Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Putting Prayer Back in School? Better Keep the Lid on Pandora’s Box

AH, FACEBOOK! THE PLACE WHERE ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE go to post pictures of the meal they’re about to eat and share all kinds of ideas, even their bad ones. Today a friend sent me a link to a petition request: “Put Prayer Back in School.” As a retired teacher and fan of prayer myself, I decided to visit the site to see how the drive was doing.

I discovered that backers were just over half way to a goal of 200,000 signatures.  

What would this accomplish? Simple: 


Sounds good to me! If this works maybe we can even drop the expensive standardized testing! We know standardized testing isn’t working. Unfortunately, like so much of what passes for conservative thought in early years of the 21st century, it’s more “wishful thinking” than a serious attempt to come to grips with complex issues. 

You can't even stop anyone from praying in school if they want to. If a teacher sits at her desk in her third grade classroom and in her mind forms a thought: “Please Lord, keep all my students safe today,” that’s prayer in school, is it not? If a young boy recites “The Lord’s Prayer” to himself, God (if He exists) will hear.

That’s how it works we've been told.

Indeed, if a seventh grade girl hasn’t studied for her history test, she can pray to her heart’s content: “Dear Lord, please unleash a storm of locusts and drive us from this temple of learning.” You never know. It could happen. And it can’t hurt. (Pascal was right about gambling on the existence of God.) If the locusts don’t come you’re no worse off than before.  

Boy on far right:  "Please, God, next year let me have the hot young teacher."

The big problem, when people talk about prayer in school is that what they usually mean is their kind of prayer. They say, for example, “Let’s put the Bible back in school.” History shows that they can’t even agree on which version. 

So you go to the petition site for guidance and find comments like these:

John Gbla: I agree with this petition. Society is suffering from moral decay. We need to go back to nature and meet with our first love to understand the essence of our being. 

Mr. Gbla’s kindly sentiment garners 572 “likes;” but it’s not long before you begin to sniff the odor, not of fire and brimstone, but intolerance in the comments of others:

Greg Jeppson: I wish that Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag was brought back in. If Muslims can pray why cant we. Why do Americans disregard their history because it offends some one else.

LeAnna Turner: Whoever allowed Muslims those rights should allow Christians their rights. And as Christians, we need to stand up and let our voices be heard. The other religions have no problems speaking out and getting what they want done. In some way, this has been done to Christians because we have allowed it

Jose' Mercado: As a retired teacher of over 30 years…I have seen a great change in kids. When I started we were allowed to pray and as the years went on it disappeared. It was called separation of church and state but actually it became separation from God! I did see a great difference when we used to pray for our kids and fellow teachers and now you see the consequences of taking Jesus out. 

Finally, a contributor goes straight to the point:

Janice Spears: I would love to see Christian values returned to our schools.

She garners 170 “likes.”

A voice of reason interjects and poses a question for Spears:

David Miller: What "Christian values" are you referring to exactly? It's wrong to kill? Cheat? Steal? Rape? I have news for you honey, those ideas and others aren't unique to Christianity, it's called being a decent human being. It's pretty arrogant if you think morality is singular to religious belief. 

This brings a rather un-Christian response:

Tyson Garza: @David Christian values you libertarians know nothing about and should just as well join a mosk to pray with the Muslims even at your age you can see the difference in school and children today because of what you lack of faith had achieved... so find God or get bent!!! 

It’s the start of a theological donnybrook! Jimmy Stull, an avowed atheist weighs in, saying he doesn’t want his kids to have religion forced down their throats. Not all the religious folks are happy:

William Larry Stockton: get rid of the muslems

Ruth Ann Sargent: David MillerDavid and Jimmy something has happen in your life we have no control over,you had better get rigt with the Lord, before it's to late or your going to be like the rest of these idiots out there.. God Bless!

Pamela Benton: Yes the Muslims kill there little girl Babies if they don't want them.. Just throw them in the river, let them drown. NO ONE Cares over there.. But I think it is Sad..

