Category Archives: Politics

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about presidential campaigns, qualifications, policies, candidate biographies, et al. What matters the most in choosing a president? Personally, I believe policy positions are everything. When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, I voted based on his policy proposals. It was exciting to me that a man of African descent was going to the White House, but that fact had nothing to do with my vote. The fact is the Republican Party has offered me nothing for more than three decades.

A lot is made of personal background and “character” in politics. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama came from less than advantaged backgrounds and made something of themselves. Yet the right can’t stand them. George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are examples of white privilege run amok. I have long thought that if W weren’t named George Bush he’d be laying drunk in a gutter somewhere. But his image was sort of down home and folksy, which appealed to a certain segment of American society.

Romney on the other hand plays the high society high roller to the nth degree. The average person will have a hard time relating to him if they vote on candidate biography. But the dyed-in-the-wool Republicans love his big money story, although I’m not sure what he really did to earn it. Would he have had the opportunity if his name weren’t Romney? Mitt and W are proof that the Old Boy Network is alive and well.

I really think the Obama campaign needs to showcase his biography. He is a real American success story and people have forgotten that. Put it out there.

But Seriously…

My previous post was a reaction to my frustration with Washington state’s new teacher evaluation law and its inclusion of student performance data. Obviously there is never going to be a parent evaluation system connected to our use of data in teacher evaluations.

But I would like to share some of the parents whose children have attended schools where I have taught. First, there was the father who informed me at a conference that it didn’t really matter if his son did well at school. After all, the father didn’t, yet was successful in the field of contracting. If that was the same message he gave his son, no wonder the boy was alternately apathetic and angry.

Then there was the dad who was unhappy that I didn’t cut his son some slack behavior-wise, and stormed off, shouting, “I’m pulling my kid out of this school!” Then, as if an afterthought, added, “And you’re a moron!” Well, you know what they say about falling fruit!

Next up is the eight year old girl who lived in a house that in any normal community would be condemned for human habitation. I witnessed the principal “escorting” her to the office as she screamed a never-ending string of expletives, including all known forms of the f-word. The scene reminded me of “The Exorcist.” What kind of parenting produces that?

I’ll never forget the day and a half I spent as a substitute in a classroom where a girl repeatedly called me “Mr. Clown.” Multiple trips to the office did not discourage her. The rest of the class was not likely to be offered future work with the state department either. This was obviously a troubled community.

And what would one expect from the boy whose father hasn’t held a job for any length of time since his son was born? Apathy oozing from his pores, that’s what.

I could go on, but my point is these students must perform well on assessments if their teachers are to be evaluated fairly. And what are the odds of that?




New Parent Evaluation System Advances to Governor’s Desk

The following is but a fantasy born of the author’s frustration with the shortsighted Washington State Legislature. It is not intended to incite hysteria among irresponsible parents residing in the state of Washington.

In an effort to make the new teacher evaluation system meaningful, Washington State legislators today approved a new parent evaluation system. To ensure that teachers are teaching students who are ready to learn, parents must agree to participate or their children’s test scores will be ineligible for use in teacher evaluations. In addition, the children of any parent whose evaluation ranks at the lowest level, unsatisfactory, for two years in a row will not have their test scores applied to teacher evaluations. Those children will then be removed from the home and placed in a boarding school until such time as the parents complete remedial parenting classes, hold a job for six consecutive months, quit smoking, receive counseling for anger management issues, and any other interventions as ordered by the courts.

Parents will be evaluated based on two twenty-four hour observations each year conducted by a qualified social worker. Evaluation criteria will include the following areas: Home Environment; Health and Safety; Enrichment Opportunities; Discipline; Nurturing; Modeling of Appropriate Behavior/Interest in Learning.

