I was shocked when I read her email. I had never received any type of correspondence like it from any politician, ever! Wendy Davis, who is running for Texas State Governor next year, asked me what my story was. She asked, “What challenges do you and your family face? What issues should be addressed to strengthen our families?” For the last five years her running opponent, Greg Abbott, the Texas State Attorney General since 2002, has been anything but cordial, sympathetic, or hopeful toward me; just cold and impersonal. If there are those who have not heard of Greg Abbott, then my point is made.
Like Wendy Davis, some human beings would take a few minutes to ask questions like, What’s going on with these issues? How did things get to this point? What can we do to improve things? Wow. Imagine that, a politician who wants to know and listen to the nuts-and-bolts of a situation and its causes, its factors from the actual people affected! What an invitation! What an opportunity!
This is what I told her… (paragraph break)
Wendy, I am a two-years unemployed certified 4-8 General Ed, Special Ed (pending) teacher, father of a 2nd year college daughter, and 12-year old son who live over 300-miles away and I briefly see maybe twice a year. In the summer of 2012 my charter school where I taught – whose student body was 82% Special Needs and a third were wards of the state from horrific homes and circumstances – lost four of its six major funding grants. Education cuts were not only happening nationwide, but just as much statewide. As a result, our school resources were severely stretched or eliminated. These cuts included much-needed hiring of additional qualified staff, aides, and most importantly certified teachers for the increased numbers of Special Ed students coming in from other nearby closing schools AND the result of marketing and attracting more Special Ed students necessary to keep our two meager remaining grants for 2013. The federal and state cuts also meant no annual 2% – 3% pay raises for any current teachers and staff; I was grossing $31,380 per year (or $2,080 a month, or barely $13/hour after automatic child support garnishments) for 60-70 hours minimum per week of work. Need I get into net earnings minus healthcare pay-deductions and cost of living expenses? The math is depressing.
One assessment some schools and districts use to monitor their teacher’s development and well-being, especially those on campuses teaching behavioral-emotional Special Needs students and wards-of-the-state, is a stress-anxiety assessment. At the end of the school year, I scored in the upper 10% at risk; almost “Highly at Risk” for accelerated health deterioration.
My At Risk for health deterioration was compounded monthly by financial and legal pressures from the Texas Child Support Services and the state Attorney General’s Office. During my annual checkup at the doctor’s office, he told me flat-out I need to find a different job; a job where I at least had the time (somewhere in the 24-hours) to exercise and relieve the stress. This was my response to him:
If I quit my job doctor, I only compound my problems. If I fall behind even two months unemployed, the Texas Attorney General’s Office report those failures immediately to all credit bureaus. Sometimes it is less than two months. Most all potential employers today use an extensive background check – especially for teachers – as well as credit checks which are used for financial decisions and interest rates, let alone everything else creditors, lenders, businesses, etc, etc. families, parents, and me, the non-custodial parent, struggle with and fight to stay afloat month-to-month. I don’t know Doc what the answer is. This was his reply: “As long as you understand the health consequences if SOMETHING doesn’t give.”
For the 2011-2012 school year I taught 5th – 8th Social Studies, 5th – 8th Enhanced Learning Lab (elective), 9th – 12th Career Tech (elective), and assistant coach athletics for after-school activities. In late summer my charter school informed me that for the coming 2012-2013 school year, I would have to teach 4th – 8th grade Science and Social Studies of which all periods would have 2 or 3 grade levels of the subject in the same classroom. For you readers who are not teachers or familiar with Texas state curriculum and standards, every single grade level in science is a different development module with some crossovers. In Social Studies, 4th graders cover basic Texas history, 5th graders cover basic American history, 6th graders cover basic World history, 7th graders cover more-advanced Texas history, and 8th graders cover more-advanced American history. The only crossover I would be afforded to ease the 35%-40% workload increase would’ve been 4th and 7th, and 6th – 8th.And as a reminder, almost half of each class are Special Needs wards-of-the-state students.Myself and other teachers had no aids because there was no money to pay for them, and that would be the case again for the upcoming bigger classes for the upcoming year.
As most people are aware, our public education systems have gone through needed reform. Some of it has been successful and improved. However, there is obviously much more work to be done and equalities protected! More importantly, radical state and federal funding cuts only exacerbate the problems and worse put at great risk our country’s future leaders and skilled educated collaboratingfuture government officials and citizens. Public education is not and never has been “secular brainwashing or compromise.” Those speculations are left to individual homes and parents, not public schools. Public education is and has been primarily for those children and adolescents who come from not-so-advantaged homes, even severely impoverished, to have a decent chance of becoming a productive future citizen and not an expensive public liability in prisons, mental institutions, or rehab clinics; all of which require MORE taxpayer dollars in the long run. Yes, a headache can be cured by decapitation (i.e. conservative-pushed cuts), but is it productive change? Is it “economic/fiscal responsibility” on all levels? No. (paragraph break)
I resigned in August 2012. Today, I am still unemployed as a certified General and Special Ed teacher. I spend an average of 12-18 hours a day seeking and completing long extensive applications for teaching positions in districts that haven’t been so severely hit by funding cuts. Meanwhile, each month I receive a cold, unconcerned collection statement from the Attorney General’s Office showing in bold type my higher rising balance plus interest. Like a home mortgage or auto loan, this monthly defaulting is reported to all credit bureaus. Should my arrears reach $10,000 my case will go into the Enforcement Stage and a warrant for my arrest will be issued. DeAnna Shields, a Killeen, Texas web-radio talk show host, student of mental health studies, parent, and U.S. Army Widow volunteer, writes a telling article about Texas Child Support laws from Greg Abbott’s office onCNN’siReport.Read it here.
Wendy Davis, clearly I am and have felt the detrimental effects of a plunging credit score and unemployment. I wonder how jail time would affect my job search. Thank you so much for asking about my story Wendy! A little digging, a little personal human interaction, a little effort to understand the long-term effect of lawmaking goes a very long way. I really hope next year I will be addressing you as Governor Davis!
Signed, Unemployed Texas Special-Ed Teacher
Post-script — “Greg Abbott leads Wendy Davis by single digits” — Politico, 10/2/2013. If you are interested, here is her campaign website: http://www.wendydavistexas.com/
Over half of America’s population does not sufficiently or safely understand their own government, their own laws, and most likely the campaign premises and rhetoric of political candidates running for offices that they will uphold, abide by, and then enact their civilian government and laws! Why not? Simple: growing inequality over four decades.
The average years of education in the United States is 12 years; a high school diploma. This average is barring various levels of sub-par or quality education. In 2011 only 30.44% of the U.S. adult population received a Bachelor’s Degree. Less than 8% of the American population attained a Master’s Degree or higher. These bleak figures are a result of one primary cause: the almost exorbitant cost of post-secondary education, again barring various levels of education quality. As we Americans approach another presidential and congressional election year, all the candidates, their campaign managers, and campaign-workers, all have Bachelor Degrees or higher. In other words, they make up a mere 8% or 30% of the American public, and speak to and campaign for votes to the other 92% or 70% of the population respectively.
This stark contrast of social imbalance is the quintessential definition of disparity; disparity of a subtle and complex kind.
On at least one occasion[Abraham]Lincoln gave some good advice to a young lawyer. “Billy,” he said, “don’t shoot too high – aim lower, and the common people will understand you. They are the ones you want to reach – at least, they are the ones you ought to reach. The educated and refined people will understand you anyway. If you aim too high, your idea will go over the heads of the masses and hit only those who need no hitting.”
Clearly Mr. Lincoln understood ordinary people. But more so, he not only understood, he related; he identified with ordinary ‘high school educated’ people, if you will.
Let’s Shoot Between the Eyes
There is one life-lesson that always holds true: actions speak louder (and truer) than eloquent words. What does that mean to you? What have you lived? What have you not only lived, but what have you lost, or almost lost? How miserably have you failed, and therefore learned a life-long lesson from? In other words, how well can you REALLY identify with the 92% of America? Did your expensive undergraduate and/or graduate education teach you how to live, even survive in poverty? Does your expensive degree indicate how perfectly you can relate to and lead 92% of the U.S. population? How and where have you spent the majority of your life, your job or career, and with your family both immediate and extended family? Does it represent anything close to the 70% — 92% of Americans?
