Category Archives: The Issues

Message to DNC and GOP: It’s about the Issues (NOT the Elections)!

Standardized Tests for Politicians and Candidates

Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in VTDigger.org, “Poor Elijah’s Almanack: A collection of symptoms”.  One of his points was about how our polarized way of discussing various aspects of education (testing, curriculum, approaches and methods) make it difficult for teachers to do their job.  He gives examples from the “War on/about Math”, “War on/about Literacy”, and other “Wars on __________”.  Here is his concluding paragraph:

As long as schools are ruled by two fanatical, bankrupt extremes, no matter what the issue and no matter which side’s experts are advancing at the moment, students, teachers, and learning will be suffering in the middle.

Thanks Mr. Berger for another thought-provoking column.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

As a backdrop to these polarizing “Wars on This or That” (Math, Language, Curriculum and Teachers, etc.), we live in a Digital World of either zero (0) or one (1).  With base-2 whole numbers, there is no middle or “fractional” ground.  Likewise our entrenched two-party system makes it difficult for independent or third party candidates to have a decent chance of winning.  Our media also continues this trap of “This Or That”, “A Versus B”, Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives versus Liberals.  If anyone outside our binary digit political system runs for office, well good luck with that.

It seems that the competitive and collective American Brain has a hard time dealing with “AND”, as it may cause cognizant dissonance, and won’t easily sell news, help ratings, or get R/D candidates elected.

Why can’t we take the best ideas from both political parties and fashion more workable legislation?

Why can’t we simultaneously apply the best parts of Math Basics and Problem Solving in the classroom?  I don’t necessarily mean multi-tasking during the same class period, but throughout a school year, use both approaches to complement each other.

The same thing goes for literacy.  Why not apply the best of both worlds, Phonics AND Whole Language, so that students get a more well-rounded education in reading and writing?

You could ask the same thing about “Learning Facts AND “Critical Thinking”.  You need to be able to know or do both.

When I learned to play music and guitar, I learned the “basics” of reading music, and later writing out standard music notation.  But I also later learned how to apply dynamics and effects, to give more meaning and emotion to playing.  Musicians need to know both the “basic literacy” and “whole language” of music.

It seems that our “War on Whatever” culture has produced professional advocates such that there are cottage industries that have grown up on either side of a given issue or “war”.  People make money and lucrative careers by taking sides, and can become “experts” in their fields, write books and appear on radio or TV espousing their beliefs.  The polarization continues on because it makes money for those who start or wage these Wars on (fill in the blank).

Meanwhile, teachers who are actually in the classroom must navigate through the crossfire of these “Wars about Education” to teach their students.

Since teachers must take Praxis exams, and are continually evaluated as to whether “highly effective” or not, and students must take “standardized tests”, I offer another benchmark for evaluating politicians or candidates.  We are in yet another even-numbered year, and November is approaching.

Politicians could stop spending money on negative campaign ads, and spouting off tired ideological talking points.  Instead, those seeking election or re-election should provide voters with:

1. Their High School GPA
2. Their High School Transcript
3. Their ACT and SAT test scores
4. Their College GPA
5. Their College Transcript
6. Their GRE grade for graduate school (or other standard testing)
7. Essay question: Why you are highly qualified to be our Representative, State Senator, Governor, etc.

How about it Democrats and Republicans running for public office?  Especially those of you who are critical of public schools and public school teachers!

Congress Beats War Drum, Time to Play Another Tune

I was able to watch most of Ken Burn’s documentary on PBS about “The Roosevelts”.  All four of Teddy Roosevelt’s sons volunteered for WWI. His youngest son, Quentin died in the war. Also, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four sons served overseas on WWII.

Since the mid-1960s, the percentage of veterans in Congress has fallen from the 60-70% range to less than 25%.  Today there are a few younger members of Congress who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  But most in Congress beat the War Drums to send other people’s children to war.