The social worker will give a minimum twenty-four hours notice of the planned observation. The social worker will be permitted to observe all family routines during a full twenty-four hour period. A second social worker will relieve the observer so that he or she may get a decent night’s sleep because nobody performs their best work when they are tired.  In addition the social worker will be permitted to interview any member of the family regarding activities not observed during the visit.

Unlike the new teacher evaluation system, parents will have the right to request a second evaluation by a neutral observer after initially being rated unsatisfactory.

The governor is expected to sign the law into effect tomorrow.

Bald Eagle Recovery a Reason for Optimism

I will never forget the first time I saw a Bald Eagle. I was twelve years old and on a family camping trip to Deception Pass State Park. My Dad and I, and perhaps my sister Barb, had hiked to the top of Goose Rock. Not a long or difficult hike, Goose Rock provides territorial views of Deception Pass, the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, mountains, and more.

At the top we saw a large, brown bird soaring over the pass. My Dad identified it as a juvenile Bald Eagle. I was in awe. I watched it for what seemed like hours, as it soared near and far, in overlapping circles, not once flapping its wings.

This was a big moment for me. First Bald Eagle of my life, not for lack of looking, but because their numbers had declined so precipitously in prior decades.

DDT, a major factor in the shrinking population, was still a few years from being banned.

The good news is Bald Eagles seem almost common now. I believe that on any given day I could find one within a half hour of my home if I set out to do so. Within the past couple of years I had six circling over my house as they moved slowly from west to east. A few years back I missed by a day or two  a congregation of close to a hundred at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

This success story points out why government needs to keep a firm hand on what businesses can and cannot do. Had DDT been left on the market, we would likely see no Bald Eagles in the continental U.S. They would likely be restricted to northern Canada and Alaska. But that’s not all. Peregrine Falcons, Brown Pelicans, and Ospreys may have disappeared from the contiguous states as well. And California Condors, to this day struggling to rebuild a viable population, may have vanished from the face of the Earth.

The Bald Eagle is now a symbol of hope.


The Answer Sheet – The problem(s) with the Common Core standards

The Answer Sheet – The problem(s) with the Common Core standards.

This almost two year-old piece in the Washington Post raises some of the concerns I have with ed reform. I’m particularly concerned about the narrowing of curriculum and failure to recognize developmental factors which affect student performance.

It’s true: You can’t go home again

From the time I was age nine my family made our home on Mercer Island, Washington. When we moved there in the sixties it was a lot like many small towns in America, except the average income put most residents in the upper-middle class.

As long as I can remember, Mercer Island had a certain reputation in nearby communities. We were the rich people. It followed me through school and even into adulthood. I’ll never forget being told by an opponent in a pick-up basketball game in college that my home town was “bush league” because “nothin’ but a bunch of rich people live there.”

As prejudiced treatment goes, it could have been worse.

Today I spent some time returning to my upper-middle class roots. I was meeting my friend Lee for breakfast in Seattle, and I had some extra time. So I hopped off I-90 and drove around for awhile. Driving through downtown Mercer Island I was reminded how much it doesn’t look like the place where I grew up.

Two story buildings were almost unheard of in the retail core through the 1980s. Now there are whole blocks of five story condo/apartment/retail development along the freeway frontage, extending a block or two to the south.

I drove through the old neighborhood, and the old homestead and the houses immediately adjacent to it are essentially unchanged. But the childhood homes of two of my oldest friends, including my breakfast companion,  have been demolished and replaced with large luxury homes. I knew this was the case, but it is still disorienting.

Front of my childhood home in the 1970s.

Sometime in the late 1980s I read an article about the Mercer Island real estate market. The realtor being interviewed was very critical of the homes there, calling them mostly old vacation homes and “daylight ramblers.” She discussed how the market demanded better properties for such a prime location.

I grew up in one of those daylight ramblers. Her words stung.

For the unfamiliar, a daylight rambler is a one-story with a basement built into a hillside. The downhill side of the basement appears like the bottom story of a two story house with windows, doors, etc.

