Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Education (page 2 of 2)

Do We Need More “Public” Interest Legislation?

Often times, you hear legislation derided as being a “special interest” bill.  Implied in that designation is the notion that the public is left out of writing new laws, with only high-priced lobbyists having access to legislators.  Recent news stories about “the public” make factcat special interests seem a lot more sympathetic.

According a recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University national poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. Government ignored specific warnings about 9/11.  (A 2006 poll by the same researchers found that 36 percent of Americans believe federal government officials “either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action” because they wanted “to go to war in the Middle East.”) Furthermore, 42% Americans think the government knew about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in advance, and 37% of Americans believe the government knows that UFOs are real.  They must have polled the entire Jetson family.

More concerning are the results of the poll dealing with economics.  According to the poll, eight out of 10 Americans suspect oil companies are conspiring to keep fuel prices high and 50 percent said a conspiracy is “very likely.” Only 14 percent felt it was unlikely.

So companies trying to charge as much as they can as long as people still buy their product is a “conspiracy?”  If so, then oil companies are a “conspiracy” in the same way that old people selling lawn elves on eBay are.  Maybe we should investigate them – how dare they try to get the best price for their product!

This poll was followed by news of a brawl in a Waukesha K-Mart , where people applying for a $4,000 line of credit thought they were getting “free money.”  Apparently not knowing what “credit” is, the store was flooded with applicants thinking they were getting free cash – causing a fight that led to arrests and hospitalization for a store employee.  (Do yourself a favor and watch the video clips attached to the story linked above – one credit applicant says she was caught in a “trampede.”)

However, before we criticize the people who though credit was free money, the whole K-Mart debacle isn’t all that different from the way Wisconsin state government has treated debt.  The Governor and Legislature have increasingly been using the state’s credit card to fund ongoing state operations – the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage to throw a pizza party.  So, in theory, K-Mart shoppers may be more fiscally conservative than state government.  They are shopping at K-Mart, after all.  The only difference is that when the state lines up for “free money,” it doesn’t result in a floor covered in hair and earrings.

Whether it’s voters or elected officials, there’s plenty of education about economics that has to occur. In the case of voters, these are the people that are asked to vote in referendums to determine how much debt school districts should incur to build a new school. Maybe school districts should just go to K-Mart: it is free money, after all.


Further evidence that even elected officials often don’t get it can be found in this article about the dispute between cable companies and the NFL Network.  The two entities have yet to reach agreement on carrying the network, which is leaving many Packer fans in the dark for the important Dallas game on Thursday night.  When asked for comment, Governor Doyle’s spokesman, Matt Canter, said “Both the cable companies and the NFL are making ridiculous profits, and this is nothing more than extortion from Packers fans.”

There is nothing Doyle’s spokespeople won’t blame on “ridiculous profits,” whether it’s oil companies, hospitals, drug companies, or cable companies.  Perhaps Canter missed this article from just last week that shows cable companies are hemorrhaging customers, in large part because of their impasse with sports-related stations.  If Matt Canter fell out of his bed, it’s likely he’d blame it on the “ridiculous profits” of mattress companies. 

Any time government gets to decide what an appropriate profit margin is, it spells big trouble for business and jobs.  Meanwhile, state government doesn’t seem the least bit bashful about cashing in on “ridiculous profits” when revenue increases between 7% and 10% – a common occurence in the 1990s.  That money is coming out of the same pockets as people who subscribe to cable television service – only paying the state is mandatory.

Madison the next Milwaukee?

Ever since the digital revolution started more than a decade ago, Milwaukee has not grown nearly as fast as other cities in the country. Some people thought it was a problem with Wisconsin. However, Madison and other cities like Eau Claire have grown substantially faster than Milwaukee. Specifically, Madison\’s biotechnology industry has fueled its expansion in recent years while Milwaukee\’s once powerful manufacturing industry dwindled and became a liability. Although Milwaukee is slowly making a comeback, Madison is still chugging along at growth rates that are, at times, three times the size of Milwaukee\’s. So is it safe to say that Madison\’s economy, now grown to 40% the size of Milwaukee\’s, could be the economic leader of Wisconsin in the future?

Madison does have the tools in place to be a contender, primarily a great educational infrastructure. Milwaukee is only now realizing the importance of education in maintaining economic clout and is now starting to push support behind its universities. However its public school system, MPS, does not provide Milwaukee\’s universities with an abundance of good students which limits the synergies and benefits that would arise from a private sector / university partnership. Madison has this partnership and is a big reason for its relatively huge success in recent years.

So is Milwaukee finished as Wisconsin\’s powerhouse? Should we start looking to Madison for guidance and hope? Not quite yet. But if Milwaukee\’s schools don\’t shape up, Madison may be the front-runner sooner than we expect.

BS System Takes Hold in Madison Schools

If you think things like \”reading\” and \”writing\” are a little too stressful for your young kids, then Madison may have the answer for you.  Apparently a new method called the \”security, survival and self-esteem\” system of child meditation has taken hold in Madison-area schools.

Channel 15 reports (video included):

Jinendra Kothari has been teaching meditation for the past 35 years.  During his classes he would overhear teachers talking about the problems they faced in the classroom.

