Friday, March 25, 2011

A Case Against Compulsory Attendance and Education

So I've given it some thought, and I've decided that I'm against compulsory attendance. At least in high school. I even thought it out so much that I developed a kin of plan to help end compulsory attendance and some of the effects of it. I will try to avoid the slipper slope and straw men and all that, but no promises. This is just what I think to be best for the country as a whole.

To start off this plan, you have to realize something from the get go. Some kids will be left behind. That is a big pill for many people to follow, but it's for the best. I graduated high school a year and a half ago. Trust me. It won't make much of a difference. Also know that I am NOT suggesting that under-performing kids should be denied an education. I think everyone should get an education and do the best they can. This will be explained further later in the article.

Ok, so first point: compulsory attendance should end after middle school. At a bare minimum, a person should be able to read, write, and do simple math. If they can't do that, they cant do anything. In order to drop out, a kid should have a 6th grade reading level (which is the level most newspapers are written at), and be able to do basic algebra (so they can at least balance their checkbooks). All this can be achieved by the 8th grade.

Second point: attendance should be completely voluntary in high school. That does not mean that a student should only show up on test day. That means that a kid should be allowed to make the decision to not get a high school diploma after the 8th grade. I am in college right now and the atmosphere is completely different than it was in high school. In high school, no one wanted to be there. As such, no one wanted to work. Now, in college, most people (and I'd say just about all after freshman year) want to be there. The work ethic is high, people want to learn, and overall it is a better learning environment. If a kid doesn't want to be there, why should they bring down the rest of the students? Let them go and get a job. Let the other students move on.

Third point: the country as a whole will benefit from this. Of course the first argument is "But now less people will be educated! With less educated people the country will suffer!" Yeah, that's crap. Yes, there will be less of educated people. However, those who are educated will be even more educated than they are now. Let me tell you about a real life example. My college has Honors courses for Honors students. As it was explained to me, and as I later saw with my friends in regular courses, there is little difference between regular and Honors classes. The real difference is pacing. There is less dead weight from the students that don't want to be there and the ones that don't want to learn. Without the dead weight, the material is covered faster and more in depth. Why can't this be translated into high schools?

Also, look at it in the form of funding. Many students will drop out because they do no have to be there. I went to school with a guy that was LOSING money because he was in school. He was a trained and certified air condition and heating tech, and he couldn't go to work because of school. That was a rare positive example, but then look at it like this: how many of us went to high school with people that didn't want to and never will make something of themselves or even use their diploma? They'll be gone with no compulsory attendance. This saves the school system money. Less students means fewer kids to pick up in buses, fewer lunches to serve, fewer teachers needed, and fewer books to buy and replace.

And the fewer kids in the system will lead to a better education for the remaining kids. If the kids are there, they obviously want to be there and have a drive to be there. Thus, it will be easier for them to learn and be a better learning environment. There will be smaller classes sizes too, so if a student needs help, they can get more personalized attention. As stated above, less teachers will be needed. So how will the school board decide which teachers to keep and which to lose? This plan calls for a performance test. The best performing teachers, rather than the senior teachers, will be retained, while the rest cut. This forces the teachers to excel in having the students learn the material, rather than having job security just because they taught Grandma Moses.

So what about the kids who decide not to go to school? There certainly will be a lot of them. In order to answer this, we must get into supply and demand. There will be a huge supply of uneducated, unskilled workers. What do we do with them? Two things:

#1: Trade schools. Yes, they didn't want to be in school in the first place. This will appeal more to the people that realize how bad it is to work manual labor (yes, manual labor sucks. There is absolutely no way that you can convince me otherwise). They can be trained to do tiling, dry walling, air conditioning, plumbing, and all those other jobs that you pay other people to do for a lot of money because they can do it better than you ever can. That's why they make good money. Of course, they will have to pay to go to these trade schools, but as long as student loans can cover it and they can get jobs to pay them off, it's not much different from going to college, except they start working sooner.

#2: Manual Labor. This will be where most people that choose not to go to school will end up. Remember the industrial revolution? Prepare for a repeat. With so many unskilled workers in the work force, eventually minimum wage will be lowered, benefits will be cut, and unemployment pay will be a thing of the past. Sounds horrible, right? Look at the big picture. The America (the country I've been talking about for you international readers) will become more competitive in the international economy. Many workers, low pay (comparatively), few benefits for workers, and lower taxes because Uncle Sam doesn't have to dole out so much money for unemployment and other federal benefits is highly appealing to many corporations, which is why so many things are made in China. Believe it or not, this benefits workers too. With many companies to work for all of a sudden, they have more choices of where to work, and companies will have to keep pay a little high and offer some benefits to attract and retain workers. And workers will have to work hard to keep their jobs (because an unskilled laborer is easy to replace), making them more productive.

So in short, without compulsory attendance in high school, kids who stay in school will get a better education and thus get better jobs and more pay, while those who choose not to go to school will ultimately get stepped on, but for the greater good. It's not a clean or perfect solution, but it's one that helps everyones as a whole.

