Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Longer School Terms Are a Bad Idea

Lately there is a group of unlikely bed-fellows, including Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton, who are advocating longer school days and less vacation time.

Their argument is that our youth is undereducated and can't compete effectively with the rest of the world. Therefore, their conclusion seems to be that we simply don't have enough time to teach. Gingrich points out that our current school year is outdated, and we need to spend more time in the classroom.

This argument is greatly flawed.

I have been active in both the public and private school systems. I have seen what works, what doesn't, and why it doesn't.

Our education standards are not poor due to time constraints. They are due to disciplinary problems. Many public school teachers have told me that they could get the instruction out of the way in half the time if their time wasn't occupied in discipline and ineffective attempts at creating order out of chaos.

Many students (especially in public schools) come from homes where order and self-control are not imposed. They are then unleashed on the world by parents who couldn't care less. The school system is then expected to make all the difference by catering to these children, while the children with better societal skills are neglected.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

What is truly pitiful is that teachers are pouring the majority of their time and energy into kids who, at best, will be saying "Would you like fries with that?" for the rest of their lives.

Those of us who finally decided to home school our children have found that we can give them the exact same education in half the time. This is why my son became a college freshman at age 15, with a 4.0 GPA.

If we want to reform the schools, we do not need to waste our childrens' time any more than we already do. Instead, we need to improve our disciplinary standards. We need to stop penalizing teachers from referring students to the Principal when they are misbehaving.

And ultimately, we need to rethink our "No Child Left Behind" policies. Some children need to be left behind. Some children will never amount to anything. And we need to come to terms with this, or all children will be left behind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Travesty of Bush Gardens' Howl-O-Scream

I love a good scare. I enjoy ghost stories and most horror movies, knowing that they aren't true and cannot be possible.

There are different theories as to why many of us love to be frightened. I believe that we enjoy being faced with the absolute worst, knowing that we can still emerge into the comfort of our own homes. It gives us a sense of power (which explains why this genre is especially popular among teenagers).

But at what point does horror become horrible?

I refuse to watch anything that celebrates the depravity of humanity. This includes torture and sadism, and it's why I won't watch anything from the Saw series of movies. And I worry that when we go down that road as a society, there is no u-turn. It numbs us to the true horror of such actions and allows us to easily excuse what generations before us would never have excused.

That's why I won't go to Bush Gardens' Howl-O-Scream any more. The last time I went (three years ago), I saw things that should give anyone with a conscience nightmares for a lifetime.

But Howl-O-Scream is big business. And apparently the meat-grinder mentality never goes out of style. So, Bush Gardens is more than happy to continue to churn out tableaus that would make the most seasoned homicide detectives blanch.

To add insult to injury, they have peppered the Tampa Bay area with billboards depicting viciously evil vampires. Imagine the reaction of the vulnerable toddler who sees these billboards out the window as Mommy drives to the grocery store. That should drive the nightlight sales through the roof.

What recourse does a parent have? They can't blindfold their children. They can't make the choice to not expose them to this garbage, even though they can limit their television and internet experiences.

Bush Gardens has come a long way since their inception as a family-friendly park. Now families come dead-last to the almighty dollar, thanks to capitalism at its finest.

As their 2009 motto says, "Evil never goes out of fashion."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Osama Bin Laden a Failure?

Time Magazine, in the same wisdom that it uses to proclaim the man and woman of the year (as if narrowing it down to one candidate is ever possible) has also declared that Osama Bin Laden is a failure.

How puerile and sickeningly smug of them.

On the contrary, Bin Laden has been appallingly successful. He was able to rile up uneducated, evil people to kill masses of innocents, all in the name of Allah. And he continues to do so. He serves as an inspiration to serial killers and conscienceless minions everywhere.

And his battle is not over. The war to take over the world and subject it to Islamic domination has only begun.

If we err in taking this man and his faith lightly, we will not win this war. We cannot forget, we cannot diminish the utter evil this man represents. It is an evil which is shared by many other Islamic leaders as well. It is an evil that can bring the world to its knees if we choose to disregard or dismiss it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Highway Overpasses in Tampa: Progress?

Tampa is beginning to look like Miami. A slew of highway projects are coming to final fruition and we now have a confusing snarl of under and overpasses that we are trying to re-learn.

I found myself taking the wrong turn and having to renavigate my way through Tampa twice last week. As a result, I lost at least an hour of travel time, if not more.

Tampa's road engineers apparently are the not the cream of the crop. These must be the "C" students: The ones that barely graduated. How else can you explain the off-ramps that go in the opposite direction of where they used to be placed? The needlessly long treks you must endure before you can find a way to turn around? The confusing lack of signage or signage placed in the wrong areas?

Just as I dislike travelling through Miami, travelling in Tampa has become a nerve-wracking strain. I pity the poor tourists who will be navigating through Tampa on the way to Pinellas County's famous beaches.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The President's Speech to School Children

There is a great old Southern word: Hootenanny. Ignore the official dictionary definitions. What it really means is a big fuss (good or bad). It can refer to a party or a riot.

Aren't you glad I gave your vocabulary a boost? This is your official Word For The Day. You use it like this:

Conservative talk show hosts are having a fit over Obama's upcoming speech to school kids. As a result, they're getting so many parents riled up that it's becoming chaos for those poor souls who answer the phones at our schools. Yup: It's a big hootenanny.

What is happening to our country? First we're dumb enough to elect Obama (a man with little experience and communistic leanings). Now we're overreacting like brain-dead rednecks.

I suppose both phenomenons can be attributed to the same source: A lack of education and the dumbing down of America.

The President's speech is no big deal. Certainly the controversy may have helped to force him to tone down his speech: We will never know what he originally intended to say. We only know that now he is focusing on something relatively inane.

But anyone with intelligence knows that the President's speech could not be full of communistic advice and fascist urgings. It would be a political death sentence and Obama's no fool.

I understand why some people got a little queasy when they heard that teachers would be following up with questions after the speech. These questions (suggested by the White House) could definitely be construed as an attempt to indoctrinate kids and perhaps pave the way to "The Cult of Personality" that so many people are citing.

On the other hand, I have raised my children* to be objective and thoughtful, so I wouldn't have worried.

The hippies had it right: Question Authority. A good teacher would also enforce this. But this message, if it comes from the home, should be enough.

With the dumbing down of America, we are leaving way too much power and authority in the hands of the government and there is too little personal responsibility. Until we start raising our standards in our homes, nothing will change.

* I have one of my own, and another that I have taken under my wing since she was five.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Kennedy Expresses Regret for Chappaquiddick

How convenient. Ted Kennedy finally gets around to apologizing in his posthumous memoirs.

The problem is that we will never know the entire truth about Chappaquiddick. (For a good, short article which raises more questions than it answers, go here).

But for someone who was supposedly truly regretful during his lifetime, Ted never showed it. He was famous for asking people if they'd heard any new Chappaquiddick jokes. And he certainly never tried to make amends financially (or in any other manner) to Mary Jo Kopechne's family.

Kennedy wanted these memoirs to be published posthumously because he was hoping that history would somehow treat him more kindly than he deserved.

Sorry, Ted. I'm not buying it.