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

India’s $75 Million Mangalyaan Mission

India Mars missionThe other day I read in interesting article about a mission to Mars that you probably haven’t heard about and a few days later a friend of mine linked her blog to a Siemens seminar about manufacturing. An item in each of those links dovetailed into something that struck me.

The entire Mars mission is costing India the equivalent of $75 million dollars and a large part of this is because they have such a glut of incredibly intelligent young engineers that their starting salary is less than one-third of their counterparts in the United States. The team that designed the satellite has two people on it over the age of 31.

Meanwhile I read this quote from the Siemens article.

High-tech factories require a dependable supply of a well-trained, technically adept labor force. By one estimate, America will need over 120 million workers with advanced skills by 2020 – and may be on pace to prepare less than half of what’s required with adequate qualifications.

Not long ago I wrote a blog about how last year China unleashed seven million college graduates onto the world.

It’s my opinion that the Automation Age is coming and if you want a good job you need to have technical skills. Robots will be doing the vast majority of menial jobs in the future.

If the United States cannot provide businesses with a workforce that can do the job, businesses will look elsewhere. That’s the bottom line.

I’m happy to see this incredible wealth of intelligence arising in China and India. I don’t think this has to be a dire threat to the United States. As the world becomes smarter so too will our lives become better. But let’s not kid ourselves; we must continue to produce a highly qualified and technically advanced workforce. If we do not we risk being left behind.

We can’t be complacent. We can’t lie to ourselves and say, well, those Asian and Indian kids might get good grades but they can’t plan, design, and manufacturer a robotic mission to Mars. Trust me, they can.

No matter your political party try to refrain from attacking scientists even when they don’t agree with your political agenda. Read a science article now and again. Download an astronomy app so when you see a bright object in the sky you can identify it.

You might not be able to tell a youngster to become a scientist but you sure can inspire them.

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

Camels, the Bible, and Belief

Domesticated CamelsThere’s an article making the rounds about how domesticated camels are mentioned in biblical books all the way from Genesis forward.

Here’s the problem. According to archeological, scientific, and written records; the beasts weren’t domesticated at that time. The first evidence of camels being used in a domesticated fashion comes in the 10th century BCE. This invalidates all biblical accounts which mention domesticated camels before that time.

The biblical scholars who admit this anachronism say that just because camels were interjected incorrectly into early biblical stories doesn’t mean that anything else in the stories is inaccurate. Really? This seems to fly in the face of logic. If the people who wrote the bible decided to add contemporary facts to an existing account doesn’t that mean the entire account is likely fiction? Sure, there could be parts that are accurate but it is clear that whoever wrote the books of the bible in question wrote them hundreds and possibly thousands of years after the events they depict. How can that be considered accurate?

Normally the fact that the bible is filled with inaccuracies is not something that I’d blog about. It’s evident to me that the thing is largely fiction. I’m also not bothered by religious fanatics who claim that the overwhelming evidence of camel domestication is incorrect because the stories in the bible overrule any scientific or archaeological findings. Those people are insane. I can’t reason with them nor will I try.

My problem is with those who want to believe the bible tells true stories but admit that the camel business is a mistake. It’s not one mistake. Domesticated camels are mentioned more than twenty times in early biblical stories at a time before they were actually domesticated. This means that whoever wrote those stories had no idea what they were talking about.

If I wrote a story about the Roman Empire that mentioned combustion engine driven trucks transporting goods across the Empire would you take the rest of my accounts seriously? No, of course not. Everything I wrote about would be immediately cast in doubt, and rightly so.

I see this brain trick more and more these days. Perhaps I’m just getting old and it’s been around for as long as the domesticated camel, or longer. It just seems to me that people are more willing to ignore facts so that they can believe what they want to be true. The old Is-Ought fallacy. I suppose the fact that David Hume came up with this idea some 300 years ago would suggest we are, perhaps, not living in unusual times. Maybe people have always used this little trick of the mind.

Even so, it is something my brain can’t understand. When someone brings facts forward that I had not considered; I adjust my position accordingly. To do otherwise would be to lie to myself. It would be to base my logical conclusions on my beliefs, not the other way around.

Anyway, I realize I’m not going to convince anyone today. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

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

 

Are Teachers to Blame for Cheating Students?

Cheating on examThere was an interesting article about what we can learn about teaching from students who cheat. The article references a book called Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty written by James M. Lang.

The article suggested that nearly 75% of students cheat during college and I would guess the number is closer to 100% if you count things like glancing at a neighbor’s result to see if it matches your own. I doubt there are many people at all who have not engaged in at least the mildest form of cheating at one point or another.

The article suggests that certain types of teachers and methods of teaching engender cheating. I’m going to go into that in a minute but I want to quickly talk about what the article was not about.

While reading the comments on the story it became clear that majority of people thought the article was somehow absolving students of culpability if they cheated. That this was some sort of attack on personal responsibility. The idea being that it wasn’t the student’s fault they cheated, it was the instructor. That’s not what the article was about at all. If anyone chooses to cheat, regardless of the circumstances, they should face the consequences of their actions. Again, that’s not what this article was about in any way but I’m trying to prevent comments that are off topic.

Back to the point of the book and the article. The first point of the article suggested that failure was becoming less of an option. With mandatory federal dollars involved in passing an exam, both teachers and students didn’t see failure as viable. The students had to pass the test for the school district to get the money. This led to an environment where students spent most of their time in repetitive (read boring) drills designed to pass the test but not necessarily designed to actually learn material. The book cited several studies in which students who embraced failure as a part of learning ended up learning more.

Certainly in life we often tell people they cannot succeed unless they are willing to fail. In an educational environment where failure is to be avoided at all costs it makes perfect sense to me that achievement and higher level learning would suffer, counter-intuitive though it is. The book suggests rewarding perseverance and hard work over achievement. Again, this seems illogical but a closer examination seems to me to reveal veracity to the idea.

