On Politics in the Classroom

The top story on the Hartford Courant’s website right now is entitled “Reactions Vary in Connecticut To President Barack Obama’s Speech to Kids.” Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the story lacks a single reaction from a student to Obama’s speech. Indeed, a single meager sentence describes the speech itself. Instead, the article consists primarily in cowardly bloviation from school administrators regarding why they did not carry Obama’s speech to Americas students, a tradition inaugurated and continued by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.

As someone who spent his entire pre-collegiate education in Connecticut’s public schools, I feel like I have some experience with politics in and surrounding the classroom. My earliest political memory is casting a vote for Bill Clinton in my elementary school’s mock Presidential election. I fancied myself a Democrat. A friend, who thought himself a Republican, told me that I ought to have voted for Dole. “Bill Clinton is going to fire my grandfather,” he said. This didn’t make sense to me then. That friend is now regurgitating roughly the same line as an up-and-coming member of the national College Republicans, except “fire” has been replaced with “kill with a death panel.” I would hesitate to say that his views haven’t evolved, and would rather simply explain how mine have.

As a civically-minded student, I watched as Republican elected officials in my town sought yearly to slash the education budget. Annually, teachers and students and parents would get up in public meetings and implore their officials and fellow citizens not to cut AP programs, or after-school sports, or whatever was on the block that year so that those in the schools would have the opportunity to better themselves if they so chose. Often these requests fell on deaf ears. AP programs were called “taxpayer funded college credit,” rather than a necessary prerequisite if a student wants to get into a competitive institution of higher learning. Each year more students would sit in smaller classrooms and be afforded fewer opportunities.

I watched as Republicans around the country sought to strip or cripple science in our textbooks. I watched teen pregnancies increase as sexual education was curtailed by Republicans who thought themselves excellent moral arbiters. I came to know a couple of things. The first was that to be a public school student in the United States is to be a political football from the age of six to the age of (hopefully) eighteen. The second was that if one values a public education, one oughtn’t be a Republican. These lessons were not taught to be my any ex-hippie or socialist idealogue teacher, as the stereotype seems to be. Rather they came negatively from watching those in civic life who were openly hostile to a reasoned discourse and informed debate.

Currently we have a President who has inspired and empowered a previously unreached and unreachable demographic. Scholarship continually shows that a crucial element of raising educational standards and closing achievement gaps is increasing the educational involvement of the nuclear family. The President recognizes this and has spoken on it in the past, as other Presidents have. More importantly though, the Obama family is a powerful and modern example that activists seeking to improve education in this country have long hoped for. President Obama is a former teacher, a powerful writer, and a stirring orator. Not only should he be allowed to speak to America’s students, but he ought to speak to America’s students.

And yet we find ourselves once again in a silly–and I can think of no nicer way to describe it–situation. An element of this country, their own education belied by their general ignorance of the Presidents policies, actions, history, ethnicity (I could go on, getting embarassingly fundamental in my noun selection), have shrieked discordantly at the prospect of the elected President of the United States speaking to students in the public education system. Believing that in his speech telling students (as the Courant puts it all-too-briefly), “to take responsibility for their education, stay on track and set high expectations for themselves,” the President is actually somehow brainwashing and Communisting their unfortunate children. School administrators, as they always do, balked in response, and an event that should have passed generally with a “well that’s nice!” has instead been turned into another face-in-palm spectacle of general ignorance.

We have certainly taught something valuable to students with this sad story. One can only hope that they’re able to perceive it through the noise.

Lieberman on Health Care Reform

Originally posted by Scarce over at MLN. He is not a fan of a public option, and thinks that it is the major barrier to reform:

Long Weekend Open Forum

What’s on your minds?

Courant Issues Apology for "Plagiarism"

Sorry I’ve been in and out of the discussion the past couple of days. Now that I’m all moved in back at school though, my posting should pick back up.

While I’m waiting for class to start, I thought I’d post some excerpts from the apology the Courant published today for its role in the aggregation/plagiarism controversy I first wrote about here.

The Courant, after first denying the charges, has today published an apology for what it terms its “plagiarism” of other local papers. In the piece, Courant CEO Richard J. Graziano concludes:

In short, after an extensive internal review, we have determined that over the last several weeks The Courant plagiarized the work of some of our competitors. This was not our intent, but it is in fact what happened. We are taking corrective action to prevent it from happening again. We have also disciplined the individuals involved.

The apology itself is pretty comprehensive. While it’s good that the Courant came clean, it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and probably makes the Courant’s continued pitch for the efficacy of print media more difficult down the line.


In Defense of Solitaire

On Tuesday morning, radio host Jim Vicevich was fired up the instant his microphone went hot. 

He opened his “Sound Off Connecticut” show with a withering critique of the state budget passed by Legislative Democrats and focused considerable ire on the photo he’d seen on the Hartford Courant’s website, depicting two legislators playing solitaire and a third checking ESPN.com. 

Within two hours, that photo had made the jump from the Courant website to the infamous Drudge Report, where it blasted worldwide.  For the rest of the week, cable news anchors have generated faux outrage, political candidates grumbled about shamelessness, and casual observers rolled their eyes.

Jim Amann, former Speaker and erstwhile candidate for Governor, got a good barb in at his former colleague speaking in the photo, House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, saying: “If anybody has listened to Larry Cafero, it’s the same speech five or six or seven times a year, and it causes solitaire to pop up.”

The Milford Republican Town Committee has gotten into the act as well.  Referencing the solitaire-playing legislator from their town, they will soon be the proud hosts of the Rep. Barbara Lambert Solitaire Tournament.

But with a movement afoot to ban such activities in the Hall of the House, there is a contrarian view that has to be expressed here.  We don’t need less solitaire in the House of Representatives – we need more.

State legislators, when confronted with a bill for state government that exceeded revenues by $8.5 billion, simply put the debt on the state credit card and went home.  They didn’t make the kind of hard decisions required by billion dollar deficits; instead, they securitized $1.3 billion of “undefined revenue streams”.  They didn’t conduct an honest line-by-line review of every state program, ending the ones that don’t work and investing in the ones that do.

The situation demanded the very best from our legislators and instead they punted.  The Governor did well to hold the line as long as she did, but even she ultimately used her Get Out of Jail Free card as Genghis noted.

So given their performance, it would be better if all the legislators spent more of their time playing solitaire.

Larson Town Hall in West Hartford

A good report here from LocalOnlineNews.tv:

Courtney Town Hall – Part IV

Here are the final questions from the Town Hall Meeting held by Second District Congressman Joe Courtney.

22. You haven’t taken my phone calls, your office has not responded to my questions so I came here in person. I am a small business owner. My standards are “profit and simplicity” (Loud cheers from audience). Looking at a 1016 page bill I find no simplicity. I can’t read it and understand it when it continually refers to “Section X, paragraph (3), line 52. This bill is too complicated. If you are so committed to health care, why not take one issue at a time so that issue is easily understood. Fight on my behalf, take one issue at a time, not full blown health care.
Courtney – I am on the Armed Services Committee and ship building is a big deal in my district. The Defense Bill is a ‘Hugh document” I wish you could put the U.S. Code changes on one page but the change has to refer to the previous law that is being changed. It is a tough challenge to the committee but the HR3200 bill will help small business by allowing them to join pools.

23. Health Care is only for those who can afford it. What safeguards exist to prevent companies from dropping health care coverage for employees when this bill becomes law?
Courtney – There are penalties for companies that “dump” employees. They will have to pay an additional tax. On the other hand, companies like Pitney Bowes that has a progressive welliness plan for employees are able to keep their plans unimpeded.

24. I don’t understand why people are against profit. This bill does not include any tort reform. I did not go to work for anyone but self and family.
Courtney – The bill is based on an employer based health care system. The focus of Section A is on this aspect of the health care system. Regarding tort reform, the Congressional Budget Office study shows that tort reform does not save money for the Health Care System. Expenses are the same or greater in states like Texas, who has strict tort caps, as in other states, without these caps. (Audience booing and shouting during this answer).

25. Will there be mental health parity in this bill?
Courtney – This is a key part of the bill. Mental Health parity was signed into law by President Bush about two years ago and this bill preserves that aspect of costs.

26. Why does the health care have to be government controlled? Medicine is personal. We may need reform but we don’t need government control.
Courtney – Right now the Insurance Companies have panels to approve your coverage. There are different forms for different companies. This is a great burden on doctors, hospitals, and other providers. The bill will establish a standard form. This, in its self, will keep costs down.

27. There are other studies that show tort reform will provide significant savings. There should be tort reform.
Courtney – no comment since time was running out.

28. Insurance companies don’t deny care. (Loud sounds of disagreement with this statement). All you have to do is go to the hospital and get the service and then pay for it your self. The bill will ration care and deny care unlike the current situation.
Courtney – There is no rationing in the bill. There are no “death panels” in the bill. There is no requirement to take action at end of life, the bill merely pays the doctor for his time when this discussion occurs. Currently, the discussion occurs, but the doctor does not get paid.

This was the last question. I found out later that Congressman Courtney then went to the high school cafeteria and talked with another group of people who were not able to get into the auditorium. This meeting lasted around forty minutes. According to a remark in the comment section of the New London DAY on line article, this session was not as volatile as the auditorium and everyone asked and answered questions politely.

Despite some comments attached to both the DAY and the NORWICH BULLETIN Articles, I believe that the crowd was evenly divided in the auditorium. After the meeting, one person commented that she thought the anti health care reform persons were rude and disrespectful but I thought the meeting was fairly tame when compared to some of the meetings seen on TV.

I hope the reader found these four posts useful in understanding the Health Care reform proposal.l