As awful as the beheading of the two U.S. journalists by ISIS is, let’s not forget that there have been similar murders in Mexico by drug gangs in the past decade.  Beginning over 20 years ago, there have been a handful of beheading cases in Detroit, mostly drug gang related. The main difference is that these cases were discovered after the fact, and were not broadcast on Twitter.  They occurred in North America, and not “over there” in the Middle East.

While “something” should be done regarding ISIS, war alone is not the answer. The more the world’s nations can work together, and make ISIS into a pariah, that is despised by most other Muslims in the world, only then things might improve. While the 2003 War in Iraq certainly was not helpful to this situation, it is not solely the problem or fault of the U.S.

Remember, 18 of 19 terrorists on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. Yet Bush/Cheney, friends of the Saudis, instead invaded Iraq.

The best that the Saudis can do, apparently so far, is provide training space for “moderate” rebels of Syria. Well, we can probably count the number of “moderates” in Congress on two hands.  So what makes us think we can actually find sufficient numbers of rebels from Syria, whom we could actually trust?

Saudi Arabia has the world’s 4th largest military. Why aren’t they offering to fly over “The Lavant” and attack ISIS?  Is it because they are both Sunni? Saudi Arabia, a very wealthy oil state, should at least pony up for the jet fuel for the war planes of the U.S. and other nations.

Unless Middle Eastern nations put forth significant effort towards diplomatic, humanitarian and military assistance, then we have no business getting embroiled in another “murky” situation in Iraq and Syria.  If neighboring countries in that region don’t offer sufficient help, then we should tighten our security, and begin to address the many domestic issues that already threaten us at home.

Is Technology Taxing School Budgets?

As the Vermont school district consolidation debate rages on (H.883), I would like to focus for a moment on technology, and how it might relate to rising education costs.  Are recent technology mandates for new assessment rules impacting school budgets this year?  How sustainably has technology been applied to education since Act 60/68 began?

During the ongoing healthcare reform debate there have been reports indicating that one of the big drivers of rising healthcare costs is technology.  Technology can be a “mixed blessing”.  While technology has led to rising costs, it could also be used to lower costs, if implemented effectively.

Could technology, with its continuous upgrading of software, hardware, networks, spam filters, security patches, and ever-more tools be having a similar affect on our education costs?  Is technology a “mixed blessing” in education?  Are we effectively utilizing technology to advance learning and reduce costs?  Or are we merely chasing the latest trends, sales pitches, reform ideas, and making the willing IT companies more profitable?

I am not a Luddite by any means.  I’ve worked in the Information Technology field since 1977, mostly as a computer programmer, and with many types of databases.  I am very familiar with the constant churn of learning and adapting to new software and hardware, and occasional rehashes or mashups of previous tech ideas, but now with more “cutesy” names.  A friend of mine, a retired database admin, joked to me about “The Cloud”.  He said, “We used to call it a ‘Data Center’.”

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Detroit’s Slow-Motion Crash, America’s Race Against Time

When I heard the news Friday, July 19, that the City of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy, I was saddened, but not at all surprised.  Detroit has been under the jurisdiction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, for four months.  Elected Mayor Dave Bing (and former Pistons basketball player), is effectively out of power, but he has been cooperating with Kevyn Orr during this transition.

Later the same day, President Obama made some heartfelt and personal remarks on race relations in America, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial over the death of Trayvon Martin.  I see a connection of President Obama’s remarks to the racial history of metro Detroit, and how racial tensions were one of the contributing factors to Detroit’s decline over the decades.  Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated regions in America, north of Mississippi.  In some ways, metro Detroit is a Southern City trapped inside of a Northern State.

The City of Detroit could be compared to a slow-motion car crash, decades in the making.  Imagine a circa 1940 or 1950 Chevy cruising down Woodward Avenue, morphing into other vehicle models over time, up through a 2013 Chevy Volt (one of the few vehicles still manufactured in the City of Detroit), just before hitting a financial brick wall.  When watching those slow-motion crash test videos, you know what the outcome will be, but not exactly when the moment of impact will occur.

Although I moved away from metro Detroit in 1986, I grew up there and still have many family members living there, most of who work in the auto industry, or have since retired.  I travel to Detroit once or twice a year to visit my family.  At a young age, I was able to sense the racial and economic trajectory of metro Detroit.  I decided that I would eventually leave the area when I grew up.  I later moved to the Lansing area, before moving to Vermont.

I will try to describe Detroit’s slow-motion car crash in a nutshell.  Given the state of today’s U.S. economy, unemployment, declining middle class and racial tensions, I think there are lessons to be learned from Detroit’s situation.  Detroit has been the favorite punching bag of the news media and people in other states for many years.  But I see signs of what happened in Detoit decades ago in other parts of the country in recent times, even in Rutland County, Vermont where I have lived for 18 years.

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We Have Not Forgotten: Newtown Vigil, June 15, 2013, Brattleboro, VT

On June 15th, 2013, six months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a vigil was held in Brattleboro, VT to remember the students and teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012.

For each of the 26 names read aloud, a bell was rung. Also, in these past six months, 94 additional children age 12 and under have been killed, not to mention the number of teens and adults murdered in America. We have not forgotten. We cannot let our legislators in Congress and our state legislators forget these deaths.

Premature Death: Memories and Loopholes

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 (9/11), I remember where I was when I heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I was driving along Route 103, commuting to work.  By the time I reached Chester, I heard another radio report, a second plane hit the towers.  I’ll bet many of you remember the details of that day, especially the thoughts and feelings you had when you learned of the second plane crash.

For a period of time, Americans came together and mourned for our 3000-plus citizens whose lives were taken prematurely.  Most Americans, at least initially, supported the War in Afghanistan.  But when it came to dealing with terrorism by invading Iraq in 2003, the American public became divided, yet again.

I remember where I was when I read about the young innocent children who lost their lives in Newtown, CT on December 14th, 2012 (12/14).  I didn’t find out until my lunch hour.  I had just logged out of my email, and then saw the headline.  “Oh God, not another shooting!”.

Again, the nation came together to mourn.  But when it comes to figuring out how to prevent, or at least minimize the amount of premature death that occurs in our country, we as a people find ourselves divided again.  If we are not pitted against a foreign enemy, we seem to turn in on our fellow citizens, our neighbors.

Speaking of premature death, many Americans (including myself) attended Good Friday service and remembered the story of Jesus’ Passion.  Twelve Fourteen was a “Bad Friday” for the families and citizens of Newtown, CT, and all Americans.  For Christians, on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, overcoming death and (our) sin.  But can America as a nation turn the Newtown tragedy, and other gun deaths, into something positive?

This week is the 45th anniversary of the premature death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN by an assassin’s bullet, on April 4th 1968.  Within seven days after Dr. King’s assassination, the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.

Since Twelve Fourteen, it has been 111 days.  Other than speeches, press conferences, hearings, devisive partisan debates and reader comment forums, things are pretty much the status quo, except for in states like Colorado and Connecticut.

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Sticky Subjects: Gun Debate and Maple Syrup

In addition to the issues of gun safety, suicide, domestic violence, mass shooting, and mental illness, etc. there is also the issue of gun trafficking and straw purchases:

Chicago Gets Its Guns Where It Used to Get Its Blues

Like the blues song says: “Down in Mississippi”.

Vermont doesn’t want to be compared to Mississippi, do we? I mean, Vermont was the first state to outlaw Slavery in it’s Constitution! But Vermont is just like Mississippi when it comes to guns purchased in Vermont ending up being used in gun crimes and murders in Boston:

Stolen VT Gun Ended Boston Man’s Life

Boston criminals get some of their Guns where they also get their Maple Syrup!