Sunday, October 13, 2013

Issue #134- Contracts, Shutdown and Wisconsin Politics

Contracts!!! and Other Education News. . .
Great news for MMSD employees!!!  The only MMSD contract not yet approved is the AFSCME 60 contract which employees are voting on this weekend.  It is anticipated to be approved by the members and then approved by the School Board next week.

These contracts are so important, not only for MMSD employees, but also for the future of public education in Wisconsin.  The contracts give employees in the second largest school district in Wisconsin a voice to speak out about the continuing efforts to privatize our state's schools.  

They give us a voice to continue to speak out against the "reforms" that harm our students.  "Reforms" that often are a product of profiteer's, not educator's, efforts to improve educational opportunities for all students.

They give us a voice to fight to maintain and protect the professional standards that we have worked so hard to achieve.  Standards that are under attack by "reformers" who want to radically change the way that we teach and the ways that our efforts are evaluated.
Here's an interesting site with lots of links to articles and editorials.

"Any Group of 1st Graders Could Solve This Problem". . .
As we continue to see little progress made towards resolving the issues around the government shutdown, the frustration builds among people from all sides and ideologies.  While the blame is directed at different players in the conflict based on political ideology, one common thought that is voiced is that this is a problem that should be easily resolved.  Whether that means that one side completely capitulates, or that some compromise is reached, many Americans feel that the shutdown is a symptom of either the incompetence, or the dysfunctional nature of our national government.

One thread of conversation that I recently followed equated the behavior of our president and members of congress to that of children involved in a simple dispute.  The end result of this conversation was general agreement that issues around the ACA and the funding of our nation's government were so simple to solve that "Any group of 1st graders" could end the stalemate.  This attitude about such an important problem isn't uncommon in a nation that so often prides itself on its use of "common sense".

Yet, in many ways it is our reliance on "common sense" and the American public's unwillingness to recognize the complex nature of the problems that we face that gets us into these situations.  As a whole, we are too easily swayed by the idea that a simple direct approach can eliminate significant challenges and we look to politicians who voice simple solutions.  Here in Wisconsin we fell victim to this type of campaigning in 2010 when Scott Walker unveiled his "Brown Bag Movement" with a simple message that resonated with many voters.  We saw this simplistic approach validated when he stuck with his "plan" throughout the recall race while Tom Barrett was criticized for talking about bringing people together to discuss the complex issues.

"Common sense" is a dangerous concept simply because "common sense" is so uncommon and so dependent on one's ideological viewpoints.  What is "common sense" to one person, is controversial or illogical to another.  There are also analogies that appear to make perfect "common sense", but really are comparing apples to oranges.  The idea that our government's budget is directly analogous to a family budget is one of these things. 

Another way that "common sense" fails on a societal level is that, while most of us can agree on generalities, the devil truly is in the details when it comes to applying the values and beliefs that many of us hold so dear.  Most Americans can agree that they want people to have freedom, that they want people to be able to survive independent of governmental support, and that all people should have equal opportunity to succeed.  These common beliefs make it appear that many of our problems could be easily resolved, after all, if pretty much everyone supports an idea, why can't our system make it happen.  How we achieve these things is where we encounter difficulties.  For example, does the belief that everyone should have a right to personal safety mean that everyone should be able to walk around armed, or does it mean that we empower our government to protect us?       

"Common sense" can only be applied when we have the knowledge and/or experience to base our opinions on.  "Common sense" without some knowledge is of little substantive value.  We are vulnerable to a lack of information, or misrepresentation of the realities that we offer our ideas on.  By relying on either simple "common sense" or on biased sources of information to base our opinions on, we simply allow others to control our thinking and become pawns in a game that others will win.    

Another significant problem with applying "common sense" to our societal conflicts, is that there are those who stand to gain power or wealth by continuing or escalating quarrels.  They may use the language of "common sense", but don't apply the principles that make positive resolutions happen.  This is where the analogy of 1st graders really breaks down.  In my experience, most children involved in playground disputes are involved in conflicts that center around immediate personal needs.  They don't have long range plans to disrupt recess, and aren't setting the stage for future encounters.  Many of the social, economic and political battles we are engaged in have long histories and are ongoing into the foreseeable future.  This makes conflict resolution much more difficult to achieve.  

The end result is that our efforts to instill some "common sense" into the process fail, and the citizens of our nation end up divided along ideological, social and economic lines.  We see different standards applied to participants in events based on our beliefs.  The "Wisconsin 14" are viewed as obstructionists and cowards by some, who then claim that  House Republicans are participating in a noble struggle against tyranny.  A local radio show host talks about how the ACA will raise her insurance rates over $250 which is an amount that is "enough to make someone sell their house".  Yet, that same host has continued to tout the retirement contributions required by public employees under Act 10 (about triple the increases in her insurance rates for my household) as insignificant, minor and much needed reform.   

The full impacts of the conflict in Washington remain to be seen.  Yet, it is difficult to imagine that there won't be significant consequences for our nation, both short and long term. 

We aren't seeing the struggles around "common sense" reforms limited to those involving the current fiscal battle.  The same language and ideals are used in other areas as well.  


However, the current conflicts are resolved, the reality is that they are symptoms of a larger, even more significant problem.  Until the American people decide to truly become informed and to hold our elected officials accountable for resolving problems, not creating them, we will simply move from one crisis to another.  The end result of the crises will be a continuing deterioration of the rights, privileges and standard of living for a majority of the citizens of our nation. 

Wisconsin Politics. . .
As we move towards the 2014 elections things are heating up in Wisconsin.  Over the next several months the Democrats will determine who will oppose Governor Walker in a crucial election.  While it is still early in the process, I still believe that it is important that there is a primary race for the Democrat's ticket.  That would allow for the people of Wisconsin to see where the candidates stand on issues that are of great importance to us.   

Along the way, we must also work to counter the propaganda that will be coming from the Republican Party.   

There is a significant amount of information that voters need to know before they vote next year.  

The race for governor won't be the only important one on the next ballot.

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