Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Children are Going to Private School!

I feel the intense urge this morning to speak out against the atrocity that is our public education system. We live in a country where mediocrity is considered above average and "good enough" is accepted, why else do you think we had a C-student, yahoo in office for the past eight years? What brings me to these somewhat nihilistic conclusions you say?

I was walking from a movie screening this past weekend (no it wasn't Twilight) talking to my sister about my reaction to what I just saw. Somehow or another, Shakespeare came up. I asked, "You do know who Shakespeare is right?" And she replied plainly, "Um, some guy who's famous for writing something."

WHAT! Seriously? The only thing my 13-year old sister knows about the most famous literary/playwright in the world is that he wrote some stuff? Now, my little sister's no genius but she is certainly very intelligent and academically advanced for her age. The problem is, she's not being taught these things in school. There are assessments, I think, either each quarter or at least each semester and the one requirement for teachers, get your students to pass the test. Thus the students can learn only what is included in the test. Shakespeare didn't make the cut this year? Oh well, who needs a literary foundation anyway?

Foreign language programs are being reduced, Latin isn't taught, or even so much as hinted at anymore in some places. In other schools, there's only one foreign language offered and it may or may not be a requirement to take it.

The biggest problem with this "teach the test" system is the severe impact it's going to have on these students when it's time to go to college. If they have only ever learned to do "Brief Constructed Responses (BCRs)" how are they going to write that ten page paper on the Socratic method? Will they even have heard of Socrates before college? Will they know how to structure a paper, or what parallelism is; how about introductions and conclusions? College professors don't care about what you know and don't know or what you were taught and what you weren't; they will teach their curriculum to the standard of whatever university they inhabit and it matters little that all you know how to do is fill in bubbles on a piece of paper.

And what about literary works? I'm sorry, but as much as I love the Harry Potter books they are LEISURE READS! Why anyone would think it appropriate to put them on the same reading list as Dickens, Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Fitzgerald is beyond me. There is so much importance in covering the classics, not only to see how far we've come, but to expand the potential of where we can go. Students' ambitions are no longer nurtured in our society, they are levied. Now there are some teachers who are going rogue from this system and I take my hat off to them. Their students will be better off than most. For the rest who have no choice but to conform to the system, their students are on the path to "The Monkey House" and yes that was a Vonnegut reference.

And while I'm on the subject of eccentrically prophetic Kurt Vonnegut, doesn't this education system sound a little like Harrison Bergeron? We are a nation fueled by competitiveness and yet we stifle the intellectual possibilities of our young students. If you're a parent or a cousin or a big sister/brother, or just a friend of a friend with someone in grade school, drop what you're doing, take their hand, drag them to the library (that place where the books are collecting dust) and introduce them to a world beyond the video game and the TV. Prepare them for the world of higher education by giving them an actual one now.

I want to personally thank every teacher I had for teaching me not only how to learn but equipping me with the knowledge to survive in an ever-changing society; because today, in light of a poor attempt to move forward, we have done the exact opposite and left every child behind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Beef With Religion

Before you take out your pitchforks, which I’m sure some of you are already brandishing, let me clarify my delightfully ostentatious title. I am not, nor have I ever been against faith; I consider myself a person of faith. My qualm is with the institution itself.

I was born into a Catholic family and thus raised Catholic; I declared myself non-denominational once I left the nest and have since reaffirmed my belief system to be purely spiritual. Like the rest of humanity, I am a product of indoctrination so I will never tell someone their faith is wrong unless they use their belief system to justify hating or hurting someone else.

There are some major things I don’t get about religious institutions and some minor things; one of the biggest has to be the assertion that one is better than the other. I am no self-proscribed theologian but what I know about all major religions is that they all have a sense of purpose outlined for their brethren; a kind of guide to where they fit in with the rest of the world. If so, then why profess that your “God” is better than their god? Aren’t we all talking about the same being? Why are your doctrines better than others? Why is your religion the “real truth” and everyone else’s false? Doesn’t that undermine the very ideology of faith? “The belief in something that you consider true,” is the same definition every other person of faith occupies.

It always seemed weird to me that people felt it was bashing God to go and survey some other denomination’s service. The people at the other service haven’t burst into flames yet, why would you? In fact, viewing other ways people perceive their faith can only strengthen yours. If you take everything at face value and never question what I like to call the “prophetic rhetoric” you are not faithful, you are complacent.

That same blind complacency leads to fear, intolerance and yes H8TE (those of you up on the times know why I chose to spell it that way). Personally, I would think some being of divine, cosmic proportion would be above simple human feelings and emotions (i.e. vengeance, jealously, rage, etc.). I find it funny how a person can stand on a soapbox and preach that God destroyed one place or another for whatever reason and in the same breath denounce Greek mythology other polytheistic religions with similar theories.

There’s also the issue of Christian denominations; why the variance? If Jesus Christ supposedly set the record straight, why are there different strokes for different folks? This speaks clearly to the truth argument; how can some pick the parts of the bible they want to follow and others pick different parts, then both say their way is THE way?

Trust me, I’m all for you loving your God and worshiping him/her/it and being thankful for his/hers/its gifts; but as someone who identifies as simply spiritual I don’t want your beliefs imposed upon me. I love having discussions about religion within reason; the line gets drawn when someone says, “(Insert divinity here) said …” Did you get some kind of message from this deity? Did they send you an IM on AOL? No, of course not, that would be absurd, right? Then why do people constantly fall under discrimination and condemnation for what a deity “says”.

Let’s take a current issue; a same-sex marriage ban just recently, and I think illegally, passed in California by people who lied to Californians and then justified it with religious reasons. It was their duty to protect the tradition of marriage as God intended. Not to be crass but WTF? The tradition of monogamous marriage was created and indoctrinated for social/financial reasons, as are most institutions in the world. Know why priests can’t get married anymore? The Vatican decided that their money should go back to them and not to the priest’s widows upon their death. If you don’t believe me, Google it.

Look, the marriage preservation argument was used a couple of years ago (listen up people of color) during the anti-miscegenation trials. But let’s pop out of our bubble for a moment to look at the history of marriage. Before it was backed by the church, it was a social practice in which a man would take a wife, or many (yes, we were property ladies) in order to produce an heir to his fortune or for other reasons. Often daughters were sold for land, crops, etc. Divorce was legalized and outlawed several times and it always came down to money. The argument was simple, the man will impregnate the woman, they’ll have a kid and they will have to spend more money.

What baffles me is people’s asinine belief that they are somehow making the world a better place by denying rights to other human beings, that they are doing “God’s work”. First of all, God supposedly doesn’t like gay sex anymore than he likes shellfish. Yet people conveniently skip over that part in order to protect their right to eat crabs. And homosexuality, a word that wasn’t created until the late 19th century, could not possibly be in the bible, anywhere! If anything, Jesus talks about the values of loving one another as you would love yourself. I think if God hated the gays there wouldn’t be 20 and 30-year couples in loving relationships with families. I don’t see how someone can say that having a deep, intimate love and respect for someone is somehow wrong in the eyes of God.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a tragedy when people let their religion trump their humanity. No good can come of oppression, and no truth can come of blind complacency. People of all faiths should be able to break bread with the understanding that though their faiths may vary, the tolerance and affirmation of their way of life is a main course everyone can stomach.