Friday, April 10, 2009

New school religion: narcissism

A letter writer in Thursday's Houston Chronicle, Neil Stovall, commits an error of false logic when he connects the downfall of public schools to the elimination of a school-imposed religious preference. Religion is part of the world geography curriculum in public high schools, particularly when discussing a peoples' cultural exigencies. What I'm not allowed to do is devalue a particular religious belief any more than the facts of a situation such as colonialism allow. In that case, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how religion was used as a political weapon, something our forefathers sought to avoid when they wrote about separating church and state. Christianity has never prevented violence, though there’s plenty of evidence to support the contention that it provokes it. When I teach about compasses, I'm not allowed to point them in a moral direction; my own sense of morality will not permit it.

Schools do teach a form or morality which is rarely discussed. The pervasive self-esteem myth has assumed a religious dimension to the point where we jeopardize our jobs if we do not pass a prescribed number, thus perpetuating the false belief that the primary purpose of school is to promote an unrealistic comfort with mediocrity. Religion, therefore has not left the schools, it has simply morphed into a socialistic devaluing of our culture through the lowering of mass expectations, thereby perpetuation the institution itself rather than the students it purports to serve. Principals have gone from the unyielding upholders of discipline to the pandering liaisons between the school and parents. Just as priests once obfuscated the sacred doctrines as a means of retaining political power through mysticism, modern administrators erect barriers (in the name of security, of course) to prevent parents from having a more direct involvement in schools. The “Pass TAKS” mantra has replaced means to pass it--namely reading—as teaching to the test has replaced the assignment of projects once designed to improve critical thinking skills. After all, if children are actually taught critical thinking skills, it stands to reason they might actually use them to criticize, and the institution cannot allow such subversion from within.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bainbridge takes on pirates...again

The last time pirates boarded an American vessel at sea, as far as I can tell, was during the early 19th-century when the Barbary pirates based along the Mediterranean coast of Algeria manage to capture the pride of the fledgling American Navy, the Philadelphia and captained by William Bainbridge, after she ran aground in pursuit of a pirate vessel near the Tripolitan harbor in 1803. Rather than concede to the rapscallions this powerful frigate, a daring plan was implemented by a young Lt. Stephan Decatur to set her afire without loss of life. Even the British were impressed. It took Decatur and Bainbridge the better part of a decade to make that part of the Mediterranean safe for commercial shipping.

Two centuries later, Bainbridge is again chasing pirates, only this time as the nameplate of a nuclear-powered frigate. The latest news reports indicate that the crew of the Maersk Alabama, including 20 Americans, overpowered their armed attackers, sending them adrift in a lifeboat though with their unfortunate captain. Perhaps the droning of Navy choppers overhead can convince those would-be extortionists of their untenable position and that handing over Capt. Phillips unharmed would be in their best interests.