Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TO CENSURE OR NOT TO CENSURE


By Ruth A. Sheets

There is a proposal that the Senate of the United States, on its return to Washington from the August break, censure Mr. Donald Trump for his racist comments and support of White supremacists after Charlottesville. 

What would a censure mean? 

This man who currently occupies the White House is an embarrassment, but I can't just blame him.  We knew what he was before he was elected by a minority of the population and an outdated racist electoral college.  How could we have expected anything different.  He has always been a racist misogynist bully, but it seems enough people are OK with this that it will matter little whether or not the Senate slaps his wrist. 

Mr. Trump feels nothing but anger and can empathize with no one as seen in his responses to Charlottesville and Houston. 

He has, with the help of the Senate,  surrounded himself with people who also care for nothing but their money, as seen through the responses to devastating climate change, increasing poverty, Wall Street excesses, inequity in education, an uptick in the drug war, and so on and so on, through every Government department.  

So, my question again, what would censure mean?

I suspect, little or nothing, but I suppose the Senate should go through the motions, if only to say that even someone like Donald Trump is not unlimited in his actions.  Maybe through such an act, the Senate will find the courage to work for the American people instead of for the "win." 

I don't believe most Americans had any idea what damage an unscrupulous, politically ignorant president could do to our Constitution and democracy.  Maybe people will begin to note that to hold a position like the Presidency of the United States requires experience beyond what running a real estate empire and being a Reality TV star can give you. 

Naaah!  Americans like bullies.  Racism and sexism are just bonuses in a president, and, perhaps, a Senator. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

MOVE THE STATUES

By Ruth A. Sheets

It's time to acknowledge that the Civil War was really totally about slavery, slavery in one part of the country, which affected and infected the whole.  It is also time we remove from public spaces, the statues of the men who decided that slavery was more important than the union.  We now need union more than ever. 

It is also time we as a nation acknowledge that we have seen and understood African-Americans as less than human and that this vision keeps us from truly knowing African-Americans as our equals in every way. 

For these reasons and so many more, the statues must go.  They belong in museums, cemeteries and national parks, where people can remember that human beings can and should be better than the worst impulses our biases and prejudices would give us.  We can remember that people can be brave in causes that are unjust, but should not be celebrated for that.

Perhaps removing the stone and bronze remembrances can allow our nation to acknowledge our racist past and a present built on the beliefs and prejudices, as well as the money that came from a slavery economy and its Jim Crow aftermath. 

There are many among us who continue to see African-Americans as inferior and design laws, neighborhoods, poverty programs, education systems, a justice system, and economic policies to prove it.  White people declare "We are not racist," without ever having to examine why it is our kids are in the "good" schools and they get in the "good" colleges and live in the "good" neighborhoods.

Do we White Americans really deserve all our privileges while so many Black Americans languish in deep poverty, isolated from technology, trapped in schools with inadequate resources, stuck in food deserts, where there is never sufficient money to demand a livable environment.  Do we really think all we have, came our way  just because we worked so hard?  Of course most of us do.  Why not?  We are told that all our lives.

The statues of Confederate soldiers are a reminder to Black Americans that those rebels are more revered than they are and more valued by the culture. 

Those statues must be moved from our public spaces to remind us that black lives do matter and that we as a nation need to start living as though they do.

Monday, August 28, 2017

TEACHER SHORTAGE

By Ruth A. Sheets

There is a national teacher shortage.  In many states, we are told, this shortage has been going on for some time.  It is a critical problem.  I had a friend who had no degree, but was teaching in a school in New Mexico.  She was a dedicated person, but had no substantial training to be in a classroom as its teacher.

Why is there a shortage?  Forty years ago when I came out of college with an Education degree, I couldn't get a job because there were so many teachers looking for work.  Teaching was seen as an honorable profession and although pay was low, teachers were respected.

I am now a teacher.  I just completed my 22nd year in public school teaching.  I love my students and work many extra hours each week and during the summer.  Like so many veteran teachers, I work hard because I believe what I do matters.

Why is there a teacher shortage?  There are a lot of reasons.  Here are a few that I see in my district. 

