Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wearing the Flag on Cinco de Mayo

So the 9th Circuit Court is considering a case where a school ordered students who wore an American flag on Cinco De Mayo to go home or change their shirts. because they were afraid of racial/gang tensions flaring up. This in spite of the fact that there was no dress code that banned flags at the time. 

Now let's get this out of the way right off the bat. Every progressive who thinks that anyone who says people should be allowed to display the American flag is some kind of wife beating cross burner is going to flood the comments with "Would you defend the kids if they wore a shirt with  a flag of (insert predominantly non white nation here)?" Yes I would.

See, I'm one of those people who thinks that instead of  banning certain articles or colors of clothing for "safety reasons," let's examine why an article of clothing is a safety issue. If the problem is that some group of thugs deems it a reason to savagely beat someone, maybe their right to be in school should be revoked.  Schools should remove such students rather than try to accommodate them by making non-violent students change their clothes so the violent ones won't have a psychotic break if they see a color they don't like.  

Don't  need school uniforms or restrictive dress codes. Just enforce some rules on civilized conduct. That is what this school should have done. That is what all schools should do. Ban the people using clothes as an excuse to attack people. You can change the rules on the however you want. The fact is, when schools choose to make kids dress differently because some thugs flash some gang signs, the gangs laugh. It shows them that they can dictate school policy.

You have to wonder where the progressive spirit of baby boomers that now make up our so-called educators has run off to.

Used to be that if some group of crazies made threats about stupid crap, they stood firm. They believed kids had the right to access any book in the library regardless of what some crazed up fundie thought about it. They believed that kids had the right to participate in a Day of Silence or wear an armband to protest a war if they so chose. They stood firm against attacks on teaching evolution.

Now? Some group of thugs flashes some hand signs, they all go "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! Change your clothes to the right color! Maybe the gangbangers will behave if you do!"
And then they seem to be at a loss for what to do when that doesn't work.

If they were so gutless in the 60s as they are now, our schools would still be segregated and we'd be teaching that the earth was 10,000 years old.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

School lunches? Do they go too far?

Since I talked about the idiotic conspiracy nuttery and general overreaction to First Lady Michelle Obama encouraging kids to drink water. let's talk about her school lunch initiative.

Now I had been wanting to start writing about the subject ever since my mother and sister got into a debate over the school lunch thing. My sister being a Democrat, said  that the school lunch program was good for bringing non-possibly radioactive options to school lunches. My mother, being a Republican, said the program was bad for taking away kids' freedom of choice. Which is interesting to me because she's a religious conservative and if there is one thing religious conservatives are not about in general, it's freedom of choice (not just talking about abortion here). But I digress. The one good point to me, buried in conspiracy nonsense, is that the calorie restrictions are a bit over the top. Some dressing on the salad or cheese on the broccoli isn't terrible.

But it seems no one is willing to make this point. It's either strict calorie limits in complete disregard for the fact that every child's health is different or going back to considering ketchup as a vegetable.

This is what American political discourse has come to. No middle grounds or compromises. Just the most insane extremes possible. Yeah, the restrictions are over the top but is wanting to change the school lunch menu from mystery meat and pizza with grease that I'm still convinced could glow in the dark to something better is not a bad thing.

Some people say Michelle Obama goes too far. Personally I don't think she goes far enough. I think if we want  to tackle childhood obesity we need to re-evaluate a lot of school policies. Banning tag and running on the playground, or even recess itself, has been a response from school districts afraid of abusive lawsuits. And if it's not fear of lawsuits, it's budget concerns. Maybe we should fix that. We seem to have an infinite amount of money to intervene in civil wars, or fight wars on a plant that makes people eat Taco Bell at 2 in the morning. Perhaps  some money could be re-allocated  to building playgrounds and the like.

 I've beaten this horse before but it needs to be said that teachers have turned to assigning insanely complicated projects at every turn because they've been taught to believe that kids can't learn from a simple pencil and paper assignment. Everything must be a complex and time consuming diorama or huge poster. It gets worse now  that schools have been assigning these behemoth projects as summer work now. How many hours do these "creative" projects cost that kids could use to go outside?

If you subscribe to the defense that kids would just play on the Xbox so they deserve behemoth and often pointless arts and crafts projects in every class at every opportunity, let's talk about expense. If parents didn't have to set aside a bunch of money in case some teacher decides to show off how creative they are by assigning bank breaking projects, how many more fresh fruits and veggies could they buy? How much more time would they have to prepare home cooked meals if they didn't have to deal with overcomplicated school projects at every turn?

Heck perhaps schools wouldn't need to worry about how much instruction time is lost to recess or gym if teachers  would focus on teaching their subjects instead of trying to turn every class into art.

School lunches are just one aspect of the problem and they are a good place to start. Fighting to turn ketchup into a vegetable again is moronic. Instead of going backwards, go forwards.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

More conspiracy lunacy

So First Lady Michelle Obama went to a school in Watertown, Wis. to encourage kids to drink more water. Amazingly people have a problem with this.


Rush Limbaugh is calling it command and control. You have more than a few people saying that she's trying to dictate to America what they should drink. Other conservatives are calling it nagging and saying she's overstating the benefits.While the part about overstating might be true, I don't recall reading anything about conservatives criticizing Nancy Reagan for overstating the drawbacks of pot or calling her a "nag" for trying to influence what people smoke. Or proclaiming that they will roll joints for the sole purpose of ticking off Nancy Reagan like we have a bunch of people saying they will buy more soda and beer in a juvenile attempt to tick off Michelle.

At the very least the actions Michelle has taken in her First Lady social improvement crusade make more sense than Nancy's. In her crusade, we got a bunch of celebrities talking about drugs. A few of whom probably  did drugs between takes. This crusade culminated in Pee-Wee Herman explaining what crack cocaine was.

I am not making that up.

The worst we got is Disney teen pop starlets encouraging healthy eating.

Okay guys, sit down for a minute because you need to hear this. Remember how annoying it was when people saw nonsensical conspiracies in everything George W. Bush did as President?  Well I hate to break it to you but conspiracy lunacy does not become less annoying when the President is black. Nor does it endear you to the general population.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A new coat of paint

Here are some of my thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict.

As a disclaimer, I don't believe the George Zimmerman is a card carrying racist or anything like that. In my opinion he's a hothead who let his emotions and paranoia get the better of him.

However, the allegedly post racial crowd that lauded the Zimmerman verdict needs to be honest about something. If you gave the participants in the altercation a new coat of paint, shall we say, they probably wouldn't have been so quick to support him. 

If Trayvon were a white kid named Tucker, most of the pro-Zimmerman crowd would be asking what GZ was doing hopping out of his car to follow random boys down the street like some kind of creeper. They'd point out, quite correctly that his suspicions, real or imagined, could have been cleared up by pulling up by him and engaging in polite conversation. They certainly wouldn't have bought his first "I didn't know what street I was on" excuse. Seriously, he was a neighborhood watch who didn't know the layout of his own neighborhood? The only reason anyone even gave that excuse a thought was because Trayvon was black.

Tucker could have had all Ds and Fs, dealt crystal meth out of the school bathroom, and a whole host of other things that are several hundred times worse than anything Trayvon allegedly did, but no one would be going through his school records to try and find a reason he deserved to be shot the way they did with Trayvon this past year. There would have been no leaks. No one would be combing through his Facebook trying to put him on trial.

However, the people supporting GZ would be looking more closely at his past and asking questions about why a guy who was unstable enough to slug a cop (to punch an armed police officer you have to be outside your mind) was running around with a gun. They'd accuse the county of corruption, letting him off easy because he was related to a government official. And  if that government official was a Democrat, Fox News would have an even bigger field day. Hispanic guy connected to government official escapes felony, turns around and stalks and shoots a kid? The anti-Big Government headlines on Fox and National Review write themselves.

