Only One Border

Imagine everyone in the world agreeing to limit their long-distance travel to mitigate the problems associated with climate change. Specifically, imagine everyone agreeing to only cross one border whether state, provincial, or national, in their remaining days on earth.

For example, living in Western Washington State, I could choose to travel only to one of the following places for the rest of my life: Oregon; Idaho; or British Columbia, Canada.

Even though I was born in Idaho, I’m more familiar with and fond of Oregon and British Columbia. Which brings me to a very difficult decision. Oregon has an abundance of beautiful terrain to recommend it. And I still haven’t played Bandon Dunes or any of the adjacent courses. And of course there’s Shakespeare outdoors under the stars in Ashland, cycling in the high desert, running the Deschutes River trail, Batchelor, Hood, the Three Sisters, Crater Lake. Don’t just take my word for it, give this guy’s work a look-see.

Despite the difficulty knowing I will never cross the Columbia River again, I’m going north to British Columbia. For the rest of my life. As much as I like Oregon, I love British Columbia. Victoria, Vancouver, Whistler, the Okanogan Valley, Penticton. Barely scraping the surface of the southernmost part of the province has been enough to tip the balance.

The GalPal and I will stay here a few nights. Here too. And we’ll make regular visits to our private suite at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria.

Part of it is a feeling I get in B.C. I’m sure I idealize it, but I like knowing there’s less gun violence, a progressive head of state, a single payer health care system, and often a self-deprecating sense of humor. I hope some of my Washington State friends are down with my decision. It would be a lot more fun to have some company along for the many, many ferry and border crossings in my future.

 

Make Like Steve Jobs and Narrow Your Focus

Washington State’s Faith Action Network “advocates for social justice in the halls of power”. Here’s their current agenda:

2015 Legislative Agenda

Reducing Wealth Inequality (Our Lead Issue): We will advocate for policies that address the disproportionate accumulation of wealth by a small percentage of individuals and families while others struggle to survive, with particular attention to the negative impacts on women and communities of color.

  • Wage Theft bills (Payroll Fraud/Employee Misclassification, Wage Recovery, Treble Damages, and Anti-Retaliation)
  • State Minimum Wage increase
  • Equal Pay Opportunity Act
  • Increased jobs & contracts for the African American community/businesses

Forging a Sustainable Biennial Budget: We will advocate for a sustainable budget with sufficient revenue to meet the needs of our state while protecting the safety net for those who are low-income and vulnerable.

  • Creating revenue to meet the needs of all of our state (repeal tax exemptions, enact capital gains tax, and enact carbon pollution accountability act)
  • Protect hunger, poverty, and mental health programs (WIC/Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), State Food Assistance (SFA), Emergency Feeding Assistance Program (EFAP), Breakfast After the Bell Bill, Housing & Essential Needs/Aged, Blind, & Disabled (HEN/ABD), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) grant)
  • Fully fund K-12 education (McCleary decision) while not putting at risk our state’s safety net

Dismantling the Culture of Violence: FAN will promote policies to reduce multiple forms of violence across our state that disproportionately affect communities of color and to provide opportunities for economic stability.

  • Human trafficking prevention bills
  • Criminal justice reforms (Inmate Post-Secondary Education, Legal Financial Obligations (LFO) reforms, replace the death penalty statute with life without the possibility of parole, enact “Ban the Box” legislation)
  • Reduce deportations by enacting the Family Unity bill
  • Gun violence reduction bills

Protect Housing and Prevent Homelessness: Supporting the basic human right to have safe and secure shelter by working with partners to secure more funding for and equitable access to affordable housing, helping reduce the rising numbers of those who are homeless in our state.

  • Expand Housing Trust Fund
  • Medicaid benefit for Tenancy Support Services in Permanent Supportive Housing
  • Enact Fair Tenant Screening bill

Sustaining Washington’s Environment: Addressing this vital and critical part of who we are as the Evergreen State, FAN will work with our faith partner Earth Ministry to continue the important work of restoring and preserving Washington’s fragile ecosystem.

  • Support Governor’s climate change package
  • Enact Toxic-Free Kids bill
  • Support more stringent regulations for oil and coal train

These are pressing, inter-related issues, but for FAN to create a more socially just Washington State it needs a Steve Jobs, meaning someone to help them narrow their focus. FAN should seek to answer this question: Progress on which one of these issues would in all likelihood make the others easier to resolve?

Most of us are FAN-like, accomplishing less than we might because we’re trying to do too much. We’re unclear about our purpose in life. At work, our collective purpose is murky. Consequently, we casually commit to random activities, the sum of which rarely equals more than the individual parts.

The Rise of Expert Recommendations

Saturday night, after enjoying a falafel and pear cider with friends at Olympia’s Fish Tale Brew Pub, I read Washington State’s 39 page charter school initiative which will allow up to 40 public charter schools in Washington State over a five-year period. We’re one of nine states that doesn’t allow charter schools. Bill Gates and other charter school advocates are hoping the third time is the charm.

My reading was preparation for a forum discussion I was invited to lead Sunday morning at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Tacoma. My instructions were to take 20-30 minutes to provide some context for the initiative and then explain the arguments for and against it. Then the plan was to spend the remaining 30-40 minutes with the forty or so church members in an open-ended question and answer back-and-forth. I could have invited my right wing nut job of a neighbor who also happens to be one of my better friends. We’ve been debating the initiative during our early morning, pitch-black runs. That definitely would have been more entertaining, but I didn’t want to split the honorarium with him.

I was amazing. Like Fox News, “fair and balanced.” Today’s Tacoma News Tribune* probably describes my presentation as a Romney-Biden mix of preparation and passion**. I started with a joke. I said I think my wife came with me to make sure I wasn’t playing Chambers Bay—a golf course a few miles away, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open. Chuckles all around.

About five minutes into the larger context of education reform, the first hand, a middle-aged woman. “How are you going to vote?” What the heck I thought, I hadn’t even handed out the “Yes on 1240” and “No on 1240” handouts. “Like a good social studies teacher,” I said, “I think I’d like to wait until the very end to answer that.” “But I have to leave early,” she fired back. In the interest of maintaining some semblance of objectivity and suspense, I wiggled out of answering her. After I finished my presentation, an animated discussion ensued. With about ten minutes left, someone else popped the question. “So how are you ready to tell us how you’re going to vote?”

Since I still think like a social studies teacher, my initial thought was, come on people, don’t be lazy, think it through yourselves. But on the drive home, I thought about how I also depend upon expert recommendations. For example, when I first started thinking about how to invest my savings, I read John Bogle’s book, “Bogle on Mutual Funds: New Perspectives for the Intelligent Investor.” Here’s the updated version. Boggle turned me into a passive, index investor. He convinced me I wasn’t smart enough to invest in individual stocks or time the market. Instead of studying the financials of individual companies, I bought Vanguard mutual funds Bogle recommended.

That wasn’t laziness, it was thinking smarter, not harder. Increasingly, we’re all susceptible to information overload. We don’t have enough background knowledge or time to always learn enough to make perfectly informed decisions. So it makes sense to turn to connoisseurs. It makes sense to say to the egg-head education professor who knows public schools and spent Saturday night reading the initiative, “How should I vote?”

It’s a slippery slope though. It’s possible to be too dependent upon expert recommendations. Especially considering “experts” often have a vested interest in how you vote, invest, or spend money. Seconds after this Tuesday night’s Presidential debate, an army of political pundits will try to tell you what you should think about what you saw and heard. Odds are you and I and our democracy would be better off if we unplugged and talked to one another.

Modern life requires some dependence upon expert recommendations, the challenge is figuring out just how much.

At this point, my Washington State readers are wondering, how should they vote. I’ll make you a deal. There’s lots of things you know more about than me. Offer me an expert recommendation (via comments or email) and in return, I’ll tell you how to vote on I-1240.

* It appears as if the Seahawks amazing come from behind victory over the New England Patriots bumped our I-1240 forum from the front page.

** The Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates should be like an athletic tourney—win and advance. Romney and Biden advance to the winner’s bracket and Obama and Ryan to the losers. Given recent events, who wouldn’t want to see Romney v Biden. Then again, Obama v Ryan would be a real snoozer. Another idea. A tag-team format. Whenever you’re getting beat down you tag your partner and he comes to your rescue. Just like we used to do during especially rowdy sleepovers in grade school.

Divorce as Default

Washington State citizens are about to decide whether homosexuals should have the right to marry. There will be awkward moments at dinner parties, some people will switch churches, and the media spotlight will burn bright.

Meanwhile, few people will talk in any depth about when we gave up on the idea that marriage is a lifetime commitment. When did we decide it’s merely a chapter in the book of life? A chapter that naturally runs its course over time?

Some context. First, I’ve written previously that like anyone who has been married for a long time, my Better Half and I have struggled at times, more than outside observers might guess. We drive each other batshit crazy at times, but we’ve never stopped caring for one another, and we’ve persevered. I’m sympathetic to anyone whose struggling in their marriage.

Second, about two years ago, a friend of mine confided in me that he and his wife had separated. He was committed to fixing it, she wasn’t. It quickly became apparent that she was troubled and he—and I suspect his children—are better off now that the marriage has been dissolved. I acknowledge some people are better off getting divorced. Third, I don’t want to return to the days when divorcees were discriminated against.

Despite those caveats, while reading a popular blog recently, I couldn’t help but wonder when we gave up on the idea that marriage is a lifetime commitment. The post that caught my attention was an announcement that after eighteen years the author had asked his wife for a divorce, moved into an apartment, and started his life over. Childless, he and she were still getting together regularly and were committed to “always being good friends”. He alluded to underlying issues, but understandably didn’t want to go into the details.

