Sunday, August 13, 2006


A list of what I hate about our society (by no means exhaustive)

Maybe it's this long summer we've been having, and I'm sick of the long, hot days. Perhaps it's this headache I have this evening. Or it could be that terrorists are trying to blow us up. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty peeved that the route I take to work is closed for construction, and it's adding precious minutes onto my commute. Whatever the cause, I'm feeling pretty damned irascible and curmudgeonly this evening. My inner Andy Rooney has emerged. My George Carlin yin to my nice-guy yang has sprung forth, and I'm pretty damned annoyed. So I think I'll take advantage of this mood, and let you in on what really puts me off in our society today. Hopefully, I'll have everyone good and pissed off at me by the time I'm done.

And if any of you wankers out there try to tell me how great America is and how grateful I should be to live here, by God, I'll punch you in the nose.

You say you hated Jimmy Carter's malaise speech? Well, I'm about to give you a malaise speech you won't soon forget:

People who treat cell phones like lifestyle accessories and not, well, phones. They parade around in public with their ears glued to them, talking loudly, putting on a show for everybody. Get over it, America. Cell phones have been around awhile. The novelty wore off sometime around 1997.

Parents who allow video games to take over their homes, their families and their children's minds. These media have zero redeeming value, and please give it a rest about the importance of practicing hand-eye coordination. Instead, how about some eye-brain coordination? Tell your kids to pick up a book and open it. Better still, America, why don't you do the same?

Urban sprawl that eats up our bucolic countryside like cancer, adds to commute times and air pollution, and destabilizes older neighborhoods. Do you really have to live at the edge of creation just because they opened a new Applebee's out there?

Professed Christians who are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instaed of whining because some salesclerk at Target wished you "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas," get a clue about what really matters. Do what Jesus would do and take a stand for love, justice, equity, kindness and peace.

African-Amerians' social pathology and march to self-destruction and distinction. The time has come to quit celebrating this insane elevation of ghetto, hiphop, gangsta culture and start looking toward self-sacrifice, discipline and education. Snoop Dogg and his friends have done more to hurt black America than George Wallace and Bull Connor could have ever imagined.

Red-state America's elevation and celebration of low-class, white-trash living. Don't get mad at the African-American lifestyle, then turn around and cheer on Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Gretchen Wilson and the entire NASCAR, Wal-Mart, trailer park lifestyle as some sort of pride in heritage. It's not funny, it's not cute, and it's definitely nothing to be proud of. And while you're at it, put down that loser rebel flag and get the damn chip off your shoulder.

The big lie of the '60s: If it feels good, do it. This has been far more than just some hippie, liberal thing for quite some time now. Americans of all persuasions have plunged headfirst into this creed of irresponsibility, betrayal of those they love and their ultimate demise, even if they refuse to admit it to themselves.

McMansions and teardowns. If your house totals more than 4,000 square feet, then your character is poor.

The entertainment/media juggernaut and America's refusal to unplug itself. The TV, movie, music, publishing, and advertising industries will pull off whatever outrage it takes to get our attention, and we always love it even when we're faking outrage. Whether it's Madonna crucifying herself, the 24-hour T&A fest on MTV and BET, or television's ongoing efforts to peddle sex and obscenity, we keep crying out for more, more, more. The people want what the people get.

Adults who refuse to act like grown-ups. Everybody, regardless of age, has to try and be so damned cool these days. If not cool, then childlike and always fun, fun, fun. The bulk of Halloween sales these days is for human consumption and not for kids. Likewise, most comic book and video game sales are for adults. St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras are no longer about good-natured carousing and more about falling-down drunkenness, lewdness, obscenity and hooliganism. Families can't canoe down the beautiful rivers of southern Missouri as a weekend outing anymore without a Daytona spring-break spectacle. For crying out loud, grow up, America and quite acting like a nation of frat boys and overgrown children.

Parents who refuse to rein in their kids. DVD players in minivans blare "Spongebob" lest their children go five minutes without entertainment, kids are allowed to run wild in restaurants as we can't expect them to sit politely at a table, and children throw tantrums in stores with impunity lest mom or dad actually have to do something about it. We teachers are the ones left to clean up this mess.

