Comment Of The Day: “…Oregon High School Grads No Longer Have To Know How To Read, Write, Or Do Math…”

Here’s the third of a run of three impressive Comments of the Day from two days ago: a dissenting take on the pandemic-linked Oregon law allowing students to receive a high school diploma despite not possessing documented proof of basic academic skills at the high school level. Since the author, the much esteemed Curmie, is a professional educator (and not in Oregon) his analysis carries due weight, and is worth pondering.

Below is his Comment of the Day on my post, It’s A “Ripley”! Oregon High School Grads No Longer Have To Know How To Read, Write, Or Do Math At High School Levels.” And I apologize for the inexcusably clichéd musical accompaniment. At least it isn’t the Art Garfunkle version…

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I’ll stipulate that the argumentation is stupid. That said, the actual change in policy is at the very least far less laughable than you suggest; indeed, I’d argue it’s a net positive.

What has actually happened is that Oregon has decided not to put all its faith in a standardized test run by a for-profit corporation. I don’t think that’s a bad call. Even the most professionally run of these exams have histories of major problems. Numerous math questions aren’t age-appropriate. (The people who write the exams aren’t educators–they’re often education majors who couldn’t get a job as a teacher.) There was a case few years ago where a reading comprehension problem was leaked, and a poet got two out of five questions “wrong” about his own work!

But the writing sections are the worst. Even the testing companies aren’t brash enough to argue that computers can score writing (although some are experimenting with the idea). So they hire graders. These jobs generally pay less than $12 an hour and require only a college degree… in anything! For that kind of money, you’re not going to get someone who can tell the difference between a sonnet and a laundry list.

So the company makes it easy for them: there’s a formula. Five paragraphs. First one says what you’re going to say. Next three, you say it (actually saying anything is more or less optional). Last paragraph: say what you just said. Follow this, without any enormous grammatical errors, and you’ll be fine. But woe betide the student who writes a coherent and persuasive essay… but wraps it up in four paragraphs. (The sonnet/laundry list line is an exaggeration; the five paragraphs or you fail part is not.)

The serious decline in writing skills I see in today’s students relative to their peers of even two decades ago (in the same courses at the same university) has occurred not despite the Great God Accountability (worshiped by both political parties, albeit in different ways), but because of it. I’ve seldom had students question their grades on essays, but when they do, I almost always have to control my urge to scream at them, “you got a bad grade because you didn’t freaking say anything.” But… but… it was five paragraphs, and…

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It’s A “Ripley”! Oregon High School Grads No Longer Have To Know How To Read, Write, Or Do Math At High School Levels

believe-it-or-not 2

No, I’m NOT making this up. I wish I were.

I saw this story yesterday, and I refused to read all of it until today after I had wrapped my head to guard against an explosion that would have taken out the whole cul de sac. It’s really getting this bad. It really is.

Of course ground zero for the latest rot infesting Western society as we know it is Oregon, which has officially become Bizarro World, where up is down and dumb is brilliant. The state’s far, far Left governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 744 into law, so for the next five years, an Oregon high school diploma will not guarantee that the student whose name is on it can read, write or do math at a high school level. I keep reading that sentence over and over, and I still can’t believe it. If a high school diploma does not certify that the student receiving it has minimal proficiency in what a high school is charged with teaching, then what does a diploma stand for? Why go to high school at all?

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Saturday Ethics Booster, 8/7/2021: Looking For A Hero…

I hate to inflict that song on you (the singer/composer was the late Jess Cain, once the most popular disc jockey in Boston) but I have limited options. The 2021 Red Sox, who were sailing all season to what looked like a certain play-off slot , are suddenly in freefall,  with the hitters not hitting and the pitchers not pitching. They face a double-header today, and a double loss would be disastrous. After the 1967 Red Sox “Impossible Dream” season, the best summer of my life, when a team of virtual kids won the closest pennant race in baseball history by a single game after finishing in a tie for last place the year before, WHDH, which then carried Boston’s games, put out the cheesy but wonderful commemorative album above, containing clips from broadcasts of the most memorable games and Cain’s song, tied together by Sox play-by-play announcer Ken Coleman reciting one of the worst pieces of doggerel ever heard by human ears. At one point, Ken recounted a desperate point in the team’s underdog quest, and, having set up the rhyme with “zero,’ intoned, “We have to have a hero.” Cue the Yaz song!

