NRA: The Re-Emergence of the Neanderthal Gene?

Every now and then something happens to make me consider the real possibility that humanity has evolved into at least two distinct species. Before you start writing your comments telling me that this is ridiculous, let me say, I know it’s ridiculous. But I like to think that my species entertains crazy ideas and is willing to reflect on the seemingly ridiculous from time to time in hopes that it leads to better understanding.

I first began to seriously explore this possibility when George W. Bush was reelected. How could half of the American people really believe that this guy was capable of being President of the United States? Clearly the most failed presidency since Franklin Pierce. I carefully re-considered  those people who could look me straight in the eye and claim that GW was a great president, and without blinking, turning away or cracking a smile, declare that they would vote for him. I wondered how their brains were programmed. How could they, humans who shared nearly every piece of the same gene pie with me come to such different conclusions? Was it all nurture or was nature doing something insidious to the top Primates on the planet? Were we, I wondered, reverting to a 25,000 year-old Neanderthal/Homo Sapiens type of competition for the top of the pecking order on our small planet? Yes. I suppose we are.

So I Binged some research and came up with some interesting stuff. I admit I had read about this controversial idea before just now, but you tell me, doesn’t this help make some sense out of the craziness?

…there are some commentators that think that Homo Sapiens may not have completely prevailed, that perhaps Neanderthal man still effects the modern gene pool. Yes, many reckon that far from eating Neanderthal man, we may  in fact have mated with them. It’s a contentious issue… Source:…

Then, today I hear the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, NRA’s top lobbyist (read Neanderthal), Wayne LaPierre, tell the American public, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good [Neanderthal] with a gun.” And I am more convinced than ever that there are Neanderthal genes swimming in the American pool.

Again, from Wayne LaPierre, in an effort to deflect blame from guns and bullets to movies and television:

“In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes.”

I could not agree with him more. He is absolutely right in his assessment. Violent movies and music, video games, the UFC with blood splattered all over the contestants and the mat–all are offensive to civilized society. But his conclusions and solutions are all twisted.  Only a Neanderthal could excuse the primitive image that looks back at him in his mirror. Truly, is anything more offensive  to “every standard of civilized society…a more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty” than gun violence? And his only answer is to get more guns into society. More people armed. More profits for the gun manufacturers. Wyatt Earp. OK Corral. Hang the horse thief and all cattle rustlers. Get a rope, Ma. Better yet, load the six-guns, I’m a goin’ to town. (Do those who long for the glorious days of yesteryear even realize that guns in the hands of the citizenry terrorized the townspeople? The first thing Wyatt Earp and others did was to ban guns in town!) I will stop here as I have written other posts on this topic and feel I am beating a horse that isn’t likely to get up and run any time soon…Write your senators and representatives in congress.

Merry Christmas.

Liberal Gun Toter Talking Points

First off, I don’t really tote my gun much. And I do have more than one. In fact I have three: two rifles and a pistol. They rest quietly in the closet, disassembled, no good to anyone but me. I don’t fear for my life and have no plans to keep a firearm beside my bed, ready to shoot intruders. I detest the National Rifle Association. They are everything the media says about them and worse. They are a shill for the gun and ammo manufacturers and appear to have no real regard for citizens. But none of that is why I am writing this post. I am writing this for liberals and progressives and moderates and conservatives who don’t own guns or have never been around guns much and don’t understand them, and certainly don’t understand the broad range of reasons for gun ownership. I am writing this as a liberal gun toter who hopes to help his “side” make better arguments for restricting gun ownership.  Even more to the point, I want to get my liberal friends to stop making arguments that are so incorrect that the NRA loves you to say them.

Those of us who argue for greater restrictions on guns are on the right side of common sense, history, practical application of reason, and civilized society. We have the better case and the better argument. Yet we are losing, still. And not just because the NRA pumps millions and millions of dollars into the reelection campaigns of gutless and greedy politicians. The real reason why the reasonable opposition to unrestricted gun ownership is losing the war is because so many people who want to restrict gun ownership simply don’t know what they are talking about. And why should they? By definition they don’t own guns. Never have and never will. So they continue to build arguments that, in the eyes of the gun owners, makes the good, intelligent, enlightened side look like it has no clue. Now, if that offends you, I apologize. But it is true. And it’s time we started making better arguments and got rid of the really uninformed statements we have been bandying about. So let’s look at some arguments that are simply and factually incorrect.

