Monthly Archives: June 2017

Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017

To Our Grandchildren – The Secret of Before Time Started

When I grew up (my oldest granddaughter says, “before time started”) communities were less diverse than today.  Before time started, you could walk house to house, farm to farm, and not find an ounce of difference in the values people held dear to their hearts.  The values held in the home were reinforced down the street at Uncle Elmer’s house, Mrs. Cotton’s house, Lott’s Grocery, or in the public library.  The only diversity was some ate salt on their watermelon and some did not.  Values were taught in the home and reinforced up and down the street, church to school, and from the courthouse to the local bank.  Unfortunately, that is seldom true anymore.

Today, more often than not, we do not know our neighbors down the street; therefore, we can no longer be sure the person three doors down has the same values as we do, or has values at all.  It is a sad commentary on our society, but we can no longer trust our children to the neighbourhood for safe keeping – physically or morally.  We have grown too isolated and distant for such trust.  On top of that, time has become an issue.   Regardless of the makeup of the neighbourhood, it is ultimately the responsibility of parents and grandparents to make time to instill and reinforce family values.  However, we live in a society where the best intentions are often hogtied by a rush rush world.  Everyone is in such a hurry – work, ball games, dance, school activities, etc. – that there is little room for quality family time.  It becomes increasingly difficult to consistently reinforce the family values we hold so dear.  Values become the little things we push aside or overlook “just this time” for the sake of speeding to the next event in our busy lives.  Time gets away from us, and before we know it our children are grown and out on their own.  All that is left is our prayers that the values we taught them were enough, and nothing important was overlooked.  You never know, and it can drive you crazy wondering, especially if you are a grandparent where time has begun to speed by faster and faster.

Chasing time is fruitless; you can never win, but you can slow it down.  I slow it down by imagining a time warp in which my grandchildren are sitting around my table.  Except in this time warp, there is not a video game, cell phone, or television to cut into our time.  In my time warp, we conduct ourselves like families did before time started; we talk, laugh, and share one another.  I know that sounds crazy, and I realize this is not cool in the eyes of my grandchildren, but their definition of “cool” came along after time started, so it does not apply to grandfathers, like me, who think of water bubbling from a spring when the word is used.

Oh, yes, here they come!  Come in Nate, Kalyn, Mya, Kayden, Collier, and Pace, and sit with Mawmaw and me.  We are going on a journey.  No, not Disney World, but a journey much more important.  We are going back to a place before time started – a place where values and wisdom were handed down from parents and grandparents and reinforced daily in the community.  We are going back to a time when children ran and played, and parents prayed they did not grow up too fast.  No, Kalyn, we did not ride in horse drawn buggies, but I have on a special occasion or two.  Yes, we had electricity and running water, but most of all we had time for each other.

Yes, Nate, I understand it is stuff nobody wants to hear, yet, it is more relevant than Facebook, Snapchat, or video games.  Yes, Kalyn, “before time started” people actually talked to each other about such things as right and wrong, good manners, and proper etiquette.  No, Mya, they did not text; they used their fingers and hands to hold up one another.  Did they dance?  Oh my, yes, Kayden, they danced, and they sang, and you won’t believe this, but they did so in their homes – as a family.  Were there trees back then?  Yes, Collier, there were trees – great, strong trees.  Trees that gave their limbs to cradles, and one tree that carried a lamb on its shoulders at a place called Galilee.  Why?  Pace, I am so glad you asked.  The answer is so simple – love.  You see, the one thing we have in common with God is love, and before time started, people loved one another, and they didn’t care if someone thought that was cool or not.

Before time started, family was the coolest thing in the world; it was the world.  There was no escaping it; you were inundated with it at the dinner and supper table, reminded of it when working on rooftops or in the fields, and bathed in it every minute and hour of the day.  The wisdom and values conveyed through family was the only road map people needed to find happiness if they were wise enough to follow it.  Like today, life did not come with an instruction book, but way back before time started, it began with a family, and for those who listened and worked at it, that was all they needed.

So, boys and girls, listen close!  Mawmaw and Pawpaw are going to take you on a trip.  We are going to whisper to you the secrets of the place called Before Time Started.  A place where all cool parents and grandparents made time to teach boys and girls how to be good people.  A place where boys and girls were taught values that turned boys into gentlemen and girls into ladies.  So, everyone close your eyes and grab a hand, and we will travel to Before Time Started to learn the secret so many have forgotten.

The Secret of Before Time Started

The greatest influence on the world is what we teach our children at home:

  1. Hold the door open for others to enter a building – especially for ladies and the elderly;
  2. Say “Thank you” when given a compliment, gift, or an act of kindness;
  3. Say “Yes, mam” or “No, mam,” and “Yes, sir” or “No, sir – especially to your parents and elders, or as a sign of respect for anyone deserving. No, you do not have to do this, but it is the right thing to do;
  4. Granddaughters, be confident in yourself. You are as good, smart, and capable as any man.  Never sell yourself short because you are a woman or to please a man;
  5. Grandsons, stand and offer a lady or the elderly your seat on a crowded bus or in a crowded room;
  6. Learn to see, listen, and respect people through the eyes and ears of a blind man;
  7. Never talk down to people. It is rude and makes you appear arrogant and a fool;
  8. Granddaughters, always act like a lady. A woman is God’s symbol of beauty and pose in the world.  It is a daunting task at best, but in his eyes and the eyes of the world be deserving and carry yourself above the reproach of others;
  9. Grandsons, treating women, children, or animals with cruelty is never okay;
  10. If invited to dinner or supper, always compliment the food; if you don’t like the food, keep it to yourself;
  11. Never talk over someone during a conversation. The rule is simple:  I listen when you talk – you listen when I talk;
  12. Surround yourself with people of character with greater skills than your own;
  13. Be a leader, but remember sometimes it takes more courage to follow;
  14. Always leave the trail behind you better than you found it;
  15. Granddaughters, smile often. God made a woman’s smile to heal the world.  Her smile is intended to melt the hearts of men, reassure her children, and light the darkest day;
  16. Grandsons, to become a man, know your heart, put the needs of others before yours, trust in family, and have faith in God – everything else you need will fall into place;
  17. Don’t procrastinate, but take your time when making important decisions;
  18. Not everybody will like you. That is their problem; don’t make it yours;
  19. Embrace those less fortunate. Not everyone is dealt the same cards in life;
  20. Find a hobby! Find something you enjoy in life and do it – don’t worry about being good or bad – just do it!
  21. Being there for others is important, but do not forget yourself. Take time to do the things that are important to you;
  22. Public profanity or profanity as a part of your everyday language is never acceptable. It hurts the ears of ladies and children.  It instills a sense of false bravado.  It demeans your value;
  23. Your word is your honor. Guard your words closely.  Once your integrity is compromised, there is no going back;
  24. If you agree to work for a man for a dollar, give him your best. Work for him as though he was paying you double;
  25. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, but first, always be thankful for what you have;
  26. Granddaughters, walk beside your husband, but never compete with him;
  27. Grandsons, love and be proud of your wife. She is your backbone;
  28. Eat, drink, and have a blast in life, but take care not to lose your soul, waste your mind, or wreck your body in the process. Moderation is the key;
  29. Admit it when you are wrong. Everybody knows it, so own up and move on.  Sometimes saying “I am sorry” is your best play;
  30. Do not take yourself too seriously. Start and end your day by looking in the mirror and having a good laugh;
  31. Read at least thirty minutes every day;
  32. Look for the good in all men, but choose carefully to whom you expose your back;
  33. Good manners, kindness, and treating others the way you want to be treated as well as the way God intended people to treat each other is the greatest of God’s commandments – never take it lightly or for granted! Practice it daily!

Finally, the best advice I can offer is this:  bathe daily, use deodorant after you shower, brush your teeth after you eat, wear fresh clothes daily, respect your mama and daddy, treat everyone with kindness, talk gibberish to babies and animals, pray daily for strength and courage, leave judgement to God, be your own person, and be humble.  To be a man or a woman, you must stand for what you believe, fight for what you love, and treat with kindness all that falls under the spread of your wings.

Children, these are the secrets people knew and lived by before time started – secrets that enable us to live together and respect one another.  Before time started, these truths and values were passed from generation to generation until somehow, they became lost along the way.  In each of you is the light to bring these simple truths and values back to the world.  It is our prayer you will not keep these secrets to yourself, but will live by them and pass them to your children and grandchildren who in their time will pass them to theirs until a day comes when how to live together in peace and respect for one another is no longer a secret, and the world is turned upright once again.

Our love and prayers always, Mawmaw and Pawpaw.

Jl

©Jack Linton, June 12, 2017

How to Use Your Cell Phone to be RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL and INCONSIDERATE

It is not a secret I have always despised cell phones, but it is not widely known that I have finally seen the light.  To my wife’s surprise, I recently moved from the dark side to the side of the Enlighted and the Cool!  I even bought a new Hawaiian shirt to show how cool I am.  No longer do I hate the idea of being tethered to a cell phone, and cell phone users, who I once thought of as obnoxious creatures with little or no manners, do not bother me at all anymore.  Before my transformation, I didn’t “get it” when it came to cell phones or their users, but now I do.  It took longer than it should have, but I finally realized everything I had always believed about cell phone users was wrong!  Being self-centered and inconsiderate is not a terrible thing at all.  What I once perceived as being rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate are tools cell phone users use to keep society at bay, family and friends in their place, and themselves at the center of the universe.

This is a complete turnaround from the old me, who saw cell phone users as self-centered idiots with cancer plates shoved against their ear holes 24/7.  Since my change, however, I have joined forces with cell phone users; I am all about being rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate if it ensures my place at the center of the universe. Remember, cell phone users believe they are the most important people in the world; they are the center of the universe.  The new me thinks no differently.

To convey this message to everyone, the dysfunctional cell phone user understands he/she must master being rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate.  However, that is not as easy as it sounds.  I discovered it takes practice to be self-centered every single day although it is easier with a cell phone in your hand.  To make it even easier, I developed ten simple guidelines for cell phone usage to help hardcore cell phone users, newbies, and returnees. like me, master the art of dysfunctional cell phone usage.  I call these quick, nitty gritty, get down to the dirty, guidelines “How to Use Your Cell Phone to be RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL and INCONSIDERATE.”  This short tutorial should be mass produced and placed in the box of every new cell phone sold.  As we all know, for many cell phone users, being rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate comes naturally, but for some, these traits must be learned.  Here’s to learning!

How to Use Your Cell Phone to be RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL and INCONSIDERATE

  1. Stay glued to your cell phone during family or social gatherings. This will show everyone just how bored you are and that there are more important people in your life than the people you are with;
  2. Interrupt dinner at home or in a restaurant by answering your cell phone at the table. This will show just how little you think of everyone at the table as well as keep you at the center of the conversation;
  3. Answer your cell phone while engaged in a face to face conversation with another person. Nothing says the caller is more important better than disengaging from a conversation to answer your cell phone.  Sorry, but answering for a family emergency or an important business call you told the other person about at the start of your conversation does not give you points for rudeness;
  4. Once the lights go down in the movie theater, call or text a friend.  You paid for use of the seat and air conditioning, so other than Alfred Hitchcock, no one should care.  If they do, so what!
  5. Call someone before 9 am or after 9 pm. So what if they are sleeping or trying to get kids and themselves off to school and work!  Waiting until after morning coffee and breakfast or until the next morning is an inconvenience that can be avoided. [Note:  Rudeness points are not awarded for family and close friends];
  6. Say “What?” when you answer your cell phone. Let the caller know up front he/she better have a good reason for calling;
  7. Engage in a phone conversation while doing your business on the toilet. Who says there can’t be human interaction when churning the pot?  There is nothing wrong with a few grunts and groans between words or sentences.  Also, there is no greater closure to a phone conversation than a toilet flushing;
  8. When talking on your cell phone, talk loud enough to shake the windows. When dining out, shopping, visiting, or using the toilet, nothing is as discouraging to eavesdroppers as someone using their “inside voice” when talking on their cell phone, so speak up;
  9. Completely segregate yourself from the world around you by plugging into your cell phone every minute of every hour you are awake. When walking around with a cell phone to your ear or your nose stuck to the screen, you appear unapproachable – mission accomplished; and
  10. Make your cell phone the priority in your life! Ignore personal relationships by relegating them to social media, texting, and talking on your cell phone.

By the way, if you are one of the few who really doesn’t want to be RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL and INCONSIDERATE of others when using your cell phone, I have one final piece of advice – SHUT IT OFF, PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET OR PURSE, AND TALK TO YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!  Get to know them; it is the human way.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 1, 2017