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Waiting for Superman, Poverty, and STRESS

  • Posted on December 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

This has been one crazy messed up year.  I think the weather has made everyone slightly crazy.  In many ways the weather has been a sign of the Armageddon to come in the world of education.  We educators are mired down in a political system that is creating more problems in education than thoughtful solutions.  After being home a few days and celebrating Christmas with my son, I have come to realize just how stressed out I feel.  In school I feel like I am doing everything I possibly can as a teacher.  Many people have no idea what I really do as an art teacher, but it is far more than just playing with clay!  This year we have been told to add two new subjects to our teaching arsenal, reading and math.  I already do a considerable amount of writing with my students so this is “doable”.  However, I don’t think most people have any idea what is going on in school today.  By the 2014-2015 school year 50% of any Michigan teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance.

The word going around the state is half of the teachers will be let go because they won’t be able to meet this standard.  We basically have been warned to fix the problem or else!  Now think about all of this and ask yourself if you want your child facing some crazy teacher that has to “whip your child into shape”.  Not literally of course, but in some capacity your child is going to be facing a teacher that has much to lose, so he/she better step up.  As I am enjoying my holiday time and de-stressing, I suspect some children are doing the same!

Today I watched “Waiting for Superman”.  The main premise of the movie is, of course, that the problems in education can be traced to the nation’s poor teachers and the teachers’ unions!  Imagine that!  I found this movie to be quick to denigrate a whole population of teachers with generalizations while basically giving no real solutions to any of the problems in education.  While it may be a catalyst for “merit” pay and charter schools it really isn’t going to be the change agent that magically turns the problems around in education.  If this movie was supposed to be the catalyst for changing education, it fell way short from that goal.  I was treated to visions of small children waiting for their number to be called from a lottery system that would determine whether they would get the” ticket” to the golden school or have to face another year in hell at their local school.  At one point, they showed a chart that “proved” that money didn’t help because back in the seventies we were spending $4,000 per pupil and now it’s up to around $9,000 and the testing results have remained flat.  Of course those of us in Michigan know that the true number for most schools is around $7,000.  In the movie this was used to show that adding more money doesn’t make a difference.  Of course in my mind I thought $4,000 in 1970 would be a hell of a lot more money than $9000 in 2011 but then I am not an economist.  I’m just a tax payer who lived through the seventies.  I bought my first new car in the seventies.  It was a Chevette and it was $4000.  In the early eighties I bought a mini pickup and it was $8,000.  You guessed it!  I bought a minivan in the early nineties and it was $16,000 but by the end of the nineties I paid $24,000.  Now I know kids aren’t cars but you have to wonder about the numbers in the movie because if the cost of cars has gone up surely the cost of an education is naturally going to go up as well.  I know that students going to college are feeling that super cost of an education.  I left college in the seventies with a $3600 loan.  I bet many students today would do anything to end college with that kind of loan!  So that little chart meant absolutely nothing to me.

Of course they wanted to assure teachers that they are more than willing to go to a merit pay system that would be a six figure system for the right results.  Michelle Rhee spoke about this in the movie and mentioned a figure of $125,000.  I think these numbers are basically meaningless.  It’s really about dividing teachers and pitting the math and science teachers against everyone else.  The movie showed parents that were willing to cart their child off to a special school that would mean getting up super early in the morning in order to get the child their by 7:45 a.m.  I found that interesting because we all know that the key for most children is the parents.  If the parents aren’t following through at home by setting aside time for homework, reading, sleep time, nutrition, etc. than the child may not perform as well in school.

The other night I watched CBS news and it showcased a state champion high school football team from Georgia. The coach felt that one of the key reasons they won the state championship was because of a special grant from the federal government that fed around 500 students their dinner.  It was set up like meals on wheels.  They delivered dinner to students at risk.  The coach noticed that by Tuesday his football team was plumb out of juice.  He wondered how he could get more calories in his team.  They needed more nourishment because most of them were on free or reduced breakfast and lunches but were not fed at night!  This was in what was said to be one of the poorest counties in the state.  To me this is all tied to education.  We have been told that we must rise above the stigma of poverty.  Poverty isn’t a reason that should stop us from doing our jobs.   Children can learn even if they’re poor.  Yes, I agree that children can learn even if they are poor.  However, if they are stressed and worried about their next meal, mom and dad’s job, or anything else that most children shouldn’t have to worry about, the battle for an education becomes more difficult!

Often times these students suffer in silence.  They are embarrassed or afraid.  They don’t want anyone to know that they are having a tough time.  Leave it to the politicians to spend ample time on putting blame where it doesn’t belong and not looking for real solutions.  Much of the problems in education are tied to the same problems in our country related to the economy.  That 8.6% job figure that is being touted as the new unemployment figure is just a made up number.  There are far more people that have given up on looking for work or have lost all hope.  They get shoved off the figures and the nation gets a false sense that things are getting better for everyone.  I think things are getting better for some people but there are many still struggling and this will be reflected in our education system even if the politicians choose to overlook the reality of the situation.  Our economy has been on a steady decline since the seventies.  Is there any thought that maybe the decline in the economy and education might possibly be related?  If the politicians really want to fix education, they should start focusing on fixing this economy.

My Art Student, Occupy Wall Street, and those Pesky Politicians

  • Posted on December 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I had a student recently create a work of art that really made me think about how easy it is to understand the 99% versus the 1%.  So many of the pundits that I have watched on television have said that the Occupy Wall Street group doesn’t have a clear message, or a spokesperson and this is why they won’t be successful in whatever they are trying to do.  That’s the media, the machine that is trying to douse the flames of this current movement.  I want to share the painting that my student created.  First of all, she is a seventh grader of Mexican heritage.  She recently moved away and I’m sad to see her move as I would love to have worked with her more to see what inspires her.  The painting was the result of an assignment I had given.  She was working with a group of students and they were learning about Pieter Bruegel.  I challenged them to create a small painting inspired by the artist they were studying but to put their own “twist” on it.  Yareli did not let me down.  Below you will see the piece that inspired my student and you will see what she painted.

Pieter Bruegel, The Misanthrope

She had to write a reflection statement about her artwork.  This is what she said, “My artwork is pretty good.  This project helped me know what colors can make a different color.  My artwork could have been better but I wanted it simple.  It’s a better version of the artist I copied from because now days it’s the poor who are being robbed and that brings more attention to the one looking at it.”

Her artwork can be seen so you can make a comparison between the two pieces.

Yareli's Artwork

I think it is interesting that so many pundits and politicians profess to just not understand the Occupy Wall Street group when a little seventh grade girl can see what’s happening in the world today!  Newt Gingrich even suggested some ridiculous idea about taking a bath and getting a job.  I think the politicians and the pundits have a pretty good idea why people are so fed up with the way things are run in Washington.  They are just trying to get us off topic by changing the subject to bathing and trying to make people think the Occupy group is just a bunch of hippies.  You know those pot smoking, sex driven, street people, that are dirty.  Most of us are tired of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer because of those Washington policies that favor wealth and corporations over living wages, education, and jobs.  There is always enough money for Wall Street bankers and private corporations tied to our military industrial complex but there is never enough for the little guy.

