News and commentary on education, unions, science and kids.
Adults never grow tired of attacking and blaming youth. According to Mike Males’ recent book, Teenage Sex and Pregnancy (2010) Peter the Hermit complained back in 1247 that “young people of today are forward, immodest and unwomanly in speech, behavior and dress.” Today we have liberals and conservatives alike (though for sometimes different reasons) attacking youth, especially teen girls. In Reviving Ophelia (1998), psychologist Mary Pipher panicked over an epidemic of eating disorders, phobias and depression. Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes (2002) claimed that girls were confused, insecure, obnoxious, cruel and catty.
One of the most popular screeds against teen girls is that they are irresponsible, impulsive and take dangerous risks, resulting in high rates of pregnancy, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This also happens to be patently false, not just historically, but also compared with adult women. Pregnancy rates, rape, STDs, drug use and crime have all been plummeting for teens over the past decade, while they have been soaring for middle aged women. For example, the birth rate declined by 57% between 1995 and 2007 for girls under the age of 15 and 29% for 15-19 year-old girls. Even young women in their early 20s are having fewer babies. However, women over 40 have seen a 70% increase in births, while those in the 35-39 range saw a 50% increase. (Source: CDC WONDER—2009; cited in Males, 2010)
Another example is rape victimization. Between 1973 and 2007 there was a 37% drop in rapes of females between the ages of 12 and 24, and a 68% decline in other sexual assaults (from the Bureau of Justice Statistics; cited in Males, 2010). Likewise, HIV infection for 13-19 year-olds dropped 28% between 1993 and 2007, and 49% for 20-24 year-olds. However, for 40-44 year olds it increased 19% and for 45-49 year-olds, it went up 67%.This runs counter to the claim that teens are having more dangerous or pathological sex. Many, no doubt, are being more careful and learning how to fend off the unwanted attention of family members and neighbors.
In a seeming paradox today’s youth reports having more sex, and at a younger age, than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. In 1970, only 5% of 15 year-old girls reported having had sex at least once and only 29% of all girls age 15-19 reported having had sex at least once. Today, the numbers are 25% for 15 year-olds and 50% for 15-19 year-olds (See Males, 2010, p99). If these self-reporting numbers are true, girls are indeed more promiscuous, but also far more responsible, too. They are having safer sex and they are having fewer pregnancies and STDS, despite having more sex.
It is interesting to consider that while teen birth rates have declined, contrary to the claims of the protectors of youth, overall infant and maternal health have not improved accordingly. Males notes that from 1995 to 2006, the number of low birth weight babies being born to U.S. women jumped by 23%, while the total percentage of all babies that are born with low birth weights increased from 7.3% to 8.3%. However, this increase is due primarily to the increasing age of mothers. The teens have done much of what the pundits and culture warriors have demanded: they are having fewer babies, doing less drugs, and committing fewer crimes. Women who delay child bearing until they are in their late 30s or early 40s, in contrast, are seeing increasing rates of autism, low birth weights, and negative health outcomes for themselves and their babies.
(All from the Daily Bleed)
In an apparent payback to the California Teachers Association (CTA), which has donated millions to state politicians, the legislature quietly and privately shoved through a bill, AB114, that prevents districts from laying off teachers and forces them to maintain staffing and programs at last year’s funding level, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today. The wording of the bill was concocted in a backroom deal between the governor, Democratic legislators and representatives of the CTA.
In the past, state law allowed districts to reduce teaching staff until August 15 to address budget shortfalls. AB114 suspends this right. This is particularly frustrating for districts which are fearful that the state may not be able to come up with the $4 billion in anticipated revenues upon which the new budget depends. Should the state come up short, districts would have to make other cuts, such as the Brown-favored plan of shortening the school year by seven or more days.
Strong Union?CTA President Dean Vogel, quoted in the Chronicle, said that “the easiest thing to do when you’re trying to solve the kind of budget crisis hitting us is lay off employees. It’s the easy way out.”
