Tag 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.


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.


Washington State PTA’s misguided policy statement

I was extremely disappointed to learn that the Washington State PTA had chosen to take an official position in support of charter schools.

I have some issues with charter schools that I believe give them an unfair advantage. First, charters are opt-in schools. I know the term they prefer is “choice schools,” but I think that’s too warm and fuzzy.

What happens to feeder schools when an opt-in school or program opens ? They lose the students whose parents opted for the new school or program. Those are the parents who care enough or pay attention to what’s going on with their children’s lives to try to make a difference. They are drawn out of the affected schools, which are left with a higher percentage of uninvolved families. Those schools see test performance drop, and the charter looks good in comparison.

Second, because many charters employ non-union teachers, there are no limits on their hours. This works for charters as they tend to employ younger teachers with high energy levels and few family commitments. Administrators can pile on the expectations with no consequences, that is until an employee reaches his or her physical and/or mental limit. What happens next depends on the heart of the administrator.

There isn’t much room in these charters for an older, experienced educator who wants to get eight hours of sleep at night and spend quality time with family. Well, not his own family anyway.

This article in the L.A. Times quotes a number of teachers on the time commitment.

Thankfully I know that voters have repeatedly rejected charters in the past. I’m not too worried that they will be accepted by the voters in our state in the future. As a teacher though, I may elect to forgo membership in my building’s PTA in the future.

 


What? Really?

In The News Tribune this morning a letter states, “Thanksgiving was created to honor the free market and private property.”

All I can say is, if this is true I now have a deeper understanding of the meaning of Black  Friday.


Patriots?

Twenty-two years ago the United States was in the middle of a debate over flag burning. Congress had approved the Flag Protection Act of 1989. Literally the minute it took effect on October 28, 1989, opponents challenged it by publically burning flags.

People were arrested and charged, but ultimately charges were dropped because the law had been declared unconstitutional. In the ensuing years, more public acts of flag desecration were carried out. Organizations such as the American Legion protested some of these acts, including an art exhibit called What is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag? at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Some people reacted violently to these acts. A number of states even tried to pass laws making the penalty for assault negligible if the victim was in the act of flag desecration. These were referred to as “beat up a flag burner laws.”

At the same time this was happening, crews were cleaning up spilled petroleum in Prince William Sound. Countless animals had died as a result of the Exxon Valdez being introduced to Bligh Reef by its captain. Among them were at least 250 Bald Eagles, America’s other symbol of national pride.

Yet there was no patriotic outrage about this desecration. The people who showed the greatest concern for the deaths of these living symbols were not those screaming bloody murder about flag burners. Nobody introduced laws making assault of careless ship captains worry-free.

Maybe it’s because we all know we are guilty of causing the devastation in Prince William Sound. Our consumption of petroleum continues to be insatiable. Although there is new-found interest in alternative forms of energy, those entrenched in the oil business have motivation to keep it on top, and will doubtless do all they can to keep it that way.

I consider myself a patriot. As an Army brat and former Boy Scout, I learned about flag ettiquette and practice it to this day. We display our flag on national holidays, but not in the rain or at night. We don’t allow the flag to touch the ground. When our flag becomes too soiled and tattered to display, we will send it to an organization which will destroy the flag in a dignified manner.

I am also a lover of wildlife, particularly birds. The images of dead and dying wildlife, particularly Bald Eagles, in Prince William Sound brought tears to my eyes. I still cannot understand how this tragedy did not motivate patriots to do something big about our thirst for petroleum.

There’s no time like the present, Americans.


What are the limits on a teacher’s time?

A teacher at “Education Nation” suggested that union rules regarding the teaching day limited her ability to meet the needs of her students and she just wanted to “do my job.” She wondered why she wasn’t allowed to bring students in on Saturday to do extra tutoring with those who needed it.

My simple question to her is: Where do you put limits on your time? Most teachers I know, myself included, put in time beyond the contract. Today I worked one hour forty-five minutes beyond my contractual obligation. On this past Sunday I spent three plus hours in my classroom grading papers and planning. I also scored papers at home on Saturday and Sunday. I brought home more papers to score tonight.

When I was a young teacher, I put in many more hours than I do now. Of course, I was living away from family and friends, and had no social life to speak of then. Now I’m older and have a wife and son. My energy level is not what it was. Tell me, what is a reasonable expectation of my time as a professional? Do I reach my limit when I drop dead?