Babbling About Education

For a master’s degree in education, I took several classes through the Ferris State University program that required weekly essays.  After a while, I found myself getting very, very cranky.  Perhaps it was the hour, perhaps it was that I am just, well, cranky.

“Critical Issues” were presented on a weekly basis, and here are some of the words I found spilling out of the computer.  The topics came from the fourth edition of the textbook Taking Sides, by Richard C. Monk.  General discussion questions dealt with issues presented in the Gollnick text entitled Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society.


TIPS ON WRITING ESSAYS -- Jim Middleton, BS, MCTE

    My basics of writing a theme make use of the theories of three fairly important writers.  First, I consider Peter DeVries, who wrote that all stories should have a "beginning, a muddle, and an end."  Then I move on to Aristotle and his contention that we begin with a "thesis," create its opposite, or "antithesis," and then find a manner of integrating the two by creating a "synthesis."  Finally, I bow to the venerable and often veneered Benjamin Franklin, a writer who took the pragmatic approach of creating lists as a means of reaching a conclusion on nearly any subject.

    The approaches of these three men forge a universal template I use in my general, theme-based writings.  I sum up the ideas as follows:

1. State your thesis in unequivocal terms in an opening paragraph.   Strive to be definite about your thesis, avoiding "seems" and "could be" and "perhaps" in your wording.  The idea is to sound authoritative, thus giving the opportunity to promote discussion and interaction.  (This is a variation on the Strunk and White adage of, "If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud.")  To make things sound more "worldly" try to incorporate something you have recently read, or may assume many others have already read, as a reference (and if not recent, well, use something you remember well).  This will make your thesis sound knowledgeable, or at least give the impression that you have examined more sources than the primary assignment stipulates.  Again, using "public domain" material, or easily recognized material helps considerably, and if there is a special niche to which you have intimate knowledge, incorporate that as well.

2.  At this point, take full advantage of the miracle of word processors and write your concluding paragraph.  You should restate your thesis in new terms, perhaps adding a generalization about society that can be drawn by common knowledge.   This may end up sounding like a load of "yadda yadda yadda," but it gives closure to the report.  It may seem out of place to do so at this time in the writing, but you have your idea still fresh in your mind at this point.  The first and final paragraphs are the most important for demonstrating your creativity, since teachers are (often) human and sometimes struggle with deadlines of their own.

3. Now the listing starts.  Between the two paragraphs you have now written, generate a list of "pros" and "cons" that can bolster or shatter your thesis.   Having now followed the lead of Dr.  Franklin, consider Aristotle–is there a way that an "antithesis" can be assimilated into your initial "thesis" as a point of discussion?

4. If you find you have at least a half dozen points supporting your contention that outweigh those that could dispel your statement (by number or by strength), then begin the task of creating sentences for each of the points.  Here is where a thesaurus is vital, or better yet, with modern word processors, practically every word in the English language is listed with its synonym or antonym available in the menu bar.  USE THESE FREELY.  Often you will find that a new word can generate a completely new idea or help create a completely new sentence.
                                           
5. Now cut and paste.  Move the sentences around, adding whatever thoughts may emerge as you do.  You will find that certain sentences are redundant or that some of your ideas "don't play well with others."   You may find you have several ideas that emerge and then seem to naturally group together.  To state the obvious, group them together!  If enough of them emerge that your paper is becoming larger than anticipated, list the general ideas at the start of the paper and then break your composition into sections that elaborate on each of your ideas.

6.  Provide transitions between your discussion topics.  If you are talking about the weather in one part and then jump to analytical chemistry in the next, you will need to toss in a few lines as a separate paragraph to ease the reader to the next subject without the transition becoming abrupt. 

7.  Finally, if you have a "grammar check" with your word processor, USE IT FREELY.  Often such a check will help you identify sentences with changes in verb tense or conjugation.  These things can occur very easily when tossing in ideas as a general list.  They often give you a word count as well, so you can feel properly amazed at how quickly you were able to generate a load of material in a relatively simple (if somewhat mechanical) fashion.

    I use this approach whether writing the interminable reports for my MSEd or generating the rather mundane monographs for pharmacy journals.   I also wait until the very end to do things like double spacing, tabs, and margins...it's always more important to clutter up that intimidating blank page with ideas first. 
    Of course, I also throw many of these concepts to the wind in the following rants, just because I never listen when I talk to myself.

Some Thoughts Regarding Education While Embarking on an MCTE Program

    Through the education of others we educate ourselves.  It is the responsibility of each member of any given profession to relay not merely the facts of the profession to the next  generation, but also the evolved understanding that experience engenders, to put flesh to the skeleton; an over reliance on desiccated scholastics will create a generation lost in a sea of unprecedented knowledge, uncertain of goals, frustrated and rendered cynical by the journey.
    The professional must, however, develop the tools to communicate the knowledge.  The initial training process in any profession can be, in itself, a Byzantine maze that precludes the time necessary for introspection.  The how is learned by rote; the why must come with experience; it becomes a challenge to communicate the why.  Peering into such an abyss tempts the abyss to peer back--easier to follow the advice of Candide and "tend to the garden" than to show the future generations that the sun also rises for every sunset.
    So with the rigors of one discipline we must consider the addition of another.  After a time of working our craft, we must again put to work on framing it for others to see, or better, to understand.   The talent is not always innate; creative approaches often need to be scavenged with truncheon and guile.  But once honed, the new talent cannot help but enrich the base of the original profession.
    Certainly, there have been those for whom education has been for its own sake, an insular amusement designed to foster a patronized derision of others.  May they be content in their solitude, for a secret not shared is lost, and a perception not spoken is stillborn.
    John Dewey felt that education should be life itself, not a preparation for living.  Now, having poured over many a forgotten volume, having made lapses great and small, having the germinal understanding gained by every misstep and every success, I turn to the second phase of my responsibility–to learn how to educate others so that I may continue to educate myself.
                  
Battle Creek, Michigan       
20 June 2000                      

Topics in this collection of diatribes (click away and be annoyed!):                                     
Is the Drug War Harming Blacks?
Discuss teaching for social justice.
Should Race be a Consideration in College Admissions?
Discuss how and why teachers must understand the students’ culture in order to develop effective institutional strategies.
Should Standardized Tests be Eliminated from Applicant Processes?
Discuss the variables that contribute to adolescent suicides, and the role that teachers can or should play in preventing or minimizing the problem.
What is ageism? What are some of the prejudices and discrimination that the aged encounter from some of the younger segments of society?
Does Environmental Racism Exist?
Discuss how language is a function of culture, shaping personal and cultural identity.
What is Ebonics?  Why is it controversial?  Do you support its use in the classroom?
Discuss how religion influences attitudes and behavior in racial issues.
Discuss the issues related to prayer in schools.
Is Racial Segregation Necessarily Bad?
What has research found with regard to gender differences in science and mathematics participation?
Do Cultural Differences Between Home and School Explain the High Dropout Rates for American Indian Students?
Do the Identities of Blacks Lie in Africa?
Support or critique the culture of poverty thesis.
Do Industrialization and Capitalism Cause Inequalities?
Discuss the dominant culture in the US and its influence on the various institutions in the country.
Should Outsider and Insider Researchers Be Expected to Get Similar Findings?


