WHAT IS AN ENTITLEMENT?

That is a word that has now come into common usage to describe certain budget items in both federal and state budgets. My brother just used the word to describe a government program. Most often it is ascribed to social security, welfare, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and federal Pell grants, Medicare, Medicaid and so on. I am not sure why these particular items have been picked out. My understanding of entitlements is perhaps a bit different. I believe that my age has something to do with my view.

What am I entitled to from anywhere? Am I an entitled person because my parents left me a great deal of money in their wills (not true, just an example). Am I entitled to something because my family descended from those who came here on the Mayflower? Am I entitled because there is royalty in my family line? Am I entitled because I have been very successful in life and have accumulated lots of money?

You see where I am going with this. I have always thought that “they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable (read entitled) rights.” That was the Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights in the constitution enumerates those rights.  That’s about the only entitlement, in my lexicon that I can think of. These other things are decisions of governments and are certainly not entitlements. Do oil company executives believe that their special exemptions are an entitlement? Do they believe it is something contained in the Bill of Rights? How about loopholes in the tax system that sometimes allow wealthy people not to pay taxes. Is that an entitlement?

The overwhelming number of us pays taxes of one sort or another. Because of our payment of these taxes are we entitled to more than our neighbor? Wouldn’t that be interesting? I hate to say this but one wealthy guy has already proposed more votes for people with lots of dough. Where do these entitled people come from?

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT JUST ISN’T FAIR

I can remember when my daughter came back from 6 weeks at the University of Pittsburgh and the Governor’s School for International Relations. She had called us during that time and told us that she felt a bit overwhelmed by the kids she was with. They came from mostly suburban school districts and had boatloads of Advanced Placement courses debate clubs with coaches, quite a number of guidance counselors (some designated as college counselors). At age 16, she was coming up against a problem that has plagued poor and rural districts forever.

Her high school was one of the better school districts in Clarion County. As a former school superintendent, I had some idea of what a school needed in such areas of math, science, physical education, SAT prep, etc. She graduated with 70 other classmates. There was relatively little that the school board and superintendent could do to jack up the funds for providing for the children.

The arguments about not funding poor and rural districts has a long and checkered history. The newest poison dart is that these districts are not “efficient.” That is code for it’s their fault that things are not going well for their students. What is needed is a wholesale review of how they dispense education with an eye to saving money. Sometimes I choke on that set of words. Does it make sense that a school district that does not spend as much dough as a wealthy suburban district, should become more efficient by spending less money?

The other call is for consolidation. In some states, it is not combining the districts, but using joint usage of staff and programming, and then districts can affect savings. Why should a county with 3000 students not combine with a district next door with 2000 students and share staff? Let me present you with the answer. In a state with county school systems or a state with a massive geography, sharing staff results in a staff member spending more time on the road than in the classroom or in some office. Consolidation has worked over the past 85 years. We had over 130,000 school districts in the 1930’s and now about 13,000.

That kind of consolidation certainly had its advantages. One of the disadvantages was that schools moved further away from towns, students and parents. The idea of doing things jointly works with purchasing, in-service programming, administrative services like payroll and such. It really does not work with staff most of the time.

My wife and I have been volunteering at a local rural high school. We have been meeting with 10 young men and women in their senior and junior years. As I walk through the building and see the classrooms and science labs, I think about my own grandchildren’s schools. The comparisons don’t even start. The opportunities in music and the arts and sports and other extracurricular activities don’t compare. That affords the wealthy school district to give their students every opportunity a public school can imagine.

Even the career and technical center offers so much more in the wealthy district that it can almost guarantee a job for their graduates. Do you ever wonder why the phrase “Not everyone should go to college,” resonates more in a poor rural school than it does in a wealthy district. Of course poor kids don’t have the skill or intellect to go to college. If they do go they generally go to public colleges and wind up with lots of debt. During our time running scholarship programs in Pennsylvania, New York State and West Virginia, we completely disproved that idiocy.

The schools in rural areas have just as many bright kids, percentagewise, as in wealthy schools. The difference is the support they get at home and the lack of logistical and human support in their schools.

One of the outlets and opportunities for rural kids is to go into the service and get a chance to go to college while there, or have the service pay for their college education. That is why a rural high school sometimes looks like a recruiting station.

For the past 39 years, we have been advocating for rural schools and communities. There is still some fight left in us to continue our advocacy. Here in South Carolina, the rural/urban differences are not only palpable, but almost deliberate. These kids need our help. We are desperately looking for some white knights in the legislature and an angel that might help us begin a scholarship program.

O.K. LET’S GET ANGRY AT SOMETHING

 

I am not sure that this had not been at the back of my mind forever. It just came to the forefront of my brain because of the Colin Kaepernick thing. It appears that we need something that we can all be angry about. It does not mean that all of us must be angry, but a significant number of us.

Setting self-righteous indignation is a form of therapy for many people in our country. It really doesn’t have to be about politics or social problems or violent crime or any of the aforementioned. It can be about almost anything. Remember Janet Jackson mishap with her attire at the Super Bowl halftime show? Why there were people all our across our country taking sides about whether she did it deliberately or not. When we focus on these events does it kind of make us feel better about ourselves?

There must be something more to this than a simple transference of frustration with everyday life onto someone else’s shoulders. What kinds of things should we really be concerned about if not for these kind of events? How about the quality of bagels in South Carolina? The Bagel Boys go to the pool each day and walk in one of the lanes. Their constant complaint is that bagels here in South Carolina suck. The standard for bagels is New York bagels. By the way, that may be true because of the water in NYC. It has been said that it is the best water anywhere. So bagels here in SC are a curse. By the way, you can’t even get a good cup of coffee here?

So let’s get onto what really irritates people. Use your imagination.

 

MURIEL HAS DIED

A few moments ago we got an email from her daughter Adrienne that her mother Muriel Rosen has passed away. At age 99, she fell and hit her head and injured herself badly. It just happened this morning. Muriel and her husband Larry were part of Carol’s parent’s circle of friends. We were very familiar with them all and often went out to dinner with them. Most of them had graduated from high school together and were in contact with each other till they passed away.

With Muriel’s passing, all of those couples were now dead.

It means so much to us. We are now pretty much the adults now. This is a signal event telling us that our generation is the next in line. I understand that’s a negative way of looking at things, but it true. All of her friends had children. We have been in touch with them from time to time and have even visited with them. They are all about our age and are spread all around the country.

Muriel was Carol’s mom’s best friend. She maintained her snappy patter and her joyful way of describing things. We could listen to Muriel telling us stories, with her tongue firmly imbedded in her cheek, for long periods of time. She was also an exceptionally kind person.

In 2008, Muriel, then a widow, saw a truck pull up in front of her home. Her husband’s nephew

Jumped out of a car and rang her bell. He had lost everything in the Bernie Madoff scheme and had nowhere to live. Without another word Muriel took him in and allowed him to live with her for many months.

We visited her 2 years ago in her assisted living apartment. She was still cooking a few of her meals and getting around in a walker. She was very happy to see us and he took lunch in the dining room with her. I still remember her smile and her caustic way of describing things. She was a very special person and we miss her already.

Right now Carol is on the phone with both of Muriel’s daughters. We speak to them very infrequently. Carol will say her goodbyes for both of us. We will miss Muriel.

I ALREADY GAVE YOU MONEY, WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?

 

For years, I have heard this refrain from legislators and members of various administrations. “We have given you more money, what did you do with it and why are you asking for more?” For some reason, this has some play among those in charge of state budgets and members of the administration in power.

For most people who hear this, it seems like a logical question that deserves and an answer from the poor and rural school districts that are getting more money per student than the premier school districts. For most of those people out in the field, mostly superintendents and school board members, this is like a knife under the ribs.

To answer this kind of question, one must understand that it is more difficult to deal with students who are poor, mentally or physically challenged, large swaths of geography and many other factors. The simplistic answers to these questions by those in charge is; consolidate, work with contiguous districts so you can share staff, and become more efficient.

As a matter of fact, just to show you how it is done, we will take over some school districts and run them in an efficient manner and even keep taxes down. Guess what, the track record of states taking over school districts is- they leave the districts in even worse shape than when they took over.

Most of the takeovers result in the same performances on state tests and SATs and ACTs. Other than the fact that the state, in many cases, gives over control of the districts to management firms who run charter schools, the scores remain the same or worse. If your sole idea is to keep taxes down and not really to change anything, while saying that you are changing things, what happens to the kids is irrelevant.

What did you do with all of the money that I gave you last year? Where did it go? Anyone ever hear of inflation? How about increases in costs for everything including pencils? What about all of the new programs we have started to help you? Why aren’t you doing better? Do you really think that it will take one year, two years, or even 5 years to remediate the collective poverty of the community and the kids that are spawned by them? You are out of your mind.

How come there are districts that spend less money than you and are doing better on these tests than you do? Can you even imagine what an answer to that might be? Let’s take a look at the students that are going to each school and then figure out why some kids do better.

How about teachers. Would you believe that in some districts, it is impossible to get regularly certified teachers because they don’t want to teach in a place with grinding poverty? Even those that go for a year or two leave as quickly as they can for a wealthier suburban district.

So what do we do, we hire foreign people to fill those roles. Some of these people can hardly be understood. They get their green card and wind up in a poor and rural district dispensing the information with a pretty bad accent and no understanding of the community’s culture.

So why don’t you use some of your local resources. You have got to be kidding. Some school districts have half of the median personal income than some of the wealthier ones. A recent call by the superintendent of Erie School District for the suburban districts to take his high school students on a tuition basis has raised the ire of those school districts and their legislator. I can almost imagine some of the conversations now. By the way, it has already happened to a small and rural district that closed up its secondary schools in its county and wanted to send the secondary students on a tuition basis to the other county schools. Guess what, nobody would agree to take them. He wound up sending the kids to Ohio (they were a PA school district).

 

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO STOP WITH THIS ANTI-SEMITISM?

I guess after thousands of years, most Jews should be used to having people say and do anti-Semitic things. Is there something in the human psyche that goads people to look at Jews in a most debased way? A long time ago, I had a discussion with a young Chinese gentleman who lived all of his life in China. He was surprised to learn that I was Jewish and that I kind of looked normal (for an Occidental) and that I was not trying to cheat him out of something. I was amazed.

This election has brought out the anti-Semitic troops from the new CEO of the Trump campaign, the new advisor to the Trump campaign and various other people like David Duke and Roger Ailes. Even the skinheads have gotten into the act.

The kind of anti-Semitism disguised as ultra nationalism is the flavor of the day in Europe. The incidents of anti-Jewish desecration and public anti-Jewish activity are making Jews in France talk about going to Israel. Some of them are actually doing it.

We have had spates of this kind of behavior at times in our country. During the isolationist 20’s and thirties, when Jews were being blamed for the Depression and World War I, there were voices aplenty mocking Jews. These were popular people like Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and even Joe Kennedy.

The current brand of anti-Jewish feeling here in this country has been brought about by those who claim that the little man has been taken advantage of by Jews. Jews control the media, pt., movies, radio, music, theater and so on. Those who say the words “liberal media” really mean Jewish control of the media. I am not sure that Rupert Murdoch is Jewish, but he certainly controls a great deal of the media, including the Wall Street Journal.

I believe that I may have told you about an incident in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. We have a time share there and have been going for 16 years. Carol and I really love the place. One morning we were walking on the main drag, when a gentleman who had tried to sell us a time share the previous year stopped us. He wanted us to go to another presentation and get some prizes (actually the last time we got some great prizes). A person was sitting on a stool right next to the store we were at. He was the proprietor of a cigar store. He was listening to our conversation. He remarked, “You must be pretty rich. You must be Jews.” I was startled for a moment, but then bent down and placed my nose even with his nose and said, “Yes, I am a Jew and we control the world.” He was startled and said no more.

I am beginning to reflect on Rabbi Meyer Kahane, whose philosophy of Never Again, might really be a way to curb anti-Semitism. It has gone on for an eternity and it must stop.

THE BALAGULA WRESTLER

The most difficult job in education is the Balagula Wrestler. There are many other titles for this job- assistant principal, vice principal, disciplinarian, deportment chief, enforcer, and so many others. Some of these titles are not fit to be printed here.

In times gone by, the wrestler was most often one of the coaches, and I don’t mean the coach of the German or French Club. It was usually the coach of the football or basketball team or a phys. ed. teacher. Today it might even be the coach of the softball team or girls’ basketball team. The sex of the wrestler really does not mean anything at all.

Having been one of those people, during a period of time when the school that I was in was going through some pretty bad racial strife, I can speak with a certain degree of authority. In calm times, the Balagula Wrestler deals with in classroom behavior, absenteeism, hocking out of school during the day, fighting  (males and females), and other minor infractions. During the tough times, it might be drinking, drugs, sexual misconduct (and that might even be with teachers), protests, fanatical parents and the worst of all- suspending the star player on the football or basketball teams.

Yup, that seems to be the worst. That last item can really get you canned, get the principal canned and maybe ever the superintendent of schools. I have seen all three of those happen. Get a group of sports parents angry enough and you have the vandals knocking of the doors of Rome. Pay heed young administrators. When you discipline a star on the sports team, you better have all the evidence in black and white and maybe even a confession from the culprit. In this day and age, you might even be lucky enough to have a cell phone video of the event.

In times long gone, there were witnesses who pretty much told the story of what happened. Certainly you knew who the reliable witnesses were and who the fakes were. There were always kids who wanted to be in the limelight and would tell you anything you wanted to know. Wrestlers with experience know who to listen to and who to turn off.

Unfortunately, there is no training for this job. I was shoved into the role of the disciplinarian because others had failed. I am not large, nor do I have the authoritarian demeanor to frighten off the perpetrators of misdeeds. I am not even the one to use logic with the malefactors of mayhem (thanks Spiro). My line is pretty simple. Tell me what happened, or I am going to assume the worst. It seemed to work most of the time. Even during the worst of the racial conflagration, kids didn’t really want to be blamed for things that they did not do. Generally, the leaders of the groups were proud to have done the things they did.

Contacting parents was also a way of calming things down and getting to the bottom of things. Kids would really not lie in front of their parents, especially their moms. Whether a boy or girl, the end product was usually tears. The hard ones always took a while longer. It was rare that troops had to be called in. Once in a while, a drug bust resulted in an arrest.

The Balagula Wrestler, if he or she was smart, would get out of that role after a few years. The welcome mat is usually worn out by then. You have also pissed off a number of staff who felt that when they sent you a miscreant should punish them the way they wanted you to. Funny how kids always seemed to come from the same teachers. Oh well, probably a coincidence.