Archive for January, 2010

Reforming Education: Merit-Based Employment

Posted in opinion with tags , , , on January 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Education is imperative. So much depends on our ability to utilize every opportunity to learn something new, that if we miss even one opportunity, we fall far behind our peers.

And yet, there are problems with the current education system in America. Our current system was created during the Industrial Revolution, and is mostly based on a “liberal arts” mindset, having required credits for English, math, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts. Everything seems right in our system, except for one thing: the teachers.

Many times the only thing stopping students from getting a good education is having a teacher who knows that they cannot be fired. Sometimes, this is a good thing, as it allows fantastic teachers to teach controversial topics without worrying about having severe actions taken against them. But more often than not, the teachers who are tenured only try for those first four years, and then feel that because they can’t be fired, they don’t really have to try anymore.

In my experience, I’ve only had a couple of really great teachers. It was usually my English teachers and a few of my music teachers. But my all-time favorite professor in college made this brilliant statement in regards to student evaluations we have to fill out at the end of every term:

“Senior faculty members only have to have students fill out an evaluation for one class, whereas adjunct faculty members must have them for all of the classes they teach. Then there are senior faculty such as myself who have students fill out evaluations for all of their classes, because we want to make sure we’re up to par in all aspects of our teaching.”

Which gives me an idea: why don’t we employ and pay teachers according to skill level? It would be an incentive for teachers to always perform at their best, and in turn it would allow students an opportunity to get a quality education. While extrinsic motivation is definitely not the right way to go, it will definitely give value to the type of education that is being given.

Look at it this way: Teacher A and Teacher B both teach chemistry. They are both equally skilled at their position. They both teach an equally capable classroom, and yet, Teacher B’s students don’t have as firm of a grasp on the material as Teacher A’s students. By this logic, Teacher A is the more effective teacher, and deserves a higher pay than Teacher B.

Of course, this is assuming that they are teaching at Utopia High School in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average”). In reality, the students will require different teaching techniques as each student has a different learning style. But this is where the new employment system shines: it will give teachers an incentive to modify their teaching style to their students’ learning style.

The only foreseeable problem in this plan is how to determine what an effective teacher is. Standardized testing isn’t the way to go, as many students can be poor test takers. The best option at this point is to have an evaluation form for students to fill out, making sure that all questions are worded so as to only question the teaching methods and not the teacher. Granted, kids might be giving lower scores to teachers they don’t like, and higher scores to ones they do like.

So how do we offset this problem? Is there a way that we can make sure that the scores are accurate. Part of what we can do here is having observation hours, like teachers are required to have when they are in college. Of course, that could be cumbersome, as who would be qualified to observe and judge different teachers in different settings? Another option would be to take into consideration the test and homework scores along with the evaluation scores. There could possibly be a correlation between grades and feelings toward school (in fact, there have been studies that suggest that students with poor grades often have a poor outlook on schooling).

Whatever it is that needs to be done, it needs to be done soon. The last reports that have been out have placed Americans 10th in the world in Science skills, 12th in reading, and under 20th in mathematics. This current plan to focus students on those specific fields is poor judgment, as studies have shown that students involved with music and the arts do better in school than students that aren’t involved in such things.

Looking back on my education experience, I’ve had plenty of teachers and professors that could use a little more incentive to improve their teaching styles. I felt like this needed to be addressed, as the latest statistics at Wartburg College show that 85% of the college budget comes from the students (tuition, room and board, other fees), yet 69% of that budget goes toward faculty paychecks. Personally, I don’t feel like my tuition money should go right into the pockets of professors I’ll never meet, and especially to those professors who don’t really deserve it.

But until I get my say in anything education related, especially since I’m not in school to  be an educator, I’ll have to stay in the background.

Osama bin Laden: Old News?

