Monday, March 31, 2008

Governmental Parenting Standards

In Parents pick prayer over docs; girl dies, Nicholas Provenzo discusses the role of the parents’ faith in the death of an eleven year old girl. As the post and subsequent comments elaborate, the question becomes one not solely of mysticism vs. science, but of individual rights: the parents’ versus the child’s. This is a fascinating subject to me and one about which I have more questions than answers the more I explore it.

I have posted on the role of parents as educators
here regarding objective standards in government of monitoring or intervention in the education of children. Given that government schools don’t seem to be losing any strength of entrenchment within our society, the premise of mere government oversight is an illusory one at this point in time. However, it is still worth attempting to define by what possible political philosophy could government standards regarding the education of a child be enforced under the umbrella of the individual rights of the child as applied against those of the parents to make choices for their children. It is worth defining the standard because I suspect that exact same standard could apply to the continuation of the child’s life as well.

In the matter of physical abuse, where there is physically identifiable damage, or in the case of criminal neglect, again, where there is physically definable damage, there is no question that the parents have violated the individual rights of the child and should be punished under objective law. In the first case, his parents have used force to restrain him from or require him to do something. In the second, the child has been forcibly denied the right to food and shelter, those things required to be provided by the parents of the very young in order for them to live.

Beyond these obvious examples, however, where do we draw the line between parental choice and child abuse? Between parenting style and government intervention? Between the ability to gather empirical evidence, to think, to understand and the need for the government to impose standards by which all men will be better able to gather, think, and understand?

By what objective standard does the moral obligation of the parents become the domain of government?

The danger here, as I see it, is that in calling the parents’ decision to appeal to mysticism rather than science child abuse, we will make laws
“respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. How soon after these rights are breached will new laws be used against people of reason?

In my
last post, I did call out the curator as heroic not only because he rose above his strictly “new earth” Christian upbringing, but also because he recognized that despite the differences (okay, more like horrid perversions of scientific ideas) the Biblically Correct tours presented, we are in America. People are free to not only practice, but further spread this faith, no matter how perverted and in some cases, anti-life it is, to their children.

Knowing that man is a rational being who needs only the freedom to observe things, use his mind, and make his own decisions in order to learn which choices will sustain his life, and that most rational men view providing for their children within their rational self-interest, I am confident that most men who operate rationally will live a decent life. Of course it could be argued that he might die trying, but that is no reason to replace his individual sovereignty with government oversight. You can't mandate the stupid out of people.

I’m obviously still working on these ideas, but so far, I just can’t justify in any form, government enforced parenting standards.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kirk Johnson, Hero Curator

I'm not posting this to froth anyone up - god knows, we atheists need no frothing, but rather to present the hero curator, Kirk Johnson. Johnson, who grew up with a similar religious background to the children in the video, was able to make empirical observations on his own and come to devote his life to science. He further alludes to the fact that the despite the tour guides being wrong about the science, presenting a diametrically opposed opinion is a pretty American thing to do. Secure with his background and knowledge, he is one cool customer.

There is a particularly disturbing bit within the first 2 minutes (1 min 45 sec) where one of the tour guides sees that a young girl cannot follow his leading logic regarding the likelihood of a dinosaur praying and fasting for Eve to fall from grace so that he can eat meat (did you follow that?), he says, “Everybody say it with me now”, nodding his head up and down, “No.”

If that don’t beat all hell.

ManHour 2008

A friend of mine sent me this the other day.

Tell me, is there anything more frightening than the image which shows the beautiful city lights across America turning off simultaneously (at about 1 min 56 sec in the video)?

Tomorrow night between 8-9pm EDST, I will be turning on all the lights in and out of my house for one hour. I will be supporting the idea that man should never go back to the dark ages. I'm calling it ManHour 2008.

Have the organizers of EarthHour asked themselves how their Mother will accommodate all the little consumers produced during that hour? After all, what else can people do during with the lights out?

