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Election '08

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It begins in the classroom

Education is the foundation of every great society. At the height of their civilizations, Rome, Greece, Egypt, etc. all had a very distinct love of learning. All great societies require the support of an educated populace in order to grow.

In the early days of the industrial revolution, it was innovators that made crucial things happen. These great discoverers were all people of letters and science of one type or another who found better ways to do things in order to promote a more advanced society. Even the unconventional thinkers had some basis in science and history when they made their great leaps of logic. If Henry Ford had not understood the principles behind the internal combustion engine, we would not have the Ford Motor Company. Similarly if the founders of HP had not had some brilliant ideas in their garage based on principles of electronics they had learned in school, we would not have one of the largest technology companies in the world. The point being, without knowledge, there is no progress.

What is confounding is the thought process that leads to the conclusion that public education does not merit the same status and gains as the medical or legal professions. Teachers make a pittance compared to the aforementioned lawyers and doctors yet without those teachers, those doctors and lawyers would not have the knowledge they need to do their jobs for which they receive such immense compensation. Public education cuts over the last twenty years have led to American students falling behind students from countries such as India leading to Indian workers taking American jobs because they are more qualified due to a better educational foundation. If you look at the IT department of virtually any major corporation, you will find at least one person of Indian descent in a position of authority or regard due to their knowledge of computers being greater than that of their peers. Should we hate India for this? Absolutely not! We should however be outraged that our children are not getting an education that allows them to compete on a global scale!

So how do we solve this problem? First, we need to change the focus of the information that we teach to our children. While history and literature are important, math, language and science are what drives progress. We need to shift the focus of education in America to the things that help our nation lead the march into the future. While we need to continue teaching history and literature to our children so we can avoid the mistakes of the past we also need workers for the future that will figure out ways to do things more efficiently and more environmentally soundly than they have ever been done before. We need people with strong backgrounds in science and mathematics that will make those leaps of logic to drive the survival and enrichment of the planet as well as the nation. The hubris of our leaders' assumptions that America cannot be overcome will be our downfall if we don’t change course soon.

At the core of that change must be a change in how we teach our children. Teaching by repetition is not effective for creating critical thinkers. Learning by rote is very good for teaching future assembly-line workers but does not do well in preparing children for the high-tech world we live in. Factories are moving overseas and the economy of America is quickly leaving assembly line manufacturing behind. We need to teach our children to think in multi-lateral ways that examine problems from every angle to find the best solution. That is accomplished through examined learning. Children need to learn how to break a situation down to its component elements and find the places at which a change can be made to improve the overall situation. Repetition creates automatons that can perform repetitive tasks. We don’t need many of that type of worker anymore. We need multi-taskers that understand numbers and language and who look at a problem from multiple angles before they attempt to solve it. We need thinkers who can look at a problem and see multiple solutions in their mind before they put pen to paper to posit any solution. We desperately need critical thinkers. While this type of thinking tends to abandon the status quo and diminishes the power of those that would benefit from maintaining the status quo it also tends to drive progress. People in power may not like critical thinkers because they examine everything in a more critical way making them less susceptible to manipulation but we need these thinkers to preserve our nation. We can no longer afford to have a blissfully ignorant society in America.

We are not the cutting edge anymore, countries like India and China are gaining ground quickly and will surpass us in short order if we don’t start to focus on educating our population more effectively. Our educational programs need to be intensely focused on math, science and global awareness including language adaptability. Our children need to be learning other languages such as Chinese and Spanish in school as a requirement if we are to be a leader in this millennium. Our children need to understand physics and calculus before they leave high school if we are to lead in technology development going forward. Computers in the classrooms are wonderful tools but computers alone will not make the leaps in logic needed to move beyond computers in the future. It is the people of science that can say “what if” that drive change and progress. The "what if" thinkers go beyond technical knowledgte to the realm of theory and hypothesis that only comes from looking at the limitations of something like a computer as a challenge to be solved. The computer should not be the solution but rather merely a first step.

