Category Archives: Education

I’m with Walker on eliminating minimum hours in class

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This will no doubt be couched in partisan terms as a conflict between those who support public education, and those who don’t — with Scott Walker cast on the “don’t” side:

If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has his way, the Badger State will become the first to stop requiring students in public schools to spend a minimum number of hours in class.

A proposal in Walker’s new budget plan calls for ending the state’s current minimum requirements — 437 hours for kindergarten, 1,050 hours for elementary schools and 1,137 hours for secondary schools —  and allowing school districts to do what they want in terms of seat hours for students.

Districts and schools would then be judged on their state report cards, which are produced annually by the Department of Public Instruction, based largely on standardized test scores. During a recent visit to a school in Waukesha to talk up his budget proposal, he said: “To me, the report card is the ultimate measure. It’s not how many hours you are sitting in a chair.”…

But I’m a stalwart supporter of public schools, and I’m with Walker on this.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m extrapolating from my own experience as a student, and as Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary. Which as it happens is precisely why I’m taking Walker’s side.

Sure, there are students who need every hour of mandated instruction. And there are no doubt those who may need more hours to get the material.

But I think I — and a lot of other students — would have benefited from less time in the chair. Or more material. Less boredom, in other words.

Yes, I was — according to Walker’s standardized-test measurement — one of the “smart” kids, generally in the 99th percentile or thereabouts. But I wasn’t alone. And how did it benefit me to sit there all those extra hours after I had absorbed the lesson, daydreaming or reading ahead in the book just to have something to do — so that if I was called on I answered, “Huh?” because I had left the subject at hand some time before.

For me, the school year was WAY too long — unless you were going to teach me more — and too much time was spent reviewing, or in repetitive exercises (homework) meant to drive home lessons that I had fully taken in at the outset, and was ready to move beyond.

But forget me. How do we know that every student would benefit from precisely X number of instructional hours? We don’t. Because a) every kid will be different, and b) there are plenty of variables other than time that I think probably bear more meaningfully on whether a child learns or not.

No, I haven’t backed this up with double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. I’m just going by common sense. I think the minimum-hours or minimum-days rules are yet another vain attempt to quantify, and codify, the unquantifiable. Anyone have any arguments that blow that out of the water?

Has the West ceased to believe in itself?

Last week, I read another excellent piece by Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. It was headlined “Do We Still Want the West?,” with the subhed, “The best antidote to the politics of Trump or Le Pen is a course in Western Civ.”

Because of that paper’s pay wall, I’m going to push the envelope a mite on Fair Use here so that you get the point fully, and I hope the Journal will forgive me.

The piece begins anecdotally, telling about how the left’s culture warriors chanted Western Civ right out of the curriculum at Stanford in the ’80s, and how a vote to bring it back (a student vote, because grownups no longer dare to make such decisions) failed, 6 to 1.

Then, he sets out the problem:

The thought comes to mind following Sergei Lavrov’s Orwellian speech last week at the Munich Security Conference, in which the Russian foreign minister called for a “post-West world order.”…

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens

Mr. Lavrov understands something that ought to be increasingly clear to American and European audiences: The West—as a geopolitical bloc, a cultural expression, a moral ideal—is in deep trouble. However weak Russia may be economically, and however cynical its people might be about their regime, Russians continue to drink from a deep well of civilizational self-belief. The same can be said about the Chinese, and perhaps even of the Islamic world too, troubled as it is.

The West? Not so much.

The United States has elected as president a man who has repeatedly voiced his disdain for NATO, the World Trade Organization and other institutions of the Western-led world order. He publicly calls the press “an enemy of the American people” and conjures conspiracy theories about voter fraud whose only purpose is to lend credence to his claim that the system is rigged. He is our first post-rational president, whose approach to questions of fact recalls the deconstructionism of the late Jacques Derrida: There are no truths; reality is negotiable….

He goes on about the crisis of faith in Western ways in Europe, and notes how the non-aligned — who once were so eager to join the Western club — are drifting toward other power centers, such as Russia and China.

In other words, moving toward cultures that still believe in themselves, or at least in their own myths.

Then comes the best part:

There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.

And it believed all of this was worth defending — in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields….

Donald Trump was elected by people who for whatever reason just don’t seem to get the fundamental assumptions of the West — they don’t know the history; they don’t embrace the ideals. It’s hard to talk to them about what’s wrong, because they don’t see it. Maybe it’s too late for them, but it’s time we started overtly teaching our children what’s valuable about the West.

But first, of course, we need to decide whether we still believe in it ourselves…

The bad news: Our $206 Trillion Fiscal Gap

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

Laurence Kotlikoff, Joseph Von Nessen and Doug Woodward.

There was good news and bad news today at USC’s 36th Annual Economic Conference.

To be more specific, there was mildly, moderately good news, and really Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news.

I’ll start with the good, which is on the local level. USC economists Doug Woodward and Joseph Von Nessen said that while growth has sort of leveled off in South Carolina, we’re in for a fairly good 2017. Advanced manufacturing remains strong, and things are going really well in construction — particularly along the coast — and retail. Merchants should have a good Christmas. If there’s a concern, it’s that employers are now having trouble finding qualified employees, particularly ones who are up to the challenges of automation — humans who can work with robots, basically.