Upstairs was a large living room with vaulted ceiling, large fireplace, and expansive picture windows with a sweeping view of Lake Washington, Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, and the I-90 bridge. From the street you wouldn’t expect so much from a very humble looking home. I was lucky to live there.

With my parents long gone, I have no connection to the house. Ultimately, I expect it will go the way of many of the older houses on the island, which is a shame. No, it isn’t a “great” house, but it is a home with a history for my family, the Toda family before us, and those who have lived there since.

What is it that drives people to build ever larger and more luxurious homes? I can understand it when the space is truly necessary. I don’t understand it so much when it is simply driven by money.

Sunset, August 6, 1978. Venus is visible on the left edge of the photo.

It’s a strange feeling when you realize you can’t afford to live in your home town. I live about 45 minutes to the south now. I’m sure the life-long residents here have seen many changes to their community that are equally disturbing to them.

The two decades I’ve been here have been long enough to see changes. Farmland is being paved over. Development in the name of growth is changing the character of the community. Schools are being impacted. Local politics have become increasingly divisive as money becomes more influential.

I don’t believe that population growth, economic growth, and income class shifts must go hand in hand. It is possible to have a stable economy with a continually improving community, minus the growth that so obliterates the past. What makes such a place rare if not non-existent is a desire for more wealth. There will always be people looking to make a lot of money and calling what they do progress, regardless of the negative impacts of what they do.


Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street | The Nation

Good perspective from the man who was at the top of the Seattle Police Department during “The Battle in Seattle.”

Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street | The Nation.

A superintendent calls school reformers’ bluff – The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post

Another one from the Washington Post.

A superintendent calls school reformers’ bluff – The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post.

A Proud, Angry Poor | The Nation

A Proud, Angry Poor | The Nation.

Great article in The Nation which addresses things I discussed in my previous post.

Christmas time can be tough for children in poverty

This originally appeared in the Puyallup Herald.

We are now well into the holiday season. It’s a joyous time for many, but a sad and stressful one for more than we can know.

This often plays out in the classroom through escalating misbehavior as the winter holidays approach. For some of these students, the thought of home for the holidays brings dread rather than excitement. School is the one safe, consistent, and caring place they know.

For others, home may be safe, but the joy of giving and receiving gifts may be just a dream due to a lack of financial resources. Children can have a hard time understanding why their friends get so much when they get very little.

People can be quick to judge, and blame poverty on the parents, believing that they just need to work harder, or be more ambitious. Such thinking is unacceptable. They are after all, children, and children deserve to have a real childhood regardless of their parents’ shortcomings.

We have heard a lot about the working poor in recent years. These people try to do everything right. They work hard, often at multiple jobs, and are barely able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Free time together becomes a precious but rare commodity for their families.

I will never forget when a former president met one such person, and quickly spun her story into his vision of the American dream. To this day I am unsure whether his words were due to cold political skill, cruelty, or lack of intellect.

Estimates vary, but from one in five to one in four children in America live in poverty.  Even one in ten would be unacceptable. The children are powerless to make a real difference in this situation.

Another sickening statistic: 1.5 million children in the U.S. will experience homelessness this year.

We are a wealthy nation, a developed nation, an educated nation. How is it possible that so many of our children have less than the bare necessities?

I won’t pretend to have the ultimate solution to these problems, but I have some suggestions.

First, to the corporations that like to employ many part-time workers or expect long overtime hours to save money on benefits: Shame on you. You force people to seek work with a second employer, causing a scheduling nightmare and still no benefits worth mentioning.

Start giving people full-time employment with limits on overtime expectations or stop pretending to be family friendly.

Next, to all citizens: Buy as many things made by American labor as you can afford. Manufacturing jobs pay better than those in the service sector and we need to be bringing them home so more people can earn a living wage and really support their families.

Finally, be kind to your fellow citizens who are down on their luck. Most of us aren’t any different, just a little luckier.