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7/11/20

True Confessions

     I used to be a Socialist.  Well, sort of anyway.  As much of a socialist as an 18 year old in the middle of Mississippi in 1970 with a brand new high school diploma could be.  There I was with my long hair, bell bottoms, new saxophone and a hastily developed attitude of moral superiority that seemed to grow with every day that went by.  My circadian rhythms were completely backwards because on weekends I usually went to bed around 4 or 5 am and slept till 3 or 4 in the afternoon because most of the stuff I was interested in being a part of was happening at night. Especially Friday and Saturday nights.  Mama said that nothing good ever happened after 10 pm, and she was probably aware that at that age “nothing good” was exactly what I was on the lookout for. My parents had been pretty strict, but I had worn them down over the years and when I turned 18 or so they were used to me being out late playing on the weekends because for better or worse I had decided to change the world through music and that meant late nights in some places they would rather I not be. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I made it out to be but at that age it was a taste of freedom I had not known before.

  Woodstock had gone on without me just a couple of years before, and I remember the feelings of frustration when my mother wouldn’t let me take her VW bug to New York to at least try to get there through the traffic and blocked roads.  I mean really, I had been driving for over a year and I told her I would be careful and we all knew that bad stuff only happened to other people, so what was her problem anyway?  I had, as much as possible in the center of Mississippi, developed what I later described as a semi-hippie attitude to go along with my semi-hippie attire (including bell bottom fringe and worn sandals), and money wasn’t really an issue because I had no bills. The $40-50 a week I made being a rock and roll star covered my expenses pretty well, and Mama made sure I had plenty to eat. Daddy had threatened to charge me for sleeping and eating in his house but hadn’t gotten to that point yet.

     I had convinced myself, with teenage assurity, that I had an enormous number of solutions to societal problems but couldn’t seem to get anyone to ask me the questions that would allow those solutions suitable widespread presentation and implementation. It probably didn’t help my case or my presentation that I considered my mere presence as beneficial to both my family and the world, and seldom suffered from the self doubt and lack of assurance that I read about in books. Like most teenagers, though, I wasn’t politically active because politics was an ugly game, and because my parents wouldn’t even consider letting me participate in demonstrations and protests.

     I was also convinced that LBJ’s Great Society was a good thing, and that giving money to everyone that needed it was part of responsible government policy. That was before I found out that a lot of the money they were giving away was going to come from my paycheck. I spent a summer driving a forklift and stacking plywood at a company in Oxford in between rock bands, and I was at first convinced there had been a processing mistake with how much the government took of my weekly check and, after learning that “no, young man, there’s no mistake” from the company bookkeeper, astounded but resigned to the fact that this legalized appropriation was the price of being allowed to work. That was pretty much the moment I began to believe that maybe socialism wasn’t such a great idea after all.

     A lot of my ideas about how things should work had come from sitting around late at night with friends and colleagues in college dorm rooms or off campus housing discussing politics and religion and monetary theory in great depth and detail.  We were all completely inexperienced in practical applications of pretty much anything, but without exception sure of the purity and purpose of our intentions and convictions. Our teachers encouraged us to question things, and we had no trouble following their lead. We were all convinced that “the man” was screwing things up and we could show him (them?) how to fix it all just as soon as we got into a management position...like maybe after working a year or two first.

     We did read a lot about different forms of government; you know, like plutocracy, republic, democracy, theocracy, Marxist, Socialist, dictatorship and Disney, and decided that maybe labels weren’t  a good thing, and that we could all get along if we just all believed in love and gave peace a chance...man. As I got a little older and had to start working full time in order to eat and have electricity and a car and gas - you know the pattern - I started reading things that I wanted to know about instead of stuff I had to read for a grade. One interesting comment that stuck out for me was attributed to William Casey to the effect of “a man at 20 who is not a Socialist has no heart, and a man at 40 who is a Socialist has no brain.” 

     Socialism is an idealistic theory that can’t function effectively in reality because it fails -actually ignores - the fact that all humans are fallible, and when given choices between self interests or altruism will eventually, given enough opportunities, succumb and choose self interest.  Once someone in charge decides they deserve a little extra the whole theory reveals itself as the house of cards it is, the supporting idealism falls by the side of the road and life becomes pretty miserable for everyone except those at the top.  Time and time again history repeats itself, but then someone always says “yeah, but this time will be different” but it never is. Like Yosemite Sam once observed “people is dumber than anybody.”

     One of the other strange things I discovered about Socialists is they never seem to want to give their own money away, but have no qualms or compunctions whatsoever about freely distributing yours.  I learned in elementary school that effective leaders modeled the behavior they wanted others to display.  If that’s true for Socialists, why does Bernie have 3 houses and make millions of dollars? Why do Alexandria and Ilhan not distribute their funds to hospitals or the poor and needy? Could it be that their goal is only Socialism if they get to be in charge of distributing other people’s money? There used to be a kid in our neighborhood like that.  We weren’t allowed to use his football unless we played by his rules that he made up as the game went along. We only played that game once, and never fell for it again. Seems to me that the history of Socialism is full of examples just like the kid that owned the football and made his own rules and always rigged the game to his advantage.  It’s a pretty good deal if you’re the one in charge and not doing without food and electricity and toilet paper or having to eat your neighbor’s pet, but not much fun for anybody else. I must also admit to being a little confused as to why they would want to tear down a system that allowed them to rise to their current positions.  I mean really, isn’t being a representative for your state a pretty significant step up from bar tender or unemployed refugee? Would scrapping a system that not only allowed but encouraged that much upward mobility be a good thing?

