Tuesday, March 06, 2007


As promised a few weeks ago, I would take an in depth look at Presidential candidates for the 2008 election. Even as someone who enjoys reading about politics, I realize how old this can get, considering the election is still a year off, so I'll try to spread out the pain as much as possible.

The first candidate I'll look at is Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Senator Obama is currently second for the Democractic nomination for President, following Senator Hillary Clinton. Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. His father was a native of Kenya and his grandfather was a domestic servant to the British. His mother, who was white, was born in Wichita, Kansas. His parents met at the University of Hawaii at Monoa. Shortly after his birth, they divorced and he and his mother moved to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1967. Obama attended local schools from ages 6 to 10 before moving back to live with his maternal grandparents where he graduated high school. In his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, he admits having struggled during his teenage years, trying to reconcile with his multiracial heritage. He used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine to "push questions of who [he] was out of [his] mind."

Obama studied for two years at Occidental College and transferred to Columbia University, where he majored in Political Science and graduated in 1983. He entered Havard Law School in 1988, where he obtained his JD degree magna cum laude in 1991. He taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his election into the Senate in 2004.

Why is he popular?

Barack Obama's popularity can largely be attributed to his newbie status in politics. From assesing his own popularity, Obama says it is largely from "people projecting their hopes on him." Many analysts would agree with this asessment. Though he is still trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points, this reason for his popularity becomes apparent, with people looking for hope from Bush's current agenda either through new ideas (Obama) or through someone who might take the country back to a better time (Clinton.)

What does he need to watch out for?

As was proven in the 2004 election, things aren't always as they seem. Front runner Howard Dean, who was hugely popular among Democrats, was able to capture the Iowa Caucus. But his hopes of becoming President were dashed with the now infamous "Dean Scream" incident. Other areas that Obama needs to look out for are attempts by bloggers or the media to reveal true (or false) facts about his past. Few may remember the last ditch effort to steal the Presidency from Bush in 2004 with the release of an internet video showing him giving the "one-fingered victory salute" to a camera before an interview. A larger attempt was made by CBS to taint Bush's military record by running a false report using forged documents in the "Rathergate" incident. Already, Fox News has made a run on Obama claiming that while in Indonesia, he attended a Muslim Madrassa. From the way that they ran the story, it made look as though the "madrassa" he attended, which means school in Arabic, was in fact a school that preached radical Islam. In recent years, madrassa has frequently been used to mean a school that teaches radical Islamic beliefs. CNN came to Obama's rescue and actually visited the school, proving that while it was a madrassa, it did not preach radical Islamic principles. Obama has admitted that while his father was born and raised Muslim, the faith was not passed down to him and that he is a practicing Christian. With this much popularity this early, it is concievable that the many scandals that arise could in fact dash any hopes he has of being elected President. Only time will tell how much of an affect these will have on his campaign.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Homework and Why I'm Against It

This is very much a controversial subject among students and teachers alike, so for some of my teachers out there who read my blog, cover your eyes; you might not like what I'm about to say!

In an earlier post back in September, I just briefly covered some of my experiences and thoughts on the education system. Coming from a rather flavorful background, going from public school to private school to public again, I've experienced a lot and have probably a better opinion of why homework is evil than do most students.

As most who are reading this are well aware, most students are actively against homework and even then, those who do hate it accept it as a necessary evil. However it seems that in recent times, the homework load on students has been increasing exponentially the younger they get. Why is this? I've been able to tack it down to three reasons: No Child Left Behind (NCLB), American education lagging behind every other industrialized nation, and a centuries old concept that has little grounds in reality.

The first two go hand in hand. NCLB is a direct result of America's education system lagging behind those of other industrialized nations. It should come as no surprise then that since it was signed into law in 2001, homework loads have increased in all grade levels, and it is only getting worse. The logic is that when students are loaded up with "busy work" (and that's all it really is) they will learn the concept better over time through inordinate amounts of repetition. For the average student, this means spending the majority of their evenings doing 30 to 50 problem homework assignments that they fully understood at question 10. This ties into the final reason which for your reading pleasure has been separated by a nice margin below :-)

The final reason homework loads are increasing is that the concept itself has been taken out of proportion. The word homework as we know it today had its origins around 1889 according to dictionary.com, however it is likely that homework has been around for much longer, though most of it would have been confined to the highest levels of academia, primarily at the college level. In theory, homework is designed so that students can apply what they learned during the day at school, after school. The concept sounds good, but there are serious flaws. The largest lies when a student doesn't understand a concept. This can mean the difference of homework lasting 45 minutes or homework lasting 5 hours. It happened with me, and it happens with my younger sister all the time.

The Scenario: You can't understand something, so you turn to mom, dad, friends, and the Internet. It now has become and wild goose chase to figure out how to do a freak Calculus problem that ended up in a Geometry assignment. The parents haven't actually used that particular equation since college, so they're having to learn it all over again, friends are as clueless as you are, and it takes hours sifting through websites to find anything resembling an answer. In the end, if the problem can actually get solved, it is well past midnight, and there was other homework to do on top of that.

Here's the biggest flaw of homework: If students can't grasp a concept at school, why would they suddenly be able to grasp it at home?

Here's the solution: Make it a requirement to have students complete what would normally be homework at school. When I was in a private school setting, that was how it was done. My lowest grade while I was there was a B for the last semester of Algebra. Even then, I came away feeling like I had learned more than I had at a public school, which my grades could clearly reflect. I still maintain this opinion today, even though I'm attending what I feel to be one of the best public schools in the Kansas City metro, if not the best.

I'm able to complete about 80% of my "homework" at school, and the remaining assignments have never taken longer than an hour once I got home. The truth is, even in public schools, there is sufficient time for students to finish at least half of their homework at school. If I were King, it would be a requirement that students K-8 have minimal homework and that high school students be required to use any class time devoted to doing homework to do homework. Even if the amount of assignments being handed out reached a plateau, this would be a reasonable homework load for non-AP students (and don't even get me started on AP courses!) Optimally, homework should be reduced, because the simple fact of life is that in today's world, students are busy with more than just school, and though important, it is unhealthy for any one thing to rule your life, even if it is education.

School administrators want students to perform better academically, and all too often their solution is to assign more homework. In 100 years, there has never been a single study that proves homework is effective in non-high school students. All extra homework does is cause stress, sleep deprivation, depression, and all can cause symptoms of ADD. Kids will be kids, and it isn't natural for children to be cooped up inside the entire school year, and in some cases the summer, doing homework when they should be socializing and enjoying their one and only childhood and adolescence. I encourage either the solution I detailed above to be implemented into public schools or for school administrators to put work into finding something better, becuase the status quo isn't working.