I’ve been thinking about the need for a hero, indeed more than one, quite a bit lately, in matters more consequential than the Red Sox season (well, for normal people anyway.) The Sox sure need one today. If he shows up, maybe it will be an omen…

Incidentally, Yaz deserved the song. Modern metrics show that his Triple Crown, Gold Glove, MVP 1967 season was the second best of all time. (Babe Ruth had #1, naturally.) Anyone who followed that 1967 season knew it before the numbers were crunched.

1. More free speech threats in the Biden Era, but Donald Trump was a threat to democracyThe Baltimore Symphony fired Emily Skala, 59, the orchestra’s principal flutist for more than three decades, because she shared social media posts expressing doubt on the efficacy of vaccines and facemasks. Fellow musicians, audience members and donors complained, so it was bye-bye Emily. Skala, no weenie she, will challenge her dismissal, and accuses the orchestra of creating a hostile environment where she was being attacked for expressing unpopular views. I’d say that is likely. Musicians as a group are about as progressive and open to conservative views as college professors.

Skala angered many of her colleagues for sharing posts questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election—Oooh, can’t have that! She was also criticized for saying that black families needed to do more to support their children’s classical music studies. Wow, this woman is a veritable Nazi! Amusingly, the New York Times cites as among the examples of social media “disinformation” that got her fired were “false theories suggesting that the coronavirus was created in a laboratory in North Carolina” and posts “raising concerns about the safety of vaccines.”

That’s funny: it wasn’t too long ago that suggesting that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab was considered disinformation. And didn’t Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats raise “concerns” about any vaccine produced under the Trump Administration?

I’m just spitballing here, but if only we had some heroic organization that defended free speech, regardless of what side of the political spectrum it came from. It could call itself…let’s see…the National Civil Liberty Protection Alliance, or something like that…

2. Believe it or not, this Russian lawsuit isn’t frivolous, just mind-meltingly stupid. Thanks to Curmie for passing along the saga of Ksenia Ovchinnikova, an Orthodox Christian in Omsk, Russia, who is suing McDonald’s on the theory that its ads made burgers seem so yummy and irresistible that they made her break her fast for Lent in 2019 after years of successfully avoiding meat. She wants 1,000 rubles ($14) as damages for “sustained moral damage.”

The reason this isn’t frivolous (at least not in the US) is because a lawsuit clears the bar if it seeks a new interpretation of existing law, no matter how wacky. Of course, a heroic lawyer would tell the woman, no matter what she offered to pay, “You’re out of your mind, and I’d rather eat my foot than disgrace my profession by taking such a ridiculous case. By the way, would you like this  corndog?” Continue reading

Guest Column: Mathematics As Indoctrination

Racism mathematics

by Mrs. Q

[This, a comment in last Friday’s Open Forum, which followed upon Steve Witherspoon’s directing our horrified gaze to Oregon’ teaching program that seeks to undo ‘racism in mathematics.’ The links are here, the here, and here, is presented as a Guest Column, not Mrs. Q’s first.]

This reminds me of Erika Mann’s discussion of mathematics education (Völkisches Rechnen or people’s arithmetic) under Nazi rule in the 1930’s, in her book School for Barbarians. Here’s an example (page 67):

An airplane flies at the rate of 240 kilometers per hour to a place at a distance if 210 kilometers in order to drop bombs. When may it be expected to return if the dropping of bombs takes 7.5 minutes?
-From National Political Practice in Arithmetic Lessons.

A question like this may not initially point to a scholastic propaganda problem until the other questions come into play, questions like:

  • “What was Germany’s population loss due to the Versailles Treaty?” What is the load capacity of four gas bombs?”
  • ” How many people can fit into a bomb shelter?”
  • “What percentage of the German population is home to “alien” Jews?”

It suddenly becomes more clear that these questions are preparing these kids for war…and compliance with the state.

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Sunday Ethics Decorations, 12/20/20: I’m Sorry, This Stuff Is All Depressing

1. So it’s come to this...the #1 post on Ethics Alarms over the last 365 days is this one, which has been up for less than a month. The bulk of it isn’t even my work. I guess I should be writing a poetry review blog.

2. From the “What were they thinking?” files: David Werking, a Michigan man who was temporarily living in his parents’ home after a divorce, sued them for destroying his pornography collection of videos and magazines worth an estimated $29,000. US district judge Paul Maloney ruled that his parents had no right to throw out his collection. “There is no question that the destroyed property was David’s property,” Maloney said. “Defendants repeatedly admitted that they destroyed the property.”

Werking’s parents said they had a right, as his landlords, to toss out his collection. Where they got taht crackpot idea, I do not know. I would consider the lawyer who took their case unethical, and sanctionably so. Not many cases breach legal ethics Rule 3.1 prohibiting frivolous litigation, but this seems like one to me.

“Defendants do not cite to any statute or caselaw to support their assertion that landlords can destroy property that they dislike,” the judge said. I’m not surprised, since there are none.

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Take THAT, Supreme Court Cynics! Ramos v. Louisiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court today over-ruled, 6-3, its really bad 1972 holding that rights, like the 6th amendment fair trial requirements, were not necessarily incorporated into the states by the 14th. Oregon and Louisiana, astoundingly, did not require unanimous jury verdicts of guilty in criminal cases, allowing 10-2 convictions. In Louisiana, the anomaly  was an 1898 relic of the Jim Crow era; I have no idea what Oregon’s excuse was.

Louisianans voted in 2018 to do away with the practice,  passing an amendment to the state constitution requiring unanimous verdicts going forward. But up to a hundred prisoners,  like Evangelisto Ramos who was serving a life prison sentence after being convicted of murder in a 10-2 jury vote, will get new trials because their convictions came under the old, unconstitutional law and their appeals aren’t exhausted. The case is Louisiana v. Ramos.

Two aspects of the decision are especially noteworthy, other than the fact that its seems obviously correct. Continue reading

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t…

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An Oregon woman, Kristine Johnson, is suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that’s the Mormon church) for $9.54 million because Timothy Samuel Johnson, her husband, confessed to church leaders that he had sexually molested a child, and he was reported to law enforcement authorities, leading to his arrest, conviction and imprisonment. The lawsuit alleges that local church leaders breached confidentiality and the “priest-penitent privilege. Timothy Johnson had confessed to  clergy that he had repeated sexual contact with a minor. Local clergy’s actions “totally violated church policy,” says the woman’s lawyers. “It’s been devastating on the family,” plaintiff’s counsel told the press. “They lost a husband and a father, and local girls lost a reliable source of gifts, friendship, and excitement.”

OK, I’m kidding about the part after “father.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/4/18: The Good And The Bad, And If Janus Had A Third Face, It Would be Ugly

Good morning!

1. Looking for biased but reliable progressive news aggregators! I have a long secret list of story sources, but my online leftist news aggregator supply is drying up. That’s where I can find the stories that reflect badly on the Right but that the conservative news sources choose to ignore. The key problem is “reliable.” Sites like Raw Story, ThinkProgress, the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos have all violated Ethics Alarms standards of basic honesty, fairness and trustworthiness—much like Breitbart, Red State and the Gateway Pundit, none of which I will  read or cite unless directed to a particular post, from the other side of the spectrum. The Daily Beast was long my favorite online leftist source, but now it requires a subscription, and I’m certainly not going to pay for biased analysis—beyond what I already get from the Washington Post and New York Times.

Memeorandum remains the most balanced and non-partisan online news aggregator, by far.

2. Retire, Pat. It isn’t just Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein who try to hold on to power long after their advancing age makes it unethical to do so. The GOP has its irresponsible geezers too. Today Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Ks) will announce whether he plans to end his political career or run for another term in 2020, which would take him to his 90th year if he survived it. The man is 82: he should not have run for his current term.

Of course, it doesn’t help that 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is providing an unethical role model for all elected officials and judges by ostentatiously refusing to retire and obviously resolving to leave the Supreme Court feet first.

3. Slapping down Big Brother in Oregon.U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman issued a permanent injunction against the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying that tried to fine Mats Järlström, who has a degree in engineering and years of experience in the field, $500 for describing himself as “an engineer.”

