“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36)
I approach this topic with a framework that the doctrine of the LDS Church, and the words spoken over the General Conference pulpit, emphatically supports the need for education. And as we are all aware that God is no respecter of persons, the need for education would apply to all of His children.Read more
In their seemingly-endless quest to destroy the American educational system, state-level conservative lawmakers have found a new drum to beat: banning Advanced Placement education in high schools.Read more
Across the U.S., conservative-dominated school boards have sought to manipulate public education curricula by overruling relevant experts in subjects such as history, economics, and science, establishing requirements to teach subjects through a conservative lens, and via outright censorship. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that questioned the Founding Fathers’ commitment to secular government and presented conservative political philosophies in a positive light. Astonishingly, the school board cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions across the world in the 18th and 19th centuries and replaced him with religious figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin because the board members disliked Jefferson’s support for separation between church and state.Read more
Growing up my parents always expected me to be knowledgeable of current events. We held regular discussions during family meals and it was a ritual to sit in front the television and watch the nightly news. As a voracious reader I gravitated to any newspaper or magazine that came into our home. I would also listen in on my parent’s conversations with other adults. As a young child in Chicago living in the 1960’s I was initially shielded from the de-humanizing effects of segregation. I went to integrated schools and occasionally had white friends.Read more
This morning I read Thomas Frank's cri de coeur on the unraveling of the American university system: spiraling costs for students, loss of power for the faculty, budget cuts to state schools, universities more focused on pleasing donors/alumni than on educating students, and, to butcher Oscar Wilde, a "bureaucracy [that's] expanding to meet the needs of the bureaucracy." All in all, a familiar tale for those of us working in higher ed.
This year, I am employed by the University of Florida's Writing Program, teaching first year students the basics of college and professional writing. I see what I do in the classroom as very, very important. Also, because the Writing Program is housed in the same building as UF's central administration, I walk past the offices (some very modest) of the bureaucrats who support the work I do in the classroom. I depend on IT to make sure the computers and Internet work, HR to do the paperwork for my health insurance and pay, the Counseling Center to be there for students in need.
However, as I reflect on Frank's piece and the need for universities to reorganize themselves around their central mission and purpose (and not to shuffle things around to match up with the mush of a mission statement in an unread strategic plan), I can't help but think of the 2008 Obama campaign, compared to the camp from Romney's 2012 effort, and how organizational leadership sets the tone.
In chapter 2 of The Audacity to Win (1st edition), David Plouffe describes how early on in 2007, he and the rest of the top brass in the Obama campaign decided very early on that no one in the campaign would earn more than $12,000 a month, that they would focus on the individual elections in each primary state rather than national trends, that new media would be its own department, and no group was too small to organize. The result was a cost-conscious organization focused on delivering the field operations proven to make a difference.
Those who volunteered at an Obama field office in 2008 or 2012 might remember seeing a poster with the words "Respect, Empower, Include, Win." Those who volunteered a fair amount or found a paid position might also recall strict bounds on spending money or deviating too far from the mission. The organization had a purpose, and was happy to hear ideas on what you, personally, were going to do to achieve it, as long as it didn't involve spending much (if any) of the campaign's money.
Unfortunately, some higher ed initiatives, no matter how well-intentioned, and including some that claim to be about accountability, remind me of the Romney 2012 campaign. Part of Governor Romney's appeal was his experience as a technocratic businessman, who would be able to run things much better than the community organizer currently in the White House. However, even during the campaign, some journalists and conservative commentators questioned his dependence on high-priced consultants. After the election, this criticism grew into a chorus.
I recognize that some organizations' leaders need consultants to tell them things they should recognize within themselves or hear from the subordinates. But however tempting expensive solutions and programs may appear, web-based transformations in education (like flip teaching), just like the advanced door-knocking strategies generated by the Obama campaign, are tools available to help the people doing the work, not replacements for the people involved. The laborer is worthy of their hire. Respect. Empower. Include. Win.
"Daddy, what are they doing to that guy's heart?"
In our booth at the local Wendy's, there for our monthly lunch date, my preschooling daughter pointed at a spot in the book in front of us. A cartoon Mexica priest held a fresh heart over a war captive, chest open and still dripping blood.
This situation was one of my own making. Trips to Wendy's went well with stops at the city library, and between classmates' birthday parties and my own laziness, we made it to the library about once a month. This particular Saturday, library came before lunch, and I had decided to grab an extra nonfiction book for us to peruse together. Unbeknownst to the kid, for several months I've been adding a book or two a trip, intended to give her an initial grounding in world history (an idea picked up from a homeschooling curriculum I once read). The kiddy atlas of ancient civilizations seemed like a good supplement. And my child, in time, reached the page on Mesoamerica, with its depiction of human sacrifice. As a historian of the early Latin America, my answer for her included the fact that people in other parts of the world at the time, including Europe, did just as savage things for equally serious, self-righteous reasons--a point Montaigne made some 433 years ago in his "On Cannibals."
Educating young'uns--ever an endeavor.
Mormons are big on education. Scripture tells us to "seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." This learning includes "things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, [and] things which are abroad." We're charged to seek after "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." Even when it comes to listening for answers to prayers, we're taught to "study it out" in our minds before asking God what's right.
We Mormons have also been talking about education a lot this last week, discussing the best approach to education in our local schools as Utah debates whether to move ahead with Common Core and a legislator (backed by a polished campaign) proposed doing away with all state school attendance requirements for children and teens. Then, Sunday morning, the New York Times published a front page article about Latter-day Saints who undergo faith crises when they find information online that contradicts the history they got in Sunday school. It's led to eloquent responses from McKay Coppins and Joanna Brooks.
McKay tells his story about finding information online at 13 that troubled him, and his parents' willingness to talk with him and hear him out.
Joanna notes, rightly, that all of the NYT's published anecdotes come from men, and that many of the women who struggle, struggle with squaring Church customs and practices with a belief in a God who is merciful and just, and seek for answers to their questions.
Both Joanna and McKay have a different approach towards their personal faith than they did as children. So do I, and so do, I suspect, most of us.
Which, by way of this Slate essay, brings me back to public education.
Educating children, ultimately, is about getting them ready to leave the nest, and having faith that what we provide them will be of some help later on. Facts are useful. Learning how to sift through information, weigh different facts, find answers, ask questions, find deeper answers, and then communicate those findings--that's even more useful. My mom taught English and Mathematics in elementary and secondary schools early in her career. Growing frustrated with the never-ending barrage of silver bullets designed to make the next generation absolutely brilliant (or perfect employees, depending), she found in grad school a question that captivated her for the rest of her life: how, exactly, do children learn math? And how do we build into this to introduce mathematical concepts in a way that helps them get it? Being one of my mom's guinea pigs when I was young gave me a decent foundation in math for a person inclined towards the humanities. Watching her complete her doctorate during my early school years has provided innumerable lessons as I squeeze dissertation writing around making sure the kid is fed, clothed, read to, and put to bed at a reasonable hour.
If faith is "the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen," then I have a deep abiding faith that some educational techniques work better than others. Florida's "school grades" system has deep, troubling issues, and I've found that whenever there's a prescription for school reform, a salesperson is never far behind. But as my kid officially enters the state school system next month via Florida's voluntary pre-kindergarten program, I'll be doing what I can to support a school system that provides a common core to all, that respects teachers as highly-trained professionals, and helps parents understand and fulfill their responsibilities. And whatever happens, I'll keep lightly guiding my dear daughter towards lessons on flexible thinking and comparative ritual violence.
As this year's political race between Obama and Romney gains traction in the media, on social networks, in churches, and elsewhere, there are Mormons who, while having nothing against Romney personally or religiously, have decided to vote for Obama. The following is from a Mormon (not me) who supports Obama and the reasons why:
I am voting for Obama. I voted for him in 2008, and I believe that he was the best candidate at that time. In my opinion, he is again the best candidate for president this year. Here are my key reasons:
In my opinion, Obama has been the greatest foreign policy president we have had since Ronald Reagan. He has largely shifted America's foreign policy focus to Asia where it rightly belongs, reduced resources in Iraq, plotted an escape route out of Afghanistan, managed the Arab Spring revolutions better than I ever though possible, strengthened international resolve towards Iran, reduced tensions along the Mexican border, corralled India in a tighter alliance, and done all of this with fewer resources. Oh, and he killed Osama in an incredibly daring but brilliant operation. How could anyone even compete with that?
Much of the success belongs to Obama's excellent Cabinet choices. Secretary Clinton has been a fantastic Secretary of State, the best we've had since Colin Powell. Gates was so impressive as Defense secretary (I have mixed feelings about Panetta) and even Mullen as Joint Chiefs has demonstrated an excellent ability to think outside the box and also confront his own bureaucracy. But Obama is the one who assembled the team from rivals (Clinton) and the other political party (Gates). And he is the one who has ultimately made the right decisions at the right times.
