October 30, 2014
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My take on the news
What makes us an 'exceptional' nation...good & bad
Lonnie Barham

IS THE U.S. EXCEPTIONAL? President Obama, in his address to the nation last week on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, told us that our foreign policies - to include the willingness to use military action when the president deems it necessary - make our nation “exceptional.”

Are we exceptional among nations? Certainly, in many regards, we are. We are the oldest existing democracy on earth. We were the first nation to introduce such civil and human rights as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom to seek redress of grievances from the government. We have been exceptional in providing humanitarian aid to poor countries and to those devastated by natural disasters. We have been exceptional in refraining, for the most part, from implementing socialist laws and policies; although, under the Obama administration, that exceptionalism has been substantially weakened. We have been exceptional in remaining the strongest, wealthiest country on earth. And, of course, we are the only nation to have put a man on the moon or sent a spacecraft outside our solar system. Yes, in many ways, we are exceptional.

On the other hand, we have also been exceptional among democracies in improperly yielding to our executive branch the power to engage our country in foreign wars without congressional approval. We have been exceptionally apathetic when our president flaunts the Constitution with executive orders that circumvent Congress. We have been exceptional in our extremely low voter turnout year after year. We are now exceptional in implementing expansive spying program on our own law-abiding citizens. It’s doubtful that even Russia spies on its people to such a degree; certainly, other democracies do not engage in this internal snooping to the extent we do.

Yes, in many ways we are exceptional. In different ways, we are both exceptionally good and exceptionally bad.

PART OF STATE SURPLUS FOR CITIES AND TOWNS: As reported in last Thursday’s Warwick Beacon, State Representative Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick is proposing that a part of the 2013 state surplus of $93.4 million go to cities and towns. Returning money to cities and towns is a not only a good idea, it is the only fair way to spend the surplus. After all, it is from the cities’ and towns’ taxpayers that the surplus came.

 

Unfortunately, Shekarchi’s proposal includes a socialist slant. His bill would require each city and town to spend its share of the returned surplus only for unfunded liabilities, bond debt or pension programs. If a city or town has been fiscally responsible, has paid its bills, properly funded its programs, and hasn’t loaded itself with bonded debt, then it gets nothing under Shekarchi’s proposal. It’s typical thinking straight out of George Orwell’s perceptive novel Animal Farm: “from according to ability, to according to need.” Sure, that’s it Joe, we should punish those who work hard and responsibly pay their bills by giving some of their hard-earned savings to those who didn’t work hard and failed to pay their bills.

STATE TO GIVE QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS TO UNION: When our legislature passed a law last session that allows home-based small businesses that provide childcare services to unionize, in essence it voted to require taxpayers to hand over about a quarter million dollars per year to the union these small businesses will choose, most likely the 2-million strong Service Employees International Union.

Whatever increases in state-subsidized pay and benefits these childcare providers negotiate will include at least enough of a pay increase to cover their union dues. Our taxpayers will be paying for the new union members’ annual dues, an amount that averages over $400 per year for each real state employee covered by this union. So, in addition to the increased pay and benefits we’ll fund for these non-employees, our legislature’s action amounts to a mandate that taxpayers also fork over to their union an amount equal to these small business owners’ union dues - about a quarter million per year. Thanks, legislators. We really needed that!

INTERPRETATION OF TEACHER QUOTES: Many teachers in Rhode Island remain upset about implementing student learning objectives, the use of student test scores as a part of their annual performance evaluations, and the loss of teaching certification after five years of ineffective evaluations.

The majority of Rhode Island’s teachers are competent, dedicated, hard-working, and effective. However, it is the minority who insist on fighting progress and who are determined to continue teaching without personal accountability who bring disrespect to their profession. This dinosaur philosophy is reflected in the many quotes that have been published recently. Here are some of the quotes and a reasonable interpretation of what the educator making the statement really meant.

Statement: “Five consecutive years of ineffective ratings will result in a loss of certification to teach in Rhode Island. As a result, teachers and principals feel the link of evaluations to certification is punitive.” Real Meaning: “In any other job we would be fired after only six months of inadequate performance. But, hey, we’re teachers; we’re government employees; we should be exempt. We should be able to continue working with impressionable kids even though we’ve shown no aptitude for teaching for five years.”

Statement: “Fear is tainting the whole process.” Real Meaning: “If I were qualified and had demonstrated it, I’d have nothing to fear. However, I’m not competent and I’m afraid that after five years of incompetence, I might be fired.”

Statement: “They (teachers) feel the certification process is about getting rid of people.” Real Meaning: “Doctors and engineers who show continued incompetence lose their licenses after only a few months, or even days of inadequate performance. But teachers are different. We should be able to keep our teaching licenses forever, even after five years of inadequate performance.”

Statement: “More than 40 percent of teachers surveyed said they were not prepared to implement the learning objectives.” Real Meaning: “Although we were trained to be teachers and we’re being paid to teach, we can’t seem to manage the most simple aspects of our job - determining what it is our students need to learn and mapping out a path for them to get there.”

MANCUSOS STRENGTH SHOWS AS BOARD CHAIRWOMAN: It was a good move by Governor Chafee to remove Eva-Marie Mancuso’s name from consideration to be the Commissioner of Education for Rhode Island. Why? Because, among other reasons, her strengths are more appropriate for the position she holds - Chairwoman of the state’s Board of Education. Her strength shined last Tuesday during a news conference held the day after the board’s last meeting, a meeting during which members voted to refuse to reconsider the NECAP graduation requirement.

A minority of students, Steve Brown’s ACLU, teacher unions, and a few weak-willed public officials have harped since 2002 against the only true measure of high schools’ success - standardized student testing. Mancuso put it bluntly at the news conference when she said, “It’s the excuse given by a vocal minority, ‘Blame the School Department. Blame the teachers.’ Let’s keep the focus where it belongs. We have to do something different.”

Some of her answers to questions included: “I’m not going to get involved in sideshows with 16-year-olds. I’m starting to see Steve Brown the same way - as a sideshow,” and, “The time for discussion is over... We are using the NECAP as a graduation requirement, period.”

An analogy previously used in this column is worth repeating. To allow students to cruise through high school and graduate when they can’t demonstrate even partial proficiency on the subjects they were taught is tantamount to issuing a drivers license to drivers who aren’t able to demonstrate even partial proficiency behind the wheel.

Exerting true leadership, Mancuso is putting the primary responsibility for learning squarely where it belongs - on the students.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: After his community’s boardwalk and its businesses were devastated by super storm Sandy last year and then destroyed by fire last Friday, Seaside Heights, NJ Police Chief Thomas Boyd commented, “I’m waiting for either the frogs or the locusts to come. It’s like a story out of the Bible.” Surely, this community that has been visited by disaster twice in less than one year will not now suffer pestilence. But, who knows...


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