Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Payday Loan Businesses

If he has exacted usury Or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:13)

There are more Payday Loan Stores in Illinois than any other state in America. And there are more of these stores in America than there are McDonalds. They are often located in low-income areas, and low-income individuals who have bad credit, are high-risk lenders, and are desperate for cash are their main customers.

That said, what are Payday Loan Stores?

Think about it this way: Most Americans (61%) live from paycheck to paycheck, or have some sort of fixed income (like the elderly living on social security). While this income may be sufficient to cover basic needs and pay the bills, unexpected circumstances (like requiring emergency medical attention, or needing to fix a car) may stretch that pay check thin, so that paying that month's utility bill may be just out of reach (even though your next paycheck may only be a week or two away, you don't want to be late on your bill).

Not a problem! You can just go get a payday loan, where you can get cash immediately to pay that utility bill, and then pay off the loan once your next paycheck arrives in the mail. Then you're done. It's that simple*.

*Well, it might not be that simple, actually. In all likelihood, your interest rate is going to screw you over be in the triple digits. A national survey showed that "at most places the interest rates varied from 390% to 851% annually with the average being 474%." Compare payday loan interest to what the average person pays for their credit card: 15-30%.

But don't worry. If you're unable to pay off your monthly payment on your payday loan (three out of four borrowers can't afford to repay their loans at the end of the two-week period), you can take out another payday loan to temporarily hold you over... repeat ad infinitum. The goal of the payday loan industry is to help Americans pay their bills on time! keep people paying ridiculous amounts of money for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, because interest is so high, it can take years to pay off a loan of a mere 250$ . A year later or two, a person may have ended up paying a couple thousand dollars, without much hope of an end in sight because they keep needing to take out loans. This is often how payday loans work out. For low income individuals, those already in debt, and for those with fixed incomes, payday loans can be devastating. Far too often, people end up going bankrupt, becoming homeless, etc, because they were desperate for quick money or were misled by these businesses.

Check out how many locations there are in the Chicago area alone: [link]

How is it that these things are even legal..? I wonder why there are so many of them in America-- but what do you think it says about America that there are so many of them? Do these businesses have the responsibility to not give instant loans, or are they merely filling in a demand?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alphabet vs. The Goddess

How early do people pick up on gender differences? Why?

Earlier this year in one of my classes we read something that addressed one facet of the answer to this question in a small portion of a book called Alphabet vs. The Goddess. It explores the reason for why it is that worship of goddesses in world religions has declined so much over time and, more importantly, the author connects this to a change in the perception of women (and subsequent rises in misogyny, male dominance, and patriarchy) over time.

The author connects to these changes to the time when language transitioned from being spoken word to written word. He proposes that learning alphabetic literacy "rewired the human brain," and consequently, "reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one" with its sequential ordering, structure, and symbolic characters. There's some further explanation/applications given at this site (trends during pagan polytheism vs. the rise of Christianity vs. the Dark ages).

What's interesting about this is that it was not the change from right brain to left brain dominance/use causing people to be more misogynistic. Given the fact that females on average have a tendency to use their left brain more dominantly than men, there is actually nothing biological that makes the left hemisphere of the brain particularly 'masculine,' nor did the switch itself shape peoples' outlooks to be more misogynistic.

However, through analyzing the mythology of different cultures worldwide (mythologies earlier than the invention of writing), researchers have found that male characters have long and consistently been distinguished by having strongly left-brained traits, while female characters are associated with right brain traits, contrary to our biology.

In essence, as society began to shift towards being centered on the written word, which reinforced use of the left brain, the sex that was associated in mythology with having left brain traits was favored and seen as dominant. Today, this imbalance between the use of left and right brain is considered to be lessened because of the invention photography and television and increased importance of visuals in other parts of our lives.

Regarding how early one buys in to gender roles or how, mythology is really interesting because it is made up of the 'stories' that societies base their culture and values on (in the media, in books, in what we consume). These stories take a significant role in influencing the way we see things. And although scientific reality is often contradicted, these myths ultimately can shape how women and men are perceived in society, and can start affecting members of any society at a very early age in very subtle ways.

What are your thoughts? What similarities/differences are there in today's world to the past? What connections do you see to anything?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Standardized Testing as Business

Linked to previous.

Another interesting (and somewhat concerning) aspect of Standardized Testing is the fact that, at the heart of it, it's a business. And that's not to make a claim about the design of the tests being 'corrupt,' 'greedy,' or 'evil' or something-- it just means they have to follow business rules.

