"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Not to be Outdone, Arne Duncan Embarks on His Own "Magical Mystery Bus Tour"

This is from the Department of Education's Twitter Feed on Friday, September 2:

Arne Duncan (@arneduncan)
9/2/11 2:53 PM
First look at the bus for next week's Great Lakes Back-to-School Bus Tour #EDTour11 http://t.co/cGUgTWm

Obviously Duncan won't be traveling on this wrecked bus. This bus is a visual metaphor for the reforms Duncan has offered. (For the sleek looking bus he uses, click the link on the twitter feed).

I wondered if Duncan recycled one of President Obama's buses from his recent Mid-Western tour (being "green" and recycling is an important DOE goal and the path to prosperity for students) but I discovered Duncan has made a bus tour before. He may very well be recycling last year's bus. What is that "important DOE goal"? It comes from a Philadelphia meeting with Joe Biden and federal agency heads in a "Middle Class Task Force" meeting:

"Vice President Biden's focus on the middle class is directly aligned with our focus on improving education and college access. This is about the American Dream and it starts with education. The green jobs of tomorrow demand a quality education today," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (February 2009). With the closing of Solyndra and half of billion dollars of taxpayer money gone, should the Education Secretary be focusing on different sectors in which to steer educational goals for American students?

Duncan's first bus tour was in August 2010. What was the purpose of the tour?

The blue charter bus emblazoned with a federal logo, images of smiling teachers and slogans such as "Courage in the Classroom" pulls up to school after school.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is on a campaign to cheer on America's teachers at a time when a sizable number are skeptical of President Obama's education agenda. Duncan faces a curious situation. In the past year and a half, he has dispensed tens of billions of dollars to sustain schools through fiscal crises and to fund ideas to improve. On Tuesday, he awarded nine states and the District $3 billion for education innovation. As the school year starts, he will unload another $10 billion for education jobs.

The first tour was to mollify teachers and what is the current bus tour focus?

The “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour takes Secretary Arne Duncan and senior ED staff to more than 50 events throughout the Midwest. During the tour, Duncan and staff will promote the valuable work teachers, parents, and administrators do every day to change students’ lives and, ultimately, invest in our nation’s future. Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

How much carbon footprint will Secretary Duncan be using on this tour? Do you think he will be successful rallying support for nationalized curriculum, unfunded debt to states, turning schools into social service agencies and saddling students with college debt they can't afford to pay back because there are no jobs available for those college educated students America so desperately needs? Where is the idea of personal responsibility of parents and students in his message?

Here is a pre-tour analysis of President Obama's bus trip from a Pittsburgh newspaper:

It's important to projecting an image that the president empathizes with people's needs, and to show leadership, political analysts say -- and that's one reason presidents choose bus tours or use factories as backdrops for speeches. Yet, sometimes utilizing such props fails.

Just insert Arne Duncan's name in place of the word "president" and you've got the gist of Duncan's bus tour. It's difficult to believe Duncan's tour will be successful when none of these educational reforms are from local districts or taxpayers. It's difficult to behave empathetically when it is your federal agency that is mandating reforms on the taxpayers who have no choice!

If Secretary Duncan was truly empathetic to people's needs, the Federal government would step down and let local communities dictate their educational services and direction. If he would do that, the DOE wouldn't have to be spending money on gasoline driving a bus preaching an empty message. That would certainly be a "green" move in the right direction.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Empathy for Elementary School - The Tunnel of Oppression for College

