Archive for education

Open Letter Regarding Education

Posted in Economics, education, Policy, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by Josh Wittner

I recently sent the below letter (as an email) to my state representatives, if you have an interest in this issue I encourage you to ask similar questions and/or help me track this down.

Dear Senator and Representatives,

During my perusal of Governor Gregoire’s proposed education plan, which seeks to take steps to meet the standards necessary for receiving funding from President Obama’s Race to the Top program I found myself deeply fascinated about our current education expenditures, in particular respect to K-12 education. During my research on the state Office of Financial Management website I ran across several graphs that show that since 2000 Washington State has fallen, and continues to fall more and more, behind the national average of per capita and per $1000 of income spending on K-12 education. Why is this? Are there specific policy changes or lack of policy changes that are directly responsible for this? Do we know why this is happening? Are the numbers misleading, and if so, in what ways?

If we don’t know, how do I go about encouraging research into finding the answers? If I were to go about researching this, would you be interested in the results?

In my opinion education is the most powerful tool we have for improving the general welfare, empowering individuals, reducing income disparity, and expanding Washington’s economic prowess. If we’ve begun to slack in this regard, as it appears we have, I’d like to know why.

Thank you very much for your time,
Your respectful constituent,
Josh Wittner


Sarah Palin and Evolution

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by Josh Wittner

Apparently Sarah Palin, the ex-governor of Alaska, previous vice presidential candidate, and future presidential hopeful doesn’t believe in evolution. She thinks that creationism should be taught along side evolution in science classes. Here’s the thing about creationism for those of you who don’t follow it: it’s faith, not science. The strongest forms 0f creationists believe that evolution is false, basically because it doesn’t fit in with their world view which was indoctrinated into most of them in childhood. The weakest forms accept evolution by pulling the standard “god of the gaps” routine by stating that while god didn’t create us as we are, He create the initial forms of life and guided the process of evolution. How and why? Who knows, god works in sometimes mysterious ways.

Why isn’t creationism/intelligent design (which are the same thing) science? The key attribute here is that creationism isn’t falsifiable. There is no experiment that can be performed, ever, that would falsify creationism. Evolution, on the other hand, has made hundreds and hundreds of predictions that have all been tested and verified. Those with repeatable results that didn’t fit the current theory were used to change the current theory. This is impossible with creationism, hence creationism is not science.

I’ve gotten sidetracked, but thought it was important to at least get any readers who don’t know about the creationism debate the rough brief, which can easily be verified. The point of this post is Sarah Palin’s belief in creationism, not creationism.

It’s quite clear by Palin’s statements that she doesn’t understand the process of evolution. She says that she, “didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.” Well Sarah, neither do people who believe in evolution. The large changes are actually the result of millions of years of small incremental changes. This points out the fundamental problem, evolution literacy, and science literacy in general, is too poor in this country.

We need a public education system that does a better job of teaching science, or even more so of teaching critical thinking. A better system of expounding the value of reason and skepticism. That imbues our children with pride in the idea that their minds can be changed with scientific evidence. This is important because the more accurately we base our decisions on reality the more likely those decisions will be fruitful. This is as true at an individual level as it is at a public policy level.

This post is very rant-like, but I get going on these things.

America’s Decline

Posted in Economics, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2009 by Josh Wittner

In this Newsweek article, Fareed Zakaria explores the status of America as the world’s premier innovator. He takes to task the idea that somehow our culture is the predominant reason that we’ve held the status we’ve held. I’ve always felt that it was more likely that the state of the world at large, our geographical separation from Europe (especially during WWII), and our once dominant educational system had larger impacts than simply our culture and I think that Zakaria agrees here.

The first key idea here for me is that the US government used to spend significantly more money on basic research and development (as a percentage of GDP). In fact, Zakaria states that “the government’s share of overall R&D spending remains near its all-time low.”

The second key idea is about education in the US. Zakaria uses the example of California which “builds prisons, but not college campuses” anymore. Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me talk about how important I think education is and I would definitely stand for education reform and increased financing.

The overall growth in innovation from countries like China and India are on the grand scale wonderful things that we should not try and inhibit. Instead we should should try and compete in progress.