The Kansas Legislature and Kansas Public Schools

The easiest job in the world these days is that of a Republican in the Kansas Legislature.  Easier than a coin flip, their stance on any economic decisions by the state government is predictable and (seemingly) infallible:

If it costs the state government more money, the answer is NO.

If it costs the taxpayer more money, the answer is NO.

If it brings more money into the state government, the answer is NO.

If it brings more money to the taxpayer, the answer is YES.

Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. They still have to live with themselves in the morning, which is clearly the hardest part of their job. Or, at least it would be if they were actually concerned about more than just their political futures. Read on, dear readers. Here are three reasons that Kansas Republicans are hurting more than helping:

1. Budget Cuts to Kansas Schools Are Real and They Are Hurting Our Children.

Let’s assume that the first round of statewide budget cuts was actually a good thing. It’s not a bad way to reset budget priorities, cut unnecessary expenses, trim the fat, and make sure we’re spending money responsibly. I get that, and I actually don’t disagree. We’re in a statewide budget crisis and everybody needs to play their part.

You know, I would probably feel different if the goal of our elected Republican leaders was simply to balance the budget. That’s a smart, responsible, and worthy goal. But while they’ve been chiseling away at public school funds, Republicans have been handing out millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and businesses. So, by the end of the year, we’re in just as much financial trouble, plus we’ve given away the house as well. We’ve leveraged our greatest asset in the hopes that our new investments will pay off. That’s like paying only half your monthly mortgage so that you can buy more lottery tickets. Schools are solid performers, but new businesses are risky ventures. In times of crisis, risky investments aren’t nearly as wise as sound ones.

I’m not the teacher who thinks his school should be spared from any budget cuts, I’m the teacher who thinks that cutting my school’s budget so that you can give all the money away to businesses is a really, really dumb idea. Here are five reasons why:

1. Kansas schools rank among the top ten states in terms of student achievement, and in the bottom ten states in terms of teacher pay and state expenditures per child. Maybe the budget cuts would be more justified if our kids weren’t achieving as high as they are, or if our public schools were getting too much money to begin with. Neither of those is true, so it hardly makes sense to plunder our most solidly performing investment again and again and again and again.

2. Taxes are important, just not as important as children. A educated workforce is the greatest asset of every healthy economy, and when schools are forced to offer a bare-bones education, our kids won’t be as prepared to make good decisions as employees, parents, citizens, and individuals. Those business who are so desperate for tax abatements are equally desperate for employees with critical thinking skills, sound judgement, a good college education, and leadership potential. But these skills are the first to go when class sizes increase, resources dry up, and students fall through the cracks because the support system is gone.

3. Whatever we fail to pay now will only double our costs later (part one). If we don’t do a good enough job of teaching a kid to read in 2nd grade, we need to spend even more money in 3rd grade to purchase specialized reading programs, hire reading specialists and paras, create separate rooms for struggling learners, and pay teachers more for after-school learning programs. Since those extra programs and positions are the first to be cut, the kid falls even further behind in 3rd grade. And the cycle continues. When we cut school budgets again and again and again, we not only make it harder for that 2nd grader to learn to read, but we eliminate the opportunity for that 3rd grader to catch up. And the cycle continues until . . .

4. Whatever we fail to pay now will only double our costs later (part two). Kids who don’t succeed in school sometimes go on to become millionaires, but more often than not they go on to become burdens to society. Look, I know we’ve been saying this for years and hearing it again and again probably loses it’s luster after a while, but it’s true. Look at everyone in prison, everyone on food stamps, everyone on welfare, and everyone who requires or receives government support (other than the legislators themselves) – can there be any doubt that those who don’t get a quality education are those who end up absorbing the greatest tax dollars? Are there a hundred exceptions? Yes. Is the trend still clear? Yes. If we hate collecting taxes to support schools, wait until we have to start collecting taxes to support drug dealers in prison.

