February 14th, 2013

Ignorance is bliss--if you are a Republican, evidently.

In yesterday's New York Times, Paul Krugman, in a column entitled "The Ignorance Caucus," made reference to the Texas Republican Party's 2012 platform, which was refenced favorably in a speech last week by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined in calling for an end to Federal funding for research in the social sciences. I hadn't seen a prior description of this document, so eagerly followed the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html
It is, in a word, horrifying.

Among other things, it includes: "Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Now, a specific objection to "Knowlege-Based Education" programs is one thing, but to go on to object to teaching "critical thinking skills" on the grounds that this "has the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority," is way out there. Hasn't the goal of progressive education been to challenge the student's fixed beliefs since, oh, Socrates' day? (Of course, look what happened to Socrates. Methinks the Texas GOP would be preparing his hemlock drink.) Socrates was a great one for undermining parental authority, too.

"Parental authority" may be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending upon the parents in question, but how old do you have to be before you are eligible to question? I'm guessing never, which causes me to visualize a Texas version of the old Danny Thomas Show, where one of the running gags was that filial duty required deference to the beliefs of the aged clan patriarch, no matter how arbitrary or backward they were.

Here are some other interesting/appalling bits from the Texas GOP platform:

"American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism."

Rational patriotism is of course fine. However, the jaundiced view that "political correctness . . . nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups" is totaly factually unsupported.

"Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas."

Corporal punishment may be legal in Texas, but I'd like to see any documentation that it is "effective" in any particular way.

"Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind."

This is a weaseling truckling to the 'teach the contoversy' crowd, which is, itself, a weaseling way of getting Creationism into schools. One has to wonder what would happen to a teacher who taught that Evolution and the current theory on the origin of the universe were the best theories until "new data is produced."

"Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development."

Given the well-documented benefits of early childhood education, this is extremely backward. I hadn't been aware that there was a Conservative war on Kindergarten.

"Parental Rights in Education – We believe the right of parents to raise and educate their children is fundamental. Parents have the right to withdraw their child from any specialized program. We urge the Legislature to enact penalties for violation of parental rights."

"Sex Education – We recognize parental responsibility and authority regarding sex education. We believe that parents must be given an opportunity to review the material prior to giving their consent. We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage."

Granted that there should be a reasonable balance between family/community values and what professional pedagogues think, but this proposes giving any ignoramus the power to keep his child out of everything but basic "reading, writing, arithmetic, and citizenship" for any reason or none at all.

"Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents."

"Censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents" is a straw-man covering attempts to introduce revisionist history such as the "Thomas Jefferson as evangelical Christian" myth promulgated by some members of the Texas State Board of Education.

And there's more. School districts that use textbooks not specifically approved by the Texas State Board of Education would have the burden of proving those books were "factually and historically correct"--a heavy burden considering some of the counterfactual doctrines adopted by said Board. "Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished."

Overall, the impression is of a philosophy harking back to the Know-Nothings of the 1850's, in particular its heavily nativist and Christian tendencies. Its evident goal is to raise up a generation of blindly obedient worker drones--not what one would expect from the once fiercely independent Texans.

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Crusin' for Bruisin'

I'm mildly bemused/disgusted by the ongoing story of yet another cruise ship disabled at sea by a fire in the engine room, in this case the Carnival Cruise Lines "Triumph." I'm horrified by the fact that this vessel, and others like it, 893 feet long, and capable of carrying 1100 crew and more than 2700 passengers, has ONE engine room for the entire ship, with apparently no to minimum backup capability, and apparently only one generator room. So, the stricken ship is dead in the water. While this is a horrible inconvenience for the present passengers, if the ship had been overtaken by a storm, it could have been a disaster. The lack of redundancy in such critical systems makes me wonder how many other engineering shortcuts have been made while the builders cram in another water slide, restaurant, or mall shop.

This is just one of the reasons I have no interest in cruising on a "modern" cruise ship. Have you SEEN some of these seagoing monstrosities? I find them terrifying. They look like a skyscraper laid sidewise on an enormous barge. I know their sheer size lends them some stability, but, if they lose power, the huge slab-sides would make sure they "broached to" in any sort of wind. Then, take into account that they HAVE to be top-heavy, once they get rolling in the trough of a rough sea, it's "Poseidon Adventure" time.

An example of this is the deadly wreck of the Costa Concordia. While criticism has focused on her idiot captain who basically ran her aground while joyriding, I haven't seen any articles considering why a modern and supposedly well-found vessel capsized in calm and shallow water and what design defects may have contributed to the disaster. (Again, the ship lost all power when "the" engine room was flooded by the hull breach--.)

The fact that the Costa Concordia's abandonment was an incompetently managed clusterf*ck doesn't inspire confidence, either, considering that the Concordia was supposedly the pride of the Italian cruising fleet.

Add to that, that few if any cruise ships actually carry enough lifeboats for the full complement, and that in the hundred and one years since the "Titanic" there's been no good solution implemented to disembarking lifeboats from a sharply listing ship, and you see why I'm in no hurry to take a cruise.

(Ironically enough, I'd love to go on a "Windjammer" style trip--. Much more "low tech", but at least as long as you have one mast and one sail, you have propulsion--.)

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