Sunday, June 22, 2008

What does "critical thinking" mean?

Over at Jack Bog's blog, Bill McDonald and I got into a very interesting discussion about what is the difference between "critical thinking" and "logical thinking,"

I invited Bill to carry the discussion forward here, since it really isn't fair to Jack to hijack his blog. Click here for back ground on the precise nature of the question, then please chime in.

This is an interesting question and I really am interested in hearing what people think.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Diploma Requirements

The State Board of Education adopted new diploma requirements yesterday. I saw this coming -- I wrote my column in the current issue of BrainstomNW about it.

I've pasted the column below. Yes, Oregon needed higher credit standards for graduation. But the bureaucrats simply couldn't resist packing the new requirements with a bunch of the elements of the failed CIM/CAM assessments. Here we go again.

And of course, The Funny Paper's article on the new requirements fail to so much as hint that there might be some other viewpoint. Not so much as a whisper that maybe CIM/CAM retreads aren't the best tires to put on the new system.

Column below:

Here we go again

Over eight years writing this column I have chronicled Vera Katz’s “21st Century Schools Act,” the dramatic attempt to restructure the methods and purposes of the public school system in Oregon.

As it took grip of the schools in the late 90’s, the Katz reform scheme metastasized into a bureaucratic nightmare scorned by teachers, parents and students alike. The high school level manifestation of the reform, “CIM/CAM,” was supposed to replace the diploma with a certificate that proved students had acquired a long list of important skills, such as writing, speaking, and critical thinking. The schools were supposed to assess these 21st century skills, and the students had to prove they had mastered them

But the grinding gears of education bureaucracy did its magic. They ensured that the CIM/CAM assessments were so ill-defined, time consuming, subjective, and paperwork heavy that they became a standing joke in Oregon’s high schools. Fewer than one in three high school students bothered to run the gauntlet to get the newfangled certificate.

In 2007, CIM/CAM was finally laid to rest with legislation that once and for all ended this very expensive failure.

Or so we thought.

Idle bureaucrat hands are the devil’s playground. Before the ink of the governor’s signature on the bill that killed CIM/CAM was dry, the education bureaucracy was busy resurrecting the failed experiment, reestablishing many of the elements of the CIM/CAM reform, this time under the pretext of revising Oregon’s diploma.

Oregon’s diploma requirements are among the least rigorous in the nation – in part because the legislature spent 15 years down the CIM/CAM bunny trail instead of focusing on making sure our diploma meant something. Oregon requires only 22 credits to graduate, compared to 24 in most states. We require only two years of math and three years of English, while most states require four years of each.

It’s doubly ironic that for fifteen years the rhetoric of reform told us they were establishing “world class standards” in Oregon while the same folks allowed our graduation requirements to sink to the lowest in the nation.

But it’s not enough to just raise our graduation requirements by adding more math and English. That wouldn’t keep the machinery occupied. No, they also want to establish a list of “Essential Skills,” and “Career-related Learning Standards,” that the schools will have to assess and the students will have to demonstrate that they have mastered.

Sounding familiar? Here we go again. CIM/CAM redux.

Are we ever going to learn? When you let these people define “essential skills,” you are certain to get a list of nice sounding things that are impossible to reliably evaluate and measure. That was the downfall of CIM/CAM, and they are repeating the expensive failure once again.

Here are some of the “essential skills” they are proposing to the State Board of Education. Remember – these are “skills” that the schools would have to assess and students would have to demonstrate in order to get a diploma:

“Think critically and analytically across disciplines.” I’d submit that anyone who could write such an ill-defined sentence has demonstrated he hasn’t himself mastered this so-called skill. How is “critical thinking” different than “logical thinking?” What does it mean to analyze “across disciplines? Gibberish.

“Demonstrate global literacy.” Your guess is as good as mine. They say it includes “knowledge of diverse cultural, linguistic, and artistic expressions,” but this hardly clears it up.

“Demonstrate personal management and teamwork skills.” Another entirely subjective “skill,” and one can only imagine the Orwellian “assessment” they will cook up for it.