On the other hand, we’re basically doomed.

That’s the message I got from the conference’s keynote speaker, Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, who started out noting that few Americans seem to have a clue what a fiscal hole we’re really in. Political leaders don’t speak of it, he said, pausing to complain about the “content-free election season” we just experienced. (Of course, you’d expect him to be dissatisfied with that, since he actually ran for president — unsuccessfully, he added dryly.) Oh, sure, they might speak of the $20 trillion national debt — which he noted isn’t really that, since the Fed has bought back $5 or 6 trillion of it — but they ignore the bigger problem.

That’s the true Fiscal Gap, as he calls it, which includes the liabilities that have been kept off the books. You know, Social Security, Medicare and the like — liabilities that aren’t acknowledged in the federal budget, but which are obligations every bit as binding as if the future recipients held Treasury bonds.

That adds up to $206 trillion.

There’s more bad news.

If we think in terms of what it would take for the nation to deal with that liability, our government is currently 53 percent underfinanced. That means that to meet these obligations, we’d have to have 53 percent across-the-board tax increases.

It gets worse.

If we don’t raise taxes by 53 percent now (or make drastic cuts to current and future spending that might somewhat reduce that need), then they’ll have to be raised a lot more on our children and grandchildren.

Dr. Kotlikoff has been raising the alarm about this for years. Here’s an oped piece he wrote for The New York Times in 2014. As he concluded that piece:

What we confront is not just an economics problem. It’s a moral issue. Will we continue to hide most of the bills we are bequeathing our children? Or will we, at long last, systematically measure all the bills and set about reducing them?

For now, we blithely sail on. But prospects aren’t good. None of the three economists, who spoke at a press conference before the event, had anything good to say about incoming political leadership on the national level. In fact, quite a bit of concern was expressed about 3 a.m. Tweets, any one of which could trigger a trade war with China before the day is out.

I came away feeling a bit like Damocles — or rather, like the nation is Damocles, since the sword fell on my head sometime back. And we just elected a guy who thinks he’s a national hero because he interfered with one business that was going to send some jobs out of the country (an interference in the market that none of the economists think was a good idea).

I’m not holding my breath for any leadership on closing the Fiscal Gap. (Nor would I be had the Democrats swept the elections.) Are you?

"What's THAT hanging up there?" "Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap..."

“What’s THAT hanging up there?” “Oh, that? I call it the Fiscal Gap…”

‘No! The Writing Room is over THERE!…’

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I haven’t posted today in part because I accepted Steven Millies’ invitation to go speak to his poli sci class at USC Aiken, and I just got back.

Before I tell you about the class, I want to share this door I found in the Humanities building while looking for Dr. Millies’ class. You’ll see that it leads, according to the formal signage at top, to the Writing Room.

But no! When you look a bit closer (below), things are not what they seem. I don’t know why the wording of the less-formal sign struck me as so funny, but it did. The disagreement was just so stark — This is the Writing Room… NO! This is emphatically NOT the Writing Room. The Writing Room is over THERE, dummy!… The first sentence alone would have been funny. But the second sentence, with the little arrow, is what made it wonderful. I almost picture Marty Feldman pointing and saying, “There wolf! There Writing Room!…

Anyway, I offered to speak to Steven’s class during a conversation after the Bernardin Lecture the other night (he and I serve on the lectureship’s committee), when he told me his American Government class was talking about media this week. He took me up on it.

And I had a blast, especially since I didn’t have to prepare a lecture. I just showed up and answered questions. Sometimes, with undergraduates or younger students, it’s hard to get questions, or at least hard to get relevant ones. This class did great. I hope I did all right for them.

But I seriously, seriously doubt they enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s hard to explain, but standing in front of a room taking and answering questions gets me really jacked up. I don’t know what it is. I’m not crazy about giving a speech, because it’s so… one-way. I stand up there giving a prepared talk, and I look at all those people staring at me, and I wonder, Is this interesting them at all? Is this what they were looking for when they invited me?

And I’m never sure, unless they laugh at a joke or something. So when I’m asked to speak, I always ask whether it’s OK to keep the talk short and move on as soon as possible to Q&A. Then I come alive — and sometimes even the audience seems to enjoy it.

After the class, I ran out to my car, all wired up, to make an important phone call I had scheduled for that time, and I really hope I didn’t… overflow too much on the person I was calling. I may have. I looked when we were done, and the call had lasted 41 minutes. Later, driving back to Columbia, I returned a call from earlier from a reporter at The New York Times wanting to talk about something having to do with SC politics, and I may have overdone that a bit, too. To my great surprise, shortly after that call, I was already back in West Columbia…

So basically, I guess, I’ve been blogging all over people today… just not in writing.

Anyway, I’ll give y’all an Open Thread in the next hour or so. I hope y’all appreciate it more than y’all usually do on a Friday afternoon, harrumph…

room

Come hear the 2016 Bernardin Lecture next week

There was an interesting op-ed piece in The Washington Post this morning by Christopher Jolly Hale, director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, one of those “liberal Catholic” groups mentioned in the Podesta emails.

It’s headlined, “Progressives aren’t a threat to American Catholicism. Donald Trump is.”