Teachers are often treated like incompetents.  Our ideas are dismissed in favor of "I feel this would be better for our children" stated by administrators whose experience is not adequate to the needs of the students.  For example, we are told we must have "bell to bell instruction" which means some kind of reading or written work all day long.  As if this were not enough, all classes in a particular grade are to be teaching the same thing at the same time every day.  When we ask where the evidence is for these practices, we are shown none, but told we MUST do this or lose our jobs.

Despite strong evidence that recess, physical activity during the day, and the arts are essential for happy, healthy, well-educated children, our schools have less than 15 minutes per day of recess, limited exposure to the arts, and sitting all day is the norm.

Every couple of years, new curricula are purchased, never the whole curriculum  for any subject, and we are given inadequate training in it.  But, we are expected to raise student achievement with it, while we are trying to learn its nuances.  We are told that unless we follow every single step of the procedure, we are responsible if our students don't get "Proficient" scores or higher on the state exams.

We must daily, perform miracles with students whose living conditions are in some cases 3rd world with limited resources, while governments discuss cutting funding to every program that helps people in poverty.  My students' families struggle to make ends meet, holding down 2 or more jobs at a time. The stress students experience can be dramatic.

In most states, all teachers have at least a Master's degree by the time they have taught 5 years.  That is a substantial education requirement that many occupations do not have, yet teachers' knowledge and experience are ignored as though what has been learned and experienced counts for nothing. 

Then, administrators are in a "gotcha" mode.  Every time they enter a classroom or do a "walk through," of a school, it is not about encouragement for either teachers or students.  It is about pointing out how the teachers are doing things wrong and are incompetent, but "allowed" to teach in the district's precious classrooms out of the goodness of the administrators'  hearts.  Teachers are often threatened with loss of job if they don't measure up to some arbitrary standards, impossible to meet with real children who live in challenging conditions. 

We are no longer to display store bought materials and posters.  Teachers in our district are expected to produce all of our own room decorations and handwritten notes on what the class is working on every day.  These are to be displayed prominently in the classroom so anyone walking in the room can "see" what the class is working on.  This leaves little room for either flexibility or true adaptation for struggling students.  And, we are to provide our own materials if the school does not have them.  It feels like being a robot training robots.

It is hard to attract new teachers to this.  We veterans have come to love our children so much we will put up with all this nonsense.  The new teachers get burned out before they get to see just how great our kids are. 

How do we fix this?  We begin by acknowledging that "not everyone can teach."  The notion that everyone is already a teacher and with a little training can manage and equip a class has let governments, administrators, businesses, and so many others dismiss the complexities of teaching.  If you assume anyone can do the job, you put little or no value on it.  You come to expect that the children will be taught everything they need to know in the ways colleges and businesses want them to be  taught or else the teachers are just not doing their job correctly or are lazy.

I am sorry to have gone on in this way, but I love teaching and want things to change enough to encourage young people to enter the profession and come to love teaching and the children taught as much as I have.  I want young people to know the joy of watching children grow and learn and discover as they move through their childhood into the future. 

We as a nation need to stand up and claim our public schools.  Instead of trying to privatize and shut them down.  WE need to state loud and clear for all to hear that it is in public schools that our children learn diversity.  They come to value our democracy and want to pass it on.  Our children can learn to see and help those who are struggling.  It is where we have exceptional teachers who care deeply for the children, not because their parents have a lot of money to support the school, but because they are children for whom we as a community are responsible.

We count on you, the village that we are helping to raise our children.  Stand up for us teachers and our children. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

THE NEW AMERICAN PIE

by Ruth A. Sheets

Some days, turning on the news takes an act of courage.  Can I bear to eat one more piece of the hate and fear pie being baked for us by the current administration?  We are told it is a great American pie and we  should love it.  The chefs, primarily white men regularly dish up a concoction of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transaphobia, urbaphobia, pooraphobia, and a variety of other stuff THAT'S harder to identify. 

These chefs are pretty good at THEIR WORK.  They tuck their ingredients into a crust of double talk, lies, blaming, ignorance, naivete, childishness, and insensitivity.  Then, the top of their concoctions are brushed with a generous helping of hypocrisy, passing the buck and lack of accountability.  It is often baked in secret and fed to us in small enough servings that we don't really complain too much.  After all, we have lives to live.

