2016 Presidential Politicking—& The Donald’s All in (sort of, but not really, it’s complicated):

President Obama's 1st Inauguration, 20 Jan. 2009—it was COLD!
President Obama’s 1st Inauguration, 20 Jan. 2009—it was COLD!

The 2016 Presidential race has officially started! With Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and Donald (Hashtag) Trump (amongst a host of others), tossing their hats in the ring, we are now starting the run-up to the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, seven months away. Because there are so many candidates, especially in the Republican ring, and due to the fact that it is confusing to stay up-to-speed on which (major) candidates are pushing which policies, and pushing back on others, I have prepared a 2016 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMER, which will be updated after DJT (who knew he would still be around come June 2016) and others drop out of the race…

(this is presumptuous of me, I know, but Trump’s track record speaks for itself, and he hasn’t given us any reason to think he’ll start acting “Presidential” in the next 16 months. Moreover, he’s Donald Trump, we’ve seen this circus before. Donald is not really a complicated man (but he tries to give that appearance), he’s a business man, he understands how to make money; he does not, I would argue, understand American politics very well and that is why he is unlikely to remain in the race for more than 3-6 months, if that. He’s made his splash, he’ll create some controversy, remind people that he’s still here, probably roll out some new t.v. show, business idea, or announce he’s going to be a music producer (one never knows), and then sit back and have his accountants count those Benjamins that his little scheme netted the Trump Organization (I’m now (June 2016) wondering if this has been an attempt to get his casinos a new infusion of cash)).

This initial post will focus primarily on domestic policy issues, as many candidates are still educating themselves on foreign policies. (Candidates’ stances are taken from their campaign websites and/or PBS online. Also, the issues below are not meant as an exhaustive list; rather, they are a sampling of how the candidates view specific policies and how liberal, conservative, or moderate each candidate is on each issue.)

First the Democrats, because the list is shorter and “D” comes before “R” in the alphabet.

Lincoln Chafee (former Governor-Rhode Island, former Mayor of Warwick, RI, and captain of the wrestling team at Brown University-senior season): Chafee’s campaign is focused on four main priorities. He wants to: 1) keep America out of “foreign entanglements”, using “brains…not biceps” to bring about peaceful solutions to international affairs; 2) support the middle class through “incentives and protections” and ensure those Americans in need of assistance, have access to fully funded social programs; 3) act as a steward of the environment while considering the needs of our energy infrastructure, and finding a balance between the two; 4) safeguard personal privacy protections relating to the individual liberties as outlined by our Constitution, guarantee citizens’ rights to privacy, and make certain our country is secure; 5) supports the federal govt’s role in “setting or organizing education standards”; 6) initially voted for the Patriot Act but is now against it; 7) create a path to citizenship for immigrants and provide them with in-state tuition rates, if they meet requirements; 8) make possession of small amounts of marijuana a non-criminal offense; 9) continue with the ACA and work towards a universal style healthcare system; 10) pro-choice and supportive of same-sex marriage; and 11) reform taxes by ending deductions, lowering rates, and placing limits on the estate tax.

Hillary Clinton (website-Spanish & English) (former Sec. of State, former U.S. Senator-New York, Presidential campaign (2008), 1st Lady-U.S. & Arkansas, and Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees fan): Clinton kicked off her campaign in 2000, when she ran for, and won, the Junior Senator slot in New York. Since then, she has been padding her resume: (1.5) terms as U.S. Senator, one unsuccessful Presidential bid, four years as Secretary of State, and a lot of time preparing for 2016. Clinton supports a long list of policy actions (too numerous to enumerate every one, so I’ll list 11 that capture a wide swath of her campaign literature), to include: 1) paid leave and child care that is high quality and affordable; 2) immigration reform that creates pathways to citizenship; 3) reforming the criminal justice system; 4) a minimum wage increase & 5) tax relief for America’s working families; 6) protecting the right to organize; 7) making college affordable; 8) clean energy; 9) fixing the Voting Rights Act; 10) keeping the ACA and Social Security intact; and 11) campaign finance reform, to name a few. Marijuana legalization is one issue where she hasn’t made up her mind, yet.

