Sunday, November 24, 2013

#140 November 24, 2013- Ed. Reform and More Good, Bad and Ugly in Wisconsin

Stretched to the Breaking Point. . .
Public educators often feel pulled in many directions.  We hear the messages that our schools are failing, but more importantly we see students in our classrooms who are struggling.  We know that we can always try new strategies and work just a little harder to try and meet the needs of our students.  At the same time, we are given solutions to these challenges that are too often questionable in validity and frequently coming from sources that don't have our student's best interests at heart. 

Many of us feel compelled to try to implement these "reforms", even though, at the same time we question them.  Those educators who try to resist face penalties, harsh criticism and are identified as barriers to student achievement.  The propaganda machine of the "reformers" has created an atmosphere where trying to teach students in any manner outside of the prescribed methods is viewed as obstructionist and anti-achievement.
One of the most common attacks on educators comes in a seemingly neutral and logical question, "Don't you want what's best for your students?"  Of course the answer to this question is a resounding "YES".  I have yet to meet an educator who doesn't want their students to succeed, to be safe, and to be happily engaged in learning.  Educators devote a significant portion of their day, both in and out of school, doing everything possible to make this happen.  Yet, we are constantly reminded of our failures and our successes are minimized.   
Educators who try to stand up for themselves either individually, or collectively are vilified as selfish and lazy.  Yet, we are asked to go above and beyond the expectations in our contracts or job descriptions on a regular basis, and we do so willingly and with a constant eye on the welfare of our students.  Those who criticize educators for being concerned about our working conditions often do so, not out of concern for students, but rather because of a desire to undermine a group that they consider their political, social or economic enemies.

There are real problems in our school systems that need to be addressed.  Yet, because of the political conflicts the causes and potential solutions to these problems are often misidentified.

We need to have some real debate and discussion about how to make our system of public education better for all students.  Yet, in a climate of crisis, open dialog and proactive problem solving are some of the first things to disappear.  The debates become confrontations, and "solutions" are more geared towards punishing opponents than resolving problems.   

The debates around the best practices for educating students have been going on for a long time.  We need to continue these discussions and find the best possible strategies for teaching students.  At the same time we can't forget that every student is an individual and a "one size fits all" approach simply isn't realistic if we want students to succeed.

We also must emphasize the needs of students to grow and develop their skills in natural and developmentally appropriate ways.  Hearing an article about a potential "savior" of education say, "'My B.A. in economics was zero help in my profession today.” Instead, he says that countless hours playing games during his school years–poker, chess, backgammon–were the experiences that 'prepared me for what I do today.')" is troubling when the reforms that are proposed eliminate much of the potential to play and learn at the same time.  We can't set up a dual level school system where the wealthy learn in student friendly ways and the rest of the population is stuck in a system based on drills, fundamentals and assessment. 

Educators need to start taking back our  schools and the systems that we work with students in.  We've put too much trust in leaders from outside of our ranks, and are paying the price in policies that are not student or educator friendly.  The question of how to grow educator leaders, while not removing them from the place they are most needed, the classroom, is challenging.  We also need to work together to find ways to resist the "reforms" and implement real positive change in our schools.  

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. . .
The Good
Senator John Lehman will be running for Lieutenant Governor in 2014.  He is the only announced candidate on the Democrat ticket to date.  He will be giving up his Senate seat, which he won in a 2012 recall election to pursue the office.  While it is unfortunate to for an incumbent to give up their seat in the closely contested Wisconsin Senate, the reality is that the redistricting of Senate boundaries done by the Republican controlled legislature would make his re-election extremely difficult and having a viable candidate for Lt. Governor is very important in the upcoming election.   

The Democrats are beginning to campaign on issues that will challenge Scott Walker to defend his record.

As we gear up for the 2014 campaign, other organizations are beginning to gear up to help unseat Walker.  Considering the amount of financial backing that Walker will enjoy, any and all support from different places will be needed.

The Bad
The only reason that this isn’t in the ugly category is that it should come as no surprise that our Chief Executive in the state regards public employees as a collective enemy of the state.

This item has the potential to move quickly into the “Ugly” category depending on the decision handed down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The Court is going to rule on Wisconsin’s Photo ID Law that has been called one of the most restrictive pieces of legislation in the nation.  What makes this particularly troubling for many Wisconsinites is the fact that our state is looking more and more like a state in the deep South and not a Progressive Midwestern state.

This article gets at the heart of the problems that we currently face in education.  While it might appear that an article trumpeting an improved quality in American educators would be a welcome bit of news in this climate that is so hostile to education, the reality is that the way that “improved quality” is defined is problematic.  Their major measure of quality is the fact that the current crop of educators has a high concentration of individuals who scored in the top quartile of SAT scores.

Apparently the insecurity of the private-sector labor market has driven some individuals into the public sector in search of stability instead of higher wages.  While it isn’t hard to make the argument that the stability and security in educational occupations isn’t what it used to be, it seems that some students are viewing the public sector as preferable to the private sector.

What is especially troubling is that a source like Mother Jones can run a headline about the improved quality of teachers when the article gives little information that supports this beyond test scores and grades.  It should be clear to anyone involved in education that, while knowledge may be important, there are many factors that are more important in determining the quality of any individual educator.  Do we really want to have a crop of new educators who are entering the profession based on economic criteria?  What will happen when the job market improves, will they stay in education?  Doesn’t this definition of quality feed into the education “reformers” ideas that teaching shouldn’t be a career, but rather a stepping stone to  “better” more “valuable” positions.     

Another one for the mixed “good” and “bad” category.  The fact that we are continuing to look at the Walker regime’s record of questionable ethics is important.  However, considering the way that the previous John Doe investigation fizzled out, it is difficult to find much hope that more will come of this one.  Anything less than specific charges against Walker will give the Republicans ammunition for their defense of their leader.  They are already calling this a “witch hunt” and trying to reap political capital from the investigation.   

Most of us already knew this.

The economic policies of the Republican Party are geared, not for sustainable economic recovery, but rather for the profit of a small number of citizens.  This fact is clearly demonstrated in economic data, and makes the support of candidates like Walker by working and middle class citizens more troubling.  There is a real need to educate the voters about the economic realities that our society faces before too much more damage is done to our economy and to individuals/families. 

The Ugly
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has been a source of embarrassment for many of us over the past few years.  The elections have been marred by outside money, mudslinging and highly partisan races.  We’ve seen bitter, sometimes physical, confrontations between Justices, and rulings that appear politically, not legally motivated.  Given the highly charged atmosphere in Wisconsin recently, the judicial system needs to be a non-partisan venue where key issues can be debated and neutral and legally consistent decisions can be reached.   

The Supreme Court is currently playing a huge role in the ongoing conflict over Act 10 and the rights of public employees to unionize in the state.  However, given the partisan nature of the current Court, the fairness and even legality of the rulings on this and similar issues will be called into question.  

Why do the Court's rulings matter so much?  Given Act 10's onerous requirements for unions and burdensome regulations the immediate future of unions in Wisconsin hangs in the balance.   

AFSCME Council 24's recertification vote was approved 329-15, but that was not enough to meet the requirements of Scott Walker's Act 10.

This is happening at the time when employees have significant needs for representation in the workplace.

For those who don't understand why derogatory and offensive mascots need to be changed, here's a concrete example.  We can't minimize the pain and suffering that these supposedly harmless symbols cause. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

#139 November 17, 2013- Do the Right Thing

What's Right For Kids. . .
It certainly appears that something truly has gone horribly wrong in the American public education system.  All of the rhetoric and hype about our schools failing our students and the issues around Achievement Gaps paint a very bleak picture for our students' futures and our nation's prospects.  It isn't hard to find someone publicly airing the "dirty laundry" of our public education system, and it's equally easy to find people offering solutions that will fix all of our problems.  Solutions that inevitably involve eliminating educator unions, increasing assessments and following the outlined plans of some, for-profit, think-tank/business/organization with ties to one of the major corporate "reform" groups.   

These so called "reformers" have the ear of the American people, and they certainly have access to those who make policy decisions about education at the highest levels.  This is obvious when we examine the current trends in public education.  These, supposedly new and innovative, "reforms that are offered are presented in a way that seems to make sense with many citizens.  Who can argue against the idea of challenging students, providing increased "rigor", holding schools and educators accountable, and many of the other theoretical benefits of the assessment/privatization movement in education?

The problem with these "reforms" and the battles that they have caused around public education in America is that they too often focus on the wrong things, and do so for the wrong reasons.  There are two common refrains used by "reformers" to justify the need to implement their ideas.  These two ideas are not necessarily compatible and in some ways are actually mutually exclusive. 