“Guns only have one purpose–to kill.” Do you think Wayne LaPierre hears that charge and trembles at the mighty weight of its accusation? Hardly. He laughs because that statement plays right into his hands. That kind of statement benefits the NRA because the NRA knows what most gun owners know, and most non-gun owners don’t seem to know, and that is this–guns are most often used for target shooting. The kind of target shooting that gets a family out of the house together and up into the forests and hills. The kind of outing that gets the kids off the video games and away from the TV and off the phone and off the couch. I know because I went shooting with my son yesterday. This may not be your cup of tea but it is the cup of tea for a lot of Americans. Good, honest, educated, informed Americans. Americans who have a long tradition of responsible gun ownership and gun related recreation that harms nobody and no thing.  The point is that gun owners have many, many reasons for owning guns. When anti-gun fanatics–yes there are fanatics on both sides–righteously and passionately claim that “guns only have one reason…to kill”–we demonstrate a serious ignorance of the many other reasons to own them. At the same time we insult every law abiding gun owner. Whenever that claim is made the NRA aims their marketing railroad directly at the moderate gun owner who thinks background checks just might be a good idea and they repeat the question for you: “Is that what your gun is for? To kill? People?” And since the answer is a resounding “No” they then take the opportunity to remind that moderate gun owner that the real fanatics and the real extremists and the real ignorance is coming from the anti-gun folks. So quit using this argument. It makes you look like you’ve never owned a gun before, because you haven’t, but you don’t have to be ignorant. Ignorance insults the very gun owners you need on your side to shut the NRA up.

“We have to get rid of automatic weapons!” If you have said this or accepted someone else saying this because you don’t know the difference between an automatic weapon and a semi-automatic weapon, do some reading. (This diary is a good start.) Automatic weapons are weapons that fire continuously when the trigger is held down one time. When you let off the trigger the shooting stops. Semi-automatic weapons fire once every time the trigger is pulled. To fire more than one bullet, one must release the trigger and pull it again. This can make for rapid shooting but not nearly as rapid as an automatic weapon. In general, and in most locales, automatic weapons are highly restricted, even illegal. Every time the uninitiated refers to a semi-auto weapon as an automatic weapon, the very gun owners we need on our side, those very gun owners who really don’t care much for the NRA, simply stop listening to us and turn their collective attention back to…the NRA. To them it is more proof that the ”anti-gun nuts” have no idea what they are talking about. Gun fanatics and extremists use this anti-gun ignorance as proof (and yes it is proof) that we don’t know what we are talking about. We may be entirely right in our moral points. We may be entirely right in our desire to restrict gun ownership to responsible persons. We may be entirely right about everything else we say. But when we mis-identify auto- and semi-automatic weapons, we lose the argument in the eyes of every gun owner we might have swung over to our side. Get it right.

Stop arguing with gun owners who say, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” because it is true. Partly. Guns and bullets and the people who use them kill people. And since people are in the equation, as admitted by the gun folks, let’s start using their own argument that in nearly every case (yes, there are rare cases of freak accidents) a person was irresponsible, or stupid, or mentally ill, or angry, or drunk, or committing a crime, or whatever…but a person had a finger on the trigger. That is the very reason for restricting gun ownership. Yes, gun fanatics, you got this one right. And incredibly wrong at the same time.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this because yesterday I shot up a couple of boxes of .17′s, and .22′s with my son. We set up some empty water bottles in the snow at the end of a mountain road with a good hill as a backdrop for safety. We made sure nobody was anywhere around us. We had a great time. I got to hang out with my son and we talked about his job and mine. We solved half of the world’s problems and left the other half for later. When we finished, we picked up the bottles and our brass and headed home.

Next up, assault weapons and extended clips…

A few thoughts on Boston…

I listen to the conservative talk show hosts jumping up and down all excitedly as they rush to be the first to assign blame for the tragic attack during the Boston Marathon. Of course they point to Islam as the perpetrator. And we may discover they are right. Or we may discover that it was American White Supremacists, or religious haters from the Mid-West or organized crime or …

But before we go too far down that road consider the following, please.