The same intrepid citizen journalists who found a Twitter of a random kid also named Trayvon to try and paint him as a thug (even though their Trayvon was in New York) would have dug up everything they could on George  Zimmerman. And found his old MySpace which, spoiler alert, is very interesting.

Do I think Zimmerman is a card carrying racist? No. But many of his supporters would have changed their tune if Trayvon had a different coat of paint.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sports and socialism

I tend to lean to the right side of things politically, though I have some left wing beliefs. It's like Chris Rock said, no one can ever be just one thing. The trouble is, not everyone can admit it. Including a lot of conservatives. Case in point, the "should we spend money funding athletics?" debate.

Stories of professors fudging grades to keep athletes on the field, phony classes to pump GPAs, players and staff getting away with wrongdoing, and more recently a school spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a stadium in a time when people scream that everything must be cut, abound. Yet it isn't the deficit hawks who demand that schools keep sports in perspective, financially and otherwise. In fact, they tend  to be the ones who criticize those who do.

See what I find interesting is that this is literally the only type of school spending you can get conservatives to support. When someone suggests diverting athletics money to improve education and letting the athletes join the debate teams in doing their own fundraising you'd get the following.

"It teaches leadership skills!"
"It fights childhood obesity!"
"It's the only way some kids get out of poverty!"

But of course, try getting these same people to support funding afterschool activities of the non athletic variety, building more rec centers and playgrounds kids can readily access, improved gym equipment and school lunches, or funding education better, up to and including making education more affordable for students, athletic or not, suddenly you get:

"That's socialism! It's not in the Constitution! Private enterprise will do it better!"

That last one is funny because we've been doing something we all know the "private enterprises" could do better. The NFL, MLB, NBA, etc. are run by billionaires. Plural. They can pay  for their own farm system. They can pay for recruiters. They can do all the stuff  they claim colleges and high schools just have to do.  The claim that there will be no NFL etc. kids will never learn leadership skills or get exercise and poor kids will never get out of  poverty is ludicrous. It would simply be in the hands of the oh so great free market.

But what is with the change of heart? I have a theory.

Conservatives tend to have a few overriding beliefs re: kids in relation to this. First, that kids must always be physically competing (debate teams and such don't count. Supporting them and any non-physical competitions is still that evil socialism thing). Second, without said opportunity to compete, kids will become weak girly men (to put in layman's terms).

Then there's fact that many of the defenders of taxpayer funded athletics are often former athletes themselves. There's a nostalgia filter in place blinding these deficit hawks.

And finally, sometimes it's just a matter of being contrary to the other guy. Let's be honest, the people who bring up the idea of putting sports back into perspective tend to reside on the left end of  the spectrum. Is there any other reason that fixing up schools so that the roofs are not at risk of falling on students' heads is seen as horrible socialism while running the farm system for billionaire owned major league sports teams is seen as social good?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Gangs in schools

In many schools, gangs are a problem. Schools, politicians, parent groups, etc. ask "How can we help save these kids?" Speaking as someone who went to a school with a significant gang problem, I have to wonder if we are asking the wrong question. I have to wonder if the question should be "Should gang members be in school at all?"

Now my sister, who works with at-risk youth is probably going to kill me when I head up to Ohio, but I think it is a question worth asking. We're talking about how to enhance school security all the time. We're talking about how we should screen every kid's writing assignments with a fined tooth comb for "warning signs," have metal detectors at every door, have drug sniffing dogs  come in at random and make everyone dress all pretty. It's strange how no one thinks that maybe expelling students belonging to organizations dedicated solely to murder and mayhem might enhance security. Certainly a great deal more than making people dress nice.

It goes against modern education orthodoxy to be sure. We currently believe that we should try and educate everyone no matter how much they don't want it and no matter the cost (unless they're honor students with a butter knife in their lunch box  or have gun shaped toaster pastries). But let's do that "comparing ourselves to other countries" exercise we do whenever we want  to try implementing some hair brained scheme.

