Economic considerations notwithstanding, the case for providing amnesty to undocumented immigrants is usually argued along moral lines. On the pro side, the argument boils down to granting long-term, non-felon immigrant members of our society – who through no fault of their own have been impelled by economic necessity or violence to start a new life in the US – with the ability to safely rise out of the shadows. Those opposed focus on the original sin of knowingly violating immigration laws. This hard stance is sorely lacking in empathy. Who among us would not risk such a move to improve our lives and those of our families when the alternative is to wait decades to be considered for a green card? Immigrants who come seeking a better life are as morally in the wrong as those who have fled neighborhoods in Detroit and St. Louis for the same reasons. Nevertheless, perhaps you or someone you know is of the opinion that the law is the law, no excuses. Well, I believe that if we are taking an account of transgressions, some context is also necessary.
Enacting meaningful electoral reforms would be a catalyst for a myriad of other issues. And I am not using the word “catalyst” as it is commonly used, synonymous with a spark. I mean catalyst as it is used in chemistry: something that lowers the energy needed for a reaction to happen. Electoral reforms can reduce the amount of time and money needed to push through popular policy measures. If done correctly, they can make politicians less beholden to special interests for political survival. They ought to be the fries to everyone’s pet issues. Say young Berkeley liberal, what do you care about? Gun control AND electoral reform so that the NRA can’t squeeze your representatives’ grapes. What about you under-the-table conservative barber? Less market entrance regulations AND electoral reform so that Big Haircut can’t make beholden politicians treat the operation of a pair of clippers as if you’re wielding a loaded gun. Makes sense.
Metrification would make learning math and science easier in the US. Of course, in the short term there would be an awkward period of adjustment for people and some costly retrofitting and phasing out of machinery. There was a failed attempt to move to the metric system in 1975. It was abandoned due to a problematic acclimation process. However, I believe that the arguments for the transition overemphasized creating an international commonality, not the best tactic in the US. Please forgive the crude analogy, but this situation is a little like asking a group of men who have worn briefs their entire lives to switch to boxers because they save time when using the restroom. If you have worn briefs your entire life, then spending a few more seconds in the loo seems like an insignificant inconvenience. However, if the argument for wearing boxers is backed by evidence that they improve sperm count, then the payoff for wearing boxers may motivate more men to fight through the initial awkwardness. Much in the same way, the argument for metrification will gain further support if solid evidence is provided that the math and science performances of American students are being adversely affected by the use of the English System. Take into consideration the calculation of area. 1 m2=10000 cm2=.000001 km2 in the metric system while 1ft2=144in2=(1/5280) 2 mi2. Just by glancing at this one can see that it is easier to convert and multiply by factors to scale up or down in the metric system. It is also easier to recognize patterns in the metric system. That makes doing many conversions and other everyday math simple enough to do in one’s head. The English System is much more cumbersome for students to grasp and work with.
Now, let us consider how linguistic patterns may affect the performance of American students on math exams. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he makes the case for why language factors into why Chinese, Japanese, and Korean students outperform American students in math. For one, they learn to count faster. There is evidence that this may be due to their number-naming system. They say ten-one for eleven. Fifty-four is five-ten-four. Our naming system gets messy in the teens where we introduce new words like “twelve” before we start using the single digit terms again. Then we switch from preceding the new term with the single digit terms to tagging them on to the end, e.g. nineteen and twenty-nine. Some of the incremental base 10 terms sound similar to the digits they are related to, but are not intuitive the way they are in some Asian languages. Asian number words also tend to be brief. According to Stanislas Dehaene’s The Number Sense, whom Gladwell quotes, there is a correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a language and memory. Mainly, that it is easier for people to remember numbers in languages that have brief words for them. As further proof of the advantages that Asian languages have when working with numbers, Gladwell asks us to imagine asking a young English-speaking child to add 37 and 22. The Asian number nomenclature greatly simplifies this problem by keeping the tens and single digits separate: three-tens-seven and two-tens-two.
If we look into the benefits of metrification and changing our number words, we may be able to take a course of action that may uncomfortable in the short term but pay dividends in terms of learning.
In the wake of the particularly grotesque mass shooting in Connecticut, we are bound to have heated debates on the correct course of legislative action to address the high number of gun deaths in this country. Before I give my opinion on the matter – for whatever it is worth – I would like to talk about some of the unavoidable arguments over the 2nd Amendment that are to ensue shortly. Those who are against more stringent gun controls will usually take an unnuanced individual rights and/or common defense interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. The exact wording of the 2nd Amendment is as follows:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”