It’s interesting for the thoughtful way he explains the tension involved in relations with liberal Democrats:

My group lives in the almost impossible position of trying to exhort fellow Catholics to respond to the social teaching of the church, which guides us to lift up the poor and oppressed, while working within a generally secular progressive movement that isn’t friendly to our views on the sanctity of life. For nearly a decade, the abortion rights community has railed against CACG’s consistent support for the dignity of the unborn child. In 2009, Catholics for Choice released a scathing 30-page report on how we were working to build an antiabortion movement within progressive politics. Then, in 2013, conservative Catholic activist Bill Donohue called us a “bogus Catholic entity” because we said Rush Limbaugh was wrong to rip Pope Francis as a practitioner of “pure Marxism.” Our group was once derided as “radical right wingers” and a “lapdog for liberals” by two different national commentators in a single month; and this past summer, I was accused of being a “feminist” on Fox News one week and a “mansplainer” in the Huffington Post the next week.

If we’re nothing but surrogates for the Democratic Party and shills for Clinton bent on collapsing the church from within, we probably should be fired, because we’re doing a pretty bad job.

In July, we fought tooth and nail to stop the Democratic Party​ from ditching the Hyde Amendment. When they refused to, we said it was growing evidence that Democrats were slowly defying their progressive ideals to become a “party of exclusion.” Catholics are right to strongly protest Clinton and the Democratic Party’s hard-line position on abortion. As we’ve said time and again, we think there’s nothing progressive about abortion. But if conservatives are going to be quick to deride Clinton’s campaign as “anti-Catholic,” they should take an honest look at Trump before doing so….

Anyway, all this stuff about liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics makes me think of Columbia native Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who devoted much of his career to trying to get all Catholics (and people of other faiths) to get along better.

Cardinal Bernardin

Cardinal Bernardin

Which in turn reminds me that next week is the annual Bernardin Lecture at USC. It’s at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the auditorium on the first floor of Capstone — the same place where we hosted E.J. Dionne a few years back. Here’s a flier about the event.

The main speaker is Father Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of DePaul University. He will speak on the late cardinal’s Consistent Ethic of Life, Bernardin’s best-known contribution to theology and ethics.

Before that, at 3 p.m., there will be a panel discussion in the Gressette Room of Harper College on the Horseshoe led by my friend and fellow Bernardin Committee member Steven Millies, a poli sci associate prof at USC Aiken. Dr. Millies is the author of the recently published Joseph Bernardin: Seeking Common Ground. The topic of the discussion is Bernardin’s formative years in South Carolina. Steven will be joined on the panel by Libby Bernardin, widow of the Cardinal’s first cousin, John, and one of the family still living in South Carolina (and a fellow member of the committee); Sister Nancy Hendershott, Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine;  Anita Orf, Bernardin’s last living first cousin who grew up in the same house with him; and Fr. Sandy McDonald, longtime committee member for the annual Bernardin Lectures.

I hope you can make it.

Kathryn on problems in university neighborhood

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Kathryn Fenner wins the prize. I’m not sure what the prize is, but she wins it for being quoted prominently in a front-page news story headlined: “Naked college students push neighbors to breaking point.”

This is something to which I’m sure many of you have aspired, but Kathryn got there first.

But let’s shove our envy aside and soberly consider what she had to say about the problems in her neighborhood:

Aside from calling the cops and filing reports, residents like Kathryn Fenner would like to see the continued expansion of police patrols.

“USC police have extended their patrol area to include University Hill,” Fenner said. “When they started doing that, we noticed that things got a whole lot better in our neighborhood.”

Plus, she has learned that students fear the university’s disciplinary board, which if used aggressively, could help curb bad behavior by off-campus students. USC shouldn’t be so desperate to keep students that they’re willing to put up with appalling behavior, Fenner said.

Fenner said she also worries that if someday she wants to move, she’ll have to sell her home to a future landlord. It would take a special kind of person to live in her neighborhood, she said.

“You’re losing some of the in-town residents,” Fenner said. “There are people who have just had it.”…

Which the story points out is bad because the more resident homeowners who leave, the more rentals available to unruly, and possibly naked, students.

Speaking of which — the story’s opening anecdote reminds me of the situation my wife and I ran into in the area several years ago.

Anyway, it sound like USC is onto something with the patrols in the residential area. What else do y’all think should happen?

Yeah, but will he learn to WRITE?

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I had to groan at this item I saw over the weekend.

Catholic High School for Boys in Arkansas decided to get tough with helicopter parents, posting the above notice on its doors:

The all-boys private school in Little Rock has long had a rule barring parents from coming to the school to drop things off — such as forgotten lunches, assignments and sports equipment — for their children, but parents occasionally forgot about it and had to be turned away at the front door. So the school decided to post a sign as a reminder as this school year got underway….

Yeah, OK, fine. You’re trying to instill personal responsibility in the boys. And maybe they will learn to remember their lunches in the future.

But will they learn to write at a school that sees “problem-solve” as a verb?

Would it have killed them to write, say, “Your son will learn to solve these problems in your absence?”

Wrap your head around this: 1,300 more USC student beds

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in "Logan's Run."

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in “Logan’s Run.”