If we don't like the slice of pie we are given, that's our fault because we are told how healthy this is for our nation and that our bad taste makes us unpatriotic.

There is always a crowd screaming for the chefs telling them how wonderful they are and that there has never been such a good group of bakers. 

If one were to ask one of these pie lovers what they like about the pie and the chefs who made it, they would say that the chef doesn't take anything from anyone and doesn't care what anyone thinks.  The chef really knows them and cares what happens to them.

When the pie is actually examined, it is clear its ingredients do not include generosity, caring, kindness, loving one's neighbor as oneself, or any of those things once thought to be essential to a good American pie. 

Many gag on the fear and hatred wafting from this pie, but it is hard to escape it.  The chefs were carefully selected to be sure they had a hate and fear level high enough that some could be transferred into the pie during each baking session. 

There is a problem.   Even if one does not want to eat a piece of the pie, it is hard to escape.  It's brought out every day with fanfare, like the pie with the four and twenty blackbirds was brought out.  So much of it comes out each day that the nation is choking on it.  Just as one recovers from the last bite, the next is coming along.

"Fire the Head Chef!" you say.  That will not help much because the assistant chefs are of equal quality and this American pie will just keep coming.

Maybe it is possible for other chefs, rival chefs to arise and begin baking pie that is more in keeping with the kind of diet Americans mostly want.  This will keep the recipes fresh for when this becomes the pie of the land again. 

The recipe we will keep alive has a filling of acceptance, understanding, caring, kindness, and courage.  It must be served in a crust of generosity, honesty, insight, intelligence, and topped with faith in our democracy. 

Pass the recipe.  Add all the positive ingredients you want.  Share the pie so we will have practiced enough to make a truly glorious pie in the near future.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

TALK OF REGULATIONS

by Ruth A. Sheets

Regulations are in the news in a big way since the 2016 election.  Mr. Trump claims that regulations are causing our economy not to grow at the rate he says should be happening.  So, of course, as with many issues this president has "taken on," his followers think it's a great idea to get rid of regulations.
What are regulations?  They are rules passed to help someone.  There are a variety of someones who can be helped:  citizens of a community, state, or the nation as a whole, businesses, the flora and fauna of a place.

There are many reasons regulations are passed.  Probably health and safety are the most common, but sometimes, regulations are passed to stop or hurt a rival, to give a person or company an advantage, to regulate behavior an individual or small group does not like.  The one thing to be sure of, there was a stated purpose for every one, and someone had to agree to pass them.

Clearly, some of the things being regulated no longer have meaning as times have changed.  They often remain "on the books" because there seemed no reason to remove them.  Some of the people who wanted to injure rivals have passed on or the companies have closed, so these also were just left to history's dustbin.  When critics complain there are too many regulations, at least some fit into these categories.  

Many do not fit.  These are the ones that require accountability from individuals, corporations, and governing bodies.  These make it possible to function in a complex society with competing interests and activities.  No one will claim that all regulations are necessary and that there are not some that are actually stupid or even harmful.

A friend of mine is preparing a house to rent in New York.  They needed an inspection to see if there was lead paint in the house.  That makes sense because children might be in the renter's family.  However, there was a regulation that if there was lead paint on the outside of the house it had to be removed too.  Really?  On the second floor, near the roof?  My friend had to scrape the paint off, standing on a ladder, with a face mask.  That puts people at risk for something that will never affect a child or anyone else. 

I suspect there are more regulations like this one on the books of every community.  With no science to back them up, rules are passed, just in case, then never revisited or evaluated to see if they are effective or necessary.

Another example is school uniforms.  Districts across the country decided that students would behave better, learn more, or feel more included (or something similar) if school uniforms were required.  No studies were done to see if this made sense.  No well-documented studies have been done since to see if the schools have improved due to wearing of uniforms.  Naturally, this occurs predominantly in urban poor, mostly minority  schools.  An excuse to keep the regulation in place is that it is easier for parents to buy clothes for school.  What!!  Then I hear "well, kids in private schools wear uniforms.  (They wear uniforms to show they belong to an exclusive club, better than everyone else.)  Is this what "poor" schools want to convey? 

If the president's aim was to end this type of regulation, I would be with him.  This is not his intent.  He tells communities coal would come back if the regulations on the companies were eased (meaning they can dump waste into streams and rivers and ease safety rules).  He neglects to mention that coal is not coming back.  Who benefits from removing the regulations, the companies who are losing money staying in Appalachia.  Who pays, the people who will be left behind to deal with the consequences when the companies pull out, which they inevitably will.

Pollution acceptance seems to be at the center of the regulation removal.  Let companies pollute and they can make more money and, maybe create a few more jobs.  Mr. Trump does not have to prove this or even pay attention to the science that says this is not a good idea.  His followers believe it, so, of course, it must be true.  When the polluted air and water begins affecting their families, they will be sure it is someone else's fault, not theirs for not questioning the man who has lied to them constantly since he entered the 2016 campaign.

There is no doubt that communities, states, and the Federal Government should look at their collection of regulations and determine which are not supported with scientific or real-life evidence.  Which regulations could be tweaked a bit to help businesses be successful without harming their communities or the folks downstream or downwind.  They should look at the purposes behind each regulation.  Does it try to enforce someone's particular taste, religious beliefs, or personal level of comfort at the expense of others?  Does it give advantage to one particular business over another?  Does it make life better for only a small group while making life for everyone else more difficult or problematic?  Does it only pretend to promote safety and good health?  Does it claim a risk that does not exist?  Does it favor one race, religion, socio-economic group over another, limiting the prospects of the others?  If the answer to any of these is "yes," then consider removing or changing the regulation, guided by science and best practice.

Always ask:  what is the purpose? what is the expected outcome? what will this regulation correct? who benefits? who is harmed or inconvenienced? how will it be evaluated when and by whom?  No regulation should be approved without good answers to all of these questions and others that are relevant to specific situations.  Just because Mr. Trump wants regulations removed does not mean it is a good idea.  He really does not know what he is talking about, and it is not clear that he even cares.  It's about the message to his followers.  That's all.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

FOR THE WIN


by Ruth A. Sheets

WE Americans are very competitive.  We love to win.  For some, winning is everything, or as one coach used to say, "winning is the only thing." 

So, what will we do to win?  We know that some athletes will deliberately injure opponents.  They will dope and do a variety of other illegal and semi-legal things to increase their chances of winning as individuals or as teams. 

Of course, this is not restricted to athletes.  Parents sign their kids up for all kinds of programs to help their child get ahead, be the first, best, to go to the most prestigious schools.  Cheating is not off the table.  Teachers will sometimes change test answers to make their class seem more advanced, so they can win a bonus for their students' achievement.  Businesses claim artificially high profits so they will seem like winners in their field.  Students and others will plagiarize to produce "the winning paper."

People do win based on their own hard work and talent too, but if that doesn't work, some will break rules, laws, and Commandments to win.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned politicians yet.  Politics is an entire field based on winning, just as athletics is.  Men and women who pursue a political career know this from the outset and often hone their skills in small election contests so they can build up to bigger things.  Along with their personal gifts, they tap into money, manpower, and advice from outside themselves.  Their basic tool is personal persuasion, but over time other things may be added to the toolbox.  Some of those tools can be immoral, sometimes, even illegal.  These tools have become nearly ubiquitous.  They are probably not used more today than in the past, but they now are enhanced by social media, 24/7 news cycles, the internet and instant communication, and other modern technologies.  These technologies in themselves are not the problem.  It is how they are used.  When winning is the only thing, lies, fake news, insults, disparaging slogans can spread at light speed to those the candidate or office-holder needs to win.

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election brought to a head the question "What are you willing to do to win?"  The Democrats are seen as pathetic, weak because they did not win Congress or the Presidency.  What they also did not do (as far as anyone can tell) is check in with the Russians to see how they could smear or undermine their opponent.  They did not regularly insult, degrade, and dismiss women, people of color, Gold Star families, disabled persons, journalists, poor people, and others.  The party that won did all of these things and more.  They won.  What does that tell us? 

Perhaps there is some part of us that finds bullying compelling, despite what we tell our children.  Maybe racism and sexism are deeper and stronger than anything else in our culture including fairness, our religious beliefs, and morals.

Now, the "winners" need to keep winning.  What will they do to get a win, any win?  They will work hard to take away the ability to get health care for people who just found hope in the Affordable Care Act.  They will eliminate transgender people from bathrooms and the military for no other reason than that they can.  They will continue to further limit the rights of women to make their own reproductive decisions, They will hurt farmers so they can waste time, money, and manpower on a useless even ridiculous wall on our border with Mexico.  "I promised to do these things in my campaign and I have a mandate to do it." says their leader, no matter what works for anyone else or that he really has no mandate. 

Well, we are in for a difficult future since lying, cheating, colluding with foreign powers, hacking emails/records, disenfranchising voters, and eliminating civil rights for large groups of Americans are the predominant items in the political toolbox.  Now it is mostly Republicans and Conservatives who employ them, but, who knows, it could spread to everyone else if we don't demand higher standards for political behavior and future elections.  


Friday, July 28, 2017

THE SUPREME COURT'S CONSERVATIVE BRANCH


by Ruth A. Sheets

Since Neal Gorsuch entered the ranks of Supreme Court justices, I have been thinking about his role and the expectations his people have of him.  I say "his people" because all Americans are not his people.  Nor are the majority of Americans the people of any of the conservative justices.

It is rare to see any of the conservative 4 take a position on any case that does not help their constituents:  business, White males, the wealthy (particularly the very wealthy), Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.  They also do their best to support Republicans in any way they can.

The Senate will be helping them out too.  When Mitch McConnell refused to even hold hearings for President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland last year, he ignored proper protocol and respect for a sitting president.  He bet on Mr. Trump becoming president, knowing the most conservative person available could be nominated and pretty easily approved by his Senate.  Republicans seldom stand up to Mr. McConnell or, as it turns out, Mr. Trump.  Their vindictiveness against those who try independence is legendary.

So, we have Mr. Gorsuch, a rubber stamp of Justices Thomas and the late Justice Scalia.  These men are supposed to be "brilliant jurists," but in reality, it doesn't matter how brilliant they are.  They know what is expected of them and they dutifully do it, no matter the human cost.  There is no personal cost to any of them.  There is no intellectual stretch except in the way they justify the often destructive rulings handed down.  For example, they ruled that corporations are persons (Citizens United).  These conservative justices don't have to be elected or approved of in any way, so the amount of money spend in political campaigns by persons and organizations that don't even need to be identified never touches them.

Courage on their part is rarely visible and certainly not necessary.  Justice Roberts allowed a critical part of the Affordable Care Act pass on taxation grounds, but not because it was the right thing to do to help citizens get health care.  So, perhaps, a bit of courage was on display, but really, just a bit.

I keep wondering what conservatives are trying to conserve.  Is it some kind of way of life that was so wonderful it must be brought back?  Is it a sense that America is a Christian country even though it never was that?  Is it to keep White rich people in power?  Is it to blame poor people for their poverty by making it harder for them to be heard?  Is it to pretend that LGBTQ people don't exist, so giving them the same rights as everyone else is not necessary because they don't exist, so don't need any extra protections? 

I also often wonder why conservatives are so obsessed with women's reproductive organs.  They don't seem as worried about male reproductive parts.  If they cared at all about women and women's rights, they would once and for all strike down all the state laws that get between a woman and her doctor in her reproductive decisions.  Why don't they do this -- because their constituents don't like letting women act as full adults.  Men might have to share some power.

And, what is it with the conservatives and guns?  Of course, when the conservatives on the Court say states and communities can't make certain laws to restrict guns, they really mean guns owned by White people, particularly White men.  They can't state it that way in their decisions, but we see the results when a Black driver is murdered after he tells police officers he has a permit to carry.  Those officers, of course are not convicted of anything. 

What can we expect this coming year from the conservative 4, perhaps 5 if Justice Kennedy is in his conservative mood?  I suspect if they can get to it, they will end or severely damage Roe v. Wade, strengthen Citizens United, end the right to marry for LGBTQ couples, allow disenfranchisement of more and more citizens who just don't fit what conservatives see as "real Americans."  They may allow Mr. Trump's travel and refugee bans as everyone who is not Northern European is a terrorist.  The one guarantee, their 4 basic constituencies will be well served and everyone else will be left to pick up the pieces and go on the best they can.  One would think we could do better.