Sunday, March 30, 2014

#158 March 30, 2014- Vote for Education

Spring Elections
(and Beyond). . .
Vote on April 1st!!!
Spring elections are notorious for their low voter turn-out.  Encourage every eligible voter you know to get to the polls next Tuesday and cast a ballot.  With the low expected turn-out, every vote counts even more in some very important elections.  Races for school boards and judges may not garner the attention that other contests do, but we've seen just how important these positions are in the continuing struggles locally and statewide.   

Madison School Board
There are two MMSD School Board seats up for election on April 1st.  Ed Hughes, current board president is running unopposed for one.  As a general rule of thumb I dislike "races" where candidates run unopposed.  Democracy works best when there is competition around ideas, beliefs and policies, and without competition candidates have little accountability to the public.

In all likelihood Mr. Hughes will win re-election, but we need to make sure that we stay vigilant and hold all of our elected representatives accountable for being informed and aware of the issues that are so important to our students and schools.        

The second seat is being contested between two candidates, Wayne Strong and Michael Flores.  The official endorsement lists don't give too much for voters to go on.  Both candidates have garnered a solid list of endorsements. 

He's best for Madison School Board because he's so involved and connects with struggling students.|By Lee Enterprises

In a close call, Wayne Strong gets our endorsement for the Madison School Board.|By Lee Enterprises

It is troubling that some of the endorsements have come with little or no real reasoning behind them.  In elections with the implications that this one has, endorsements should be given for strong and valid reasons.  Not, as the Wisconsin State Journal said, "Flores shares many of these concerns, but it is our sense that Strong is better prepared to hit the ground running."  What "sense" and what does "hit the ground running mean?"  If there isn't a strong reason to endorse, then why make this commitment to a candidate that the editorial board clearly doesn't feel strongly about?  Instead, either endorse both, or neither candidate.
While running for elected office can be very confusing, sometimes needlessly so. There are also few people outside of the far right wing, who do not think that money in politics is out of control. That being said, there are a couple of incidences on the Wayne Strong campaign that need to be looked a...
For what it's worth, I'm "endorsing" Flores in the race.  His enthusiasm for our public school system, his personal experiences and his willingness to listen to all voices would add to a Board that needs to be a vocal supporter of our schools, students and educators.  He has demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues, and has been a visible presence in many Madison schools.  Not as a campaign tool, but simply because he cares greatly about what happens in every building across the district.  He has been an advocate for parental involvement, and we need to make sure that this is a priority in a district that too often seems overly bureaucratic and even "unfriendly" at times.   

Issues In Education
Why is this School Board race so important for the future of our schools?  One huge reason is that because of Act 10 and the continuing efforts of our state legislature and governor to control and privatize education in Wisconsin, we need strong local governing bodies to stand up to the outside pressures.  Local school boards and other elected officials become the first line of defense for our students, schools and educators. 
In addition, we are seeing significant changes in curriculum, policies and procedures happening in our district.  We need School Board members who will listen to all parties and be informed about the issues.  It isn't enough to have strong beliefs about what should happen in our schools.  We need individuals who will be able to make decisions that don't simply sound good, but that actually work for our students.

Issues like the Technology Plan, Behavior Education Plan and the new system of budgeting require more than just sound-bite, or simplified arguments.  They are complicated and must be addressed with care, concern and a significant understanding of a variety of issues.  The best decisions will be made if the voices of educational professionals, community members and families are blended together through an open and well understood process.  Something that MMSD has struggled with, but needs to improve on in order to create successful, sustainable plans that will move us ahead in the future. 
Thank you for taking the time to look over the third draft of the Behavior Education Plans for Elementary Students and Middle and High School Students. The plans represent a shift in philosophy and practice with…

The battle for our public schools is intensifying, and we are in a critical time for the future of our schools.  Across the state and nation we are seeing efforts being made to drastically change the way students are taught, and to alter our schools in ways that aren't in the best interests of our students, educators and the community as a whole.  There are many important issues that we must work to address, but the current direction that education is moving actually does more to harm than to help.   