For today's college generation, who didn't have the benefit of the empathy classes discussed in yesterday's blog, and who are completely unaware of hardship present on this planet or what they should be doing about it, never fear. We have the Tunnel of Oppression. Started in 1993 at Western Illinois University, The Tunnel is
"an interactive event that highlights contemporary issues of oppression. It is designed to introduce participants to the concepts of oppression, privilege, and power. Participants are guided through a series of scenes that aim to educate and challenge them to think more deeply about issues of oppression. At the end of the tour, participants are provided with the opportunity to discuss their experiences with each other. Facilitators help participants reflect on their experiences and put their newfound knowledge to use in their everyday lives. Before leaving, participants attend a fair where opportunities for involvement in addressing some of the issues presented at the Tunnel are provided."
Perhaps it had good intentions when first started, but today it is a "liberal, left-wing, anti-religious, anti-male, anti-middle class, and anti-white tirade that glorifies the cult of victimization." [comment on Critical Mass] Fox Nation reported that students going through the Tunnel of Oppression recently at DePauw University in Indiana experienced an emotional Disney-esque ride. An RA there reported that she was required to lead students in her dorm through rooms where supposedly “realistic” demonstrations taught lessons such as,
"how religious parents hate their gay children, Muslims would find no friends on a predominantly non-Muslim campus and overweight women suffer from eating disorders.
Indeed, in her training to become an RA, “We were told that ‘human’ was not a suitable identity, but that instead we were first ‘black,’ ‘white,’ or ‘Asian’; ‘male’ or ‘female’; ... ‘heterosexual’ or ‘queer.’ We were forced to act like bigots and spout off stereotypes while being told that that was what we were really thinking deep down.”
Concerns about the real goal of the Tunnel have been around for almost as long as the Tunnel itself . A report from Critical Mass in 2003 said,
The Tunnel of Oppression is a good example of what passes for enlightenment on today's campuses. It is not about disseminating information (not about disseminating true information anyway), or about providing historical context for understanding the conflicts that define our age, but about oversimplifying those conflicts through a disingenuous appeal to our emotions. The Tunnel of Oppression--which proudly casts itself as a "sensory experience"--encourages students not to think rationally about what ails the world, or to inform themselves by learning facts and studying context, or even to take reasoned, principled action against injustice, but to react viscerally to images of violence, to become hysterical on cue.

The Tunnel of Oppression takes the concept of shock value to extremes, using overblown melodrama as an agent of social change, and recruiting people to its cause by subjecting them to simulated short-term trauma--which it then conveniently tells them how to understand in the handy group therapy session that forms the final stop of the tour. It's manipulative, it's anti-intellectual, and it's--paradoxically--every bit as cynical and consumerist as the society it claims to deplore. In a world where instant gratification is all, the Tunnel of Oppression models consciousness-raising on the drive-thru window: offering one-stop awareness for students on the go, it sells convenience as substance, and even packages their reactions in school-sponsored "shrinkwrap." The only question remaining is, Do they include fries with that?

The Tunnel experience is available at hundreds of colleges and universities across the country including both Missouri State and Truman State, and it may be coming to Mizzou. Thank goodness we might be able to save this generation. (end sarc)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Social Justice in the Classroom Presented as "Empathy"

The empathy taught in this classroom might be misplaced and misnamed.

Perhaps some children in this experiment on teaching empathy should be classified as "long term unemployed" American citizens or "underemployed" American citizens, or "bankrupted" small American business owner instead of "illegal immigrants". Perhaps empathy should be extended to those Americans who have followed the rules, paid their taxes and followed the law and are caught in a web of unemployment and dismal business returns. Many law-abiding citizens cannot pay their mortgages or feed their children, such as the 12.4% unemployed in Las Vegas. Where is the empathy for these citizens?

What do you think? Is this lesson for 4th graders on "empathy" a thin disguise for social justice, social engineering or values clarification? Does the rule of law figure anywhere in this classroom? If so, how do the children come to terms with the fact the "illegal" person is a lawbreaker? Does it matter any longer that people break immigration laws...and the primary response is one of empathy?

Maybe the children should learn laws don't matter; what matters is "empathy". The author himself writes about the law of mutuality: "It can’t really be good for me, unless it is also good for others". Think about it, that is the basis of Race to the Top: redistribution of human capital and services so we are supposedly all the same and have the same educational delivery. It doesn't matter if the students don't put the same effort in education, does it? That is a negligible matter. Do you see a common thread in this global approach to dealing with society?

Think about the law of mutuality vs the laws set out in the Constitution. What is the purpose of public education: to promote empathy (which has traditionally been left to parents and religious institutions) or to promote good citizenship? Ask yourself that question as you read the article on "teaching empathy":


Teaching Empathy at Home and School. Can Schools Teach Empathy?

August 24, 2011

Last week a parent asked, ”Can schools teach empathy?” Here’s my answer.

Empathy isn’t taught. The human brain is wired for empathy (mirror neurons). Adults shape an environment; that environment shapes the child’s empathy. So schools can’t not educate a child’s empathy. If they don’t do it well, they do it poorly.

Since we want young people to graduate from school with their social-emotional intelligence trained for success in their personal and professional lives, designing culture for the graceful expression of empathy is one of the chief responsibilities of all educators: school principals, teachers, and, yes, parents in their homes.

A great first and second grade teacher named Kathy would tell the class at the beginning of the year, “Here, we have one rule: Be Kind.” Her classroom was magical. Having only “one rule” didn’t keep her from holding the line on other things like homework or cleaning up. The kids got it, and no one argued. Of course, they all wanted to work and play in an environment where everyone is kind. Saying there is “one rule” gave her leadership a name and her classroom culture a focal concept around which everyone could build something beautiful.

Even before they get to kindergarten, children have a great deal of experience seeking that point of mutuality between their self-interest and the interests of others. Of course! They want to have friends! In shaping empathy it’s best to start from the assumption that kids already have it, and then lead them to more effective expressions of it. Better to say, “Let me show you how to get what you want and build friendships at the same time” than to feel: “They are selfish; I am moral; I will teach them to share.”

The Highest and Best Use of a Cookie

One year, the fourth grade teachers decided to use their study of illegal immigration to get at the social problems in the class. In order to give the students a more personal understanding of some of the issues involved in immigration, three children were identified as ‘illegal immigrants’ for the day. All the other students were either ‘citizens’ or ‘lawful permanent residents.’ Throughout the morning the illegal immigrants, chosen at random, had to do extra jobs and missed out on fun things like recess.

At snack time, the teachers gave out cookies to everyone except the illegal immigrants. Most of the other kids noticed that this was cruel, but they accepted the rules of the game and ate their cookies anyway.

But Aisha very quietly snuck up to the illegal immigrants and whispered to them that she wanted to share her cookie, even if this meant she would be ‘sent to jail.’ She took them into the cloakroom and gave them her cookie to share.

All the kids felt bad for their classmates; Aisha did something about it. She was being smart about what she wanted; she judged the benefits of being kind—friendship, happy community, the thrill of giving—far outweighed the loss of the cookie.

The Big Payoff

When the teachers told me the story, I wrote “The Highest and Best Use of a Cookie” and sent it home with the students on Thursday. On Friday after school, I was on the street outside of the school as a group of fourth graders in their soccer uniforms were leaving school with their parents for soccer practice. They were eating their snacks as they walked. As they passed me, they greeted me with their usual “Hi, Mr. Rick,” but three of them offered me a cookie.

You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder if bringing up children in an empathetic culture like Kathy’s prepares them badly for a competitive, dog-eat-dog world, but my experience would suggest otherwise. Anecdotal data from hundreds of young people convinces me that 14-year-olds go off to high school stronger and ready for anything, if they have learned in grade school how to be skillful in their relationships.

Ultimately, our behavior reflects our culture. If the myth of home, school and society is that life is a race to the top of some pyramid, we get different results than if our myth is that the world needs each of us to find and discover our genius, and that our genius is not at all oblivious to the needs of others, but on the contrary, passionate about them.

