Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rebooting our Schools

One of my former students sent me a message on Facebook with a video critical of today's educational system and he asked what I thought.... so, here goes.

First, watch this video before going forward.

The video is an interesting indictment of our education system. I agree with many of the points this young man makes, not all, but many. Maybe even most.

As a teacher, I can say that some of us tried to sneak some of this stuff in into an archaic education system that has not progressed as fast as we have over the course of the past 50 years... nor one that welcomed the changes.

I would counter that some of the things he mentioned that we teach seem unimportant and I would say that they are. I will use this as an example, one you might have even thought of.

When I taught Shakespeare I often heard "why do we need this?" Yes, the language was foo foo and much not used anymore, but the situations were valid. Teach Julius Caesar and you can learn about how people can use government to further their goals. Teach Romeo & Juliet and one can learn about the dangers of young love unchecked.

All this done through a back door. Offer these lessons purely as lessons and a lot of kids just roll their eyes, "yeah, there goes those adults again."

I sure cannot speak to what young teachers are being taught today to address these changes.

I have often said that we don't have enough time to teach all the things youth really need to learn. But the shoe also is on the other foot. How many kids rebel against learning things they really need? How many kids have bought into the attitude that school is a waste of time? Some of it is. The teachers who really care try to get around teaching the dull boring stuff and include the stuff that is anything but.

Until we get school boards and politicians out of the classrooms to let teachers do their jobs, a lot of this is not going to change. Let's face it, there are a lot of people out there whose best interests are not served by raising a smart well-educated population. Dumb people are so much easier to lead (just look at Donald Trump's followers).

Businesses complain that young people today are not coming out of school with the skills necessary to compete in today's world, but I would say that a lot of them are using that excuse to ship jobs overseas where the labor force work for peanuts.

What's the answer (in my humble view, here are ten things)?

One: parents must get more involved in their children's education. The number of parents I saw on a regular basis was pitifully woe, and the parents I didn't see are the ones I needed to see most.

Two: weed out teachers who do not do their jobs (I hate to say it, but there were/are plenty of those at Brandywine... but BPS is not alone. Look at the lax, lazy teachers in one school and multiply it by the thousands of schools in this nation and we have a problem.

Three: PAY teachers a decent wage and let them do their jobs.

Four: modernize our schools and curriculums. Stop "cheaping" out on what it costs to operate schools. Have you heard the old adage, "running schools are expensive?" They are, but raising an uneducated population costs more... welfare and prisons cost more.

Five: we must get past the attitude that once one graduates learning is done. We must be lifelong learners.

Six: stop watering/dumbing down the curriculum.

Seven: stop this insane testing every other day (yes, I exaggerate a little--but not really).

Eight: stop insisting that all children must go to college. Not everyone is cut out for college. Technical schools are great for some kids. Internships often can do more than any classroom can offer. We need to have more schools that cater to different types of students. South Bend's schools have a fine arts school, a business school and one geared towards the sciences. Brandywine tries to do this by permitting students to go part time to the other schools that can better afford teaching some of the other disciplines.

Nine: I hate to say it, but the school year needs to be longer, and I advocate splitting it into three terms, not two. Get rid of three-month long summer vacations and instead break up the school year.

Ten: We keep hearing make teachers accountable, but how about making kids accountable? We need smaller schools with smaller classes. This makes accountability far easier to measure. A teacher walking into a class of 15-18 students is far easier to manage than a class of 25-32.

There's a lot more that needs to be done and I sure am not the end all, be all of what a school should be.

This video does an excellent job of showing what's wrong with today's schools, but I wish it would also address what's right. Still, his point is well taken. 

Sadly, schools, as they currently exist, are designed to cater to the masses and not so well to those who are exceptional and to those who are not. We need to change that.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Be the friend they need

We (my colleagues at our Barnes & Noble) lost a very special young man this week. 20 is too damned young to leave this world. Needless to say, today was a hard day for us all.

Christian was loved by us all. Today we saw a loving community and those of us from our store who was present to say their goodbyes. Our managers worked very hard making sure that all who wanted to go to his viewing be afforded that opportunity. I thank them kindly.

Easily, more than 200 people (I would say, maybe 300) from his life made their way to say farewell.

As we looked at the photos of his life that lined the funeral home, we could see a smile in almost every picture... and I think that is how all of us in our store will remember Christian.

He was always smiling, had a soft ready laugh. He was a talented, funny young man whose presence lit the room... and he seemed to be a man with a bright future ahead of him. I often spoke with him about school and his hopes to join the Peace Corps.

Christian, you will be missed... and on a personal note, one that each of us should carry with us at all times. We are a very special family and if any of you know of someone who is suffering from what his pastor called "inner demons," please make sure your friend, your loved one, your coworker, knows that they are loved and not alone.

If only Christian could have seen all of us who came today. I wonder if it would have been enough.

In loving memory
Christian Turner
June 5, 1995 - March 26, 2106

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Let's have a three way

Historically, I have long resisted the notion that America needs to have a three-party government. Throughout history, our nation has flirted with this notion numerous times.

Over the course of the past 30 years, we have had the Green Party, the Independents, the Tea Party, etc. Ross Perot, anyone?

This election, thus far, has been rather contentious and some people believe this election may lead to a fracturing of the Republican Party (if not an implosion), something I would welcome with glee.

We have had the Populist Party, the Progressives, the Prohibition Party, Greenback Party, Jeffersonian Democrats. Perhaps the most striking example was the Bull Moose Progressive Party, a party that Theodore Roosevelt was a member of when his own party rejected him in the 1912 election.

In some circles, many people believe Ralph Nader's run on the Green Party ticket cost Al Gore, Jr., the 2000 election. I, for one, DO blame Nader for the asinine situation our country has been in since President Bush was handed the election.

My reason for questioning whether the U.S. should have a third party has become apparent since President Obama has taken office. Let's face it, our two-party political system is badly broken. Irretrievably so remains to be seen.

Stalemate. Obstruction. Tit-for-tat. I poke you in the eye, you poke mine. Seriously, our current leaders have ripped a page out of a Three Stooges movie.

Listen to Donald Trump and you'll hear a five-year old spoiled brat whining. "They did it first, They treated me badly." The only thing he has not yet said is, "Ma, he's looking at me (but he's come close)!"

If you listen closely to Sen. McConnell, when he said he would refuse to entertain President Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Scalia, he went on to say "if the Democrats were in control, would they act any different?"

Probably not.

McConnell believes the people should choose, but didn't we do that when President Obama won the Presidency, not once but twice?

So, the question is, is it time for a three-party political system in America?

I'm not certain. It'd probably take us a decade to acclimate to it and one problem with a three-party system is that no one will have a majority. But it would force both parties to play nice with the third party (it's called sucking up) and then maybe, just maybe something would get done in Washington. Maybe.

Personally, I'd rather our two parties grow up and do their jobs, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

So, what do you think? Would our country be better off with a three party political system? And if so, what should it look like?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bernie and Hillary

I am seeing a disturbing phenomenon occurring among we Democrats that is really leaving me disappointed in my fellow Democrats. Tonight and over the course of the past few weeks, I have seen some of the most vile comments in print made about Mrs. Clinton--and they're not coming from the Republicans. Oh sure, the Republicans are too, but those are to be expected. However, the ones from within my own party are troubling.

I have been pretty clear I am not stating a preference on which candidate for whom I intend to vote for in May. I also will not take sides NOR will I publicly make ugly statements about either candidate. I will not be a party to providing ammunition to the GOP come November.

If the two candidates make remarks about the other, that is between them and also to be expected. I have wonderful expectations of both and will be proud to vote for the party's candidate come November.

For the followers of both, I think it is great when we can find a candidate for which we can admire and campaign, but I would like to think we can do that by building up our candidates without tearing down the other.

I have noted that in the past few days when I have made comments about Mrs. Clinton, friends of mine who are Bernie supporters have swooped in en masse with remark after remark as if to convince me what an awful person Mrs. Clinton is. All I can say to that is, knock it off.

When it comes time for me to pull the proverbial lever in May (and November), I will make up my own mind, thank you.

Here's the thing, both Hillary and Bernie have baggage that can give the GOP a perfect opportunity to take the White House. To ignore that truth can invite disaster--and in spite of that, both are infinitely better candidates than any that the GOP have offered up.

That is my opinion and good luck to any who think they can alter that viewpoint.

Until then, I would like to think the members of my party would quit acting like Republicans. We'd sure better... there is too much at stake come November--and beyond.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Is it a Revolution?

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been stressing that he is spearheading a revolution on behalf of the American people. Thing is, that is not going to happen in the White House, but it sure as hell NEEDS to happen in Congress.

Congress no longer is beholden to the voters--they haven't been, not for a long time now. When Congress is constantly out panhandling for money to finance their next campaign, how can we possibly be surprised that our laws are written by--and for and to benefit--their corporate masters?

Just look at how are laws are passed today. There is no such thing as partisanship anymore.

Riders are hidden away, tucked safely AND sneakily inside where Congress hopes no one will notice. One way to rectify this is giving the President line-item veto, but that is never ever going to happen.

Recently, Michigan legislators faced the prospects of rectifying a horrible injustice unleashed upon the citizens of Flint, Michigan (by the governor) AND instead, what did these brave Michigan state Republicans do? They passed a law outlawing sodomy and oral sex! Yes, children, that pressing need demanded immediate attention to save their state from oblivion.

And speaking of Flint's water crisis, when Governor Rick Snyder was summoned to Washington to testify about the situation, he declined.

I ask you, since when can a governor refuse a federal summons to stand before Congress? Believe me, if Congress was not packed with one party firmly in control, and that said governor was not of that same party, he (or she) would never have gotten away with this. Mind you, if Snyder were a Democrat, he would have been slapped with a contempt of congress citation--and why has he not yet resigned?

A dirty little secret in our town halls, state houses and in Washington is that today's legislation is largely written not by our elected leaders, but by rich corporations and their paid lobbyists.

Corporations write the bills with their interests in mind and hand it off to our leaders--be it on a local, state or national level--and the pretense of addressing our needs is done with a wink and a nod.

Recently, both Michigan and Indiana states legislators have worked to pass laws making it impossible for Tesla to establish dealerships in these two states. Who do you think pressed for such legislation? General Motors, that's who.

I guess GM can't stand the heat of competition, something the GOP claims to publicly encourage (bah!). One has to wonder how much money GM has given to our elected officials to see their bidding done.

Think of it this way. Imagine that Congress is Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. With each election, we see our candidates (of both parties) dangling the hopes and prospects that they will act on our interests. Charlie Brown charges the football (our hopes) only to have his dreams dashed as Lucy yanks the ball away at the last second. This IS how Congress operates today, don't you know?

It is imperative we demand that lobbyists with their seemingly unlimited bankroll get out of Washington (and out of the courts, too).

Until this happens, change benefitting the common man is just a pipe dream. Bernie Sanders is right. A revolution is coming.