Kavanaugh Follies Continue

The authors of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh claim that the current Supreme Court justice exposed himself while drunk at a party as a student at Yale University. Reactions to the reporting have been predictable, and have been split along party lines. Democrats want to hold impeachment hearings; Republicans want the 2018 nomination hearings to suffice. The backdrop for all of this is the possibility that Kavanaugh will become part of a conservative bloc that will overturn Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, and other cases that civil libertarians hold as crucial. If he can be impeached, this line of reasoning goes, those decisions cannot be overturned.

Such plans seem desperate. The legal issues involved in ascertaining the truth three decades after an event would be difficult to overcome. It seems unlikely that an impeachment could be achieved based on more “he said, she said” testimony. The case for impeachment also assumes that there are enough people in Washington who care about taking the blur out of the line between bad taste and misdemeanor criminality.

It seems far more productive for members of Congress to focus on problems that they should solve, education and infrastructure highest among them.

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

Paying the Bills

I couldn’t help but count the number of clerks the last time I took my son to his orthopedist. The clinic we use has seven physicians, six nurse practitioners, and two physicians assistants–and at least three times as many receptionists, billing clerks, and other staff. When you add the number of clerks who work for the insurance company, it’s easy to see why medical costs in the United States consume a greater share of GPD than any other developed nation.

Unfortunately, under our current system, clinics need those clerks to get through the byzantine codes and regulations that stand between patients and excellent medical care. So my question to you, dear students, is this: how can Mississippi improve health care for its citizens without increasing the cost for patients?

Posted in Politics, Science | 5 Comments

Let the Music Play

Several years ago, Mississippi Public Broadcasting changed its formatting from being music based–with predominately classical music–to talk. This was a move that most in the media applauded.

I’m just not sure I can listen anymore.

I have nothing against the current shows. “Southern Remedy” and “Money Talks” have their moments. I can stand “All Things Considered” for a half hour, and enjoy “Mississippi Edition” just fine. But none of it speaks to the soul the way that music does.

I understand that MPB broadcasts music on digital channels. But I can’t listen to those on the go. Nor can most Mississippians, whose exposure to classical music is largely limited now to what they can get in band classes–provided that they attend schools whose music programs haven’t been cut.

Given the polarization of politics, the last thing I want when I hop in the car is to listen to news and talk. Brahms and Beethoven, I suspect, would bring more Mississippians together than blather.

Posted in Arts | 9 Comments

Gifted Programs Gone?

New York City Mayor (and Democratic presidential hopeful) Bill De Blasio recently announced that the city’s school district, which ranks among the nation’s largest, may dismantle its gifted and talented programs.

De Blasio formed the School Diversity Advisory Group two years ago to study the performance of its public schools and make recommendations for ways to improve them. They targeted programs for gifted students because “admissions policies. . . unfairly block educational opportunities for students who are Black, Latinx, low-income. . . and who face other challenges, including learning differences, students who are multi-language learners, in temporary housing or face other structural barriers to the educational opportunities they deserve.”

I don’t have a dog in this fight–I don’t live in New York–but I’m curious about the conclusion that the statement above invites: does it equate being gifted and being privileged? If that’s the case, would it be more effective to find ways to make the parents’ lives more stable so that their children could do better in school? Does it suggest that the educational needs of gifted children are less important than meeting the needs of a greater number of students?

Posted in Education | 11 Comments

Reeves vs. Waller

In last night’s gubernatorial debate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves repeatedly described himself as a conservative–sometimes as the only “real” conservative–while lambasting his opponent, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller, for having liberal ideas. Those allegedly liberal notions involve Medicaid reform and increasing the gasoline tax. Both of these measures have received support from Republicans not named Tate Reeves.

When given the chance to summarize his views, Reeves, who earned 49% of the vote in the primary, associated Waller with “Obamacare” and returned to three of Mississippi’s most beloved political chestnuts: being a strong supporter of the right to life movement, the right to bear arms, and the free expression of religion. His words will be embraced by culturally conservative voters across the state.

Waller, on the other hand, resisted the temptation to boil policy down to soundbites, and turned viewers’ attention to issues that he believes affect all Mississippians: better education, welfare and infrastructure.

The real question for Mississippi Republicans may come to this: will their base get more fired up about ideology or pragmatism?

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

Rethinking an Old Paradigm

Conclusions drawn in Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary written and directed by Greg Whiteley and produced by TEDTalks founder Ted Dintersmith, won’t surprise students or the people paid to teach them. The model we use for the school day comes from nineteenth-century Germany, where schools turned education into something like an assembly line: English in one room, history in another, chemistry here, and biology down there. Such distinctions can be useful. They can also be arbitrary. 

However, that’s old news. The more challenging conclusion drawn by the film is that we need to rethink the way we assess student progress. The last half of the film focuses on the idea because the 21st-century workplace depends on people working together in teams, education should assess the way students contribute to projects together rather than depending on quizzes, exams, and standardized tests where students work alone.

Consider examining those ideas below. Does the 21st-century workplace depend on teamwork? What happens to the way we grade when we focus on the results of group work rather than individuals? How might this improve some aspects of education? What could get lost if we adopted it?

Posted in Education | 9 Comments

ICE Raids in Mississippi

“Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says” Lou Reed, Dirty Boulevard

Earlier this week, as most Mississippi families found themselves consumed by the excitement and anxiety of going back to school, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers went to poultry processing plants in central Mississippi and detained 680 workers whose documentation seemed questionable. Almost half were released within twenty-four hours. The rest remain in facilities while the law reckons with the balance between its own needs and basic human dignity.

We are all complicit in their misery. We like cheap protein, and we like it when we can buy blueberries for less than $2.50 a pint because they were picked by (probably undocumented) immigrants. The owners of food processing facilities and farms like maximizing profit. It’s the perfect marriage of capitalistic greed and need, and has been since the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of immigration law. However, I am certain that if the American Dream has any cultural currency on the international level, it must incorporate the notion that our nation allows all people to advance in the direction of their dreams–that the acceptance of certain core values is more important than birthplace, religion, or ethnicity. Unless we no longer want to be known as a nation of immigrants, we should welcome those who will embrace those core values, regardless of color or creed. Free those nascent Mississippians. Help them earn the right to be American citizens.

Some may claim that this is tantamount to opening our borders, or that it advocates lawlessness. That’s certainly the position of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who’s currently engaged in a Twitter spat with Rep. Ilhan Omar. However, aside from being undocumented, it appears that the people detained in Mississippi lived within the realm of the law. They worked hard, went to church, paid taxes, and sent their kids to school so their lives would be better. What’s more American than that?

I’ll close with the last lines of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem that’s inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Posted in National Politics, Race in Mississippi | 9 Comments

Welcome Back

Good morning, Blue Waves! I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer. If you’re new to the blog, allow me to introduce a few ground rules. First, to post, you must have a valid MSMS email address. I’ll approve your first entry, and after that you’ll be able to post as often as you like. You can earn up to one-third the total number of quiz points per quarter if you blog.

I try to find current issues that are of interest to students to discuss in the blog. I like invigorating discussions rather than sterile bloviation. However, I insist that you disagree civilly when you disagree. Be mindful of language also. Only MSMS students can post here, but anyone in the world can read what you write.

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Last Chance

It’s too late to post anything for credit–that deadline passed Wednesday–but I am in the process of revising next fall’s Contemporary American Literature course. I’m likely to replace Salvage the Bones with Sing, Unburied, Sing, but additional suggestions are welcome!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fighting for Himself

In Larry Brown’s brilliant novel Dirty Work, the protagonist, Walter James, shares a dozen anecdotes that reveal the violence from his past. The bloodshed starts early. As a first grader, he gets his nose smacked and his grape Nehi stolen by the class bully. Walter doesn’t fight back. He goes home to his mother seeking sympathy. Instead, she tells him this:

If you don’t take up for yourself in this world, there ain’t nobody else that will. If you let him run over you once, he’s gonna run over you again. The next time he sees you, he’s gonna run over you again. Cause now he knows he can. So you got to teach him right now he can’t. Either now or the next time, it don’t matter. Is he bigger than you?. . .Well, I guess you gonna have to just pick you up a stick, ain’t you?

Mississippi parents still tell their kids things like this all the time. “You better not start a fight at school, but if somebody starts a fight with you, I expect you to finish it.” We tend not to want our children to have to rely on systems we don’t entirely trust to protect themselves. (Whether this is a stronger indictment of education or the law is hard to tell.)

While discussing this passage in class, students expressed varying levels of tolerance for bullying. Some students agreed absolutely with the mother. In light of yesterday’s school shooting in Colorado, it seems easy to wish for playground fights rather than active shooter emergencies. Of course, that’s a false dichotomy borne of nostalgia. The broader issue seems to be this: in a society that’s saturated with violence, how do we encourage children to stand up for themselves?

Posted in Education, Politics | 9 Comments