In 2001, education assessment consultant Nina Metzner talked about some of the problems with the standardized testing after millions of students' exams had scoring issues:

"There was a lack of personnel, a lack of time, too many projects, too few people."

The problem with this? This was before No Child Left Behind, legislation that expanded the pressure on the standardized testing industry by 50% by mandating schools test students more often in order to evaluate a school's success or failure.

Combine this with 6-week testing grade deadlines, and according essay-grading time contraints (one essay per 2 minutes). On top of that is the high demand for employees (which may be hired despite failing qualifying tests) to perform the mind-numbing and difficult task of putting consistent and accurate scores on hundreds of thousands of tests with guidelines that suck. The nature of the work as evaluating individual students' work (with fairness) is at odds with the job's business side (time limits and attempts at standardization). If standardized scorers don't conform to groupthink, they will not get anything scored or agreed upon that follows the highly-centralized business's standards, even though they are evaluating very diverse student input.

While the massive holes in the scoring process are not necessarily the result of 'bad intention' so much as an understandable disaster resulting from a combination of education and business, claiming standardized tests are actually standardized and scientific could not be more fraudulent. And sometimes these tests determine whether or not students get their diploma or not, or if a school passes or fails.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Standardized Testing vs Education & Variability

Recently I read a book about standardized testing. The author was a person who worked in the industry for 15 years in a number of different positions, participating in and supervising the scoring of written english/reading tests. It deals with a lot of the flaws within scoring "standardized" tests, pointing out how test scoring is not only designed poorly, but used to evaluate the wrong things at high stakes (i.e. schools under No Child Left Behind).

What I found most interesting about the process was that the criteria used to judge student responses to open-ended questions. Not only can the rubrics be too vague and subjective, they can also be far too strict and end up evaluating unimportant things. As a result, the scoring process can be very inconsistent and may result in matching written responses to the rubric's description rather than the score the written response deserves.

One example was of a 4th grade essay that was graded with a rubric emphasizing the correct use of the 5-paragraph form above any other writing criteria. As a result, an essay that was completely mechanically written ("The most important thing to me is my cat because she is fun. She is also loving. She is soft.") had to be scored higher than an essay that was impressive and very descriptive, but did not follow traditional 5-paragraph form.

What was, I thought, a particularly striking part of the book was when the author wrote:

"While rubrics are written by the best intentioned of assessment experts an classroom teachers, they can never--never!--come remotely close to addressing the million different ways [kids] answer questions. If nothing else, standardized testing has taught me the schoolchildren of America can be one creative bunch" (6).

The last phrase I didn't expect to hear at all. Thinking back to when I've taken standardized tests when I was younger, I never gave open ended questions much thought. I thought the assessments asked for very straightforward things. However, once you give a test to hundreds of thousands of little kids, things get muddy. How is a scorer supposed to get inside the head of the kids taking the tests to know what they were thinking if they took a different approach? If they answer in a creative (or just confusing) way that doesn't quite fit in the rubric, how is it scored? This can be disorienting to scorers. New, unique examples they come across while scoring can end up changing the way they grade several times within the same grading process, because they set a new precedent.

Also, the fact that we put value in to standardized tests (used to evaluate schools, test one before college, and determine who gets their diploma in some states) is rather concerning, considering the scoring of these tests essentially requires scorers to try and get thousands of student responses to fit in convenient little boxes. But the reality is that sometimes peoples' responses don't fit anywhere! As such, some scorers may have to resort to marking down 'incorrect answers' so much as 'different ones,' even different ones that are brilliant. It's interesting to see how literally standardized testing is opposed to diversity and creativity-- and "standardization" itself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jevon's Paradox

Jevon's Paradox is the observation that once something increases in efficiency, it ends up using more resources, and it's somewhat interesting.

One example of the paradox is the invention of the computer. Before widespread use of computers, they were marketed as shortening work weeks and reducingthe use of because they were capable of doing work more efficiently. But instead of shortening work weeks and simplifying the work process, people ended up working the same amount of time, but doing much more work. Also, the amount of paper used after the invention of computers has increased dramatically, because it's extremely convenient to find and print articles and essays out in order to physically work with something that is neat (font vs. handwriting).

Another example is making food less unhealthy and then marketing it as 'fat free' . People often don't buy 'diet' food so they can eat the same amount of it with less calories. Often people will use it as an excuse to eat more of it-- and perhaps so much more of it it's even worse for them than eating the original thing.

