Five ideas

What people should be talking about
Sunday, March 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:48 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[1] Trouble averted

Community resolve and careful preparation by local and state law enforcement trumped the nefarious ambitions of the National Socialist Movement, a fast-growing group of neo-Nazis that came to town last Saturday.

Seven people were arrested — five of them out-of-town residents — and officers were forced to use pepper spray on some observers, but no injuries were reported and the march was over in less than an hour.

City officials had urged residents to ignore the march as the best way to head off any trouble, but Columbia police Captain Tom Dresner said several hundred people showed up anyway to confront the 20 or so representatives from the hate group, who marched in Nazi regalia, chanting slurs.

Meanwhile, thousands more gathered a couple miles away at Douglass Park in a counter-rally to promote the peaceful tolerance of all people regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

What do you think Columbia’s response to the National Socialist Movement’s march says about the city?

[2] Math problem

Columbia parents packed into a conference room at the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday to express their displeasure with the new math curriculum being taught to their children.

Parents said their children are struggling with math homework because of what they call a poor foundation. The elementary math program in Columbia Public Schools does not include practice with algorithms, which are basic procedures for solving math problems.

Linda Coutts, district coordinator of kindergarten through fifth-grade mathematics, said she has been hosting events aimed at educating parents about the benefits of the new program. These events prove that the district cares about hearing parents’ concerns, she said.

Whatever the solution, there may be cause for moderate concern. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Missouri ranked just below the national average in 4th- and 8th-grade math scores in 2005. Last year, 79 percent of Missouri schools met the state-defined guidelines for progress in mathematics.

What role should parents play in determining their child’s curriculum at a public school?

[3] Teen dieting

A new study this week by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis suggests that teens who diet are more likely to develop poor eating habits and engage in binge eating than teens who eat fruits and vegetables and get regular exercise.

The five-year study interviewed young men and women and found that 56 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys said they had dieted at least once. The researchers concluded that boys and girls who dieted were more likely to skip breakfast and spend less time exercising. Their body mass index was also almost a full point higher than their fellow teens who didn’t diet.

The founder of the study suggested that parents steer their children away from dieting and toward healthy eating and exercise.

In a town like Columbia, with wide-reaching outdoor opportunities, parents have plenty of chances to help their children get active. Schools are helping by providing healthy alternatives for lunch.

What are you doing to ensure that your children practice healthy eating habits?

[4] Exit strategy

Democrats are working hard to pass legislation that would have United States troops out of Iraq by September 2008. The House Appropriations Committee signed off on a resolution Thursday, largely along party lines. The full House is expected to consider the measure, part of a spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, next week.

Many Democrats say they want an earlier deadline than September of next year, while Republicans oppose a strict deadline on troop withdrawal altogether. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said he is working on an amendment to the bill that would reduce the funding the government needs to withdraw the troops.

Democrats say a firm date is necessary, and they stress the need for a stringent timetable that will force Iraqis to step into leadership roles.

Some Republicans support the withdrawal, but most said they wanted to add a section to the legislation that promises that the U.S. won’t cut funding for the troops.

What more, if anything, should the Democrats be doing to bring the Iraq war to an end?

[5] Toga! Toga! Toga!

The fact that college students drink alcohol is no surprise to residents of Columbia; students converge on downtown bars and clubs every night of the week. However, a study released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests that alcohol consumption can get out of hand for about half of college students.

The study found that 49 percent of college students ages 18 to 22 binge drink, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks at a time.

Also, abuse of marijuana and cocaine, as well as prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, have increased since a similar study in 1993.

This increase in substance abuse has made campuses more deadly and more violent, with alcohol-related deaths and sexual assaults both on the rise, according to the study.

The head of the center places some of the blame on the college administration at U.S. institutions, saying that campuses are “facilitating a culture of alcohol and drug abuse.”

What can MU officials do to promote a campus free of drug and alcohol abuse?

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