education

It’s a Feature, Not a Bug


Crime

Crime has been rising for several years, so it’s understandable that one year into the Biden presidency President Biden would be blamed for everything. That’s just how Republicans roll. But let’s set aside stupid talk about defunding the police, lousy administration job performance and the rest. Crime is a symptom, not a root cause. It isn’t a coordinated effort to keep cops employed or politicians’ hands wringing and fingers pointing, so let’s take a look at what might be driving crime.

Let’s start with two givens: first, I’m not an expert at this; second, while other kids are eager to grow up to be a fireman or doctor or a superhero, very few are eager to be criminals. There’s something that causes them to make that decision.

Try hopelessness. Try broken promises. Try the breakdown of families, perhaps broken by hopelessness and broken promises.

We swat at the symptoms, as though a crackdown will stop criminals and serve as an example and thereby prevent future crime. But if we are willing to ask how that’s working for us and we’re realistic, we’d have to answer that it’s not working too well.

What we are doing well is to provide our citizens with public examples of lawlessness and proud declarations of intent to break the law issued from the highest places. And we do next to nothing to create the things that would cause people to choose a life of non-crime. Let’s poke just a little at both pieces.

If you’re reading this (and obviously you are) you already know and have seen insurrection and lawbreaking on a breathtaking scale by elected leaders. Trump is the obvious and easy example, but we’ve locked up several from Congress in just the past few years for things like insider trading. The standard belief is that “They’re all crooks,” which may be a bit of overreach, but there is evidence to suggest that taking bribes, bent legislation that lines the wrong pockets and more is common. Clearly, that stuff happens at the local level, too, where we citizens have the most contact. That provides a not-so-fine example to follow, or at least a message that breaking the law is okay, that it’s just the way things work.

As for hopelessness, how do you think we’re doing at ensuring our people that there are prospects for economic security, a chance for a better tomorrow? We watched and even encouraged manufacturing jobs to go overseas, leaving thousands of towns and millions of people suddenly unemployed or under-employed. Politicians have given lip service to bringing those factories and those jobs back, but it’s been nothing more than hot air for decades.

They also give lip service to better education. Then they kill every attempt to make that happen, especially in poor areas. See “broken promises” above.

Said an unidentified woman participating in a focus group detailed in the New York Times,

” .  .  .  they’re not giving me any sort of ambition to feel like I have any sort of trust in the government to fix things or at least get the ball going in the right direction.”

It’s unlikely that she is prone to committing a crime, but she articulates well our general level of confidence in our self-paralyzing government. Worse, in Flint, MI government officials saved a few bucks or made them for donors by poisoning children with lead in the water. They weren’t alone in that and other nefarious behavior.

Our cities offer little hope for anything better for many of our fellow citizens, which leaves a lot of people with pockets full of empty. Answer for yourself what you would do in such circumstances. Answer for yourself what your level of anger would be – maybe substitute the word “rage.” A drive-by shooting just might help anyone to feel powerful and in control, if only for a moment. And cash stolen from an ATM or convenience store would ease economic woes a bit. Doing the robbery might even feel justifiable.

As I said, I’m no expert at this, but our national hand-wringing and political posturing don’t help a thing, and making the police force of any city the equivalent to the army of a small nation will make for yet more brutality and no progress. What if we were actually to address the root causes? What if we were to stop the hypocritical posturing about education and actually educate all of our kids well?

I’m guessing that there are experts who can tell us what to do to reduce crime. If a miracle happens and somebody in authority actually seeks such counsel, my confidence is high that we won’t pay any attention to that expert advice and that nothing will get better. That’s what we’ve always done.

What we can count on is that right wing politicians will continue using crime statistics to denigrate others and to promote themselves and their chest-thumping, faux virtuous righteousness. They’ll find more ways to blabber about freedom and responsibility. They need that cudgel for political gain, so they’ll steadfastly refuse to take action to open possibilities for those who need them most.

It’s the same logic that causes politicians to obstruct actions to mitigate the pandemic. It’s in Republicans’ interest to keep the suffering and death going, because that gives them both an ongoing pandemic and inflation as issues to use to beat on Democrats. They’d rather that people suffer and die than do anything to help. And review that focus group woman’s comment once again.

Then read Andrew Yang’s essay, The Data Are Clear: The Boys Are Not Alright. The facts and the numbers are shocking.

The design of our system creates these circumstances, which is why I say that crime is a feature, not a bug.

