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I have my opinions, but I enjoy a good argument, both verbal and written; so I read material written by people I already know I’m going to disagree with on just about everything..  I just discovered a blog on scienceblogs.com called “Pharyngula“.  It’s certainly entertaining, but what struck me is how little reasoning there is on the site (or at least the posts I read, which was a fraction of all the content), but rather mostly name-calling.  

Take, for example: Texas has a problem.

According to the survey he cites, Texas is ranked last in high-school graduation rates.  I’m perfectly willing to accept that claim as fact.  The point of his post, though, was to go after the integrity of people who advocate creation instruction in science curriculum.  This isn’t unique, obviously, but it always strikes me as odd, really.  Why is it that creationists are necessarily “poison”, intent on “crippling” and “twisting” the minds of our (because I am Texan) children?  Oh, for the sake of the children!  Why can’t creationists just be advocating bad science?  Bad math is taught in schools across the country (don’t get me started on math education), but you don’t see hordes of seething mathematicians descending from Mount Olympus in a crusade to “fight” it with name-calling, do you?

I understand this medium lends itself to that kind of style, but it’s just a basic matter of humility and civility to not denigrate people simply because they disagree with you, regardless of the objective merit of their position.

The other “off” thing about this post was that it was about graduation rates, to begin with.  I just don’t see the link between graduation rates and having a creationist as the chair of the board of education (or curriculum at all).  To my mind, graduation rates are much more likely to have a strong correlation to demographic data,  like the percentage of all births to unmarried women (38.5% in 2006, according to this).

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Over at the Washington Times, there’s a story today about Mika Brzezinski being mugged in front of her D.C. hotel.  The narrative is about how her co-host took some time in the show to express his shock and dismay at the event; the mayor of Washington, D.C. was on the show.  

This post isn’t about that though.  Toward the bottom of the article, you see Hizzoner Adrian Fenty try to move on to what he really wanted to talk about: education reform.  The quoted remark from the article:

They should be paid more, but they should be held more accountable. That’s going to improve things in the inner city.

This isn’t an uncommon sentiment.  We hear the same kind of idea expressed in every school district.  It’s probably standard boilerplat for master planning documents for independent school districts.  Hold teachers accountable!  Yeah! 

The problem is that education isn’t a one-way proposition, like filling up your gas tank.  One can teach all he wants, but if the intended recipient isn’t there to learn, no amount of accountability is going to make a hill-of-beans difference.  We’re way too focused on teacher “performance”, anyway.  Teaching isn’t rocket science (unless, of course, you’re teaching rocket science), and one doesn’t have to be at the top of his field to be a competent teacher.  It’s true that some teachers are more gifted than others, but there is no lack of people who would be competent teachers.  The schools will argue that there is, but it’s an artifact of the aforementioned accountability – who wants to take his mathematics degree into the classroom when the reward will be half the salary he could draw in the employment of any number of profitable ventures and deal with the pressure of potential “accountability” as a result of students who won’t or can’t learn?  Of course, such a person would say “no thank you,” and go about his merry way making a killing designing search algorithms or doing technical financial analysis or what have you.

No, we have reached a time of reckoning (in so many ways) in which the truth will not be ignored.  Whatever failures of education we have are not failures of teachers, or more generally, schools.  Of course, there are many opportunities for reform in our educational structures, but we know to whom the ultimate responsibility for education falls.

Families.  More specifically, parents.  Even more specifically, fathers.  Why don’t we go about trying to match up accountability with responsibility?  If anyone should be penalized for the failures of education, it should be the parent.  What about the student, you ask?  Well, failed students will have a life-long reckoning to deal with.  But parents have a special responsibility to their children who can’t raise themselves to be mature, responsible, and wise.  You want to improve things in the inner city?  Do things that will encourage parents to be accountable for their children.

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