Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fixing it All

In 2010, I posted a set of rules to fix our beloved U.S.A.. I have updated and amended some of them. Think before you reply, please. All thoughtful comments will be appreciated. Knee-jerk reactionism will cause a bat-winged demon to fly into your dreams and devour your soul.

Rule #1
Teaching Why instead of How
We are educating our kids in the worst way. We allow our children to be taught as if they are all developmentally the same. And, we allow them to be taught that the very worst thing they could ever be is wrong.
In any given lesson scenario, 20% of the kids in the class get it immediately. 20 % won’t get it without extended additional help. The remaining 60% get it by varying degrees. So why is it still permissible to teach them all in the same way? (Note: I have nothing other than my own observations to corroborate these numbers)
Sure, there are cognitive and developmental milestones that the state education system has identified as reasonable for a child to reach by certain ages, but that, too is part of the problem.
We teach our kids as if they are all just numbers. Student #1, student #2, etc. Any teacher worth their salt will tell you otherwise. Evaluating teachers based on test scores ignores this fundamental, developmental gap between children in any given class.
Here’s the model: A teacher stands before the board and teaches a subject. Examples are given and explored. “Everybody got it? Good. Here’s your homework. Do 20 of these problems. Bring it in tomorrow and we’ll see how many you got wrong.”
In order to prepare our kids for the world they will inherit, this model of churning out obedient workers needs to be destroyed. Utterly. In its place, we need to flip this model.
Here’s a new model: The teacher assigns for homework a video lesson. Kids watch it at home. Either on their computers, mobile devices, phones, or whatever. It can be checked out of the library. The parent groups can offer after school viewings. Whatever it takes in a particular environment. The next day, the worksheet that would have been homework in the old model is done in class, with better and more comprehensive instruction and interaction by the teacher.

The focus turns from right vs. wrong to understanding vs. working harder toward understanding. This puts the value of any lesson on why, instead of how. Valuing why over how is the basis for critical thinking, an absolute necessity for our kids’ education. Nothing else is acceptable.

Rule #2
Get over the industrial revolution. America's industrial revolution is over, and its the developing world's turn. This isn't a fairness thing, it's a natural occurrence. We have to continue to be the dream makers, the brilliant ones, who come up with not only the next big idea, but the next ten or twenty big ideas. And we can't do that by being halfway down the list when counting a nations' college graduates. We need to put more importance on math, science, language proficiency and how the creative arts enhance those skills. We need to put less emphasis on shit that doesn't matter. Football is fine, but it ain't gonna make us stronger as a country. Sure, it helps sell beer and tires, but that's about it as far as relevance goes.

Rule #3
Gasoline is five bucks a gallon for the next fifteen years. The oil companies get three, the government gets two. No flucuations in prices. There will be nothing but windmills and solar panels as far as the eye can see. Renewable energy tech takes huge amounts of capital to develop. Every time gas creeps up past, say, $3.25 or so, people get all uppity about it and start complaining. Then, they start talking about renewable energy. By the time our politicians get around to giving lip service to "how the American People feel", gas prices drop down. People get complacent again, and renewable energy discussions stay just that, discussions. No venture capitalist is going to sink a dime into a technology that people only care about during the summer and the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now, before anyone starts screaming about Socialism vs. the free market, take a look. When it comes to oil prices, the free market doesn’t work. Speculators drive up the price of per-barrel oil, based on their hopes and fears. It isn’t a free market. It’s a market controlled by a handful of people. A handful of people determine the energy efficiency and viability of all of us. Call me crazy, but I'm just not ok with that.

Rule #4
Term Limits:
From dog catcher to Senator... two terms, that's it. Demand it.
Now, a very learned colleague has expressed that we already have term limits. Its called voting. If a particular elected official isn’t doing right by the electorate, we can vote them out. Excellent on paper, woefully failing in the real world. Voter apathy, political machinery and all the other insidious corruptions that surround elections have made this virtually meaningless. But, the biggest problem we face in elections is money. Big money. On both sides of the aisle, corporations control the purse strings, the ad buys and the messages from their media companies.
Public service shouldn’t be a career. Yes, one needs to work their way up the ladder from alderman to County Executive to State Senator to Congress. But term limits will go a long way to help ensure that votes are cast based on personal beliefs and less on party line politics.

Rule #5
Publicly Financed Elections.
A three month election cycle, and a mandatory spending limit for national elections would solve a myriad of problems. One, this model would do away with big money control of the candidates we elect. A three month election cycle would ensure that the candidates are clear and concise in their messages, and would do away with most of the farcical demagoguery that we endure in our current two-year campaign onslaught.
Enforcement and stopping people from gaming the system would be difficult, but there are some really smart people out there who could devise a way to make this happen. Let’s get on that, shall we?

Rule #6
$100,000.00 per day and five years in jail for anyone who hires an illegal, undocumented worker. Then, find a few high-profile offenders and make a media example of them. Ruin them completely. Sure, we'll have to pay three bucks for an orange, five bucks for a tomato, but hey, you want this problem fixed, right?