Archive

Author Archive

Nick Kristof Bursts the “Personal Responsibility” and “Bad Choice” Bubbles in Cogent Op Ed

January 19, 2020 Leave a comment

A few days ago, Nick Kristof and his wife posted an extended essay describing the fate of the Knapps, a family that grew up in Kristof’s home town of Yamhill OR. The five siblings in that family all ended up dead, diseased, or incarcerated as a result of alcohol and drug addiction. It is a story of many working class families from rural outposts and one that puts a face on and explains the cold statistics showing that the life expectancy in our country is declining.

In today’s op ed column, Mr. Kristof offers several rejoinders to those who responded to this earlier essay with declarations that essentially boiled down to this: the Knapps got what they deserved. In his evenhanded and clear-eyed response to those who suggested this, Mr. Kristof burst the bubbles of personal responsibility and “bad choice” bubbles. The crux of Mr. Kristof’s arguments against these social Darwinists can be found in these paragraphs:

A newborn in a ZIP code of North Philadelphia with a largely poor and black population has a life expectancy 20 years shorter than a newborn in mostly white central Philadelphia just four miles away; that’s not because one infant has displayed “weak character.”

Britain reduced child poverty by half under Tony Blair. It’s not that British infants suddenly showed more personal responsibility; it’s that the government showed responsibility. Here in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine laid out a blueprint for reducing America’s child poverty by half, yet Congress and President Trump do nothing.

In that sense, Dr. Carson is right: Poverty is a choice. But it’s our choice.

I find it maddening that those who argue that poverty is a character flaw ignore the fact that good fortune plays a huge role in the ability to develop and retain good character. It is much easier for those who have reliable food, clothing to focus on character development. And as pointed out repeatedly in this blog, telling parents in North Philadelphia that their children have a choice about where to attend school is disingenuous at best and completely dishonest at worst. There isn’t a child in North Philadelphia who can choose to attend any school they wish anywhere in the city… and as for attending a school outside the city: forget it!

As is almost always the case with Mr. Kristof’s writing, he leaves the reader with a ray of hope after diagnosing the problem. Here are the concluding paragraphs of his op ed piece which come close to doing that:

We moved from an inclusive capitalism in the postwar era to a rigged system that hobbles unions, underinvests in children and then punishes those left behind. This is the moral equivalent of (placing) spikes on dashboards (to ensure there are adverse consequences for speeders or reckless drivers).

What would a better social narrative look like? It would acknowledge personal responsibility but also our collective social responsibility — especially to help children. It would be infused with empathy and a “morality of grace” that is less about pointing fingers and more about offering helping hands. It would accept that a country cannot reach its potential when so many of its citizens are not achieving theirs.

To which this reader can only say: AMEN!

Betsy DeVos and the President Support First Amendment Rights to Take a Knee to Pray… But Taking a Knee to Protest?

January 19, 2020 Leave a comment

USA Today recently published an op ed piece by Betsy DeVos advocating the need to protect the First Amendment rights of children to pray in school. I will leave it to the ACLU and other legal minds more up to date on court cases than I am to refute point for point all the misinformation incorporated in her reasoning, but there are two points that jumped out immediately from reading the piece. First was this, from a list of injustices perpetrated on those seeking to pray in public schools:

In Washington state, longtime high school football coach Joe Kennedy would wait until everyone had cleared the gridiron, take a knee and silently thank God for the opportunity to compete. Coach Kennedy prayed after every game — win or lose — until the school district threw a flag on the praying. Coach Kennedy was suspended and then effectively terminated.

I wish that Ms. DeVos love of the first amendment transferred to those student athletes who knelt symbolically to protest the treatment their forebears’ received as slaves and the continuing discrimination they are receiving when confronted by police.

She also offered these examples of issues the new “guidance” from USDOE will address:

Our new guidance explains that the law requires states to report which of their schools failed to certify that they do not have any policy that denies anyone the right to pray. Students may, for instance, read the Bible during homeroom. They may give thanks to God before lunch or a snack. They can pray a decade or two of the rosary at recess. They can be excused from class to fulfill prayer obligations, such as during Ramadan. Students may organize faith-based clubs as they see fit. Students may invite a local rabbi to preach at an assembly.Teachers can pray in the lounge during a break. And students most certainly may express their faith in homework or other assignments free from discrimination based on religion.

I am confident that schools will also allow Muslims to wear the garb they wish and that Festivus, the High Holy Days of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the annual atheist days will be recognized.. or at the very least representatives from these groups will be allowed to “preach at an assembly” if invited by students.

From all evidence, in “clarifying” the rights of children to pray in school Betsy DeVos is acting on her religious convictions. Her boss President Trump, on the other hand, is clearly acting on his political convictions as they exist at this point in time, convictions that might change should evangelicals decide he is no longer the candidate they wish to support in the future. in the meantime, students across the country are pawns in religious and political conflicts.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

David Leonard is 100% Right about the Need for a Pro-Government Stance but 100% Wrong About Pre-K

January 18, 2020 Leave a comment

As is often the case when I read David Leonard, I find myself nodding in agreement with roughly 90% of what he writes and then scratching my head in bewilderment with one or two points. In that respect he is the neoliberal analog to David Brooks who often grounds his thinking in Eastern philosophy but somehow ends up with pro-Capitalist conclusions.

David Leonard’s most recent column, “F.D.R. Got it. Most Democrats Don’t” is a case in point. The column opens with a description of a map FDR distributed in 1936 showing where government spending resulted in tangible improvements to citizens in every corner of the country. He contrasted that kind of government policy and spending with what happened during the Obama and Clinton administrations…. and finds the neoliberal plans wanting.

In recent decades, Democrats have too often forgotten this lesson. They have created technocratically elegant policies that quietly improve people’s lives, like tax credits or insurance subsidies. The problem with this approach is that it does little to build popular support for government action.

Put it this way: How many projects can you name from Barack Obama’s stimulus program? Can you name any project or agency that Bill Clinton created?

The only “project” that I can name from the Obama stimulus program is the reprehensible Race to the Top program and Clinton’s signature legislation was to “End Welfare as we Know It”. Both neo-liberals passed legislation that was based on the Reagan premise that “Government is the Problem” and only the private sector can save the day.

Bottom line: David Leonard is 100% right in identifying the problem.

But Mr. Leonard then goes on to use Elizabeth Warren as the exemplar of advocating the kind of programs Democrats should embrace flagging her desire to create the office of Consumer Finance Protection Office during the Obama administration as a case in point. He then writes:

Warren’s presidential agenda has several other easily understandable ideas, like a $200-a-month increase in Social Security benefits, a price reduction for insulin and other popular drugs, the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt and a wealth tax. During a recent interview with her, I mentioned that she seemed to believe that bigger ideas were sometimes easier to accomplish than more modest ones. “I do,” she replied. Big ideas can inspire people; tax credits do not.

This left me with one question: did Mr. Leonard interview Bernie Sanders? If so, why didn’t he give a list of the “easily understandable ideas” Mr. Sanders is advocation? If not, maybe he should sit down with him and give him a chance to tick off the kind of spending he would advocate.

But this omission of Sanders’ ideas was not the real head scratcher. The highlighted section was:

The next Democratic president, whoever it is, shouldn’t repeat this mistake. In climate policy, this would mean putting more emphasis on a green-jobs program than on a hated carbon tax. In education, it could mean creating a “public option” for pre-K. In every area, it also means making sure that government functions well.

As I have written on several occasions in this blog, the worst thing that politicians could do is to create a model for pre-K that incorporates anything that resembles a voucher program. If pre-K is commodified in the name of “choice” and parents who want child care are offered a de facto voucher to pay for child care it will lead to an unravelling of the “government schools” that are charged with the mission of educating all children. In short, nothing could be more wrong-headed than the creation of a “public option” for pre-K. But Democrats have shown a proclivity for wrong-headedness when it comes to public education, sidestepping the need for more funds by doubling down on the reform movements notion that privatization is the way forward… and neoliberal cheerleaders like David Leonard are one of the reasons why this happens.

Diane Ravitch Savages “Reformers” and “Disruptors” in her New Book

January 18, 2020 Leave a comment

apple.news/AE9q-MtV0SB2F5Gn7g-srQg

Forbes writer and public education resistance fighter Peter Greene’s paean to Diane Ravitch provides a good overview of her clear-headed thinking and the muddled thinking of what she calls this disruption movement. And what is that movement?

The disruption movement has given us charter schools, high stakes testing, and the de-professionalization of teaching. It has used the real problems of inequity and underserved communities to justify false solutions.

In his review of her forthcoming book Mr. Greene contrasts the “reformers” embrace of Taylor’s standardization with Deming’s Total Quality Management and laments the victory of Taylor in this war of ideas. Like Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene seems to think the tide is turning. I hope they are right….

One Step Forward, Five Steps Back on Nutritious Lunch for Children

January 17, 2020 Leave a comment

apple.news/ArX94SjL-Tr6PyDKCaQMXnw

It was no surprise that President Trump rolled back the upgraded nutritional guidelines for school lunch that Michelle Obama proudly and successfully fought for… but the roll backs described in this Washington Post article are appalling. Not only do they reinforce poor dietary habits by replacing vegetables and fruits with french fries and burgers but they also reinforce the bad old days when lobbyists prevailed when it came to making decisions about what food to serve to children whether or not their products are healthy or not.

Appalling… but consistent with the actions in all realms of the current administration.

NYTimes Article Contrasting CA and TX Social Studies Curricula Underscore Longstanding Reality: Different States— AND Teachers— Have Different Perspectives on History

January 17, 2020 Leave a comment

As a youngster, I lived in two different states during the years I attended public schools: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. As a result, I experienced two different courses on state history and two different perspectives on how our country was founded. I learned Oklahoma state history in 5th grade at Robert E. Lee Elementary school in Tulsa, OK and Pennsylvania state history in 8th grade at South Junior High in West Chester, PA where they recently named a high school for Bayard Rustin. The differences in the cultures in the two communities should be self-evident. But the perspectives of the history teachers I had in junior and senior high schools were even more divergent than the perspectives between the two states.

The first difference in perspectives is the result of the culture of each region. Oklahoma being a relatively new state began its history after the Civil War and focussed more on the resettlement of Native Americans from the East to the Oklahoma Territory, the so-called Land Rush when its borders opened to settlers, and on the beef and oil industries. Pennsylvania History also glossed over the treatment of Native Americans, but hardly dealt at all with the era when Oklahoma was founded and made no mention whatsoever of the week and only passing mention of oil since it was “discovered” in Western PA.

The biggest differences in social studies instruction, though, were the result of disparities in the political leanings of the teachers who offered the courses… which makes me less nervous about the findings of a recent NYTimes article contrasting CA and TX social studies curricula. The story goes to great lengths to show how the curricula in each state has been politicized in the way it deals with various topics, but this understated paragraph reinforced by experience as a student, Principal, and Superintendent:

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

We had no interest access in the 1960s when I first studied state history, but with one exception I was fortunate to have teachers who preferred to amplify the core texts with their own thoughts and independent readings. Because of those varied perspectives, which were reinforced by dinner table conversations where my parents undercut (or attemptedto undercut)some of the notions presented by teachers I came away with the understanding that history can be viewed through many lenses.

There are two things that DO concern me about the NYTImes article, though. First, the fact that many (if not most) students are educated within one community in one State. The benefit of living in Utah, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania during  the years I attended schools meant that I got to see how news reporting varied, how different communities valued different things, and how history is interpreted in different ways. And second, and most importantly at the macro level, teachers need to be allowed to have the latitude to augment what is the textbooks and have the desire to do so. A good social studies teacher will reject the idea that there is one and only one way to interpret history and will make sure that the students in his or her class leave with that understanding.

Right-Wing ‘Review Boards’ in Missouri Would Pave Way for Arresting Librarians Over Books Deemed ‘Inappropriate’

January 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Source: Right-Wing ‘Review Boards’ in Missouri Would Pave Way for Arresting Librarians Over Books Deemed ‘Inappropriate’

This chilling legislation would not warrant a comment if we didn’t have a demagogue in the White House, a party in control of the Senate and judiciary that supports “State’s Rights”, a state led by that same party that seeks to limit free speech, and a national lobby that makes it possible for this kind of legislation to go viral. This confluence of anti-First Amendment advocates and the money and mechanism to spread State level legislation makes it plausible that this bill could pass in Missouri and quickly spread to other states across the nation. The “selling points”— “local control” and the “protection of innocent children”— sound innocuous. But it is not difficult to see that local selection or election of “parental library review boards” would politicize local library boards and undercut their mission of building an informed community. Common Dreams reporter Julia Conley offers this quote from MLA President Cynthia Dudenhoffer in her article:

“Public libraries already have procedures in place to assist patrons in protecting their own children while not infringing upon the rights of other patrons or restricting materials… Missouri Library Association will always oppose legislation that infringes on these rights.”

Later in the article Ms. Conley offers examples of the kinds of books that might be targeted… examples that may scratch the surface:

“Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault—all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed,” said James Tager, the group’s deputy director of free expression research and policy. “Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill.”

If “parental library review boards” are put in place and given the authority to remove books it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where those same boards deciding to replace books that uplift “liberal” heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. with ones who bravely fought in the Civil War— for the Confederacy. 

I am the chairperson of our local library’s corporation. Our Board spends most of its time and energy working to unify our community, to ensure that diverse opinions are heard, that everyone in our town and in our region has an opportunity to develop digital literacy as well as having access to a wide range of books and other media. Any legislation that creates a board whose mission is to limit the books and/or media available to any reader or patron— be they a child or an adult— needs to be resoundingly defeated.

Categories: Uncategorized