To summarize the hundreds of comments that I skimmed, the consensus reply was, “Sorry to hear it man, but hey stuff happens, you two are great people, good luck going forward.” Even allowing for the impersonal nature of the net, the laissez-faire responses made me wonder if our sense of community has completely frayed.

Marriage ceremonies are public celebrations where family and friends form a wedding community, witness the couple’s commitments to one another, and vouch to support them going forward particularly during difficult times. In practice though, given our work-a-day mobile society, newly married couples rarely live in close community with the family and friends who pledged to support them. No man may be an island, but a lot of married couples are.

People don’t see their friends’ divorces, whether they attended the weddings or not, as a collective failure. Instead, they take a “there but for the grace of God go I” approach. Guess I’m hopelessly old fashioned. I reject the notion that divorce is to be expected, that a life-time together is unrealistic.

Whether we can figure out how to do a better job supporting existing marriages through thick and thin is every bit as important as what the media spotlight is beginning to shine on in Washington State.

School Principal Shortage

The Obama administration wants to improve public education by removing principals from poorly performing schools. Far fewer principals than planned have been replaced because most states are suffering from a shortage of credentialed, able principals.

As a result, Washington State is proposing an alternative routes principal certification plan for non-educators. Yes, for non-educators. One of the first things I learned at the different schools I worked at as a beginning teacher was few of my colleagues respected my principals even though they had taught previously. The majority sentiment was they had lost touch with teaching’s challenges. Adversarial teacher-admin relations were the norm.

How on earth will non-educators earn the respect of teachers? Legions of teachers will exit faculty meetings saying, “What the hell does he/she know about child or adolescent development, about curriculum and assessment, about teaching excellence?”

One wonders, what are the sponsoring state legislators thinking?

A friend of mine is a well respected high school principal. We run together. He tells stories. I listen. Often in amazement. It’s an incredibly demanding job. Impossible if faculty don’t respect you. There are lots of ways for leaders to earn respect, but the main one is to identify closely enough with the people you lead that they conclude, “He/she gets me and gets my work. They understand.” No certification program will compensate for non-educators’ lack of classroom teaching experience; consequently, they will struggle endlessly to earn the respect of their faculty.

But the news isn’t entirely bad. In the interest of fairness, I’m sure teachers will soon have the opportunity to run businesses, work as military officers, head up police departments, pastor churches, or practice law.

Failing at Education Reform

There are three keys.

1st) Spend lots of money and time coming up with goals so lofty that they aren’t really achievable and so vague that they can’t be meaningfully assessed. As a safety measure, make sure the goals are irrelevant to the teacher-student relationship so that if they’re accidentally accomplished, they won’t have much of an impact on student learning.

2nd) Prepare lots of PowerPoint presentations and write reports filled with JAA (jargon and acronyms) to mask nebulous thinking and create an insider “we’re in the know and you’re not” feel to things. If successful, few people will understand well enough to ask questions so no real rationale for proposed changes will be necessary.

3rd) Most importantly of all, exclude teachers as much as humanly possible. Always think top-down. Teachers aren’t that smart and they just get in the way with their insights into classroom life and such. This is easy to do, just don’t communicate much about scheduled meetings, and as a back up, schedule them during the school day. Be consistent in sending the message, “This work is too important to include you.” Remember, you attended school for 12-13 years, you’re an expert. Teachers need you to tell them what to do. They’re depending upon you.

That’s all there really is to it.

Washington State’s 2010 Education Reform Plan provides an especially fine example of these principles at work.

1st) Four goals:

1) Enter kindergarten prepared for success in school and life.

2) Compete in mathematics and science nationally and internationally.

3) Attain high academic standards regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or gender.

4) Graduate able to succeed in college, training, and careers.

All in all, lofty, vague, dancing around the teacher-student relationship. Exemplary application of the goal-setting principles.

2nd) See the PowerPoint and report links above. If you’re not a teacher, read them. If you’re a teacher, you should be grading or preparing for tomorrow.

3rd) Note in the report the PowerPoint slide titled “Process for Soliciting Feedback”, bullet point two, “Engage stakeholder groups”. This is the reformers finest moment. This slide is worth a thousand words.

Granted, there’s never a perfect example. Turns out there are a couple of classroom teachers on the Professional Educator Standards Board, and I’m not sure, but there may be a few more lurking within other groups. But Washington State deserves major credit for articulating goals and planning how to meet them with teachers almost entirely excluded.

Budget Blues

Washington State—2011—Proposed cuts in education spending—in millions of dollars.

K-12 & Higher Education Spending Reductions
Use of federal education dollars (“Education Jobs”) (208.1)
Higher Education Across-the-Board Reductions (51.1)
Eliminate K-4 Enhancement (effective February 1) (39.4)
Reduce education reform programs (9.2)
Reduce OSPI administration and program funding (3.7)
Total (311.4)