In other countries, if you tossed a chair at another student, started fights, got 5 of your buddies to "jump" someone in the hallway, and attacked teachers (all things I witnessed), you'd be out. And not out for a few days or months. You'd be gone. No school shrinks, no appeals, no excuses. And this isn't just in China. Try that garbage in Japan and you'd be kicked to the curb. And that's what we should do here.

I can hear the objections now.

"We're not Communist China!" or fascists or whatever else.

This isn't about ideology. This is about protecting the rights of kids who go to school to learn. This is one group we never hear about. Besides, we base half our ideas on the "China does it" standard anyway.  May as well use a productive idea. It would be a nice change of pace.

"It'll hurt minority youth!" (Followed by racism this and racism that)

It really is funny to me how whenever someone like me talks about gangs, I'm told I'm using "gangs as slang for minorities" and therefore I'm being racist.  Yet whenever someone says "Hey those people think wearing the wrong colored clothes is an acceptable reason to commit premeditated murder. Maybe they shouldn't be in school." They basically say gang member equals minority. They do know there are white gang members and I'll say up front they should be expelled too but want to, but for whatever reason, equate someone who brings up the idea of expelling members of criminal organizations, to the local Grand Wizard.

That aside, you know what hurts minority youth? Being afraid to go to school. And not the "I didn't study for my test" afraid. More like "Will I get put in the ER?" afraid.

"The gang members have a right to an education."

Sure I'll buy that. However, all rights are conditional on respecting the rights of others. If you go around punching people in the face, you can't claim you have the right to live in your own home in lieu of going to jail. And what about the rights of the other kids? What about the kid who wants to overcome his circumstances and be the  first in his family to go to college? Doesn't he have the right to an education without having to deal with gang nonsense? What about the girl who wants to escape generational poverty? Doesn't she have the right to be able to do her work without having to look over her shoulder wondering if she might get caught in a Crip/Blood fight? Seems the only students who have "rights"  are the ones who have no interest in the rights of others.

"Where will the gang members go?"

Who cares? Thugs not having a place to go is  not a valid reason to make kids who want to learn have to deal with them. Most drop out the exact nanosecond they can anyway.

"Discrimination! Freedom of Association!"

Sorry all you thug lovers but there is no freedom to be part of, and say it with me now, a criminal organization. And we discriminate all the time. We don't let arsonists be firefighters. We don't let sex offenders run daycares. Both things are acceptable. Certainly we can discriminate against people who don't go to school for any reason other than to destroy it.

"Maybe we can save some!"

Sure. There might be a chance we can save a few. And we'll get a mediocre MTV Movie out of one. But  most won't be saved.  Sorry to say, but the vast, vast majority of gang members have made their decision. Why? Because they don't want to be saved. Ask any addiction counselor. You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped and trying to is pointless.  No amount of the teacher bending over backwards will save them. And what's the cost of trying to save gang members  from their own stupidity?

We have to have metal detectors because gangs bring in guns.
We have to have drug sniffing dogs because the gangs bring in drugs
We have to pay armed security guards because the gangs keep fighting.
We have to pay for cleanup because gangs vandalize everything.
We have to pay for uniforms because someone thinks that making kids dress nice will make them less likely to be gang members (what a laughable idea).
We have to pay teachers extra health insurance because gang members attack them.

And the reverse also applies. How many kids get dragged down by gang members? We don't drag many kids up from the gangs but the gangs drag a lot of kids down.

If we weren't so intent on trying to save gang members from themselves, what could we do with that money? How many more teachers could we hire?  How much more could we contribute to our beleaguered special ed budgets? How many more books could we buy? How much more could we do for the kids who want to learn?

Instead we waste it trying to save people who only come to school to harm others and drag other people into the muck with them.

