Daily Archives: January 31, 2004

CoxNews: Pols Weigh In

Georgia Democrats, led by former president Jimmy Carter, spoke out yesterday on Superintendent Kathy Cox’s proposal to eliminate all mention of evolution from biology courses. Carter minced no words:

“As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox’s attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia’s students,” the former president declared. “Nationwide ridicule of Georgia’s public education system will be inevitable if this proposal is adopted.”

No kidding. But Carter was not the only Georgia Democrat to offer an opinion.

At the state Capitol, some lawmakers denounced the proposal Friday.”You’re talking about a major change in public education in Georgia,” said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat. “It appears Superintendent Cox finds the word ‘evolution’ too controversial to be discussed. She prefers a more nebulous term.”

State Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta), chairman of the House Education Committee, said the proposal will make Georgia look foolish on a national scale. “We have one black eye from the flag. This will give us another black eye,” he said.

Holmes said he couldn’t understand why the argument over evolution is continuing. “It seems to me this thing had been resolved 70 years ago during the Scopes monkey trial,” he said. In that landmark trial, in Tennessee in 1925, Clarence Darrow defended high school teacher John Scopes in the first court case to pit the theory of evolution against the biblical story of creation.

Although legislators may get no vote on whether Cox’s decision stands, Holmes noted that the House and Senate “provide funds for everything they do.”

Is that a threat, Bob?

Republican legislators, however, have been strangely silent. All Gov Sonny Perdue would say is that it’s not his place to get involved but that he “trust[s] the Superintendent…[who] is perfectly capable of making those kinds of curriculum decisions.” Not from where the 21st century is sitting, Sonny. From there it looks like she don’t know the difference between the Inquisition and an electron microscope. But then, you don’t either, probably.

Not satisfied with scrapping biology, Cox is also in the process of trying to “skip” the history of the Civil War as taught in Georgia’s high schools.

A proposal to all but skip the Civil War in high school history classes has state Superintendent Kathy Cox defending her views again.

The excuse they’re using–and there may be some validity to it–is that there just isn’t time to teach everything. Cox’s proposal suggests cutting the study into two parts:

Georgia teachers have complained for years that the state’s standards are a mile wide and an inch deep. Cox’s proposal — which includes changes such as placing the bulk of Civil War instruction in the fifth and eighth grades — is designed to free up time to cover topics in more depth, while meeting national standards that encourage hands-on activities in place of rote learning.But to free up more time, topics get introduced in earlier grades, a move Cox defends.

“We don’t need to dumb down expectations for our younger students and leave challenging material for the high school years alone,” Cox said in a statement released last week.

There are, of course, drawbacks to this arrangement.

[Andy] Preston, who teaches U.S. history at Ware County Magnet School and is president of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies, does not dispute the intention of the new standards. He sometimes has “trouble getting beyond World War II, you get bogged down.”But he worries whether fifth- or even eighth-graders have the maturity to deal with a topic as complex as the Civil War. So does Darrell Huckaby, a 29-year teaching veteran who teaches advanced-placement U.S. history at Heritage High School in Rockdale County.

“It just doesn’t make sense to learn half of history,” said Huckaby…

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Under the proposed standards, Georgia’s high-schoolers would pretty much start at Reconstruction and move onward.

“It’s kind of sad we need to teach less to do better,” said Nathan Kumar, a junior at Marietta High School in Cobb County. “We live in America, not just the South, and the Civil War is a huge deal.”

Several legislators also have criticized the idea that the Civil War would not be a mandatory topic for high schoolers.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said he is concerned about the proposed changes.

“I would urge you . . . to insist that educators in your districts, who you trust, review this,” Taylor said from the rostrum late last week. “These are very, very important changes.”

Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) also spoke out from the floor.

“How can we talk about today and the future if we don’t know about the past?” Thompson said. “We need to learn something about world history.”

Maybe it’s a matter of making choices, and sure, you can’t include everything, but sneaking the study of the Civil War–often called “The War of Northern Aggression” in the South and still a controversial topic after 150 years–into the lower, less demanding grades is a move that seems designed to allow (or even force) Georgian educators to soft-peddle the intricate and complex battles between Southern slave-owners and Northern Abolitionists, leaving a hole you could run a train through that is perfect for channeling the simple-minded “state’s rights” explanation that conservatives like Cox prefer, and down-playing the slavery aspect to the point of invisibility.

I wouldn’t assume that that is the intent if it weren’t for Cox’s attempt to eliminate evolution from the curriculum. Finding a way to turn the Civil War from a war over slavery into a war over state’s rights has been on the radcon agenda for years, just like dumping evolution, and it appears that Cox thinks she’s found a way to slip it into the curriculum under the radar with the excuse “we don’t have time to teach it.”

What this suggests, along with the evolution change, is that the radcons are using Cox to move their education agenda forward another step. Look for Cox to start showing up on wingnut radio and tv shows where she will be fawned over like a war hero, after which similar “proposals” will raise their ugly heads in other Southern states.

Cox represents the tip of the radcon iceberg, and it’s sailing mighty close to home.

“Yes/No/Maybe So” Voting

Reader Peter K Harrell, writing in Comments on the “A Republican dirty trick” post, makes reference to something called “Yes/No/Maybe so” Voting. Mr Harrell is known to me–at least online–and an expert on Y/N/M. Without his permission–though with a reasonable certainty that he won’t mind–I’m going to be posting, over the next week or so (depending on time) some of his material explaining exactly what Y/N/M voting is and how it works.Why am I doing this? Because the Y/N/M voting system is the only truly democratic voting system I’ve ever seen or heard of for reasons you will read for yourself, and if we survive Junior and the Radcon takeover-attempt it’s going to be bloody important to put into place a system of voting that will prevent any group of ideologues from ever again thinking that our democracy can be hijacked or that America could be a one-party nation if they play enough tricks on us.

But before we get into the system itself, I want to post Mr Harrell’s lucid explanation of the weaknesses of majority rule, what he calls The Majority Rule Voting Paradox.

Part 1 of 2 What is the Majority Rule Voting Paradox?

A Majority Rule Voting Paradox exists whenever there is a candidate on the ballot who is preferred to another candidate by a majority of the electorate despite the fact that this preferred candidate is also simultaneously disapproved of by a majority of that same electorate while the other candidate is approved of by a majority of that same electorate.

This paradox, known as the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, is important because it demonstrates that voting techniques such as Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting that focus solely on preference cannot even determine the Consent of the Governed much less return election results consistent with that consent.

Plurality Voting is the voting technique used most often in elections in the United States. The Consent of the Governed is the basis of a fundamental democratic principle that provides legitimacy to democratic government.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox can most easily been demonstrated using an electorate that consists of three people, whose opinions can be described as follows.

Person 1:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Person 2:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Person 3:
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Please note that the description of the opinion of Person 2 is in fact the description of a voter confronted with the well-known “Lesser of Two Evils” voting dilemma.

A careful examination of this three-person electorate will reveal that Candidate A is preferred to Candidate B by a 2 to 1 majority consisting of Person 1 and Person 2. But Candidate A is also at the same time disapproved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 2 and Person 3. Furthermore Candidate B is approved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 1 and Person 3.

There are 3 different majorities existing simultaneously within this electorate. Two of these three majorities support the election of Candidate B, while one of these majorities, the preferential majority, supports the election of Candidate A hence the paradox.

Given this approach to modeling the opinions of the electorate there are six different types of voter opinion. There are an additional three more types of voter opinion that are a “mirror image” of those presented here. If all six of these opinion types are assumed to be equally probable, then a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation should arise over 10% of the time. This is a large percentage for the occurrence of a voting paradox.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox calls into question the likelihood that voting will result in the election of the candidate that best reflects the will of the people and can provide legitimacy to democratic government according to the principle of the Consent of the Governed.

IOW, folks, no wonder we all feel disenfranchised–the winner-take-all system itself denies our choice and our voice. As long as we are electing leaders on the basis of majority rule, those leaders will not be the ones we wanted but the ones most of us didn’t want but were willing to suffer. When you understand this, you begin to understand what’s really behind the phenomenon of plummeting voter registration: Why bother when your choice is between two people you dislike equally? or like equally? Why bother when the leader you prefer, the leader who is closest to your own positions, isn’t even in the race?

The political fall-out from the voting system we use is so immense that it’s hard to measure, and I’ll be talking about that, too, as we go along. For now, I’ll only comment on the most obvious effect: majority rule pushes both parties into least-common-denominator, dead-center campaigning, virtually assuring that no one will be represented by them. What they do represent is some amorphous, unreal “average citizen”, an unholy concoction of clashing attitudes and irreconcilable beliefs who, if s/he actually existed, would be a schizophrenic, paranoid/delusional basket case.

We MUST have a better, more representational system.

Jeff Alworth at american street has written an interesting post about the political changes in the last three weeks. At the end, he asks an important question. Here’s the last section:

The Vacuum of Opportunity
Joe Trippi recognized a year ago that this election would be about change. He understood that George W. Bush had taken the country in a direction almost no one wanted to go, and that any other direction would be seen as an improvement. As this emerges as the election’s central theme, everyone is focused on November 2. But what about November 3?There are rare moments in history when political change is possible. For change to happen, though, more than timing is necessary. A movement needs an ideological nucleus, it needs a leader willing to champion the cause, and it needs to be informed by and inspiring to a majority of Americans. Whether a viable movment will emerge from this election is debatable. But something will fill the void created by this desire for change. Trippi was correct: any other direction is better than the one we’re on. Things are happening too quickly for folks to consider more than the electability issue. But will liberals be able to seize the moment and build a movement after November 3? Time will tell.

What Jeff is talking about is an all-out effort to counter the right-wing’s success in defining themselves with a plan of our own to do likewise. My response to Jeff is that I agree, and that adopting Y/N/M voting must be a vital part of that plan. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to democracy to put a voting system in place that allows real people to be represented without the cumbersome difficulties of proportional representation. If we don’t, the rest of our efforts may not count for much.

First, of course, we have to eject Junior Bush and His Ragged Radcon Band before they decide to declare Martial Law and dispense with little annoyances like “elections”.