September 9, 2014
Kids going back to school are not the only group returning to their haunts after a long summer break. Washington DC also has an immature band returning to work: Congress. After five weeks off (really, did anyone notice they were gone?), Congress returns today to enthrall us with their particular brand of government leadership. I believe that to commemorate the occasion, and to make a few bucks, stores like Staples and Wal-Mart should have a special section set up with supplies that Congress will need to successfully return to the Capitol building. Among the items they could purchase are:
Essays on government, education, family life, etc. that helps put issues and solutions in perspective with thoughtfulness, not extremism. You know, like the majority of Americans really want! Go to The Book Corner.
September 5, 2014
The above quote is a fitting conclusion to a week discussing education. The last few days I devoted to students, teachers, schools, parents, etc. However, I do not want folks to forget that education should be a never-ending process. As long as a person has his or her mental faculties, the search for knowledge and understanding should never stop.
I believe that many of us are like that. On the other hand, reality has shown me that there are also a lot of adults who park their brains and bask in their ignorance. Let’s look at a few examples.
Much is said about young adults and how they are the future of our country. This is certainly true, but I know too many people in their 20’s who really do not understand what is going on in the world. Their self-interest is at an all-time high and if they do not think something directly affects them, they do not care about it. They have very little idea of what is going on in our country. Do not even ask them about what is happening in other nations. They treat something they read on Facebook or the internet as fact, and make no effort to learn about something new. They are totally up on all the new movies and celebrities, but that is as far as any in-depth knowledge goes. Many have never voted and are not even registered.
Then we have my favorites. These are the adults who blindly follow a party or a philosophy and take everything its spokesmen (and women) say as the absolute truth. Anything said or written as a counterpoint to their beliefs is automatically discounted and discarded. Hell will freeze over before they will look deeply into an issue and concede the other side has a good point. They suck in the propaganda and disperse it through Facebook and Twitter and other social media as gospel. It is as if they shut down the part of the brain that allows ideas and new thoughts to bounce around as you try to figure out what is truth. Unfortunately, there are too many political leaders who fall into this category.
Much of the news media also follows this trend today. Many do not even try to present an opposing viewpoint. If they do, it is couched in sarcasm and ridicule. I have even been questioning when news is accurate. Last week I was going to write a column on something I saw in the news on the internet. I was really fired up about it. Then something clicked in my brain, and I looked for confirmation of the story in other outlets. I could find none. I concluded the story was bogus and did not write on it. (It would have been a darn good column too.)
All of this brings me full circle to what I talked about at the beginning of the week: schools and education. I think one of the powers of education is to teach kids how to learn. Yes, there are skills they need to acquire like math and language, but the true long-range value is the ability to know how to learn, and to make that a part of life. God gave man the ability to think beyond anything else in the world. Today, we seem to lack the understanding of what that means and how to go about it. We seem to be in a country where people are happy to be lemmings who do not want to exert their brain power to figure some things out on their own.
Too much time is spent on charting the results of students and schools and not enough about the process of learning. It is no wonder kids hate school when they seem to be taking standardized tests every month. There is so much emphasis on that activity that we forget how to teach kids to think things through. When this happens, you end up with adults who may know how to take tests, but they have a lot of difficulty figuring out something that takes analytical thinking. That is the future we are headed to. The United States used to be the country of big ideas and original thinking. It would be nice if we started heading back to that.
September 4, 2014
As we continue with a look at education, it is obvious we have a big problem in our country. It seems like the more we try to improve the learning process for kids, the further behind we get. Scads of money has been spent, “experts” have weighed in on solutions, and, worse yet, politicians have implemented “improvements” with little idea of what they are doing. Once again, it seems that the only way to get a handle on education is if communities, and especially parents, start to speak up.
There is a role for government in this process…though it should be smaller than the one they want to have. There is tremendous inequality from school district to school district, and someone needs to set some minimal standards for education. But the state or national government should not be doing this in a vacuum. If parents do not step in with their opinion of what needs to be done for their kids, then they deserve what they get. By the same token, the various government entities need to actually listen and not think they automatically know best because they are, uh, the government. If anything, that is a qualification to suspect anything they hand down because it will cost a lot of money and have borderline results.
If we continue to let government make the decisions without voicing any objections, we will continue to get programs that sound good , but do not do much. I have found the hard way, with various positions I have had in the past, that when you try to make everyone happy, you fail miserably. If you have a great school or school district, keep it going. If government policies are going to water down your school’s results, then fight it.