5.  I’m a HUGE fan of No Child Left Behind, but as long as Kansas accepts federal funds for its public schools (about 10% of the budget), Kansas Legislators need to do their part to make sure Kansas kids can pass those tests. If we threaten our kids’ test scores, we threaten the federal funding. That 3rd grader who needs a little extra help learning to read may very well be the reason that the state is suddenly burdened with an even bigger financial crisis when the feds pull their funding, which is exactly what happens when schools repeatedly fail to make AYP. It’s true – this argument shouldn’t even be necessary because Kansas schools are nationally known for offering more than just basic skills, but it’s time for our Republican Legislators to realize that they’ve got to support Kansas kids if they want to support accountability and federal funding.

2. Republicans in the Kansas Legislature are only doing HALF their job.

Republicans in the Kansas Legislature worship at the feet of the business community. That’s not such a bad thing – businesses drive our economy. But there are a whole lot of people out there, including 450,000 children in Kansas public schools who also rely on elected leaders to do right by them as well. It’s here where our conservative friends have completely and utterly failed all of us. Instead of finding a positive balance between business growth and government support, they’ve just decided to side with business and walk away from the children, the elderly, and the needy.

Like most Americans, I support the idea that government shouldn’t be in the business of being in business. If there’s a company willing and do as good or better with our schools, our elderly, our prisoners, and our needy, we ought to let them have first crack, especially if they can do it cheaper and for profit. But when businesses take a pass on supporting our communities, it is the obligation of the government to step in and support the unsupported.

And clearly, businesses aren’t asking for a shot at helping our state’s children, elderly, prisoners, or needy. So where are our elected leaders who promised to pick up where business leaves off? Well, they’re not here right now. They’re at home in bed with the Chamber of Commerce. Rather than serve as custodians of public good, Republicans have simply decided that those who aren’t in business simply aren’t worth their time.

It might be different if the Republicans were offering alternative solutions or new strategies to deal with all the social ills that continue to grow as a result of their negligence, but they aren’t even pretending to care. We hear them talk a lot about how lowering taxes will solve our problems, but when it comes to solving the problems that require taxes, they’ve simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away from their duties.

You might think that the Republicans in the Kansas Legislature would wake up and realize that they ARE the government, and that they have a sworn duty to serve every citizen in their district, not just those listed in the Chamber of Commerce directory.

It’s time for our conservative leaders to take a ride on the clue train and do more than just protect business interests. They pledged to do more, and their job is only half done.

3. It ain’t about taxes, it’s about re-elections.

During any campaign season in Kansas, the most horrible thing you can possibly say about your incumbent opponent is that he or she “voted to raise your taxes!” There is no greater badge of shame, and Kansas politicians know it. But in today’s anti-tax, anti-government, anti-anybodybutme atmosphere, our state house is filled with chicken-crap pansies who would rather hurt kids than raise taxes. Think I’m kidding?

Here’s one that ought to make your head spin and your skin crawl. When Gov. Parkinson proposed a tax on tobacco that a) brought us closer to the national average for state taxes on cigarettes, and b) specifically allowed us to pay our late state aid payments to public schools, the Kansas Republicans immediately said NO. What’s more interesting than their predictable answer was their refusal to even draft a bill that the committee could vote against (which is normally done as a courtesy to the governor).

Have the Republicans in the Kansas Legislature sunk so low that they would sooner protect smokers than children?

So what does it all mean?

Promoting business prosperity in times of financial difficulty makes sense, but the Republicans in the Kansas Legislature aren’t just pro-business, they are anti-anythingbutbusiness, which puts the rest of the state in a very risky situation. Rather than letting government pick up where business leaves off, they’ve simply walked away from the other half of their job – collecting revenue and spending wisely to invest in the future of the State of Kansas.

Shame on them. Not only is that not what Kansas is about, it’s not even what the Republican party is about.

