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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Romney: Why and how he will beat Obama

Mitt Romney has finally won the Republican primary election. He is the first Mormon ever to do so, though his father came close a generation ago. All that aside, he now faces an incumbent president who has aligned an array of narrowly partisan groups into a formidable voting bloc. President Obama has pandered to gays (approximately 1.5% of the population), Hispanics (closer to 12.5%), and already has a stranglehold on the African-American population (amounting to 12.3%). This data comes from, a non-partisan data gathering organization. Grant him atheists (at 0.4%) and registered Democrats (at 31% of the population) and we come to a grand total of 57.7%. Assuming that nearly all gays and African-Americans (about 90%) would register as Democrats and that roughly sixty-five percent of Hispanics align themselves with the Democrat party and you have a rough estimate of Obama's assembled voting bloc, virtually guaranteed, at 47.3% of the population (adding in majorities of Jews and Asians who also tend to vote Democratic). This assembled array of minorities and partisans closely aligns with Obama's reported AP-GfK poll data reporting that 47% of respondents would vote for Obama if the election were held today.

What challenges does this pose for Mitt Romney? First, he will have to break through some of the traditional barriers posed to any and all Republican candidates. While Republicans have been making steady progress in attracting Hispanic voters, Obama's unilateral (and unconstitutional) amnesty proposal has had real and measurable effects on voting preferences, essentially shoring up that part of his bloc. Given Black misconceptions about Mormonism, Romney will have a difficult time winning over that group. Gays are virtually a lost cause. This leaves former Obama voters in the Asian, Jewish, and White categories.

There is a marked disillusionment with Obama in these groups. Simply from my wife's conversations with her side of the family, uniformly liberal in political orientation, nobody is happy with Obama's performance. They either wanted more socialism or less, more jobs, faster withdrawal from foreign entanglements, and other promises kept which were not. These are the voters who will enable Romney to win in November. This is Obama's Achilles' heel. He has lost the support of White, middle class America. This group, counting only registered Democrats, accounts for twenty-three of his forty-seven percent voting bloc. If they fail to vote, or switch to vote for a Republican who is at least perceived as being fairly moderate, Obama will lose. The excitement over having the first Black president elected has ebbed. Mission accomplished! Voters are now beginning to judge him by his performance, which has been extremely poor.

I think Romney will handily win this election. To enable this, Republicans will have to be extra vigilant about voter fraud, especially with regard to non-citizens voting. The illegal immigrants (and even legal immigrants who are not citizens) cannot legally vote and should be prevented from doing so, yet there have been many instances in which voting by non-citizens has been documented, even in very close elections. If the Republican party can control this factor, Obama's pandering to illegal immigrants will lose much of its benefit and become, in fact, a disadvantage with the vast majority of voters who are against amnesty.

Republicans will likely show up in droves, increasing the traditional gulf between Republicans and Democrats who actually cast ballots on election day. Certainly many Democrats will also participate, but the advantage held by the historic quality of the last election will be greatly diminished. There is much stronger antipathy for Obama among voters than there is excitement for his candidacy.

Romney's task now is to speak aggressively for conservative principles, explain why and how his ideas will revitalize the economy, and attack the Obama record using facts and figures. Americans have become increasingly savvy about economics and how government policy affects such matters, especially those who vote. Talk radio has been a driving force behind this, even for liberals, who must now attempt to refute the arguments of their conservative peers. This means that the voting public will be able to follow detailed explanations of how and why Obama's policies have weakened the economy and why a conservative alternative would strengthen it. Romney is just the person to make that argument.

Obama will likely use ad hominem attacks against Romney's business acumen, attempting to use class envy and misinformation to turn a positive into a negative in the minds of voters. Facts and raw data, clearly presented, will overcome this. Paint Obama as he is, a narrow partisan who ignores reality and the nation's well-being in favor of his pet ideas, and Romney will win by a landslide.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Realistic accountability will retain good teachers

Everyone believes that teachers and schools should be accountable for the quality of their efforts, and rightly so. Teachers are supportive of that notion as well, so long as the methods of measuring accountability are based on something tangible and realistic. Random and subjective methods of evaluating teacher performance are frustrating and lead to a loss of morale, ultimately resulting in a lack of qualified teachers. Such a situation is bad for all stakeholders: teachers, students, parents, and society in general.

