Sunday, December 15, 2013

#143 December 15, 2013 Reality Check

Impending Doom, A Manufactured Reality. . .
We live in a time when everything seems to be a crisis and a matter of utmost importance.  The nature of our modern media coverage creates this atmosphere as different sources compete for consumer attention, advertisers and profits.  This climate extends from the media throughout our daily lives, but especially into the world of politics. 

The continual sense of crisis has turned politics into a battleground with clear divisions between viewpoints that often seem to be insurmountable barriers.  We become entrenched in our viewpoints and respond, not in thoughtful and reasoned ways, but in a knee-jerk reactionary mode of thinking.  Whatever the issue, it is inevitable that there will be an outpouring of opinions from all sides, and the most extreme will get the most attention. 

We seem to have lost sight of what politics and government should be about.  We've turned the process of governing our society into a strange combination of reality TV, sports and war.  Along the way the emphasis has become, not to serve the citizens represented by the government, but to win a contest that few understand and even fewer benefit from.  In fact, it seems like there is a real movement in politics to not only fail to serve, but to actually do harm to those who are not big money donors or who are not well represented by powerful lobbyists.     

In this climate of continual crisis, it is often difficult to get a real sense of what is truly important.  We've heard "Wolf" cried so many times that we become numb to the constant clamor that tells us the end of our democracy, the end of the American way of life, and many other "ends" are at our doorsteps.  Living in this highly emotionally charged atmosphere puts a constant strain on each individual's ability to process information and make decisions.  We know that pressure, stress and a sense of crisis changes the way that we look at the world, and influences many aspects of our lives. 

The evidence of the toll that this takes on all of us is clearly visible in the current political, social and economic conditions here in Wisconsin and across the nation.  An important question to consider is, who profits from the ongoing conflicts and sense of crisis? 

Remember that the reason people form into groups is to meet our basic needs in a world that can be very dangerous when we face it alone.  Human history has been a constant struggle to develop societies that address our needs as individuals while also allowing for us to work as cohesively as possible with others.  Our biggest advantage in the natural world is our ability to think, communicate and work together to overcome our challenges.  In order to reap the benefits of these skills we surrender some of our independence to the groups that we join.  However, there must always be some benefit for us to continue as a member, or else there must be some force that makes us continue our association with any larger group of people.

Most of us don't even consider this as we move through our daily lives.  We've gone past the point where we see being a citizen as a choice.  Instead, we accept that things are the way they are without considering that there could be other ways of organizing our communities or interacting with other groups.  We tend not to question things too much, and instead rely on others to make the decisions that shape the realities that we live in. 

To some extent this isn't a terrible thing.  After all, if everyone constantly questioned everything and tried to follow their own rules and norms, chaos would ensue.  Our nation has developed an elaborate set of rules that govern our interactions in all areas, and we have surrendered a significant amount of authority to those who we choose to represent us through political elections, financial decisions, and many other ways.  We trust that these individuals and processes will work fairly, and that they will produce satisfactory outcomes for most of us, and in many ways they do work for the most part.  Life in America is significantly better than in much of the rest of the world in terms of stability, safety and material goods.

Yet, at the same time this tendency to follow the guidance of those in positions of authority can be a negative trait as well.  We may need to follow rules, procedures and laws in order to enjoy the benefits of our society, but we should always be thoughtful about who we follow, what we follow, and why we follow.  There will always be positives about any society, but there will also be challenges that need to be addressed.  Blindly following any doctrine, leader or ideological philosophy opens the doorway to exploitation and manipulation that undermines the social contract that we all have entered in to. 

We stand at a crossroads in American history.  It is a crossroads that we have been at before, and that we will ultimately face many times in our future.  Each time the battles are slightly different.  This is true because the issues change, the individuals change and our society is never exactly the same as it was.  Yet, the conflict over who makes the social, political and economic decisions in our nation is a common theme.  Whether it is the struggle for equity that different groups have fought over the years, the struggle for economic justice, or any other issue, the core battle continues to revolve around where the center of power lies. 

Modern American society presents an interesting environment for this ongoing conflict.  We have a population that has access to information at a level never before seen in human history.  We have access to educational opportunities and historical knowledge which allows us to put our current struggles in perspective.  Our ability to communicate with others around our nation and our world is unprecedented. 

Yet, even with all of this potential, many of us are unaware of the depth of the struggles until someone points them out to us.  We find ourselves manipulated by those who would seek to maintain their control of power and wealth in our society.  We fail to exercise our rights and utilize the wealth of information available to us.  We see our world controlled in ways that we may feel are unfair or illogical, yet too often "sweat the small stuff" or allow our focus to be directed in ways that don't promote our own interests. 

Once again questions are raised, who profits from the different crises that are the focus of so much discussion in our society?  Are we focusing on the issues that really matter?  Are we following leaders who share our goals?  How can we best work to resolve the ongoing conflicts that exist in our society? 

