Sunday, July 13, 2014
The problem with schools
A California judge has ruled that the California law that establishes tenure for teachers in public schools in the state is unconstitutional. He accepts the view that the law protects teachers, both good and bad, from being fired arbitrarily. Therefore, the law makes it almost impossible to fire an incompetent teacher. He argues that children, especially children in poor neighborhoods deserve good teachers. At present, bad or incompetent teachers are transferred from good schools to schools in poor neighborhoods.
It's all very true. In my mind and according to my experience and observation, good schools are created by good students, not by good teachers. The only way to improve a school is to improve the quality of the students. Good students - that is, students that are eager to learn and are curious enough to learn by themselves - have little problem in coping with bad and incompetent teachers. In my case, I had a physics teacher in high school who didn't know much about physics. He was the athletic coach and he knew about teen-age boys and games of football, baseball, etc. I learned physics on my own and went on to major in physics at university. One of my daughters - the one that attended El Camino Real High School - took the advance placement mathematics class. The teacher was a tenured English teacher. He didn't know much about math. The class was held in a room also used as an electronics laboratory. Some of the students spent time watching television programs. About a third of the students, including my daughter, hated this guy because he wasn't teaching them anything. My daughter went on to UCLA and majored in Physics (just like her old man) and graduated with the rank of No. 1 among the girls. That annoyed her. She wanted to be ranked among all the students and would have been pleased to be ranked No. 20 among all the students.
El Camino Real HS has a reputation nationally as being an outstanding school. It's because of the students. The residents of the area that provides the students are mostly college graduates and well-educated themselves. They provide smart kids for the school. Smart kids make a good school.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Every day my email is filled with messages from Democratic candidates begging for money. Not local candidates; I live in a "safe" district and my representatives to the State legislature and to the federal congress feel secure enough in their jobs that they do not send me begging letters every day.
These days the letters I get usually start out with either "The Tea Party is . . ." or "John Boehner is suing the President . . ." The Tea Party has been a good fund-raiser for Democrats for several years. Lately the Speaker, John Boehner from Ohio, has created another one. He is going to sue President Obama for . . . what? Being President and using his legal authority to issue executive orders to accomplish things that Congress won't act on. It's hilarious. I want to see the case go to trial, although I doubt that any judge with any judgment at all would touch it. Even so, letters go out; Mr. Boehner is going to sue the President, show your support for the President by sending money.
Obama and the Democrats are collecting a mint of money from this threatened lawsuit. It makes me think that Obama and Boehner dreamed up the scheme while playing golf together. I am puzzled. Obama and the Democrats get the money, but what does Boehner get?
Thursday, July 03, 2014
Some Ancient Wisdom
What are nuclear activists? We generally think of them as dedicated individuals who are trying to save the world from a disaster that would spread radioactive fission products everywhere and bring about an end of human civilization as illustrated in the movie "On the Beach." In this movie, the nuclear radiation disaster has eliminated human life north of the equator. An American submarine has escaped to Australia to enjoy what time is left for the humans there.
Here is another story. In the 1950's, when nuclear reactors were being built for use in generating electric power, there were several arguments advanced in favor of changing from coal-fired power plants to nuclear power plants. Here are two:
- Clean Air: Coal plants emit carbon dioxide, soot, sulfur compounds, and radioactive material, all present in the coal used in the furnaces. The effluent from a coal-fired plant is much dirtier and harmful than the effluent from a reactor plant.
- Human lives lost: Nuclear plants can produce a given amount of energy (megawatt-year) with less overall cost in human lives than coal plants. These lives are lost mainly in coal mines.