Banning Cell Phones and Avoiding the Real Problems

[Letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal]

To the Editor,

Just over two months ago, at a regular meeting of the Akron Board of Education, there was an outpouring of concern regarding the safety of our public schools. At that meeting, several parents stood up and stated that they feared for their children’s safety. Some went so far as expressing concern that their children would not make it home. Teachers were also particularly vocal about the issues they face on a daily basis—from plumes of vape in the bathrooms to fights in those same places. Several teachers noted that they and their families fear for their safety—a fear that is justified given the reported assaults against teachers. Add to this the separate instances of the discovery of a gun at Firestone High School, a loaded gun at Litchfield, and a bathroom fight that resulted in one student being stabbed. The concern over school safety and the lack of meaningful actions on the part of the administration were deemed so important that it nearly led to a strike. But two months later the logic of the response by some members of the Board of Education to this violence eludes me.

Facing these serious safety issues, what measures did the board take? Did they propose increasing the number of security personnel monitoring bathrooms and hallways during and between classes? Did they consider hiring more counselors or intervention specialists to address the root cause of the violence? Did they examine the possibility of implementing ID badges that also allow the school to track the location of students? No, they didn’t. Instead, they are proposing removing the one lifeline parents have to make sure their child is safe, namely, a student’s cell phone.

How is banning cell phones going to make my child safer? It won’t stop fights from happening. And it doesn’t come close to addressing the underlying causes of the reported violence in the schools. What it will do is remove the one means parents have to ascertain whether their child is safe in the event of a lockdown. It also removes the psychological comfort students may have knowing a parent or guardian is just a text away.1

Cell phones have been in schools for over 10 years. Policies are already in place that hold students accountable if they are misused. What seems to be lacking is the will to consistently and fairly enforce those policies (and to support the teachers that do so). Banning cell phones is not the answer to the safety issues in schools. It simply adds to parental stress and anxiety by removing one very direct way to check on our child’s well-being. Given the real problems facing teachers and the majority of students who are behaving responsibly, and considering we live in a world where school shootings are far too common, focusing on cell phones is at best misguided, and at worst irresponsible.

Voice of the People DACA Response

Voice of the People response piece sent to the Akron Beacon Journal

In the September 10, 2017 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, Doug Brown puts forth some “suggestions” for adult Dreamers who are currently being protected by DACA. Unfortunately, Mr. Brown’s letter is replete with poor reasoning and not a few factual errors.

In his letter, Mr. Brown states that it is “Heartbreaking to think of kids being deported for crimes committed by their parents” while at the same time reminding us not to forget “that the parents did commit crimes by illegally entering the United States”. It seems clear that Mr. Brown is conflating the wrong done by the parents, as if it was a wrong done by the children. He doubles down on this dubious reasoning when he notes that “they chose to come here, albeit illegally”. Given the average age of the Dreamers was six when they arrived, it is doubtful any of them “chose” to come here.

In addition to misplacing the blame and punishing Dreamers for actions beyond their control, he also appears to have a distorted view of the Dreamers themselves. While he calls for them to serve in the armed forces as a path to citizenship, he seems oblivious to the fact that Dreamers have served and are currently serving in the armed forces. He also is unaware that Dreamers do speak our language, have attended our schools, and learned our history. The “heartbreaking” part of deporting these kids/young adults is that they are for all intents and purposes Americans potentially being forced to a country that is now alien to them.

Furthermore, Mr. Brown wants to make sure that Dreamers are fully committed to the only country they have ever known, by renouncing any other citizenship. Yet it is unclear why Dreamers should have to do this, as 1) the oath of allegiance naturalized citizens must take already includes the phrase “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” and, paradoxically, 2) the U.S. State Department does not require naturalized citizens to renounce any other citizenship they may have.

Finally, Mr. Brown mentions how the Christian side of him seeks to help others (presumably the Dreamers), but only if they are willing to “give back to their country of choice” by doing as he did and serve in the military. I did not realize that one’s Christian Here again, I am not sure how the U.S. was the country of choice for the Dreamers as they had no say in coming here. That being said, Christ was pretty clear about what one’s duty is to others, and it has nothing to do with compulsory military service: ’For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; (Matthew 25:35).

Fracking Common Sense

The following is an article by myself and several members of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at YSU on the issue of fracking, jobs, and the purpose of a university.

Fracking common sense

By Deborah Mower, Mark Vopat, Alan Tomhave and Michael Jerryson
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In their Thursday, September 4, 2013 article, “Get the Frack over It,” the Jambar Editorial Board provided their official position on fracking and the purpose of higher education. For the editorial board, the ultimate argument on whether YSU should train students for shale work is jobs: [The new minor at YSU in gas technologies] “exists to provide education in a field that is demanding jobs in a rising industry in the area. And after all, isn’t that what a university should owe its students?” We would like to provide a response that raises awareness of what fracking is as well as the role of higher education at YSU and nationwide.

