A thought on education

1 07 2007

 I’ve been hard at work this week, and we have a double feature today! Scroll down for a second new story.

As you know, the Youngstown City Schools, in addition to being in the middle of a massive financial crisis, have also had dangerously low test scores for years.

People who don’t know about education (i.e. politicians) will point out that they’ll hold accountable schools, teachers, administrators, faculty et cetera when it comes to funding. The state department of education insists teachers must be “highly qualified”. Whenever a district fails, many will point their fingers at teachers first, saying they don’t do their job well enough, and that they need to be re-assessed or replaced, because a state report says the kids aren’t as smart as those in other communities.

A letter to the editor in today’s Vindicator paints a different picture. The full letter is here, but I’ll give you the gist: a life-long south side resident named Richard Giles points to his three sons and how the people of the Youngstown City Schools have served them well. His eldest son was a valedictorian at Wilson in 2003, recently completed his BA in chemistry from the College of Wooster, and will now work toward a Ph.D. in organic chemistry on a fellowship at USC; his second son (also a Wilson grad) received scholarships to YSU and is majoring in biotechnology; his third son will graduate from Chaney in 2009, and has received recognition from different events like State Science Day. By all accounts, they’ve all received a fine education comparable to one you might find in districts Ohio has previously declared “excellent”, like Boardman, Poland or Canfield.

But what about every other student in Youngstown?

This issue is a bit more personal for me. My mom taught in Youngstown up until a couple years ago, and while I may not have seen her in a classroom, outside of school I can say she did her job. She made lesson plans at home, she graded papers at home, she put a lot of things for her classes together at home. In short, she knew what she was doing, and after a while it annoyed and angered me when she talked about parents coming in, demanding to know why their kid was failing, and if anything could be done to bring their grade up.

It probably doesn’t cross their minds that their kids just don’t care; they’ve probably never thought for a second to hold their kids accountable. Just put blame on the educators.

And Mr. Giles points to this in his letter. “the parents and students also share that responsibilty,” he wrote, “it truly does ‘take a village to raise a child.'”

And with that statement, some personal effort, no matter where you live, can result in a good education. I had a buddy who shrugged off the emphasis of high school kids needing to find “a good college”, saying realistically, when you reallly think about it, that ANY college is a good college and give you exactly what you need for your career. It depends on the individual, and whether or not they want to apply themselves. And it’s the same at any level. Kids in Youngstown can have test scores comparable to any other district in Ohio if they put in effort, and people who don’t know about education should know that. I don’t claim to be any expert in the field, but I firmly believe what I say because that’s what I did (and still do) in school, and it served me fairly well.


Politics as Usual

11 06 2007

Getting back to things that are at least in relation to Youngstown, the Plain Dealer reported four days ago that Rep. Tim Ryan has after all become like every other politician and has discreetly started a Political Action Committee. It’s called Penguin PAC and it’s a modern-day political machine, with its last FEC report stating it has $18.10 in its account. These funds, which the PD said went to various Democratic congressional candidates around Ohio, including Charlie Wilson (Strickland’s successor) and Zack Space (now representing Bob Ney’s old district, so you knew he’d win anyway).

You can find that entry here.

Also in my free time, I recalled his acceptance of this challenge to live on food stamps, then breaking the rules when he ate a pork chop, and subsequently pledging he’ll “put in a couple hours at a food bank” to make up for it. I also swung by the Washington Post’s website to check out his voting record for the current (110th) congress…

I found he’s a real decisive dude.

There’s a string of “not voting” marks on some rather hot-button bills.

While I don’t know where he exactly was on June 6th and 7th, our representative was marked “not voting” for Round 2 of the battle over funding for stem cell research, taking a route of neuturality when the rest of the Dem’s overwhelmingly voted in favor of it (Ryan joined 5 other Dems in “not voting”). Like other things, this is a touchy issue, but this is something I’ve come to strongly support recently, and with the latest report that Alzheimer’s rates are expected to quadruple by 2050, I feel it’s more pressing that ever advancements are made.

Ryan also hasn’t cared much lately about internet privacy, not voting in the “Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act”, which outlaws spyware programs transmitting personal information. He also didn’t vote on a law that showcased bipartisan unity, the Green Energy Education Act (harmless law, lets colleges advance “green” energy and technolgies in their curriculum).

He voted against the Republican bill for Iraq funding based on “government benchmarks of progress”, but didn’t vote on a bill to give 6 billion in aid to Afghanistan, which many Democrats are fond of saying is “the right place to invade”. I don’t know. I mean he wasn’t there to authorize that invasion, but when everyone’s pretty much in agreement on it, wouldn’t you want to support the government you wanted to install? No matter, really, since it passed.

Further, he voted for the re-authorization to fund activities in the Department of Defense on May 17, with 25 Democrats voting nea. This one gets me. Here is a guy who gets on C-SPAN and denounces the administration and how they say they won’t plan a draft. He won’t fund Iraq unless there’s a timetable for troop withdrawl. That’s plently well and good-I am very much interested in getting the hell out of the region altogether, including Israel- but when you turn around and authorize department funding anyway, more than likely in the name of “supporting troops”, you’re pussyfooting. Ryan, who put himself on a pedestal denouncing the war, should really stick by it and live by it, like a devout Christian always going by the Ten Commandments. If it were me, I’d stand behind my judgement of the war so much that I’d vote against authorizing the department’s activities, like 25 Democrats and 2 Republicans actually did. It would be the ultimate testament to his disapproval of the war, because if you chop off the hand that feeds, what’s the dog supposed to do? This is activities beyond Iraq, but without the billions in aid, will the Pentagon finally use that spitball artillery Zell Miller so passionately warned us about in protecting America? If anything, Democrats could’ve sparked a serious evaluation of our defense practices with this bill but alas, like their chosen speaker of the house, they do not possess balls to do so.

And by the way, I wouldn’t call voting against the re-authorization of funds an act of “supporting the troops”. That is quite contradictory. Many of them want to be in Iraq, whether it’s because they believe in what their mission or because the armed forces made life much easier than it is back home (this, from Radar Magazine in summer 2005. An excellent expose on the day-to-day life of a platoon in Iraq), it is a fact most military personnel want to see the Iraq operation carried out to the end, whenever that is.

Also, if you’re in any way offended by that quip about Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, send me an e-mail indicating you’ve been offended and I’ll issue a Jerry Falwell-esque “non-apology” in reply.

To be fair, he’s voted yes on “safe” issues, like the resolution calling on China to use its “unique influence and economic leverage” to stop Sudanese genocide, but only pricks and/or officials with great business connections in China and/or Sudan wouldn’t vote yes.  He also voted for the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” which says will enforce stricter rules and regulations on lobbying laws. It passed 396-22-13-1 (yea-nay-not voting-present, respectively), and personally, I appreiate the 36 people who know this bill is bullshit.

But what may be the most important issue surrounding Tim Ryan is this: when is this appropriations committee appointment going to pay off for us???? When will the pointless government funding come the way of the Steel Valley??? This was made how long ago?? Anybody? We’re gonna get some multi million-dollar government contract sometime, right?

So amid all this political talk, Youngstown is indirectly involved. In a large way. Because although this is only what 1 man out of a legislative body of 535 has been doing in the last month, it is the man we (for the most part anyway), as a valley, chose to lead us in the District.

And we’re coming back swinging!