I was struck by this yesterday, but didn’t get around to sharing it until now:

The University of South Carolina will add around 1,300 new beds in privately owned student housing properties in time for the fall 2016 semester, seventh-most in the country.

A study by student housing and apartment market data provider Axiometrics found seven of the 10 university markets expecting the most new beds were in the Southeast or the Southwest. Arkansas led the way with an anticipated 2,319 new beds.

Several new student-oriented apartment complexes have recently opened in Columbia, including: Park Place, located at Blossom and Huger streets, with 640 beds; Station at Five Points, located at Gervais and Harden streets, with 660 beds; and 650 Lincoln Phase Two, with 297 beds.

Nationwide, a total of 47,700 new beds are scheduled for come to market in time for the fall semester….

Everybody else in "Logan's Run" Jenny Agutter, anyway...

Everybody else in “Logan’s Run.” Or Jenny Agutter, anyway…

Hey, I don’t care about nationwide. I care about the fact that, as many additional students as we’ve absorbed downtown in recent years, 1,300 more are moving in right now!

And that does count hundreds or thousands more that we can see under construction!

Already, walking down Main Street makes me feel like Peter Ustinov in “Logan’s Run.” This is bizarre.

Where are they all coming from?

The shocking, tragic news about Fred Sheheen

A friend just brought this to my attention:

Fred SheheenFred Sheheen, former commissioner of the state Commission on Higher Education, and father of state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, died Monday in a car crash.

Kershaw County Coroner David West confirmed Sheheen’s death….

Sheheen was the older brother to Bob Sheheen, D-Kershaw, former speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives….

I’m just stunned to hear this.

I knew and respected Fred — and his brother Bob, the House Speaker when I first arrived in SC — long before I ever heard of Vincent.

As head of the CHE, Fred was the kind of public official that even Doug Ross would have appreciated. One of the stranger things about our fragmented system of government in South Carolina is our huge profusion of public colleges and universities, each governed by its separate, autonomous board of trustees. We have no board of regents or other central authority to decide how best to allocate higher education resources and to prevent duplication of effort.

The CHE had limited ability to say “no” to what the universities wanted to do, but where it did have that power, Fred exercised it to the utmost. He didn’t just say “no” when schools wanted to duplicate efforts or waste resources; he said “HELL no!”

Which didn’t make him the most popular guy in the state, but he certainly won my respect.

This is just terrible news, for the Sheheens and for South Carolina…

Trigger warning: This may insult your intelligence

And it also might give you stressful flashbacks to some really maddening conversations you had during your college days.

So you are warned. This is not a safe space.

So much has been written about the newer sorts of ideological correctness on the campuses of American universities, mostly by haughty old white guys such as George Will and Bill Kristol, just harrumphing away.

51xdxNQIQ1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Or for that matter by Kim R. Holmes (don’t worry! even though the name is “Kim,” it’s another oppressor white guy, refusing to check his privilege!), the author of The Closing of the Liberal Mind, which was was reviewed this morning in The Wall Street Journal.

So unless academia is your milieu, you’ve probably only heard such terms as “trigger warnings,” “safe space,” “cultural appropriation” and “microaggressions” within a disapproving context.

So it was kind of a nice idea to give the kids themselves a say in the matter, and over the weekend The Washington Post did that with a story headlined, “The new vocabulary of protest: What students mean by terms like ‘safe space’.”

Trouble is, while I feel for the student who says she doesn’t think the desire for a “safe space” or concern about microaggressions “makes me a stupid, naive child,” most of the quotes in the piece… how shall I put this?…

Basically, they read like the quotes a satirist would construct in creating fictional students who espouse the notions that The Closing of the Liberal Mind criticizes. A satirist who know nothing about these terms other than what he read by the critics.

If you’re likely to harrumph along with Will, this piece isn’t going to change your mind a bit.

These kids are sensitive. Just ask them; they’ll tell you. Like hothouse flowers. And they talk just like people who have a worldview that is entirely rooted in that sort of sensitivity.

So, stereotypes are not dispelled. Some samples:

Fadumo Osman: When I wear my traditional clothing I’m a foreigner and I’m criminalized for it, but when you wear it you make money off of it, and it’s cute….

Liam Baronofsky: One microaggression is like one paper cut, so it’s something small but it hurts the person at the core of their identity level. But it happens so often, you come home every day with like 15 paper cuts … and it really hurts….

But perhaps you’ll disagree. Go read the story, and let me know what you think.

 

First step: Put them ALL on Double-SECRET Probation…

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I want to second the idea expressed in this headline on Kevin Fisher’s column this week:

USC Should Lead by Withdrawing from Fraternity System

But I’ll differ with Kevin on one point. He writes:

I was not a frat boy. For me, the idea of aspiring to be paraded, initiated and humiliated in order to be accepted by a social organization just wasn’t a serious proposition. Besides, I already had a brother. But I never had anything against frat boys, knew and liked lots of them, and heaven knows I shared their desire to drink beer and all that goes along with that. To be clear, this column is not judgmental about frat boys. It is judgmental about USC…

First, I was most assuredly not a frat boy, either, and would never, ever want to be mistaken for one. When I was at Memphis State, I kept getting calls from this one guy whose father was a civilian employee who worked with my Dad at NAS Memphis, and he kept inviting me to parties at his fraternity, to come check it out. Fortunately, I never ran out of excuses not to attend. I had zero interest in that stuff, which seemed to me like some bizarre relic of previous generations’ idea of what college was about. Greeks were just so… uncool. And the last thing we wanted to be in the early ’70s was uncool. (My father had been in a fraternity, but everybody was in fraternities back then.)

