Thursday, August 9, 2012

Filling Pails or Lighting Fires

I posted about the issue this blog post is going to address on Facebook already.  Most of the time, when I find a disturbing bit of news on the internet, I can post a few words about it on Facebook and that will somehow satiate my need for people not to be wrong.  Believe me, people are wrong on the internet all the time; it's important to have a pressure valve, especially if you're me and you just really hate people's inability to come to rational rather than knee-jerk conclusions.

Unfortunately, Facebook didn't work as a palliative this time.  The issue has gotten under my skin and I need to "scratch", if you will.  So, I've come here to do it.

The State of Louisiana, under Governor Bobby Jindal, has decided that it's basically going to outsource (probably I should say, privatize) it's education system, at least in part, via the largest school voucher system in America.

Let me start by saying I think you should be able to school your children in the way that seems fit to you.  For one, I believe in competition as a driving force for improvement.  Let me then say, I think it's obvious that you should want to have your children in public school.

Let me explain.  I often go to de Tocqueville because I believe he put it best when he argued that in a democracy, the people get ONLY the government that they deserve.  It's in the best interest of all it citizens that the country's young people, inexorably marching toward voting age, become educated, capable (in academia, the arts, etc.), and most of all, discerning.  (Incidentally, that's also what's best for the children themselves. )  You don't want idiots for citizens because idiots deserve an idiot government.  In short, as goes the education system, and in particular, as goes the public education system, so goes the democracy.

The public education system works best when all of the citizens and their children (such as they have any) are invested co-partners.

Vouchers are harmful to this system, because they lure away capable students, and they draw money away from the public education system itself.  Period.  Full stop.

They are most dreadfully harmful, as is the case with Louisiana, when they are directed away from the public school system, whose goal should always be to produce well-educated, discerning students, to institutions who make no pretence about being anything but driven by this or that demagoguery.  (Incidentally, I understand, better than most readers of this blog, the short-comings of the current public education system; more bogged down and nearly drowning in bureaucratically motivated testing for testings' sake than it is interested in fulfilling it's purpose.  After all, I deal with college freshman every year.  But again, how are vouchers supposed to make the system better?  How is leaving the system, giving up, supposed to make it better?).

Louisiana tax dollars are going to institutions that have bought so called "text books" that are just plain shameful.  This link does a good job of giving you the rundown: here.  How can it be in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana (or of the Unites States for that matter) for their future citizens to be thus wilfully misinformed?

I'm a Christian.  I understand that, even though I believe that I experience a personal relationship with a living God, their is an inherent element of faith that I must possess in that.  I also understand that that last sentence sounds like utter nonsense to my readers and friends who aren't Christian and who not only think that I don't have a relationship with God, but also that there is no God and that I'm just deluding myself.  I accept that.  I accept it, even as I hope you might one day come around to seeing things my way.  There is room for respect for each others beliefs.  But what there is not is room for the denial of evidence based facts to fit a dogma that is laughably conflated with religion.  It's not what Christians are called to do, and it's not what Christ did.  It's just plain dangerous.  It's dangerous to our very democracy, our very ability to worship (or not) however we choose.

The most common thing you hear about vouchers is when parents say, 'well, I'm glad we live in a free country where I can choose to school my child wherever and however I want.  I like vouchers because it means we won't have to pay for school twice.'

I'm glad we live in a free country too.  I wouldn't think I'd have to say that, but you seem to think I'm against personal liberty somehow.  I'm not.  But, as to the part about vouchers just meaning you won't have to pay twice, wrong.

You don't have any more argument there than would a person who has no children, or one whose children are grown.  You and them and I have something in common.  We're not paying taxes for our children to go to school, we're paying for EVERYONE'S children to go to school, because it's in our best interest that they do.

So, if you want a refund, fine.  The best you could possibly argue for would be to take the pittance of your total taxes that actually goes to education, divide it by the number of children in public school, and then you may have the sad amount that you paid for your own child.  Hardly worth it I'd say.

(As an aside, note that this is very different than what vouchers actually accomplish, where effectively state governments like Louisiana's are subsidising private institutions so that those institutions can lower their tuition costs, effectively outsourcing education whole cloth.)