Preeminent education historian and public school advocate Diane Ravitch talks to Bill this week about the private sellout of public schools.
Bill Moyers

Is this education? Is this what we want for our children and grandchildren? Teachers have called the testing regime child abuse and here you get to read about it firsthand. A teacher's recount of t...

Corporate education reformers are coopting the politics of race and labor, author Micah Uetricht explains
New York state legislators reach a deal to protect charter schools as Gov. Scott Walker pushes to expand charter schools in Wisconsin. Ed Schultz and panel discuss.

These struggles are not external ones.  They are very evident across the state and nation, but they are also going on here in Madison.  Standardizing curriculum, emphasizing test scores and undermining the professionalism of educators are realities in schools across America, we certainly want to reverse these trends in a city that claims to value education and respect educators. 

Protecting Elections
Elections matter, and the current Republican leadership in Wisconsin recognizes this.  They also recognize that as demographics change and the effects of their policies are felt, they need to control elections and make sure the "right people" are voting.  This effort to restrict voting rights is very clear and has been articulated by many GOP leaders.  They have tried to garner support by claiming that there is extensive fraud in our electoral system, and while they have failed to produce significant evidence of fraud, this argument does influence the opinion of some voters. 

This week Governor Walker signed a bill that places limits on absentee voting and bans early voting during evenings and weekends.  Unlike bills that supposedly address voter fraud, and that have some support from the citizens of our state (often due to misleading information), this bill was passed despite 2/3 of Wisconsinites voicing support for expanding or maintaining current early voting times.  Clearly we need to rethink the idea that the GOP is the supporter of local control and less government interference in local matters. 

SB 324 puts politics ahead of people, aimed at suppressing the vote of seniors, minorities, and...

Gov. Scott Walker should veto the partisan, anti-democratic legislation aimed at reducing voter turnout.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Ron Kind

The veteran moderate holds no fire in criticizing his party, saying it has lost faith in its ideas and is now resorting to shenanigans to reduce voter turnout.|By Lee Enterprises

The efforts to control the electoral process isn't limited to legal restrictions on voting.  The ability of private citizens, organizations and corporations to buy elections is magnified under current election rules.  We have seen the impact that 3rd party advertising and the spending of large sums of money has on our elections.  This is especially true in local races where campaign budgets are often limited to small amounts.  Are the ads and mailings misleading, untrue, controversial?  Yes, to all of these.  However, they are also effective and powerful and allow special interest groups to buy their way into power.  

A mining town of 6,000 people isn’t too small for billionaires to mess with to get their way. Inside the race bringing in big money.
The Daily Beast

People power is the only thing that will change the current electoral trends.  This means that everyone becomes informed and casts a ballot.  It also means that we seek out, support and encourage candidates who will truly represent the people. Too often we see elected officials represent a limited number of constituents, or simply do what is necessary to maintain their positions and get re-elected.  We also see them flip-flop on issues when they strike close to home.  While I admire her courage and don't wish any illness or problem on anyone, the idea that a personal issue would change a vote is problematic.  When we elect representatives we do so with the understanding that they represent all citizens, this means that they do what they believe is right for the people, not any special interest, campaign contributor or even put their own interests above others.  By running for election, candidates put themselves in a position where they are held accountable to a higher standard of public service than regular citizens.   

A state lawmaker from Lincoln County who once opposed a bill that would force insurers to cover chemotherapy pills says she changed her position...
Daily Herald Media

We also need to be aware of the ways that public opinion is manipulated and our citizenry is controlled through messaging and other means. 

A Senate hearing on inequality featured an updated version of Reagan’s favorite “freeloaders”—now they’re white and middle class.
By The New Yorker

Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . .  As we watch "March Madness" we shouldn't forget that these athletes are bringing huge profits in for a wide variety of individuals, companies and groups.  At the same time, while they are often receiving scholarships, there are too many questions that can be raised about what type of education these athletes are receiving and what the real purpose of college athletics is.  As with many issues important questions to ask are, Who controls the process and who profits most from it? 