The best way to find achievement is through hard work and tenacity. If we want achievement and don’t stress the methods necessary to get there; we simply invite, even encourage, cheating. If we strongly encourage hard work, study, and perseverance, achievement will take care of itself.

The second thing discussed in the article is that a stimulating environment produces better results than a boring classroom. This seems to me to be self-evident but I’ve witnessed a number of educators suggest otherwise. Learning should not be fun, it’s hard work, I’ve heard more than once.

The article again references the idea of the government mandated testing which results in a stagnant and dull learning environment. Disengaged students don’t learn and often cheat.

The idea here is more straightforward. Educators who provide a stimulating and interesting environment produce students who cheat less and learn more. I have no doubt this is true. It’s easy to think that students fail more difficult classes at a higher rate; however, I think the premise of the article is correct. That a stimulating, interesting, and engaged teacher often has a class that is far more difficult than other teachers but that the students score higher and learn far more. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

I’m certainly not saying we can eliminate cheating altogether but if we can reduce cheating, increase learning, and make things more fun; isn’t that a noble goal? I’m also not saying that those that cheat shouldn’t be held responsible. I’m saying that we shouldn’t dismiss the idea that cheating might be more the fault of the educator than lack of ethics by the student.

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

Manners – Education that Matters

good mannersI just read an interesting article about how private industry has entered the education business with what some people would call Manners Classes.

The classes teach children as young as five things like making eye contact and smiling when they meet people and also which fork to use at the table. They try to teach skills that are necessary for people to get along socially. I didn’t know what to make of the story to begin with. These are the sorts of things that were generally taught to children by their parents and that they need to have these classes outside the home is at first off-putting.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that people are less polite than they used to be. The article suggests that social media bears part of the responsibility in that people communicate without physically being near one another far more than in the past.

Certainly the anonymity of the internet comment section allows people to display the worst kind of vicious and boorish behavior without any consequences. Even the comments below the article in question were often nasty and ill-mannered with the person making the comment not grasping the ironic nature of their missive.

Read a blog, watch a news broadcast, listen to a politician, listen to your neighbor at Christmas dinner tonight and tell me where you see decency. Where do you see people listening to the ideas of those who don’t agree with them? Where do you see people politely discussing their differences and finding reasonable compromises?

If you see what I see, it won’t come as a surprise to you that children lack manners, lack common decency in dealing with others, lack civility, lack the ability to compromise, lack the qualities that will carry the United States through the difficult times ahead.

I’m not opposed to classes that teach politeness and manners, I’m for them. However, I recognize that you can take as many classes on a topic as you want but if you are surrounded by mean-spirited nastiness, with inability to work with those that don’t completely agree with you, with people spewing angry rants who think their words are the only ones that count; well, children are going to follow those examples.

If we want children to learn to work together and accomplish things, if we want children to engage in real discussions and compromises that benefit the United States, if we want children to make the most of their lives; then the best way we can accomplish it is to lead by example.

The next time someone expresses an idea different from what you are advocating, take a moment to examine it for its real value. Look at the idea and forget your preconceived notions. Take a moment to research the facts. Speak politely with the person and express your ideas on why they are wrong. Understand that the world is rarely black and white, that most ideas have at least some merit. Consider that others are looking to you as a leader, as an example.

When you are watching the news or reading a story take the time to examine both sides of the issue with an unbiased perspective. Take a little time to do some research and read up on both ideas. Consider that there might be a compromise that allows for the good ideas from both sides of an argument to best achieve the goal. Consider that the ideas you promulgate might have drawbacks.

In other words, set a good example. That is, if you think being polite and mannered is a benefit to society. If you think people having the ability to work together rather than shouting each other down is a good idea. If you are for implementing your will completely once you have enough power to do so, then perhaps you like the way things are going in this country.

If you think the next generation is impolite, ill-mannered, and unwilling to compromise, then it’s because they learned it from the previous generation (you).

As simply as I can distill it, show some class.

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

Trail of Tears Football Banner – Opportunity Knocks

Trail of Tears BannerThere’s an interesting story making the news rounds about a high-school football team that used what is called a break-through banner which taunted their foes using the term Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears refers to the events surrounding the 1830 Indian Removal Act in which many Native Americans were forcefully removed from their homes in violation of previous treatise. This law was passed by both the Senate and the House although not with enough votes to override a veto in the House of Representatives. It fell to President Andrew Jackson to sign the law or veto it.

The history books I’ve read on the subject suggest that he was conflicted. The debate on this issue was passionate. In the end, from what I’ve read, Jackson felt that settlers were going to move into the region and getting civil authorities to prosecute these settlers was going to be difficult if impossible. That these settlers and Native Americans would eventually get into conflicts. That the opening of the land and the relocation of the Native Americans was inevitable. In the end he signed the legislation and the supposed voluntary removal led to both Trail of Tears and Second Seminole War.

These two events are stains upon the honor of the United States and it can be argued that the removal act as a whole was a decision that shows the United States in a poor light.

My blog today isn’t about this history, it is not even about the banner, it is about the result of the banner. There are those calling for the resignation of school administrators that allowed the banner to appear. The principal of the school, Tod Humphries, took responsibility for the banner, apologized for the banner, and promised that the entire school would be educated about the Indian Removal Act of 1930.

So, we have two options here. We can vilify Humphries as the person ultimately responsible for the banner or we can both accept his apology and use the moment to educate people about the Trail of Tears and our history.

You can probably guess my position. It appears to me the apology is sincere and I’m willing to take the principal’s word that they will educate students at the school about the Act and its terrible results. I think that Native American leaders should embrace the proposal. They should publicly and vocally accept his apology. Offer to visit the school and speak on the subject. Use the moment as an impetus for good. Shake his hand and vow to make the world a better place.

