Virginia Republican Wants High School Students to Learn Alternate U.S. History

Virginia delegate Wren Williams (R) recently introduced legislation that, among other things, wants to make certain that high school students in the state have a basic understanding of important historical events in the United States.

It seems likely, however, that Williams could use a history refresher himself,

B. The Board shall, in furtherance of the citizens skills portion of the 5 C’s in the Profile of a Virginia Graduate, incorporate into each relevant Standard of Learning and associated curriculum framework a requirement that each student demonstrate the understanding of:

. . .

3. … the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass …

Differentials in Life Expectancy by Educational Attainment

An interesting study was published in Health Affairs last year finding a fairly stark difference in life expectancy based on years of education (emphasis added).

In this article we update estimates of the impact of race and education on past and present life expectancy, examine trends in disparities from 1990 through 2008, and place observed disparities in the context of a rapidly aging society that is emerging at a time of optimism about the next revolution in longevity. We found that in 2008 US adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s. When race and education are combined, the disparity is even more striking. In 2008 white US men and women with 16 years or more of schooling had life expectancies far greater than black Americans with fewer than 12 years of education—14.2 years more for white men than black men, and 10.3 years more for white women than black women. These gaps have widened over time and have led to at least two “Americas,” if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership.

The actual study is behind a stupid paywall, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus as to what is causing such a large gap. Part of it appears to be down to things like increased smoking rates among people with less education (especially white women) as well as more obvious things like higher levels of education begin correlated with better access to health care.

George Pitcher In Defense of Compulsory Religious Education

In general, I tend to think of Great Britain and Europe as significantly more secular than the United States, which is why I always get a bit weirded out reading op-eds like George Pitcher’s defense of compulsory religious education in the United Kingdom.

The thing is that compulsory education is already the norm — although from what I can tell just from news accounts, many public schools give only a perfunctory nod to their legal obligation to provide religious instruction to their pupils.

A joint committee of Parliament recommended giving some children the right to abstain from religious “education.”

We recommend that the Government reconsiders its objection to permitting a child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding to withdraw from religous education. As for religious worship, we recommend that children who are not in the sixth form but who have sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding to be permitted to withdraw.

Pitcher finds even this recommendation as part of a secular attack on religious faith in the UK,

The NSS’s [National Secular Society] agenda is simple: it wants to force the next generation to stop thinking about the spiritual, the transcendental and the mysterious, in favour of a negative utilitarianism. That can be the only reason for picking on this particular bit of the syllabus.

Which is odd because, in general, the widely accepted explanation for the much greater religious fervor in the United States is precisely the strict separation of church and state. And, of course, nothing even close to the existing regime of religious instruction in school nor this rather mild modification of the same would have a chance in hell of passing muster in U.S. courts — they’d be rejected out of hand as impingements on fundamental freedoms.

So from a strictly utilitarian perspective, perhaps atheists and secularists in the United States are engaged in self-defeating behavior when they run around trying to extinguish mention of religion from the public sphere. Receiving religion from the state — at least a liberal democratic state — seems to have the same effect on religion that perhaps a teenager receiving a pornographic magazine from his parents might have on the libido. It takes all the fun and interest out of it.

Blackboard Tries Divide and Conquer Approach

Color me unimpressed with Blackboard’s latest move in its ongoing war to kill innovation in the courseware market by patenting obvious CMS features in the education market.

Blackboard is now promising that it won’t go after non-profits and universities who develop their own internal or open sourced courseware. But it is still pursuing actions against its competitors, which will detrimentally affect the courseware market by stifling innovation there.

Fortunately, several groups opposed to the awarding of the overly-broad patents to Blackboard have teamed up with the Software Freedom Law Center to challenge the patents. In November 2006, the UPSTO agreed to re-examine all 44 of the claims of the Blackboard patents in question.

Richard Fontana of the Software Freedom Law Center isn’t buying Blackboard’s latest gambit, noting that Blackboard has confused the issue by suggesting it might still sue open source projects that are bundled with proprietary code.

CNET News.Com’s Stephen Shankland quotes Fontana as saying,

Blackboard could have acted responsibly by making a clear and unqualified commitment not to assert its patents against open-source software. Instead, Blackboard has produced a convoluted document in which, for example, it reserves the right to assert the patent against open source software that is “bundled” with other software, an ill-defined concept that could potentially cover most circumstances in which open e-learning software is used.

Hopefully the USPTO will do the right thing and render this debate moot by invalidating the patents it awarded to Blackboard.


Education software firm OKs open-source patent use. Stephen Shankland, February 1, 2007.