The State of Indiana has put together something called the RISE rubric, which it deems to be a fair and effective way to measure teacher effectiveness. To be fair, the skills measured by the rubric are indeed important to quality instruction. However, the method of acquiring those scores is subjective, random, and largely based upon the personality and biases of the person performing the evaluation.

It is likely to improve in the next few years as districts come up with ways to tailor the RISE rubric to their own situations. Urban teachers are likely to score much lower in areas such as classroom management and lesson pacing, for example, since urban culture does not mesh well with the traditional models of education. Vocal volume tends to be higher in urban classrooms, and students tend to be less on-task, at least to the casual observer. In my experience as an urban teacher, some of the most seemingly inattentive students are able to absorb classroom material and retain that information amazingly well, even compared to the quiet, manse students from whom one would typically expect better results.

Using the RISE criteria, if students are discussing other subjects while working on a group project, the teacher's management skills and/or lesson planning are deemed to fall into the  "Needs Improvement" category or, even worse, be "Ineffective." If a teacher should have to remind a few students to stay on track during independent practice (math problems, etc.), it is chalked up to poor planning and discipline. Even the content of class projects is put under the microscope, which will ultimately lead to teachers who are unwilling to think beyond the by-the-book types of lessons and experiment with ideas that really enhance absorption of the material.

As a new teacher in middle school social studies, I felt free to invent very involved projects that allowed my students to experience history and really get a feel for the cultures being studied. We used meditation and chanting to memorize the Chinese dynasties in order, complete with lotus position (for those flexible enough) and a bell to ring in between recitations. We practiced jousting with wooden shields and foam-tipped lances, students balanced on their knees on the backs of larger classmates. We designed suits of armor and constructed them using metallic poster board. We built sections of the Great Wall of China and linked them to make our own model that circled the classroom. In short, we made the material come alive.

When the principal walked in from time to time, he did not balk at the volume of the students as they cheered for their friends while jousting. He did not ask which standards were being addressed by building a suit of armor. He understood that such enrichment added to students' appreciation for history. In fact, every time I met former students in public, even years and years later, the students would recite the dynasties in order just to show me they still knew them.

As a Spanish teacher, I try to enhance grammar with cultural experiences and use art as a means to enhance comprehension. Students build their own pi├▒atas and do other projects that enhance their experience in class. They illustrate picture dictionaries to access the visual memory area of their brains, associating new words with the tactile and visual process of creating art. From a pedagogical, brain function perspective, such activities are highly effective. When my principal dropped in for his hour-long random evaluation visit, he derided the picture dictionaries as an ineffective use of time, essentially a waste. My principal is a former science teacher. He has never taught a foreign language. I have taught Spanish as a bilingual instructor, at the middle school level, and as an adjunct college professor. In all areas, my results have been outstanding. Indeed, even this year, one hundred percent of my students in the high school credit class passed their End of Course Assessments with a score of eighty percent or higher, exceeding the "Highly Effective" standard of ninety-eight percent. My end-of-year RISE rubric score? "Needs Improvement." Why? During two of the four random visits, three of which occurred when I was with my least cooperative class, I had to remind a few students to remain on-task. I was punished in my evaluation for using twenty-five minutes of class to make picture dictionaries. Although my results were solid, I was punished for my methods, even though they produced outstanding results.

I am seeking asylum in another state, or perhaps a change of occupation is in order. If I am limited to teaching in a manner dictated by a state agency whose members have not been teaching for decades, if at all, I cannot be the kind of teacher I want to be. If my results count for less than teaching "by the book," why am I doing this? I may soon be one of the many teachers to abandon the sinking ship. Experiments in education do not always succeed. Every creative lesson risks failure, but to abandon creativity means admitting defeat, refusing to adapt to the interests of students. I do not want to be a teacher in such an environment.