Walter Terrell: Jimmy Stull REad And Study the Koran , The Haditth, and Mohammed's, life I did for 8-10 years, It is Violent and Brutal , I have 2 close Muslem friends that are either CLULESS to their own so called religious Doctrines , or Blatantly Practicing TAQUIYYA , Taquiyya defined = use lies and deciet in any way possible to promote the spread of Islam…

Terrell continues his little diatribe; but you get the idea. Apparently his “close Muslem friends” are all liars.

Ruby Jean Roberts: @ Jimmy Stull..."most atheists like myself have read and studied the Bible". So, you HAVE read the Bible, and you HAVE studied the Bible. How much time did you spend in it? Are you STUPID or just obtuse? You blatently said you "reject God", well, Jimmy Stull, oneday you WILL stand before your Creator, you see, you are not an accident, God chose you or you wouldn't be here to write this. How long have you been studying Muslim? Budda or whatever? None of them died for you Jimmy Stull. There is one God and one Man between us and God, our Mediator, Jesus Christ. And oneday, EVERY (including you) KNEE WILL BOW AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD. 

SO: THAT’S HOW IT GOES on this harmless-sounding petition site, where the point is to put God back into public schools. The religious ideas—and the anger—fly in all directions. I’m tempted to ask one fan of the Bible if he’d be okay, in a state like Utah, where Mormons are the majority, if teachers substituted the Book of Mormon when it came to “prayer in school.” Or, could a Muslim teacher bust out a good old “Allah Akbar?” I decide it’s probably not worth my time to ask.

I leave the site without signing the petition. In fact, this is why they “took prayer out of schools” in the first place.

Opinions in religion differ; that's why people go to different places of worship.
One size-fits-all-prayers don't work in the public schools.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fox News Paid Sarah Palin Well for Babbling

NOW THAT SARAH PALIN HAS VANISHED FROM FOX NEWS it’s hard to say who’s going to miss that zany lady most. Will it be lusty right-wing males of an advanced age, a critical Fox demographic? They’ve been fantasizing about shapely Caribou Barbie since the moment she made her appearance on the national scene during the 2008 election.

In the long run, however, those likely to suffer most will be sensible Americans, who appreciated the comedy of hearing her babble.

We do know now, thanks to a review by Smart Politics, what the going price of right-wing bullshit in America is today. During her three-year tenure as a foxy Fox News political analyst (an oxymoron if there ever was one) Palin pulled down $3 million, appeared on air roughly once every week, and offered up 189,221 words of her own brand of blather. Or, to put it in terms any “maker” can understand, Palin earned $15.85 for every word uttered, or $3.17 per syllable each time she used a five-syllable word.

That was probably never.

(Before we continue, however, let us quash the rumor that the people at Smart Politics who had to sit down and listen to, and keep count of, all those thousands of nonsensical words blew their brains out shortly thereafter.)

How then do we begin to measure the lasting mark Palin left in the long annals of American political discourse? What profound words of wisdom are we left with today? Some of what follows—like Palin, herself, on Fox News—we swear is not just shit we’re totally making up.

Among all those rambling sentences Palin uttered so prettily, some phrases, but not very many real ideas stand out:

“Barrack Hussein Obama” was mentioned 786 times (that’s true); meaning Fox spent $12,458.10 to help convince ignorant people that America’s 44th president was a Muslim usurper with no birth certificate at all.

“You betcha’s,” (surprisingly, uttered but twice on air, or $31.70); “darns,” 9, ($142.65), “heck’s,” 28, ($443.80).

“Amen’s” on 111 occasions ($1759.35); assorted “God’s,” “Christians’,” three “Moses’” and one “Jesus,” 77 total uses, ($1220.45).

Mentioning “tyranny” 695 times, causing angry old white men to rush out and buy more guns ($11,015.75).