Friday, March 18, 2011

USA Nuclear Power in the Wake of Japan

With the disaster in Japan and the resulting nuclear panic, an important question has been raised: Should nuclear power remain a viable source of electricity, especially in the United States? Short and skinny of it (at least how I see it) is yes, but with reservations.

If you have no idea what movie this is from, you have 8 seconds to find out and buy it

Look at the obvious first. We are too reliant on oil. Coal is not clean. Gas prices are high enough already. Hydroelectric energy is being blocked by environmentalists. Wind energy is too inefficient. And no matter how much you want it, we are not covering the desert in solar panels. We need nuclear power. 

Believe it or not, nuclear power is pretty safe. How many melt downs and almost melt downs have you heard of since Three Mile Island? Not many I'm sure. The people at the plants know what the heck they're doing. The reactors are surrounded by about six feet steel and concrete. Technology is improving everyday to make it safer and better. In Bill Gate's TED talk, he even mentioned a method that is being developed that will burn U-238 instead of U-235, effectively eliminating hazardous waste. 

All these reasons are great support for nuclear power, but like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl taught us, a single accident can mess up everything. Before Three Mile Island, nuclear power was on the rise. After, plants stopped being built for the most part, plans for more were scrapped, and growth and development of better technology basically came to a stand-still. Now, with Obama in office and nuclear power finally on the rise again, the Japanese earthquake happens.

Is it too soon? Credit goes to Jacob Bloodworth

Now, the way I see it, cutting back on nuclear power now is the worst thing that can possibly happen. Advances are being made! Fuel prices are finally getting high enough that The People are honestly interested in alternative forms of energy! The President cares about alternative energy in a way that doesn't remind me of Al Gore and his bull crap movie! The BP oil spill is still fresh on everyone's mind! This is the perfect time for nuclear power to get the push it needs! This disaster is actually a good thing (for learning at least)!

Yes, it is sad that people are dying, homes have been destroyed, and the reactors are blowing up. But this is also a fantastic learning opportunity. This disaster can teach us what procedures work, which ones don't, what needs to be improved upon, all that fun stuff. We can learn from this! One thing already learned is that in the US we need longer-lasting back-up batteries. Japan's batteries lasted about twelve hours, whereas ours typically last 8. We need to improve, but now we know by how much! For the most part, the concrete and steel containment houses have stoop up. They work! They can take a huge earthquake! Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, but nuclear power just got safer!

Now, I know there are still some concerns here about nuclear power. I understand. I want you to look at the two maps below. The first one shows where our reactors are right now. The second shows the danger zones for earthquakes. 

Notice anything? For the most part, many reactors are not near seismic danger zones. If an earthquake hits, there's a small chance that a reactor will be seriously affected. Also think about this: The Japanese earthquake was the strongest on record. The reactors stood up nicely to a 9.0 quake if you ask me. And it's doubtful that one that strong will hit in the mainland or east coast (California is on the Ring of Fire, which is why it was excluded from that list). In addition, a 6-foot thick concrete and steel box should stand up to a tornado and a hurricane, so fewer worries in the heartland and near the coasts. So really, when it gets down to it, nuclear power is mostly safe from natural disaster.

The disaster in Japan should not be overlooked, Nor should it be cause to stop the progress that has already been made. It should be used as a learning opportunity and a springboard into the future. With nuclear power, we can take the dirty needle of oil out of our veins and start our nuclear detox. We should not be afraid of nuclear power, we should embrace it (with proper protection equipment on). We can be responsible. We can be safe. We can have a better environment. But only if we can have nuclear power. 

What do you think? Is nuclear power a viable option? Or should we abandon it completely? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or contacting me! I would genuinely like to know your thoughts!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brainwashing In Public Schools

Mind control is happening in America, and has for many years. If you went to a public school in the past 15 years, you've definitely undergone it.

No, this is isn't one of those theories about radio waves or crazies or anything like that. This is much subtler. They are using psychology to bend and control the kids! By using cognitive dissonance, conformity, and other theories, they are molding kids into the perfect little citizens they want.

The Pledge of Allegiance

It all starts here. Most of us learn this in Kindergarten, and repeat it every day for as long as we are in school. It shows how loyal we are to our country. And we had better say it, and say it properly, or else (or else we have to write lines, or miss recess, or something like that). But this is the first step of the molding/controlling process. Think back to when you said it. Everyone around you, looking at the flag, hands over their chests, repeating it perfectly. At that age, you don't want to be the odd man out. So you follow along. That's conformity. Later, you start to think "I say this patriot thing every day. I don't receive punishment for not doing it anymore either. I must like saying it. I must be a patriot. I LOVE AMERICA!" This is cognitive dissonance at work. Now, there's nothing wrong with loving your country. I personally love the United States and there's no way I could even imagine living anywhere else. But at the same time, it's breeding patriotism is non-patriots, teaching conformity, and is helping the foot-in-the-door effect.

