TOUGH WEEK AHEAD

By June 30th of this month, I will have spent 31 years being a part of The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools- PARSS. It has been one of the highlights of my life. I was there at its infancy and have been an integral part of it since the first day. We have gone through so many ups and downs in those 31 years. I do not regret any of the things that we have done. We tried to help provide a quality education to all of the students in Pennsylvania, not just rural students. We have always been focused on providing resources for schools and school districts.

This next week will be my final hurrah in the corridors of the capitol. It has long been my dream to resurrect a dormant conclave of rural legislators. I helped with one in the 1980’s which has been lying fallow for quite a number of years. Today, I meet with four members of the House of Representatives who are active ruralists and want to start the rural legislative caucus again.

The tender part of starting such and aggregation of rural legislators is that leadership kind of frowns on them. It is seen by the power brokers as dividing their caucus, whether R’s or D’s. Not sure that is true but we must have our rural legislators, Republican and Democrat, look at all legislation through a rural lens. Yes, there are laws that affect everyone, but there are times when rural reps. need to stand by their own constituents and not by what the hierarchy wants.

The second meeting is with a member of the Senate and a member of the House. They are both interested in a bill that was crafted by a number of us in the early 2000’s and came out of discussions with many school districts. It is a new funding formula and taxing change. It would eliminate the non-formula of the past 30 years and put education on a regular funding basis.

When last offered in 2002, it garnered the support of 21 state Senators, 12 R’s and 9 D’s. It had the support of all of the leadership of both parties. It was submitted by Senator James J. Rhoades, a good friend. He worked hard to get it on the agenda of both parties. It was stymied by an administration that was not interested in rocking the boat.

Senator Rhoades has passed away a few years ago and I have been looking for someone to pick up the mantle of the bill. This will not be my first attempt to get it done. I am not sure what will come out of this meeting. Both the senator and the rep. are not in leadership positions, but they have the respect of their caucuses. The nice thing is that they are smart and able. Once they sink their teeth into this bill and push it, they may get it on the table of both houses.

They are both R’s and the Governor is a Democrat. We do have some entre into the administration. However, this is a big chunk to swallow. Wish me luck, I don’t have much time.

HOUSE SOLD, NOW WHAT?

The big burden of selling our house has been lifted from our shoulders. We did not get our price. We could look at the amount as a loss of a bunch of dough, but we did live here for nine years. That’s about as good a rationalization as I can conceive. Now what to do with the furniture that we have that we really don’t want to take down to our new home. Let’s put it on Craigslist and it will go in a day or two. That’s what you think.

How about no takers yet, but lots of reducing prices. Would you believe that no one has offered to buy my collection of Avon beer steins? We did give away our lazy boy and our everyday dishes to a young couple who are planning to get married. We gave it to them as a wedding gift. No idea how we are going to get rid of the other stuff.

As we get booze boxes from the liquor store and egg boxes (they have cutout handles) from the super market, we seem to be filling them up with books, and I mean lots of books. We finally had to stop and ask ourselves if we are really going to read Chaucer or Herman Wouk again. Will Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge really need to become part of our new home? Who knew that we had so many books and now so many decisions to make?

We really came across some old stuff; mostly Carol’s like Mickey Sees the USA, old bibles and story books. It is amazing what you can accumulate. Fortunately, we have a bookstore in town (the owner is the Mayor of Harrisburg) that takes used books and actually gives you money for them. Well, they don’t give you money for all of them, just those that they think that they can sell. However, they do take all of the other books.

So, are now schlepping books to the bookstore, sorting those we want, need or feel that we cannot part with. It has taken much of our time over the past three days. I can’t imagine how long it will take to decide what clothing to take down to a much warmer climate. What am I going to do with my Army raincoat, my two new winter coats, my various hats, tee shirts, et al?

I have already started to cull my files. Carol is doing the same thing. That, I find, is much easier. There are personal papers that I am going to keep and all of my work papers will be going into the trash, shredded or not. It is sad to see our scholarship material, but that day has been over for the past 6 years.

I am trying to decide whether or not to take my desk with me. There is something sacred about a desk. It has meaning way beyond its physical presence. It is the place that much of my life has centered around. I keep my most personal things from my work, my rolodex ( I am supposed to leave that to a reporter when I die), a great deal of my personal research, all of my passwords, business cards and letters from various people. I don’t think I will make that decision till later.

What will I do with my Dali’s Crucifixion painting, or my Abbot and Costello Who’s on First, or the painting of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, a portrait of my wife and other memorabilia? Just so we are clear, we do have furniture to get rid of. I am not using this blog as an advert, but it can’t hurt.

FAUX CAPITALISM

Lots of funny statements on the web and elsewhere about capitalism and what it means. Some accuse others of trying to change our country and its economy to a socialist model. Capitalism is variously described in the Ayn Rand terms of the super people knowing what’s best and circling the wagons to shield capitalism from the really dumb and evil people. The main point of that kind of capitalism is that there a chosen few who really know how to do things, while “the others” sit in a corner and suck their thumbs while getting “freebies” from the “Dumb controlled” government.

Others see capitalism in the form of social Darwinism. It is those people who believe that the successful will survive and make the world a better place. These people are all self-made, have no help from anyone else and rise to the top no matter what is put in their way. We look to people like Steve Jobs, Ross Perot, Bill Gates and Paul Allen. You can probably add such old timers as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and others.

There are a new set of philosophies that center about world trade and international competition. These folks believe that without proper training for our workers, the capitalist system will not work for the United States. Therefore, we must remove our companies to other parts of the world where the workers are better trained and, by the way, get paid so much less than our workers. Yes, international competition is the flavor of the day and those with lower paid workers seem to be winning.

This does not seem to be the Adam Smith way of expressing capitalism. Smith’s long ago view was certainly based on the rise of the middle class and the competitive nature of what would become an economic engine in England (actually Scotland and England). Not sure that he was involved with moving industry away from his country.

Teddy Roosevelt was one of the first in our country, in a position of authority, to see what would happen if capitalism devolved into cartels, price fixing, and Robber Baronism. His “Trust Busting” was more a release of true capitalistic fervor with open markets openly arrived at. Somehow, we are heading back to the pre-Roosevelt era of control of industries by just a few titans.

Adam Smith, the creator of the economics that dragged the world out of mercantilism would have hated monopolies and cartels. Although he did not talk about entrepreneurship, he certainly had faith in humanity. He knew, somehow, that a free market economy would thrive. He was an advocate of John Locke and the goodness of man. Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations in 1776 (quite a coincidence).

Since the profit motive is one of the bases of Smith’s agenda, what does it really mean today?

Since I do live in Pennsylvania, we are having a great debate about taxing natural gas drillers. Without going through the environmental discussion, the companies that drill do not want such a tax. Every other state in the nation that drills has a tax at the well head. We don’t. The answer to the tax question is that the companies will pass it on to the consumer. My question is WHY. Does each company have an iron clad bottom line that they must consistently have to continue business here? Have they not made substantial profits after they came to Pennsylvania? Without us, their companies would not be in such great financial positions. Can they not help us out with some of our financial problems while they maintain a healthy bottom line? Must they always have the percentage profit that they anticipate? Will not more drilling make them more profitable? I guess I just don’t understand.

I believe that we have muddled up capitalism. The great human engine that inspires humans to succeed is sometimes thwarted by those who have already made it big. Some of these people have hereditary advantages over the hoi polio. If you begin your career with a pre-established business because of your parents, you begin your economic life with an advantage. If you have seen those people on TV. or in other media outlets, you should really close them down and turn off the media you are looking at or hearing. That isn’t really capitalism. That is something that was fought about at the beginning of the modern age. I believe it was called primogeniture.

PARENTS, SPEAK WITH YOUR CHILDREN!!!!

I know that I have told this story before. However, it is as apropos now, as it was when I first penned it. When I became an Intermediate Unit Director ( something akin to a BOCES Director in New York and somewhat lower than a county superintendent in most states), I vowed to visit all of my employees over a 3000 square mile area in Western Pennsylvania.

One of my first stops was to visit an infant stimulation program that we were running for Clarion County. It was housed in a storefront in the back of a group of buildings on Main Street in Clarion. Since I was not trained as a special educator, I was loathing to ask too many questions about what staff was doing with these special children.

As I walked into the infant stim. room, I saw a two year old boy on a large ball being rocked back and forth by the speech pathologist. I could hardly understand what was going on. I was further baffled when the speechie (as they were called then) asked the mom if she talked to her child. The mother’s answer shocked me. “Why would I talk to someone who is only two years old? He wouldn’t even know what I was saying.”

That day was kind of an epiphany for me. It taught me a couple of things- I knew very little about child development and that conversation with children is a very important part of their maturing process. I can only rely on my own memory of growing up in a household where speech, in two languages, was a mandate. From the time I was a small boy, there were always conversations with my older sister, my mother and grandmother. It was, to me, a normal part of growing up.

It was at that moment in the infant stim. Room that I realized that it is not the norm for some families. As I go from place to place where there are parents and children together, I hear the commanding voice of the parent giving orders and placing the child in a subservient position. It is infrequently that I hear a discussion going on between the adult and the child.

Even in a fast food restaurant, you rarely hear a parent and child speaking to each other in a conversational tone about things that have happened during the day. I understand that when a parent asks what happened in school today, the child most often says, “Just the usual stuff,” or nothing at all. Sometimes I wonder if our values are disappearing because parents rarely discuss things with their children.

Yesterday, Carol and I went to see our 13 year old grandson play baseball. If I do say so myself, he is a good ball player. He pitches and plays first base most of the time. He is a wisp of a boy with blazing speed around the bases and a lively bat. He normally strikes out a bunch of kids on the other team. I can’t help being proud of him.

His 10 year old sister is the talker of the two. She, with the long honey blonde hair and a great sense of humor. She is also an actress and has been in some community plays.

After the game we were treated by their parents to a couple of hours of time with them and a chance to take them to dinner. Since it is close to my grandson’s birthday, he chose Wegman’s as his restaurant. Hey, did I just say Wegman’s? Yup, that’s where he wanted to go. They have buffets of many different kinds of food. After our meal, we found ourselves in an amazing discussion with the two. Since we are school people, we kind of lapsed into, “What’s with school?” We did not get standard answers. For over an hour, our two grandchildren analyzed the sociology of their respective schools- elementary and middle school.

We heard about handicapped children, and how they were mainstreamed, the socio-economic makeup of the classes and the school. Both of them understood the problems that teachers might have with certain children. All of this was said kindly and objectively. We heard about the first male teacher that my granddaughter had, his love of NASCAR, and his sense of humor. Each of them laughed, in the right places about my stories of being a junior high school principal and Carol’s stories of teaching students in the mid 1960’s and her tenure as a teacher of gifted children.

We were taken aback at the knowledge that these two possessed. Our other three grandchildren are pretty much the same way. Our 19 year old grandson called me the other day to critique one of my blogs. It was all done in a pleasant way. If you don’t talk to your children as a matter of course, you are missing out on watching your children grow and mature.