The prevailing me-firstism and selfishness that makes it impossible to get anything done in this country today. We can't do anything about global warming because our choice in what kind of SUV we drive comes first. We wouldn't want to equalize school funding to ensure every child can get a good education or make college more affordable, because that could raise our taxes. We wouldn't dare ask Americans to sacrifice in this time of war; instead, we'll make them feel patriotic about going to the mall. I'm glad our grandparents weren't this fat, lazy and self-centered. Otherwise we'd all probably be goose-stepping today to "Deutschland Uber Allis."

Wow! I feel better already. I do believe my headache is gone.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


The news on public schools

As I prepare my classroom this weekend for an onslaught of kids on Wednesday, I'm reflecting on the state of public education in America.

You probably didn't hear about the report released last month by the Department of Education which finds that elementary schools perform about as well as private schools. The research examined scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test for fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading. According to the research, once socioeconomic status and race are isolated, public and private schools show similar results in educating children. In some areas private schools did better, while in other areas public schools came out on top. Statistically the two systems appear to perform about the same.

I say you probably didn't hear about the report because it was released with almost no public notification. The same Department of Edcuation that employs great fanfare and noise in releasing any shred of evidence that public schools are failing was oddly silent with this evidence that public schools might actually be doing a good job. The only notice of the report was a one-sentence item buried inside an e-mail communication from the department's National Center for Education Statistics sent out in limited release on a Friday.

As a former newspaper reporter, I well recall the old release-it-on-Friday trick. Any company with weak earnings reports or any public entity with bad news chooses to report it on Friday when their people have left early for the weekend and when reporters themselves are eager to wrap up their week. In this instance, journalists who caught notice of the report were told that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings would not be available for comment. And In the end, few media outlets reported on this significant report. When challenged later on the almost complete lack of public notification, Spellings said she didn't think parents would be interested. Hmmm. Research that allows parents to make informed decisions about their children's education. Doesn't that sound important to you? In fact, the report's executive summary mentions only the instances of private-school superiority and says nothing of areas where public schools come out on top. It took some intrepid reporters' and educational researchers' deep reading to discover what the study really says.

So is there a vast right-wing conspiracy here? I don't know, but my skeptical mind has been alerted. I know that most rank-and-file conservatives believe in the value of public education, and that most of them are quite pleased with the public schools their own children attend. Many conservatives are teachers and administrators in the public system. But there are a few significant subgroups of powerful right-wingers who are quite hostile to public education, and the White House loves to pander to them.

So who are these folks?

First we have the crowd on the Religious Right who believes our schools are hotbeds of left-wing social engineering. To hear these critics talk, we do little else in the schools these days but read "Heather Has Two Mommies," play the lifeboat game, legitimize all and any sexual activity for minors, persecute and ridicule all forms of religious exercise and teach children that they are in fact their own gods. The Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year considered and ultimately rejected (for now, at least) a resolution calling for all Southern Baptist parents to withdraw their children from public schools. Anne Coulter, in her latest juvenile rant, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," categorically describes all public educators in America as "taxpayer-supported leeches" and devotes an entire chapter to chronicle isloated documented instances when teachers and administrators did attempt to trample a student's First Amendement rights. It's a transparent attempt, a favorite of the talk-radio outrage mill, to smear an entire system based on a few isolated outrages. In fact, the vast majority of us teachers prefers to steer clear of any social controversy. Really, we'd just like our students to sit still long enough so we can teach them to read and do some math. Maybe if they put their GameBoys down long enough, we could even throw in a little science and social studies.

The second group consists of the nothing-is-sacred crowd of money-changers in the education temple. These are the folks who are out to make a quick buck, and they definitely have President Bush's sympathies as we know he believes nothing is worth doing unless someone can make a whole lot of money doing it. Here's where we find snake-oil salesman Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools. This is the school of for-profit education, where children aren't seen as individuals deserving of the best education we can give them, but more as walking bundles of taxpayer-provided cashflow. I worked for a for-profit charter school for two years. We packed 25-30 students in each classroom with grossly inadequate facilities and teachers paid far less than in the public schools. The school was a dangerous place with test scores far below the public campuses we were competing against. At the same time, some folks in the corporate office were making a whole lot of money.