Perhaps more importantly a question we should be asking our political candidates and leaders is this: “How well do you precisely understand the needs of some 50-100 various diverse ethnic, economic, social, educational, historical, and religious classes in America?” The purpose of this post/article is to show the dangerous trap of oversimplification to a high-school-educated population by the highly educated 8% of the population.
By the way, for the sake of disclosure I am from a lower-middle class family, raised in a lower-middle class neighborhood in south Dallas, Texas. I have a bachelor’s degree (Humanities) from a tiny private liberal arts college, and four semesters of graduate studies toward an incomplete master’s degree. I had a successful collegiate and semi-pro soccer career with a short stint in pro-soccer, all of which took me to five different continents around the world. I am what you might say in the middle of the road within this article; mixing with several different American and foreign socio-economic classes.
Reject the Politics of Polarization
Oversimplification is often radical extremism. Most intelligent people would agree that knee-jerk reactions are rarely productive, even destructive. The same applies in complex issues in a diverse complex nation such as the United States. This applies more so to increasingly globalized economies between nation-states.
The adage Knowledge is Power applies here. I would personally add to the adage, Knowledge = Power = More Wealth/More Resources/More Opportunities. Anyone who disagrees with my modified adage, kindly tell me. I would enjoy discussing it, or more accurately point out your folly (wink). For others, I am stating the obvious.
Anatole Kaletsky is an economic journalist and Chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking founded after the 2008 economic crisis. He is a graduate of King’s College at the University of Cambridge, U.K. in mathematics, and master’s degree graduate in economics from Harvard University. Kaletsky has much to say about inequality, polarization, and the upcoming fall elections in Europe and the United States:
…do these [political-economic] decisions really need to be so radical? Is it fashionable to proclaim that the future is a matter of black and white: bigger government or freer markets, national independence or a European super-state. But these extreme dichotomies do not make sense.
…New mechanisms of checks and balances between politics and economics are required. Economic problems ignore national borders; therefore, more complex mechanisms for international cooperation are needed in a globalized economy.
Kaletsky’s words ring true. The role of government in economic stability and social opportunity is paramount. Exactly HOW its role is defined cannot be oversimplified nor polarized. “The fashion for oversimplified radicalism” he states “has taken hold in both economic and political thinking – a tragic irony when global[and domestic]problems are clearly more complex than ever before.” It is simply unfair to America’s three-quarters majority to understand fully what the one-quarter minority is oversimplifying. The fact remains: for the last five decades America’s economic, social, and educational inequalities have widened and reached critical stages.
Another translation for polarization is discrimination. In other words, polarization divides as much as discrimination divides; the motive and end-result determines whether the discrimination is beneficial or harmful for the whole. Once again, whether the polarization is beneficial or detrimental to the whole cannot be determined by oversimplified descriptions or solutions. Therefore, let’s do our homework! Let’s study and analyze political philosophies beginning with the roots of our American political parties, and then conclude which philosophies and their corresponding political party’s best serve the greater good for the greatest number of Americans, or whether any of the parties serve it best.
America’s Political Parties
Since the late 1790’s the United States has had primarily a two-party political system: summarized (but not comprehensive), either liberal or conservative economic-social platforms. Throughout the past 5-political eras, these two parties formed innovative campaign techniques based on what was expressed by the current public opinion. As a result, there were often some blurring or crossover campaign techniques in between the liberal-left and conservative-right. These positions became various forms of “moderate” politics and have formed various third-party groups throughout the five political eras.
Briefly, our two-party then multi-party systems began with two members of George Washington’s cabinet: Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. This period is often called the First Party System. Washington was never in favor of a dividing party-system. He was of the opinion that as the cliché goes, “a house divided against itself, will not stand.” Perhaps Washington was not spot-on, but a dividedhouse certainly does not function as efficiently. Over two centuries later, we still have a dominate two-party system with at least 3-4 minor parties. For a more in-depth review, click Political Parties in the United States.
The Second Party System (1829-1854) saw a redefining of the two previous parties: the Democratic-Republicans (Andrew Jackson supporters) and National-Republicans (John Quincy Adams supporters). Their primary issue was over centralized governing, a strong national bank and single currency, as opposed to state independence and local governing, and hence less federal involvement.