     Strangely enough, though, as time went on the more money I made the more money I noticed being taken out of my checks and the less convinced I became that other people deserved part of it without my input.  This gradual change in my belief system coincided, strangely enough, with the addition of experience and maturity, and while neither expanded to the extent I might have hoped I have managed to live longer than I ever expected to, so there’s that.  Now don’t misunderstand - we pay taxes and give money and goods to charities of all types, but we choose those charities and how much of our income we distribute. Taxes are pretty arbitrary, but I look at them as a necessary cost of doing business, and pretty much balanced out by being born in America.

     I also have noted similarities in my attitudes and idealism and beliefs at 18 and those who call themselves socialists today.  Very few have any work experience, very few are contributing members of society, even fewer actually pay the taxes they are willing to designate for free this and free that and the current “if you live here you deserve someone else’s money” programs, and most seem convinced, as I was then, that the way to change a light bulb is to stand on a ladder, hold the bulb up and wait for the world to revolve around you.

     So maybe the answer to anybody screaming about the unfairness of capitalism is to let them have their little socialism fantasies for the 4 or 5 years of college and wait until they graduate or flunk out and have to get a job and life changes their mind. Perhaps they should have the privilege of living in a socialist country for a year or two just to reap a little bit of what they are trying to sow. Maybe while they’re at it they could pay for all the stuff they broke while having their little tantrums about having their way or holding their breath until they turn blue. Like the little kid having the tantrum in the grocery store, the only way they can win is if nobody steps in to be the parent and just gives them what they want to make them stop. Mama had a saying for that situation too. “If you don’t correct it, you are teaching it.” These tantrums are the height of selfishness and juvenile behavior, and need to be corrected. Immediately. Somebody has to be the adult around here. It’s probably too late to teach them what it means to get the switch they’re gonna get used on them, but somebody has to stand up and tell them no...and mean it. I don’t think timeout is going to work at this point.


5/21/20

Singing Those Stay At Home Covid Blues

     Betsy and I have been mostly following the latest version of the required and/or suggested stay-at-home-shelter-in-place-if-you-don’t-want-to-die policies since this whole thing started, either in February or 3 years ago, one or the other. Most of it hasn’t been too hard, but we did experience a few unintended consequences with the online ordering thing that eventually took over most of our daily activities.  She ordered, for example, the requisite face masks online but didn’t notice they came from China and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 apiece shipping costs, and we got 100 of them. They arrived after about 4 weeks, which wasn’t too bad considering where they came from, but they were sort of lost in the flurry of deliveries that soon became a flood. We live on a gravel road that is essentially one way with no room to pass, so the UPS and FedEx trucks found themselves meeting each other coming and going, and there were occasions where words were exchanged between drivers and a fistfight or two was narrowly avoided by me negotiating a coin flip to see who would back up and allow the other truck to enter or leave the only access road to our driveway. It was pretty cool to watch the trucks radiator to radiator as one of them backed skillfully at 30 mph or so along the twists and turns of the half mile one lane gravel road so the other guy could enter or exit, dependent of course, on the result of the coin toss. After a few days of traffic jams  I solved this problem by installing, right where our gravel road meets the paved road, a red light/green light system activated by an infrared sensor so when one truck or the other was on the way or returning to the pavement from our house it wouldn’t meet another one bringing yet another delivery. In addition to solving the traffic issue, this also provided, for those trucks waiting for the road to clear, a few moments to get out of their trucks and socialize with the other guys in line and already waiting. There were sometimes as many as 3 or 4 delivery trucks waiting for their turn for the light to turn green so they could enter our one lane road.  An enterprising young kid from the neighborhood set up a small shelter just off the pavement with a few chairs and donuts and soft drinks and coffee.  He recognized a business opportunity when he saw it. I think he’s raising money to help his parents support his Call of Duty habit, but regardless of the reason it’s nice to see capitalism at work in the young.

     Our iphones have received a good bit more attention than usual and I think the dog is beginning to get jealous. When one of us picks up a phone, she sniffs disdainfully, looks away and goes to another room. I’ve also noticed that both of us respond like Pavlov’s dogs when the little “ding” announces a text or message. Neither of us can let the notice go unnoticed, and pick up the phone to see what’s there, even if the other one is in the middle of a sentence. When that happens I can hear my Mom in the back of my head saying “hmmmm” which means “don’t ignore another person to look at a telephone.  It’s rude.” She’s right, but it’s an easier habit to get than to break.

     We were a little concerned that the grandkids were not really getting too much out of their online lessons, and offered to help their parents out by conducting “school” at our house - with appropriate social distancing of course - for one day.  The class went fine for about 30 minutes until the snacks ran out, and then the students became surly and uncooperative...or maybe that was the teachers.  Either way, the math lessons quickly deteriorated into a knot tying class that never made it past the knots on my fishing rods because there were several and they all needed new lines and swivels and stuff.  We took the kids home after lunch and wondered if they would ever get out of their current grade level. I reassured Nana that our parents once thought the same thing about us, and that sometimes taking a class 3 or 4 times could be, in the long run, beneficial in many ways.  After that experience I read where the homeschooling experience had resulted in a rather sharp increase of reports of teacher intoxication and the inappropriate use of profanity during class. The report failed to mention whether the profanity was from parents, students or both.  I predict significant raises in both status and pay for teachers in all grades as soon as this thing is over and schools open again.

     Like most Americans, we have increased our television time significantly and originally thought we might improve our knowledge base by watching interesting documentaries or educational shows, but that hasn’t happened. We discovered that Betsy and I have radically different tastes in television. She follows local and national news religiously, and is an expert on all things COVID, at least until the next day’s report has new facts that prove the old ones false.  She also watches reruns of Shark Tank and every house show ever made, and finds herself telling the contestants “you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t finance that kid” and “any idiot can see there’s no room for entertaining in the 2nd house.” I despise news shows of any type and refuse to watch, and generally limit my television to Civil War documentaries. I keep hoping McClellan will send in his reserves at Antietam or that Lee will finally listen to Longstreet on the 3rd day of Gettysburg, but find myself forlornly humming bits and pieces of “Ashokan Farewell” when the result is always the same.  Both of us enjoy Andy Griffith, and we’ve watched all 8 seasons of Andy so many times we find ourselves using quotes from the show in almost every conversation, and both understand exactly what the other means. “Thelma Lou, I believe you’re trying to change me!” one of us will say. “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!” replies the other. “Aunt Bee, call the man!” or “It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T” or Andy’s signature “I’ll see ya” usually ends the conversation. Neither of us thought Eleanor Donohue a good match for Andy.

     I was a little hesitant about my first 2 or 3 post-lockdown trips to the grocery store, but I did feel better when they blocked off every entrance but one and a guy with a face mask and an ipad was keeping track of the number of customers that entered and left.  I never saw him stop anybody or say “hold on, sir, we’re at capacity until someone else leaves” but maybe I was there at just the right -or wrong - times.  I wore one of the masks from China and put sanitizer on my hands at every opportunity and ended up finding about half the items on my list but got 4 or 5 times the quantities I had written down.  I did not feel the temptation to buy cases of toilet paper because I had not heard anything about diarrhea being one of the primary symptoms of the virus, and was pretty sure TP wouldn’t freeze well, but I did get enough canned food and dog food to last us and the dog for a while. We don’t normally eat a lot of beans, but that was about to change for the next few weeks, anyway.  There were long empty spaces on shelves where the TP and Lysol and hand sanitizer used to be, but there seemed to be plenty of canned food, fresh vegetables, meat and poultry and ice cream, so we were good, and had all the basic food groups covered.  Betsy always wears  her full biohazard gear, carries extra sani-wipes in every pocket and pretends to sneeze every time someone gets within her imaginary 10 foot circle. She still goes with me once a week or so to continue her futile search for Lysol aerosol or sanitizing hand wipes. It may be awhile before we see those again.

     I had an extensive list of recipes from my Mom and Betsy’s Mom but stuck pretty much to soup and banana pudding for our daily meals since one of us decided they might be vegan.  She will eat chicken from time to time, as long as it’s been baked and finely shredded and I don’t remind her it’s in there. Most of the soup recipes I’ve made from Food Network turned out to be a one time event because it doesn’t seem to matter how you fix kale it’s still kale, but we have fixated on chicken and rice and taco soup as our two favorites, and are hoping we don’t get tired of them before all this is over.  Don’t let anybody fool you, though - sugar free pudding mix does not mean calorie free pudding, especially when you use most of a box of vanilla wafers and 3 or 4 bananas per bowl.  We had to stop that after a couple of weeks because we had already spent our summer vacation allowance and our stimulus money (plus a good bit extra) on things we really needed; clothes for the grandkids, crimson clover seed for the front yard, a new sax mouthpiece, several orders of wrinkle cream (my suggestion to buy it in bulk for a reduced price was not taken well), self-help books, wildflower seeds, repainting most of the interior of the house, recarpeting most of the interior of the house, replacing the upstairs A/C, around 250 new picture albums and some new fishing gear - all done online, of course - and at a pretty significant savings, I’m told; and couldn’t afford new clothes for us without another mortgage or another stimulus check. I’m not sure what we’ll do financially if the grandkids’ travel ball seasons suddenly start back up in July and we have to start traveling again. 

     I mentioned the new picture albums - Betsy has always said that one day she would gather up all her photographs she has saved in the 8 or 9 steamer trunks stored in my closet and organize them and place them in chronological order in photo albums.  The first 3 weeks of isolation she made great progress, and emptied 3 of the trunks and immediately filled them back up with the completed albums. I can’t wait for her to complete the other 5 or 6 trunks and fill those back up with albums too. The bad thing is they all have to go back in my closet because the upstairs room and the garage are full of furniture from her parents’ house.

     I’ve tried to imagine how our parents would have reacted to the current pandemic, and how they would have handled not going to work and being at home every day with the kids.  All day. I’m pretty sure the answer would not have been homeschool, since both of my parents worked at what they considered essential jobs; essential because there was no money coming in if they didn’t work; and they didn’t take off for much of anything.  If one of us was sick we got the old “go on to school and you’ll feel better later” speech.  At the most we got mercurochrome and a bandaid on a cut or scrape and Daddy might say “rub a little dirt on it and it will probably stop bleeding after a few minutes.”  Since Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet at that time, online lessons would not have been possible, and I don’t see my teachers doing party line calls on the phone to make sure we were keeping up.  My guess is we were going to school and were going to stay there until the final bell rang, and when we weren’t in school we were expected to play outside. Nobody was taking off to come pick one of us up during school unless there was a fire or part of an appendage was missing.  I heard there was rioting in our town in the late 60’s, but we never got a day out of school because of it, and in addition to riots we had smallpox and measles and flu making the rounds every year but schools were open regardless of how many kids were out. It was probably because we were so much tougher than today’s kids because we had to walk 5 miles uphill to school and 7 miles uphill back home.  In the snow.  In short sleeves.  Carrying our lunch. 

     My Dad and Betsy’s Dad were WWII veterans. My Dad spent a couple of years repairing B-29’s in Fairbanks Alaska and Betsy’s Dad was a POW survivor after being shot down over Germany.  Both experienced social isolation but of a much different type than what we experience now, and would have - I guarantee it - refused to participate in more social isolation of any type. I can hear their arguments now. You probably can too, so I don’t need to repeat any profanity other than both of them adding at the end of the discussion “and I ain’t wearing no damn mask.”

    One of my brothers feels the same about wearing masks, and says he’s read doctors expressing both pro mask and con mask opinions, and, after reading both sides, decided that if doctors couldn’t present a united front he wasn’t wearing one either. I  reminded him that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, at present I couldn’t tell if they were all in the pro mask or con mask group, so statistically they must be spread evenly in both so his decision was more or less supported by medical opinion. Sort of. I usually wear a mask just because I like to make other people feel better if not necessarily safer.

     While none of us wants to be the cause of another getting infected with Covid, I’ve decided that the only thing more infectious than the disease itself is the fear of the disease these guys doing the news have manufactured.  That fear seems to be a major part of every “news” story now, and none of the networks every really goes back and says “well our original estimates of worldwide population reduction of 25% may have been a little overblown,” they just continue with more dire predictions that we are all going to die tomorrow unless we do what they tell us to do. Now the narrative is “well sure infections are slowing down but just wait for the spike.” After there is or isn’t a spike then there will be something else, then something else after that.  I’m not sure a whole lot of them know exactly what to tell us other than “be afraid, be very very afraid when we tell you to” and that just doesn’t work for most Americans. It seems their real concern is not for America or Americans but for the continual manipulation of their audience to greater and smaller degrees and to hell with the consequences.  

     Remember the Great Virus Scare of 1967? Me either, but evidently the Marburg virus had an 80% fatality rate and was a pretty big deal at the time, and apparently bats were once again the culprits there. How about the Bird Flu scare of 2013? The mortality rate was around 39% but I don’t think we closed the country. I remember a little about SARS in 2002, but didn’t know the mortality rate was 9.9%.  I don’t remember school closing for that one, either, but here we are with a virus that seems more contagious but less deadly but is more of a threat to modern civilization?

     Go back and look at the daily crises that were the lead stories over the last 4 weeks and how many actually happened and how many just went away on their own.  The same thing happens, albeit on a smaller scale, with the weather when every storm is predicted to be “devastating” and every tornado watch now makes even Toto and Dorothy cringe with fear and trepidation and want to hide in the bathroom. I don’t know about you but it’s a hard sell to convince me to wear a mask after being told to wear a mask by a bunch of guys that don’t wear masks while they’re telling you it’s a requirement to wear them because they said so even if masks don’t work. That’s why people are going back to work, that’s why more and more people are taking charge of their lives again and that’s why a lot of people aren’t waiting for an official “resume your lives” order before they decided enough was just too much. I’m pretty sure many of you can see this too...except for my dog.  She just sniffed and turned her head away.  She doesn’t understand why any of us would ever want to leave the house in the first place..


