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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Education: Time To Stop The Blame And Get To Work

Category: Education
Posted: 03/30/15 11:56

by Dave Mindeman

Lynnell Mickelsen has been an education activist for many years. She recently had two articles published in MinnPost which have garnered some attention. It would seem that after years of frustration with the achievement gap, she has come to the conclusion that liberal interference has become more of a problem than a help. To quote her first article....

Here's a modest education proposal for my fellow white people, especially my fellow lefties in Minneapolis: What if we stopped talking about how to fix African-American and Latino kids and worked on fixing white progressives instead?.....

After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we'd have already redesigned the schools to work better for them. We'd have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we'd demand a big fix of the education system.

But during her critique there is a lot of hand wringing and blame but very little in the way of fixing what's wrong.

In her second article, she kind of works on the "fixes" - the list includes:

a) Brush up on history. Specifically, go read Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations" in the Atlantic Monthly and no, don't blow it off based on the title. It's a powerful piece of reporting and history that connects a lot of dots -- as does Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," which I also recommend.

b) Sit with it. Just sit with Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece for a couple of days or a week or a month. Let that history roll around in your head and sink in.

c) Support and listen. Support parents of color in their quest to improve their children's education and schools. Which means listening to their stories and their ideas and trying to remove the political and institutional obstacles in their way.

Now, I don't know about you, but that sounded a little bit like "white liberal hogwash". Pondering our past injustices is a good thing to do, but it doesn't fix the here and now.

But when it came to the "support and listen" aspect, she did offer some ideas about what she heard...

1) They want great public schools in their own neighborhood where their kids are safe, thriving and achieving academically. Period. Most parents don't really care if these schools are the traditional district types or public charters. And they don't necessarily care whether these schools are integrated or not. If they must, they'll drive across town. But they'd prefer having a great school in their own neighborhood.

None of this should be surprising. White middle-class parents want the same thing and if they don't have it, they move to a neighborhood or suburb where they can get it.

2) They want more teachers, administrators and staff who look like their kids and welcome their families. (White parents already have this.)

3) They want schools to stop over-suspending their children as well as over-identifying them for special education. (Most white parents don't have to deal with this.)

Those 3 are actually a good start. Especially the second. I would like to see more of the inner city Minneapolis schools have teachers and administrators that reflect the community they serve. The comfort zone for discussions would have to improve.

But it isn't white liberals, it isn't dysfunctional families, it isn't teachers, it isn't the legislature. The problem is none of those things.

Mickelson hinted at a core issue in one of her criticisms....

In Minnesota, our schools were basically created by white middle-class people, for white middle-class people and employ mostly white middle-class people. (Ninety-six percent of our state's teachers are white, even as children of color now make up 28 percent of the enrollment. In Minneapolis, about 85 percent of our classroom teachers are white, even though 67 percent of their students are not.)

In addition, current school rules, policies and contracts are decided by ... Lord, this is getting repetitious ... mostly middle-class white people. Poor parents of color do not sit in our legislature, school boards or union negotiating committees.

We have a system that, at its core, was geared for a culture of middle class white people. The employee base reflects that. The curriculum reflects that. The testing reflects that. All of it is based upon that.

We need to reexamine how we educate in diversity.

And yes, parent involvement is crucial. But then we also have to listen to the parents that do get involved. African-American families, especially those in poverty, have little time to reenforce classroom work. Many of them are in poverty....many of them are working two jobs....many of them require extended family help to care for their kids. And too many, black or white, come to school hungry. If they come to the education system and ask for help, then let's listen and try to find solutions that really work.

And just as we should not put total blame on the parents, we should not be looking to the teachers as a scapegoat either. The educators do everything they can to help ...I really believe that....but they need the tools, the guidance, the special expertise, the backing of the state system...they need all of that and more.

We need to examine the root causes of our achievement gap and then we need to get parents and teachers involved in the implementation of a solution. Maybe that is targeted money. Maybe that is a change in core corriculum. Maybe it is different testing mechanisms. Maybe it is better design of the school buildings. We need to look at all of it....and not with the biases we have developed during our frustrations.

Minnesota's achievement gap is bad; there is no question about that. But there have to be solutions. Other states have found ways to figure that out, let's explore those options.

But one thing is for sure. It is time to stop the blame. To stop wringing our hands. We all want to fix this but we need to do it with new eyes...new vision and a very open mind.

Minnesota can do this - we are better than this.
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Religion Is Not An Excuse For Discrimination

Category: Religion
Posted: 03/30/15 11:05

by Dave Mindeman

I have a difficult time with how religious "freedom" is defined in this country. There seems to be a prevailing belief that what I consider a religious tenet allows me to impose my belief on people I interact with.

This Indiana law that allows business owners to deny services to LGBT clients is a means to hide discriminatory actions behind a religious barricade. It is simply wrong and should not stand under our Constitution.

I have the same problem with the Hobby Lobby ruling on health insurance. Can a business owner who operates a public business impose his or her religious beliefs on employees or customers? I can't believe there is any answer other than NO.

A rather extreme case of this has circulated regarding a business owner who called in to a local Indiana radio talk show:

The business owner, who would not give his name or the name of his business, said he had told some LGBT "people" that equipment was broken in his restaurant and he couldn't serve them even though it wasn't and other people were already eating at the tables. "So, yes, I have discriminated," he told RadioNOW 100.9 hosts. The hosts were surprised the owner said he was okay with discriminating.

That must be some pretty strong "religious" convictions that would allow you to lie so that you can discriminate.

Using religion as some kind of excuse to deny servicing people that you find objectionable is hardly a matter of conviction. Businesses provide services period. Providing those services is not some a defacto acceptance of any particular religion or bias or even a person's sexual orientation. It is a business transaction. Businesses transactions dealing with the public aren't a judgment call - it's just business.

When a business owner singles out a particular class of people to withhold those services from, then it cannot be described as anything other than a discriminatory policy. Please leave religion out of it.

The world has used religion as an excuse for some pretty destructive behavior.

It is time we just said....no more.
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John Kline - The Student Loan Watchdog Enigma

Category: John Kline
Posted: 03/25/15 21:30

by Dave Mindeman

John Kline is a busy guy. He is out there fighting for students. "Helping out" on student loans. Making things better for Native American education.

The increase in funding ($60 million) for Indian schools is interesting to note. It is certainly needed....

Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School on the Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe Reservation in northwestern Minnesota... is emblematic of problems in Indian schools across the nation. The school's list of grievances include a rodent infestation and a roof that caves during heavy snowfalls.

It is worth noting that the "Bug" school, as it has been nicknamed, has gotten a lot of publicity lately, and Rep. Betty McCollum has cited its problems in Congressional hearings.

I guess it's Kline to the rescue?

Funny, these problems in the Indian Schools are not a new phenomena....and Kline has certainly had many opportunities in the past to fix this problem. But is it possible that he is feeling a little bit more heat this time around....going into a Presidential election year and a growing list of challengers?

But another noteworthy Kline action caught my attention.

Kline, the student debt enigma....the For-Profit College protector.....the student loan rate raiser....has called out President Obama for talking about taxation on 529 plans.

The reason behind Kline's recent editorial spiel was President Obama's misguided idea to tax 529 college savings plans. Although the president swiftly abandoned the initiative, Kline, the self-proclaimed pork-cutting conservative, was inspired to pen the letter calling out his political foe.

For the record, 529 plans have become a dream for the 1% in that they are a means of tax exempting huge amounts of the earnings in these plans for the wealthy. A program which was meant to help the average person save ahead for college tuition and not have to pay tax on the earned money in the program if used for college..... has become another 1% tax shelter.

You can set up as many 529 plans as you wish and you can contribute the amount that is needed to cover cost of an education -- which could be Harvard? MIT? etc. The earnings in the plan are tax free if used for educational purposes - a broadly expanding definition is involved. And the beneficiary can be changed without affecting the plan. A plan that has ongoing earnings can offer tax free education for a wealthy family forever.

Meanwhile the rest of us struggle with massive student debt - which John Kline has contributed to by allowing For-Profit colleges to use deceptive recruiting practices and by setting Federal student loan rates via a marker that has increased the rate this year and looks like it will increase it again next year.

Yes, Kline is likely to market himself as a watchdog for college students. Sadly, Kline the watchdog is just looking out the money guys.
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