This is pretty much me and our peers in that era (from a film set in 1973):

giphy

So I look upon this resurgence in later decades, including the construction of those Greek McMansions off Blossom Street, with considerable puzzlement.

And unlike Kevin, I have something against frats (if not necessarily frat boys), and here’s my anecdote from college days to explain why:

One day some of us were playing a pickup game on an outdoor basketball court next to my dorm. A dispute broke out, and one of the guys got unbelievably petulant about it, and walked away sulking. All but one of us were happy about that, because he was such a pain — his tantrum was particularly childish and self-centered, and he was clearly in the wrong. But then, the guy who owned the ball said he was going to have to go after the guy and try to soothe his hurt feelings.

We all said, WHY? The guy’s an a__hole!

He replied, He’s my fraternity brother.

To which the entire universe should have shouted, So WHAT?!?

What an idiotic reason to side with a jerk! If I had ever doubted before that fraternities were the ultimate in pointless granfalloons, that settled it.

Kevin blames USC. But I don’t see how this university is any more culpable than any of the hundreds of colleges that tolerate these absurd associations. I blame all of Greekdom.

That said, it would be awesome if USC did as Kevin suggests, and disassociated itself from all that madness…

SC not the only place where cops throw girls around

Not that that’s much comfort, but since we had that awful incident here, I thought y’all might be interested in seeing this.

It happened in San Antonio, and the officer was fired:

A Texas school police officer who became enmeshed in controversy after he was captured on video seemingly body-slamming a sixth-grade girl has been fired from the San Antonio Independent School District.

District officials said officer Joshua Kehm was terminated Monday amid an investigation into an incident last month at Rhodes Middle School, in which he appeared to restrain and then throw down 12-year-old Janissa Valdez.

“We understand that situations can sometimes escalate to the point of requiring a physical response; however, in this situation we believe that the extent of the response was absolutely unwarranted,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “Additionally, the officer’s report was inconsistent with the video and it was also delayed, which is not in accordance with the general operating procedures of the police department….

First, small part of first penny project opens

Well, that was quick. Seems like I just saw them starting on this. At the same time, I guess I should say it’s about time, and when will you finish? — I first heard about plans to do this at least 10 years ago, as part of the general pitch about the Innovista.

The first piece of the project to turn Greene Street into a pedestrian-friendly corridor reaching down to the river is now open to use. Of course, there’s not much to see until the whole thing is done:

The initial phase of the Innovista project, which will eventually link the University of South Carolina campus to Columbia’s riverfront, has opened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, according to Swansea-based contractor LAD Corp.

The project is part of the first major construction to use the Richland County’s penny sales tax program, which was designed for transportation improvements. The Greene Street transformation has been in the works for the last decade.

The $10 million first phase involves a section of Greene Street between Assembly and Park streets, running between the Koger Center and USC’s Darla Moore School of Business….

So on the one hand, we have the scandal over the penny revenues, the full scope of which we have yet to know.

On the other, we have one small, concrete thing having been partly accomplished.

This raises the question — so… How’s it coming on developing a riverside park for the other end of this?

Legislature elects to Supreme Court the guy who indicated how he might have ruled

Shortly after noon today, John Monk reported this:

To which I responded incredulously, “You mean, the guy who signaled how he would RULE?” John answered, “Yes that is who.”

Did you read John’s previous report about this?

Under questioning in a November hearing by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, John Few, who is now chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, compared the majority’s 3-2 opinion in what’s known as the Abbeville case with a newspaper editorial.

Although Few told Martin he might personally be “appalled” that children in rural schools aren’t getting a proper public school education, according to recently released transcripts, he elaborated, “If I were writing an editorial on the subject, I might say some of the very same things the Supreme Court said in their majority opinion.”

Few continued, “But when I’m writing a judicial opinion, I’m going to center my thinking on my role as a judge within the confines that are laid out for me in the constitution of South Carolina.”

At one point, Few told Martin he wanted to “tread carefully here … because this is a hot conversation here.”

In general, judges are not supposed to say how they would rule on a given case, and Few appeared to tip-toe through Martin’s questions, avoiding giving an obviously specific answer….

And well he might. Tip-toe, I mean.

So now, the guy who indicated — not said, but indicated — to lawmakers that he’s not the kind of guy to force them to do what so many really don’t want to do (give a fair shake to kids in poor, rural districts) will be our newest Supreme Court justice.

To bend way over and be charitable, we should consider that Mr. Few seems to be widely regarded as an able jurist, and perhaps lawmakers were simply more impressed by his credentials than those of his one remaining opponent.

