THIS SITE includes many Christian and Bible study courses that can be completed for free. They also offer "certificate" courses that do have a fee. One of the courses is a basic introduction to the major world religions and could be used as a primer to begin studying for the DSST Introduction to World Religions exam.
It's a sad fact that in today's job market, it's quite common that the first person to see your resume or job application isn't a person at all, but rather a computer program designed to scan for key words like "bachelor's." If you don't have the proper words, you never even make it through the first round. That's a pretty scary thought. It makes me wonder how many companies have missed the chance to hire really good, strong, dedicated workers because the software doesn't know a great employee from a poor one.

I read an article once that talked about how most jobs are actually filled through "informal" means, rather than the formal process of answering an advertisement, going through an interview (or even more than one) and then receiving an offer. Most jobs, apparently, are acquired through word-of-mouth need or cold-call approaches. In the first case, it really is a matter of who you know over what you know. Someone at Company X knows a position is about to be open and lets you know while simultaneously recommending you to the company for the job. In the second case, it's about recognizing a need in a business or company, often before the company itself sees that need. For instance, you have website programming and graphic design skills, so you approach someone with a badly designed website and offer to create them a new one, in exchange for goods, services, or monetary remuneration.

What this all says to me is we need to be mindful of making sure our kids learn the value of several things. The first is networking, and I do NOT mean getting the most friends on Facebook to help you with Farmville! This is building relationships with professionals who can provide mentoring and recommendations. 

The second is developing the confidence and skills to approach people while actively seeking a job. Even if the initial job application process is computer or digital based, it doesn't hurt to get dressed nicely and go visit a manager or hiring agent in person, to put a "face" to the name. While the conversation may only last a few minutes - introducing yourself to the manager and explaining your keen interest in being employed with his company -  it is something that likely will stay with him as he evaluates all the prospects. (This is especially true if you follow this up with a thank you letter for his time.)

Third, is considering job opportunities where they aren't always readily apparent, as with the example of the website redesign above. This could even grow into a new business, if done right. While being self-employed has inherent risks, it also has many great benefits. 

In all, we want to be sure that we aren't only helping our children with the nuts-and-bolts part of their educations. Who fought the War of 1812? What's the chemical formula for methane? We also want to be sure they have the skills necessary to support themselves in the adult world.
I haven't been giving my blog posts handy labels that could be used for searching purposes. I was good about it with the old blog, but for some reason here I never seem to remember to do it. I'm thinking of going back and editing the posts to do so, if it doesn't look like it will take me too long.

Of course, I have no idea what category that last post would fall under. Grumpy Rant Posted After Reading One Too Many Political Op-Ed Pieces Pretending To Be a News Article? Somehow, I don't think anyone would ever bother trying to read all the posts under that title. Heh.
It seems lately that I have read a lot of articles, news reports, studies, and textbooks that misunderstand exactly what concrete proof is. In some cases, I'm afraid the lack of evidence is deliberate; in others, I have to wonder if this is thanks to the way we teach students how to write essays. The standard for essay writing goes something like this: Choose a topic. Write a thesis. Find evidence from "reliable" sources to support your claim or contention. Submit.

There's an enormous problem with this method. First, it may be that you find, for instance, twenty scholarly journal reports to support your thesis. This would, then, seem to validate your point. Unfortunately, unless you take the time to research the authors thoroughly and follow all their footnotes (assuming they even provide them) to be certain they all used only original source documents, you may in fact have twenty scholarly articles that essentially all quote each other. This is not proof of anything, outside of academic laziness and shenanigans. It also overlooks the possibility that you ignored over forty scholarly journal articles that totally debunked your thesis. Further, unless you fact-check him/her carefully, simply relying on the author's credentials is also a faulty precedent to take. Just because a person claims to be an "authority," it does not necessarily make him so. It doesn't mean he is actually correct or entirely unbiased in his own research. It does not preclude the fact that he may have consciously or subconsciously directed his study in the direction he wanted it to go, whether or not it could be fully, factually supported.