A small percentage of the world’s billion or so Muslims hate all Americans. It would appear that a much larger percentage of Americans hate all Muslims. How hard should it be for people to realize that we are threatened by extremists of all sorts, not by a particular religion?

Here is a tragic truth: America lost about 3000 civilians in the 9/11 attack. It was a horrible event that angered us all. As a result we took action that killed about 120,000 civilians in Iraq alone. Not one of those civilians had anything to do with 9/11.

So, couldn’t we all just show a bit of restraint and wisdom before we start accusing and blaming and punishing this time?

Small Town Hate-Sign Guy Strikes Again

I live in one of the most beautiful small towns in America. However, just about every visitor to our town has to drive by this sign just as they enter. The owner of the sign puts up a new angry message every few weeks. Here is the latest.

The shame of it is that we are a great town with great people. Everyone I know in town–conservatives, liberals and the non-political–all are a bit embarrassed by this sign. We have amazing natural beauty, a great school, wonderful arts festivals, and a summer small town fair that most communities wish they had.

Drive through town and you see this idyllic creek. I get to drive over this bridge a couple of times every day.

Look to the north and get a close up of Mt. Adams. As the crow flies, the summit is about 10 miles from town.

We have stunning mountain lakes right outside of town…

with great fishing opportunities…

Plenty of snow for the winter enthusiasts…

At any rate, I have decided that every time this guy puts up a hate-filled message I will post it and juxtapose it with some photos that should give him reasons to count his blessings rather than just complain. He lives in this town, after all, and we all have nothing to complain about!

Market Solutions in Education Reform: Panacea or Hoax?

It is a great formula: Lobby the nation to go to war over false pretenses. Stir up as much fear as possible. Ignore and discredit those who claim the threat is misrepresented. Destroy the target with impunity. Give huge government contracts to the predetermined private think-tanks and publishing houses and multi-national firms who have some capability to restore infrastructure—and who have friends in high places. Pay them (often former government officials) large salaries and amazing bonuses to reassemble the parts in a form that will continue to reap huge profits for themselves. And the most insidious piece of the puzzle—don’t hold the private contractors accountable for their actions.

No, I am not talking about Iraq. I am talking about the War on Public Education. Same exact formula. Really. As we all now know, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, our leaders had to convince us that there existed a cause (WMD’s) worthy of destroying a nation. (Just think about that thought for a second!) In the war on Public Education, the new, but just as imaginary, Weapons of Mass Destruction are the oft-reported shortage of scientists and engineers, the so-called deplorable graduation rates, the ever-present low test scores, and the increasing need for remedial classes in college. Each of those charges is as fraudulent as any claims about WMD’s. ( In a recent diary I documented how much of the complaint against Public Ed. is unfounded and often totally fabricated.)

So in any questionable war, the war makers and profiteers need to provide us with a good story, an evil enemy or a fearful cause. STEM gaps, engineer shortages, testing shortfalls are the pitch the fear-mongers hope we buy in order get us to sign off on destroying the infrastructure: “Be afraid. Be very afraid. We are failing to educate our kids for world dominance. We are falling behind other nations who will dominate the world if we are not prepared to do so. Finland, South Korea and Singapore will fling Educational Weapons of Mass Destruction at us and we will be defenseless against their onslaught! Help us tear it down and we will rebuild it for you.” Doesn’t your common sense tell you at some level that this argument is absurd? But the drum beats of propaganda and pervasive dishonesty are difficult to combat. Well-meaning legislators and citizens on all sides of the aisle are moved to entertain and fund this war. They cry: “We must fix Public Education! We must find and destroy the WMD’s!”

Whenever a war like this comes along there are those select movers and shakers who demonstrate their incredible patriotism and commitment to improving our nation. They are standing by ready to do the rebuilding. In the Iraqi War it was Haliburton, KBR, Blackwater. In the War on Public Education it is the American Legislative Exchange Council, Pearson, RAND, AEI, and so many others. These great patriots are prepared to combat the terror that Public Education has inflicted on the nation through a new (but really old) initiative: Market Solutions. (This paragraph brought to you by the Department of Really Bad Satire.)

