What Do We Want from Schools

I had hoped, by now, to be able to discuss the new funding formula for public education in Mississippi. Unfortunately, that formula is still under lock and key. What I’ve heard about it is that it’s student-based rather that school based. The idea is that the state will allocate a certain amount of money per student, and that funding will follow the student wherever that child attends school.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, though, our leaders would be wise to ask themselves what they want education in Mississippi to look like. Do they want to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of of students? That sounds like enforced mediocrity to me–so much for that Promethean urge. Do we want students in Mississippi to be better critical thinkers and writers? Do we want to track students so they’re prepared for jobs in industries? How can we balance liberal arts with STEM?

In some ways, these are false dichotomies. It would be great if schools could be all things to all students.

But there simply isn’t enough money to behave that way, so the more pressing issue becomes how to prioritize. I welcome your input.

Posted in Education | 2 Comments

Second Amendment Struggles

I have a friend whose farm gets ravaged by wild pigs. Seriously. He can’t plant anything without the fear of losing his profit margin. He owns an AR-15 with a silencer so that he can destroy as many of them in a single night hunt as possible. I fully support his right to do so.

Yet it incenses me that a person like Nikolas Cruz purchased an AR-15 faster than he could have gotten a prescription for Prozac. Things have changed since the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. Our interpretations of other facets of the Bill of Rights have been fluid. We infer the right to privacy based on readings of the first, third, fourth, and fifth amendments. There was certainly no call to Mirandize suspects in 1791. It stands to reason that the Second Amendment should bend a bit as well. Yet purists cling, as purists will, to the notion that they ought to be able to own and discharge any weapon that the government keeps for itself.

That’s a prescription for one school shooting after another.

We regulate who can drive motor vehicles of all sorts. We monitor closely anyone who has a prescription for pseudo-epinephrine. Nobody can buy a house without getting a loan, or having sources for a cash purchase scrutinized. In the interest of public safety, isn’t it time that we figure out how to make the acquisition and use of firearms safer for all?

Posted in National Politics | 3 Comments

Dark and Time Travel

My wife and I have just finished the first season of Dark on Netflix. I’m not a sci-fi fan–I know, it’s a real, moral shortcoming on my part–but Dark poses questions about time travel that wakened my inner philosopher. I can say this about one of the story arcs without giving away too much: a character walks through a wrinkle in time and comes out in the same place he had been, but 33 years earlier. One of his friends figures out what happened, and goes to 1986 to try to bring him back. However, if the first person is rescued and comes back to the present, he would not become a father. What would happen to people he never created?

Philosophers and physicists have long debated the efficacy of time travel. The conundrum these two characters face is known as the grandfather paradox:

The dead giveaway that true time-travel is flatly impossible arises from the well-known “paradoxes” it entails. The classic example is “What if you go back into the past and kill your grandfather when he was still a little boy?”…So complex and hopeless are the paradoxes…that the easiest way out of the irrational chaos that results is to suppose that true time-travel is, and forever will be, impossible. (Asimov, 2003, 276–7)

Other philosophers have raised valid objections to Asimov. It seems that the Theory of Relativity also opens up the possibility of time travel because of the existence of closed timelike curves.

So. . .to get back to Dark, what’s the easiest way to articulate the possibility that time travel exists AND that traveling backwards in time can result in changes to the present?

Posted in Pop Culture, Science | 7 Comments

Most Painful Super Bowl Ad

Last night’s Super Bowl was just what the NFL needed: an exciting, well-played game, largely devoid of controversy, full of compelling drama.

The ads, however, were duds. The Alexa commercial was clever. The NFL’s house ads with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham brought a chuckle or two. Some, though not many, thought the Tide commercials scored points.

Yet one ad drew criticism before the next snap of the football: Ram’s ad with a Martin Luther King, Jr. voice over. Although I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to Ram and say that the ad was designed with good intentions, I have a list of reasons why it’s cringeworthy. Your thoughts? I’m also interested in your thoughts about what makes a Super Bowl ad good.

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture, Sports | 10 Comments

Public Health v. Ethics

State Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) has sponsored legislation that would allow parents to object to having their children vaccinated on the basis of religious objections. What might be unethical about vaccinations? According to critics, they’re forced rather than voluntary. (In Mississippi, by the way, parents may choose not to have their kids vaccinated, but those children are not allowed to attend day care or schools until they are.) The religious objection comes from the fact that some vaccines were derived by using the tissue of aborted fetuses.

Mississippi actually leads the nation in the percentage of kids who receive standard vaccinations. HB 1505 will provide an interesting case study of the way our state’s citizens weigh professed religious faith against common sense.

Posted in National Politics, Science | 7 Comments

Making #metoo Connections

It should not have taken me so long to post this.

Silence breakers who are part of the #metoo movement won Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award. I’ll post later on the significance and the complexity of the movement. For now, though, I’m curious: what characters from literature or film might have joined the movement? Explain why you think they would in your response.

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

State of the State

Gov. Phil Bryant gave his state of the state address last night. Here’s the full text; here’s the Democratic response from State Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford.

An addendum: here’s a fact-check from mississippitoday.org.

Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

A New Year’s Surprise

At today’s beginning-of-the-semester convocation at MUW, Pres. Jim Borsig announced his resignation, which will be effective in June. He will be sorely missed–his leadership has been instrumental in moving MUW, however belatedly, into the twenty-first century. He is hard-working and level-headed; he is also (and many overlook this) inspired.

I have no idea who will step into his place. However, because we’re in a transitional period of sorts, I’d like to ask how you envision the relationship between MUW and MSMS. What sorts of things can be done at MUW that would make MSMS a better place? What can MSMS do that would be of benefit to the W? Keep in mind that your suggestions should be beneficial to both institutions. They should probably also be affordable–the IHL anticipates more cuts from the legislature this year.

Posted in Education | 17 Comments

The Brain Drain

Welcome aboard, IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce! In a talk at the Stennis Institute of Government, Boyce claimed that access to higher education in Mississippi is phenomenal, but that too few students are prepared to complete their undergraduate degrees. The brain drain in Mississippi doesn’t merely result from our best and brightest students leaving the state; it results from the fact that too may students from Mississippi go to college and drop out.

Commissioner Boyce, I can help you with this. Give every MSMS a free ride to a public university in Mississippi. It’ll cost you less than $400,000, and you’ll have a cohort of scholarship recipients far less likely to drop out before completing their degrees.

On a related note, a recent study determined that those planning for a career in nursing are far more likely to stay in Mississippi than those who get degrees in STEM fields. I can understand the former–the sick will always be with us–but why the latter?

Posted in Education | 12 Comments

For Readers of The Hate You Give

Following a recent class discussion of Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give, I received an email from a student wanting to know if we could revisit a death scene in the beginning of the book from the perspective of the police officer who does the shooting. Here’s part of the email:

First off, I don’t understand why the police officer is so heavily blamed for shooting Khalil. If you were in the police officer’s shoes and if you were to tell a black man (that you were already pretty suspicious of) to not move and you were to hear his car door open, would you not panic and react a similar way? That police officer clearly told him not to move and Khalil had to have known to do everything that the police says (especially since they tend to normally act more harshly towards black people). What would you do if you tell a black man (even if he wasn’t black! a man in general) not to move while you go back to your car and then hear his car door open. Not to mention that it was clearly late at night and black people are normally more difficult to see at night. So basically you just see this shadow going into his car. You have absolutely no idea what he was doing. The police officer probably thought that Khalil was going to pull out a gun or something. And then it would’ve been the police officer dead.

The student raises valid points about what takes place in the novel. (We later find out that the officer had seen something he feared was a pistol in the victim’s car. It turned out to be the handle of a hair brush.) So here’s the question: how can police manage tense situations like these in ways that prevent them from escalating to the use of deadly force?

AN ADDENDUM:  Based on conversations I’ve eavesdropped in Hooper, I can tell that this post strikes a nerve. Please keep the necessity for civility in mind if you post on this topic. The student made the inquiry in the spirit of open-minded and genuine curiosity. It wouldn’t be fair to ostracize anyone for that. Remember this as well: if you can’t convince other people you’re right, you may as well be wrong. Civility in discourse will win the day more often than not.

Posted in National Politics, Race in Mississippi | 16 Comments