During the Third Party System (1855 – c.1897) the issue of slavery, or the spread of slavery could no longer take backstage. From this political era came our two modern major parties. The Republicans (descendants of Adams supporters) still promoting policies of a strong central government, one army and navy, and unified foreign trade-tariff policies, versus Democrats (descendants of Jackson-Van Buren supporters); promoting antebellum, agricultural, state freedoms and allowing continued slave-trade. This is in name only, however, because obviously the policy platforms have morphed in every presidential and congressional campaign since 1897.
Our Fourth Party System (1896-1932) saw the most critical times of our nation’s history since the Civil War and Reconstruction. This era began in an economic depression, then World War I and followed by the stock-market crash and Great Depression. Within one generation of America, there were no less than 15 major issues vehemently debated! It is here that at least one trend emerges inside party policies: business interests for Republicans; domestic-social interests for Democrats. For a more in-depth analysis, click Fourth Party System.
The Fifth Party System(1933 – c.1964) emerged from the Great Depression – caused by unregulated business-trade practices – and into World War II. From 1933 to 1945 Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt united labor unions, immigrants, minority and low-income voters, Southerners, Catholics, Jews, urbanites, and intellectuals; unprecedented in U.S. political history. From Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition the Democrats dominated U.S. government policies and public support until Richard Nixon in 1969.
From America’s five political eras, and perhaps more precisely since the 1970’s, at least one theme can be gleaned from our five transitions: Because the presidential office and the two branches of Congress have swapped back-and-forth over 40 years now, 70% – 92% of Americans want their politicians to stay toward the middle of the political spectrum, not to the radical extremes. According to Stanford, Harvard, and Berkley PhD and Masters students of political sciences, “American political life continues to be dominated by a broad ideological consensus; the electorate continues to hover near the center of the political spectrum, and the parties, in order to remain competitive, generally move toward the center in order to attract voters.”
2012 Party Platforms
Before listing the five major party’s political platforms taken up by their respective candidates, I want to first summarize their party’s basic tenets. These tenets can be viewed on Political Parties in the United States: Party Comparisons, but I will give a quick rundown here starting with the oldest party (Democrat) to the newest (Constitution):
Current 2012 Presidential Candidate Platforms
There is a wonderful organization in Santa Monica, CA that lists a side-by-side comparison of the five major political party’s candidates on all the nation’s major issues called ProCon.org. Please click on their link for a more extensive list. They also have a convenient Find Your Match quiz-questionnaire of the presidential candidates that best match-up to your personal views of the major issues. Below-right is my summary of the historically controversial issues over the last three decades:
The policy issues presented in the table are not all the hot topics the candidates and their parties have debated. I strongly urge that you go to ProCon.org’s website and take a long look over all the issues and become familiar with each candidate’s perspective. Remember too, this table represents the federal issues; as an American citizen you also have similar policy-issues on your state and local levels too. Find them, thoroughly review them, and vote! If you are not yet registered to vote in your county, you have until Oct. 9th to get registered. Make your voice count!
Given the growing disparity in American education and economic opportunity for the impoverished and middle-class, the highly educated, the resourceful orators have learned the gift of eloquent rhetoric – who can sell a luxurious palace in the Arctic Circle – and so have oversimplified or distorted the comprehensive solutions to America’s crisis. How can the lower-class and middle-class (the 70% – 92%) lift themselves and their families out of inequality if they do not have access to quality educational opportunities that will not push them further into debt or to the end of their parent’s income? How can the lower and middle-classes afford the “Get out of Poverty” ticket if states continue to cut back support for good high schools, grade schools, and kindergartens, and the critically important teachers and staff required to uphold quality standards on campuses? In other words, 70% or more of Americans cannot pay for private primary or secondary schools that usually send their graduates to good colleges. And guess where most of these primary and secondary schools are located? They are in the wealthy suburbs that the 70+% cannot afford to live. Hence, a gradual disparity follows.
