Monday, May 25, 2015

Radar shows blowback against test-heavy school policies

   Hold on to your coffee cup. We have identified the endangered species known as bipartisan consensus in America.

   You thought that we would never see it again. Yet, amazingly, consensus is forming on two key issues.

   The first should be no surprise, having been self-evident all along. But now that the Republican presidential candidates all appear to admit it, we have bipartisan agreement that invading Iraq was a mistake.

   The second across-the-aisle consensus may surprise you a little more. After all, for roughly a generation, policy makers have been absolutely oblivious to the truth. However, bipartisanship has coalesced around the realization that the amphetamine crush that is standardized testing is killing public schools.

  Did I say amphetamine crush? You've got that right.

  For if you have one test, you need another. And shortly thereafter you need to "raise the bar," so you need another test.

  And the school district needs more tests to "benchmark" what teachers are teaching. And suddenly, you have the Texas grade-school teacher who told me 16 instructional days, nearly a month of them, were consumed by testing.

  What's most scandalous is that the testing rarely serves the interest of the children. It serves only the interests of politicians to rate and berate -- schools and teachers, respectively -- when the schools fail to massage stones into loaves and water to wine.

  Not that we can expect policy makers to cease, entirely, demands like these, but finally, consider:

  The Colorado Legislature, with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate, just shelved several state-mandated high school tests. Actually, the clear consensus in the Legislature was to go even further, but Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, threatened a veto.

  Actually, and quite significantly, Republicans led the charge in Denver – significant because it was George W. Bush and Republicans who led us into this quagmire.

  The Obama administration stands blinded by the dust storm itself. Education Secretary Arne Duncan traipses around saying what parents and teachers know to be untrue, that standardized tests wielded from afar are key in a linear national quest for excellence.

  No they are not. Criterion-based standardized tests are a dead weight on education. They manifest the corporate misimpression that education is training. Translated: If every child is drilled on the very same criteria, all will be better suited for serving mankind.

   Lest anyone think that Colorado alone has arrived at this stage of bipartisan revolt, consider:

   Last week the governing board of a multi-state set of online assessments known by a rack of Scrabble tiles, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), announced it would reduce English tests by an hour and math tests by a half hour in each grade.

  This is a move approved by the 11 participating states including Colorado.

  PARCC is associated with the controversial Common Core standards, and was spawned by the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative.  

  At this point, whatever their political persuasion, people who know testing has harmed education should be thankful for the Common Core. I say this not because the Common Core is good for education. In fact, it is just one more shiny set of lead boots for educators.

  No, the reason that we should be thankful for the Common Core is because its association with all things Obama has caused right-wingers to realize realize the truth about what Bush's policies have wrought for public schools: one-size-fits-all, corporatized, long-distance mandates that destroy local control. And they don't work, no matter who seizes on them as the key to excellence.

  Whatever the cause of the bipartisan consensus on testing, now we must bring it to bear on all 50 states. That means objective No. 1 is to relegate No Child Left Behind to the graveyard of misbegotten national policies.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The bloodbath down the street

  I know the place: the place where bullets flew and blood flowed the other day, where TV crews set up their trucks for one more gruesome body count.

  I know that place. It's called America.

  For those caught up in the moment – fixated as the media are on the most recent "breaking news" to break, I know the place that caught all the nation's attention Sunday. Yeah, Waco, Texas.

  The shootout between biker gangs – nine dead, 18 wounded, 192 arrested -- was at a shopping-dining complex a short walk from the home where I raised a family over 25 very good years.

  I should be been stunned. I'm not. After all, I know the place -- the place called America.

  Why be shocked when a leather-and-testosterone gathering at a high-class "breastaurant" -- a clientele that day whose reported firearms census was in triple digits -- suddenly went boom?

  It shouldn't shock anybody.

  I'll tell you what events should stun and horrify. Take the shooter in Venice, Fla., last week, age 3. The little boy accidentally shot his 1-year-old sister in the face when, unattended in the family car, he found the family handgun.

  Then there was the 3-year-old in Albuquerque last year who found a pistol in Mom's purse. It discharged into the bodies of both his father and his pregnant mother.

  They recovered from their wounds, but were charged with felony child abuse. I don't know why that should be. This is America, after all, where childish acts with firearms are a way of life.

  Quick, America. How many Americans have been killed by Ebola virus? That would be one in the last 100 years. OK, expand that globally. The death toll from last year's Ebola outbreak has crested at 10,000. Horrifying.

  Well, medical journal Pediatrics reports that last year alone, gun accidents killed or maimed that same number of children – 10,000 -- in this germ-conscious, safety-first, sanctity-of-life nation of ours.

  It's the bloodbath that should cause the gasps. But since it's a cumulative bloodbath, and since it's so, so American, it shocks no one.

  For one thing, this devastation is just the price of doing business, the selling of all the 310 million firearms now in Americans' hands, and purses, and glove compartments.

  Call it the fantasy business. Too many of us think that all these firearms make us safer, just like the biker gangs, the Cossacks, Bandidos, Valeros and Scimitars all who shot and got shot in Waco.

  Forgive them. For like toddlers holding hot metal, they know not what they do. Consider the influences bearing on these bikers' brains.

  The firearms industry has done an amazing job of convincing them, as with so many Americans, that what is not true is true – that guns make us safer. False. One study found that a gun kept in the home made it 43 times more likely that it would kill a family member, a friend, or its owner, than an intruder.

  Then you have policy makers like Texas lawmakers who, as the bullets flew in Waco, inched closer to an open-carry law. Yes, that will make everyone safer. Right, Cossacks? You with us, Bandidos?

  We all know that a firearm isn't a tragedy waiting to happen when stored and handled properly at home. But, surprise, most gun owners don't do the smart thing. For just one instance, a Harvard study of parents who owned firearms found only 43 percent stored them in ways that would not endanger their children.

  In other words, even without mounting machines that rumble, strapping on leather with mawkish markings and heading down the interstate for a fight, millions of peace-loving, deluded Americans are courting a horrific ending.

  And the news trucks keep motoring to the bloodbath down the street.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the stump for 2016 with Corporate Jesus

  A tried-and-true advertising concept is a technique called myth analysis. In it, the marketer establishes a narrative that has nothing to do with the product, but which sticks in the minds of consumers.

  It applies to beer and beach volleyball, GEICO and geckos, Budweiser and Clydesdales, AFLAC and a duck.

  It applies as well to Republican presidential candidates and Christliness.

  As with beer and beach volleyball, the branding has nothing to do with the product.

  No matter how many times GOP aspirants rush to the stage at religious-right Liberty University, as Jeb Bush did last week and Ted Cruz before him, they move not an inch closer to the Christian principles they profess.

  No matter how many times Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson claim to be Christians, they know they are only doing the kind of branding that gets them in the graces of the demographic that will crown a king in the GOP sweepstakes.

  Hearing what these candidates say about religion, one quickly realizes it has very little to do with most of what Christianity is.

  What they espouse is — let's call it retail religiosity — the pitch that will sell. Yes, market that product to a self-satisfied, mostly comfortable, mostly white, mostly Protestant audience.

  Hear Ben Carson talk about homosexuality (he thinks it's a choice) and abortion, and of course prayer. (He says he does that a lot.) Carson doesn't dare devote a word on the stump to helping the poor, or denouncing materialism or militarism. And treating all people with respect and kindness? No well-fed conservative audience wants to hear that.

  The thing is, one can read page after page of the sacred text these retail agents say is their playbook – the Bible -- and see almost nothing about the issues Republican candidates treat as front and center relative to their Christian faith. But one can read page after page about things they will ignore on the stump, like materialism and militarism, and the edict to treat all people with respect and kindness. We are to assume, you understand, that "all people" includes homosexuals.

  But then again, what the candidates offer is as far from Christianity as a duck is from life insurance.

  Jeb Bush last week said he'd have authorized attacking Iraq just like his big brother. What would Jesus have done?

  Ted Cruz, just like the white demographic he needs, wants to deport young Americans whose parents came here illegally. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that's inhumane and foolish. The better policy is to let the nation's investment in those young people pay off through the DREAM Act, resulting in higher education and more productive lives.

  Huckabee's new book is "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy." We cannot be sure about Christ's position on grits and gravy, but let us assume that the rod in "spare the rod, spoil the child" is not sold by Smith & Wesson.

  Like everything that keeps the Republican Party in coin, what these candidates embrace is not the Christ of the New Testament but something and someone molded in the capitalist image. Call it Corporate Jesus.

  Corporate Jesus is about product development and market share. Corporate Jesus is about rationalizing our culture's excesses in marginalizing the poor and prioritizing possessions. And don't you forget it. The GOP candidates will not.

  I think back to my father, who couldn't have been more devoted to his church – a church he helped build with his very hands. In his later years, alarmed by the influence of the religious right, he became a dues-paying member of Americans for Separation of Church and State.

  Webster's defines a charlatan as someone who pretends to be something to deceive people. Based on their stump appeals as pertains to religion, my father would say that a bunch of charlatans have taken the stage as 2016 approaches.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Two words to describe GOP’s contraceptive stance: more abortions

  Someone explain why Republicans like Don Coram are so hard to find. You'll have to travel all the way to Montrose, Colo., to find him, unless he's in the Colorado state Capitol.

  There the state representative recently encountered frustration with fellow Republicans on something you'd think every person of any persuasion would support: fewer unwanted pregnancies among teens, and fewer abortions.

  Coram, a self-described "redneck Republican," authored a bill to allocate $4 million to continue a highly successful program that provided IUDs free to teens. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, funded by a private grant that has run out, has been credited with lowering the state's teen pregnancy rate dramatically.

  "If we can do this, make lives better for these young people, save the state of Colorado millions of dollars and prevent abortions, tell me what's wrong with that?" Coram told the Durango Herald.

   Ah, but other Republicans did find something wrong. The bill died in the state's Health Committee, where Republican chairman Kevin Lundberg called IUDs instruments of abortion.

  This is a claim employed by Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs in their quest to be freed of mandated contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

  The "abortion agent" label is refuted by those who know contraception, like the Association of  Reproductive Health Professionals. The IUD prevents fertilization of the egg. It is amazingly effective over long stretches of time.

   Yes, it's possible that if inserted immediately after sex, an IUD could cause a fertilized egg to be expelled, but that's not the purpose of the IUD. So even if IUDs in fact cause abortion, instances are so rare as to be beyond significance considering how effective they are in preventing pregnancy and obviating the abortion dilemma.

   When it comes to preventing abortion, we seem to have reached a King Solomon moment at which those who really care about it — those proactive about it, family planning associations like Planned Parenthood – actually do something about it. Meanwhile, those most vocal in opposing it are all words and protestations. They refuse to address the problem in real-world terms.

  To continue that thread: No entity on the planet prevents more abortions than Planned Parenthood. Contraception, sex education and the empowerment of poor women are its overriding concerns. As Don Coram might say, "What's wrong with that?"

  Abortion, that's what's wrong, says the religious right.

  It's also legal, says the U.S. Supreme Court. Most Americans support that They want to see it, as President Clinton enunciated it so perfectly, "safe, legal and rare."

  Though polls show most Republicans claim the "pro-life" label, the label "pro-contraception" defines just about all of us. Indeed, a 2012 Gallup Poll found that eight of 10 Catholics believe birth control to be morally acceptable.

  So how is it that Republican policy makers wage such war against those entities and initiatives that use contraception to guarantee responsible reproductive decisions?

   A minority of a minority -- those who not only would ban abortion but who see basic contraception as abortion unto itself -- is dictating Republication policy positions.

   This was not always the case. Then-Congressman George H.W. Bush was a leader in establishing Title X of the Public Health Service Act, to fund family planning through agencies like Planned Parenthood. It was signed in 1970 by Richard Nixon.

   Said Bush at the time, "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."

  That was a non-controversial stance for Republicans at the time. That was then — before the religious-right proxy called the tea party became the GOP's life force.

   How can so many Republicans, so many who support (and use) birth control, be pawns in the war on family planning? How can opponents of abortion support policies that would cause more unwanted pregnancies? Explain.

  Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: