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Al’s Campaign Notebook: “It’s Politics!” on WKWH, 8-16-2004

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Rush County Republican chair John McCane and former Democrat chair Dick Malcom host “It’s Politics!” Monday nights on WKWH radio out of Rushville, Indiana. They graciously invited me on the show on August 16.

John McCane is quite the man about town. He’s one of those fellows who seems to know everyone. He’s assertive, but very friendly about it.

Unlike some of the national Democrats, particularly their spiritual leader Michael Moore, this local Democrat was reasonable and balanced as a human being. He exhibited no signs of foaming at the mouth in rabid hatred of the president. In short, he seemed like the nice, friendly Hoosier he no doubt is.

Mr. Malcom also had the most interesting piece of counterargument in the program, defending unconstitutional federal governmental involvement in education. Dick Malcom argued that the federal government was justified in getting involved with education because of Jim Crow. Southerners simply were not going to educate black folk, so Uncle Sam HAD to step in. That apparently justifies the continuing existence of the Department of Education, even with no constitutional authority.

I’m still not buying it, but that was a little bit different argument than what I’d heard before, at least.

Anyhow, you can hear the whole extravaganza.
CLICK HERE for the 16MB 30 minutes, including hosts introductory remarks
CLICK HERE for the 11MB 21 minutes, just Al’s part

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  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    geezuz! you sound just like matthew mcconaughey in the Dazed & Confused.

    whatever that means.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    As my children get closer to school age and I see what public schools have become — standardized test preparation factories that stifle critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving — I’m starting to become more libertarian about just who should be running public schools. Even before the dreaded No Child Left Behind act mandated standardized testing, most states had already implemented it. The feds are just making the states report those scores and are punishing schools whose scores don’t improve every year, but the damage to education was already put in place by the states. The result is that every school in a given state teaches the same content the same way so that students will, theoretically, perform well on a multiple choice test.

    That said, I do think the Jim Crow explanation not only makes sense but still has relevance today. Even in the supposed “good” school districts, a double standard still exists. Even in those schools, minorities get lower test scores and lower grades than white students; they are tracked from an early age in the general ed or “technical school” tracks at a higher rate than white students; and a smaller percentage of minorities than whites go on to college and get a degree.

    We’re basically still offering two levels of education in this country, one for whites and one for minorities, even in well-to-do communities. If you leave it up to the local communities to fix that problem, they won’t bother to do it.

    The problem is that the states and federal government haven’t been able to fix it yet, either. But at least they’re trying.

  • http://calblog.com Justene

    It depends on which minorities, because in our school district there are many asian students who do not fal behind.

    Here’s my take, based a little on watching my kids and their friends, and a lot on talking to teachers who teach in the inner city. Parents have more of an influence than the schools. A lot of the learning takes place in the homework. I don’t know why. Even in our good school ditrict, parents seem to be teaching the material more often. Or hiring tutors to do it.

    Outlaw homework, don’t let parents hire tutors, and you’ll see a lot of suburban schools dropping to the level of poor inner city schools. I’m not saying that’s a good idea but I think the current system hasn’t come close to addressing the problem.

    Who has the best plan so far? Arnold and a few other moderate Republicans who pushed for funding in this state for afterschool programs, where kids are off the street and near homework help and free tutoring.

    I’m not sure wha the next step after that is.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    It depends on which minorities, because in our school district there are many asian students who do not fal behind.

    Point well taken. I made a few sweeping generalizations, but the gist is basically correct: we still aren’t educating everyone equally. And your point about the home life of the children is a good point too, as is a discussion of the differences between schools/education in poor communities vs. middle class or wealthy communities.

    But I actually abhor homework for elementary age students. I think that schools should be able to teach children enough in the 7 hours/day they have them. If you want to turn kids off to homework, start giving it to them in kindergarten, like my school district does. Yes, let’s make school a chore for the 5-year-olds, shall we?

    After school is MY time with my kid. Keep out!

    But if homework is a reality, I think the after school programs are a decent idea from the standpoint that poor children often won’t get the same kind of support at home that wealthier children get.

    However, I think the real solution is to fund schools to create a smaller student-to-teacher ratio. The more troubled the home life of the student population, the more teachers you need. Imagine if you could have a maximum 10:1 ratio in every classroom. The kids would have all the help they needed, and homework would be just a memory.

  • http://calblog.com Justene

    I also abhor homework. I agree they ought to be able to teach them in those school hours. For some reason that isn’t what happens.

    In CA, grades 1-3 are generally 20-1 (it’s not required but there’s a lot of extra money to the school if they do). There are some problems in that. In our district, for example, we could staff all grades at 25-1 for the same price but we’d lose the extra money. So we’re stuck with large classes in areas we don’t want them, like algebra. And having a grade that divvies out to even classes of 21 really wreaks havoc. But I digress.

    What we’ve done is have half the kids arrive an hour early and half stay an hour late. For an hour each day, they are 10-1. That time is spent on reading. It’s unclear why more districts don’t do that but my understanding is that there are budget/funding implications.

  • Al Barger

    Now, federal involvement in education is basically entirely unconstitutional for starters. That tends to make me skeptical.

    Besides these significant issues of jurisdiction though, leaving educational policy down to states, or to local schools would be likely to practically work much better. The one-size-fits-all approach that federalizing education will inevitably encourage doesn’t work well with something as intimate and personal as education.

    Local schoolboards and different states trying different things can do more good in distilling what works and doesn’t.

    Plus, the more localized approaches will tend to be more adaptive to the local community.

    Also, the more varied and localized approaches make it easier for more people to have choices.

    Generally, having just ONE consumer “choice” does not get the best results. Multiple choices help. The more centralized the control, the less choice and flexibility it’s likely to have.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    The one-size-fits-all approach that federalizing education will inevitably encourage doesn’t work well with something as intimate and personal as education.

    Shit, my Bargerometer must be out of whack. It’s scaring me, because you’re actually saying something that makes sense.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    What we’ve done is have half the kids arrive an hour early and half stay an hour late. For an hour each day, they are 10-1. That time is spent on reading. It’s unclear why more districts don’t do that but my understanding is that there are budget/funding implications.

    I’d say it’s probably money in some cases, and in others it can’t be put in place because of the teachers’ contracts. Their hours and duties are pretty specifically stated in those contracts, and they don’t usually violate them, even if it makes sense educationally. I’d say the unions are more to blame for that problem than the teachers themselves, though.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Starting to make sense, am I?

    That’s right baby, come on over to the “dark side.”

    Welcome to my nightmare
    I think you’re going to like it
    I think you’re going to feel you belong

  • JR

    bhw: As my children get closer to school age and I see what public schools have become — standardized test preparation factories that stifle critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving…

    Are you saying that standardized test preparation stifles critical thinking, creativity and problem solving?

    I’m not sure I believe that. And since the shools are never going to find enough teachers capable of thinking critically themselves, they can at least try to churn out kids with a basic collection of dumb facts. Then if the kids somehow pick up the ability to think somewhere along the line, they’ll have some actual data to work with.

  • RedTard

    These standardized tests offered for graduation are exceptionally easy to pass and only measure very basic skills. In theory I believe they are a good way to prevent kids from graduating illiterate and unprepared. In practice, they are a failure.

    If you are a teacher and have had the seminar or are familiar with the program “No child left behind” you probably realize it could more aptly be named “No child gets ahead”. The theory is that teachers should spend ALL of their time working with the slowest kids (borderline mentally handicapped) to ensure they pass the exam. This is a great disservice to the other 90% of the class. Sure, no child get’s behind but no child gets ahead either. You may have a slightly larger percentage of kids who can pass the minimum exam but far fewer kids who truly excel.

  • RedTard

    Also, the pitiful “teachers” who allow illiterates to graduate are probably the same ones helping their students cheat on the standardized exams which defeats the whole purpose.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    The problem with standardized testing [okay, make that *one* of the problems] is that it doesn’t address the problem in schools. The higher up you go in school administration and the farther away from the classroom you get, the more you hear about standardized test scores. The problem is that what teachers are forced to do in the classroom — aka, prepare students for multiple choice tests — IS NOT WORKING in many schools. So what’s the solution? Spend more time doing the same thing. Yes, that’s it: those kids and teachers just aren’t working hard enough! Let’s just do MORE of the thing that doesn’t work. That’s always an excellent solution.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Are you saying that standardized test preparation stifles critical thinking, creativity and problem solving?

    Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I should add the explanation to why I’m saying that: because they spend 12 years preparing to answer someone else’s questions instead of their own.

