Free Speech at Berkeley: Where’s Mario?

 

Jasmine’s statement had to do with the righteousness of U.C. Berkeley’s decision to shut down an event on campus featuring Ann Coulter as speaker.

 

 

There is a long answer to Jasmine’s thoughtful statement so let me begin. First, I have agreed with and supported the ACLUs stance on free speech ever since I became aware that the ACLU exists. I lost friends for standing with the organization when it found it necessary to argue for the right of a group of NAZIs to hold a march on the streets of Skokie, Illinois and, being a Jewish kid, this was not a popular stance with most of the people I knew. Those in Skokie wanting to stop the march argued that the march would further traumatize the Jewish people in the neighborhood where the march was to take place, many of the people survivors of the holocaust. The ACLU, and organization, amongst its founders and its supporters a good many Jewish men and women, would have had to abandon its core principle of upholding the Constitutional rights of citizens if it failed to side with the NAZIS. I do base my contention that the benefit of the doubt in free speech matters must go to those wanting to speak and that there be a very strong show of cause for denying anyone the right to speak

There is a long answer to Jasmine’s thoughtful statement so let me begin. First, I have agreed with and supported the ACLUs stance on free speech ever since I became aware that the ACLU exists. I lost friends for standing with the organization when it found it necessary to argue for the right of a group of NAZIs to hold a march on the streets of Skokie, Illinois and, being a Jewish kid, this was not a popular stance with most of the people I knew. Those in Skokie wanting to stop the march argued that the march would further traumatize the Jewish people in the neighborhood where the march was to take place, many of the people survivors of the holocaust.

The ACLU, and organization, amongst its founders and its supporters a good many Jewish men and women, would have had to abandon its core principle of upholding the Constitutional rights of citizens if it failed to side with the NAZIS. I do base my contention that the benefit of the doubt in free speech matters must go to those wanting to speak and that there be a very strong show of cause for denying anyone the right to speak and I do, indeed, base my argument on certain generalizations, call them principles if you will, that I understand to be the basic underlying principles for the American democracy.

If you look at the Declaration, one of the most important “generalizations” made, this reflecting other generalizations such as the natural rights of human beings to such things as life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is the one that serves as the primary reason for severing the connection to King George and England, the generalization that says that to disrespect the opinions of men (as writ) obligates a people to bring about revolution. Disrespect for the opinions of the people is the primary reason stated to support the Revolutionary war!!! So watch it if you want to mess with free speech which is THE right that is essential to individual freedom, individual freedom being the primary reason for securing a democracy. When you write “Stephen, this is exactly the kind of generalization that I’m tired of hearing in conversations like this.

There are very real ideological impacts worth weighing against the pragmatic ones, but that’s not what is happening when you say these things, I am more than angered because you are not only being condescending but also speaking the absurd.” You are demeaning what I say because I use generalizations to back my claims? Generalizations are what keep us from adjudicating unfairly, of treating the one differently than the other. The basis for ever good law and rule is a generalization, based in generalization, one being fairness and another that it is of good sense to have a particular law or rule. What we are dealing with here, what you want me to accede to is the righteousness of making determinations that are based on situation rather than general principle and this is where democratic meets tyrannical if situation is allowed to take precedence over general principles.

Yes, I fully agree that speech can be dangerous, that it can incite acts that harm. But freedom of speech is worth erring on the side of allowing people to say what they wish to say. And only in extreme situations should we allow freedom of speech to be abridged. I remember a group of students at UNR protesting loudly that Ralph Nader should not be allowed to speak on campus and another group trying to shut down a Michael Moore event. I remember many occasions in Los Angeles when we who were protesting the Viet Nam war were endangering others by marching in front of Los Angeles City College. I remember the Black Student Union consistently being denied the permits they had to obtain to be permitted to speak and the arrests that followed their attempts to speak (illegally!) when permits were denied. So please, do think of general principles. Really, I do not care if you are tired of hearing conversations like this. I engage in them because a general principle by which I have abided my entire adult life is that it is important that citizens of democracies engage in principled conversation in order to insure that the laws are such that they serve the people well and that there is agreement on general notions of what constitutes wellness of the whole.

Not Happy but Mindsprung

I didn’t sleep well last night because a note about an innocent note about the partaking of a meal by those involved in a Springboard initiative meeting of some kind.  Really, it did upset me so because it punctuates the long sentence I served as a member of the faculty of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno.  I left the place knowing that I had not won the battle I had been fighting for 28 years, to make education a medium for growing intelligence.  I had begun to relax a bit by distancing myself when the Springboard note came up on my computer screen, a note from the very person who had been asked by my once colleagues to take over teaching the course in the teaching of English I had taught for all those years.  Unbelievable, but not.  For the past several years before I took leave of the university, I was under intense pressure from my administrators who, I think, may have been under pressure from the local school authorities (including the person in the district who was managing English education-a student of mine at one time who, when I would see her or ask her for a conversation, consistently turned away) to find a way to cause me to leave my position so that I would no longer be interfering with student progress to careers in Springboard teaching.