A micro and macro-analysis sheds light on this phenomenon: In the past, in order for the lower and middle-class to have hope of progression, the poor lived near the job opportunities, near the wealthy in the wealthy suburbs that provide quality education. Consequently, public schools possessed a student body with several various social and economic families. That was the microcosm. Because the United States has been the beacon of liberty (as shown by Lady Liberty in New York City) and opportunity to the world, what do you think our levels of foreign immigration have reached the last three decades? Since 1965 the influx of foreign immigrants has risen every year by about 1 million according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It should be noted that these were the legally allowed immigrants. Many of these immigrants are entering the U.S. from under the same circumstances that I am describing domestically: inequality. This is the macrocosm. But inside America this has changed. Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz:
“As a recent study by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon of Stanford University shows,[the socio-economic neighborhood] is changing: fewer poor are living in proximity to the rich, and fewer rich are living in proximity to the poor.”
What Stiglitz is pointing out is that what has happened past and present throughout the world’s unstable socio-economic regions is now happening inside America. This should come as no surprise when human nature is closely examined and placed in historical perspective. The wealthier get wealthier because they have more opportunities through more resources at their disposal. As their wealth increases, their perception of risk grows so they increase their “safety-nets” to protect against their perceived risk. What the 1% – 10% of America fails to recognize or accept (or in some cases deny and distort in related public policies) is that their phobia only becomes reality if socio-economic inequality rises and approach critical stages. As a result, their risk-prevention-phobia – or ignorance, or distortion – has the reverse affect. Stiglitz summarizes this vicious “phobic” cycle in a more realistic historical light:
“It’s certainly what one sees around the world: the more egalitarian societies work harder to preserve their social cohesion; in the more unequal societies, government policies and other institutions tend to foster the persistence of inequality. This pattern has been well documented.”
Throughout world history unequal societies, such as Rome, Victorian England, and Manifest Destiny America to name just three, record how inequality was justified. Today it is the same only with different titles, rhetoric, and derivatives. Today it is the explanation of, or in certain cases the distortion of, abstract market forces domestically and abroad. These modern explanations and distortions challenge even the most intelligent college graduate! Yet, gratefully Mr. Stiglitz rips away these fancy justifications and lays bare their true creations despite the concerted efforts of America’s 1 – 10%:
“The view I take is somewhat different. I begin with the observation made in chapters 1 and 2: other advanced industrial countries with similar technology and per capita income differ greatly from the United States in inequality of pretax income (before transfers), in inequality of after tax and transfer income, in inequality of wealth, and in economic mobility[rags-to-riches movement]. These countries also differ greatly from the United States in the trends in these four variables over time. If markets were the principal driving force, why do seemingly similar advanced industrial countries differ so much? [See my article:The Land of Opportunity?]
Our hypothesis is that market forces are real, but that they are shaped by political processes. Markets are shaped by laws, regulations, and institutions. Every law, every regulation, every institutional arrangement has distributive consequences – and the way we have been shaping America’s market economy works to the advantage of those at the top and to the disadvantage of the rest.
[But]there is another factor determining societal inequality… Government, as we have seen, shapes market forces. But so do societal norms and social institutions. Indeed, politics, to a large extent, reflects and amplifies societal norms. In many societies, those at the bottom consist disproportionately of groups that suffer, in one way or another, from discrimination. The extent of such discrimination[or polarization] is a matter of societal norms… These social norms and institutions, like markets, don’t exist in a vacuum: they too are shaped, in part, by the[resourceful] 1 percent.”
Despite that I have so far shown that growing inequality leads to growing volatility and social instability, which in severe cases leads eventually to civil revolt by the masses as seen in recent Middle-eastern countries, American government policies – influenced by America’s 1 – 10% individuals and their corporate institutional networks – still in 2012 continue to justify socio-economic inequality as a necessary ingredient to “free markets” and sound foundations of successful capitalism. On the contrary, I would like to show otherwise. For the sake of clarity, let’s follow this ideology through to its now 8-10 year result since 2008.
What Motivates Productive Citizenship?
Is inequality necessary to provide people with incentive?
I will continue this examination in the next article/blog: Productive Inequality. Check back often for its completion. The importance of truly understanding America’s political party’s (and their candidates) continued oversimplification to the 70-92% of Americans, that lead to social and economic ruin, cannot be overstated.
Colbert: On the fourteen-point pledge [political] candidates have to first vow “Personal fidelity to my spouse.” That is essential for candidates to have to swear to that one…cus that vow they said at their wedding?….BULLSH#T!