Forum: November-December 2007

November 30, 2007
A polar bear traverses the dwindling icepack

Aurora / Ty Milford

Heeding the Warnings

Climate change, our role in its process, and our ability to moderate its effects, is simultaneously the scariest and most exciting phenomenon that we face today ["Hot on the Trail of CO2," July-August].

The scientists and politicians who understand the magnitude of the threat and the urgency with which we must address the problem are like the Indonesian village elders who reacted with alarm to the rapidly receding waters [caused by an approaching tsunami]. While younger folks ignored the event or, worse, frolicked in the newly exposed tidal bays to collect stranded fish, the wise elders sounded the alarm and urged all to drop everything and head for higher ground. Those who stayed were overwhelmed by a force beyond imagination. Those who heeded the elders' warnings lived and were able to rebuild after the tsunami receded.

The climate-change alarm has been sounded. [Former] California Assembly member Fran Pavley, Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, and a growing number of politicians have heard and heeded the alarm. Rather than listening to those who doubt the science or point to China and India and say, "Why me?" these prescient and brave politicians are doing what they were elected to do. Faced with evidence of increasing temperatures, shifting climates, rising sea levels, and vanishing species, they are acting…. Any climate-change policies that fail to produce dramatic reductions in carbon-producing activities are made with a reckless disregard for the health and well-being of future generations.

So why is this grim state of affairs exciting? Danger heightens the senses, focuses the mind, and brings us to a precipice. We will either soar into a bright low-carbon future or stumble into the chasm of short-sighted selfishness. 

Out of a sense of obligation to future generations, a desire to make a difference, and a drive to turn a profit, business leaders and air-quality entrepreneurs are competing with each other to offer solutions that change the way we produce and generate energy, build, move goods, and live our lives.


Disproportionate Punishment

I believe Bernard Kostelnik's letter [July-August 2007] regarding the lacrosse players embodies a lack of proportion. Death threats, $500,000 legal fees, interrupted schooling, and a potential forty-year jail sentence hanging over a young person's head for a year are not appropriate retribution for staging a keg party and strip show. I'm certainly no fan of so-called "exotic" dancing, but what those three lacrosse players suffered is totally off-scale compared to anything they actually did. No one in the Duke community applauds the behavior which led up to the incident, but the repercussions were grossly disproportionate to the actual offense.

Had the false rape accusation never occurred, one appropriate response to the stripper party would have been for the dean of students and/or the lacrosse coach to meet with the entire team and discuss what constitutes responsible and respectful behavior by students, particularly high-profile athletes, within the general Durham community. In order for meaningful learning to occur, the offense and the response have to have some reasonable relationship. 


No Incentives for Educational Innovation

Educators at Duke and Berkeley are sponsoring an open competition to spur innovators to "pioneer new models of learning that build upon and enhance the informal learning styles of youth today," says Cathy Davidson, a professor of English and interdisciplinary studies ["Learning in the Information Age," Under the Gargoyle, July-August].

"We will be looking for teachers who develop the creative, associational, and collaborative cognitive strategies that kids engage in when they play games online....I hope that this MacArthur [Foundation] initiative will spawn a national movement of concerned citizens who demand a better educational system for our country."

Noble objective. Two insurmountable challenges, if unaddressed:

1) Schools are America's great socialist project. We permit no free-market dynamics in K-12 schooling. Schools are protected monopolies, centrally planned, centrally controlled. Rigidity and inertia are built into the funding model.

2) Those in charge have characteristics not associated with innovation. Applicants for graduate study in education administration—tested between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2004—had a combined mean total Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of 950 (Verbal, 427; Math, 523). That is sixth from the bottom of fifty-one fields of graduate study tabulated by the Educational Testing Service.

The mean total GRE score across all fields was 1066. Which applicants had still lower total GRE scores than applicants in education administration? Social work, 896; early childhood education, 913; student counseling, 928; home economics, 933; special education, 934—education fields all. Other fields with mean GRE scores on the far left side of the GRE bell curve? Public administration ("practices and roles of public bureaucracies"), 965; other education, 968; elementary education, 970; education evaluation and research, 985; other social science, 993.

Note the pattern: 80-plus percent on the far-left side of the GRE bell curve are headed for—or, more likely, already employed by—public education systems. Not a fertile landscape for innovation.

Tom Shuford, B.S.M.E. '68
Lenoir, North Carolina