I am convinced that many in the Current Education Reform Movement, a great euphemism for the War on Public Education, mean well. But they are misguided (I won’t get any nicer than that.) Market Solutions in the field of education are simply a mega-hoax being perpetrated on the American people in the name of large profits for whichever vendors and providers can get in on the earliest waves of the movement. And just as the contractors lobbied hard for their share of the billions of dollars suddenly in the marketplace during Iraq and Afghanistan nation building, the Education lobbyists and corporate reps are ready to get their share of the plunder. They are fighting for their position at the trough.

In order to understand the Market Solution movement in education, it is necessary to get outside of the education world and see what Market Solutions means in the competitive corporate world of profit making. In that world, where the bottom line is paramount and where shareholders’ return is the ultimate test of success, Market Solutions seem to cover a lot of ground. There are, however, several concepts that consistently appear in the literature: efficiency, profitability, sustainability, data analysis, competition, increased market share and promotion.  In the business of education these get translated into increased privatization, in the form of both public charter school and private schools. Ironically, Market Solutions often demand an increased accountability in public schools while lessening accountability in charter and private schools. And of course, one hallmark of every Market Solution Plan is the demand for the dissolution of the teachers’ unions. Basically, the Market Solution folks say, if we make these changes, the Market will solve the problems. (Yes, those pesky problems in schools that are already being corrected at record rates.)

Kevin G. Wellner, professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, School of Education, specializing in educational policy and law, and Director of the CU-Boulder National Education Policy Center (NEPC), put it this way:

The Duncan-Obama approach should sound familiar, even to those who do not follow education policy discussions. Defund, deregulate, de-unionize, and shift to the private sector. Reallocate policy-making authority from democratic institutions to a wealthy oligarchy. Corporate-endowed think tanks like AEI have been successfully promoting this road map for everything else, so why not education? (Wellner, 2011)

Should parents and communities be paying careful attention to those who would “fix” education’s ills using Market Solutions as the guiding principles? Of course. But many of these ideas seem on the surface to be reasonable. Do taxpayers have a right to demand accountability for how their taxes are spent? Yes. Should classroom teachers, school building administrators and district level superintendents have ongoing, consistent methods of data assessment to help them reflect on the success of their practice? Absolutely. Should parents have choice in a competitive system of schools where those competing schools and programs offer a variety of experiences and focus? Yes, if done right. Should profitability have anything to do with providing learning opportunities to children? Definitely not.

The research confirms that American Public Schools are doing a better job of educating our children that ever before. Yet we know that we can do a better job of meeting the needs of all students. But will these “solutions” actually solve anything? According to Helen Ladd, Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy Studies and professor of economics at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy:

Overall, the evidence suggests that the economic model of markets does not translate easily into the provision of compulsory education. Nonetheless, many of the concepts underlying education markets, such as consumer choice, flexibility for schools, and incentives for them to raise the quality of education, are worth pursuing. The challenge for urban policy makers is to find ways to introduce these ideas while at the same time promoting the public interest that, ultimately, provides the rationale for a publicly funded and compulsory education system.

Ladd goes on to state:

Like public school systems in many other large U.S. cities, the Washington, D.C. school system faces serious challenges, many of which are related to its high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students. Because one size school does not fit all and because students from low-income families tend to have far fewer schooling options than do students from higher income families, I support efforts to give low-income families more choice. The argument for greater choice is far more compelling, however, when it is cautiously applied to schools within the public sector than when it is extended to private schools, as would be the case under HR 684. This conclusion follows because policy makers are in a better position to assure fair access to public than to private schools and to hold schools that are publicly operated or publicly chartered and funded accountable to the public.  (Ladd, Market Based Reforms in Urban Education, 2002)