A final example is the invention of tasers. Initially, tasers were intended and marketed for the purpose of lessening police shootings. However, it has been found that in many cases police shootings do not go down (although a significant amount have), and more importantly, instances of police brutality have increased.

The overall trend is that as efficiency of resources increase, use of those resources also increases. As items become more efficient to use, they become less costly to use, and may end up being used much more. Supply and demand. It's simple, but... what does that say about our current attempts to lower the amount of energy we use by creating green energy alternatives? Even if we make our technology put out less CO2 and use less costly energy, is it possible that our technological innovations meant to cheapen and lessen our energy use lead to us using up more energy than ever before? I don't know much about environmental technology, but what if that technology has the opposite effect on the environment in the long run? Is there more we have to do than improve energy efficiency? [link]

Monday, November 30, 2009

School of Americas: Fort Brenning, GA

"If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril." -GW Bush, 2001

Interestingly, while the United States was taking this stance to fight against the "axis of evil" in the middle east under the justification of being opposed to all who harbor terrorists, it was training terrorists of its own-- inside the United States, at taxpayer expense.

The School of Americas
is a military training school founded in 1946 in Panama by the US and relocated to Fort Benning, GA in 1984. It specializes in training military skills, typically used for subversive actions against governments. Those who attend the school can be trained in counterinsurgency, military intelligence, interrogation techniques, torture, sniper fire, infantry and commando tactics, psychological warfare, jungle operations, and so on. Since its inception it has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers.

Many of these soldiers end up committing severe human rights offenses-- military coups against constitutional governments, assassinations, murder, beatings, kidnappings, displacement of the poor, imprisonment of children, and civil liberties abuses. Some of Latin America's most notorious dictators and corrupt government officials, like Peru's Juan Alvarado, Panama's Omar Torrijos, and Ecuador's Guillermo Rodriguez, were also trained by the SOA. Often with US support, many of those trained have caused the overthrowing of democratic governments, which are replaced by corrupt dictatorships and oligarchies that oppress and neglect the impoverished masses.

Fort Brenning doesn't even screen the records of the soldiers who go there and as a result, people who are known to have committed war crimes can be stationed there after-the-fact. If that's not training terrorists, harboring terrorists, and committing acts of terror against people and governments, I don't know what is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cocaine vs. Crack | 1:100

In 1986, congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in response to mounting fears, suspicions, and assumptions about crack cocaine (as opposed to powder). The death of a basketball player, who was thought to have OD'd on crack (he actually OD'd on powder cocaine), led to a lot of media attention, and congress passed the law in response.

At the time, there were beliefs that crack was worse than powder cocaine, causing increased crime rates, being more addictive, being more likely to cause psychosis/death, etc. Now, it is known that powder cocaine and crack cocaine are exactly the same pharmacologically: one gram of powder is equally potent as one gram of powder.

However, the law passed differentiated between cocaine and crack in an extreme and irrational manner, such that the penalty for possessing one gram of crack has the equivalent criminal sentencing of 100 grams of powder cocaine. As a result, the mandatory minimum prison sentence for 5 grams of crack (the weight of 5 sugar packets) is five years, while more than one pound of cocaine will result in that same sentence.

It turns out, the only real difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the people who use it. Crack cocaine tends to be preferred by African-American drug users, while powder cocaine tends to be preferred by whites. The results of the law have been surprising:

"In 1986, before mandatory minimums for crack offenses became effective, the average federal drug offense sentence for blacks was 11% higher than for whites. Four years later following the implementation of harsher drug sentencing laws, the average federal drug offense sentence was 49% higher for blacks." -source

Additionally, "Most drug offenders are white. Five times as many whites use drugs as blacks. Yet blacks comprise the great majority of drug offenders sent to prison."-source

...And I don't really know quite what to make of this: "more than 80% of the defendants sentenced for federal crack cocaine offenses are African American, despite the fact that more than 66% of crack users are white or Hispanic."-source

And even when law officials realized the disparity between blacks and whites with incarceration soon after the law's passage, no action was taken. Today, it is still a law, although, finally, presidents (both Bush and Obama) and congresspeople have started speaking about the law, and preliminary new laws are present in both houses of Congress. (There is still a ways to go, however.)

Is it negligence that caused this to take so long? What are other laws passed under such irrational circumstances? Why is it possible for trends, craze, & suspicion to cause such devastating laws, yet scientific refutation and regret take forever to undo these damages? Why are African Americans overrepresented in the prison system for crack use more than other crack-using minorities?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Retribution vs. Remediation

A while back in class we discussed prison sentences and trying to determine what age a person is legally an adult. In another class I'm in we were also discussing remediation vs. the current way we punish people. I was sort of curious about prisons in general, so I started reading some statistics/history about them.