I, for one, am thankful for the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  It takes a lot of guts to go out and really protest.  I can write on my little blog and say some of what I’m thinking but these people really put themselves out there, day after day, taking the abuse for the rest of us.  I couldn’t believe the way those young college students at UC Davis were pepper sprayed.  The video that everyone has seen shows how abused they were by the campus police.  It was surreal to watch as the students innocently stayed calm in the face of real adversity.  It must have seemed like a torturous nightmare to them that the police would spray them over and over when they were being so compliant.

UC Davis Students from LA Now from the LA Times Blog

What prepared those young students for the ability to sit still like that?  These are kids that have grown up with computers and comforts that their parents might not have had but they are still able to reach down into the well of what is right and wrong and take a stand!  I commend them and anyone else that is out there trying to make a difference in this screwed up world where up is down and down is up!  It’s almost like we have reached the Land of Oz where nothing seems to make sense.  We are facing a nightmare with the richest one or two percent controlling the lives of the rest of us.  I would like to see a change in our government but I don’t see it happening.  Too many that have the power to make the change are living in the world of the 1%.  They don’t care enough about the rest of the people.  If they did, they would stop playing these political games and get something done to get this country moving again!

I was watching C-Span today and there was a woman on talking about tax breaks for making energy improvements to your home.  A guy called in about transportation and how we should be creating a high speed railway system across our country.  I couldn’t help but think about all of the jobs that could be made from such a move.  The other day I was telling my new trimester of sixth grade students that we don’t know what the jobs will be when they grow up.  A tech guy had been in the room fixing a computer.  I told them that twenty years ago his job didn’t exist.  I went on to say that if jobs continue to be so difficult to find that the people getting the jobs will have to be innovative, inventive, and creative.  Unfortunately, politicians are the same old, uncreative, uninventive lot that they have been for years.  While they are sitting in their ivory towers of inequity telling the rest of us how to live, the creative innovators are being silenced.  They are silenced by this class of lazy, stale politicians that only live for one thing, their own greed!  My last post I pondered why the choices for president are so damn bad.  Unfortunately, the 1% and 99% don’t have a lot in common, one is looking for a hand up onto the boat and the other is pulling the ladder up and saying the boat is full!  I think the politicians are already in the boat ready to set sail.

Choices, Choices, Choices….NOT!

  • Posted on December 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I’ve tried to think up a reason why I should be interested in the presidential race and I fail to see the point.  For me it seems like the current boss is much like the old boss and the next boss will be a repeat of the current boss.  Why should I care about this election?  The electoral process doesn’t really care about my vote any way.  If you listen to the pundits and you are a Republican, you shouldn’t even bother to vote.  It’s a done deal.  Well, almost a done deal, except for that pesky Newt Gingrich.  I remember back to the 2008 primary.  I was really into that election and then I discovered that the Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans.  The process of voting in this country is deeply flawed.  While President Carter runs around the world trying to make sure elections are fair, he never looks in our own country for deceptions, lost votes, or discriminatory practices to deter people from voting.

In my humble opinion our country has lost much of the democracy that we fought so hard to obtain.  We have elections that are run by the deep pockets of corporate influence.  Those of us that want a choice and crave a choice between the two parties are left making a selection between bad and worse.  We continually vote for the lesser of two evils.  The two parties have made it virtually impossible for a third party to really structurally exist.  It’s not just about the ungodly amount of money it takes to get elected for anything; it’s the process of getting on the ballot.  It’s as if the two parties have secretly met to create this process.  They both benefit from it and the American people are the losers!

In addition to this process is the amount of legacy corruption.  It seems a pretty good bet if you father was in politics, you will be as well.  I don’t know how this all started, maybe it was the two Adams.  I don’t want to hear the argument about how I’m a teacher and my parents were too.  I just think it cannot be true that a few families are the only ones with the smarts to be president.  The other thing that I can’t stand and will mention here is Yale and Harvard.  In recent times it has become all too clear that no one that went to a “state” university could ever become president in this country.  For all the talk about Obama and Clinton coming from “Nowheresville” the truth is they both had handlers that put them in key positions along the way to the top and yes they both went to Harvard and Yale respectively.  I don’t trust the system at all.  I used to believe that my vote really counted and it probably does in local elections.  However, when I look to the top of the ticket it really is a corrupt system.  Both parties have fake primary and caucus systems where they have us pay for these elections when they already know who they want at the top of the ticket.  They use the media to spread the venom necessary to get their guy to the top.  When necessary they create some fake group that manages to steal votes for one guy or the next, like in my case here in Michigan when my vote was given to Obama in the primary.  Forget about women, they have never made it to the top really.  They have been used to appease those of us out here that believe in real equality between the sexes.  They’ll give us a token woman to put on the ticket and then pat themselves on the back for their sense of equality.  Behind closed doors they continue their “good old boy” mentality of running for office and ultimately running this country.

We see images of these guys looking like they are on different sides and then they come out with some piece of shit legislation that they can all agree upon.  Usually it is something we don’t see as the big picture and it is usually something to help corporations and hurt the middle class.  The media continues to work with these politicians trying to get us ready for the hailstorm that is to come into our lives, whether it is cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or even the current union busting legislation that has really come down from the top.  Yes, here in Michigan we teachers worry about the new legislation that our governor and Republican legislature has forced upon us.  However, the truth is even this has a blind eye coming from the Democrats.  President Obama was for “merit” pay way back in the summer of 2007.  I saw his speech on the NEA website back during the NEA convention.  The words “merit pay” has always been union busting words to me.  Fast forward to today.  We supposedly have moved to merit pay but of course there is no money for it and who determines what holds merit anyway.  Teachers have been vilified by the media.  It used to be as a teacher you were respected.  According to the media storm many of us are incompetent and lazy.  We don’t do our jobs and we just live for the summer.  All of the ills of society are the burden of the current crop of teachers.  We are responsible for everything.  It is our fault if a student doesn’t perform on some mysterious test that some corporate entity has determined is worthy.  It doesn’t matter if that child has problems at home, lives in poverty, or is emotionally disturbed.  We, as teachers, are their new mothers, fathers, cheerleaders, psychologists, mentors, and provider of all things positive for that child.  If a student comes to us damaged, we have to make him whole.  It’s not an easy task.  We have always known that we must be more than a teacher.  However, now we have the threat of the loss of our job if we cannot magically pull that rabbit out of the hat.  It doesn’t matter if we have a passion for teaching and if we can be successful with most of the children.  What matters is some illusive number on a piece of paper that tells a child they are either worthy or not.  I am appalled that we have been pushed to a point where children will be scrutinized to the point that they cannot help but feel the pressure.  Their teachers are being pressured.  The children will feel that desperation.  They have to buck up and so do the teachers.  As a teacher we have no choice but I cannot help but wonder what is going on with politicians these days.  Can’t they see that tying 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to a test is going to create much anxiety for everyone involved?  Maybe they don’t care.  I would not want my child to be stressed in this manner.  There has to be a better way to get students ready for their adult lives than this.