The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago has ruled that football players at Northwestern University are employees and can unionize, the board said Wednesday. In a statement, Northwestern acknowledged the ruling and...
WISC-TV / Channel 3000|By Channel 3000

NCAA Says Its Graduation Rates Hit Record High, But Important ...
Oct 25, 2013 - NCAA The rate of NCAA Division I athletes graduating within six years of ... percent) and African-American men's basketball players (68 percent). ... According to ESPN, only one of the 10 teams that participated in the men's ...

A plug for Wisconsin Basketball, on and off the court. 

Wisconsin graduated every senior on its men’s basketball team the past two seasons, and is on track to do so again.
The New York Times|By Karen Crouse
This is the best way to counter hatred.

Bookmark this under "How to Protest the Westboro Baptist Church."
Mother Jones

The Bad . . . Just give it up already.  Suppressing speech is bad enough, but continuing to fight when you are clearly wrong is a waste of time, money and embarrassing to our state.  

The tickets were tossed out by a Dane County judge in February on constitutional grounds.|By Lee Enterprises

The Ugly . . . We know that many places where the anti-government sentiment is the greatest receive some of the highest amount of government money.  If you don't like the system, don't take the money.
The extent to which the average American’s tax burden would vary based on his state of residence represents a significant point of differentiation...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

#157 March 23, 2014- Education, the Heart and Soul of Democracy

Struggling for the "Hearts and Minds" of Americans. . .
There have always been conflicts, disagreements and debate about the best methods for educating our young people.  While many of us like to remember the "Good old days", back when we were united as a society around our public schools and there was a common sense of purpose about education, the reality is that there has never been consensus about many of the questions that surround our efforts to educate students in our public schools.  The history of public education is one of constant struggle between different views about the purpose for our schools, what should be taught in them, and who should pay for them.      

During the colonial period and the time immediately following the American Revolutionary War, education was primarily a private matter.  Children were taught in the home, or in small groups.  Instruction focused on religious teaching as well as basic mathematics and literacy skills.  Education was not a vital tool for most people.  By necessity, more fundamental survival and trade skills took prominence in a child's education.  Yet, even during these early days, prominent thinkers like Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of some education for citizens.  This was communicated in 1787 to James Madison when he stated, "And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

Yet, even early on, there was the idea that not everyone was equal in the pursuit of education and that the knowledge and skills that were gained by any individual could be parceled out based on their social status, gender or ethnicity.  To quote Jefferson again from a communication with Peter Carr in 1814,  "The mass of our citizens may be divided into two classes -- the laboring and the learned. The laboring will need the first grade of education to qualify them for their pursuits and duties; the learned will need it as a foundation for further acquirements."  This division between the "laboring and the learned" excluded a significant number of people from access to more intensive educational opportunities. 

The debates continued through the 19th Century as the needs of our nation and its citizens changed.  During the 1800's the Department of Education was created, educator organizations were founded, local governments won the right to tax their citizens to pay for public schools, and the groundwork was laid for the public school systems that exist today.  We also see the roots of the current struggles becoming entrenched in our societal soil.  Conflicts around the use of schools to indoctrinate or educate, depending on one's perspective, Native Americans and new immigrants to our nation arose.  Private funding of schools, especially in areas where citizens were struggling to access educational resources became a source of support as well as conflict.  Debates over standards and curriculum were common.      

The 20th Century saw these conflicts continue and new ones arise.  A focus was put on making sure that American schools could compete with their European counterparts.  By 1918 all states had some form of compulsory education that was paid for with public money.  WWI and the need to screen recruits saw the introduction of standardized testing, a tool which was quickly adapted for school use.  Segregation of different groups was common practice and "separate and unequal" was the norm for most of our public and private schools.  Curriculum and the societal values that were to be taught in our schools varied from community to community. 

The history of public education mirrors other aspects of our society in many ways.  The struggle to incorporate different ideas and groups, the conflicts between public and private funding, the changes in our understanding of ourselves and our world, all are found in the educational battles over the past centuries.          

This historical context gives us a perspective on our current situation.  It shows us where we came from, but also demonstrates why it is so difficult to build consensus around our public schools in modern America.  Schools have always been a strange combination of tool and weapon.  A tool for promoting values, building knowledge and skill, and giving hope for the future.  A weapon for forcing conformity and controlling access to wealth and power.  Who controls the schools and the dialog around education gets to decide what purpose our educational efforts will serve.

