Charter Schools

Charter schools sound good. They sound like places where serious students go, where class sizes are small and extra help is available when needed. They sound almost like private schools, only less institutionalized than established public or private schools. There is controversy about them so they sound cutting-edge. Since they are not subject to school boards or teacher’s unions they can, theoretically, hire the very best staff and easily get rid of any staff who are not highly motivated and effective. I assume students in charter schools have to pass the same tests as public school students and that they perform better on these tests than their public school counterparts. I assume this because of the hype about charter schools, but it may or may not be true. I also assume that parents must be involved with charter schools and that the school becomes a kind of community full of enriching experiences. I don’t know how many studies have been done to back up this assumption, but I think most of us assume this.

However idealistic this sounds charter schools may often start out with these advantages. As is always true with programs like this, it is likely that sometime after the ten year mark the innovation is starting to slow and some signs of institutionalization are setting in. The realities of frequent staff turnovers are too disruptive to be strategic. Teacher tend to create an effective body of classroom materials and to stick to them with slight alterations from time to time because it is too time-consuming and expensive to keep reinventing the wheel.

Charter schools that last may tend to remain small and this may be one of their more lasting advantages. But it is inevitable that enterprises like this get more concretized with time thus lessening the margin of effectiveness they once had over public schools. Charter schools begin and fail. Monies may not move back and forth between the public and private sectors as efficiently as we would like. Public schools may not be reimbursed right away when a nearby charter school fails. Students once pulled out of the system may get dumped back into it. Although you get some temporary advantages in terms of excitement, innovation, and energy, the financial issues and the frequent shifting of students in and out of the system my make charter schools untenable in the long run. Time will tell.

Books (China)

Search for lisa seeSearch for amy tanChinese books are so interesting because China has been through so much and much of it has been horrendous and hidden from view. Some stories are about the old Imperial system which existed for centuries and gave some stability, although everyone seemed to be either privileged or very poor. There were stories of sons who showed intellectual talent who could participate in a series of tests and change their fate. And of course, there are stories of concubines, which was the way women of beauty had their fate changed for them. I read these stories so long ago that I do not remember any titles, I am sorry to say.

Then we have the stories that come out of the Cultural Revolution which show sweeping change coupled with constant fear. There were so many ways to be denounced as an “enemy of the people” that life was precarious. The best ones I have read so far are Wild Swans; Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Dai Sijiie and Ina Rilke.

We also have the stories written by Chinese-American immigrants about why they left China and about an often less-than-idyllic life in America. Amy Tan was the first Chinese-American author that I read. If you haven’t read her books, some of which tell about her mother’s life in China, you should. They give you excellent views of life in China and the lives of Chinese in modern America. Some Amy Tan titles are: The Hundred Secret Senses, The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning and The Kitchen God’s Wife.

Lisa See is writing now and her books are also little windows into China and the Chinese in America, especially women’s experiences. I have enjoyed her books so much. Be sure to read: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls.

I envy anyone who has these wonderful books ahead of them. I can read them again, and I may, but it is never the same as the first reading. I have not heard these books on tape but they are probably available in that format and are probably equally wonderful.

Official Language

Oddly enough, while I don’t agree with picking an official religion for America, I don’t have a problem with our adopting English as our official language. Even if America declares itself a Christian nation people will force us to agonize over which “brand” of Christianity America will adopt. If you need to be convinced that religion should be separate from government read about the period in England when Henry VIII decided to make the king (himself) the head of the church in England. It wasn’t pretty. And although England has made its peace with having a state religion, this tradition is long and well-established.

English has been the language of the United States since our earliest days. Although the French and the Spanish both controlled areas of the New World, those traditions did not win the day. Through successive waves of immigration English has dominated. The Irish came, but we do not speak Gaelic; Italians came, we do not speak Italian; Chinese came, but we do not speak Chinese; and on and on. Still I believe we will always have to help new residents learn English and it would not hurt Americans to become proficient in more than one language.

Volunteers. Please

Our elected state assemblypersons and senators expect us to “raise our hands” and say,

“I’ll take a cut.”

“Oh no, let me take the cut”

“We don’t mind cutting back on our schools.”

“Please cut my Medicaid payments.”

We aren’t going to shoot ourselves in the toe,” or “throw ourselves on the fire.” We worry that we will volunteer and no one else will.

If you want to give out money we’ll be at the head of the line, both hands up, or out. This is only natural. You really can’t ask for volunteers for cuts and you can’t ask for approval. We can’t volunteer, we won’t approve. If we absolutely must have budget cuts then we need an informed government to act in concert (or at least a majority), make fair decisions and perform surgery on our budget. However, the kicker is that we do not trust you to be fair, you are trained to take whatever you can get for your own people first, let the others divide the spoils. You can’t rein us in because you have to go home to your district and you are afraid you will not be reelected. Thus gridlock. Perhaps we should be hearing scalpel please.

My Family

Velma – Our 92 year old Mom and George- my Dad who is deceased (we miss you everyday) – (2)

Her Children: Georgia (deceased- we miss you every day), Nancy, Hubert, Sandy, Ronnie, Connie, Dawn, Bonnie (8)

Her Grandchildren: Wendy, Tracy, Brant, Colin, Jesse, Todd, Jeremy, Kristy, Stacy, Amanda, Crystal, Lindsay, Danni (13)

Her Great Grandchildren: Andrew, Gigi (Georgia), Baby (on the way), Christopher, Brian, Isabella, Emily, Anthony, Timothy, Johnny, Amanda, Alyssa, Tommy, Alix-sandra, Kassandra, Sydney, Sawyer, Shepard, Paige, Max, Kierstin, Triston, Liam (25)

Spouses: Paul, Mary, Marc, Bob, Antoinette, Zina, Richard, Kathy, Kathryn, Karen, Monica, Bobbie, David, Josh, Jay, Frank (16)

Grandchildren by marriage: Stephanie, Kelli, Rich, Jen (4)

“Grandchildren” by 2nd marriage: Dean, Steve (2)

“Great Grandchildren” by 2nd marriage: Jessica, Lucas, Jarret (3)

Total of Immediate Family (48)

Total of Spouses (16)

Total of “Unrelated Family” (9)

Grand Total (73)

All from the actions of 2 little people. We love you Mom and Dad.

Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?

People are worried that the separation of church and state is bad for America, or there is a movement afoot to make America a Christian nation, maybe even a fundamentalist Christian nation. I read an article on Sunday that seemed to suggest that we are misinterpreting the 1st Amendment. Texas is trying to rewrite textbooks. Many seem to believe that America has lost its moral compass, that, without religion in government, evil and depravity will seep into government and into our everyday lives. In fact they believe this has already happened.

I do not believe that one must belong to any particular religion or even any religion at all to be moral. The entire idea of America is based on humanistic ideals that build in morality. It doesn’t matter what religion you study. All religions have acceptable morals and values. Even atheists probably do not condone murder and mayhem. We need to live a life of morals and values because we believe “all men are created equal.”

It is our dual nature as humans, our flawed nature, that leads to moral slippage in society. We know the right way to behave but we are led astray by human desires. And, it seems, there are a lot of gray areas. Even very vivid images of Hell did not create highly moral societies. An existentialist existence with all its baggage of personal responsibility still does not allow one to do anything one pleases without some expectation of consequences. Existentialism has just as great a chance as the Heaven-Hell belief of engendering either morality or depravity.

People came to America seeking a freedom of religion that was definitely lacking in Europe. I’m fairly certain they were all or almost all Christians. Our forefathers did not consider Muslims and Buddhists, etc. because they were not on their radar. So they left us with an idealistic Constitution, with ‘morality by design’, a morality not necessarily of any one religious tradition, rather a morality of humanism. There is very little difference between “all men are created equal” and “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Live the “Good Life”

Underneath our everyday energy and our cheerful demeanors we are carrying around the sorrows of our world. We have sluggish bands of thick oil rolling around in our guts, in our hearts are our soldiers who risk their lives everyday for all of us and for America. In our heads run images of Haitians, and Africans, and North Koreans, and Iranians and all the places where one group of humans oppresses another group of humans. This underlying sense of dread makes it difficult to enjoy our lives. It makes us feel guilt at the way we continue to pursue a prosperous and happy life.

I have come to believe, however, that holding out the example of people who get to pursue a “good” and happy life is important for all the people who are in the midst of living with these demoralizing conditions. When America experiences problems with economics, with squabbling, we add to the sorrows of the world by removing hope. It seems counterintuitive, but if we keep America strong and hopeful, leading satisfying, productive lives it makes the whole world feel more stable. It is also the best thing we can do for our soldiers. It must be more difficult to defend a country that seems to be slipping. I would think it gives our soldiers strength when they see that they will get to come home to a healthy America.

Therefore, it seems, it is our patriotic duty to solve our current problems, to clean up the awful oil spill somehow, to get our economy moving again and to heal the rancor between the various segments of our population. If we can’t solve all of this right now, we can at least put on an optimistic face. I guess we just have to live with the dichotomy. We can’t ignore the valleys, but we still need to look forward to the peaks.

Carousel Mall

The addition to Carousel Mall, “the big empty” as it has been called, is such a terrible waste of resources, of potential business, of hopes. It is so revealing of the financial situation in America, but especially in Syracuse. We suspect that Mr.. Congel is a sort of charlatan and megalomaniac, but he is our charlatan, our megalomaniac. He’s getting old. He needs his dream fulfilled. We need his dream fulfilled.

What started a a “green” project has been stripped of any possible “green” advantage it might have had. It now represents wasted money, wasted time, wasted materials, and wasted potential. Take down those “Emerald City” signs, which none of us like to begin with. The Emerald City in Oz did not exactly represent truth in advertising or any other very admirable traits. We haven’t earned it as environmentalist either, maybe SU, but not the city. It’s an embarrassment.

We elect and pay so many people to be our brains and to care for our city and county, to. Can’t all these great minds get together and fill up at least this one empty building with the businesses it was intended to hold. Then maybe we can move on to the next empty building. If this is all about politics, our politics stink.

NYS – Green, Prosperous, and Fun

What if New York decided to become the playground of the Northeast. We would spend money to make money. We could turn our weather extremes into attractions – summers of camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, golfing, concerts, ballets, art exhibits, flea markets, craft sales – winters of skiing, snow shoeing, tubing, indoor water slides, shopping trips, gambling, festivals – falls full of beauty. Come to NYS to enjoy yourselves! We could become a great big service state, we could “suck up” to our guests, treat them like royalty (without turning them into spoiled brats). We could give people a fun experience and become a vacation destination. Come to NYS to unwind, to regroup, to reset. The services would need to be real, not just advertising. We could all get jobs feeding our guests, babysitting their children, guiding them on tours or excursions, teaching them skills, entertaining them, massaging them, making them beautiful, outfitting them for sports, housing them, bringing them cold drinks or hot chocolate, plunking our guests down in mountain lakes, on flower-filled patios, in hot tubs that look out on snowy lakes or mountains. We wouldn’t all be professionals, but we might enjoy life more and improve our tax base at the same time.

We would need a centralized guest services office that could coordinate resources all over the state to give a guest the exact experience they wanted. We have so many wonderful resources that are probably sometimes underutilized. Once we got rolling I’m sure we would need more hotels, spas, campgrounds, etc. Maybe if would give all New Yorkers something in common and stop us from being so competitive that we undermine each other. I know it sounds like pink bubbles and rainbows, but I am actually serious. We are not attracting industry and we are all the cleaner for it. This kind of business preserves our environment (if done properly) and brings in revenue.

Oil Spill Variation

We haven’t offered to help BP or the people in the shellfish industry or the people who have to clean up the animals and the beaches. We haven’t held any concerts, no celebrities have been visible, organizing fund-raising efforts.

Most likely there are several reasons for this:

1. We don’t know how to clean up the ocean or the animals and feel we should leave this up to the experts.

2. We don’t like our corporations. We see them as rapacious and as unreliable partners, and they have been both. We may even look forward to seeing them losing millions/billions.

3. We have had so many crises to deal with lately that our pockets are a little bare.

If we get behind BP and help them with contributions the way we do in other catastrophes maybe the BP people would feel a partnership with us all, instead of just having to swallow the blame (and, I don’t know about you, but I do blame BP). Instead of having to act defensive and prideful maybe they could put all their energy and resources into the task at hand – getting the oil shut off and cleaned up. Perhaps it could be a matching funds arrangement or some contract that still required that BP use its own money in addition to ours. When they were providing a product we needed we liked them well enough. We suspect they have been greedy since they posted huge profits while our gas pumps prices continued to rise. They have been heedlessly careless of our environment with their “need for speed.” It might be a good thing to have them “owe” us.

It does us no good to withhold our charity from BP because they will refuse to feel the shame we wish them to feel. They are much more likely to come up with creative and effective solutions if we are behind them. Maybe we can at least try to encourage a new, more responsible corporate style. Maybe allowing another corporation to fail or sending another corporation running for the hills is not in our best interests. Besides, while we are busy blaming BP a whole important ecosystem is dying.