Martin O’Malley (website-Spanish & English) (former Governor-Maryland, former Mayor of Baltimore, and still singing & playing the banjo, in O’Malley’s March): O’Malley’s “Vision for the Future” includes 12 themes. Briefly, they are: 1) increasing the federal minimum wage to an hourly rate of $15 and “restoring workers’ collective bargaining power”; 2) provide greater oversight/regulation to big banks & Wall Street, and reinstate Glass-Steagall; 3) affordable child-care and pre-k and debt-free college and modernization of our high schools; 4) investments, nation-wide, in infrastructure & mass transit, and “affordable housing near good jobs and good schools”; 5) support of women and families—leave policies (post child-birth), equality of pay and “safe and affordable child care”; 6) invest in public education, local community initiatives and “critical programs” e.g. earned income tax credit, to cut poverty in half, within 10 years; 7) creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and passing the DREAM Act; 8) expanding benefits for senior citizens; 9) clean renewable energy tied to job creation; 10) enforcement of anti-trust laws and making trade deals that benefit America’s workers; 11) modernization of voting registration, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, removal of voter I.D. laws, and “embracing citizen-funded elections”; and 12) a Federal Government that is transparent, accountable, and high-performing. Additionally, O’Malley is pro-choice, would abolish capital punishment, expand the ACA and move to an “all payer” system, and increase gun control to include fingerprinting individuals wishing to purchase a handgun.

Bernie Sanders (website-Spanish & English) (running on the Democratic ticket but is an Independent and self-described socialist) (current U.S. Senator-Vermont, former U.S. Congressman-Vermont , former Mayor of Burlington, VT, and former organizer for SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)): Sanders keeps his list of issues, on his campaign site, fairly short, but he is extremely passionate about these topics: 1) The continued difficulties of America’s shrinking middle-class due to wage and wealth inequalities—and he will address the effects of these inequalities on citizens who are not in the middle and upper economic strata in the “rigged economic system”; 2) the removal of “Big Money” from politics generally and campaigns more specifically; 3) the effects of climate change on our planet, now and in the future, and the need for increased investment in wind and solar power, wants to charge corporations for carbon emissions. Also, Sanders supports: 4) 2 years free tuition at State colleges and the ability to refinance student loans at a lower rate; 5) allowing states to set waiting periods for handgun sales and a ban on assault style rifles; 6) changing the ACA to a single-payer health system; and 7) creating a path to citizenship and allowing some groups of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. ( e.g. children brought as minors—akin to the DREAM Act)

Potential Democratic Candidate:

Jim Webb (former U.S. Senator-Virginia, former Assistant Sec. of Defense, former Sec. of the Navy, and U.S. Marine (not former, because “Once a Marine, always a Marine“)

And the Republicans:

Jeb Bush (website-Spanish & English) ( Former Governor-Florida and fluent in Spanish): Bush is still developing his talking points, but PBS did get him to talk about several topics that will likely play roles in the forthcoming debates. 1) On education, he believes the Common Core is a good program but is opposed to forcing states to institute the standards. 2) On guns, he would expand gun owners’ rights (the article did not mention what exactly this means and I don’t want to guess). 3) On immigration, he would create a “legal status, not a path to citizenship”. 4) He is for each state making its own decision concerning the legalization of marijuana. 5) The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare), under his watch, would be replaced by a “‘market-oriented’ alternative”. 6) On social issues, “ban most abortions after 20 weeks” and  believes in 1 man-1 woman, for marriage.