There are many ways that we see education used as a weapon in our current situation.  While often masked behind the rhetoric of "choice", "freedom" and "equality", those who seek to dominate the debate around education are returning to the values that Jefferson expressed in his later years.  The idea that there should be two (or more) tiers of education is one that resonates through our educational debates.  We see this in the effort to privatize our schools, to implement standardized curriculum in some schools, but not in others, and in efforts to evaluate schools, students and educators.   

A year ago, the Common Core appeared set to sweep the nation. Now, Indiana leads the way in reevaluating state standards...but not without controversy.
The Heritage Foundation

Those who seek to use education as a weapon do so for a variety of reasons.  There are some who truly believe that they are doing what is best for the majority of students and families.  They believe the rhetoric around education "reform" and seek to improve our schools by buying in to the ideas that are commonly expressed in the media and espoused by our educational "leadership".  It is important that we work to get accurate information out to everyone so that the public can make informed decisions about our schools.

If leadership is appointed and anointed by those in power, than it can be revoked by those in power....

There are others involved in our educational efforts who have less altruistic motives.  These are the individuals and groups who seek to actively control the debate around education for financial or political reasons.  They shape the discussion and attempt to control the direction our educational efforts take by using combination of political and financial influence.  They use their influence to perpetuate myths around our public schools in order to build public support for the "reforms" that they garner huge profits from.      

New York, NY (PRWEB) February 20, 2014 Today Pearson announced a collaboration with Microsoft Corp. that brings together the world’s leading learning company and the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions to create new applications and advance a digital education model that prepares st...
Digital Journal

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose priorities include global health and U.S. education, has made initiatives focused on teacher quality a key dimension of its recent grantmaking strategy.

The results have not been positive for a majority of our students and schools.  

Superintendents in rural school districts say reforms are needed to address problems with funding and retaining talented teachers.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Astead Herndon

As always it falls to supporters of public education to work to inform the citizenry of America about the reality that our schools face, and to work to change the dialog around our public education system. 

Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . .
It only takes a small number to make a big difference.

If we can just help parents overcome their fear of saying No to testing, their fear of what will happen if their school doesn’t make AYP, we can end this all now. Only 10% of parents and/or...

I'm sure we all feel some significant sympathy for our corporate educational "colleagues".

Rising restructuring costs and biting headwinds in both the US and UK education markets led to a second straight year of falling profits for Pearson (PSON).

The Bad . . .
Ethics in our government only works if all sides are ethical.

An order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court halting the John Doe campaign finance investigation would directly affect the same organizations that...

As the November election gets ever closer, voters need to think about whether Walker really has done what he said he would do.

Latest estimates show job creation continues to lag, although the unemployment rate has ticked downward and hiring outlook is improved.|By Lee Enterprises

Think about these workers when you are making purchases in stores or on-line. 

By hiring temporary workers, big companies can shield themselves from complaints about poor working conditions.
Mother Jones

The Ugly . . .
Money and politics.

How about we hold a bake sale to pay for the next election campaign? Oh, wait, it’s already cooked...
Upworthy|By Brandon Weber

Ignorance is not bliss, it's downright harmful and scary.

Republican Congressional candidate Jim Brown thinks black people lived the good life under slavery because 'Slave Owners Took Care Of Their Livestock.'
Addicting Info

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#156 March 16, 2014- Educational Identity and Political News

Who Are We. . .
Defining who we are is an important part all of us as humans.  As social creatures we need to establish our identities and work hard to get others to see us in positive ways.  This is true for individuals, and it is also true for larger groups of people as well.  We spend a lot of time and energy working to create perceptions of who we are and what we stand for.  Some of these perceptions are accurate and others are more "PR" that we create, or perceptions, accurate or not, that others create for us.  As Machiavelli stated, “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”

For most individuals, how we are perceived by others is a matter of personal interest, but is of little importance outside our immediate circle of friends, colleagues and associates.  However, for those who have greater societal influence, or for groups of people the impacts of public perception are of more significance.  This is why advertising and public relations departments become so important in creating an image of major political, social and economic figures and groups.  There is a need to influence public opinion in order to sell a product, whether that product is an item, an idea or a specific individual.  This is especially true in a society like America's where choice and freedom are held in such high esteem.