Among the changes in the classroom there should also be an emphasis placed on celebrating diversity. Great minds come in all skin colors and from all socio-economic backgrounds. Our children need to be taught the value of embracing diversity and that bigotry is purely ignorant. Those who would teach bigoted isolationist ideas to children should be marginalized to the point of ridcule. Their theories are without merit and their ideas are uninformed to the point of being unimportant to any but themselves. Those who would posit that one race is superior to another should be laughed out of the room for the sheer stupidity if their statements. There is absolutely no real science to support their views and any religious quotations they would cite as evidence are foolish interpretations of books meant to unite people not divide them.

If it weren’t for the work of an African-American named George Washington Carver, we would have likely depleted the soils of our nation and our farmers would have all gone out of business by now. Crop rotation and soil replenishment through the use of selective crop replacement saved our farming economy. If it weren’t for the work of Jews, we would not have nuclear energy. Diversity is what makes our world work better now than it did before. Ideas have to come from all sources or you can’t achieve progress. Multiculturalism is an idea that needs to be promoted or we surely will crumble under the weight of our own hatred and ignorance.

The next thing we need to do is fund education. Pure and simple, the schools need more money. They need to be our highest priority. Homeland security is all well and good but if we are a nation of idiots, what sense is there in protecting ourselves from bombs? We will just end up losing the nation to other smarter people that buy it out from under us. The terrorist leaders are overall very well educated people. The fact that they have had such success with planning complex military operations utilizing inferior materials and troop numbers against superior firepower and military forces is evidence that they are not idiots. If we want to beat them, we will need people that can out think them. That will not happen while our children are using twenty year old text books and don’t have pencils and paper because the school district can’t afford it. Things like the “No Child Left Behind Act” are not working because they only have accountability with no corresponding funding to help the schools achieve the goals set forth for them. Teachers end up teaching to the test and we end up with kids who know a bunch of facts but have no basis in critical thinking to use when they need to step outside of the facts to ask “what if” in order to move beyond the established to the unexplored. Moving beyond the known to the unknown is the basis of progress and prosperity. We cannot afford unquestioned leaders, processes or traditions any longer. We must question everything in order to improve anything on a larger scale.

I have over the last two years personally given hundreds of dollars worth of supplies to one school in my city because I went there as a volunteer through my job and saw what they didn’t’ have in their classrooms and it moved me to act. My child is not a student there and may never be but the children that are there need the items and I can afford to do it so I do. The federal government can afford it far more than I can yet they allow those children to not have those things they need. The things needed in the classrooms are as basic as pencils and crayons for elementary students that the schools have to ask the parents of the children to provide or obtain using money out of the teachers’ own pockets when they make less that half of your average entry level corporate lawyer and a minute fraction of your average politician when you factor in speaking fees and perks. How screwed up are our priorities when we allow this to continue and say nothing?

I for one cannot remain silent any longer. Our politicians have mortgaged our future to use our tax dollars to subsidize corporations who have billions of dollars in annual profits while our children sit in poorly heated classrooms with inadequate supplies. Why is it needed for oil companies with billion dollar quarterly profit increases nearly every quarter to get tax breaks when schools don’t have enough money to fund their basic functional needs? Those tax breaks need to go away and the children need to get that money invested in their classrooms. We need to hold our politicians accountable for the state of education in America. They appropriate the money. They decide how our tax dollars get spent. They give billion dollar subsidies to multi-national corporations when our children don’t have current textbooks or basic supplies in the classroom. How can we give billions in no-bid contracts for political cronies to rebuild Iraq but can't fund education for all of our children adequately? Why is America not outraged? Because the vast majority of Americans are not paying attention. It’s time to start paying attention folks. We are falling quickly behind the rest of the world and it will only be a matter of time before the USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of some foreign corporation. Our people will be the ones cleaning the toilets while the other nations laugh at us as we have laughed at others for so long. Our arrogance is foolish! Power and money are fleeting and can be lost as easily as they were won. Even the rich people should be concerned about the state of education in America because the children of today will be the legislators of tomorrow and if they aren’t educated, they will likely screw things up even worse than they are now.

We need to bring prestige back to the teaching profession. We need to make teaching a desired career with all of the respect of law or medicine. We need to make sure that teachers’ salaries are so desirable that people will work as hard to become teachers as they do today to become doctors and lawyers. We need to put teachers up on a pedestal of respect that is afforded to the professions we have historically held up as the goals one should have when pursuing an education. Parents should be just as proud of their child the teacher as they are of their child the lawyer or their child the doctor or senator or movie star. Without teachers, none of those other professions could exist. We need to make sure that the “best and brightest” are wanting to become teachers because it is a goal that is universally admired as requiring the utmost dedication and perseverance to attain. We need to hold high standards for our teachers but we also need to compensate them in a manner befitting that standard for excellence.

So this is my plan:

  • Remove all subsidies for corporations who are profitable from the federal budget. All federal subsidies should be need-based and limited to a timeframe that ensures that the federal government is not funding incompetence. No company should be receiving subsidies for decades on end. This will free up millions if not billions of dollars on an annual basis.


  • Remove all tax breaks for profitable corporations that are not tied to investment in education, charitable giving or increasing employment of American workers.


  • Give tax incentives to corporations for funding public education projects and mentoring programs that help prepare children for college and future employment.


  • Test children at the beginning of the year, at the mid point of the year and at the end of the year to gauge their progress. Use that testing to determine if the teachers are effective, if the child has a learning impairment and if the curriculum needs to be adjusted for the coming year. (Note: The only way this can be effective is if it is blind testing. Teachers should not be privy to the questions or answers prior to testing.)


  • Test teachers at the beginning of the summer to determine if they require additional education to teach the subjects they need to teach in order to follow the curriculum. If they require additional education, make sure they have access to it and that they get it before the next school year begins as a condition of employment. (Funding for this continuing education should be included in the annual national education budget.)


  • Set the minimum salary for teachers at the market rate for an associate attorney in a private law firm for that area. That will drive competition to become a teacher and increase the pool of better qualified applicants.


  • Create tougher standards for credentialing of teachers.


  • Use some of the funds recovered from the discontinued subsidies and tax breaks to fund cutting edge technology in the classrooms and supplies sufficient to supply 125% of the schools’ projected needs for the year with an annual audit to account for overages when budgeting for the next year.


  • Use additional recovered federal funds to improve the conditions in the schools. Make sure that all schools in America have adequate and fully functional heat, plumbing, furniture, emergency medical facilities and building structures in order to create an environment that is conducive to learning.


  • Fund diversity and tolerance education to improve the social environments within schools.


  • Use whatever funds are left in the budget to create a national trust fund for schools to act as a safety net fund for years when tax revenues are below expectations that is untouchable by any other branch of government.


  • Draft legislation that requires funding for all children to receive a pre-school through college education in America.


  • Make pre-school and college part of the educational objective for all students.


  • Make sure that public universities are fully federally funded so that all Americans can afford to attend them.


  • Change employment law to require companies to allow parents to spend at least one day per semester volunteering at their child’s school without losing money for doing it. (Every study ever done on parent involvement in education shows that parents who get involved have children who perform better on average than parents who don’t get involved with their children’s education.)


  • Fund adult education so that parents are able to help their children with their studies and create outreach programs to go into the communities and educate the parents of at-risk children so that they understand the obstacles their children face and how to overcome them in a way that is realistic and financially viable for the families involved.


  • Fully fund art, music, sports and field learning activities. (Children who enjoy their school experience do better in school and it has been shown in study after study that children who have art, music and sports activities in school and field learning activities outside of the school grounds do better than children who don’t.)

Now none of these things will be easy to get through Congress or to get any President to sign but they are needed and would improve the life of millions of Americans and therefore are worth pursuing. There are thousands of corporate lobbyists that will fight this tooth and nail and some conservatives will call it “Big Government” but what use is government if it doesn’t do what is in the best interests of the majority of Americans?

We, as voters, need to stand up and tell our politicians that we won’t support them if they don’t fight for this. We the people of this great land have a power that we have not exercised in a long time. We have the numbers. There are millions more of us “every day Joes” than there are politicians or corporate lobbyists. We need to stand up and in one voice say that we will not sit by and let them sell our children’s futures up the river in order to make their buddies richer.

How surprised would the politicians be if in 2008 there was 100% turnout at the polls and we showed up ready to throw the bums out? They would likely soil themselves! The power of a unified America is more than they could ever hope to beguile their way around. They might try but if we stand firm and keep voting the do-nothings out until they follow our direction, change will come.

