It's time for a new round of current events/issues reports at school, so I've been scrambling to prepare a framework for profitable inquiry, consideration, and reporting. Unlike the typical approach, this month I listed twelve issues that came to mind from reading the local daily newspaper and several news magazines, and the students drew two topics--one for an oral report and one for a written report. Since we have 23 students, each topic has two people designated for doing an oral report, and two people doing a written report (with one unclaimed topic in each category). Some of the content in this post is related to those topics.
In Russia, Putin's public approval rating now stands at 86%, according to the Laveda Center of Moscow, which is considered the most reliable polling organization in Russia. Putin's approval has soared since early 2014 when Russia seized control of Crimea in Ukraine.
This past Friday, Boris Nemtsov, a high-level and very vocal critic of Putin, was gunned down within sight of the Kremlin. He had just announced that a protest demonstration was planned for March 1. Earlier Nemtsov had reported on corruption surrounding the Winter Olympics, alleging that Russian officials and businessmen had stolen $30 billion during the preparations. Corruption in the government gas company was also identified by Nemtsov. In addition, Nemtsov was working on a report proving that Russia was directly involved in the military events in Ukraine--an assertion consistently denied by Putin and his cohorts. Abundant evidence to the contrary is being reported outside Russia.
Putin is calling for an investigation into Nemtsov's death, and extending condolences to his family--incongruous with what is known to many outside Russia--that Nemtsov caused Putin a lot of trouble, and having him gone would almost certainly be a relief to Putin. Today's Hutchinson News
(p. A8, "Nemtsov a possible 'sacrificial victim,' investigators say.") reports this: "In recent years, Nemtsov has been identified by Kremlin propaganda as among the leaders of a 'fifth column,' painted as a traitor serving the interests of a hostile West." Clearly, Nemtsov was no friend of Putin.
Putin's 86% approval rating calls to mind what is commonly known--that the majority in any given population on any given issue can be wrong. In Putin's case, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, massive misinformation campaigns, and ruthless squelching of opposition voices have almost certainly contributed to the 86% approval rating. His "good-looking" numbers hide some deeply disquieting realities.
is a brief account from Time
on Putin's approval ratings.
A Kansas legislator recently introduced a bill that would prohibit opinion columnists who also hold positions in a state university from having their teaching position publicized when the column is printed.
Here's how I see it. Politics in reliably conservative Kansas have turned even harder to the right in recent years, especially since the election of Governor Brownback, who has impeccable credentials on moral issues and unimpeachable financial policies if you're Libertarian or Tea Party Conservative (a state income tax is being phased out, for example). One group that is very likely to protest these recent government developments is political science academicians associated with our state universities, and "some people" are afraid that their arguments will sound convincing to readers. We can't have that. Better to let people think these opinions come from common blokes who don't know anything.
Unfortunately, the state coffers are emptying out fast, and some of the proposed compensations are proving painful. Borrowing from the state highway fund has occurred, and the fund is substantially depleted. Kansas' reputation for having the best roads in the country will likely take a hit. Quadrupling the taxes on farmland is a proposal under consideration currently by the legislature, as is charging sales tax on farm equipment. Agriculture is a big "engine" in Kansas, but stripping out elements of what constitutes an often narrow profit margin could, at the very least, force the farming economy further toward consolidation--a move that almost always promises increased efficiency, and almost always creates something too big to be really efficient in the long term.
To Brownback's great credit, he is actively engaged in addressing the looming water crisis in our state--to an extent unprecedented by any previous governor. He is also protective of traditional marriage and unborn babies.
I have a lot of sympathy for any opinion columnist, however, who feels that the newly introduced legislation is grossly unfair--as if having studied a matter extensively somehow makes a person unfit for commenting on the matter, unless he hides the fact that he's studied it. Not having the opinion columns appear at all would likely be the preference of "critics of the critics," but there's that pesky "Bill of Rights" list that would get in the way of banning the columns outright.
I heard this week from a former student who suggested that we study "water" again at school as a current issues topic. We had done so while he was there, and it's apparently still impacting his viewpoint. He registered concern about what he sees in agriculture, with the addition of many pivot irrigation systems in the area.
Dwight used the term "sound junk" this morning to refer to what people often resort to when they wish to avoid the discomfort of being alone with God and their own thoughts. I don't remember having heard that term, although his reference to hearing what Chester Weaver said on the subject made me wonder if I had just missed it when he talked on it at the Shepherd's Institute. I had heard that talk. Dwight also described solitude helpfully as being in a place where talking in a normal tone of voice cannot be heard by others.
As I often do, given what my world is full of, I made some connections between Dwight's devotional at church and what I see in the classroom. I wonder if a lot of what happens in a group learning environment constitutes "sound junk" for certain students. Certainly no responsible teacher tries to teach "junk." It's the mechanics of trying to make school "work" that concerns me--in a confined environment, with highly varied individual needs. Anything that does not match an individual student's needs is unhelpful--cluttering junk, if you please. Explanations from a teacher are "junk" to the student who is able to understand without all the explanation. Information without sufficient explanation for an individual student's understanding is "junk" also if he's not able to absorb it. Announcements that do not concern everyone may be junk. The playing of recorded music during study time, while appealing to some individuals, is distracting to others, and falls in the "sound junk" category, no matter how good the music is.
Everyone having to listen while private questions or observations are being voiced publicly can be another "sound junk" generator. For me, the most memorable events of this nature happened in college, and I often wished my professors would have been less tolerant of such time-consuming and devoid-of-profit activity. We were all paying dearly for the privilege of being in that class, and I really preferred to hear wisdom from a professor to hearing ignorance from a student. While it's possible for good to come from student questions and observations, and I certainly try to encourage both in the classroom, sometimes the label that fits best really is "sound junk."
Homeschooling doesn't solve all the "sound junk" problems, but being able to bypass many classroom conventions does have the desirable consequence of eliminating a lot of "sound junk" students are subjected to otherwise, and it streamlines the learning process considerably.
I've been feeling deeply sympathetic lately for parents whose children behave irresponsibly or dishonestly in school. This can happen even if all the adults involved have the same goals for children in school--responsibility and honesty. Somehow, though, failures must be addressed, and that can be difficult and conflictive and painful.
I'm dismayed to realize that here also are some problems with the mechanics of making school "work" that create temptations to be dishonest or irresponsible. While we make efforts to address promptly whatever surfaces, and we do tweak expectations or beef up enforcement if it seems necessary, I regret often that things can get this complicated this easily.
My own experience with homeschooling was not perfect and our boys were certainly not perfect, but dishonesty in doing schoolwork was never an issue I had to deal with. I believe it was because many of the elements that make it tempting in school were not present at home. Looking good in front of peers? Peers didn't even know what my boys were doing. Being able to get out of assigned work? Not a chance, with a finger-on-the-pulse parent hovering nearby.
Those problems surfaced in other areas at home with our boys, and I'm glad we could deal with them promptly in a straightforward manner, without having to deal with the complications of them taking place in a public setting.
I want to write about several more things, but those matters will have to wait for another post. It's time to head for bed.