Gone, Batty, Gone

A friend sent me this article in the NYT on the plight of bats in the Northeast region. I’m concerned by this devastating loss of bats in my area. As one who sees the extensive loss of species as a potential loss to mankind, and as one who swells to nearly 4 times her normal size at the site of insect bites, I’m worried about the billions of extra mosquitoes that will congregate in my yard with impunity now!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Real Good News for Modern Man

This article in last week’s Houston Chronicle is worth reading. It tells the story of a young woman whose heart was failing and her tough decision to not have a heart transplant. Luckily for her, she lives in an age where the best and brightest minds are working on alternatives for ailing hearts. She not only avoided the transplant, but now she has her life, and her heart, back! Parties responsible for this good news: the brave young woman, her doctors, and the designers at Thoratec.

After having read the comments to the article, I think my post title would have served as a better title – geesh!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Master of All Masters

Danny Kaye is a master story teller as well as a singer, dancer, actor, and kind of a treasure in his own right. When I was growing up, this album was my very favorite! I had searched for it for years without any luck and then I finally found this site at which many old children’s albums have been downloaded as MP3s.

I'm not certain about the legal issues of this site, but I think that since these albums are not available any longer, it is not an infringement issue. If someone knows better, please tell me and I will remove the link.

I have really enjoyed sharing these stories with my children. Maybe you’ll find an album that you’d like to share with yours.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

George Washington, the Greek God?

In his post entitled In Defense of “Heroification” (Part 1), Scott Powell presents an excellent refutation of the ideas in the popular book, Lies My Teacher Told Me. As a parent of one of Scott’s gigglers (upon seeing the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington) I can attest to the fact that children who have a grasp of the real heroism of George Washington do not fall prey to the type of hero worship condemned in the book.

I eagerly await the second and third installments of Scott’s posting on the proper heroification of George Washington which will also be found on
History At Our House.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Coincidence or not?

The presence of red coats (brown coats). A struggle for independence. A confluence of events and characters making a peerless assemblage.

Having had the pleasure of watching the first three episodes of John Adams (the miniseries on HBO) this weekend, I got to wondering about the similarities between it and Firefly. Okay, not really, but the end of the opening theme does bear a striking resemblance to the end of The Ballad of Serenity.

The miniseries is every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Atheister!

I'm sure some people are interested in how atheists can celebrate what has come to be known as a religious holiday. Well, contrary to popular belief, some of us have a deep sense of morality and are extremely caring. For us, this is what today is all about:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Leveling the Playing Field

When you hear that, does it make you cringe? It does me.

If you have wondered exactly how campaign finance reform is a violation of free speech, here is an excellent article in Forbes magazine by Yaron Brook which explains it clearly. He reasons that by attempting to prohibit political persuasion from those who can afford it, campaign finance reform effectively insures political coercion by those currently in power.

War on Free Political Speech

Friday, March 21, 2008

March Madness

At first, I thought March Madness was about the naming of the Girl Scout cookies: Thin Mints - oh, the irony.

Then I realized, it's the beginning of baseball season, people!!!!

Check out the boys at the official MLB Red Sox site on the top of the sidebar (how long it shall remain there is anyone's guess - longer than the VOKI, I can assure you).

Can you believe that Youk has his own blog? Me neither.

Opening day is just around the corner.....

I'm very excited.

(Since we can't get tickets to Fenway, here is a picture we took watching the Sox at Camden Yards - nice place to see a game - we couldn't believe the ease of access! Tek is walking out to calm Beckett down.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"No Substitute for Victory"

I am in awe of the sheer willpower necessary to maintain one's composure and concentration when being verbally attacked by the very same irrationality one is speaking against.

John David Lewis recently posted a blog entry on Principals in Practice, the blog of The Objective Standard regarding his most recent lecture at the Georgia State Technical University. His lecture, 'No Substitute for Victory': The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism, is based on an article he wrote in The Objective Standard.

An audio presentation of his No Substitute for Victory lecture given at George Mason University last April can also be found at The Objective Standard.

I cannot recommend the article and the lecture enough. The article is an excellent presentation of why Islamic Totalitarianism is a threat to us all, and the audio presentation is an amazing example of staying focused on the issue when your audience is openly hostile.