Tests and Essays

Yet another demonstration of cognitive dissonance. Thanks to all the testing that states have placed on school children, teachers are teaching the tests, and a lot of class time is devoted to improving writing skills and bringing up test scores. The best way to do this is by doing practice test. Sometimes these are graded, other times they aren't. Either way, it's the topics and questions that interest us here. Essay topics are usually something like "Write a persuasive speech about why it is important to wear your seat belt," or "Write an informative speech about how important education is in life." You write something, have no real reason to (it's a practice test after all), and thus start to believe it yourself. The very definition of cognitive dissonance. It's in the tests too. The way the questions are phrased, the stories the kids have to read, and daily activities are all geared towards shaping the thoughts and thinking of the students.

And then there's the tests themselves. Think about a typical test. Kids learn the concepts, study the material, and then are tested over it. Perfectly fine, right? But phrasing of the questions is key here. A simple scenario is laid out for the students, and then based on what was read, they answer questions over it. Some of the questions begin with "In your opinion..." or "What do you think..." or even "What would you do?" Questions like these are not true opinion questions. They are phrased like opinion questions. They put the reader in a situation where they can have their own ideas. But there's only one right answer, and it has absolutely no bearing on what you think. Consider this simple example: "One doughnut costs 85 cents. Two doughnuts cost $1.00. Which would you buy? Explain why." Obviously buying two doughnuts is the better deal. They cost only 50 cents apiece if you buy two. But what if I don't like doughnuts? It doesn't matter. You still have to say why YOU would buy two and explain why. This goes back to the cognitive dissonance theory. You don't like something, but you have to explain why you would more of that thing, thus making you think you like it. Keep in mind this is a simple example to point out the principle, but the point still stands.

Another offshoot of this idea: High school English class. "Interpret this poem/short story/play and explain it in your own words." Again, for most teachers there is only one correct answer. But for anyone who's ever read Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare's sonnets, they can be interpreted several different ways. That doesn't matter though, because Mr. Feeny says his interpretation is the right one. This is shaping thought and molding minds to think in a certain way. Sort of like...mind control.

Effects of All This

There are many more instances of molding and "mind control," but these are the major ones I wanted to cover. So what does all this cause? More patriots for one. That's great, but it also leads to blind loyalty, unquestioning citizens, and overall complacency. Not so great. Also, it leaves the door open for more suggestion, and trains us to be conformists. Advertisers can use this against us, and can cause us to get wrapped up in the wrong things when it comes to elections. Unfortunately, we have become so wrapped up in all this and it has become so ingrained in our educational system that I don't see a way out just yet.

Think what you want to think. But consider this: Are they really your own thoughts? Just something to ponder...

Have I uncovered something mind blowing? Or am I just full of hot air? Let me know by leaving a comment or contacting me!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Life Is All About The Addiction

I came up with this theory a month into my Freshman year of college, and so far it has proven reliable.

Here's the premise of my theory: As modern day humans, we thrive on addiction. Whether it's drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, sex, or food, we need it to function in our every day lives.

Sounds dumb, right? Not everyone is addicted to something, and there's no way an addiction can improve the daily functioning of a person. But consider this: addiction is at the core of the behaviorist views. Make it through the day, reward yourself. Make it half way through the day, reward yourself. Wake up, reward yourself. That's basically how this works. 

It starts with finding your vice. Everyone is different. Some people get more mental stimulation* from drugs, others get a kick out of a good pizza, and others yet get it from socialization. It starts off as a small reward for an accomplishment, such as completing a TPS report, getting a promotion, or just making it through the day without strangling someone. Later, the vice becomes more appealing, and you find yourself rewarding smaller and smaller accomplishments. Finally, the vice becomes an addiction, and the person needs it to function. This is basically how all addiction starts.

I argue here that light addiction (something a person needs to function, but is not overly debilitating [think of caffeine addiction, but with other things]) is needed to make it through life and is had by everyone. I point you to a college campus, the birth of this theory. What do kids do? Socialize, drink, have sex, eat a lot, single-handedly support the coffee industry, smoke, et cetera. What happens to these kids? Yes, most of them drop out. But if you look at it, most of the drop outs occur in the Freshman and Sophomore years. And these drop out form debilitating addictions. The people that form the light addictions tend to do fairly well for themselves. 

This is not isolated to college campuses either. Look at the workforce: How much coffee is consumed in a typical work day? How many smoke breaks? How many trips to the bar after a long day? Successful people (well, more successful than being unemployed) all having an addiction that helps them out.

Further reinforcement of this idea: What happens when you take away light addiction? Productivity goes does, the person becomes distracted, and overall irritability. With addiction, you focus on the one thing you want and the task at hand. When you partake in your addiction, your craving is satisfied, and that allows you then completely focus on the task at hand. 

Everyone has mild addictions. We need them to function. We need the distractions, the pleasures they bring, the enjoyment of it all. Without them, life is dull and painful. So go to a party and feed the social addiction. Brew a cup of coffee for your own health. Fire up a cancer stick; it's good for you. Embrace it and move on. There's work to be done.

*For these purposes, mental stimulation will include actual mental stimulation, pleasure, and joy.

Did I really just say that? Yes. Yes I did. Feel the need to correct me because I'm wrong? Did I miss an important point? Or do you want to tell me that I'm right ( <-very unlikely)? In any case, contact me and let me know what you think, or leave a comment for everyone to enjoy!