Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Philosophy of Education II (Things Schools Do Besides Teach. Safeguards for Society...)

Before a child is taught anything in school, the school system provides a service that is indispensable: it ensures that the child has been inoculated against diphtheria.

And tetanus. And whooping cough, measles, rubella, polio, and a few other things. Through the various carrots and sticks available to society from universal schooling, public health in America has been greatly advanced in the last century; I can't think of a more reasonable agency to carry out this service. The decline of child mortality in America that has resulted from every parent knowing that eventually they'll have to produce that shot record at the door of a school house may by itself be make the cost of schooling in America worthwhile.

Without establishing a timeline for what services (or mandates) entered the public school system at what point in time, I tend to just push the blame for all of them off on Lyndon Johnson. He started the modern trend, at least, of providing services that were not directly educational in nature. Among my favorite is free and reduced lunch. It serves society (and students) with a safeguard against poverty. Children are disproportionately impacted by poverty. The free and reduced lunch program has served to keep large parts of America turning into scenes from a Charles Dickens novel. And the school system has been the tool society used to achieve that.

meAnother example has to do with the treatment of people with disabilities in our society. Forty year ago America may have been far above much of the world in the treatment of disabled individuals; but families were still largely on their own in dealing with and supporting their disabled members. Today, disability laws in America require that children with disabilities be sought out early during the preschool years, and that services be provided under many circumstances to families with disabled children. This is part of the reason the life expectancy of a person with Down's Syndrome has more than doubled in the last few decades. And it is the public school system that at least seeks out identifies the children with disabilities and, often, provides the actual services. The quality of life for the retarded, the hearing impaired, the visually impaired, and those with other disabilities has been greatly improved as a result. That safeguard against neglect of the disabled is part of what makes us a civilized society.

Some socialization also takes place, and I would argue that much of the weight of socialization in American society falls upon the public school system. It is where kids learn to stand in line in the cafeteria the way they will have to sand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles of the Post Office later in life. It is where they learn that you can't hit people just for what they say (even if your father says you can). It is where they learn not to steal, not to bite, how to act in groups, and how to relate to authority.

Of course, some of the safeguards provided by the school system are in fact educational, or academic, in nature. The school system should infuse a minimal level of literacy and math skills into all the children who come through its doors. And there are economic safeguards - the hope that schooling will provide employability skills at some minimal level to the majority of students. Society currently disagrees about what that minimal level of literacy is; perhaps there has never been a consensus - just an idea. And the employability skills need to survive in society are rapidly changing. It becomes easy to lose sight of the many other things the school system does when success with the educational goals becomes difficult to measure.

These things are as they should be in a society with our resources (in my philosophical view of education, or at least of schooling). Society should have an institution that ensures that public health measures are being instituted in small children. Society should have an institution that aids parents in socializing their children. Our society should have a mechanism for identifying individuals with disabilities early in life and ensuring that they receive services. The purposes of education should be multiple and complex in a society as complicated as ours. And individuals and their families should be able to avail themselves of the system for their own purposes while society still achieves its own in some measure. Educational institutions must resign themselves to the fact that those who come through their doors have their own motives and values. And in America that's allowed.

In my philosophy of education, the purpose of schooling is to serve multiple ends for both the learners and the providers. There is no singularly important or outstanding particular purpose for education in America that stands alone. And education, or more properly schooling, has become an institution that is central to the core of our society and legitimately serves a variety purposes.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Why Blog? (Have a Smorty Day...)

I talked last month about reasons to blog. I enjoy writing, but (as I said in that blog) three different companies in the last 10 years have paid me to blog. Kind of. Two of the actually paid me to create content - articles like I would have written for a newspaper or magazine - and blog about my content. One, China Venture News at Creative Weblogging, pays me to maintain a blog on a particular topic.

In recent years it has become possible to generate income from your personal blog. Having Google ads in your blog will get you a few pennies if you manage to attract significant traffic to your site. But a more realistic option is a service like Smorty, where you can get paid for blogging...

Smorty is a service connecting advertisers with bloggers. Advertisers can then pay bloggers to write opinion posts that include links back to that advertiser's site. (Haven't you always dreamed about getting paid for saying what you think about people and products?)

There are a few basic requirements, but they're not hard at all to meet if you're a serious blogger. You're blog has to be at least three months old, for example. You also have to have a history of publishing something at least twice a week. And, of course, there are a few very reasonable content requirements; if your blog is about how much you hate people who are a different color than you are(for example), or about some topic that involves violence or pornography, chances are good that no advertiser cares what you think about their product or service and your log won't get accepted.

So if part of your reason for blogging is to make a little money, get connected with the advertisers who want to pay you to do it by. Smorty seems like a good place to start, in my opinion...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What PEIA Won't Pay For...

I don’t really like being on the phone – which is not to say that I dislike it, I just prefer to be face-to-face with people. But, I spent about two hours on the phone Tuesday anyway and another 90 minutes today trying to get my health insurance providers to pay for a drug.

My family is covered through PEIA, the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency. It went like this…

We called our pharmacy and asked them to refill a new anti-smoking drug, Chantix. When I went to pick it up on July 3rd I learned that:

  • July 1st marked the start of a new plan year so I had to pay my deductible on prescriptions again.
  • The co-pay has gone up on brand name drugs from $30 to $50 per month's worth.
  • The insurance company had not reauthorized Chantix.

Sometimes that’s a matter of paperwork. PEIA farms out management of prescription services to a company called Express Scripts. I called them. My wife had already called them once and been told to call a tobacco-free hotline; it was a dead end and, later we learned, it was a contractor who had stopped dealing with West Virginia employees some seven or eight months earlier. Express Scripts was giving out the wrong contact number for “step two” in this process.

During the course of the day Tuesday I spoke to Bob, Linda, and Sherri at Express-Scripts. I learned to get their phone extension out of them before I hung up so that the possibility existed that I might speak with the same person a second time if I had to call them back.

Eventually we figured out that we needed to be talking to the people at the Free & Clear Quit for Life Program. The people at Express-Scripts told me that Free & Clear had the power to reauthorize the medication. The people at Free & Clear didn’t know that Express-Scripts existed. And the people at Free & Clear thought that their job was to pass information along to Rational Drug Therapy at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy so that they could decide whether to reauthorize the drug. (Rational Drug Therapy, incidentally, doesn’t speak directly with patients.)

Linda, a "patient care advocate" at Express-Scripts, was eventually convinced to read me my benefits. She’d been trying to convince me that we could have a 90 supply of Chantix, but that we had to wait a year before they’d pay for it again (even though the drug’s manufacturer says at their website that if you’ve quit at the end of the 90 day course you should ask your doctor if it would benefit you to take the drug for another 90 days). When she read me the description of benefits it stated that Express-Scripts would pay for a 90 course of the drug three times in the life of a patient and only once per plan year. Her conclusion was that I’d have to wait a year. I pointed out that the plan year had just changed, that it was now a new plan year and that I wanted the 90 days for this plan year to now be authorized. She was confused; she agreed that it was a new plan year, but was skeptical that the drug would be reauthorized.

The last person I spoke to Tuesday was Mary at Free & Clear. God bless Mary. She read me what the contract between PEIA (she’d never heard of Express-Scripts) and Free & Clear. That contract said that Free & Clear wasn’t supposed to authorize the drug if a patient had received the drug within the last 12 month. I told her what Linda had said. Mary “escalated” my case to her supervisor to try and resolve exactly what our benefits were, evidently spent an hour or more in research and in discussions up the chain of her command, and called me back at 8pm at night. Rational Drug Therapy doesn’t take her phone calls after 2:30 in the afternoon, so it was already too late to get the drug reauthorized Tuesday, but Mary said someone from her office would call Rational Drug Therapy today for me, and suggested I call PEIA’s customer service number (which she gave me).

Customer service was closed…

Today I talked to Judy at Free & Clear. For 75 minutes the Free & Clear people worked with us to determine if there was a way to get the prescription reauthorized (covered by our insurance). Eventually Judy decided that the best approach was to call the pharmacy side of Express Scripts and have a conference call with them so that I could be on the line. Kendra there at Express Scripts told us the computer had rejected the authorization. Kendra read the rules about authorizing the drug – a different set of rules (different verbiage) than what Free & Clear had. With Judy from Free & Clear on the phone, Kendra gave us the toll free phone number for the West Virginia Tobacco Quit Line. (The Quit Line told me Tuesday that they couldn’t understand why Express Scripts still gave out their number since PEIA decided seven or eight months ago to do business with Free & Clear instead of them.)

So I have three different versions of what benefits we are supposed to have regarding Chantix:

  • Linda’s (at Express Scripts) version that she read from her computer screen, which says that we can get it three times in our life, but no more than once per plan year. Plan years align with fiscal years.
  • Free & Clear’s version, which says that they’re supposed to ask if you’ve taken the drug in the last year and they’re suppose to say “no” to reauthorizing it if you say “yes” to that question.
  • And Kendra’s (also at Express Script, but on the pharmacist’s side of it) who says that the medicine can be prescribe for 90 days in a 365-day period.

Kendra’s version is open enough to interpretation to be compatible with either the Free & Clear version or Linda’s version.

Bottom line, I don’t really know what our benefits are and if I have our benefits spelled out in writing somewhere, I don’t know about it. I called the PEIA customer service line to ask about it and a recording told me to leave my name and number.

It was an incredible exercise in getting the run around. And PEIA never returned my phone calls, so I guess I'll try them again tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pythagoras, Ben Franklin, and American Independence

I like philosophy. In my room I have a comfortable chair with a dim lamp, and in the wee hours of this morning I sat there reading A History of Western Philosophy, by Bertand Russell. The chapter dealt with Pythagoras, so I was surprised to come upon a section that discussed the U.S. Declaration of Independence!

The second paragraph of America's Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, author Walter Isaacson tells the story of how the term self-evident came to be in the Declaration of Independence...

On June 21, after he had finished a draft and incorporated some changes from Adams, Jefferson had a copy delivered to Franklin, with a cover note far more polite than editors generally receive today. "Will Doctor Franklin be so good as to peruse it," he wrote, "and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate?"

Franklin made only a few small changes, but one of them was resounding. Using heavy backslashes, he crossed out the last three words of Jefferson’s phrase, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" and changed it to read: "We hold these truths to be self-evident."

The concept of "self-evident" truths came less from Jefferson’s favored philosopher, Locke, than from the scientific determinism of Isaac Newton and the analytic empiricism of Franklin’s close friend David Hume. Hume had distinguished between "synthetic" truths that describe matters of fact (such as "London is bigger than Philadelphia" ) and "analytic" truths that are self-evident by virtue of reason and definition. ( "The angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees" or "All bachelors are unmarried." ) When he chose the word "sacred," Jefferson had suggested intentionally or unintentionally that the principle in question—the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights—was an assertion of religion. By changing it to "self-evident," Franklin made it an assertion of rationality. (emphasis added)

Where did Franklin's wording come from? Sheila O'Malley thinks the change makes the document angrier in tone. Another author suggests something similar - that Jefferson's words weren't strong enough. After all, people can deny anything – and frequently do. Maybe that was part of Franklin's goal. Rabbi Marc Gellman seems to think the change was intended to make America more secular - and perhaps too scientific (in his view).