5/12/20

Reform Public Ed by Retiring Fed ED

     Happy Birthday to the United States Department of Education! Once a relatively innocuous part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, President Carter decided he could create two bureaucracies where only one existed, and the USDOE began operating on its own as a Director level agency on May 4, 1980. The Department of Health and Human Services continued without the education part, and ostensibly serves our citizens in areas other than education.  
     The USDOE, affectionately and unfortunately known by those employed there as The ED has somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,400 employees as of 2020, and a budget of about $68 billion.  Their website says that “education is primarily a state and local responsibility” and they are funded primarily from tax monies collected from states and allocated by Congress.  Somewhere around 8.5% of every state’s educational funding comes from The ED, and about 90% of The ED’s funding comes from state and local taxpayers.  This year post-secondary grants, loans and work study programs, for example, cost $129.8 billion, Pell Grants account for $29 billion, the Federal Direct Student Loan Program about $23.67 billion, Title I Grants to states $14.4 billion, Special Education grants $12.52 billion and “other” $7.92 billion round out The ED budget. I suppose the $7.92 billion in “other” means salaries and travel and building leases and furniture and printing costs and miscellaneous stuff. What that means is that states send tax money to the Federal government to support The ED and The ED sends some of it back to states if they qualify and follow all the rules. The rest is, in simple terms, loaned to students that apply for loans ostensibly to pay for school costs.  After graduation for some or a change in life goals or direction, many loan recipients come to resent the loan they requested and believe the money should be labeled “gift” instead of “loan.” Like many other Federal programs, mismanagement, poor accounting practices and the fact that the loans are not underwritten by private sector sources lead to losses that could not be justified in any other than a Federal program. The student loan program as of this moment is owed by students over $1.5 trillion dollars.
     The mission of The ED is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” They neglect to mention that the real motivation for its creation was political power and influence for the National Education Association as a reward for their support for President Carter during his campaign. Bureaucratic interpretation of policy by The ED has far too often had the effect of creating law when they simply interpret terms and policies. The ED has never had the power of creating laws; they simply assumed it and no one thought to challenge them.
     Constitutionality was evidently not a primary consideration or topic of discussion when The ED was created, and over the last 40 years it has managed to expand its scope and authority to exceed by far its financial re-contributions to state education departments.  While Federal education funding is less than 3% of the total Federal budget, The ED insists that education funding be allocated to ONLY those public school districts that follow federal guidelines. Even though the US Constitution grants no authority over education to the Federal government, the Federal government has in fact given itself that authority through ESEA and subsequent educational laws. The ED’s authority, that many consider unconstitutional in and of itself, far exceeds its limited financial contributions in whatever form, and that authority has grown exponentially, especially over the past 20 years. 
     The actual results of Federal intervention and ever increasing control over state and local education  have, like most Federal programs, been less than impressive. If you believe that standardized test scores are reflective of student learning, then The ED has been an expensive fiasco. Beginning with NCLB and the federal mandates for grade-by- grade accountability testing and ever increasing intrusive requirements from The ED required of state education departments, the only discernible result has been a test driven school culture that frustrates parents, drives teachers from the profession and teaches far too many kids to hate school. Unless you count a growing bureaucracy or the ability to use test scores to identify areas of poverty as indicative of mission fulfillment, The ED has been nothing more than just another gigantic Federal boondoggle.
     The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 adds on to the red tape by requiring states to submit their plans to the US DOE. Because these plans require Federal approval for funding (another top down effort), there is little or no incentive or autonomy allowed to design state, local and parent driven education reforms.  The ED has essentially become an enormous Federal “accountabully” whose sole purpose is to mandate those things politicians and bureaucrats believe would improve teaching and education without considering that most professional educators would never agree. Unless their true purpose is one other than the improvement of education, their insistence that a personal education for every student can only be achieved if everyone does everything exactly the same way at the same time and to the same degree flies directly in the face of common sense and a basic understanding of human action.
     Now, however, is a great time to correct one of the great examples of Federal overreach left over from the 1970’s and phase out what has been at best an ineffective institution that has few if any positive contributions or redeeming qualities to extoll its existence other than just another high dollar bureaucratic failure we really don’t have to afford any longer.
     It’s time for The ED, through Congressional action, to allow states:
  • To opt out of all federal programs under the auspices of ESEA and put those dollars to work within their own states as defined by state law;
  • To eliminate federal curriculum standards and testing mandates;
  • Remove ESEA state and local planning mandates;
  • Allow school choice within constitutional requirements;
  • Remove itself from the student loan program;
  • Allow states to assume control and operation of early childhood education programs;
  • Move civil rights enforcement from the USDOE to the Department of Justice.

       Onerous, expensive and completely unnecessary federal testing requirements for public schools created what was essentially the antithesis of effective educational policies for many years. Removing those mandates and allowing teachers the freedom to teach and parents the freedom to choose the curriculum taught would go a long way in restoring the effectiveness and the academic achievements of public schools. The vast majority of educational leaders I know would welcome competition for students between public and private schools if those testing, curricular and regulatory barriers were removed from public education..
     Phasing out The ED and returning to the states the constitutional responsibility and authority for educating their own students in the ways their citizens best determine would go a long way toward allowing true educational reform, not to mention the enormous reduction of paperwork for educational administrators at all levels. If you are looking for a culprit to blame for stagnant test scores, teachers leaving the profession and myriad other “failures of public education,” look no further than the bureaucratic Gordian knot created by The ED. The Federal government could launch a massive overhaul of the public education process by gradually removing itself from education altogether. 
     Dismantling The ED would be the single greatest contribution to improving our system of public education Secretary DeVos could hope to accomplish. While those employed by The ED may have wonderful intentions, the actual effects of their policies and controls have been at best misguided and at worst educational malpractice. It would seem the department’s minuscule positive contributions to public education have been far exceeded by The ED’s confidence that excellence can and should be mandated. 

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

More details on this topic may be found at: Policy Analysis No. 891, Cato Institute, Washington DC, May 4, 2020

2/2/20

The Teacher Lunch Table

    One of the great disappointments in my budding career as an educator was the teacher lunch table, but had nothing to do with food.  Teachers were expected to eat in the lunchroom and help supervise students even if they brought their lunch from home and I was surprised to see that each lunch period - there were 3 for grades 7-12 - had groups of teachers that sat together in the same spots almost every day.  The groups rarely changed and were always segregated by sex and not by race or teaching experience. I had always imagined that teachers had interesting philosophical discussions about education, politics, religion, history - you name it. I was sure the laughter and collegial debate that I thought I was observing among my high school teachers - we wouldn’t sit close enough to hear what they were actually saying because then they might overhear what we were talking about - but it just HAD to be interesting, philosophical, stimulating and intelligent intellectual discourse - would be a wonderful thing to be a part of after I became a member of the teaching fraternity.  My first few days in the lunchroom as a teacher were met with trepidation and a fear I wouldn’t be able to follow or participate in lofty conversations and discussions about whatever heady topics they chose to discuss. I was more than a little disconcerted when my first few days at the lunch table with the other male teachers - they had made a place for me at their table when I came out of the serving lines area with a tray - and the conversations were centered around the local in-season sport, gossip about who was dating whom and who was getting a divorce and who was running around with whom and, well, sex of all things. I thought maybe they were just lowering the level of conversation so the new guy wouldn’t be too intimidated and that the real discussions would begin after a few days, but no - the topics never really changed.  Sports, hunting, fishing and sex. The first three I had no real problem with but I was pretty sure teachers were not allowed to talk or even think about sex, and especially not at the lunch table. The only thing different about the teacher table and the student table was that students sometimes - quietly - discussed teachers, but teachers never, ever discussed students at lunch. I suppose spending all day 5 days a week with kids meant they really needed that 30 minutes during lunch to think about something besides kids.
After a few weeks I was at a loss - surely they were just waiting on me to get comfortable within the group or maybe, just maybe...that was IT! They wanted me to bring up a topic of interest that would stimulate a great discussion and prove to them that I was indeed worthy to be a part of their table talk and Teacher Conversation. What could I choose? Religion? No, I hadn’t really joined a local church yet and wasn’t quite sure I understood the difference in Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ and Primitive Baptist and didn’t really want to offend anybody by bringing up a topic that had such personal implications. Politics? There was a potential for danger there, but most of the conversations I had heard seemed to lean toward a Democratic viewpoint primarily because of that party’s traditional support of FFA, agriculture and farmers in general, and this was, above all, a rural farming community.  Maybe that was it - but how could I specifically pick a political conversational strand that would interest and excite such a varied group of professionals, some with almost as much teaching experience as God? Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered a college professor saying something about “a man of 20 who is not a communist has no heart, but a man of 35 who is a communist has no brain”. The more I thought about it the better that seemed for an opening gambit for my initial entrance into what was bound to be a stimulating discussion that might even last for weeks! I could hit an intellectual home run - so to speak - on my very first conversation starter. I really did my homework and, in the days before Google and Apple and before Al Gore invented the internet, went to the school library and looked up “communism” and took copious notes. I wrote down quotes from Marx and Lenin and discovered the original quote was by William Casey and read “I pass the test that says the man at 20 that is not a socialist has no heart; the man at 40 that is a socialist has no brain”. I spent several hours poring over the school library’s Encyclopedia Britannica and prepared myself in ways that should I have exerted such energy and zeal for studying in college might have led to a GPA much higher than the 2.57 I recorded with as little academic focus and effort as possible.  I did know where the library at Ole Miss was and had been there on several occasions, but it was not a place I had spent an enormous amount of time. After several hours of study and looking up related topics - communism, Vietnam, the domino theory, socialism, the OSS and the CIA, I was ready. All I had to do now was wait for just the right conversational opening and I was headed for the teacher lunch table hall of fame.