Vogel is grossly exaggerating. Districts usually try to avoid layoffs, as they increase class sizes and force program cuts which harm students and piss off parents. The easiest and first thing they do is freeze wages and benefits, demand teachers start paying more out of pocket for their benefits, and furlough them. They have been doing this for the past three years, resulting in decreased take-home pay for the vast majority of teachers. Those working in basic aid districts, which have been slightly more insulated from the budget crises of the past few years, have had their wages frozen. With rising living costs due to inflation, even this amounts to a de facto pay cut.
While the unions complain about these actions, they generally concede and justify their concessions with arguments like, “We shouldn’t expect a raise or cost of living increase this year because the district is broke,” or “Wouldn’t you rather have a few furlough days than get laid off?” The unions have done virtually nothing to fight for increased revenues and state spending aside from a few pathetic rallies, press conferences and spending millions on the campaigns of fickle politicians who would rather throw the unions a few measly bones, like increased job protections, than raise taxes on themselves, which would be necessary for revenues and spending to increase and stabilize.
It should also be pointed out that while preventing layoffs is good for teachers and students, it could result in a shortening of the school year, which is bad for students, who will lose considerable instructional time, and parents, who will have to take time off work to care for their children or pay for babysitters or activities to keep them busy. It is also bad for teachers, who will lose seven or more days’ worth of pay in addition to already existing furloughs, pay cuts and/or wage freezes.
The “powerful” CTA, thus, has won job protections for its members by wasting millions of dollars of their dues to buy off some politicians, money that would have been much more effectively used to organize and mobilize their members to strike and demand increased taxes on the wealthy to ensure a steady, secure and ample revenue stream for the future. However, even this “victory” for teachers is dubious as their salaries are being wagered to preserve their jobs, while overall state spending on education remains among the lowest in the nation, resulting in some of the largest class sizes and lowest ratios of counselors, librarians and nurses in the nation. This hardly seems like a strong union.
Three years ago, at the age of 14, Brandon McInerney walked into class and shot a gay classmate, Lawrence King, with a .22-caliber handgun he had in his backpack and then calmly walked out of the room. McInerney is now being tried as an adult and faces 53 years to life, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The prosecution claims that McInerney is a neo-Nazi and is calling the murder a hate crime. However, witnesses testified that McInerney mostly hung out with the black athletes at his school, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, drawing into question the neo-Nazi claims. In fact, a black friend testified at the trial that he was unaware of any Nazi affiliations. Regardless, McInerney’s views on race are irrelevant to the case. However, it is clear that his actions were motivated by homophobia, which would certainly make it a hate crime.
The defense is saying that McInerney was provoked by King’s repeated advances, making the crime manslaughter, not murder. Yet in order to commit the crime he had to smuggle a gun into school, which would make it a preplanned and deliberate crime. Furthermore, being propositioned, even aggressively, is not a provocation that justifies violence, let alone premeditated lethal violence.
The case is being called the highest profile gay bashing since Matthew Shepard was murdered. It clearly highlights how acceptable homophobia still is in our culture and how far we are still are from having schools that are safe for all students. However, the case also brings up numerous other troubling issues, such as when, if ever, should a child be tried as an adult, or how did a 14-year-old have access to a gun in the first place? There is also the question of whether some adults fueled events leading up to the murder or if they could have done a better job in preventing the bullying and murder.
Let’s start with the obvious. Murder is wrong. Bullying is wrong. Homophobia is wrong. A well-adjusted, mature, empathetic and compassionate person, even at the age of 14, does not do such things. So what was wrong with McInerney? According to the Wikipedia account, his mom was a speed freak and his father was violent, shooting her in the arm on one occasion and attempting to strangle her on another. His father ultimately left, but he called child protective services five times out of concern for the safety of his son, accusing the mother of running a drug house.
Considering his home-life, McInerney may very well have lacked maturity, compassion and empathy. Furthermore, he may have been suffering stress, anxiety and even PTSD from the violence, aggression and lack of emotional support at home. This does not justify his crime nor take away his culpability. However, a child growing up under such conditions might very well lack the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with any anxiety producing situation, particularly unwelcome advances by another person. One might reasonably question whether trying him as an adult and imprisoning him for 53 years or longer is fair or just of even in the public interest.
While McInerney’s situation is tragic, his victim’s is even more so. King had been bullied about his sexuality since the third grade. The Wikipedia account said that the bullying intensified in 7th grade, when he started to wear women’s clothing to school. However, there was something else tragic about King’s life that may have been independent of the bullying. He seemed to have an obsessive and dangerous need for attention. For example, he supposedly taunted other boys, saying “I know you want me,” and a Newsweek expose said that he told others in the locker room while they were dressing that he thought they were “hot.” He also apparently walked into the middle of a basketball game to ask McInerney to be his Valentine in front of his friends, which led McInerney’s friends to tease him and may have been the tipping point for McInerney.
Such provocative behavior by a middle school child of any gender or sexual orientation is often an indication that there are deeper issues. In King’s case, there were. When he was still a baby, his father abandoned him and his mother was addicted to drugs, according to the Newsweek article, leading to his adoption at the age of two. He was later prescribed medicine for ADHD and diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a condition in which a child fails to form relationships with caregivers. He was also in trouble numerous times for vandalism and shoplifting and there were reports that his adopted father was beating him.
While it is clear that both King and McInerney had troubled childhoods, one might also wonder about the other children at the school, many of whom knew that something terrible was in the works and did nothing to stop it. For example, McInerney tried to recruit some of his friends to help him assault King. They refused, but they also did not report his threats to the police or school officials. A friend even testified that he said he was going to bring a gun to school a day before the shooting, yet the friend said nothing to the authorities (Sacramento Bee). The Newsweek expose said that McInerney told King’s friends to say goodbye to him because they would never see him again, yet even his own friends did not report the threats.
King’s adopted father and some of the teachers at the school accused former Assistant Principal Joy Epstein, who is openly gay, of pushing her “gay agenda” by encouraging King’s flamboyant behavior. However, this is a frivolous and desperate attempt to oversimplify a tragedy and redirect blame onto an easy target and it is a distraction from the fact that many adults hold some culpability for the affair. For example, how did a 14-year-old boy have unsupervised access to a gun in the first place? According to the Wikipedia account, McInerney had used the murder weapon for target practice in the past. Did he obtain it from his father, who had once shot his mother?
King’s family sued the school, accusing them of contributing to his death by allowing him to wear makeup and girls’ clothing to school. However, the school could not legally stop him from wearing girls’ clothing. Furthermore, dress codes should not be based on other peoples’ bigotry or fears of how bigots might react. Rather, schools and society at large must ensure the safety of everyone, even if they behave in ways that make some people uncomfortable. It is here where the school seems to have failed. Considering the history of bullying and King’s provocative and outrageous behavior, it would seem unlikely that teachers and administrators were unaware of the threats to King or the conflict with McInerney. Indeed, there had been a confrontation between the two the day prior to the shooting and many teachers were aware of it, but apparently they did not see the potential for it to escalate into something much worse.
Even for the cynical, selfish and greedy, these cuts are far worse than they would seem on paper. Many of the cuts to healthcare, for example, will result in the loss of federal matching funds, thus doubling their negative impact. Furthermore, billions of dollars of federal stimulus funds that boosted Medi-Cal are set to run out tomorrow. According to the Chronicle, the stimulus funds added an additional 12% to the matching funds, so that for every 50 cents California spent on Medi-Cal, the feds chipped in another 62 cents. People without health services tend to ignore treatable and chronic conditions until they need emergency services, which results in thousands of preventable deaths and ends up costing tax payers far more in the long run.
The freshly signed California budget slashes $650 million each from the budgets of its two preeminent university systems, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU), serving hundreds of thousands of state residents. The cuts are $150 million more than originally threatened earlier this year and will result in significant tuition hikes and service cuts. The new budget is dependent on predicted increases in revenue to the state. The Bay Citizen writes that if the increased revenue fails to materialize, the universities could lose another $100 million each.
Tuition for California college students has more than tripled over the last decade. With the new cuts, fees are expected to rise another 8% at CSU and 10% at UC next fall, according to the Student Activism blog.
Not only has UC tuition been skyrocketing yearly for California residents, but the university has shifted its focus from providing affordable higher education for all qualified residents to actively recruiting out of state students who must pay an additional non-residents’ tuition of $22,000 each (according to another Bay Citizen report), bringing the university much higher profits per student. The San Francisco Chronicle says that out of state students will bring the university $80 million, up from $54 million last year. As a result, the number of California residents intending to enroll in UC Berkeley’s freshman class has dropped by 21% over the past two years, the Bay Citizen reports. The school admitted nearly three times as many out-of-state students this year as it did in 2009. Throughout the nine campus system, the number of out-of-state and international students has more than doubled to 12% since 2009.
At the CSU system, the chancellor is asking the trustees to increase tuition by 12%. CSU has already cut enrollment by 10,000. Students will also find fewer professors at both university systems, making classes more crowded or dropped altogether. And it is not just students who will be suffering. Universities are making it much more difficult to achieve tenure or even to get a tenure-track position, instead offering more adjunct, temporary and part-time teaching professions which many desperate job seekers are willingly accepting. Many are shuttling back and forth between two or more campuses or even university systems in order to have enough teaching assignments to make ends meet.
Universities love “contingent” employees because they are easier to fire, are paid less, and often are not eligible for benefits. Because they are much easier to fire, “contingent” employees are less likely to speak up on their own behalf, or for their students, fearful that any rocking of the boat could spell the end of their job. And it’s not just one specific job they are trying to protect. It might seem a blessing to get laid off from a low-paid, 1-section teaching job with no security or benefits at a community college. However, that lay-off and a potentially bad reference could prevent a person from securing a better full-time position at another college when such a position opens up.
According to the SF Chronicle, the number of full professors in the CSU system dropped by 13% from 1990 to 2010, and full- and part-time lecturers rose by 10%. For each lecturer who replaces a tenured professor, the university saves an average of $31,679. However, lecturers do not always participate in faculty or department meetings and are left out of academic senate meetings and decision-making. They lack the institutional support and time to mentor students the way professors can. The lack of a stable office and time means that it much harder for students to get letters of recommendation or even help with their homework. In the UC system, the number of lecturers grew by 37% between 1998 and 2010, while the number of professors grew by only 21%.
That’s right, states will start mandating testing and test preparation at the pre-school level, as if it wasn’t already terrible enough to do this to k-3rd graders, let alone any child. But it is even worse when one considers how little states will gain for selling out toddlers to the test publishers and corporate education raiders. Arne Duncan only is offering $500 million, which is chump change when divvied up among five or more states. (Actual state grants will range from $50-100 million). The money might barely cover the tests the little tykes will be forced to endure. After paying for consultants, assessors, new curricula and training, pre-K schools certainly won’t have anything extra left to hire more staff, offer good wages, expand enrollment, or invest in manipulatives, picture books and learning games. In the end, very young kids will learn very early to hate school. Their schools will gain nothing but a lot more bureaucracy and headaches. Only the test and curriculum publishers really stand to gain directly
In the Sunday Insight, (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/12/11), California State Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin expressed alarm that 75% of U.S. students lack a basic understanding of democracy. While disturbing, this is not surprising considering that reality is quite different from the idealized system we are taught in school. For example, the one person-one vote rule is violated each election, when the wealthy are able to disproportionately influence the outcome. The fairness of our legal system is called into question by the fact that affluent defendants can afford better attorneys and are more likely to be acquitted. The separation of powers is routinely undermined when Congress defers its power to declare war to the President, as they have for every war since WWII. Even when civics is well-taught, the take-home message is muddled by propaganda like “America is the freest country in the world,” repeated ad nauseam, leading many to believe we have complete and unfettered personal freedom, a delusion that can cause confusion, frustration and hostility when the Legislature or Court limits personal freedom. And why should children believe their textbooks when they themselves are denied the right to vote, yet are subject to laws created by adults?