The real problem with Market Solutions is that they have no humanity. Profits based on efficiency and large economies of scale will require changes that are truly frightening. In the name of efficiency, students will have to get seriously tracked by academic levels. That will be determined by test scores. If you are quick to say, “This is good. We will finally challenge our very best and brightest.” Are you willing to see the other side of that coin? Efficiency will demand that there are winners and losers. What kinds of schools will we end up with? Some very good ones, no doubt. But there will be some very bad ones, no doubt. For most students it will be much worse. You doubt me? Remember that Market Solutions demand efficiency and efficiency demands specialization. Specialization demands narrow focus. Schools will want to keep up their statistical claims to be the best because competition will be strong and people are going to choose based on the best story line out there. Potential losers—students with IEPs, a history of discipline issues, students in poverty—will be too risky to enroll. The actuaries will start an entire new cottage industry rating students as risk potentials for schools. If you rate an 8-10 you’re in. 1-4 won’t even get you in the door. And so Market Solutions tries to eliminate people from the business of people. Much like the health insurance companies, when left to decide for themselves, have shown a strong desire to refuse to provide health care, Market Solutions in education, left to decide for themselves, will show a strong desire to refuse to provide educational services. In the name of efficiency.

Market Solutions are big business—literally. So do we want to turn over the reins to those whose Market Solutions are built on profitability and high return on investment? Should we “Reallocate policy-making authority from democratic institutions to a wealthy oligarchy”? What would that wealthy oligarchy’s motives be? What would their goals be?

Consider this: When profits are the rule and efficiency is the way, then learning is not the goal. It is only a happenstance.

 Works Cited

Ladd, H. F. (2002). Market Based Reforms in Urban Education. Economic Policy Institute.

Ladd, H. F. (2003). School Vouchers Don’t Make The Grade.

Wellner, K. G. (2011, Spring). Re-Imagining Education Reform. Retrieved from Dissent:









Cool Bear Photos?


My 23 year-old son took these photos in the woods on the south side of Mt. Adams. He and his friends spend an awful lot of time hiking the woods and four-wheeling the mountain roads around here. Few people get the opportunity they do to see large, wild mammals up close. Even those of us who live here year round.

Anyway, he keeps sending me cool pics and I’ll keep posting them for him. If you didn’t see his other picture from a month ago, click for his cougar photo. If you like these you’ll love that one.





Ed Reform: Seductive Arguments and Attractive Solutions

Today, all fifty states are under fire from a well-organized effort to totally discredit public education. The efforts come in a variety of guises: No Child Left Behind followed by Race to the Top; Standardized testing with built in failure; ridiculous attacks on science education with a push for pseudo-science teaching, such as Intelligent Design; Revisionist History; elimination of Hispanic and other ethnic study courses; privatization designed to ruin education, such as we are seeing in Louisiana; sub-contracting evaluations and assessments to private companies who have a financial stake in rating failure, such as we are seeing in nearly every state; the inflated data on Charter and Private school success. Republicans and Democrats are equally at fault here. Neither party can govern in regards to education. That is clear!

I have been a professional educator for over 20 years as both a teacher and as an administrator. While I am an insider, make no mistake, I am no huge fan of the system of education we have in America. While we don’t fail as many students as pundits would have us believe, we fail too many because in most cases we operate in the same form we used in 1930, 1950, 1980 and 2000, with little more than the cosmetic changes that blow in with political movements. Sure we have on-line classes now. We have more “accountability” while we end up with less and less local control. But not much real change has occurred in the past century. The entire system needs a dramatic overhaul. But if we continue to make changes based on misleading data and false storylines we will exacerbate problems rather than fix them. There is money—huge profits—in convincing the American people that schools are doing worse than they are but there is even bigger money in not really fixing the problems.

Below, I try to shed some light on many of the popular and widespread criticisms of public education.  I have written a long diary. But there is a lot to say and a lot of misinformation out there that needs correcting.

Anyone paying any attention at all will have come across the following statements at one time or another—and most likely has heard these things repeated so often that it would be hard not to believe them.

  • High school graduation rates nationwide are alarmingly low, particularly for ethnic groups.
  • American students are not prepared for college and need remediation in math science to be eligible for college level courses.
  • Because we aren’t doing well enough in math and science we aren’t graduating enough engineers from college to meet the current needs of American business.
  • American high school students do so poorly in math and science compared to the rest of the world that they are not prepared to compete internationally.
  • Overall, American public education is in decline.