If your kid’s school is hurting then ask for help…real help. It seems like many programs that the government implements bloat the administration…the very expensive administration…with more people. Whatever happened to the day when you had a principal, a school secretary, and lots of teachers and aides? Like so much that is wrong today, we seem to hire people that do not have a lot to do with the outcome that is desired. I have said this about government departments and it applies to schools: If you did an audit of each school district, you will find wasted money that can be put to good use – like buying books, paper, pencils, etc.
This gets me to another point. So many companies have bins set up for people to donate school items that kids need. That is great that they are doing this, but with all of the tax money that goes to schools, isn’t there something wrong with this? I also know teachers who spend a fair amount of money from their own pocket to get their classroom up to snuff. Many of your tax dollars go to schools. Shouldn’t you actually look at how it is being spent and speak up about it!!!
You want to make a School Board member or Superintendent nervous? Ask them to explain the school budget to you line-by-line. I worked in a school district for a short time once and was appalled at what the superintendent spent money on – usually to benefit him.
We all become frustrated at everything seeming to come off the rails in America. Our schools are a good place to get active. This is a very specific area where you can see your dollars being spent, and it is so important for the future of our nation and communities. It is time to stop giving lip service to that notion, and to separate BS like Common Core from sensible approaches to education. Somewhere along the line, the effort was made to improve education, and instead, we broke it.
September 3, 2014
Since this is the traditional first week of school, at least here in the Northeast, I thought I would continue on the theme of yesterday’s column. Somewhere over the last 40 years or so, there has been a significant shift in the role of parents dealing with their kids’ school and teachers. Some of the change is for the good, and some tendencies need to be worked on.
It used to be that when a student came home from school with a bad report or grades, the parents would accept it as fact and take the necessary corrective steps with their child. This could be anything from being grounded to paying more attention while the kid did homework, etc.
Now, when this happens, it seems like there is a tendency for parents to charge into the school, confront the teacher, and demand how “dare they” do this to their child! I have used this example before, but a case in point is when someone ran into my daughter, a high school chemistry teacher, at the supermarket. The dialogue went something like this:
Parent: “Why don’t you give my kid a better grade in your class?”
Teacher: “Why doesn’t he show up for class?” (My daughter is no shrinking violet.)
Parents need to be concerned that their children are being treated fairly in class. Teachers can have their favorites and their least desirables just as much as a boss can in the workplace. It is human nature for this to happen sometimes, and a duty of a parent is to investigate what is going on to see if there is a problem. In that way, there are checks and balances of sorts to make sure things are going the way they should.
The problem is that parents are ready to put all the blame on someone else rather than their own child. Many of these blow-ups are just ridiculous. Education of a kid takes teamwork and good communication between a parent and teacher. With the use of school software packages that makes this easier than ever, I am surprised when I hear parents are amazed to find out when little Johnny is in trouble. Unfortunately, a communication breakdown happened somewhere to get things to a heated point.
There has been a trend over the years where everyone wins. Scores not kept during kids’ games, an atmosphere in schools where students never fail, and events like science fairs where everyone gets the same ribbon with no recognition for outstanding achievement. And we wonder why children grow up with a sense of entitlement?
I am the first to say that there is too much of a win/lose mentality in many phases of life. However, like everything else, there is a middle ground. As a society, we have gotten away from some basic principles like “win and lose” or “right and wrong.” It shows throughout life and it is hurting us. As parents, we never want to see our kids not do well. But instead of rushing to their defense, that child is going to get a lot more when you sit down with him or her, figure out what went wrong, and determine how to fix it. I have worked with kids in the past and there is nothing more enjoyable than to see a kid overcome a problem they were having. That is a smile worth all of the money in the world.
The point of this is that for school to be successful for a child we need to have teachers and parents work together. Like any relationship, it all starts and ends with communication. A parent needs to calmly listen to what is going on with their kid in school if there is a problem. Likewise, teachers need to know if there are issues at home that are affecting a student’s performance.
By the way, if a parent is upset because their kid got a “B” instead of “A” and it will keep them out of their college of choice, keep the lawyers at home. Maybe you should be more concerned that your kid can write, read, and do math. More importantly, you should make sure that child is learning skills to make decisions and live on their own. The purpose of educating a child is to prepare him or her for life. Not look for someone to bail them out when things get tough.
Essays on government, education, family life, etc. that helps put issues and solutions in perspective with thoughtfulness, not extremism. You know, like the majority of Americans really want! Go to The Book Corner.