The most important tenet of the reform movement is the idea that our schools are not providing a quality education to students, and this results in a lack of quality employees to power the American economy.  This principle gets to the heart of what those with the most economic power want from our educational system.  The system should be set up to serve the needs of business and the economy first.  After all, "The business of America is business."  Along the way, "reformers" can justify their emphasis on making students "career ready" by emphasizing the economic benefits that individuals can reap, but many of the skills that are emphasized in the current climate of standards and assessment are not those needed for innovative thinking.  Instead, we emphasize computation, decoding and a strict adherence to what others have written, not creative thinking and problem solving skills.  

This starts at a younger and younger age.  It is reflected in the emphasis on the basics and the resulting lack of instruction in content areas like social studies.  Elementary school schedules begin to resemble middle school schedules and students lose opportunities to play and explore the world.  Opportunities that they need in order to fully develop their cognitive abilities.    

The second part of the "reform" platform is the idea that change needs to occur in order to give families and students freedom from a system that doesn't work for them.  According to this line of thinking the public school system, public educators, and most importantly the unions that represent the educators have all conspired to create a system that benefits educators at the expense of students.  In order to recreate the system and avoid those "greedy educators" the "reformers" have turned to people outside the world of education for ideas.  They have created marketing campaigns and well packaged programs that are very consumer friendly.  However, the supposedly innovative and progressive ideas are usually either repackaged ideas with a new cover, or simply business proposals that lure families away from real educational opportunities.    

It would be one thing if the "reform" movement would be content to operate independently of the public school system and attempt to really offer new ways of educating students.  Competition and choice are not necessarily bad, especially when they occur in a truly fair and unbiased environment.  Instead, they have been lobbying hard to steal needed resources away from the public schools through voucher programs and other initiatives.  Educators in the public schools can't escape their efforts to profit from education and students.  We are swamped with new packaged programs that are created by companies who are pretending to care about students, but who actually are looking for profits.  Too often the same companies that are lobbying for privatization are also providing materials that public school educators are being forced to use.

In the end, it boils down to creating a system that really is best for kids.  The question is, who are we to trust to build that system?  Should we be trusting groups and companies who stand to make huge profits from pushing a specific program or agenda?  Should we trust educators who have been working directly with students and who are a part of the community that they live and work in?  The choice seems obvious, yet in our consumer driven, highly distractible, and "flavor of the moment" society we too often fall for the former.     

There is hope for the future.  Educators across the nation are ending their silence.  They are no longer willing to simply "do as they're told" and follow the directives that they recognize as questionable in intent and result.  They are banding together with families and students to make sure our voices are heard loudly and clearly.  

Wisconsin Politics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. . .
The Good. . .
The Wisconsin Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case the MTI brought against Act 10.   

After and intense and sometimes bitter struggle Kenosha educators negotiated 2 one year contracts.

The Bad. . .
This goes into the "Bad" category because of the mixed nature of the ideas offered by Mary Burke.  While it is good to hear that Burke, the current frontrunner in the race to be the Democrat's nominee to oppose Walker in 2014, isn't in favor of expanding the voucher program, I hope that she continues to develop her platform regarding education and becomes an even stronger advocate for public education so that her candidacy can move firmly into the "Good" category.     

We know any GOP controlled legislature will fight to expand the vouchers and any Governor will have to find a way to protect our public schools from these efforts.  It is true that Burke will have to work with the legislature, it is also clear that the current legislature in Wisconsin isn't very open to bipartisan ideas or compromise.  If elected governor, any Democrat will face bitter opposition to any changes in the current direction our state is moving in. 

Burke's ideas that all schools need to be held accountable is fair in some ways, but part of the problems that we are seeing in education can be traced back to the attempts to instill accountability in ways that damage students and educational efforts.  Simply making voucher schools accountable in the same ways that public schools are won't improve things for any students.  

The Ugly. . .
Supporters of Scott Walker who want to believe that their "hero" is all about limiting the power of government should keep this quote from Attorney General Van Hollen (referring to a comment by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley  about two ships passing) in mind, "I don't believe the two ships pass in the night. I believe they collide and the state has the bigger ship and we shall win." 

"It's the economy stupid" is a mantra that has worked in political campaigns throughout history, and Wisconsin's Democrats should keep hammering on this issue.  

We should be very concerned about the future of democracy in Wisconsin and across the nation.  

Think carefully before heading out to shop on Thanksgiving.  It is our opportunity to use the "Free Market" to help regain some control of our consumer driven insanity.  

Race, Education and
Madison, WI. . .
Madison, Wisconsin has long been known as an island of liberalism surrounded by the reality that is the rest of Wisconsin.  This is sometimes used as a derogatory phrase to try and paint the city and its residents as out of touch with the rest of the state and with the "real world" in general.  It is also a source of pride for many residents and is consistently demonstrated in elections, policies and attitudes of the residents of the city.

Within the supposedly ultra-liberal bastion that Madison represents, there are some significant problems that exist.  This shouldn't come as a surprise, after all, no human society has, or will, achieve complete equality or justice for every member.  However, this doesn't mean that we simply accept the problems that exist.  What it does mean is that we must be aware of the challenges and work to try and address them in the most equitable and proactive manner possible. 

Some of the most glaring, and surprising to some, issues that the city must work on are the problems involving race.  These issues are multi-faceted and exist across a number of different areas of political, economic and social importance.  The statistics are striking and startling.  In a city that prides itself on socially just policies and providing opportunity for all, the reality for many citizens is quite different.  Black youths are six times more likely to be arrested here, compared to 3 times more likely to be arrested in the rest of Wisconsin.  The economic statistics for non-white citizens are drastically different than their white counterparts.  We have a huge achievement gap that exists in our public school system.  In short, there are really multiple versions of the Madison reality that differ based on an individual's race and native language.       

A significant amount of effort has been made by defenders of the city's reputation to justify the statistics.  Many of these arguments are grounded in the reality that we live in here in Madison, and help explain some of the differences between groups.  The fact that Madison is a city that features a major university and several other colleges plays a role in the discrepancies between groups.  The types of jobs that are available lend themselves to a significant gap in economic status, and a corresponding gap between members of different groups.   

The explanations also have a historical legacy that makes changing the current reality difficult.  Over time Madison's neighborhoods have developed in ways that are highly segregated, with groups separated by distance and natural barriers.  I also believe that we are a part of the next wave of the Great Migration that has involved the movement of people from negative locations (the Deep South, poverty stricken inner cities) to places where the migrants hope to find success.  Yet, when arriving in towns like Madison, the migrants find themselves without a social network and without opportunity for employment that provides an income equal to the cost of living in a largely upper middle class, white-collar community.

Our schools reflect these problems that exist in the larger community.  There is no denying that the relatively rapid shift in demographics that has occurred in Madison has left our school system struggling to catch up with the needs of our students.  That this has occurred during a time when school budgets are slashed and fewer resources are available for our students has certainly not helped.  

All of these facts, and more that I didn't mention, combine to create an environment where inequality exists in the midst of a community that claims to want to do anything possible to avoid that exact outcome.  That they are real, and that they impact any efforts to eliminate gaps and inequality is true.  Yet, the fact remains that we must find ways to overcome these challenges and move forward in closing the inequalities and gaps that exist in our city.  No challenges can justify such grim realities that our fellow citizens live in.

One of the biggest barriers to creating a truly equal society lies in the fact that much of the racism and bias that occurs is hidden and covert.  In fact, to a large degree the problems that exist are hidden even from those who perpetuate the problems.  We simply don't realize that we are contributing to a problem through  words and actions that, at best, simply create an environment that ignores the underlying problems in our society.  This is true on all sides of the political "aisles", and the general sense that it is someone else who is causing the problems allows the gaps to expand and halts our progress towards a socially just society. 

We toss around terms like racism and prejudice, but those words only apply to other people, in other places and often in other time periods.  The fact that many in America applauded the decision to roll back parts of the Voting Rights Act, and that so many express the opinion that Affirmative Action is no longer relevant demonstrates this false belief that we have moved past our troubled racial past.  It is troubling that we can claim to have overcome our past, while we still continue to see so many people struggle to succeed in our society.  It is also disturbing that we see other groups targeted for the same types of discrimination and abuse that African-American citizens have endured, all while continuing to make the claim that our society is unbiased and a provider of equal opportunity for all.           

Conservatives love to point fingers at Madison and trumpet our failure to address issues of race and achievement.  These barbs hurt, not because they are untrue, but mainly because, when we really think about it our efforts to address the inequities of society haven't worked.  We have been comfortable with modest efforts, and satisfied that we are not overtly racist in the policies that we promote.  It is easy for Progressives to look at the heavily biased policies of the modern GOP and think that we are doing better than they are.  While that might be true in many ways, in others it is simply a justification for failure.  We may mean for our policies to create a different environment, but the results just aren't there.

The other problem that the attacks on Madison, and liberal policies in general, by conservatives create is the climate of crisis that increases tension and reduces compromise and problem solving.  When two such drastically different philosophies compete (as is the case in Wisconsin) there is little opportunity to truly debate and discuss issues in a positive way.  It becomes a war of attrition, a climate of survival of the fittest, a place where truly progressive and proactive efforts are swallowed up by the bigger conflicts for power in society. 

Many different groups have found themselves cast as pawns in the game.  Organized labor, environmentalists, and many other groups are forced to choose between one of two routes to power.  We see groups played against each other, and used by those in power to maintain control of the access to political, economic and social control.  The struggles of the common citizen to achieve and find success in society are ignored by those who look to advance their own views. 

An example of this is the struggle to close the Achievement Gaps in Madison's schools.  The efforts of educators, families and students to find ways to address the issues around achievement in school are used by politicians to promote their own agendas.  Conservatives point to the Gaps and garner support for destroying educator unions.  Private companies point to the gaps and use them to promote for-profit voucher schools and packaged curriculums.  Lost in the shuffle are the students and the ability of educators to work cooperatively with families to promote achievement.        

There are no quick fixes for the problems that exist in Madison, just like there are no quick fixes for the rest of Wisconsin and America.  Our problems around race go back through history and are deeply ingrained in the way that each of us view the world.  We can only continue our efforts to try and create opportunities for our society to address the underlying issues that create the problems we see manifested in our statistical failures. 

One of the most important things that we can work towards is the elimination of the stratification of our society by income.  The gaps between the wealthy and the rest of society are widening and this will only create more problems for the citizens of Madison, and the rest of America.  Poverty is increasing, and we know that poverty is one of the most important statistics in determining the success of a student in our schools.    

Poverty is also a huge indicator of the health of our society.  This is true whether we are talking about a city, county, state or nation.  We can't ignore the fact that more and more people are slipping into poverty and fewer are reaching even middle-class status.  This is a difficult cycle to break, and even more so when compounded by racial, gender or language barriers. 

As individual citizens we have little ability to impact the larger economic picture.  Yet, our society is made up of a large number of individuals and each of us has a role, no matter how small, in how our society behaves.  We need to closely examine our own beliefs and our own actions and look for ways to make changes.     
We, as a whole society, have the potential to improve and do better than we currently are performing.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

#138- Hidden Agendas, Obstructionism and Misplaced Anger

Wolves In Sheep's Clothing. . .
Education reform is a hot topic in modern America.  The discussions around reform too often center on how our public schools are failing students, how our public schools are failing society, and how we can radically change the ways that our public schools function (or even completely eliminate the existing public school system altogether).  The language of the debate has been shaped by reformers to create an atmosphere of crisis and mistrust around public schools and public school educators (especially those that are unionized). 

This language is almost always grounded in a few main themes.  Each of these themes has been chosen to appeal to the "common sensibilities" of the "everyday taxpaying citizen."  They are designed to make the ideals of educational "reform" seem logical and positive in nature.  They sound good when touted by politicians and sound good in advertisements and in media reports about education.  Yet, when the ideas of "reformers" are carefully analyzed and scrutinized their "common sense" nature is exposed for what it really is, a vehicle for expanding the economic and political power of a small number of individuals and groups. 

These groups are the "wolves in sheep's clothing", or the "Trojan horses" of modern education.  They say that they are "looking out for kids and families", but the "reforms" that are offered too frequently do little to actually help the students and families that need the most support and assistance.    

One of these themes is the idea that our public schools have been a government run monopoly that needs some competition to create an educational marketplace.  This line of thinking taps in to the American ideal of capitalism and free-market economics.  The idea is that if schools had to compete for students then they would improve their practices and their service. 

The expansion of the voucher system is the major vehicle used to advance this idea and has been pushed by conservatives here in Wisconsin.  It relies on creating the perception that the public schools are failing, that they are educational dinosaurs and that the educators in these schools are self-absorbed and unwilling to meet the needs of the students.  The efforts to discredit public schools are widespread and based on questionable data that does little to really justify the use of public money to support private schools.  This is especially apparent when the public schools that are being attacked often perform as well, or even better than, voucher schools on the very assessments that are designed by the "reformers."  Public schools can beat the "reformers" at their own game and still lose funding and political support.           

The attempts to change the ways that we run our schools to a more businesslike model alters the way that we view the efforts of educators and the services that schools provide.  Suddenly, we are looking at the bottom line, and not at the needs of our students.  Schools are forced to justify every penny spent, but are not playing on a level playing field.    

Along with competition, accountability is another theme that sounds great in a sound bite, but fails to provide the benefits that "reformers" claim.  No one denies that schools and educators need to be accountable to the students and families we serve.  The question is, just what does accountability mean?  Is it defined by assessments, numbers and "hard" data, or is it defined in other, less objective ways? 

