Saturday, March 31, 2012

Should Colleges Teach Remedial Math?

JT is upset.

The state of Kansas has passed a bill in its House to cut funding for universities to have remedial courses in public universities. Apparently, my alma matter, KU, helps 900 students each year retake basic math courses that are prerequisites for the entry level university courses. Between grad students and undergrad, KU has just under 30,000 students so 900 translates to about 3% of the student body that would be prevented from being able to qualify for the first class in their math section if this passes.

I'm very torn on how I feel about this. My first reaction is that these aren't college classes. They're high school classes. And only barely. Basic Algabra is taught to many students in junior high. So my main feeling is that if people can't hack this, then they don't belong in college. Period.

What baffles me even more is that such things (JT's post in particular) single Math out as if it's some special subject where being years behind is somehow acceptable, that it's "ok" to be mathematically illiterate.

JT places the blame squarely on the shoulders of our educational system which has some serious problems. But having taught high school, the biggest problem I see isn't the system, it's the attitudes of the students that exemplify what I've stated above. It doesn't matter how good your educational system is when the students have such attitudes. And it only compounds the problems when schools reinforce this by removing all the standards, and universities allow people that barely meet an entry high school ability, to go on.

The counter JT offers is that there are exceptional cases who truly do have the drive and ability to do well, such as non-traditional students whose skills have deteriorated over time through no fault of their own and as such, they cannot be held entirely responsible. But the answer shouldn't be that it's the responsibility of the public to pay for them to relearn such things. We've already paid for it. It was called high school. Forcing the public to pick up the tab twice is double jeopardy and it's ridiculous.

If students like JT's brother can't "jump into collegiate algebra", then by all means, he should take courses to get himself ready. But it shouldn't be done at the public's expense and universities shouldn't be covering junior high material. The onus should be where it belongs: On the individual student, to fully prepare themselves for the program to which they apply.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Creationists Wrong? Unpossible!

Remember when I had a creationist claiming
stars are found where astronomers agree they could not evolve, near the center of our galaxy. These short-lived stars orbit a massive black hole, where gravity is so strong that gas and dust clouds could never evolve into a star.
Well, surprise surprise, recent studies have shown this is likely incorrect.

The new research shows that as large chunks of galactic molecular clouds fall into the galactic center, the gravitational forces conspire to compress infalling gas creating fresh young stars.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More Thoughts on the Contraception Kerfuffle

After posting my initial thoughts to Google+ and attracting at least one myopic idiot, there were a few other points that were put forth that I wanted to comment on as well.

The main one was a point that Gingrich tried to make in the interview I linked to as an addendum to my last post. His claim is that this isn't an issue about women's health, but rather, is about religious liberties. Namely, should religious institutions be forced to pay for services that run counter to their beliefs.

If that were the full story, I'd absolutely say no. As long time readers know, I firmly support the 1st amendment guarantee of separation of church and state which protects religious institutions from government influence.

But what tipped me off that this wasn't the big picture was the shrill cry on the slippery slope that I kept seeing as an example of what would happen if health care insurers were required to pay for contraception: Catholic universities and hospitals everywhere would be forced to shut their doors since the Church couldn't continue to run them if they had to partake in something that *gasp* might possibly pay for birth control.

That's when I realized how full of hot air this argument was.

The reason is that I've heard this exact argument before. A few years ago there was a dust up over whether hospitals (including Catholic ones) should be required to provide medically necessary abortions. As with this instance, Catholics immediately tried to play the "religious liberty" card claiming that they would have to shut their doors if these requirements were made.

And yet, here we are with the hospitals still intact and providing medically necessary abortions is still an expectation of these hospitals. The reason that these institutions don't get an exemption is that they're not truly religious institutions. They're religiously affiliated. However, these hospitals are providing a secular service and receiving money (and apparently a lot of it) from a secular government to function. Indeed, one study* showed that religious hospitals get more of their funding (36%) from medicare than typical public hospitals (27%).

The fact of the matter is, that if you want money from our government, you have to play by secular rules which means claiming religious liberty doesn't cut it. If it's an expectation for secular hospitals, secular schools, and the insurance companies that contract with them, then it's a requirement for religiously affiliated institutions (which mostly arise when a Catholic organization throws down enough money to slap their name on a previously established independent hospital).

So where does this leave us? I suspect that the same thing will happen here as it did in the previous case: The dust will settle, the expectation will be upheld, and Catholic affiliated institutions, despite their protestations will remain running.

The alternative is that they could pull their funding. Which... wouldn't much matter as I see it. Aside from medicare being a primary source of funding, a large portion obviously comes from the bills that patients (or their insurance companies) pay.... which wouldn't change if the religious organizations pulled out.

The religious organizations could refuse to sell the facilities to groups without such holy sticks up their butt which would effectively close them, but this would be seen as a childish move and petty move on their part. Definitely bad PR. Seeing that this would be a bad move, they would likely just pull their names off it, and these hospitals would become like any other secular hospital out there (78% of all the hospitals currently). In other words, it's business as usual.

In either case, the religious organizations only reveal themselves for what they are: Irrelevant to secular law.

Which reinforces my initial point: This isn't a discussion about religious liberty. Gingrich and others want to claim it is, but they're not trying to protect the rights of these organizations. They're trying to carve out new ones and create further intrusions on our secular government by religious organizations. Which is just as scary as all the other things I listed in my last post that the GOP is trying to pull.

* - Uttley, L. J, "No strings attached: Public funding of religiously-sponsored hospitals in the United States," Mergerwatch, 2002, p.10.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Contraception Kerfuffle

It's very rare that I write an "angry" post anymore in a blog with "angry" in the title. Even my recent dissection of the Missouri Creationism bill wasn't in anger, but in annoyance.

But the recent discussion in the political arena has gotten me downright irate.

For those that haven't been following the story, here's the recap:

The GOP decides to have a hearing on the bill that would require health insurance companies to help pay for birth control. Of course, their panel of "experts" was filled with anything but; it was a bunch of men, at least two of which only had the "expertise" of being religious.

The Democrats tried to get a woman, Sandra Fluke, on the panel to testify, but the GOP decided she wasn't expert enough and blocked her.

So instead of hearing from someone that the issue actually impacts directly, we get a bunch of men missing the issue completely.

Indeed, the discussion has revolved around the wrong points entirely. Whereas the requirement for health insurance companies is about treating health issues through birth control (where there are many), the "experts" whined about how their religion says people shouldn't have sex unless they're married, in which case, there's no reason for birth control and they didn't like paying health insurance companies that would have to pay, in part for birth control because, to them, it's all about fornication.

Then we get some chucklehead supporter of Santorum saying that women should avoid getting pregnant by putting an aspirin between their knees (ie, keep your damn legs shut). Again, missing the point by a mile.

So the Democrats allow Sandra Fluke to testify in their own hearing, where she talks about how her friend had to lose an ovary because her loving Catholic institution wouldn't help pay for her prescription birth control which would have helped treat the issue.

But yet again, missing the point by the distance of the moon, we get conservative clown Rush Limbaugh claiming she's a "slut" and a "prostitute" and that she's asking for handouts to have sex and if she's going to get paid, then she should post sex videos online.


Of course, crackpot Bill O'Reilly has to pile it on claiming Sandra wants government to pay for her "social life".

The whole point of Sandra's testimony was that contraception isn't about sex. It's about women's health. Furthermore, Limbaugh repeatedly implied that the more sex someone had, the more expensive it would be to pay for birth control. Obviously he doesn't even know how hormonal birth control works.

Rachel Maddow nailed this one and revealed how it's not just a problem of the commentators, but of the GOP itself where GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney claims to support a "personhood" amendment which would make the destruction of a fertilized embryo a crime, but failed to understand that this is precisely what hormonal birth control does: It prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.

Meanwhile, I see Santorum giving a speech on how we shouldn't have the federal government taking over health insurance because people shouldn't have to pay for things they don't want to (like birth control). Does he really even think about what he's saying? We already have to pay for things we may not want to because it's part of the greater good; This is the entire point of taxes! All of them go towards things we may not even use, but collectively, we have acknowledged that there's massive benefits to paying for them. This is how we have schools, police, fire departments, and a military. If Santorum was intellectually consistent and honest, he would admit that there should be no place for any of those if we truly abolished requirements making people pay into things with which they may not agree.

And Santorum and Romney aren't the only ones making ignorant statements showing they don't understand what they're talking about. When Newt Gingrich was asked about his view on the issue, he also stated that he didn't want people to be forced to pay for "abortion pills". I suppose you could argue that he's a bit closer to the mark than Romney, but the closest thing I think anyone could call "abortion pills" is Plan B. And as I understand it, that's not covered in the bill, which again, reaffirms the fact that this isn't a debate about pregnancy so much as it is about healthcare. But the GOP doesn't want to hear that.

Additionally, to support this myopic crusade against women, religious institutions spread outright misinformation on birth control (kinda like Herp Derp Kirk Cameron claiming honosexuality is "unnatural" when it's been observed in numerous other species, but don't let the facts get in the way pal).

So to bring this together, here's what pisses me off:

This encapsulates the state of right-wing politics in our nation today - It's built on a foundation of ignorance and willfully misses the points, rejecting the people that actually have the points and expertise on a topic in favor of misplaced, self-righteous religious morals, attempting to slut shame women, instead of promoting their well being.

I don't buy into either political party, but while I think the Democrats are rather worthless, it's things like this that are simply a reminder of why the GOP is nothing short of vile.

(Side Note: Thanks to a concerted effort online many companies that advertised on Limbaugh's show have dropped their sponsorship.)

UPDATE: Shit like the above has real world consequences. Not only is it vile that the GOP is so scared of women having a sexuality that they'd rather punish them on medical issues, but they pass this crap onto their kids who outright harass others. The kids that echo this sort of thing are bad, but the parents are worse. The climate of condensation that the conservative right fosters is nothing short of loathsome. These people lack human compassion and should be shown none in return.

UPDATE 2: Added paragraph about Gingrich's ignorance as well.