September 2, 2014
This column is dedicated to three young women I know: Jessica, Jennifer, and Amanda. They are about to start their school year as teachers. They are an essential cog in today’s society. They are smart as evidenced by Jessica teaching high school chemistry, Jennifer teaching high school biology, and Amanda teaching high school mathematics. All of these gals would have me tied up in knots in their class since these are subjects I have not tackled since high school and college. And to give you an idea of when that was, the computers I used in college are now in the Smithsonian!
For full disclosure, Jess and Jen are daughters and Amanda is a semi-niece. As I look over the educational landscape, I am slightly relieved knowing that there are many good teachers out there like these women. Their stories are also a parable about what is right…and wrong in our schools.
Jennifer and Amanda are starting their first year as full time teachers. Jennifer has spent the past year being a sub while Amanda graduated from college this past spring with her teaching degree. I believe they are entering the school year with excitement, as well as a bit of nervousness. They have subbed and been student teachers, but now they have classes to plan, students to work with throughout the year, and administrators and parents to get to know. They know their subject, will not be boring, and if I can give them one piece of advice, it is this: Show no fear! Kids can sense that. (Actually, I know neither of these two women will take much grief from any student. I feel sorry for the kid that tries to test them.)
Jessica is entering her fifth year of teaching. Two years ago, she was Teacher of the Year. This year she is going back kicking and screaming. At the end of last year, she was becoming disillusioned with the profession, but with one month left she became very ill and could not finish out the year. It took a couple of months for a doctor to figure out what was wrong with her, so the good news is that she is getting her health back. She has a ways to go, but she is healthy enough to go back to teaching.
Health issues aside, Jessica was getting fed up with the non-support she was receiving from the administration and her union in her job. This compounded when the medical issues occurred, and the new administration that came on board was even worse than last years. You see the administration and superintendent were making decisions and assumptions without even talking with Jessica. Yes, I am her father, but it seemed to me that here was another case of empty suits covering their ass instead of doing their job.
I know this is a broad generalization, but we should let teachers teach. The young men and women who are entering the teaching ranks are eager to be good at their jobs. There are also plenty of veteran educators who feel the same way, but who are tired of all the regulations, guidelines, and “new and improved” programs that are constantly handed down. Yes, there are many good administrators out there, but there are also many who would be better suited working at Wal-Mart. As for the politicians who talk about education so much, please think of one thing. For all the money dumped on education, why are we graduating kids from high school who cannot do basic reading, writing, and math? By the way, I am talking about those graduating from so-called “good schools.”
I pray that Amanda and Jennifer have dynamite first years of teaching. I hope they have support in their high schools from the administration and parents, and they do not feel like they always have to look over their shoulder. I pray that Jessica can negotiate her way through this school year and find her mojo again for teaching in whatever is in front of her.
They are great kids. (OK, I am at the point where young people in their 20’s are still kids.) There are many others in the teaching profession just like them. I know from Jessica the time she puts in to teach her students, and Jen and Amanda are going to find out the same thing. There is a lot wrong with our education system right now. Most teachers are not the issue, though. If you think that, please sit down and talk with one. You will be amazed at what they do.
August 28, 2014
Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.
As with so many national holidays, we like having the day off, but we often forget about what the day is all about. I have to wonder how many people wish they had a good job to take off from on Monday. Or how many have to go to their part-time jobs because that is all they were able to find. And when you have a part-time job, you almost always have to go in when you are told. That is because those employers know they have you by the nape of the neck and you can be easily replaced. There are an awful lot of people out there who need a job who can be fitted into the slot.
And that is the real shame of celebrating Labor Day the past few years. There is not a lot to celebrate. Unions are looked at as the enemy of business instead of a way for workers to be able to band together and work towards having a good work environment and a living wage. It is true that the pendulum swung in the unions favor for many years to the detriment of business. But now it has gone the other way as the rallying cry is for business to make every last penny for the benefit of its stockholders or owners and to hell with the employees. This is a generalization I know, but look at where we are. Relatively speaking, many families aren’t bringing the same amount of income into the home as they were able to do twenty years ago. The unemployment figures given to us every week do not reflect the underemployed and those who have given up looking for a job. Unemployed youth and those over 50 have a hard time finding anything.
I don’t know who we are trying to fool anymore. It seems all of the speeches about creating jobs are just that: talk. We will hear all about jobs and strengthening the middle class as we get near November elections. It will all be forgotten the day after elections as the power brokers in Washington manuever to be on top. President Obama seems so perplexed by international events that I do not think he has paid a lot of attention to the homefront lately.
Employees, unions, and management have to work together to keep the balance in our economic system. And that balance is necessary to give our country a solid foundation to do anything well. That has always been true in our history and I see no reason why that will change in the future. It comes down to a common sense approach to planning for the future by everyone involved – and not driven by immediate gratification or downright greed. Unfortunately, our recent track record of being motivated by cool-headed planning for the future has not been great.