We can do better for ourselves and for our kids.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Republicans

New Year’s Resolutions for Republicans:

1. Every time I waggle my finger in shame at the poor who live off of government handouts, I will claim one fewer tax deduction for the 2010 tax year. 

2. Every time I use the word “socialism,” I must donate $25.00 to a public school I attended.

3. Every time I shake my fist at health-care reform, I must volunteer six months of my financial planning skills to one uninsured family waiting in the emergency room.

4. Every time I rage against two gay people who love each other enough to get married, I must reunite two straight people who hate each other enough to get divorced.

5. Every time I ridicule environmental regulations, I must leave my suburb – just once, for like a whole hour, to see what a downtown looks like in the daytime.

What resolutions would you add for Republicans? What would you add for Democrats? Comment below!

A Christian Nation?

Recently, I enjoyed a healthy debate with a friend of mine who claimed that ours is a Christian nation, thus we ought to be comfortable with blurring the lines between church and state such as displaying the ten commandments in courtrooms, promoting school prayer, and praying at government-sponsored events like school board meetings and high school football games. The basis of her argument is simply that our founding fathers were Christian and the evidence of their faith is easily revealed by their many references to God in all our founding documents. She went on to argue that taking Christianity out of these public institutions is to chisel away at the core beliefs of our nation.

Our debate was not about the existence of God, the delights of Christianity, or the blessings of spirituality.  We stayed focused on the line between church and state, mostly.

I asked what ought to be done with the non-Christians: the Muslim, the atheist, the Jew, etc.  She said that non-believers still have access to everything that America provides for all of its citizens: civil rights and liberties, presumption of innocence in a court of law, a free public education, bill of rights stuff like having guns and screaming at trees, ambulances that show up when you call 911, the right to vote, and so forth and so on. No citizen is denied the bounty of our nation because of their beliefs.

She asked me if I could think of one legal right or privilege denied to the non-Christian in our nation. Certainly, I replied, there are none. Every citizen is afforded the same rights and privileges under the law.

She continued by stating quite eloquently that this nation is clearly a Christian nation – that most of our citizens are Christian, that our founding fathers practiced Christianity, and they even took steps to ensure that we, the people, suffered no threat to the freedom of religion, and that our worship may not be trampled upon by an oppressive government. Therefore, any effort to censure public prayer, the public display of scripture, or similar expressions of belief ought to be considered a violation of our rights.

She asked me if it was fair that a majority of people be denied their ability to worship as they please because a few among us do not believe as the majority do.

She noted that the vast majority of people in that football stadium, in those school board meetings, in those courtrooms are Christians – and since this nation was founded as a Christian nation, and since the majority of us are Christian, we should affirm and celebrate our national religion and express it publicly and frequently.

I, having listened and pondered her words, asked her if ours was also a White nation.

A White nation? She replied, stunned.

A White nation, I said. We are a nation with a White majority, founded by White men who owned slaves, with guiding documents that repeatedly reference slavery, and we deny no rights or privileges to non-Whites in our laws and practices. Why shouldn’t we get on public address systems and celebrate our Whiteness? Why shouldn’t we be able to affirm how great it is to be White at football games and school board meetings. How about posting in every courtroom the top ten reasons why being White is really, really awesome?

She understood that my example was tongue-in-cheek, but played my game anyway.

Being White is not a choice, she argued. You are born that way. You can’t change it. Religion is something you choose, or at least it’s something you could change if you wanted.

So religion is a choice?

Indeed, it is.

Something you choose? I asked.

Yes, of course.

And if you make the correct choice, you get all sorts of bonuses (like judges and teachers and elected officials and referees who clearly take your side from the get-go), but if you make the incorrect choice, you only get the basic package (like the right to vote and scream at trees), but the impartiality of your court case, your complaint to the city council or school board, or even your football game might be a little iffy if you reveal that you aren’t a Christian.

She stopped me in my tracks. Just because an elected official posts the ten commandments, for example, doesn’t mean that he would be biased against non-Christians, she said.

What if a judge posting a sign in his courtroom that said “I love attractive blondes with large breasts” but when confronted about it assured everyone that he could remain impartial in the trial of Pamela Anderson v. Susan Boyle. Do you think he could be completely impartial?

Of course not! Why the hell would he be dumb enough to post a sign like that, she stammered.

Because the majority of Americans choose to worship attractive blondes with large breasts, I replied.

But I don’t have the choice to be blonde or have big breasts, she argued!

You do in America, I said with a smile.

————————————————-

Being in the “majority” might make it easier to deny others their freedoms, but it doesn’t make it right. Let’s reconsider whether it’s necessary for our courts, our classrooms, and our public spaces to declare a preference for one thing while promising impartiality for its opposite. Doing so doesn’t deny you your rights, it restores them for those whom you serve under an oath of impartiality. If we really believe in freedom and justice for all, let’s eliminate the signs and chants that are little more than asterisks on the Bill of Rights. It might be true that we COULD change if we wanted to please the majority, but it ought not to be a requirement for justice in America – be it breasts or beliefs.

Anderson’s Paradox

Anderson’s Paradox: In politics, facts are opinions, and opinions are facts.

 Huh? Welcome to modern American politics. Read on.

Facts are Opinons.

Al Franken has a standard phrase in senate speeches and political interviews: “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” I’m a big fan of Al Franken, but I think he’s wrong. In a digital age where the “facts” are often presented by corporations, political groups, hero pundits, and other motivated interests, we have a hard time of knowing just how honest a fact is. Does global warming exist?  Depends on who you ask. Each side has their own set of “facts” to prove their opinions.

Show me a set of “facts” to prove that the Democrat’s health care plan will ruin America, and I will show you a set of “facts” to prove that it will save America. Show me a set of “facts” to prove that the economy is getting better as a result of Obama’s strategic efforts, and I will show you a set of “facts” to prove it is getting worse. What the internet provides in terms of “facts” is great, but what it lacks in terms of “truth” is even worse.

There are three causes of the “facts are opinions” paradox. First, we seem to have great confidence in our scientific thinking, despite a complete lack of training or awareness of the scientific process. In just a few seconds, we can read and interpret graphs, charts, tables, and data sets and walk away with what we think is a conclusive understanding. Second, we tend to enjoy great leaps of logic that begin with soft data and end with hard truths. We do so largely based on ethos rather than logos. Our affirmation or rejection of internet-based data is more often based on “who” is telling us that this data is true rather than the “what, when, where, how” and most importantly “why”  they are telling us this is true. Whatever filter we use to dismiss data from villian-source seems to disappear when we readily accept data from hero-source. Third, we tend to start with the conclusion and end with the data, and the internet gives us plenty of fuel for our fire. Every home with an angry person armed with a thousand facts to prove the Democrats wrong is countered by an angry person armed with a thousand facts to prove the Republicans wrong. Neither person will accept the “facts” of the other, and both persons believe their “facts” to be the Truth.

Oh sure, you believe that your facts are better than my facts, but if I can make the same argument, then we are at an impasse. In the last thirty years, the quantity of senate and house votes has made a much bigger difference than the quality of their arguments, regardless of the controlling party.

In short, 1) the internet has made it impossible for us to discover the truth when there is any competition for opinion, and 2) the facts and data we often accept as True are acceptable for reasons other than science or fact, and 3) even if we did possess the Truth, nobody would believe us except for those who already do.

So I’m no longer interested in facts. I can’t trust facts anymore, they are too opinionated. What I DO trust are opinions, and I’m increasingly convinced that the path back to political civility isn’t through facts, but opinions.

Opinions are Facts.

Our opinions stem from our values, and partisan politics is simply a juxtoposition of values. If you strip a political argument of  hyperbole, fear, smokescreens, and other “facts,” what remains are values. Republicans value security and economic freedom. Democrats value liberty and social freedom. Consequently, much of what we call partisan politics is simply an effort to protect and preserve the values that we believe to be most important. The health care debate, for example, is really a debate about economic freedom – either from the government or from corporations, and the health care system itself is simply the point at which these competing values clash. The same is true for the environment, education, international conflict, and whatever else may dominate the evening news.

While I’ve lost faith in our ability to debate the facts, I have a great deal of confidence in our ability to debate our values. Unfortunately, we tend not to debate our values because we perceive them to be unchangeable. We’ve also redefined “values” to mean religious convictions, which is unfortunate. For whatever I may or may not believe about religion in America, I think we ought to be clear that religion should support our values and not the other way around. To presume otherwise is to falsely believe that if there is no religion, there can be no values.

So what could our nation look like if we put down our facts and picked up our values? What if we debated the health care legislation in terms of whether a government for the people is more important than a government of the people? What if the gay marriage debate started sounding more like a debate about which rights are unalienable? Messy at first, for sure, but I suspect that minds are more likely changed – including my own – by focusing on internal values rather than external facts.

Why This Matters

Modern political debate seems to reject personal opinion and rely heavily on “facts” that are neither reliable nor useful regardless of their validity. Doing so has created an impasse with no hope of resolution. Both sides believe that they have a monopoly on Truth, and neither side seems particularly interested in hearing what the other side has to say.

We tend to shoot each other with our “fact guns” and then wonder why nobody is falling down, so we call our targets too stupid to understand how convincing our bullets are. Maybe our facts aren’t nearly as powerful as we think them to be. Perhaps it is because we presume that we all share the same values, which we do not. We don’t all share the same values, and until we acknowledge this, we aren’t going to make very much progress.

You think I’m too stupid to understand that this health care legislation will bankrupt our nation. I think you are too stupid to understand that our health care system is bankrupting our nation. Both of us are armed to the teeth with facts, and neither of us show much sign of budging. Both of us value economic freedom, but one of us wants freedom from an oppressive government while the other wants freedom from coporate greed.

Like two ships passing in the night, we are both advocating for economic freedom but from completely different vantage points. You want economic freedom from an oppressive government, and I want economic freedom from the unregulated health care industry. Maybe it’s time to talk about civil rights (protection OF the government) versus civil liberties (protection FROM the government). If we found some common ground on this debate, we could apply those values to the case in point.

In order to determine what is right or wrong, we must depend more on our internal values than our external facts. Let’s eliminate the hyperbole, fear, smokescreens and other “facts” and start addressing our core values that support our opinions. If it’s right, we ought to do it. If it’s wrong, we ought not to do it. We are capable of determining right and wrong not by analyzing facts, but by comparing values.

This is my resolution for this year. I’m going to stop trying to debate facts and start trying to compare values. To be honest, I don’t know what that always mean or look like, but I think it is a start toward resolving our greatest conflicts.

Your thoughts? Please comment!

Contranyms: a word with two opposing meanings

Previously, I published a (still growing) list of bound root morphemes. In the same spirit, I’d like to make the world aware of contranyms. A contranym is a word with two opposite meanings. For example:

weather (to decay): the wood had been weathered to the point that it would no longer hold any weight.

weather (to endure): we, too, shall weather this storm and look forward to better days ahead.

buckle (to fasten): with his belt securely buckled, John’s pants weren’t about to go anywhere fast.

buckle (to collapse): the iron beam began to buckle after the engineers shifted the weight of the truss to the north side of the platform.

oversight (to monitor): the committee’s responsibilities included oversight of the annual budget.

oversight (to fail to notice): due to an oversight, the project took months longer than expected.

dust (to remove dust): the maid dusted the windowsill, which had become quite dirty.

dust (to add dust): the chef dusted the cake with cocoa powder.

left (to remain): the only people left at this party are my very good friends

left (to leave): the only people who left this party were my very good friends

sanction (to punish): the government imposed trade sanctions on the international market

sanction (to promote): this activity is sanctioned by our national organization

 

Can you determine the oppositions of the following contranyms: 

  • bound
  • custom
  • clip
  • cut
  • citation
  • fast

There are hundreds of contranyms in our language. Some are interesting, some are not. Some require a shift in their speech part (“skin” is a noun that means a covering, while “skin” is a verb that means uncovering), while others require a little bit of modification (to resign is to quit, but to re-sign is to sign up again).

If you can think of others (without relying on internet searches), send them my way!

 

The English III Anthology Project

Here is the completed packet for those of you who have asked: English III Anthology Project. The best way to get this to you without email is to just post it here! This is the inquiry project my students will be working on this spring.

Classroom Rules

As I get ready for the new school year, these are the rules I wish I could have for my classroom! I wrote them a few years ago and have always been tempted to hand them out on the first day of school.

The 21 Rules of Mr. Anderson’s Classroom

1. All incoming paper that you want me to read, grade, or review goes into the wire basket on my desk.  There is no better place than the wire basket for you to submit your work, including my hands. My hands are much different than the wire basket on my desk. 

2. My desk is not a rummage sale. One day, you will have office supplies of your very own, and then you will understand.  Until then, please refrain from manhandling the items on my desk.

3. Leave the plants on my desk alone. There are days unknown to you when the well-being of my plants outranks the well-being of my students. Don’t make me pick; you might not win.

4. There may be times when I ask your entire class to spend a moment or two straightening desks or picking up some trash off the floor.  Often, it’s not even your trash.  The Supreme Court has determined that this is neither cruel nor unusual. 

5. There are no fewer than one million tasks that I must absolutely accomplish during any given passing period.  I love you, but this is a poor time to ask me to explain quantum physics. 

6. I absolutely do not allow students to have food or drink in my classroom, yet I drink several cups of coffee a day while teaching.  Scientists are still working to unravel this mysterious paradox. 

7. If I see you with food or drink, I’m going to take it away from you, and you will not get it back.  This policy will seem reasonable until it is applied to you.  Then it will seem like a felony. 

8. Can you still turn this in? Sweetie, there is no such thing as a grade lower than zero, so you don’t have much to lose. Hand it in and let’s see what happens.

9. In a ceremony that has lasted thousands of years, I have been bestowed with magical powers that tell me when you want to go to the bathroom just because you are bored.

10. Will handing this in raise your grade? Honey, adding one number to another number will give you a bigger number.  This is the basis for all mathematics.  Doing your homework might be surprising, but it doesn’t change modern math.

11. I cannot believe you wore that to school today.

12.  Dude, I didn’t lose your homework assignment. You didn’t turn it in. I’ve been teaching for almost as long as you’ve been alive, and I know how to use paperclips.

13. You took your sweet time to turn it in; I’m going to take my sweet time to grade it.

14. If you can have favorite teachers, I can have favorite students.  We tend to be nice to people who are nice to us.  That doesn’t change much, no matter how old you get. 

15. Stop asking me if I got your email. I’m just going to turn around and ask you if you got my reply to your email, and we both know the answer to that question.

16.  If Joan of Arc can liberate France before she turned eighteen, you could start putting your name on your assignments. I have that much faith in you.

17. Yes, dear, we did do something in class yesterday. We saw that you were absent and somehow gathered the courage to move on without you. Here’s your homework assignment. It’s due tomorrow.

18. What do you mean “what’s on the test?” I’ve just spent the last three weeks telling you what’s on the test.

19. I cannot believe you forwarded that email to me.

20. Sometimes I’m tempted to take you down to the junior high so that you can meet the other kids in your graduating class.

21. There are days when I love you more than you love yourself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to accept anything less than your very best.