For more information on the RISE rubric, go to this link. I warn you, it looks good on paper. In practice, however, it is destined to result in stale lessons taught by overly cautious teachers. At least results will count for something next year; they counted for nothing this year. Had they counted, I would have been rated an "Effective" teacher. Such inconsistency and injustice is pushing me, as well as many other teachers, out of the system. Fewer and fewer college students are enrolling in teacher training programs. Well, the state has made its bed. I just feel sorry for the students who will have to lie in it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I'm no moderate, just an unorthodox extremist

While my political views are overwhelmingly conservative, there are areas in which I disagree with what the pundits call conservative orthodoxy. Do I believe in fiscal responsibility? Of course. Do I believe we need a strong military, including missile defense? Hell yes! Do I believe abortion is murder? By definition. Do I believe that government which governs least governs best? Definitely.

I am what you might call a Jeffersonian Republican. The federal government has its role, but it should not overshadow the states or the individual. I'm excited about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a program in which a majority of states have come together to adopt universal standards for what is to be taught without federal intervention. This is a good first step. Thomas Jefferson would have approved, as he was the first prominent spokesperson for the idea of common schools.

Education in public schools is essential to having a common culture. I've seen it for many years as an educator. So long as we have immigration, we will need public schools. Assimilation will never occur in an education environment dominated by an array of narrowly-tailored private and charter schools. Why go to a school with the infidel, for example, when you can establish an all-Islamic school at government expense? Why learn to blend in when you can simply exist within the comfortable cocoon of your own ethnicity? Public schools not only routinely outperform charters (see data here), but also perform social functions private institutions simply cannot match.

Republicans also tend to give the concept of free trade quite a lot of undeserved credit. America is undergoing so much dumping (the sale of cut-rate merchandise that destroys native manufacturing) that it isn't funny. I'm all for free trade, all being equal. But all is not equal. We are competing against totalitarian dictatorships who force their citizens to work at slave wages in unsafe conditions. We are facing nations who manipulate their currency to make their goods sell for less internationally. We are giving nations a free pass on tariffs that tax our goods at such a rate that their government often makes more from the purchase of our goods than our own companies do.

I say we tax foreign goods, category by category, at the same rate they tax ours. I say we establish our own exchange rates for foreign currencies; what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I say we abolish income taxes in general and establish a national sales tax of twenty percent on all goods except food, medicine, utilities, and any housing in the first three quartiles of home values for each state. This may sound like a lot of taxes, but when you consider the percentage of one's income that goes to mundane expenses, most people would be paying fewer taxes. However, all foreign goods sold in our country would contribute to federal revenue, whereas under the current system they contribute nothing. In addition, such a policy would remove a major incentive to relocate businesses out of the country and add an incentive to move them back.

However, on none of these issues am I a moderate. There is nothing "wishy-washy" about any of my policy positions. I just try to look at things objectively and rationally with the intention of solving problems by the most efficient means. That doesn't make me a moderate, just someone who exercises the use of reason.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The injustice of being a teacher

I am a bit angry today. I inadvertently let slip the word "hell" in my middle school classroom and had a discussion with my principal about it, who said he understood that such things happen from time to time but to be more careful. I thought that the slip-up and resulting discussion were sufficient and resolved to work on how I phrased things.

This morning I got a note in my mailbox.

It was printed on school letterhead and must be in my personnel file by now. It misquoted me in a way that entirely misrepresented what I had actually said and the context in which the word "hell" appeared. After misquoting me, it said I had taken responsibility for my actions (which I had, but not for the words attributed to me) and warned me that further incidences of using "profanity" in front of students would result in formal reprimands.

I now understand why the more uncooperative students in the room were bragging that they had "told on me" about what I had said. (The cooperative students saw no problem with it and most probably agreed with me.) What galls me about this event is not simply the fact that I was betrayed by my principal, whose tone indicated that he understood that we all slipped up from time to time and had to be careful. What bothers me most is the fact that these same students whose pretended outrage sparked the whole discussion are routinely allowed by the administration to curse in such a way as to shame a rap musician. They tell their teachers to "F*** off!" They call each other "faggots" and "motherf***ers." When sent to the office for such disrespectful behavior, the office referral routinely reads: "Spoke with child. Timed out for rest of period."

Not only do these children receive no consequences for disrespecting those who are attempting to instruct them, but they get to skip class. They are being rewarded (in their minds) for disrespecting their teachers. They receive the acclaim of their peers and are treated as heroes by their less-reputable classmates. Meanwhile, a teacher slips up and uses the word "hell" and his personnel file is forever marked.

There is a disparity between the reaction to a word as common as "hell" and the reaction to calling one's teacher a "fat motherf***er." I realize that asking a few students who refuse to stop conversing loudly during a lesson "Why can't you just listen? Is it really so hard? What the hell is wrong?" is a bit on the uncivil side, but labeling it "profanity" is over the top. Technically, perhaps, the label applies, but semantically it conjures the image of someone who crazily throws out F-bombs and uses the most foul sort of language imaginable. I am not that person and resent being characterized as such.

I have resolved to leave the public education sector. My results have been consistently stellar. One hundred percent of my students passed their End of Course Assessment with a score of eighty percent or higher, most above ninety. This test had to be approved first by my principal and then by the district office. It was comprehensive and rigorous and incorporated every single state standard. Judging by my results, I am an awesome teacher. Results, however, matter little in the politics of modern education.

I believe that the private sector will be a better fit. There, my results will weigh most heavily. Profits will matter more than politics. I will not be frustrated by the expectation that I simply accept indignation after indignation. (The creation of a hostile work environment, after all, is subject to litigation.) I will be judged by my own performance.

I feel sorry for those who are currently in college to become teachers. Most will likely have to work outside of their field or at charter schools which offer no retirement benefits and pay teachers as if they were assistant managers at fast food restaurants. They will never be able to pay off their student loans. Their sense of self-worth will be eroded by a daily barrage of insults and injustice from children who are poorly raised and whose parents will likely spend more energy cursing at the teacher than disciplining their own children if they are contacted about misbehavior.

We have abandoned Thomas Jefferson's vision of an educational system whose primary purpose is to prepare a generation of patriotic and productive citizens. Civics and citizenship classes have, for the most part, been abolished. Teachers are often chastised for requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, at least in those states that still even recite it. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are a perfect example of the end result of this decline. We have raised up a generation of sociopaths and ingrates whose modus operandi is to bite the hand that feeds.

I should have chosen my words better. In that much, I was wrong. It was the type of slip-up that rarely ever occurs for me, as I almost never curse even in my private life. However, the reaction to it compared to the administration's attitude toward language routinely used by students to their teachers is infuriating. It is difficult to smile when you are screaming inside.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Zombie Armageddon

We're already a few years into it, the long-dreaded Zombie Armageddon. As many of you know, science fiction tends to generate ideas that later become reality. The Star Trek flip-phones would now be considered old technology. Night of the Living Dead is now come upon mankind. It all started three-and-a-half years ago...

The real zombies aren't only in Florida. They're everywhere outdated and disproved liberal ideas are discussed. They're aged hippies teaching in universities who have lost the hair on top of their heads but still wear a long grey ponytail in back. They're Democrat politicians who still believe that simply handing out welfare benefits to the poor will end poverty. They're liberal media figures who slavishly praise Fidel Castro and rue the demise of the USSR. There are lots of zombies around. They do, in fact, crave brains--the young, impressionable brains of our youth. We send them to college to be educated and they come out speaking in zombie-English, half-formed thoughts repeated ad nauseum as if they are self-evident truths. Argue with them and their eyes glaze over. They may, in fact, physically attack you.

There is only one way to defeat these zombies. They must be forced to face reality. The chronically unmotivated must be made to feel hunger. If they want to earn a day's food, they must perform a day's labor. It angers me that the United States government pays for jobs involving manual labor when people are being paid to sit and keep Maury Povich employed. Politicians must be forced to pay the taxes they impose. A law should be passed mandating that anyone who votes in favor of a new tax or tax increase must file a 1040-EZ for the years in which the tax takes effect. College students must read Tocqueville, Aristotle, Plato, Edmund Burke, and the Federalist Papers. They must be made to understand basic market economics, including supply and demand, how people and corporations respond to incentives, and how the long term outcome of economic legislation may be vastly different from the immediate effects. They should be taught how and why Communism has never worked and why even the Chinese have abandoned it as an economic model.

A zombie's worst enemy is knowledge. Fortunately, liberal zombism is a curable disease. A dose of cold reality and a sustained dosage of time-tested Truth will cure all but the most severe cases. For example, it seems that this poor victim is irredeemable: