altIs College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

It is the best of times and the worst of times for education.  From preschool through higher education, there has been a steady decline in the quality of public education in at least the half-century I’ve been observing it.  If my father is to be believed—and he was always a very reliable source—it’s been declining for a lot longer than that.  He was frequently appalled at my generation’s ignorance of basic history, geography, and literature.  (He’d have said the same thing about basic arithmetic, but he was surrounded by engineers.)  It doesn’t take much observation to realize that today the average American’s grasp of those subjects makes me look brilliant.

At the same time—and my father would concur—in some fields, for some people, knowledge and ability has soared.  As a science fair judge, he was blown away by the scope and quality of the research done by high school students.  His own high school had offered no math beyond trigonometry, and it was rare among high schools to offer even that.  My high school offered only one Advanced Placement course—and that for seniors—whereas our children had at least a dozen to choose from, beginning as freshmen.  And yet only a few students were actually prepared to take advantage of the generous offerings:  back in fifth grade, I would have said the expectations of their teachers were well below those of my own, and far below those of my father’s.

Despite the best efforts of educators to mush us all into a sameness at any level—better all low than some higher than others—there has always been an upper class and a lower class when it comes to education, and there always will be.  What I’ve been noticing is that the highs are getting higher, the lows are getting lower, and the middle class is rapidly descending—much as is happening with economic measures.

I’m hoping the economic situation does not lead to revolution, but there’s a crisis and a revolution coming in education and I say, bring it on! (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Edit
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Most of those who know me also know that I don’t like the government being involved in our health care, for too many reasons than I can go into now.  More than once I’ve asked, “Do you really want to trust your health to the same folks who are mangling public education?” 

Important note:  I support the public school system, much as I find fault with it.  There are many teachers among our family and friends.  Our own children attended the local schools for a number of years.  We pay school taxes, and have voted in favor of most requested tax increases, including last year’s. Everyone in the family has put countless hours into (public) school volunteer work.

Another important note:  I agree that our health care system is in a big mess, and big messes invite government interference whether we like it or not.  Personal experience of family and friends has shown me that public health care can work very well (France, Switzerland) and very badly (UK, Canada).  (I know there are readers of this blog who are happy with Canada’s health care, but I’m going by the experiences of those I know personally, which, alas, are negative.)  I don’t like the way in which our government is approaching health care reform, but that’s not the point here.

The point is consistency.

In the battle over health care, the faction I will loosely designate as “pro-government-social-program” (PSGP) wins for consistency:  The same people who are pushing national health insurance are ardent advocates of public education.  Viewing education as a fundamental, essential right of every child, they make it not only available but compulsory, and not only for the poor but for everyone, and expect everyone to participate.  They frequently oppose anything (private schools, home education, vouchers) that would allow students to opt out of monopoly government schooling.

Having concluded that the cost of a (possibly large) uneducated segment of the population is greater than the cost of providing “free” education to all, they are consistent in applying the same logic to health care.

I, on the other hand, am not consistent, and neither, it seems, are many with better conservative credentials than mine.  How can I support public education for all and not health care?  Why is it considered acceptable, even admirable, for everyone—including the rich—to take government assistance in the form of public education, but lower-class, even shameful to be on Medicaid, accept Food Stamps, or live in public housing?  What makes education so much more important than health care, food, or housing?

And maybe the PGSP’s are not as consistent as I thought, because I don’t see them pushing for compulsory soup-kitchen and housing project attendance.

Although … when our kids were in school, the school breakfast/lunch program, which served a useful purpose for poor children who otherwise would not eat, was pushed on everyone.  It wasn’t exactly mandatory, but the schools used plenty of promotions and advertisers’ tricks to get children to pressure their parents to send money for their lunches rather than pack them better food from home.  In the case of breakfast, they actually kept the other students trapped on the school bus until the breakfast-eaters were finished.  So who knows what's next in the minds of the PSGP's?

I don’t know where we’re going and what we’re in for with all this, and I don’t know how I’m going to rethink my attitude in regard to public education and/or health care.  But it certainly was a revelation to discover my own inconsistency.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:48 am | Edit
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I've been waiting for The Good Shepherds to become available online ever since I read the print version in Christianity Today magazine.  This positive, upbeat story resonates with me in so many ways, it well deserves a post.