  • http://calblog.com Justene

    I hesitate to add this for fear of taking the thread on a tangent but I think it’s important. I was griping to someone with a lot of expertise in this area and no financial stake in the schools about the lack of creative thinking and my irritation that schools were producing better drones. He said that most studies (yeah, red flag, but let me finish) show that the ability to make good independent decisions simply doesn’t arise until early adulthood. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it’s a reasonable explanation for some of the current approach to education.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    He said that most studies (yeah, red flag, but let me finish) show that the ability to make good independent decisions simply doesn’t arise until early adulthood.

    Major red flag. In my humble opinion, children don’t make good decisions because we don’t allow them to. We try to dictate everything, including which books they read in which grade. How can we expect them to make good decisions when they never get to do it and practice?

  • JR

    Kids don’t spend anywhere near twelve years in school. They’re there for six hours a day, five days per week, maybe 30 weeks per year. That means they spend about 10% of twelve years preparing to answer someone else’s questions. If that workload is so overwhelming as to stifle their creativity, maybe they don’t have the mental capacity to be anything more than drones.

    Teaching kids to think would be great, but can the schools do that? And do we have a way of measuring their success? And would we know how to make them successful if they’re not already? Do we even have the staff to do it? We should definitely address those questions.

    In the meantime, we can at least tell if the schools are filling the kids with boring facts. ‘Cause if the schools aren’t doing that, who is? Critical thinking isn’t much good without any data with which to work.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    can schools teach kids to think?

    we’ve been over this discussion in other posts so forgive me if i’m repeating myself…but i think infusing schools with much more reading and writing would certainly help.

    for various reasons, kids are reading less and less today. this can’t help.

    how do we deal with it? ah, now that’s the question.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Standardized tests are about the best you’re going to be able to do for accountability with school systems being run from the state capitol, much less from DC. There’s just no way that some bureaucrat in Indianapolis can know what’s going on in Mrs. Jenkins second grade class in Kokomo.

    Parents, on the other hand, will have much better knowledge of what their children are and aren’t learning. Plus, they’re more inclined to be concerned and motivated to care – if they have any choices.

    Of course, the current government education cartel is set up precisely to the point of limiting choices as much as possible. Federalizing it as much as possible only further calcifies the situation.

    The goal is basically to require all children to come to their specified public school and take what they’re given, and LIKE it. They lose some to private schools and to home schooling, about which the NEA cartel complain bitterly, but so far they’ve been fairly successful in keeping the chains on.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    The goal is basically to require all children to come to their specified public school and take what they’re given, and LIKE it.

    Nobody even cares if they like it or not. They must simply ENDURE it. If kids DID like it, they would learn more about things they were interested in [actually, the reverse is closer to the truth].

    Kids don’t spend anywhere near twelve years in school.

    Nice math! But you know, when my father-in-law retired after 30 years with the same company, nobody sat down and calculated the number of hours/days/weeks he spent at the office and told him he hadn’t really worked for 30 years.

    That means they spend about 10% of twelve years preparing to answer someone else’s questions.

    Are children permitted to sleep in your mathematical equation? How about have dinner with the family? Play in the yard after school?

    If that workload is so overwhelming as to stifle their creativity, maybe they don’t have the mental capacity to be anything more than drones.

    It’s not the workload, it’s the mileage, to paraphrase Indiana Jones. It’s not the hours in school, it’s the type of “education” that’s being offered. Facts, figures, and little circles to fill in. If you prepare them to be mindless drones, that’s what you’ll get.

    On the other hand, if you prepare them to think critically, follow their curiosity, and accept responsibility for their own learning, you’ll get adults who can do those things instead of ones who care only about what “the right answer” is or “what the teacher wants me to do.”

    Teaching kids to think would be great, but can the schools do that? And do we have a way of measuring their success?

    Yes and yes. But you have to change what schools are doing and how they’re measuring that success. Standardized tests measure one thing. Actually looking at the work students produce in class measures another thing entirely. The problem is that everyone wants so-called accountability, and the easiest way to get that on paper is standardized testing. And in the process, real learning and the innate love of it is lost.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Critical thinking isn’t much good without any data with which to work.

    Actually, it’s the other way around. Data can be easily researched while critical thinking skills cannot. Data is useless without thinking skills to analyze it, evaluate it, and put it into context.

  • JR

    Are children permitted to sleep in your mathematical equation? How about have dinner with the family? Play in the yard after school?

    Well they have a hell of a lot more time for that stuff than I do.

    It’s not the hours in school, it’s the type of “education” that’s being offered. Facts, figures, and little circles to fill in. If you prepare them to be mindless drones, that’s what you’ll get.

    So if you make your kids wash the dishes after every meal, they’ll never become more than dishwashers? I think there’s a flaw in your logic here. Training someone to do one thing doesn’t mean they can’t do anything else.

    Didn’t we all take a battery of standardized tests to get to college? By your reasoning, college students ought to be the most zombified drones in the country. And funny, I’ve never noticed much curiosity, critical thinking skills and love of learning in grade-school drop-outs.

    While data can be researched, various facts can’t be used to sythesize new ideas until they’re all sitting there in the same brain. Knowledge and curiousity feed each other – the more you know, the more you want to know. If you have no facts to start with, what questions can you possibly ask?

    Again, if schools can teach kids to “think”, then great. But I still want know that they’re cramming some facts into brains. I’m tired of man-in-the-street interviews of people who can’t name what country the Vietnam War took place in. Really, if somebody doesn’t know Thomas Jefferson from Jefferson Davis, who gives a shit what they “think”?

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    So if you make your kids wash the dishes after every meal, they’ll never become more than dishwashers? I think there’s a flaw in your logic here. Training someone to do one thing doesn’t mean they can’t do anything else.

    No, but if you mandate that they only wash dishes all day long and that they only wash them in a certain way, punishing them if they dare to try another way, you’re going to get drones.

    Didn’t we all take a battery of standardized tests to get to college?

    I didn’t. I took the PSAT and SAT, but I didn’t spend my classroom time merely preparing for the tests. Sure, I had my share of crappy teachers, but for the most part, I had a balanced education.

    The difference now is that students are being taught the test, literally. Often, anything that won’t be covered on the standardized test is not covered in school. So some person or group of people in a company that designs standardized tests is determining what all kids in a given state will learn and WON’T learn.

    In addition, some schools are now mandating that all students, no matter how well they perform on, say, the 8th grade test, take a year-long test-prep course instead of an elective, such as a foreign language, in high school. Way to motivate those kids!

    By your reasoning, college students ought to be the most zombified drones in the country.

    I’ve taught college courses and will be again this fall. Some college students ARE the most zombified drones in the country.

    And funny, I’ve never noticed much curiosity, critical thinking skills and love of learning in grade-school drop-outs.

    Of course, you assume that they entered school with no love of learning and just stayed that way until they left. I’d assert that just about all kids enter school with an innate love of learning — I sure don’t need to teach my young kids to ask “why” questions, they do that on their own — that the public school system beats out of them in short order. I don’t know too many grade-school drop-outs, but some high school drop-outs leave school for precisely that reason. They’re bored, so they leave school and continue their education at home or get a GED and go to college. Some that drop out altogether are living examples of how school turns kids against learning, while others just wouldn’t be interested no matter what the school environment was like.

    Knowledge and curiousity feed each other – the more you know, the more you want to know.

    It’s a chicken and egg thing. You can’t say that curiosity starts with knowledge or vice versa.

    If you have no facts to start with, what questions can you possibly ask?

    Questions about what you observe around you, which may or may not have anything to do with a particular fact that you read in a book or that a teacher recited to you. That’s how kids learn naturally. Questions like, “How did the baby get in your stomach?” or “Where does rain come from?” Kids are programmed to try to understand the world around them. They don’t necessarily need an adult to tell them what they need to know; they are curious and will ask lots of great questions if they’re permitted to.

    Again, if schools can teach kids to “think”, then great. But I still want know that they’re cramming some facts into brains.

    Facts that are crammed into brains are often quickly forgotten. Ever “crammed” for a test? How much did you remember the a few months later? Facts that are learned in the process of inquiry are remembered much better.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I forgot to respond to this one:

    Well they have a hell of a lot more time for that stuff than I do.

    They’re supposed to.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Here’s an interesting question that someone posed on a mailing list I subscribe to. Libertarians will probably like it because it asks the bigger question of what gives the government the right to compel children to attend school:

    What gave the state the right to *make us* go to school in the first place?

    I know the government would have a hard time convincing anybody it could
    institutionalize grown men and women for 6 hours a day, 180 days a year,
    for ten or more years, without a trial.

    No due process for the kids?