Saturday, August 25, 2007

A New York Times article, facetiously titled "To Avoid Divorce, Move to Massachusetts," reveals that politically and socially conservative states such as Kentucky have higher divorce rates than the rest of the nation (10.8 divorces for every 1,000 married people), while liberal states such as Massachusetts have the lowest divorce rates nationally (5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people).

The article makes much of the fact that Massachusetts, with its low divorce rate is a state that has made same sex marriage legal, while Kentucky (in 2004) passed a constitutional amendment to bar not only same sex marriage, but also to bar any form of civil union that was substantially similar to marriage. The article points out that
As researchers have noted, the areas of the country where divorce rates are highest are also frequently the areas where many conservative Christians live.
Then goes on to note that:
Many experts believe the explanation to be more multidimensional, with high divorce rates tied to factors like younger age of marriage, less education and lower socioeconomic status.
As one of those "experts" I concur, that these important social and economic factors, are key to the differences in divorce between Kentucky and Massachusetts. Kentucky has lower education attainment, a lower standard of living, higher levels of poverty, and lower age at marriage than Massachusetts.

The article suggests, through the various experts cited, that the coincidence of conservative Christianity with certain patterns of education, standard of living and age at marriage and divorce rates is a geographical artifact and not a causal factor. However, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, did suggest a plausible causal explanation:
"If your family or religious culture urges you not to have sex before you get married," she said, "then one answer is to get married, and then you're more likely to divorce."
The data cited in the article are consistent with what I've been seeing over the past decade of writing about marriage and the family (textbook chapters), and not at all surprising. However, seeing it presented in this way, gave me a new idea. Perhaps it is the patterns of divorce that are causal in contributing to the rise and popularity of certain religious ideas among the general public.

High divorce rates may not cause people in a region to become conservative Christians, but they may cause conservative Christians in certain areas to latch on to certain political ideas -- such as anti-gay marriage -- as a result of fears about the stability of marriage. Fears that would certainly be more common and make more sense in high divorce regions.

Moreover, it would be to the advantage of those who benefit from the prevailing patterns of inequality, economy and education that people in high divorce areas be discouraged from seeking to change those things to lower divorce rates. Anti-gay marriage amendments don't threaten entrenched patterns of power and privilege the way programs to deal seriously with educational access, unemployment and low income do.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The future of education?

In one of my on-line classes this semester, one of my students introduced herself (as required) and added the following comment:
I am anxious to get all this behind me and finish my education so that I can be an elementary teacher.
My response?
welcome to the beginning of your education! As some one who will be living in the society that the children you teach make (as workers and citizens) I certainly hope that this is the beginning of your education, even if it is the end of your formal "schooling." First of all, if you are good teacher, you will learn things from your students. Secondly we all hope, for the sake of our future, that you will continue to read and expand your knowledge of our society, economy, politics and culture, so that you can become a wiser and more knowledgeable teacher.
This student's attitude, is by no means unique. I have come in contact with many young people preparing to be elementary school teachers over the past 18 years in central Appalachia, and I would say this attitude typifies at least a third of those that I have met.

I had just finished reading an op-ed piece from yesterday's Lexington Herald-Leader by teacher Roger Guffey (obviously a life-long learner) when I read this student's comment. Guffy has some very sensible things to say about the future of education. Including the not very popular, but quite accurate point, that not all people belong in college, and those that are not interested should not be pushed in that direction. He quite accurately notes the social stigma of blue collar work, desipite society's continuing need for many blue colalr occupations, and the good pay of many of them.

However, as good as all of Guffy's recommendation are, until we can develop elementary school teachers who truly care about life-long learning and education, and do not see it as a burden to be gotten through as quickly and painlessly as possible, we haven't a snow ball's chance in...our world come 2100!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dirty fuel, dirty politics

This week (August 13-17) closed session meetings are taking place between Kentucky law makers, including House Speaker Jody Richards, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, Senate President David Williams, and Gov. Ernie Fletcher to try to get agreement between the KY Senate and House on a bill that would provide tax incentives to companies that convert coal into synthetic fuels -- the primary beneficiary of this legislation would be Peabody Coal.
"Peabody Energy has said it is considering building a $3 billion plant to convert coal into synthetic natural gas in Western Kentucky. If lawmakers pass an incentive bill this summer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Peabody executives have said they will recommend to their partners that Kentucky be the only location considered for the plant." from Kentucky Poll Watchers
The legislation has already passed the Kentucky Senate, and is awaiting passage by the KY House.

There are many concerns that have been raised about this project. Those specifically related to environmental issues include:
a) providing huge subsidies to create plants for the conversion of coal to a liquid fuel (a process that requires huge amounts of water and energy, is very expensive, and largely an unproven process) distracts us from developing alternative sources of energy (e.g. solar and wind);
b) liquid fuels created from coal will put more CO2 (a green house gas) into the atmosphere than burning petroleum fuels does now;
c)developing such a project will put even greater pressure to use destructive methods of coal mining such as mountain top removal, to get the most coal in the cheapest way.

Broader issues include that: a) hundreds of millions of dollars of tax subsidies (currently estimated at about $300,000,000 over 10 years), for a plant that would, at most hire 125 workers full-time; b) most of the tax subsidy would come from that portion of Kentucky coal severance taxes that are redistributed directly to coal producing counties for economic development activities -- which would mean less revenue available to coal producing counties.

The United States Congress has recently rejected two bills to subsidize the use of coal to produce liquid fuels. The only reason that the Kentucky House has not passed this bill is because of political wrangling over who will get "credit" (Republicans through Governor Ernie Fletcher) or the Democrats. The thing that I find so flat out amazing is that any one any where would consider wasting so much tax revenue on such an outright piece of corporate welfare, to subsidize a product that will only damage Kentucky and the planet to be a political bonus. Yet some how, Kentucky politicians, seem to think that getting 125 jobs (at a tax revenue cost of about $240,000 per job per year for 10 years!) is a political plus and will garner them votes.

What really disturbs me is that Kentucky's politicians just might be right -- they just might earn some votes from this environmental and fiscal disaster. Yup! Odiyya is right.

More information about the environmental and taxation issues, you might wish to check out the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth website.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good reading at the Influence Machine and Conscious Earth

E. R. Dunhill (the Influence Machine) has been busy making many thought provoking posts this week. Check out in particular his posts about the our finite oil resources, the need for more science funding, and biofuels. And he has provided fodder for discussions on poverty and Iraq. So check it out and get involved in the discussion.

Odiyya at Conscious Earth has takes those of us in the U.S. to task (appropriately) in his commentary on a recent Newsweek article.
The fact is that the American people need to confront a very uncomfortable truth about their nation, one that goes far beyond the reality of global warming and touches the core of their culture and society. That is, that while laying claim to the title of the world's leader of democracy and freedom, the United States of America represents the modern world's most sophisticated machine for brainwashing their own populace and ensuring their continued ignorance - to the impacts of their lifestyles, to the loss of their own freedoms, and to the failings of their own democratic state.

I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite John Lennon songs "Working Class Hero" addressed to Americans:
You think you're all so classless and free
You're all f--king peasants, as far as I can see.