One might also question why one should care that children lack a “basic understanding of democracy,” or, for that matter, what a basic understanding of democracy means? Being able to recite the responsibilities of the three branches of government may help students pass an exam, but will it make them better people? Will it help poor children earn a living or grow into affluent adults? Or is it really all about getting everyone to agree that we really do live in the world’s greatest country so that we all remain docile and accepting of our lot in life?
Contrary to the propaganda, democracy does not mean freedom or equality or justice. Rather, it means rule by the people, rule that can and does include injustice, inequality, imprisonment and slavery. Furthermore, while “rule by the people” implies that everyone gets to participate, even this is inaccurate, as juveniles, foreigners, prisoners and even some “rehabilitated” convicts are denied the right to vote. Ironically, while “the people” love Democracy and their right to vote, they have great disdain for politicians and elections, complaining about the greed, dishonesty and sleaze, and the fact that their elected officials do whatever they like once in office, often contradicting their own campaign promises.
Part of the problem lies in the paradoxical definition of Democracy. “Rule by the People” implies that the people have power, a very appealing concept, especially when contrasted with autocratic forms of government. Yet, the existence of a ruler (the people) implies there must also be a subject (the people, again?) As Ruthless Criticism points out, “rule” loses its meaning when the subject and ruler are one and the same.
Fortunately for the English language, everyday experience shows us that despite the vote, the “people” are not really the rulers. Rather, we elect representatives who, in effect, rule over us. The structure of the state, the political and economic system, the existence of inequality and fact that we must be governed are never up for vote or even debate. The “peoples’ rule” is thus reduced to yearly ritual of voting for those who will make the real decisions and wield the power. Most importantly for the rulers, this yearly ritual also serves to reaffirm the people’s consent to be ruled, thus justifying their claims to have a mandate from the people to impose their profit motivated agenda.
What about Judge Chin’s concern that we’re raising a bunch of barbarians who do not appreciate the independence of the judiciary? For the poor who make up the vast majority of the nation’s death rows, the judiciary’s independence was irrelevant—it was their inability to afford good legal counsel that was the problem. Yet prejudice (if not dependency) does occur, too. Consider Judge Sabo, who presided over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s capital case, who said he wanted to “fry the nigger.”
Regardless of judges’ independence and objectivity, the judicial system is designed to protect private property and the power and privilege of the capitalist class, not for the embitterment of the rabble. Thus, even independent judges would uphold everyone’s right to sleep under a bridge (if such a law actually existed), but they would never deny Larry Ellison’s right to own multimillion dollar homes up and down California, or entrepreneurs’ right to develop a decommissioned army base rather than leaving it as housing for the homeless.
They also enforce the stipulations of a contract, even if that contract is inherently unfair. (A deal is a deal, after all). Working people, for example, have no choice but to enter into contracts with their employers in order to secure employment and earn wages necessary for their survival, thus placing them in a weaker position during contract negotiations. (A hungry person will accept a lot in order to fill their belly). While unions increase workers’ power in these negotiations, the labor contract always favor the interests of the employers, who simply refuse to sign if the profits are not considered high enough (even at the risk of closing shop and moving out of town).
Judge Chin may be correct that American children (and adults) lack a basic understanding of the American political system and Democracy, but I do not see this as a crisis. In fact, it might actually be a positive sign that they have not completely bought the fantasy that the U.S. political system is the epitome of perfection and that they find it troubling that so much want, misery and oppression could occur under it.