[Insert the usual disclaimer here:  This way of life is not for everyone; it not my intention to offend, nor to imply disrespect for other people's life situations, much less push anyone into a lifestyle that is far from mainstream—albeit that it would have been considered normal by most of our ancestors.  But I can't help considering this a very cool life choice indeed.] (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 3:32 pm | Edit
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It's been a while since I've posted anything in the RETHINK category, but I was inspired by this article on the differences in chilbirth between the United Kingdom and the United States. As much as I have come to appreciate midwives and the option of home birth, the point of this post is not to tout the British socialized health care system, which I know has significant problems. Nor do I wish to make the all-too-common mistake of assuming that an idea is better just because it's not American—or because it is European—an error which is just as dangerous as its opposite.

What strikes me as so vitally important, especially for Americans who, thanks to the size and historical self-sufficiency of our country, tend to have less contact with other cultures than most educated people, is the great benefit of listening to and exploring other people's views on topics that are so well-ingrained in our own lives we never question them. Ideas that are so much a part of us we imagine anyone who would think otherwise as uncultured, uncivilized, and ignorant: "They do such-and-such because they don't know any better. When they see our way they will know it is best." Most of us wouldn't actually say that, but it's a strong gut reaction. It's a good thing, then for all of us to encounter people who have equally deep-seated feelings that their ways, very different from ours, are superior. Whether we come away from the comparison with our minds changed, or more convinced than ever that we are right, we benefit from the encounter.

Not many people can learn this lesson by living in another culture, as Janet has. But the Internet can be a great eye-opener, and most of us probably have neighbors, co-workers, and church or school friends who would be happy to share a different cultural view.  Not to mention that getting married, even to someone from one's own culture, can be a surprising introduction to the thought that ideas, habits, and customs we take for granted are not necessarily universal. :)

Far be it from me to champion the inane and dangerous idea that all cultures and customs are equally valuable.  But I think most of us are much more likely to make the opposite error.  I preach to myself most of all.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 7:54 am | Edit
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What would you think if you bought a top-of-the-line piece of equipment, and 19 months later—seven months out of warranty—it completely stopped working?  I wouldn't be happy even if it were a $25 item.

What if it cost over $1000—would you be a bit annoyed?  What if it was a piece of equipment necessary for much of the work you do?

But hey, sometimes things happen.  That's what repair shops are for.

But what if the manufacturer refuses to sell you the part you need to make the repair? (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 2, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Edit
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Central Florida is the most dangerous place in the country, at least if it's lightning strikes that worry you.  The tragedy of a girl who was struck by lightning just after descending from her school bus is still fresh in our memories, so it's no wonder the Orange County school board policy errs on the side of caution:  No student is allowed outside until 30 minutes after the last lighning flash, if thunder follows the lightning within 30 seconds.

They are wisely reconsidering the policy, however, after a recent debacle.  A long-lasting storm coupled with rigid enforcement of the rules kept some 2000 students trapped at two schools until nearly 9 p.m.  Snacks were trucked in (the district apparently caring less about the safety of their employees), and no doubt many of the students thought the excitement high adventure—at least for the first hour.  But most of the children—not to mention the teachers—must have been anxious to get home to their families, with not a few kindergarteners crying for their mommies. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 8:23 am | Edit
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That's the subtitle of a Wired article by Edward Tufte.  My brother sent me the link.  I prefer to believe he didn't know I was in the middle of working on a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from our recent trip to Europe.

Tufte is not speaking primarily about education, but he makes this perceptive observation: 

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

PowerPoint isn't really the villain here, however. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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The May 21, 2007 issue of Computerworld has an interview with Amory B. Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.  Talk about RETHINKING—who would have thought industry had a good use for slush?  (

You advocate using, of all things, slush to cool data centers. Can you explain that? We recently did a design for a high-tech facility in a temperate climate that was originally going to have over 20,000 tons of chillers, and by the time we got through, the number was zero.

We found we could meet about 70% of the load with the coolness or dryness of the outside air using either air-side or water-side economizers, depending on the time of year. The rest [came from] a mountain of slush sprayed out of snow-making machines into a hole in the ground on a few cold nights and used to provide 32-degree Fahrenheit meltwater all year.

