Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Vote the Bible" T-Shirt is Too Offensive? Updated

Just received this press release from Texas Values.  Apparently a voter in Williamson County could not wear her "Vote the Bible" shirt because it "may be offensive to some people."  Now having worked as an election judge myself, I know that election workers cannot allow any campaigning inside the polling site, and I occasionally had to ask folks to change t-shirts that mentioned a candidate.  But according to this story, the woman's t-shirt wasn't deemed electioneering, just offensive to those who don't believe in the First Amendment.

“Vote the Bible” T-Shirt Banned In A Texas County, Called “Offensive”

Texas Values Assists Intimidated Voter Forced to Cover Up Her Religious T-Shirt Before Voting

Austin, TX, October 31, 2012--During early voting last week, a Texas voter in Williamson County was banned from wearing a t-shirt with the words “Vote the Bible” printed on the front. On October 24, Williamson County election workers at the Taylor City Hall polling place told Kay Hill that before she would be allowed to vote she had to turn her shirt inside out, go home and change, or cover up the words “Vote the Bible” because they “may be offensive to some people.”

After voicing disagreement numerous times, Ms. Hill ultimately complied and was forced to cover up the words “Vote the Bible.” Williamson County election workers provided her with an election worker’s jacket to cover up the “offensive” words. Ms. Hill later spoke with Williamson County Election Administrator Rick Barron who confirmed that the election workers could make this decision to ban the words “Vote the Bible.”

“It’s outrageous that a person of faith would be mistreated this way while trying to vote. If this isn’t voter intimidation, I don’t know what is?” said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values. “We hope Williamson County officials step up and put an end to this injustice immediately. No one else should have to suffer the humiliation, embarrassment and intimidation that Ms. Hill endured. No one should be asked to give up their religious freedom in order to vote,” said Saenz.

Texas Values is assisting Ms. Hill in asking Williamson County to end this unfair policy immediately. Texas Values has also requested that Williamson County issue an apology to Ms. Hill and circulate instructions to all Williamson County election workers and polling places that it is permissible to vote while wearing a t-shirt with the words “Vote the Bible.”

Ms. Hill is prepared to file a formal complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s office if Williamson County refuses to remedy this situation by 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 1, 2012.

The letter sent to Williamson County can be found here

UPDATE:   Apparently while you can't wear a "Vote the Bible" shirt inside the polling site, the NAACP can completely take over a polling site and openly engage in electioneering.  Full story here...

About That Formal Recommendation to Change the Round Rock ISD Sex Curriculum....

As parents are becoming increasingly aware, the Round Rock Independent School District is considering adopting a new sex education curriculum.  Just to review:  the current programs tell students about contraception, but do not feature condom technique demonstrations.  Now RRISD Board President Chad Chadwell, up for re-election on the November ballot, believes that kids should be given actual condom demonstrations.

But there's something even more curious about the entire chain of events.  According to an August 23 KVUE News report, the RRISD Student Health Advisory Committee recommended that the district switch to an "abstinence plus" sex education program.  Then on October 17, the Round Rock Leader also reported that:
 "Members of the district's School Health Advisory Committee presented a recommendation to trustees in August, to teach an abstinence-plus sex education curriculum instead of the current abstinence-comprehensive curriculum.
So who is on the Student Health Advisory Committee  (SHAC) and how are committee members chosen?  According to the Texas Education Code, Chapter 28.004,
The board of trustees of each school district shall establish a local school health advisory council to assist the district in ensuring that local community values are reflected in the district's health education instruction. (emphasis added)
TEC 28.004 also states that the Board of Trustees shall appoint at least five members to the council, and that the majority of the members must be parents who are not employed by the district.  Furthermore, the code requires that the SHAC provide "a detailed explanation of the council's activities."

So where is this detailed explanation for the activities of the RRISD SHAC?

It's hard to say.  The RRISD SHAC Annual Report for 2011-12 only mentions "program speakers," but no actual members, nor who compiled the report.  The only references that can be found to the composition of the committee indicate that Mary McGuire is the RRISD SHAC Chair, and Christine Javonavic is the Co-Chair, but this is not listed on the Annual Report.