There's a reason why private school is so expensive.  No one in their right mind who isn't wholly committed to making a real difference for our future society would go into public education as a career.  By in large the teachers who work with our children in the public system are getting used and abused and they know it, and they come to work and do their dead level best anyway.  In my book, that's the first step to sainthood.  How does starving an already under-funded future help?  Not only that, but it's wrong to abuse such a group of people just because despite the enormous amount of lip-service we pay to the need for better education, what we really mean is better education for me and mine alone and I'd really like to spend as much of our money somewhere else as we can. 

So, send your children to private school if you must.  (There's probably a whole other post in me about how for the life of me I don't see the benefit of a non-public education over a public one, but it's late and I'm tired).  I know and like a lot of well meaning people who do just that.  But, if you do I think you're making a mistake; for all of us.  What's more, it shouldn't even be an issue where the government collected taxes ought to rightly go.      

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Of Shakes and Semantics

"What size drink would you like?", is one of those questions to which there is no right answer.  I've long thought that I could easily do with one uniform cup size.  Consider the two situations.  In the first scenario you are staying inside to eat, in which case rare is the establishment that doesn't offer free refills.  After all, you don't expect to be asked what size drink you would like when you go to a "sit-down" establishment (as opposed to "fast food").  In the second scenario you are eating (and drinking) on the run.  In which case, again, who cares how big the cup is.  It's sure to be big enough to contain enough fluid to wash down the food you'll be eating, and regardless of how big the cup is, you're sure to drink until it's empty, and the variation between 16 and 32 oz is a mere 16 measly ounces.  Not enough to be concerned with, especially considering that most of what you'll get is ice anyway.  If you don't stop to psych yourself out, if you don't spend time thinking about it, then the cup size will be absolutely meaningless to you.

But that's just it.  We are forced to think about it.  Why ARE there three (or sometimes four) sizes to choose from.  Am I supposed to worry about value?  I'm paying about a 200% markup for soda regardless.  What does it MEAN to me and to others around me if I choose one size over the other.  How thirsty AM I?  Well, I'm thirsty til I'm not... so...

Effectively, when you're driving, the cup is a distraction.  Additionally, no matter how much drink you have, you will be thirsty again.  So you always have simultaneously too much and too little to drink.  

And the kicker, for me at least, is that when the drive-through speaker blares back at you asking what size drink you would like, the options are meaningless.  What size is "small"?  How does "medium" differ from "small", aside from the obvious.  What's the next size after "medium".  In fact, what even is the WORD for the next size after "medium"?  There's no standardization, not even lexically, much less in terms of actual quantifiability.

People like options.  But cup size is a difference that doesn't make one.  It's variety theatre instead of variety in actuality, and I'd actually rather not be asked what size I'd like.   

I've developed a trick to expedite having to deal with the meaningless decision of deciding on cup size.  It's a trick that leverages the built in ambiguity of semantics. 

"What size drink would you like?'

"I'll have regular."

This almost always works.  What's "regular" you might ask?  Well, occasionally the establishment might actually have a "regular" size, but even if they don't, WHO CARES!?  The employee likely has an idea what "regular" is, and that's perfectly acceptable to me.

But today, at Sonic, the drive through operator, after I told her I wanted "regular" came back with, "We have small, medium, large and route 44 sizes, sir."  Really?  Are THOSE the sizes you have?  Well that's fascinating!  I'll take "regular" please.  But no.  My bluff had been called, and I was forced to make an actual choice.  I went with "medium".

Then, we we get to the window, Tabitha's drink comes through the window first, and it's completely devoid of ice.  When next the window opened, out flung my beverage, and in mid sentence I was cut off with the slamming window as she went to force the next customer to choose a cup size. 

We waited.  When the window opened up we asked for a cup of ice.  The window closed, again.  In the mean time, we noticed I had not been allotted a straw.  The window opened again and out flew another cup.  With an urgency in our request we managed to keep the window from slamming again, barely, before closing without our request being registered.  The look we received... the contempt in the eye-roll... the aggravation with us, the oh-so-troubling customers.  Well, I didn't like it.  Not. At. All.