There is a constant balancing act that goes on in our public debates here between convincing people and coercing people.  Our idealism tells us that we can use facts and sound arguments to convince others that our viewpoints and ideas are correct.  If our argument is sound, or our product is good then others will buy into our way of thinking, or literally buy what we are selling.  We see efforts to convince others in many places in our society.

Yet, there is another side to public perception and gaining the support of others in our efforts to promote ideas and things that we value.  Coercion is always a part of the human experience.  Once again turning to Machiavelli, “it is much safer to be feared than loved because is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”  In other words, since people can't be trusted we need to have some type of mechanism in place to make others do as we want, and fear or punishment is the most effective way to insure cooperation and compliance. 

The more important the "product" is to us, the more likely it is that we will turn to coercion over cooperation.  This is very logical, after all, in matters that are considered important we should do everything possible to make sure that everyone does what is necessary for the survival and prosperity of our society as a whole.  Even in a "free" society like America's we use a number of different mechanisms to insure the compliance of members of our society.  We use physical force and maintain our police and military forces.  We use economic force.  We also use social forces to control the thinking and actions of people in our society.

This may all sound a little heavy handed and bleak.  Yet, it is part of human nature and doesn't have to become Machiavellian in nature.  Human interactions are complex and we rely on a number of different mechanisms to get the things that we want and to promote our ways of thinking.  The language of our founding documents is filled with these conflicts.  On one hand we have the hope and optimism expressed in the power of the people and their efforts to create a just and free society, and on the other hand we see the constant fear of the misuse of power by people. 

In the end, what really matters is our view of humanity and our ability to tolerate our imperfections and our trust in our ability to resolve the problems that we face.  Either we, as a collective whole are able to work together to create a better society, or we must rely on outside forces or strong individuals to control our less positive traits.  The questions of where the power to make decisions lies and who should be responsible for the directions that our society takes are not simple ones, nor are they ones that should be taken lightly.  They also are not as ideologically simple as we would like them to be.   

These are conflicts that have been ongoing throughout human history and that are often masked by other factors.  It is here that our ability to present ourselves in a variety of different ways comes into play.  Honesty isn't something that we have come to expect in our politicians or other prominent public figures.  In recent years we have been conditioned to mistrust those in power, while at the same time we find ourselves turning to new leaders (who frequently end up failing us in the end).  There is a significant amount of irony in hearing candidates tell us that we should trust them and not their opponent, when in reality they are closer in thoughts and actions to each other than they are to the people they are supposed to represent.

It all comes down to the ability of the people to discern what is reality and what is a fa├žade, manufactured to generate support for an ideology or candidate.  However, we live in a complex world, one where fact and fiction often seem interchangeable.  We need an educated, constructively suspicious population that participates in all processes involved in decision making and governing our society.  Education is the key to this, and is vital to the survival of our ideals and our democratic institutions.  No wonder that public education has become a central battleground in the conflict for control of our society. 

Our public education system is a reflection of our society and where we are headed.  How we treat our children and how we choose to educate them reflects on our core values.  It is also a place where we see public perception manipulated and an effort made to control the debate in a variety of ways.  If this premise is true, than what do our stances on public education tell us about the direction our society is moving in?                  

As individuals and as a society, we spend our money on the things that value and express our ideals through our use of financial resources.  In other words, we put our money where our mouth is.  The question becomes, who owns and controls our rights to an education?  Is it the citizens, students and their families, educators, or some other interest?  

If one employee leaves Cuba City High School for a higher-paying position elsewhere in Wisconsin, it can leave the school short of instructors in two or more subjects.
Green Bay Press-Gazette

Like so many people, when I read Mercedes Schneider's posts on Bill Gates and the Common Core I struggled with a jumble of emotions. Surprise. Disgust. Awe. Anger. I'm a visual learner which meant ...

What we choose to spend our financial resources on reflects many things, but we should be making decisions about technology and curriculum purchases based on best practices for our students.

s a pediatric occupational therapist, I'm calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the...
The Huffington Post|By Cris Rowan

The Waldorf School’s computer-free environment has become a draw for parents at high-tech companies like Google.

How we measure our school systems' successes or struggles also helps define our views on education.  We measure what we value and analyze the results using ideological filters.  We continue to measure educational achievement in ways that are misleading at best and harmful at worst. 

The Senate and Assembly remain at odds over how to reform the state's new school report card.|By Lee Enterprises

The federal footprint on standardized testing would shrink under a bill set to be introduced by Reps. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., that has major backing from the largest...

The president of Bard College says recent changes to the SAT are motivated by the competition that College Board has experienced with its arch rival, the ACT, rather than any serious soul searching

There was a lot of "crazy" for comedian Jon Stewart to review after last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference, or as he calls it,...
Talking Points Memo

How we treat those who work in our schools also reflects the value that we place on education in general.  

Between San Francisco's hot real estate market and its dwindling teacher pay, not one home or apartment is listed on the market there at a price a...

A couple of comments from this article. 
"So what ? Who gives a S_ _T about them or any other public sector worker."
"Teachers work 9.5 months a year (180 days to be exact), so yes, it might be difficult to make 12 months of mortgage payments on 9.5 months of salary. The math makes perfect sense to me .I have to work 250 days a year. (5 days x 50 weeks). So, they can either get a career working 12 months a year or get a summer/second job. I appreciate what they are doing for our children, but don't complain about your salary being 75% of the rest of us if you only work 75% as much. I'd love to have your year round health benefit package also."

Whether we see attacks on individual educators, or on the unions that serve and protect educators the message is the same, education is a  "lesser" profession.

At CPAC panel, RNC Chair Priebus touts "total and complete unity" between GOP, Tea Party, and Glenn Beck acolytes

I didn't think that I would have to update my "Allegations Against Mr. Portelos" list again, but unfortunately I did. Those who have been working tirelessly to end my career hit a new low. A new...

At a San Diego school board meeting on Tuesday, dramatic testimony from teachers and parents uncovered serious questions about the way their...

At one time our public schools were valued and respected, but now. . .

Well, this is not something you hear every day. Ohio state Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) has raised some eyebrows with a blog post titled "Public...
The Huffington Post|By Rebecca Klein

The problem is that we are allowing our society to be defined by those who would seek to profit as individuals from our collective efforts.  Public education is a bulwark that stands in the way of oligarchy and other non-democratic forms of government.  We need to change the discussion and move forward, building on the strengths of our existing system and utilizing the talents and skills of the professionals who work in our schools.  

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . It's still a long way to November, but not too early to hope.

A great piece of news for Mary Burke supporters and a troubling wake-up call for Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.|By Lee Enterprises

If we can weather this current storm of Conservatism, maybe the future will look a little brighter.

Get off America's lawn, you punks.
New York Magazine|By Jonathan Chait

The outpouring of love and support from the community was tremendous, and events like this would further honor someone who worked hard to bring different parts of our community together.

Michael Johnson and Ed Hughes are planning a potluck dinner to strengthen community and honor the former Memorial High School principal who...|By Lee Enterprises

The Bad . . . It's still long way to November, and the quality and "integrity" of the campaign will probably not rise to a higher level.

The Republican Governors Association was running a TV ad linking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke to the state’s economic woes under former Gov. Jim Doyle.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

We have to stay vigilant and remember that our opposition is willing, and able to do just about anything to maintain political power here in Wisconsin, and around the U.S.

Backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity has campaigned against taxes and spending in Coralville, Iowa, but some voters are skeptical of its motives.
The New York Times|By JOHN ELIGON

In-person absentee voting would no longer be allowed past 7 p.m. or on weekends in Wisconsin under a bill the Republican-controlled state Senate moved closer to passing Tuesday, despite objections from those who say it's...
Green Bay Press-Gazette

The problem with elections in Wisconsin — as it is across the nation — is that not enough people vote.

The Ugly . . . No explanation needed.

George Zimmerman was shaking hands, smiling and signing autographs at a central Florida gun show Saturday.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

#155 March 9, 2014- Ideology and Education

Stand Up For Education . . .
Most of us want to stand for something, to have values and principles that define us and that we consistently apply in our daily lives.  Honesty, courage, persistence, loyalty and a solid work-ethic are all traits that most people would like to be identified with.  We put forth effort in our daily lives to live in a way that represents our values and beliefs.  We look to surround our selves with people who are like minded and who validate our beliefs. 

As we move from the individual to our larger society we put forth a great amount of effort trying to define what makes a society "good" and to create conditions that will perpetuate, honor and defend what we value.  The same desire to stand for something is applied to a larger group and we look to leaders and organizations to help us promote our ideological beliefs.  It is natural for us to view like minded people with respect and to support efforts that move our society in a direction that we feel aligns with our values and principles.

Over time we have seen a number of different philosophies and ideologies develop in an effort to identify and promote ideals that are supposed to help guide us to the best society possible.  People approach this task from a variety of viewpoints; religious, economic, political, psychological, sociological, historical, or a blend of different perspectives.  In the end, no matter the point of view that is taken, the efforts to define what makes a society a positive one rely on simplifying human interactions in order to make sense of what is really a very complex reality.

Here in America we have seen two main ideas put against each other, often in confusing and misleading ways.  They are presented as being diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.  There is the belief that they can't exist together and that there is an ongoing war between the two philosophies.  This ideological conflict emerges any time there is a disagreement between competing ideas and is applied in ways that are sometimes logical, but other times irrelevant and unnecessarily divisive.  These conflicts can bring out the worst in us at times.  

On one hand we have the idea that we should base our thinking on the ideals of the free market, capitalism and democracy.  According to this line of thinking, America was founded on the shoulders of individuals and we should honor the freedom of the individual no matter what the costs to the collective whole.  If we keep our government and other societal institutions small and relatively powerless, then the most qualified individuals will thrive and society as a whole will be lifted by their efforts.  It isn't difficult to find historical references to this ideal, and we seek to find and glorify these individuals in the present day as well. 

The other viewpoint in this dichotomy is based on the ideas that we must work collectively in order to survive as a thriving, sustainable society.  A society is judged, not by the successes of those already on the top, but by the way that people at all levels of our society live.  While the philosophical expressions of this ideal have often been publicly rejected by mainstream Americans, just look at how Socialism is portrayed in our media and public discourse, we don't have too much trouble identifying examples where the ideals of this viewpoint are espoused.  "An injury to one is an injury to all" isn't too far removed from "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

One of the major problems that we face as we try to identify our national ideology is that we put forth philosophies and ideas that are grounded in idealism and not in the real world.  Socialism, Communism, Capitalism and Free Market ideologies are all ideals that have not been fully implemented in the American experience.  This isn't a bad thing, all of these lines of thought are impossible to implement in the complex reality that we live in.  Here in America we have been quick to point out the flaws in Marx's thinking, but need to recognize the fact that Capitalism and Free Market ideas are also based on creating circumstances that don't, and may never, exist in reality.                

All of this would simply make for interesting debate and discussion, or at least interesting debate and discussion for those who enjoy political science, except that the conflicts around our social, political and economic ideologies have real consequences for the citizens of America.  Our utopian views, no matter what side of the argument we fall on, conflict with the reality we live in and leaves us frustrated.  Our beliefs become brittle, rigid and divisive, and instead of being a tool to help us shape our world in a positive way become weapons that weaken all of society.  The mischaracterization of our opponents' viewpoint cause all ideologies to become caricatures and oversimplified versions of what we really aspire to.  We fail to embrace the diversity of thinking that our Constitutional freedoms guarantee and instead fight to silence those who think differently then we do.  The political turmoil in Wisconsin provides a very real example of just how far we have ventured towards political extremism and ideological warfare.

Here in America we have dealt with the reality that none of the political ideologies that have been put forth fully deal with the realities of human experience by creating a blend of public and private enterprises.  From the start of our nation we combined government and private to try and meet the needs of our citizens.  At times we have emphasized the importance of one over the other, but always there has been a mix of public and private services that work, either together or in opposition, to move our nation forward socially and economically. 

