Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How do we get them ready?

How do we get them ready?
Well over half of our local and state tax money goes into the cost of public education.  Why do we invest so much of our money in that one expense?   Very early in our nation’s history it was determined that education was a necessary community cost to provide an educated informed electorate to make democracy function.
Now we are engaged in another great civil war.  Testing, yet again, whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.   How long can we go on hating the “other” and expect our democracy to survive.  Make no mistake about it, humanity and our country have a very long history of hating and attempting to purge the “other” dating back to the original Americans, our native Americans.   Abraham Lincoln toyed with the idea of sending enslaved people back to their land of ancestry.  We pretended we did not notice that most of those people were now born in the U.S.   In the earliest 20th Century we pitted the Irish against the Italians, and barred female Chinese from coming to this country in the hopes of reducing the number of Chinese in our country.  During WWII we removed native born Japanese Americans to detention campus because we didn't trust them.   We were fighting the Germans too but German Americans weren't  locked up because they looked a lot like the rest of us.  We have institutionalized discrimination again women, Jews, African-Americans- you name a group and we have hated them.  We have not stopped until the present day.  Currently the Muslims are up for discrimination.  We have a government that is intent on targeting our differences instead of our similarities.  
The problem is that presently our country is approaching the tipping point of becoming a majority minority nation.  Our public schools are already there.
So, what are we going to do about how we educate our kids for this new reality.  How do we get our children ready to live together in understanding.  Failure to achieve this basic goal will tear our democracy apart.  The primary purpose of the taxpayers financing education is to facilitate the functioning of a democracy.  We need to get back to that.
What do we need to do?   Every high school student should have a course on understanding our nation’s diversity.  Kids that go to one dimensional schools should be given experiences with the “other”.   It is hard to hate people you have had a burger with or solved a problem with.  Familiarity does not only breed contempt, it can also forge understanding and the others' perspective.
Younger children should be allowed to accept differences in others.  If we do not teach them to hate and fear early on, who knows they may not when they get older.
Our nation will survive failing algebra skills it will not survive failing understanding and empathy for each other.  No less than our survival as a nation is at stake if we do not get our children ready to take over as the next generation of leadership.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I refuse to join...

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case on this point- well sort of.   It is a re-run of a similar case last session when the Court only had 8 members and tied 4-4, leaving the lower court decision in place.
What is at issue could impact  the requirement in twenty-two states, including Maryland, that teachers who do not choose to join the teachers’ union must pay what is called an agency fee.  The agency fee is supposed to be the organization’s dues minus any expense for lobbying by the organization.  In practice, the fee and dues are very close to each other.  Last year, a California teacher (Friedrichs) took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.  During oral arguments Justice Scalia signaled that he would vote with the conservative side to overrule the 70-year old Abode decision that allowed these closed shops.  Unfortunately, Justice Scalia died and the Court deadlocked at 4 all. 
This case, Janus, gives the Court another bite at that apple.   The case involves Janus and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another public-sector union.  Janus is an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.  He has approximately $50 withheld from his pay each month for agency dues.  Oral arguments are scheduled for January or February, 2018.  A decision is not expected before spring.
The big question is how will this decision impact education and teachers’ unions.  Now that the Court is back at full strength and Gorsuch, the new justice, is considered a strict conservative, it is expected that this 70-year old precedent will go down in flames.  Teachers’ unions are concerned.  They, too, are public sector unions.
The position of the unions is pretty straight forward.  When they go to battle for raises and other health and benefit services for teachers, everyone enjoys the fruits of their labors, member or not.   They contend it is not fair for non-members to reap these benefits.  The legislature in Maryland has agreed with this position and required public schools in Maryland to essentially be closed shops.  You either pay the agency fee or join the union, there is no middle ground.   And unlike the approximately $50 a month that Janus spends for the agency fee, union fees in MD run over $100 a month depending on the local dues.  Should Janus win his case, there are people standing by in all of those 22 states with agency shops for teachers and other public service employees just waiting to challenge the agency shop.
Besides working for salary increases, union contracts put into place protections for teachers (and other employees) that make it extremely difficult to terminate employment and make it very difficult for the school administration to make changes that could benefit the students or the system.   Teacher unions almost NEVER lobby for benefits for the kids.  Their position is always, what’s good for teachers is ultimately good for kids.  Sort of new version of the trickle down economic theory.  It is easy to understand why some teachers do not want to be a member of the union.  As Groucho once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Have we lost our minds?

Have we lost our minds?!

There are 98,817 public schools in the United States as of the beginning of 2017.   Fifty million children attend these schools for at least 180 days a year.  That means there are nine billion times a year children are on a school campus.   Since 1999, there have been 31 shootings in our public schools and that includes the Columbine event in 1999.   I fully agree that 31 is 31 too many.  But if you look at the numbers, a public school is still one of the safest places for our kids to be and that is how it should be.  They are in greater danger crossing a street or driving in a car, not to mention some urban areas.
But apparently, some alarmists are thinking we need to take some serious precautions.  In schools across our country, kids are being put through “shooter drills”.   Akron public schools are getting very serious.  They are implementing a plan called ALICE- Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.   Most preparations have taught kids to quietly shelter in place for any intrusion.  But the ALICE plan recommends turning kids into counter terrorists.  They are taught to run in a zig-zag pattern, throw objects, and scream to make it difficult for the gunman to focus and aim.  They are taught to make their classroom “like a fort” and to climb out of windows if instructed to by their teacher. One principal in Florida has suggested children keep a couple of cans of foodstuff in their desks in case of an armed intruder so they can hurl them as missiles against the attacker.   I do not make this stuff up!   The U.S. Department of Education on behalf of a group of federal agencies has said that there is no evidence this response is effective. But rationality has never stopped us before.   Parents and school administrators supporting this plan say they would rather be safe than sorry. 
The question is: But at what cost?
Many of our kids have anxiety issues brought on by situations at home, bullies at school, and experiences in their neighborhoods.  Schools have elaborate plans to counteract bullies in the school and schoolyard.  We know that scared children don’t learn.  School is supposed to be a place where kids can feel safe.  Advocates for this training say that few schools have fires yet we still have fire drills.  That is true, but other than the loud noise there is nothing scary about a fire drill.  The training that supposedly teaches children to disrupt a school intrusion is very scary.   In the 50’s school children were taught to go into the school hallway or under school desks in preparation for a nuclear attack that thankfully never came.   It is doubtful the school desk would have been much protection anyway.  Now we are throwing canned vegetables at armed intruders.
So why are we doing this to our kids.  We are scaring them to death, making them fearful in their schools and for what reward.  Perhaps adults are doing this to make themselves feel better.  Almost all of these attacks appear random.  What can we do to prevent what appears to be a random act.  Adults feel they have little control to protect our kids.  We do not like that feeling.  So we have come up with this plan to make us feel like we do have some control over the outcomes of the random act. 

A person that shoots up a school is certainly not in his right mind.  It doesn’t help the situation for people in authority to lose their minds in response.