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Biden Proposing $130,000,000,000 Infusion to Help Open K-8 Schools in 100 Days… a Re-opening Decision that is Supported by Science

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

President Elect Joe Biden put forth a $1,900,000,000,000 plan to keep the economy afloat through the pandemic, with $130,000,000,000 earmarked to as majority of K-8 schools within 100 days. This plan, characterized by NYTimes reporter Jeanne Smialek as “…a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic” includes money to reopen schools, as reported in this section of the article: 

The administration says it wants to make “the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority” of kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools within Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Administration officials are suggesting $170 billion for schools, supplemented by additional state and local funds. About $130 billion of that would go toward reopening, while much of the rest of the money would go to help colleges dealing with the shift to distance learning and other pandemic-tied problems.

Almost as important to schools is the fact that states and local government are slated to get funds as well: 

Mr. Biden’s plan would provide $440 billion in help to communities, according to the administration, in addition to the funds for school reopening. The relief plan would entail billions in grants and loan programs for small businesses (how those would work is not entirely clear), and $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.

State and local governments have had revenues decline less as a whole than once anticipated, but have taken an uneven financial hit from the pandemic. They have significantly reduced payrolls, which is concerning because they employ about 13 percent of America’s workers.

This is important because without these funds local and state governments might supplant the funds they typically provide to schools with the federal funds coming as part of the pandemic relief. 

Will Congress support this proposal? it is evident that the House would do so, despite the fact that some of the progressives are carping that the $1400/person Biden is proposing is less than the $2,000 they hoped to provide on top of the $600 just distributed. The Senate is more problematic. Presumably the pro-Trump GOP members would be hard pressed to oppose the $1400/person measure because that is what their POTUS was looking for. But, in all probability, the party as a whole will oppose it for two reasons: it gives money to State and local governments with no strings and it gives money to public government schools.

An important footnote to the President-elect’s decision to promote the re-opening of K-8 schools. As noted in another NYTimes article by Apoorva Mandavilli this past week, research is showing that the COVID infection rates among K-8 children is half that of older children and much less than adults. In an interview with NYTimes Amelia Nierenberg Ms. Mandavilli offered this: 

“We already know how to make schools relatively safe,” Apoorva said.

A mask mandate is a must, she said, as is physical distancing. Good ventilation matters — open windows will get air circulating and even an inexpensive air filter can make a big difference. Extensive testing and contact tracing is key. The new variant will result in more infections in children unless schools shore up their precautions, experts told Apoorva.

And, despite reports to the contrary, the unions are willing to re-open provided the precautions Ms. Mandavilli heard from the experts are heeded:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the need for mitigation (with masks, distancing, ventilation and cleaning), testing and appropriate quarantines. She also prioritized reasonable accommodations between teachers’ unions and districts, as well as vaccinating adults who work in school buildings.

“It requires people to actually act in the way that safety, not expediency, is foremost in their minds,” Weingarten said. “The mitigation strategies have to be embedded and have to be enforced. Not just on a piece of paper, but in reality in schools.”

After reading these two articles I am hopeful that we will have a POTUS who understands the need for public schools and State and local governments to get the financial help they need in this crisis and a willingness to heed the advice of scientists in making decisions about opening schools. 

You Cannot Champion Open Inquiry and “Unreason” With a Curriculum Designed to Boost Standardized Test Scores

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

David Brooks’ NYTimes column yesterday describes the pushback evangelical pastors are getting for taking the position that the President’s role in inciting last Wednesday’s invasion of the Capitol warrants his removal from office and that those who participated in the invasion were wrong to do so. This quote from the sixth chapter of Galatians has been paraphrased throughout the week:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Too many evangelicals placed their faith in a man who was clearly “of the flesh”. The corruption he brought to the government was evident to all those who were not blinded to his actions, blinded mainly because he kept one politically calculated promise: he would delivery jurists who were anti-abortion. In so doing, he retained the unequivocal support of many evangelicals despite his avarice, his misogyny, and his disparaging treatment of any who opposed him.

Now that this man of the flesh has advocated the overthrow of the government some evangelical leaders are supporting his impeachment and appalled at the conduct of the band of invaders who overran the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings of Congress. Some have gone so far as to declare his opponent the victor and asserted that they favor the rule of law over the rule of one individual. David Brooks captures the pushback from evangelicals and conservatives in this section of his essay:

The most popular piece on the Christianity Today website is headlined,We Worship With the Magi, Not MAGA.” In the world of secular conservatism, The Wall Street Journal editorial page called on Trump to resign. Addressing Trump supporters, the conservative talk show host Erick Erickson wrote, “Everything — from the storming of the Capitol to people getting killed to social networks banning you to corporations not giving you money — everything is a logical consequence of you people lying relentlessly for two months and taking advantage of American patriots.

One core feature of Trumpism is that it forces you to betray every other commitment you might have: to the truth, moral character, the Sermon on the Mount, conservative principles, the Constitution. In defeat, some people are finally not willing to sacrifice all else on Trump’s altar.

After describing the threatening and profanity laced phone calls these “deserters” are receiving from the true believers of Donald Trump, Brooks concludes his op ed with this:

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.

On the left, leaders and organizations have arisen to champion open inquiry, to stand up to the cancel mobs. They have begun to shift the norms.

The problem on the right is vastly worse. But we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.

Inquiry-based learning is essential to democracy. It promotes divergent thinking and open-mindedness and assumes that evidence-based reasoning might lead to differing opinions but those opinions are formed based on the application of reason.

For twenty years our schools have used standardized tests to measure learning. Those tests do not measure the ability to reason nor do they promote inquiry-based learning. MAYBE if Mr. Brooks is serious about his desire for ending the voracious beast that is unreason, he might consider replacing the test-and-punish accountability model  he has favored in the past.

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Texas Training a Totalitarian Citizenry

January 15, 2021 Leave a comment

This news report from a Texas NBC affiliate describes how the parents fear of violence in their children’s school is leading them to advocate for a complete closure of the campus and an increase in police presence and surveillance. If a nascent dictator wanted to develop a plan to educate children for a totalitarian future the blueprint would not look any different than this.