The History and Context of Fracking

As most people already know, fracking–a term for hydraulic fracturing–is the highly-pressured injection of liquids into natural rock and earth sediments called shale in order to dislodge reservoirs of gas. The first commercial fracking of a gas well was done in 1949. The industry developed over decades and wells were drilled vertically until 1991, when the first horizontal well was done in the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin of northern Texas and southwestern Oklahoma.

But in 2005, a key change occurred: the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created an exception to the U.S. protection of our drinking water (Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974). According to the amendment, oil and gas companies could inject fluids into the ground for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing without having to abide by the standards and limitations placed on protecting drinking water. This alteration of the Safe Water Drinking Act (which had been in place since its creation for 31 years) went virtually unnoticed by the public.
It was only when large deposits of gas were found throughout the United States that there was a massive increase in drilling. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there was a 17% increase in gas-producing wells from 2006 (440,000) to 2011 (514,000) (EIA). While there are estimates that the numbers exceed one million wells in the United States, there is no comprehensive account on all the new wells drilled within the last two years (although there are efforts from organizations like FracFocus to locate specific wells in areas) or on the distribution of fracked versus traditionally drilled wells.

Like oil companies, gas companies are providing many jobs. In the past year, there have been projections of over 1.7 million new jobs from the gas industry (Christian Science Monitor, 10/23/2012). Certainly, any industry that positions itself as one of primary suppliers of energy will yield jobs. Hal Sirkin of the Boston Consulting Group argues that the decline in energy costs from the shale boom is giving the United States a competitive edge in the global job market (WSJ, August 29, 2013). There is no dispute about this: the discovery of gas in the United States has economic benefits that include jobs. The same can be said for the manufacturing of cigarettes, alcohol, drones, high-range missiles, and nuclear warheads. There are always ethics connected to what we do–and for whom. Take for instance the use of chemical weapons in civil wars: although it is a disturbing thought, mass-producing sarin for use in the civil war in Syria would yield jobs too. Clearly, no one would support a major or a minor for developing more potent sarin (or research on more effective means of its distribution) simply because it would produce jobs–even if the industry demanded it or requested skilled interns. Thinking about jobs alone is not enough; one also must think about what is done with the product as well as the purpose of the jobs. What is lost in the flurry of excitement about jobs are the ramifications of fracking, the ethics of its business, and the impact the business has and will have on the YSU community.

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea—Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University, concluded a study in 2011. In this study, Dr. Ingraffea and colleagues found the “greenhouse gas footprint of fracking as being greater than that of any other fossil fuel including coal” (Cornell University, 1/7/2013). Although the corporate model professes that gas is “natural” and “clean,” those arguments are only relevant to its use as fuel, and not to how it is procured or how the wastes generated in drilling are disposed. The disposal of wastes in injection wells below bedrock as a byproduct of fracking is anything but “natural” and “clean.” The U.S. Congress found in a 2011 probe that, “oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009” (NYT, 4/17/2011).

Even when we try to put fracking waste water “out of sight” and “out of mind,” it doesn’t neatly stay where we put it. Geologists have noted that most current gas wells have a 5-8% chance of failure in the first five years, with increased chances of failure the longer they are used. Failure holds catastrophic ramifications: the poisoning of drinking water, destruction of eco-systems, and the release of methane into the atmosphere that dramatically increases global warming. The toxic chemicals in failed fracking wells seep to the surface and kill grass, shrubs, and trees, resulting in dead, brown patches of land known as “die off” as well as escape into groundwater and underground aquifers. In addition, recent research has now confirmed that injection wells for the disposal of waste water from fracking of the Ohio Marcellus Shale are responsible for the earthquakes in Youngstown in 2011 and 2012. Charles Chol of NBC News writes, “Wastewater from the controversial practice of fracking appears to be linked to all the earthquakes in a town in Ohio that had no known past quakes, research now reveals” (September 4, 2013). An article published in The Journal of Geophysical Research by Won-Young Kim, a researcher at Columbia University, details the increased pressure within the wellbores near small fault lines and fissures in the bedrock, and tracks the frequency and intensity of earthquakes to pressure levels in the wells. Indeed, receiving a job and earning cash for drilling is wonderful, but are jobs worth the risk of exposing the YSU community (i.e., friends, classmates, and teachers) and the surrounding area (i.e. neighbors and family members) to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals as well as earthquakes? Part of the responsible performance of any job is knowing how to weigh short versus long-term interests, and self-interests in employment versus professional interests as a steward for community health and safety.

YSU and Education

Across the country, there has been a push to increase funding for STEM majors which are seen as more lucrative to job-placement. The assumption is that these majors provide a value that the others do not, which has been well critiqued. Sociologist Elizabeth Berman writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Sure, everyone knows the petroleum engineers are raking it in. But even after Ph.D.’s, many STEM folks are stuck in postdoc hell, and midcareer, the median salary of a biology major is more than $13,000 a year less than her counterpart in political science.” (November 1, 2012). More importantly, what is an unfortunate mentality in this movement is the mistaken belief that higher education is about “getting jobs.”

Very early in the history of higher education, there was a distinction between vocational schools–which later became technical schools–and a liberal arts education. Technical schools prepared you by teaching specific skills required by a job or an industry. The other competing model was the liberal arts. This model was designed to educate people in a well-rounded manner in order to enrich their knowledge, their experience, and most importantly, their opportunities. The famous intellectual W.E.B. Dubois wanted black colleges to use the liberal arts approach because he saw that the liberal arts trained people to be leaders: individuals who could analyze a current situation, creatively generate potential courses of action, critically evaluate and weigh evidence, and make responsible decisions as a steward for those they lead. For great educators like Dubois, economics would not change the situation for blacks but education could.

Today in the era of rapid globalization, many things are changing. Among them is a more global competition for jobs. If anything, the U.S. is falling behind on the “STEM” education, with countries like China and India graduating millions of students every year. Currently, the collaboration between U.S. and Asian colleges and universities is due to what the U.S. offers on the side of liberal arts. Gerard Postiglione writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “A key test of China’s international higher-education aspirations is its incorporation—or adaptation—of Western liberal-arts traditions, an educational goal seen in other Asian countries” (August 29, 2013). In addition, technologies are increasing at an incredible pace. Students who train in technical areas may find that their careers are obsolete in five years. What has distinguished education in the United States over the last century was its focus on general education. It was through the academic blending of the arts and sciences that ingenuity and innovation became the tour de force of the U.S. workforce. Steve Job’s enrollment in classes like Calligraphy inspired his ideas for fonts which gave Apple a creative edge and intuitive appeal to consumers (Tim Appelo, Hollywood Reporter, October 14, 2011). As we begin to lose sight of the value of general education in the increasingly myopic emphasis on job training, we will lose our edge.

But beyond these discussions of higher-education and jobs there is a deeper question of ethics, both personal and institutional. Is it YSU’s mission to develop students for corporate trajectories- -in effect, becoming a factory for the corporate world? Or should YSU be teaching students to become critical thinkers and leaders who can rejuvenate industries and transform them? The subject of fracking is an important one, and YSU has an excellent chance to stand at the front of innovation. Instead of merely responding to industry need and ignoring the problems of fracking that have plagued the industry for decades,the university and its students could create an epicenter focused on redressing their problems.

Does YSU “owe its students” training to work in a burgeoning industry such as fracking? Perhaps lost in this question is the nature of education itself. YSU certainly owes its students a liberal arts education that will make them better critical thinkers, more thoughtful and responsible professionals, and more effective contributors to whichever field they choose to enter. But does YSU “owe its students” training to work in the fracking industry? YSU owes its students the opportunity to become leaders–which it can do if STEM were to create innovative programs to train students and develop research on how to mitigate the environmental, health, and economic effects of fracking, many of which will compound over time. Such a program could combine the resources and expertise of disciplines as diverse as political science, economics, geology, geography, and health and human services. YSU owes its students a whole lot more than mere training to work in the fracking industry. It’s common sense: YSU owes students an education.

Conversion Therapy – Letter to the Akron Beacon Journal

Pop quiz. What do the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics
Pan American Health Organization (the North and South American branch of the World Health Organization), National Association of Social Workers, and former United States Surgeon General David Satcher all have in common? Answer: all have public policies or have made public statements rejecting gay conversion therapy. As Satcher stated in a 2001 report: “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed”. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the therapy can be harmful to young people who are forced to undergo this “treatment”.

Parents may have broad discretion with how they treat their children, but that discretion doesn’t extend to unproven and potentially harmful forms of therapy. It also doesn’t extend to forcibly imposing their religious beliefs on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Gay youth account for 40% of homeless teens, and 30% of completed suicide attempts. I have to wonder whether these numbers are at all influenced by parents that fail to accept their children for who they are, even when such acceptance goes against their beliefs. While Gov. Christie and I agree on very little, the bill he signed prohibiting conversions therapy in New Jersey does not represent an attack on parents or the family but protection of the rights of children.