“Unplugging granny’s,” 91 times, causing angry old white ladies to clutch at their hearts and send check to Tea Party candidates, ($1,442.35).

Use of the word “terrorist,” as in: “Obama pals around with terrorists,” 496 occasions, or $7,861.60.

Use of the phrase: “Drill, baby, drill.” 16 times ($760.80).

Mentioning the word “newspaper.” Never. (No cost to Fox News.)

Mentioning actual books she read—not counting books without pictures: Never (0 dollars).

“Socialism,” “communism,” “fascism” and or “liberals,” usually in sequence, separated only by commas (Palin never did figure out that these terms were not interchangeable and apparently no Fox News listener has ever actually opened a dictionary), or in changeable combinations: 1,542 uses ($24,440.70).

Times the word “dictionary” was uttered: 0 (0 dollars).

“Thesaurus,” a single usage: “Up here in Alaska we know global warming is fake, drill me baby, that scientists make stuff up, that evolution is not true, heck, that the tyrannosaurus and thesaurus roamed the earth together, 6,000 years ago, with Adam and Eve. But, you betcha,’ not Adam and Steve.” ($744.95).

“Hunting,” 10 times, “fishing,” 9 times, “Don’t fire at that moose until you see the whites of his eyes.” 1 usage (total: $507.20).

Let’s face it, sensible Americans. We’re all going to miss her chats with Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren. These appearances gave us comic gems like this one in regard to U. S. and NATO air strikes in Libya: “I haven’t heard the president state that we’re at war. That’s why I too am not knowing—do we use the term intervention? Do we use war? Do we use squirmish? What is it?” ($538.90).

Or this one, where Governor (Briefly) Palin tried to explain how the government should have responded to the Gulf Oil spill: “What the federal government should have done is accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans who have had solution that they wanted presented...The Dutch and the Norwegians, they are known for dikes and for cleaning up water and for dealing with spills.” ($697.40).

And you had classics like this, on Hannity, when Palin tried to deny charges leveled by the NAACP that the Tea Party movement was rife with racist language and imagery: “[Barack and Michelle Obama] have power in their words. They could refudiate what it is that this group is saying.” ($317.00).

Truly, listening to Palin these last three years—it’s been more than worth the $15.85 she earned for every “who,” “what, “where” and “when.” You might try to make the case that what Rupert Murdoch actually did was waste three million bucks. But for those of us of a liberal persuasion, hearing Palin coin words like “refudiate” and “squirmish?”


Friday, January 11, 2013

Finally: Some Good News on Standardized Testing

YOU WON’T HEAR THIS OFTEN HERE:  but after a decade of school reform, all in response to No Child Left Behind, we have good news to report about standardized tests! 

Yes! And it only took a few billion dollars. 

Okay. No. Average scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college bound seniors haven’t gone up. They’ve been in steady decline ever since that landmark legislation passed. Those scores:

                                                Math                  Reading                Writing

2003                507                         519                      
                          2004                508                         518
2005                508                         520
2006                503                         518                       497**
2007                501                         513                       493
2008                500                         514                       493
2009                499                         514                       492
2010                500                         515                       491
2011                497                         514                       489
2012                496                         514                       488

**Writing test added in 2006; clearly, the trend has not been positive.

Well, then, what about all that the money spent annually on standardized testing? Is it well spent? According to the Brookings Institute the annual cost to the fifty states is $1.7 billion dollars. So, with billions paid out to designers of test, implementers of tests, and graders of standardized tests, maybe scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are up.  

Then again, maybe not.  

We have no appreciable progress to report according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Reading scores have remained as flat as a fifth grade teacher run over by a stampeding herd of test company executives. Math scores have increased slightly, but at a pace no faster than before all the testing began.  

If you want to know how bad it has really been, consider the Lone Star State, also known as “The Land Where Testing Began.” You may recall that a reforming governor named George W. Bush came charging out of the south in 2000, touting his success in revolutionizing education in that state.

Testing has been big in Texas, big like Texas, itself, but the results are more reminiscent of the Alamo. According to KXAN TV in Austin, between 2000 and 2015, the bill to taxpayers for all the extra testing will total $1.2 billion, and almost all of that cash has flowed into the pockets of a company called Pearson, “which develops the test questions, prints and distributes test booklets and scores the exams before sending them back to 8,000 schools.” 

Well, with all that money being spent, you pretty much figure the Lone Star State is kicking knowledge butt.  

Or not. Or not. 

Looking at results for 2011, the last year for which figures are available, it turns out Texas students are scoring fourteen points lower in reading on the SAT’s in the last ten years and scores in writing have plummeted seven points since 2006. So what did taxpayers get for almost a billion dollars of testing?  

A three point rise in math scores over the last decade. 

How about one of the strongest arguments first posited in favor of No Child Left Behind? This was the idea that school reform would magically close racial gaps. Total SAT scores, combining scores for reading, math and writing, were as follows:  

Asian American:  1626
Black Students:  1273
White Students:  1566

In other words, a billion dollars has gone down the testing drain, and the gaps in racial performance still remain.  

Worst yet, it is now estimated that Texas students in grades 3-8, spend an average of 19 to 27 days of class annually taking state-mandated practice test and then the actual standardized tests. Robert Scott, the state education commissioner, and a Republican himself, has lost faith. In a story for the Washington Post last February, Scott called the growing emphasis on testing a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.  

He went so far as to compare the growing testing industry to the “military-industrial complex.” (That’s still not the good news.) 

“What we’ve done in the past decade, is we’ve doubled down on the test every couple of years, and used it for more and more things, to make it the end-all, be-all,” Scott said. “... You’ve reached a point now of having this one thing that the entire system is dependent upon. It is the heart of the vampire, so to speak.”

SO WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS? I’m glad you finally asked. It turns out teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle are standing up and refusing to give the latest round of district-required standardized tests known as Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP.

Does this mean wild-eyed rebels armed with pointers and sharp pencils are loose in all Seattle classrooms? Are anti-testing Luddites watching over our children? Not really. No revolutionary thinking is involved. Simply put, like growing numbers of teachers across the nation, the faculty at Garfield High is convinced that testing doesn’t work, that it’s a huge drain of time that might be devoted to better purpose, and narrows the learning focus. 

In fact, if you want to assess the value of standardized testing, talk to the people who actually teach for a living. They’ll tell you that school reformers (and their highly enthusiastic supporters in the testing business) who have pushed for more testing have handed the American people an expensive sack of education excrement.  

The backlash is beginning to build; but it’s time for more teachers like those at Garfield High to stand up against standardized tests. 


I have tried to explain the dilemma I faced before, bringing fourteen combat veterans from five different wars to talk to 700 students where I worked. What could Joe Whitt, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, say that would ever appear as a question on a standardized test? How could what Seth Judy talked about be turned into a test question, if all he did was get blasted by a suicide bomber in Iraq?  

If interested, go to the previous post:

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Sum of All Right-Wing Fears

IN THE WAKE OF THE BLOODBATH at Newtown, Connecticut and the strange year that was 2012, it seems we might need to try to interpret a little conservative thinking.

I’ve been studying the matter and believe I’ve got it down. I think—if I understand it right—that Mr. Obama has been having illicit sex with circus clowns.

I think that’s about the level of most of what has been passing for conservative logic in recent months.

What else have conservatives been trying to tell us? Where are they going at the start of this new year? For starters: Obama is a tyrant. Since he took office the Bill of Rights has been turned into fast food wrapping paper. (Angry white guys can hardly watch Fox News excoriate the President on a daily basis any more.)

So conservatives must rise up and…take back America...and buy guns and vote. Because nothing says tyranny like allowing political opponents to cast ballots and stock up on ammo. It didn’t really matter though, because everyone on their side knew they were going to kick butt in the 2012 election. That’s what Fox News said; and the polls were all wrong, because only gay people care about percentages. What? Obama won???

Obama is like Hitler!

Under Obamacare insurance companies can no longer refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. This includes toddlers with rare genetic disorders and type-1 diabetic teens. What’s the next step, you ask?

Gas chambers for granny.

If taxes go up on the superrich, like the Koch brothers, then we are one step from a communist takeover. This is why the Koch brothers, worth $31 billion apiece, donate tens of millions of dollars to right wing causes, including smashing labor unions. Nothing says “communism” like teachers and fire fighters and bakers of Twinkies trying to win improved wages and benefits. These people want to remain in the great American middle class?

Yep: to the right, that’s “communism.”

Speaking of unions, how greedy can those thugs be? All they want to do is kill good jobs in this country. This is why job creators—here we are thinking, people just like Mitt Romney—have no choice but to create jobs in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is $37 per month.

Gun sales in this country reached record highs in 2012, with 16.8 million background checks carried out by the F.B.I. You can’t fool conservatives—even if that does mean 45,902 guns were sold daily (it was a Leap Year). Obama plans to take away all their guns.

Glenn Beck says there may be giant magnets.

If anyone (even NASA scientists) mentions global warming or climate change or even says, “Boy, it’s a hot one today,” clearly they are part of a plot to destroy capitalism. They want to create a world government where BP and Shell Oil are denied their inalienable rights—since corporations are now people—to drill in Arctic waters and Americans are forced to eat vegan.

If gay people marry, traditional marriage will be dead, because gay people want to marry in a traditional way. Wedding cakes will no longer be baked.

Tuxedo sales will plummet.

The Chicken Dance will be only a memory.

Anyone who says, “Happy holidays,” in the weeks leading up to Christmas secretly hopes Christians spontaneously combust. (Yeah: some psychologist on Fox News explained it! Obama hates Christmas because when he was a boy his father never gave him a pony.)

We don’t need gun control to keep kids in school safe. We need to put God back in the schools. That means everyone reads the King James Bible—even Buddhists and Mormons and Jews. We need to arm teachers or maybe issue Kevlar-covered Bibles because nothing says “happy children” quite like defensive weaponry stacked near the reading center in a second grade classroom.

SPEAKING OF GOD, IF YOU GET RAPED and end up pregnant that’s His way of showing He loves you. If a mugger crushes your skull and you wind up with no health insurance and stuck in an emergency room it’s His way of saying Obamacare is socialized medicine.

And don’t say He didn’t warn you.

God believes all fifty states need concealed carry laws and He doesn’t like the 47% either.

The Founding Fathers knew everything and you couldn’t possibly beat any of them if you played them in Jeopardy. If the Founding Fathers were for freedom of religion then freedom of religion is still good enough for Christians today. Liberals, those people who hate America, insist that American citizens who happen to be Muslim should be able to build mosques where they want, such as in towns where they live. The Founding Fathers weren’t a pack of Muslims. They weren’t gay, either.

Okay, they weren’t black or female or poor white males either; but that’s not the point.

The Founding Fathers wanted pregnant women who were considering abortions to undergo invasive vaginal probes. It’s all laid out in Article III, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution.

And you know why Obama is a tyrant? He’s planning to ignore the 22nd Amendment, which limits the chief executive to two terms—because the Founding Fathers never thought to limit a president’s tenure. You can’t fool right-wing thinkers! They know evolution and Hawaiian birth certificates can be faked. They know Obama plans to seize power and run for a third term in 2016, a fourth in 2020, a fifth in 2024, a sixth, a seventh, and an eighth!

My God, how long can that man last?

In summation, have we mentioned that Obama sends Kwanza cards to terrorists? And what about those circus clowns? Sean Hannity says Obama is a lepidopterist. 

And if you hear it on Fox News it has to be true.
You can't fool conservatives, they know he's plotting for 2016 and beyond.
Well beyond! Time to stock up on more guns.