Wednesday, August 29, 2012

School Bullying

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I’m a bit pissed off right now, so I’m going to have to think about my word choice rather carefully to keep the tone of this article as civil as I’d like it to be.
School bullying is definitely a hot topic right now. It’s all over the news and in the public eye. I even belong to several special interest groups on LinkedIn that discuss bullying. Granted, my view on it is a little less progressive than most as I vociferously disagree with the “zero tolerance” rules. I’m firmly in the “if the kid hit you, punch him back” camp. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to teach kids that they don’t have the right to defend themselves. But, I digress.

The content of this article is probably going to surprise you as it’s a twist from the usual slant on this issue. Those of you who frequent this blog often have seen the numerous other posts I’ve written on education. To sum it up eloquently, in the words of Shakespeare; “something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.”
The topic I pose to you today is this; what do you do when the school is the bully?

I’ve encountered at least two incidents in the last two weeks that I think could be classified as bullying. The first instance occurred at my step-son’s school in the Dysart Elementary District in Arizona. In this case the teacher sent home a notice that she needed school supplies; Kleenex brand facial tissues, Viva brand paper towels, and Dove brand liquid hand sanitizer (16oz refill bottles). She was very specific about her list. How does this constitute bullying? Well, in her letter to the parents she stated that these items needed to be brought in to the classroom every month. She also said that any child who does not bring the items on the list every month will have participation points deducted from their grade!
I’m sorry, what? First of all, teachers should not be demanding items like this from the parents; especially not by size and brand name. If I have the cash to spare to donate supplies, then the teacher will get whatever is on sale, because that’s what I buy for my own house. Secondly, not every family can afford to be bringing in these items every month. Thirdly, There’s no way that a 1st grade classroom should be going through 30 boxes of tissue, 30 pounds of hand sanitizer and 180 rolls of paper towels every month. And finally, and most importantly, if I chose not to bring these items in, why does the school it’s fair to penalize my child? It’s entirely out of his control whether I buy these items or not.

In a second encounter in as many weeks another incident occurred, this time at my son’s school in Glendale Elementary District. This school gives the children daily planners/agendas. In those agendas the teacher makes comments about how the child is doing in class and assigns them a color based on their behavior. Those colors are communicated with the parents via this document.
The first week of school the teacher filled out Monday and Tuesday, which I signed. Wednesday through Friday had nothing in them, so I didn’t sign them. I’m going to sign a blank box, sorry. I emailed the teacher that Friday and asked her what was up with the blank entries. She never responded. Then, on the following Monday she marked my son down because the agenda wasn’t signed.

Come again? First of all, there was nothing to sign. If you’re not going to bother writing something in the box, I’m not going to sign it. It’s that simple. Secondly, even if the teacher had written something in those boxes and I didn’t sign it I fail to see what that has to do with my child’s behavior for that day. He can’t force me to sign it any more than I can force it to rain. I forgot to sign the agenda the other day because, well, dammit, life is busy. Even after telling the teacher to knock this off because I’m concerned about the long term psychological effects of punishing my child for something he didn’t do, she still did it again anyway.
For those of you who are out of the loop on this whole color-card system it works like this; there’s a poster or a chart or fabric or something in the front of the room. Every student’s name is on the list. They get a colored square and put it next to their name. Every day everyone starts at Green.  Each time the child does something wrong they have to get up in front of the entire class and publicly change their color to yellow or red in a process that is filled with shame and ridicule. I’m opposed to this entire system from the start for that very reason, but to make kids do it for something they can’t even control seems even more absurd.

In these cases the principal at the first school had no clue that this one going on and once she was made aware of the situation it was dealt with. As for the other situation, as of the time of this writing it is still pending. I have a meeting with the school later this week to discuss the situation.
I also have a lot of issues going on with the college that I’m going to as well, but that is enough to fill another article in-and-of-itself. I just find it odd that with all of the talk about bullying going on lately and the campaigns to stop it, the schools themselves would be prone to such practices.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Measurement of Success II

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Some months back I wrote an article about what people define as “success” and how it is measured and compared ( In the wake of the recently completed Summer Olympics I feel compelled to discuss this topic in a little more detail.

Don’t get me wrong. Let me start this discussion off by affirming that I love the concept of the Olympic Games. The entire world coming together peacefully in any endeavor, even for a short amount of time, is something worthwhile. But, the Olympics have left me feeling a little disenfranchised of late and it has almost everything to do with how they determine who is winning.

When it comes to the Olympics it seems like the only thing that matters is taking home the Gold.  This system of measuring success seems to reinforce the idea of the old expression, “second place is just the first loser”.  Has our culture our society really become so focused on taking first place that no other aspects of the sportsmanship involved in getting there matter?

After hearing of the events of the Women’s Epee semifinals I remain more convinced than ever that the sportsmanship of the games is lost. For those of you who missed this debacle (because NBC never aired it), the semi-final match between South Korea and Germany was close. With 1 second remaining on the clock the South Korean athlete was in the lead. All she had to do was not get touched for 1 second and she would go on to fight for the Gold Medal. She squared off with her opponent and they fought. They both scored a simultaneous hit, and then again. And then, 3 seconds later the German opponent scored a hit, and then the clock reached 0. What happened? The 15-year old boy that they had running the clock screwed up. By rights, the Korean fighter should have won this. The Judges knew it, the fighters knew it and the crowd knew it. The sportsmanlike thing to do would be for the German fighter to concede on the grounds that she only won because the host country had unqualified idiots running the clock, but she didn’t do that. Even after paying thousands of US dollars to contest the ruling the judges still ruled in favor of Germany.  What happened to sports and personal honor?

The games themselves rank winning countries based one factor only; the number of Gold medals they have. When I was in high school I ran track and cross country. We were a team. Sure, we competed in individual events, but we were a team. There was a scoring system that they used to see which school won the overall meet. I don’t remember the exact details, but basically the people who finished in the top 5 places in any event earned points for their team. What if you did something like that for the Olympics?

Right now the top 10 leading countries are thus:

1.       United States                                    46 Gold                                 104 Total
2.       China                                                  38 Gold                                 88 Total
3.       Great Britain                                     29 Gold                                 65 Total
4.       Russia                                                 24 Gold                                 82 Total
5.       South Korea                                      13 Gold                                 28 Total
6.       Germany                                            11 Gold                                 44 Total
7.       France                                                 11 Gold                                 34 Total
8.       Italy                                                      8 Gold                                   28 total
9.       Hungary                                              8 Gold                                   17 Total
10.   Australia                                              7 Gold                                   35 Total

Now, I ask you, why should a country, like England, who scored 65 total medals, be beating a country, like Russia, that scored 17 more medals than they did? Or what about Korea, who scored 16 fewer medals than the country they beat?  Supposed we switched to a point based system where each Gold medal was worth 5 points, each Silver Medal was 3 points and each Bronze Medal was 1 point. The final standing would be quite different.

Under that system the top 10 countries would be:

1.       United States                    346 points
2.       China                                  294 points
3.       Russia                                 230 points
4.       Great Britain                     215 points
5.       Germany                            126 points
6.       France                                 100 points
7.       South Korea                       96 points
8.       Australia                             95 points
9.       Japan                                   94 points
10.   Italy                                      78 points

Under this system, Russia and Britain flip flop, Germany moves up to fifth, France moves up to 6th, South Korea drops to 7th, and Japan takes its place in the top 10 while Hungary is pushed out. To me, this type of system or something like it seems much more equitable, and it promotes teamwork and sportsmanship.

 An even more radical suggestion, one blogger suggests breaking down the medal count by the country’s population density. He argues that the more people you have in your country, the higher the statistical probability that you may have an Olympic champion. It’s quite an interesting concept and one that completely turns the medal count table on its head.  You can read about his ideas here:

Maybe I’m old fashioned or naive to still have the belief that how you play the game is more important than how you place.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Racism Generalized

[Greg Bullock]
Nearly everyone knows that racism and stereotyping are wrong. Unfortunately, people don't stop to analyse why, or to generalize and apply the moral principles that forbid racism to other areas in which people judge individuals by the groups into which they are classified.

The problems with racist thinking are two-fold. Racism is first a mathematical error. A blanket statement about people of the form "all X's are Y's" is erroneous if a single counter example exists. Even when a premise is put into statistical form, such as "X is on average worse (in some area) than Y," assuming that a specific member of X is worse than a specific member of Y would be a mistake. Of course, these errors are greater in a situation where not a kernel of truth exists in our stereotypes. Human cognitive biases ensure that we will be enthralled to innumerable stereotypes, often without being aware of it.

These abstract points might be academic if it were not for the second problem with racist thinking. The mathematical errors implicit in such attitudes have moral consequences. We treat people differently from how we should because of our errors in reasoning. The consequences can range from accidentally giving offense to persecution, oppression, and genocide.

Decades of education have endowed most people with a finely-honed instinct for recognizing overt racism. Unfortunately, this instinct seems to be useless in noticing stereotypes not associated with historically persecuted classes, i. e., those stereotypes we decry as racist or sexist. As a simplistic example, it is common for people with progressive ideas about race to make statements which depict southerners as racist and backwards. When challenged on such points, perpetuators of stereotypes typically respond exactly as a racist does: "but it's true." They dismiss counter-examples in the same way, by adducing reasons the counter-example is nonrepresentative.

As an instructive exercise, you could substitute the name of a minority group for the group which such a person is defending his right to slander; If you were then to create a transcript of the altered conversation, you would see nothing that wouldn't be at home on the web page of a hate group.

Because the speaker hasn't generalized the principles that make racism wrong to govern his broader thinking, he continues to be no better than the hated racist. We might benefit from subsuming terms for specific categories of unenlightened thinking under the term "generalism," rather than racism, etc. We would certainly benefit by being more considerate of the ways in which we think of people as members of a group rather than individuals.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I'm back!

Hello everyone!

I apologize for the long hiatus. I had a few college courses that I was struggling with and had to devote my attention there.

Some new things are in the works! First, I've got a few blog articles that I want to write and I'll be putting them up in the coming weeks.

Second, I've been talking for some time about adding other contributors to my blog so that this site truly becomes what it was intended; a place for people to share a variety of intellectual thoughts and opinions, even differing ones in a respectful manner. I've always wanted this site to be a place where people's creative juices get fired up, and their thought and their reason are engaged and they leave these pages thinking. Well, dear readers, that time has finally come. I have figured out how to allow additional authors to post to this blog and I will begin setting that up immediately. (Sheepishly I admit it was 1,000 times easier than I expected). You can expect to see the first posts by people other than myself within the next few days, with more to come. If you are interested in writing something for this blog, please contact me.

As always, thanks for stopping by!