I did speak to one gentleman who has attended all of the RRISD SHAC events, a Mr. Lynn Williams.  Mr. Williams had called the school district last year to ask to be on the committee, and since then has been receiving email notifications for the four annual meetings.  According to Mr. Williams, however, the meetings have only consisted of presentations from guest speakers; there has been no sign-in sheet, roll call, etc.    

Here is what is especially disturbing:  Mr. Williams attended the June meeting where the "committee" supposedly recommended that the district adopt an "abstinence plus" program.  (The SHAC Annual Report states "a motion was made," but does not tell us who motioned.)  According to Mr. Williams, 12 people were in attendance, and again there was no sign-in or roll call taken.  Attendees heard from two presenters, and then they were asked by a show of hands, "who thinks the school district should move to an abstinence plus program?"  Mr. Williams states that 10 of the 12 raised their hands.

That, was how the formal recommendation was established?

Later Mr. Williams was shocked to learn that this was presented to the RRISD Board of Trustees as an official recommendation based on official proceedings. 

There is a post on the Round Rock ISD website from October 18, 2012 that invites individuals to "Sign-up as a potential volunteer."  Perhaps more parents from the community should take the initiative and ask for an appointment to the council? 

Incidentally, when I began researching this topic, I found the RRISD SHAC Annual Report on the district's website, but it disappeared while I was writing.  Happily, I had saved a copy which is now available on Google docs. I'm also puzzled as to why the media keeps referring to RRISD's SHAC as a 'committee' rather than a 'council.'

Not sure what's going on here, but I think there are many questions that need to be answered before the trustees take any RRISD SHAC too seriously.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Obligatory Post on the Austin Community College Board Election

Okay, so many of you are asking for guidance on the Austin Community College Board races that I'll just go ahead an put it here instead of answering so many emails and Facebook messages.

ACC Board Members are elected at large, so pretty much any conservative votes coming from the outlying areas like Williamson County, etc, have been effectively neutralized.  No conservatives or Republicans are bothering to run this year.

It's too bad, since the ACC District has raised the tax rate by 184% over the past decade. (Just another reason Texas local property tax growth is far exceeding the rate of inflation.)

Place 7 candidates are Dr. Barbara Mink (incumbent) and Brig Mireles.  As a well-known lefty blog recently stated, both are "liberal Democrats."  I voted for Mink as the lesser of two liberals.  Mireles is too heavily involved in the labor union movement in Texas. 

For Place 8 there is only one candidate:  Betty Hwang.

For Place 9, the incumbent is Allen Kaplan, another Democrat, and he is challenged by Libertarian Daniel James Caldwell.  Caldwell has about as much chance of winning as (fill in your favorite zero-chances metaphor).

That's all I've got to say about that.

To look up a sample ballot and find a list of Early Voting times, dates, and locations, visit the Williamson County Elections Office website. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Get Out the Vote Rally With Tony and Ted

This Thursday, October 25, U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz will join State Representative nominee Tony Dale at the Cedar Park branch of the Williamson County Republican Party Headquarters for a Get Out The Vote rally.  The event will be from 4:30 to 5:45 pm, and attendees will have a chance to meet Ted Cruz, Tony Dale, and many of the other Republicans on the November 2012 ballot. 

If you need to get up to speed on the Senate race, a great source on Ted Cruz is Lawrence Person's Battleswarm Blog

Tony Dale is the popular Cedar Park City Councilman and longtime activist who handily won the primary contest for Texas House District 136.  Both Matt Stillwell and Matt Whittington, the Democrat and Libertarian candidates, have suggested raising the state gas tax, which is now coming to be known as the "Matt Tax."   Dale has a solid fiscally conservative record on the Cedar Park Council. 

The Williamson County Republican Party HQ-Cedar Park is located at Railyard Shopping, 601 Whitestone Blvd, Suite 218, Cedar Park, TX.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chadwell: Hey! Let's Show Kids How to Put On Condoms!

Wants to show your kids how to use a condom?