The time for a political revolution is here and education is something we need to rally around because it concerns all of us. It’s not just about competing now in a global marketplace. It’s about the future of our nation. It’s about who is going to take care of us when we are old and frail. It’s about American survival in the long term. It’s not the bombs and terrorists that pose the greatest threat to America. It’s too many kids dropping out of high school and not being qualified to do more than ask “Do you want fries with that?” That is the greatest threat to our nation today. We can try to bury our heads in the sand and say we don’t have a problem but we are failing to excel and we need to re-capture the spirit of learning and progress that took our nation from a rag-tag group of confederates fighting desperately against the English crown for our freedom from tyranny to the world’s only remaining super-power in only 225 years.

That kind of determination and drive is not happenstance. It comes from the blood, sweat and tears of real heroes who care more about the good of the many than the good of the individual and who inspire greatness in others by giving of themselves.

We need to rediscover the depth of the American spirit and reintroduce it to the youth of the nation before America becomes a footnote of history like the Greek and Roman empires have now become because they are long since passed away. Their glory is but a shadow of a memory kept within a history book in the early chapters. Without progress, society dies and without education, progress dies. If we don’t act soon we will become just as obsolete as every great empire before us has become.
Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer | Give your feedback on this article.

Another Round of Debates Yields Not Much Difference

This week the Democrats and Republicans held presidential debates in New Hampshire site of the first 2008 primary election. To call the debates lackluster would be to build them up unnecessarily.

While there were a few defining moments for individual candidates, mostly in the second and third tier, there was no defining moment that is likely to significantly change the hearts and minds of any voters. The style of the debate and the number of candidates (8 for the Democrats and 10 for the Republicans) left little room for much information to really get out. Moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN often interrupted the responses and moved things so quickly that no candidate had much of a chance to really present themselves to the American people. The favoritism towards the frontrunners was also apparent as most of the questions were directed towards them in the Democratic debate and the most leniency in time to answer was given to them in the Republican debate.

While no candidate did much to improve their stock, a couple candidates managed to place themselves in worse positions than they started in. In the Democratic debate, while attacking Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama for their approach to the vote on the recent war funding bill, John Edwards left himself wide open to being verbally slapped down by Barak Obama for his initial support of the war in Iraq saying “John, you’re about four and a half years late on leadership on this issue.” This exchange not only hurt Edwards but allowed Obama to reinforce the idea that he has been in the better position on Iraq in the view of the Democratic base from the beginning. In the Republican debate it was Mike Huckabee who managed to make himself look quite the religious zealot when he openly challenged evolution theory using the cliche argument that if people want to believe they were descended from primates that was OK but he believed in the Bible version. While this will play well with the most conservative evangelicals in the Republican party, the immediate follow-up by Sam Brownback pointing out that religion and evolution don't have to be at odds came across as much more reasonable to those who are not strict creationists and drew applause from the audience.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if this set of debates will have any effect on the polls but first impressions indicate that the frontrunners before the debates are still the frontrunners and the longshots are still the longshots.
Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer | Give your feedback on this article.



Get Involved

Do you sit and yell at the TV when politicians come on? Do you shake your head sadly whenever you see a homeless veteran? Is that all you tend to do?

It's time to put up or shut up America. We all love to talk about how we could do things better or how we would do it if we were in charge. Well, it's time to put your money where your mouth is. If you can think of it, you can write it down. If you can write it down, you can type it. If you can type it, you can e-mail it and if you can e-mail it, you can send it here.

We at Reform America are committed to giving voice to anyone who wants to put their ideas out there to make our nation a better place. As the readership grows, we are able to take those views to a wider and wider audience. Grassroots campaigns begin with voices speaking out. You have opinions. Voice them. We aren't about conservative or liberal. We aren't about pro-this or anti-that. We're about Americans and the First Amendment. Reform America is about politics by, for and of the people. You are the people. You only need to speak up. America is listening. Send your article to: stories@reform-america.net



Have You Been Downsized Due to Outsourcing?

For several years now we have listened to some within the business community tell us that America can't compete on a global scale unless they send our jobs overseas where they can be done cheaper. The question becomes, if we don't have good paying jobs here, how can we sustain our own economy? We want to hear from you. Have you lost your job? Have you been forced into a lower wage job due to outsourcing? Has outsourcing been a success for you? Did you end up in a better job?

Tell us your story so we can make sure the politicians see how outsourcing really impacts the workers who are backbone of America. Send your story to stories@reform-america.net

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