Monday, January 31, 2005

A whole lotta kids left behind

See my latest at SoundPolitics.com exposing the so-called "improvements" in Washington's student academic achievement.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Old, heavy words?

I've gotten it from men and women: "You know, reading your stuff online, I really had the idea that you were about twenty years older and forty pounds heavier."

Huh.

So, hey, if you're forming an opinion right now about what I look like, shave off twenty years and forty pounds, ok?

Unsocialized?

"Hi, I'm Casius Butcher, and I'll be arguing for the Affirmative team."

He wasn't much taller than the podium, and he'll be growing into his suit and tie for another year, but he made a compelling and articulate case for the adoption of a "resolution to reduce the United States' dependency on foreign oil."

Young Mr. Butcher was just one of the several talented debaters I had the pleasure of judging at a tournament for the Puget Sound Debate Club yesterday. They're homeschooled students from all over the region, and they're impressive.

People like to stereotype homeschoolers: "unsocialized" (whatever that means), backward, shy, uncultured. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These kids are smart, funny, fun-loving, gracious, well-mannered. They're plunging into the world around them with all five senses.

What exactly do we think "socialization" is anyway? I think for a lot of people today it means "go to public school for twelve years."

I was homeschooled for four years growing up -- between the end of third grade at a private elementary school and the start of college (at age 13 for me, 15 for my sister). I can't count the number of times I'd sit with college classmates for weeks on end discussing projects, ideas and life, only to have them "react" when they found out I'd been homeschooled: "You were homeschooled?? Man, do you feel like you have a hard time relating? Do you feel like your socialization was affected?"

"Yeah," I'd respond. "I have such a difficult time even talking to other people. Usually I just sit under my desk and rock."

I mean, c'mon.

Where did we get the idea that public schools are more like the "real world" than the myriad activities of homeschoolers (which are generally supervised by loving parents)? In public schools, children are segregated by age. They answer to bells, sit in rows, line up in lines, and look at the world through a chainlink fence.

What other institutions in our society resemble public schools?

The military. And prisons.

Have public schools worked for some kids? Yes, they have. For most kids? No, unfortunately not. At least not in recent years.

I don't think all public schools are bad, and I think a great many can be made better. Assuming the school is doing a good job teaching kids to read, write and do math, I don't object to the structure if that's what parents choose for their children.

What I object to is the idea that all children should go through the same one-size-fits-all system. I object to calling that "socialization." (Especially when the system we have is so clearly failing to do the job.) I object to policies (excessive regulations, taxes and restrictions) that deprive parents of the ability to choose the path that best suits the needs of their unique children.

The homeschooled kids I know are shining examples of potential realized. They redefine today's narrow views of education and socialization.

Quotable

Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle had a good quote this morning: "The Bible isn't full of good guys and bad guys, it's full of bad guys and Jesus."

It's a great church. You can find out more and hear sermons online at: www.marshillchurch.org.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Animals are not people

Fellow think-tanker Paul Guppy, of Seattle's Washington Policy Center, was interviewed by Evening Edition a few years ago, and they're still airing the segment. I managed to catch a split-second promo recently, which featured him saying something like: "Animals are not people." Since Paul has an uncanny knack for defending truth with simple and profound insight, I emailed for more details.

Sure enough.

His counterpart on the show was a lawyer who was suing zoos and labs for better treatment of animals. "Who could be against that?" notes Paul. "But to make her argument she was trying to create a new legal doctrine that animals have rights like people do, backing this up by pointing out that men and apes share 98% of the same genetic material."

Paul had three main points in response:

1. Re: the 98% figure. "Almost the same" means "NOT the same." If I have a metal box full of wire, circuit boards and microchips, but no hard drive, I have 98% of a computer. That 2% makes a big difference.

2. The reasoning that animals are very close to being people also works the other way. Some people (infants, the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly, people in comas) seem, outwardly, to be very close to being animals. Once the lines are blurred it becomes much easier (as has often happened) to start treating them that way.

3. The best way to help animals is to enforce the anti-cruelty laws we have now, not forge new, risky legal doctrines. Besides, needlessly hurting animals, beyond the pain it causes them, reflects morally on US. That's why good care of animals is called "humane" treatment.

I have no doubt he won the debate.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Miles update

Thanks, all, for the many kind inquiries about Miles. I'm happy to say he's been frisking around the house lately like old times, and mooning about whenever he remembers there's an "outdoors" that he desperately wants to be in, despite the fact that he's not fully healed.

Cats are like children. They want all kinds of things they shouldn't have, but just try explaining that to them.

I just gotta write

Fun news: I get to write a periodic (almost-but-not-quite monthly) guest column for The News Tribune (Tacoma) this year.

Topics are my choice, but I don't get to stump for EFF or "plow the same ground the nationally syndicated columnists till every day."

Ah, what else, what else...?

Education Reformer

I'll be sending out the first edition of a bi-monthly e-newsletter called the Education Reformer this week, which will feature news, analysis and commentary on various education issues.

If you'd like to be on the list to receive it, send me an email and let me know: mrichards@effwa.org.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Miles

For the second time in a week I made a trip to the "Animal ER" with my cat Miles -- this time at the ungodly hour of 5am after his crying woke me up. We made the first trip last week at midnight.

Unfortunately, cats can't talk, so I have no idea how he got a large burn right between his shoulder blades. Now he's on pain-killers and antibiotics, and I clean him up every night and try not to lose a finger in the process.

He seems to be healing as he should, but the vet mentioned the possibility that he may need surgery if the damage is more than skin-deep.