Posted in current events with tags , , on January 27, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Think back eight years, to September 11, 2001. Think of the fear that was instilled in you when you saw the first plane hit the towers. When you saw the huge fireball flash across the sky, raining debris down on the people below. Think back to when news organizations started showing video of earlier in the day, when the people in the top floors had no choice but to jump. Think of the emotions that ran through your mind as you tried to wrap your head around the complex issues and moral questions that they had to wrestle with–that they were wrestling with–as they fell to the ground below. Think of the fear that struck your heart when the towers collapsed, and those 3000 people, representing hundreds of nations of the world, would never be heard from again.

Think of the anger that coursed through your veins when you heard the name Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for all of this terror.

Now, bring yourself to Christmas Day, 2009, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt at bombing an airliner by sewing explosives into his underwear. Born in Nigeria, recruited to al Quaeda in Yemen, and flying into Detroit. Think of the emotions you felt. I wasn’t sure what to feel, because the whole thing seemed ridiculous to me, as I’m sure it did for most of you, too.  It was a ludicrous idea that failed, as was probably expected, but no one wanted to believe.

Emotions not as strong as that fateful day in September, but still pretty strong. The questions were thrown around: where was Obama? What does this mean for airport security? What does this mean for the safety of the United States citizens?

One questions that was definitely not in anyone’s mind: where is Osama bin Laden?

Here he is, over a month later, taking credit for the attack, even though it failed.

What are the emotions running through your mind? What are you feeling? Are you angry? Scared? Confused?

Or are you thinking, like I am, “You’re still here?”

Osama bin Laden, I think, has been largely forgotten, only coming into the limelight every so often with a new tape with the same old shtick of “Death to America” and “Allah Akbar”. And even then, it’s been a while since he released a tape. The last reference I can find to a bin Laden tape before this one was back in 2006. He’s been gone from our minds, and hasn’t really been perceived as a threat in a long while, and taking credit for a ridiculous and failed terrorist attack.

I remember watching the NBC show “Last Comic Standing,” and I remember the season that Todd Glass was on it. It irked me whenever he did something to get attention. He seems like the sort of guy who didn’t get much attention as a kid, and now he’s trying to get as much as he can now. He wrote a song that he called “The Attention Song,” the lyrics of which are essentially, “I want attention/that’s why I wrote this song.”

I sort of feel like bin Laden is doing the same thing. He wants to be the feared al Quaeda leader he once was, so he’s going to take credit for anything remotely terror related. He wants attention, he wants to be the name that people remember until the end of time, but frankly, he isn’t that frightening anymore.

Not to condone terrorism, but if bin Laden truly wants to be feared, something spectacular has to be done. 9/11, even with all the grief and anguish that came from it, was spectacular. To have small groups of people working in sync to hijack four planes and crash them into three buildings. It takes years of planning, communicating, and organizing to get something like that together. And who’s to say that bin Laden isn’t planning something like that?

Bottom line, bin Laden is a hack. He’s still the guy that staged the worst terror attack on American soil, but he hasn’t done anything really worthwhile since. The question is: is it time that we quit focusing on bin Laden, and rather focus on things of more importance?


Posted in pop culture with tags , , , on January 25, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

First of all, I apologize for no update on Friday. There was so much stuff that happened that I wasn’t even sure where to begin organizing it: a Republican winning in Massachusetts, ridiculous goings-on here at home, it was all just too much all at once. But now that everything is mostly calmed down, we can begin talking about stuff that really matters, namely, the wild stuff happening over at NBC. For those who have been living under a rock for the past few years or so, here’s the basic run-down of what’s been going on:

In 2004, NBC announced that Jay Leno, then host of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was going to be leaving in 2009, and that his successor would be Conan O’Brien, then host of The Late Show with Conan O’Brien. Leno’s last show was 29 May 2009, and Conan took over on 1 June.

All was going fine and dandy, until rumors flew about Leno moving to another network, so NBC gave him the Jay Leno Show, which was to be shown an hour before the Tonight Show. Then, something happened.

