28 01 2008


The Public School system in this country is supposed to provide children with enough of an education to become good citizens. Everyone- including those who have no children- pays a certain amount of taxes to pay for this as part of the price we are willing to pay for living in this society. For a long time, we (the People) were getting a bargain. Most students were getting enough knowledge to be at least functional members of society.

Those days are over. The Public School system has become a vast sinkhole we throw our money into for little discernible return. People have been grousing about the declining state of our Education system for decades. School administrators were quick to point out the cause: Class sizes are too large because there aren’t enough teachers. There aren’t enough teachers because we don’t pay them enough. We don’t pay teachers enough because they aren’t doing a good job teaching. Teachers can’t teach effectively because class sizes are too large. Et cetera ad nauseum.

There have been attempts to fix these problems. Teachers were hired, given raises, and given minimum standards to meet. Class sizes were reduced. But the Public Education system in the US has continued its spiral of decline. How could this happen? We’ve dealt with the teaching issues (by and large, here and there, more or less). School administrators scratched their collective heads and suggested that maybe the children were at fault. It’s a lovely idea, but not borne out by the data available. Random testing of a wide cross-section of the student population shows that kids entering school are generally as smart as they ever were. But each successive graduating class has been scoring worse on random tests than the previous one.

School administrators all around the country mused, “It isn’t the students. It isn’t the teachers. Maybe it’s the parents”. Could be. The home environment has a huge influence on a student’s performance. That said, most students come from stable households and are not suffering from malnutrition or other abuse. The overall decline in output quality can’t be laid solely at the feet of those students who do come from abusive or unstable households.

The school administrators then put forth the idea that “it has to be a ‘culture thing’. Really. There’s no other explanation.” A relatively small percentage of all students meet the “at risk” criteria based on home and/or cultural environment. The growth in this percentage is far outstripped by the decline in standardized test scores.

Having discussed all other factors in the decline in American Public Education, we seem to be left with one remaining commonality- school administrators.

With few exceptions, news stories about school administrators show them to be largely dictatorial bean-counters who have lost sight of their sole reason for existence: making sure children get a good education. Instead of paying attention to this basic requirement, many school administrators are spending their energies punishing students for the slightest lack of conformity.

A recent news report from Buffalo, NY, tells the tale of a High School Senior who fell afoul of the school administration. It turns out that the Principal and head coach arranged to fire a volunteer basketball coach who was very popular with the students she coached. The students objected to the firing, and contacted the local School Board, requesting to get put on the agenda for the next meeting. All of those students were suspended. The Principal told the school board that the students’ parents had objected to the children speaking to the Board. One of the students pointed out that none of the parents had, in fact, objected. The parents were strongly in favor of the students speaking to the Board about this issue. She was suspended for 7 weeks, ostensibly for missing school without an excuse. The Board was told that this senior was a troublemaker.

In another case, some parents were trying to get the local school administrators to publish the discipline policies for the school district. When the administrators refused to do so, and the School Board backed ‘em on it, the parents started a public website identifying the recalcitrant administrators and Board members by name, and repeating the call for publishing the disciplinary policy. In retaliation, the school expelled the child of those parents and filed a lawsuit to get the web page removed. A counter-lawsuit by the parents is still pending.

These are just a small sample of news reports about school administrators and School Boards. All over the country, petty tyrants in the form of school administrators are making the news through equally despotic behavior. These tin gods have no checks on their authority, and frequently refuse to produce written procedures or regulations to justify their actions. In fact, most school administrators in the news get hopping mad at the idea that anyone dares hold them accountable for their actions.

I’m admittedly painting with a broad brush, here. All school administrators are not necessarily petty dictators more concerned with their own egocentric authority than getting the job done. All teachers are not time-serving hacks with no interest or concern for the young minds in their care. All students are not violent sociopaths from broken homes who are culturally averse to learning. All parents are not apathetic hulks more concerned with their creature comforts than their offspring. All of these problems contribute to our declining academic standings. We hear about the people who fit these descriptions because that gets good ratings. That said, the regular decline in this country’s academic performance scores shows that there are enough of these people to screw things up for everybody.

We can’t change the parents without becoming an omnipresent dictatorship (and probably couldn’t even if we did). We can’t force the children to turn off the video games and music videos and open a textbook (although the parents could). We can’t force teachers to care about their students (although school administrators could- by making it unprofitable to do so). We CAN do something about the school administrators.

Not sure who originally said this, but there are four boxes which should be used to defend liberty, in the following order: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. We, the People, have the right and responsibility to ensure that our public servants are doing the job we’ve hired them to do. Transparency is the key. School administrators are permitted to be tin-pot dictators because the rules allow them to get away with it. Change the rules. Go to school board meetings (Soap-box). If the school board can not or is not willing to change, vote the bastards out (Ballot-box). The new school board will either be willing to change or had better have a damned good reason why they won’t. If this doesn’t get the job done, take ‘em to court (Jury box). Public servants should not be able to hide their actions from the public, and the courts are there to make sure they know it.

We haven’t got to the point of using the Ammo box. I hope we never do. So far, we the People have been able to use the other three boxes to keep control of our Government. An armed uprising to force school administrators to be responsible for their actions would be stupid. The expected benefit does not match the expected cost- not even close. So long as Soap, Ballot, and Jury boxes are working as intended, we have no need to resort to the Ammo box. Let’s keep it that way. Become active in your community politics. Circulate petitions, hold public meetings, and generally be a royal pain the ass to the Powers-That-Be. This is how participatory democracy is supposed to work.

If local politicians (School Board members are politicians- never forget that) fail to change their policies or clearly explain the reasons why they won’t, call in the hounds. Much as I despise the media, they can be put to good use. Get some local news coverage, and you’ll quickly find out whether or not your cause has public support. If it does, that public support can be used as a blunt instrument on the local politicos. If the story hits the internet, the local government could find itself receiving thousands of complaints on the subject in a matter of days. Public protests always get media attention, and politicians are (or should be) sensitive to that sort of pressure.

Robin Williams had a funny line in an otherwise execrable movie: “Politicians should be changed as regularly as diapers- and for the same reason.” Make sure your local politicians hear that message often. It makes ‘em nervous, and nervous politicians are a lot easier to deal with than the self-satisfied, smug, and arrogant bastards we’re stuck with.

Current status- Disgruntled

Current music- Old and Wise by Alan Parsons Project

Insidious Mind games

14 01 2008

I take it all back.

 A long time back, I wrote about ChrismaHanaKwanzaka and called it, “the Silly Season”. I was wrong. I abase myself in contrition. The real Silly Season is now upon us: Election Season.

Shhhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet. We’re hunting Pwesidents! Hehehehehehe!”

Like all good curmudgeons, I know that all elections are choices between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich. This particular election cycle (ugh! “Cycle” reminds us that we have to endure this insanity every couple of years) has also given us the Pernicious Asshat, the Twaddle Utterer, the Batshit Loonie, the KFC Meal Deal, and …

Key riced! I’ve run out of clever pseudonyms for the political “elite” who are vying for our votes. BRB. Gotta swill down some inspiration.

OK, Vicodin and Uisgebah have failed to help. I suspect my mind just refuses to pay too much attention to these attention-whores. Doubtless a survival reflex.

Back to the title of this rant: Insidious Mind Games. These vapid panderers have learned from the mistakes of others, to the extent that they work really hard to avoid stating the obvious stupidities. The existence of partisan bloggers who have little better to do than put every public statement under a microscope and the partisan editors and “journalists” of the media make blatant absurdities impossible to conceal. They’ve learned enough to be a bit more clever in concealing their lies behind a veneer of superficial rationality.

The most vile cover story for any political agenda is the well-worn lie, “It’s for the children!” This particular heap of dung can be (and usually is) used by vermin of all political persuasions to try and sweeten some program or another which would be utterly destroyed by the voting public if it were not so disguised. It’s the vilest of all the insidious mind games because it works so often. Worst yet, any attempt to point out the obvious irrationality of this approach gets the objector immediately branded as someone who is “anti-children” (whatever the Hell that means). Me, I love children. They’re tasty when sauteed, and go well with potatoes and onions and just a touch of paprika. I have the heart of a small child … in a jar on my desk. The charge that “he doesn’t care about the children” is simply a despicably cheap ploy to confuse the listener (the voting public) and try and put the objector on the defensive. The fact that the voters fall for this line of horseshit over and over again says a great deal about the state of public education in this country- but that’s another rant altogether.

The other big lie- sorry … Insidious Mind Game– currently in vogue among the Shameless Pandering Class is “change”. Note that none of the political vultures ever really explain exactly what sort of “change” they mean. I’ll fill you all in on their behalf: The “change” to which they refer is replacing the people currently in power with themselves. To that end, they will tell any lie, break any rule, or commit any crime (probably including premeditated murder). Any act is justified if they manage to get into a position of power. If anyone still believes that your candidate of choice really means what they say during campaign season, I want you to wear an Aluminum-Foil Deflector Beanie™ (AFDB) so the rest of us can tell who you are.