It's time to stop. We need to stand up for the kids who want more for their lives than prison. If that means we have some extra empty desks, so be it. Being a gang member and being a productive member of society are mutually exclusive. We have spent the last thirty years giving Crips, Bloods, Skinheads, etc. chance after chance. It's time to give the kids who want to learn the chance they deserve.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do Zero Tolerance Policies Work?

With stories of kids being  suspended for chewing a toaster pastry into a shape of a gun, shaping their fingers into guns on the playground, and even wrestling a loaded gun away from someone who intended to kill another student, the zero tolerance debate has flared up again.

This time people other than student rights advocates, ardent libertarians and armchair pundits have been getting in on the action. In Tennessee, a bill has been introduced that would exempt students from zero tolerance consequences if they were acting in self defense or defense of someone else. Some have expressed trepidation that it will encourage fighting. Others, including many victims of bullying and their parents, have praised the proposed change saying that self defense is a human right.

In Maryland a State representative has introduced a bill that would address administrators overreacting to innocent child behavior.

These assaults on long held zero tolerance policies are largely unprecedented, especially so soon on the heels of Newtown. However, to understand why these bills are coming up, one must first understand the reason zero tolerance policies came about to begin with.

Many attribute them to the Columbine Massacre. However the rise of these policies came about much earlier. Throughout the 80's and early 90's, many minority rights  groups were protesting that school administrators were singling out minority and poor students for harsher punishments for the same offense that a white student committed. Which was true to an extent. School boards responded by instituting zero tolerance policies that mandated that students get punished the exact same way regardless of intent in hopes that removing discretion would remove the inequalities and personal biases when it comes to school discipline. Has the idea worked?

Judging by the statistics, the answer seems to be "no."

Many researchers have found that overzealous zero tolerance policies affect minority and poor students the most. According to researchers at the University of South Florida minorities are disproportionately affected by zero tolerance and it contributes significantly to the "school to prison pipeline."

And there's a significant possibility that zero tolerance policies are being abused by teachers and administrators to get rid of students they don't like. Think about it. With all the paperwork it takes to suspend a student, it's kind of hard to believe that a teacher/administrator would want to take time out of their day to deal with  kids playing cops and robbers going "bang bang" on the playground. Unless they have another motive. If you want to get rid of some kids dragging down your class' test scores down or just get rid of a kid  you don't like,  finding a reason to get him thrown out under overzealous zero tolerance policies  doesn't take much effort. School officials are just as human as everyone else and a policy that allows them to say "my hands are tied no matter what" and "we just can't tell you the full story" is certainly a great smokescreen to give parents and the public respectively.

What about bullying? Rules that say both sides must be punished for being in a fight even if one side was defending him/herself or even if one side doesn't lift a finger is tantamount to victim blaming. In all cases, the prospect of being punished for being a victim makes them more scared to step forward. This only serves to help bullies. Victim blaming only served to make adult victims more afraid to come forward. Isn't it amazing supposedly educated people, with master's degrees even, think it's different for kids?

Drugs? If they'd only focus on actual narcotics, sure. But then you have kids getting stripped searched for allegedly having aspirin, a girl getting expelled for having Motrin to ease her period, or even suspending a kid with asthma for having an inhaler.

Defenders say things like "Zero tolerance is all we have to combat violence and drugs." They're wrong. They have brains. It doesn't take a big one to look at the security camera to see that the kid getting pounced on by four or five gang members is not the person to blame in a fight. You don't need a master's degree to know that the asthmatic with an inhaler is not trying to get high. You don't need to be Stephen Hawking to know that a Pop-Tart isn't a gun.

In the face of all the evidence it fails at everything it attempted to do. It was supposed to keep racial biases from interfering with discipline. Instead it puts more students of color than ever on the school to prison pipeline for minor or even non-existent infractions and gives people with biases a great smokescreen. It was supposed to keep kids safe. Instead it silences victimized children by blaming them for being beaten to a pulp (while at the same time harassing kids for eating Pop-Tarts, clearly a higher priority for educators).