Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Congressman Roe's Feeble Email on Education In Tennessee

Must be an election year, as for the first time, 1st District Congressman Phil Roe is shooting out an email proclaiming how good it is to get an education. What daring! What bravado!

In emphasizing the importance of a good education, the email from Rep. Roe (who sits on the Congressional committee for Education and Labor) says of No Child Left Behind laws:

"However, the law’s requirement that all schools meet certain standards are faced with severe punishments that are not realistic and are demoralizing our educators in public education."

Rep. Roe seems to need some after-class work on language skills. (Are needing? Are needs work?)

The well-worn (or just plain empty) language he uses in this email trots out some standard (make that bland and incorrect) notions on economic growth and education:

I believe there is a direct correlation between the strength of our economy and the education that we provide to our young people. The better quality of education we can provide our children, the more opportunities they are afforded in life, and the higher chance they will be able to acquire a job. Economic research has found links between higher levels of cognitive skill—defined as “the performance of students on tests in math and science”—and economic growth. Specifically, Eric Hanushek, Dean Jamison, Eliot Jamison, and Ludger Woessmann write in the Spring 2008 issue of Education Next that countries with higher test scores experience far higher growth rates. In their research, they have found that a highly skilled workforce can raise economic growth by about two thirds of a percentage point every year.

If we create a better education system, I believe we will solve problems like health care and energy because people will simply be able to make the right choices for themselves."

Does that last statement mean "you'll figure it out for yourself one day"? Anyway, these ideas seem to be in direct opposition to the reality in Tennessee, which is that 80% of jobs in this state right now do not require any college experience or degree.

And perhaps Rep. Roe should have taken more notice on the legislation just passed at the state level aiming to increase the number of students who actually graduate from high school. Or take stock of the fact that most Tennessee students heading into college need remedial classes:

Right now, more than half the students who start college in Tennessee need remedial course work, repeating the same math, reading and writing courses they took in high school. Universities will get out of the business of remedial education.

Instead, students who need remedial course work will be steered into community college, where classes are smaller and tuition is half the price of university courses. Universities, meanwhile, will be able to free their professors and resources to focus on more advanced courses.

This sounds fine in theory to the community colleges, where more than 60 percent of students already take remedial coursework, and the schools have spent years fine-tuning their outreach efforts. But Tennessee is in the middle of a budget crisis, and it will cost money to provide the teaching staff, equipment and classroom space to handle the thousands of new students who will be diverted into the two-year schools.

To make sure Rep. Roe is shoring up his base here in the 1st District, his email also takes time to ask your opinion on "Health Care Reform"(CORRECTION: make that "Health Care Survey" but still, another poorly played political 'gotcha' question) by asking you for your opinion on abortion, and concludes with a few swipes at President Obama.

Pretty feeble stuff - the hallmark of a 1st District congressman.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Local Left Wingers Talk Politics, So Why Do I Think Eisenhower?

I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of political ideas among a pretty diverse group of friends, most of said group would be labeled Left-Wing, or Progressive, or Liberal or other words used to describe folks not on the Right or Conservative end of the spectrum.

I found most of them had a very poor opinion of the first year of President Obama's presidency. The top complaint was that the crimes and misdeeds of the previous administration had not been pursued, the guilty remain unpunished, and warfare in the middle east continued despite the wishes of the majority of those who elected him.

The president should be much tougher, they all said.

Tougher on who or what? Elected and appointed officials in government who used torture, who lied to Congress; contractors with the government who've used the wars in the middle east to line themselves in solid gold and who've been guilty of fraud, abuse and much worse; and the many financial misdeeds from Wall Street and beyond into the banking system who broke laws and then begged for bailout from the Bush administration and the Congress of '08.

Another complaint - attempting to build a consensus in Congress was a bad idea. Congress is a source of trouble, not open to any meaningful consensus or bi-partisan behavior.

In short - The Very Bad Powers That Be are still The Very Bad Powers That Be.

It wasn't that they had lost all support for President Obama, but they expressed some mighty disappointment.

That discussion of course had many forks -- into talk about the recent Supreme Court decision to essentially allow limitless corporate donations to political campaigns, as well as local politics in towns and counties across East Tennessee. My favorite part of this discussion was the reality that there was no Left and Right Wings here - it's all Right-Wing and Not As Much Right-Wing politics. And the current reality in U.S. politics which already allows for foreign-owned nations to create U.S. shell companies which have been donating to political campaigns.

There were such healthy doses of vigilant skepticism of our current system, it seemed to me that, despite any sudden changes, there remains a growing population of very smart folks who have not lost their passion or their will to demand more changes, to call out hypocrisy on the current state of Left and Right Wing tactics and policies.

There were, as well, a strong and growing sense that local media is in a very poor state, with no change in sight, other than a continuing change for the worse.

As for me, I think President Obama and his team have faced more tough challenges than most administrations. It isn't going to get any easier in 2010 either. I do think he has the support of the majority of Americans, but we remain in an economic turmoil created over the last few decades and altering that course significantly is but one of the toughest jobs he faces.

And politically, I remain pretty much all over the political map - I'm very much a less-government-is-best believer, sometimes landing in the Right, the Center and the Left. No single political party holds much weight for me. And it was heartening to me to see a continued belief that real change and activism begins on the local level and grows out from there.

Still, there remains much passionate anger over the disastrous course the Right has been demanding for many years. And I know from talking to those who are on the Right they too are angry, sensing their own forecasts of Left Wing Doom in every situation imaginable.

It is puzzling that the central notion of a government gone haywire is a part of both the Left and Right and among Independents too, but fixing it is where everyone diverges.

As I have opined here on this humble but lovable blog since Day One: Being an American requires constant vigilance.

Oddly, for a long time now, I have often been reminded that today's political landscape was seen and expressed astonishingly well by a World War 2 General and President, Dwight Eisehnower, in his 1961 "farewell speech" which you can read here. Perhaps these excerpts will show why I hold that speech in some regard:

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration."


"Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."