What about graduation rates? The Official U.S. Dept. of Education Blog Site made this post on January 23, 2013:  

A new report from the Department of Education shows that high school graduation rates are at their highest level since 1974. According to the report, during the 2009-10 school year, 78.2 percent of high school students nationwide graduated on time, which is a substantial increase from the 73.4 percent recorded in 2005-6. The report shows that graduation rates were up for all ethnic groups in 2010, and that the rate for Hispanic students has jumped almost 10 points since 2006.

So yes, the graduation rate is alarmingly low. It always has been. That is a tragedy. However, it isn’t new. What is new is that the public education system is working to correct the problem with more success now than in the past 40 years. Graduation rates are up not down! And this is despite the dynamics of an economic crisis and two wars. If we were scoring this one I would have to give it to the schools.

But just because we are doing better doesn’t mean our work is exemplary. One out of every four students who enters American high schools still does not graduate. The rate is getting better yes, but not at a fast enough pace. The problem here is that the popular and well-funded solutions being proposed will not do any better, and may likely make things worse. But schools are not doing enough, largely because they are buying into and are being force-fed a steady diet of medicine that only makes the patient worse.

What about the charge that entering freshmen are simply not as prepared as their predecessors for the rigors of college coursework? In a report published by ASCD it seems pretty clear.

Another measure of lack of college preparation is the proportion of students who find themselves in remedial college courses, often because they fail a readiness exam after they have been accepted. According to 2004 Department of Education data, 43 percent of all students attending public two-year institutions and 29 percent of those attending public four-year colleges said they had been required to enroll in a remedial course. And these data, the report points out, do not include the approximately 1.2 million students who dropped out of college that year.

However, once again the full truth is not as clear. Yes, there are more freshmen entering college who are not fully prepared. But there are apparently more freshmen entering college who are prepared, too. And the reason is so simple one wonders why we are even discussing this. More freshmen are actually entering college. A lot more! And that growth has been pretty consistent for quite a while.

During the period of 1975 through 2010, the immediate college enrollment rate [for high school graduages] ranged from a low of 49 percent to a high of 70 percent. Specifically, this rate increased from 1975 to 1997 (51 to 67 percent), declined from 1997 to 2001 (to 62 percent), then increased from 2001 to 2009 (to 70 percent). There was no measurable difference between the rate for 2009 and that for 2010 (68 percent).

But what about ethnic groups?

During the longer period of 1975 to 2010, immediate college enrollment rates increased for White (51 vs. 70 percent) and Black high school completers (43 vs. 66 percent). After accounting for possible sampling error, there was no measurable difference in Hispanic rates over this period of time (approximately 60 percent in both years). In each year between 2003 and 2010, the immediate college enrollment rate of Asian high school completers was higher than the rates of White, Black, and Hispanic high school completers. The immediate college enrollment rate of White high school completers was also higher than the rate for Hispanic students in every year during this period and for Black students in every year from 2003 to 2009. In 2010, there was no measurable difference between the rates for Whites and for Blacks.

To summarize: More students are entering college unprepared. More students are entering college prepared. More ethnic students are entering college unprepared. More students are entering college prepared.

To summarize further: High schools are doing a pretty good job of getting their students into college.  Better than ever, in fact. Colleges are doing a pretty good job of accepting students they would not have accepted and taken money from in the past. And by the way, taking money for remedial classes is really big business on campuses.

What about high schools and colleges not producing enough scientists and engineers? Doesn’t this one sound believable? For those of us who are old enough to remember, this is reminiscent of the “missile gap” of the 50’s. Without enough scientists and engineers the United State will fall behind all of the other nations that are trying to beat us at…anything. Much of this fear comes from a 2004 warning from the National Science Foundation that there is “an emerging and critical problem of the science and engineering labor force.” (  Since that report was made public it has been echoed by publication after publication and has been mentioned in speech after speech. And America is worried. In fact we have specific measures designed to increase these positions.

But is it true? This response comes from Sharon Begley at the Daily Beast:

Let’s not exaggerate: science and engineering are not the new Comp Lit or philosophy, those undergraduate majors for which employment prospects are so dicey your parents practically beg you to go to a trade school instead. But about those claims that the nation suffers from a shortage of scientists and engineers—claims such as the National Science Foundation’s warning in 2004 of “an emerging and critical problem of the science and engineering labor force”—Vivek Wadhwa, founder of Relativity Technologies and executive in residence at Duke University, has a terse response: “It’s a lie.”

“Science and engineering are perceived as so crucial to our economic engine and national security, it’s easy to get people panicked over the possibility of a shortage,” says demographer Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. But those who do not have a financial stake in getting more students to choose S&E (the more job hunters, the less you have to pay them) are catching on. Science magazine recently noted “the striking discrepancy between the glutted market for early-career scientists and the numerous prestigious reports [about] … a looming shortage.”

A 2008 report by the RAND Corporation, requested by the office of the Secretary of Defense, concluded that “there is no evidence of a current shortage of S&E workers.”

And this from In the Pipeline, reprinted on the Discover web site:

1. Companies, in most cases, are not moving R&D operations overseas because they just can’t find anyone here to do the jobs. They’re doing that for the same reason so many other employers have sent jobs abroad: because it’s cheaper that way (or appears to be; the jury’s probably still out in many instances)—people in many other countries simply do their jobs for less money. And it’s often the ordinary grunt work that’s being outsourced, which makes the “we even need mediocre scientists” line especially wrong-headed.

2. We are not, as far as I can see, facing the constant and well-known “critical shortage of scientists and engineers.” There have been headlines with that phrase in them for decades, and I wish people would think about that before writing another one. Some fields may have shortages (and these vary over time), but that’s a different story entirely.

3. And that brings up another point, as mentioned above: while the earlier stages of science and math education are a common pathway, things then branch out, and how. Saying that there are so-many-thousand “science PhDs” is a pretty useless statistic, because by that point, they’re scattered into all sorts of fields. A semiconductor firm will not be hiring me, for example.

Summary: No there is no shortage of scientists and engineers of the kind the fear mongers and school critics claim. Sources as diverse as the Rand Corp., Discover Magazine, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, various scientists and college professors are telling us that this is simply false.

What about American high school students do so poorly in math and science compared to the rest of the world that they are not prepared to compete internationally? It seems that every news source in America makes this claim. Is it true that American students do worse than their counterparts in other nations? Yes. Or no. It depends on who the “counterparts in other nations” are. Certainly the results of recent international tests among 4th and 8th graders  show that students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Finland outperform the US. In the Asian nations we must remember that there is a strong culture of testing and rote memorization at the expense of creative and critical thinking. Finland has virtually no poverty and, while it de-emphasizes a testing culture, it has a strong culture of respect for schools and teachers.

So when we compare ourselves to our “counterparts” in other nations what is the most important factor? It becomes clear that poverty levels are the most meaningful variable. National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozz summarizes the data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), one of the main organizations that does international testing:

A more accurate assessment of the performance of U.S. students would be obtained by comparing the scores of American schools with comparable poverty rates to those of other countries.

Schools in the United States with less than a 10% poverty rate had a PISA score of 551.  When compared to the ten countries with similar poverty numbers, that score ranked first.

In the next category (10-24.9%) the U.S. average of 527 placed first out of the ten comparable nations.

For the remaining U.S. schools, their poverty rates over 25% far exceed any other country tested.  However, when the U.S. average of 502 for poverty rates between 25-49.9% is compared with other countries it is still in the upper half of the scores.

Summary: When we compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges we do very well indeed! The problem is not more testing. It is poverty relief.

So, is American public education in decline? No it isn’t. We are educating more students in better ways and sending more students to post-secondary levels of education than ever before. But that is not a satisfactory answer because we can do much, much better. We won’t get better by implementing ill-conceived plans that are built on false data. When we politicize and incentivize profits in the realm of education we lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish and we lose even more our grasp on how to make meaningful and effective changes.


Redefining Majority: The Conservative Crusade

Lately I have been reading an increasing number of blogs and comments blaming President Obama for not compromising more with the Republicans. I call BS. I want to start moving forward economically, environmentally, socially and globally as much as the next guy, but to place the fault at Obama’s feet is to disregard the will of the vast majority of people on issues such as gun control, immigration, taxation, Social Security, climate change, energy, and fairness to women. Am I a total apologist for everything Obama is doing? Nope. Do I wish some things were being handled differently? Of course. But none of that changes the fact that Republican obstruction is an intentional delay tactic that gives the big bold middle finger to most of America. This power hungry, arrogant gridlock in Congress in but one piece of the Republican’s great and terrible plan. The plan involves a simple dynamic, but will take years even decades to be fulfilled, and that is what makes it so insidious. Republicans are more than willing to wait for their long-term plans to hatch as they hold all of America hostage. They simply cannot afford to allow any business to take place in Congress until they have redefined the very meaning of the voting electorate. In the meantime… almost nothing gets done in Congress.

Conservative think tanks have for decades now been privately and nervously projecting the truth about America’s demographics: without voter numbers being reduced, the day will come (has arrived?) when Republicans cannot win at the national level. Redistricting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, Electoral College reform, Fox News–these are all designed to redefine the numerical majority of American voters. Not by presenting ideas that appeal to most people nor by winning anyone to their existing conservative ideals. They have concluded that they cannot increase their own voter numbers relative to the Democrats.  Their plan is to marginalize the legitimacy of the ever growing opposition to Conservative thinking by either a) making sure that the opposition doesn’t/can’t vote or b) reducing the value of the opposition votes themselves. And in the meantime nothing of substance gets done until the newly and narrowly defined majority gets back in power.  In their selfish righteousness they are convinced that any victory for the Democrats, no matter how beneficial to the nation, is bad for the ultimate goal of regaining power.

Paul Ryan is the champion of this. He readily admits that his budget assumes the repeal of ObamaCare. His budget assumes he has the majority. His budget assumes his party is the will of the people. And he is absolutely wrong on all counts. His budget cannot get passed. And he knows it can’t. So he waits while his party manipulates its way back into power.

But how do the Conservatives justify this near total lack of accomplishment, after all, their approval numbers flirt with single digits? Simple. They have a Crusade mentality that justifies everything. They are fighting a spiritual war against Islam and Socialism and Science and Enlightenment. (Remember that European leaders had no problem going broke to fight a Crusade.) There is something Messianic in their view–which is probably why they defensively attack Obama as a false Messiah. Conservatives are so sure they are right, and that nobody else is, that they live in perpetual denial of the opinions of the actual majority of Americans. Doubt me? Think Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry, George Bush and Dick Cheney, Pat Roberson and Rush Limbaugh. They are a diverse coalition of political symbols that favor a single political, economic, social and empire-building agenda. Some of them are “right” with their God, but they are all “right” with their corporate donors. In this modern Crusade, the strategists and disciples are Karl Rove and the Koch brothers and ALEC and the Five Supreme Court Justices who are anything but an independent judiciary.The foot soldiers and serfs who end up as casualties in battle are the Tea Party members and Fox News faithful and those who sit in the pews of Evangelical churches–and most unfairly of all, the rest of us who didn’t want a Crusade in the first place. The Captains and Kings of this Crusade either ignore majority views–think background checks on gun purchases–or claim the majority opinion is so evil that it must be denounced–think gay rights–or make up their own Dark Age thinking–consider global climate changes. Without question, the overwhelming majority of Americans have united views on these issues, yet the Crusaders ignore or deny this in their obstinate  tunnel vision. And they continue to block any legislation in opposition to their Crusade.

Understanding the Conservative Messianic mindset makes it simple to see why the Republicans refuse to allow the majority of Americans to get what they want. The only question left is: Will the real majority of Americans allow it?

Another Example of the Oxymoronic (or just Moronic) Economy

Sequestration begins, cuts have already begun, and the Dow closes at its highest level this year. Hmmm…

Pretty Cool Cougar Photo?


My son took this photo in the Mt. Adams area of Washington State. It was getting near sundown. Those eyes are not retouched. I don’t know, but I think it’s a pretty good shot.

He tells me he was about fifty feet away standing on a steep hill, just about even height with the cat.

The Small Town Hate Sign Strikes Again

sign 3

This guy really doesn’t like Democrats. I just wonder if he gets his messages from a service or if he thinks these up all by himself. I give him a little credit for being witty, sort of. What is it about people who make them want to go out of their way to insult more than half of the population? Not just to disagree with them but to hurl insults. Oh well…