So back to that question, “Why should I care about this election?”  Obviously, there is a lot happening in government that makes me care about what is going on in our country.  The problem is the lack of a real third party choice that could make it to the top.  I saw Buddy Roemer on the Alex Whit CNN show this weekend.  I was surprised that he made sense.  Buddy was governor of Louisiana a long time ago.  I don’t know much about his politics.  I looked him up and it appears that he once was a Democrat and is now a Republican.  What I found interesting is the fact that he cannot participate in the Republican debates even though he is running for president.  He polls too low, so they won’t even consider him.  He talked about having a Democrat as a running mate to break the gridlock in Washington.  Since I see both parties as being similar this really isn’t a stretch.  What he said just made me think about the obvious problems with our system.  He doesn’t take any corporate money.  He limits the money to $100 donations.  No wonder he isn’t going anywhere but it says a lot about our system.  Money is the root of all evil right?  In politics, money talks and if you don’t have the corporate money, you are going nowhere fast.  Our election process is flawed.  I believe the money has to be taken out of the process especially in presidential politics.  The amount of money that is going to be raised for the 2012 election is enough to make anyone ill.  I think it’s too bad that money couldn’t be used for our education system or some other sinking ship in our government.  Instead it will be used to buy our next president just like it was used to buy our last one and the one before that! I have no real useful words of wisdom.  I’m just a frustrated voter wondering why our choices for president are so damn bad!

MEAP, Stress, and Life in General

  • Posted on October 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Every school in Michigan knows what this involves!

Last week at school we finished giving the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program).  Everyone could finally let go of a collective sigh of relief.  I personally think it is pathetic that as an art teacher administering a math test, I didn’t sleep well the night before.  I kept waking up and every time I did I kept thinking “Katie, remember to give the second part first.”  Why you may ask was this the case and what was stressing me out?  The fact is that I had a large group of students and I wanted to make sure that they were comfortable in my room.  The group I had was advanced math students but there is still that nagging pressure to perform.  Everyone at school from the administration on down to each and every student understands that we have to perform well or face some kind of “consequence”.  All of this results in the first month of school becoming some kind of crazy world where every bit of scheduling is about preparing students for the tests that they will be taking in October.  I almost feel like this week is the first week of school, except that we are now meeting with parents for parent/teacher conferences.  With all of the interruptions that I have had in scheduling, it just doesn’t feel like we have been in session for six weeks of school.  My seventh hour advanced art class had at least two full weeks when I barely even saw them!  This week is the week when everything will finally get back to normal, well sort of normal.  There are also many individual student schedule changes which are very annoying to me and probably to every other teacher that is involved.  I’ve had students switched from one art class to another and their grades are lost, so I have to go back and find all of their artwork and resubmit their grades.  All of these things are the housekeeping part of teaching that I really don’t enjoy.

When we were administering the MEAP tests we seemed to have very short planning times.  As a result, I am so far behind with everything from grading, Artsonia and every other aspect of my school and home life that I haven’t even been able to blog at all!  So tonight I figured I would let people know that I am alive and kicking but so very stressed out that I cannot even imagine how tired I’ll be at the end of this week.  Our parent/teacher conferences are on Wednesday and Thursday nights from 4:00-8:00p.m.  Normally we would have Friday off.  However, since we are going to have the Wednesday off before Thanksgiving, we will be at school on Friday.  I’m thinking that the students better be on their best behavior because there are apt to be some tired and grumpy teachers in school on Friday!

These bears were at the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids during Artprize. I don't know if they are still there but they were made with a chainsaw and are very whimsical.

So, in the past month there has been a lot happening in the art world here in Michigan with Artprize and with my inspiring students and in the “real” world of politics with the death of Mummar Gaddafi and the announcement of the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.  Of course there are also those Republican candidates that just don’t seem to create much excitement beyond the confines of the Tea Party movement.  With what is happening in most of our lives, it’s hard to get excited over politics these days.  It’s tough deciding who to vote for when most of the candidates seem like Pete and Repeat!  President Obama has kept all of the Bush policies going and so he’s a Bush repeat and the Republican candidates sound like broken records when they repeat the same thing over and over.  It’s usually something about taxes and health care.  I feel worn out listening to them.  The one thing they all need to do is figure out the job situation.  The lack of leadership on this issue is appalling.  I do hear the president talking about his job’s plan.  The only problem is he still lacks real conviction.  It seems like a game to try and get ready for the 2012 election.  I hate being so cynical, but after being promised change and discovering that change only really meant we now have a black president, I’m disappointed.  I was ready for a black president.  After all, I got used to one watching “24”.  The president being black should not be the only thing that defines his presidency.

Fariha, an eighth grader, who dazzles me with her mixture of the merging of her life in Bangledesh and her American life.

Several months ago my brother asked me if I was going to vote for Obama.  Honestly, I don’t know who I’m going to vote for, but I remember telling my brother that Obama needed to get us out of these two wars if he wanted my vote.  (We weren’t involved with Libya at the time.)  I also told him that it couldn’t mean just taking troops out of one country and putting them in another.  I wanted a president that was more like FDR and less like GW.  So far, I feel like Obama lives in the shadow of Bush.  Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, even reminded us on Sunday that the schedule for troop withdrawal was actually the time table that President Bush had set up!  Imagine that!  When President Obama sent those troops into Osama Bin Laden’s compound, he once again gave credit to President Bush.  Yesterday, I heard Pat Buchanan singing the praises of President Obama on foreign policy.  Anyone that knows the politics of Pat Buchanan has to understand why some of us just don’t get Obama.  It makes me think of that country song about being country before country was cool.  With Obama, I feel he was Republican way before he was ever any kind of Democrat!  Maybe Democrats just aren’t cool.  I don’t know if Obama lost his way or if he never had a true path to begin with.  I just feel like he doesn’t understand what many people are going through that have lost their jobs, taken a lesser job, or have given up looking for a job.  Talk is cheap.  We have been taught from little on that actions speak louder than words.  The politics of Washington is deafening silence as each politician turns a blind eye away from the poor, the disheartened, and the disenfranchised.   I saw a statistic scrolling on the bottom of my TV screen the other day.  It basically said that 50% of American workers make less than $26000 (I don’t know the exact figure.) a year.  That is a shocking statistic and I’m not sure what study it was from but we all know that the top two or three percent control almost everything.  Politicians in Washington need to wake up to the reality that is facing our country.

Cory, a seventh grader, who is quietly creative and a model student!

We have great wealth, but alas we have many people that are struggling at the bottom trying to get ahead.  We keep telling our kids to go on to college only to discover how saddled with student loans they have become.  It’s a glass house those student loans are built on.  Hopes and dreams are easily shattered much like the dreams of our youth when they struggle to find fulfilling work after they have committed to years of indebtedness.  Will they get bailed out when they can’t fulfill their financial commitment?  Probably not but, rest assured the bank they are dealing with will get bailed out!

Lela, a 7th grader, a young girl with a thousand things on her mind!

These artworks were created by a few students this year in my art classes.  This is why I teach.  I love working with these young people full of creative energy!  They are the reason I am so frustrated by our political system that rewards cowards and destroys and deters innovative thinking!

The End of Summer Vacation

  • Posted on August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Beautiful Duck Lake in Norhtern Michigan

This year has been challenging for me.  In addition to teaching my regular art classes at school, I chose to take some courses so I could move up on the pay scale.  Originally I was going to take my 20 credits over a period of two years.  However, with everything our governor was busy doing in Lansing, I decided to escalate my goal to be completed in one year.  The classes I took were online courses that were actually very involved and demanding of my time and effort.  This summer I took the final two courses, both involved with using technology in the classroom and developing 21st Century literacy skills.  Now that I have finished my original goal, I have some time for reflection before the students start coming into my classroom.  I am really proud of what I accomplished this year.  While I’m glad I was able to get a pay raise, I was actually surprised at what I have taken away from the courses I took.  I know that I am a better teacher today because of them.  I always thought I was a pretty good teacher.  I have always been very dedicated to my profession and to my students.  What I have learned over this past year were some very useful strategies for helping students to become more motivated in the classroom, better classroom management skills, a greater understanding of adolescent student behavior, and ways to develop and integrate 21st Century literacy skills into my art classes.  That sounds like a lot and trust me it was!

I finished my courses on July 18th and since I hadn’t had a moment from the time school was out until then to have any summer at all, I decided to see if I could find a cottage where I could spend a week on a lake just relaxing.  My online search led me to Traverse City Chalet which is a cottage on beautiful Duck Lake near Interlochen and Traverse City.  As the picture reflects, this decision gave me a peaceful summer retreat.  This was just what I needed to get ready for the next school year!  I even managed to spend some time drawing and painting.  I loved it so much I’m going back next summer.  Two of my brothers, Joe and Paul, reside in Leelanau County so I invited them over for a barbeque.  I really didn’t want to leave the lake but I wanted to see them.  My brother, Bob and his wife, Sue, were also visiting Michigan from Alaska.  The dinner party included Joe’s wife Karin and Paul’s ex-wife Bonnie as well.  I am so happy that I got to see everyone as I haven’t been up north in a couple of years.

Given my families love of politics and discussing political issues it didn’t take long before the conversation turned to politics.  What I noticed was the fact that I was surrounded by political conservatives.  I consider myself to be a liberal.  These of course are just words that we attach to ourselves and most people don’t really understand exactly what they mean so I’ll explain what I mean.  My parents were really FDR Democrats.  They were married in 1934 and lived during the Depression and their experiences were shaped in many ways by the Depression.   They were savers and they didn’t waste anything.  My mom and dad were both teachers and my mom was very involved in the union at her school in Kingston, Michigan.  They supported the Reese teachers during their strike.  I can remember going to Reese as a kid!  In my young life both as a Catholic and as a child of my parents, I learned about caring for other people.  So when I say I’m liberal, the policies I’m talking about are policies to help and lift up people so they can become productive citizens.  I believe in helping people that may not be in the best circumstance to be their own advocate.  This doesn’t mean that I think I know what is best for people.  It just means I believe in finding ways to level the playing field.  This can be done mostly through public school education in many ways because the truth is education is the big divider in most countries.  Those that have a good education can usually attain a more successful job and lifestyle than those that don’t.

So I’ll get back to the dinner I shared with my brothers.  What I came away with was how deeply divided politically my family really is.  My brothers grew up with the same teachings I did but we are a world apart in our views.  Bonnie and Sue both like Representative Michelle Bachmann because she is a tax attorney.  I was shocked because in my mind she has said some crazy things.  My brothers are over the top conservative.  Paul even talked about child labor laws and how they are detrimental to the work ethic for young people.  I said the laws are put in place to protect children.  Of course it made me think about the governor in Maine that is working on changing those child labor laws.  This divide that I witnessed at our dinner really seems to be all across our nation.  It isn’t just my family.  It may be your family as well.  The next day my brother Bob came back because he forgot his hat.  We chatted a little longer and I asked him how he could possibly have become so conservative given our parents and our upbringing.  He said he was a Mormon.  Several years ago Bob became a Mormon and that was his response.  I don’t personally know if all Mormons are politically conservative like Bob, but that was his response.  It felt like that was a standard answer.  I didn’t get an in depth response and of course religion choices are always very personal and I don’t think it’s my place to question him about his decisions any more than he should question me on mine.  This dinner party was relaxed and fun and nobody was fighting about politics.  Paul did bring up my hefty donation to John Edwards and made some snide remark about how I helped pay for John’s mistress.  Of course, I told my brothers that I don’t look to politicians of any type for my moral code of ethics and that I still believe in what John Edwards talked about.  He wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, you know the poor!  Of course Paul says John’s a big old phony and that’s the end of that.  Unfortunately, with Edwards being the constant poster child for scummy politicians that voice for the poor is silenced.  On both sides of the political arena politicians have been all too human.  I wouldn’t put any of them on some kind of moral pedestal.  Some of them have even been fairly good presidents though.  Everyone knows about FDR and his mistress or Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Bob said FDR was a terrible president.  Bob said he read some books and I could feel hatred from him for FDR.  My parents loved FDR and they lived during the time.  I have to wonder if Bob’s feelings have more to do with the morality issue than the policies.  It doesn’t matter.  Our country is divided.  We can’t even agree on how to teach our kids.

The conversation moved on to education.  I personally think the push for constant testing is crazy.  Of course we have to meet certain standards but there is far too much emphasis on passing “The” test.  I told my brothers that a test isn’t what any of us remember from our days in K-12 education.  We may remember taking the ACT or SAT as those were memorable days because we were getting ready for college.  However, what most of us remember about our schooling is either some teacher that made us feel great or some teacher that made us feel lousy!  The rest is probably not that important to us today.  What is important for students today is still having great relationships with teachers.  Students need teachers that truly care about them, not how they perform on some test, but about them as children.  Teachers have a powerful position.  They can elevate dreams or crush them!  To me the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are both programs that have forgotten the key element to a quality education.  Money is tied in both of these programs to test scores.  This is ridiculous.  The push towards merit pay is not a true standard for teaching quality.  Ultimately, what will be retained by the students in the end after all the dust settles is whether a teacher cared about them or not.  Those students won’t remember the test as being important to them.  They will remember the teachers that treated them like an individual with a heart and a soul.

Monday and Tuesday of this week we had our first “teacher days” at Sturgis and our open house at Sturgis Middle School.  Of course I was in my room last week unpacking my supplies that were ordered for the coming school year and working on my room getting it ready for the open house.  Last Friday I invited a couple of seventh grade girl students to come in and help me and we had a lot of fun.  We took a break and ran to McDonald’s to get some lunch.  We brought it back to the room and those two girls had me laughing so hard I could hardly stop.  I know they are going to remember that silly day they spent with Ms. Svoboda and I will also remember it.  They felt special and I felt special to have some time alone with these two girls to get to know them even better.

Last night we had our open house.  I came away from that open house knowing how much so many of my students really do love me.  It is a wonderful feeling to know that I am having a positive influence on a child’s life.  I had a girl come back to see me.  I was astounded to realize that she is a senior this year.  I told her I wanted to show her something.  Back when she was at the middle school she gave me a student picture of herself.  I had taped it inside this swivel draw under my desk.  Whenever I open that swivel drawer, I see that picture and think of her.  I know she was blown away that I really do remember her and care about her.  She told me she is going to bring me a senior picture.  The point I’m trying to make is when these students are treated special by their teachers, they will remember those teachers.  I love teaching and I love middle school students, even the ones that on occasion drive me crazy!  I know they can have bad days but I also know that if I can reach them and develop a positive relationship they can accomplish great things.

I ended the night an hour after open house because I had a long conversation with a parent and a child that I really care about.  I gave them what I felt was some good advice so that this child will hopefully have greater success in her other classes this year.  As they were walking out the door the little girl had to come back to give me a hug!  I know she knows I care about her.  The point I’m trying to get at is not how wonderful I am but at how important it is for all of us teachers to remember that what is most important in our students’ lives today is not some test, but is still the relationship you create as a teacher.  As a teacher, I feel I wear many hats.  I have to teach, sometimes be a parent, sometimes a friend, and sometimes a counselor.  I have to know how to get a student back on track when their having a bad day, or had a fight with a friend, or seemingly doesn’t care about anything.  Anyone that thinks being a great math, science, art, music or any other type of teacher can be scored by a single test a student takes is just plain stupid!  The true measure of a teacher has more to do with what they have in their heart and their capacity to be persistent and patient and loving with the children they mentor and teach.  I don’t know exactly how this can be measured but I do know that when you can see it in action, you can recognize it!  Great teachers are those teachers we all remember in a positive way.  We hold them in our hearts and remember how special we felt because of them.  I have two teachers that I remember the most.  One gave me a briefcase for my books when I was moving away.  I was in second grade.  The other was a teacher that I remember paddling a boy almost daily when I was in fourth grade.  I know which one I have always aspired to be like.

Standard and Poor’s, My Thoughts

  • Posted on August 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Just like every other American I have been wondering about the Standard & Poor’s decision to down grade the United States long term rating.  I have been thinking what affect it might have on the country and even my own personal situation.  The personal situation comes up because the stock market is so volatile.  Now I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have some investments and it seems to me that they had just bounced back from the beating they took in 2008.  I decided I would do my own investigation into this rating decision.  Instead of reading the newspapers, I personally think it’s best to go the source.

The reason seems to be tied more to politics than anything else.  We all know that the country seems to be on a confused path.  Most Americans know that the Bush tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, should not have been renewed.  We are at a point in this country where the politics from the Republicans and the Democrats seem to be weighing heavily on our country by the very ineptness showcased by both parties. We are left in our small towns and big cities wondering if there is anyone in this government that knows what the hell their doing.

I really believe that the Tea Party rhetoric totally exacerbated this situation.  Michelle Bachmann even continues to use this in her speeches as if she somehow has the correct solution to the problem.  The problem with her stance is that she still clings to the idea that voting no was a good solution because after all raising taxes should never happen.  President Obama, for his part, has been weak and ineffectual.  While he seems to be embracing those very items that the Republicans want like changes to Medicare and Social Security, he refuses to really push two things that could be game changers, raising taxes on the higher incomes and retracting from these endless wars.  President Obama has embraced just about every program President Bush began.  The Republicans actually should love President Obama as he gives into them at every turn.  The change in governing from the Bush times to the Obama times is really flawless.  There really isn’t any real change.  I know President Obama ran on the words, hope and change, but actions speak much louder than words.  From my perspective, President Obama is much closer to Republican thought process and governing philosophy than he is to Democratic principles.  So, you might be wondering why I see this as basically a political problem even though in my mind the two factions are actually close in their basic philosophies.  I see them as playing “good cop, bad cop” roles.  They show us how divided they are but secretly they are still going to parties together, golfing, and having friendships with each other.  How else could such seemingly diverse people like James Carville and Mary Matlin stand each other enough to be married to each other?  Now, you can say politics makes strange bedfellows, but I believe this is just another hoax on the American people.  The people in the two parties seem more interested in their own personal situations than they do the best interest of the country.  The politics have gotten in the way of governing.  Each decision seems to be a calculation about who is going to gain or lose from the decision.

There is an article that caught my attention.  It’s from June of 2009 in the Bloomberg Businessweek.

This article is by Nikola G. Swann who is the primary credit analyst for the rating decision.  The article was about why the United States still had a AAA rating status.  One thing caught my eye, so I compared what he said to the current document about why they changed the rating status.  Here is the most important part of that document.

Why does Standard & Poor’s continue to view the U.S. as a AAA credit?

We believe the U.S.’s key credit strengths include:

• A high-income, highly diversified economy, with unusually flexible labor and product markets.

• The unique advantages associated with the U.S. dollar’s preeminent role as the world’s most used currency.

• The country’s openness to trade and capital flows and experience in adapting to associated fluctuations.

The country’s stable political system with strong, long-established institutions, its ability to respond to changing economic and financial circumstances, and its transparency in policymaking.

However, this is the part that really caught my eye.

Still, we believe that the fiscal outturn in the U.S. will be somewhat better than that in the U.K. because of what we view as the greater diversity and, consequently, resiliency of its economy. We expect that the U.S.’s net general government debt will rise to about 90% of GDP by 2013; we expect that of the U.K. to rise to nearly 100%.

It’s the 90% by 2013 of GDP that I found interesting.  If you go to the current document, in one scenario the 90% is met at 2015 and 101% by 2021 and in another 77% by 2015 and 78% by 2021.  Obviously, one is the downside and one is the upside scenario.  The document than goes on to compare what S&P deems to be similar countries to the USA and why they made a rating change.   The country that stands out is Canada.  Of course we are friends with Canada and there are always comparisons to be made.  However, I will point out here that there is a huge difference between our populations.  Canada has nearly 34 million and we have over 307 million.  The debt to GDP ratio for Canada is much lower than any of the other countries and is listed at 30% of GDP.  I found this interesting considering the fact that Canada has universal health care.  Their taxes aren’t crazy really and they don’t even tax lottery winnings.

They have oil reserves that are second only to Saudi Arabia.  That’s something I didn’t know.  They also rely on the United States for both import and export business.  I n 2009 73% of their exports were to the USA and 63% of their imports were from here.  So, you might be thinking how does this all tie together?  In the document that explains how the S&P came to their decision they said this:

We have changed our assumption on this because the majority

of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise

revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.

They also said this:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as

America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective,

and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt

ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in

the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our

view, the differences between political parties have proven to be

extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting

agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program

that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and

Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on

discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on

more comprehensive measures.

From my viewpoint it looks like politics got in the way of everything.  Some people think that this was political because of S&P alone.  I don’t know about that.  This document might explain something about their influences.

It appears that some of the people and their families that work for S&P have given more to Democrats than Republicans.  As you scroll down, you will notice S&P contracts with the federal government.  I don’t know how any of this ties together, but I’m sharing it here because it might be important as a matter of disclosure.

The truth is we have been on a downward spiral for years.  We have spent money on two wars that was essentially borrowed money.  We were told early on that the Iraq war would be paid for by Iraq oil reserves or some such nonsense.  The military has basically doubled in spending and while doing all of this, we did not sacrifice anything other than our young people who gave so much for these wars!  While our soldiers were giving their lives and limbs, back home we were embracing the Bush tax cuts.  In each of our states we have witnessed the problems associated with all of this.  As the federal government put more in the wars, we received less in our respective states.  Many states are hurting and a good reason they are hurting is the lack of funds.  Cuts have been made across the country.  This year is unprecedented in the cuts that many states are facing.  The cuts that are most personal to me are those to education.  To me, educating our people is extremely important for the future growth and stability of our country.  An uneducated electorate is dangerous.

I sit here frustrated by a president and Congress that can’t seem to do what is necessary for the betterment of our country.  Get us out of these wars, including Libya, and get rid of the Bush tax cuts!  However, the most important thing our government should do is a jobs bill.  Certain states get an influx of cash from the federal government in the form of disaster relief.  Texas received $74,523,000 for hurricane Rita alone.

I feel Michigan and many other states have economic disasters that are never addressed quite like those states that have floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.  Our whole country needs some disaster relief to rebuild the shambles from the economic disaster left from the loss of the manufacturing jobs.  In my mind, if we build it, they will come.  Just like in the movie, “Field of Dreams”, we should build our country up.  We should fix our infrastructure, transportation, and bring broadband everywhere in the USA.  We should not be cutting money from education but infusing money into education to get every student prepared for 21st Century jobs.  If we do this, we will make this country a better place for business and growth.  Everyone will win from this scenario.  Yes, if we build it, they will come.

Here is some food for thought.  I think if the Republicans hadn’t taken over the House of Representatives, we wouldn’t have received this rating.  In fact, we will never know, but I believe the stock market would be far more stable.  Prior to the Republicans taking over the House, the stock market was coming back.  Things were picking up some.  I was happy to see my personal portfolio coming back.  However, when the Republicans came in, everything changed.  Everything constricted in government from money to jobs.  The FAA even had to furlough people because decisions couldn’t be reached.  Jobs were held up because decisions couldn’t be made.  Representative Boehner and the Tea Party may be standing by their convictions, but I say at the detriment of the entire country.  I say shame on the Tea Party Republicans for letting our country down and shame on President Obama for treating this deficit debate like a political game as well.  After the debate all we heard from the pundits is who won and who lost.  It’s obvious the American people lost and no one could possibly consider these politicians to be winners!

Some of the American People……

  • Posted on August 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm

According to the President, the United States hails some of the most productive workers in the world.  I would say words matter Mr. President.  Today you said there were two things we could do.  I waited anxiously to hear about taxing the wealthy and creating a jobs bill.  Neither one was one of the two.  According to you the two things we can do is make cuts to Medicare and “reform” the tax code.  You still are repeating the same old sorry agenda that got us into this mess.  Shame on you!  You have chosen to follow the “Bush” agenda from dealing with the economy to continuing in endless made up wars!

President Bush came from a structure of corruption and bankruptcy.  The businesses that he and his family have been involved in have many questionable features.  Whether it was the sale of his Harkin oil, his daddy’s deal back in 1989 to grant a national security waiver for the sale of two Hughes Aircraft company satellites to China, Neil’s Savings and Loan scandal, or Jeb’s defaulted loan from Broward Federal Savings and Loan any way you look at it, Bush came from a family of corruption.

Yet, somehow he managed to get those corrupt hands on our government.  Bush became President and ushered in the Bush tax cuts and the notion of endless war.  He destroyed what little gain we had made under the Clinton years with these moves.  However, ultimately with these moves the rich were allowed to get richer and the regular people and the poor were appeased by their personal tax cut not realizing that their personal wealth would eventually shrink and their wages would stagnate.  The American people were fooled by the Carny of all carnies.  So, I ask you Mr. President why you would choose to continue this fraud on the American people.  What are you getting out of this?  Your speech didn’t inspire confidence in the American people.  I was ready to give you a break.  After all, the Tea Party has literally brought us to the brink of disaster with their game playing.  However, it appears that you are right there with them!  You stand there ever the “Pied Piper” expecting us to follow your melody and jump into the sea with you.  This is not leading.  The small mention of jobs was so miniscule that it’s obviously not something you spend a great deal of time worrying about.  That crack about “some” of the American people are the most productive in the world was really quite un-American in its left handed compliment.   In other words, some of the American people suck!  I guess the “suckiest” one of all, is you!  You fail to inspire people to do the right thing.

The priority in this country should be jobs.   The only way we are going to compete in the future is if we start working now on building up what we’ve lost in this country.  We don’t even have to go to the big cities any more to see where our infrastructure is failing.  We can drive over any road in America and know that something needs to be done.  We can visit any town or city in America and see abandoned buildings where there once was a bustling factory or store front!  We need to revive our country and make it have a first class infrastructure.  Take the money out of defense and put it into our infrastructure because this has become a national defense problem.   We have the best military in the world.  We spend more than all the other nations combined to get it.  However, what is it fighting for?  Is it fighting to keep our American values here at home?  If that is the case, then we are losing the war because our jobs have been outsourced and believe it or not people are valued by what they do.  Why else would we refer to people as being a “lazy bum” or a “brilliant surgeon”?  With so many people in our country out of work what do you think they feel like?  I believe most people want to be productive in our society.  So, when you say “some” of the most productive workers in the world, I have to wonder what you mean by that.  People need to be inspired Mr. President.  They need to know that everything possible is being done to get our country on the right track for the masses, not just for the wealthy.  The divide in this country is continuing to grow deeper and deeper.  You are in Washington D.C. surrounded by other people of wealth.  I suggest visiting the real world for a change.  You live in an artificial world that just doesn’t understand what it means to be out of work without any real new prospects for work.  You live in an Ivory Tower surrounded by corruption where deals are made every day that don’t take the middle class and the voiceless poor into consideration.  You live in a world where no bid contracts are given out in places like Iraq, probably in exchange for some political apple polishing for the next big political race.  You live in a world where talk is cheap about transparency but where the American people are always the last to really know when they have been royally screwed.  The problem in our government Mr. President isn’t just that you lack leadership.  The problem with our government is that you probably are right.  “Some” of the American people are the most productive in the world, unfortunately they are not, and I repeat, “Not!” the American politicians.

Testing, Matt Damon, and Imagination

  • Posted on August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This was painted by Annalisa, one of my students....being allowed to express herself!

As the summer winds down and I am spending time preparing for the new school year, I find myself thinking about my own potential as a teacher.  I feel blessed to be able to teach art in this 21st Century where politicians seem to think the only thing of value is math and science.  It boggles my mind when I think about my own potential as a child.  I have always felt that I had a deprived childhood because I didn’t have any art classes in my K-12 education.  It is truly remarkable that I have spent much of my adult life as an art teacher.  I would never have pursued art in college, if it hadn’t been for the student friends that happened to see my drawings.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I remember drawing pictures and putting them up on my bulletin board.  I had no training.  I just liked to draw with a simple pencil and paper.

