Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some readings on the immigration issue, or get educated before you talk

Thomson Gale's Spanish Community News for June 2005 has a set of small informative articles on the issue of illegal immigration, which seems to be constantly on the spotlight as of late with groups like the Minutemen. Patty Sandoval Sralla has provided a three part series that provides a summary of anti-immigration efforts, gives a brief history of the issue, and then proceeds to dispel common myths about illegal immigration. The second article makes an interesting and reasonable argument as to why the situation is not bound to change anytime soon, and that is economics. The people in this country are hooked on cheap labor, primarily on the cheapness that labor provides in terms of services and products. Let's be honest, I would love to see someone out there say they would be willing to pay double or more the price on their strawberries or other produce if those picking the fruit were paid a decent living wage. People in this country can complain about illegal immigration all they want, but as long as they want a cheap nanny or cheap fruit, the powers that be will holler about the problem while winking at it to maintain the labor flow. The author writes:

"And it’s not only corporations. It’s the individual consumer.

'This country has become hooked on cheap labor,' Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said when Fox News Channel talk-show host Bill O'Reilly recently asked why Congress doesn't order the president to secure our borders. 'A lot of pressure is put on individual congress people to not do anything about the borders for fear of impeding the flow of cheap labor.'

Employers — from factory owners to large-scale vegetable farmers to families seeking a nanny or a gardener — want the cheapest labor they can get. 'The problem is that Americans are not hooked on cheap labor as much as they are devoted to cheap prices. Illegal immigration is attractive because cheaper labor leads to cheaper prices for goods or services,' wrote Boston Globe columnist Clarence Page."

The author of the article points to both employers as well as consumers as part of the problem: employers want the cheapest labor possible (and who can blame them?), and consumers want cheap goods (again, who can blame them?). It seems like a blend of human nature at its worst with a willingness to ignore exploitation for convenience. One the one hand you have corporations that lay off American workers to go to the Third World for cheap labor, to avoid paying living wages. Then you have them here hiring immigrants for the same reason. On the other hand, you have consumers who don't want to pay more for certain products and services. It is a vicious cycle, and one that is likely hard to break. Given that I make a humble living myself, I would likely go for the lower prices when I can; it's practicality. In my case, yea, I may be willing to pay a bit more for a good product made in this country by workers earning a good living, but I get the feeling I am in the minority when it comes to that. Convenience seems so much easier. And scapegoating seems easier as well, which at the end of the day, is what all the anti-immigrant rhetoric does: it is scapegoating to avoid confronting the serious issues.

The article on dispeling myths is a good summary of arguments to use the next time someone says that "those illegals or are taking our jobs." The case is actually quite the contrary, but I invite readers to hop over, read the items and then decide.

On an example of someone who may not be as educated, a politician of Hispanic roots out in Idaho has been labeled as a traitor for his harsh antiimmigrant positions, even though his grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico. La Voz de Houston, a weekly Spanish supplement to the Houston Chronicle featured a report during the week of June 29th on Robert Vasquez. As a note, the webpage to La Voz does not seem to be working very well, so I will provide a little summary of the article. According to the article, Mr. Vasquez is a local commissioner now running a Congressional seat. The article explains that he has lbeen labeled a traitor to his roots given his attacks on immigrants. He claims (and I am translating from the article) that "his people are those of the United States ["estadounidenses," i.e. Americans]. I have in my office the American flag, not the one with a chicken and a worm or whatever" referring to the Mexican flag. (I think I can see why many people of Mexican descent would be most unhappy with this man. Yes, those are the actual words. The quote in Spanish, in case anyone wants to verify it is: "He tenido colgada en mi oficina la bandera estadounidense, no la del pollo y el gusano o lo que sea.")

The article goes on to point out that Vasquez has stated he has little financial support from the Republican Party, and he has accused the Idaho delegation in Congress, all Republicans, of collaborating with the silent invasion of Mexicans into the United States. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in Idaho, according to the Census Bureau. In Canyon County, where Vasquez resides, the Hispanic population has risen by 19 percent. Canyon County is a beet sugar area, and many of the Hispanics in the area are Mexicans that come to pick the crops. Vasquez has attempted, among his measures as commissioner, to bill the Mexican government for prison and medical costs incurred due to immigrants. This effort failed. Recently, he has hired a lawyer to look into using RICO laws to go after local business owners that hire illegal workers. Members of a local PAC are infuriated by his tactics.

In my humble opinion, it sounds like Mr. Vasquez needs to have some myths dispelled in terms of immigrants. However, what really bothers me is the cavalier and rude way in which he dismisses his heritage and insults the flag of his ancestors. While it is fine to embrace the American way of life as one's own if one is born and raised here, it looks bad when you disrespect your heritage and that of your grandparents. My mother used to remind me that whereever I went I had to remember where I came from. She also told me that he who sells his country (fatherland, "patria" is the Spanish word), sells his mother. It is kind of sad he feels a need to turn against his people to further his political career.

Readers wanting more information on Vasquez can find his campaign page here. World News Tonight with Peter Jennings had a report on June 21st that featured a bit about Mr. Vazquez here (I got the link from a Google search; it is a Lexis-Nexis transcript, hope it will work, but the usual caveat of expiring links and such applies). In addition, a search on Lexis-Nexis under Idaho news sources provides a few good results. I recommend typing just his last name (for some reason it would not work with the full name). Here is another plug for readers to visit the local library and have a librarian look these articles up for them out of the database.

There is also an article out of Smithsonian I wanted to highlight for this post, but this post is getting lengthy, so I will do that on a later post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

An update to a note on Educational Admin as Weakest Program Colleges Offer.

I had this post as a draft a week ago. My guess is that, at the time, I was deciding what else to add. It has been sitting for a while, so here goes:

Last month, I pointed to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about Educational Administration being the weakest program colleges offer. Education Week for 5/25/05 provides a small note on two studies reporting that readings and content of courses in these programs leave their students ill-prepared to handle school reform efforts. The article, "Leadership Training Seen to Fall Short," includes a link to the reports, found at Harvard's Program of Education Policy and Governance. Look under recent books and research. You can then find the reports as PDF files.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Barack Obama's Remarks at Knox College Commencement

Go read the commencement speech delivered by Illinois senator Barack Obama to the 2005 Class of Knox College. His theme that the history of America is one where people rose and came together to sort problems is probably the best answer to the current situation in the nation. Various bloggers have pointed the speech out and commented on it. Carpetbagger observed that "one of the more important themes was a wholesale condemnation of what Bush and the GOP call the "'Ownership Society.'" The speech is a call to arms, a call to others to once again care for the rest of the community as the history of the country shows people have done before. While I think the whole speech should be read in its entirety, here is a little passage I found particularly moving and relevant:

"But I hope you don’t walk away from the challenge. Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own. Not because you have a debt to those who helped you get here, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate than you, although I do think you do have that obligation. It’s primarily because you have an obligation to yourself. Because individual salvation has always depended on collective salvation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential."

Our potential and its realization lies in dreaming; it lies in believing that when one benefits, we all benefit. It lies in not taking the easy road abandoning everyone else in the process. I don't think there is much more I can say that the speaker has not said so well already. We are challenged, now it is our choice to face it. And like the slogan of old, something about together we live, divided we die.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Coming Economic Crisis, seen from the future

The Atlantic Monthly usually features some kind of speculative article based on current events. These exercises in creative extensions are often interesting and insightful. Reading the footnotes, which document the basis for some of the predictions, is often as interesting as reading the article itself. When I read them, I usually experience a bit of a chill as I wonder if the future the particular article predicts can be changed. This article in the July/August 2005 issue is no exception (I would link, but the online version is only available to subscribers.). James Fallows writes about the United States' economic coming economic crisis in his article "Countdown to Meltdown." Written as a memo to a presidential candidate in the year 2016, the article details how the American economy systematically fall apart as foreign interests take over much of American industries while the country falls apart socially as well as economically. What makes this vision so chilling is the fact that the "memo writer" explains how this vision came about, and it came about due to the country ignoring the many warning signs along the way. For a good speculative scenario to work, it has to seem plausible. The scenario of a United States wracked by economic chaos, without its economic prosperity, where the good jobs have gone overseas, and where even the myth of equal opportunity is gone, seems very plausible. The candidate reading the memo simply has to look at the footnotes to see how the scenario came about. Readers can see much of what is footnoted happening now or having happened already. The question now becomes: can we make the necessary changes now to avoid the bleak vision? Overall, the article is a very interesting piece of writing, but it is also a very sobering one.

