Newtown: Evil May Be Its Source

Have we lost our way? I don’t think so. But we are definitely missing the point. There is a body of wisdom and mistakes that we have accumulated from past millennia that tell us about living, about love and despair. There are voices old and new outside of policy makers, practitioners, and others trained to stick to scripts of talking points and scripts that are great for looking at the components of issues but are at a loss for new ideas or how to use the wisdom of old. Those voices fall short when confronting new challenges outside of their reach and training.

In the face of fear and grief, of hurt and pain, we jump on the visible, the available. We look for single source, sensible cause and solution. I often see people blame Barney Frank for the housing bubble, blaming one man for the out-of-control practices that defined an industry printing faux money in every state, selling its junk as derivatives, backed by thousands of untraceable pieces valued at billions. I see others who ignore the global recession and Europe’s retreat into a second recession with its rise in regional unemployment, and blame President Obama even as the US leads the recovery. Especially, I see virtually no one in our public conversation who provides a sources of new ideas and facts. So we return to the sound bites of old speech (as distinct from ancient speech). Now, we are at a loss. What do we do?

The killing of innocent children breaks our hearts. We fail to understand how or why.

I think we miss a major point of explanation. The killings had to do with the most ancient of forces, evil. Not evil the adjective, the dark, angry monster of the movies and novels, not the paralyzing fear that exists in many minds, nor the ugliness assigned to its carnage; but evil the noun. The thing itself.

Surprisingly, evil is a small force. As a thing, it is closer to a quark or Higgs boson than a hurricane. Think about small forces for a minute: they have incredible power. The transistor and miniaturization of electronics unleashed the tech revolution—and put music, voice, images, and the globe in your hand. But the invisible holds a darkness. The most deadly weapons that create the most massive destruction are tied to small forces—the explosion or implosion of the particles of atoms. The most deadly diseases are global epidemics linked and spread by wee little viruses which rapidly transmit their illnesses, killing thousands daily, in irreversible agony.

Metaphysics says parallels in the material world are signs for things in the world of the spirit. The parallels of destruction and plague point to evil actually being a small force. Evil is also small because it cannot sustain itself; it replicates through other means. That’s a fail safe that adds to our confusion! Because evil goes and comes without our knowing, and ebbs and flows, we deny its role and miss the steps to take to guard against it. We think of it being associated with individuals and lone incidents, but its expression and form is social.

Why is evil ever present if it is not able to sustain itself? It is efficient at finding hosts, yet follows no patterns, and has no preferences. Ironically, it is a creative force, not in terms of ends but means. Evil requires a host. To find a host, it can access pathways and levels in ways that are the non-repeatable real numbers of the dark side. We look for patterns and signs, try to trace its logic, and miss the point that evil absolutely has no preferences for its means. Because of its nature, it can be routed through time and space by very long or quick random changes, and use conditions and people well within the range of social norms. Think about breast cancer, the randomness with which it affects women. All ages, income, race. (With some statistical preferences, but none absolute.)

One of evil’s strengths is its facile randomness, swift and slow; its impromptu shifts, its pattern not repeated, even when the ends are the same. Its randomness makes early detection hard. Without the right personnel, it’s impossible to read. Evil can’t be profiled. Continue reading Newtown: Evil May Be Its Source

Romney's Education: The Student as Itinerant

Why do the educated have such a hard time coming up with means and methods to educate America’s children? Feed them, make sure they aren’t hungry. Place students in information-rich environments. Let trained teachers pick their favorite, successful methods, exposing students to a diversity of learning interactions and a tool kit ready for any problem. Like we do at church, feed the whole community in the school cafeteria once a month. Involve students in setting their own goals. Give grades for creative fun. Shrink class size. Say “please” and “thank you” quietly. Have I said anything you disagree with? Not yet?

Well, how about this: cut teachers. Ignore or remove the regulations for equal access. Bring business people into the business of education. Make pastors principals. Teach science by outlining what God created in each of the six days He took to make the world. Give parents vouchers; let them shop for seats in great schools. Do we still agree? Shouldn’t parents have control over the direction, quality, and material of their children’s education?

That’s the question and assertion Mitt Romney affirms. In doing so, his is the single most destructive proposal for America’s classrooms put forward by a major party candidate in a century. His plan would affect America’s quality of life, its economic future, its foreign policy, its crime rate, and health statistics. It matters as much or more than jobs. Yet it been reviewed only in passing, although it has some big “whoa’s!”

