3 stories affecting young Americans

Chicago Teachers’ Strike

Have you been paying attention to the K-12 public school teachers’ strike underway in Chicago?  Do you know the principal reason why they’re on strike?  Is it because they’re not being paid enough?  No, the average Chicago teacher’s salary is $76,000 for nine months’ work (the average citizen of Chicago makes $45,000 for 12 months’ work), plus, their work day and school year are shorter than national averages.  Is it that they’re not getting good benefits along with their generous salaries?  No, they get plenty of benefits (health care, retirement, plenty of paid holidays during the nine months that they work, etc.).  So what is it?  Performance evaluations.  That’s right, the district has the audacity to want to actually evaluate teachers’ job performance and be able to get rid of consistently under-performing teachers.  Oh, the humanity!

And are these all excellent teachers who are just righteously indignant that anyone would imply otherwise?  No.  Many of them are good, but many aren’t.  How do I know?  Well, only 15% of the district’s fourth-grade students are proficient in reading, and its high school graduation rate is…get ready…60%.  Yes, it’s an impoverished district, and yes, if parents don’t emphasize education in the students’ homes, there’s only so much that teachers can be expected to do, but, research consistently shows that even in impoverished districts, students’ outcomes are dramatically better when their teachers’ job performance is average or above average than when it’s below average.  In light of all of this, anyone who still refuses to support either performance-based retention of these teachers or school-choice vouchers for any parent who wants to send his/her kids to a better school (or both) simply doesn’t support the kids.

Eliminating Western Civilization Course Requirements

While I’m on the subject of not giving Americans the educations that they need to compete effectively in the 21st century, universities across the country, including (regrettably) the one where I teach a course, are increasingly questioning the importance of requiring Western Civilization courses for all students, regardless of major.  This is a big mistake in my opinion.  Proponents of dropping Western Civ. requirements argue that university students ought to be able to focus their time at the university on courses directly-related to their career goals.  Now, I’ll be the first university faculty member to admit that a traditional university degree doesn’t make sense as a requirement for every job and that some students can be better served by pursuing vocational training (e.g. going to a technical or trade school and learning how to program computers or fix air conditioners instead of taking Western Civ. at a traditional university).  If you read my previous post, however (about the ongoing clash between Western and Middle-Eastern cultures), you know that we’re already having trouble getting some Americans to appreciate the need to defend our way of life, and graduating supposedly university-educated Americans who don’t know how Western civilization, classical liberalism (as opposed to today’s “progressive” liberalism), and capitalism diverged favorably from competing cultural movements in the first place isn’t going to help in that regard.

Despite misleading media attention to young people’s civic activism, I run into college students frequently who aren’t even sure, in the midst of a presidential election year, which party they support, which candidate they support, or whether they’ll even vote, let alone able to explain the difference between a progressive “liberal” (who places high importance on personal liberty and relatively low importance on economic liberty and personal responsibility), a “conservative” (who places high importance on personal and economic liberty as well as personal responsibility but recognizes a need for a government to prevent one citizen’s exercise of his/her liberty from infringing upon another’s), and a “libertarian” (who also places high importance on personal and economic liberty and personal responsibility but relies, all but exclusively, on personal responsibility to prevent one citizen’s exercise of his/her liberty from infringing upon another’s).  An undergraduate degree from a university should imply that, in addition to some field-specific knowledge (depending upon one’s major), its recipient has at least a general grasp of world history (including competing political and economic philosophies, past and present), a general proficiency in applying basic axioms of mathematical and scientific analysis, a general familiarity with the nature of human beings and the world around us, a general fluency in the essentials of communicating and comprehending ideas, etc.  That’s the whole idea behind the concept of “liberal arts,” and I believe that abandoning it is neither in the best interests of our students nor our nation (plus, I think it further diminishes the value of a university degree relative to vocational-school diplomas and on-the-job training).

New Ultrasonic Anti-Loitering Device

Speaking of young people — more like middle- and high-school-aged teens in this case — there’s a new product on the market to prevent them from congregating, i.e. loitering, where they’re not wanted.  How does it work?  By emitting an ultrasonic tone that, due to the developmental stage of the human ear during the teenage years, can only be heard — extremely annoyingly — by people in that general age range.  No joke — it’s called the “Mosquito,” and after a few minutes in its presence, young people generally appear compelled to relocate.  Civil liberties groups generally don’t like it, but (surprise) I do!  You can make unpleasant noise on your own property if you want to, so long as it doesn’t infringe upon your neighbors’ quiet enjoyment of their premises, and compared to other methods of dispersing loiterers, this is about as benign as they come.  If one were projecting the sound into public areas, which would constitute disturbing-the-peace were it audible by adults, then maybe there’d be reason for concern about age discrimination in the enforcement of the law, but as long as we’re talking about non-public places (or even public places after hours), I’m all for it!

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