He set out to design a new type of meditation specifically for kids.  After years of research he developed a system that addresses the issues that all children face: security, survival and self-esteem.

\”A lot of these exercises are designed to bring symmetry to their body,\” said Jinendra. \”Most people see 3S as a simple exercise, but it is not, it is much more beyond it. That\’s why I call it beyond Yoga.\”

The 3S-Smart Learning System was created to help kids control their emotions, while increasing their overall physical and mental fitness.

After all, it is all about your child and how they feel about themselves.  So when they finally move on to middle school, they will feel good about their inability to read, write, or deal with criticism.

Actually, studies show that there are benefits to physical activity and motion programs in classrooms, as described in this paper by WPRI\’s Sammis White.  However, those activities deal more with movement and activity, and less with how to channel the spirit of the Dalai Lama.

George Will on Self-Determination

In my younger years, I was an unabashed fan of George Will\’s – so much so, that ten years ago I actually created a website in his honor (it seems embarrassingly crude now). Conversely, some young men in their early 20\’s actually decide to do things like \”go on dates.\”

On the site, I transcribed, by hand, a commencement speech Will gave to Washington University graduates in 1998. It discusses how large changes in social policy and individual standing can be accomplished if we simply decide to, through small and simple acts. Some excerpts:

You will be comforted to know, that in practicing our craft, we columnists are required to be brief and change the subject frequently. However, speakers generally should have just one thumping point of great practicality – as, for example, the late Conrad Hilton had when he appeared on \”The Tonight Show\” with Johnny Carson. Carson said to Mr. Hilton, \”You\’re a giant of American attainment, a legend in your own time, you\’ve built hotels all over the world, turn to the camera right over there, look your fellow countrymen in the eye and tell them the one thing based on your life\’s work that you would like your fellow countrymen to know.\” Like a great trooper, Hilton turned to the camera, looked America in the eye and said, \”Please, put the curtain inside the tub.\” (If you owned a quarter of a million bathtubs, you would say the same thing.)

A make-believe commencement address, written by someone who claimed to have been overdosed on coffee and M&Ms, offered graduates two injunctions: use sunscreen and floss regularly. Good advice, but not as important as the advice that I herewith give you, drawing on my expertise in the field in which I have the most expertise. To Washington University\’s Class of 1998, I say, my cardinal rule of life is: With a runner on second and no outs, try to hit behind the runner.

These micro-rules – put the curtain in the tub, use sun screen, floss, hit behind the runner – may seem to you a tad too minor to merit attention, particularly on a day this momentous. However (and here we come to my macro-point), small rules illuminate a few huge truths about lives – about the lives of individuals, and the lives of nations.

One truth is this: follow the simple micro-rules and you might avoid a lot of macro-problems that will elicit ever-more complex and coagulating rules, laws, and regulations.

Another truth is this: There are moments, and you are graduating into one, when people complain – well, journalists, who are not exactly people, complain – that there is scant news because the nation has a \”miniaturized\” political agenda. Well, class of 1998, let me tell you: This miniaturized national agenda is a sign of national health. And this health has something to do with learning – re-discovering, really – simple rules.

Let me give you two examples. One considers the physical health of individuals, and health care policy. The other concerns collective life – social policy, pertaining to poverty and education.

First, individual health. Does America want to improve its public health, and significantly reduce the portion of GDP devoted to health care? If so, then, America only needs to substantially reduce five things: vehicular accidents, violence, coronary heart disease, lung cancer, and AIDS. And Americans can reduce these five by simply deciding to do so.

What do these five have in common? The are all, to a significant extent, results of behavior – behavior known to be risky. So a substantial improvement in public health could be achieved by people deciding to behave more prudently – by deciding not to smoke, and to eat and drink and engage in sex more sensibly.

You see? Simple rules, no more recondite or demanding than \”put the curtain inside the tub\” or \”hit behind the runner.\” Now, consider the role that can be played by simple rules in public policy. Consider what we have learned about the problem of intractable poverty. It turns out that there are three rules for avoiding long-term poverty – rules which make it unlikely that a person adhering to them will fall into such poverty. The three rules are:

First, graduate from high school. Second, have no child out of wedlock. Third, have no child before you are 20.

This is not a moral assertion, it is an empirical observation: The portion of the population that today is caught in long-term poverty consists overwhelmingly of people who have disregarded one or more of these rules.

We now know what is required to get those who are trapped in poverty onto the ladder of upward mobility. What is required is some mixture of incentives and other assistance for those people to live by some simple rules of prudence. Again, small rules of behavior.

Similarly, after forty years of trying to improve education from grades K through 12, by a mixture of money and educational fads, we know now that the best predictor of a school\’s performance is the caliber of the families from which the children come to school. Indeed, the four most crucial variables determining a school\’s success are not variables at school. They are number of parents in the home, the amount of homework done in the home, the quantity and quality of reading material in the home, and the amount of television watched in the home. Government can do next to nothing to influence these variables.

So, yet again: Small rules of behavior, not unlike putting the curtain inside the tub or hitting behind the runner.

Read the whole thing here.

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