People who understand the reality of the needs that our citizens and nation have, recognize the need to have strong public and private sectors.  For our nation to grow and for individuals to enjoy the most success possible, a strong private sector is necessary.  However, our public sector must provide some regulation and control in order to attempt to insure some equity and protections for all citizens.  There are also some services and industries that should be in the hands of the public and not privatized.  In fact, when we are not so ideologically divided, the public and private spheres have often worked well together and provided a balance that has helped make America one of the world's most prosperous nations. 

However, this mixture of public and private sectors along with the confusion around the political theories that support our systems can also be problematic.  This is especially true when political conflicts are heightened.  Our current situation here in Wisconsin, and around America, cause us to rethink the ways that our public and private sectors interact.  This rethinking and restructuring isn't necessarily a negative thing.  In fact, as a society we should always be looking carefully at the way we do things and looking to improve our efforts and outcomes.  The problems arise when we see efforts made to destroy political opponents and to advance one way of thinking over another.  This is especially true when the motives for doing so are questionable in nature. 

The ideological confusion, along with the intense ideological debate (often with questionable motivations) are visible in many areas, but nowhere is it more clear than in the world of education.  In the best of times we have public and private systems that coexist and provide choices for families with a majority of them choosing the public schools.  Those who have strong religious convictions, or who have specific requirements for education can choose other alternatives that are available through private funding and paid for by the families themselves.  However, in times like those we currently live in, the confusions around the purposes of education, the value of education, the methods for delivering instructions and evaluating achievement, and the financing of schools become problematic and divisive. 

The sad truth is that the final confusion, revolving around money, has taken center stage in the battles around education.  We have been conditioned to think of education in financial terms.  Sometimes it is in treating our public spending as the equivalent of a mutual fund, an investment that can be measured in specific, often financial outputs.  A practice that distorts our views of the true values of education to our society and that puts public schools on the defensive.  

Because public schools are funded through public monies, the control of education has shifted from educators and families to politicians.  This means that school funding becomes warped by the inevitable political battles and political spin.  Is the Obama budget's K-12 education focus a movement "toward ending the era of austerity," or is it simply continuing our recent traditions of validating a system that creates "winning and losers"? 

We know how the efforts to control education spending have worked in Wisconsin, and are continually getting more examples of just how harmful the politicizing of school spending is for our students and our schools.   

The emphasis on the fiscal aspects of education means that the actual education of our students ends up being overshadowed and undervalued.  The more we seek to measure our efforts to educate students, the more divisive and less educationally sound our efforts become.  Efforts to improve our schools and provide opportunities for students waver between educationally valid practices and profit making enterprises or political power grabs.      

Make no mistake, we need our public schools now more than ever.  They provide access to educational opportunities for all students, not just the wealthy, academically capable, or well behaved.         

Our public schools also provide stability, cohesiveness and a sense of community in our neighborhoods, towns and cities that private schools are inherently unable to offer.  Whether viewed as an investment, or as a resource, our public schools are the vehicle that all members of a community can access, and that drive a healthy, vibrant and sustainable society.  

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . All of the efforts to draw attention to the need for corporations like McDonald's to pay their employees a living wage are having an impact.  Of course the company is trying to threaten consumers with the threat of higher prices in order to maintain profit margins.

Fast food giant McDonalds says that growing concerns over income inequality may force it to raise wages.

We can't forget that raising the minimum wage may supposedly "harm" corporate bottom lines, but that it is a positive for people and our economy in general.  Who is our government and our society supposed to benefit anyway? 

Raising minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cut food stamp spending by $4.6 billion a year, report says.
Washington Post

The Bad . . . When we look at economics and politics on large scales we lose sight of the fact that real people are impacted by the policies that are generated by these ideologies and theoretical constructs.  

The Ugly . . . Racism is alive and has a very public voice.

We need to do something about the problems around financing higher education.  It is vital that we change the way we finance and pay for education in this country.  An education should be a pathway to achievement and stability, not an obstacle to success.  

Just as scary as the idea of student loan debt for a college education is the idea of debt incurred for K-12 educations.