Why does McCain hate planetariums?

9 10 2008

So it looks like I’m going with the majority of voters this fall.  I’m not voting for someone as much as I’m voting against someone else.  Last night’s debate gave me clarity in my decision for president by a ridiculously ignorant comment by John McCain.

If you’ve kept up with the blogosphere today you’ve surely caught word that McCain once again criticized Obama for seeking federal funding for the Adler Plantarium. This time he showed his ignorance of the whole thing by saying the planetarium (he couldn’t bring himself to actually say the name “Adler”) wanted $3 million for an “overhead projector.”  I keep writing “ignorance” in the hope that it wasn’t pure stupidity.

I was more angry about his misconstruing what equipment goes into these incredible educational tools than his call to stop all federally funded earmarks (that is what he was wanting, right?).  The actual device they need has the ability to mingle science, art, and imagination into a fully immersive environment that can perform every teacher’s number one goal:  it inspires kids.  There is a reason why half of NASA’s astronauts claim to have been inspired in their youth by a visit to a planetarium.  The equipment it would replace is 40 years old, which would cause most science theaters to either update or shut down  (see the closing of UALR’s planetarium, 2001, at 37 years old).  To maintain a facility that has inspired millions over the years, including me this past summer, and to ensure those field trip visitors go home excited about science, $3 million is a small price to pay.

Go here and read a great article by Dr. Jim Sweitzer on this.  He and I spent some time together last October in W. Virginia.  He’s the one who gave me that great poster comparing global warming with carbon dioxide levels I have up in my classroom!

There is some validity to the argument that this should be funded by private donations or local/state governments.  As someone who has worked in the planetarium field I can assure you that getting continuing funds for operating expenses and maintenance is an annual beg-fest.  You learn to utilize every possible avenue for funding you can think of.  Asking the fed for a needed grant is something many planetariums have done.  In fact, turns out that once before when the Adler asked for $200,000 for an education grant McCain voted for it!

The folks at Adler are more than a little blindsided by all the publicity they’ve received from this.  Mark Webb, director of the Adler planetarium and a friend of mine, has been fielding interview requests all day.  They’ve finally issued a public statement:

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years. However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama’s efforts. This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in the reports that accompany appropriations bills.

I snipped a lot of this.  To read the whole statement go here.

So here’s the skinny… [warning, rant ahead]  McCain first called the funding of planetariums “foolishness” and then he re-iterated that by calling a planetarium projection system an “overhead projector” and asking “My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”.  Well, my friend, yeah.  Yeah we do.  And here’s what I think of your comments toward our educators and the education system as a whole:

Your comments smack of an education system with negative momentum. I want to believe that whoever gets elected would actually want to reverse NCLB and try to undo the damage done by forcing children and teachers into the constraints set by Bush’s master plan, but with statements like this all I can see is a Bush clone.  I don’t believe you have any clue what educational challenges await this generation, and as long as you demonstrate an aversion to working with educators and trusting that their funding requests are valid, you have the potential to be their greatest obstacle.  Either educate yourself about the cost of keeping students current and competitive, or else step aside and let someone lead who actually wants the job. [/rant]

But I have to wonder… why aren’t more questions about education being asked of our candidates?  Are most Americans to the point where they just expect the worst from the system?  It’s the federal government’s involvement that has things screwed up.  So only the feds can make it right again… by getting out of it.

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2 responses

9 10 2008
sigmapromise

This is such a good question! Until last night’s debate, I didn’t realize that virtually nothing had been said–especially as much as we’d been screaming about the ineffectiveness of NCLB–during these debates. I couldn’t really figure out why (after today’s fact checking) he was so against helping a National Landmark, as far as science education centers go.

But hey…this is the same guy that voted not to shift $11 billion in corporate tax loopholes into education. What could we have done with that money?

9 10 2008
Nick Jones

As someone who got out of that terrible system not too long ago, I completely agree with you! It is so uninformed, misguided, and illogical that by the time a good teacher (like yourself) figures out a way to BE a good teacher according to the ridiculous guidelines they are forced to adhere to, they’ve made too many sacrifices and cannot comfortably perform their job. As for Adler if anyone walked into any planetarium in this great nation of ours and talked to the operator for more than 20 minutes they’d realize the incredible amount of time, effort, and the green stuff that goes into keeping a planetarium modern.

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