An education voucher is no different from the solicitations you regularly get in the mail that look like checks but are designed to have you buy into a scheme that costs more than you receive. In the end, it represents no benefit to you, and the limited benefits are transferred only to a few. The beauty of Romney’s educational voucher scam is it is a two-fer. It provides a direct tax subsidy, from public tax monies, for children attending private schools that often have selective admissions and erect barriers to a wide variety of students—the poor, handicapped, the gifted, those with different religions. So vouchers put money into the pockets of the rich. The second part of the voucher program is its  promise of hideous false hope. With a sizable check but too small to cover tuition even at low cost private or religious schools, parents will sally forth to shop for better education which the voucher will not buy, since it doesn’t cover the costs. Moreover, schools with good records of achievement have limited numbers of seats. The voucher doesn’t ensure a student will be able to enroll. Many schools may reduce their class size in order to prevent an influx of students who don’t have the right fit (read: wrong color, family income, ethnic heritage, or other variables used as barriers). Who thinks young Juan’s or Tyrone’s mothers, the housekeepers at the local convention hotel, will be able to use their vouchers to enroll their children in the same school as the general manager’s son?

Vouchers simply jiggle coins in a sack. The payments will be insufficient to make a difference on the education of those who truly need it, but will offer pocketed income for the rich who don’t.

Mitt Romney also has other ways to improve education: cut teachers. It’s a notion so absurd that the Ivy-wise Mitt denies he said it, intended to say it, thought it, and finally condemns his own idea. But cutting federal support for local education will cut teachers. Title One reading and math teachers who work with our most disadvantaged, lowest achieving kids. Mitt is saying he would simply write them off. Those jobs would be cut and those funds would go to vouchers for the rich. Continue reading Romney’s Education: The Student as Itinerant

Digging Deeper: Re-Energizing Education

Have you ever walked away from a fight? Did you do so because it was senseless to continue, offered no benefit, and would muddy the path to your goals? Did you stop fighting because nobody was listening and a break was a good way to clear the air? Did you quit because to continue was a waste of time and resources? Perhaps, others watching the fight, were spreading blame around?

All of these things are happening with America’s public policy involving children. From the pillars of childhood, education, health, nutrition, safety, recreation and artistic enrichment, many are walking away as they crumble. Much of the conversation that remains is muddled. Others are throwing up their hands and saying it’s a waste of time; still others spread blame. All children fall further and further behind.

Here’s my take: I walk away from the old paradigm, but I argue for a new view.

New York City, 1910.

As an older African-American with many friends in education, I can chart the arc of a variety of social forces that are more complex that the usual measures of discrimination, inequality, or fairness–terms of an older, non-working paradigm of fixed ideas which should be dropped because it does not describe or meet the challenges the community or its generations of students now confront.

For example, one of the most important effects of the post-Civil Rights era was to separate the African-American middle class from its community, since civil rights offered new housing choices. This movement of personal progress had the intentional consequence of helping collapse authority and cohesion in a community that depended on collective resources and norms. Without leadership, norms changed. Stores left; Sears, for one, closed all of its inner city, urban stores, a staple of jobs and goods. Without jobs, attitudes changed, income dropped. Without hope, families struggled and children suffered. Commercial music taught negative lessons, celebrating decline and decay, quickly reinforced by young peers.

Consequently, a pathology of anti-achievement, of celebrating survival that depended on despair emerged. For poor and minority students, school issues are often the aftershocks of community violence and disintegration. That violence, which sets a milieu for school behavior, is left in place by overwhelmed and fearful families, numbed by its incidence and a lack of prospects and progress. What can one expect in neighborhoods where it’s easier to buy wine or a “40″ than it is to buy fresh green produce?

Too many communities have been turned into neo-colonial satellites where survival and despair are linked, and violence is toughness and misbehavior is really a numbed indifference. My new paradigm for schools calls for revitalizing economic diversity, led by the people themselves.

II.

The key point of the new paradigm recognizes minority and poor children’s truncated, fixed world view: “survival and despair are linked.” This is a double helix moment! These values have replaced “hard work and achievement.” They are the new touchstones of childhood. Survival and despair, taken together, describe the empirical conditions seen everywhere around them—and inform their place and role and worth within a world of punishments and prison that appears to have no ethic of freedom.

The dousing of a white student by black youth, the killings of youth weekly in Chicago, the recent Ohio shootings all link: survival and despair. It’s reinforced within and without. Yes, families fail. Society does, too. But we are using the wrong paradigms. There is no vision, and hence no value, of achievement. Nor can it be pushed. Good jobs are beyond the horizon. The immediate future by example holds prison, death, sex, drugs, the tensions that won’t let children sit still long enough to learn.

No blame is meant to the civil rights movement. I am only observing the historical note that in that period the African-American middle class moved away from its poor cousins. DC’s LeDroit Park, Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue, and others saw a subtle change that made a big difference. Achievement was spliced out of the social gene.

You are “neo-colonial” when you can’t buy produce, only beer and wine. When I was a kid sent for groceries, I learned to shop and eat properly as normal, routine family activity. Not possible today, in any urban neighborhood. “Neo-colonial” is slow police response, broken families, illegal guns, teenage sex, gangsta rap–in other words, enough issues so that no one source is responsible. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Re-Energizing Education