I have published this note on my reasons for leaving my career earlier than I had intended.  As those who teach in the College of Education should know, I left because I was not only being pushed to teach to an idea of education I found to be abhorrent and utterly ridiculous, but because I was being told, with hints of the threatening, to change the grades of students who could not write well and were not able to engage themselves in the kind of critical reading that English should help its students be able to do.

Here is the resignation note, again.  It might be helpful to those who now teach who do want to help in the cause of building a better because it is intelligent democratic society.

The resignation note

I have begun the process of resigning from my position as and associate professor in the College of Education.  I am resigning because there is no support here for the kind of work I have done and continue to do.  I am resigning because, though a new Dean tells me that we are going to change the way the College operates, I have every reason to believe that the College will continue to do the kind of work it has always done because those who work in the College believe that the work they do is not only good work, but some of it excellent work.  Good or excellent, the State of Nevada still has one of the worst records for education in the nation, this in a nation where it is evident that education is not working for the good of the people.

 

In numerous posts to the blog site lafered.com, I have commented on what I understand, through my kind of research, to be the nature of the education most receive in the United States of America, its inadequacy in helping individuals attain the skills, knowledge, and attitudes essential to citizenship in a society that, by design, necessitates the informed participation of those served by the government, a government that should be one that does what is necessary to insure the welfare of all of the people who consent to live under the government, that is, citizens who have the ability to engage in a community decision making process that allows the concerns of every individual to be heard and for those hearing what is said, take into consideration the needs and desires expressed by individuals to legislate for the betterment, for policies that improve the quality of life for the human beings who are citizens.

 

The lack of concern in the American school system for this conversation and the refusal to consider the needs of people who, by virtue of their citizenship, are both allowed to and obligated to be informed and able to use the truths they cull from the information they pursue decisions that are about the welfare of self while, at the same time, tempered by a deep understanding of individuality, their own and others, that produces a high degree of empathy and, thus, concern for the welfare of others who, too, are individuals with their own needs and desires.

 

What we consider as educators in the United States of America is not the needs of individuals.  Individuality is not appreciated and those who work in American schools understand well that expressions of individuality in the schools, be they teacher’ expressing themselves as themselves or students expressing the product of their original thought, are not welcome.  Standardization, for the sake of accountability, is the accepted normal in most schools and those who come to the school knowing that the standardization of outcomes for individuals denies each individual his right to be and become the unique self he or she can be, has no voice in the system.  Regimentation is the norm and a norm soon accepted by those who wish to keep their jobs and work in peace.  Those who express their individuality, who reason to a point where it is unacceptable to self to abided by the policy and rules that enforce conformity rarely find allies and find themselves isolated within the system.

 

Not only are they isolated, but they are often shunned and not for the wrongfulness of their behavior but because they remind others of how shamelessly they have given up the very rights upon which a democratic nation is predicated, the right to be heard and the right to have influence on the rules and regulations that infringe upon individual freedom.  In our America, the early 21st century America, few believe any more in the right to speak out and even fewer hold this right as the most sacred of rights, a right that is also an obligation to the society if that society is to be a true democracy,

 

It is not really at all that difficult to figure out how to build a school system that helps grow proper citizens of a democratic society.  A long time ago, John Dewey provided American society with the necessary educational philosophy that, instituted through policy and carried out through the proper development of good curriculum and philosophically guided methodology, curriculum and methods born of the need to develop individuality, individuality governed by the self for the sake of the society, for the sake of fairness and justice, for the sake of being a human amongst other humans who understands the value of each and self as one of the many and important as such.  Dewey is patronized by many but his teachings applied by few, the many distracted from considering the philosophical underpinnings of education for democracy as they busy themselves following the orders of authorities whose credentials they have been conditioned to ask nothing of.

 

I am resigning because the kind of conversation that schools must help students to be come a part of, the conversations in which students must engage in their own minds and with others isn’t the conversation that takes place at schools and part of the reason for this is that in the schools where teachers are taught to teach such conversation not only does not take place, it frightens the professors because to engage wastes time they could be using otherwise to fulfill the requirements for career advancement.  Without the conversation few good ideas as to how to proceed toward truly viable educational goals are generated.  Most of what is taught is what the professors have been taught by others who never really think of the valid purposes of education in a democratic society or the consequences for democracy of a populace that will not so engage, that knows not how, that has no ambition to be the people by whom the laws that govern them are made.

 

I am retiring because my voice is an intimidating one.  I have been told this by many of those who work in the school system and by most who work in this College of Education.  Not only have I been told, almost directly, to shut up, but the avenues for communication that I have used to converse have been shut down.  In the college where I work we once had available access to an all college e-mail portal.  That, one of our administrators decided, was too open so the messages sent were first examined by an administrative assistant to determine whether it should be released for all to read.  Then, that “open” line was shut off from faculty completely and all messages for the whole of the faculty had to be sent to an administrative assistant who, when the message was approved sent it out as a Dean’s office message forwarded to the faculty.

 

When I complained about this and one of our Dean’s decided that the college should have a means to share “out of the box” ideas, a new faculty chat-address was established.  I wrote to it regularly and hardly received any kind of reply, the replies I did get, rather nasty, focusing on the mechanics of the e-mails and not the content or the meaning of the messages.  I continued to write until, on day, that line of communication was shut down too.  Interestingly, no one but myself complained about the shuttering.  I believe that this action came about at the request of my colleagues.  Before the line was closed off, the Dean of the College called me to say that he knew I would be angered by the move, but so it had to be.

 

Over the twenty-seven years that I have worked in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno I have written at least three vision or purpose statements for the College.  One was adopted and is still referenced as the conceptual framework for the College.  It precepts, at least 20 years old now, are mentioned in advertising—a graphic representing the elements of the document appear on syllabi and on posters and banners seen around the College of Education building.  In meetings of faculty, no reference is ever made to those elements.  There is no discussion of what it means to be a reflective teacher or a teacher who values learning and democracy.  Every few years a committee is appointed to develop a new vision and none of them has drawn a clear picture of what it is we should be judging the value of our work against.

 

For most, the lack of concern for sense of goals for teacher education that are relevant to the kind of goals the teachers we teach should have, that the teachers we teach should be demanding because they are goals that are sound in regard to the development of American citizens who are informed, thoughtful, and vocal in the public arena.  We do not care that those who do come to teaching with a truly patriotic agenda, to make democracy work, to help students become real participants in society’s decision making processes, to insure that individuality is preserves while one learns how to be a vocal individual amongst others that are just as vocal, just as informed, just as thoughtful.

 

Looking around, it is not at all difficult to see the results of an education system that is about conformity, blind conformity, adherence to rules that need not make sense, followed for the sake of staying out of trouble, for the sake of advancing in the system that works for the good of the few who have the wealth and power to have their agendas met at the expense of others even having the opportunity to bring their agendas to the table.  In the United States of America, in the 21st century, the old adage that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” describes well the current reality.  To it should be added that the powerful get more powerful and the not powerful get weaker by the minute.  Sadly, those who are poorer for the current system, those who are disempowered are, in the schools, taught to believe that this is not only how things are, but how they have to be and, therefore how they are going to be, like it or not.

 

What we teach students in our schools is how to get along, how to live with the realities they face, to stay in line and never think outside the box.  The revolutionary society that a democracy must be, a society in a constant state of change because new minds think new thoughts and the ideas of their owners contribute to the conversation, a society that should be evolving to become the more perfect union, is made stagnant by those who think they benefit from the status quo.  Students and their teachers are taught to that good is to be quiet, good is to do what you are told, to be the good student, the good employee, the good citizen by taking what ever pledge you are forced to take, to solute the flag without concern for what the pledge might commit one to or what is symbolized by showing allegiance to ideas that one hardly understand by saluting whatever and whoever holds positions of authority.

 

Schools are about being good with being exploited, with wanting the goodies that corporations provide over the right to individuality, to the power that comes with growth of a thinker, with a position in life assigned by others that one is made to believe is one of the limited options available by someone else’s list.  It is about being a good worker and a good consumer, good in both cases often leading to something less than a satisfied life.  Consuming rather than producing things that are meaningful, rather than engaging in the kind of conversation that should consume the developing human beings time, this for the sake of becoming a more fully realized human being, a being aware of the potential of the mind and growing every minute through the exercising of the very element of existence that make one human, the human mind.

 

The modern day schools are not about helping one to deal such potential.  This is patently evident in the size of classrooms and the quality of mind too many teachers bring to the classroom.  Few of the most thoughtful amongst us compete to become teachers.  There is hardly any competition at all and there is hardly any reward for becoming a teacher and doing the good work that helps others grow up well.  Teachers are not hired because they are thinkers and we at the College of Education do ever so little to help our students that they must be thinkers before they can ever have a chance of teaching well.  In the courses taught here, at this College of Education, few are rigorous enough to help future teachers grow as thinkers who can understand basic principles of human existence such as those described in the Declaration of Independence and few know that the Declaration provides Americans the principles by which they need to be guided in their life if they are to do what human beings, fighting for full realization of their potential as human beings, must do.

 

So many of those who will become teachers were good students in a system that hardly at all asked them to question the information they received to get at the real meaning of the ideas contained in that material.  Few rebelled and asked the kind of questions thoughtful human beings ask when presented with information someone is offering them.  No one helped them understand that it is of critical importance to know who is providing information and what their motives might be.  No one helped them to find biographical information on those who wrote the texts assigned and no one helped them to understand that the texts are not filled with facts but with information another may or may not understand to be fact, fact always translated through a mind that is the product of a biography that influence how that text writer sees the world and its events.

 

I leave without leaving many friends behind.  The friends I once had at this institution have distanced themselves from me and there were never too many in the first place.  I am not respected in the profession and the work I have done is of little importance to most.  I probably do care; I am a human being.  However, I find myself numb to my social situation, angry because we have yet to discuss in a meaningful way the reason for the shunning, the reason for the lack of any support for my right to be heard and influence policy here or in the school system.  This College, and this university that houses this college, shut me out a long time ago and not because anyone cared to hear what I was saying, cared to give a moment of time to the possibility that what I was saying was the result of thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness that was generated by a set of principles that placed honesty and fairness and justice at the forefront and pushed me to allow myself to be a revolutionary, a revolutionary who knew the cost of trying to fight against the inertia that comes with careerism, that comes with concern for acceptance above concern for getting it right.

 

I do not know if I have gotten it right.  I do know that I have made an honest effort to get it right so that I could do right even if this was not what was expected of me.  I am ending this career on a very sour note and I know that many will see this note as a result of my being a sour person whose own fault it is for where he ended up.  There has to be some truth in this.  But, I can give it only so much credence because I have made every effort to have the conversation and have been banished from almost every conversation available here in the college and here at the university.  I have been banished for speaking up, for asking uncomfortable questions, for questioning the unquestioned excellence of the institution and the quality of work of my fellow academics.  I have asked at every chance to be involved in conversation about the purpose of the work here, the value of the work to the public that pays for the salaries and facilities that make the university a university.  I have watched as people on this campus have lived through several wars, have lived through fiscal turmoil, have lived through what appears to be the empowerment of the few at the expense of the many.

 

I have watched as my colleagues have failed to take any responsibility for the wars, for the redistribution of a rich nation’s wealth to the wealthy who benefit at the expense of the poor, for the lack of real patriotism in the public to which they are responsible, such patriotism found in the strong desire of citizens to know and understand the realty surrounding them and to change that reality when it does not comport to what it would be if the union were perfect.  Students across this campus are still being told rather than taught and those who are being taught to teach are being told what they should teach and how.  They are not at all revolutionary in their thinking.  They are hardly critical consumers of the information they receive.  They rarely challenge what they are being told.  They rarely think about the consequences of allowing themselves to be treated so and they allow democracy to slip away by being good students and good citizens, good in their passivity, good for their silent acceptance of what is too often bad for them and for all that exists on this planet.

 

I leave disappointed.  I am disappointed in myself.  I know not how to fight on and I have serious doubt as to whether the fight could ever have had an impact in a society where people are educated as they are here.  Curiosity, imagination, critical thought, inquiry are all names for activities that necessitate education that involves individuals to engage in the making of meaning.  As Paulo Freire has said, to discourage an individual to engage in honest inquiry is to do that person violence, to deny him or her their humanity.  I have tried not to be a part of the violence but my revolutionary ways have always been viewed to be hurtful and my speaking up a form of intimidation.

 

I am no longer a member of the faculty and many will not see my leaving as a loss.  Too many will be relieved to be rid of me.  I cannot say that I will find relief in my leaving for I have done far too little to help change a rather vague but truly rotten agenda.  I would say “so long suckers,” but I think I have been the sucker, sucked in a long time ago to the potential of education, a notion that had not a chance in hell to be realized because no one has the time or the resources to make it the new reality.

 

 

Get Up, Stand Up, the Springboard Leads to Hell

“When I began teaching I felt isolated in a hostile environment.  The structure of authority in my school was clear: the principal was at the top and the students were at the bottom.  Somewhere in the middle was the teacher, whose role it was to impose orders from textbooks or supervisors upon the students.  The teacher’s only protection was that if students failed to obey instructions they could legitimately be punished or, if they were defiant, suspended or kicked out of school.  There was no way for students to question the teachers’ decisions or for teachers to question the decisions of their supervisors or authors of textbooks and teachers’ manuals…

“There is the same obsession with power and discipline everywhere; for most American children there is essentially one public school system in the United States and it is authoritarian and oppressive.  Students everywhere are deprived of the right to make choices concerning their own destinies. 

“The authoritarian environment of the school I taught at encouraged a collusive atmosphere in which everyone except the students pretended that the school was functioning smoothly and efficiently and that the teachers were “doing a good job.”  It was not proper to talk about troubles or admit failures.”

These are words from Herbert Kohl’s 1969 book The Open Classroom: A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching.

 Apologies to Herbert Kohl for seducing such a large chunk of his writing from long ago to make a point regarding what is happening now but maybe he won’t mind.

I just wrote a series of posts to my Facebook page regarding the fact that the school district in which the college of education where I taught (and fought) for twenty-eight years has as the person who guides teaching in the English-language arts, is celebrating affiliation with Springboard, a tentacle of the College Board that is now producing teacher-proof, scripted curricula for the teaching of English.

When I left my position as an English educator at the University of Nevada, Reno, I left because I was mistreating my students—who would become English teachers—by convincing them (on occasion) that to teach English (or anything else for that matter) one had to be very good at what they were teaching if they were to teach it well.  So, I would make clear, to be a good English teacher, one had to be able to read in such a way as good readers would read, to a depth of understanding that would allow one to converse confidently, if good fortune allowed such, with the authors of the works being read.  To be a good teacher of writing, I said, a teacher had to write well.

Of course, in the context of the schools where most of my students would be teaching, none of this was true because plenty of teacher’s aids would be made available and the expectations for teaching would be such that a teacher teaching from the teacher’s manual and using the materials that came with the textbooks would be able to succeed.

