Monthly Archives: February 2017

Why We Must Act

March for Science (Unofficial)

Recently, the House of Representatives passed HR 3293, a bill that requires the National Science Foundation to only award grants that are “in the national interest”. The bill is short; I encourage you to read it.

You may look at that requirement and say, “Well, yes, of course. Why are we even passing a law about this? Isn’t this already what the NSF does?” Well, not from the viewpoint of Republican leadership. From their viewpoint, every piece of science should be approved – not by scientists, but by politicians. This bill is not about ensuring that the US benefits from science; it is about the ability to block grants and assign blame. It is about nationalism of the most cowardly sort.

This is the explicit politicization of the NSF.

It doesn’t matter whether you think that science shouldn’t be political. For the Republican leadership, it already is political. Their…

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Publicly Funded Religious Education

That, in a nutshell, is the current goal for Republican leadership.

Ms. Devos, now confirmed as head of the Dept. of Education, is a proponent of school vouchers. This is indeed for the purpose of school choice, as she says, but she historically has only wanted one new option: for people to be able to send their children to a Christian school with state or local money.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

  1. DeVos makes school vouchers and school choice her #1 issue and helps to push a nation-wide voucher system into place.
  2. The voucher system explicitly allows all kinds of schools and phrases that as a non-discrimination measure. It may even go so far as to explicitly prevent states and municipalities from restricting where the funds go, but I doubt that – Republican leadership doesn’t want their children going to school with Jews, after all.
  3. H.R. 899 or another similar bill succeeds in abolishing the Dept. of Ed., probably with DeVos helping to champion it.
  4. Republican leadership threatens to withdraw federal funds from any state that passes restrictions on where the vouchers can be used – but they don’t bother to threaten until such restrictions would affect a Christian school.

As you may remember, I’m not against voucher systems in general. I’m not against Catholic schools, and I suspect there are some other religious schools that do a very good job. However, I am very much for the separation of church and state.

I’m still mulling over what might be the most effective way to fight this. Multiple plans and backup plans are good – after all, that’s what’s being deployed against public education here – so here are a few options:

  • Restrict the use of vouchers on a town level. Individual school boards may have the latitude to make such decisions, and might be able to do it in both directions (“Schools may only accept…” and “The town shall only grant…”).
  • Restrict the use of vouchers on a state level. Same deal, but done at the level of the state legislature. It would be a good idea, in this case, to bring religious official on board early and have them testify in favor of the legislation.
  • Incentivize non-religious vouchers at the state level. If there is a nation-wide voucher system, and the Education Department is no more, then local state education departments will be able to create their own competing voucher system that sweetens the pot with state funds.
  • In the meantime, we try to keep the Dept. of Ed. open as best we can.

I’m interested to hear what others think on this front. What are some of the tactics we might have to use if this happens?

The March for Science

The March for Science has officially set a date! Appropriately, it is Earth Day, April 22nd.

Go. Bring your friends. Bring your labmates.

And in addition: Meet people. Shake hands and coo over babies. Talk passionately about the work you love and how awesome it is. At the march, and before and after. Bring it to schools, to community centers, to picnics, to churches, to megachurches, to Town Day and fireworks displays. Don’t overdo it – we’re kind of good at overdoing things – but let people know. If nerdy is in these days, if being smart is actually socially a good thing, if being good at computers and math is respected, we need to start using it in a wider world.