Can you imagine a world where we embrace those who make mistakes? A world where we move not to blame but to make right? A world where we work with one another even when we disagree?

What do you think should be the result of the banner?

[polldaddy poll=7575738]

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

A ‘D’ Student on the Honor Roll?

Honor RollThere’s an interesting story making the rounds that is the sort that inflames passions. A student in Pasco Middle School of Dade County in the Sunshine state of Florida got 4 A’s, 1 C, and 1 D on his report card which was good enough for a 3.1667 Grade Point Average.

The Pasco Middle School has the cutoff for honor roll students at 3.15, thus young Douglas Tillack received the honor. This apparently upset his mother who thought any student getting a D on their report card could hardly be called an honor student.

It is prominently mentioned early in the article that nearly 50% of all students at the school are on the honor roll. I expected there to be a firestorm of anger in the comments about the lowering of standards in U.S. school. Certainly the article prominently featured a woman with that complaint. There was some of that to be sure but I was surprised by how many people came to the same conclusion as did I. If the cutoff is at 3.15 and the score was 3.16 then he rightfully deserves a place on the honor roll.

If the system was that in addition to the 3.15 you could have no single grade lower than a B then Douglas would have been left off the list. We have to draw lines and it’s important to follow the rules.

I am in agreement with Mrs. Tillack in that the qualifications to be on the honor roll probably need to be increased. She was also upset that on his report card it was written, “Good job“. Upon her complaint this was changed to “Work on civics. Ask for help.” Civics apparently being the subject in which Douglas received a D. This is a reasonable outcome.

This story doesn’t really rouse my passions. I think Mrs. Tillack basically did the right thing except the interviews with the media. She went to the school board and asked for a change.

What I don’t like is the opportunistic outcry from people who think this is symptomatic of the lowering of our standards. Of the “feel good” movement to encourage kids even when they are doing poorly. I don’t see this case as such an example. In this case I see a School Board, duly elected by voters, who decided what was going to qualify a student for the honor roll. I see them following the rules they set out.

If the people of that school district don’t like the qualification being at 3.15 or at including students with D’s and F’s then they have recourse. They vote for the School Board members. They can petition them to change the rules.

Don’t go to the media and air your complaints. Don’t use it as an excuse to attack ideology with which you disagree. It’s your school district and your rules that allowed it to happen. Get out there and make change!

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

Unemployment is a Two-way Street

Skill GapI just read a pair of articles, here and here, about the United States’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and the causes thereof. The basic premise is that there are plenty of jobs but young Americans don’t have the skill to fill them, the so-called skill gap.

I’m quickly approaching my 50th birthday and many of my friends are now in fairly high-level positions with their companies. I know a woman who is highly placed at Monsanto, another who one day will likely be the owner of her family chemical company, a good friend is a high-level executive at AT&T, another few friends are in managerial positions at Boeing, and another friend’s wife has a prominent position at Siemens. I don’t mention these people to brag about how well some of my friends are doing, although I’m certainly glad that such high-achievers hang out with a teacher and writer like me!

My point is that there seems to be a fairly strong consensus in the business world that not enough young Americans have the skills necessary to do the work required. At my workplace we’re constantly trying to hire computer technicians and, as often as not, the young hires can’t do the job.

The astonishingly weak scores of young U.S. students in testing indicates this problem is not going away and is, in fact, growing worse.

The world is transitioning to the information age and this is as important as was the industrial revolution that occurred during the 19th century. We need workers who can do the job. These workers will rise through the ranks and become tomorrow’s leaders.

The lack of skills are not simply based in technical knowledge but includes huge problems with writing and communication. Practical experience is woefully inadequate.

How do we resolve this situation? There are no easy answers.

It starts with parents stressing education and achievement to their children. That’s what they are doing in India and China. It’s what Jewish and Asian-American parents have done for generations and it works.

Schools must make sure students know how to learn. This is especially important in the early years of education because technical skills will be taught later. Teachers must demand more from their students, not less.

Higher education must focus more on practical realities and less on theory, for certain fields at least.

Business must make it clear to the education providers what it will take to be employed in the modern world. What sort of skills are necessary. This is already happening as more and more companies reach into universities to hire summer interns and eventually transition them to full-time employees. Apprentice programs in Europe and particularly Germany encourage kids to skip higher education altogether and go straight into the business world and learn a trade.

The important point about this sort of thing is that there is no single solution. There is no overnight change that can be implemented to solve the problem. We must work together to promote various ideas. The solutions I’ve outlined above are merely nascent ideas and not fully detailed plans-of-action.

What we must imagine is what will happen to the United States if we don’t produce enough people to do the job properly. What will happen to our industry, our innovation, our economic power?

It’s not just about being employed, making a living, having quality of life. Unemployment, when it is driven by lack of qualified personnel, is a harbinger of danger for our nation.

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

Banning Boobies at School

I love boobiesThere was an interesting case a while back that is slowly making its way through the courts and is now one step short of the Supreme Court.

One of the various methods in which people support breast cancer research these days is a bracelet with the words I (heart) Boobies on it. It’s mainly designed for younger girls who wear that sort of thing and the Easton Area school district in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania decided that it was sexual in nature and banned students from wearing the bracelet.

A pair of girls defied the ban on Breast Cancer Awareness day in 2010 and were suspended for their defiance. Multiple courts have ruled that the district did not prove the bracelets were disruptive with the most recent being a federal appeals court. The district voted to continue the case which means it now heads to the Supreme Court.

The reason I find the case interesting is that it is a clash of my Libertarian ideals. On one hand I think the school has every right to have a dress code and enforce it. On the other hand I think individuals have the right to wear what they choose as long as it is not particularly disruptive.

The school board banned the bracelets originally because the term boobies was determined to be lewd and designed around sexual themes. This violated the dress code restricting sexual suggestive language or images. Several other schools have banned the bracelets as well.

So, where does a Libertarian land on this issue?

The bracelets are clearly not sexually suggestive and I reject that argument out of hand. It’s a bit humorous and certainly mentions the word boobies but it just doesn’t rise to the level of being sexual in my opinion. Likewise there seems to be no evidence that the bracelets were causing disruption in the school.

On the other hand, if the school wants to ban, say, black socks, then that’s their right. They pass a rule and any student who violates it should expect the punishment they get. It’s a stupid rule to be certain but the school has the right to make rules about dress codes. This is clear.

In the end I’m going to side with the district although not because I think the bracelets are lewd or disruptive but simply because the district board has the right to create whatever dress code they desire. If the students and parents of that district object they can elect new representation next time around.

That’s the way representative republics work.

I think what would have been best is if the girls followed the rule that year but started a political campaign to remove those who voted for the ban from office. Getting board members elected who see the stupidity of the rule and reverse it. That’s government by the people for the people.

That’s what we want. The courts have their place to be certain but I think every time we resort to them rather than creating a real political solution we get further away from what the Founding Fathers desired.

If you don’t like the decisions your representative makes; be it local, state, or federal, you have the power of the vote. When we hold people responsible for their decisions, not the rhetoric they spew during the election cycle, we make the country a better place.

Not to say that I don’t love boobies, I do.

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

Zero-Tolerance means Zero Responsibility

zero toleranceWe haven’t had many of these zero-tolerance stories in the news lately but there is a big one out now.

In this case teenager Erin Cox went to pick up a friend from a party. The friend was too intoxicated to drive herself. When Cox arrived the police showed up as well and gave a summons to every underage person at the party. Cox violated the schools zero-tolerance policy for students attending parties in which alcohol is served. She was suspended for a few games from her volleyball team and removed as captain.

There’s a lot of outrage about the ruling because Cox was there not to party but to help a friend. That Cox is being punished for helping  her friend avoid driving drunk. I totally agree with the idea that Cox is blameless in this but I want to look at the idea of a zero-tolerance policy and what it really means: Zero responsibility.

The stated idea behind a zero-tolerance policy is to ensure the safety of people, generally students. The danger of drugs is so terrible that we cannot allow any drugs in the school; including aspirin. The horrors of teenage drinking and driving with its attendant accidental deaths is so great we must protect our students by punishing anyone going to a party where alcohol is available.

The reality behind zero-tolerance policies is that adults are afraid to make decisions. Zero-tolerances gives them the opportunity to mete out punishment without taking any responsibility.

Why are they afraid? Because if they give different punishments for the same crime based on circumstances they will be sued by the other parents, accused of favoritism, racism, nepotism, and just about anything else. They could lose their livelihoods in the storm of lawsuits that will follow.

Why are lawmakers afraid to make legislation? They will lose their job. That’s why we have a dozens of Propositions on the ballots when in a Representative Republic our elected officials should make decisions. It is why there is gridlock in Washington D.C.

Why does our legal system rely on mandated sentencing guidelines?

I’ll tell you why. Our society is filled with people more than happy to blame everyone else for what is wrong with their lives. Listen to a politician talk and if lips are moving, someone else is being blamed. It’s not just politicians. It’s everywhere and it’s rampant. Read the comments on any news story about anything. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Anyone who stands up and takes a position is bulldozed in the ensuing blame Olympics. I’m not surprised that schools enact zero-tolerance policies out of fear. I’m not surprised that Cox is being punished for her actions. Zero-tolerance means no one has to make a decision. That all decisions are mandated and that means that the person making the decision can utter the most useful phrase in the United States, “Blame Canada!”

So, in this latest case who are we blaming? The administrators who created this policy out of absolute fear that they’d be punished no matter what decision they made about student drinking. Whose fault is that? Look in the mirror. It’s your fault. It’s my fault. Our willingness to blame everyone but ourselves is to blame.

You don’t like zero-tolerance policies? Then stop blaming everyone else when something goes wrong.

You don’t like our useless government? Blame yourself and start voting better.

You don’t like your job? Go out and get a better one. Educate yourself. Work hard.

Your kid got the raw end of a deal? Tell them that’s life. Watch out in the future.

You don’t like this blog? Stop reading.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (Out very soon!)

The Education Gap – Adults Count Also

EducationThere was an interesting study recently completed by a group called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies in which they tested adults in various countries on Math, Reading, and Problem Solving skills.

I recently wrote about how China and India are graduating huge numbers of college students and that the United States is falling behind. That this transition of intelligence from the US to other countries does not speak well of our nation and our chances to continue to be a world leader in scientific advancement, economic power, and military power.

The new study did not survey adults in China and India and I certainly wish that it had. It would give us a more complete picture. However, the U.S. continues to score extremely poorly on education tests pretty much across the board. This is often explained by the fact that in the U.S. we have a very diverse population with large numbers of immigrants. There is truth to this statement as smaller countries tend to have better educational systems simply because they have fewer students to teach.
The nations that dominate us in this most recent survey are generally smaller in population and that means we still have a greater number of highly intelligent people, it’s just that our average is lower.

I’m firmly convinced that our economic power, our scientific acumen, and our military dominance grew largely out of the fact we had a huge number of intelligent people in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s. Some of them born here and educated through our system and others who fled totalitarian regimes.

It matters not that we ended up with a huge advantage in intellect; it only matters that we had it and much of our power today stems from that time.

That advantage is clearly ebbing although we are still the world leader in economics, barely, and military might, by a large margin. It seems to me that if we continue down this path it is inevitable that new inventions, new ideas, economic power, and military power will shift away from the U.S. and to the increasingly smarter nations. That is why I’m disappointed India and China were not included in this survey.

I love the idea that other nations are producing intelligent adults. I’m all for education around the world. I love great ideas and the people who promulgate them. I think these ideas make all our lives better and result in economic bounty for everyone. I just want my country, the U.S. to keep up.

If this survey is to be believed; Americans rank 17th in Problem Solving abilities of the 23 nations surveyed. Yikes.

Here is a look at the entire file on the U.S.

They looked at a number of other factors and it makes for interesting reading including the fact that blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. were a significant drag on the scores. They make up a huge percentage of the worst scores with whites and Asians making up the high-end of the scale. Something the article does not talk about, I’m sure to avoid being accused of racism.

The article also talks about how those with higher intelligence are paid more, as it should be.

I’m not a fear-monger. I think despite these scores the U.S. has not fallen irretrievably behind other nations. We still have a massive population and many intelligent people. We need to focus on getting people to value education. President Obama, Colin Powell, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sonia Sotomayor, and other highly educated and prominent minorities are making that effort but it in the end it comes down to the parents and the communities.

Those people who value education will succeed in life and those who do not, will not. Those nations that value education will prosper and those who do not, will not. Those who spurn academia, education, science, and intelligence will reap what they sow.

The gauntlet has been thrown down, the rest of the world is gaining, are we up to the challenge?

Time will tell.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Tough Teacher is the Best Teacher

Tough Teaching MethodsThere’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal about why it’s better to have a tough teacher than an easy teacher. It goes into a number of reasons why this is the case and I largely agree with one important side-note.

The author recalls a tough music teacher who berated both her and fellow students by calling them idiots, who prodded their hands and arms into the proper physical position with pokes from a pencil. The article then goes on to say that a teacher would be fired for such behavior in the modern classroom.

The article continues by citing a number of excellent studies suggesting that teachers who tell us we are wrong when we make a mistake, that make us memorize fundamental ideas, that don’t mind assigning us exercises which we are likely to fail, and who put us under stress, are almost assuredly helping us.

All this is clearly true. I’ve spoken out a number of times on this subject even suggesting that it was a mistake to allow a wrestler with cerebral palsy win a match. That we did neither the winner or loser of that match any favors.

I’m in almost total agreement with the author and the article. Almost.

The one thing the writer conveniently forgets is that for every well-meaning Mr. K out there who called people idiots not because he thought they were idiots but to encourage them to try harder. For every Mr. K out there who gently prodded with a pencil; our past education system also spawned generations of sadistic, bullying, power-mad teachers who enjoyed mentally tearing down students, played “favorites” to birth sycophantic slaves, and who got sick gratification from doling out corporal punishment. I had  a couple of teachers that fit this mold and I’ll bet most of my readers did as well.

That much of the coddling of students we see today stems from reforms designed by former students who were abused in this fashion.

So, what’s the middle line? How do we get the tough, but loving, teachers who see our potential and drive us to our highest level of achievement while avoiding the sadistic psychopaths who enjoy torturing children?

There are no easy answers here at the Blog of Tom Liberman. I’m not going to stand up and call everyone else an idiot and claim there’s a simple path.

We must churn out people with education degrees who have learned these principles. In other words, we teach people to teach properly. Administrators must carefully interview potential teachers and weed out those with tendencies towards sadism. We must monitor a teacher’s progress in the classroom and, with tough love, help them improve their teaching skills.

We must listen to student and parent complaints and fairly adjudicate them. We must support teachers who practice tough love even if it hurts our feelings. We must fire, after fair warning, those who cross the line.

We must spend time and effort doing what is right, because it’s worth it in the end.

What would be the state of our educational system, our nation, and our world be if we had nothing but great teachers?

What I just wrote seems straight-forward I’m sure. Gosh, Tom, that sounds easy. Let’s get to work. Well, it’s the getting to work that’s the hard part and I like to think Mr. K. would agree. We can’t just espouse what are clearly good ideas and pat ourselves on the back.

No one can instantly make every teacher better. The Cardinals didn’t win the 2013 National League Central Division Crown with one victory (Go Birds!). It starts with one person and one action. The next action you take. The next action I take.

Each action, each decision, each moment of our lives is an opportunity to be better. That’s what being a Libertarian, what being a Objectivist means. Will I make mistakes? Was my Access 2010 class the other day not my best effort? You bet.

Will I try to do better next time? Will I realize the errors I made and correct them? How I answer is the real test.

It’s hard to pay attention to detail, to work at your craft constantly, to accept failure graciously, to change patterned behavior, to improve, to improve some more, to truly listen to ideas outside your ideology, to get better.

No easy solutions here.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Body Mass Index – The BMI Fraud

Overweight GirlAt lunch today I spotted an interesting article about something called BMI (Body Mass Index) which is often used, unfortunately, to measure if a person is healthy or not.

In this case an 11-year-old girl was determined to be unhealthy and overweight because she is 5′ 4″ 124 pounds. A quick perusal of the BMI charts indicate that this is actually a perfectly normal weight and it wasn’t until I read the comments on the story that I found out a new piece of information. When reporting BMI some school districts take into account something called the CDC Growth Chart.

This chart looks at normal children and their weight compared to statistical outliers. In this case the girl is very tall and heavy for her age and, despite being in the normal range of BMI, is considered overweight when the CDC Growth Chart is taken into account.

I’m not against  tracking people’s health and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything completely wrong with either BMI or the CDC Growth chart, if they are taken in context. That’s the problem. They are not taken in context and they are often used to fraudulently claim people are overweight.

Let’s get a little background first.

The BMI was created in the mid 1800s by a Belgian polymath. A polymath is someone who is extremely intelligent and excels in a variety of disciplines. This index is flawed under a number of circumstances particularly very tall people, very short people, small boned people, large-boned people, and people with large amounts of muscle mass.

BMI is used by most insurance companies as a way to determine if a person is unhealthy. Anyone who is so determined must pay higher insurance rates. There is clearly a financial incentive to have as many people listed as unhealthy as possible. In the United States what used to be healthy in 1997, a BMI of 27.5 or less, became unhealthy when the cutoff point went to a BMI of 25 in 1998. This instantly made 29 million Americans switch from the healthy category to the overweight category. And meant that everyone in that group had to pay more money to insurance companies. Everyone in that group became, at least psychologically, a target for the diet industry. It also means that the pharmaceutical companies have 29 million more potential customers for their medicines.

BMI has come to be an accepted measurement tool for a person’s health.

In the story in question, the 11-year-old girl is very tall for her age and quite athletic. She is not overweight nor are many of the people who are classified as such.

I’m not saying stop using BMI and the CDC Growth Chart. They both have real uses in determining if a person is overweight and unhealthy. I’m suggesting that we stop using them as blanket treatments and people who fall into the regions where the tools are no longer accurate be diagnosed with a different chart. Ideally a doctor would examine each person and make the determination on the results of the exam.

In the case of the 11-year-old, her mother was concerned that being labeled overweight would have a negative impact on the girl’s self-esteem. I don’t think this is a frivolous claim. When the administration of an organization makes such a claim there are real emotional effects. I feel certain that the girl’s mother can explain that the BMI scale and the CDC Growth Chart scale are not accurate for certain body types and her daughter has one of those. I don’t think there’s any real damage done but I do think real harm is done by over-reliance on a system that plainly does not work for certain people.

Everyone should have their health screened regularly. A doctor should see everyone and make the overweight determination based on a physical exam; not a chart that, even the most ardent supporters of will admit, fails under some circumstances.

The fact that we have approximately 48.6 million people in this country who don’t have health insurance and are thus not getting regular screenings is a serious issue. All of those people should be getting screened. When they do not they stand a far higher chance of having serious medical issues, expensive medical issues, that could have been prevented. The taxpayer largely ends up paying those bills.

I’m not going to get into a debate about Obama Care so don’t bother commenting pro or con on that issue.

My point is that we are currently relying on flawed systems, BMI and CDC Growth Chart, that are spewing out, in some cases, clearly nonsensical results. I choose to call that bad.

This is dogmatic thinking. Rigid thinking. Wrong thinking. We can do better.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

It’s How You Teach, Not Learning Styles

Teaching MethodsOne of my jobs at Acumen Consulting is being a technical trainer. It’s the thing that until recently has made up the backbone of my work for the last fifteen plus years.

There’s a very interesting article in Scientific American about something called Learning Styles. I’ve always been skeptical of learning styles in general but this article confirmed my doubts. The article attempts to be even-handed, so much so that I think it bends over backwards to soothe those who believe in Learning Styles.

I imagine this post of mine will generate some anger from those who believe in Learning Styles, we’ll see.

The idea behind Learning Styles is that students best learn in different ways and that educators need to take advantage of this. That some students learn by listening, some by watching, and some by doing. That those who learn in particular ways should be taught in that way.

There is no empirical evidence that this is true. It sounds true and that is what makes it attractive to people. We like things that have the ring-of-truth to them. Often times those sort of things are in actuality true. However, just because something sounds like it is true doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be experimentation to prove it.

In this case they’ve finally done some studies and no one has found any connection between a Learning Style and learning faster.

What they’ve found, and what my own experience tells me, is that good teaching methods yield more learning. Period.

I was taught what is called the three-step method. Tell people what you’re going to do, do it, ask them what you’ve just done. It works.

The more senses you get involved in learning the better you are. If you show them that’s a start. If they do it, that’s even better, if they talk about what they just did that’s best. If you are studying don’t use the highlighter. Get a notepad and write down what you would have highlighted, say it out loud as you are writing it.

In the article they mention the type of learner makes no difference when teaching geography. A learner who does best by listening? Bunk. Show them a map and they’ll learn more than if you describe the shape and size of the great state of Missouri. It’s how we teach, not how we learn, if there is even a real “learning style” which I doubt.

Some people are smarter than other people and there are those with severe mental disabilities but if we eliminate those at the ends of the Bell Curve I think it’s more than possible to teach almost everyone critical thinking and analysis. Teach them useful skills so that they can enter adulthood with the ability to work and earn a living. With a population schooled in these tools we can build a better society.

There are good teachers, great teachers, and those less talented. Hopefully you had a great one somewhere along the line. The odds are whatever that great teacher taught is what you are now doing as a career. That’s how important teachers are in the world and our lives. Great teacher inspire us and change us.

So, don’t fall back on the excuse that you’re a visual learner and that’s why you failed to understand something. Ask your teacher to explain it better. You can learn it, you can do it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (Fairly priced at $2.99)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

7 Million Chinese College Graduates

China College GraduatesThere was an interesting article in the news this morning about how a large number of college graduates in China are causing an employment problem in that nation. Larger numbers of graduates make the job market more difficult to penetrate.

It was an interesting premise but not what I took from the article.

If China is graduating seven million highly educated students each year and the United States is producing fewer that means a shift of brain power in the world. An interesting article here shows how China has already surpassed the United States in college graduates and India will do so soon.

This shift of intelligence is changing the dynamics of power and the role of the United States in the world. It’s actually a good thing that countries like China and India are graduating more students and empowering young women. This has many beneficial effects for the world including decreasing population growth and increasing general wealth and well-being. However, it is also a challenge to the United States.

I wrote not long ago about how there is a politically motivated movement to discredit science in the United States. There is a general undercurrent of disdain for academia and intellectual achievement. The power structure of the world is changing as we continue to move from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. The countries that embrace this change will lead this new world in the same way the United States led during the Industrial Revolution.

Graduating college students is directly related to new technology, new ideas, and a new way of producing wealth. I’m not suggesting everyone should go to college, that a college degree is the end-all goal of every single person. I am suggesting that the nation that produces the largest number of intelligent people will have an advantage in the new world.

As I said, I’m thrilled to see China, India, and other nations educating their youth and making the entire world a better place. I’m eager for the days of abundant and cheap energy, super-fast transportation, and a stable population with plenty of food and goods for all.

I’m not so encouraged by my country’s response to the gauntlet that has been thrown down by the emerging world, and by Europe and other places. Economic power is, in many ways, military power. If the United States is not making the important breakthroughs, if the United States is not leading the way then we will be following. In some ways we are already following.

China and India have a huge advantage in massive populations but the underlying issue is society’s emphasis on education. It’s stronger in other nations than it is in the United States.

My main fear is that as the United States continues to fall from our preeminent position of power in the world that the citizens of my country will grow increasingly frightened. That we will elect officials who stoke this fear and offer draconian solutions to “save” our nation. That the very tenants of the Founding Fathers will be discarded in order to make us “safe”. On a personal level, that my freedom will be taken away.

In order to combat this decline and this fear I say emphasize education, teach people critical thinking skills, and venerate science.

Let us not fear this new world but instead embrace it and join it as an equal.

 

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Modern American Dream

The American DreamThere was a story in the news recently about how the American Dream is no longer obtainable. I think the very premise of the story completely leaves out the nature of our modern society.

Fifty years ago the American Dream was defined as owning a home and having a couple of children. This article focuses on the owning a home part of the equation. It points out that only 18.2% of Americans see the American Dream as owning a home. That more people view being debt-free and retired as the new American Dream.

The article then laments that people have lost their way.

I couldn’t disagree more. People haven’t lost their path in life, they’ve found a better one. If you don’t want to get married and don’t want to have children then owning a home is a nothing except trouble. A greater and greater percentage of our population has no desire to get married, no desire to have children, and because of that, absolutely no desire to own a home.

I’m not saying home ownership, marriage, and children are wrong. I’m just saying that for an increasingly large percentage of our population they are things people don’t want.

People want, among other things, an education, a good job, and wealth. I applaud them. An education often means going into debt early in life so wanting to get out of that state makes perfect sense. Does our current education system make debt-slaves out of students? Yes. A topic for another day.

The ability to retire and lead your life the way you want is an incredibly good goal. The fact that Americans are turning away from the traditional home-ownership, two-child, lifestyle is not a bad thing.

Change like this engenders fear in people. They ask: What will happen to our nation when people stop having children? Who will take care of the old people? Who will do the jobs?

I can’t stress my next  idea enough; We already have too many people! The flattening population growth the world is experiencing is a wonderful thing. It will certainly cause stress to economic systems that rely on constant growth but maybe that means we should change our economic model. Maybe we should  base our economy not on growth but on providing excellent products at reasonable prices while employing hard-working people. But, again, a topic for another day.

When we look at countries where women are empowered, have access to birth control, and close to equal rights; the population is actually declining. Hooray!

The modern American Dream is having a job you like, doing your work well and being paid for it, owning the things you want, and spending a greater percentage of you life with family and friends.

I want to reiterate that I’m not against home ownership, babies, and the old American Dream I’m just a realist. If people want a life that doesn’t include those things it’s not an indictment of modern society, it’s a celebration of it.

Imagine a world with a stable, sustainable population. People who work at rewarding jobs they like. A vast decrease in poverty and despair. Plenty of food and energy for all. Happy people working and playing with other happy people.

This might not be the American Dream but it’s mine.

Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eNovel)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

1912 8th Grade Exam – Difficult?

8th Grade ExamThere’s an interesting story in the news today about an 8th grade exam given to students in 1912 Kentucky. The questions are of the sort that anyone who hasn’t been studying recently would find difficult. Judging by the comments that dominate the story it appears that most people think these questions are significantly more difficult than those faced by 8th graders today.

I’m not an 8th grade teacher but I thought the questions were somewhat below what I’d expect to see on an exam given to children of that age today. I base this on my various nieces and friend’s children who I’ve helped study over the years. I may be completely wrong and I’d love to hear from some teachers on the subject.

Sample questions:

  1. A man bought a farm for $2,400 and sold it for $2,700. What was his percentage gain?
  2. What waters would a vessel pass through if traveling from England, through the Suez Canal, to Manila?
  3. Name the organs of circulation?
  4. To what four governments are students in school subject to?

None of those seems like it would present much challenge to a student who had been studying such material. Perhaps I’m totally wrong, perhaps these question are much more difficult than those faced by 8th graders today. That is certainly the overwhelming opinion of those making comments.

The main difference that I noted is the lack of multiple choice questions and I’m of the opinion that this is actually an important distinction.

In the past students were expected to be able to write out complete answers rather than pick answers. Picking answers means that most people will be correct 25% of the time even if they have no clue as to the answer. 25% isn’t a good score but in the past the same students would be correct 0% of the time.

The change to largely multiple choice questions is simply a function of classroom size. Teachers are expected to grade hundreds of quizzes and tests weekly and this is a heavy, heavy burden. I’m of the opinion that this trend can be reversed by automatic grading using tablets and computers. No more handwriting. Computers are getting intelligent enough to recognize partially correct answers and grade accordingly.

However, back to the topic at hand. I really don’t see these questions as anything that would be a great challenge to today’s students; except perhaps the geography which I don’t think is taught as heavily in today’s classrooms. I could be wrong about that as well.

In any case, I’d absolutely love to hear from parents of 8th graders, teachers, and other who have more direct knowledge of the current educational system for students of that age.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($20.00 for a hardback – $17.01 discount for an eBook = $???)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Relationship between Coach and Athlete

Player coach relationshipsI blogged not long ago about a coach’s behavior as fair game for scrutiny when a player engages in violent activities off the field of play. One of the complaints I heard from my legion of loyal followers was how unfair it is to blame anyone other than the perpetrator of the violence.

The main thrust of the argument against me was that a teacher couldn’t be blamed if a student killed someone outside of the classroom. It got me thinking about whether or not the teacher-student relationship compares with the coach-athlete relationship.

I’m of the opinion that the coach-athlete relationship is far more influential and far more familial, than the vast majority of teacher-student relationships. Certainly teachers have influence. Teachers build relationships but the reality is that the coaches and players are together hour after hour, day after day, year after year. This incident involved the relationship  between a college player and a college coach. I argue that this is, literally, the most important relationship any young athlete has outside of family, maybe even inclusive of family!

The college coach came to the house of the player and convinced said player to come to a particular college. The coach talked to the parents and convinced them that this was the right choice for their child. All before a single practice. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college team and coaches spend large amounts of time and effort convincing the best athletes to come to their school.

Once at the school the student is destined to spend four and often five years with that coach. Unlike a student-teacher relationship it doesn’t end after an hour in the classroom, after a semester. The athlete gets to know the coach, the coach’s family. They spend many hours on planes or buses with the coach. Hours are spent practicing.

Coaches take this relationship seriously. They talk again and again about the team being a family, about the influence they have on their players.

Players take this relationship seriously. It is often a life-long friendship.

I was an athlete. Not a particularly good one but I tried hard. I played hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis, swimming, water polo, and rugby. I had good coaches who cared about me and bad ones who didn’t. When the coach cares about the player as a person and not just as an athlete it is a special, profound bond.

Ask anyone who played for Dick Vermeil, or Bobby Knight, or John Wooden, or Mike Krzyzewski, or Woody Hayes, or Vince Lombardi, or Paul Bryant, or … well the list is endless. These men change the lives of those they coach. They can be a force of a tremendous good or a force of not so great. They can take a young man on the wrong path and turn him right or they can choose to ignore the bad because it will help the team win championships.

I’m certainly not saying even the best coach is perfect. I’m not saying that the best coach could have changed Aaron Hernandez. In the end Hernandez is responsible for his own actions. I am saying that a different coach might well have done better with Hernandez. It’s not black and white. The best athletes aren’t always the best people. A coach needs good athletes and even the best attempts to help can fail. When they let poor behavior go without punishment because the team needs that player, they encourage bad actions, bad decisions. This win at all costs attitude can eventually end with tragic results and I think the coach bears some, certainly not all, but some responsibility.

To all you great coaches out there, who care about the boys and girls you’re teaching, who know that learning to live a good life is more important than winning the game; a tip of the hat.

As those great coaches know well; if you surround yourself with good people, who work hard, have passion, and do things the right way, well, that almost always translates into wins. Wins in the game, and wins in life.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and full of win)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Aaron Hernandez and Urban Meyer

Win at all CostsFor my followers who are not sports fans there is a terrible story making headlines in the National Football League (NFL) these days. A player in the league is accused of premeditated murder. That he killed one of his friends reportedly because that friend was talking to some other people.

The case is in its infancy and guilt or innocence will not be determined for a long time so I’m not going to get into the particulars of the incident. Likewise there is much talk about the violent tendencies of NFL players but statistical analysis seem to indicate that professional athletes, football players included, are no more criminally inclined than the rest of the nation, actually less so.

What I do want to talk about is the culture of winning that pervades college and pro athletics. The responsibility a coach has when one of their players commits crimes, particular violent crimes. In this case the player in question, Aaron Hernandez, was coached at the University of Florida by Urban Meyer. There were apparently a number of incidents at Florida that put a question to Hernandez’s character, and more importantly to the NFL, his potential to be a great player instead of a public relations nightmare.

Meyer told Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots that Hernandez was worth drafting although he was drafted well below his ability level, likely because of his off-field problems. Meyer has said that it is wrong and irresponsible to connect either he or the University of Florida to the misbehavior of Hernandez.

I strongly disagree. I will not lay the blame squarely on Meyer, Belichick, Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, the University of Florida, the NCAA, or the NFL but there is certainly a connection. People with special ability in the sporting world are given chance after chance that other people do not get. They are entitled, coddled, favored, and allowed to behave badly without consequence again and again.

Here in St. Louis we drafted an extremely talented cornerback named Janoris Jenkins with a troubled past including failed drug tests and an arrest in a nightclub fight.

It angers me when I hear Meyer instantly dismiss any responsibility in the situation. Not only dismiss responsibility but actually attack anyone who dares suggest that he might have done something to prevent the situation. Meyer could have kicked Hernandez off the team, as Meyer’s successor Will Muschamp did to Jenkins almost immediately upon taking over as head coach at Florida.

It can be argued that Jenkins was a far more talented player than Hernandez. That Muschamp’s decision to kick Jenkins off the team was a much more damaging move than would have been removing Hernandez.

So far Jenkins has been a relatively trouble-free in St. Louis. He missed a curfew and Coach Jeff Fisher suspended him for one game. That’s what I’m talking about here today. That’s my point. Muschamp made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Fisher made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Apparently Meyer and Belichick did not do the same for Hernandez.

Who is ultimately responsible for our own actions? We are. Hernandez is. Jenkins is. But so is Meyer. He allowed Hernandez to continue to play and recommended him to the NFL. Personal responsibility doesn’t mean blaming everyone else when you make a mistake in judgment.

Meyer could have said that he understood Hernandez had problems. He tried to help. He wanted the best for the young man and gave him chances with that in mind. Instead he chooses to deny all responsibility. To bury his head in the sand and avoid any consequences to his actions. A terrible role-model, a terrible person.

I’m not blaming Meyer for Hernandez, I’m blaming Meyer for Meyer. Taking responsibility doesn’t always mean taking the credit when things go well. Personal responsibility means accepting consequences, or at least scrutiny, when things go wrong.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for hours of reading pleasure)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt