications and exaggerations and want to hand him their money then that’s their right. Those who see through his lies don’t give him money. That’s the way freedom works. You’re free to do what you wish even if it’s foolish.

What really bothers me is this invitation to appear before the Senate. It’s not even that he is going to be railing against that which he is himself guilty of that bothers me. It’s not that I think the Senate still has the gravitas of the old days and that anyone who testifies there must be of good character. Those days are long gone. Still, why should he be a given legitimacy by our government that he clearly does not deserve? Are my tax-dollars going to house him, feed him, and transport him to these sessions?

Why does the United States government need to be involved at all? There are laws on the books about false advertising both from the Federal government and from various states. If Oz is breaking the law, arrest him. If he is skirting the law then it is up to people like Orac and the Randi Foundation to spread the word. It is up to people who want to lose weight to do due-diligence when looking for solutions.

The government can’t protect us from ourselves. If you’re foolish enough to purchase Green Coffee Bean extract in order to lose weight you deserve what you get. If Oz lied about the studies which showed its value in weight-loss he should be charged with a crime. Our politicians should focus on the real problems that this nation faces and not on inviting likely snake-oil sales representatives to speak to them about weight-loss scams.

The entire visit is a classic example of our politicians doing things that appear to be good in order to gain political capital. Look, we’re here to help you, they say. Vote for me.

I’ve got news for Congress. They are not here to help me. They are here to run the country properly.

I’ve got news for all my readers out there trying to lose weight. It’s hard. You have to cut your caloric intake not just today, not just this month, but long-term, day after day after day. You have to exercise regularly. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Go to the gym at least four days a week. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying it’s hard. You can listen to me or you can listen to Oz. Your choice.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

 

My Friends’ Children and My Atheism

atheistsThere was an interesting question in Dr. Abby this morning and it made me think about my own situation in regards to Atheism and my friends’ children. In the column an atheist couple had been asked by their parents to refrain from telling nieces and nephews about their lack of religious belief.

I’ve been asked by children of my friends on a number of occasions about my religious beliefs and I don’t hesitate to tell them I’m an atheist. I like to think I’m not a jerk about it. I tell them that I think everyone should believe what they want to believe and that I don’t think any differently of them for believing in god or not. That I like them just the way they are.

The thing that I wonder about is that by doing so am I alienating my friends. Do they cringe when I tell their children that I’m an atheist. When I explain that I don’t find the evidence for the existence of god to be convincing. Do they perhaps not invite me over because they are afraid I will expound on my atheism to their children. Are they concerned that my arguments will turn their own children into atheists.

One of my friends has a son who has become an atheist himself and I wonder if there is some resentment that I perhaps my own lack of faith was instrumental in his turning away from their religion.

These are not lighthearted concerns. If a person is of a deeply religious nature and their child becomes an atheist it is their belief system that this child will be forever torn from them in the, admittedly non-existent, eternal afterlife. While I’m absolutely certain that no such afterlife exists, my friends feel differently and the idea that their children will not be with them in this fantasy realm is emotionally and likely physically disturbing.

None of my friends has asked me to refrain from talking about atheism and the only time I do so is when I’m directly asked about my religious beliefs. However during everyday conversation I often speak about scientific topics that contradict biblical inerrancy; including things like continental drift, evolution, and space-time. For example I occasionally talk to children about how North and South America fit together like puzzle pieces with Europe and Africa and how this relates to plate-tectonics. These are topics that I worry about.

I do think the grand-parents in the case of the Dr. Abby column are making a mistake by hiding the fact that atheism is even a possibility and this is clearly demonstrated by the fact that their children have become atheists. I don’t think lying to children, or anyone for that matter, is a good or effective policy. The truth almost always makes itself known in the end. I think the grand-parents would be better off explaining that some people don’t believe the same thing as they do. That being said, I’m not a parent.

Any other atheists out there have any thoughts? Any religious parents with atheist friends?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

My Friends' Children and My Atheism

atheistsThere was an interesting question in Dr. Abby this morning and it made me think about my own situation in regards to Atheism and my friends’ children. In the column an atheist couple had been asked by their parents to refrain from telling nieces and nephews about their lack of religious belief.

I’ve been asked by children of my friends on a number of occasions about my religious beliefs and I don’t hesitate to tell them I’m an atheist. I like to think I’m not a jerk about it. I tell them that I think everyone should believe what they want to believe and that I don’t think any differently of them for believing in god or not. That I like them just the way they are.

The thing that I wonder about is that by doing so am I alienating my friends. Do they cringe when I tell their children that I’m an atheist. When I explain that I don’t find the evidence for the existence of god to be convincing. Do they perhaps not invite me over because they are afraid I will expound on my atheism to their children. Are they concerned that my arguments will turn their own children into atheists.

One of my friends has a son who has become an atheist himself and I wonder if there is some resentment that I perhaps my own lack of faith was instrumental in his turning away from their religion.

These are not lighthearted concerns. If a person is of a deeply religious nature and their child becomes an atheist it is their belief system that this child will be forever torn from them in the, admittedly non-existent, eternal afterlife. While I’m absolutely certain that no such afterlife exists, my friends feel differently and the idea that their children will not be with them in this fantasy realm is emotionally and likely physically disturbing.

None of my friends has asked me to refrain from talking about atheism and the only time I do so is when I’m directly asked about my religious beliefs. However during everyday conversation I often speak about scientific topics that contradict biblical inerrancy; including things like continental drift, evolution, and space-time. For example I occasionally talk to children about how North and South America fit together like puzzle pieces with Europe and Africa and how this relates to plate-tectonics. These are topics that I worry about.

