Sunday, December 4, 2011

Issue #36 December 4, 2011- Recall, Divided Wisconsin, Teacher Evaluations, Charter Schools, Follow the Money

Issue #36- December 4, 2011
In this issue: Recall News, A Divided Wisconsin, Teacher Evaluations, Charter Schools

What Walker Costs My Family…
To date my family has lost $3973.37 in income because of the actions of Governor Walker.  Of course that doesn't include the money we've received as paid signature collectors and our other union activities.  With those credits applied, the loss of income to my family is $3973.37.  To be honest the amount of money lost by my family is even greater due to the cost of printing out petitions and other documents at home along with other costs incurred while participating in actions made necessary by Governor Walker and his allies. 

Once again, this is not to minimize the losses and struggles faced by countless other citizens of Wisconsin.  I know that my family is lucky because we still have a home, a job and food on the table.  Many of my fellow Wisconsinites don't have these basic things.  However, public workers (including myself) weren't the cause of the "crisis" and have been unjustly punished and vilified by conservatives.  To be put in a situation where our financial livelihood is threatened is simply unconscionable.

I continue to believe that instead of buying in to the rhetoric of the right and trying to bring public workers down, all citizens of Wisconsin should be banding together to improve conditions for everyone.  I am not the problem, but I am part of the solution. 

Recall News and Volunteer Opportunities…
We keep hearing from the right that these recalls are unnecessary and even wasteful.  They tell us that we should just "get over" the fact that Walker was elected by a "majority" of voters.  They argue that it is the recall process that is dividing the state.  Do they really believe this, or are they simply worried that they may lose power here?

Whether you support the recall efforts or not, a couple of things seem to be clear. 

First, successful or not, Wisconsin doesn't have the same mechanisms in place to change legislation that a state like Ohio has.  In order to undo the damage done to worker rights, the environment and safety nets for our most vulnerable citizens we must go through the legislative process.  Note that I'm not putting a lot of faith in the judicial system to find anything wrong with the current legislation.  Any court system that can overrule Judge Sumi's decision on a local level and gives us Citizens United on a national level will not worry about the "little things" that have happened here.  This means that we must brace ourselves for a long struggle and an immediate future that is not encouraging.

Second, Wisconsin once again will be a focal point in the ongoing struggle between progressive and conservative ideologies.  The recall efforts will be big news politically, socially and economically.  We will see money pour in from all sides and the rhetoric will be intense.  The divisions between citizens on different sides of the issues will widen and increase as well.  Success for the recall will be a huge step in changing the way our politicians do business, failure will be devastating.

The battle isn't only localized to Wisconsin…

Or even the United States.

This means that we all need to step up our efforts to make a recall successful.  It also means we need to maintain our civility and make our case in ways that prove the strength of our beliefs.     

We can't forget that recall efforts are underway for others in addition to Walker.

Who Can You Trust?…
With the heightened stakes in the recall process there is no doubt that we will see an incredible level of advertising and media attention here in Wisconsin.  This will mean a great deal of information along with a corresponding level of misinformation.  Both sides will bring forward statistics and testimonials that support their viewpoints.  Citizens need to be intelligent consumers of the information they receive. 

Walker claims that his budget actually supports schools and is working already here in Wisconsin.  His supporters are running ads featuring "educators" and school board members who say that his "tools" are making their districts better.

Of course there's another side to the story. 

It seems like there is another issue that is being lost here.  While we can debate forever about the statements made by individuals in these ads, it is clear that our existing beliefs will determine our responses.  What isn't asked is the question of whether a successful education budget equals a balanced one.  Public education isn't a business and the bottom line isn't financial.  Simply arguing that being able to balance a budget misses the point that our schools deserve better than being a line item in a budget.  If we truly value all our children (and any citizen seeking an education) then we need to look beyond a dollars and cents measurement.

Walker also claims that he is improving our state's economic situation.  He says that he, along with his fellow Republicans, have made the tough decisions to balance the budget, improve business opportunities and increase job opportunities.  If you look beyond the state budget numbers (as deliberately confusing as those are) it is tough to make a case for this.

A great source for economic information

As Walker kicks his campaign mode into high gear even more pointed attacks will be coming.  The unions, public workers and working class citizens will be demonized and we will get to see lots of people talking about how wonderful things are in Wisconsin under Walker.

While the ads tout Walker's achievements there is a reality that needs to be reported and shared so that voters can make an informed choice at the polls. 
We must work to make sure that this information is available to everyone.  There's the corruption in his administration.  The ongoing investigations into his actions in Milwaukee Co. along with things like the railroad debacle.

 The continuing efforts by the Walker administration to undermine public safety nets is appalling and doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

In addition to the financial shenanigans that this administration is pulling, there is an incalculable cost to our social community here in Wisconsin.  Our governor would have us believe that a majority of citizens think like he does.  That a majority of us only care about the bottom line and have a narrow view of what a good person is like.  That "good person" fits a specific set of criteria and anything outside those parameters is a threat to our society.  Because of the divisive nature of his policies we can't even observe traditions without controversy.

Does this gentleman sound like a threat to society?

American Values Include Free Speech…
We are hearing a lot about American Values and the "things that make our country exceptional".  Unfortunately, it seems like there is an increasingly vocal minority that views anything outside their existing belief structure as anti-American.  We can never forget that we have a tradition backed by our legal system of allowing dissent to be vocalized.  That may be very difficult to remember here in January when the new DOA rules for public places take effect.

Along with the legal efforts to curtail free speech, individuals are also trying to undermine participation in the recall efforts.  It is clear to me that the bullying type tactics used by conservative leaders gives their followers the impression that the strategy are acceptable.

The Republican creation of anonymous sites where "concerned citizens" can report the "fraud and criminal activity" of their neighbors sure sounds like another time and another place.  It shouldn't be happening here in Wisconsin in 2011.  Unsubstantiated reports are then used in press releases as proof that progressive efforts to change our government are filled with corruption and out of state workers.

These efforts by the GOP don't sound at all like what they put forward as their platform and guiding principles.  These are taken from the GOP website and many don't match with the actions that Walker and Company have undertaken.
No matter what attacks are launched at progressive values we must maintain our honor and integrity.  Stooping to personal attacks and slanderous public comments only undermines our cause.  We must be assertive, but not cross the line into illegal or immoral actions.  At the end of the day, we must live with our words and actions and remember the values we promote.

Spend Your Money Wisely…
I will continue to encourage everyone I know to shop carefully this holiday season.  Try and avoid being trapped by the flood of advertising that makes this a season of spending and not a season of joy and hope.

Emotional Capital…
We spend a great deal of time talking about the financial capital available to our society.  We analyze the numbers and talk about ways to maximize the resources we have.  At the same time, we can't neglect other resources that exist.  One important, and often overlooked, capital is the emotional capital of our citizens.  Looking at the power of the movement that developed in response to Scott Walker shows that there is a great deal of energy that can be generated by the positive feelings of a group.  Workers in Wisconsin have taken a real beating in almost every possible area, yet we are still here fighting for what is right.

I strongly believe that, while we are fighting for economic and legal survival, one of our most important battles is to retain the hope of a society where different beliefs, ways of life and attributes are valued.  I remember a poem If a Child Lives With  by Dorothy Law Nolte that talks about how the surrounding attitudes influence the development of a child.

If A Child Lives With. . .by Dorothy Law Nolte
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilt.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to trust in himself and others .
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live.
This is no different for adults.  What is the society that is being created here in Wisconsin under Scott Walker like?
You Get What You Pay For…
Part of living in a civil society is identifying what is valued by the people who make up the society.  Here in America we are finding that the values of the majority are not being represented in our government on a consistent basis.  Why is this happening?  Could it be that money is totally corrupting our system of government?

The current climate means that the majority of the people are giving up things that they value and calling themselves fortunate to get anything.  Think of the public workers in Wisconsin agreeing to increase their pension and insurance payments in an effort to preserve their collective bargaining rights

At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens are saying through their signatures that Wisconsin is not working for them, the WMC releases this survey.  Obviously what is good for their members, isn't equally good for the regular people of Wisconsin.

Teacher Evaluation and Dismantling Public Education…
Teacher accountability is a huge issue for conservative education reformers.  They want the public to believe that our public school teachers are incompetent cogs in a corrupt, inefficient system that doesn't serve the interests of students.  At the same time that they are putting this concept forward, a majority of families are saying the exact opposite about their children's teachers.  How is it that the conservative reformers are wielding so much influence in this process?

Once again, we only have to look a short distance to find the answer.  Money and political power are the central reason behind the attacks on public educators.  The test driven climate that currently exists drives a negative campaign to smear educators and destroy public education as we know it.  Wisconsin's new evaluation model where 50% of a teacher's evaluation is based on test scores is only one example of this tactic.  A tactic not supported by most educators. 

Since business is such a powerful model for conservative thinking it seems like an example from that sphere is appropriate here.

The banker quoted in this article says, “If you had some old bag lady walking down the street and she had a decent credit score, she got a loan.”  This made me wonder about the use of numbers (test scores) in evaluating teachers.  Over the past few years we have heard a lot about companies with AAA ratings that fail miserably.  We've heard about banks that were considered safe and reputable, but which later on were discovered to be anything but.  If the experts in the financial industry can't consistently come up with a way to evaluate entities in their field, how can we expect to find an accurate tool to measure results in a field like education.  A field where the number of variables is essentially infinite and each child brings these variables into the classroom.

Maybe instead of worrying so much about evaluating and punishing educators and schools we should be developing ways to support and nurture our educational efforts.

In addition to supporting educators and schools we must develop a true sense of community centered around schools.  The community members must be a part of the process of making a school successful.  However, the only way for this to work is for the members of the community to be informed and knowledgeable about the objectives and challenges that exist for the students and educators.  All parties must approach the effort to improve a school without promoting other agendas.  Open and honest dialog will promote communication which builds trust between the different parts of the educational community.

While most Americans support and respect their child's teacher, a majority also feel that public education is not what it could be.  This is in large measure due to the attention brought to bear on test scores and other statistics by the media and political leadership.  We know that the forces promoting many of the studies and the testing are in favor of privatizing schools.  It is in their interest to promote distrust of educators and schools.  Evaluating teachers is another way to control the debate over the quality of education in America.

School Choice…
Of course school choice is the other major tenet of the reform efforts for our public schools.  Once the schools are criticized and trust in the public school is eroded parents are left with the option of a privatized educational system.  One that is not regulated as strictly and one that serves private interests. 

The Madison Prep story continues to unfold here in Madison.  It is dividing our community and causing confusion for many citizens.  There are many unanswered questions and serious concerns with their proposal.  

Make no mistake, I (along with all the educators that I know) want to work to address the problems that exist in public education.  This is especially true when looking at groups that are struggling to succeed in our society.  However, I believe that the best way to address this is through the existing framework of public schools. 

By opening up publicly funded, but privately supported schools we further fragment our already challenged education system.  Madison Prep not only takes needed money away from other schools, it opens the door for excessive private influence on our schools.  Note that Madison Prep supporters are asking for some of their funding to come from donations.  Given that they already have some  connections to groups that support the privatization of education won't that only give these donators (like the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Foundation) more influence than they currently have here in Madison?

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