It’s at this point that things become a little hazy for me. Some say that Leno was pulling viewers away from Conan’s show, and that’s why ratings tanked. Others say that Leno is a greedy pig, and ratings tanked because no one wanted to deal with him anymore. The report that I had heard that made most sense to me was that Leno’s show was stealing viewers from NBC affiliates and their local news, and that some affiliates were threatening to not carry the Jay Leno Show in order to save their viewers for the local news. Whatever it was that happened, something needed to change.

First, they thought that dropping the Jay Leno Show was a good idea. Then they thought that shorting the Jay Leno Show to only a half-hour was a good idea. Then they thought that pushing the Jay Leno Show back to the old timeslot of 11:35 PM EST, and thus moving the Tonight Show to 12:35 PM EST was a good idea. Finally, they decided on a settlement: Conan O’Brien was paid $45 million dollars to leave the Tonight Show, and Leno would take over as host after the Winter Olympics.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be such a huge deal. I was neither on “Team Leno” or “Team CoCo” (I’m a Stewart/Colbert person myself). But just the fact that this played out on news networks for the whole “drama” confused me. How was this childish saga on Late Night TV newsworthy?

In all honesty, this sort of thing made me think back to the elementary school playground, with Leno being a 4th grade bully, and Conan being a wimpy 3rd grader who was just excited that a 4th grader was actually talking to them. Leno promised Conan a way cool toy called the Tonight Show, and said that he was done with it and Conan could have it. And Conan did have it, and played with it for a couple of months. All of a sudden, Leno decided he wanted his way cool toy back.

And Conan said, “But you said I could have it!”

And Leno said, “But I want it back!”

And Conan said, “But it’s mine now! You can’t have it!”

And Leno said, “Yes-huh, I can have it back.”

And Conan said, “Nu-uh!”

And Leno said, “Yuh-huh!”

And Conan said, “Nu-uh!”

And so on and so forth, until the teacher–Mrs. NBC–came in and said, “Conan, the Tonight Show was Jay’s toy first, so I think it would be nice if you could give it back to him.”

And Conan did, but not before turning to his fellow classmates on the playground and saying, “All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical,” O’Brien said. “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

Conan is classy. Leno, not so much.

I was a huge fan of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I thought “Headlines” was hilarious, and still do to this day. And I never got a chance to see Conan do his thing on the Tonight Show (though I did hear about the masturbating bear, and have been trying desperately to find a clip of it).  But the way I see it, it all came down to greed. Leno was being greedy by staying on the air and nastily competing with Conan like that.

Back in high school, I worked at a radio station, and it was a law that radio personalities, when they left the station, had to wait at least six months before they could get another radio job, so as not to steal a fanbase away from their old radio station (I believe it’s called “Law of Attraction”? Can someone help me out?).

I believe that Leno should have had the same treatment: he should have been out of the limelight and not on any show for the first year of Conan doing the Tonight Show, just so he could get a feel for what he was getting himself into. Then, after that year, Leno could do whatever he wanted to do. Want to join ABC, Leno? Go for it. FOX? No problem. CBS? Have at it. Because after that first year, Conan would have had a strong enough fan-base to handle the sudden competition of what was once a big name in late night.

It’s a shame that we all had to deal with that sort of travesty at NBC. Even though I wasn’t watching, I could hear a lot of my peers talk about, “Did you see what happened on Conan last night? It was hilarious!”

Conan deserves a second chance, and Leno should grow up. That’s really all there is to it.

James Cameron’s “Avatar”: An Equal-Opportunity Offender

Posted in pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Before I begin, let me just clarify: I don’t get out much, which means that when huge blockbuster movies come around, I rarely get out to see them. I make a big effort to go out and see the “Saw” series (though I missed Saw VI) and the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen all three Lord of the Rings in theatres. But for some reason, despite it’s technological mastery and fantastic visual imagery, I have no desire to see “Avatar”, James Cameron’s latest epic about the friendly blue giants called Na’vi.

And from the looks of it, it’s probably a good thing, as this movie (that has already made over $1 billion dollars, I might add) has set out to offend everyone. James Cameron, what have you done to the world?

