Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Return To The Moon?

Why Return To The Moon?                                                                                   

The unfortunate and disappointing  lack of support from the Obama Administration, that shows less than impressive enthusiasm towards NASA, and puts the kibosh on returning to the moon in 2020, may really not entirely be of their own doing.   After all, real support and enthusiasm comes not from the government but from us; the people, i.e. the voters. I am, without actual census data, among the biggest fans of space exploration there is.  I have countless DVD’s, and books, on the topic an seek out with great zeal, much to the affectionate agitation of my family, any and all news and information on the subject, heck I even got the thrill of my life recently meeting Buzz Aldrin.  I would love to see us return to the moon in 2020 as former President Bush prescribed. With today’s technology and video advancements it would be great to see the surface of the moon with the clarity and views rivaling that of a high budget action movie.  I think about how great it would be to see Astronauts bouncing around on foot and in high tech vehicles venturing off further than before as we ride along with them and see what they see for the first time live in HD!  Twittering as they go.  But what would it take to get us back there?  I don’t mean technology; we have that.  I mean what do we really need?  The obvious answer is money.  But that’s not really what’s keeping us from setting the plans in motion and making it happen. I know; the Augustine report says that in order to get to the Moon by 2020 we would need an additional 50 billion dollars.  But I think it’s much less tangible. And much harder to attain than money.   I believe it’s simply, “Desire”. And we as humans need something to spark that desire, something to get it smoldering and keep it burning. It’s not enough to just want to do something you need to have a propellant to push and sustain that desire.  Like during the space programs of the 1960’s. But let’s face it, the fervor and support we saw during the sixties cannot be duplicated no matter how much we try.  Obviously, the times were different, the mission was different, and the people were different.  The things that drove us then do not exist today. But on the surface I will concede that money is a big part of it.  One can argue that the perils of today’s economy and many events facing our nation force us to make choices of how to spend wisely.  Where and why money could and even should be spent.  You can also argue that unless the tax payers are interested, the funding will not be there to go back to the moon. Even amongst the civil unrest of society during the sixties  Americans wanted to succeed. In fact some felt it was a matter of national security and congress needed little to persuade them to open the purse strings. Today the Whitehouse, Congress, and most Americans are understandably tenuous in deciding how to appropriate funds. With the Augustine Commission established to help review, recommend, and maybe even rationalize expenses, the trajectory of the space program has changed.  For better or worse the course trying to be set by the Administration’s proposed budget, by canceling the Constellation program, takes us further away from getting us further away. And the desire to seek additional collaboration from other nations speaks to this unwillingness to commit monies need to stay on course. However, as I said, I don’t believe that money is the core issue.  I think even if some space enthusiast billionaire stepped up and said ’”Here Mr. NASA, here’s all the money you need to go to the moon” it would still not happen anytime soon.   I believe that the real sticking point is not the money but the inability by someone, anyone, to answer the short question of; why? Why go to the moon again? What giant leap will it serve this time for all mankind?  I understand that the current thinking of going back to the moon may be a possible prerequisite for further exploration. But I am not talking about exploration I’m just talking about just landing on the moon again.  And although people can say that I am missing the point or not seeing the big picture of exploration, I do realize that people have moved on from the moon and  are looking beyond. Some say it’s a necessary stepping stone for further travels and exploration. Some say to create an outpost and expand our civilization beyond our earth. Some say to demonstrate leadership in space. Some even say to provide a new vacation destination (oh just thinking of how many “Are we there yet?”  You’d be hearing. And you thought an 80 mile trip to grandmas was tough. Try 238,000).  All good reasons, but again it does not answer "Why" in a way that gets people excited.  True the space program of the early days gave us great products and technologies that benefited us on earth. Like computers and Velcro and thermal protection and insulation and countless more. Even the Augustine report talks about how future space explorations can yield benefits to society in technological innovations that should not be over looked. But that was a bi-product of the early program not the intent. And will going back to the moon do that in the same magnitude?  The Augustine Commission does say that a path to future exploration can include going to the “Moon First” to expedite further exploration. But even that does not seem to ignite a desire.  I haven’t heard yet anyone really verbalize it in the obligatory way to get people behind a return to the moon. I really wish someone could drive that determination. I really wish I could.  I really wish someone would stand up and say “This is why we need to return to the moon.......” and then everyone would say "yeah, they’re right, let’s do it”. That’s all it would take because we have proven as a country that when determined to do something and with the desire to do something; we do it.
Maybe just maybe, the justification is in the unknown. Maybe the fact that we wouldn’t know why we should go until we do go, is precisely the reason why we should go.  Maybe not having an answer is the answer.  Why should I hold the question of "Why return to the Moon?" in a different regard as to; "Why should we explore?"  After all, don’t we explore to find out the answers to the questions that start with; WHY? 

Maybe curiosity will spark desire…………..maybe Curiosity on Mars?!!!

That’s what I think……What do you think?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The No Child Left Behind Act OR should it be the Some Children May Be Left Behind Act?

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was meant to help our nations children become better educated by setting higher standards and establishing  measurable goals through state-wide standardized testing and higher qualified teachers.  A truly noble and significant endeavor.  But I think by now we can agree that its falling short of its intended goals.  The question of whether it is better educating our children, provides adequate measurements,  creates logical standardizations, and clear definitions for teacher qualifications is certainly debatable.  But, I think folks should have been able to predict that the devil was in the details.   States and therefore schools achievements and performances are tied to federal funding.  AHHH the bell (school bell that is) just went off, didn’t it?  Yes, what  Chancellor, Superintendent or Principal worth their salt would not want funding for their school or schools? 
How could anyone not expect that in time it would be less about the children and more about the funding?
Where the No Child Left Behind Act gets an F is in its design.  By its very nature of competition for funding it creates an ulterior motive, and more disappointing,  it creates a hardship on  the average and below average students than it does on the above average students.  In the race for good test scores, it prepares students for test taking rather than provides balanced learning.   It  focuses on subjects like reading, writing, and math while giving less focus on the other subjects.  There are many things that opponents of the Act could outline and other things proponents of the Act could point to.  But I would rather talk about ways to really better educate our children.   The GOP candidates talk in broad terms on repealing the law and changing the system.  Others provide more specific  alternatives like utilizing technology.  But I haven’t heard anyone talk about what I think is the core of the issue, in terms of education, which is addressing the individual aptitude of a child.    
Well, I have an idea.  And before I start , I realize that there will be many many reasons why this could not work.  Most notably ……money.  But if you can just keep in mind the “goal”  here.  Maybe, just maybe, it can ignite ideas that can result in measurable goals.  Like our children becoming better educated!
Let’s all first agree on a few simple premises. When a lesson or subject is taught in a classroom, some students will understand it better than others.  When a teacher explains a concept or theory, some students will get it quicker than others.  When a teacher is following a curriculum, some  teachers will capture the attention of students better than others.  And finally,  when tests are taken, some students will get higher grades than others.  Can we all agree on those assertions?   I think part of the problem is that there is simply not enough time and resources to dedicate in such a way that would provide attention where attention is needed.  The children that are above average do fine but the average and below average struggle to keep up and fall behind. And the No Child Left Behind Act is not designed to stop and wait for the child that is left behind to catch up.  Oh , one more assertion.  If every child had their own personal teacher sitting next to them in the classroom, would they do better on tests?  I won’t state the obvious but will confess that I realize it is not practical and of course unrealistic.   But how about  you hold on and see if we cannot work backwards from that extreme scenario? 
What  if we developed a program whereby teachers could conduct class for half the school day and then break the class up into small groups for the reminder of the day?  What if we could hire Teachers Assistants to work with the smaller groups and go over the days lesson, working closely to provid any needed extra attention or explanation?  Do you think test scores would improve? Much more importantly, do you think children would be better educated?   Understandably, we  cannot provide personalized attention  to each student but serious  reforms to the existing system has to head in that direction in a realistic and practical way,  instead of moving away from  that approach  in a  standardizing, test oriented, fund driven way.
One of the flaws in the Act is the lack of a clear definition of qualified teachers.  The other and I think the more egregious is the aim to create measurable goals through standardization of tests.  I think the very definition of standardization defines the problem.  How can we standardize something to be used as a measure against such a diverse group?  And by diverse I mean; a varied capacity for learning.  Can we really address the problem without addressing that?
My point is that if children were able to receive more attention in the classroom, they will learn better. And if they learn better, they will perform better on tests.  Maybe you put the burden on teachers to identify where attention is needed to provide more attention to students.  Maybe you provide them with tools to do that.  Either way the focus has to be on the student first and THEN the measuring, qualifications, definitions, and performances will take care of themselves.  But much more importantly, a child will learn.
That’s what I think.  What do you think?