More on technology in the classroom

I want to follow up on my blog from July 2. I mentioned that the Governor’s Task Force on Educational Excellence recommended various program increases. I then blasted technology in primary grade classrooms as a waste of funding. I still stand by my opinion, but I have more to add.

I was watching the Rocky marathon on the American Movie Classics network the other night (yes, I stayed up late). I’m not a big fan of boxing, but I really enjoy a good underdog film, especially when it’s about Sylvester Stalone’s protagonist Rocky. So I stayed up to watch the entire Rocky IV showing (until 2:00 a.m.!). This is the one where a Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is trained using the latest in Soviet technology (and most of it looks like something out of a 21st century training facility). Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) fights Drago in an exhibition match and dies after taking too many very powerful blows from the Soviet. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stalone) then agrees to fight Drago in Russia. While Drago continues to increase his power, strength, speed, and endurance using the latest training and measuring equipment (increasing his punching strength from 1,850 PSI to 2,145 PSI), Rocky is in some backwoods area of Russia, surrounded by snow and mountains, training in an old barn or out in the
snow, and using rocks, the barn’s frame, and old wagon, or whatever other “junk” is available. In the end, Rocky beats the Soviet in 15 rounds with a knock-out.

My point here is that despite all this great technology that’s available to the heavyweight champion who seems to have it all (he buys his brother-in-law a full-sized service robot for his birthday… and this was 1985), he still relies on his ingenuity, innovativeness, and the natural world to acquire the practically impossible achievement of surviving one of the deadliest fights of his life. In this movie, technology fails and is certainly no substitute for the heart and hunger that Rocky Balboa fights with. Yeah, there is another message about everyone changing and how the Cold War is wrong, but that’s not the element I am referring to. So my bottom-line point is that technology is a useful tool, but it’s not a substitute for good old-fashioned education.

Another point I want to make is the increasing of the State Sales Tax to cover increasing educational needs. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“But the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which advises lawmakers on tax issues, warns that the sales tax ‘has generally been thought to be regressive because the proportion of an individual’s or family’s income devoted to consumption declines as income increases.’

That means the sales tax hits a Wisconsin family with an income of $40,000 proportionally much harder than a family that brings home $100,000 a year.”

As I mentioned the other day, a sales tax affects more families. Here is a nonpartisan legislative service agency stating some more simple economics about a flat rate sales tax. So how does this negatively affect a lower income household? It’s simple math (and something that I learned way back in high school). Let’s use the current five percent Wisconsin sales tax (excluding county and other sales taxes). If a family earning $40,000 buys goods for the year at $5,000, it spends $250 in sales tax, or about 0.62 percent of its income. A second family that earns the $100,000 buys goods at $10,000 for the year and spends $500 in taxes, or about 0.5 percent of its income. If the first family tried to keep up with the second family and spent $10,000 in goods for the year, it would actually spend about 1.25 percent of its income in sales tax. So the sales tax is regressive because households that make less money pay more of their income in taxes. To learn more, click here.

Is it me, or have I been blogging a lot lately? I guess I have way too much on my mind lately.

Independence Day 2004

Happy Independence Day! Today America celebrates 228 years of freedom from monarchical oppression and tyranny. It was on July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was officially signed by members of the Continental Congress. It declared that the 13 British colonies in North America independent from Great Britain. The Declaration explains why the colonies chose this action.

As we continue to learn from our own actions, we must remember that independence is not something that is thrust upon us, but something that we truly desire and fight for. With this in mind, let’s not forget the sacrifice that we all make to keep the spirit of our nation alive. Let’s also remember those that have fought or are fighting and sacrificing their lives so that others may know what freedom is. I may not agree with the current administration’s decision to occupy parts of the world, but I support our troops that fight for humanity and peace.

My idea for improving education

The Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Educational Excellence made 40 recommendations on June 30. Of those recommendations, some included expanding the four-year-old Kindergarten program, recruiting more minority teachers, increasing state-funded grants for smaller class sizes, repealing the qualified economic offer law (QEO, which caps teachers’ salaries), and increasing the state sales tax while reducing the property tax to generate $1.44 billion in additional revenue, among other things. But out of 40 recommendations, not one mentions looking for efficiencies in the current system. You mean to tell me that out of everything the schools offer, there is not one area that costs too much or that is a frivolous cost to the taxpayers?

I have an excellent idea of something to consider. You know my position on computers in the classroom (if not, click here for my soapbox). I mean, there are schools that teach six-year-olds how to type… yet the students still haven’t learned their basic alphabet or how to construct sentences! Anyone who works with computers knows that technology moves very fast, and the technology used in the schools at the first grade level will be obsolete in a year or so. In the meantime, schools are having difficulty keeping up with the latest technology because it is still expensive. In my opinion, it’s an expense that we can forego if it means that children learn how to use their minds and creativity to solve problems… computers are still “garbage in, garbage out,” so they’re only as effective as their users. Not all children will use computers in the future, since some of them could become laborers. Also, many of them will learn how to use them either in college or on the job… that’s how I learned, and I’m considered an expert in my office (or at least people ask me questions regularly).