I grew up in a large family with 14 kids.  I have always felt that when you grow up in large families with little money you learn to be creative.  Maybe you have to find new ways to play because you don’t have that fancy toy your friend has or maybe you have to fix something because you don’t have the money to buy a new one.  Regardless of the reasons, I feel my family circumstance contributed to my creativity.  In addition to that is the fact that I had good parents.  They both were teachers, but they also were devoted to their family.  The family came first.  My parents would go without many things to provide for the big brood they had.  I can remember my mom coming home from teaching at the end of a long day.  She would lie down on the couch with a cold compress on her head.  She did this almost daily, but then she would always get up and make the family meal.  Everything would be from scratch.  We never went out to eat!

From very early on, I knew I was going to college.  I’m not sure why I knew this as my two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.  Maybe because I’m the youngest, I had a better opportunity as a girl to go on to college.  My oldest brothers all went on to college.  The four oldest each went on for their doctorates.  The fact that both of my parents even had gone to college was quite remarkable.  They didn’t come from wealthy families and they were born in 1909 and 1911.  Education, obviously, has always been important in my family!  This is one the reasons I find the current turmoil in education about standardized testing so ridiculous.  As I grew up in a family of 14 children, we were as different as the day is long.  We weren’t clones of each other.  We all had remarkably different personalities and interests.  Some of us were probably better “test takers” than others, but taking a test could never really determine who we became as adults! Some of us might have even been considered “late bloomers”.   I don’t think any of us ever would want to remember our K-12 experience in school as being about testing!  However, today students are spending much valuable time preparing for “important” tests.  Much of the school day is designed and structured around that yearly test.  Each school has to make adequate yearly progress.  This test taking business is just going to get worse.  Recently, here in Michigan, the governor signed a new bill into law that will eventually require 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student test scores.  As a parent there is no way I would want my child subjected to this kind of education.

My son is 27, so he isn’t part of this craziness.  I look at my students much like my child.  Since I had my son so many years ago, I have always felt that I should treat my students the way I would want my son to be treated by a teacher.  I always wanted my child to dream big and be creative.  I wanted him to see possibilities and use his imagination.  I worry for the students of today.  Are we doing everything we can to make them into compliant little test takers?  Is that really what a teacher is supposed to be doing?  As an art teacher, I know my job is a big one in this high stakes testing time.  I have to give my students wings so they can access their creativity and play with their imagination.  So much of time in school is spent with the constant pressure in the back of everyone’s mind to improve test scores.  Now, it will even be elevated as teachers discover that their jobs may be on the line, if they can’t get their students to pass the state test!  Now, most of you reading my blog probably have some reservations about all of this test taking and what it really means for the future.  However, some of you may think teachers are just not doing their jobs today, because you keep hearing about how we have fallen behind in the world!  Truthfully, politicians have chosen to go after teachers because many of us belong to the last strong union standing.   Do you really think it’s the fault of the teacher if a student can’t pass a state test?  There are a lot of reasons students don’t pass tests.  One thing we know for sure is poverty plays a part in test taking.  At our school and probably many others we make sure students have a snack before they take the “big” test!  There are many factors that can affect test scores.  These are everything from poor nutrition, to lack of sleep, to inadequate test taking strategies (Yes there is a strategy for this!), attention problems, distractions, to even daydreaming!  Some days are also better than other days.  Maybe you just had a bad day that day.  Who knows what’s going on in a student’s head on any given day?  I remember a young lady that came into my art room that seemed out of sorts to me.  I asked her what was wrong.  She first said nothing and then she told me that she had been in an accident that morning.  The point I’m trying to make here is that teaching shouldn’t be about just taking a test and yet it seems like that is all the politicians care about.

This was painted by another student of mine, Cleanna. Shouldn't we be opening the door to imagination and creativity in our schools?

If you think back to your favorite teacher, I bet you don’t think about the fact that he or she taught you how to take a great test!  You probably think about the day when you felt special, like your teacher really cared about you!  I hope I make students feel special when they come into my art room.  I really do care about them.  The other day I was at the Three Rivers’ Meijer store shopping and an older woman was so upset because of some “screaming brats” in the store.  She thought she had an ally in me.  She thought the parents were terrible that couldn’t control their children!  She also thought they didn’t care that other people were annoyed by them.  I told her I was a middle school teacher.  It was obvious she wouldn’t want that job!  She told me she likes dogs but not kids.  She could tolerate her own children but even her grand children had better behave or she’d give them the boot!   I let her know that I like all of my students even the ones that frustrate me.  So many people that criticize teachers would not ever want to be stuck with thirty middle school students themselves.  Most of the teachers I know really care about their students just like I do.  We realize that at the middle school level students can bounce around with their behavior.  They have good and bad days.  They need adults around them that really care about them and can help them transition into adulthood.  If teachers are left worrying about test taking it gives less time for teachers to really spend caring about their students’ individual needs.  We are not all clones of each other and the students we teach are as different as my brothers and sisters were from me when I was growing up.  At the middle school I always think it’s interesting because there is no one student that can show us what a middle school student is, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and interests!  So, I’m left asking myself the question why we have a government that insists on a test where one size fits all.  Matt Damon gets it and I really hope you take the time to listen to his full speech from last weekend.  It’s not that long but at one point he says, “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.”  Truthfully, none of the qualities that I bring to my art classroom as a teacher can be determined and evaluated by a student test score either.

I am so excited about this new school year, not because my students will be great test takers, but because I can’t wait to work with my students and push their imaginations and creativity.  Just like any other year, I have a thousand things racing through my mind.  I’m filled with ideas for lesson plans for the new school year.  I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students, so they can take the seed of an idea that I begin and create something totally new and different from any other person.  As the government has us all “race to the top”, I’ll have my students all chart a new path for their own creativity and learning.  They will learn from each other.  They won’t run over each other racing for some golden imaginary ring devoted to test taking.  My students, for the brief time they are with me, will hopefully have an opportunity to access their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  These are skills that will serve them well in this 21st Century!

The Deficit, Brian Williams and the Ivory Tower of Congress

  • Posted on August 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Brian Williams "job shadowing" Speaker Boehner.

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.  The deficit problem has been solved.  If you know me, by now you know I’m being sarcastic.  Sunday night my sister called me as she wanted me to turn on the show Brian Williams was doing on Congress.  He took us on a tour.  I called her afterwards and told her that I thought it was a waste of my time.  She took a different view because it showed such a deep contrast between the average American’s life and that of the people that represent them in Congress.

