In Kentucky, a white man shot and killed two African-Americans at a Kroger grocery store following a failed attempt to break into a black church.
Only two days later, a deranged man who had railed against Democrats and minorities with hate-filled messages online was arrested for allegedly sending mail bombs to people who’d been criticized by President Donald Trump.
Where were the candlelight vigils for those atrocities?
Where were the international landmarks going dark?
Where was the worldwide condemnation?
In the wake of Pittsburgh’s tragedy, these other violent acts have been almost forgotten.
Yet they’re all symptoms of the same disease – hate and bigotry.
He is an incurious liar who constantly trolls the media and the public.
He is an admirer of dictators and fascists across the globe with no qualms about enriching himself and those like him at the expense of you and me.
Everyday he provides aide and comfort to anti-American regimes from Moscow to Riyadh by diminishing our international stature, withdrawing us from treaties and contracts, leaking sensitive information and otherwise pursuing foreign interests over those of American citizens.
A democratic republic is like any other machine – it only functions properly if all of its parts are working.
You can’t have majority rule when 40% of voters shirk their duty.
A study by the Pew Research Center found that not only were non-voters likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent, and nonwhite, but 55% of them were Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
“The most significant civil rights problem is voting. Each citizen’s right to vote is fundamental to all the other rights of citizenship and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960 make it the responsibility of the Department of Justice to protect that right.”
In Arkansas, thousands of voters were erroneously flagged in 2016 under the guise of removing people who had been convicted of felonies. In Virginia, voters were wrongly deleted from the rolls in 2013 under the excuse of removing people who allegedly had moved.
To make matters worse, the purge was overseen by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor. Since most of the people being removed from the polls are people of color, the poor and other Democrats or leaning Democrat voters, the move makes it harder for Democrat Stacey Abrams to challenge him.
Kemp and his Republican buddies wouldn’t be going through all this trouble if voting made no difference.
However, County Council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald would have to do the work of actually creating all this stuff. They’d have to pass an ordinance establishing how this all works, what powers the advisory commission has, etc. They would have to determine whether the money goes to existing programs or new ones. They’d have to set up audits of the money every five years, conduct a study to recommend goals and a focus for how the funding is spent.
That’s an awful lot left undecided.
It makes no sense for voters to hand over the money BEFOREwe figure all this other stuff out.
It’s not at all how good government works.
You’re supposed to define a problem or need and then come up with a plan to meet that need. You prepare a budget that justifies raising taxes and then you vote on it.
This is exactly the opposite. We’re getting the money before the plan of how to spend it.
That’s a recipe for fraud and financial mismanagement.
2) It’s Unclear Who Would Be In Charge of the Money
Who would be accountable for this money?
We know who gets to decide this – County Council and the Chief Executive. But we don’t know who they will pick or what powers they’ll delegate to these people. Nor do we know what kind of oversight there will be or what kind of regulations will exist for how it can be spent.
This is a blind statement of trust.
It’s like saying – “Here’s $18 million. Go buy us something nice.”
What if they mismanage the money? And what would that even mean for money with so few strings attached? And how would we know? How transparent would this process be?
It’s kind of hard to approve such a plan with so many variables up in the air.
Financial documents show that the whole initiative has been funded by various nonprofit organizations that could, themselves, become beneficiaries of this same fund.
According to the Children’s Fund’s own campaign finance report, as of June there were three nonprofit corporations who donated $427,000 to the campaign: the Human Services Center of Turtle Creek gave $160,000, Pressley Ridge Foundation gave $150,000, and Allies for Children gave a donation of $45,000 and another for $72,000.
That’s like McDonalds spending a hundred thousand dollars to fix up the school cafeterias so it could land a multi-million dollar annual contract!
It’s a huge conflict of interest.
At very least, it’s purposefully misleading.
Many of those “volunteers” gathering signatures weren’t working for free. They were part of the $100,000 spent by the campaign to hire Vote Goal Organizing for paid signature collectors.
That doesn’t look like charity. It looks like philanthrocapitalism – when corporations try to disguise grabs for power and profit as philanthropy.
“First and foremost, we have not had any conversations with the organizers of the referendum,” board president Regina Holley said. “There are lots of ifs and whats that have not been answered.”
Kevin Carter, another city school director added, “In my role as a school board member, they didn’t talk to us about this at all.”
“When you leave your largest school district in the region out of this conversation, are you doing this around children?” he asked, citing that the district serves 25,000 students daily.
This has been a common thread among officials. No one wants to say they’re against collecting money that’s ostensibly for the benefit of children, but it’s hard to manage the money if you’re not part of the process.
And it’s not just protocol. Many are worried that this lack of communication may be emblematic of how the fund will be run. If organizers aren’t willing to work with local governments to get the job done, how will they know what each community needs? How will they meet those needs? Is that even what the fund will really be about?
Richard Livingston, Clairton school board president, noted concern that the money collected might not be spent evenly throughout the county. For all he knows, it could just be spent in the city or in select areas.
Indeed, this is not the best way to start any endeavor funded by all, for the benefit of all children.
5) It’s Redundant
While it’s true that the county could use more funding to meet the needs of students, numerous organizations already exist that attempt to provide these services.
There are a plethora of Pre-K, after school tutoring and meal services in the Mon Valley. In fact, much of this is done at the county’s various neighborhood schools.
If organizers were only concerned with meeting these needs, why form an office within county government that would have an appointed advisory commission? Why not just increase the funding at the local schools and/or organizations already doing this work?
“At PIIN, we believe that the faith community is a sacred partner with our public schools, and we have long been supportive of both the community schools model and increasing state funding to provide an excellent, high-quality education to every child in our region. We believe in funding for early childhood learning, after school programs, and nutritious meals. However, we cannot support a ballot initiative that creates an unnecessary entity, with an unknown advisory board, and an unclear process for directing our tax dollars.
This is why we are urging our membership to reject the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative at the polls this November.”
Deciding what students should learn used to be the job of educators, students and the community. Teachers used their extensive training and experience, students appeal to their own curiosity, and the community tailored its expectations based on its needs. However, we’ve given up on our own judgment and delegated the job to publishing companies, technology firms and corporations. We’ve let them decide what students should learn based on which pre-packed products they can most profitably sell us. The problem is when you force all academic programs to follow canned academic standards written by functionaries, not educators, you put teachers in a straight jacket constraining them from meeting their students’ individual needs.
Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole process has been the attempted erasure of the teacher – as a thinking human being – from the classroom, itself. Instead of letting us be people who observe and adapt to the realities in front of us, many of us have been forced to read from a script. It should go without saying that when you constrain educators to abide by scripted curriculum – what we used to call “teacher proof curriculum” – or pacing guides, you remove their ability to be teachers, at all.
You can’t freeze someone’s salary, stifle their rights to fair treatment while choking back their autonomy and still expect them to show up to work everyday eager and willing to do the job.
TheNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a representative sample of more than 37,000 American public school elementary and secondary teachers showing widespread dissatisfaction with the job in general and a lack of autonomy in particular.
If you’re just following orders, your accomplishments aren’t really yours. It’s the difference between composing a melody and simply recreating the sounds of an amateur musician with perfect fidelity.
Today’s teachers rarely get to pick the textbooks they use, which content or skills to focus on, which techniques will be most effective in their classrooms, how to discipline students, how much homework to give – and they have next to zero say about how they will be evaluated.
And to make matters worse, sometimes it isn’t that educators are forbidden from exercising autonomy, but that they are given such a huge laundry list of things they’re responsible for that they don’t have the time to actually be creative or original. Once teachers meet the demands of all the things they have to cram into a single day, there is little room for reflection, revision or renewal.
We imagine that policy is above their pay grade. They are menial labor. It’s up to us, important people, to make the big decisions – even though most of us have little to no knowledge of how to teach!
Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg says that this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we really cared about improving both the teaching profession and the quality of education we provide students.
In the United States, autonomy usually stops at the district or administrative level and results in decision-making that ignores the voices of educators and the community, he says.
“School autonomy has often led to lessening teacher professionalism and autonomy for the benefit of greater profits for those who manage or own private schools, charter schools or other independent schools. This is perhaps the most powerful lesson the US can learn from better-performing education systems: teachers need greater collective professional autonomy and more support to work with one another. In other words, more freedom from bureaucracy, but less from one another.”
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to increased autonomy is political.
The most vivid memory I have of my great-grandfather is the tattoo on his arm.
It wasn’t an anchor or a sweetheart’s name or even the old faithful, “Mom.”
It was just a series of digits scrawled across his withered tan flesh like someone had written a note they didn’t want to forget.
Beneath the copious salt and pepper hairs was a stark number, the darkest stain on his skin.
Gramps is a kindly figure in my mind.
He died before I was even 10-years-old. All I really remember about him are wisps of impressions – his constant smile, a whiff of mothballs, how he always seemed to have butterscotch candies.
And that tattoo.
I think it was my father who told me what it meant.
When he was just a young man, Gramps escaped from Auschwitz. A guard took pity on him and smuggled him out.
His big European family didn’t make it.
My scattered relatives in the United States are all that are left of us.
Those are the only details that have come down to me. And Gramps isn’t here to add anything further.
But his tattoo has never left me.
It’s become a pillar of my subconscious.
The fact that someone could look at my kindly Gramps and still see fit to tattoo a numeric signifier on him as if he were an animal.
A little reminder that he wasn’t human, that he shouldn’t be treated like a person, that he was marked for erasure.
If I look at my own arm, there is no tell-tale integer peeking through the skin. But I am keenly aware of its presence.
I know that it’s there in a very real sense.
It is only the American dream that hides it.
Coming to this country, my family has made a deal, something of a Faustian bargain, but it’s one that most of us have accepted as the price of admission.
It’s called whiteness.
I am white.
Or I get to be white. So long as I suppress any differences to the contrary.
I agree to homogenize myself as much as possible and define myself purely by that signifier.
White. American. No hyphen necessary.
Anything else is secondary. I don’t have to deny it, but I have to keep it hidden until the right context comes to bring it out.
During Octoberfest I have license to be German. When at international village I can root for Poland. And on Saturdays I can wear a Kippah and be Jewish.
But in the normal flow of life, don’t draw attention to my differences. Don’t show everyone the number on my arm.
Because America is a great place, but people here – as in many other places – are drawn to those sorts of symbols and will do what they can to stamp them out.
I learned that in school when I was younger.
There weren’t a lot of Jewish kids where I grew up. I remember lots of cracks about “Jewing” people down, fighting against a common assumption that I would be greedy, etc. I remember one girl I had a crush on actually asked to see my horns.
And of course there were the kids who chased me home from the bus stop. The scratched graffiti on my locker: “Yid.”
The message was clear – “You’re different. We’ll put up with you, but don’t ever forget you are NOT one of us.”
There were a lot more black kids. They didn’t get it any easier but at least they could join together.
It seemed I had one choice – assimilate or face it alone.
So I did. I became white.
I played up my similarities, never talked about my differences except to close friends.
It’s not a result of the color wheel. Look at your skin. You’re not white. You’re peach or pink or salmon or rose or coral or olive or any of a million other shades.
Whiteness has as much to do with color as Red has to do with Communism or Green has to do with environmental protection.
It is the way a lose confederacy of nationalities and ethnicities have banded together to form a fake majority and lord power over all those they’ve excluded.
It’s social protection for wealth – a kind of firewall against the underclass built, manned and protected by those who are also being exploited.
It’s like a circle around the wealthy protecting them from everyone outside its borders. Yet if everyone banded together against the few rich and powerful, we could all have a more equitable share.
But in America, social class has been weaponized and racialized.
You’ll see some media outlets talking about demographics as if white people were in danger of losing their numerical majority in this country in the next few decades. But there’s no way it’s ever going to happen.
Today’s xenophobia is a direct response to this challenge. Some are trying to deport, displace and murder as many black and brown people as possible to preserve the status quo.
But even if that doesn’t work, whiteness will not become a minority. It will do what it has always done – incorporate some of those whom it had previously excluded to keep its position.
Certain groups of Hispanics and Latinos probably will find themselves allowed to identify as white, thereby solidifying the majority.
Because the only thing that matters is that there are some people who are “white” and the rest who are not.
Long ago, my family experienced this.
Before I was born, we got our provisional white card. And if I want, I can use it to hide behind.
I’ve been doing it most of my life.
Every white person does it.
It’s almost impossible not to do it.
How do you deny being white?
At this point, I could throw back my head and shout to the heavens, “I’M NOT WHITE!” and it wouldn’t matter.
Only in a closed environment like a school or a job or in a social media circle can you retain the stigma of appearing pale but still being other.
In everyday life, it doesn’t matter what you say, only how you appear.
I can’t shout my difference all the time. Every moment I’m quiet, I’ll still be seen as white.
It’s not personal. It’s social. It’s not something that happens among individuals. It’s a way of being seen.
The best I can do is try to use my whiteness as a tool. I can speak out against the illusion. I can stand up when people of color are being victimized. I can vote for leaders who will do something to dismantle white supremacy.
They exist to teach, to counsel, to inspire, to heal.
And all these other schemes favored by Dunce Duncan and Batty Betsy that purport to meet kids needs while somehow enjoying the totally unintended side effect of enriching wealthy investors completely misses the point.
Public schools serve one purpose – to help the kids enrolled in them.
The reason given by DeVos may be to make children safer. But the measure she’s proposing really has nothing to do with them at all.
It’s a boondoggle for private industry – one private industry in particular – gun manufacturers.
Instead of sensible regulations on a product that’s at least as dangerous as items that are much more heavily controlled – such as cold medicine and automobiles – DeVos is doing the only thing she can to protect what she really cares about – corporate profits.
She is using money earmarked “safety” to increase danger.
Or as she sees it – she’s using a government apparatus that could harm the gun industry to instead pad its pockets.
You’ll hear some progressives and moderates decry this move with passion and fervor – and for good reason – but what many fail to realize is that it’s not new.
It’s really just a continuation of a sickness that has crept into our society about how we conceptualize the very idea of school.
He hates science. He hates schools. He hates teachers. And if students get in the way, he’ll hate them, too.
These are the qualities he thinks Pennsylvanians are looking for in their next governor.
The York Township Republican will challenge incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf on Nov. 6, 2018.
So who is this guy?
Wagner’s a college dropout who made a fortune starting a garbage hauling firm. He became a state senator four years ago after winning a write in campaign during a special election where only 17% of the electorate could be bothered to vote.
And ever since, he’s been consistent about one thing: he really, Really, REALLY hates teachers.
“We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania,” Wagner said in 2015. “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
That’s a deficit we still haven’t recovered from. Even today, state schools are staffed at a 10-year low. Class sizes are at an all time high.
Yet Wagner wants to fire even more teachers!?
That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help improve life throughout the state for all. That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help kids learn.
It’s the policy of a man who has a personal grudge against educators.
And his other legislative objectives?
Wagner wants to further slash education funding. He wants to spend whatever is left inequitably. And he really wants to help his heroes Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos enact school vouchers so business people like him can continue to cash in on children from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and all places between.
By contrast, in his four years in office, Gov. Wolf has pushed to increase education funding, pushed to spend it more fairly, and even cut the time it takes for students to take high stakes standardized tests.
The good news: voters throughout the Commonwealth have never had a clearer choice for governor.
The bad news: when has that ever stopped them from getting it wrong?
“We have created a special class in this state and the special class is the public sector union employee,” Wagner told Keystone Crossroads in a 2015 interview.
“Teachers are doing very well in this state,” he said. “People would be appalled if they knew what their teachers made, in certain areas.”
Unfortunately, Wagner has no idea, himself.
He keeps quoting a bogus salary figure that I’m not going to repeat. It’s not true statewide, it’s not an average, nor is it true in his home district.
In truth, the low end for teachers entering the field nationwide is around $30,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). So go to college, get a four – sometimes five – year degree including a rigorous internship of student teaching and you make a mere $10,000 above the most generous minimum wage!?
According to that data, Pennsylvania teachers make on average $63,063 per year. Of neighboring states, teachers in Maryland ($65,247) and New Jersey ($71,687) make more. Teachers in Ohio (59,063) and Delaware ($59,853) make less.
In other words, if prospective teachers want to make more money, all they have to do is switch majors.
That may be part of the reason for our national teachers shortage. Not only have states like ours laid off tens of thousands of educators, many don’t stay in the field if given the chance. Across the country , 46 percent of educators quit before reaching the five year mark. And it’s worse in urban districts, where 20 percent quit every single year!
“There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers that would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for him or her.”
So if you teach the best students, you should make the most money? And if you teach struggling students, you should be fired?
But It’s Not Just Teachers. He Hates Other Working People, Too
If there is a corner to cut, he wants to take it – especially if it screws a working person. As a state senator, Wagner even introduced a bill that would exempt school districts from paying laborers the “prevailing wage” on construction projects.
Cheaper labor, shoddier work. That’s surely a recipe for success in buildings housing school children!
I’m sure reducing teaching to a career without benefits, workers rights or protections will do wonders for the educational quality students receive.
Teachers working conditions are students learning conditions. Putting children in a building that has fewer safety precautions because there’s no union to collectively bargain for them is a great way to cut costs. But parents aren’t thrilled about having their kids try to learn in a sweat shop filled with Trump brand Russian asbestos.
Charter schools, funding private and parochial schools with public tax dollars. He’s in for all of it.
So long as it hurts public schools and enriches private businesses without helping students learn at all.
Go ahead! Take scarce funding from public schools and divert it to programs with little to no accountability. Let private school operators fraudulently misrepresent enrollment data. Let them fail to provide safe and academically appropriate learning environments. Let them game the system in any and every way.
That’s what Wagner calls fiscal accountability.
It doesn’t matter that these schools don’t improve student achievement. Evaluations of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., have all found no statistically significant differences in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students. And recent evaluations of programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana revealed that voucher students scored lower than their peers attending public school.
But who cares about facts? This is all ideology for Wagner.
Vouchers have a record of undermining student’s civil rights – especially students with disabilities. Private school students give up due process and other rights guaranteed in public schools. Private schools are allowed to discriminate by denying admission based on religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English language proficiency and disability. Private schools that enroll students with disabilities may decide not to provide the services or accommodations guaranteed to such students in public schools. Or they may charge parents extra for them. Moreover, there is nothing to stop them from segregating these kids from other children. And, finally, private schools often suspend or expel students without due process.
This may be Trump and Wagner’s ideal. But it is certainly not what Commonwealth voters want for their children.
He Wants to Get Rid of Many State Colleges
Wagner caused an uproar when he said the state’s 14 state colleges will not be around in four years. “So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said.
Fewer institutions of higher learning. Fewer opportunities to get a college degree. That sounds like the policy of a college dropout.
But that’s either too complicated for Wagner or he just doesn’t care.
He supported Gov. Corbett’s plan to decimate Pennsylvania’s schools. And he doesn’t think the culling should be over.
When asked point blank about Corbett’s cuts in 2011, he said, “Yes, I believe that Governor Corbett needs to stick to his plan.”
He’s said repeatedly that we spend “enough money” on public schools, while stressing the need for frugality and fewer regulations.
He Wants to Play with How Schools Are Funded
He’s an advocate for legislation that would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with increased state sales and income taxes.
True we need a better funding mechanism than local property taxes. But you can bet Wagner’s plan is worse than the current system.
It would lock funding inequities among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts into place.
He Thinks Global Warming is Caused by the Earth Getting Closer to the Sun
Wagner is an incredibly stupid man who thinks he’s rather intelligent.
But of all the dumb or evil things that come spewing out of his mouth, this one has to be my favorite.
When asked about global climate change, he didn’t simply deny that it was happening. He had an alternative theory to why it was taking place.
It’s not business and industry or fossil fuels that is causing global temperatures to rise. He actually said that it’s because the earth is getting closer to the sun every year. Another cause? Human bodies on the planet are giving off enough heat to raise the global temperature.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a person who hates schools and teachers so much knows very little, himself.
These comments made him a national laughing stock.
His words were repeated on every late night comedy show across the country for giggles and guffaws.
The question is “Will the joke be on us come Election Day?”
It’s not “How dumb is Scott Wagner?”
It’s “Is Pennsylvania dumb enough to vote for him?”
NOTE: Special Thank you to Sue Goncarovs for the Wagner cartoon with which I began this piece. I love your work!