Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A couple of points

Firstly, here's a great editorial on the outcome of schools, and what exactly influences testing and school performance. The article, written by Martha Infante, discusses her findings after probing into the scoring of affluent community schools and finding them all at the very top of the scoring chart. Infante's conclusion is that it is not the teachers, the curriculum, the testing, or the unions that have the biggest impact on our education; it's socioeconomic status.

Admittedly, these other factors have an impact, particularly the curriculum and testing that determines the eventual funding of schools, but socioeconomics tend to be the big one. In affluent communities, the numbers are higher, due partly to the fact that students get steady meals, plenty of rest, and have relatively stable home lives. By contrast, students from lower economic classes have been found to have more disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, less stable homes, and many now are having to travel from shelter to shelter each evening to find a place to sleep. These are factors that no amount of testing, withholding of funding, or other standardized formats can account for.

The second article, in a completely different vein, has to do with closed perspectives on the constitution and its amendments. According to Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice, the 14th Amendment does not protect the rights of women or LGBT individuals. If anyone needs a refresher, here is the wording of the 14th amendment. What seems patently obvious is that this does protect the rights of women and LGBT's to not be discriminated against based on their gender or sexual orientation. However, Scalia's argument is that the original writers of the amendment did not have these groups in mind during their writing, and so we should not interpret the law this way.

There are several problems with this argument. First of all, Scalia can not confirm what group the writers were thinking of during the writing of the 14th amendment. For this reason, it can be argued that the amendment fails to cover anyone. If a white male is denied a job, it could be argued reasonably, based on Scalia's view, that the 14th amendment does not make this illegal. The ramifications of such a decision are mind-boggling. Secondly, the problem with Scalia's argument is that, in order for these groups to be protected by law, that additional laws would need to be passed. In the case of women, it probably wouldn't be an issue (I can imagine that some would vote against it, however. That's just the nature of the beast). The problem would come when a law is put to the vote that would protect the rights of LGBTs. This is the kind of thing that would become a hot-button issue, would certainly split the nation along party lines, and would end up being a media circus and major piece of legislation. The fact is, Scalia's view sets up a group of second-class citizens that are without equal protection or representation under the law, which is patently un-American.

I would have posted these separately, but I felt that they have a kind of social underpinning that tie them together. It is the undercurrent of ignorance and a belief in the division of the nation, of second class citizens. In the first case, we have been told time and again that if we privatize our education system, all of our problems would be eliminated. If the root of the problem is in socioeconomic status, then privatization will simply make the problem worse as families will then have to pay more out of pocket for their education. This, in turn, would create a second class of citizen, the one that can't afford education and thus doesn't get it. In the second case, you have the ignorance of the people being used to assert that certain protections are not afforded to certain groups of citizens. Anyone who takes the ten seconds to read the 14th amendment would see that what they are reading is contradictory to Scalia's claims, and yet few will actually do that. This is a case of using collective ignorance to influence public views and opinions. It also, as I said before, suggests a kind of second-class citizen, the one without rights equal to those of the more privileged class.

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