One problem is that many of us tend to ignore political and economic issues until they directly impact our lives.  By the time we realize what is happening, it may be too late to halt the processes.  The election of Scott Walker and the passage of Act 10 provide us with an example of this.  A significant portion of the electorate didn't vote in 2010, and as a result took to the streets in 2011.  Had those voters turned out in 2010 we may have seen a totally different situation in Wisconsin. 

Of course it would help if politicians were honest about their plans and objectives when on the campaign trail, and after they are elected.  Because so many citizens don't keep up on issues they are vulnerable to leaders and messages that are extremely biased and misleading.  As a society we tend to put a lot of faith in our elected leaders even though we claim to mistrust government.  It is interesting that many who question the ability of our government to provide basic services and protections turn to leaders like Walker for the very things that they claim government can't provide.   

This crusade against unions, especially those representing public educators, is another example of the inconsistencies and questionable motives that drive the agenda.  We are told that unions are bad, that they are anti-American, and that the workforce is better off without them, yet without some representation workers are left vulnerable to all sorts of abuses.  This reality is borne out historically, and we are moving in the direction of repeating our past mistakes.   These mistakes are being made in all industries and in both public and private sector employment.    

In doing so we ignore the vast potential that a workforce united with management has.

The economic philosophies and policies that Conservatives offer are also geared towards benefitting a minority of the population.  At the same time they are preaching austerity and shrinking government, our Republican leaders are borrowing funds at a rapid pace and using the money to cover their flawed policies.   

Democrats refuse to take the GOP on and articulate a different way of doing business in Wisconsin and across America.  Instead, they use similar language and try to play the game by the Conservative's rules.  

Do we face a crisis here in Wisconsin?  The answer is yes, but it isn't the crisis that so many of our elected leaders and their mouthpieces would have us believe.  If we continue to believe the anti-labor, austerity rhetoric we will end up facing a truly substantial crisis that will impact all of us in significant ways.

Until we see leaders rise to the challenge and provide alternative ways to look at the challenges we face we will see the same solutions applied, and the same cycles repeat.  Instead of hiding behind the easy to defend rhetoric of low taxes, individualism and empty promises of freedom (while binding us to lives of debt and wage slavery), we need leaders who will lay out the facts and guide us in new directions.   It is up to the citizens to make sure that we get a government that truly represents the interests of the people.  The only way these leaders emerge is if the people reject the messages that we are currently being fed and support a different vision for our society.   

Assessment, Fueling a
Crisis in Public Education. . .
Our public schools are certainly not immune to the efforts to mislead the public and control the dialog around efforts to educate our youth.  The "reforms" that are being offered follow the same thinking as the mistaken philosophies in our political and economic spheres.  We are constantly being told that our public schools are "failing" and that we face a crisis of epidemic proportions unless drastic measures are taken. 

The catalyst for the crisis is assessment data.  Our public school students are tested, retested, evaluated and assessed endlessly.  Whether it is standardized tests mandated from the federal or state level, district mandated assessments, or the evaluations conducted by individual educators, our students are undergoing constant scrutiny regarding their progress in a wide range of areas. 

No educator will argue that assessing students isn't an important part of the educational process, we all rely on assessments to help guide our instruction and to understand the needs of our students.  Yet, the use of data in our schools has become an epidemic that threatens to drown out creativity and even threatens necessary instruction for students.  It is often our most at-risk students who are assessed the most, thereby missing valuable instructional time that they need to catch up with their grade-level peers.  Educators find themselves forced to conform to a specific way of teaching, or to specific topics, in order to insure that their students meet expectations on standardized assessments. 

Yet, we know that many of our assessments aren't producing valid and/or meaningful results.  We administer some assessments simply because it is a requirement of our job, not because it is good for our students.  Educators, family members and students question the assessments, but often meet resistance from those outside the classroom.  We then see the results of these tests used against us, and any complaints from educators is seen as "sour grapes" or a defense of our inability to educate students effectively.
The same questions that we can ask in the political and economic realms also apply in public education.  When we inquire about who benefits from the rash of assessments infecting our schools the answer seems obvious. 

"Last month, global consulting business McKinsey & Co. published a report concluding that the market for data in education from both public and private sources represented a new business venture worth between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion in annual economic value worldwide, about a third of it in the United States."

Educators have the same responsibilities that voters have when it comes to countering the flawed messaging of the "reformers".  We need to make sure that we consider the source of any information presented to us, question policies and programs appropriately and be strong advocates for our students.  There are many companies who are making huge profits by infiltrating our schools and providing "services" to schools, all so that they can reap the financial benefits. 

Human Friendly Shopping. . .
Many people I know have commented on how difficult it is to spend money in ways that don't leave them feeling guilty about giving their financial support to companies that either exploit workers, harm the environment, support ideologies that are in opposition to their beliefs, or any combination of these.  While that is very true, it is also important to remember that every penny spent at a more "friendly" establishment helps.  Keep trying to find places that sell products and promote Progressive ideas.     

7 simple tips for guilt-free holiday shopping:

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