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Oppositionalism: The Greatest Threat To The People’s Welfare

4:35 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

locking horns

locking horns by useless no more

Yesterday, I went to the kindergarten graduation ceremony at the local public elementary school. One of the teachers, who happens to be a member of my church and a card-carrying Republican, spoke briefly of a new after-school program that she has helped initiate. It is designed for children who are in danger of not having the basic skills necessary to begin first grade – a type of program that is quite common around the nation, but that had been sorely lacking in this rural Virginia county.

I was choking back tears as this teacher called about two dozen children to the stage – most of them from desperately poor African American families – and presented them with hugs and certificates. Knowing that she also invests a considerable amount of her personal time making home visits and tutoring these students, it dawned on me what a significant difference she makes in the lives of young children who have an incredible number of obstacles thrown between themselves and academic success.

This remarkably dedicated kindergarten teacher reminds us of how incomplete and misleading the typical left vs. right dichotomy can be. It would be easy to consider her Republican voting record and her conservative views on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control, and to conclude she has little in common with progressives such as myself. From this, it would be easy to assume that, like some Republicans, she takes a “blame the poor” attitude toward poverty issues and has little compassion for those who are suffering in this economic crisis. Because of such stereotyping, it would be easy to ignore the fact that she is dedicating her life to helping poor children in a woefully underfunded public school system.

Those of us who get pigeonholed into easy categories of left/right and Democrat/Republican often fail to see the common bonds we share with our so-called political enemies. We cannot allow differences on a handful of “hot-button” issues to be exploited by those with political agendas and ambitions. If people of good will and legitimate concern for the common welfare continue to beat up one another based on these outdated categories, more sinister forces that have no concern for the people or no particular stake in partisan politics will further consolidate their power.
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In Defense of Public Education And The Public In General

7:21 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

photo: C. Elle via Flickr

public adj. of, relating to, or affecting the people as an organized community

private adj. belonging to or concerning an individual person, company, or interest

Behind the rhetoric on issues like health care and Social Security lies a critical philosophical debate that will determine what kind of nation we become in the 21st century.  Are we a public nation or a private one? Do we see ourselves as a community of citizens that are responsible for the safety and the welfare of one another, or are we a loose collection of individuals who are interested only in protecting our own rights and personal property?

I was reminded of how I answer these questions when I dropped my children off at school this morning. It was a practical demonstration of the many benefits that a free public education for every child has for all of society.

First, my son’s kindergarten class is racially balanced. In his previous pre-school (which was private), there was one non-white child in the entire body of about 50 students. Before, I could tell that my son was leery of black children when he was out in public (because he had no experience with them). Now, one of his best friends is of a different race than he is – something that never would have happened if we hadn’t decided to put him in public school.

In addition, about half of the kids in my son’s class receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch. In my community, there are many devastatingly poor families. The teachers can tell that some of them get very little if anything to eat at home. Public school feeding programs, therefore, are perhaps the best way to fight child hunger and to ensure that poor children can pay attention in school and have a shot at getting an education.

Finally, most of the kids in my son’s class ride the bus to school. Without the bus, many of their parents – who work all day or have no car – could not get them to school and back home. The school bus is one of the most underrated tools that promotes the social good, because it goes a long way in leveling the playing field and giving all children that equal opportunity just to be in school – and isn’t equal opportunity what conservatives and liberals like to crow about?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Three Things: Labor Day, Schmabor Day

8:46 am in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

I’m always up for a good homework assignment, so here are my answers to the "Three Things" Project for Labor Day:

1) What does Labor Day mean to you?

There’s a Garfield cartoon from the mid-1980′s in which Jon sums up my feelings about the holiday:

"Labor Day, Schmabor Day, what a dumb day. You hire some jerk, then send him away, to celebrate work by playing all day."