  The anticipated moment came the very next day.  I hurried across the campus to the lunchroom - built conveniently between the high school and the elementary school and just in front of the gym used by both - and quickly went through the line so I could be one of the first at the table.  I would, of course, wait for the entire male crew to gather before trying to find just the right moment to introduce my discussion point. They wandered in singly, gathered their trays and received servings of food from the lunchroom ladies and spoke amiably to each of them - it never paid to tick off the ladies that made your lunch every day - and wandered to the men’s teacher table where I was impatiently waiting in as outwardly nonchalant manner as possible.  As the last one arrived it was all I could do to wait for just the right moment. The conversation began with the prospects of the Bulldogs against the Sulligent Blue Devils in Friday night’s contest and, after a few remarks about the general health and attitude of the team by the Head Coach someone asked him if he thought there would be a big crowd at the stadium. “I sure hope so” Coach said. “Football has always been a big social event in town and we sure could use a good gate early in the season in case we hit a small crowd or two later in the season or at one of our out of town games”.  This was it! He said “social”. I could just squeeze social and get socialism without it being too much of a stretch and I had to take a chance - the rewards and the possibilities were just too good to ignore and let the moment slip by and not take advantage of the opening - however small - to introduce my topic. Fate seemed to agree with my decision because there was at just that moment a slight pause in the conversation and I took a deep breath and mentioned casually “Funny you should mention social - I was reading one of my philosophy books from college last night and came across a great quote from William Casey - you know, the guy that was one of the heads of the OSS in WW II...”  There was no response, but I forged ahead. They were just waiting, I was sure, to see how I presented this. They weren’t going to just hand it to me. “OK” I thought and took another deep breath. “I can handle this. Just push ahead and they’ll pick it up and the discussion will begin.” “He said something to the effect of ‘a man of 20 that is not a socialist has no heart…..”. I paused to see if there was a glimmer of familiarity or interest in any of their eyes. I looked around the table. Not only was there no glimmer, there was more interest in the lunchroom lady gravy on the instant mashed potatoes than in what I had said, but, in for a penny in for a pound so I continued “and a man of 40 that is a socialist has no brain”.  Silence. No flicker of recognition in any eye at the table. No look that indicated that any of them was about to debate or even comment on what I had said. Coach cleared his throat and my sunken hopes rose for just a second. Maybe, just maybe… “I wonder what Millport has this year. They finished the season last year pretty strong and almost beat us for the county championship. They got any real athletes we need to watch out for?” 
  I was crushed and, hiding my disappointment turned my attention to the consistency of the brown gravy on those mashed potatoes on my plate.  I finished lunch without really contributing anything to the NFL or college game comments, the observation that one of the math teachers was dating a coach from New Hope, that ole’ Steve and his wife were separated and did Mrs. G look like she might be pregnant again?  It took me several days before I realized that my fears were true. I could find no other solution. There were no philosophical debates or witty repartee or Mensa level discussions at the teacher table. The topics were the same as those at the student table with the occasional damn or hell allowed - softly, of course - because we were, after all, adults, but my illusions were completely shattered.  After moping around for a few days, privately disappointed beyond belief I did manage to find a bright side - at least I wouldn’t have to spend afternoons in the library looking up stuff I didn’t know anything about so I wouldn’t be embarrassed or completely excluded from conversations at the teacher lunch table. I had, after all, been going to football games since junior high and was, by guy standards, considered as something of an authority because of longevity in terms of watching sports if not actual participation, had played little league baseball and met male qualifications for “expert” status though that, and darn sure knew which female teachers were attractive enough to comment on and which were out of bounds - there WAS a bright side here!  “Damn” I thought, “being one of the guys may not be so bad after all”. I did wonder if maybe the female teachers at the other table talked about….oh no. I wasn’t falling for that again. Even if they had book discussions on Plato’s “Republic” I wasn’t about to move to their table. There were some things a guy - especially a new guy - just couldn’t risk. I did wonder just how you asked one of the women teachers if she was pregnant. If the answer were “no” then you had just embarrassed her by calling her fat - not the positive impression I really wanted to make. Men were in the minority in the teaching profession and it would not pay to alienate all teaching females by calling one of their number noticeably pudgy. I decided it best just to wait for the announcement if pregnancy were indeed the cause,  otherwise the best course of action seemed silence. I could do that. Discretion was not always my strong suit, but in this case I managed, but there was a fleeting moment of regret at the scintillating conversations I wouldn’t be having with the guys, but a small inner sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be cramming every night for conversations at the teacher lunch table. In this case, I suppose ignorance could indeed be equated to bliss.