 What I was teaching was how to teach for critical literacy and to teach for critical literacy is not so simple as copying lessons from the supposed experts in the field.  To teach critical literacy, I knew, a teacher had to engage students in the kind of discussion that necessitated critical thought, deep reading of the texts that were being studied, such thought and kind of reading nothing that could be published in textbooks or teacher’s manuals because real critical reading, by its very definition, would have to produce original thought.

And now, the next step in the devolution of English in the local school district, is nothing other than a scripted curriculum, Springboard by name, a teacher’s aid that allows teachers to teach to critical abilities such as critical thinking and its concomitant, critical reading, without the teacher having to be able to do any of what he or she is being asked to teach.  The teacher is relegated to a delivery system for someone else’s methods, for which, by the way, the district will pay good amounts of money for license to use.  And all will be happy because it will seem that all is going efficiently well.

And efficiency is what counts though, what is intentionally being misunderstood is that efficient is efficient only if the result of efficiency is something that is at least adequately good.  And when it comes to such things as critical thinking and critical literacy, efficient isn’t necessarily clean and orderly, chapter by chapter, verse by verse because, goddamnit, real people are thinking real thoughts and those thoughts are their own and not somebody elses’.

The structure of authority in my school was clear: the principal was at the top and the students were at the bottom.  Somewhere in the middle was the teacher, whose role it was to impose orders from textbooks or supervisors upon the students.” (Stolen from the stolen quotation at the head of this piece).

With buy-in to such teaching devises as Springboard do what I say and do not ask questions means of teaching critical thought and critical thinking will become acceptable because the tests that will test for critical thought and critical literacy will be those devised by the very people who created SpringboardSpringboard intelligence will be the goal of the English teacher who abides by the dictums of those in authority and they will do so without questioning the goodness of what they are being told to do because they will be told by those telling them what to do that they are doing the right thing and doing it well.

Pathetically hollow, but programmed to be effective in an efficient sort of way.

For those who care to think for themselves and do so to the point that they know the value of doing so, think Bob Marley and not Springboard.  Read critically, think deeply….

Ey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!

Preacher man, don’t tell me
Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth
It’s not all that glitters is gold
Half the story has never been told
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addendum to Addendum

I know full well that the sensible approach to reinventing community is something to be made fun of in the context of a synthetic reality made real through the repetition of a paid for refrain that causes people, even those being hurt, to believe that the kind of economic system we now have, one that so badly distributes the wealth of the nation, is the best humans can devise. To say such a thing raises the hackles of of people who really do know better, or could if they would allow themselves to move out of their zone of comfort, a zone that accepts inhumanity, the suffering of others as a natural consequence of a society’s greatness. Yes, capitalism, as practiced now, does allow for many to live lives they understand to be comfortable lives but come on! How many are ever really comfortable and how many actually are able to realize the fullness of living the kind of life truly sensible people would want. Craving for the end of the work day to have time for oneself and time for others about whom one cares? Looking forward all year to a bit of vacation time because the rest of the year the work has to get done! This when the work that needs to be done could be better shared with those who have too little work and need something more to make their lives better? How about better in the sense that one has a decent sense of security, is not regularly made frightened by the possibility of some kind of change in how work gets done or the kind of work that needs to be done? How about worrying about whether some kind of bad health moment might wipe out those vacation funds or cause the loss of home and more? This isn’t about the nature of things, it is about a reality that has been sold us and into which we have bought. Want to think outside the box? Then take your mind beyond what is now said to be possible and think of a truly good community that allows all of its members to live truly good lives and you will find that the impediments to such are highly artificial and highly promoted by a relatively small group with considerable wealth and very bad values.

Addendum to Make Reno Great

On the previous post I listed two essential elements of a remake of Reno (any town) that wishes to reinvent itself to become a place where the guiding principle for decision making is humanization, the primary concern of government in all matters being that all are served well by the decisions of government bodies.  In the piece I focused on matters of a living wage and availability of truly affordable housing.  There is a third component and it is critical to the implementation and maintenance of the truly humane city, an educational system that is focused squarely on, primarily on, first and foremost on helping students become effective and active participants in the democratic decision making process so that the decisions they make as citizens are sensible in the context of a humane society.  A place with a citizenry adept at deciding what is right and what is fair, that cares that decisions affecting all are fair and good for all is the decent place to live.

As it stands, the primary goal of schools in the United States of America is to prepare students for the job market and not to participate in determining a proper and righteous economic system for a country founded on principles such as those described in the Declaration of Independence.  What sensibly educated  and humane person would ever support an economic system that, in order to help a few become wealthy, sets conditions that cause the lives of a good many to be well below the standard that those who have would find to be tolerable for themselves?

So, point three:

3.  Create schools that are dedicated to helping students grow good sense and develop the skills and knowledge and dispositions that allow them to be effective and humane participants in the decision making process by which people in a democratic society determine what is in the bests interests of the people, all people and not just some.

Make Reno Great (the right way)

Issue: Growth in a Community in a Capitalist Society

“However, we desire stability for the future and seek to minimize speculative markets like the one that made us particularly vulnerable to the Great Recession.” (From document Reinvent Reno- referenced below)

The material on these pages comes from two documents sent me in response to my concern that this city in which I live, Reno, is going to grow and, like other cities the experience a growing economy, will not do what is necessary to prevent economic troubles, even disaster, for those already living here.  As the better economy replaces the not so good one, the cost of living typically rises.  As I pointed out in my post regarding my worries, I noted that already the cost of housing for both those buying homes and those renting is already rising rather rapidly.  The documents from which these bits and pieces are taken show that the problem is being recognized (this town has gone through boom and bust and reboom cycles before).   I do see in these documents notions of what must be done if the citizens of Reno, all of its citizens, are to prosper because of and, for some, in spite of) the economic recovery that is currently taking place.  Such things as “affordable housing incentives” and “affordable housing retention,” for instance, if realized, would help to bring about something like a comfortable transition.  Realization is the key issue here for too often plans based in good intentions do those who are to benefit by them little actual good because they remain intentions and nothing more.

If the City of Reno really wants to do right by all of its citizens there are two unthinkable but truly sensible ideas that should become integral elements of the laws and the rules that pertain to growth and its effects.

  1. All businesses, all employers, to be considered legitimate under the laws and the rules must pay their employees a living wage, that is, an amount of compensation that makes it possible for any employee working full time to be able to live a decent life in the community. Businesses that cannot afford to pay at such a rate should not be licensed to operate in Reno because they are not legitimate businesses and problematic entities in regard to the community existing as a healthy community.  This is why 1. 3b is so troubling an item in the document the City of Reno has produced titled Reimagine Reno (http://www.reno.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=67689) from which the material in red is taken.  Casinos in Reno consistently pay considerable portions of their employees considerably less than a living wage.  Low wage industry is not something any sensible community should support because their existence inevitably leads to profits subsidized by government, through taxes collected from entities other than themselves.  They are taxing!
  2. Housing prices must be regulated, the cost of rental housing, in particular, tied to the calculation develop to determine what constitutes a living wage. That is how “affordable” is prevented from becoming “unaffordable” as the community becomes more prosperous.
  3. Posted as Addendum:  On the previous post I listed two essential elements of a remake of Reno (any town) that wishes to reinvent itself to become a place where the guiding principle for decision making is humanization, the primary concern of government in all matters being that all are served well by the decisions of government bodies.  In the piece I focused on matters of a living wage and availability of truly affordable housing.  There is a third component and it is critical to the implementation and maintenance of the truly humane city, an educational system that is focused squarely on, primarily on, first and foremost on helping students become effective and active participants in the democratic decision making process so that the decisions they make as citizens are sensible in the context of a humane society.  A place with a citizenry adept at deciding what is right and what is fair, that cares that decisions affecting all are fair and good for all is the decent place to live.As it stands, the primary goal of schools in the United States of America is to prepare students for the job market and not to participate in determining a proper and righteous economic system for a country founded on principles such as those described in the Declaration of Independence.  What sensibly educated  and humane person would ever support an economic system that, in order to help a few become wealthy, sets conditions that cause the lives of a good many to be well below the standard that those who have would find to be tolerable for themselves?

    So, point three:

    3.  Create schools that are dedicated to helping students grow good sense and develop the skills and knowledge and dispositions that allow them to be effective and humane participants in the decision making process by which people in a democratic society determine what is in the bests interests of the people, all people and not just some.

    Wild ideas, indeed, because we live in society dominated by an economic system that makes it impossible for good numbers of people to live decent lives and we have somehow been made to ignore the inhumanity of such a system.  Reno could become a humane community, a model for the best kind of community a sensible democratic society can produce, one in which all of the people live decent human lives.  Reno could dedicate itself, as a community, to going beyond what is possible in terms of funding for such things as education and health care, for instance by using government to make possible what is needed for the good of the whole.  A populace payed a living wage and paying taxes that are fair and reasonable for all can do a lot more than one in which necessary things for insuring high quality of life for all are unaffordable. 

 From Reimagine Reno: 

3.1b. Housing Options

Encourage a variety of housing options at diverse price points to support the needs of downtown’s diverse residents and workforce—professionals, service workers, entrepreneurs, students, and retirees among others.

  1. 3b. Tourism

Continue to support casinos as a core component of the city’s tourism industry and the Downtown Entertainment District, while seeking to broaden the range of tourism and entertainment-oriented uses that appeal to a more diverse demographic.

4.1f. Universal Design

Promote developments for low-income and affordable senior housing, which are accessible to persons with disabilities.

4.1c. Affordable and Workforce Housing

Strategy

Develop a broad housing strategy to facilitate and incentivize the creation of affordable housing units for low income residents and attainable housing for the city’s workforce. Update the strategy periodically to address changing needs.

4.1d. Affordable Housing Incentives

Encourage the development of affordable and workforce housing by providing incentives for projects that provide units affordable to income levels identi ed in the housing strategy. Where feasible, promote green building practices to provide futher health bene ts and lower energy costs.

4.1e. Affordable Housing Retention

Support the preservation and rehabilitation of existing affordable housing units through use of incentives and grant funding. Discourage the demolition or conversion of sound, affordable housing stock.

4.3h. Involuntary Displacement

Develop programs, within the strategic housing strategy, that help to prevent displacement of households in neighborhoods undergoing high rates of displacement due to increased housing costs and development.

4.3i. Home Ownership Retention

Support and fund programs that aid in the upkeep and maintenance of homes for lower income households and seniors.

From Truckee Meadows Housing Study ( http://www.tmrpa.org/truckee-meadows-housing-study/)

CostBurdened

household-characteristics

A Response to Mr. Jay: Saying Things are Good Does Not Make Things Better

At the end of March I engaged in a rather long Facebook conversation with Richard Jay, one of the sponsors and a major advocate for a ballot measure in Washoe County that would, according to one description, “Washoe County Question 1 is an initiative on the ballot that would generate revenue to repair aging schools and build new ones through a sales tax increase. If passed, WC-1 will raise about $780 million over the next nine years.”

 

In order to support the measure, Mr. Jay and others promoting its passage provided a good amount of information to support their claim that the school district, despite a host problems well known to the public, its dealing with a superintendent whose firing was badly mishandled and the reasons for which have never been satisfactorily explained, for example, a long string of years in which graduation rates were relatively low when compared to national averages, mistreatment over the course of several years of students at a school for special needs, and a spotted student achievement record, the most recent blow being, this, that only 13 percent of the district’s juniors were on track for college, this number considerably lower than other districts administering the ACT broadly as a measure of overall student achievement.

 

In addition, the District had hired its new superintendent from within without a national search and without even formally interviewing the “candidate.” The following was reported in the local newspaper:

There’s been a lot of advocates and wonderful things said about Traci [Davis],” acknowledged community member Mary Alber. “All of us don’t know Traci as well as you do. We want that opportunity to know what she represents, what her vision is. If there are other candidates, let’s hear from them, too.  But the board refused to look beyond Davis.Davis herself was never interviewed for the superintendent position or any other in Washoe County School District.   http://www.rgj.com/story/news/education/2015/07/10/traci-davis-hired-permanent-superintendent/29979315/

And, there was great turmoil created in the community when it was learned that the new superintendent was being offered such things as a “longevity bonus” that was to be paid during her first year in office.

 

Amidst all this, proponents of WC1, did all they could to put the district in a good light by producing good amounts of data that made it seem as if all was not just well but, indeed, very good.  My conversation with Mr. Jay in several Facebook postings was about the actual state of the district and the value of the very positive information he and other WC1 supporters were providing.

 

At one point in the conversation, Mr. Jay told me, “Now you bring up more opinion and no fact” and then proceeded to provide me with the facts I should know.  I did ask Mr. Jay for permission to repost our conversation and he granted it.  I cannot recover now recover the conversation but will post if I do find it.  The post containing the quotation above was near the last in the sequence and I did tell Mr. Jay that I would examine the data he had sent me so that I could understand the fact, at least what he understood to be the factual basis for arguments concerning the goodness of the district and its instructional programs.

 

Mr. Jay mines data and takes from it only that which serves his purpose (as a banker) to bolster the record of the school district, a strategic move for one who wishes to promote the growth of the region.  In one posting, he offers up a statistic, a “fact” as he would call it (he has accused me of offering “opinions and no fact) that shows that Washoe County’s students did better on the statewide ACT administration than the state average.  He doesn’t mention that the State average shows the percent of students taking the test who proved themselves to be on track for studies at the college level was no higher than 9%, this ranking the State at the bottom of the list of those requiring this test to measure student achievement.  Washoe County students did better but not very well with only 13% of its students showing progress of the kind that would allow for success in college.  I repeat these FACTS and am bothered by the fact that in charts developed by the Economic Development Agency of Western Nevada (EDAWN), charts used regularly in the campaign, ACT pass rates are shown to be relatively high in Washoe County, this made possible by using data for only those students who take the test on their own, pay for the testing, because they seek college admission.  That is deceptive reporting.

 

Another indicator of the effectiveness of the education students receive in a school district is, I believe, how well prepared students are to succeed in the world beyond high school.  A FACT related to the ACT assessments is the number of students who, when enrolled in college, need remedial work in the foundational abilities areas such as math and English.  Reports I have read tell me that good numbers of students graduating from Washoe County schools do need remediation and are required to take remedial courses when entering out local community college and university.  The percentages I have been told by people who work to remediate are around a third of those from WSCD entering the university and two-thirds of those entering the community college.  I cannot discover what the rates of remediation are for those matriculating to colleges and universities out of the area.  It would be most interesting to know how well students going out of area for higher education fare, how many need remedial courses at entry and how many actually graduate with degrees from the schools they attend.

 

A recent report on moves to help students enter college without having to take several costly (credits earned in remedial courses do not count for graduation) courses while attaining the basic skills they need to succeed in college reports the following statistical facts concerning the numbers of students who are required to enroll for remediation:

Fall 2016

AT TMCC

Of the 865 recent Washoe County School District high school graduates attending 64 percent were in need of English or math remediation, or both.

At UNR

Of the 977 recent Washoe County School District high school graduates attending 41 percent were in need of English or math remediation or both.