Most of the other “Essential Skills” involve content-area knowledge, such as writing, math and reading. These things are already easily assessed by any number of ready-made tests, so there is no need to create another level of bureaucracy to make sure kids learn them.

All this stuff is moving at the speed of, well, bureaucracy. They have formed a slew of “Diploma Implementation Task Forces.” The “Essential Skills Task Force” has more than 40 members – teachers, students, community college employees, and business representatives. They’ve been meeting for almost a year. Their list of skills is already in Version 6.0, and is slated for adoption by the State Board this month.

But the machinery is grinding on toward its inexorable goal, which is to salvage all the elements of CIM/CAM they can possibly cram into the new diploma requirements and in so doing, quietly resurrect the biggest and most expensive failed education experiment of the last century.

The bureaucracy needs another gerbil wheel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Economic illiteracy on display

Someone needs to teach Governor Kulongoski a little economics.

He was speaking yesterday to the Oregon Business Association and the Northwest Environmental Business Council Climate Conference (you can imagine what a mind-numbing confab that must have been.)

In the Governor's press release issued about his remarks, he put his utter ignorance of all-things-economic on display for all to see. This was a press-release, mind you, not some off the cuff mistake in wording.

He says:

“Any system we implement can’t be cap or trade – it must be cap and trade. That’s the only way we’ll meet our emission reduction goals and create a new economic market in Oregon,”

A "new economic market?" What does that mean? Is an "economic market" different than some different kind of market? Does putting the word "economic" as a modifier make all the numbskulls at the pretend Oregon Business Association (which has, as its fearless leader, someone who has ZERO experience with business of any type) nod in silent agreement with the wisdom of his words?

Plus: why does he make the distinction between "cap AND trade" vs "cap OR trade?" There is no one anywhere saying we should cap CO2 but not trade it, nor are they saying we should trade it but not cap it. It is completely superfluous, serving only as some phony tough guy statement to show how serious he is.

Instead, it shows troubling ignorance of this specific issue, and, more generally, economics.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Central planner's dream: no cars in the city

For years, I've been pointing out that the real agenda of the Rex Burkholders of the local political scene have a goal of banning cars altogether from the ciy of Portland. Folks don't believe it, because the idea is so absurd and stupid that they just can't wrap their minds around the notion that our political leadership could support something that is so astoundingly idiotic.

But it's true. Of course Rex and his merry band of fellow travellers would themselves deny it, because they know that telling us their end game would put at risk the incremental policies they are putting in place to achieve their goal. If people knew where they were headed, if people knew how extreme folks like Tyrant-asaurus Rex really is, they would lose all credibility, and hence, all ability to get their anti-car policies in place.

Just look at what they are doing this weekend: Spending $150,000 of your tax dollars on closing off six miles of streets in Nort Portland this weekend, in conjuncton with the "Car-Free Cities Conference," that is being held in Portland this week.

So there it is. Start closing off more and more roads to cars, in pursuit of the Nirvana of car-free cities. Be the toast of the international socialist crowd, so our politicians will remain in high demand for speaking at all their back-slapping international confabs where they give each other awards.

So do they really want to ban cars? I'm sure Rex won't admit it, but I'm sure he's speaking at the conference this week. Here is what the conference organizer, Elly Blue, said in The Funny Paper today:

"People are really ready for this idea and ready to change the way the city works and the way they live," Cars are kind of a problem around here. Cars are in the way."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

European Socialism is just what we need

I was subbing for Lars yesterday, and had an interview with Svend Auken, who was in town to teach Portlanders all about the wonders of European Socialism.

Auken is a co-author of the Kyoto Treaty, and was Denmark's Minister of the Environment some time ago. Yesterday he spoke to the big planning confab yesterday at the Oregon Convention Center, about how to move toward renewable energy, sustainability, how to prevent sprawl, and how to accomplish all the other tenets of central planning utopia.

Auken was very nice, but seemed somewhat taken aback when I pushed back on some of his statements. Denmark taxes the holy hell out of energy and its use, and then they use the tax funds to subsidize all the alternative energy sources. Sound familiar?

What is funny is that he (like Oregon's economically illiterate liberals and The Funny Paper editors) think it makes sense to do this. In Denmark, there is an excise tax on new cars of more thanbn 100%! Their gasoline costs almost $8 a gallon, and their electricity is more than three times what we pay in Portland.