Second, we have an additional problem with whether the data collected genuinely indicates the conclusions drawn. This is where I find *many* studies and essays fall apart. Even if there isn't a problem with how the research was performed, there is often a huge mistake in how it was applied. In other words, logically-speaking, the arguments presented don't stand, once a person carefully thinks things through instead of accepting it all at face-value. (As a side-bar, I have many times also found studies do not mathematically add up.)

Unfortunately, many people are all-too-ready to quote any study, article, or research that fits their pre-conceived opinions. And since we all grew up "learning" that as long as someone states something and then gives "proper quotes" to support himself, he must be correct, we don't evaluate things the way we should. Journalists in particular fall into this trap far too often. Perhaps it is because they are in a rush to get the scoop, but it seems that they feel as long as they have any research or expert quotes to support them, they've done their job. The reliability and credibility of the researcher hardly comes into question - as long as he has the stamp of approval gained by the correct college or university degree, he is considered a "good" source. One would think, when college students who are polled overwhelmingly and consistently admit to cheating, (calling into question the worthiness of many of the degrees awarded), that we would put less credence in these so-called experts and do more research ourselves, but instead, the opposite seems to be the case - we not only accept these "experts," we even rely on "fact-checking" websites and reporters to confirm things for us, taking them at their word simply because they claim to be "neutral" or "non-biased." It is a strikingly dangerous way to get our news and information.

So what can we do?

1. Teach our children to evaluate EVERYTHING critically. There really is no 100% always reliable source, especially when it comes to politicians and the media. If they read a news article or report, have them ask themselves the following questions.
  • Does the data presented fully support the conclusions as stated?
  • Who provided the data and where is the original source?
  • Any time math is involved in any way, can it be tested and verified?
  • Is the article presenting fact or opinion?
  • Can the same data lead to entirely different conclusions, and if so, does the author acknowledge this?

2. Teach our children statistics. This should be a required course for high school graduation. Our children need to fully understand statistics. Often, simply armed with that knowledge alone, they can see where a lot of information reported through the media is not accurate.

3. Teach our children what editorializing is and why reporters who engage in it outside of the editorial page should not be considered reliable. Editorializing involves using emotive words to sway opinion. For instance, a reporter can say, "The teachers' strike entered week two, as both sides continue to clash over certain issues." While the word "clash" is descriptive, it is not used to encourage readers to feel a certain way about the issue; that is, to favor one side over the other. On the other hand, a reporter who says, "The hard-working, beleaguered teachers continue to struggle against the policies adopted by the school district, hoping to gain more public support as they take to the streets in a strike." is using certain key words to stir emotions in his readers. "Hard-working," "beleaguered," and "struggle" are all used in a way to make the teachers appear downtrodden and deserved of sympathy and support. This sort of reporting is sometimes blatant and obvious, but more often than not, it is rather subtle. Children need to learn to recognize it for what it is, so that they can dismiss the attempt at making them think or feel a certain way about an issue.

4. Teach children to question the questioners. When data is collected, the questions asked while the research is conducted need to be entirely neutral and without potential bias. As an example, let's suppose a political group decides it wants to "prove" that a certain other group is "racist." It does this by calling a random sampling of people and asking whether they identify with this other group, and then asking, "Do you think Hispanic immigrants to America should learn English?" Because more people in the group say "yes" than the population as a whole, the conclusion is, "This group is racist."

This sort of academic dishonesty should not be tolerated, much less perpetuated, and its presence can be determined by evaluating the questions asked. In our example, the problem is three-fold. First, it doesn't ask if a person believes all immigrants should learn English, if it is not their native language, and why he might feel this way. Second, it takes the answer of some respondents and uses it to label the group as a whole - a logical fallacy. Third, it operates off the assumption that a "yes" answer is inherently racist. It does not allow for other perspectives, such as one that believes that language is specifically designed to allow one person to communicate with another and that, as such, speaking the same language overcomes a huge barrier to truly understanding one another. A person with that perspective may be, in fact, demonstrating the opposite of a racist view-point, instead indicating a desire to connect with and communicate with others. His belief that all immigrants should learn English is not based on racism, but on the fact that the only other option would be to suggest that everyone learn a dozen or more languages in order to communicate effectively and fully, a much less viable solution. The "study" however, gives him no room to explain his position and brands him a "racist" for his answer. If that study is validated by the general public, in the form of acceptance through media and other sources, the group involved has been maligned without genuine proof. Our children need to see how often this very thing happens and recognize the signs of improper and unsupportable research being used to discredit or harm others, push certain political issues or candidates, and/or generate popularity for specific policies and ideas.

5. Encourage our children to always go to the source whenever possible. If the source is not provided, treat any information as potentially suspect. The best example of this is the Affordable Health Care act. Many people claim to know what is in it and what it is all about, yet few people actually read the bill or law. (FYI: Yes, I did read it. All of it. It was long and mind-numbing, but, contrary to what some of our lawmakers claimed, it was not too difficult to understand.)

It is one thing to refer to oneself as informed and educated. It is often something else entirely to actually be either. Reading the newspaper or watching TV or visiting websites, without critically evaluating and testing the facts as presented is not "informed." Memorizing some facts long enough to regurgitate them on an exam, writing essays as described above (absent the careful checking of all sources), reading only the required textbook and not fact-checking the material and information presented - these things do not make a person "educated," regardless of the degree or diploma he may earn from doing so. Make sure your children know the difference and make sure they become strong critical thinkers. Our country's future really does depend upon it.
If you tried to visit the website earlier today and couldn't get it to load, I apologize. The domain name is registered with Go Daddy, and so, along with many, many, many other people out there, my site went down thanks to a hacker who went after Go Daddy. It really is a shame there are people out there who are that smart but utterly lacking in any sense of real principles and so they run around causing trouble like this. (I know they rationalize their actions, but that's all it is in the end - rationalizations.) They are nothing more than cyber vandals.

Please note, if you haven't already, you might want to bookmark (or like) the Facebook page or Twitter page. If our site ever goes down like this again, it will be the only way I can update you. Of course, if these special little snowflakes decide to go after Facebook and Twitter, then I suppose we're out of luck!
Here's an interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher EducationWith 'Access Codes,' Textbook Pricing Gets More Complicated Than Ever.

While I very much appreciate the online "textbook companion sites" that offer things like quizzes and flashcards, the one time I purchased an "access code" for a textbook site, I was decidedly underwhelmed. This was especially true because my access only lasted for 6 months. I just wasn't worth the price, IMHO.

Google, "textbook costs" and you will find dozens of articles of the same theme - "Why do college textbooks cost so much?" It's a problem. Everyone knows it's a problem. Even the GAO got involved with an investigation. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that potential solutions, such as Flat World Knowledge, will ever go main-stream. I read not too long ago a comment by a college professor explaining the amount of work that goes into writing a college textbook and why they should cost as much as they do. (Interestingly, she didn't seem to grasp the question posed to her; that is, has the amount of work somehow increased so much from the 1970s and 1980s that it would explain the jump in price that is more than doubled the rate of inflation?) My thought, though, is quite frankly, "Just how many introductory biology textbooks does the world really need?" I own 5 introductory geology textbooks and there are many more out there on the market. The thing is, they really aren't that much different when it comes to content. Yes, they have different photos and may introduce different topics in different orders, but for the most part, they all teach the same thing. Perhaps part of the "work involved" on the side of the authors would be to determine whether or not there is a genuine need for the book they intend to write?

One of the great things about using testing to earn college credits is that you do not have a "required textbook." Not only do you save a bundle on tuition costs, you can also save a lot of money with textbooks as well. You have the option of not buying a textbook at all, or buying a used previous edition, often for less than $10 including shipping. When you supplement your studies with resources found online and at your local library, you can gain a thorough knowledge of your chosen subject matter, without breaking the bank.