File under "teaching to the test," companies roll out new tests

Under the "teaching to the test department," the Education Week for 5/25/05 also reports that various testing companies are creating new tests to provide schools with tests that are linked to state standards in order to inform their classroom practice. If this does not sound like more teaching to the test, I am not sure what is. The article, "Publishers Roll Out Classroom Tests," is a brief report. Here is the abstract from Academic Search Premier, which I think gives a good sense of what this signifies:

"This article informs that publishers continue to respond to demands for tests that are linked to state standards but can better inform classroom teaching. The San Antonio-based Harcourt Assessment Inc. introduced Stanford Learning First, a flexible, Web-based classroom assessment system for grades 3-8. Focused on reading and mathematics, the two subjects in which schools must make yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the system has two components, periodic assessments called ClassLinks that are guided by each state's academic-content standards, and annual tests called ClassViews that are guided by the blueprints for state accountability tests. Harcourt will offer six to eight ClassLinks tests per grade and content area, designed to give teachers immediate feedback about where students are struggling."

On Teacher Education: Interesting, but nothing new here

Education Week for the week of 5/25/05 reports on the release of the National Academy of Education's report. Readers with access to Academic Search Premier can likely find the article ful-text, or they can check at their library for a print copy. The site of the Academy leads to a link for a chapter from the report; it may give readers a sense of the rest of the report. Readers can then decide if they wish to order the book. The article urges that there be more testing of teachers, and it says that "some observers have doubted that teaching has a solid body of professional knowledge on which to base training."

Among its findings, according to the article, "the panel stresses that teacher education must combine understanding of subject matter and teaching practices with knowledge of learners, so that teachers can tailor lessons to the needs of students of different backgrounds and strengths. It also insists that lengthy clinical practice and relevant coursework should be intertwined in the preparation of teachers." So far, I have to wonder just how much this report actually cost given that this is pretty much common knowledge for most good educators at any grade level. You have to be aware of multiple learning styles (there are various studies, reports, and a solid body of literature on theories of learning styles and multiple intelligences. I know because I had to learn it, and I still have to keep up with it as an educator), understand diversity in the classroom(again, another concept for which there is a good body of literature available to draw from), and you must know your subject matter (part of knowing the subject matter is knowing its body of knowledge. This is both what the course of study and being part of the respective professional organization does) as well as pedagogy (which is what the teacher preparation program is supposed to be teaching. Again, there are solid sets of knowledge available). Nothing new here, and I am not sure I see what those "observers" are seeing when they say that teaching lacks a solid body of professional knowledge. One thing they fail to see is that education draws from various fields of study. It is a very interdisciplinary field. Educators have to be versed in some psychology, child and adolescent development, the the knowledge base of their major (for example, a a high school English teacher would be versed in Composition and Rhetorical theories as well as literature and how to teach it), along with concepts from other areas like management. The body of knowledge is there. Maybe it needs to be made more consistent across the board to assure that all teachers have a core of knowledge. But saying it does not exist is not accurate. These "observers" are probably the same "observers" who like to tell teachers what to do and how to do it, but they have no pedagogical knowledge themselves, and they likely would not dare to step in a classroom. They are also usually the ones who like to impose mandates without the money to back them up, and then they have the audacity to complain when programs have difficulties complying with their "standards." While money is not everything in education, you do have to put your money where your mouth is. Teacher education is one of those crucial resources that should be well funded and administered. The report is not saying anything new; it is more like a presentation of evidence for people who may not really know the situation.