Even his supposed failures in foreign policy reflect good thinking in my mind. Liberals are upset over his inability to close Guantanamo, but that issue is way more complicated than most people realize. And Obama is willing to recognize reality, even in the face of his unrealistic campaign promises. Others have criticized him for his response to Libya, but again, I think he struck the exact right balance of intervention without U.S. commitment. And it was a good chance for Europe to step up to the plate and work out its defense arrangements a little bit more.
Foreign policy is largely controlled within the executive branch of government, so I hold the President more accountable on this count than most others. And I think because Obama has a freer hand in this policy realm, we have seen more of his true colors in this respect. Plus, his rhetorical gifts are so needed and so effective in the international arena. Words matter there, and Obama has the ability to really influence things by what he says. Speeches in Russia and in Egypt prior to the uprisings had a dramatic regional impact.
Those who want Ron Paul's version of foreign policy are living in historical fiction, though I empathize with their aspirations. It was Woodrow Wilson, nearly 100 years ago, who presided over the transition of America from an isolated, waterlocked, largely agrarian society to the global economic and military power it is today. That transition, while not irreversible, has been so comprehensive as to make the costs of returning to isolationism far higher than any benefits. We are a global power, our military is a crucial international asset used to secure shipping lanes, reduce transaction costs, and save lives abroad, and our role in international fora cannot be replicated.
I actually think Romney wouldn't be too bad in the foreign policy realm. He certainly wouldn't be as bad as Bush or Carter were. But I worry about his Cabinet choices, about too much focus on domestic issues, about his inability to connect with Americans let alone foreign countries. And Obama has a clear track record in this realm. Absent some compelling flaw in the President's foreign policy or some remarkable asset in Romney, I am certainly not willing to change presidents after only four years.
This is the second most important issue for me, but I suspect it will be the number-one issue for most Americans. The economy is whimpering along, barely making much of a recovery with major structural problems at every level. My perspective is surely influenced by the fact that I have a job and that I am doing OK financially. If I didn’t have a job, or if my future prospects didn’t look bright, I would probably be looking for a change somewhere. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi murmured against the Lord only when he couldn’t feed his family, so I fully respect those who want a change of leadership given the lack of recent improvements. But a couple of thoughts:
Investment is the key to growth, and we are not making the right types of investments. If you think about your own life, you made significant investments in education, maybe a home, other capital. You likely took out loans to pay for these things (I sure did) with the understanding that your investment will yield returns later on. The problem with the U.S. right now is we had to take out loans just to survive for the past few years. It’s like we were living on credit card debt. Now the gut reaction once things start improving is to pay off the credit card debt right away. We all hate debt and hate watching how much interest eats up our paychecks. But the counterintuitive right course (in my opinion) is to take out more loans for the right type of investments first and then start paying off the credit card debt. Domestic infrastructure, education, state and local government, and energy development all desperately need significant investments right now. Waiting until our nation’s credit card bill is paid will be too late and only result in a lower rate of growth in the future. Accordingly,
The Republican’s prescription is the wrong one. What they are proposing is the equivalent of a doctor ordering chemotherapy for broken legs. Everyone is focused on debt right now, thinking paying down our debt will somehow cause the economy to come back. Again, think about it from an individual’s perspective. Does paying off debt make you any richer? Insofar as you get to keep the money you were using to pay interest, yes. But that is really a very small amount in the grand scheme of things. Things that actually make us richer—such as getting more education, getting a promotion, finding a new job, coming up with a new invention—come from investments, from risks, from innovation. Somehow, we are not focusing on that at all; instead, we are bickering about how we have mortgaged our children’s future. That cliché is driving me nuts. Of course we mortgage their future! That’s how we hope to finance a better world that they can then easily pay off with their spaceship explorations to planets made of gold and unobtainium.
In all seriousness though, the Republicans and Mitt Romney would have a valid argument if U.S. interest rates were going up and if inflation were a concern. But that’s the thing: inflation rates are at historic lows, and the world is more than happy to lend us as much money as we want. (See my first point on foreign policy; in a way, this is the reward for all our global expenditures.) Which leads me to the final point on economics:
The current public debate is not looking at the big picture. The U.S. economy is so closely tied into the world’s economy now that it is silly to try to separate them or focus on domestic reasons for our malaise. China’s economy depends on U.S. debt as much as we depend on it. Europe’s problems make our issues look childish in comparison. Brazil, China, and India are practically begging the U.S. to spend their money in our country on our goods and with our workforce. We are missing all these issues in our angry, navel-gazing rhetoric about who destroyed which job. And I think those global issues will ultimately have much more bearing on the domestic economy than nearly anything the executive branch will do.