The final group is the bunch that simply hates public education and would like to see the entire system dismantled. Some are wannabe blueblood elitists, others are anti-tax zealots. These folks, in the end, really don't care if all children receive an adequate education - just so long as their kids get one. Others do care but only in theory. These are the libertarian goofballs like John Stossel, whose one-sided and slanted "20/20" report, "Stupid in America: How We Are Cheating Our Kids," presented the entire public school system as a collective of whiny, overpaid, incompetent teachers. In Stossel's free-market-worshipping, utopian la-la land, once we tore down the current system, a new system of private schools would rise up, tending to all children's needs and do so much more efficiently and adequately than what those public-school slugs currently do. Please refer back to my own for-profit charter school experience above.

Fortunately, most Americans disagree with all three of these groups, further illustrating how out of touch the Right is these days. Study after study has come to the same conclusion: Americans feel good about the schools their own children attend. The entire system, however, they're not so sure about, a perception I know is fueled by this concerted attempt to smear public education and by constant reports on the 6-o'clock news about gang fights and shootings at a tiny number of inner-city campuses.

So how do I feel about public schools in America? When I hear that only 70 percent of our kids graduate from high school (more like 40 percent in the 'hood), and that an achievement gap yawns between white and minority students, I don't feel like cheering too loudly. However, I do know that teachers and administrators work harder than ever, and that lazy incompetent types find less and less refuge in our public schools these days. I think we also need to demand more personal responsibility from students and parents than what our system currently demands. Finally, let's look at David Berliner's and Bruce Biddle's 1998 book, "The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on Public Schools" for some perspective. Berliner and Biddle do quite a competent job of pointing out the dangers of comparing American test scores vs. foreign test scores given the vast difference between our inclusive system of education vs. most countries' elitist systems. These comparisons often have lain at the bedrock of public-school-haters' arguments, and they're just not valid.

In the end, I know we have a lot of work to do, but I also believe we do have something to celebrate in our public education system. This recent report that the Education Department doesn't want us to hear about further illustrates it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Reagan Part II: The Trickle-Down, Voodoo, Supply-Side Effect

"It's kind of hard to sell 'trickle down,' so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really 'trickle down.' Supply-side is 'trickle-down' theory."
-Reagan administration budget director David Stockman, 1981

"Voodoo economics."
-then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, 1980

A frequent reader of my blog took exception to my rather unflattering portrait of Ronald Reagan the other day. He responded by sending me a link to National Review's fawning, obsequious 1992 examination of Reagan's economic legacy. I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to learn that the folks at National Review believe Reagan's economic legacy was a tour de force for America, and that we're all better off as a result. If you think otherwise, that's just an illusion created by the liberals, or so we're to believe. You can NR's read their brown-nosing revisionism here.

I've read most of it now, and it sure sounds impressive. Essentially, these guys dedicated an entire issue of their magazine that is so large and all-encompassing, I would never be able to refute it point-by-point. So instead, I'll make some points of my own. Do I purport to have the last word on Reagan's economic legacy? Are my figures infallable? Absolutely not, but at least I'll admit that. Instead, let's just call this some balance to the Right's spin on trickle-down economics.

Poverty Rate
11.9% - Carter
14.1% - Reagan
Yes, the poor got poorer and the middle class shrunk.

Hourly wages
in 2005 dollars
$16.95 - Carter
$15.72 - Reagan
I think it's very important to examine income in some measure besides household income, a favorite yardstick of the Right, which conveniently overlooks the fact that during the Reagan-Bush years, the number of two-income households grew by about 40 percent. That so many women were forced to enter the workforce itself constitutes a true indictment of the Reagan legacy and a betrayal of the Right's pro-family rhetoric.

Unemployment Rates
7.5% - Carter
6.5% - Reagan
Not a very impressive drop, is it?

Government expenditures
as percentage of national income
27.9% - Carter
28.7% - Reagan
We've known for years that Reagan's talk of shrinking the government was nothing but talk.

National Debt
1981 - $930 billion
1988 - $2.6 trillion

Average Incomes
in 1997 dollars
Bottom Quintile - $15,000 (dropped to $13,700 in 1983)
Middle Quintile - $48,700 (dropped to $47,700 in 1983)
Top Quintile - $129,000 (rose to $138,500 in 1983)
Top 1 Percent - $540,100 (rose to $585,900 in 1983)

Bottom Quintile - $15,800 (5% increase over 1981)
Middle Quintile - $54,600 (12% increase)
Top Quintile - $174,100 (35% increase)
Top 1 Percent - $836,900 (55% increase)

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