There’s another Insidious Mind Game at work every four years in the US. The people running for the office are trying desperately to convince everyone that the President runs the country. This is patent nonsense, but one with teeth- as long as “the people” believe it. The President cannot enact legislation, declare war, or levee taxes. Those powers reside in Congress (not that the Congresscritters make good or effective use of it). For all the blather on the airwaves by one prostitute … sorry, I meant “candidate” … or another about how much they lovethe Constitution, damned few of them seem to have much knowledge of the document. Some of those who do know a bit about it can’t seem to avoid running off at the microphone about some program or policy they favor which is patently unConstitutional.

Having vented my spleen to this point, I will now announce which candidates will be getting my vote in November.

Ralph Wiggum and Lisa Simpson.

I find these two have far more in common with my political views than any of the “real” candidates, and would almost certainly do far less harm to the country were they elected.

Current status: Mightily wroth

Current music: President’s Songby Jonathan Coulton

Helicopters and Snowflakes

7 01 2008

This nonsense has got to stop.

For those of you playing at home, the nonsense of which I speak involves helicopters and snowflakes. Specifically, so-called “Helicopter Parents” and the entire “It’s for the children” mindset. The morons guilty of helicopter “parenting” often refer to their crotch-goblins as “precious little snowflakes“.

Personally, I prefer the term crotch-goblin. This term perfectly describes the antics of the little bastards who never learned the first hint of personal responsibility from their doting genetic-material donors. By the way, I am not against children per se, just the ill-mannered and worse-behaved spawn of far too many so-called “parents” in this country. I am childless by choice, but I have no objection to other peoples’ children- provided they’re properly cooked.

All seriousness aside, what is wrong with so many parents these days? In their vain attempts to shield their darling little crotch-fruit from the rigors of the real world, they’re preventing the kids from learning how life really works. Guess what, kid? Your mom and dad played baseball without a helmet, climbed trees, played dodgeball, rode skateboards without kneepads, played on jungle gyms over concrete pads, and learned how to survive and compete as a result.

What do we have today? Dodgeball is banned in many schools. Playgrounds are so heavily padded and made safe “for the children” that it’s very hard for kids to have fun there. Slides used to be fun. Now, they’ve been shortened so much most kids can’t even develop enough momentum to reach the bottom. Heaven forbid mommy’s precious little snowflake from risking a scraped knee or a bruise.

Then we have the “cleanliness” issue. Kids are dirty. Scratch that, kids have an inherent ability to create filth from nothing. Kids are going to be exposed to other kids. The pathetic germaphobia found all over the TV keeps exhorting parents to buy industrial-strength cleansers by the carload to protect “daddy’s little angel” from those horrible germs. Supermarkets offer cleaning gear to wipe off the handles of shopping carts. At a certain point, all the crap you do to extend your life makes life not worth living. I’m pretty sure we’ve long since passed that point, but I’m just an irascible curmudgeon. Get off my damned lawn!

Another group due their fair share of the blame is the epidemic of lawyers in this country. Lawyers are a necesary part of a civil society. At their best, they protect citizens from the power of governments, corporations, and other citizens. Once the saturation point for lawyers in the population gets achieved, however, many lawyers have to start inventing work for themselves. Your kid didn’t ace his final exam? Sue the tacher. Sue the school. Your son didn’t make the baseball team? Sue the Parks Department and the coach. Mommy’s dearest little flower didn’t make the final round of the beauty pageant? Sue the pageant organizers (and their sponsors).

These problems are getting worse. Helicopter parents are starting to get involved in their kids’ post- school careers. Several corporate recruiters report increasing numbers of candidates calling mommy and daddy during interviews. After some moron butchers a bunch of people in cold blood, Mommy and Daddy appear on TV proclaiming that their kid was really a lot better than that and deserves special consideration. “I know people say he raped and murdered three people and ate their hearts, but he’s a good kid otherwise!”

 Here’s a thought: Next time someone’s sprog commits a crime and the parents start wailing about what a good kid he was, let’s toss the parents in jail, too. Anyone who can even mouth those words after their kid gets caught red-handed is obviously part of the problem.

Protecting your kid involves a modicum of responsibility (oooo! I said a bad word!). Too much protection, and you risk leaving the child completely unprepared for life. Too little protection, and you risk scarring the child emotionally and physically- also making them unprepared for civilized life. Doing it right requires a balancing act- which in turn requires hard work on the part of the parents. Take some personal responsibility for your actions- or lack thereof.

“My baby’s a good boy! He doesn’t deserve this!” Yes, he does. So do you.

Current status: Peeved

Current music: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel