Friday, September 4, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #113: Education, Fearmonger-ers, and Thinking for Yourself

Here's a memo to the fearmonger-ers, with a quote, courtesy of Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Please note that I have ceased calling these folk "right-wingers" or "conservatives" or even "Republicans." Just as the recent election aftermath is hopefully transforming the word liberal from decades' worth of dirty connotation, maybe we can eventually take back conservative from the fearmonger-ers, too.

Now we have that out of the way, why is there a big fuss - mostly from the fearmonger-ers - over a sitting President telling the students of America to do well in school? The last time I checked, working/studying hard is a value on which virtually everyone, regardless of ideology, can agree. It vexes me to read that some trollish fearmonger-ers, commenting on news articles, would write something to the effect of: Obama is full of socialist lies. If that were true, and he advocates being a good student, is that a socialist lie?

Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: "All Cretans are liars." It's similar to that, without the sense of irony. We all know that fearmonger-ers never, ever wink and smirk at their fearmongering words.

The fearmonger-ers will probably overanalyze whatever the President says in his pep-talk to our students. If the President adds that eating well, sleeping well, and regular exercise will help their studies - which in and of itself is common sense - the fearmonger-ers will no doubt say that he is talking about health. By talking about health, they would illogically analyze, Obama would be talking about health care reform, to brainwash American kids to his socialist ideology.

I usually would say that my above example borders (or even crosses the line) making the strawmen of the fearmonger-ers. Unfortunately, the fearmonger-ers are already strawmen, and that is sad.

In any case, while we're on the topic of education, what can be done to increase the quality of American education? I'm not sure what happens in schools anymore, but I'd like to see more emphasis on the basics. Similar to what the forced Three R's (forced because the middle R was writing, and the last R was arithmetic) was, I propose a new trio: K-L-M:

K, as in Knowledge (and Critical Thinking). There's way too much information and disinformation available in this Google/Wikipedia Age. We must teach our students to properly evaluate all this available knowledge logically, so that they don't grow up to be fearmongering dittoheads. Teaching our students skills to critically comprehend information is essential. We should inspire our students to want to learn from diverse fields of study, as well as instill in them a desire to keep current with the news of the day.

L, as in Literacy. This is obviously both reading and writing. Assuming that we're focusing on the English language (although the more languages, the merrier), we must have students comfortable reading as many styles and eras of published English as possible - from pre-1900 public domain text to contemporary usage. While we can't expect every student to want to be a writer with their own individual style, they should be expected to be able to write grammatically correct sentences at, say, the level of a TV teleprompter. Teleprompter English won't win literature awards, but at least the sentences are complete and the content is usually coherent.

M, as in Math. Simple arithmetic - addition, subtraction, multiplication table to the number 11 at least, and short division - should be a no-brainer. If students will eventually rely on a calculator to do more complex problems, they should at least know what all the buttons mean. With these rudimentary skills, our students can create decent Excel spreadsheets and balance their Quicken and Quickbooks finances with few problems.

I think that covers all the basics. If our students learn not to be suckers when it comes to information, read literature of myriad forms, write news copy, and know what calculator buttons do, then we should have a decent average. If the average bar is higher than it is now, then that means our extraordinary students will have to do even better than before.

The USA is still a free country, and we can't stop the fearmonger-ers from breeding (nor should we even consider this!). However, we can try our damnedest to make sure the children of fearmonger-ers don't grow up to be fearmongering dittoheads. If we can somehow inspire the children of America to think for themselves - and they will reach diverse conclusions when they think for themselves - maybe the future of partisan debate will be better than what's going on now. When the fearmonger-ers have no one to replace them, then Americans (and perhaps the global community, too) will be able to agree to disagree...in peace, prosperity, and civility.

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