I do think the grand-parents in the case of the Dr. Abby column are making a mistake by hiding the fact that atheism is even a possibility and this is clearly demonstrated by the fact that their children have become atheists. I don’t think lying to children, or anyone for that matter, is a good or effective policy. The truth almost always makes itself known in the end. I think the grand-parents would be better off explaining that some people don’t believe the same thing as they do. That being said, I’m not a parent.

Any other atheists out there have any thoughts? Any religious parents with atheist friends?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Pay to Pee – Good Idea?

Have to PeeThere’s an interesting little case roiling the internet about a school in Vancouver where a couple of third grade girls urinated on themselves in the classroom. They claim they were denied access to the bathroom although the school district says no one is ever denied such access if they declare it’s an “emergency”. We’ve all been there.

What makes this case interesting is that the school has a policy in place where students earn currency in exchange for doing various things like homework. They spend this currency on various items including snacks and going to the bathroom during class. The idea being to teach kids the value of money.

One of the girls in question spent all her money on other things and was unsuccessful in her attempt to control her bladder.

I’m ambivalent on this. I really like the idea of teaching young students money management skills but I don’t think going to the bathroom should one of the fee items. Basically the kids will always try to hold it to avoid paying the fee. This is not a good idea.

I suspect what happened here is that the girls in question ran out of money and didn’t ask to go the bathroom because they thought without enough money they wouldn’t be allowed to go. Perhaps they were embarrassed to ask without having enough money.

I’m sympathetic to teachers who get frustrated when students ask for bathroom breaks too frequently but who is to say if someone has to go to the bathroom? If you gotta go, you gotta go. Not that I think that’s what happened here. I think if the girls had told the teacher it was an emergency they would have been allowed to go. The teacher can’t be expected to read minds.

I can even see some objection to the monetary rewards for doing homework and being “nice” to each other. Who decides what is nice and what the payment will be?

My final take is that there is nothing wrong with this sort of system as long as the rules are spelled out and there is some oversight to make sure teachers aren’t playing at being little kings.

In the end, sometimes people can’t hold their bladder. Sure it’s embarrassing to pee yourself. Life is filled with such unhappy events. It’s not the end of the world.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

 

 

Common Core Math – Looked Simple to Me

Common Core Frustrated ParentThere is apparently a big story these days with what is called the Common Core. While I am an educator my focus is primarily on technology and I teach adults. Even with that said I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about the Common Core until I read this article.

At this stage I haven’t done much research into the Common Core and I’m not writing this blog as a defense or an attack on it. I was just a bit amazed by the father’s reaction to the problem. I’m sure he’s had a lot more experience with the Common Core than have I and his reaction was likely an outburst related to accumulated feelings.

That being said, I’m a college dropout, not an EE, and it took me about ten seconds to see the method being taught for subtraction and it makes perfect sense. It’s exactly how I do math in my head when presented with a problem. The fact that someone with a degree in Electrical Engineering couldn’t figure this out is baffling to me. The father is also completely undermining the authority of the teacher and basically telling his child it’s fine to mock and ignore teachers. Good luck with that.

The original problem is a subtraction equation: 427 – 316. So, using base tens you subtract three one-hundreds, one ten, and six ones to arrive at 111. In the example the student failed to subtract the ten properly and went from 127 to 107.

The method being taught is very straightforward, and as I said, exactly the way I do subtraction in my head. The line at the top is an excellent representation of how I solve such a problem.

Please don’t take this as a defense of the Common Core as a whole because I don’t know enough about it to make such a statement. I’m just saying that the father’s reaction to this problem is nonsense, not the problem itself. Even then I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s likely this letter is the culmination of multiple frustrating events.

The process used is straight-forward and works perfectly. It takes about five seconds and can be done in the head instead of having to use a piece of paper to write down all the numbers. It’s, in my opinion, a better system for subtraction than the one the father presents.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Coming Soon: The Broken Throne

Boobies Win!

I love boobiesIn October of last year I wrote a blog post about the possible Supreme Court case involving boobie bracelets. Today the Supreme Court decided against hearing the case which essentially means none of the justices disagreed substantially with the Appeals Court decision. This means that the boobie bracelets win.

I’ll recap quickly. Boobie Bracelets are designed to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. The Easton Area school district in Pennsylvania thought the word boobie was lewd and obscene and banned the bracelets. Two young girls refused to honor the ban and were suspended.

In court the school district changed their story somewhat and claimed that the bracelets were disruptive. In a series of opinions it was determined that the district could not show that classes were disrupted and the girls were victorious at every turn.

I wrote in my original blog that the school district was stupid for attempting the ban, stupid for pursuing the case, but that it was their right to ban anything they wanted. Apparently I was wrong. If something is not lewd, not disruptive, and there isn’t an existing dress-code rules violation; they can’t ban a piece of apparel.

I thought a quick course in Supreme Court processes might be interesting for my readers. I wrote above that refusing to take the case meant that none of the justices wanted to hear it. That’s technically inaccurate. The justices gather in a conference with just the nine members; no clerks, no one else.

The rules state that if four justices want to hear the case then it comes before the court. The reality is that if even a single justice feels passionately about a case the others will generally acquiesce. If the case goes unheard it usually means that no one felt strongly enough to argue for it. There are exceptions of course.

Another interesting insight into this case is that the original suspensions happened in 2010 and it took nearly four years to make its way through the system. The girls are now in high school and making preparations for college. The suspension is but a distant memory. Still, there has to be some feeling of vindication.

As for the Easton Area school district, well, if I were a taxpayer in that district I’d be quite angry about how my money was being used. I’d think about voting for someone else come election time for the school board. But, that’s me.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne