Atomic anniversaries

August 7, 2006

This week marks the 61st anniversaries of the U.S. dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9).

This is the only event that occasionally causes me to wish for school in early August. Marking the anniversaries in a U.S. history class could be a useful exercise. Texas’ TEKS require students to know a bit about President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, and especially his reasoning behind the decision. To get there in an orderly fashion, and to keep kids captivated by this most interesting part of recent history, I think a class needs to lay the background with the end of the war in Europe (especially D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge) with troops hoping to go home to the U.S. and being diverted to the Pacific, the background of the U.S.’s “island-hopping” strategy, especially the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and the carnage that was required to take the islands, and the background of the Manhattan Project, from Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt through the secret cities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Trinity Project at White Sands, the training of the bombers at Wells Wendover, Nevada, and the World War I service of Harry Truman himself. It’s a fascinating history that, the Texas tests show and my classroom experience confirms, students know very little about.

As with the misinformation on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which I reported earlier today, this history of atom bombs informs us of policy choices available and necessary in our current dealings with North Korea, Iran, Ukraine and Russia, among other nations.

Japanese foundations sponsor trips to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for U.S. reporters, and there used to be one for high school teachers, too. It’s a history I lived with for a decade trying to get a compensation bill for downwind victims of fallout from our atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada. I wish more people knew the stories.

Utah toughens graduation requirements

August 7, 2006

Utah’s State Board of Education voted late last week to toughern the graduation requirements, with 18 state-mandated topics — requiring another year of science, another year of math, and another year of “language arts.” Here’s the story from the August 5 Deseret News.

Michigan recently strengthened graduation requirements, too, as noted in this story from the Macomb Daily.

Missouri joined a number of states (Texas and Utah) that require financial literacy, reported in this story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
[Please send me a note if your state is considering or has recently adopted new graduation standards, to edarrell AT sbcglobal DOT net.]

Bad history clouds our future

August 7, 2006

Wholly apart from the damaging effects of belief in things that are not accurate, how much should we worry that people really get bad history?

From the Associated Press on August 6, via Editor & Publisher:

NEW YORK Do you believe in Iraqi “WMD”? Did Saddam Hussein’s government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

People tend to become “independent of reality” in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull. [emphasis added by this blog – E.D.]
The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

This is a case where “enduring faith” can lead to bad policy, or disastrous policy.

The article notes that a recent news story could have skewed the poll. A report requested by two Republicans, a senator and a representative, both running for re-election, detailed the Pentagon’s information about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) found in Iraq. There were 500 pieces catalogued, very old, left over from Gulf War I in the early 1990s. There was no evidence of new weapons, nor of a program to make new weapons such as that used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »

More on vouchers, history and creationism

August 7, 2006

Mark Olson is a veteran blogger on issues of concern to conservatives and to Christians, at Pseudo-Polymath. He’s responded to my earlier post on vouchers. Marks calls it ‘a bit of a quibble.’

His first complaint goes to history: I wrote that once we had a broad consensus on the value of education. Mark wrote:

In colonial (and I presume probably pre-Civil War Virginia) the Chesapeake bay/plantation folkway had a … hegemonic attitude toward education. In fact, while the plantation “masters” were 100% literate, the servants and other classes in the society (white) were some 70% illiterate. It was something of a point of pride that public education was not generally available. Literacy and education as well, was not emphasised in the backcountry as well (which continues (I think) today in Appalachia for example). So of the four folkways which made up our early nation, only two held that education was of value.

That official policy prevented education as a mark of oppression and/or racism only makes the point. Infamously, some states and localities at various times had laws against teaching slaves to read, or to educate slaves formally in other ways. Denying education is a traditional form of oppression. This does not change the consensus that education is valuable, but instead is a dramatic demonstration that the policy makers regarded education as valuable and as a political tool for change. At the same time that these governments forbade educating slaves, they established schools for other people. Read the rest of this entry »

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