Monday, November 2, 2009

Election Eve

Tomorrow is an election day and there are three races that have garnered considerable national attention among the political punditocracy. First is the congressional race in upstate New York pitting Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman against Democrat Bill Owens. This started out as a three party race, but liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out over the weekend. Hoffman is currently ahead by 15 points despite the fact that Scozzafava has endorsed Owens.

Another big race is the New Jersey gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat mega-millionaire Jon Corzine, his Republican challenger Christopher Christie, and Independent Chris Daggett. Corzine, who made his fortune on Wall Street, will have spent as much as $30 million of his own money to win this election, but Jersey politics are so soaked in the stench of corruption that on election eve Corzine and Christie are neck and neck. If Daggett weren't in the race Christie would probably win handily. President Obama has stumped for Corzine, but it's not clear yet whether that has made any difference.

The third key race is for the governorship of Virginia. Here the Republican Robert McDonnell enjoys a comfortable lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds. McDonnell is a moderate, but is also pro-life and is attracting a lot of independents to his campaign. As of this writing he's up by 11 points.

So what, if anything, is the importance of these races? Perhaps their greatest significance lies in the fact that they give the lie to those who say that Republicans are in trouble if they keep running pro-lifers or fiscal conservatives. That's a myth not borne out by the facts. The shame of it is that so many Republicans seem to believe it.



It seems that a number of readers understood me to be saying in the recent post on teacher training that prospective secondary teachers should take course work only in the discipline they intended to teach. This is, however, not what I meant to say. I believe that anyone who stands in front of a classroom should have a well-rounded education and know much more than just history or just science or just math. My point was that many of the education courses in methods, theory, and techniques that education majors are required to take, to the extent that they're helpful at all, would be more meaningful to teachers after they've been in the classroom for a while.

The best way to learn to teach is to do it, and to do it under the guidance of an accomplished professional. That's why I think student teaching should be a two semester internship. Young secondary teachers need three things to be successful in the classroom: They need to have a love for what they do, they need to have a knowledge of their field, and they need to have the kind of personality that enables them to develop positive relationships with kids. The only one of those that can be taught is the second. Everything else a teacher needs to excel in his or her profession comes with experience.


Taking Pity

Last Tuesday night the American Freedom Alliance sponsored a debate as part of its Darwin Debates series. The evening featured an exchange between David Berlinski, an anti-Darwinian agnostic and author of the book The Devil's Delusion and a prominent California atheist whose performance must have been so inept that David Klinghoffer, a journalist covering the event, chose out of kindness not to mention his name in his report. Klinghoffer is an intelligent design advocate but he was so embarrassed for the atheist presenter that he couldn't bring himself to add to the man's discomfiture by further publicizing it. Here's Klinghoffer:

Tuesday night at the Beverly Hills Library, with David Berlinski debating an atheist before a mixed crowd of friends and foes of religion, I experienced a lifetime first.

As a journalist writing about people and events, I've often had occasion to change or withhold someone's name or otherwise disguise his identity. Almost always this is because the person in question never asked to be part of my story, is not a public personality and never sought to be, did nothing seriously blameworthy, but would be embarrassed by having his words or actions reported in public. So I don't identify him. On Tuesday, listening to the debate, for the very first time in my experience I encountered a situation where someone was indeed seeking to make a name for himself but I felt nevertheless it would be cruel to give his name or institutional affiliation in my account of the event.

David Berlinski's atheist opponent is that person. The poor guy! He was so hopelessly outgunned and outmanned as a thinker, debater, and speaker that I just can't bring myself to give you his identity. He probably has his name on a Google Alert. Who doesn't? Even though it was entirely his free choice to put himself up against Berlinski in defense of his non-belief, I don't have the heart to worsen his embarrassment.

The rest of Klinghoffer's account is here.

It turns out that the guy Klinghoffer's compassion would not permit him to name is no rookie to the culture war. He's a leader in the California atheist community. If you're curious you can go here to read about him.

Pretty soon it should become apparent that the problem for atheists isn't that they keep putting up second stringers against intelligent design's (or Christianity's) varsity in these debates. The problem is that these people are trying to defend a position, atheistic materialism or naturalism, that is extremely difficult to defend. When the opposition has all the best arguments even a Demosthenes would struggle to sound persuasive.

As more talented young theistic intellectuals enter the fray roiling the marketplace of ideas, and more debates like this one take place, it'll eventually dawn on the public and the media that advocating atheistic materialism is like trying to promote belief in a geocentric universe. You can try it, but you better not do it in front of an educated audience.