The Pragmatic Dollar

The United States Government could use a healthy dose of pragmatism.  Making decisions based on what makes practical common sense instead of what furthers an ideological agenda or what favors a small interest group is what is needed to help our country survive and thrive for the next generation.  But Pragmatism requires political will and high-mindedness on the part of politicians and understanding on the part of the voters.

Pragmatism can start small with something as trivial and yet obvious as currency reform.  There are two clear sources of waste in our current paper and coin currency system: the continued printing of the dollar bill and the minting of the penny.  The dollar bill costs several million dollars per year to print and the bills only last an average of 18 months.  They are hard for vending machines to read, especially toward the end of their short lives.  Switching to a dollar coin could save millions of dollars per year as coins last 20 years or more.  Coins are also easier for vending machines to deal with.

Continue reading

Cameras in the Classroom

My experiences teaching high school led me to believe that it would be a good idea to place video cameras in classrooms so that colleagues, administrators, and parents can watch classroom proceedings.

Many employers use cameras in the workplace to keep tabs on their workers.  There is no general right to privacy in the workplace, and as long as the camera’s presence and location is known, there can be no expectation of privacy.  Cameras give supervisors the opportunity to check up on employees at random intervals without altering their behavior.

But besides the general workplace reasons for cameras, the classroom is uniquely suited.  Firstly, because teaching is uniquely a job that is done alone, apart from colleagues or supervisors.  The need for classrooms to have walls so that students can concentrate on learning also means that teachers have no one to regularly check in on them.  And random classroom visits by administrators not only change the teacher’s behavior so that typical teaching is not truly observed, they also disrupt the classroom.

Continue reading

Experiences of an Amateur High School Teacher

In 1990 after college I accepted a position teaching high school physics, math, and physical science.  I had not taken any education classes in college, but the small town high school was willing to hire me under a Virginia waiver program.  I had majored in physics and they hired me on the basis of my strong physics and math grades.  I was required to take the National Teachers Exam (NTE) which is a multiple choice test. I passed in the 99th percentile after studying all of 1 hour and using common sense.

I was given very little mentoring and my classroom was observed only two or three times my first (and only) year.  I was a terrible teacher.  My students knew it and any adult who had cared to watch me teach would have known it.  The students ranged from average to bright and were mostly well-behaved.  The problem was me.  I quit and went on to engineering, law and business.

Based on my experiences, I suggest the following: 1) Frequent and constructive mentoring and observation for the first several years for all teachers, especially those who haven’t done student teaching. 2) Increased pay for the sciences and math and any other subjects where qualified teachers are difficult to recruit in sufficient numbers.  3) Weeding out the ineffective teachers.  Most of them won’t quit on their own like I did.  (I was never asked to leave; in fact, I was greeted with disappointment when I announced I was leaving.)  4) Cameras in the classrooms so colleagues and administrators can always know what is going on in the class and the teacher can be observed under typical conditions.

Why is the Largest Land Animal also the Strangest-looking?

Why is the largest land animal also the strangest-looking?

Meditation: Whether you think the elephant is the strangest looking land animal is a matter of taste, but you have to admit it is one of the stranger ones.  I think there are several reasons why.  One is just sheer numbers: Animals get rarer as they get bigger.  Rarer not only in individuals, but also in species.  There are millions of species of insects and other small animals.  And jillions of members of each species.  But bigger species are rarer and so are the members of each big species.  If only because there are only two species of elephant, while for example there are dozens of species of say, deer/antelope/gazelle-type creatures, the elephant looks less “normal” because there are fewer examples of it.

Continue reading