As concerned as I am about the plight of the working class in America, Labor Day just doesn’t mean much to me. In fact, I don’t even take the day off. Right now, I’m sitting in my office trying to get a jump on some things so I won’t be rushed by the 4-day work week.

Perhaps it’s because I’m from the south, where labor unions are more or less non-existent. Or perhaps it’s because I come from a white-collar family. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a Gen-X’er and have never gained an appreciation for hard work.

But for some reason, I’ve never made the emotional connection between this holiday and the long, hard struggle throughout American history to improve the plight of workers. And I’m guessing that neither have the majority of Americans. For most, I believe, it’s just a long weekend to go out and party and bring closure to the summer. I doubt many folks will be touting the virtues of the 40-hour work week and minimum wage laws as they get drunk on the lake. But I digress.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Republican Opposition To Education Stimulus Reveals Their True Priorities

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

As many as 300,000 teachers might get laid off this year, as the recession has crippled state budgets around the country. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has crafted a bill, with Obama’s support, to provide $23 billion to save these jobs. Predictably, Republican House leader John Boehner thinks it’s a lousy idea:

"This latest state bailout proposal promotes the same flawed logic as the failed ‘stimulus’ bill that has contributed to a record $1.5 trillion deficit and left one in every 10 Americans from our workforce out of work."

Let’s count the half-truths, distortions, and misleading characterizations in that single sentence of Boehner’s:

1) Calling the bill a bailout. The intention is to play on the public’s lingering outrage over the corporate bailouts of 2008 and 2009, but it’s a false comparison. A bailout is "an act of giving capital to a company in danger of failing in an attempt to save it from bankruptcy, insolvency, or total liquidation." This bill is meant to restore services that have been cut.

2) Calling the stimulus a failure. According to recovery.gov, 682,779 jobs have been created by The Recovery Act. Even more importantly, the nation has not fallen into the second Great Depression as many economists feared we would. We can debate the extent to which the stimulus has helped the economy, but anyone who calls it a failure does so for political reasons.

3) Saying the stimulus bill has contributed to the record deficit. Technically, this is true – but everything that is spent by Congress contributes to the deficit. With or without stimulus, the US would be mired in debt.

4) Claiming the stimulus has caused our high unemployment. This is an outright lie. Our ten percent jobless rate was caused by an economic collapse that was triggered by the mortgage crisis. If anything, the stimulus has kept that number from getting higher.

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Watercooler – Mississippi County Still Fighting Over Segregation

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

It’s a story that sounds like it comes from 1970 rather than 2010:

A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural Walthall county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county’s only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced…

… For years, the local school board has permitted hundreds of white students to transfer from its Tylertown schools, which are about 75 percent African American and serve about 1,700 students, to another school, the Salem Attendance Center, which is about 66 percent white and serves about 577 students in grades K-12. The schools are about 10 miles apart.

The order, issued by Senior Judge Tom S. Lee of the U.S. District Court of Southern Mississippi, came after Justice Department civil rights division lawyers moved to enforce a 1970 desegregation case against the state and Walthall County.

Unfortunately, this type of practice is going on in a lot of places. The ongoing phenomenon of white flight and the movements for neighborhood and charter schools are similar and more subtle ways that some people are keeping their kids in schools with fewer minority students.

What’s on your mind tonight?

Watercooler – “Stand and Deliver” Teacher Dies

7:10 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

He was one of the most compelling figures in American education:

Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school and inspired the movie Stand and Deliver, died Tuesday. He was 79. Escalante died at his son’s home near Sacramento, after battling bladder cancer for several years, family friend Keith Miller said.

 An immigrant from Bolivia, he transformed Garfield High School by motivating struggling students to excel at advanced math and science. The school had more advanced placement calculus students than all but three other public high schools in the country.

Edward James Olmos played Escalante in the 1988 film based on his story. "Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time — that inner city students can’t be expected to perform at the highest levels," Olmos said. "Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever."

If you haven’t seen "Stand and Deliver," make a point of doing so. It’s an amazing story.

What’s on your mind tonight?

Watercooler – Revisionist History, Texas Style

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

There’s really no commentary needed for this, a list of curriculum changes being carried out by the Texas Board of Education:

– To avoid exposing students to “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else,” the Board struck the curriculum’s reference to “sex and gender as social constructs.”

– The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

– The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”

– The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”

It truly boggles the mind. What’s on your mind tonight?

Watercooler – Kansas City To Close Nearly Half Of Public Schools

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

This story about massive cuts in Kansas City schools has been generating a lot of attention today on CNN and other major news outlets:

Kansas City school officials promised Thursday to shut down nearly half the district’s schools by the start of classes in the fall without offering details of how they intend to implement the complicated plan in just a matter of months. The drastic project also calls for cutting hundreds of jobs and shuffling thousands of students — changes that officials say are needed to keep the district from using up what little is left of the $2 billion it received as part of a groundbreaking desegregation case…

… Wanda J. Blanchett, dean of the school of education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Thursday that Covington’s planned cuts and his timetable were not only feasible, but critically important. "And the reason I say that is because the district is still operating as far as its infrastructure is concerned as though it’s serving 75,000 students," she said. "But in reality, it’s serving slightly under 17,000 students. Not only is it feasible, but it’s the right thing to do."

My question is this: Why have the number of students in Kansas City schools declined so drastically? The population of the city has remained relatively stable over the past few decades. My guess is that any parents who have the means have either been moving out of the city or have been sending their kids to private school. No matter what the explanation, this situation is a giant red flag. Our urban schools are in crisis.

What’s on your mind tonight?

Watercooler – Utah Considers Cutting 12th Grade To Save Money

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

It looks like the race to be the most whacked-out state is now a four state field. Joining Florida, South Carolina, and Texas is upstart Utah. After making yesterday’s Watercooler when their state legislature passed a resolution denying climate change science, they make it again tonight with this bold new idea to trim the state budget:

The sudden buzz over the relative value of senior year stems from a recent proposal by state Sen. Chris Buttars that Utah make a dent in its budget gap by eliminating the 12th grade. The notion quickly gained some traction among supporters who agreed with the Republican’s assessment that many seniors fritter away their final year of high school, but faced vehement opposition from other quarters. 

Buttars has since toned down the idea, suggesting instead that senior year become optional for students who complete their required credits early. He estimated the move could save up to $60 million, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The proposal comes as the state faces a $700-million shortfall and reflects the creativity — or desperation — of lawmakers all over.

All kidding aside, something is seriously wrong when it’s crunch-time for the budget, and the first thing put on the chopping block is education – an entire year of a child’s education.

What’s on your mind tonight?

Watercooler – Promoting Peace… One School At A Time

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Jim Moss

On the advice of a friend, I just read "Three Cups of Tea," which describes the amazing efforts of an American named Greg Mortenson to build schools for children (and especially for girls) in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. If you are not yet familiar with Mortenson’s work, I highly recommend the book. Next on my list is Mortenson’s follow-up, "Stones Into Schools."

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Mortenson highlighted the need for ongoing efforts to promote education for girls in these regions that are so prone to the influence of extremism: (the entire interview is well worth the listen)

GregMortensonWe need to listen more. And so I try to listen. And I ask widows and women in rural areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan what do you want? I want to help you, but what do you want? And you’d think most women would say, "I want a good husband. I want a big house. I want prosperity."

But what most women tell me are just two simple things. They say, "We don’t want our babies to die, and we want our children to go to school." And of anything that really drives me, those are the two things that really keep me on because I think we need to listen to those women. What they want most of all is, you know, what any mother around the world wants. And you don’t want your baby to die or your child and you want your children to go to school. So that’s pretty much what drives me on.

For more information on Mortenson’s work, check out the website for the Central Asia Institute.

What’s on your mind tonight?