Death

Each is a lethal dose

Congratulations to us on our consistency. We have over 100,000 deaths from drug overdose every year – more than vehicle crashes and gun deaths combined. That number is sufficient to include someone not far from you, although, to be fair, there is a much higher concentration of overdose death in poor areas, like Appalachia, the slums of our cities and on Native American reservations. (How come we took the best land and “reserved” the worst land for them until we wanted that land and then “reserved” still worse land for them?)

Could it be that hopelessness to the point of complete resignation is involved? So, how come we don’t do anything about that hopelessness?

Oh yeah – out of sight, out of mind. Bootstraps demands. Self-induced Myopia. Those people are worth more to the suppliers hooked until they OD than alive and clean. Just ask the Sackler family of Purdue Pharmaceutical and the doctors who got kickbacks from them.*

Looks like our death from overdose is a feature, not a bug, too.

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* Read Barry Meier’s piece, Origins of an Epidemic: Purdue Pharma Knew Its Opioids Were Widely Abused, as well as German Lopez’s piece A Rising Death Toll, from which the chart below is taken.

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The days are dwindling for us to take action. Get up! Do something to make things better.

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The Fine Print:

  1. Writings quoted or linked from my posts reflect a point I want to make, at least in part. That does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything in such writings, so don’t bug me about it.
  2. There are lots of smart, well-informed people. Sometimes we agree; sometimes we don’t. Search for others’ views and decide for yourself.
  3. Errors in fact, grammar, spelling and punctuation are all embarrassingly mine. Glad to have your corrections.
  4. Responsibility for the content of these posts is unequivocally, totally, unavoidably mine.
  5. Book links to Amazon are provided for reference only. Please purchase your books through your local mom & pop bookstore. Keep them and your town vibrant.

JA


Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Schools and Some More Stuff


By the time this pandemic is over our kids will be as much as a year behind in school. Many are already having both academic and psychological issues due to isolation, including lack of the socialization that being in school provides. Plus, staring at a screen all day is just plain hard to do.

One of the ways schools have tried to minimize these adverse effects is to create a hybrid system, where 1/3 to 1/2 of the kids are in the classroom, which provides plenty of social distancing. As that’s going on, the rest of the kids follow along at home on their computers and the kids are rotated through the system. That only works, of course, when the kids have both computers and internet access, which simply isn’t the case for all kids.

Parts of the country are starting to “open up”, which means that we are incrementally allowing people to patronize bars and restaurants, but with perhaps only 25% occupancy. That provides separation so that we’ll only infect others with this deadly virus when we sneeze. “Opening up” has been part of new surges before and expecting different results now is demonstrably insane. Look for an increase in coronavirus cases around February 20. Open up bars? I have a better idea.

Actually, this isn’t original, but I’m proud to borrow from Vanessa Barbara’s essay in the Times, “I Can’t Believe I Need to Say This, but We Need Schools More Than Bars.” What if we converted bars and restaurants to school rooms?

Let’s see, bars and restaurants have tables and chairs in large, open areas. Check that box.

These are unused or vastly under-used facilities, making them available. Check that box, too.

A neighbor works for a company that runs an office with 1,000 – 1,500 employees. She’s been working from home for the past 10 months, as have her colleagues, and she periodically goes into the office for a short task. She reports that there are never more than 20 people in the entire building. That dramatic under-use of office space is typical across the nation.

Let’s see again: These are places with desks, chairs, great lighting, lots of room and internet service. Check all the boxes.

Another benefit of this kind of adjustment is that it minimizes the number of new teachers we’ll have to hire and train due to extremely small class sizes, because the class sizes won’t have to be smaller.

And yes, this can be done safely, even with the coronavirus unconquered, although with these new virulent strains now spreading that will have to be studied again.

Utilizing these spaces for school rooms could bring bar, restaurant and office renters a few months of financial relief and provide a venue for teachers to do what they are wired to do: teach kids. Our folks who are desperate for a bar or restaurant will just have to learn to live with disappointment for a little while longer.

The point is that we are living in a time when no road maps are available to deal with our challenges. That’s piled on top of our archaic education system format, leaving our kids behind their international peers and with life-long implications for under-performing, both individually and for us as a country. Legacy thinking from past centuries just can’t get the fix-it job done. We’re going to have to be creative now and, really, forever, if we’re to create the best outcomes.

It’s more complicated than transforming bars, restaurants and offices into classrooms, of course, and we humans have an infinite capacity to make things difficult. But what if we were to focus solely on educating our kids – would that simplify things a bit?

Turns out some folks have already done some outstanding work to ameliorate the learning losses our kids have endured, as well as the hits to their mental health. Read this report from McKinsey & Company. Pages 1 – 9 outline the challenges and our ongoing inexcusable education outcome disparities.* If you want to know how we’ll fix what’s broken, focus your attention starting on page 10.

Clearly, what we need is for our leadership to get out front and lead our kids back in school. That’s going to take some creative thinking and it’s going to cost money. All that’s riding on our getting this right is the lives of our kids and the future of our nation.

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Covid News

If you’ve been watching (who hasn’t?) you’ve seen that the infection numbers have been dropping for a short while. Not surprisingly, it’s more complicated than  that.

This (used by permission) is from my analytically superior colleague Dave Nelsen, who brought us the story last July of why masks work:

“[T]here are credible people out there who believe .  .  .  that the worst of COVID-19 is still ahead of us. Here’s one such article. FYI, Dr. Peter Hotez is President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute .  .  .

“The basic concern is about the UK and South African variants with their great transmissibility leading to a fourth, yet higher, final wave. Regardless, do not let down your guard. Every protocol that works against “standard” SARS-CoV-2 (masks, distance, good air flow indoors, etc.) also works against these new mutations.” [emphasis mine]

Here’s a link to the report.

Insanity update

You may recall that some of the survivors of the 2018 Parkland, FL school massacre are activists for gun safety reform. David Hogg is one of the leaders and I received an email from him last week, complete with a link to a video of QAnon conspiracy nut job Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Pluto). In the video you’ll see her harassing him shortly after the shootings when Hogg was just 17 or 18 years old, still in high school, and Greene was chronologically, at least, an adult. You have to see Greene stalking Hogg to believe it.

This woman is what is now passing as an honorable member of Congress. If you need more to be convinced of how deeply disturbed, cruel and dangerous she is (read: unhinged), click here.

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Some good news

The Biden administration is a week and a half old and has conducted a press briefing daily. The good news is that over these 12 days not a single reporter has been attacked, shamed or insulted by the press secretary, many questions have been answered, there have been no lies about the size of Biden’s inaugural crowd and every briefing has started on time. All in all, it’s what we used to call normal.

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A Little Bit of Fun – Plus

Perhaps you missed one of the candidates for president in the last election. Too bad, because he has some sense that is most often missing. Here’s a link to his message and here’s a link to his still available campaign website. Be sure to click the Issues tab.

This guy makes sense in his entertaining, tongue-in-cheek way. Thanks to AT for pointing to him.

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*From the McKinsey report: “The pandemic has forced the most vulnerable students into the least desirable learning situations with inadequate tools and support systems to navigate them .  .  .  Currently, the United States ranks 36th in math and 13th in reading in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings.”

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Ed. note: We need to spread the word so that we make a critical difference, so,

  1. Did someone forward this to you? Welcome! Please subscribe and pass this along to three others, encouraging them to subscribe, too. (IT’S A FREEBIE!) Use the simple form above on the right.
  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all to be better informed.

Thanks!

The Fine Print:

  1. Writings quoted or linked from my posts reflect a point I want to make, at least in part. That does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything in such writings, so don’t bug me about it.
  2. Said John Maynard Keynes, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” So, educate me and all of us. That’s what the Comments section is for.
  3. Errors in fact, grammar, spelling and punctuation are all embarrassingly mine. Glad to have your corrections.
  4. Responsibility for the content of these posts is unequivocally, totally, unavoidably mine.

JA


Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Hand Wringing


Reading time – 2:10; Viewing time – 3:33  .  .  .

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is conducted every 3 years and tests academic proficiency internationally of 15-year-olds. American kids haven’t progressed. “About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old .  .  . ” There’s more to learn and you can find a report here.

Meanwhile, students in other countries are consistently better prepared to succeed. We’ve tried various programs, including No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act, Race to the Top and we’ve spent billions of dollars, but our kids are still behind.

American kids from wealthy families living in strong school districts are doing fine. Perhaps it’s the excellent schools. Maybe that performance is driven by family attitudes and expectations.

At the other end of the fixed-in-place economic teeter-totter are kids whose main academic achievement lies in falling behind not quite so much. So many schools are in disrepair, as are teaching materials and any sense of hope. That’s what happens when we attempt to operate our 21st century schools on a 17th century model.

It’s time to figure this out. And it’s time to do so without political turf grabbing or pork barrelling or ego stuffing. Perhaps then we can actually prepare our kids – all of our kids- for the 21st century.