A push has begun in the Round Rock ISD and other districts to implement what they call "Abstinence Plus" sex education.  Although the district already has a sex education program that teaches students about contraception, the district does not provide actual demonstrations on how to put on condoms.  Now, some board members, including President Chad Chadwell want to change all that.  As Chadwell told the Round Rock Leader:
"I would rather risk making a few students and teachers feel uncomfortable and show them condom use and prevent some teen pregnancies..."
Of course Chadwell et al., have yet to provide any specifics about how these demonstrations will take place, and the term "Abstinence Plus" is left intentionally vague.  In other Texas districts these new programs have produced intense backlash from parents, as in the case of a highly graphic middle school curriculum introduced in the Cy-Fair District.  As Todd  Starnes of Fox News reported:

Hundreds of Houston-area parents are outraged over a new sex education program that teaches 12-year-old children about oral, anal and vaginal sex – and uses graphic curriculum to instruct students on how to use condoms...
Some of the video was so graphic that a Houston television station was unable to air footage from the curriculum, Kalmbach said.

“I think it’s soft porn when they have a girl on the couch and she says, ‘Let me help you put the condom on,’” parent Mayte Weitzman told television station KTRK. “They’re teaching them oral, anal and vaginal sex,” she said. “They’re teaching them all kinds of sex. They’re not focusing on abstinence.”

Quite a few parents are starting to ask questions about RRISD and "Abstinence Plus," and I have been bombarded with emails over the past week.  (Still trying to sort through it all...)  I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about it, but the statements both Chad Chadwell and Catherine Hanna gave to the Round Rock Leader already are disturbing enough.  Furthermore, some board members believe teachers themselves should be teaching these intimate sexual issues, a factor that is bound to dramatically alter the teacher-student dynamic in a highly troubling way. 

Just another reason Mr. Chadwell does not adequately represent the values of the district.   Fortunately, we have a choice.  Early Voting began today, and I strongly encourage RRISD parents and residents to vote for Tere McCann for RRISD Place 2

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Did RRISD Candidate Pav Violate Campaign Finance Law?

It seems that Eric Pav may have accepted a corporate donation to fund his campaign for Round Rock School Board.   Corporate donations are strictly prohibited, and accepting them is a third degree felony.  I'll give Mr. Pav the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just doesn't understand state law, but this is cause for concern about how he will manage school district affairs.  Accordingly, the Pauline Law campaign has issued the following statements: 

Pauline Law, candidate for Round Rock ISD Board Place 7 stated:
“If this is in fact correct, it reflects on the inability of my opponent to complete a simple task. The school board tackles many complex issues and mistakes of this nature cannot be taken lightly.”
Campaign consultant Shannon Way stated:
“Our concern is that Mr. Pav may have committed a third degree felony. Mr. Pav should know the basic rules of campaign finance reporting. They are not complicated rules and clearly state candidates or officeholders are not allowed to receive corporate contributions.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

California Gas Prices: A Cautionary Tale for Texas

"All In Perspective" Column for the week of October 15.  "All in Perspective" is published bi-weekly in the Hill Country News, Georgetown Advocate, and Jarrel Star-Ledger print editions.  
It’s been a tough year for California. Stockton and numerous other Golden State cities have filed for bankruptcy. The state government, already struggling under $618 billion in debt, has created a budget that includes as much as $28 billion in deficit spending, and residents are being asked to approve a slew of tax increases for the coming year. Now, Californians are paying the highest gas prices in the nation.

Although fuel prices in California have been rising faster than the rest of the nation for some time, this month the state’s average price reached a record high of $4.67 per gallon. The immediate cause for the latest price surge was a temporarily disabled refinery in the southern part of the state, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

As even the left-leaning New York Times has noted, California’s stringent environmental policies and high gas taxes are underlying causes of this latest crisis. The state’s tough emission standards effectively eliminate use of gas blends from other states, and therefore California must rely heavily on in-state refineries. Additional regulations have reduced the number of refineries by 20% since 1985. To make matters worse, California touts the second-highest gas tax in the nation.
These policies have drastically reduced fuel supplies while demand has continued to climb, a dynamic that ultimately leads to higher prices. Higher fuel costs mostly impact the middle class and poor, and, as in the case of ethanol mandates, actually contribute to higher pollution rates while driving up food costs too.

While Senator Diane Feinstein has been quick blame energy producers for the crisis, it’s no secret that the goal of the Democrat’s radical environmental policy is higher prices. Barack Obama stated in 2008 that he actually wanted to “boost” the price of gasoline to European levels, and since the price per gallon has more than doubled since 2009, I guess this is one of the few campaign promises the President did keep.

Although certainly feeling the effects of the Obama economy, Texas has fared better than the rest of the nation. Not only has the state economy grown during the recession, gas prices have remained lower than the national average. ($3.53 per gallon as of October 12.) Taxes on gas are relatively low, and the state has much more reasonable environmental policies. Common-sense environmental regulation has kept gas prices manageable and has improved air quality. In fact, in the last decade, Texas reduced NOx and ozone levels at more than twice the national average.
Unfortunately, there are those who want to impose California-style energy and tax policies on Texas. Locally, Democrat candidate for the legislature Matt Stillwell has suggested raising state gas taxes. He has complained that state tax revenues are not enough to maintain and construct roads, but does not mention, that only half of the state’s fuel taxes are used for highway construction and maintenance, while the rest is diverted to other uses, some of which have little to do with transportation.

Despite Texas’ environmental successes, Democrats in the state want much more stringent, California-style environmental restrictions. The aforementioned Mr. Stillwell even questioned if Texas should impose further regulations on the proven technology of fracking for domestic oil exploration, even though the United States Geological Survey, the EPA, and the University of Texas have all concluded that there is no evidence that fracking causes groundwater contamination. (Or earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes, for that matter.) Stillwell also rejects local and state conservation efforts, and desires federal intervention in Williamson County on behalf of salamanders.

Clearly Texas has been doing something right; we are consistently ranked one of the top states for business, and the Lone Star State created about 37% of all new American jobs last year. At the same time, that notorious Texas pride has led to sound conservationist policies that strive to preserve the state’s natural beauty and resources. The key factor has been a balanced approach to policy. The last thing Texans need is to become more like California. Seriously, don’t mess with Texas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pav a RRISD Candidate Forum No-Show, Ambiguous on Grading Standards


Only three of the four candidates for Round Rock School Board attended a candidate forum last Saturday; it seems that Eric Pav, candidate for open seat Place 7, chose to attend the Texas-OU football game instead.  For those of us who have been concerned about the spending priorities of the school district, Mr. Pav's choice is rather disappointing.  It became apparent during Superintendent's budget scare last year that the RRISD Administration was much more willing to cut TAG and Special Needs teachers before they would touch any expenditures relating to football.  Voters hope that prospective school board trustees would have an appropriate sense of priorities.

In related news, the Round Rock ISD Concerned Parents have some very good information on where the candidates stand in regards to Standards Based Grading (essentially a re-packaging of Outcome Based Education, another failed education fad.)  The group formed last year in response to the Round Rock School District's adoption of the highly controversial SBG.   The group submitted questions to the candidates, and has the responses posted at their website.   While both Pauline Law and Tere McCann indicated they do not support use of SBG in the district, Eric Pav responded that although he does not favor re-implementation of SBG, he believes that:
"All grading systems are outcome based.  I am in favor of evaluation and assessment practices that give students the ability to achieve subject mastery and make progress, while not penalizing any student regardless of achievement ability."
Even more disturbing is Pav's response to whether the failure of SBG in Round Rock was due to the merits of the philosophy or merely poor implementation: 
Both.  From what I have researched and discussed with parents, the Ridgeview MS implementation was not rolled out consistently, nor communicated very well. 
Chadwell, who has already experienced RRISD parent outrage over SBG, stated in the questionnaire  that he does not support the radical grading system, although the Concerned Parents group notes that Mr. Chadwell opposed their pleas to return to traditional grading.  (The CP website links to board meeting video from 10/20/2011 with Chadwell's comments.)

Tonight's forum, hosted by the RRISD Council of PTAs, will be at 7pm at the Stony Point High School cafeteria. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

RRISD Candidate Forum Saturday

If you have not yet made up your mind about the Round Rock School Board races, you might want to check out the candidate forum tomorrow, Saturday, at 9am in the Wells Branch Community Center.  For more details, see this post at Blue Dot Blues.

Remember, these folks will exert tremendous influence over your child's education and will control the lion's share of your property taxes.  Get informed and vote!

 Here are just a few of the articles I've written about the district.

RRISD: Status Quo or Fresh Insight?
RRISD Votes to Stifle Democratic Process 
County Attorney Admonishes RRISD
RRISD Violates Open Meetings Act?
School Zone Disaster Zone in RRISD
Rotten Politics in RRISD

Inconvenient Truths About Per Pupil Expenditures
28 Psychologists and Other Fun Facts
Super Super Won't Take Pay Cut
Curious Priorities

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trial Lawyers Spending Big For Activist Judges in Texas

Some of the most important 'down ballot' races this year are to elect justices to the Texas Third Court of Appeals.  The court, which hears both civil and criminal cases, covers 24 counties, including Travis  Consequently, the Third Court often has the final say in cases involving state agencies.

The six justices of the 3rd Court of Appeals are elected by voters from 24 Central Texas counties,  and four seats are up this year.  The incumbents are Diane Henson (Democrat,) David Puryear (Republican,)  Bob Pemberton (Republican,) and Jeff Rose (Republican).  All four have challengers.  I wrote earlier this year about Scott Field, the Republican facing Henson.  (Henson, a liberal activist judge, was in the news most recently for her appalling lack of objectivity.)

The three other incumbents, Puryear, Pemberton, and Rose, are all being challenged by liberal activist candidates who are financially supported by trial lawyer PAC, The Judicial "Fairness" Fund.  Although state law usually caps individual contributions to judicial candidates at $5,000, the trial lawyers heading JFF are exploiting a loophole that allows them to spend exponentially more to re-elect Henson and three other liberal activists to the court.

How much does it matter?  One of the Judicial "Trial Lawyer" Fund candidates is Bryan Case.  Earlier this year, Case had attempted to run for the Travis County 167th District Court, but after he failed to gain traction there, he decided to try the Third Court of Appeals.  In his previous run, Case stated,
 "The Constitution of the US is a "living" document, and must be interpreted accordingly.  So, the strict constructionist view must never prevail."  
And although Case has been trying to convince voters that he will "render decisions independent of political ideology," earlier this year he told the Travis County Democratic Club that:
"One must understand the indisputable observation that judges are quasi-politicians, and that there are good reasons for this."
Case further elaborated on the role of the judiciary with this statement:
A judge's duty is to determine which highest values of our various communities conflict with other highest values of another community in a particular dispute or policy decision.  At all points of decision-making, a judge must have what it takes in strength, experience, knowledge, mind, heart, and soul to determine, in the particular circumstances, which highest value must be set aside, if necessary, so that the purist and highest form of justice will prevail.  (emphases added)
Clearly, Mr. Case is not so much interested in upholding the US Constitution and strictly interpreting the law as he is in having the opportunity to re-write policy according to his view of the highest value. 

Texans would be much better served by justices who understand that their role is to interpret law, not create policy.  Of the candidates, Pemberton, Puryear, Rose, and Field are judges who work to interpret the law and Constitution as written, and they deserve our support in November.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New Endorsements in Round Rock ISD Races

While the Williamson County Republican Party Chairman, Bill Fairbrother, does not endorse in the 'technically' non-partisan races for school districts, another group, the Williamson County Republican Leaders organization has announced a list of endorsements for the 2012 Election.  Among the local endorsements for known Conservatives like Tony Dale (HD-136,) the group has also voted to support two candidates for the Round Rock ISD Board:  Tere McCann and Pauline Law.

Read the Press Release from Williamson County Republican Leaders.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Non-Partisan" School Superintendent Bashes Republican Candidate at PTA Meeting

Those who still believe that public school boards and administrations are magically non-political and values neutral, might want to take note of Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez' recent comments.

While addressing parents at a PTA luncheon last month, Chavez seized the opportunity to attack State Representative Charles Schwertner.  Chavez emotionally prefaced his remarks by saying, "I really want to encourage you to understand who you have elected to state office!"  