If you find it worth your time, you will no doubt find it inspirational.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Motivation, Part 5

The following is the 5th (possibly final) part of a series of essays on student motivation by Lisa VanDamme. You can find all of them on her Pedagogically Correct blog.

Last time, I explained that in order for a teacher to properly motivate his students, he must really know the purpose of teaching his subject, and that purpose must set the standard for selection of the subject's content. Let me now add that the content selected must also be hierarchically appropriate if the purpose is to be achievable.

In a literature course, for example, the works selected for a given group of students must contain characters and themes to which they can relate. They must contain abstract material that the students are capable of grasping and can connect to their own lives. I once gave a workshop on hierarchy in education to the Maryland Homeschoolers' Association. In the discussion, I threw out, as a contrived example of the violation of hierarchy, the absurdity of reading Tom Sawyer to your toddler in the name of getting a jump on the classics. A parent approached me after the talk, thanked me for it, and confessed, his head low, that he had been reading none other than Tom Sawyer to his 2 and 5-year-olds, with what he had regarded as inexplicably disastrous results. It is not inexplicable-the works introduced to a child must not just be meaningful, they must be meaningful to him.

The value of the subject must also set the standard for the method of the course. Every exercise must be purposeful; it must be carefully selected to further the ultimate goal of the course. The method by which we achieve the purpose in literature is to have daily discussions of the reading, and daily writing assignments, that are integrated around the central value of the work-discussions that help the students to gain an understanding of the plot, of the characterization, and of the theme, so that they gain, over time, a deep appreciation for the story and for its meaning.

Key to this method must also be active integration of the material to the rest of the child's knowledge, including his knowledge of other subjects and the experiences of his life. He must not view the knowledge he gains as isolated, free-floating items of information, but as part of a whole, connected body of knowledge that he is working to master because of the guidance it will offer him in the pursuit of a fulfilled, happy life. Each subject has profound value-real, practical, selfish value-and the teacher must make a purpose of conveying this fact through connections to real life.

The final and most important principle of motivation is that the teacher must identify, explicitly and abstractly, the value of the subject to the students' lives. He must explain, as an important and recurring theme through every course, why the student is learning this, and what is the benefit to him. Motivation is fundamentally cognitive; it is knowledge itself - knowledge of the value of the material he is learning.

Andrew Lewis once gave a presentation to the VanDamme Academy parents about his method of teaching history. He said that the subject of history, as taught by most history teachers, answers five questions: Who?, What?, When?, Where? , and How? He then explained that a proper history course absolutely must answer two more questions: Why? , and the one most relevant to my purpose here, So what? This question must be answered not just in history, but in every subject.

The basic principles of motivation are really quite simple: the teacher must identify the value of his course, design the curriculum accordingly, and name the value explicitly. If he does this properly, he can dispose of the pizzas, gold stars, and rulers, and enjoy the radiantly eager response of children who really grasp what they are learning and why.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Utilization of Salami

(And other salty meat products)

And they say deli meat is bad for you.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Defining Objective Educational Standards in Protecting the Individual Rights of a Child

Thanks to two posts started on Armchair Intellectual, regarding Requiring Parents to Provide an Education for Their Child, I've been giving even more thought to the role of government in determining if a child is being educated.

Based on the premise that the government gets completely out of the business of administering education, some questions arise as to what form of monitoring or intervention the government should have to insure the child’s rights (to an education in this case) have not been violated by his parents. Should parents be responsible for the education of their children? Does this mean that children have a "right to an education" which surpasses their, or their parents' individual rights? Should the government be the arbiter of an objective standard by which to measure the parent’s efforts in educating his child? Is this a matter for the government, a matter of a parent’s individual rights vs. the individual rights of a child, or none of the above?

By the decision to have a child, and the nature of that child to be initially unable to live independently, parents must provide basic life support for that child, otherwise they are effectively violating his individual rights and they should be prosecuted for those violations. Rational self-interest extends to one’s children, and as such, man is uniquely equipped to help his children not merely live (basic food and shelter), but thrive toward adulthood by whatever means he sees fit. Once any type of government monitoring of the outcome of that means is institutionalized we are all guilty until proven innocent.