QUESTION:  Is the Drug War Harming Blacks?
    Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist at odds with his profession, believes that the current drug war is a smokescreen to enhance the power of the medical and criminal justice establishments; he uses the essay to promote the ideal of self-control advocated by Malcolm X.  James Inciardi, director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies at the University of Delaware, contends that relaxing restrictions on drug use will not improve the situation, but will add to the collection of substances that are abused already.  Both arguments date from the early 1990s.

 
My position: both gentlemen tell nice stories, but again, this is not a black and white issue, this is all about money.

    Szasz makes several statements that are incorrect, Inchardi takes the immutable approach that will merely fill more prisons.  Both gentlemen make some interesting points regarding the drug war, but again, I believe it is not a matter of color, it is a matter of access to wealth and familial privileges that can help those who indulge avoid the consequences.  Blacks can cry racism and then hold up drug-sodden politicos like Marion Barry as heros, wearing the veil of victims, demanding a recompense for years of abuse.  At this point, Latinos and other impoverished minorities don’t possess similar political pull, but the ranks are growing.  When Jeb Bush of Florida cries before Hispanic voters about his daughter’s drug problem, he does so to engender their empathy in an uncomfortably political pull for emotional response: in Florida, if any of his audience were in public housing and had a family member try to obtain drugs illegally, they would find themselves evicted.  Fortunate for Governor Bush that his public housing arrangement seems to circumvent that outcome.  He has wealth, position, and spin doctors who can release comments about the pharmacist who reported Ms. Bush’s activities as a “frequent reporter” of such activities, implying the messenger is the problem, not the perpetrator.  I am also certain that his older brother has contemporaries still doing prison time for participating in the same transgressions he now casually dismisses as what he did before age 40.  Would that I could so rewrite my past.
     Cocaine is not a white man’s invention.  Cocaine comes from the coca plant, a native of South America, an alkaloid that trees created to ward off infestations.  Natives of the region used, and use,  the plant’s leaves as a source of energy, and as a source for nutrition otherwise unavailable from their meager diets.  Cocaine is a local anesthetic, the uses for which were initially described by Freud and his associates.  That it is an addicting CNS stimulant is also a discovery by Freud from his own uses of it.  Lewis Lewin, a German physician writing in the late 19th century (his scholarly examination, Phantastica, is now back in print), described its abuses, its addictions, its potential dangers long before the Harrison Act of 1914 took effect.  Cocaine was indeed part of many patent medicines and soft drinks in the early 20th century, just as was lithium (originally part of 7-Up’s formula), morphine, opium, or heroin (considered an antitussive until restricted in 1914).   Addictions indeed existed and were well known before the 1914 date attested by Mr. Szasz.  As for his allegation that crack cocaine and cocaine are of the same league, well, I guess near-beer and pure ethanol would be the same to him as well.
     Szasz makes the contention that if everyone could just practice self-restraint, then we could have all the drugs around us without their having an effect.  I have heard this expressed in many Libertarian discussions, and it is laudable, but impractical in a society where corporeal pleasures are paramount, and thought is kept to a self-imposed, Orwellian minimum.  I also cannot completely understand his direction in the essay–at times he says the drug war is harming blacks, then he seems to be blaming the blacks at the same time.
     In making his point for continued restriction, Inciardi presents some horrifying statistics, some disturbing experiences, but again, is the present method of handling the situation, namely incarceration, working?  If you are poor and want drugs, you will steal to get them, and that will feed the delivery chain to the source.  These days, that source will be marked TERRA TERRA TERRA!  If you are middle class or wealthy, have insurance and access, you will go to the doctor and get a prescription for Vicodin, for Soma, for Demerol, for Lortab, for Midrin, for Ultram, for any of the legally available, moderately to highly addicting drugs, for relief or abuse.  If you are poor, you will get AIDS from shared needles or bartered sex.  If you are wealthy, you will get liver failure or hepatitis.  It’s all about access.  I see it every day in a retail pharmacy, and moreso on Friday afternoons.  This drug war, like the war on poverty, the war on cancer, or any philosophical “war” declared by the government,  is a complete and utter disaster.
     Personally, as a pharmacist, I can feel for the poorer classes who try to run scams to obtain drugs illegally, but I won’t be their chump.  For the wealthy, I will just as sincerely report them if they try anything similar.  This is because I must follow the laws that come to me in order to maintain my license.
     If I had my choice, marijuana would be decriminalized, controlled, sold, and taxed like the cash cow it could be.  But I would also remove anyone’s driving privileges for life if he caused an accident while on marijuana, on alcohol, or any controlled substance causing impairment.  If someone were to be addicted to crack, I would also put them into a prison for crack users who could use all the crack they wanted, at state expense, until they die, since recidivism in rehabilitation is nearly impossible.  The possession and addiction would no longer be a crime, but represent a ticket out of the society within which they can no longer function. (I would like to thank P.J. O’Rourke for this suggestion).  The addicted individuals would no longer be a threat, would no longer clog the courts, and would no longer potentially fund TERRA TERRA TERRA. But then, we’d have one less political drum to beat.  Back to topics.



Discuss teaching for social justice.
     The text begins the definition of teaching for social justice with the requirement of a disposition of caring and social responsibility for those less advantaged.  Then, it goes into murky territory by suggesting that the “country’s resources should be somewhat equitably distributed.”
    In the current environment of hyperconservatism, these are fighting words, as in the words of one of its saints, Milton Friedman, “There is no free lunch.”   Resources now are not distributed equitably, whether it is a comparison of urban, suburban or rural settings, and it is unlikely to be corrected anytime soon, especially when we have a acquisitive society emphasizing wealth over value.  However, I digress– to return to the question, the concept of social justice encourages the belief that all people have the right to decent housing, health insurance, education, and adequate food and nutrition.  Hardly new concepts-- I can hear George Bailey exclaiming the sentence to Old Man Potter now.  Indeed, Herbert Kohl is correct in describing such people as going “against the grain.”  Teachers are right on the front lines of these situations...how impossible it is to teach a child who is cold, hungry, ill, and frightened.
     The text cites a life insurance company for its data here, and that in itself was chilling.  Among students, a positive school climate provides a healthy relationship between teachers and students, a quality education, and social skills imparted from teachers to students.  Students are obviously perceptive–the same study indicated that they are aware that parents, teachers, and other adults do not treat students of color or low-income equally.
     Enthusiasm and tension are palpable commodities within the brick and mortar school.  When diversity and multiple cultures are valued, it is reflected in the mood that visitors see.  When the environment is more akin to “The Lord of the Flies,” it is apparent that the adults are not imparting appropriate social skills, whether it is within the hallowed halls of academe or the aspirations of comfort at home.
     A consensus of educators can forge that mysterious link, or can acquiesce to the pressures of society to break the bonds of a common goal--that elusive, philosophical “pursuit of happiness,” which, in Jeffersonian terms, is not the attainment of corporeal pleasures, but rather the consummation of a complete and total existence.   Back to topics.


QUESTION:  Should Race be a Consideration in College Admissions?
The issue is taken up on one side by William Bowen or the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, who believe affirmative action programs have been responsible for the high rate of success of Black college graduates; Dinesh D’Souza of the American Enterprise Institute believes that affirmative action and programs based on skin color are an insult to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King.

     Both essays present compelling arguments about the use of affirmative action, but it took Monk to address the exclusion of important points in both discussions.  I noted two significant sentences right away.  In the Bowen-Bok essay, they toss in the statement, “Most of our study focused on African Americans and whites, because the Latino population at these schools was to small to permit the same sort of analysis.”  This comment, mentioned nearly in passing, hit me like a bowling ball.  Are blacks the only minority in the United States?  And with the black population soon to be (if not already) surpassed by Latino/Hispanic residents, will the concept of affirmative action be expanded to other non-white populations?  This I believe to be the biggest failing in trying to codify entrance requirements to a series of racial quotas, since (here, at least) the only race in question is the black race, which begins to beg an issue that I was raised to believe as a non-issue: that when achievement is attained, it is the achievement of the individual, not the color of the skin that is important.
     D’Souza makes some statements that are significant–that quotas serve to make both the recipient and the donor feel better (much like the protagonist of “Citizen Kane” who was a philanthropist for his own ends), that racism is not longer the main problem facing the black population, and that the superior performance of Asian Americans is not because of some genetic predisposition–they merely study harder.  However, he spoils his whole essay with his concluding sentence, the second one I found significant: “The election in 2000 could be the moment when color-blindness is at last the issue...and at the center of the Republican party’s agenda.”  He managed to take a rather reasoned discussion, even with its gibes at those possessed of liberal ideals, and turn it into a trite load of political rhetoric.  The 2002 election in Calhoun County was plagued by some of the worst race-baiting rhetoric I have ever seen, perpetrated by the Republicans on behalf of candidates who “didn’t approve the ads” or “hadn’t seen the material.”  For a while I had to review the astonishing bunk that was clogging my mailbox and convince myself I wasn’t somehow in central Mississippi in 1955.  Color-blindness is hardly the center of that party’s agenda, and I had a hard time re-reading D’Souza’s essay with an unbiased attitude after that.
     The best point made remained that of Monk when he addressed the quality of high-school curriculum.  The better the importance on academics and quality at that one level, the better the success being accepted at, performing in, or prospering after college.  Inner city schools are struggling with the basics, rural schools are suffering from access to technology; the contention that blacks have to address a series of difficult cultural problems as a societal group is an important, but not a sole factor in improving the chances for a better, no-bootstraps-attached life.
     So, while I believe that quotas have served to help many blacks achieve otherwise unattainable levels in society, I believe that there shall soon be a time where this form of assistance will represent an inequity to other ethnic groups.  Either the program should be extended to be inclusive of them, or it should be eliminated in preference of one that makes determinations based on merit.  The time spent on affirmative action programs should be used constructively to address what is causing the background inequities, to address them frankly and honestly, and work to correct them in a sincere fashion.  We are not the only nation on this planet (despite our fantasies to the contrary), and if we choose to lower standards rather than correct specific deficiencies, we shall be overtaken when the value of a quality education means more than the connections possible by coasting through Yale.   Back to topics.



Discuss how and why teachers must understand the students’ culture in order to develop effective institutional strategies.
     In order to think critically, students need to be attracted to the process of thinking.  This requires a dialogue, or a “dialogic inquiry,” as it is awkwardly titled in the text (I prefer the phrase “Socratic Method”), among parents, teachers, and students.  The schools of today cannot possess the bucolic atmosphere of ancient Greece, but teachers can nonetheless station themselves as “less masters of truth and justice and more as creators of a space where those directly involved can act and speak on their behalf.”  (Gollnick, p330)  The dialogue will predicate a need to develop an appreciation for  the language and customs of the students and their society, while encouraging the student to appreciate his role within the interactions of the learning environment.  A teacher cannot afford to become an Anne Tyler “Accidental Tourist,” cocooning in the cozy and the familiar:

            Was there any real change? He felt a jolt of something very close to panic. Here he still was!
            The same as ever! What have I gone and done?  he wondered, and he swallowed thickly and
            looked at his own empty hands.

     Without interaction, without enabling a student to see his own potential, without the acknowledgment of an individual’s potential for contribution to the societal whole, we can all wind up with empty hands.   Back to topics.



QUESTION:  Should Standardized Tests be Eliminated from Applicant Processes?
Susan Sturm and Lani Guinier feel that the future of affirmative action needs to include the elimination of standardized testing because of the inherent dysfunctional bias the process represents.  Stephen Steinberg, in reviewing the arguments on hiring, training, and promotion, contends that affirmative action programs need to be amended, not eliminated.

I believe standardized tests are far from perfect, but they also represent the best screening option available at this time.

     The lion’s share of the presentations on both sides seem to equate the concept of standardized testing with affirmative action, giving the impression that affirmative action is the sole issue at stake.  Sturm and Guinier present the “fictive merit” of testocracy in the elite universities of the east, citing that “initiative” and “drive” are the best predictors (frankly, I think their attempted pun with “testocracy” has a further unintended meaning–for many of those colleges, the criteria would appear to be as much testosterone as test taking, just as familial influence and “old boy” networks can influence the process).  They also discuss high LSAT scores with a lessened likelihood of later pro-bono work as a lawyer.  I find this a small example being used to cover an inapplicable broad base– first, we’re dealing with implied private school education, secondly, we see that people of privilege are less likely to work for free, and thirdly, we’re talking about lawyers.  OK, so lawyers from rich families who graduate from ivy league colleges won’t work for free.  Nothing new there.  Just look at our President.  What does that argument have to do with testing my auto mechanic for his state license?  They seem to have a problem with civil-service exams.  Very well, let’s eliminate them and go back to the old system of political appointments, the same corrupt system that got Garfield assassinated by a “disappointed job seeker” in 1881.
     Stephen Steinberg offers little in his essay regarding the specific topic, taking on the need of amending affirmative action and leaves it to the postscript in the text to present some analysis on the bias of the work environment (“The Secret Service in Black and White,” etc), but not necessarily on standardized testing.
     Perhaps the better critical question for this section would have been, “Do Standardized Tests Minimize Affirmative Action Programs,” or “Do Standardized Tests Promote an Ethnic Bias in Hiring?”
     The alternative to standardized examinations would appear to be one-to-one monitoring of processes performed by the students, some form of apprenticeship rather than classroom for the lion’s share of the learning process, and a board of review to determine the validity of the findings of those who directed the mentoring process.  All of these are subjective observations, many of the concepts are laudable in intent but probably impractical in their implementation, and in the end, much of the interpretation could be subject to, say, “outside influences.”  Standards in the testing methods need to be examined for bias, but not for the purpose of lowering them.  I shudder to consider some of the pharmacists who would now be practicing had their board exams been based more on their charisma than their knowledge (although the six year program pretty much knocks out any remnant of charisma).  Extending these processes to the work environment, in a recessionary environment, would represent an incredible amount of on-the-job training with the possibility of nothing in return.
     As far as hiring practices go, the trend nowadays is less to test incoming applicants for their knowledge, but rather to test them for their likelihood to commit petty crimes, to obtain unwitting confessions about prior drug use or police records, or define their work “attitude.”  I find this form of “survey” far more insidious than the possible shortcomings of other standardized tests.   Back to topics.



Discuss the variables that contribute to adolescent suicides, and the role that teachers can or should play in preventing or minimizing the problem.  What are some of the changes in behavior that a student might manifest when contemplating suicide?

     The 300% increase in adolescent suicides since 1950 is horrifying and attests to the level of frustration and despair that encircles many youths of today.  When a child sees everything in terms of black and white, without a cohesive philosophy to buffer against the daily assaults of new and difficult experiences, when a child cannot fully articulate his anxieties and uncertainties, when so many families are broken and scattered so  that an evening meal together is a foreign encounter, when there is nobody to just say, “You’re, OK and you’re safe here,” it becomes easier to consider a premature escape from this mortal coil.  Add a seething of drugs, the percolation of hormones, sexual identification, and the hostile uncertainties of an angry world to the stew, and the stresses can appear insurmountable to a child.
     (A subsequent note on the increase in adolescent suicides...could there be a connection to the rate and the emergence of Ritalin for ADHD in 1955?)
     Attempted suicides are considered a frustrated cry for help, an extension of acting out that sends the child into the quagmire of state-coordinated psychiatry.  Teachers are on the traditional front lines for identifying children at risk, with Chua-Eoan suggesting warning signs on spotting a depressed child: difficulty in maintaining relationships, reduced physical activity, morbid suicidal thoughts, low self esteem, problems at school, disturbances in sleep.  The depression can destroy inward and lead to self-destruction, or may explode outward in a torrent of hostility.
     I used to only half jokingly say that all boys should spend their afternoons on a farm, working out their frustrations on piles of manure; I now say it only quarter-jokingly.  From a physiological standpoint, the depression and angst of adolescence can be seen as a reflection of neurohormonal fisticuffs in a maturing body, with the unreleased or misdirected energies emerging as stressors.  Drugs are a simple regulator.  I suggest a soccer farm.   Back to topics.



QUESTION:  What is ageism? What are some of the prejudices and discrimination that the aged encounter from some of the younger segments of society?
     The traditional definition of ageism (“aversion, hatred, and prejudice toward the aged and their manifestation in the form of discrimination on the basis of age”) is dramatically brought to life in a society that extols the virtues of youth at the expense of  history, especially in its organic, living forms.  Youth can deride, intimidate, and discriminate against the elderly; they can pressure them out of employment and rob them of their dignity.
     It is interesting that one of the side effects of capitalism is the acquisitive nature of its benefactors.   As such, the older generations are perceived as those who “have” and the younger as those who “want.”   Older generations are thought to have expended their use by age 40, are merely counting time until death, and are therefore in the way of the brilliant ideas of youth that have never been tried before.  The shock of one going to bed at 24 and waking up at 35 without hardly a beat in between is usually enough to develop an appreciation for the proximity of 40, or 50, or 60-- the passage of each year seeming faster by its relative comparison to total time.  So youth resents the perceived injustice of the accumulations of age, whereas the elderly envy youth for the one thing it does possess: the luxury of time (“I don’t fear death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” explains Woody Allen). The poverty statistics, however, indicate that the accumulations of age are not what youth perceives them to be–nearly 10% of those 65 or older were living in poverty in 2000.
     We rarely hold counsel with society’s elders.  In a land that caters to demographics, the elderly can expect attention only around elections, since they do generally take the time to vote  (a completely unscientific polling of my junior college students in Battle Creek shows that only about 25% are registered).  So while the resentment will be there from youth, it will be only compounded when they are outvoted on school millage or tax proposals.  The resentment can stiffen communication between the groups, with the loss of history becoming the ultimate tragedy.   Back to topics.


QUESTION:  Does Environmental Racism Exist?

Robert Bullard contends that environmental pollution has racism at its core, with scientists, politicians, and corporations doing damage control to put a positive spin on the proceedings; David Friedman contends the whole concept is a hoax and political ploy by the Clinton administration.

My belief is that the environment is being polluted in areas with little national political power.  While racism may not be the motivating factor, by default, minorities are more greatly affected since they represent the majority of those living in poverty.

    Mark Twain coined the phrase “The Gilded Age” to describe the unregulated, uncontrolled business world of the late 19th century.  The return to deregulation in the late 20th century could be described as a new “Gilded Age,” with government and corporations working in tandem to build a revolving door for their mutual fiscal benefit.  Recently, Nevada and South Carolina both felt the results of this new cooperation, with nuclear waste being the medium of exchange.  Little wonder that Nevada is planning to legalize marijuana.
    David Friedman’s argument focuses on his contended hoax, without responding to the escalation of pollution around impoverished areas.  His essay comes before the present Bush administration had to explain how its own advisors actually agreed that pollution was creating global warming, a fact routinely discounted by conservative apologists.  He decries instead the use of lawsuits to protect the rights of impoverished regions, populations he claims “are experienced at using litigation to achieve their ends.”  Perhaps these people have become experienced at litigation because no other means was available to them, or perhaps because they have learned that, in an era where lawyers can declare arsenic safe enough for consumption, litigation could work both ways.
    Robert Bullard bases his statements on a perceived racism.  While his stand may encourage some equivocation, the statistics he cites do not.  Unremitting lead poisoning, botched Superfund cleanups, and the growth of counties that fail to meet at least one of the EPA ambient air quality standards continue to frustrate those who are concerned with our children’s future in this world.  The President’s EPA advisors tell us that of course they’re concerned–after all, they drink water, they breathe air... and some could contend that they’ll be willing to sell both to the rest of us some day.   Back to topics.



Discuss how language is a function of culture, shaping personal and cultural identity.

     At its most basic, language signifies “any sound utter’d by an animal, by which it expresses any of its passions, sensations, or affections.  The amorous pigeon does not trust solely to his plaintive cooing in order to soften the rigour of his reluctant mate, but adds to it the most submissive and expressive gestures.”(Encyclopoedia Brittanica, 1771)
     The definition of two centuries past correlates well with the concepts with which we regard language among societies and civilizations today.  Language both represents and reflects many aspects of a culture, and it can be seen as a sign of unity among members of a particular culture group. It can be analyzed—in terms of vocabulary and structure—for clues about the values and beliefs of a culture group. When communicated in writing, language can also become a visible marker that provides a way of tracing the history of a culture.  Language also includes the non-spoken expression and gesture, with a wiggled eyebrow or smile adding depth of meaning beyond the uttered word.
     Language may represent a means of stereotyping one group or another. It may be used as a means to classify one’s educational background, or receptiveness to its enhancements.
     The wrong choice of words may come across as substandard or crude.  When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought with them their French culture and Romance-based language to the Saxon throne.  Words that were derived from the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon background became considered crude and have carried this stigma to the present day (many of the seven words George Carlin explained you “could not say on TV” descend from Anglican and Germanic, not Latin, roots; the same words in Latin or French are considered medical diagnoses).   Return to topics.



QUESTION:  What is Ebonics?  Why is it controversial?  Do you support its use in the classroom?

     Ebonics is the blend of “ebony” for “black” and “phonics” for “sound.”  It is another way of describing Black English, or “Vernacular Black English” or “African American Vernacular English” (AAVE).  As such it represents a “linguistic system” or dialect of American English, just as Cockney is a dialect of British English, Berliner is a dialect of German, or Spanglish is a dialect of Mexican Spanish.
     It is controversial because it is being promoted as a language of its own, rather than a collection of slang, argot, and accents.  The Gollnick text even describes it as a “considerable overlap among Black English, Southern English, and Southern white non-standard English.”  The controversy was brought to dramatic attention in 1996 when Oakland’s school board tried to justify it as a separate, “second language” for its predominantly Black students.
     Cynics noted that justifying Ebonics as a “second language” would eliminate the need to teach a true second language, thereby maintaining Federal and State inflows of monies while simultaneously lowering the bar on educational achievement.
     Ebonics has value as a study for academics, for linguists, and anthropologists.  It has no value as a language in the classroom.  When a student says, “I seen it on TV yesterday,” I will correct that student, whether he or she is white, black, or green and yellow striped.  The text discusses some dialect differences and presents the example of “She have a car” as a mispronunciation of the word “has” rather than an error in grammar.  I would contend that, if that student continued to say “She have a car,” that eventually that student will write, “She have a car.”
     We no longer live in a society where illiteracy exists because there are no books.   Illiteracy exists because the society ignores those books, because it ignores its language; and after a few generations of such ignorance, those who find it difficult to attain a literate level will justify their ignorance.
     There is an old story that says all dogs once spoke the same language.  Whenever they barked, they were talking to one another, and they could bark and bark and were a happy pack.  Then they began to break apart into different breeds, until each dog could no longer bark like the others, could no longer understand each other, until the only thing dogs could bark to each other was, “What did you say?”
     Language is the audible clothing we wear.  Dress appropriately, or go to the dogs.   Return to topics.



Discuss how religion influences attitudes and behavior in racial issues.
     The Christian Roman emperor Valens ordered the burning of all non-Christian books in 373. The Crusaders capturing Tripoli in 1109 burned 100,000 volumes by pre-Christian writers; they repeated their acts in the fourth crusade of 1204 at Constantinople.  Church and State united.
     In the 10th century, Raud the Strong, a Viking chieftain, escaped the “Christianizing King”of Norway Olaf Trygvasson by sailing into the wind, using a zig-zag pattern unlearned by the king’s navy. He was captured, declared in league with the devil, and killed by having a viper stuffed down his throat.  Church and State united.
     In the text, Gollnick writes that the Catholic king of Spain and his ministered viewed it as their “divine right” to enslave, Christianize, or slaughter the natives of Latin America.  They used the Bible as justification.  Church and State united.
     The dark ages continued with the persecution of any nonliteral interpretation of the Bible: Giordano Bruno was burned alive in Rome for stating the earth moved around the sun in 1600.  33 years later, Galileo at age 70 was tortured until he recanted the identical blasphemy (the Vatican finally decided that yes, Galileo was right...in 1992).
     Voltaire wrote he would have borne with the absurdities of dogma had the Christian clergy tolerated differences, but “The man who says to me, ‘Believe as I do, or God will damn you,’ will presently say, ‘Believe as I do, or I shall assassinate you.’”
     Literal (or mis-) interpretation of Biblical texts continued and continues to be used as a rationalization  for everything from anti-Semitism to the subjugation of women, to attacks on scientific thought and inquiry.  Southern Baptists justified slavery because it wasn’t specifically condemned in writings of 2000 years past.  Today’s society professes a  heavy influence by religious leaders, some of whom possess dramatic and highly publicized shortcomings.  When these leaders fail to profess and live lives of goodness, charity, and toleration, they tread upon paths bloodied by a millennia of pain and suffering.   Back to topics.


Discuss the issues related to prayer in schools.
     In an 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of Church and State.”   He used it to explain his conviction that the first amendment to the Constitution was meant to “restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties;” that there should not be an established church by the State, but that all citizens should have religious freedom in this nation.  His was a time of forced tithing to the Anglican church, with its doctrines carrying the essential force of law. Because he was tolerant of all religions, he was attacked as atheist, just as Socrates was called “that atheist who only believes in one god.”
     The phrase, “separation of Church and State,” has been held as a banner by both sides of the prayer issue.  The issue, actually, is moot.  There is no prohibition on prayer in schools.  What there is, however, is a prohibition of an adult authority figure, whose salary is paid by public funds, to initiate a group prayer activity toward impressionable youth who are heavily influenced by peer pressures.  Those who are contending that prayer is “forbidden” are actually upset that “their” prayer is forbidden.  The Gallup and Lindsay poll of 1999 indicating that 2/3 of the population supports an amendment that would permit prayer in school shows how effective their campaign has been to give the perception that prayer is somehow presently disallowed.
     I grew up in a time of public school, teacher-lead prayer over our mid-session Kindergarten snack of dubious nutritional value.  The rote repetition of “GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankHimforourfoodamen” meant nothing to me, and its court mandated absence in 1962 also meant nothing.  I only recall asking my teacher about the word “amen,” thinking it should be “a man” or “the men” and being told it was time for my nap.   Return to topics.


QUESTION:  Is Racial Segregation Necessarily Bad?
The discussion was presented in the form of two brief essays.  Paul Ruffins, editor of the magazine The Crisis, finds segregation not only bad, but on the rise; Glenn Loury, however, believes that since segregation appears difficult to enforce, it represents an outmoded struggle and should be abandoned.

    I believe that, while integration is at best difficult, the present attitude of societal acceptance of racial segregation is worse, representing a symptom of the widening socio-economic gap in this country.  On one hand, the employment of legalese and rationalization in the dialogue does little to solve the problem of educating students, and on the other, the focus on a particular race to achieve a perceived “parity” in the system is going to rapidly become an anachronism as other ethnic populations increase.
    That ponderous introduction having been presented, I would like to examine some of the arguments presented by both sides.  Paul Ruffins presents his case in the context of three “myths” that demonstrate the lack of interest in making desegregation a success.  “It is possible to make separate equal” is the first fallacy presented.  His examination of white/black population and voting trends was especially interesting.  When school populations in Kansas City, Missouri,  became black, the white electorate, still in a majority, voted down all bond and tax levies.  In Michigan, something similar has been taking place.  The removal of State collected taxes as a means of school funding gave the governor the ability to say “I lowered your taxes,” and “You now have more local control over your schools.”  The reality became  that local districts, heavy with a retired electorate disinterested in education now that their children were grown, would vote down funding for schools scrambling to replenish the losses from the governor’s purported tax cut.   Schools, especially in urban areas, would then disintegrate (a potential pun there), and those who could afford to move their children to other venues, would do so.  These same people could then push for “voucher” programs to finance this decision, further diminishing funding for the ailing school districts, creating a descending spiral.  The net result–segregation.  “Segregation doesn’t really hurt anyone” is another explored myth.  Creating ghettos did very little good for the Jewish populations of pre-World War II Germany, nor will it do well for the education of ethnic populations concentrated in one place, especially if the education is further diminished by lack of public support.
    Glenn Loury seems to take the stance that, since integration doesn’t work, segregation is the only alternative, with the disclaimer that “no public school district should...actively promote racial segregation.”   That’s awfully generous of him.  Let’s see...since people still die of cancer, we should also close the hospitals and stop seeking a cure, but we won’t encourage people to go out and get cancer.  The reality is that integration has been violently fought since its first inception, and when mob mentality didn’t seem to work, the legal mechanisms were slowly brought in to take their place.   Return to topics.



QUESTION:  What has research found with regard to gender differences in science and mathematics participation?  What are the implications for educators?
 
     The 19th century was a powerhouse of pseudomedicine and outright quackery.  One of the more intriguing “schools of thought” to emerge from this morass was “the only true science of mind,” or phrenology, developed by the Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall.  His basic concepts were that the brain was composed of separate seats or “organs” that controlled specific faculties, that their size represented a measurement of their respective powers, that the skull, by taking the shape of the brain, could be “read” as an accurate index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies.   The larger the brain, the greater the intelligence.   The concept was given credence into World War I and was used to compare Presidents Taft and Roosevelt.  For example, a “high, square head” indicated “conscientiousness, prudence, carefulness, dependability, and constancy,” while a “high, round head” indicated “ambition, love of adventure, and a certain degree of recklessness, carelessness, and irresponsibility” (Katherine Blackford, “The New Science of Judging Men,” 1916).   A woman, with a smaller, more delicately turned skull without knobs or bumps, would be considered “pleasant, unassuming, and attentive to detail.”  And also, not as intelligent.
     Actual research has exploded these myths, indicating that women and men can perform as well as each other in sciences and mathematics (or as poorly as each other, depending on your interpretation of recent Battle Creek MEAP scores), but that societal pressures may dissuade participation due to gender bias, to the point where women don’t participate because they believe they are not supposed to.  (An apocryphal note: in an NPR interview a month back, a woman who had recently undergone a sex change indicated that, when her testosterone injections had begun, the he that she became began to take on a newfound interest in science.  The interviewer responded that this was setting back research about 100 years.  I wish I could cite more about the conversation; I was en route to Charlotte and couldn’t write and negotiate I-69 at the same time.)
     The implication is that gender needs to be addressed.  Women learn and respond differently than men do.    Women are more likely to learn in cooperative mathematics activities, and are more strongly influenced by praise.  Men tend to want to know how to get the correct answer and then move on.  The concept of segregating math and science classes by sex to minimize the effect of peer pressure and male intimidation remains controversial.
     The percentage of women in science and mathematics is increasing; the advanced placement Math-Science center in Battle Creek is instructed by a majority of women teachers.  In the world of pharmacy (my present profession), what was once a primarily male-dominated profession now numbers more than half of its graduates as women.  However, as a rule, males still earn more credits in the most advanced mathematics courses, and perhaps from a misunderstanding of the name, tend to enroll more in physics than females do.   Return to topics.


QUESTION:  Do Cultural Differences Between Home and School Explain the High Dropout Rates for American Indian Students?

John Reyhner, cited in the Journal of American Indian Education in 1992, contends that the schools, teachers, and curricula ignore the needs of native Americans, thus explaining the present 35% drop out rate.  Susan Ledlow, cited in the same journal that year, says that the data is sparse and possibly inaccurate, and that studies have ignored external pressures on native American students, such as employment needs.

My conclusion: Cultural differences do contribute to the dropout rate.

    The history of the European conquest of the Americas is one of ambivalence toward cultures, self-serving agendas, or out and out genocide.  The Christian conversion of the native tribes was for the glorification of the patriarchal priests, the Enlightenment brought biological warfare with smallpox-infested trading blankets, and the 19th century brought the likes of George Custer, who thought the wholesale slaughter of a people would get him elected to the White House.  Now we approach the native Americans as another “problem” we must “deal with,” whether it is because they are building casinos, or becoming upset at the Department of the Interior’s criminal lack of concern about monies due them, or because they don’t appreciate everything they are “given.”  The trouble is, what we see as “giving,” they see as something they already had.
     Jon Reyhner effectively clicks through the reasons why native Americans are leaving public schools at an alarming rate: the impersonal large schools, the uncaring or untrained teachers, the inappropriate curriculum, the tracked classes.   Forty-five percent of Navaho dropouts have a B or better average.  This is an incredible drain of a valuable resource.  He presents the disturbing, but typically bureaucratic, situation where those most qualified to teach native Americans, those most likely to engage their interest-- namely other native Americans-- can do so only if they are steeped in non-native cultures.  His promising remedy is to bring in more native American instructors and increase community involvement.  His suggestions make sense, are “do-able” and will probably lead to a better educated population for everyone involved.
 Susan Ledlow, on the other hand, says a culturally-relevant curriculum won’t work because nobody has defined what “culturally-relevant” is.  Given that the present situation precludes active involvement by the culture that is relevant, hers is and shall always be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Her underlying text that native Americans somehow prefer an undereducated life (“implicit notions about the importance of culture”) is little more than imperialistic stereotyping: obviously, a defeated people should be cow-towing and humble.  I suggest she visit South Dakota and see the monument to Crazy Horse and then examine the plans for the native American university there -- all under development without the solicitation of funds from the U.S. government.  These people are proud, they have a rich heritage, possess a phenomenal respect for this earth, and they will survive despite the better efforts of those who think they know better.   Return to topics.



QUESTION:  Do the Identities of Blacks Lie in Africa?
The issue is discussed by Olga Idriss Davis and Keith Richburg. Ms. Davis believes her identity is with her family’s native continent following a spiritual pilgrimage to Senegal; Mr. Richburg relays a less rhapsodic impression of Africa from his sojourn as a journalist and rejects the notion that his identity comes from the land of his forebears.

My conclusion is no, the identities of Blacks do not lie in Africa.

     In “The Inner Reaches of Outer Space,” Joseph Campbell explores the metaphors of psychological transformation.  Everything is a journey, everything is a cycle, and we should not focus on the destination, but the route we take.  In the end, it is all about our internal awakenings, not a physical manifestation of place.
     Olga Idriss Davis presents a moving, touching, spiritual discussion about her journey of self discovery through a pilgrimage to Senegal and its slave castle at Goree Island.  She feels her identity is there, in Africa, uncovered by a reversed “middle passage.”   She has a sense of “meeting family,” a unity with the 15 to 20 million Africans who were sold as slaves throughout the world.  But she also quotes Ferdinand Dennis, with his lament that such a journey is “a search for those things lost...I do fear that these losses are irretrievable.”   This brings us to the analytical eye of Keith Richburg.
     Mr. Richburg can find no identity with Africa.  After years of searching, he describes the continent in terms more repelling than Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” with “the horror...the horror” embodied in butchering despots, tribal civil wars, death, disease and dismay.  He finds more comfort in South Africa’s society of apartheid than in the wilds of Tazania, where he realizes that if his forebears had not been pulled away 400 years ago, he would probably be just another victim of famine, war, or misery that much of Africa represents today.
     I re-read Ms. Davis’ essay after shaking the chill from Mr. Richburg’s reports, and I came away with the feeling that her search for identity was successful, but only on a personal level.  The pilgrimage to Senegal began to seem more structured than spiritual, a Disneyesque version of Africa instead of the reality that exists.
     And then I began to ruminate on other attempts to revisit Africa.  I recalled that Paul Cuffe had coordinated a return in 1815, believing that African Americans could more easily "rise to be a people" there than in America, where slavery legislated limits on Black freedom.   But even then, most free African-Americans wanted to stay in the land they had helped to build. They planned to continue the struggle for equality and justice in the new nation.  Those who made the return to Africa founded the colony of Liberia, with Monrovia (named for President James Monroe) its capitol.  (As a digression, I note the irony that on July 26, 1847, the Liberian Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. Liberians charged the mother country, the United States, with injustices that made it necessary for them to leave and make new lives for themselves in Africa.  They called upon the international community to recognize their independence and sovereignty. Britain was one of the first nations to recognize the new country, having abolished slavery by royal decree in 1830. The United States did not recognize Liberia until the American Civil War, when Lincoln unsuccessfully suggested that former slaves might be sent there to make a new life).
     So I do not believe Blacks in America have an identity in Africa, no more than I have an identity with my family roots in Poland, on the plains of a Chippewa battle field, or in a calico printing shop in Chelsea.  I can delight that my family signed our own Declaration, just as I can lament that they owned slaves, fought each other in Virginia, and spun its wheels on any of the number of foolish minutiae that can clutter our lives.  I shall gather their stories, but those stories are what was; today and here are what are.  And an inner reach into one’s own outer space offers an infinity of possibilities to discover our own, unique identity.   Return to topics.



Support or critique the culture of poverty thesis.
     The basis for a “culture of poverty” may exist, but not among the majority of those under the general definition of “below the poverty level.”  For this increasing section of our population, this assumption presents too broad a generalization. It could be that the thesis is held as valid by those in a more affluent sector of society because, as noted in the text, “they tend to view their affluence, advantages, and comforts as universal, rather than unique.”  With most homeless students in school and regularly attending classes, and with less than a third (3.5 million) of the 12 million having experienced homelessness remaining so, the argument that these are people content with their status is flawed.
 If there is some basis for this conjecture, it may be with that segment where mental illness or drug habituation is contributing to the perpetuation of the lifestyle.  For example, a review of  the caseload of the Calhoun county community mental health programs reveals several families representing  three generations of mental illness, with the attendant incapability of maintaining employment due to chronic depression, schizophrenia, or hospitalization.  With the umbrella covering what constitutes mental illness broadening, this population will doubtless increase, but not to the point of being the major segment of those in poverty (Battle Creek’s Dr. Kellogg once quipped that, given the perpetuation of mental illness, the nation would be one big lunatic asylum by the mid-21st century).
     Substance abuse becomes another generational revolving door.  Again, Calhoun county, with its high teenage pregnancy rate, can create several generations in a compressed time period; with grandparents, parents and children addicted to alcohol, prescription, or street drugs, the cross-influence can be strong.  Within the culture of substance abusers, the level of acceptance of casual habituation becomes the norm–for a health care provider, imagine the frustration in conducting a smoke-stoppers program among a group where cocaine or marijuana use are commonplace, and mere nicotine addiction is regarded as a sign of incredible self-restraint.  A culture emerges in such groups, bound by a shared addiction, quick to draw the line between themselves and non-users (the disturbing imagry of “Requiem for a Dream” being a recent cinematic example).
     But again, while these segments of the impoverished get a lot of attention, they are not indicative of the whole.   Return to topics.


QUESTION:  Do Industrialization and Capitalism Cause Inequalities?
The Response:  Yes, absolutely
 

 “The thugs always win, but the thinkers always outlast them.”
       --Petr Beckmann (History of Pi)

     NAFTA, the dissolution of borders within World Trade Organization agreements, and a globalized economy are being promoted as good for the world’s economy; individuals are deemed incapable of making their own decisions on allocating goods and services in this atmosphere where all should be decided by a core of industrialists.  After all, didn’t Adam Smith, the father of political economics, endorse the concept of laissez-faire in the 18th century?
     The problem is those bothersome foreign countries.  They want to be treated like equals.
     Brazil possesses the Amazonian rainforests and its wealth of possible cures in each unique plant and native remedy.  Non-Brazilian pharmaceutical companies are taking samples, going back to their labs, patenting the results, and now Brazil and Brazilian natives are finding that, even if they wanted to market their ages-old treatments, they wouldn’t be able to– they would be in violation of international patent law.  Brazil is struggling to place embargoes on exports of all DNA plant material, fighting with well-financed corporate lawyers with the strength of international patent law on their side.
     In the text, Sheila Henry presents a sweeping review of the treatment of non-industrialized societies by those with bigger guns.  Particularly telling was her discussion about the 1908 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the United States and Japan, with a very interesting comment from the 1910 San Fransisco Chronicle.  When discussing the attempts of the immigrant Japanese to go beyond their levels of servility and rise above their assigned role, the editor of a century ago reflected that “the moment that this position is exercised, the Japanese cease to be an ideal laborer...”  Substitute any minority class, or non-Western based culture for “Japanese” in the present “globalized” economy, and we obtain a reflection of the current attitude regarding equality in capitalism.
     A globalized, profit-driven economy craves an inexpensive labor class, and with transportation of raw materials and goods becoming less of an obstacle, it is cheaper to go to the cheap labor than have the cheap labor brought here.  It is also far less likely that safety and wage regulations will be a barrier from more genial governments.   For example, in 1990, Mexico's minimum wage was about 13 percent of the average unskilled manufacturing wage in the US ("The Impact of Labor Market Policies and Institutions on Economic Performance,." World Bank publication RPO 678-46).  The Brazilian minimum monthly wage of $84.50 would probably reimburse those native healers, incapable of selling their treatments, for providing the raw material to their new masters in the pharmaceutical industry.  This is industrialization, this is capitalism, this is not equality.
     On the other end of the aisle we have Thomas Sovell’s commentaries.  Thomas Sovell has an agenda, a conservative one, and is presented as an example that certain political and societal timetables are endorsed by other than a stereotypical conservative. In his discourse, he sees no inequalities from a capitalistic standpoint that haven’t already existed, and apparently finds no problem with accepting the exploitation of others, since that’s just how the world works.  “Nothing has been more common in human history than discrimination against different groups,” he says, as if to say discrimination is natural, and that its implementation doesn’t lead to inequality.   The only response to muster at such a statement is slack-jawed astonishment.  Sovell’s example of Haiti is especially interesting.  He casually presents the Haitian revolution, implying its timing made it something akin to the American liberation from England, omitting that  it was a brutal revolt against French slaveholders by their slaves.  Not wealthy, landholding colonists, but slaves.  These slaves took control, and the response from the horrified, slave-owning world was to cut them off from the benefits of their societies. That led to isolation and internal instability.  Isolation and internal instability are the roots of its present problems–there is no way that the Haitian society could have caught up to present industrialized standards with such an incredible, initial hurdle.
     The further implication is that, if you don’t want to be a laboring class, and make things for the consumers of wealthier nations, those nations will leave and remove their infrastructure (“play my way or I’ll go home and take my ball with me”).  This is short-range thinking at its worst, since eventually the wealthier nations, in their goal to concentrate their material possessions, will run out of consumers.
     Thomas Sovell and his compatriots tell us that economic decisions are best left in the hands of giant corporations, that this trend is inevitable, that discrimination is natural, and that none of this leads to inequality.
     When Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations in 1776, he probably didn’t realize that his name would be used to endorse an expansive world economy with a centralized trade organization with international governmental sanction.  In fact, he probably would wonder if those using his name had ever actually read his book.  He believed that a free market economy would place an emphasis on general harmony and prevent cases of the “narrow selfishness of human motives.”  He opposed any form of economic concentration on the ground that it “distorts the market's natural ability to establish a price that provides a fair return on land, labor, and capital; to produce a satisfactory outcome for both buyers and sellers; and to optimally allocate society's resources.”
     Inequalities will exist with industrialization.  We can be brutal and maintain them, or we can consider the suggestions of Adam Smith.  Return to topics.



Discuss the dominant culture in the US and its influence on the various institutions in the country.

    The dominant culture, for sheer weight of power and money, remains white and Western European in nature.  The societal background and governmental organization, derived from British models with Federalist modifications in the 18th century, still controls much of what is an “accepted norm.”  Those in the United States who wish to play in this exclusive club have equal opportunity “by law” (we are described as a nation of lawyers, as Napoleon described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers), provided they play by the rules of the dominant culture.  Other ethnic groups, trying to assimilate, will be denigrated by purists in their respective cultures for doing so.
    The acquisitive nature of this dominant, WASPish, culture is its biggest feature.  Possessions are regarded as the primary measurement of success and achievement.  To this end, the culture encourages often mindless, grim work to earn money, of value only because the culture says it has value, to obtain items to offer respite from the grim nature of the work.  Dogs in a wheel.
    Ironically, the notion of an individual is valuable only if he’s like the entire group.  Promoted in theory, individualism is discouraged in practice.  Thoreau would lament this mechanical environment of education and commerce, with its ultimate goal being to create consumers of perceived necessities.
    Where there is much to cause dismay in such an exclusionary structure, with its segregations, inequalities, and general poor sportsmanship, the structure affords the participants the ability to reshape it.   Return to topics.



QUESTION: Should Outsider and Insider Researchers Be Expected to Get Similar Findings?

My side: Yes
    The operative word in the critical question is “should.”  Both Merton and De Andrade approach the question with a misconception of the basic nature of research.  Their contentions are that one group vs another possesses the power to yield greater validity to the outcome of an inve stigation.  Research methodology is, by its proper nature, “systematic and purposeful” (McMillan and Schumacher, 2001), precise, and objective.  If done correctly, research should be reproducible and verifiable, and not only by the initial research team (the “success” of cold fusion being a recent example).   Research questions should be stripped to their parsimonious essentials, and the reasoning process should be deductive (a general statement moving to a specific conclusion) to inductive (a specific statement leading to a general conclusion).  And, finally, those conclusions in research should be presented as conditional, with restricted interpretations.
    If the research is a quantitative study, the statistical analysis of the outcomes should be carefully examined.  For example, a recent heavily broadcast study on the use of gingko for enhanced memory indicated it was ineffective after two groups were examined over a six week period.  It was promoted as valid, but previous studies against which it was compared indicated that a three month minimum was required to achieve enhanced memory results.  Had the research been conducted for a three month period, it would have had value for comparison.  As it rests, it appears to be more marketing than medicine.  Again, research “should” yield similar findings if testing methods are the same.
    In qualitative studies, the results are often presented in narrative form.  Here, again, objectivity “should” exist, and if the observation methods are neutral, carefully prepared, and presented in the format of a conditional conclusion, then the research “should” yield similar results, regardless of the conducting group.
    In creating research protocols, outsider and insider groups should use the talents of each other to develop the methodologies.  If either group comes to a project with a bias, it will be reflected in the outcome, and if the research does not yield similar findings, what is presented is not research, but opinion...and all opinions are equally valid and equally worthless, including mine.   Return to  topics.



And that, dear patient reader, is about all I have to say about that.
Jim Middleton, January 2003 (some updates in formatting in March 2006)
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email: jimmiddleton@juno.com