One of the first things that stuck out to me was that the way prisons been have used to punish people has changed over time. In the 1970s it was considered a means of rehabilitation or a 'last resort,' reserved for only violent criminals. Today one of the common mindsets is that prison should instead incapacitate criminals of their ability to commit crime by keeping them off the streets and deter crime with stricter sentences.

To do this we have cracked down on property and drug offenders with longer/stricter punishments, increased minimum lengths of stay for convicts, and increased penalties for violation of parole/supervision (a violation of parole/supervision warranting a return to prison), among other things. The result of this is that people go to prison for longer periods of time, and then once they are put on parole there is an increased chance they will return for another year with a technical parole violation instead of an actual criminal offense. Between 1977 and 2000, the amount of people going to prisons for parole violations increased sevenfold, to make up ~35% of total people going to prison. Overall, these increases in sentence time have come despite there being no evidence that increased sentence times themselves deter crime.

In fact, a very high percentage of criminals end up going back to jail after their sentences. This is perhaps a bit dated, but check out this chart:

The amount that criminals are imprisoned once again for a crime within 3 years after release is called recidivism. And studies have shown that increased isolation from society (as in distance of prison from home of criminal and from social networks in general), which is our current goal with punishing criminals, as well as decreasing conditions in prisons, increases recidivism. Which means we're making crime worse to some extent.

Overall, this has contributed significantly to the skyrocketing of prison populations, as prison sentences have increased for nonviolent offenders over time and, more importantly, less people are being released from prison over longer time periods.

This extreme overpopulation leads to degradation of facilities, increased in-prison violence, and, ultimately, increased costs to taxpayers, because this decline in our prison conditions causes even more crime. And in the US the average amount of money spent per year per prisoner is $23,876, not including the additional money it costs to construct additional housing for prisoners in overpopulated areas. In 2007 in California, the prison budget was equal to the budget going towards funding universities, and many other states have been having to put millions of dollars in to prisons instead of education.

Speaking of education, in 2008 around 1 in 3 prisoners were idle, while statistics from 2003 show 40% of criminals did not have a GED.

Anyway, I think it's become somewhat clear that sentencing people out of retribution with long sentences doesn't have much positive effect on stopping crime at its roots. Poverty and lack of education for example, are some of the strongest forces pulling at people to commit crime.

What if instead of giving people long sentences where nonviolent criminals are needlessly isolated from society (when they could be put in systems that are involved in the community) and are often unproductive, we invested more money in to individual psychoevaluation, education, and rehabilitation-- in a word, remediation.

And what if instead of assigning longer minimum lengths of stay, we released prisoners more on the basis of whether they individually are capable or not of returning to society to be productive. It may be expensive, but wouldn't it save us money in the long run? Instead of long, expensive, unproductive sentences, which often end in eventually returning to prison, we could have shorter, productive, and remedying prison stays? What if instead of punishing drug addicts, we gave them therapy?

California, which has a massive prison crisis, is moving towards getting rid of parole for nonviolent offenders, and I'm sure other states are, too. But I think every state needs to go a lot farther with it than that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Wisdom of Crowds

A couple weeks ago, a speaker came in to school for a club I'm in (Out of the Box) to talk about the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon, which is essentially a phenomenon observed where the average of conclusions reached by independently-thinking individuals in a crowd tends to be more accurate than any conclusion made by any individual, regardless of how expert they are. It is also observed among collaborating teams, such as those of artists, scientists, and tacticians.

There are 4 characteristics a crowd needs in order to be successful: diversity of opinion (such as differing, eccentric interpretations of the same data), independence (individual members not being influenced by others before forming their own opinion), decentralization of power, and aggregation (which essentially means an average of different ideas).

All of these are necessary in order to encourage specialization and diversity and prevent conformity, which is dangerous to the health of a crowd.

The speaker gave us a ton of different examples of good and bad crowds. I'll mention a couple.

Good Crowds:

1) Google Search. Any time an individual links to a site, it gets a 'vote' for popularity, and the more 'votes' a site has, the more its 'votes' count for other sites. That's how top search results are determined, and that's why you find the best with the first few links. It's decentralized, individual, diverse, etc.

2) The identification of what exactly the SARS virus was accomplished in less than a month because scientists worldwide shared information and worked independently-- an amazing scientific feat.

3) The section of this article about the SS Scorpion is amazing.

Bad Crowds:

1) Planning the Bay of Pigs Invasion-- 1200 troops sent to take over Cuba resulting in utter failure. Those opposing it were not listened to, and there was insufficient sharing of intelligence from different organizations, the group did consult other experts of differing opinion, etc.

2) Mob rule.

What does this say about innovation, creativity, and working in groups? How can you use this for your own advantage?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Wall

The Peace Wall, Apartheid Wall-- er, "Separation Barrier" separating Israeli territory from Palestinian territory in the West Bank is subject to a lot of controversy.

To those supporting it in Israel (and elsewhere), it is a wall securing Israel's rightful survival and identity in a dangerous climate, stopping potential terrorists from bringing weapons in to Israel. Since its construction, terrorist attacks on Israel have been reduced substantially, saving Israeli lives.(Image on left is of a bus bombing in Israel).

To some of those living in Palestine, it is a symbol of loss, inconvenience to freedom of mobility, and religious disconnect, as well as oppression and racial discrimination. (Imagine on the left is of Palestinians lining up for hours at a checkpoint to go to work at a location in close proximity- click image for details).

The US being a steadfast ally to Israel, we need to have Israeli security in mind in helping to bring about peace talks and resolution to the conflict. But how can we balance this with the humanitarian/civil rights problems this increasing of Israeli security (via Wall) creates? Who should we value more?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Facebook Poll

Very recently, a third party facebook poll popped up asking if president Obama deserved to be killed. The answers possible were Yes, No, Maybe, and Yes If He Cuts My Health Care.

Obviously, this poll is just another poll written by someone who both dislikes and misunderstands (or wants others to misunderstand) Obama's health care plan, likely written as a response to other polls on facebook that may argue a different way (in a much more extreme way). Because of its somewhat inappropriate implications, facebook removed the poll as soon as it was notified. Additionally, the user who created the poll was suspended from the web site.

Personally, I don't find this sort of web offense that serious, as I've seen way too many absurd goings-on on the internet to consider this significant.However, what interested me is that the US Secret Service is getting involved in researching the origin of the poll, in order to make sure there is no threat to the president's life.

What I think is strange about putting resources towards investigating a facebook poll is that there is a lot of anti-Obama media that makes similar harsh claims about the president's policies. Because of peoples' increased worry of what changes might come with Obama's presidency, and media misinformation, a bit of panic is understandable among some groups people.

At some Obama protests, there have been some incidents where some individuals protesting have signs with equally ludicrous or desperate claims or charges about the president, but typically these sorts of things are not looked in to specifically because they are understandable occurrences or perhaps thought of as unimportant.

Overall, the news story made me wonder, why is this expression of an idea treated differently for being on the internet? Does it being on the internet make it more potentially threatening? Should it be treated as seriously as an inflammatory poster or slogan, or does something about it make it more serious?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DNA and Violence

Relatively recently, there have been discoveries of substantial genetic links to violent behavior in men with a specific recessive gene, which manifests itself in gang membership, carry/use of a weapon, and aggressive reactions to provocation.

Scientists studying the gene have concluded that those with the variation of the gene are twice as likely to use a weapon in a fight or join a gang, and gangmembers with the gene are strongly correlated with being high-rank, violent members of a gang, with gangmembers with the gene being four times more likely to use a weapon in a fight than other gang members.

Although there is definitely no idea of genetic determinism for peoples' futures being proposed by the scientists, but some of the ways that peoples' bodies react chemically to outside stimuli is somewhat determined. Like anything else, violence is a combination of environmental and biological factors.

If scientists were to ever determine a violent criminal to have a lot of his/her actions very largely a result of genetic predisposition to being more impulsive, do you think they should be treated differently from other criminals?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peace Talks in Middle East

Ever since Israel's creation, there has been lots of controversy about what land agreements should be concrete in that region in terms of what borders are followed, what settlements are allowed to exist, how much Israel is allowed to control surrounding territories (with the wall, checkpoints, etc), and whose capitol is Jerusalem.

America, being the country that largely influenced its creation, is still a very strong ally to Israel today. America has often spoken of helping end the conflict through peace talks and negotiation.
However, despite our strong stance, support of Israel, and talks of peace over the years, America's role in helping Israelis and Palestinians negotiate peace really hasn't led to much progress. When representatives of the United States have visited the region, not many concrete changes have been established because the various sides of the conflict have very strong views, many of which cannot be solved by a simple compromise, and the US perhaps has not wanted to spend the time and energy focusing on the regions problems that would be needed to bring about change.

