Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Little Bit Pregnant?

Have you ever heard of an ethics waiver? Apparently, it means when the president wants someone to do a particular job, and there's an ethical reason why that person shouldn't, a waiver is granted to allow them to do so.

This is not something new to the White House, though it's a foreign concept to me. How can there exist such a thing as an ethics waiver? How can you say that it doesn't matter that there's a conflict of interest, or a past association or behavior that is no longer important in light of the fact that we want you to do this job?

A person, a government, a nation is either ethical or it isn't. It's like being pregnant. You either are, or you aren't. You can't waive a person's ethics! And yet, this White House has done that 16 times in the last 9 months. It was pointed out, by the person the president appointed to be in charge of ethics for the White House, that this is less than 1% of the 1890 jobs awarded. That makes it okay?

I don't know how these numbers stack up against previous administrations, and it doesn't matter. I didn't realize this was going on, and now I do. The previous administrations are over. This one is ongoing. They can make the argument that it is fewer waviers, though I don't know that it is or isn't, but that is a specious argument. There shouldn't be any waivers of ethics ever! A thing is either wrong or right.

You can't be a little bit pregnant or a little bit unethical.

Read the Sept. 4, 2009 article on The Hill website.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

By Their Fruits

Forget the school lesson plan. This is more important.

Let's keep it simple.

Iran is being led by a man who is a Twelver. That is, he is part of the Muslim population who believes that the 12th Imam is the Messiah and will appear after blood and violence and chaos and bring peace to the world. They believe they can hasten his coming by causing the blood and violence and chaos. They believe that Jesus will come introduce him as the Messiah and will be his aide, more or less.

So, on the one hand we have a Muslim sect in power which has many, many followers and believes that death and destruction and chaos must take place in order for their Messiah to come.

On the other hand, we believe, as stated in Matthew 24:14 - "And this gospel of the kingdom shall ve preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." So Jesus preached that in spite of wars and desolation, that when all the earth had been taught the principles of love and redemption, the Messiah would come and bring peace. This is the foundation of Missionary Work.

By their fruits ye shall know them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Speech Lesson Plan, Part 3

I had no objection to the president speaking to school children. Truthfully, not even to his doing it during school hours. I did object to some districts making the watching of it mandatory, and accompanying noncompliance with additional punitive work to be done. I did object to some districts telling parents they could not be there for the speech and discussions. I did object to the issuance from the Department of Education of a lesson plan to enhance the experience of listening to the president. I most strongly object to the lesson plan itself. Here is part 3 in my series about that plan.

After the Speech

1. Teachers could ask students to share the ideas they recorded, exchange sticky notes, or place notes on a butcher‐paper poster in the classroom to discuss main ideas from the speech, such as citizenship, personal responsibility, and civic duty.

2. Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:
  • What do you think the president wants us to do?
  • Does the speech make you want to do anything?
  • Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
  • What would you like to tell the president?
I've probably said it all in the last two posts, but here we go again. There is nothing wrong with the first suggestion. As long as the teacher doesn't tell children what to think or how to think about the speech, as long as the ideas and discussions come from the students, this could be a great discussion. If children have not already been discussing these topics, it could be lame. If all their knowledge is drawn from this speech and teacher guidance, it will be one sided.

Let's look at these terms, which overlap considerably in the new political spectrum. Citizenship, civic duty, personal responsibility. Does that mean the same thing to the Obama White House as it does to an Independent or a Constitutionalist, or a Reagan Republican? I doubt it. If you read Charles M. Firestone's article on the Huffington Post website from last October, you will have a good idea of the current liberal meaning of citizenship. It starts by sounding fairly traditional and reasonable. By the end, it turns out we need financial, environmental, and cultural "literacies" in order to be a good citizen.

Even Wikipedia, with an unknown author, doesn't go that far: "'Active citizenship' is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens."

A more general definition: "Citizenship is membership in a political community. The term derives from membership of a city (as was the term citizen), but now normally refers to a nation. Citizenship carries with it rights of political participation; many also consider it brings duties to exercise those rights responsibly."

Founding Father quotes:
  • Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state. ~ Thomas Jefferson
  • It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it. ~ George Washington
  • Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual—or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.~ John Adams
  • I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. ~ Abraham Lincoln (not a founding father)
Now let's look at the questions of part 2. The second and third ones are bad questions. They can be answered simply yes or no, therefore requiring little or no thought. The first one is a basic knowledge comprehension question. The last one would be okay, if the discussion were not guided toward telling the president that you are going to take his advice and do just what he tells you to do. Chances of that? Pretty slim.

Part 4 tomorrow. The extended activities, probably the most objectionable part.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

During the Speech - Lesson Plan, Part 2

During the Speech

As the president speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note‐taking graphic organizer such as a “cluster web;” or, students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children could draw pictures and write as appropriate. As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:
  • What is the president trying to tell me?
  • What is the president asking me to do?
  • What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?
2. Students could record important parts of the speech where the president is asking them to do something. Students might think about the following:
  • What specific job is he asking me to do?
  • Is he asking anything of anyone else?
  • Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?
3. Students could record questions they have while he is speaking and then discuss them after the speech. Younger children may need to dictate their questions.

On the surface of it, there would appear to be nothing wrong with any of this. Aren't those good comprehension questions? Isn't it helping students to focus on the main ideas of the president's speech? The answer to those questions, both of them, is yes. My concern, having watched Arbor Day turn from planting trees to saving the earth, is the discussion that will take place with these notes.

The youngest students are going to have trouble understanding, or caring about, the president's speech. That means someone will interpret for them, putting their own spin on the message, leading students in a particular direction. Older students will also be led in the direction that their particular teacher wants them led. Bearing in mind that a majority of teachers are liberals, the leading will be in directions I don't want to see happen.

The idea of *debate* will not be part of the lesson. Did you notice that there is nothing about "discussion" in these questions? Did you notice there is nothing about critically thinking? None of the questions asks, for instance, that students decide whether the president's message has a *valid* point. Nothing asks students to determine whether what the president suggests is something that will make a difference in their education.

No, the questions are merely, once again, at the knowledge and possibly application levels on Bloom's Taxonomy. Will teachers guide students to be critical thinkers? Will they even ask questions such as, "What might the education system look like if everyone did what the president asks?" They won't. They will lead students like little sheep to jump over the fences they want jumped. No one will ask, "What happens if we do what the president asks?" If they did, it wouldn't involve critical speculation. It would only be a Kum-ba-yah moment around the campfire, warming ourselves at Obama's fundamental Change for America.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

President Obama's Speech to School Children

What is all the hoopla about the president speaking to children in schools across America? Isn't it a good thing for the president to encourage children around the country to do their best in school?

Yes, and no. If it were a matter only of the president speaking to children in a televised speech, and if it were only that the president wants to encourage children in their educational efforts, I would have no problem with it. However, when you look at the lesson plan put out by the Department of Education, and you can find that plan here, you discover a few interesting things about it. A good lesson plan has a before, during and after, which this does. Let's see what's included.

Before the Speech

Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama. Teachers could motivate students by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the President of the United States?
  • What do you think it takes to be president?
  • To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
  • Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
  • What do you think he will say to you?

Teachers can ask students to imagine that they are delivering a speech to all of the students in the United States.

  • If you were the president, what would you tell students?
  • What can students do to help in our schools?

Teachers can chart ideas about what students would say.

Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

Let's take this part of the plan apart. The motivation part - no problem. That's part of background building. Notice the last two questions. No problem with them in a classroom where students are taught to be critical thinkers. (Are there any such classrooms left in America? I hope so!) But, for the sake of argument, suppose that the teacher uses that question and answer time as a springboard to guide students' thinking in a direction she wants it to go?

Most teachers are liberals. Not all. I was a teacher. Many times I've guided my students' thinking, not on political issues, but on comparing one piece of literature to another, for instance. It's an ingrained thing to do. The question that really bothers me is the second one in the middle section of this before part of the lesson plan. This is where it really starts ringing a warning bell for me. Combine the president's progressive socialist agenda with the liberal educators and then throw in this question.

Now ask yourself this. What if little Johnny Jones has conservative parents who are well aware of this lesson plan, have downloaded it, and have dissected with little Johnny? And then, what if Johnny answers the question from that conservative point of view? What if Johnny brings up the idea that the president is trying to get the youth of the nation on his side and brainwash them to believe in political policies which are against the Constitution? How do you think the liberal teacher is going to deal with that situation?

Then move on to the last question. I don't think the answer is that we need to know what our government officials are thinking so that we can let them know whether we agree with them or not. I don't think the answer is that an informed citizenry is necessary to keep the Constitution in place. No, I surely don't think that at all. I think it's far more likely that the answer goes along with the idea of the nanny state government taking care of its population, and the need to listen and follow directions of the government authorities.

Stay tuned for the other two sections of this lesson plan.