So, when Mr. Jay tells me such things as Washoe County School District being “One of just 10 districts in the country to be recognized as a “district on the rise by Education First” and “praised with “doing more with less,” I find little to really commend the District in such achievements because the quality of education shown in truly meaningful indicators makes such “achievements” rather meaningless when all is said and done.

He points to the fact, and I cannot dispute this, that the “graduation highest in history of WCSD.  How a district bolsters graduation rates is a question that sensible people have to ask and, if more are graduating but graduates are not well prepared for life in the world they will encounter after they leave high school, then more isn’t better in the most practical kind of terms.  He says that “more advanced and honors diplomas earned than ever before” and adds that interestingly culled “11th graders taking ACT outperformed the state.”  He adds that 66% of graduates completed at least one AP/IB/CTE/ duel credit class.

All of these facts, and they are facts, are meaningless unless understood in the context of a program that is successful in preparing students for life beyond school and there are, as presented above, indicators that show that they are not being so prepared, at least not well prepared.  Things I cannot know from Mr. Jay’s facts are such things as whether or not standards for graduation, their lowering, might be a fact contributing to the higher graduation rates.  I cannot know what it takes for a student to “complete” one of the advanced duel credit courses.  Do the students pass these courses for having done in the work that is supposed to go along with advanced courses?  Do they gain from these courses skills, knowledge and dispositions that are indicative of advanced abilities and understandings?  Do they pass the examinations that are often a part of advanced placement packages?  Are teachers pressured to insure that students “succeed” in these courses and forced to use methods that might not be those sensible educators would recommend to bring about success that is truly of the meaningful variety?

One of the bragging points Mr. Jay likes to tout is the “overall B+ ranking, third highest in Nevada,” received from Niche, leading company that rates districts.”  Niche is a private company that began as a service like Rate My Professor, that depended on students who chose to do so reporting on what they thought of their professors.  A survey of any kind that depends on such methods of data collection are never taken by people who do legitimate research, to be valid because it could possibly be that only those disposed to liking a particular individual may make the choice to take the survey, the problem being that those with differing opinions simply do not chose to participate.

Niche was not very successful in its professor rating business so it broadened its scope to include the kind of “research” upon which Mr. Jay relies to show the goodness of his local school district.  I looked for information on how the grades Niche reports are calculated.  Some of the data is culled from statistics reported by legitimate research organization such as the U. S. Department of Education.  Another source, by Niche’s own explanation of its methods to be of critical importance to the score that leads to the grade, is the reporting of students and parents and teachers and others involved in some way with the institutions being graded.

I can find nothing in the Niche description of its methods that explains how participants in its surveying process are selected but it does seem that participants, as with the Rate My Professor approach, self-select and there is nothing in Niche literature to indicate that the methodology includes any mechanism for insuring that the actual participants are representative in any way of the whole of the cohort of those who should have a voice in describing the nature of the institutions with which they are involved in significant and meaningful ways.  All of those choosing to participate in providing Niche with information could be, for example, district administrators or, for that matter, disgruntled students or their parents, even some who are simply angry about a single indecent.

I do want to continue the conversation with people like Mr. Jay because I am interested in doing what is right for students.  I want every student to actually receive an education that pushes him or her to his or her potential.  I do think that schools, most schools in the U.S.A. fail to do so and not necessarily because of the quality of the teachers who teach in these schools—although that is something of a factor when pay for teaching is so low as to serve as disincentive for a good many who would insure high quality instruction and making them teach in classrooms with so many students as to make quality instruction impossible—but because of factors like goals for education that are based more desire to keep costs down that to provide what it takes to make possible meaningful kind of success.

Success, by the by, is defined by those who are somehow chosen to define success and success as I see it being defined and dealt with is about what schools can do with what they have and not with what schools can do if they had what they needed to do IT well.  Class size is a critical factor in the quality of instruction offered and, in our local school district, a good many teachers, even in the elementary schools in grades above the first two or three (state law caps early grades at 15, though this law isn’t regularly followed because of budget realities) teach to 30 or more students each hour, some more, up to 46 or so, I have been told by teachers.  If success has anything to do with growing as a knowledgeable, well-informed, and thoughtful human being, then methods of mass production are counterproductive in the worst ways, an uninformed, too often ill-informed body of citizens responsible for governing themselves according to the constitution under which they live.

Mr. Jay would probably say that what I just said is opinion and not fact.  Well, that is something else we need to talk about, what really is fact and what is not and what stands as good evidence to prove that a fact is or is not indeed a fact.  That students in classrooms in which teachers can interact for more than a rushed moment with individual students, to hear what they are thinking, to get a sense of how they think, will have more success in helping students grow as thinkers, at the very least, this is a very good sense opinion.  If one wants evidence of such, there is good evidence based educational theory (ignored by those who want to cut budgets with regularity) that proves as well as proof can be developed, that teacher-student interaction is a critical factor in the growth of such critically important aspects of intellectual growth.

I have gone too long already, but, in closing, invite anyone interested in the issues discussed here to either send me an e-mail (I do not know if I will be Facebooking for very much longer) at lafer@unr.edu or phone me at 775-343-6888.