Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Fire Rises

I didn’t care about politics two years ago. Every politician I saw on television was interchangeable. I knew, like many people, that we vote every four years and that one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives were under the microscope for slights real or imagined against any number of interest groups. I was vaguely interested if only because of the sideshows that usually develop during Election Season:  Politician A says something foolish, Politician B gets caught up in a sex or ethics scandal and Politician C claims that America is on the way to theocracy/socialism/anarchy. Listen to CNN, FOX News, NPR or any other alphabet station and pretty soon your choices are A) go insane or B) stop caring.

When the Tea Party originally rose to prominence and started unseating moderate office holders across the nation in the 2010 midterm elections, people noticed that something was going on. As the Tea Party became a powerful force and ideologically pure voice, the idea that grassroots activism actually worked spread like wildfire. The Tea Party received both praise and criticism from the public and political spheres. At that point, I still considered it a form of backlash from having a black man elected as President of the United States and kept moving. I was raised in a moderate Democratic household and seeing a president that looked like me showed that it could be done and that many of the dreams and goals I had weren’t a waste of time and energy.

I wrote the Tea Party off, at first glance, as a group of angry old people that couldn’t get over the fact that America was changing(re: they lost)  and I didn’t look into them any further. I freely admit that it wasn’t the deepest thinking I’ve ever done but it was deep enough for me until one day in September of 2011. I was working as a Homeowner Concern Center Associate in Las Vegas as the first stirrings of the Occupy Wall Street movement started coming in. I wasn’t sure how I felt about them yet but the idea of starting a movement with like-minded people to engage in conversation about the issues of our day and solutions to solve them caught on to me. Before I could bring myself to agree with Occupy Wall Street, however, I had to know more about the group I’d written off.

As I looked into what the Tea Party’s indicated goals of smaller government, lower taxes and more individual freedoms, I couldn’t help thinking that I agreed with most of those ideas.  All of them sounded like worthy ideas. When I balanced that against the less-than-clear ideals of Occupy Wall Street, at the time, I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t agree with the Tea Party. I started talking to my friends, people I knew, and asking them for their thoughts on the matter. I didn’t realize it then, but the fire was lit and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: shape public policy and governance while promoting rational discourse between people of different groups.

I jumped head-first into politics, reading more books on the subject in 2012 than I ever thought I would. I thought conservatism was the way to go and that it was the only thing that made any sense. I kept talking to people but I found myself running so far away from all of the things I used to believe in that everyone close to me noticed the change. I’ve spent the last year re-thinking and trying to understand my values through the lens of my upbringing, discussing ideas with others and trying to figure out how I can make a difference. Insanity isn’t an option and I think about these things too much to simply stop caring. Yes, America is in trouble but not in the way the pundits paint the picture. In fact, the pundits are a very big part of the problem.

Talk to the People is my third way, my choice C, and my way to help shape the dialogue in this country. Everything I’ve watched, learned and experienced over the past two years tells me that America has become so divided by partisanship, race, generation and social class that we’re looking at a split more alarming than one simply between Left and Right, but between Fantasy and Reality. The purpose of this blog is to start a discussion between people of all viewpoints and build consensus on the issues of our time that inspires others to step into the breach. I’m not naïve enough to believe that this will happen overnight or even in the first few months, but I’m resolving to put forth the effort and trust in my fellow Americans to come together and help us weave a new story that we can all tell our children and grandchildren in the future.

This is where I start. Let the conversation begin with my first question to you, The People:

Is America’s educational system failing our children? If so, how do we address this issue?


  1. First, good first post. I truly enjoyed reading it and look forward to future ones.

    I know enough about politics to get me in trouble. I try and learn more as I go, but truly the more I learn the more jaded and cynical I get. I do not feel as if I can make a difference.Every time I get into a discussion with someone that disagrees with me on facebook I seem to inevitably remove them as a friend and often times blocking them.

    All that being said, I do think that our educational system is failing our children and basically everyone in general. I truly think this article and its links sum up my thoughts best.

    I think that education should not be in the hands of individual states, but that the federal government should take over. I know most people hate that, but we are ONE nation and when our states do not act with a common goal it only hurts our nation. Just like the whole ridiculousness of states wanting to secede. They did not even think things through such as BLM land, Interstates, Federal Buildings and Parks...but sure let's make our own nation. That type of thinking trickles down into the education system and messes everything up. What if we were just America and NOT the United States of America? One nation working to be great instead of 50 places (48 of which share the same land mass) all with somewhat different agendas and policies.

    1. Nicely said, Ryon. Couldn't agree more.

      I'd add that there is a lot of progress that could be made if we explicitly embraced technology more. There are college courses from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. for free through online offerings. There is little reason why children can't attend excellent classes taught by professors perhaps hundreds of miles away.

      I'm OK with patching up our current system of education, but I think it would be prudent to take a hard look at it and decide whether revamping the whole system might be more effective in the long run. For one thing, a tech based educational system would give students the necessary skills for tomorrow, and would immediately reduce costs of school buildings (in terms of property value, etc) immensely.

      Such a system could be pulled off with individual state mandated educational programs, but it would be a whole lot easier and more effective to have a single, national educational system.

    2. Thank you, Ryon. I appreciate your reading and commenting!

      While I agree that we should have a common goal in the education of our children, the idea of turning it over completely to the Federal Government to address gives me pause. The government can get things done when it really wants to, but it usually takes a lot of hemming and hawing to make it happen. I'd love it if several governors could get together and work on something or if state legislatures took up the banner, but that's not a common sight and some people feel that we're just fine and don't need to change.

      Personally, I worried about what my nieces and nephew are learning in school now and what they will learn as they get older about the world they live in.

      And the who secession talk, while funny to read about, was also very troubling to me.

  2. As a teacher, there are a few problems with the education system, and they're not what a lot of people might think. Before I can address those problems, however, I need to address the misconceptions.

    People look at our educational system and compare it to, for example, Japan, then say, "Oh, look how much better their system is!" There are a few problems with this. First of all, Japan has much more of a homogeneous culture than America. Having a heterogeneous culture has many advantages, but it does make reaching out to everyone much more difficult.

    Which brings me to a second point. In many other nations, people who don't make a rather arbitrary cut are removed from classes, or tracked for other careers. This is not a direction we should be going; we should not be emulating Japan's education system. Every student deserves the opportunity to get the best education they can get.

    Now we come to the third, most important point. Right now, the education system is being tested to death. Students are spending more time taking tests than they are actually getting educational time. Because the stakes are so high, the focus is on those testable things: math, science, reading. It's such a high focus, schools are losing other things, such as recess and the arts. And, in what seems like it would be counter-intuitive, with the stronger focus on math and reading, the scores in math and reading continue to drop... which drives an even stronger focus on those subjects to the exclusion of others, which seems to lead to even sharper declines in scores.

    All of this is forgetting the real goal of education. It's not to teach students facts. Facts are easy to come by in the modern world. Looking up and parroting information is not important at all, but that's what we're focusing upon, more and more.

    No, the real goal of education is to imbue in students a lifelong love of learning. The secondary goal, almost as important, is to teach students how to learn and how to process information. When you focus entirely on subjects like math and reading to the exclusion of everything else... it kills that love of learning in the students. When you suck the fun out of education, you make it harder for students to learn.

    Let's actually take a look at another country that HAS focused entirely on testing. India has had a whole generation of students who have done very well on testing... and yet the business community has discovered that all they know how to do is parrot information. This generation of graduates has a frighteningly low ability to be creative -- which is incredibly important in the business community. Those of us who have had to deal with technical support calls which are routed overseas can see it -- if it's not something that they've been told specifically how to handle, they cannot handle it. They are capable of it -- but their focus on testing to the exclusion of anything creative has failed to train an entire generation how to think creatively. (Please note that I have a great deal of respect for the Indian people and their culture -- it is merely their educational system which I believe is flawed, and which is having a measurable cost to its people, against which I am speaking out.)

    Technology is going so fast now, there are students in our school system now who will be doing jobs of which we cannot currently conceive. If we want American students of today to be the industry of tomorrow, we need to make sure that they can think creatively, that they can learn dynamically, and that they always want to know more. What we don't need is a generation of people who just know how to take a specific math test.

    *steps off soapbox* Whew. A bit longer than I expected, but there you go.

    1. Oh, and then there's properly funding schools, making sure every school has a good arts program, a fully-trained librarian on staff full-time, etcetera... but all of these things are part of that fundamental focus of supporting what education should be.

    2. These are all excellent points, Gavin. I hope I can speak to you further on education in the near future because there are some things I'd like to know and I'm hoping that you can help me find them.