Thursday, January 6, 2011

Off to see the wizard

The front page article in the Journal, January 6, 2011, "Graduation rules face initial test" was breathtaking. The percentage of students in the lowest achievement categories was beyond discouraging. Anyone unconcerned is a character from Oz, either the "Scarecrow" or "Tin Woodsman" - no brains or no heart.

As I think about graduation criteria raised in the article it makes me also question merit pay as a litmus test for teachers.

I see a dedicated, talented, hard working teacher in one of the worst performing schools, not earning as much as a teacher working half as hard in one of the most affluent towns.

On the other hand there are teachers who show up every day, uninterested, bored but due to seniority, have little fear of losing their jobs. They need to be dismissed.  

We humans prefer simplicity, sharply defined edges, black vs white choices. I remember how much more I preferred multiple choice exams to essay questions. So much easier.

Well that's too bad because life just isn't that easy and pretending it is produces what's all around us; people behaving as simpletons, demonizing anyone, any group, different from them. It's as true in Washington as it is locally, maybe more so.

Perhaps when we understand ourselves better we might make better decisions and better choices and better laws and find the yellow brick road. I sure hope so.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making it Easier to Hate

There is a line in one of my favorite Broadway Musicals, South Pacific, that says, "You've got to be taught to hate and fear...,".  Indeed, that's how we make it easier for our soldiers to kill. Part of the technique is to remove ambiguity. By creating a one dimensional image of the enemy it is much easier to encourage the desired behavior toward them. "Japs", "gooks", "chinks", "krauts", all words designed to dehumanize, to remove individualism, to make it easier to hate.

In a recent Commentary in the Providence Journal on January 2, 2011, the author makes the case that "some interpretations of Islam" are responsible for 9/11.  While this might be strictly true, the implication, the unsaid words, coupled with our need for unambiguous direction, clearly point an accusing finger at the 'enemy' - Muslims and Islam.

"Conservative wing-nuts", "Pinko liberals", "Commie progressives", "Tea-bagger Nazis". Makes it so much easier doesn't it?

This apparent need to make one's point by painting with too broad a brush, by demonizing the "other", by trying to reduce the complexity of issues to the fewest elements, by trying to eliminate or at least reduce ambiguity, is evident everywhere, from local politics all the way to Washington and the results are painfully obvious.

Worried about huge deficits and spending? You're anti-worker, anti-union.
Want to assure fair wages for workers? You must be a Socialist or a Communist.

Wake up before we do something really stupid.  Nuclear war anyone?