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Friday, September 17, 2010

I Mind a Terrible Thing To Waste

    My friend Michael recently pointed out to me that if you take our local school district budget and divide it by the number of students it "services" it amounts to $16,000 per kid per year.  Now I know I pay an awful lot of money in school taxes but I never quite looked at the expense in terms of cost per kid.  So I did a little research on the subject and I found that at least in the New York metropolitan area $16,000 per kid is not out of line.  In fact there are some districts in which costs hit $20,000 per year and beyond.  In Washington DC it appears that the cost is around $25,000 per year and even in less costly areas like South Carolina for example, the cost of Kindergarten through grade 12 public education exceeds $12,000 per kid per year.

    As a result, I became a little curious so I looked up some other data and here is a sampling of the results.  Resident tuitions, and we are all residents someplace or another, are currently $9,420/year to attend Ohio State, $6,000/year to attend any of the many State Universities of New York, $10,781/year to attend UCLA, and about $5,000/year to attend Florida State.  Interestingly enough, it is only $19,841.15 to attend medical school at Florida State.  Imagine that.  It costs less money to become a doctor in Florida than it does to attend kindergarten in Washington DC.

    As a result of my research I have concluded and hereby propose that instead of spending $16, 20, or 25,000 to send a kid to kindergarten or 1st grade we should just send them directly to college.  It would save a lot of money and hey, let them start working toward a career when they're younger.  Look every great athlete, musician, dancer and people of other skills started honing their talents at a young age.  Imagine all of the great doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, and etc. we would have if like gymnasts, kids started training at the age of 4 or 5 for their various professions. I know, I know that there would be a lot of parents out there who would be complaining that their children would not be given the opportunity to learn to finger paint or have the opportunity to take up the oboe or xylophone in the 3rd grade  But let's get real.  I know that every parent thinks that their kid has the potential to be the world's greatest oboe player.  But the truth is that most of us belong in the audience and not on the stage.  If your kid has talent, it will reveal itself.  Besides, $20,000/yr can buy a lot of oboes and private lessons to boot.

    You want your kids to learn the ABC's?  Let them watch Wheel of Fortune (Channel 7, 7:30 PM, EST).  Guess what.  Young boys throughout the country would rather learn the difference between a vowel and a consonant from Vanna White then any teacher they are likely to have in our public schools.  Even in her 50's she's still pretty hot.  And as an added bonus, girls would get to learn some sense of fashion and appearance.  Be honest.  Wouldn't it be better to have your own daughters get an early start in  mimicking the way Vanna White presents herself in public instead of becoming some dyed fluorescent purple haired, tattooed bimbo with a lip ring?

    For the not so academically inclined, they could begin going to a trade school.  The world needs plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and sheet metal workers.  And how cool would it be if we had skilled plumbers at the age of 10 instead of waiting for their father-in-laws to use their political influence to get them into the local plumbers union at the age of 30.  We would have an army full of skilled 10 year olds who could actually fit themselves into tight places like underneath a sink cabinet instead of having to look at some 6'-3", 250 pound guy with a fully developed, adult sized, hair enhanced butt crack.

    In skipping grades K-12 there would be certain things that kids would miss out on.  But you know what?  Plenty of people have made it through life without knowing what a dangling participle is.  And there is no possible reason why anyone needs to know who Julius Ceasar was.  There's just no point anymore.  As long as you know what a Ceasar Salad is and when to order it, you'll make it.  And when is the last time that any of you had to apply the Pythagorean Theorem or the Law of Cosines?  Here's a quiz.  What's the difference between an igneous rock and a metamorphic rock?  How much of a difference has not knowing made a difference in your life?  Besides, now we have Google.  Here, learn the Pythagorean Theorem  See how easy that was?  You want to read Shakespeare?  Go ahead.  There's no reason on the planet why we should have to pay $20,000 per year for your kid to not do his reading assignment as a senior in high school.  And here's a waste.  $20,000 a year for health and sex education.  Are you joking?

    And one of my favorite topics of all is the teaching of foreign languages.  Starting in the 7th grade I took 3 years of Latin, then 3 years of French, and within the last few years, an adult conversational Spanish class.  Now if I had lived in 500 AD Rome, or if I currently lived in France or Mexico maybe those classes would have had some value.  But as with anything if you don't use it you lose it and the only sentence I can make to this day is "Ou et la bibliotheque".  I really wish I could have those hours, days, and years back to tack on to the end of my life.  And the thought that we're paying $20,000/yr to have other kids waste their time repeating the same mistake makes me cringe.  It's just a bunch of feel good nonsense.  Estimates for the number of spoken languages on the planet run from 3,000 to 10,000.  Really, how much better off are you knowing two of them.  Even if you take the time to learn say Madurese what's the chances of running into someone who can actually speak it if you live in Gary, Indiana?

    The one thing we will need to change if my proposal to send kids directly to college becomes widely accepted is that we will have to change the drafting policies of professional sports teams.  The NBA has no shame and they would be drafting kids with finger painting paint stains remaining on their hands.  We really should have a requirement that the NBA should at least wait until kids reach the age of 11.  Now the NFL so far as I know at least waits for kids to complete four years of college eligibility.  That's fine and a good policy but if now 6 year olds will complete their course requirements by the age of 10 we probably should at least implement some height and weight requirements.

    You have to really think about the arithmetic here.  Four years times about $8,000/yr to attend college is $32,000.  Compare that to $20,000/yr times 13 years or $260,000/yr to attend public schools.  Based on the difference we could afford to send all the really smart kids to Harvard or Yale.

    One last comment.  If you think about it almost every adult you might talk to would tell you that 80% or maybe 90% of all the things they learned in school turned out to be absolutely useless.  So why is it that those same adults put their own kids through the same experience?  The simple definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.  Maybe we should stop the insanity and save some money along the way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

And Now For An Important Announcement

    Last week we all watched the progress of Hurricane Earl.  Everyday and for 24 hours every day we were given television and radio updates every ten minutes on the progress of the storm.  First it was a category 4.  Then a category 3.  Then a 2 and back to a 3 and I guess at the end a category zero if there is such a thing.  By the way, and this is an aside, for those of you say aged 50 and over.  Was there such a thing as "The Hurricane Season" years ago?  Seems to me that the hurricane "Season" is relatively new.  Twenty, thirty years ago we just had hurricanes... I think.  Anyway, while tracking the storm it seemed to be very important to the meteorologists that I know what the current category of the storm was as if I would know the difference.  I mean I get that a 5 is more intense than a 1 but I think most of us would have difficulty defining the difference between a 2 and a 3.

    For tornadoes there is also a ranking scale known as the Fujita scale or F-scale (thank God for Google).  Tornadoes can range from an F-0 to an F-5 and after studying the charts a little I'll be damned if I could explain with any certainty the difference between an F-3 and an F-4.

    Then we have earthquakes that are explained to us using the Richter Scale.  Here is an explanation of the Richter scale that I copied and pasted from a USGS web site, "The magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm of the amplitude of waves recorded by seismographs. Adjustments are included for the variation in the distance between the various seismographs and the epicenter of the earthquakes. On the Richter Scale, magnitude is expressed in whole numbers and decimal fractions.   Because of the logarithmic basis of the scale, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured amplitude; as an estimate of energy, each whole number step in the magnitude scale corresponds to the release of about 31 times more energy than the amount associated with the preceding whole number value."

    I don't know if that clears things up for any of you but I'm not sure if anticipating a 5.7 earthquake as opposed to a 5.5 would change my plans for the day.  Hell, most people don't believe their bathrooms scales let alone some guy named Richter.  I guess it really doesn't matter anyway since they never tell you the number until after it's already over.

    We also have ways for measuring things other than natural disasters.  For example, burns can be first, second, or third degree.  I think I have a sense for what a first degree burn is and I don't even want to think about what a third degree burn is but be honest, without cheating (Googling), how many of you can explain the technical difference between a first degree burn and a second degree burn?

    And the craziest system ever invented is the color alert system invented by some knucklehead in the Department of Homeland Security.  How many of you know the difference between, and more importantly know what you should be doing differently, when we have a green alert level as opposed to a yellow alert level?  How many of you know if green is even one of the colors?  Honestly, they should just make a separate Google key for all keyboards.  Actually there are five levels with red being the highest alert level and proceeding down through orange, yellow, blue, and green.  At least they could have put blue and green in the correct order and added an indigo and violet category but hey, it's already useless enough.

    Imagine this scenario.  You are driving along at 75 MPH with 5,000 or so other semi-attentive drivers on a certain section of Route 80.  All of a sudden all 5,000 of you simultaneously hear on the radio that the Department of Homeland Security has just changed the threat level to green.  There would be accidents all over the place.  People would be trying to Google on their iPhones, calling their cell phone providers to get instant internet service, texting friends and family members to find out what code green means.  All Hell would break loose and all because we went to a lower threat level.

    In an attempt to remedy all the confusion I am proposing that instead of assigning different scales for measuring the seriousness of different events and instead of developing scales based on complicated formulas we should simply explain the seriousness of all events in plain language that everyone will understand.  I therefore propose that we start with may get your attention and proceed through check your insurance, be wearing clean underwear, say your prayers, and of course you all know what the last one should be but my wife does not like me putting the "F-Word" in print.

    Now let's compare the response that would result using my system instead of the current ones by returning to the road trip on Route 80.  All 5,000 semi-attentive drivers at 75 MPH would simultaneously hear "And now for an important announcement.  The Department of Homeland Security has changed the threat level to wear clean underwear".  There would be no panic.  No one would be searching for their iPhone at 75 MPH.  There would be no reason to text a loved one.  Instead, everyone would simply exit the highway at the next Walmart exit, go inside, and purchase new underwear.  Simple.  Clear.  That's the way it should be.