As for the "lengthy clinical practice" part, that is open to debate. While I agree that some kind of practice is needed, these "lengthy clinical practices" often turn into extensive and restrictive forms of indentured service for student teachers, with no pay, where the quality of the experience varies at best depending on luck of the draw. The luck of the draw element comes in which supervising teacher an apprentice gets. Get a good supervisor truly dedicated to educating and helping a new teacher learn the craft, and you will likely turn out a good teacher. Get a teacher more interested in letting the student teacher do most of the work so he or she can get time off, and the results will be less than desirable (during my student teaching, I saw both types. I was lucky to get the first type of teacher. A couple of my classmates were not so lucky). In this area, I definitely have very mixed feelings. The report argues for a 30 week clinical period, which seems both excessive and restrictive. A large part of the problem, which the report does address according to the article, is the difference between college programs (designed for new teachers coming to the profession as a first career, like I did) and programs designed for career switchers, often run by nonprofits (like Teach for America) or school districts. To an undergraduate, you tell them you have to spend 30 weeks in a classroom, that is just part of the curriculum (albeit a heck of a lot of time. A typical semester is about 20 weeks or so). For a career switcher, 30 weeks without pay is just not very practical, let alone appealing. I am not saying the bar should be lower for career switchers, but there definitely have to be some standards other than "they have a college degree and a desire to teach, so train them over a summer." Programs like Teach for America are actually designed for career switchers to work while they earn the certification, so pay may not be an issue (though I would have some issue with the claims they make about average salaries and costs of living in some areas, but that would be another post. Readers can take a look at the Teach for America website under "How it works," then "how do I get paid?"). Also to file under the "nothing new here" department are the reports recommendations for further state and institutional funding as well as funding from the federal government. I hate to be pessimistic, but given that states are slashing education budgets all over and that the Fed imposed NCLB without any funding, I don't see the current lack of commitment to fund education changing anytime soon. Again, how much did this report cost anyhow?

Update note: Another article, this one from, discusses that teacher preparation programs are not asking the right questions when it comes to research and self-reflection. This particular article discusses the release of the American Educational Research Association's report Studying Teacher Education. The book's table of contents and some information about it for purchasing can be found here. Some of the study's findings, and I am quoting from the article, include:

"And while the book repeatedly notes the need for more research, it also offers a sense of issues on which there is a research consensus about teacher education. Many of these findings concern demographics and specific characteristics of programs. Among the findings:

  • Most new teachers are prepared as undergraduates at public colleges.

  • An increasing number of teacher education graduates also major in non-education fields.

  • College graduates in secondary education programs have comparable SAT/ACT scores as other students.

  • Close collaboration between schools of education and local school districts appears to have a positive impact on teacher preparation, as evidenced by the performance of graduates.

  • In one field — mathematics — there is conclusive evidence that subject matter training and certification of future teachers has an impact on subsequent teacher performance."

I think this article provides a more balanced view. Unlike the report from the National Academy, it seems the AERA is making more of an effort to make teacher education programs more introspective as well as providing a road map for specific research issues instead of just stating the obvious.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Decline of male teachers in public schools.

The June 6th, 2005 edition of The Boston Globe has a story on the decline of male teachers in public schools. The usual caveat of the link may expire shortly applies. As of this post, Lexis-Nexis had not picked the article up. Being an educator myself, and male, this is the sort of article that grabs my attention right away. It is also the type of article that gives me mixed feelings because, to be honest, if a young boy or just a guy wanting to switch careers asked me for advice, I would advice against a career as a school teacher. This is in spite of the fact that I had some very rewarding experiences as a high school teacher; I also had some not so pleasant moments.

The article points out that only one out of every five public school teachers in the nation is a male. The article also states that "in Maine, the Department of Education says just 17 percent of the state's elementary school teachers are men, down from 31 percent in 1980." This is clearly a significant decline, and given the situation in public schools this is not about to improve. Historically, teaching has been a female-dominated profession, much like librarianship is. So, for some guys, they may feel a teaching career is not for them. Other usual reasons for men not choosing teaching careers are the low salaries, the low status of teaching, and the nurturing aspect, especially in elementary schools. I personally know that I am not in education for the money. If money were the issue, I would be doing something else. The same with status. I think people go into education more interested in the intrinsic rewards. Maybe they go looking for those epiphanies, moments of revelation when a teacher sees a little glimmer in a student's eyes that reveals he has learned something. People become teachers because they care about students and young people, but in these days we live in one has to wonder if such rewards are enough.

The low status of teachers often means the parents lack respect for their children's teachers. They come in expecting a teacher to change a grade for no other reason than they think they are entitled somehow. During my time as a teacher, I faced various parents who simply could not see their student had done anything wrong. "Yes, Bob did not turn in any of his assignments. Yes, he was told repeatedly what he needed to do, it was in writing on the syllabus, and there were constant reminders. Here is his progress reports. . .etc." As usual, the parents would simply rather turn a blind eye and pressure the teacher than actually let their child learn the consequences of his or her choices. Add to that the fact that principals usually side with the parents no matter where the teacher stands, and I can see why guys would not want to go into teaching. I certainly would not encourage it under those conditions. Teachers get to deal with a lot of "crazy" parents; there is even books on the topic. I reviewed one such book here that, though written by a professional educator, seems to simply apologize for parent misbehavior, often making it sound like it is the teacher's fault. Last thing an educator needs is to have another educator who decided to become a consultant stab them in the back. That is what publications like that book boil down to: "parents are too stressed to be civil, therefore, if they lash out at you, it is ok." Not, it is not ok. They should know how to behave civilly like the rest of us.

Along with the low status of teaching go measures like the No Child Left Behind Act. The NCLB pretty much assures that teachers will be teaching to whatever standardized tests there are. True teaching and learning, the fostering of critical thinking skills, empowering students to be problem solvers, these are all gone when teachers have to teach to the test. This is something I have written about before, and the many reports on students being left behind give proof that NCLB is not doing what it is supposed to do. Now, would I encourage a potential teacher to go into a situation that is not challenging and stimulating but rather rote repetition? Not likely. I will add that I was a teacher before NCLB, and I am very happy I got out of public schools before I had such lack of true standards rammed down my throat.

And then, we have the molestation and impropriety scandals. As if the fact that teaching, especially at the elementary level, is a nurturing profession were not challenging enough, we get these cases to make matters worse. I will say up front that any teacher at any level that is involved in such behavior should be punished harshly and to the fullest extent of the law. No ands, ifs, or buts. But I will rush then to add that if an accusation is made, it better be a solid one with complete evidence. In addition, if it turns into a fals allegation, by the same token, the accuser should be punished harshly and to the fullest extent of the law. That is only fair given that such accusations destroy lives. Even if a teacher manages to prove his or her innocence, the stigma of such an accusation follows the person, and usually the false accuser does not even get a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately, with the Catholic Church scandals and the headlines of teachers having affairs with their students, the society is extremely sensitive to this. When I was in teacher training, many years ago before anyone even thought of accusing the Catholic Church, it was already drilled into us never to touch a student. It did not matter if the student had lost a parent, they started crying in your classroom, and your first impulse was to hug them. The bottom line was that you did not touch them. . .period. . .end of story. Send them to the counselor's office if necessary. No career was worth showing even a bit of compassion. Do readers think this is cold? Heck, I thought it was cold when I heard it in my undergraduate days. But I learned fast that no student is worth ruining your life over. I am thankful everyday that I never faced such an accusation, but I constantly lived with the specter one of my students might actually say something if they did not like a grade. You learn to document everything, to never meet a student alone, to have witnesses for everything and to be able to cover your movements at any and all times. It basically is a form of automatic paranoia, and I was a fairly popular teacher; most my students liked me. It is a harsh lesson to learn, harsher if you happen to be the victim of a false accuser. And there are enough of those. These days all a student has to do is claim something, anything, because they may dislike you or disagree over a grade. Right away, the teacher is removed from the classroom, and the principal takes the parents' side. Even the teacher union will abandon a teacher facing such an accusation, even if it is proven false, and these cases do happen more than people are willing to admit. Don't believe me? Mary Ann Manos' book Rumors, Lies, and Whispers: Classroom "Crush" or Career Catastrophe? (2004, ISBN 0275978346) details the process of what happens when one of these accusations surfaces. It is not a good picture for any teacher, innocent or otherwise. The book should be required reading for any person even considering going into teaching, especially for men. These days, this is probably the main reason I would discourage a guy from going into teaching in public schools. Even in college where I am now, a professor can never be too cautious. True, there is a little more "wiggling room" since students are usually adults by then, but again, the whole authority thing makes things tense. I think to a large extent this is why I prefer to be an Instruction Librarian than a professor. I get to teach and work with students individually, but I don't hold grades over them. It can be quite liberating. While I do value the fact that I have a teaching degree, and it has made a difference in getting the job I had, if I had to do it in the current climate, I would not become a public school teacher. The bureaucracy, the lack of respect for what is a noble job that anyone who would not dare step in a classroom thinks they can do, the NCLB, the more strict certification requirements (which tend to be pretty meaningless overall), and the specter of an accusation are more than enough to keep any guy out of a public school classroom.

And for me, the only sad thing is, I love to teach. I loved teaching high school. The students were fine. People say all these horrible things about teens, and the fact is, teens will often surprise you and rise to expectations when you challenge them. What I hated was disrespectful parents and unsupportive administrators. In this case, the cons outweigh the pros. I can do a lot in my current position without the baggage. So, there is a shortage. Kids will likely miss on having a positive male role model, but if a guy asks me, "do you think I should go into teaching?" I would honestly have to say, even if I think they have what it takes, "no. It's not worth the risks and aggravation." So, we are likely to see more articles like the one from The Boston Globe.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bears drinking beer? What's next?

This is just one of those little amusing items you find in the news. Who knew bears in the wild actually preferred one brand of beer over another one? You can find the details at adfreak here. I had a laugh is all I will say.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

OK, so we would like more foreign students to come, just don't let them use the lab?

The Chronicle of Higher Education for May 20th, 2005 had a couple of small reports that seem to, shall we say, contradict each other? I would link, but the reports are behind the subscription curtain. First, there is a brief report by Jeffrey Brainard, "Foreign Scientists' Recruitment Urged." The brief piece reports on a report released by the National Academies that says " American universities should work harder to encourage international students to come to their campuses to study science and technology." The idea of course is to bring the best minds to campuses, which I am sure is a good idea. However, the article also mentions that "changes in visa policies since September 11 have been blamed for a continuing decline in foreign enrollments at American universities. Meanwhile, foreign universities have stepped up efforts to get those students to stay home to study." The article provides a link to the National Academies Press where a prepublication version of the report may be found. Look for Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States. The press allows one to see one chapter of the book.

On the other hand, there is another report entitled "Scientists Oppose Plan to Limit Foreigners' Equipment Access." The report highlights that scientists are protesting a proposal by the Bush administration to restrict even more access to research equipment deemed sensitive for foreign researchers. "The proposal, which is under consideration by the Commerce Department, would clarify that colleges are in fact required to obtain licenses for foreigners who work with equipment that is subject to export controls even if the underlying research is exempt from licensing." Leaders of campuses oppose it due to rises in costs resulting from the increased need to get licenses and due to the possibilities of disruptions in research. The Commerce Department says it is needed to ensure depriving terrorists and spies of access. In the end, this may make it more difficult for universities to attract students and scholars from abroad (see article above). The article points out that "the number of foreign students on American campuses declines last years by 2.4 percent--the first drop in foreign enrollments since the 1971-1972 academic year." Now, some people may say this is a small drop, but it may well be a sign of things to come.

So, we want them to come, and we would like them to pay the tuition and extra fees for being nonresidents, but they may not use the equipment in the lab? I am not just being cynical. I know that students who come from abroad have to bring with them proof that they can pay their way, usually the proof is letters from sponsors guaranteeing that the student will have the money. So, there are some economics involved I am sure for campuses. Add to it the need to conduct research and needing to attract the best minds to do so, and you have to wonder.

Friday, June 03, 2005

LOC subject of sex discrimination suit.