Don’t try to “teach” empathy. Use empathy to create an environment where kids can learn how to practice the law of mutuality: It can’t really be good for me, unless it is also good for others.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Denver Mom Gets It Right on Bullying

The intense focus on bullying recently has led to several tracks to address it. A mom in Denver, whose quiet unassuming son was frequently picked on at school, turned to martial arts to address a problem the school couldn't seem to fix.
Martin had been bullied for many years by many kids and had simply taken it. His grades suffered and he would never stick up for himself," said his mother, Wendy. He's a nice, gentle soul kind of kid and now he didn't even want to go to school.
She sent him to the Gracie Academy in California to make him "bullyproof." There he learned three steps for addressing problems with a bully.
TALK to the bully and ask him to leave you alone. TELL the teacher and your parent that the bully won't stop even after you've talked to him. TACKLE the bully and use jiu-jitsu to gain control of him without resorting to punches or kicks.
Martin got the chance to use what he learned shortly after starting the new school year.
Four days into the school year and Martin was getting bullied again. He'd asked the bigger, stronger boy to stop calling him names and throwing a water bottle at him. But the abuse continued...

The next day the bully not only bothered Martin, but he pestered Martin's friend so much that the boy shook his head and said he might commit suicide. The bully then asked Martin if he could practice some new punching techniques on him, and hit him. Then he threw a water bottle at him.

Everything Martin had learned during his week at the Gracie Academy bubbled to the surface. He jumped off the lunch bench and while in midair pushed the bully in the chest with both hands as hard as he could. Both boys landed on the ground and Martin pinned the bully by placing his knee on his chest and holding his arms down with his own.

It was a classic jiu-jitsu combination -- decisive and effective without causing trauma or blood.

The bully was shocked and as he struggled in vain to get up he yelled that Martin was crazy. The bully's friends told Martin to get up, but as he told the principal later: "I chose not to."

It still took a little mother intervention to get the school to understand what had happened but ultimately they decided Martin's actions were warranted. He also has not been bothered by any other kids at school since.

This is different from the approach taken by New Jersey who recently passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights which,

demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
While Martin's drama is over, with no cost to the district (some cost to his mother who had to fly him to CA and pay for the 5 day course), New Jersey's problems are just beginning.
Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its website. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.
No one knows where the money is going to come from to afford all this protection. NJ's approach is like someone who hires security guards. They only keep you safe so long as they are paid to be on duty. Otherwise you are on your own and the root of the problem goes unaddressed.

Instead of instilling children with a false sense of self worth, maybe they would be better served by instilling in them a true sense of personal empowerment to deal with the problems themselves so they don't have to pay for protection.

Find out what your school's policy is regarding bullying to learn what your child can and can't do to counter a bully. Some schools with zero tolerance policies may not be as understanding of your child standing up for him/herself as Martin's school. But take heart. Even though the school may assign them detention (as my son's school did) chances are they will not be bothered by the bully again and it may be the price necessary to end the torment.

Read Martin's full story on The Post Game.
Read about New Jersey's policy on The New York Times

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Did You Think Your Kindergartner Would Have to Worry About Malware?

Here is an article from "National Cyber Security" writing how you need to keep your personal data safe as your kindergartner uses his/her iPad in school:


I was chatting with a friend of mine whose 5-year-old twins start school this year. She was telling me about the list of school supplies they need: pencils, crayons, paper, iPad..

Say again?? Yep, she said iPad. It was a new policy this year for all students at the school to have an iPad. Apparently her twins are not allowed to share, so she will have to purchase two of them.

I sat back and started thinking about this. Besides the obvious price implications of demanding parents buy an expensive device for their young child, what was being done to ensure safe and secure surfing?

1. Sharing iPads

Unlike Mac OS X, there’s no concept of multiple users accounts on an iPad (nor on an iPhone). This means the device might have much more valuable data on it than just things the young students put on there.

So, if a family’s iPad needs to go to school with little Jimmy, his parents’ apps and data could be exposed. Household accounts, banking apps, etc could be opened inadvertently.

Tip: Where possible, make sure you use a strong password for all apps that contain sensitive information.

2. Passcodes

<span class=Passcode option" vspace="10" align="right" hspace="10">With kids as young as five being mandated by the schools to have iPads, parents might be tempted to simplify their usage by not password-protecting the device, or giving a very simple passcode like 0000 or 1234.

