Friday, November 30, 2012

On Money and Education

Racine Unified claims that poverty is the cause of the districts dismal academic record. Let us examine that claim.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the poverty stricken in Racine have $0 to spend on education.

With few or no exceptions,  Racine Unified students live in homes with heat and electricity. They have enough food in their stomaches such that obesity is a big problem, while malnutrition is virtually non existent. They get a free education paid for by the government. For enrichment outside of school, there is a library, within walking distance of many, that offers free access to books and computers.

Everything is free. How can the lack of money be the cause of poor academic achievement?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cause or Effect?

For years now I have chafed at Racine Unified's poverty excuse. Year after year, Racine Unified ranks as the worst of similarly sized school districts in Wisconsin. You might think this would cause some soul searching.

It doesn't. Rather, as the annual and predictably poor results roll in, it is time to blame poverty once again.

It is no doubt true that poverty presents learning challenges at home and especially at school. I write "especially" because I strongly suspect that the poor are typically stuck with the worst school districts. And crappy schools produce lousy results such as those we see year after year in Racine.

But Racine Unified whines that it is a victim of poverty.

It is too bad there isn't an institution in town tasked with preparing children to function properly as adults in society.

Oh wait, there is such an institution and it has been around for several decades. It is called Racine Unified.

Perhaps it is time to consider to what extent Racine Unified is the cause of the poverty that they now use to excuse their continual and predictable failings. Don't look for Racine Unified to lead the way on that inquiry.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Political and Legal Cliff Ahead

Kudos to Sean for his response to my previous post. He wrote:

"I have to say Denis, although I support affirmative action as a way to try to make up for generation upon generations of slavery, oppression and officially sanctioned discrimination, I'm not able to wrap my mind around that perticular (sic) reasoning either".

Upon further reflection, I realize that Sean and I are both wrong about something. Both of us described the decision as having involved reasoning. It did not. It involved the use of raw political power, nothing more. Anyone with the ability to read, and that should include federally appointed judges, knows full well that there isn't anything remotely resembling a clause in the US Constitution which nullifies amendments or any other law because of the burden imposed on those who would wish to overturn said amendment or law. The judges just made it up, plain and simple. Sean, with respect, I know that you can wrap your mind around this obvious corruption.

I have a stock answer/question to those who say they want nothing to do with politics. I ask them what alternative do they prefer. If reason and votes don't prevail, the alternative is violence, ultimately. If we can't depend on fair play in politics and in our courts, it really is only a matter of time before our disagreements are expressed physically. 

Of course this is not what I want to happen. To avoid this fate, it will take vocal advocates such as Sean and myself to recognize the dangers of partisan hackery. A win at all cost mentality will make losers of us all. 

I am not all that optimistic. These are judges appointed by US presidents. They are supposed to be among our greatest legal minds. But a majority have proven themselves to be partisan hacks. And yet I have heard of no denunciations from prominent conservatives or liberals. This is very dangerous.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Extraordinary BS

A federal appeals court overturned a Michigan amendment banning affirmative action. Their reasoning, paraphrased in the Washington Post, is as follows:

In an 8-7 decision, the court said the 2006 amendment to the Michigan Constitution is illegal because it presents an extraordinary burden to opponents who would have to mount their own long, expensive campaign through the ballot box to protect affirmative action.

By this reasoning, wouldn't any amendment or even any legislation be unconstitutional because of the same "burden?"

Forget for the moment your partisan views on affirmative action or any other legal issue. If you are on the losing side of any legislative change, you can argue, quite compellingly, that you are now faced with an "extraordinary burden" in your attempt to reverse a legitimate decision made by voters, and as such, the legislation is therefor unconstitutional. 

Was Scott Walker's initial election "illegal" because of the "extraordinary burden" it placed on those wishing to recall him? Are the recent gains made by gay marriage advocates or pot smokers unconstitutional by that standard? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Access Denied

Conservative columnist/talk show host Dennis Prager reacts to the results of the presidential election. Some suggest that Republicans need to become like liberals. Prager instead suggests promoting conservative values to minorities, youth, women etc... He writes:

"The only answer to the "demographic" problem, therefore, is to bring women (single women, to be precise), young people, Hispanics, and blacks to conservative values....."
"Our only hope for America is that every conservative takes upon him or herself the project of learning what American and conservative values are, coming to understand what leftism stands for, and learning how to make the case for those values to women, young people, blacks and Hispanics."
I agree with Mr. Prager. Additionally, I understand conservative values, I understand the left, and I believe I could make a case for those values to women, young people, blacks and Hispanics. So I should just go forth and convert the masses, right? It is not so easy.
If I wanted to promote liberal values, it would be a piece of cake. I could just dust of my MSW degree and get right to work in institutions where liberals dominate, namely schools, government agencies and even private charities. I could get a teaching degree. I might still be writing for the Racine Journal Times. You get the picture.
But try promoting conservative ideas and your access is denied. 
My question to Free Racine readers. Where does one find the women, youth, and minorities to introduce, discuss, debate etc... conservative ideas? I am talking about formal arrangements, not "in the checkout lane" or "at the ball game." Any ideas would be welcome.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Teachable Moment Missed

I happened upon a blog called running reflections run by a teacher. I found this:

My sixth grade students leaned forward as I read to them, almost as though they would better be able to capture the words in the book. We were reading “Out of My Mind,” by Sharon Draper. This book is about a bright student named Melody who has cerebral palsy. Melody uses a wheelchair to get around, gets assistance with eating and bathrooming, and relies on a communication board to talk. When we got to page 52, Melody explained that her aids, “do stuff like take us to the bathroom (or change diapers on kids like Ashley and Carl), feed us at lunch, wheel us where we need to go, wipe mouths, and give hugs.  I don’t think they get paid very much, because they never stay very long.  But they should get a million dollars.  What they do is really hard, and I don’t think most folks get that.”
At this point, a sixth grade girl quietly raises her hand and patiently waits to be called on. Encouraging thinking while reading, means stopping to discuss questions and thoughts my students are having. I pause to call on her and she asks her question with concern in her voice, “Does Mrs. Saad get more money than the teachers, because she does a lot of extra work for the students she works with?”
OK then. We have a character in a novel who thinks her teachers aid should earn a million dollars, we have a girl asking questions about the pay of the teachers aid in her school and we have teacher who claims to be "encouraging thinking." What a great teachable moment!
The teacher dodges the question. What a shame.
Should the teachers aid earn a million dollars? If yes, or a lesser amount, where does the money come from? With a little guidance, the students could learn a little something about taxes and school funding. They could learn that the teachers pay is determined by wrangling between politicians, school board members, unions and, one would hope, taxpayers. And they should learn that the desire or need for money or resources will always exceed the supply, a situation that forces some form of rationing. 

I have my doubts that "encouraging thinking" was the objective in the classroom. From the choice of material to the teachers failure, it seems perhaps emoting was the real goal.

But one young girl asked a thoughtful question anyway and was brushed off by her teacher. We can't have children learning meaningful, easily understood economic ideas. That would conflict with the unions goal of producing reliable Democratic voters. It's for the children.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Random Election Thoughts

Random election thoughts in no particular order.

There is an expression that you get the government that you deserve. I worry about what we deserve.

I don't understand how states are called, not that it matters anymore. North Carolina was not called for Romney until he had a 3 point lead with 97% of votes counted, while Ohio was called for Obama despite Romney having closed from a 10 point to a 1 point deficit with some 30% of votes still not counted.

I am used to feeling a sense of alienation after elections, but this is somehow different, worse. Fox News repeatedly mentioned the "browning" of America. Does the rule of law, limited government, fiscal responsibility etc...somehow not appeal to people with darker skin? Yah I'm concerned for our country.

There are more than a few political prognosticators that have lost their credibility.

I will write in Sean Cranley before I ever cast a vote for Chris Christie. If I knew, he had to know that his wet sloppy kiss to Obama's back side would lead every newscast. It wasn't necessary to address the crisis in his state.

Romney went out of his way not to be more aggressive/assertive, lest he lose the woman vote. He lost the woman vote anyway. Could it be that women reward aggressive Democrats while punishing aggressive Republicans? How do they, Republicans,  deal with that?

Romney seems to me a decent, competent, moderate guy. I wasn't excited about him but I can't bring myself to throw him under the bus.

I hope the Republicans in the House don't roll over.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Courting BradK Part 2

BradK, you made a few points that pique my interest. They are:

What I'm typically talking about is the social safety nets. Generally speaking, the liberal position is more favorable to setting up those nets to catch as many people as possible when they need it. I would challenge them that their policies don't provide a way out of them very clearly.


I generally favor policies that give a crap about people and have a slight bleeding heart about it. I draw the line however at policies that invite or create dependency.

I would posit that the vast majority of people in this country would agree with your basic point on the need for safety nets coupled with the dangers of dependency. I certainly do.

On a personal note, as a young adult I was very intent on making a career out of helping people who needed help the most. I earned a MSW (Masters, Social Work) with the idea of working with young people who have had a rough start in life. And for a few years I worked with kids with behavioral or emotional problems. It was assumed by one and all that I was a terrific guy for pursuing this career. I mention this because, while my political philosophy gradually changed, my interest in social problems has not. Yet it was no longer assumed that me heart was in the right place. Liberals hold a huge advantage in assumed motives. I blame articulate liberals and inarticulate conservatives for the current perceptions about the motives of liberals and conservatives.

My point is to challenge the assumption by many that the left are primarily the folks who care about the less fortunate. Certainly many do as do many on the right. And there are bad guys on both sides as well. The left is far better at the PR contest.

Of course at the end of the day, the question of who cares the most is less important than who delivers. We have all heard the phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Good intentions are a good starting point but is not the end all be all as some seem to assume. What matters is results.

On that score I have come to believe that the lefts preferred approach - government interventions -  should be measured for effectiveness. Government schools are a disaster or at least a major disappointment. The war on poverty failed. Welfare marginalized black men. Social Security has been a success but is unsustainable in its current form. Obamacare is a disaster in the making.

It is true that the liberals "don't provide a way out" very easily as you state. Of course, there are huge incentives in place to ensure this remains the case. Dependents become a reliable voting bloc for liberals. Why should liberals foster self reliance, other than it being the right thing to do? They would be creating conservatives and undermining their own power. Real solutions would create real problems for the left. 

My own conclusions that I have come to over the years, in no particular order: The left has done a masterful job of convincing society that their motives are pure and that conservatives are heartless, or greedy, homophobic, Islamphobic, sexist etc.... and that conservatives are far less skilled at advancing their philosophy, in part because they are largely shut out of institutions that promulgate political points of view such as the education system, media, Hollywood and so on. Liberal "solutions" often sound good at first but often fail spectacularly while the opposite is sometimes true of conservative notions. Example, tax breaks often result in revenue increases for government. Government solutions tend to create winners and losers and pit them against one another. The competitive nature of private markets would be more effective in differentiating freeloaders from people truly in need. Generally speaking, the left does not seem to care as much as they claim. If they did, they would embrace school choice. Many inner city black people, but not near enough, are figuring this out. Conservatives are far from perfect, Republicans even less so, but by no means do I conclude that liberals care more, and even less do I think their methods are effective in helping the less fortunate, by and large. 

And to all who made it this far, I apologize for the length of this post.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Courting BradK

BradK noted in our previous discussion that he is a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I won't of course speak for BradK, but that phrase often translates as follows: I would vote for the Republican on fiscal issues but for the Democrat on social issues. Since you can't split your vote, you weigh the relative importance of the issues that matter to you, then you plug your nose and vote. Perhaps this is the quandary that BradK finds himself in as an undecided voter.

But are Democrats really all that socially liberal? I suppose the Dems are labelled as such because of a support for gay marriage and for the liberalization of drug laws. At first glance it would appear that the Dems are more socially liberal than the Pubs. But lets look a bit deeper.

As I stated in the most recent thread, gay marriage would involve a tradeoff with religious liberties. Would religions retain the freedoms of conscience thus far largely unchallenged, that is to fulfill their missions to serve their communities without having to, in effect, endorse behavior that they consider sinful? In a few states, Catholic Charities has gotten out of the adoption/foster care business rather than place children in same sex homes. And lately we have Obamacare which forces religions to violate core beliefs about the sanctity of life. Are the Dems behaving in a live and let live, socially liberal manner towards the major religions in the world?

And about that drug war, I am somewhat conflicted on this one. It is probably true that the Dems would lead the way in legalizing pot and other recreational drugs. But it is certainly true that the Dems have led the way in the assault on tobacco smoking. Businesses -bars and restaurants especially- are no longer free to determine their own policies on smoking. But the Dems don't want to stop there. They want to stop you from smoking in public parks here in Racine. Perhaps you are OK with all of this but this is not social liberalism in action.

And it is and will be the Dems determing the size of your slurpee, the temperature of your house, the brightness of your lightbulb and so on. 

Are the Dems really the more socially liberal party?