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Book Review: CONFORM by Glenn Beck with Kyle Olson

conformRating 4/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: Any American that is concerned about education

For a long time, I have been saying that conservatives need to focus their attention on education. In my personal opinion, I think there is no more important element of society (culture certainly ranks right up with it). The education of today’s kids creates the voters and citizens of tomorrow.

I have listened and followed Beck since his early days on Fox News. When I heard that he was doing a book on education, I was really excited. I appreciate Beck’s work because I think he is one of the most open-minded conservative commentators in the nation. I also think he is one of the most well-read when it comes to the history of how we got here. Does he always get it right, no, but no one does 100% of the time.

Beck’s name may be on the front of the book, but this is not solely his work. Kyle Olson is the primary co-author. For those that don’t know Mr. Olson, you should. He runs Education Action Group and has recently started a new website called Progressives Today. The work he is doing is important because he’s helping to tell the stories that often go unreported in education. Kevin Balfe is also given an author/editor credit on the title page of the text. Other editors/contributors include Sharon Ambrose of TheBlaze Magazine, Steve Gunn, and Ben Velderman of EAGNews.

This book is the second in what Beck is calling the Control series. The first was on gun control and is very much worth your time. The idea of this series is simple: Take a topic that matters, cite the research, print it in paperback so it’s cheap, and get it into as many hands as possible. The left has been good at making activists over the years. We can play the same game on the right.

Conform is a broad sweeping book on the topic of education. It is split into two parts; problem and solution. Part 1 which takes a look at a plethora of issues in education includes 27 short and concise chapters. The chapters are group together by related topic. Chapters 1-10 discuss education unions in various ways, 11-16 deal with the Common Core State Standards, 17-19 look at health related topics (Queen Obama’s lunch program, sex education, and schools as community centers), 20-23 deal with home school, and the last four chapters, 24-27, look at school choice. Part two is about forty pages and deals with solutions: This includes Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the importance of shifting the power in education back to local stakeholders, technology, a brief discussion of teacher certification reform, and the importance of getting the average citizen more involved in the discussion about education.

As I stated above, this book is broad and sweeping. The authors of this text ambitiously try to establish the problem in just 184 pages. At times throughout the book, I was left wanting a little more depth. Some of the chapters are really concise. It seems this book is meant more as a primer for the topic. Beck often touts the research as a selling point for the book. With regards to that, I found the research (demonstrated in about 30 pages of end notes) decent but was left wanting a little more depth. This is not to say that there is bad research, or the research provided is questionable, I just would like to see more.

One of the things that I greatly appreciated about this book is that it is not anti-teacher. The unions and educrats will claim that it is, but then again, anytime you question them and their organized cabal, they immediately cry foul. The authors did a good job of acknowledging that problems facing public education are far more complex than just bad teachers. As a teacher myself, I frankly get tired of both sides of the political aisle taking this easy route.

“…it’s not really even the bad teachers who are the problem–they should be expected–it’s the political forces that defend a system that is so clearly broken that is the problem. Blaming bad teachers for everything that ails us in public education is like blaming someone in line for food stamps for our national debt. That person isn’t responsible, they are only living within the rules that society has created.” p. 11

The chapters on the Common Core State Standards were pretty good. I have one small complaint with it, and that is the parroting of the repeated attacks on getting students to read informational text. I think it’s about time that I write a piece on this issue. I am not a Common Core supporter, but I do believe that students do need to read more informational text. What the Core actually expects is misstated, but more on that another day.

I really enjoyed the chapters on home-schooling. Some of the research cited was interesting and included some information I had never seen before. Personally, I’ve always been a supporter of home schooling even though I am a public school teacher. I believe every child’s individual needs should be met to the best extent possible. It’s impossible for me to effectively reach one hundred percent of my students. There are students and parents that could successfully home-school their child. We should never stand in their way if that’s what that family wants and that kid will thrive in that environment. People, especially teachers and unions, do education a disservice when they think that giving parents options will make things worse.

I enjoyed and agreed with the solutions offered in part two. Educational Savings Accounts have the potential to be significant game changers in the battle for better education in America. I especially liked the closing part of the solutions section. Parents MUST get involved with their local schools as much as possible. I see this on a daily basis. Many parents are overly trusting or not evenly remotely concerned about what may be happening inside of the schools they send their children to. Local school boards have no watchdogs to keep an eye on what is going on. Local newspaper coverage of school boards often do little but regurgitate whatever they have been told. To improve education one must be involved and informed on the topic.

All in all, this book is incredibly welcome in the discussion on education in America. I thank all of those involved in this project for interjecting themselves into that discussion. Please go pick up a copy of Conform and make the controllists heads explode.

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CIVICS LESSON #8: DISCRIMINATION VS. PREJUDICE

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are often warned not to be “judgmental.” This warning tells us that we are not supposed to determine whether some person or some behavior is unacceptable. In the minds of people who use the term this way, there is an assumption that any rational process of judgment will yield negative results. If they thought otherwise, they would insist that we do judge that person or behavior. The irony here is that, when someone warns us not to be “judgmental,” they themselves have already determined that there is a basis for disapproval. In effect, they are admitting that they have already judged what they are telling us not to judge.

The admonishment not to judge is absurd. Human beings are provided with cognitive faculties precisely in order to make determinations, thus to judge every experience, every object, every action and every person they come into contact with. No one would survive if he could not judge something or someone. Experience has already taught us that if we do not judge the person coming toward us waving a gun, we are likely to get shot. Our natural reaction in such circumstances is flight, and a healthy reaction it is. Or we prepare to defend ourselves, a second, direr alternative. In any case, the sum of our experience, combined with our logic and cognitive faculties, both tools of nature which enable us to anticipate experience, give us the tools not merely to avoid difficult, unpleasant or dangerous actions, but to survive.

The mechanism we use to survive is our ability to discriminate, something we are also told not to do. But we cannot suspend our discrimination, because discrimination is also natural to the cognitive process. The definition of discrimination is the act of differentiating or distinguishing the various elements of reality that are before us. We discriminate one thing from another, one situation from another, one person from another, one color or texture from another, and we choose which situation, person, color or texture we prefer over another or which we determine is right in our decision making process. We learn to discriminate anger from joy, good tasting food from bad, rainy weather from sunshine. And from this learning we develop a database which we can summon at any time when we need it.

During the whole of our existence, this process never stops. In fact, as we grow wiser with experience, we become sharper and more precise in our judgments and the database of experience grows. We consult it as situations face us which require decisions. And when necessary, we summon from it an automated response, a summary decision.

A decision is the process of eliminating elements that do not fit. “Decide” means “cut away.” If we did not decide (or judge or discriminate) we could not survive, even for a moment. We decide when to cross a street by using our discriminatory faculty to make a judgment about whether the street is clear of traffic or we might be hit by a car. We make this decision by selectively eliminating what is unnecessary from what is necessary and what is good from what is bad. We make judgments about which people are good or bad, too. If we did not discriminate between one person and another, we would be unable to tell a thug from the little old lady next door. We teach our children to “look both ways when crossing the street” so that they also develop this same discriminatory ability.

To discriminate is not to act with prejudice, which IS bad and wrong. Prejudice is judgment made before the evidence is weighed. Pre-judice, means precisely that, and no respectable human being would choose to engage in prejudicial conduct. But no rational human being would fail to make rational judgments.

Our country’s education is a national disgrace. In fact, it is an international disgrace, not as much because our system produces insufficient numbers of technicians, as because the fundamentals of our education have been deliberately and systematically altered. In fact, they have been corrupted not only by a lowering of standards, but also by changing the content of what is taught. Political correctness is the tool used to destroy the ability of people to decide properly what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad, who to trust and who NOT to trust. If that ability is gone, then someone in power will have the ability and the prerogative to decide instead. Individual values, freely decided, will be gone and replaced by values that are dictated by those in power. And those values will always be skewed in favor of them.

What about so-called “sincere social liberals” who profess ardently to care about us? Are they intent on the corruption of our values? There is a definitive difference between sincere social liberals and insincere ones. It is this: Sincere liberals think that we are too stupid to know what is good for us and what is bad for us. Insincere liberals, especially the politicians, hope we never find out that difference. The only way to protect ourselves is to remember that it does not matter whether someone sincerely wants you to lose your freedom for your own good, or whether they mean to take it from you by fraud or force. Sitting in the back seat of a speeding car with a blind driver is just as bad as sitting in the back seat of a speeding car that is driven by someone intent on driving it off a cliff in order to kill you.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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Book Review: NIGHTMARE CITY by ANDREW KLAVAN

nightmarecityRating: 4.5/5

Recommended Audience: 6th grade and up

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery

“That was the trouble with searching for the truth. It wasn’t always pleasant. It wasn’t always something you wanted to find.”

Andrew Klavan has become one of my favorite young adult authors. I have read three of the four books in The Homelanders series and now this book. I have enjoyed every one of them. Of all of his YA books so far, I think this one is the most creative. It is darn close to his best (for me, it’s hard to top The Last Thing I Remember).

This is a difficult book to review in the sense that I can’t give you a lot of details about the plot without ruining much of the story. The basic premise is this. Tom, the main character is laying in a hospital bed in a coma due to a gun shot wound. Tom has no clue how he was shot or why. The story from the beginning of the book is his experience inside of the “nightmare city” which is actually happening in his head as he lays in the hospital. As the plot develops, the mystery of what happens to him begins to unravel.

This book is Klavan at his best. One of the things he is great at is playing with the pacing of his stories. He can really move a story along with suspense that makes you try sneak a peak ahead of what you are currently reading. I caught myself several times peaking at the next page try to catch snippets of sentences to find out what was going to happen. This is great writing for teen boys, and the type of writing that gets reluctant readers to stick with a book.

Tom reminded me a lot of Charlie in The Last Thing I Remember. He’s a great role model for any teen reader who might pick up this book. We need more characters like him in young adult literature.

Christian conservatives will appreciate the subtle presence of faith throughout the story. Klavan does a great job of weaving this in, and it never appears to be preachy, forceful, or out of place.

“It’s like the Bible says, he remembered Lisa telling him. Find the truth-and the truth will set you free.

Well, he answered in his mind, the truth is what I’m here for.

And as the darkness fell around him, he stepped forward boldly.”

If you have a teen reader in the house, buy this book for their collection. And if you have kids in public school, make sure that their library has Klavan’s books available for checkout.

 

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