Do you see any national leaders, say, the president, doing anything to make things better? Neither do I. And our inertia is fueling making this the Chinese century.

In an odd way, this is very much like the infrastructure programs we’ve been promised. Other than re-paving some sections of interstate highways and repairing the most dilapidated bridges, have you seen even a hint of infrastructure improvement?

During the 2016  campaign Trump promised an infrastructure program that would be “the biggest and boldest in half a century.” In 2018 he laid out a pie-in-the sky, one-page infrastructure plan. One step in that plan was “Then a miracle happens.” It wasn’t dead on arrival; it was dead before it was sent to Congress. So, there’s been nothing done. Nothing.

I confess that it’s satisfying to bash Trump for that, but we’ve been talking about this issue for decades and doing nothing about it for just as long.

It’s impeachment season, so Congress is mired in either walking or chewing gum and is unable to do both at the same time. So, regardless of impeachment outcomes, we’re certain to hear nothing more about infrastructure than some hand wringing next year. And there won’t be even that for the education of our kids.

This is what absolutist politics that views compromise as surrender does for us.

This is what treating those who disagree as though they’re enemy combatants does for us.

Unless something changes, this is what we’ll continue to get.

Think about that as you make your voting choices on November 3rd.

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Ed. Note: I don’t want money or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. So,

YOUR ACTION STEPS:

  1. Pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!).
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Thanks!

NOTES:

  1. Writings quoted or linked from my posts reflect a point I want to make, at least in part. That does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything in such writings, so don’t bug me about it.
  2. Errors in fact, grammar, spelling or punctuation are all embarrassingly mine. Glad to have your corrections.
  3. Responsibility for the content of these posts is unequivocally, totally, unavoidably mine.

 


Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

In Case You Missed It


Reading time – 2:10; Viewing time – 3:33 .  .  .

Ed. Note: There was apparently operator (that would be me) error for the email announcement of the Sunday post this week. That’s why you’re receiving this on Monday. I think the situation is corrected and, with luck and the absence of any more operator interference, we’re back on track.


Perhaps you recall George W. Bush’s so-called “Faith Based and Community Initiative” of 2003. Less well remembered is Bill Clinton’s “Charitable Choice” program of 1996. The practical effect of each was to supply federal dollars to religious institutions.

Earlier still, in 1954, we added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. That was so that we could declare ourselves better than and identifiable from those godless Commies, at least to ourselves. That addition to the Pledge wasn’t enough, though, since most Americans didn’t recite it daily; only school children did that. So in 1956 we added “In God We Trust” to all of our currency. We look at our coins and greenbacks every day, so that should have provided sufficient reminders of God as officially on our side and in our laws, even to those with the shortest attention span.

Each of these actions super-glued religion to our government and our country. I don’t understand why establishing religion as part of our state was not un-Constitutional, given the clear mandate of The First Amendment. Disappointingly, this story is continuing and it would have been easy to have missed it, given the tsunami of events last week.

Betsy DeVos is the totally unqualified head of the Department of Education. Her lack of qualification is due both to her near-complete ignorance of public education and her predilection to shift all to the private sector and to destroy her department of government entirely. Her ignorance doesn’t stop her from taking bold action, though, including effectively de-funding public education.

She has now decided to enhance the flight of your tax dollars for public education to private religious institutions. The lead paragraph of an article about this in The New York Times reads,

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Monday that she will no longer enforce a provision in federal law that bars religious organizations from providing federally funded educational services to private schools.”

So, religious organization X will now be free to use its federally supplied dollars (how come they have those?) to fund religious schools. That’s a nifty two-step diversion to those private schools of your public money that is supposed to go to pubic education. What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion  .  .  . ” is unclear?

Even Evangelicals have expressed opposition to government funding of religious institutions. That is in part on the basis that such action will inevitably result in government control of religion. They’re right.

Last scratch at this itch: In 2012 President Obama unilaterally created the DACA program, which was effectively the selective, rather than universal, application of our immigration laws. Republicans went berserk in opposition. The law is the law, they screamed. The Constitution clearly separates powers and this one doesn’t belong to the Executive branch, they cried.

Where is that same opposition to Trump and DeVos selectively refusing to enforce our laws and support the Constitution today?

Click to join me on March 23 for this fascinating and informative event.

               ————————————

Ed. Note: I don’t want money or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. So,

YOUR ACTION STEPS:

  1. Pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!).
  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all to be better informed.

Thanks!

 


Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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