Tip 2: Always password-protect your device and avoid the most commonly used passcodes.

If your child can handle the complexity, disable the Simple Passcode option and you’ll be able to choose a longer, more complex password which can comprise upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and even special characters.

3. Lost iPads

Kids are not known for looking after their belongings very well. All parents have heard the “I don’t know” response to a query about the location of something. It stands to reason that kids would also lose expensive iPads too. But what happens to the data on the device?

Find my <span class=iPad" vspace="10" align="right" hspace="10">Tip: Install Apple’s Find my iPad app that helps you locate your device and provides a map to its whereabouts.

Alternatively, you can remotely set or turn on the passcode lock on an iPad, or send it a message to display on the device – playing a sound for two minutes at full volume (even if the iPad is set to silent).

The free app also has a remote wipe facility, so if you are unable to locate your iPad, or if it has been stolen, you can permanently wipe the device and restore it to factory settings.

There’s an equivalent app for the iPhone as well.

4. Malware and location tracking

Malware is not yet a massive problem on the iPad, thanks to it being very difficult for the everyday user to install anything apart from Apple-approved apps.

iOS malware such as iKee and Duh is so far limited to jailbroken devices.

With malware not a pressing problem, attention turns to the geolocation features present in many apps. Do parents really want their kids’ physical location to be broadcast to the internet?

Tip: Disable location tracking if you do not want your child’s physical location to be shared on the internet.

5. Guarding children against offensive content

The FCC has set out requirements for schools and libraries to follow if they’re offering internet access to minors. Don’t forget – children should not only be protected from the worst that the internet has to offer; they should also be accessing the net via a secure connection to avoid eavesdropping.

Tip: Parents should request written confirmation from the school on what steps have been taken to ensure their kids will be safe when surfing on the school’s WiFi internet connection.

For those who want to go further, iOS includes parental control facilities to let you manage iTunes purchases, web browsing, and access to explicit material.

6. Education

If schools are going to demand that their young students have devices such as iPads, will they also teach lessons about cyber ethics and computer security to ensure that the child knows what behavior is appropriate online? Will little Jimmy know what to do if he encounters online bullies?

The new generation of children is more familiar with technology than any that has gone before it. Our jobs as parents and teachers is to make sure that we safeguard childrens’ use of the internet so they understand what is good and safe, and what is bad and best avoided.

While I am all for using technology in schools, and exposing kids to technology, I am left wondering if this is all as well thought through as it perhaps should be. Will a teacher with 30-40 students be able to provide the right level of diligence?

Full disclosure: My two year old, like many other toddlers, loves to play games on the iPhone and iPad. But I know what he’s doing, and it’s being done on a secure network and always when I can supervise.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/nakedsecurity/~3/iL_9bFZIlmQ/


The above is good advice on keeping data safe and raises questions about the safety and the welfare of the children. But has anyone raised questions about the long-term issues of using iPads in school for such young children?

The Inquisitr reports iPads are being used in Auburn, Maine at a district cost of $200,000 and many parents are not happy about this experiment.

I don't know about you, but the photo posted above (which is from the newspaper article) makes me a bit sad for this child. Kindergarten traditionally has been a time to learn how to play with other children and work on social skills. From Wikipedia's definition of kindergarten:

Children are taught to develop basic skills and knowledge through creative play and social interaction, as well as sometimes formal lessons.

How does using an iPad in kindergarten help a child with creative play and social interaction? Do you remember our posting about the studies done on student's brains and the use of computers?

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.”

If increased technology does diminish empathy and social interaction, the goals for kindergarten might have to be rewritten for Auburn, Maine students. They'll be tech savvy but they might just flunk "Friendship 101".

Monday, August 29, 2011

Parents, Take Note and Repeat: "I'm Just Quitting". What's the Use?

