Sanctity of Life or Not Sanctity of Life

As a practicing Roman Catholic, I was at mass today. My priest decided to address the sanctity of life during his sermon, utilizing the only method that I have really ever heard as a congregant, abortion. This led me to think and recognize that my church leadership has dropped the ball while summoning us on this topic.

The late Holy Father John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (EV) talks about the sanctity of life emphasizing the need for all life to be protected from beginning to natural end. My confusion is simple, why will the Catholic church, and other Christian churches for that matter, preach about abortion but will not, with the same emphasis to their congregants, condemn the death penalty, taking care of the poor, unjust war, amongst other life issues.

Why are politicians during election cycles told not to participate in the body and blood of our lord savior over abortion, but if a governor kills someone on death row they are not met with the same fervor. As a veteran of the US military I do support its purpose and enjoy the benefits that they give us. However, the last I had checked, Iraq and Afghanistan did not meet the just war theory criteria. Where is the righteous indignation?

Why do the church leaders tell us to support politicians who continue to purposely hurt the poor through tax increases, cuts in social services, and reducing the level of education the common person can and does receive; through cutting education budgets to public education. While those same politicians advocate for corperate welfare, tax cuts for the top 10% of wealth holders, and the false argument of new school choice.

I long for the Catholic Church of the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the leadership and the local pastors would walk hand in hand with Civil Rights leaders and their followers. When a Catholic school education and Catholic education was still affordable to the poor and poor kids received a good Jesuit education.

My guess in all this is that the leadership needs to re-read Acts. It needs to get out of politics and get back into its congregants. They need to make hard stances that we may disagree with and lead from the front. Use the scripture to back their stances, not politics to enforce their dogmatic interpretations. Just a thought that came to me during mass today.

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not a business model

The current trend in education is to model a business and allowing us to reach the majority of our students.  Businesses are efficient, they have to meet the needs of their clientele or they ceases to exist, and they compete against other businesses to keep them innovative. The products they put out are to one extent governed by the government (at all 3 levels) in quality and in honest product advertisement

Public schools also have used various models of educational structure to reach the needs of their students.  They have competition from private schools, and if they do not meet the needs of their clientele, students will be attending those private schools.  All 3 levels of government also govern public schools, and their product has an annual public disclosure demonstrating which schools are meeting their Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on their states NCLB test.

That is where the metamorphosis of our nations public schools structure should end.  There are a few problems with fitting the square business model into the round public education hole.  First, and most important, a business can send back, throw out, or refuse to accept any product that does not meet their specific needs.  Public schools have to accept everyone, no matter their ability level, their behavior, or their disability.  This is a cost that business will not accept but public schools will.

Next, if a business goes out files for bankruptcy the only money that is affected is the cash of the investors.  It will not affect the entire community.  However, public schools use public money and because of the enormity of that fact should not radically change their structure unless there is statistical and factual backing for any such kind of move.

This is just the beginning of the argument on how to change schools.  We should be cautious on how public schools modify themselves.  Lets not allow right-wing politicians, who want to break the back of school unions for the benefit of private schools and education corporations, make the calls.

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less money=less education

The economy sucks!  People can’t find work!  Recently, for the first time in a number of years, the average wage in America is actually declining. People are suffering and our immediate outlook seems bleak.  However, if we are not careful, our extended outlook would be even more bleak.  Governments, both at the state and federal levels are cutting everywhere, including in the public schools. If they have their way classroom sizes will balloon to well over 30 students per room.  The arts are being cut, a well rounded education is being ground to nothing but math and english.

These politicians say that there are alternatives to public education; cyber schools, charter schools and private schools.  They say that they want the money that would have been spent on each child’s public education travel with the student; even if it is to a private institution or one that does not have the same stringent standards that public schools do. Why should we use public money for private institutions. Why should we as tax payers stand idly by as our public schools lose half their teachers to retirement as new teachers are afraid to enter into the profession, due to low pay, public ridicule, and inefficient/ineffective governmental oversight. Why should we allow these non-educators to “dumb down” our public ed.

SB 5 is not alive!

Ohio’s law SB 5 is on its last leg.  Ohio Governor Kasich’s and his Republican legislative colleagues have heard loud and clear that their union stripping measures in SB 5 are wrong and are not going to be tolerated.  Now he and his friends want to compromise.  Before I get into this compromise idea lets first give a little background.

When SB 5 was passed over 190 days ago in Ohio there seemed to be a movement in the Midwest of the US (Wisconsin to be more specific) to strip away the rights of middle class workers rights to collectively bargain.  With this apparent ground swell of support from the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party (Tea Party Republicans), Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislation without negotiation with Democrats or any of the affected populations pushed through SB 5.  This bill would strip almost all rights for workers to collectively bargain, with what little rights that they have left it would reduce what they are allowed to collectively bargain for, and neuter the rights of unions to collect dues.  In short it would kill unions and their ability to represent their constituents.

The people of Ohio recognized that SB 5 was bad and used their rights to get rid of it and began to collect signatures to have a popular referendum to get rid of SB 5.  The response was overwhelming, they received more that 4 times the number of signatures that they needed to get the referendum on the ballot.  Now Governor Kasich is backpedalling and looking to negotiate a more balanced deal. The Democrats and all the affected populations are saying NO!

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changing education pt 2

My next step in changing education is to allow for all teachers in all states to unionize.  Currently 22 states are “right to work” states, meaning that unions are not allowed at all.  Wisconsin, Ohio, Vermont have eliminated or are attempting destroy a workers right to collectively bargain for a living wage, safe working conditions, or benefits that has helped to create a middle class in the US.  This simple step would benefit education in 3 simple and overwhelmingly positive ways.

The first benefit of unionizing public ed throughout the country comes in increased student performance. Empirical data clearly demonstrates that the worst performing states come from non-unionized public ed and that the best performing states come from unionized public ed. This trend of increased performance in public schools that are run by unionized teachers is not recent.  In fact, it has been occurring since 1959 when Wisconsin first allowed teachers to unionize.

The second benefit of unionized public ed comes in the professionalizing of the teaching profession. Baby boomers are retiring and there is an alarmingly high turnover rate of new teachers, 1 out of 3, it is important that we look at how we recruit teachers into the profession.  What do we, as a citizenry want teaching our children?  Do you want someone who cant do anything else or do you want someone with real talents in multiple professions choosing education as a career path.  My vote goes to the second option.

By professionalizing education nationwide will increase the cost of teacher’s pay and benefits.  However, education is a public good not a commodity that could or should be traded.  Understanding this simple truth; if we bring better qualified and increasing the talent that steps into the classroom we will produce better students, get better ideas on how to handle the problems that arise within education and in a classroom.  These new teachers will then become administrators and that will also improve how schools are run.

The final benefit comes after teachers professionalize nationally.  The NEA and the AFT, the two largest teachers unions in the US, bargain for more than just pay and benefits; they also bargain for working conditions.  In unionized states teachers are allowed a duty-free lunch period and a prep period to collaborate with other teachers or prepare for the rest of the day.  In some schools teachers unions have bargained for smaller classrooms, allowing teachers to better meet the needs of individual students.  In non-unionized states classroom can range up to 50 students to 1 teacher.  By unionizing a school, teachers can not only ask for but also demand better working conditions, which in turn means better learning environments.

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Adults not right wing ideology

Simply put, taxes are when the government takes a small slice of a purchase or income to fund the services that the government provides to its citizenry.  Our society has accepted this concept and it has worked for literally thousands of years.  Recently that concept has been challenged by the Republican Party’s almost religious obsession with the Americans for Tax Reform no tax pledge.  This pledge states that under no circumstances they would support raising taxes.   In a recent interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball, Mr. Norquist was asked if he

Grover Norquist’s organization has had 236 Representatives and 41 Senators in Washington DC have signed it along with 1263 State Representatives have signed it.  On its surface this pledge sounds reasonable and responsible.  After all why should government live outside its means when we cannot?