THAT is the future that Portland planners presented yesterday as worthy of copying, as Auken was the keynote in their conference where they were discussing the next soviet-style 5 year plan.

The funniest part of the interview was when I asked Auken about the fact that Denmark aggressively explored for and drilled for oil offshore in the North Sea, as a way to achieve energy independence. I said "you are in town to tell us how Denmark got off foreign oil. Would you propose that the U.S. drill offshore to take advantage of our known reserves?"

"Uh well, uh, ahem, well, I don't want to insert myself into decisions that are debated here," is basically what he said. "But wait - aren't you here because Denmark is a model for us to copy?"

He wasn't going to stress that particular aspect of the Danish miracle, apparently.

The Funny Paper, for its part, editorialized on Friday what a great thing European socialism is:

"Denmark does have one of the world's highest tax rates. It devotes about half of its gross domestic product to public expenditures. But before you say "ouch," remember that the Danes get medical care, free education through graduate school and customized retraining whenever they are laid off or decide to change jobs. At any given moment, about 47 percent of all Danes are engaged in some kind of learning program. "

Wow. HALF of GDP goes to the government. But they have a GREAT nanny state, so it is absolutely worth it!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Barack-Star Wins

No matter what your politics, Obama's locking up the Democrat nomination is a remarkable event in U.S. History. He's not just the first partially black candidate to make it to the "finals," but he beat the Clinton machine to get there. Amazing.

As the WSJ says today, he is really more of a phenomenon than he is a politician. I get the feeling that a lot of folks on the Obama train don't care a whit about details like how he would govern, or whether his record and background contradicts his campaign rhetoric.

They buy the Obama phenomenon. It isn't about policy or even logic. It is emotional. I can't recall any time in my lifetime when such a political meteor didn't get burned up in the political atmosphere. The Obama hasn't quite hit the Earth yet, but at this point the meteor looks plenty big enough to make it all the way.

Sorry to overextend the analogy, but what happens when a big meteor hits earth? At the very least, it creates a huge crater. But it can be much worse - by some theories, a big meteor killed off the dinosaurs. Are the Democrats the dinosaurs the Obama meteor will make extinct?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Democrat's Vision

I only have a short time to get this started, but I'll add to it later today. But I want to get readers' take on what I see shaping up to be a rather remarkable message from the Democrat party to the American people.

Ted Kulongoski is now riding his bike to the Capitol, acknowledging it is a symbolic move, but that he wants citizens to know that "there's a lifestyle change coming."

Barack Obama stood in front of 75,000 Oregonians and told us that we can't expect to heat or cool our homes like we want, and eat whatever we want.

Really? That is their vision? An America for the first time in history that cannot grow, cannot enhance prosperity of its people? THAT is what they are selling? Are you buying it?

If we as a nation are in the situation where we have to change our lifestyle, it is because we've allowed Democrat policies to make it impossible to grow. Thanks to their policies, we are the only nation on the face of the Earth that refuses to take advantage of its own natural resources. They have largely locked them down.

And now they tell us that we have to live like the third world.

I have a better idea: reject their policies. I gotta go, will be back later.

Continuation 7:59 AM

One of the things we should reject is the ridiculous "cap & trade" scheme that the U.S. Senate has agreed to debate. This is the centerpiece of the Democrats (and gullible Republican) anti-prosperity program. It would constitute the largest tax increase ever levied on our economy, and it would do it in a way that is a politician's and bureaucrat's dream - they get to choose who pays it, who gets rich off it, and the money flows to the government.

Make no mistake, it is a job killer. They are pretending that it uses "market forces" to efficiently allocate the carbon credits. Bullshit. As George Will wrote this weekend, it doesn't create a market, it creates a scarcity imposed by government, and then enriches the government as people must pay for the artificial scarcity.

Watch Gordon Smith closely on this one. If he votes for this, I am done with him. I have tolerated his craven political manueverings so far, nauseating though they are. But this, for me, is the single biggest issue to come down the pike in decades.

More later, as I get time. But my question for now is: why do Democrats want to madate misery?