Special interest groups everywhere are up in arms about this movie because it has offended them. The Vatican claims that “Avatar” is offensive because it promotes nature worship over religion. The military claims that “Avatar” portrays soldiers as “fanatical crazed killers who have joined a military mercenary force to destroy a civilization so that corporations can capitalize on some rare commodity”.

But it gets stranger than that: anti-smoking groups claim that the movie promotes smoking as a positive trait. Left-wing groups claim that the movie is racist because an exotic culture needs to be saved by a white human. Disability groups are upset twice: first, because the synopsis for the movie describes Jake Sully, a disabled Marine, as “confined to a wheelchair”, and secondly because Commander Quaritch promises that Jake will “get [his] real legs back”.

But what is really mind-numbing is that LGBT groups are protesting “Avatar” because it depicts heterosexuality as continuing to be the sexual norm in the future. And what’s even worse that that mental health experts claim that the movie is causing depression in many who see the movie, because the world of Pandora is the perfect Utopian society, and as one man was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplated suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora.”

Really? All this over a sci-fi movie?

Of course, this isn’t the first time that special interest groups have rallied together to protest movies. A short list of movies that have been boycotted in recent years include:

  • Bruce Almighty,” which shows a human using God’s powers, despite being a lesson in letting God do God’s thing.
  • The Harry Potter series, which indoctrinates children into becoming witches and wizards, despite the fact that both the movies and books say that wizardry is hereditary.
  • “The Ringer,” which makes fun of disabled people, despite the fact that producers worked directly with the Special Olympics to avoid being offensive. And,
  • Tropic Thunder,” which uses the term “retard.” To be fair, it was used as a commentary on special needs roles as compared to Oscar wins–if you go “half-retard,” like Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman,” you win; if you go “full-retard,” like Sean Penn in “I Am Sam,” you lose.

The only problem with all of these arguments against James Cameron and his nifty little movie is one that nobody seems to see: the movie is science fiction. The key word in that last statement is fiction, a word that means, “It’s not real.”

The real issue behind all of this “controversy” is that people love to be offended, and nobody does it quite as well as Americans. The fact that we’re being offended by works of fiction, and quotes taken outside of the context of situation, character, among other factors, is disgusting.

Then again, look at the world around us: we’re recovering from a horrific economy. America is fighting two wars. Haiti is still recovering from that horrific earthquake. The world is an absolute mess, so maybe it’s great that we can escape to the perfect world of Pandora, and all the peace and harmony that it stands for.

But being offended by nearly every aspect of the movie? That’s ridiculous and unacceptable.

My suggestion to the world: snap out of it. Not everything has a hidden political agenda, and if you’d open your mind and stop trying to make everything politically correct, you might be able to enjoy yourself every once in a while.

Letter to the Editor: ELCA’s ordination of openly gay persons

Posted in opinion with tags , , on January 18, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

“Letters to the Editor” is probably my favorite section of the opinion page. To me, it’s exciting to see what people in certain regions are passionate enough about that they feel they need to write to the paper. Sometimes, it’s simply congratulating area participants in whatever huge event took place recently, but every once in a while, there is an issue that isn’t covered in the paper that people feel they need to address.

I was reading my local paper (The Daily Globe) on the morning of 6 January 2010, and I saw a letter to the editor that irked me. The topic of the letter was about the August vote in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to allow openly gay persons in monogamous relationships to be ordained as clergy, something that appears relatively harmless to me. However, the writers of this letter thought otherwise.

The entire letter can be found here, but just in case you cannot access the link, the letter in its entirety is as follows:

Members, the ELCA has left us.

The leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) turned its back on members of ELCA churches and threatens the very existence of the church by allowing non-celibate pastors in homosexual relationships to be ordained into the ELCA. The ELCA has acted contrary to “the inspired Word of God — the authoritative source and norm of — proclamation, faith and life” (ELCA Constitution Section 2.03). Most members were caught off-guard when just a few hundred people at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis made this decision last August.

