Monday, August 12, 2013

Is This Who We Are?

I collect a lot of bits and pieces of information.  Years ago I kept a box of clippings from newspapers and magazines, as well as copies of something I might have read, or scribbles of something I heard and wrote down.  Today with the Internet, I cut and paste snippets from articles I have come across, or download things that I want to remember or return to at some point.  As I was sorting through some of my “treasures” I came across a statement that I cut and pasted during the time of the New Orleans Saints “bounty-gate scandal” when coaches and players conspired to deliberately injure opposing players for cash during NFL football games.  The quote comes from an article written by my favorite sports columnist, Jason Whitlock from Fox Sports.  Here it is:
“Payton, Williams, Jonathan Vilma and all the Saints reflect what is true about modern American society. We’re cold, ruthless and unashamed in pursuit of the things we want. We no longer pretend fair play is important or valued. We condone torture. We’ve lost the courage to compromise, surrendering our national discourse to left and right extremists.”
Boy! That is a pretty strong indictment of the society we live in, and when I look at politics, it does ring very true.  Politicians have lost all sense of decorum, including our Supreme Court justices who make very derogatory public comments after rulings, which is something that has not happened in our nation’s history until recently.  Name-calling is basically accepted on the floor of our congress, and in the media it happens on a daily basis.  It seems that in every political race of importance, rules are bent and candidates will say whatever they need to in order to garner a few more votes.  In speeches things are said that have no factual basis without apology or remorse.
It goes beyond politics.  How many times in recent years has the media published something that is wrong in order to win the race to be the first?  For most of our history there was a great deal of pride in the integrity of journalism, but now the competition for being first with a story has erased all sense of integrity.  Major college athletic programs are rift with cheating and scandal all in the name of victories, which leads to money and television appearances.  What more needs to be said about banks and Wall Street? 
Unfortunately this mentality has invaded our homes as well.  Parents cover up for their children’s missteps, some of them following the philosophy of “it isn’t illegal/wrong if you don’t get caught.”  Some choose to move their children around from one district to another in order to get them on a better team or with a better coach.  I have had one coaching friend told by a parent that he was not to “mess with his son’s pitching mechanics because he pays for professional pitching instruction.”  Other parents take a great deal of pride of being someone who “says what’s on their mind” regardless of whether it is appropriate and regardless of who may hear it or who it may hurt.  Kind of like Nike’s Just Do It mantra, we now live in a society that also seems to advocate Just Say It!
I believe that we are better than this.  But I also recognize that there is a huge hill to climb.  In this country, and in our community, there are many people with strong moral character, who do things the right way.  They have not been tainted by the “win at all costs” mentality, or by Just Do It.  We need those people to step forward and lead.  If they aren’t willing to do that on their own, then we need to encourage them to do so.  By the same token, in our schools we need to do a better job of including character development in everything that we do.  Winning with honor is a much better motto to live by than winning at all costs.  Being respectful and courteous will take us a lot further in life.  Just Do The Right Thing!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Iowa Board Strikes a Blow For Local Control

Good news came out today in an email from the Iowa Association for School Boards.  The Iowa Board of Education rejected Governor Branstad’s attempt to force schools to give up local control on setting the start date for the school year.  I have written about this before so I won’t present my argument again, but while I am an advocate of a later start to the school year, I salute the Board of Education’s decision to vote against the proposed rule changes.  Branstad was kowtowing to the demands of lobbyists for the tourism industry and state fair.  Fortunately, our leaders on the state board have not let demands from business and cronyism determine the schedule for education.  The state fair folks claim that they want increased attendance, which is a smokescreen for wanting more kids to serve as cheap, minimum wage labor in the concession trailers and doing grunt work for the fair.  Waterpark and theme park owners want to bleed a couple more weeks work out of kids rather than have them start their education.  It all reeks of greed and self-interest, and is a blatant case of hypocrisy on behalf of the governor who claims to be putting in place an educational program that will improve learning for Iowa school children.  How does starting school a couple of weeks later improve education?
For those of you that regularly read my blog, you know that I advocate a later start in the school year, and actually go further and advocate year-round school.  Until every school building in Iowa is air conditioned, it makes a lot more sense to have kids in these buildings in June than in the furnaces they become in August.  Plus, with school-sponsored sports in Iowa taking place in the summer, there is nothing wrong with giving families the month of August for family time.  I would love to see a rule that bans all school practices, camps and rehearsals in the month of August, but that is for another day!  I could go on and on with my argument.  However, I don’t want to lose my fundamental point: the Iowa Board of Education did not bow to political pressure and the influence of big business.  A couple of board members stated that they have never received as many emails and letters on an issue as they had on this school start matter.  It’s nice to know we have educational leaders that represent the people and did not take another chunk out of local control.