Apparently, Chavez is very upset that Lt. Governor Dewhurst has announced that the Texas Senate will take up school choice legislation during the 2013 session.   Since Representative Schwertner handily won the primary election to replace retiring Senator Steve Ogden (and his only opponent in November is a little-known Libertarian,) Dr. Schwertner stands to be the next Senator for District 5.  Therefore, Schwertner will have a strong voice in the public education reform debates next year. 

At the PTA luncheon, Chavez went on to slam Schwertner on education reform, saying that anyone who favored vouchers was "not a friend to public education."  

It is interesting that Superintendent Chavez is so afraid that allowing parents to choose schools will hurt his district.  After all, aren't most parents perfectly happy with the great schools of the Round Rock ISD?  Why does he believe that vouchers will lead to mass exodus?   It is unfortunate that Chavez, who enjoys a salary of $260,000 per year, has so little compassion for less affluent families who need educational alternatives.  In some cases, the local public school simply cannot meet the educational needs of certain children, but in other cases the schools are failing to provide an adequate education.  Chavez and his fellow reform opponents seem more concerned about protecting the status quo than making sure all children have access to the education they need. 

Of course we are constantly being told that the school district is politically neutral, and that we must not concern ourselves with the political leanings of school board candidates and the administration.  While I do not believe party affiliation can tell us the whole story on a candidate, it is naive to think that political philosophy will not impact district governance, and tax payers should be aware of the millions of dollars school districts spend lobbying on political issues.

In publicly attacking the next Senator for the district, Dr. Chavez has clearly indicated he has no intention of putting aside his politics to work with Williamson County's state representation.  I guess those politically neutral school zones aren't so neutral after all. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

21st Century Confusion: The Education Fads and Philsophies That are Destroying Education

"All In Perspective" column for week of October 1, 2012.

Recently, a parent whose child attends a public elementary school in Round Rock, Texas, shared with me her frustration with the school curriculum. Her son is mathematically inclined and has always excelled in that subject. But at this school his 4th-grade homework often consists of a single word-problem. ‘Johnny’ reads the problem, quickly identifies and writes the mathematical procedure, and computes the correct answer. At this school, however, the right answer to 7 times 9 is not sufficient. Johnny must write a paragraph explaining the procedure and create a chart to categorize 4-6 data items from the 2-sentence word problem. Like most 9-year-old boys, Johnny is more geared toward facts rather than interpretation, and so he is barely passing math.

Part of the problem for Johnny and his teachers is the constant cycle of education fads that sweep through public schools every few years. The cycle begins with education pundits bashing the previously used method as “outdated” and “ineffective.” Convinced that they are ‘behind the times,’ school boards and administrators lap up the splashy sales presentation from the curriculum company, and commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the ‘new’ programs. Teachers are sent to re-training seminars so that they can finally learn how to teach the children properly, and parents proudly boast about the wonderfully progressive school their children attend. That is until the test scores remain unchanged or have fallen, and then the cycle begins again.

Consequently much of what public schools teach is a mish-mash of various fads that promised to ‘transform’ education. The result is often alarmingly absurd. In Johnny’s case his capacity for quick mathematical computation is being slowed down, and the child who loved math now hates math class.

The latest education fad is 21st Century Learning Skills, in which advocates argue that the new education model will prepare students for modern life with ever-changing technology. They accurately note that today’s technology will most likely be obsolete in just a few years, and that the world is constantly generating new information. Therefore, 21st century education should prepare students to function in such a world. 21st Century Skills promotional materials claim to emphasize the 4 C’s: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. All worthy goals, and what parent would not want them?

A closer examination of some of the 21st Century material, however, gives cause for concern. For example, one promotional video states that in this “New paradigm for a new age,” we must “shift from knowing the right answer, to asking the right questions.” They claim that today’s children are ‘wired’ differently and must be taught in a radically different way. Because of technology and the constant generation of new ‘content,’ 21st century children just need to know how to find the latest information. Teachers in the brave new world will not be authorities, but only facilitators to these new radically creative and innovative children. As the 21st Century folks put it, the “sage on the stage must become the guide on the side.”

While there are some valid concepts in the 21st Century Skills approach, there is nothing new here: this approach to education is merely a re-packaging of the teachings of socialist philosopher John Dewey-from the turn of the 19th century. Likewise, Dewey ridiculed traditional education and wanted to ‘free’ children* from boring facts that might interfere with creativity and ‘critical thinking.’ The only new element in 21st Century Skills is the emphasis on technology, which means lots of sales for computer manufacturers. “A laptop on every desk” means these companies will have millions more dollars in sales. And of course they will benefit in the long-term from an increasingly technology-addicted society.

The greatest concern with the old-new education fads is the consistent denigration of solid knowledge. Like those who’ve gone before them, the 21st Century Skills gang ridicules teaching rote knowledge, but the truth is that one cannot engage in the kind of critical thinking they claim to value if one does not have a grasp of basic facts. Yes, in some areas knowledge changes, but 7 times 9 will still equal 63 regardless of what version of Windows we use.

Traditional ‘Classical’ education, used since Plato, recognized that foundational knowledge is essential and that children are not ready to engage in rhetorical exercises until they’ve reached a certain maturity level. Without the ‘right answers’ students will not be able to ask the ‘right questions,’ and we’ll have a nation full of technology-addicted adults asking insipid, uninformed questions.

But don’t bring up Plato and his ideas to the 21st century folks; he’s just a boring dead guy and how could he possibly engage in critical thinking without an iPad?

For further reading on the deteriorating public school math curriculum: “Mathematics Education: Being Outwitted by Stupidity” by Barry Garelick.
*While I cannot agree with all of her conclusions, Educator Lisa VanDamme’s indictment of John Dewey and his impact on education is spot-on:
…Dewey attacked traditional, intellectual education—education in which facts are taught and learned—as forced, artificial, and irrelevant to the child’s true needs. He urged an approach to education that is “child-centered,” allowing for his instinctive and spontaneous development—as well as one that eventually provides for the “socialization” of the child. In School of Tomorrow, Dewey praised Rousseau for seeing that a proper education allows the child’s mental development to be as natural and spontaneous as physical growth. He said, “If we want, then, to find out how education takes place most successfully, let us go to the experiences of children where learning is a necessity, and not to the practices of schools where it is largely an adornment, a superfluity, and even an unwelcome imposition.”7
If formal, reality-oriented, intellectual education is an “imposition” on childhood, it is an imposition that has long since been removed. Dewey’s “progressive” method, founded on the rejection of reason, knowledge, and intellectual training—and on the enshrinement of emotional impulse, “experience,” and “social adjustment”—has dominated American schools for the past century. The “remote,” “musty” subject of history has been replaced by the disintegrated mash of allegedly “relevant” data known as social studies. The “futile,” “lofty” attempt to systematically teach abstract principles of science has been replaced by the fun, child-focused “learning-by-doing” method of making collages and finding moths on a wall. The “distant,” “antiquated” works of world literature have been replaced with contemporary, hip “boy-makes-good tearjerkers” that appeal to the immediate concerns of the most childish children. Rigorous training of the intellect has been replaced with, in the words of the “progressive” educators, a more “practical,” “child-centered,” “humane” approach to education.
The practical result of all of this has been legions of ignorant children, unequipped for a successful human life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Round Rock ISD Candidates: Status Quo vs. Fresh Insight?

When voters go to the polls on November 6 (or in Early Voting beginning on October 22,) even straight-ticket voters will have additional choices to make in local ‘non-partisan’ races. Residents within the Round Rock Independent School District will choose trustees for Place 2 and Place 7.

For Place 2, the incumbent Chad Chadwell is being challenged by Tere McCann. Currently the board president, Chadwell’s board has faced intense backlash over not one, but two disastrous re-zoning attempts and parental frustration with declining ratings. RRISD was further embarrassed during the 2011 budget negotiations during which Superintendent Chavez threatened to lay-off teachers- until it was discovered the district was sitting on $200 million in its own rainy-day funds. In the past few months, the board and administration collaborated to swipe $74 million from general funds to super-size one high school and build a $25 million campus for drop-out students. All this without public input and while the new Cedar Ridge campus is being called “portable-ville” by frustrated parents and students. But the board isn’t worried about being called to account; last month they also raised property taxes on Round Rock families.

At last night’s candidate forum, instead of answering questions Chadwell ranted about people who run as ‘Conservatives,’ saying that he didn’t even know what that meant. (Which is obvious considering his actions regarding the school district.) He insisted that the political philosophies don’t matter because it’s all about the children. Sounds like somebody doesn’t want the voters to know he’s a Democrat? (Who happens to support Matt “Not-A-Native” Stillwell.) Why should he be afraid to admit it?

Challenger Tere McCann attempted to help remedy the district’s previous rezoning blunders this year while serving on the boundary committee, but discovered that the boundary decision was a forgone conclusion. He was so disturbed by the process that he even offered $10,000 to the education foundation if his enrollment projections were incorrect, provided that anyone, anywhere, would make the same pledge on behalf of the RRISD Administration’s projections. No-one accepted the challenge. With three children attending RRISD schools, McCann decided the board needed fresh perspective and some solid guidance, and he filed for the Place 2 seat. (Learn more about Tere McCann.)

Place 7 is an open seat, and the two candidates are Pauline Law and Eric Pav. Pav claims to be a Republican voter, but his statements regarding the district have been nothing short of disappointing. Back on September 6, he opined on Facebook,
“I continue to be impressed with how the administration has been able to stretch the approved bond funds and provide additional dollars to address high priority needs across the district without requiring additional immediate asks from the taxpayer.

Huh? I’m not sure if Mr. Pav was just unaware of the RRISD Board’s plan to raise taxes this year (public since last July,) or if he was just blowing campaign smoke. Surely he was aware that the district is putting together a new bond package for much-needed new facilities? After all, he is a member of the RRISD bond oversight committee. Did he think the $25 million campus for the 100 or so students enrolled in the at-risk (for dropping out) program was a high priority need? Parents of students at increasingly over-crowded schools might beg to differ.

Voters have been waiting to see if Pav will show leadership in taking the board in a new direction, but thus far he has only affirmed the current administration and doesn’t seem to think any mistakes have been made at all. At a candidate forum last week, Pav was very hostile to questions about the problems of the district, and attendees noted that he often “raised his voice” and seemed very angry. At last night’s PTA forum (his wife is a member of the board,) he was much calmer and more in control of his emotions, but his “everything is fine” narrative had not changed.

Also running for Place 7 is Pauline Law, a Round Rock businesswoman with two children in the district. Law became concerned when the Superintendent was telling anyone who would listen that his district would be devastated by any state budget cuts (remember those threatened teacher lay-offs?) She then began to go over the RRISD budget line by line. After spending hours on the phone with the administration and superintendent analyzing the budget, Law saw that something needed to be done and rather than sit around complaining, she decided to run herself.

Law has lived in Round Rock for several years, and the old Round Rock ‘establishment’ has been terribly, terribly offended that someone new to the area would dare to run for office in their town. A whisper campaign has been launched, and I’ve been privy to several indignant conversations over “that woman.” I can only roll my eyes in frustration; what did they expect considering the events of the past few years? That parents will just roll over and play dead?  Law is a concerned parent who wants to get the district back on track, and no-one needs to be personally offended by this.  And considering that Eric Pav has all but stated he will be rubber-stamping the current administration, it’s no surprise that voters are disappointed in him as a candidate.

Just for the record, neither Pauline Law nor Eric Pav is a native Texan, but leave the ropes at home and just check out the candidates for yourselves. Here are their respective websites or Facebook pages as the case may be

Tere McCann
Pauline Law

Facebook Pages:  (These candidates don't seem to have websites.)
Chad Chadwell
Eric Pav

When you go to the polls to vote for President, Senator, Judges, State Senator, State Representative, etc., be sure to check out those contests at the bottom of the ticket. A straight-ticket vote won’t check those boxes, so please exercise due diligence.

Election Day Polling Locations for Williamson County here, and Travis County here.