But in a contest that was described as “a nail-biter until the final minutes,” after which “(s)ome lawmakers who voted for Few said they did so because they perceived he was the more conservative of the two,” one can be forgiven for wondering whether their motives were… less than pure…

Want to serve as a college trustee? Here’s your chance

I’m not promising you a bed of roses, mind you. But if you have the right connections, get your paperwork in on time, and are willing to abase yourself before South Carolina legislators, you’ve got a shot.

Here’s a list of the available positions on the boards of South Carolina state colleges and universities…

 

Supt. Hamm’s letter about Spring Valley incidents

I’ve finally, finally, finally gotten caught up on my email for the week, so I’m belatedly sharing with you this message from Sen. Joel Lourie. He sent it out to member of the Richland County legislative delegation, with this note:

Dear Fellow Members of the Delegation –

By now, each of you should have received the attached letter from Dr. Hamm regarding the incident at Spring Valley High School.  I have heard from many parents throughout the district who have indicated their support for the way this crisis was handled, and a strong sense of optimism in moving forward.  I believe there will be positive changes that come out of this unfortunate situation.  On a statewide level, we should re-visit the “Disturbing Schools” section of state statute to insure that we are not criminalizing incidents that could be handled administratively.  I also want to thank Dr. Hamm and the administration and board for their professionalism and sensitivity in dealing with this matter.

Best regards always –

Joel Lourie

I’m in complete agreement with him that the “disturbing schools” law needs to be addressed — in fact, I see that as the one legitimate response the delegation may have to these school matters.

I would copy here the contents of the note from Dr. Hamm, but unfortunately, it’s one of those PDFs that won’t let you copy and paste the text.

But you can read it by clicking here

Mia McLeod and Joel Lourie on Spring Valley protest

Joel Lourie shared this exchange with me from over the weekend — two messages from Mia McLeod and one from him…

Rep. McLeod sent this to Sen. John Scott at 12:24 p.m. on Friday:

Senator Scott,

As you know, we are still dealing with an increasingly volatile situation at Spring Valley High School (SVHS).

From what I’m seeing on social media, in conjunction with the calls and texts I’ve received, school administrators obviously allowed some students to stage a “walk-out” in protest to Officer Fields’ firing.

Students on both sides of the issue are extremely passionate about their very different perspectives and of course, opinions and perspectives are not limited to students, parents and community members of SVHS.

As social media continues to reveal, this latest “protest” is likely to escalate already growing tensions that have been caused by Monday’s incident.

If students at SVHS and other Richland Two schools decide to do likewise, this could become a real issue for Richland Two and us.

In fact, as SVHS and Ridge View prepare to play tonight at Spring Valley, we need to understand that tensions are high and could easily play out at school events like this.

I’ve copied Richland Two so that they can advise us about District Two’s position on this and why  school administrators are approving and/or allowing any types of protests. Shouldn’t protests of any kind also be considered disruptive, since these students are missing and causing others to miss, valuable instruction? I’m concerned that this sets a very dangerous precedent.

What are we collectively planning to do about it?

Mia

Then, later on Friday, she sent this to Scott and other members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation:

From: Mia McLeod [mailto:mia@mcleodbutler.com]
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2015 2:03 PM
To: John L. Scott, Jr.
Cc: Jimmy Bales; Rep. Bales; Nathan Ballentine; Beth Bernstein; Rep. Beth Bernstein; Christopher R. “Chris” Hart; House 3M Committee; Leon Howard; Rep. Kirkman Finlay; Rep. MaryGail Douglas; MaryGail Douglas; Joseph A “Joe” McEachern; Joseph H “Joe” Neal; Rep. Rutherford; Rep. Smith; Sen Thomas McElveen, III; Senate Education Committee; Sen. Jackson; Joel Lourie; Thomas McElveen; JAMES BROWN; Kim Janha; Amelia B. McKie; James Manning; Cheryl Caution Parker;craig@craigplank.com; Susan Brill; Monica Elkins-Johnson; Calvin Chip Jackson; Debbie Hamm
Subject: Re: Spring Valley Protest

It has also come to my attention via calls and social media, that apparently, there is video footage of today’s student protest and that an SVHS Administrator is seen on that video, addressing the group of protestors and assuring them that they are not in trouble for protesting (or “disturbing schools” during the school day) and that their voices have been heard.

Can someone from Richland Two please speak to this?

I can’t imagine that the school or the District would knowingly endorse or condone this type of activity, since it clearly presents a double-standard, among other things, that is totally opposite of the school’s/district’s position concerning Monday’s incident.

Some could easily argue that the violently ejected student was also exercising her rights to protest by “sitting-in” and refusing to leave when asked by school officials. Both forms of protests should fall within the purview of “disturbing schools” when it comes to the impact on their (and other students’) classroom instruction. So why are there two extremely different outcomes?

Am I the only one who is concerned?

Mia
Sent from my iPhone

You may wonder at this point what she thought the legislative delegation, of all entities, should be doing about a walkout at a school. In his response sent on Saturday morning, Sen. Lourie seems to have wondered the same thing:

Subject: RE: Spring Valley ProtestSenator Scott, Representative McLeod, Members of the Delegation and School Board, 

This has been a very difficult week for our Richland Two Community.   Certainly the unfortunate and unnecessary actions of the School Resource Officer warrant further review of the appropriate use of officers in the classroom. I am sure there will be other policies and procedures to review as well.  We  hope and pray that the young lady involved will heal both emotionally and physically.  As a graduate of Richland Two, the parent of 2 graduates, and one of the Senators representing the area, I have been very tuned in to the events at Spring Valley and would like to offer a few comments.

