"Ask an impertinent question, and you're on your way to a pertinent answer." —Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
As of October 2015, my goal for this blog is to ask 101 impertinent questions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The President and His Priorities

As President Obama beings his new term, he speaks of America's limitless possibilities. America’s possibilities would be limitless if all our children were getting the education they need and deserve. Since the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the arts and humanities have been eliminated from many schools—and with them, the spirit of creativity and humanity required to solve the nation’s problems and carry us into the future. Math and science alone are not the gateway to innovation. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” 

In his new Organizing for Action campaign, the President encourages us all to become involved locally and nationally in issues related to immigration, gun violence, and budget concerns—all vital concerns. However, this campaign offers no encouragement to take action to improve the American education system.

When will we address the fact that for decades schools have been sending an increasing number of young people into the world with little more than minimum-wage skills? And when will we ask ourselves why America’s leaders have degrees from the nation’s top universities, yet lack the character and skills required to solve the nation’s problems? In fact, it seems that our leaders not only fail to solve our problems, but often make them worse with their stalling and ideological bickering. What are we teaching our children?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls his plan for improving our schools Race to the Top. Race to the Top of what? As America was busy becoming the world's economic and military superpower, our education system deteriorated into a moral and intellectual disgrace. Restoring the arts and humanities to their rightful place alongside math and science in our schools would be a good thing. But nothing will change until the lessons of humanity become more important than the acquisition of money, position, and power. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Makeshift Memorials

Last night on the TV news, a story about Newtown, Connecticut showed a huge warehouse filled with toys, games, stuffed animals, and dolls sent to Newtown from all across America to honor the memory of children and teachers gunned down and held the troubled town. In the warehouse, Newtown residents are now sorting out the mounds of stuff and trying to figure out how to distribute or dispense with the items. I couldn't help wondering how much money had been spent on these toys. I estimated that there were probably at least three thousand items. At $10.000 each, the collection would total $30,000, not counting postage to send them from across the country. Even if I'm off by half, $15,000 is also lot of money. My thought was that this money could have bought a lot of books for children whose homes and schools were destroyed by hurricane Sandy. Also the toys could have brought joy to many poor children over the holiday. Or homeless shelters could have fed a lot of hungry people. Even if the games and plush toys are donated to good causes, the cost to Newtown of doing this will not be insignificant. I've noticed in previous tragedies that makeshift memorials are piled high with stuffed animals and other such things. Perhaps, we should rethink the idea of the makeshift memorials—maybe send or even create a card offering condolences to the bereaved and make a small donation of goods or money that will help alleviate the grief of the world in more practical ways.

Arms or Arts?

December 23, 2012

This morning, I heard more discussions on TV about putting armed guards in schools than I’ve ever heard about eliminating the arts and humanities from our classrooms. Since the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the arts and humanities have been budgeted away so that today in many schools, more than 30,000 years of what it means to be human have been reduced to an occasional elective.

Several days ago, a gun enthusiast on TV advocated arming teachers. A skeptic said that in recent public shootings, the shooter wore bullet proof gear, so did this mean that the teachers would have to do the same and if so, what about students? As a former English teacher, I thought it’s way easier to ban books than assault weapons. The American Library Association's list of 100 Banned and Challenged books for 2000-2009 includes The Color Purple; Brave New World; To Kill a Mocking Bird; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Bless Me, Ultima; Slaughterhouse-Five; Of Mice and Men; and The Catcher in the Rye. . . .