Twenty thousand tons of chillers originally planned; zero used.  They use snow-making machines to generate the slush; perhaps the next step should be finding a way to use the mountains of snow urban areas are always struggling to dispose of in the winter.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 4:53 pm | Edit
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Joshua T. White, of the Institute for Global Engagment, spent a year in Peshawar, Pakistan, as the guest of the provincial chief minister, a radical Islamist leader. His insights, which he shares in this Christianity Today article, are well worth reading.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 30, 2007 at 2:54 pm | Edit
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Why the Rest Hates the West:  Understanding the Roots of Global Rage, by Meic Pearse (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2004)

This is not a book review; not yet.  I long to write about Meic Pearse's book, but it deserves a detailed and extensive review which I cannot at the moment accomplish.  Rather than wait entirely until I can put in the requisite time and effort, however, I'm posting this placeholder, because this is an incredibly valuable book!  Its somewhat unfortunate title calls to mind the hand-wringing post-9/11 whine, "Why do they hate us?" but Why the Rest Hates the West is a serious, insightful analysis of the chasm between modern Western culture—more precisely, "anti-culture"—and the rest of the world that no one with more than a few years left on this earth can afford to ignore.

Find the book!  Read it!  Then come back here and tell me what you think.

And I'll put Li'l Writer Guy to work on the review.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm | Edit
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Imagine this scenario: After two devastating miscarriages you get pregnant, and you, your husband, and your children begin to dare to hope again. Then at five and a half weeks you have stomach pains and go to the doctor just to be sure. They do an ultrasound and tell you: No heartbeat, baby is dead, check into the hospital for a D&C to get all cleaned out. Numbly, you comply, and go home to grieve with your family.

Three weeks later you return to the doctor because you still feel pregnant. Another ultrasound: Oops, guess we made a mistake, baby is fine and growing well. Sorry about that. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 10, 2006 at 8:40 am | Edit
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Serendipity. Searching for one thing and finding another. And another. The Internet is a beachcomber's delight. While researching my Johari Window post, I found information on Duen Hsi Yen's commentary, which led me to his article on education, which in turn took me to another of his sites, which was chosen in May of 1999 as the Natural Child Project's Parenting Site of the Month. Investigating the Natural Child Project site led in turn to this month's honored parenting resource, Parents for Barefoot Children.

(This is beginning to sound like something from A Fly Went By: "The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog. The dog ran away in fear of the pig, who ran from the cow, she was so big!") (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 7, 2006 at 2:45 pm | Edit
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The good news is that Starchild Abraham Cherrix and his family finally found a judge brave enough to lift the lower court order that would have forced him to undergo chemotherapy for his cancer. The bad news is that it's a temporary reprieve; he'll have to fight the battle again in court next month.

Abraham is not the only teen who has had to spend precious energy, resouces, and especially time fighting for the right to choose or refuse medical treatment. (See also Who Will Make Medical Decisions for You and Your Family?) That he has the full support of his family in his decision matters not to the social workers; they saw that as a reason to attempt to take custody of Abraham themselves. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 at 1:54 pm | Edit
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Home Education Magazine has a great article by Deborah Markus called Being a Cheerful Rebel. Sometimes being a nonconformist feels great, and sometimes it just feels lonely. Sometimes you love explaining your lifestyle choices to others, and sometimes you wish they'd just mind their own business. But ready or not, the questions will come, and Markus has some good suggestions for preparing to meet them. My favorite is

Don't Apologize: Stand strong. If you don't seem firmly convinced of the rightness of your course of action, why should anyone else? Especially someone who's never heard anything but conventional wisdom on the subject, all of which disagrees with you?

St. Peter knew something of the pressures of being outside the mainstream, and he had good advice, too:

Always be preparied to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 10:14 am | Edit
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We always expected our children to surpass their parents; after all, they have the advantage of standing on our shoulders, and of learning from our experience. And there's no question that they have, particularly in the academic and spiritual domains.

So I should not have been so surprised to find both of them carrying our family unconventionality further than we ever imagined. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 24, 2006 at 10:23 am | Edit
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