Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cameras in Classrooms... Why Stop There?

Reading & Discussion
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
This is an open letter to Wyoming State Legislative Representative Steve Harshman from Casper regarding his proposal to bring cameras into the Wyoming classrooms.
I just read the story in the Christian Science Monitor regarding your proposal to bring cameras into the classroom for the purpose of teacher evaluations as well as monthly written reviews.

I find it a bit ironic—maybe even hypocritical—that such a proposal is being handed down in a state that is notorious for its resentment of anything that has to do with “big government.” Pardon me for saying, but what you’re proposing smells like big government even if it is a long way off.

As an instructor in the graphics/printing field, I’m OK with cameras in my classroom. Perhaps a few administrators and politicians like yourself will truly learn something useful, and perhaps even develop a real skill that will result in earning an honest living.

That said, my question to you is, why stop there? Let’s introduce the same monitoring equipment into the offices of educational administrators. Along with that, subject them to anonymous evaluations from the body of faculty every semester much like the instructors experience from their students. If you’re looking for dead wood, this will surely produce results—high-paying dead wood at that!

Come to think of it, bringing cameras into the homes would surely curb domestic violence, abuse and neglect as well. And, as a taxpayer and voter, I wouldn’t mind listening in on recordings from the monitored phones of our elected officials too. You’re OK with that aren’t you? As the article stated, you’ll get used to the equipment in no time, and after awhile, it will be like it was never there.

‎“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” —Orwell’s 1984.

And this...

Harshman responds:
Dear Mr. Morgan,

I have not read the article. In regards to cameras in the classroom; as you know there is a semi-mob mentality regarding education in the Wyoming Legislature this session. Some of it can be contributed to a national trend or mood that is sweeping the country. My proposal is an attempt to fight “fire with fire” so to speak. The proposed tenure bills (where teachers lose their tenure and have at-will employment status where we can be fired for any reason that is “not illegal”) have me moving in order to counter the proposals. I have promoted cameras as a “teacher protection” measure. In addition, increased evaluations would get the principals back in the schools.

In response to the Orwellian comments that your letter drifts of to…? I am not going there. I would focus my efforts on the Senate Education committee where the real threat is. I can assure you, I am working behind the scenes for a favorable outcome.

Thank you for writing,

Warm Regards,

Steve Harshman
House District 37
(R) Natrona County

Monday, January 17, 2011

What’s a Holiday to Education?

Buffalo, Montana School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Here in the Equality State (Wyoming), you’d think we’ve got the MLK holiday all figured out when it comes to celebrating the birthday of the highly esteemed civil rights leader. I’m talking about the same state where women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office—all which arguably paved the way for statehood way back in 1890.

Nevertheless, Wyoming is not as united as one would think when it comes to recognizing this federal holiday. Oh sure, you won’t find a Wyoming bank or post office open anywhere on MLK day, but when it comes to education, it’s a mixed bag.

As an employee of Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, our doors will be locked up tight on MLK day. The first day of the new semester begins the following day. Even in past years, when the first day of the semester came before King’s holiday, the college still observed MLK day by closing the campus on that Monday.

Yet, in the same town, the local public schools have and will continue to conduct classes like any other day.

Since I’m not a public holiday expert and wondering if MLK Day was some kind of “minor” holiday, I looked up all of the official Federal holidays and discovered that MLK Day is right up there with all the other holidays that result in the closure of our banks, post offices and schools.

Here are the country’s official Federal holidays in chronological order: New Year’s Day, MLK Day, Inauguration Day (every four years), Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

I called someone tonight who works for the schools to see if they could explain to me this obvious oversight on my part. Sadly, they couldn’t explain it or understand it themselves, going as far as saying they found it to be disrespectful of King’s memory.

At first I thought it might be some kind of mandate from the Wyoming Board of Education, but I see several other public schools (i.e., Laramie County and Natrona County Schools) around the “Equality State” will be closed in observance of MLK day including the schools in Cody which are in the same county as Powell.

Ironically, there were no classes last Monday for the Powell Schools although teachers were present for an in-service meeting.

And Martin Luther King, Jr Day is not alone. It appears that Veterans Day and Columbus Day have fallen into this same “second-class” holiday status with our nation’s schools as well.

So, what shall we make of the Park County School District in northwestern Wyoming and other school districts around the country that remain open on MLK day or other Federal holidays such as Veterans Day and Columbus Day? Why are these holidays marginalized? Might there come a day when all Federal holidays will be considered a potential school day? How would the public respond if classes were planned and held on Labor Day or Memorial Day?

I would propose that if Federal Holidays like MLK, Veterans and Columbus Day are potential school days, then all Federal holidays should be held to the same rationale. Perhaps rotating them each year if necessary where schools are open on Labor Day, but not Veterans Day. Better yet, simply expand the calendar a bit more and close the schools for all of the Federal holidays—like the banks and post offices.

Coincidentally next month, the country will observe Washington’s Birthday which will find things turned around here in Powell—the college will still hold classes, but the public schools will be off for the day.

The Powell Tribune ran a small story last year on this same topic. Here is the full story as it appeared.

King’s contributions recognized in classrooms
On Monday, local banks, the post office and Northwest College were closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Wyoming Equality Day — yet in Park County School District No. 1, school was in session.

The Powell school district isn’t alone — for many school districts across Wyoming, it was business as usual.

The federal holiday was first observed in 1986, though it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states of the union recognized the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Our state was one of the last. Even now, Wyoming law leaves it up to individual school district boards of trustees to decide whether the holiday will be observed.

As superintendent Kevin Mitchell said via e-mail, “Some school districts do. Some don’t.”