The harm that we are doing to students through constant standardized assessment is becoming more measurable.  The damage done to schools and our public education system is just as apparent.  We are assessing our students and schools to the breaking point, and getting very little in return.  

Another theme of reformers is the idea that our schools haven't challenged our students enough and the work that is done by staff and students needs to be more "rigorous."  Because our test scores are lower than we would like and because we have achievement gaps between different groups, we need to increase the level of difficulty and challenge each and every student to meet standards that may or may not be developmentally appropriate.

Along the way to increasing the "rigor" in our curriculum and our schools a few things are ignored and/or lost.  One of the major problems with setting standards that all students must reach is that not all students are prepared for this environment when they arrive in school.  The idea that "Kindergarten is the new 1st Grade" is one that I often hear from fellow educators.  Inserting children who aren't ready for the challenges sets them up for failures that can haunt them the rest of their academic careers.  By creating a system of "rigor" that doesn't account for individual circumstances and different student needs we fail to create an environment where learning can actually occur. 

We also ignore the reality that not every student, school or community receives equal support in the process.      

Finally, the "rigorous curriculums" and new standards are not being developed by educators.  They are being developed and promoted by people outside of the schools who don't always understand or advocate for real students.  A new "hobby" of mine is to take materials that are given out during staff professional development sessions at my school and research the authors and sponsors of the articles.  Too often they are linked back to a small number of foundations, individuals and think-tanks with ties to corporate reform efforts.  

Testing, "rigor", one size fits all curriculums and standards all are used to attack public schools.  Yet, these "reforms" are all being imposed on public school educators.  These efforts to "help" make schools better may not be what they are advertised to be.  It is up to us as supporters of public schools to make it clear that real improvements to our schools come from classrooms and communities, not from legislation and corporations. 

Truth in Reporting. . .
The battles in education are mirror those occurring in other parts of our society as well.  There is an obvious effort being made to divide our society into competing fragments.  We are constantly being warned to look out for those who would take advantage of safety nets and who abuse the supports that protect our most vulnerable citizens.  Just like in education where the "reformers" claim to be looking out for the "common everyday citizen/taxpayer", the debates around economic and social issues sets up the same divisive mindset.  There are those who work hard, and those who live off the labor of those who work hard.

This isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it one exclusive to American society.  There has always been a tension between different classes and groups in every society.  What makes the current conflicts so problematic is the reality that we are living in a world where we are more dependent on each other than ever before.  We can't ignore the fact that all of us need each other and our government in order to enjoy the benefits that our society provides.  There are those who deny this and seek to restrict others' access to resources and support. 

While there is a natural tendency to portray those who express more conservative beliefs in a negative light, that line of thinking only serves to increase the sense of division between segments of our population.  Just like educators, administrators, families and members of the community need to rally together to promote quality public education, we need to see the same coalitions forming to address issues of poverty, discrimination and injustice.

One of the major impediments to building societal unity is the way that stories around policies and events are covered in the media.  Americans have long touted the protections that our Constitution gives our press, but we shouldn't forget that those freedoms come with significant responsibilities.  Responsibilities that include doing more than just running superficial stories and that require reporters and media sources to do their "homework" in order to present accurate and complete information to the public.    

One significant concern that many Americans have is the increasing control of our society by a small number of individuals and corporations.  This is true in terms of products we buy as well as in information we consume.   

Unions- More Necessary Than Ever. . .
In the face of the increasing consolidation of power in the hands of a small number of people, the majority of us have two distinct options.  We can attempt to navigate the challenges we face as individuals (with most of us failing to reach our political, social or economic goals), or we can unite with other like minded people to utilize our collective power to make change happen for us.  Listening to a conservative Madison radio celebrity this past week I was amused to hear a call to work collectively to resist the implementation of the ACA.  The tactics that were described sounded suspiciously like those that a union organizer might use in organizing a workplace.  They involved cooperative action, and without using the word, a reliance on the solidarity of a large number of individuals to accomplish a specific goal.

The philosophies that support unions are both logical and popular.  What is missing isn't the ideals that unions espouse, but the formal organizational structures.  These structures are often difficult to implement, especially in the current anti-labor environment we live in. 

The Supreme Court will begin hearing the case where MTI challenged the Constitutionality of Act 10 on Monday, November 11th.  This case is of vital importance for public education employees in Wisconsin, but also for unionized workers in general.