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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Introducing a Valuable Skill for All the Wrong Reasons: When Economic Development Trumps Child Development

August 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I read with interest a recent NYTimes article by Dana Goldstein about the effort underway in Wyoming to move away from an economy based on diminishing low skill jobs related to extraction toward an economy based more on technology. The rationale for preparing students for a high tech world, though, seems flawed on two scores.

First, by making “economic development” the basis for mandating a course the State Education Department is explicitly linking schools to jobs– which is a fools errand in an age where jobs change far more rapidly than school curricula. Had the schools in the early 1960s tried to adapt their curricula to the emerging technology markets they would have never thought that computers would be available in the homes of the children they were teaching when they became adults and could not have possibly taught a computer language that would be applicable today. When I taught computers in the early 1970s we taught BASIC and used punch cards, the “state of the art” technology at the time— a language that is now as useless as Olde English and a process that seems prehistoric in an era of cloud data collections.

Second is the reality that the skills students need now to succeed in life are the same as the skills needed when I was in school— and they are the “soft skills” that schools avoid because they are not easy to define, harder yet to teach, and do not lend themselves to the “rigorous” (i.e. standardized test-based) measurement that provides a means of sorting students into groups. These life skills are also ones that cannot be replaced by a robot: they cannot be reduced to algorithms for they rely on human interactions.

And the idea of compelling schools to shoe-horn these new subjects into an already stuffed curriculum faces one other daunting challenge: money. As Ms. Goldstein reports:

…low taxes are an orthodoxy in Wyoming, and the Legislature did not dedicate any new dollars to the plan. That has left schools reliant on limited state, federal and philanthropic funds — and on individual educators… to bear the burden of introducing an entirely new subject.

Predictably, affluent schools, schools with wealthy benefactors looking out for them, and schools who obtain grants from philanthropists are doing well at meeting this fiscal challenge and, consequently, presumably preparing their children for a better world.

And just as predictably, the hopes of politicians to attack jobs that will entice students to remain in their home state seem likely to be dashed as well:

Wyoming educators say that despite the rhetoric of politicians and tech giants, they are teaching computer science to enrich their students, not to enrich the state.

“Our job is not to contain our kids in Wyoming,” said Craig Dougherty, the Sheridan superintendent. “They need to compete globally.”

And those who stay? They might benefit more from learning some of those soft skills and using their creative and interpersonal talents to develop businesses that cannot be outsourced. But since those skills are taught to measure… the kids are learning nothing of value.

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Professionalism, High Cost Killing Team Sports for Kids

August 11, 2019 Leave a comment

It is distressing to read this article from ESPN about the lower participation rates for kids participation in team sports… but not surprising given that each child pays over $1800 per sport per year… a daunting fee for all but the affluent. When this factor is combined with the deteriorating athletic field in cities and communities it becomes clear that more public funding is needed to address this issue.

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Mass Killings at El Paso and Dayton Elicit Call from President for Mental Health Services, A Call that is Chilling

August 5, 2019 Leave a comment

This past weekend 29 people were killed in mass murders perpetrated by two white nationalists operating independent of each other: on in El Paso, TX and one in Dayton, OH. The murderer in El Paso issued a manifesto full of language that mirrored the xenophobic exhortations of President Trump at his campaign rallies. The murderer in Dayton had a history of developing “hit lists” of classmates he wanted to kill.

The President’s reaction to the killings was that we have “a mental illness problem” in our country and he urged bi-partisan support for increased background checks prior to the purchase of guns.

I am concerned that Mr. Trump’s focus— and that of all NRA-owned legislators— seems to be on “mental health”. I am concerned because we have a POTUS who’s record on truth-telling is horrible, who holds science in low regard, and whose admiration for totalitarian leaders is high. It is not implausible that Mr. Trump might well define those who oppose him as “mentally ill”. That seems to be the method used by the world leaders he admires.

I am also concerned because as a retired public school administrator I can only imagine how the FBI might use information gathered by high school disciplinarians to identify “potential shooters” and how much money might be spend to incarcerate those who pose some kind of risk…. money that does not seem to be available to help young children who current face adversity related to poverty.

Until we are willing to spend as much to prevent violence as we are willing to impose it we will not get out of the spiral we find ourselves in today. Ceasing the sale of military style weapons, armor, and bullets is an important and necessary step. Proving help to those in need, however, reinforces our hopes for the future instead of our fears about the present. It would be money well spent.

Nick Kristof’s Small Bore Replicable Solution to “Intractable” Problem

August 4, 2019 Comments off

Nick Kristof reliably offers unique and creative ideas for addressing seemingly intractable problems, and today’s column in the NYTimes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future“, is no exception.

In a nutshell, Mr. Kristof suggests that the replication of a small scale program in Seattle that provides low income families with a voucher to move into an affluent community is a viable means of helping low income families improve the opportunities for their children… and he offers evidence to support that idea. After reading the column, I offered the following comment:

Too bad the term “voucher” is used because it is associated with Milton Friedman and Betsy DeVos. But the concept of providing poverty stricken families with access to affluent zip codes makes sense and doing it on a case-by-case basis is far more feasible politically than trying to change the zoning laws in those wealthy enclaves to allow affordable housing. This is an instance where the idea of vouchers makes a lot of sense.

NBC Reporter’s Makes Chilling and Persuasive Case that Reagan’s “Revolution” was All Based on Race

August 3, 2019 Comments off

NBC News reporter Syreeta McFadden’s opinion piece, “The Democratic Party Can’t Win Back Mythical “Reagan Democrats” Without Forsaking Their Principles“, offers a history of Reagan’s rise to power and, in doing so, offers a compelling case that it was based on race. Here are the two paragraphs that serve as the core of Ms. McFadden’s argument:

The mythical Reagan Democrats don’t exist anymore — if they ever did. They were social conservatives whose party affiliation was rooted in a Democratic Party that thankfully no longer exists; moderates of that time are conservatives now, and their conservatism is and was rooted in decades of a culture war that began with a little thing called the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s the hard truth for many to admit that the delicate push-pull of the American democracy centers around how vehemently politicians believe they can embrace the dismantling of racial apartheid in America, or that the conservatism worldview, particularly, as embodied by Trump, increasingly embraces bigotry as social and political norm — though that certainly did not begin with him.

In the article, Ms. McFadden offers a description of a speech Ronald Reagan gave after his nomination as the Republican’s candidate to oppose Jimmy Carter, a speech I had read about in several articles:

It was deeply intentional that, on Aug. 3, 1980, the newly minted Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan gave a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered in 1964 after they disappeared trying to register African Americans to vote. There Reagan touted his vision of states’ rights and welfare reform with purported colorblind language to appeal to embittered voters feeling abandoned by the Democratic Party after the civil rights era— those who had yet to fully declare themselves Republicans but were certainly social conservatives.

“I believe that there are programs like that,” meaning welfare, said the man who is widely credited with popularizing the myth of the black welfare queen, “programs like education and others” — this, in the era of desegregation and busing — “that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them,” he finished before thunderous applause to an all-white audience. “I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level.

Perhaps these words don’t resonate in 2019 as they did in 1980 but his audience had no doubt about his references: He was talking about the end of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the end of federal government programs (and state contributions to them) widely seen as benefiting impoverished African American residents more than white ones, the end of federal interference in state efforts to maintain segregation and segregated poverty, and the end of federal oversight that endeavored to bring about America’s mythical promise of justice for all.

For me, those words resonate more today than they ever did… for we have come to see that in the broadest sense “social conservatives” are pro-apartheid, anti-egalitarian social Darwinist libertarians who are willing to live in a world where fewer and fewer individuals control more and more wealth in the country thanks to the natural results of deregulated capitalism o long as that world does not require them to spend any time in the presence of those of a different race. And in the paragraphs that follow, Ms. McFadden illustrates how the Democratic Party shed its principles to reach out to these “social conservatives”:

To the still mostly white Democrats mollywhopped by the 1980 national campaign and examining the electorate, it was easy to fearfully pivot to the stated proclivities of those voters and forfeit policies that would support and sustain communities of color, who made up most of the statistical working class. Reagan’s war on drugs prepared the ground for the Clinton administration’s 1994 Crime Bill. Reagan’s constant invocation of the welfare queen was repackaged under Clinton as the “end welfare as we know it” — still using black women, as Reagan had, as symbols of government dependency.

Today, Democratic Party centrists continue to center their language and thinking to appeal to the same white discomfort with a liberal and inclusive society, the same suspicion that brown folk are getting an unequal share of resources and prosperity in American society.Carter’s defeat in 1980 still looms so large in the Democratic imagination that they are convinced that the nation is and remains center-right and, instead of adopting a vision to capture voters across class and ethnic lines, centrists continue to push the party to direct its energies toward the white working class even as polls, elections and demographics show the actual way forward.

This week’s debates really made it obvious that the moderate platform is simply to obstruct any necessary deep structural changes and to placate voters who fear the younger brown and black progressive “hordes.” But we are actually a coalition of people across class and ethnic lines who recognize, finally, that the moderate forces are not our allies, that the “Reagan Democrats” are not the belles of this ball. We are not willing to cede to Republican policies and undermine the desires of our own base. The center has moved left — and, for those relying on the center-right, the panic has set in.

After reading this, I understood the source of my misgivings for “centrist” Democrats. When I read that the economic programs proposed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are “too far to the left” or that Pete Buttigieg could never be elected because he’s gay or that we need to stay with the “centrists” like Joe Biden who helped develop and support the “third way” policies of Bill Clinton, I realize that my antipathy for them is based on my belief that IF the Democrats want undercut the “bigotry as social and political norm” that Trump embodies, they must propose policies that are explicitly anti-apartheid, policies that are clearly in favor of federal oversight that strives “to bring about America’s mythical promise of justice for all“, and policies that provide the money needed for people to do “as much as they can for themselves at the community level”. That message WILL alienate the hard-core Trump supporters. But it will also send a message that the Democratic party believes bigotry is unacceptable, that the rule of law should apply to everyone no matter their race or economic status, and that every community needs to have the wherewithal to help their residents live a fruitful and fulfilling life. I truly and sincerely hope that those principles are shared by the majority of Americans in our country. 

Upshot Article Oversimplifies “Solution” to Complicated Problem Congress Created

July 31, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Upshot writer Kevin Carey written on July 24 titled “It’s Easy to Forget, but a Program to Forgive Student Loans Already Exists“. There are two problems with the article from my perspective.

First, the “program to forgive student loans” is so convoluted that it’s “existence” is arguable. Contrary to the sub-headline that reads, “Democrats are campaigning to fix an issue that is already starting to resolve itself for many teachers and other public servants“, the article describes an issue that desperately needs to be fixed because the laws underpinning it were ill-conceived, allowed only five days for the initial application process, and changed directions several times over the course of time.  

Second, and most importantly, the implementation was botched because Congress failed to provide the funds needed to provide the staff required to make the implementation possible. Here are the most telling paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s article:

“(The borrowers) needed some good advice. Whom would they call? Not the Department of Education, which subcontracts the work of helping borrowers to “loan servicing companies”. Unfortunately, the servicers didn’t prove up to the task.

Loan servicers are paid a flat rate per borrower for processing loan payments and helping people navigate the repayment process. That means that the more time and effort a borrower requires, the less money the servicer makes. Someone who sets up an automatic debit from a checking account and never picks up the phone is a source of profits. Borrowers who need a lot of time-consuming assistance to ensure that their job, their loan and their repayment plan are all eligible for the forgiveness program are a financial liability.

The results were predictable. In June 2017, a few months before the first public servants were (theoretically) eligible for loan forgiveness, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report describing the many ways loan servicers were messing things up.

This sums up the whole problem with government today: it is understaffed and therefore incapable of functioning effectively. Taxpayers want the government to come up with a FAST, CHEAP solution to complicated problems and to run like a business. As Mr. Carey explains later in the article, when USDOE outsourced their work to “loan servicing companies” they operated like a business and got a FAST and CHEAP “solution” to the complicated problem Congress created… a “solution” that padded the wallets of the “loan servicing companies” but left the borrowers high and dry…. and “proved” that government is the problem. The headline to this should read: “It’s Easy to Forget that an Effective Government Requires Bureaucrats”….

Mr. Carey concludes his article with evidence that more and more borrowers are becoming eligible, and seems to think that since the percentage of approved borrowers has increased the problem is taking care of itself. After reading the article and looking at the daunting amount the government is on the hook for, I’m not confident that there will be sufficient funds available to honor the promises they made to public employees— especially since the current administration is intent on keeping its promises to the billionaires and shareholders who received massive tax breaks.

The REAL Boomer Prototype is NOT an Aging Flower Child…

July 27, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a week-old NYTimes article by Charles Homan titled “Bob Dylan and the Myth of Boomer Idealism”. The article was mostly about Martin Scorsese’s recent movie, Rolling Thunder Review”, which was a partly fictionalized account of a series of concerts Bob Dylan did in 1975. But the overarching theme was captured in this sentence that appeared near the middle of the article:

We know now that the real story wasn’t the people at the protests and the concerts; it was all the people who weren’t.

As one who did attend protests and concerts, but also one who worked with the public in an effort to pass school budgets and improve schools, this has always seemed true to me. My “fellow boomers” often appeared at the microphone complaining about how their taxes were being squandered on public education. They sometimes showed up to protest a syllabus that included a book about the traumas of growing up poor and Hispanic. More unsettling, they appeared at the microphone when we wrestled with re-drawing attendance zones so that schools were more racially and economically diverse. Where, I wondered, were those “fellow boomers” who sought a better world for the poor and downtrodden, who wanted a more progressive form of education?  As I observed national politics it became evident that “the people at the protests and the concerts” had little impact on elections even though pundits tended to think of the Boomers as flower children. Later in the same article Mr. Homan writes:

Today’s politics are shaped far less by the intra-Democratic street fighting of 1968 or Vietnam or Watergate than by the subtler, structural consequences of the Civil Rights and Immigration and Nationality Acts: the black-and-white part of the ’60s, not the Day-Glo coda that dominates the ex-hippie narrative.

I’m not sure Mr. Homan is entirely right in this assessment. I think that the intra-Democratic street fighting of 1968…Vietnam and Watergate DO dominate our politics today as much as Civil Rights and immigration. The progressive wing of the Democrats, who are chastised by the moderate DNC and largely marginalized by the mainstream media, represent those who went to protests and concerts and understood what the street-fighting of 1968 was about even if they didn’t support it. They also view any form of war as unacceptable and see the burgeoning budgets for the military as wasteful. They also have faith in government DESPITE the Watergate episode in our history, remaining fully engaged in the ideals of politics despite the smarmy undertow Watergate exposed. The Progressives also want racial justice as well as economic justice and want to restore America as the City of the Hill, the nation that welcomes those who are downtrodden and oppressed by their government.

One thing I am sure of: in 2020 we need to restore our focus on the ideals of this country instead of the power of this country. If we do so, that debate will be the focal point of all elections and we will have a substantial debate on ideas instead of a superficial round of name-calling.