The problem with this pledge is that it completely ideological and irresponsible.  Under no circumstances should any taxes be raised?  How about if there is an unforeseen disaster?  Like, oh I don’t know, a tornado or a hurricane or an earthquake or a flood or a drought.  None of these things can be planned for and none of these things is cheap to deal with.  On the national level, besides natural disasters, how would we deal with war?

If the Republican Party insists on adhering to Mr. Norquist’s ideology, then people like Rep. Eric Cantor will continue to hijack the ability of responsible adults to make important decisions during important times in our countries history.  Mr. Cantor has twice walked out of meetings over the debt ceiling because he refused to even look at taxes, or, as the Democrats like to put it, revenue enhancers.  The water has been so poisoned that those who are attempting to broker a deal are being forced to look at a smaller less helpful stopgap solution so that the countries credit rating wont collapse.  To reinforce this idea the US right now pays 3% on all its sovereign debt, Greece is paying close to 30%.  The rate by which banks loan money is directly dependant upon the interest rate they pay the Fed’s overnight rate. If we default on our debt that rate will skyrocket, along with credit card rates, home loan rates, rates on lines of credit, etc, etc., etc.  Furthermore the New York Stock Exchange has also begun to react to this crisis in a negative way and investors are beginning to put their money into precious metals instead of IBM.

It is time to stop the demagogy, our country is at risk.  A risk that is as great as any war that we have ever been in.  A risk that can and will collapse our society, as we know it, if we the people don’t tell the ideology to get out and the adults to start to do the peoples work.  Call your representatives, email Grover Norquist tell them that they are dangerous and that you want compromise, not their narrow view on the world.

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Changing education pt 1

This past Sunday night I was co-hosting the Total Tutor educational hour on BlogTalk Radio with Neil Haley.  As we were weaving through a number of educationally directed topics we began discussing how the US compares to the rest of the world.  The usual machinations were thrown back and forth in an attempt to trick one another and to make our points seem more realistic.  Then Neil asked the most salient question of the night, “If you could, how would you change education in the US?”  Which brings me to the point of this and my next few blog entries.

My first move, now that I am the grand poobah of education, would to eliminate completely the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  This act, on the surface would seem to be a great idea.  Means testing all students, holding schools accountable for the education of the students in the classroom, creating state mandated benchmarks that every school in that state must meet and enforcing it with the threat of loss of funding and government takeover.  We can argue, and have multiple times, how NCLB was created but lets just say that it was a bi-partisan effort and both political parties were and are still wrong.

Where NCLB falls woefully short is in its goals and enforcement.  First, NCLB is a federal mandate.  As Gerald W. Bracey a former George Mason associate professor at George Mason University eloquently laid out, NCLB is not based on research, is unnecessarily punitive, and its goals are absurdly unattainable.  In what world does anyone think that 100% of all students can and will be proficient in math and reading!?!?!?  Show me any industry where 100% is the minimum standard by which they are measured, it can and should be a goal, but not the base minimum by which they are measured.

Another flaw of NCLB is that there is no federal standard for all students.  The standards are created and measured by each individual state.  This means that states can and have gerrymandered the educational standards of their states.  All a state has to do is apply for a federal waver and changed can be made.  One example of this being done is in Pennyslvania.  Because schools were not meeting the standards set by NCLB, the state of Pennysvania borrowed an idea from North Carolina and instituted PVAAS.  This is a value-added system of measuring the academic growth of students over a series of years and a series of standardized exams.  Students, and by proxy schools, do better on the PVAAS than they do with NCLB testing.  So the state looks awesome because they can say that their children and being educated better, schools are happy because they are receiving a little less heat from politicians and parents are happy because their child is being taken care of.

Eliminating NCLB totally frees schools to be bolder in meeting the needs of the modern student.  It will help to create a more professional environment inside schools be releasing the constant federal oversite of education (which is unconstitutional by the way).  Bringing back state or local control over education will also create an environment that encourages the publics accountablitiy of their own schools.