I've discovered a great website by David McElroy from Alabama. He describes himself as a "recovering political prostitute" and here is an introductory paragraph from his blog:

Do you have a love/hate relationship with politics? This is the beginning of a community of people who are looking for ways to say “no” to politics and say “yes” to real life. If you stick around, you’ll read about the futility of the state and you’ll also be subjected to the strange brand of humor that lives in David McElroy’s head, as well as random links and pictures of cute cats (and the occasional drooling dog). If you’re ready to move beyond politics, join our tribe.

.....If you’re still at a point where you believe in politics, I’m not here to talk you out of it. If you have an emotional attachment to the state, only you can decide you’re ready to give it up. If you believe in supporting a political party in order to avoid the “anarchy” you believe is the only alternative, I’m not going to change your mind until you believe there are other alternatives to the chaos you envision.

But if you believe the state is both immoral and incompetent to protect the natural rights of individuals, maybe you’ve found the right place to connect with people who believe the same thing. I’m not interested in debating the state. I’m interested in finding ways to live peacefully without it.

The more I learn the sad truth about the Department of Education and how it:

  • handcuffs good teachers and administrators and dooms them to mechanical test givers and beggars of money;
  • wields enormous amount of Federal power over states and local districts;
  • allows and perpetuates the continuing dumbing down of students;
  • is creating the nationalization of standards;
  • supports the multi-million dollar "school choice" movement that doesn't offer true choice, but rather a different version of public school education;
  • the lack of input and control of parents and taxpayers over the schools they fund;

the more I believe parents have three choices in public education.

The premise is this about public education: the system protects the system. Period. That is how government operates. It doesn't care about PEOPLE. It cares about providing a system. If you don't fit into the system, too bad. Either you are in or you are out. The government is not made of people...it consists of mandates. As McElroy writes: the state is both immoral and incompetent to protect the natural rights of individuals.

Are you unhappy about common core standards? If you live in Missouri, that's unfortunate. The legislators seem more intent on pushing the multi-million dollar school choice lobby reforms which do not promote local control or reduce federal spending than to attempt to stop their implementation.

We are receiving emails and twitters the pro charter movies are being shown in St. Louis again, so let's all take a guess what the educational legislative agenda will be in 2012. Probably the same as 2011 which were focused on trigger options, charter schools, open enrollment and mandated kindergarten programs? Despite requests from constituents, no bill was offered to rescind the State Board's adoption of the common core standards.

So what are parents' three options?
  • Homeschool
  • Private school education
  • Operate within the system but provide the academic education outside of school that your child is not receiving during the day and teach your child the moral and social values of YOUR family unit
That's it. Walk away if you can. Schools are becoming more of social service agencies than buildings of education. As McElroy states, look "for ways to say “no” to politics and say “yes” to real life." Stop looking to the government (the schools and your legislators) to provide for your children. It's up to YOU as the parent to provide a decent education for your child. Tell the system you and your child are "just quitting".

Don't stop trying to halt this nationalization of public education and the crony capitalism involved in the charter push; but don't leave your child to suffer in this flawed and politically correct system that cares less for your child than it does for quotas and subset test scores. Parents and taxpayers, keep fighting the fight but get your child off the battlefield.

Read McElroy's article about a business owner who made the decision to leave the system. Sometimes it's just not worth it. It was this man's business: it's your child and his/her future in your hands. As you read it, think about public education today. The mine owner talks about "environmental justice". The Federal government writes about education in terms of "civil rights" and "social justice" and "redistribution of teachers and administrators". The terms are interchangeable but the intent is the same whether you are debating educational, environmental, labor, economic issues, etc:

‘I’m just quitting’: A scene right out of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ in Birmingham

by David McElroy

If it had been a scene in “Atlas Shrugged,” the guy would have disappeared into the secrecy of Colorado with a shadowy figure who we would later learn to be John Galt. In real life, the story will probably be more complex. But I wonder how long it’s going to be before businesspeople really do start walking away and deciding it’s not worth doing business in America today. Or it it already happening and we just don’t know it?

