Friday, February 18, 2011

This is what I'm talking about....

Up From Paulism

By W. James Antle, III on 2.14.11 @ 6:09AM

On the same day Ron Paul won the presidential straw poll of the nation's largest gathering of conservative activists, one of the nation's oldest conservative-libertarian activist groups kicked him off their national advisory board. Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) announced it had severed ties with the twelve-term Texas congressman, who had been on the advisory board for over two decades, over what it described as his "delusional and disturbing alliance with the fringe Anti-War movement."

Later, Paul triumphed at the at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll for the second year in a row. He beat Mitt Romney, the only other candidate with an experienced campaign organization, 30 percent to 23 percent. Paul left the other possible Republican presidential contenders who are favored by either the mainstream media or the conservative movement -- most of whom got fewer votes than libertarian fellow-traveler and former Paul endorser Gary Johnson -- in the dust.

While some individual participants may have been out of the mainstream, CPAC as a whole was hardly fringe. It attracted over 11,000 people, mostly mainline conservative activists. Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels, and Rick Santorum were among the other possible Republican candidates on hand. This wasn't, as some of the conference's conservative detractors imply, a joint meeting of the Log Cabin Club and the Libertarian National Committee.

Straw polls aren't scientific surveys and thus can't be used to refute Donald Trump's CPAC prediction that Paul has "zero chance" of winning the presidency. But it is a good barometer that at this very early stage the other 2012 aspirants lack either grassroots support or organizational strength -- and in some cases, probably both -- at least in sufficient amounts to overcome Paul's zealous backers.

The straw poll win coupled with the YAF flap shows the dilemma for the movement Paul is trying to lead. On the one hand, it was once unusual to hear Republican leaders not named Ron Paul talking regularly about the Constitution. Now it is commonplace, and not a single Republican contemplating the presidency defends the constitutionality of Obamacare. There is much more mainstream conservative interest in auditing the Federal Reserve, the doctrine of enumerated powers, nullification, and Austrian economics. But deep divisions still remain.

Even at CPAC, there was little obvious comity between Paul's supporters and those who preferred other candidates. About half the crowd booed when the straw poll results were announced. All hell broke loose when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld appeared with the audience still full of Paulites who had been there to hear the congressman's son Rand, now a freshman Republican senator from Kentucky, speak. They heckled the former vice president and defense secretary. The more traditional Republicans and movement conservatives on hand responded by shouting, "USA, USA!"

One side believed Cheney should present and Rumsfeld should receive an award for defending the Constitution, while the other thought they had a record of undermining it. The Paul supporters at CPAC branded these men "war criminals" while YAF declared that opposing their preferred foreign policy "border[s] on treason." What common ground can there be between these two extremes?

"Paul's supporters have all the lungs and confidence of fourth-century Christians overwhelming the pagans," writes professional Paul-watcher Dave Weigel. But this can sometimes backfire. When they attempted to shout down Orrin Hatch as he explained his support for the bailout, they won him sympathy from the rest of the crowd -- even though most rank-and-file conservatives agree with Paul and disagree with Hatch on the issue.

Yet Rand Paul struck a much different tone. He unapologetically made common cause with the Tea Party: "Is there anybody here from the Tea Party? Are we going to let Washington co-opt the Tea Party? Will you help me fight for and defend the Constitution?"

The younger Paul also invoked Barry Goldwater in reminding the audience that strict constitutionalism was part of the conservative movement's heritage. He cited the following from Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative: "I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is 'needed' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible."

Of course, Rand Paul's father also favorably quotes conservative and Republican leaders of days gone by in his speeches, from Robert Taft to Ronald Reagan. But the son made common cause with his GOP contemporaries as well. Just as he has cosponsored legislation with Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the younger Paul enlisted Oklahoma conservative Tom Coburn in his speech. He even gave a shout out to Maine's moderate Susan Collins. Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats  were cast as villains.

While Ron Paul challenged the CPAC crowd by saying that he bet half of them wouldn't support cuts in the defense budget, Rand Paul led with entitlement reform, asking to applause, "Is there anybody here who would like to opt out of Social Security?" Then he emphasized the significance of national defense, calling it "the one primary and most important constitutional thing our government does." But he also referred to Pentagon cuts as the "one compromise we will have to make as conservatives."

Rand also put himself convincingly to the right of the Republican leadership. "They're talking about cutting $35 billion," he said. "We spend $35 billion in five days. We add $35 billion to the debt in nine days. It's not enough, and we will not stop the ruin in our country unless we think more boldly." Just as Reagan once called for a platform painted in "bold colors, not pale pastels."

When it comes to the substance of his positions on the Patriot Act, the Iraq war, and foreign aid to Israel, Rand Paul is still his father's son. But just as in his CPAC speech, he is trying to speak in tones less jarring to Republican ears, bringing his father's supporters and more traditional conservatives together.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sad but Unsurprising...

Study: Many college students not learning to think critically

Sara Rimer, The Hechinger Report | The Hechinger Report
last updated: January 17, 2011 04:52:23 PM
Posted on Tue, Jan. 18, 2011

NEW YORK — An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Arum, whose book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective.

Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.

Combining the hours spent studying and in class, students devoted less than a fifth of their time each week to academic pursuits. By contrast, students spent 51 percent of their time — or 85 hours a week — socializing or in extracurricular activities.

The study also showed that students who studied alone made more significant gains in learning than those who studied in groups.

"I'm not surprised at the results," said Stephen G. Emerson, the president of Haverford College in Pennsylvania. "Our very best students don't study in groups. They might work in groups in lab projects. But when they study, they study by themselves."

The study marks one of the first times a cohort of undergraduates has been followed over four years to examine whether they're learning specific skills. It provides a portrait of the complex set of factors, from the quality of secondary school preparation to the academic demands on campus, which determine learning. It comes amid President Barack Obama's call for more college graduates by 2020 and is likely to shine a spotlight on the quality of the education they receive.

"These findings are extremely valuable for those of us deeply concerned about the state of undergraduate learning and student intellectual engagement," said Brian D. Casey, the president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. "They will surely shape discussions about curriculum and campus life for years to come."

Some educators note that a weakened economy and a need to work while in school may be partly responsible for the reduced focus on academics, while others caution against using the study to blame students for not applying themselves.

Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education known for his theory of multiple intelligences, said the study underscores the need for higher education to push students harder.

"No one concerned with education can be pleased with the findings of this study," Gardner said. "I think that higher education in general is not demanding enough of students — academics are simply of less importance than they were a generation ago."

But the solution, in Gardner's view, shouldn't be to introduce high-stakes tests to measure learning in college because, "The cure is likely to be worse than the disease."

Arum concluded that while students at highly selective schools made more gains than those at less selective schools, there are even greater disparities within institutions.

"In all these 24 colleges and universities, you have pockets of kids that are working hard and learning at very high rates," Arum said. "There is this variation across colleges, but even greater variation within colleges in how much kids are applying themselves and learning."

For that reason, Arum added, he hopes his data will encourage colleges and universities to look within for ways to improve teaching and learning.

Arum co-authored the book with Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. The study, conducted with Esther Cho, a researcher with the Social Science Research Council, showed that students learned more when asked to do more.

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don't preclude the possibility that such students "are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills."

Greater gains in liberal arts subjects are at least partly the result of faculty requiring higher levels of reading and writing, as well as students spending more time studying, the study's authors found. Students who took courses heavy on both reading (more than 40 pages a week) and writing (more than 20 pages in a semester) showed higher rates of learning.

That's welcome news to liberal arts advocates.

"We do teach analytical reading and writing," said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a history professor at the University of New Hampshire.

The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.

The study's authors also found that large numbers of students didn't enroll in courses requiring substantial work. In a typical semester, a third of students took no courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half didn't take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the semester.

The findings show that colleges need to be acutely aware of how instruction relates to the learning of critical-thinking and related skills, said Daniel J. Bradley, the president of Indiana State University and one of 71 college presidents who recently signed a pledge to improve student learning.

"We haven't spent enough time making sure we are indeed teaching — and students are learning — these skills," Bradley said.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hello New Year...

I was just getting on my friend for not blogging the entire month of January, and OH MY WORD my blog doesn't have a January post either!!! *gasp* Well, since it's too late to remedy that, I figure I'd best blog before February is too far gone...

Frankly I am surprised at myself for even thinking of blogging--especially around this time! For those of you who don't know, I work at H&R Block during tax season (which is right now, for those of you who are completely out of it haha). AND, this is their BUSIEST two weeks out of the entire year!! However, when I need to blog, I blog. So here I am :)

I have nothing amazing to say--nothing spectacular or off record incredible. But life is like that. I am trying to be realistic here. Perhaps you were expecting some of my new year's resolutions. I could put some down, sure. But I was just thinking (uh oh) what are these things called "new year's resolutions" or "new year's goals"? For some it's a way to prick themselves into action--get them moving. For others it's just "what you do" and they write out their list, only to lose it within their next pile of junk. But really, why goals--and for many, only at the beginning of each year?

I have a couple questions on this subject. Number one, if goals are so awesome and amazing, how come we wait an entire year to make a list of them!? I am speaking generally here of course (I know you list freaks are out there---don't try to deny it!). And my second questions is, why even MAKE goals. I see where this is going, and it's the nature of man. Again. But that's ok--it's a subject I would do well to dwell on!

We make goals because we want something more than what we have. Most of our natures desire something BETTER than what we have: a better lifestyle, body, health--you name it! And yet that same nature fights against this desire, making us creatures of the moment, ease, and convenience, rather than FIGHTING our flesh. We make goals for several reason, I grant you, but I contend that the main reason most people make goals is to make themselves feel better about themselves.

The thing is, we want everything INSTANTLY! Patience is definitely out of style. So making goals is easy--sitting there and making a lovely list on lovely paper in stylish hand writing. But for most of us, when it really comes down to business, we turn to the "easy" little things that give us satisfaction in the moment, but at the end of the day only make us feel sick with how much time we wasted.

I am definitely not trying to bash new year's resolutions or say that no one should ever do them etc etc. But it seems to me that new year's goals have become not only fashionable, but fanciful. Goals are amazing and everyone should have them, but how about you make some NOW. If you didn't make some on New Year's Eve, and think inspiring thoughts while you watched the ball drop, who cares? What matters is to honor God in this life with EVERYTHING we do--and goals can definitely be one of them :)

I know this was sort of random--I just wrote it on the spot. Thanks for riding through it with me, and as always, I hope I caused some thoughts to go through your head. I love thinking, and I love getting others to think as well.