Just say “No” to STEM or any other “special” school…

I don’t know that I have my thoughts fully formulated on this topic yet, but something about the whole business bothers me deeply. Last night I first heard the acronym “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as a reference to a program of “special high schools” in the Houston Independent School District. I haven’t learned everything about how they work yet, but as far as I can tell a student has to 1) reside in the associated school zone, and 2) pass a battery of tests to be allowed into the program, which is clearly designed to give the participating students an advantage when it comes to further achievement in technology fields.

Ok – wait. This is our PUBLIC school system. The whole goal of the public school system is supposed to be to provide, as much as possible, equal educational opportunities for every single member student. And yet here we have the HISD deliberately creating some few “special programs” which will offer advantages only to students that are 1) particularly smart and 2) live in the right area. That’s wrong from the get-go – those select students will be offered advantages that the other students in the district are not. If parents want that sort of advantage for their children then they should have to open their wallets and send their kids to private schools that offer them, if the can find such schools. Getting those special advantages partially funded by the public tax base is wrong. For the school district authorities to deliberately create such a situation is wrong.

I have to wonder how the location of these schools is chosen? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that real estate investors use the presence of such programs to market properties within the school zone – the message to affluent parents all over would be “Buy here – your child will have access to the STEM school.” And thus the aforementioned advantages will fall not so much to the “random smart” children that happen to live in the zone as to the “affluent smart children” whose parents can afford to move them into the area.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that these same real estate investors influenced the HISD board members in the initial decision of where to put the STEM schools – in a deliberate attempt to drive up their property values. It’s via this sort of ugly process that the rich get richer – not through harder work but rather through influence, bribery, and underhanded games.

So – the best way forward is to demand that our school districts pursue policies of absolute equality. I have no doubt that even if the districts try hard to keep things precisely equal there will still be some inequalities – it’s hard to get anything perfect. But at the very least we can stamp out the creation of deliberate inequalities – because that is never a good thing.

Can we have it all?

I prowl randomly around the net quite a lot. Recently I ran across an essay built around a radical idea – the notion that our modern “techno-industrial” economy is, to state it bluntly, the root of all evil. Interesting idea. I work in “techno-industry” (that’s the essay author’s term, not mine). I’m going to leave the author nameless, and I’m not going to link to the essay, because it was all just a bit “out there and edgy” even for me. But – it did make me think, which is ultimately why I prowl the net to start with.

Does the heavily technological, heavily “big corporate” nature of our world do us harm? It clearly brings us many benefits – we see those around us every day. But does it hurt us too? Sometimes I think that it may. In the far past most humans lived in tiny communities – and even the biggest communities weren’t what we would call huge by today’s standards. Not everyone had a voice – we routinely look back from our state of “modern enlightenment” and condemn history for ostracizing entire segments of humanity, based on race, color, creed, class, or whatever. But – and this is important – I don’t know that we’re really that much better off today. Yes, we have much more widespread democracy. Yes, we have vastly improved the state of race equality, class equality, and so on. But now we live in a world driven by technology – we live in the “Information Age,” and that causes our communities to become truly vast. We have become “more free,” but our voices have vanished into the din, and the real influence is still wielded by a tiny few – just as it has been throughout the entire course of human history.

In some ways the story of human history is the story of the few striving to achieve dominance over the many, via whatever means the then current era offered. Today that means is technology, information, and the corporate organization of the economy. Just during my lifetime I’ve watched the rise of “world” corporations – corporations that consider themselves global entities that transcend any one government jurisdiction or authority.

I call myself a capitalist. But I think that what I really am is an individualist – a believer in liberty and in the principle that the best possible world is the one that rises from the free, willful choices of all men and women. To me that always meant “small government,” but I’ve realized that it also needs to mean “small business.” It needs to mean “small church.” It needs to mean small everything, because every single organization that becomes huge begins to take on an existence of its own and pursues its own interests over those of “us.” And the organization’s interests really means the interests of the few enormously powerful individuals that pull the strings of those organizations.

Can we “have it all”? Can we enjoy the fruits of modern civilization while still retaining individual freedom in a real and meaningful way? I believe we can – and I believe a blueprint was given to us, about 230 years ago. America’s Founding Fathers crafted a system of government that was intended to structure power like a pyramid. Individuals were meant to have primary autonomy over their own lives. Local communities came next – then states – then, finally, the federal government, which was meant to have extremely limited powers. The Founding Fathers did this on purpose. Those wise men recognized the dangers of central authority, and they deliberately crafted a system designed to avoid it.

We let that slip away. We have, step by step, allowed power to crawl upward, first to Washington, and who knows where in the future. We’ve allowed the same thing to happen in the private economy. Our economy is now dominated by enormous corporations – not by small businesses that are primarily an extension of their owners’ wills. Maybe we can have it all – but if we are going to then we are going to have to reverse this trend and tear it all back down. We need a world built around hierarchical alliances of entities that are, ultimately, SMALL and reflective of the needs and desires of real people. Individual people.

I have no idea how we get there – holders of power rarely give it up easily. But, we still live in a nation where votes count. Not everyone in the world can say that, but we Americans can. It very well may be that the people of America are, once again, the shining hope of the future. We can pull power back down into the hands of our states, our communities, and ourselves. And, hopefully, we can do this calmly and wisely. That’s how we want it – we don’t want a crisis that brings the whole thing crashing down without a proper replacement. That will make life awful for everyone. I hope I live to see a leader arise who has the wisdom, energy, and charisma to make this happen.

The politicians aren’t going to like this it. The corporations aren’t going to like it. No large organization is going to like it. But we – the people – need it, and we need it soon. Time might be running out..

Review: Wacom Bamboo Solo Stylus

I’ve recently taken a sudden, rather strong interest in drawing. Not really sure where that came from, but… here it is. I won’t be posting anything for a while, because I suck, but I’m working on it. I’m primarily interested in digital drawing, so I bought some stuff to help out with that. For drawing on my Sony Xperia tablet, I bought a Wacom Bamboo Solo Stylus. Based on the things I read on the web, I was quite excited about the Bamboo Solo. I have other styli that I’ve accumulated over the years, but most of them have very fat tips, whereas the Bamboo Solo sports a much smaller tip.

I couldn’t have been more disappointed. In a word, this thing really doesn’t work at all on my Sony. It will make a mark, but I have to press really hard and even that is very unreliable. It’s entirely unusable as a drawing tool. I rummaged around in my device settings to see if there was any way to adjust the screen sensitivity, but there isn’t – it is what it is. And the other styli and my fingers work just fine, so I don’t know if I would really want to change it anyway.

That’s about all I have to say about the Wacom Bamboo Solo Stylus – it’s junk, at least for me. Fortunately, I plan to use the Xperia only for capturing ideas on the go – I’m using a Wacom Intuos Pro and my computer as my main tool suite. So far I’m very impressed with the Intuos – stay tuned and I’ll review it after I’ve used it a bit longer. I was really hoping, though, that the Bamboo Solo would “supercharge” drawing on the Xperia. No luck – I think from now on I’ll abbreviate its name and just refer to it as the Wacom BS Stylus.

Later, gang.

Kickoff…

I had to deep-six the previous virtual server vendor, and did I manage to get the blog archived before doing so?  Of course not…  So – here we go again.  Just about ready to give Facebook the heave-ho; I really want to control my own social outlet.  Maybe this time’s the charm…