Through weblog I found this little piece of information about a job candidate to work at the Library of Congress who got her job rescinded. The person was to work as a terrorist analyst, and she has excellent credentials for the job in terms of education and extensive experience. The apparent reason for rescinding the job offer? The person used to be David, and is now Diane. He is undergoing the medical process of changing his gender to become a woman. The story comes from The Washington Post. She has chosen to file suit with help from the ACLU. This looks like an interesting case to watch, but it also makes you wonder about those who claim they want to hire the most qualified person then reject them outright through discrimination. It reminds me of those cases a few years ago where the military discharged nine Arabic linguists for being gay. Now, I know, and most people know, that there is a severe shortage of anybody who is fluent in Arabic. These people were doing their duty and serving their country, and their sexual orientation should not have been even an issue. I found one of the stories here, so as to give readers some context. It makes me wonder if those in power really want to win the so-called War on Terror. If it were me, I would be hiring whoever had the talents and experience to allow me to win it. Who the heck cares about the other details, such as gender orientation or race? Those details are not essential or relevant to the job, so why alienate talented people over such? And that is just on the practical side. On the human side, discrimination is simply wrong; we should be judged by the content of our character. Anyhow, a story to follow.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

If Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas, Then Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Through Meredith Farkas' blog, Information Wants to be Free, I came across this article about the ten most harmful books. Can you hear the ominous music in the background. She writes a little reflection that is both thoughtful and right on target. It seems that everything on the list, according to Ms. Farkas, "basically any book that questions capitalism, religion, a woman’s place in society, sexual mores, or advocates the role of science, social welfare programs, and consumer and environmental safety controls is considered harmful." One of the books that made it on the list is Democracy and Education by John Dewey. The authors of Human Events, the publishers of the list, write about Dewey's book that it "disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead." Imagine that, someone that actually suggested that we teach our children some critical thinking skills so that they might grow up to be effective problem solvers. How harmful and terrible. All these years in teaching, and all the research in favor of actually teaching critical thinking, but apparently to the compilers of the list, that is not the "right" approach.

I looked over the list, and I can proudly say that I have read some of the books on the list, or if not the particular book, other works by the authors listed. I think this is definitely a list I may be forwarding to my colleagues, just to see how they are doing on their reading, and it is likely a list that should circulate, just to see how "harmed" readers have been. I don't recall who said it at the moment, but there is the saying that the way to counter bad ideas is with more ideas, not with less. Like Farkas, I have read from the list, and I have not launched an armed revolt. It does not mean I am not a little subversive every chance I get. Because at the end of the day, it is our ability to question and to evaluate and to debate and to think that makes us unique as well as makes us better people. If you are going to stand up for a point of view, if you are going to make an argument, you have to know who the opposition is so you know how to refute them effectively. If for no other reason, that may be why people should read as widely and freely as possible. Ms. Farkas says it very well when she writes that "Reading things that promote different viewpoints encourages critical thinking and helps people to determine what their own views on these subjects are. People who think of books as harmful really don’t want people to think. They don’t believe that people can be trusted to make up their own mind about things. It’s an idea they have in common with the same totalitarian regimes they hated so much." If they could only look themselves in a mirror.

The title of this post, books are weapons in the war of ideas, refers to an old World War II propaganda slogan. Yet it is as accurate today as it was back then. It is a war of ideas out there, and those who are best armed are the ones who will be able to get ahead. So, keep reading and keep passing on the reading to others. I never forget when I was in younger days, how I was told by a family friend that it was a sign of a free man (ok person, so he was not as PC haha) that he was willing as well as able to read anything, to decide what to read. Those words have always stayed with me throughout my life. I have come to see how important that small concept is: to be able to read freely and widely.

Now, to make things more interesting, the DailyKos political blog (yea, I read a few of those) makes a reference to the list and adds some other items that may irk the people who think certain books are harmful. It has a bit of humor, after all, who would have thought Goodnight Moon could harm so many people? At any rate, I shall continue to read as much as possible, and I will keep passing the ammunition. As a librarian, I can see no better role for me than to educate others and foster the revolution, televised or otherwise.

P.S. Some may wonder what I may be reading at the moment. Most of my current reading list is over at my main blog, but if I am reading something that falls within "the topics not spoken of in polite company," I will likely list it here. As for blogs that I read up, it's Bloglines. (yea, I know, I probably should link to it).