Surgery? Yikes, that sounds expensive. Which got me thinking: How do I know when Miles has maxed out his tab? If he was a child, I would indenture myself for life if need be to get him care. But he's a cat.

I've always thought it a bit bizarre when people take extreme measures with pets, as if they're a human member of the family. But then I look at Miles. My big, fuzzy, black cat. He's always in a good mood except when I'm trying to clean up his owie. He plays fetch and crashes into table legs. And he's completely helpless. With an IQ of about 1.5 he'd starve to death next to a lifetime supply of cat food if I didn't pour some out of the bag every day.

How much is "too much" when it comes to keeping him alive and healthy?

I don't know.

Monday, January 10, 2005

It's strange, really.

Have you ever considered how narrowly most people today define "education"?

It starts when you're five and ends when you're eighteen. You go to the same local building for six hours a day, 180 days out of a year, sometimes for several years in a row. You sit with the same group of people, all your same age, in rows, behind wooden desks. You answer to bells and line up in lines. Your activity is defined by 15-, 30-, or 50-minute periods. If your building is one of the "safe" ones, you see the world through a chain-link fence. When your daily routine ends, you file onto a bus with everyone else and make the same trip home every day.

Is it just me, or is that bizarre?

Deficit?

The state legislature is back in session and the calls for more money are as loud as ever. Predictably, we're going to hear a lot of talk about a budget deficit. This year we're $1.8 billion short.

Or are we?

The definition of a "deficit" in the mind of big spenders is "the difference between how much I have and how much I want to spend."

The state is actually going to collect $1.6 billion in new revenue this year (over last year's spending levels). That's the equivalent of a 7 percent raise. (Most of us would love a 7 percent raise.) It just so happens state spenders want to spend $3.3 billion more this year, resulting in a $1.8 billion "deficit."

Incidentally, inflation for the next biennium is forecasted at less than 4 percent, so the excuse that we're "maintaining current levels of service" doesn't fly.

Don't you just love these guys?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

FLASH

Someone broke into the Seattle Police Chief's car recently and stole his 9-mm Glock semiautomatic service pistol.

We need to let that criminal know it's illegal for him to have a gun.

Christianphobia

This is how one Seattle Democrat described her trauma when she discovered that some of the Republicans helping with the manual recount in the governor's race out here took time out for prayer.

"How come I see you going in and out of the GOP Lounge at breaks and lunch?" ... The answer the Sean Hannity look-alike gave me came as a shock.

It was for prayer time, he said barely above a whisper. I had to ask the other people standing with us—one other Democratic ballot counter and two Republican ballot counters—to confirm what he said. This was something I had never considered. That a political party interested in the results of an election would conduct daily prayers, formally or informally, inside an office building in which the express purpose is to conduct civic business left me speechless. Apparently, because they had paid for the space, they felt entitled to do whatever they wanted—or, more precisely, whatever they could get away with. The revelation that prayers were being conducted in the GOP Lounge, together with the fact that the Republican candidate for governor once said he thought creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools, gave me a chilling new understanding of the phrase "party faithful." What I had thought was a contest for governor turned out to be more like a religious war.

The separation of church and state is one of the most cherished tenets of our democracy. Many would argue, myself among them, that those who seek to blur or erase the line are the real enemies of the American way of life. While I started out not caring much about who among the disappointing choices would be our next governor, suddenly I found that I care a great deal.

Talk about paranoia. And what a sad and complete misunderstanding of our nation's founding principles.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Wireless in Tacoma

I've discovered the joys of a wireless internet connection and joined the ranks of people who imagine they look just like all those tech-savvy GenXers in the movies who surf the web while sipping coffee at Starbucks.

I did not resolve to kick my latte habit in the New Year.

Christmas this year was spent at Briananna's (brother-in-law and sister) house in Seattle, eating too-good food and watching animated episodes of "The Tick." (My favorite line from the blue, sense-challenged superhero as he surveys his new domain: "Ah, The City! MY The City!")

Maybe you had to be there.

We also watched The Triplets of Belleville. It was ... weird. And interesting. I probably missed most of the nuances, but I was entertained.

The most important part of Christmas is, of course, Christ, for Whom there are no adequate words of gratitude and awe.

Depends on what "soon" is . . .

Despite the two-month gap between this and my last post, Washington still does not know who will be its next governor. After two machine counts in which Rossi maintained leads of 261 votes and 42 votes, respectively, the far left in the Democrat party put up the $730,000 deposit required to do a statewide hand recount. Gregoire came out on top by 129 votes.

Oddly enough, when Rossi was ahead it was a "literal tie" in Gregoire's words, but now that she's ahead it's a mandate from the people.

If it was legit, I'd say accept it and move on. But a bright and dedicated group of citizens have discovered so many "irregularities" (I will go so far as to say likely fraud) in the proceedings and counts that the outcome is completely untrustworthy.

Consider, for example, that the margin of error here is 129 votes. Yet the King County elections department counted more than 3,500 ballots for whom there are no reported voters.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Check out the excellent and alarming investigation results on SoundPolitics.com, now the national source for information about "the closest gubernatorial race in political history".

Frankly, this isn't about Rossi vs. Gregoire or Republican vs. Democrat anymore. It's about protecting the right of voters to have an equal voice in the selection of their public representatives.

I've joined the chorus petitioning the legislature for a revote. It won't be cheap or convenient, of course. But then, it wasn't cheap or convenient to win the right to be a self-governing nation in the first place. The price was paid in lives.