Dr. Ben Carson (website-Spanish & English) (former Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery-Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, recipient of Spingarn Medal (2006) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (2008) and holds 67 Honorary Doctorate Degrees): Dr. Carson lays out plans for 10 areas, 7½* are domestic related (*Gitmo – Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba) qualifies as ½ because if it closes, the remaining 116 detainees could be transferred to the U.S. (domestic policy) for detention and/or trial, but that’s a BIG if). 1) He believes in local control for public schools and would overturn Common Core; 2) fiscal responsibility through passage of a Constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget; 3) Health Savings Accounts would help “re-establish a strong and direct relationship between patients and their physicians”; 4) Carson would like to “keep faith in our society”. He is advocating for all religions to have the right to express their beliefs in public, without fear of government intervention (his site does not state if this idea relates to prayer in schools, 10 commandments statues in front of courthouses, or other religious displays); 5) Pro-Life; 6) Pro 2nd Amendment; 7) On taxes, he touts reform aimed at shortening, simplifying, and eliminating the loopholes; and 7½) “Keep Gitmo Open”.

Ted Cruz (current U.S. Senator-Texas, born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and, might be the only “Texan” (in quotes because this calls into question who he really is) who hates avocados)): Cruz is a Harvard trained lawyer, believes very strongly in preserving the Constitution, and: 1) He is pro-life and believes in “traditional” marriage but allows that states should individually decide the marriage question; 2) does not support the Affordable Care Act but, 3) he does support school choice, in the form of allowing Title 1 funds to be used in public or private schools, he is for local control of schools and against the Common Core; 4) authored legislation to prevent “taxpayer dollars [from] subsidizing corporate fat cats”; 5) would cut the corporate tax rate to 15%; 6) against allowing current undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S.; 7) anti-net neutrality and wouldn’t tax access to the internet; and 8) likes the flat tax and thinks with an easier tax system, the IRS would be unnecessary.

Carly Fiorina (ran for U.S. Senate-California, 2010, lost to Barbara Boxer (D) in general election, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard): Fiorina believes: 1) that climate change is not a myth and humans are responsible, but the government doesn’t have the ability to do much to control it; 2) education standards should apply nationwide but local control should remain in place; 3) in protecting the 2nd amendment and that assault weapons should not be banned; 4) the ACA should be repealed and replaced with more competition in the insurance marketplace; 5) Congress should pass the DREAM Act and other immigrants should not be granted a “direct path” to citizenship; 6) Roe -v- Wade should be overturned and marriage consists of a male-female union—civil unions are ok for same-sex partnerships; and 7) the tax code should be less confusing and the gas tax should not be raised.

Lindsey Graham (current U.S. Senator-South Carolina, former U.S. Congressman-S.C., former South Carolina Legislator, U.S. Air Force-Retired, and has supposedly never sent an email): The Senator is a vociferous advocate of “Security” for “Our Nation, Our Future, Our Values”. Here is where Graham stands on some of the issues: 1) he acknowledges that climate change is real, and man-made and he is in favor of limiting carbon emissions; 2) campaign finance laws need reform and Congress should be able to limit spending; 3) on education, he does not support Common Core standards and would like to see more local and state control for school districts; 4) assault weapons and larger magazine clips should be easier for most people to access and he is against expanding background checks generally; 5) securing the border is the most important aspect of immigration reform and then he would work on a path to citizenship for some immigrants that are currently living in the U.S.; 6) He is against the ACA but enrolled in South Carolina’s exchange (which falls under the order of the ACA (he is a complicated man) and he is not the only anti-ACA Republican candidate to do so); 7) he is pro-life and believes marriage is between 1 man & 1 woman, but he also states that America should accept the Supreme Courts decision on gay marriage; and 8) he is not completely against raising taxes, as a means to balance the budget, and he likes the idea of a flat tax.

Mike Huckabee (former Governor & Lieutenant Governor-Arkansas, Presidential campaign (2008), and served as a Baptist pastor for 12 years): Huckabee is a staunch conservative and his faith guides his decision making processes. He takes the following positions: 1) energy independence, to include exploration of the Arctic and the Outer Continental Shelf, wind, and solar; 2) no new gun controls (“restrictions, registrations,regulations, & mandates”); 3) opposed to amnesty for immigrants and strong advocate of securing the border; 4) reform colleges & universities to control costs, and eliminate the Federal Dept. of Education and the Common Core, and return to local control of schools; 5) healthcare reform by way of getting rid of the ACA and providing Americans with “solutions and choices”; 6) protect Social Security and Medicare; 7)  proponent of the “fair tax“; 8) against same-sex marriage and abortion (though he makes an exception for abortion if the life of the mother is at risk); and 9) still not convinced that climate change is a big deal and not sure if humans play a role in it.

Bobby Jindal (current Governor-Louisiana, former U.S. Congressman-LA, named President of the University of Louisiana system at the age of 28, and Willie Robertson (Duck Dynasty) has endorsed Jindal): Jindal, the youngest major candidate, so far, promotes the following: 1) climate change is real and humans play some role though he’s not sure how big that role is; 2) dislikes Common Core standards, likes “school choice” and wants to decrease funding to State Colleges/Universities while promoting for-profit colleges; 3) gun access expansion; 4) border security, before any path to citizenship can be debated, and no “radical muslims” allowed to emigrate to the U.S., under his plan; 5) repeal and replace the ACA with a proposal that he helped author; 6) pro-life and still fighting against same-sex marriage; and 7) he believes eliminating state income taxes will create jobs, and local governments should be able to pick up the slack of a decreased state revenue stream.

George Pataki (former Governor-New York, former State Assembly Member-N.Y., former Mayor of Peekskill, N.Y., U.S. Delegate to the United Nations (2007), and he is a self-proclaimed environmentalist): Policy positions include: 1) allow the private market to take the lead on combatting climate change (Pataki is an environmental consultant); 2) give states control over public education and get rid of Common Core; 3) bans on some assault weapons, require trigger locks on new guns, and raise the legal purchase age to 21 (currently 18); 4) marijuana legalization should be a state-by-state basis; 5) favors the Patriot Act; 6) the ACA should be repealed and a new “market-based” health care law should be enacted (which is basically what the ACA is); and 7) rewrite the federal tax code and cut taxes.

Rand Paul (current U.S. Senator-Kentucky and he earned an M.D. from Duke University School of Medicine (who does he cheer for when Kentucky and Duke square off?)) Dr. Paul is a self-declared Libertarian (I think the vast majority of American citizens are pro-liberty but many Libertarians take this idea a bit further). Here are his ideas: 1) Do away with the Patriot Act and mass data collection of citizens private information; 2) Get rid of the Dept. of Education and the Transportation Security Administration (he would privatize the latter); 3) immigration reform with two caveats, increased border security and increased numbers of work visas for agricultural workers; 4) reform of the justice system, to include felon voting rights (for some, non-violent felons), and reclassification of drug offenses as misdemeanors; 5) pro-life but would leave Roe-v-Wade alone and “traditional” marriage supporter but doesn’t believe government should get involved in peoples’ personal lives; 6) a flat tax of no more than 17%; 7) and supports term limits on elected officials.

Rick Perry (former Governor & Lieutenant Governor-Texas, Presidential Campaign (2012), former member of the Texas House of Representatives, served in the U.S. Air Force, and he is an Eagle Scout): Perry’s introduction to Presidential campaigning was brief, in 2012. He’s hoping this go-around lasts a little longer. Here are his ideas: 1) Climate change is a natural occurrence and there is no proof that it is human made or permanent; 2) get rid of the Dept. of Education and Common Core; 3) proposed partial privatization of Social Security and/or raising the retirement age and lowering benefits for the wealthy; 4) secure the border then deal with immigration reform and allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, additionally, he is opposed to the DREAM Act; 5) repeal the ACA and let each state figure out healthcare on its own; 6) believes that cyber security needs to be upgraded and should be a priority for our government; 7) pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage; 8) first time, non-violent, drug offenders should be offered rehabilitation, not criminalized; and 9) one flat tax for everybody, 20%