The judge ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment, which it clearly was. This wasn’t a case where the First Amendment right to lie came into play, because Järlström wasn’t lying. He was fined for going on television to talk about public policy issues while describing himself as an “electronics engineer” and writing the phrase “I am an engineer” in a letter. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying claimed he was practicing engineering without a license.

As government regulations proliferate without end,  they inevitably strangle individual liberty, expression and enterprise. Continue reading

2018 Ethics Retrospective Poll #2 and #3: “Unethical Profession Of The Year” And “Incompetent Elected Official”

The effort to prompt some input into the 2018 Ethics Alarms Awards will obviously continue for another day or two, as my promise to “be posting these periodically during the day and evening” was foiled by intervening priorities yesterday.  There are two polls this time (here was the first, still open), and again, please don’t hesitate to expand on your votes.

Nominations for “Unethical Profession Of The Year”

Once, there was never any question about the “winner” of this  category: it was inevitably educators or, more often, journalists. One of the horrible consequences the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, however, is that almost all the professions dived into the muck, sought headlines by making the kind of biased and irresponsible statements that society depends on professionals to eschew, and they have continued their self-debasement ever since. While journalists and educators—in this I include all academics as well as teachers and administrators, have still disgraced themselves beyond debate—they have real competition now. Each profession nominated will be linked to a representative Ethics Alarms post. The nominees are… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/25/18: Bricks In The Wall [UPDATED]

1. Nah, that’s not a misleading title! An op-ed in the Times yesterday had the alarming header, “Trump’s New Target: Citizenship.” In fact, the piece was about the movement to end automatic U.S. citizenship for those born here of illegal immigrant parents, and the Trump administration policy of seeking to “denaturalize” foreign-born citizens who achieved citizenship status by withholding disclosure of previous crimes.

As with many aspects of the bizarre national immigration debate, support for continuing the first principle is hard to justify. It is a remnant of a time when there were no restrictions on U.S. immigration, so the birthright rule made sense. Now, when illegal immigration is a serious concern, the same principle creates a perverse incentive to break the law, and makes immigration law enforcement complicated and difficult. The second issue is more debatable. The New York Times has another “good immigrant” story, this time one that seeks sympathy for Norma Borgoño, a Peruvian immigrant who took the oath of citizenship in 2007. The Justice Department has moved to revoke  Borgoño’s citizenship, claiming that she committed fraud when she applied for it. She apparentlyfailed to disclose that she had taken part in a serious crime several years before her application, then four years later, in 2011, pleaded guilty when she was charged for helping her employer  defraud the Export-Import Bank of the United States of $24 million.

Writes the Times, “Since President Trump took office, the number of denaturalization cases has been growing, part of a campaign of aggressive immigration enforcement that now promises to include even the most protected class of legal immigrants: naturalized citizens.” That is a deceitful sentence, full of spin, as is the entire story. For “aggressive immigration enforcement” read “enforcement.” The U.S. has every right, and in fact a duty, to assess what kind of people it wants to allow to become citizens, and criminals need not apply—after all, we have enough of them already. The Times finds it significant that Borgoño hasn’t been charged with her crime when she  applied for citizenship, but she was still a criminal, and the crime wasn’t stealing a loaf of bread, either. It also spins that her aiding a massive theft was “to no benefit of her own.” Oh! Then that’s OK, then! Presumably there was the benefit of keeping her job with her boss the felon, at very least.

The Trump administration isn’t “targeting citizenship,” but rather naturalized citizenship that was improperly granted, based on false representations.

2. The irresponsible neglect of the national infrastructure continues. I could write about this every day, and maybe I should. A microcosm of the national crisis is illustrated in the recent news that the New York City subway system is still falling apart, and even after the city spent about $333 million on emergency repairs its condition has barely improved. Waiting until transit systems, bridges, roads, railroad track, waterways, sewer and water pipes,  airports, the power grid and the rest of the structures that support civilization start crumbling, stifling commerce and killing people is an idiotic and suicidal approach to a basic  function of government, but  that has been our national policy since the 1960s. President Trump has claimed that addressing this was a priority, and maybe it will be, but recent history suggests that nothing will be done of substance until there is a lot of sickness, death, and destruction. Continue reading