Archive for education

The Dalai Lama’s Message of Peace

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

The Dalai Lama made his first trip to Iowa on Monday and Tuesday. It was a unique experience for those who went. Sadly, I was unable to get tickets to either event (both were sold out), but from what I’ve read in the article and heard from people who went, it was a unique experience.

The Dalai Lama is the political and spiritual leader-in-exile of Tibet. Even though he’s not allowed in the country, he still controls the people. The Des Moines Register described him as “light-hearted,” and even describes an incident where he had to stifle laughter: “When told about a young man who fathered 23 children in high school, he had to stifle a chuckle after hearing the story from a translator.”

But despite the light-hearted personality of the Dalai Lama, what was important about the visit was his message of peace, ethics, and education.

The representatives that we hear about today are all about violence. Their rhetoric is militant: “Don’t retreat, reload,” and fighting new hypothetical wars. There is no room in American rhetoric to be peaceful, and those who do preach peace are soft-hearted pansies, definitely Liberal, and most likely a New Age vegetarian hippy.

The Dalai Lama’s message was refreshing. He called for educating both “the head and the heart,” acting ethically for “one human family,” and not falling into the “traps of violence” that we as Americans so easily fall into. He realized that a lot of the world’s problems are caused by man, and only man can fix them through peace and cooperation.

While the Dalai Lama admits that he would be a terrible professor because he is “kind of lazy,” he is an amazing teacher that knows how to preach a message that all faiths can fall behind. Christianity, Islam, and many other religions get bad publicity because they are perceived as violent religions. And even though many pundits would like to paint “social justice” and “equality” as bad things, it is extremely important to practice exactly those principles.

The “second formation” of Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” is, “Act so that, whether in yourself or another, you treat yourself or another as ends and not means only,” meaning that we should be treating our fellow humans as worthwhile creatures, and not just a way to get what we want. American society today practically preaches using people as a means to an end only: drunken women are only good for getting sex, rich men are only good for getting jewelry, and so on. There is no longer any respect for our fellow humans; we are too individualized to see the consequences of our actions. In an “every man for himself” world, we miss the big picture of being a global community.

We can learn something from the Dalai Lama’s visit. As someone who is not jaded by material struggles and being bigger and better, he sees what a lot of the world can’t see: in the end, it’s all about loving ourselves and loving others.

“You have the truth,” he says. “Be patient and do your work.”

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Your Children Are Not Being Indoctrinated

Posted in pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Normally, I don’t have a problem with Glenn Beck. In all honesty, I’m a huge fan of the show. Occasionally, he makes some great points, and he tries his best to be in the middle ground, calling out Republicans along with Democrats. Normally, I don’t have a problem with him. But every once in a while, Beck says something, or has a topic, that is absolutely ridiculous, and it frustrates me to the point where I can no longer think straight.

It’s rare for me to be writing a blog topic at the same time that the topic at hand is still in process. Yet here I sit, watching Glenn Beck rant and rave over something that isn’t a big deal, because it’s not a deal at all. Apparently, the “progressives” are indoctrinating your children by telling them that they are just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, than you. It’s an abomination, and it’s all the progressive Democrats’ fault. “Aren’t you shocked that people are using your children this way?” he just asked.

There’s one problem: your children aren’t being indoctrinated. Beck used an Al Gore quote–“There are some things about our world that you know that older people don’t know”–as proof that progressives are taking over your child’s mind. But really, all this quote (which, by the way, is taken extremely out of context) says is that, in changing times, the younger generation has a better idea of the world than older folks. It’s common sense.

In the speech, Gore uses the Civil Rights Movement as an analogy of changing times. The quote, in context…

When I was your age and the Civil Rights Revolution was unfolding, and we kids asked our parents and their generation, ‘Explain to me again why it’s okay for the law to discriminate against people for the color of their skin color? And when our parents’ generation couldn’t answer that question, that’s when the law started to change. There are some things about our world that you know that older people don’t know.Why would that be? Well, in a time of rapid change, the old assumptions sometimes just don’t work anymore because they’re out of date.

… is not a huge deal. Not only is this common sense in a changing world, it’s also a clever ploy to build up a child’s self-esteem. If a child feels that his or her efforts are worthwhile, he or she will be more inclined to make a difference in the world.

But Glenn Beck doesn’t seem to see this. He seems to see any sort of push to support children–future leaders of the world, mind you–as some Islamo-fascist-socialist-communism ploy to destroy America. This whole show just seems to be a distraction from some other humongous  problem; he says in the rant before the commercial break, “I can’t teach God in school, but I can make kids pledge allegiance to the Earth? The Earth is God now! The Earth is greater than human beings!”

I understand Glenn Beck is a proud American, and I can kind of see how pledging allegiance to the Earth goes completely against that. But, really, the Earth is greater than the people who live on it. Any slight change in the natural world can completely wipe out the human race. And my religious upbringing tells me that God not only created everything, but is also in everything. God created the Earth, and God is the Earth. I would gladly pledge allegiance to the Earth, because I am pledging allegiance to God in this way.

If anyone is watching the show, you know how awkward this suddenly has become. He spoke directly to “progressive bloggers,” and quoted Malachai 4:6–“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” He says that this verse says that indoctrinating our children is evil. And he also recommended that I spell EVIL in capital letters. Just for kicks, I’ll go a step further: EVIL!!!!!!!!!!!1

But again, Beck is quoting out of context. Chapter 4 of Malachai, in its entirety:

1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty.4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Looking at the passage as a whole, it actually says that the EVIL!!!!!! world will be destroyed unless the hearts of the fathers are turned to the hearts of the children, and vice versa. God himself is saying that unless children and fathers learn from each other, the world is going to be struck down.

But I digress. The real reason this episode of Glenn Beck is bothering me so much that I felt like I had to blog as the show is in progress is because throughout the whole show, Beck has been talking down to my generation. The whole episode has been a “Get Off My Lawn, You Crazy Kids!” episode, with Grampa Beck telling us kids that our generation is out of control, just like, I’m sure, his grandparents told him when he was young. He was born in 1964, after all.

I’m not a fan of people being condescending to me. But that’s all this was. It was Glenn Beck Knows Best, and because I am younger than he is, I am an idiot.

Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Beck. The fact is that the world is changing. My generation has a greater access to knowledge than your generation did. And in fact, I may go out and buy “Eric’s Book” (Generation-We by Eric Greenberg, in case anyone was wondering), just because. I appreciate you trying to protect me, but everything in this show had no evidence. I was always taught that to have an effective argument, I need claims and evidence. Sadly, this show only had the former.

To my generation: This show should be incentive for us to get out there and change the world even more. Don’t even think about politics, don’t think about being “too progressive”. We have a higher calling, and we need to do everything in our power to change our world before our world changes us.

Sex Education: What’s the Best Option?

Posted in current events with tags , , , on February 8, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

There’s been a lot of talk lately about sex education in schools, more specifically, whether or not abstinence-only education is the way to go.

Abstinence-only sex education (the oxymoron of the decade) is basically the idea that if kids are taught to be responsible and to wait until they’re ready for sex, then they will make smarter decisions. Sometimes people view it as teaching kids to wait until they’re married to have sex, which can be true some of the time. But bottom line, it’s about teaching abstinence rather than providing options for safer sex.

A few years ago, a study was conducted that showed that abstinence-only sex education was relatively ineffective, and that students who had abstinence-only education had just as many sexual partners as those students who didn’t. This isn’t just one study, but three: the oft-cited Cochrane Collaboration; a study from 2007 by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; and a very recent study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Three different studies that show that abstinence-only sex education is failing? Pull the plug, right?

Not so fast–a study that was just released showed that proper abstinence-only sex education can actually reduce the number of teens that are having sex at an earlier age. The study was conducted in urban schools with over 600 African-American students, and the results are pretty fascinating: fewer students having sex, with fewer sexual partners, and the kicker of it all is “[a]bstinence-only intervention did not affect condom use,” which means that those students who did engage in sex used protection.

What does this mean for abstinence-only sex education? It means that there is something rethinking that needs to be done. An editoral from yesterday’s New York Times shows that it is not because the program was abstinence-only, but rather how it was presented: under the Bush administration, this type of program would have had to emphasise that sex outside of marriage is wrong, and that waiting for marriage is the “expected norm,” whereas under the Obama administration, the emphasis is laid on maturity, and letting the kids know that if they are going to have sexual intercourse, they had better be thinking about every possible consequence, be using protection every time, and to be fully mature enough to handle any consequences.

While I’m not entirely keen on abstinence-only education, it is nice to see that the emphasis isn’t on the wrong thing. I still believe that education students on proper uses of birth control should be manditory, but if it is preceded by well-reasoned and scientific examples of why it is okay to wait, then by all means, teach it to the kids.

Sex is primarily about responsibility and maturity. If you aren’t responsible enough to engage in safer sex, then you are definitely not responsible enough to handle the consequences.

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.