The man you see in the picture at the right is named Ronnie Bryant. He operates coal mines in Alabama. I’d never heard of him until this morning, but after what I saw and heard from him, I’d say he’s a bit like a southern version of Ellis Wyatt from Ayn Rand’s novel. What I saw made an impression on me.

I was at a public hearing in an inner-city Birmingham neighborhood for various government officials to get public input on some local environmental issues. There are several hot topics, but one of the highest-profile disputes is over a proposal for a coal mine near a river that serves as a source of drinking water for parts of the Birmingham metro area. Mine operators and state environmental officials say the mine can be operated without threatening the water supply. Environmentalists claim it will be a threat.

I’m not going to take sides on that environmental issue, because I don’t know enough to stake out an informed opinion. (With most of the people I listened to today, facts didn’t seem to matter as much as emotional implications.) But Ronnie Bryant wasn’t there to talk about that particular mine. As a mine operator in a nearby area, he was attending the meeting to listen to what residents and government officials were saying. He listened to close to two hours of people trashing companies of all types and blaming pollution for random cases of cancer in their families. Several speakers clearly believe that all of the cancer and other deaths they see in their families and communities must be caused by pollution. Why? Who knows? Maybe just because it makes for an emotional story to blame big bad business. It’s hard to say.

After Bryant listened to all of the business-bashing, he finally stood to speak. He sounded a little bit shellshocked, a little bit angry — and a lot frustrated.

My name’s Ronnie Bryant, and I’m a mine operator…. I’ve been issued a [state] permit in the recent past for [waste water] discharge, and after standing in this room today listening to the comments being made by the people…. [pause] Nearly every day without fail — I have a different perspective — men stream to these [mining] operations looking for work in Walker County. They can’t pay their mortgage. They can’t pay their car note. They can’t feed their families. They don’t have health insurance. And as I stand here today, I just … you know … what’s the use? I got a permit to open up an underground coal mine that would employ probably 125 people. They’d be paid wages from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. We would consume probably $50 million to $60 million in consumables a year, putting more men to work. And my only idea today is to go home. What’s the use? I don’t know. I mean, I see these guys — I see them with tears in their eyes — looking for work. And if there’s so much opposition to these guys making a living, I feel like there’s no need in me putting out the effort to provide work for them. So as I stood against the wall here today, basically what I’ve decided is not to open the mine. I’m just quitting. Thank you.

I have no idea what Bryant will actually do. He might have made a quick emotional decision based on anger at feeling blamed for things that are frequently just normal health issues of life. He might reconsider and go ahead with his project.

The only thing I’m sure of is that what I saw today is a broken process and a sham. We all want a decent environment in which to live, but when various people at a public meeting — including federal officials and community members — talk about “environmental justice” and make it clear that their intent is to make it harder for businesses to operate, well, I can see why a businessman would decide to quit. I consider myself an environmentalist — because I want to live in a safe, secure, clean world — but what I saw isn’t reasonable concern for the environment as much as it’s an ideological agenda.

We need reasonable people to talk about how to balance various people’s property rights. (You have the right to use your property as you please, but I have a right not to be injured by it.) Even though we need a discussion, the modern equivalent of a kangaroo court that I observed today isn’t the way to go about it. It was more like a prelude to a lynching of business. If I were a businessperson or investor, I wouldn’t put the money or effort into opening new industry in this country today. I’d take my investment and jobs to somewhere they were wanted.

As Ronnie Bryant asked, “What’s the use?” Maybe Atlas really is starting to shrug.

Editor’s note: Here’s the audio clip of Ronnie Bryant speaking. The audio quality is poor since it was recorded on my iPad without any intention of broadcast or public sharing, but I’m providing it as verification of the story.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why is Urban Education Failing and Will Busing or Open Enrollment Solve the Problems?

Diversity in schools is one of the main goals in Race to the Top and Common Core standards. It's been a goal for several decades and one experiment to reach diversity was busing. It has been tried since the 1970's with limited success. A new plan, "open enrollment" is being tried in several states and is currently under judicial review in Missouri. Open enrollment, like voluntary transfer or busing, allows inner-city students to attend suburban schools.