On its surface, the alternative suggestion that when physical abuse is present then an investigation of mental abuse (or lack of educating in this case) can be pursued, seems much like calling for a special case of “hate crimes”. It’s already a crime. There are criminal standards in place, as violation of individual rights (use of force, fraud) which certainly apply to children as individuals.

Is the farmer’s kid, who knows how to work in the field from the age of six and intimately observes the connections between the soil, seeds, water, work, and man but never learned the value of reading and writing as a child any worse than the lawyer’s kid who went to all the best schools, learned about man the pillager, man the blight, and to write eloquently about the misuse of man’s intellect to subjugate the species of the world? They are both instances of individuals. They are both entitled to exist as they are, and neither had his individual rights violated by his parents. Of course, I think the farmer is foolish to not better educate his child, as I think the lawyer is foolish to not better educate his child – but I am not the parent of either of these children, nor can I say that the existence of either will negatively impact the general Welfare of our county (no matter how much I would like to).

It takes a serious, concentrated, and constant effort to keep a child ignorant of the world around him. Happily, this applies to both children referenced above.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

HBO: John Adams miniseries

John Adams by David McCullough - In a testament to the extraordinary confluence of men of reason and events as well as to the writing style of Mr. McCullough, I read toward the American Revolution as if I couldn’t wait to find out if the good guys win! Spoiler: they do. McCullough then delves more deeply into John Adams’ psychology and his obsession with ambition after the war. Ben Franklin is portrayed in his later years as a saucy old hedonist, much to Adams' dismay. In the relationship between Adams and Jefferson, it is clear which is the more principled man, but again, I couldn’t wait to find out it they managed to mend their relationship. Spoiler: they do.

The miniseries is based on the book by McCullough. I read it many years ago (hardcover), but I remember racing up to the Revolution, hardly being able to withstand the suspense! That's how exciting it all still is!

There was an
excellent review of the series in the Wall Street Journal this week.

It starts tomorrow night! Now if I only had HBO.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Beware the Giant-Handed Constitutional Scholar!

This is by far, the funniest thing I have seen in a very long time. I only wish it weren't true. Long after they hilarity of the marine-hippie is over, we're stuck with the reality of the scary, scary Americans, whose rights to be so scary we need to continue to protect.

Marines in Berkeley

Thanks to
Nicholas Provenzo for putting this on his blog.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

LTE: Nudging

I believe this is called cross-posting, but of course, I could be wrong. It's been known to happen.
05 March 2008

When Shove Comes to Push

In When Shove Comes to Push (Page D1, March 2 Boston Sunday Globe), Drake Bennett focuses on the interesting applications, rather than the abysmal implications of “nudging”. Endowing the government with “choice architecture” is a gross inversion of its sole purpose: the protection of individual rights. Nudging violates our individual rights while claiming to protect us – from ourselves! Touting that in limiting our choices the government will effectively protect us from our own stupid decisions, “nudge” enthusiasts hide their advocacy of an increasingly omnipotent government behind the euphemism of “libertarian paternalism”.

Nudging, they say, has the potential to make us all much happier – so long as we are willing to forgo our freedom of choice and individual rights.

Update: This LTE remained on my computer (and in some revised hard copies on my kitchen table). I never sent it, so it was never published. Now it's just a repetition of an earlier blog entry. Funny how that works.

Posted by LB at 10:58 AM
Labels: individual rights, nudging

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BS is its middle name


The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.
It's a mouthful and a truck load.

My freshman daughter came home from high school the other day and said, "Mom! I had to take this really stupid survey today about drugs and sex and suicide and stuff" (this is the way she speaks, I didn't homeschool her early or long enough). Anyway, I was more than a little curious because I have always exempted my children (she has an older brother who survived high school) from these "health surveys". I received the letter stating that “if you do not want your child to participate, you should call the school nurse" today - 2 days after the survey was administered. I decided to do some research. Here is what I found at the CDC website:

In 1987, CDC developed a program to provide fiscal and technical assistance to state* and local education agencies for effective human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention programs for youth. Since 1992, CDC has funded education agencies to also provide additional broad-based programs, often referred to as coordinated school health programs. The effectiveness of these programs is partially determined by their ability to positively influence behaviors that increase the risk for HIV infection and that are associated with the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults in the United States. The advent of these programs underscored the need for quality and comprehensive data regarding the health-risk behaviors of youth. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, HIV prevention programs and coordinated school health programs frequently were developed without empirical information regarding 1) the prevalence of key behaviors that most influence health and 2) how those behaviors were distributed among subgroups of students.

