Thursday, December 16, 2010

We hold these truths...

During the early pre-TV years of our marriage, Sheila and I enjoyed daily our little stereo and merged-collection-of-LPs in that little log cabin on Lake Creek in Chubbtown Community. One album we listened to regularly was Portrait by the Fifth Dimention. So whenever I taught about the Declaration I'd pack that record to school and play this song for my students as they followed the words in our text. Now I have it on iTunes and my students follow these magnificent, poetic words of Thomas Jefferson projected on the "Smartboard".

Saturday, December 11, 2010

True Treasure

Thinking of Christmas shopping brought this bit of light verse to mind. I wrote it 15 years or so ago, at Christmas, for my daughters and wife:
Exchanging Gifts

What gifts will you bring your Papa?
Pure gold, however they're made
Wrapped in sunshine smiles;
Tied with love that won't fade.

What gift will you bring your lover?
Its rich, whatever you've spent,
You've paid thrice in sweat and tears
and my promises, broken or bent.

What gifts can I bring my daughters?
What present is worthy my wife?
Tawdry trinkets diamonds would seem
On these precious true-treasures of life.

Corny but sincere sentiments, still, from this ol' fool, as he prepares for a Lillian-less Yuletide.

(Some other poetry of mine can be accessed via the Wayback Machine.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Just Singing A Song Won’t Change The World

Greetings from Ohio. I posted this on DaytonOS today. I'm contemplating making a big organizing effort here in Kettering for the next 5 or 6 months and see what happens. I keep thinking I will make it to Rome. Carmon is 100 this February and so I know I will be down your way then.

I love this clip of Neil Young talking with David Letterman. Neil jokes that he is working on a new song, “Just Singing A Song Won’t Change The World.” He banters with Paul Schafer and finally says, “You can keep trying, though.”

    It’s a good question: what can change the world? Americans, generally speaking, believe the answer is democracy.

    I keep writing posts saying in different ways that “Democracy is the Answer.” Name a problem -- more democracy is the answer.

  • Raising America’s standard of living -- more democracy is the answer.

  • Transforming our system of public education -- more democracy is the answer.

  • World peace -- more democracy is the answer.

No, just singing a song about democracy is not the answer, but it might be a good start.
In response to a recent post, Stan Hirtle replied and said the “Waiting for Superman” movie delivers this message: “America’s standard of living arguably depends on having a higher skilled, higher educated work force than in the past, and therefore we can be less tolerant of the education results of the past.”

The movie doesn’t suggest that for our failing economy more democracy is the answer, it says a more highly trained work force is the answer. Diane Ravitz calls the movie “propaganda.”

The idea that the focus of our system of public education should be to maintain and improve the American standard of living is an idea so often expressed, we don’t recognize it as propaganda.
Here are two recent statements by President Obama:

  • “Make no mistake: Our future is on the line. The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow. To continue to cede our leadership in education is to cede our position in the world.“

  • “When countries that out-educate us today, they will out-compete us tomorrow. Giving our kids the best education possible is an economic imperative. That’s why, from the start of my administration, we’ve been fighting to offer every child in this country a world-class education”

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says: “Nothing — nothing is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation's students.”

But, if American test scores were at the top of the chart, and our students were outscoring students of other nations in science and math, our current unemployment figures would be substantially unchanged.

Alfie Kohn notes:
“ For nations, there’s little correlation between average test scores and economic vigor. The late Gerald Bracey, for example, found 38 countries whose economies had been rated on the Current Competitiveness Index calculated by the World Economic Forum and whose students’ test scores had also been assessed. There was virtually no correlation between countries’ scores on the two lists. ... Consider Japan’s outstanding test scores in the 1980s and its dismal economic performance in the 1990s.”

Low test scores didn’t cause our current economic crisis, and high test scores will not solve our economic problems. Blaming public education for our poor economy is effective propaganda -- a way for the ruling oligarchy to manage public opinion -- but, raising test scores will not improve the economy. It is illogical that, if our system of public education could succeed in dramatically accomplishing Duncan’s goal of “boosting the skills and attainment of the nation's students,” sufficient good jobs would somehow materialize.

Citizens in the old Soviet Union demonstrated greater academic accomplishment than citizens in the United States. But academic accomplishment in the old Soviet Union did not translate into prosperity.

The Soviet Union had a system problem, and, it is the system that matters most -- not the individuals in the system. It was impossible that the Soviet system could produce wide-spread prosperity, because it was never the purpose of the system. The point of Soviet Union system was not to produce prosperity, but to give more power and privilege to those already privileged.

America also has a system problem. Our central problem is not that school children can’t understand the quadratic formula or can’t comprehend photosynthesis. The problem is our system of democracy is failing. In practical terms, we have an oligarchic system, not a democratic system. To solve our economic malaise we need to vitalize our system of democracy. More democracy is the answer.

The idea that More Democracy Is the Answer is a fundamental idea with great power. But where are the documentary movies that make that case? Where are the talk radio programs that are working day and night to stir people up so they begin to express passion for this fundamental idea?

The need to vitalize our democracy seems so obvious to me that I keep predicting that eventually it will be obvious to many others as well. My prediction, that I keep returning to, is, The Ascending Issue In Our Democracy Is Democracy Itself

Maybe it is just wishful thinking, but, I believe the grassroots is awakening. Stable, prosperous communities such as Kettering, where I live, whose public education is deemed “Excellent,” have the greatest capacity for creating an authentic democratic grassroots movement. Such a movement will be a nonpartisan effort to build community. The core of this movement, initially, I believe, will be the conviction that local control of public education must be returned to local communities.

A grassroots' movement requires that people begin to act on their convictions. Note to self: Changing the world means getting off one’s duff and actually doing something. Neil's right -- just singing a song won’t change the world, even if the song is about democracy