There were 4.6 million members of ELCA congregations, and those members did not have a voice in this critical decision. In fact, the ELCA Articles of Incorporation (Article VIII) prevent us from voting. “Members of Congregations of the Church shall not, as, such, have any voting rights with respect to this corporation.” Congregations fund the ELCA from members’ offerings, but members have no voice.

The ELCA leadership certainly did not want congregational members voting on this controversial and unprecedented proposal because the vast majority of us would have opposed the decision. Last September, 91 percent of the members surveyed at a congregational meeting of Hosanna! Lutheran Church of Lakeville, one of Minnesota’s largest ELCA congregations, supported separation from the ELCA. Also, the two largest ELCA congregations in North Dakota, Hope Lutheran and First Lutheran of Fargo, voted to stop funding the ELCA.

Not only were the members of the ELCA denied a vote on this controversial proposal, those members do not have the opportunity to directly elect the presiding bishop nor the national church council that theoretically runs the ELCA. No one represents all the laity.

What should ELCA members do? Think about our youth. The ELCA decision is a travesty upon our youth. Hold a congregational vote on whether the ELCA should permit non-celibate homosexuals to be ordained as pastors. Stop all funding to the ELCA. Contact Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal) at It is up to us lay people.

At first glance, the letter appears to be about how the writers were upset at the topic of the decision. But as you read, it looks like they’re not only mad at the decision, but also mad that they, nor any of the other congregational members of the ELCA, were not allowed to vote. I can understand not being accurately represented in a major vote; it happens all the time in Congress.

But what I don’t get is how someone can reference the Bible, yet not use it to help reason their argument. Of course, I had to reply, so I decided to write a rebuttal, using the Bible as my source.

After reading the letter from Bob Lee and Al Quie (1/6) about the ELCA’s vote this summer for letting openly gay persons be ordained, I have to admit that I was ashamed, not for the ELCA vote, but for the blatant and inconsiderate opposition to it, and browsing through the comments section on the online version of the letter only added fuel to the fires of my disappointment.

Lee and Quie made mention of the ELCA constitution, saying that the Church has “acted contrary to the inspired Word of God,” yet, curiously enough, made no mention of said inspired Word. Many people quote the Old Testament because of the rules and regulations of the faith, and Leviticus 18:22 spells out exactly how God feels about homosexuality: “Do not lie with a man as you lie with a woman; this is detestable.” But if you read ahead to chapter 19 of the same book, you’ll find a list of rules that are no longer followed today, among them: do not mate different kinds of animals, plant two different types of crops in one field, wear clothing woven with two different materials, eat meat with the blood still in it, cut your hair, trim your beard, or get tattoos. I shave every day as part of my morning routine. My shirt is made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. Am I going to Hell?

Thankfully, God said in Jeremiah that he was going to create a new covenant, since his people “did not remain faithful” to the old one. Our new covenant is in the birth and death of Jesus Christ, who came to replace the old covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul writes in Hebrew 8:13, “By calling this covenant “new,” [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” This means that the simple act of the birth of Jesus has completely negated the Old Testament. The rules and regulations of Leviticus and other books like it are gone, and have been replaced by two commandments: Love your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. And do we really love our neighbors if we continue to oppress them?

People use (and in many cases abuse) the Bible to preach a certain message. The Bible was used against the civil rights movement of the 1960s because in Genesis 4 it says, “The LORD put a mark on Cain,” which many interpreted as the dark skin of African-Americans. The Bible was used against the women’s liberation movement because 1 Timothy 2:12 says, “Do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” But in very recent history, a woman had a very real shot of being both Vice President and President, and we have elected an African-American as President. The gay rights movement of today will have a very similar outcome: opposition until the culture shifts. We can either embrace it now, or we can play the waiting game, and I, for one, am tired of waiting.

Now, doesn’t that just make sense? Guaranteed, more entries on this topic to come.