But that wasn't enough. As soon as the public lost interest in the HIV pandemic, the CDC reformulated their survey:

In addition to considering the amount of support from sites for the proposed revisions, CDC considered multiple factors in making final decisions regarding the questionnaire, including 1) input from the original reviewers, 2) whether the question measured a health-risk behavior practiced by youth, 3) whether data on the topic were available from other sources, 4) the relationship of the behavior to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults, and 5) whether effective interventions existed that could be used to modify the behavior. As a result of this process, CDC created the 1999 YRBS questionnaire by adding 16 new questions, deleting 11 questions, and making substantial wording changes to 14 questions. For example, two questions that assess self-reported height and weight were added in recognition of increasing concerns regarding obesity. As a result, YRBSS now includes national, state, and local estimates of body mass index (BMI) calculated from self-reported data.

If you, like me, questioned the accuracy of the results, don't worry, the CDC has that covered too:

In 2000, CDC also conducted a study to assess the validity of the two YRBS questions regarding self-reported height and weight (19). In that study, 2,965 high school students completed the 1999 version of the YRBS questionnaire on two occasions approximately 2 weeks apart. After completing the questionnaire, the students were weighed and had their height measured. Self-reported height, weight, and BMI calculated from these values were substantially reliable, but on average, students in the study overreported their height by 2.7 inches and underreported their weight by 3.5 pounds, which indicates that YRBSS probably underestimates the prevalence of overweight in adolescent populations.

So not only do the questions change to reflect the sexy health issues of the times, the CDC is able to extrapolate the information in order to tweak the intensity of any particular problem.

The reason that any of this matters is the purpose of these surveys. They are used by the CDC, state and local governments to "set school health and health promotion program goals, support modification of school health curricula or other programs, support new legislation and policies that promote health, and seek funding for new initiatives."

In other words, the veracity of high schoolers, filling in little dots on a non-academic test which talks about sex, drugs, and partying has become the funnel for directing tax dollars and government windfalls from tobacco companies.

Click here is you want to read the 112 page whole enchilada report (but don’t eat it)!

If you only want to know how many obese and potentially obese kids are in your state, because they've got that too, click here.

In two years, click here to find out about the prevalence of selfish, anti-altrustic thoughts of the kids in your state and the multi-million dollar programs proposed to combat this abomination.

Parents need not apply.

Update: In fairness to the school, the letter sent two days later was for yet another survey from which I was able to exempt my daughter and get a big fat "Do Not Survey" red post-it on her file, no doubt! :) I was informed that I must have missed the other passive agreement form sent out in January. :(

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why we educate children (at home)

The subject of history demonstrates on a grand scale the consequences of men’s ideas and actions; literature concretizes highly abstract values; science shows the power of man’s mind to understand and harness the natural world; math provides tools for grasping science and developing logical acumen; the language arts help children to develop the capacity to express themselves with clarity and eloquence.

This beautifully complete and concise statement by Lisa VanDamme in the Letters & Replies section of the Spring 2008 issue of the Objective Standard explaining the value of curriculum has provided me with immense homeschooling inspiration and confidence. Until and unless there is a VanDamme Academy near us (or another school which espouses these values ), we will continue to try to acheive these primary goals of education at home.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Edge of Objectivist Activism

A few weeks ago I decided to become more active in my pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way….okay, more like more active not only in the course of my life, but also in somehow attempting to alter the mindset of others: a dangerous proposition, I know. This attempt is made more dangerous by the fact that up until a few months ago I had decided that a well-lived life was the best way to impact those around you, which, in turn, is the most influence you could ever hope to achieve. What started as a slow burn a few months ago blossomed into a few glorious, passionate weeks, however, when I thought I was going to change the world.