President Bush, for example, didn't talk very much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the final years of his presidency. In April 2008 he said that he hoped his plans for peace process would be successful by the end of his term in office.

Since then, the same problems and controversies still pervade the conflict, and Israel recently began building/funding more settlements in the West Bank, despite strong US disapproval and the counter-productive effect it will have on the peace process, which in many ways requires a stop to settlement growth in order to ensure the sovereignty of both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Despite the obstacles, President Obama has planned to hold peace negotiations this Tuesday in the middle east, relatively early in his term. Obama has shown in his other pursuits such as health care that he aims to make progress on issues that have long been avoided. Many do not have high expectations, however. Do you think Obama has a chance of reaching any sort of solution through negotiations and critique, or will he fall short without putting in the commitment and time needed?

Some have criticized Obama of being anti-Israel for having criticism for some of Israel's policies. But considering the animosity that the US's alliance with Israel has created in the middle east, and with so many people living in Israel and Palestine wanting peace, is the US obligated to help solve this conflict, or should we stay out of it? Is there a need to go a step further than peace talks and bring about some change, such as put economic pressure on Israel?

More importantly, are the different sides of this conflict capable of reconciling when their opinions are based on such different histories, or is an outside agent needed for the change?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moralizing in Education

One of my favorite educational posters regarding drug use reads as follows:

Don't do heroin.
If you do heroin, don't share needles.
If you're going to share needles, (instructions on how to clean needles between each person's use).

In some school districts, education topics such as drug prevention and sex education have a lot of controversy surrounding what facts teenagers should know, and what they shouldn't. Somehow, there is this idea for some that the more you hide from a teenager, the less they'll have to actually confront in their social lives. This idea is illustrated with the idea that if comprehensive sex education is taught, teenagers will be more likely to have sex and contract STDs and get pregnant.

But in reality, beating kids over the head with the idealistic and patronizing message of abstinence only education just deprives teens of tools that will help them when they are confronted with very frequently-made and real decisions about having sex, doing drugs, etc.

Sex education has become more comprehensive over the past 50 or so years, according to this study of sex ed from 2006, there apparently was a decrease in comprehensive sex education over the past 10 or so years. Why would we be allowing this to happen?

One fact I find particularly interesting is this tidbit:

"More than nine in 10 teachers believe that students should be taught about contraception, but one in four are prohibited from doing so."

If educators want to teach youth this type of useful information, I don't understand why schools should have to yield to the wishes of authoritative parents or other figures that pretend to know what's best. How can we hold on to our moral convictions instead of what the facts show us, when teaching from a strictly moral standpoint leads to actually increase the dangers teenagers face?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Parenting Rights

Recently I read this article about lesbians in the UK being given the right to put both of their names on the birth certificate of their child as parents instead of only having the biological mother being allowed to. This new law allows both women to officially be considered the legal guardians of the child, and allows them the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples in terms of parenting.

When reading the article, I was reminded of the issues that remain in the United States relating to this issue. In the US, despite the fact that many same-sex couples exist in the form of domestic partnership (I'm not referring to those within states allowing gay marriage) and have children, they are still not allowed this very fundamental piece of legal benefit.

For example, although we allow a same-sex couple to bring up children in many states, the fact that many of these couples only have the amount of rights afforded to them that domestic partnerships offer, which is a fraction to that of actual marriage, it seems our laws care more about avoiding recognizing the legitimacy of a relationship than they do about the children in these relationships. For example, if something happens to the partner in a same-sex relationship that is registered as the adoptive parent of a child, that entire family can end up being split apart because the remaining parent is not legally bound to the adopted child. That means that a child that still has one gay parent left could potentially be sent back to foster care, or to a distant family member of the child. Furthermore, this disaster is even more likely to happen when the legal parent of a child in a domestic partnership is not covered by their partner's health insurance (which is another consequence of the lesser rights of domestic partnership).

If these partnerships are allowed to exist in the first place, what is the purpose of not allowing them some small benefits that would provide a world of difference for the family, especially the child? If a child grows up with two loving parents, regardless of their gender, is there any sensible reason why our current laws would rather a foster child go back to the foster care system than live with a remaining parent merely because that parent isn't technically registered as a parent, but is considered one by the child? Shouldn't the children raised by same sex couples out of foster care be the ones to judge what parents are more "natural", or more importantly, suitable as parents?