Diversity is a goal in Louisville City Schools (Jefferson County). How's that diversity plan working out for the district? According to Education Voodoo, not so well (I've made a couple of editing changes regarding the name of the newspaper as the blogger has a tongue-in-cheek reference to the paper which makes it difficult to ascertain the correct name). Citizens are upset about the lack of success exhibited by bused students and resources being used to perpetuate a broken system. The writer takes on the Citizen-Journal for spinning the arguments against those not in favor of the student assessment plan put forth by the district:

School district attorney Byron Leet, who defended the value of diverse schools, acknowledged afterward that he got an unusually “good grilling” from the judges. But he warned against predicting a ruling before it was issued, which could take four to six weeks.
The case, which may ultimately wind up before the Kentucky Supreme Court, is the latest legal skirmish over the student assignment plan, which has become highly politicized and continues to upset some parents because of long bus rides. Next month, the school board is expected to consider recommendations on ways to improve the plan and reduce ride times.
Where’s the slant?
1). Leet, “who defended the value of diverse schools.”
In reality, Leet less defended the value of diverse schools than he defended the right of the school board to bus children. Time and again, judges in fact pointedly asked Leet to defend the value of busing, and time and again he did so by asserting the right of the board to bus them. On two occasions, he made vague references to “research” that demonstrates the value of busing children, but never produced any hard data in the courts. While Leet clearly defended diverse schools, he really did not defend the VALUE of diverse schools, as the C-J asserts. If anything, he wound up acknowledging that student achievement has declined under forced busing, while refusing to accept that busing is a factor.
2). The student assignment plan “has become highly politicized and continues to upset some parents because of long bus rides.”
First The Citizen-Journal marginalizes the opposition to “some parents.” Many who aren’t parents are upset by busing. Many feel community resources are being wasted, and many are upset because they believe busing is churning out a generation of students with inferior educations. As well, this phrasing reduces the complaints about busing to a single issue — length of bus rides. This implies that if you reduce ride time, people will be happy. But that is NOT the sum of the complaint against forced busing, but only a part. Yes, its opponents view it as an incredible waste of time. But they are JUST as upset that it is a waste of resources, and that it has not been demonstrated to improve education.
In two paragraphs, the C-J managed to misstate the nature of the JCPS defense, misstate the position of busing opponents, and mischaracterize the makeup of the group opposed to busing.
That’s some effective writing! No wonder Op-Ed pages are becoming obsolete!
Finally this. The C-J ran a companion photo gallery with this package called “THE LEGACY OF DESEGREGATION.”

Every photo in the collection was from the 1970s. A “legacy” is, by definition, a thing handed down. It is the thing from the past, as it exists now. The C-J’s tribute was a moving tribute to the origins of busing — but not to its legacy. Its legacy is what exists today. And by showing no current pictures, by sharing no current data, the C-J demonstrated that all it has to show as busing’s legacy is a collection of black and white photos and warm stories from the past which are nice, but which do little to address failing schools and students in crisis today.

Even if the C-J wants to advocate for busing, we would all be better served by pictures of the situation as it exists in 2011. That is the true legacy of busing.

Does the "open enrollment" currently supported by many Missouri legislators (students from failing schools will be able to attend suburban schools) create the same type of busing described in this article? Does the desire to create diversity by busing or open enrollment help or hinder the education of low-income students? Why aren't quality schools present in the urban areas? Is it for lack of money or something else? Why do suburban schools surpass the educational benchmarks of urban schools? How will busing "fix" the problems in urban schools? Why should students in failing schools have to be bused for a decent education?

If you believe it helps the students who are bused from their district into suburban districts, what do you do then with the students left behind? Will Common Core standards or some other governmental mandate be the magic bullet for them? Why can't the government save everyone? Isn't that what the DOE has been promising to taxpayers for the last four decades?

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