The government is going to be greatly distracted for the next several months as it deals with the Mideast, Russia, elections, etc. Haven’t we seen this movie before? Let’s hope as we limp along to the end of the year that some things actually get accomplished that will set the nation on a positive course. It would be nice if more people can actually enjoy and celebrate Labor Day next year for what it is.
August 27, 2014
According to the latest reports, the House of Representatives will spend at least $350,000 on lawyers to sue President Obama . The House Committee on Administration announced on Monday that it has retained the law firm Baker-Hostetler and appointed attorney David Rivkin to lead the House's lawsuit against President Obama, which Republicans approved on a party-line vote last month. According to a copy of the contract posted on the committee's website, the House (i.e. John Q. Taxpayer) will pay a rate of $500 an hour with a "firm cap" of $350,000 for the lawsuit.
Remember, as outlined by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House plans to accuse Obama of exceeding his constitutional authority by delaying the employer mandate in his healthcare law without permission from Congress. Rivkin had argued that House Republicans had a case against Obama, and G.O.P. leaders relied on his legal theory in deciding to pursue a largely unprecedented lawsuit.
I have so many issues with this procedure that I do not even know where to start.
First, let us begin with laziness and not doing their job…and I am talking about Congress here. Do not get me wrong, I believe that President Obama has consistently gone above the proper guidelines of the Constitution with his “executive orders”. He has hit the Affordable Care Act with more adjustments on his say-so than a piñata getting whacked at a children’s party.
But two wrongs never ever make a right. The precedent you want to stop is a President doing things beyond his authority, not bringing lawsuits into the national legislature scene. So many problems we have in America are directly related to our lawsuit happy culture. Do we really want to propagate that as a way of doing business on the national stage? Because the one thing our Republican and Democratic morons, I mean leaders, seem to forget is that sooner or later the shoe is going to be on the other foot. Democrats are not going to want a Republican president changing laws willy-nilly, and Republicans will be up in arms the first time the Democrats sue one of their leaders. What is the end result of this? Nothing getting done – or business as normal as we have been accustomed to for the last several years.
There are enough Constitutional pieces to put into play if you really do not think the President is doing his job. Impeachment is the biggie. Critics argue that impeachment is not doable because of the current Democratic make-up of the Senate. Well, boo-hoo! You cannot bypass the Constitution just because it is convenient! What galls me is that the ones who usually lead with a Constitutional argument are the first ones who want to leapfrog the document.
The chairwoman of the Administration Committee, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), said in a statement accompanying the release of the contract that the lawsuit was about holding the President "accountable." Well, Ms. Miller, if you cannot play the impeachment card, accountability is decided at every election. President Obama is done being elected (Thank the Lord), but there is a big national election this year. If you are so sure of your case, then bring it to the people. Let us decide if we go with your argument or not. Hiring more bloody lawyers in Washington is like adding to the national debt.
Speaking of which, I am not happy my tax dollars are going to pay for suing the President, even if I am not crazy about him. And if you believe that it is only going to cost $350,000 for this idiotic political ploy, then you probably also believe that President Obama is conducting intelligence briefings on the golf course.
Let Congress pass around the hat (since they are not doing much else in Washington) and have members contribute out of their own pockets for the lawsuit. Nothing can come from deep pocket political donors or from any “special fund” Congress may have – because that just got there from tax money. I will bet you anything that if the politicians had to spend their own bucks, this lawsuit would just fritter away. After all, these people cannot govern, and the only thing that frightens them more than the actions of the opposition, is if they actually have to take a stand for something and be prepared to back it with their own resources.
August 26, 2014
There is a rhythm to the year that is ingrained in many of us from childhood. For those of us who grew up with a conventional school year, it seems that we follow the same pattern in life and business. We mentally throttle back a little between Thanksgiving and New Years as we take a breather at the end of the year. Summer is more of the same with vacation, or at least some days off here and there. You take one final breath as you go through the Labor Day weekend knowing you jump back into life with both feet on the Tuesday after. Even if you work full tilt during the entire summer, the beginning of September is like a renewed kick as you come into the final stretch of a marathon.
Then we have Washington DC. Congress has been on recess forever and President Obama seems to be counting down the days until he can write his memoirs and rake in the bucks on the speaking circuit. This has been a volatile summer both home and abroad. Major problems in the Mideast and the Ukraine scream out for some type of effort from the United States. As war weary as we are…and I certainly am…I cannot help but wonder about the future of our world. You have a thug in charge of the Soviet Union who loves flexing his muscles (shirtless or not) and a very, very grave danger in the evolution of ISIS.
So what can we expect from the President and Congress as they hit the ground running next Tuesday? Nothing!
First, President Obama. Even for him, the lack of decisiveness on the various domestic and international issues is appalling. I did not vote for him either time, but it is so disappointing that he never seems to have gotten the hang of being President. We went through so much “hope and change” and apologizing to the world for our actions, that we are not only seen as being impotent, but that is kind of the country’s level of morale. We are not. We are a mighty nation. It would just help if we started acting like it.
Of course, that impotence impression is easy to sustain when you look at Congress. You know the nice thing about their 5-week break? Not only did they accomplish the same amount of work as if they were in session, but we did not have to listen to as much stupid rhetoric as when they are all in town together. Their focus over the remaining four months of the year will be, first, the November elections. Then it will be the posturing for power, depending on the results of the election. Throw in lawsuits against the President, partisan grandstanding, and a contest to see who can say the most outrageous things and you pretty have the rest of 2014 mapped out.
To other nations, America must look like a bickering family reunion. Meanwhile, we have so many problems that it would take up several columns just listing them. I hope Americans will not only take the elections seriously, but to let the candidates know that we are tired of their crap. I know the extreme left and right think that supporting their party right or wrong is the way to go. Stop fooling yourself. In almost anything, the dangerous and the idiots are on the extremes. Look carefully at who represents you without a vision clouded by party. Then figure out if voting for that man or woman is going to further our impotence, or if we can finally move forward and deal with our issues instead of avoiding them.
August 25, 2014
I am sure you saw the story last week of a high school senior in Tennessee says she was given an in-school suspension for saying "bless you" to a classmate who had sneezed. Kendra Turner, a student at Dyer County High School, told WMC-TV that when her teacher told her she had broken a class rule against invoking religious terms, she complained.
“She said that we’re not going to have godly speaking in her class," Turner said, "and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right. ... It’s all right to defend God and it’s our constitutional right, because we have a freedom of religion and freedom of speech."
Local pastor Becky Winegardner said this was not the first time Turner's teacher had clashed with students over religion. “There were several students that were talking about this particular faculty member there that was very demeaning to them in regard to their faith,” Winegardner told WMC. “This was something that had come up previously in the last few weeks just since the beginning of school, and I shared with all of those students what their rights were.”
I think there are enough problems in education that show priorities are all over the place. We are sending high school graduates to colleges where the first classes a kid is required to take are remedial math and writing classes. This is because kids did not adequately learn the basics during their first 12 years of school. Forget all the other classes a kid can take, if you come out of high school and cannot do reading, writing, and arithmetic – we are in big trouble.
I have seen this first hand. I will not write a college student’s paper, but I will edit them. You cannot believe the garbled English I receive that I have to make sense of. I edited a book for someone with a Masters, and I could not believe how bad it was written. As for math skills, I have had this happen so many times with a young person at a cash register. Say you buy something and it costs you $6.28. The kid sees the $10 bill in your hand and puts that into the register and it shows him or her you get $3.72 in change. But if you quickly pull out 28 cents and hand it to the person, the look on their face is as if you asked them to solve a calculus equation. They cannot figure out that they just have to give you back four one-dollar bills.
What really gets me is the keeping of God out of education. I am not even getting into prayer in school. The fact is that religion is an overwhelming shaper of where the world is today. How can you ignore it? It is a part of life and needs to be understood as much as math and science. I am sure, though, if a teacher was an atheist that it would be perfectly ok for that teacher to share those beliefs with kids.
You cannot expect a child or young person to go to school in the United States and expect them to leave their beliefs outside the door. Some schools and teachers seem so intent on working on a “white bread” mentality, that the entire idea of education is lost. By that, I mean they want every student to be exactly like every other student. Education is more than an assembly line of thoughts. The richness of education is having various people of different backgrounds coming together and sharing their ideas and impressions of what is being taught. It is really disconcerting how some public schools go so far in squashing individual thought and beliefs. Not to mention the kids come out inadequately prepared for life.
I will be writing more about education in the next couple of weeks as school is starting up all over the country. There is a real problem in the USA. We keep throwing tons of money to “improve” education and we seem to keep getting further behind. I think it is time to stop having a “national” cure for a local responsibility. States cannot even get consistency throughout their school districts. Maybe we need to listen to the teachers, students, and parents about what is missing in education, and let the so-called “experts” and school union leaders sit in detention where they cannot cause more trouble.