The term "self-evident" is a philosophical one that has greatly impacted mathematics, as well. And while Franklin may have taken it from Hume and/or Newton, the truth is that the idea dates all the way back to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (who actually lived in Italy, by the way). Most of the self-evident truths that Pythagoras and his students espoused were mathematical (or geometric, if you want to separate out geometry as a field unto itself). And math and philosophy became intertwined from Pythagoras onward in history because the great truths of math could be contemplated in the privacy of your basement - without reference to observation of the world. Bertrand Russell, a mathematician (among many other things), calls the tangling of ways between math and philosophy "unfortunate" in his history...

In epistemology (the theory of knowledge, of how we know things), a self-evident proposition is one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. Rene Descartes (I think, therefore I am) introduced (or re-introduced) the importance of things that were self-evident. John Locke, Jefferson's favorite philosopher, worked to expand the list of things that were self-evident and explain how they pushed us toward conclusions about reality. But the idea of self-evident truths seems to have been first put forth by Pythagoras, expanded greatly by Euclid in his 13 volume math and geometry text book, Elements, and in Bertrand view, brought firmly and finally into philosophy by Plato.

meAs the fathers of America worked on the Declaration of Independence it was, after all, the Age of Enlightenment. So when Jefferson "slipped up" and fell back on religion by using the word "sacred" to explain why we should be free, Franklin corrected him. Franklin himself made at least 48 alterations to Jefferson's draft, but this one probably impacted the world the most. If Jefferson's "sacred" had been left in, the Arabs of Iraq and the Hindus of India could have looked at Democracy (at least in light of our Declaration of Independence) and said, "Ha, Christians! What do they know?" As a result of Franklin's change, the idea became rational (and secular) instead of being based on revelation from God.

Jefferson produced a second draft incorporating the changes, and it was presented to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776. The vote for independence took place on July 2, 1776. A final draft of the document was approved on July 4. On both votes the delegation from New York abstained. On July 6, the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the Declaration of Independence for its readers. The new document was read in public in Philadelphia on the night of July 8 at bonfires around the city. The official signing on the parchment copy wasn't until August 2, 1776.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Grovetown, Ga. July 2

Mom and Cliff drinking a first cup of coffee - Jul 2, 2007Cheryl and I spent Saturday night and all day Sunday at my mom's house in Grovetown, Ga. (near Augusta). Monday morning I got up and went to nearby Dearing, Ga., to take a test at the RESA office there.

My step-dad, Cliff, has a garden with some incredible tomato plants - trees, almost. We brought back two bags of tomatoes (ours won't be ready for a month or more in this climate). Cliff worked in his shop most of Sunday. Sunday night we grilled steaks. Mom baked potatoes, made a cucumber salad, and steamed some squash.

That night we sat in the living room and watched the Speed channel...

MatthewI got to meet Matthew while we were there. Matthew is a smart young man who will be in the fifth grade next year. He spends a lot of time at my mom's house. He reads a lot and plays computer games (maybe too much) and seems very well behaved, in general. He has become nocturnal for the summer. Sunday he slept until 3pm!

Georgia is hot; but otherwise it was a nice trip. I go back down there the first week of August to take another test.

(Matthew, you can email me sometime and tell me what you're reading...)

Taking Georgia's "Technology Test"

To be certified in Georgia (something I'm trying to accomplish), you have to prove computer skill proficiency. One way of doing that is to take the technology test at a RESA office.

Georgia has a 25-page list of technology skills they think a teacher should be able to show. I took their test on July 2.

The technology test took me about 40 minutes. It was actually 6 different test (in Riverdeep, believe it or not) and I had an hour total to take them all. Lowest possible score was 100. A passing score was 176. Highest possible score was 300.

I got my lowest score on WORD, which I suppose means that WORD does a lot I don't know about (since I use it 8 or 10 times a day). If I'd gotten one more wrong answer on WORD I'd have to take the test again. I got my highest score on EXCEL, which I learned to use mostly for this test. Whatever...

My scores:
  • Internet - 288
  • Access (Database) - 280
  • PowerPoint (Presentation Tools) - 280
  • Spreadsheets (EXCEL) - 300
  • MS WORD (Word Processing) - 176
  • Windows Operating Systems - 248