There may be one exception to this point, however. In periods of panic and serious economic volatility, the President does have real power: rhetorical power and the ability to act quickly to stabilize the market through emergency liquidity measures, etc. Romney and Republicans have all but eschewed such tools, however, saying it is not the government’s role to take such action. And that denial of governmental responsibility in the face of economic crises is frightening. The last presidents to believe this were Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge, who together helped precipitate (but not cause) the Great Depression.
Just to summarize the economic issue:
· Investments, not deleveraging national debt, is the key to growth.
· Republicans have made paying off debt their Holy Grail, creating a myopic and misdirected economic policy.
· International economic policy matters far more than Republicans acknowledge.
· At the end of the day, the President has very little influence on economic issues, except in crises. And it is such power that the Republican party has said should not be wielded by the government.
Looking at Romney individually, I think he is actually very intelligent when it comes to economic issues. I suspect he understands all these points, and I even suspect he may agree with me. But his party has demonstrated no willingness to compromise or acknowledge any complexity on the issue, and I fear Romney would face a revolt from his own party if he suggested increasing spending on anything. So even if Romney really knows how to handle our economic challenges (although his current rhetoric suggests otherwise) his party would never allow it.
Domestic Policy and Entitlement Reform
As the words Obamacare and socialism ring through the air, I think this is the arena where the public debate has gotten out of hand. To be fair, the rhetoric on foreign policy issues was ridiculous when George Bush was president. Whereas Obama is depicted as a Keynian socialist who hates America and wants to decide when senior citizens are killed, Bush was depicted as a bumbling, warmongering puppet controlled by Dick Cheney who wanted to torture foreigners. Neither caricature is particularly helpful, except to put “rage in the hearts” (2 Nephi 28:20) of people. I suspect most Americans were not in either of these two rhetorical camps, but their rational thoughts are getting drowned out.
Obamacare—By far, the strangest thing about this entire debate is that Obamacare will not be truly implemented until 2014! We haven’t even seen what Obamacare will do, but listening to people you would think it single-handedly brought down the economy even before it was passed. The individual mandate hasn’t been implemented, insurance competition provisions remain unenforced, and the whole thing is in limbo before the Supreme Court (and I think a constitutional examination is warranted in this case). My point is, how could you possibly judge a law on its merits when it hasn’t even been implemented? One of the only truly substantive components of the law that has been implemented is the mandate that insurance companies cover dependents until they are 26 (reflecting the fact that children are in school and deferring marriage until later). And I think that has been a great success—I have family members who would not have insurance were it not for this provision.
Medicare—This is the real elephant in the room, and the part where I agree with the Republicans the most. Medicare costs are the fundamental driver of increasing health care costs, and Obamacare’s great flaw is its failure to reign in Medicare costs. The economic reality is that it is inevitable that Medicare benefits will be cut and there will be some type of provisioning of those benefits, aka death panels. Because promising essentially unlimited medical expenditures for the most expensive patients while refusing to raise additional revenue from the healthy patients is unsustainable. Given this reality, however, I think reform is actually more likely with a Democrat as president. He would have the best ability to convince his own party of the need for reform. Remember, Bill Clinton was president when welfare reform was passed. Right now the Democrats are quite intransigent on this issue, but I think economic realities and appropriate pressure from Republicans in Congress could help them come around, provided a Democrat is president. If a Republican is president, there would be too much opposition from Democrats and too much partisan gloating from Republicans to really push anything rational through.
Social Security—See my previous point. Social security as currently constituted is unsustainable, benefits will need to be cut, and I believe Obama is able and willing to compromise on this point.
Women’s and Family Issues—I have no idea what is going on with the Republican party or why they think targeting contraceptives or abortion is going to win the election. But I believe their rhetoric is harmful and counterproductive. Roe v. Wade is a reality, so let’s start talking about how we can reduce the number of abortions through education, contraceptive use, and strengthening families. This war on women and the family is phony, pathetic, and a political red herring.
Of course, I am not happy with everything that Obama has done. I generally like solid conservatives on the Supreme Court who have a more traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution. Obama will most certainly not do that. Obama’s leadership style is frequently too detached to really enact substantive change. Despite his rhetoric, Obama does not have the gift of a Reagan or Clinton to reach across the aisle and really work with the opposition party. And I am concerned with growing consolidation of authority at the federal level at the expense of state and local government.
In these policy matters, I feel Obama is on the wrong side of the issue. But democracy is all about choosing the least bad alternative. I am concerned that Romney is not the master of his own fate. Too many political forces within his own party have compelled him to change into something and someone that he is not. I really liked the Romney who was governor of Massachusetts: a compromiser, able to deal with the political realities at hand, and eminently pragmatic. If that Romney resurfaces, I would be incredibly happy. My concern though is that the Republican party has been captured by a mix of libertarian, Conservative with a capital C (ie., pre-1932), and isolationist groups that have a skewed historical perspective. I am extremely uncomfortable with the rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other pundits from this camp, and Romney has been far too willing to pander to these groups. True leadership would occur if he stood up against those in his own party. But he hasn’t done that.
Of course it is neat that Romney is Mormon, but I actually feel that has very little bearing in this year’s election. It will make for some very interesting attack ads and quite a spotlight on the church, but I haven’t really seen how it will influence his policy choices. Has Romney ever suggested his Mormon faith has influenced his political positions? So that puts me squarely in a very small minority of Mormons for Obama.
This year’s election is not the “once in a lifetime” election I have been hearing about. Yes, there are important issues and yes, it is valuable to be civically engaged. But I have too much faith in the American system to believe that one presidential term could ever fundamentally alter the American way of life, either for good or bad. Presidents are leaders more than they are actors. What I mean by that is they set the rhetorical tone that compels others to action. But no matter who is president, there will be good people in the U.S. doing much good of their own free will.
The Constitution is an incredible document with such flexibility that I believe we can definitely tackle the pressing issues our country faces. I have tremendous appreciation for our country’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for minority opinion. I honestly believe that the U.S. has one of the greatest political systems in the world, if not the greatest ever created. It may look really messy at times, but believe me, we could do much, much worse. Nowhere else in the world is there such a large and diverse population able to live in freedom and peace. As the ridiculous rhetoric heats up on both sides, it is good to keep that in mind.
In my last post, I mentioned certain “positive rights” that Americans have come to assume are part of the social contract. Public education is perhaps the least controversial example of a positive right in America. As a society, we generally believe that every child has a right to a high school education, regardless of his or her parents’ income level. However, with the recent upswing of right-wing extremism, some (generally Ron Paul supporters) question the right to a public education because it requires redistribution of wealth throughout a community. Many extreme libertarians view government taxation for any kind of social program, including public education, as theft, and advocate a system of government where any redistributive program do not exist.Read more
Written in response to a challenge for privatized education and protection:
Public schools would be replaced by private institutions driven by profit. In order to meet the demands of capitalism, the only admitted students would be those who can pay. Obviously the quality of education would be directly tied to the amount one could pay, as the most expensive schools could afford to recruit and pay the very best teachers. Currently, the average costs for K-12 grade is roughly $8500 spent per student per year. Let’s assume that through capitalism greater efficiencies are realized and the cost drops by 30% (this is very generous). This would equal about $5900 per student. Let’s say since education is now privatized we now spend half on property taxes (savings of $800 on a $300,000 home in AZ). This would equal a net cost of $4900 for one student, $10,800 for two students, and $16,700 for three students.
Obviously households would have to be in the upper middle income bracket to afford the average education premiums, and for the best education, they would need to be an upper income household bracket. With half of the American households making less than $50k a year, paying little to no taxes, this incremental cost would solicit very tough choices. You could send you child to a below average school, at a lower cost, with poor quality teachers, shorter hours, and little to no resources. Or you could elect to forgo substantial costs like healthcare for your family which will then be reflected in emergency room costs skyrocketing (not to mention a poorer quality of life). You could also choose to educate from home, if there is a non-working parent willing to make the sacrifice. In any of these scenarios there is a guaranteed certainty that crime will spike given the lack of education and time spend in a productive environment.
Ultimately privatized education will drive increases in poverty, widening social class divides, and the absorption of the middle class. Even more unfortunate you will not see children from broken homes in Arkansas, become Rhode Scholars, and Presidents of the US. There is a reason that every advanced industrialized nation offers education in a socialized, not capitalistic, manner. Even for-profit institutions like The University of Phoenix rely almost exclusively on government subsidized student loans to generate 80% of their revenue (think about that for a second, your tax dollars are going right to the pockets of UOP shareholders).
Now, there is also the subject of vouchers which mixes government capital with private institutions. However, based on our current conversations about governmental spending, I am guessing government funded vouchers are not the ideal scenario.
There would be similar consequences for privatized protection. Imagine getting charged $200 every time you called 911. If you couldn’t afford the premium then calling 911 for help wouldn’t even be an option. Police wouldn’t even respond if you did not have a payment form on file, and those in danger would weigh whether or not the calling risk is worth the cost. Sounds like potential anarchy to me.