This step-change started with a casual reading of a classic book I had missed in my youth, Brave New World, an innocent question by a school teacher friend, and serious frustration with the lack of American leadership in our country. It then spilled over into my scouring the internet and newspapers, for items on which to make blog comments, list postings, and letters to the editor. Most of the comments, I reconsidered, list postings I didn’t finish quite well enough to be posted, and letters to the editor I honed, but didn’t end up sending. After my tremendous internal struggle encapsulated by the phrase “to send or not to send”, I decided that I needed to understand the ideas better before I began to try to spread those ideas. So it’s back to the basics: The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, OPAR, ItOE, Aristotle’s Logic and Rhetoric, and How to Write Chick Lit – okay that last part was just to release the pressure, but it’s true. I am finding that I need to do more than quietly live my life if I want to continue to happily live my life and if I want my children to be able to quietly pursue their own happiness.

What I will miss most about standing on the edge of Objectivist Activism is the super focused mind, the excitement of the step-change required, and spy chick body the weight loss of zeal gave me for those few glorious weeks. Perhaps when I am once again called to active duty, I’ll get both back in time to help change the world - and look fabulous doing it!

Changed: 3/22/08

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Soul versus Character

This was part of an old discussion I was having with my electronic book club, but I thought it was an interesting idea (after having established "soul" as a non-religious entity) .

Soul versus character:

My soul is a reflection of my values. My character is the culmination of my words and actions.

For example, everyone has made a poor choice and said “now why the hell did I do that?” to themselves at some point after the fact. If you thought about it hard enough, I’m pretty sure you could determine why you had automatized that response. It was through a series of experiences that you had previously determined required that type of response (or lack of experience in the case of newly developed fears). Determine why you feel the way you do, and change your conscious thought to better reflect the reality about that particular thing, and it could help bring about a change in your automatized response over time. A long, long, time if it’s anything like my futile yelling at my children. But I persist in trying to change this undesirable automatized response in myself. In fact, thinking of this screaming monster as part of my soul might help me change it quicker because that’s a downright horrifying thought as that behavior does not reflect my values. I know it is an undesirable part of my character.

Automatized response is not what I would consider part of my soul; the choice to try to change a destructive or inadequate response is. Somehow this still is not enough. Introspection, the desire to learn something about yourself and your behavior is part of your soul, too. Choose, try, introspect, desire, learn are all volitional. Again, my soul is a reflection of my values.

The smell of clay, dancing, James Taylor’s voice, the Star-Spangled banner, laughing with friends, wide open spaces filled with red, orange, and yellow leaves, the feel of warm stones on a cold day, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, cold, crisp days with bright blue skies, Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World, my sleeping children – these all speak to my soul (I value each of them), and my character allows automatized responses to each (sometimes to my embarrassment). They move me, yes, but not without knowing why.

Of course there is something bigger than me out there, but not something I can control, only something I can choose to become part of or to fight against (active response), enjoy or avoid (passive response). I choose each in accordance with my values which define my soul.

If this contradicts anything I’ve said before, so be it. Life is a work in progress, and that’s why I often enjoy these head-exploding discussions. There is no path to enlightenment for a head made of stone.

Monday, March 3, 2008

WGBH fundraising.

Sure, I've become part of the misguided machine. Last night, I was among the many who answered the phones for WGBH as part of their month long fund drive. I have to say it was great fun. Mostly, the calls I got were from people who wanted the premiums (gifts in the form of books, CDs, or tickets) that were being hawked on Channels 2 and 44 - but it seemed to be quite a win-win situation for the callers and the station. I'm sure Stephen has a different opinion about the constant begging throughout the month of March, but I was happy to help.

Additionally, the new 'GBH studio in Brighton is fabulous! Walking along the outside of the modern corrugated metal building, I read the words to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood theme song (sniff, sniff), and "Hey! It's a Wonderful Day!" the theme song from Arthur (again, sniff, sniff).

I love PBS - I do wish it were completely privately funded.