From my perspective, it reminded me of the Vatican.  I know you’re wondering what that’s about, so I’ll explain what I mean by that.  The men in Congress look rather effeminate.  There is nothing virile looking about any of them.  From Senator Conrad running around with his pet bishon dog, holding it on his lap much like Paris Hilton does her pooch, to Senator Harry Reid showing off the art in his offices explaining how Speaker Boehner cannot have the art in his office because he’s a “smoker”, these guys are all rather “prissy”.  It’s hard to believe that Harry was once a boxer!  Throughout the tour we were shown the activity at this vast institution.  What I witnessed were a lot of well dressed men in Armani suits and of course NBC chose to show women’s feet walking in high heels on the highly polished marble floors.  It reminded me of that view of Sarah Palin’s legs.  While they may have been trying to prove a point, the shot seemed rather sexist to me.  The men wear their Armani suits while they are in Washington and their Mr. Roger’s sweaters or shirt sleeves when they go home to visit their constituents.  I’m not fooled by that attempt to appear like “one of us”.  The women, well there still aren’t that many so about the only one I noticed was Nancy Pelosi.  At one point you could see the unwashed masses, I mean American tourists, were off in an area merely left to be bystanders in this high drama world of high stakes politics.  I witnessed the gratuitous little black girl break away from the pack and run and hug Nancy Pelosi.  That whole scene seemed staged to me.  As an artist, I was thinking about Norman Rockwell’s painting of Ruby Bridges.  Watching Nancy embrace this child was supposed to be a heartfelt moment for the American people to witness, but of course I’m a cynic and figured Nancy had to get some Purell as soon as possible.  I don’t believe for a minute that any of these politicians want to hold our hands.  I’m talking about the hands of their constituents.

Norman Rockwell's painting of Ruby Bridges.

I was shocked by a number that Brian mentioned.  Somewhere in the piece Brian said 30,000 people work in that building, running back in forth between the Senate and the House.  I found that shocking and was left wondering which one of those 30,000 is the dog walker for Senator Conrad and just how much is the running of this place costing the American people? You can  watch this Dateline Special here.  It’s broken down into different parts.

On Sunday we were treated to the inner workings of Congress, but on Monday we got to see the complete capitulation of Democratic politics.  It seems with this big bill we will have a “Super Congress” that will make decisions that the normal Congress can’t seem to do on their own.  As a voting member of the public, I am appalled by this.  This “Super Congress” will be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, three of each Party from the House and Senate.  We voted for the people in Congress to represent us.  We did not vote for a “Super Power”.  It seems to me that this whole process is flawed to begin with because Congress has given up their individual voting power to a Super Power.  Years ago one of my brothers always used to talk about the 12 men that run the world.  Now we have the two party system of rule that is going to decide what’s best for the rest of us.  The Independents, Green Party, or any other “party” that may have been trying to be a voice in our politics absolutely has no voice!  Are these Super Congress people going to end up being approached by the Super Lobbyist people?  You have to be wondering by now who is planning on being these “Super Powers”.  We all thought Elizabeth Warren would get the job she was born to do.  However, we all know how that turned out.  Who thought up these super powers, someone that wanted a super job?  We all better hope Representative Paul Ryan isn’t one of the “chosen” ones.

I don’t profess to have the answers to our problems, but I know there are three things we need to do.  First, we need to stop being the world’s policeman.  We spend a tremendous amount of money on defense spending that is really just a policeman for the world.  The defense has grown so big that there is much fraud, abuse, and even lost money.  It’s time that we got out of the wars in the Middle East and used some of that defense money that is used to build bridges and roads over there to build them here.  Second, we need to focus on jobs here.  It takes money to make this happen.  We must invest in our country by fixing the infrastructure that includes our roads, bridges, schools, cities, electrical grid, sewer systems, and transportations systems.  If we want business to thrive in this country, then we must have a first class infrastructure!  We need to develop new jobs for the future which probably can be created easily around “green” and biomedical fields.  Finally, we must invest in education for everyone.  We must have broadband everywhere in the United States.  This is the way business works today.  If you don’t have access to the global network through broadband, you won’t be able to grow your business and expand it as easily and quickly.  The focus in education should not be on ridiculous test taking strategies but on giving students the type of education that they need to compete in a 21st Century environment.  This means that our students today need much different skills than we needed when we were kids.  They still need to read and write but they need much more than that.  While politicians are busy creating new test taking stumbling blocks for teachers to focus on and forcing evaluations of teachers tied to these tests, the world is moving on in education by focusing on 21st Century literacy skills.  Those skills are not about taking some test that was developed by a 20th Century developer!   These skills involve information literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, information technology, and leadership.  In addition to all of this we want to develop students’ creativity and innovative thinking, self-direction, professionalism, ethics, and social responsibility.  Wow, that is a lot to accomplish and yet it seems like as a country we keep focusing on standardized test scores.

As I sit here today, I keep thinking that we have a Congress that is working like they live in the 18th Century and not the 21st Century.  These guys may think they are 21st Century because they discovered Twitter and Facebook, but the reality is they are still living in the past acting like they are some unique genetic material that cannot be replaced.  They appear to live in an Ivory tower far removed from the toils of the American people.  They have everything subsidized and taken care of for themselves from the walking of their pet pooch to their lunches and even to the art in their offices.  They have nothing to worry about except their next election and that’s what their focus is on.  They are ever the politician looking for votes.  Monday night after I watched the vote in the House, I went on Twitter and I saw a Barack Obama’s tweet, so I went to it.  He was so proud of this event and he wanted money for his campaign!

The Definition of Insanity

  • Posted on July 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm

This guy may look unassuming and normal, but he has the power!

We’ve all been told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result.  This came to mind to me when I thought I was going through a “Ground Hog” moment when I heard the House passed their bill again last night.  Yes, they may have made some minor changes to it, but truthfully, why waste our time with something that you know isn’t going anywhere?  Steadily this week I watched the “Dow” go down, down, down, and I thought about how it had just recovered after the big slump of 2008!  Leave it to politicians to play political games that make everything unstable for all people.  Waiting until the last possible minute to settle this issue is costing our country in many ways.  I still feel that this was orchestrated just for political reasons and that both parties want to dig deep into Social Security and Medicare and make changes that aren’t probably what the American people want. Here is an opinion piece from Patrick Martin at the World Socialist Web Site.  Now, don’t let the fact that it’s on the WSWS website deter you.  This is interesting and really should be read.

I don’t trust either party, but I have to wonder what’s going on with the Tea Party people because most of them seem absolutely clueless!  The Republicans have prostrated themselves at the altar of Grover Norquist.  He has far too much power, far more than any one person should have!  Here I found a video way back in the 2008 primary where Grover gets to ask a question during one of the Republican Primary debates.

Many of the guys took the pledge to never raise taxes.  If you don’t take the pledge, you don’t get any love from Grover.  All I can say is “never” is a long time!  I just can’t get over how powerful this guy really is.  He seems to come before God and family for politicians!  I went to Wikipedia and he has a long history of working for lower taxes.

Now I don’t care much for Lawrence O’Donnell or his show but this is a good clip to watch.

So, the real question is why is Grover so powerful?  It appears to me that he has deep pockets and the total backing of the Republican Party.  This document should be read but it has some scary bits in it.

I thought these two items were very telling of who is behind Grover and what the plan is.

On Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, Norquist said the following about the Bush Administration, “We is them, and they is us. When I walk through the White House, I recognize as many people as when I would walk through the Heritage Foundation.”

“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”— The Nation, 10/12/2004

Both of these quotes should disturb anyone reading them.  This is the guy that has the power in Washington, not you or me.  We should all be afraid.  I’ll end this piece by letting you know that Grover can be a funny guy.  Maybe it’s his “good old boy charm” that has helped him get where he is today!  This is from his own website doing a comic stand up routine for the “Funniest Celebrities in Washington”, whatever that is.  This is his baby, Americans for Tax Reform.

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