Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mary Barton

My knowledge of such a famous author, can once again be attributed to film. I first encountered Miss Elizabeth Gaskell's work through watching North and South, a Masterpiece Theater release. The ingenious of the fantastic story in joint with the illumination of the relationship between the north and south of England, particularly in the eighteenth century, keeps me going back to watch it again and again. Ok, so Richard Armitage is also a big draw.

The point is, this film lead me to want to read another of her works. My choice was Mary Barton. Although I had never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell before, it seemed that the title Mary Barton rang at least a few bells. This book is a great piece of Victorian Literature. The base storyline is a love triangle that ends in murder. Within that story lies so much more about the political and socio-economic climate of the north of England at this time. Her writing engages the reader to think more deeply about Unions and what they really stand for. Socialism is presented in a way that many would never put such a name to it. The publication is contemporary with Karl Marx, and affiliation is too negative and referential to the Soviet Union and China. This book does not just focus on a one side's view of the economic contingency. In the end, you see the opposing view of the rich man's perception of the poor man who murdered his son to prove his point about the lower lot in life.

I believe that this book should make perfect source for any Western civilization class in order to highlight the Victorian Period. More subtle than Dickens, more real than Austen, and more politically revealing than Hardy, it makes a great addition to any academic library.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Every Child Left Behind!

The goal of the "No Child Left Behind" program is to ensure that all children going through the education system get a good and more standardized education. Putting standardized and good education in the same sentence, to me, is an oxymoron. Standardized testing, for the most part, means multiple choice. This type of testing does not give room for analysis of information, only it's regurgitation. With standardization come streamlining, and that means the teachers do not have the chance for individualism and creativity. Without these key ingredients, students will not only not want to learn, but will not remember what they have.

One prime example I would like to bring up, is hand writing and language. Students are no longer taught cursive writing in school. This type of writing is a window into a more creative form of writing. At the very least it allows the student to developed a more personalized, and perhaps better, handwriting. As a child who learned to write before going to school, I know how this can negatively effect handwriting skills. The teaching of cursive writing gives a second look at those skills at a later age. I think that by skipping over this key part of a child's education, we will not only allow a part of our culture to die, but allow the downgrading of handwriting and even writing etiquette.

I have already mentioned that with standardized testing, we loose the testing of our children's ability to analyze. As a TA at a university, I saw first hand the negative effects of the over use of multiple choice style testing. Writing and indeed thinking skills have gone out the window. What is worse, is that even though we have lowered the expectations in the high school classroom, it doesn't stop there. Having encouraged every child to go to college, and even convinced them that it is their right to do so, we now are feeling pressure to lower the standards there as well. With so many holders of bachelor's degrees, the worth of such an achievement has plummeted. On top of that degradation by the sheer force of numbers, we add to it the "dumbing down" of the curriculum. I do not like to discriminate people who are less fortunate and may have special needs, however, there is a place within conventional grade school level education to make allowances and special privileges to ensure their ability to learn and inevitably function in society. What I do not believe in, is that we need to make special allowances in order that they not only can go to college (and probably at a lower cost), but are allowed to graduate only due to special allowances and exceptions.

With each generation, the educational standards seem to be lowered further and further until every child will be left behind. The whole country will have left real education behind.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To wash or not to wash

How many of you wash your hands after you go to the bathroom?  How about when you have touched uncooked or old food?  Those sound like logical times to wash your hands in order to prevent disease.  Washing your hands after using the bathroom is a sanitary measure that prevents staph infections.  Washing your hands after handling raw chicken prevents the threat getting infected with bacteria like e. coli.

What about all the other times that you wash your hands?  Perhaps when your hands are physically dirty (actual soil) you might thoroughly wash your hands, but is an antibacterial hand soap necessary?  Or is it more practical to use plain old irish spring, dove, or any other brand of soap.  Then of course there is the newer fad of using antibacterial gel every time you touch another person or public facility or anytime at all really.  

My point is this: what constitutes a good use of such devices and a bad one?  Is using so much antibacterial formulas in our everyday life really going to help prevent disease?  Or is it just going to make the bulk of the human population that much more indefensible to any serious threat?  

These questions are ones that you should be asking yourself when you are at the grocery store deciding between a lemon scented dishwashing soap, an orange, or an apple one.  One soap is completely free of any additives.  One "Kills 99% of all bacteria."  The third has both antibacterial agents and antiviral ones.  The soaps with additives may help prevent the threat of your family getting some stomach bug, but then again if you were using hot water this would have been prevented anyway.  The other will simply clean the dishes, preventing the over-growth of any bacteria or fungi due to remaining food particles.  I see the former as unnecessary and something that will eventually harm the entirety of the population, where the latter is just good hygiene. The trouble is seeing where the line divides the two.  

The harming of the population as whole will not just be the destruction of the good bacteria that normally inhabit our bodies both inside and out, but a more serious problem.  Not only are our bodies now more defenseless because of the destruction of the helpful and preventative populations, but the harmful bacteria (and now in some case viruses) have been continually exposed so that they can mutate in order to survive both the antibacterial agents and any normal bacterial defenses that your body has.  One good example of a creation of a more dangerous bacterial infection is MRSA.  This infection is resistant to antibacterial agents and to antibiotics.  

The real question lies in asking if the scientists that created this stuff really did not think about the ramifications of their work.  The scary answer is if they did.