In the meantime, other state programs and agencies are required to cut budgets and positions. The State Patrol had to cut over nine percent of its troopers… that’s 36 out of 399. Other state employees were laid off or have been told that they will be laid off soon. Yet the Task Force on Educational Excellence came up with this recommendation that commits the state to spend more money.

I especially would like to call into question the sales tax increase… everybody will pay more in aggregated taxes if that option is exercised (that is, passes in a state budget or other legislation). It’s a tax increase, even if it means a cut in property taxes, because more people are paying it. I’m not against paying for government services, but this is a mechanism that takes a general tax and reallocates it for a specific purpose. In the 2003-05 state biennial budget, the Transportation Fund (a dedicated fund for funding transportation, Motor Vehicles, and State Patrol) “loaned” money to education. As a tax-paying citizen, I do not approve these recommendations. Click here to visit the Task Force’s web site.

In other goings-on in my life, I saw Michael Moore’s film, “Fahrenheit 9/11” last night, and I have to admit that I had some mixed emotions. I’m no fan of the current administration and its actions, but this film revealed some observations that many seemed to have forgotten. There was some poking fun at and a little bantering (which you would expect from Moore), and I wasn’t very impressed with the smugness that Moore presents. But it was somewhat sobering and certainly worth learning one viewpoint of the entire controversy. It certainly wasn’t Spiderman, so I may see that this weekend… just as a pick-me-up.

One part that really caught my attention was the discussion of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act). Moore states that nobody read this legislation, and that it was overwhelmingly passed in both houses of Congress within two or three days of its introduction. The truth he failed to mention was that there was opposition from Wisconsin’s own Senator Russ Feingold, who noticed inherent problems with the legislation and testified against passage. Moore also fails to mention that other congressional members have realized that there are flaws in the act and have introduced legislation to modify it. If you haven’t read or heard of it, the Patriot Act basically gives federal law enforcement agencies broad authority to conduct wiretaps and scans of anything that might be considered detrimental to the security of the nation. In fact, by my writing this, I could become a listed person for suspicious activity (as harmless and law-abiding as I am, and I even pay taxes on my online purchases). In case I am suddenly being watched, though, let me just state that I neither condone nor condemn the Patriot Act, and that I am merely stating an observation. Also note that federal law enforcement agencies have not used this authority beyond its intent, which is to stop terrorism. I’m certainly all for stopping terrorism and bringing these enemies to justice. Click here to visit the Library of Congress’ site that has the links to the act’s language. If you’re having trouble finding it, visit http://thomas.loc.gov and look up Public Law 107-56.

I also learned that last night was the last live-recorded show for co-host Patrick Norton on TechTV’s The ScreenSavers. While the show is moving to Los Angeles, Norton has chosen (under no duress from the producers or network executives) to remain in San Francisco. I wish all the best to him, his soon-to-be wife, and his future endeavors. In the meantime, you can still see previously-recorded (and not yet aired) episodes of The ScreenSavers all summer, and the new live shows will be aired starting in September with host Kevin Rose and a yet-to-be-determined co-host. Both Kevin and Sarah Lane have agreed to continue their work on the show.

Finally (not to sound long-winded), I’m going to divest some time in learning how to create a cascading style sheet. You won’t see it on this site, but the next site will have it. I’m still working on a layout for the new site (well, on and off), but I’ve come up with some ideas and organization. I may even add a breadcrumb to it, if I can figure out how to do so.

Another year older

I celebrated my birthday yesterday. I’m amazed at how much younger I feel than I really am. It must be all of the heavy metal guitar that I keep practicing and the video games I keep playing. That’s not to say that I feel less responsible than before. I agree that I’m still single, I don’t have kids, I have a really great job (well, for another nine months anyway), and I have this (somewhat) amazing ability (perhaps it’s just a passion) to play guitar. But I also have this sense of wisdom that I didn’t have when I was younger. On another note, my parents celebrate their wedding anniversary today, so here’s to them.

But I’m not really focused on turning older right now. I almost forgot that my birthday was coming until Tuesday. I’m more concerned about finding another job opportunity. It’s important for me to think of that this early in my career (don’t we all wish we could retire after four years of working?). That’s not to say that I’m not looking, though. I have a variety of opportunities right now, and I’m sure more will surface. In fact, I’m looking forward to a position as a supervisor within my own department. I still think it’s great that my family, my friends, and my coworkers have been very supportive, and I really thank them for that. I’m also glad that I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this with so many of them.