 

Regarding Friday’s demonstration, I spoke with James Manning, Chairman of the School Board, and Dr. Debbie Hamm, the Superintendent. It is my understanding that the administration found out yesterday morning about a planned “walk-out” in support of Officer Fields.  In summary, a diverse group of approximately 100 students conducted a brief 5-10 minute peaceful “walk-out” and promptly returned to their school activities.  A good account of this can be found in this morning’s State Newspaper by clicking here: http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article41935716.html.  The videos included are also worth watching.

 

Personally, I see no problem with allowing students to peacefully express their opinions.  I think peaceful demonstrations are critical to our democracy, and what separates us as Americans from other countries.  The alternative of letting that tension boil inside these young students would be more destructive.  My opinion may or may not be shared with others.  However, I see no role that the legislative delegation should play in setting school board policy.  The school board is elected by the public, and therefore accountable to them as well.

 

I am proud of how our Sheriff and School Board and District Administration leaders have handled this week with great sensitivity.  The Sheriff moved quickly to return to Columbia from a conference and made a personnel decision within 48 hours of the incident.  The Administration and the Board have very transparent, strong and impressive in their actions to respond to the incident.  We as elected officials should rally together to look for positive ways to move forward.  Our state and community have been tested many times this year, and thus far, we have become better and stronger as a result.

 

Joel Lourie

The deputy and the student: That violent Spring Valley video

Again, South Carolina makes national news, and again, it’s in a bad way.

It’s early in the discernment process, and we lack any context (whatever the context may be), but the extremely brief video is a kick in the gut, especially the instant when the desk flips backward in a way that almost seems to defy physical laws. It’s amazing that the student wasn’t injured, a fact we can only chalk up to the resilience of youth.

Here, from The State, are the skimpy facts, which tell us next to nothing:

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an incident between a school resource officer and a female student at Spring Valley High School on Monday, after a video showing a confrontation was posted online.

The female student and a male student were arrested for disturbing the peace, said Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson. The resource officer, Senior Deputy Ben Fields, has been placed on administrative duties with pay pending the investigation’s results, according to Wilson.

While Fields will work at the Sheriff’s Department, he won’t be performing any duties at area schools. In a statement, the Richland 2 school district said it had “directed the school resource officer not return to any school in the district.”

The video shows Fields approach the female student seated in a desk. The resource officer proceeds to place his left hand on the female student’s left arm, before putting his right arm around her neck. Fields then flips the desk over, with the student still seated, before spinning it around and forcibly removing the student and trying to restrain her at the front of the classroom.

Wilson said no one was injured in the incident – neither the students nor Fields.

Wilson said prior to what is shown in the video, the female student was asked to leave the classroom and refused. Wilson said that was when the resource officer was called in….

The official response to the incident seems appropriately cautious so far. The sheriff is out of town. The mayor wants an independent investigation. The school district’s one response, saying it doesn’t want that officer back in the classroom, seems appropriate under the circumstances.

All we have now is a video that shocks the viewer as much as it seems to have shocked the bystanders, who react not at all — their stillness is almost eerie — except for the one who shot these 15 seconds.

Thoughts?

 

 

Come hear ‘nun on the bus’ Simone Campbell Tuesday

Remember Sister Simone Campbell, the representative of the “Nuns on the Bus” who spoke so eloquently at the Democratic National Convention in 2012?

Well, tomorrow night — Tuesday, Oct. 27 — she will deliver this year’s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Lecture at USC’s Capstone at 6 p.m.

The title of her speech is “Bridge the Divides, Transform Politics: A View from the Bus.” From the flyer:

Campbell flyer

Come on out and listen. I expect it to be inspiring.

I hope the court’s deadline doesn’t blow chance at education reform

I find myself in an unusual position.

Normally, I’d be cheering loudly for Cindi Scoppe’s column today lighting into legislative leaders for complaining that the state Supreme Court has given them a deadline for coming up with a plan to fix poor, rural schools in South Carolina. Excerpts:

Yet for 22 years, our legislators have done absolutely nothing to fix the problems raised in the Abbeville lawsuit.

No, worse than nothing.

They have spent more than two decades and God only knows how much of our tax money fighting that lawsuit — paying lawyers and experts to argue that everything in those plaintiff districts was just fine and dandy, when anyone with eyes could see that it was not.

The way forward was clear from the start: for legislators to make the lawsuit moot, by fixing the problems before the justices could get around to issuing an order. But they refused, and last fall the justices finally ruled that the state is failing its constitutional obligation to provide the children in our poorest school districts with an education they need to get good jobs and support their families and pay taxes and in other ways help make our state a better place for us all….

The court, inappropriately, it turns out, did not set a deadline. Until last week, by which time it had become painfully clear even to people who do not understand our Legislature that our Legislature does not do hard things until it has no choice. So the court set a Feb. 1 deadline for the defendants to present a plan to address the problems set forth in last year’s landmark ruling….

Were I still at the paper, I might be the one writing those words. In fact, I’d be using even stronger, more condemnatory language — and Cindi, ever pragmatic, would be the one doing her best to hold me back and telling me to recognize reality and not make perfect the enemy of the good.

But today, I’m sort of in the Cindi role, because of some unique circumstances. In fact, when I saw that the court had set a deadline for less than a month after the Legislature comes back into session, I worried, thinking, I hope this doesn’t foul up an historic opportunity.

I thought that because of what I’ve been hearing lately from my old friend Bud Ferillo.

Many of you may know Bud as the guy who made the documentary “Corridor of Shame,” which coined the phrase that all SC education reformers use to describe some of our most distressed rural schools. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from way back, and not one to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

And if there is an issue on which Republicans have earned doubt in South Carolina, it’s public education. Since they have assumed control of the Legislature, actual proposals to improve schools don’t even get a hearing in the State House, much less get approved. Say “school reform” to them, and as a group they will more than start talking about the latest plan to pay parents to abandon public schools — excuse me, “government schools,” government being by its nature a bad thing, you understand — altogether.

So I was struck when I heard Bud, as a participant in a panel sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council over the summer, start talking almost rhapsodically about school reform — real, systemic reform that would lift up rural districts — that was coming, that was just around the corner. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Bud after that event because I left early, but then I heard him saying it again on a forum on ETV.

On both occasions, no one took him up on what he said. They just sort of nodded and moved on. So I asked Bud to breakfast one morning recently. He had an appointment he had to leave for so we didn’t get into what he was talking about as deeply as I would have liked, which is why I haven’t written about our conversation.

But here are the bare bones (and if I’m getting any of this wrong, Bud, correct me): When he became Speaker last year, Jay Lucas appointed a panel to start working on a plan to address what the court has instructed the Legislature to do about poor, rural schools. I had been vaguely aware that Lucas had such a committee holding hearings around the state. From early in the last legislative session, I had seen releases such as this one:

MEDIA ADVISORY: House Education Task Force to Host Public Hearing/Meeting in Dillon

Will receive testimony and valuable input from education leaders

(Columbia, SC) – The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force that House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) appointed in January will hold a public hearing/meeting on Monday, March 23, 2015.Jay Lucas
WHO: The Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force – a group comprised of elected officials, educators, plaintiff representatives fromAbbeville v. State, and private sector job creators who are tasked with laying the groundwork for comprehensive education reform
WHAT: Task Force members will receive testimony and valuable input form invited school superintendents, retired educators, nonprofiteducation groups, and other involved members within the education community.  After the invited guests have concluded, concerned citizens will also be given the opportunity to address the group (see additional information).
WHEN: Monday, March 23, 2015 at 4:00PM
WHERE: Dillon Middle School – 1803 Joan Drive, Dillon, SC
WHY: South Carolina’s education system needs significant reform so that every child in every part of our state has access to a 21st centuryeducation. This Task Force is responsible for putting together a report with their findings and must be submitted to Speaker Lucas before the beginning of next year’s legislative session.

But I hadn’t seen any coverage of these hearings, or read or heard anything about what the committee was doing. Were I still at the paper, and still had such people at my disposal, I would have assigned a reporter or (later) an editorial writer to look into what was going on. But I’m not, and such people are thin on the ground these days, and having one spend a day running up to Dillon for a hearing is probably not high on many editors’ priority lists.

(Actually, in defense of my friends who still have newspaper jobs, I do find some coverage when I go look for it now. I just missed it at the time.)

And since I don’t get paid to do this blog, I was in no position to undertake such legwork. So I remained in the dark, until I started getting these inklings from Bud. Bud has stayed in close touch with the process, and he says this is a great panel, largely stocked with real reformers, and they’re pulling together a lot of great ideas that are to go into legislation that we’ll be seeing in the coming session, blessed by the speaker.

But, skeptical based on decades of disappointment, I said A panel with a plan is all very well and good, but how will this fare, say, on the floor of the House? Is the speaker truly committed to push this reform you speak of when the inevitable pushback comes? I mean, he has the reputation of a reformer and he’s actually from a small town and knows about the needs in rural areas, but is he committed? Bud assured me that yes, he was — and then he had to run.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

So I’m short on details, and I really need to find some time to talk to legislative leaders about all this, and I’ve been meaning to, but haven’t. And now the court has laid down this deadline, which you know is going to get the GOP caucus all ticked off and resistant (that is, even more resistant) about doing something they don’t want to do anyway, much less do it right.

So when Speaker Lucas said, in reaction to the court’s new deadline, “Because of your actions, months and months of hard work has been potentially placed in jeopardy,” I got worried. Because I don’t think he’d say that lightly.

I got to worrying that maybe the deadline might be tossing a hand grenade into delicate preparations at precisely the wrong moment. I mean, this House coming up with real, substantive education reform is such a stretch, and would take such heavy lifting, and everything would have to go just right for it to actually happen. The forces against reform would seize on anything that might help them stop it, and the petty resentments caused by an arbitrary court deadline could give them aid and comfort.

But you know what? Cindi usually knows way more about what she’s talking about than I do. I hope that, as usual, that is the case in this instance…