Mitchell went on to say that, in a conversation Monday with five other Wyoming school superintendents, he learned that none of their districts were closed for the holiday.

“In fact,” he said, “they believe the day can be better observed if students are in school rather than going skiing or to the mall...”

It’s a point well taken. While it may appear at first blush that some Wyoming school districts — including ours — have chosen to not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it may instead be the perfect opportunity for educators to make their students aware of Dr. King’s contributions. His belief in non-violent and service-oriented approaches to overcoming problems, such as homelessness, hunger, prejudice and discrimination, is a belief from which we still reap benefits. Mitchell added that, while there were no activities planned on a district-wide level, the significance of the day was not forgotten by local teachers, who did indeed take time to recognize King and the ideals he stood for.

Some have said that Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be “a day on, not a day off.” We hope our schools utilized the “day on” to its fullest advantage.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

America’s Etheric Gun Laws

"N" If For "No Gun Laws"
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Too bad 22-year-old Jarod-what’s-his-name in Tucson, Arizona hadn’t been limited to a cumbersome, bolt-action hunting rifle. He likely wouldn’t have taken so many lives. Better yet, even in his “unhinged” mind, he might have reconsidered his actions knowing how inefficient a hunting rifle would play out or how hard it would be to conceal in the implementation of his diabolical plan.

Instead, maybe he simply would have settled for posting another rambling tirade on YouTube.

But, thank God— and The Constitution—Jarod has/had the right to defend himself and our country with a semi-automatic weapon.

The saddest thing about this tragic debacle in Tucson is it will undoubtedly be repeated again and again.

My father asked, “How can a 22-year-old have anything to be that mad about given how much of life is in front of him?”

Even more poignant, another friend noted, “Funny, a guy can be unfit to join the army, but okay to own a gun.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a touch of mental illness, combined with true vitriolic rhetoric in our media and easy access to lethal weapons is a concoction that can lead to nothing good.

Beyond pledging ourselves to curbing violent-implied speech and the ongoing plight to understand mental illness, I still find it odd that owning a gun is easier than obtaining a driver’s license.

I just don’t get it... how did something as lethal as a gun (and designed for the sole purpose of killing) end up so loosely regulated—compared to operating an automobile?

Jarod and I are required to pass a test, allowing us to operate a car which requires renewal on a regular basis. Why is that? Answer: For the safety of everyone—as in “general welfare.” Yet, in the purchase a a Glock, we simply have to wait an hour or two for a background check and if we’re clean, we’ll never be bothered about it again. No testing on how to use it (never mind psychological testing), no type of insurance is required, no renewal, nothing. We can even sell the gun to someone else without any kind of background check on them... talk about a Pandora’s ammo box.

Of course, nothing is fool proof... people will continue to be killed via cars and guns whether obtained legally or illegally. Yet, imagine the extra fatalities on the road each year if anyone could legally operate a car simply because they were of age—or worse—a loaded semi truck. Sure, maybe you and I wouldn’t let our inexperienced 16-year-old drive without going through a period of careful supervision, but consider the numerous dimwits that would.

Given we have different type of operator’s license for cars, busses and trucks, why can’t we do the same for guns?

If I want to own a bolt-action hunting rifle or single-shot shot gun for hunting purposes, a simple license (something like a normal driver’s license) is all I need apply for. However, if I want to possess a semi-automatic weapon or a large-caliber weapon suited for non-hunting purposes, then my background and character will require some serious scrutinization and on a regular basis—much like driving an oversized rig.

It is certainly true that thugs will continue to obtain guns illegally, but I do believe scenarios like the one that played out in Tucson this past week would be significantly reduced if there was something in place akin to what is required in possessing a driver’s license. And, as I see it, punishment would be severe for anyone in possession of a firearm without the proper license.

Oh fuck, my 2nd Amendment rights are going to be trampled!

The NRA would like us to believe that restricting access to firearms results in elevated crime rates (i.e., “only criminals will have guns”). However, this is not supported by a substantial body of data at the national level. In countries like Japan and Great Britain—where guns are greatly restricted—deaths from guns are low, especially compared to the United States. Sadly, but not surprising, the USA is a leader in gun-related homicides.

Of course, if my proposal here is so far-fetched, perhaps we should consider the other end of the spectrum such as the gun policies of Switzerland.

Until interpreted otherwise, it is our Constitutional right to own a gun, but it is also the Constitution’s role to “promote the general welfare” of all its citizens. I’d like to believe the latter of these two carries a little more importance.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Where's My Magic Elixir?

Originally uploaded by mdt1960
The other day, a friend "re-gifted" me his iRenew bracelet. This is one of the many new scams, trends, lifestyles, etc. (take your pick) that today's new wave of conniving entrepreneurs are offering up to the American TV-viewing public.

Did you know, Kobe Bryant wears one? See links below to determine which one is best for you.

Sure, I never would have shelled out twenty bucks for one of these even if coming off a big power lotto score, but I thought, "What the heck, I'll give it a try."

I'm sad to say (as reported on my Facebook status page) that after 48 hours of test driving, the iRenew bracelet has not increased my strength, endurance or improved my balance. However, it has managed to irritate me with its cheap stainless steel metal digging in my skin. Thanks to the iRenew bracelet, I'm probably more likely to go off on someone instead of gracefully navigating a patch of ice on the sidewalks of town.

Even Ron Popeil would be disenchanted.

Like so many Americans, I continue to search for that special pill or some other magical shortcut somewhere that will allow me to forgo the track, gym, or weights so I can watch more infomercials while working on a big plate of french fries compliments of my original Veg-O-Matic.