Marco Rubio (current U.S. Senator-Florida, former Speaker and Member-Florida House of Representatives, adjunct professor of political science at Florida International University, in Miami, FL): Rubio takes the following positions: 1) Climate change is happening but not because of human actions; 2) repeal the ACA and replace it with tax credits and less healthcare regulation; 3) opposes net neutrality; 4) reform immigration laws once the border is secure; 5) marriage is between a man and a woman but we should abide by the Supreme Court’s decision and he is pro-life; 6) simplify the tax code, reduce corporate taxes, and increase the child tax credit; 7) supporter of the 2nd Amendment; and 8) sponsor and co-author of the Student Right to Know Before You Go Actthe idea is that colleges would be required to tell students how much they would make, on average, all else equal, based on the degree they were pursuing when they entered as first year students (which would be great if it were only so simple…and we only needed engineers, healthcare specialists, and teachers)

Rick Santorum (former U.S. Senator-Pennsylvania, former U.S. Congressman-PA, Presidential campaign (2012), and he once represented the World Wrestling Federation in Court): Santorum would: 1) push an economic plan with a “flat and fair tax” (combination of cuts & simplification), ask for a very moderate minimum wage increase, and “end the IRS as we know it”; 2) increase border security and reduce immigration by 250,000 people annually; 3) continue his fight against same-sex marriage and against abortion; 4) return local education control to school districts and communities and get rid of the Common Core; 5) push for more drilling, oil & gas, and does not believe humans play any role in climate change; 6) repeal the ACA and replace it with a mix of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and tax credits and high risk pools for those who qualify; and 7) would “consider cutting cost-of-living increases” for current Social Security recipients.

Donald Trump (according to The Donald’s campaign site, he is “…the very definition of the American success story…”; if that story contained a real-estate tycoon as a father and business practices that are likened to that of a slumlord, then yes, that would qualify as “the very definition”, but I have trouble believing that the majority of people would accept his idea of an American success story. Beyond that, his political career is filled with possible campaigns that never materialized, stumping on behalf of other candidates, and twice being named the “Statesman of the Year” by the Sarasota, Florida, Republican Party (for what it’s worth)). Trump’s beliefs are no secret, ever, though his party loyalties change somewhat frequently, like the University of Oregon football team’s uniforms. Here is where he stands, currently: 1) climate change is a hoax that was created by the Chinese to gain a competitive advantage in manufacturing; 2) wind turbines (energy production) are bad environmentally and aesthetically (but no mention of how nice a fracking rig looks on the skyline, or the beauty achieved through removal of an Appalachian mountaintop); 3) Social Security and Medicare should be left alone (he “know[s] where to get the money from”. [and] Nobody else does.”); 4) pro 2nd Amendment but supports banning assault rifles and is ok with a longer waiting period; 5) against a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but would give foreign college students legal status if they graduate from an American university, wants more European immigrants, but not immigrants from south of the U.S. border; 6) repeal and replace the ACA…with something akin to Canada’s system, aka, universal healthcare (not sure what to make of this); 7) pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage; and 8) would get rid of corporate taxes altogether and decrease the individual tax rate.

Potential Republican Candidates:

Chris Christie (current Governor-New Jersey, former District Attorney for the District of New Jersey, said he will announce on Tuesday, June 30th, and has attended more than 100 Bruce Springsteen concerts)

Scott Walker (current Governor-Wisconsin, former State Assembly member-WI, and counts the Koch Brothers as supporters)

John Kasich (current Governor-Ohio, former U.S. Congressman-Ohio, former Ohio State Senator, and he is not a fan of the Coen Brothers’ Academy Award winning Fargo)

Between here and Iowa, a lot can change. My next update (closer to Iowa’s caucuses) will focus on a smaller list of candidates and include domestic and foreign policy issues.

If you are interested in reading other blogs that focus on politics, foreign and domestic, Barry Casselman has a great site, and here is a list of others.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall (2010)
Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall (2010)

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange

 

Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!

 

 

 

Recharging Stations:

Modernity has ushered in the age of “Being On”. This new sense of being ever-present (without actually being physically present) has created a society that is losing touch with serenity and what it means to truly relax. Some say it’s inevitable, that we do what we need to do in order to keep up with expectations, whether real or perceived. Others seem to believe that “work-life integration” is the new trend and that we should strive to incorporate individual responsibility into our daily lives (read: “exercise, nutrition, downtime, family/friends” (Battelle, 2015)); which may work great for entrepreneurs or anyone who is not expected to show-up to the job site, but leaves out the vast majority of the workforce. I don’t believe it’s inevitable; nor should we have to integrate work and life in order to maximize the productivity of each. Finding balance between what we do to sustain ourselves/families financially and what we do to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, should be a top priority. If you love your job, your co-workers, your daily commute, you may require less balancing time, but you still need to recharge your inner-peace and heart, lungs, and muscle fibers.

Krista Tippet’s show, On Being, recently featured (4 June 2015) a discussion entitled “The Art of Stillness”. During her interview with Pico Iyer, a journalist and writer who has studied the idea of tranquility of the mind and body, they talked about recharging stations. This probably brings to mind a charging dock for your electronic devices, at home, or an airport, or work. Pico, however, likes to think about recharging the body and the mind, which has an electrical current of its own. The body’s grid can’t be recharged through traditional chargers plugged into a wall, but it can be revitalized by being present, in the moment. This kind of presence (mindfulness) is very different from being present in the digital world (degrees of mindlessness, multi-tasking, and information overload, the three not being necessarily mutually exclusive).

Presence; nothing more, nothing less.
Presence; nothing more, nothing less.

The scales that display balance between work and life, or school and life, have tipped heavily in favor of work/school. There are many thoughts as to why and how this change happened, all relevant to some extent. But more important is the issue of how to address it. We can’t just say, “f*#k it, I’m going to spend less time engaged in my livelihood,” and we can’t add hours to the day. What we can do is prioritize what’s important. Placing “self-recharging” high on the list is the best way to ensure that one engages in this activity regularly.

Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.
Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.

 

Multi-tasking: not mindful.
Multi-tasking: not mindful.

Taking time to unwind, relax, chill, whatever you want to call it, is healthy for the mind, the soul, and the body. “Unplug” from everything and find your own recharging station. Read a newspaper or a book, an actual ink & paper book, not on a screen. Savor a great cup of coffee or tea early in the morning, while listening to the birds and watching the world awaken. Find a time and place that lets you step away from all that is happening and just be. We probably won’t achieve nirvana, not in this lifetime anyway, but the simple act of existing, and nothing more, on occasion, will help make life more manageable, more enjoyable, and more serene.

IMG_5757

The State of Education

We often hear people say that “the schools are broken” or the system has failed, or some other negative comment which is usually meant to cast aspersions on those schools having the most difficult time turning out “high achieving” students. Districts with classrooms bursting at the seams, dilapidated buildings in need of an extreme makeover that would baffle Ty Pennington, and a budget that had to cut all of the arts & music programs, are examples of the most visible needs at these schools. Add to that list a full-time nurse being cut to part-time (because we all know that students only get sick or injured on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings), and sports programs and other extracurriculars that are bare-boned and funded through private donations, athletic fees, and whatever money the district hasn’t spent on the basics. Several of the schools that fit this mold have been featured in books by Jonathan Kozol and others.

Conversely, we occasionally hear that people are very happy with the school district their child attends. Their school has a high graduation rate, most students score ‘proficient’ or above on standardized tests, and they experience no shortage of funds for the band, the football team, and the swimming & diving squad. The high schools in these districts often make Newsweek’s list of “Best High Schools” and they are just as good, if not better, than many of the private schools in their area.

The truth is, both of these scenarios are examples of some of our nation’s school districts. But many more districts fall somewhere in-between, and are not often featured in magazines or books. They serve a wide variety of students who come from a wide variety of cultures/backgrounds and fall all along the socio-economic spectrum. These districts produce world-class scientists, authors, athletes, civic and business leaders. They also see students who are unable to complete the K-12 system, some of whom become homeless and highly mobile, and other students who have difficulty functioning in society. This is what our typical school district looks like. It is not one extreme or the other, rather somewhere in between and always hopeful that with the next new program, they can alleviate some ill that is preventing their school from making the “Best” list.  Our educational system is not, on the whole, broken. But neither is it in prime condition. Major systemic overhauls are needed.

Many districts are in need of fixes in one or two or seventeen areas. Those fixes, the majority of the time, require funding. This does not always imply new funding; some cases require money to be shifted from a program that isn’t working to a new program that has exhibited promise elsewhere. But more often, it does require additional expenditures. This, financing, is often the area where policy matters get hung up (whether it’s education policy or anything else).

As we’ve recently witnessed in Maryland and Minnesota, deciding which programs are funded, and how the state decides to spend its tax revenues, is highly controversial. Governor Hogan (R-MD) made the choices that he, and some of his constituents, believe to be right. While other Maryland citizens, especially those engaged in the profession of educating children, disagree. Not every district in Maryland is in dire need of additional funding, but there are districts that could benefit greatly from extra funds.

Sometimes funding is necessary to upgrade infrastructure or some other tangible feature. But more often, funds are required to provide those things that are not as easy to put a price on. Professional development is one area that schools can choose to cut back on, if they are experiencing a budget shortfall. This may seem like a fairly inconsequential cut but imagine the auto mechanic who is asked to work on new cars, using new technology, and never receiving any instruction about the new automobile features or how the technology works. Providing ongoing professional development is the best way to keep teachers up to speed with the ever-changing world, which means their students will have the opportunity to keep pace with their peers in surrounding districts.

Another area that is often overlooked, until it’s out of control, is class size. Somewhere in the history of education, a consensus was developed about how many students should constitute a typical class size . It is pretty standard for 20-25 students to be in a class, in the typical elementary classroom, and a few more in the typical middle school and high school class. This has worked fairly well for many students—not all. The problem is not the average class-size in the typical school. The problem is when budgets are cut and class-sizes explode, and teachers are told that they have to deal with it, just like any other professional would. The problem is two-fold; many teachers will do what they have to do to make it work, which means they’re putting in more hours outside of school while making the same wage. Meanwhile the students, the BIG losers here, get less attention, fewer questions answered, and more competition for the same amount of resources. And if we look at which schools have the most overcrowded classrooms, we find the majority of them to be in inner-cities.

Which brings me to the issue that many people in education circles don’t talk about. An overcrowded classroom in the inner-city of Minneapolis, or Baltimore, or Los Angeles, or any other large American city is very different from an overcrowded classroom anywhere else. Inner-city schools, on average, have more students growing up in adverse conditions, than schools in suburban and rural areas (and for clarification, urban does not always equate to inner-city but all inner-city schools are within urban locales). Children growing up in inner-cities are more likely to experience poverty and violence (Thompson, 2014) and this makes learning more difficult, especially in overcrowded classrooms.

If we want to make one major policy change that will have the greatest effect on closing the achievement gap (something that I’ll get into more in another post), reducing class sizes in inner-city schools would be that change; in my opinion, and a host of others (Chingos & Whitehurst, 2011). It’s true that reducing class sizes from 20+ to 10-12, or 35+ to 15-18, would cost a lot of money. But if we think about the amount of money we are currently spending on those former students who didn’t get a quality education (not for lack of valiant attempts by the teachers) we can’t afford to not make the investment.

Class size reduction is not necessary for every student to be successful; but if we are truly interested in providing every student with the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream” (assuming it can still be achieved by the average Joe or Jane), then we owe the students that are growing up under the most difficult circumstances access to more tools so that they might achieve results similar to those outcomes the more advantaged students are attaining.

The state of education is not all bad. Millions of great people wake up everyday and set out to change the world by inspiring young minds. They don’t do it for the money or the fame (shocking, I know), they do it because they care about their students. By providing these teachers and schools with the resources they need to perform their jobs at the highest level, we can make our economy more stable and our society more equitable. Both of which are relatively important for a nation’s long-term viability.

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Take time to stop and notice what’s not directly in front of you, like wild flowers.
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Education is not only a human endeavor.