Tuesday, September 28, 2010

28 September 2010 It is getting ugly out there

Today’s history exam went smoothly. Two pages of matching names to events and one page offering three essays – complete one. “What changes did Napoleon bring to modern warfare and why did he lose. An easy question to begin answering, but one that can quickly become an exercise in spewing a mixture of facts and opinions that begs the writer to overflow the space available for answers. I chose not to provide a short enumeration, but to offer several combinations of causes for change, victory, and ultimately defeat. I hope I left something cohesive and accurate behind me.

I mentioned to Gloria that I thought I wrote longer answers when I had more space available. Had this question been offered me with a notebook computer and more time, I can see myself writing pages of opinions on the same question. Limited space, the need to manually write my answers, and atrocious penmanship made stop short of a novella today.

I’m sure that someone has done a study on this question: “Do students write larger essays when offered more paper to write upon?” I may have to look up that study.

The Pew Foundation reported today that in their study concerning religious knowledge, the American population is not well conversant in its knowledge of religion.

“In fact, although the United States is one of the most religious developed countries in the world, most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life.

The survey is full of surprising findings.

For example, it's not evangelicals or Catholics who did best - its atheists and agnostics.

It's not Bible-belt Southerners who scored highest - they came at the bottom.

Those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God did slightly worse than average, while those who say it is not the word of God scored slightly better.

Barely half of all Catholics know that when they take communion, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, according to Catholic doctrine.

And only about one in three know that a public school teacher is allowed to teach a comparative religion class - although nine out of 10 know that teacher isn't allowed by the Supreme Court to lead a class in prayer.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is behind the 32-question quiz, polling more than 3,400 Americans by telephone to gauge the depth of the country's religious knowledge.

Read CNN Belief Blog contributor and Pew adviser Stephen Prothero's take on the survey”

None of these findings come as a surprise to me except the transubstantiation/communion miracle meal. I would have thought that most Catholics knew this myth. It’s prevalent in protestant churches too. A lot of them, particularly Baptists, refuse to use wine and substitute grape juice, as if a deity capable of transmuting wine into blood for all the other Christian cults is for some reason unable to do the same magic trick for them if offered wine. If I recall correctly the Seder at Pesach, the source of Christianity’s wine into blood/bread into body ritual is conducted with wine, not near wine. Of course, during the Seder, wine and bread begin as and remain wine and bread. We don’t require a magic trick to make them useful.

I ran the Pew battery of 32 questions and managed to answer them correctly. None of them were hard, none tricky, and none beyond the grasp of a middle school student who can read at grade level. The people who scored no better than 50% correct – failing on any realistic grading scale, are the same people stirring up hatred over Park 51’s construction, the supposed infilitration of Sharia law, Obama’s birth certificate, and myriad other problems in today’s US that always seem to be caused by the inability of the American public to read and write beyond third grade level.

The Obama administration is calling for better teachers, better schools, and longer school years to help alleviate the falling performance of US students vs. those of other 1st world and developing nations. The GOP will, of course, attempt to block those efforts and then demand the abolition of the Dept of Education so that local school boards can do still more damage to what were once excellent public schools.

The last successful drive to improve education that either Gloria or I can recall was during the Eisenhower administration, caused by a basketball-sized object called “Sputnik.” The drive then was to improve reading, math, and science abilities in US students. Those are the same things that we need to improve today, not self-esteem. However it is unlikely that school boards will allow more sciences unless they are allowed to include religious creation myths. Prayer in schools did not put 25 other national school programs above ours in ability of graduates.

If we let the GOP and the Tea Party mobs join the thumpers in defeating Obama’s efforts to ramp up education, it won’t be the US putting men on Mars. It will be the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Brazilians, and a dozen other nations that will gain supremacy in the space race.

The only reason that the Pew study matters at all is that the people who score lowest in their religion survey are also the ones who score the lowest on general knowledge. The people who feel they have the right to demand everyone pray their way also want everyone to dumb down to their level. That anti-elitism they champion is coming about because the barely literate must know that the literate can lie to them easily. What they don’t realize is that  the literate have no need to lie to them. It is the GOP playing to the fear of a literate elite that is screwing the public.

Campaign fliers and ads here will make many mentions of “Jesus” in asking for votes. I wasn’t aware Jesus was running for local or federal office in TN. The surest way to lose my vote is to bring religion into the campaign.

Word comes today that Congress has once more refused to spend for education. We’ll be demonstrating the living proof of Darwin’s theories as we selectively breed for dumber and meaner.

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