     

7/30/19

A Program That WORKS

A;Program That WORKS


     School Boards and Educational Leaders have struggled for many years with school disciplinary issues; more specifically the negative impact of disciplinary issues on student learning for the offender and the offended (Balfanz, R, byrnes, v., and Fox, J 2018). Traditionally, school discipline codes have been based on conformity and modeled on the criminal justice system. Rules (laws) are established, penalties for infractions are set, incidents investigated, students are charged and penalties are imposed. Order has been kept by punishing those that do not or will not conform, rewarding those that do, and, if the infractions continue, either pushing out or assigning the habitual offenders to an alternative setting. Disciplinary consequences in schools and classes are very often as much about allowing conforming students the opportunity to learn without disruption as about providing a consequence for the habitually disruptive student, and teachers and administrators are seemingly more concerned with following procedures than providing an educational opportunity for the offenders (Jones, E.P., 2018).   Schools, in other words, rarely have the resources and/or training to deal effectively with the countless behavioral issues that students bring from their homes and communities, and the disciplinary consequences are often disproportionately administered to minority students (Rumberger, R. W.; Losen, D. J. 2016). Very few educators, if any, would dare to argue that alternative school settings in the overwhelming majority of school systems were equal to regular schools academically. The UCLA Civil Rights Project (https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/) noted that schools with high suspension rates are less safe, less equitable and have lower academic performance outcomes than schools with lower suspension rates (Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E., Johnson, D. 2013).
     Zero tolerance policies for students, once seen as an answer to disruptive behavior in schools, have been found to be counterproductive and ineffective in preventing recidivism (www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/08/zero-tolerance).  These policies not only fail to make schools safer or smarter, the unintended consequences are increased incidents of bad behavior, higher dropout rates and  the punishments and consequences are disproportionately applied to students of color.
     Restorative justice for schools is a set of principles and practices that looks at student misbehavior and disruption with the goal of not only repairing the harm done and restoring the relationships of those involved but ultimately teaching the common values of respect, inclusion, responsibility, empathy, honesty, openness and accountability (Zehr, 2003) without resorting to suspensions, expulsions and alternative school assignments.  Instead of focusing on the crime and punishment of offenders, restorative justice asks who has been hurt, what are their needs and who has the obligation of addressing those needs and resolving the harm done. School -based restorative justice includes prevention, intervention and re-integration aspects. Since a school is an easily defined community of teachers, staff, students and their families, restorative practices can help schools create and maintain a positive school culture and climate (edutopia.org/stw/glenview-case-study). 
  John Hattie (Hattie, 2009) developed a  method of ranking various influences related to learning and achievement according to their effect size.  Effect sizes greater than .4 have an above average impact on student achievement. Home Factors, for example, including social class, help with homework, the extent to which the learner’s education is thought to be important, maternal involvement and play materials, were measured at .52 effect size. Parental involvement and parent aspirations (.51 effect size), were also an important influence on student academic achievement.  Teacher students relationships (.72 effect size) were emphasized as an important influence on student learning by students, parents, and Principals but not by Teachers.  
     Another important influence on student learning (.84 effect size) was the number of hours the student was actively taught per day.  Frequent removal of the student through suspension, In-School suspension or other factors may have a negative influence on student achievement.  Comprehensive school reform efforts have consistently documented the academic effectiveness of programs designed to increase the time students spend engaged in learning (Borman, Hewes, Overman and Brown 2003) (Zurawsky, 2004). Additionally, in classrooms where management appears to be ineffective and disciplinary power struggles between students and the Teachers are apparent instructional time is substantially reduced (Vavrus and Cole, 2002). 
     The WORKS (Working On Refocusing, Redirecting, Realigning Kids Successfully) program is a restorative justice based program currently in use in several public schools and systems in Georgia.  The stated purposes of the program are to improve the relationship between school and home through parental involvement, implement strategies to improve teacher - student relationships and to implement alternatives to suspension and strategies to improve student behavior and decrease the amount of instructional time lost. The programs’ goals are to improve targeted students’ attendance, increase academic performance, improve parental engagement and provide strategies for parents and teachers to more effectively guide student success than in traditional disciplinary methods..
     George Washington Carver High School is a majority -minority high school in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus GA.  The school is a STEM school and has about 1136 students and 92 faculty and staff. The graduation rate at the school has increased from 76.4% in 2015 to 86.31% in 2018. About 91% of Carver’s students are minority students. 
       The Second Chance WORKS program has been partnered with George Washington Carver High School in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus GA for the past two academic years. The program, instituted first as a pilot program and continued in 2018 upon approval for funding, paired a certified restorative justice trainer/consultant with the needs of the school through interviews with Administrators, Teachers and an LEA Administrator, and implemented a comprehensive program of 36 modules based on leadership, social emotional learning and academic achievement skills in place of ISS or OSS for disciplinary and/or attendance issues  Each module contains a statement of purpose, a video to explain the purpose of the lesson, an engaging scenario that allows the student to role play and see a situation from multiple perspectives and an opportunity for reflection about what has been learned. Students are selected for participation by a team composed of the WORKS consultant, school administrators, LEA administrators and the ISS Coordinator. Students are recommended for program participation based on a combination of disciplinary and attendance factors. Rather than serve time in In School Suspension or Out of School Suspension the students and parents agree to participate in the WORKS program modules. Parent participation in Saturday programs/modules are a requirement for student enrollment in the WORKS program.  In January 2017 and again in January 2018 forty (40) GWCHS students were selected for the WORKS program and assigned times to begin working with the WORKS consultant.
     The WORKS Consultant supervises the students during the school day as they work individually on the modules, and students work at their own pace.  WORKS sessions, each led by a certified Restorative Justice trainer, are held each school week Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Saturday sessions for students assigned out of school suspensions are held every other week, and the Saturday sessions are those that parents of student offenders are required to attend.  Results, as indicated in the data below, show comparisons of discipline rates for GWCHS for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Of the 40 students originally assigned to the WORKS program in January 2018, two students were withdrawn from school by their parents rather than participate. Of the 38 remaining students, parents of 8 individual students were required to attend Saturday sessions with their children as an alternative to OSS.  All 8 did so, and completed the program. The 38 students from all four grade levels (9, 10, 11 and 12) had compiled a total of 116 disciplinary referrals for the current school year in the five months prior to their January assignment to the WORKS program. During and after their participation, there were 26 disciplinary referrals issued to participating students. Students that recognize their own lack of achievement are now beginning to volunteer for participation in the program in addition to those assigned for disciplinary reasons.
      Reduced suspension rates for ISS and OSS students mean more days in class for those students and increased learning time. It atso means teachers no longer provide make up or make work lessons for students in ISS or OSS.  The chart below indicates that the WORKS program, in conjunction with PBIS training, has significantly decreased the average number of discipline referrals per day per month in the course of one school year.



     Similar restorative justice based programs were instituted in Turner Elementary School, Albany Middle School and Dougherty Comprehensive High School in Albany Georgia.  These schools are part of the Dougherty County School District. The district student population is over 89% minority and represents 81% economically disadvantaged students and their families.  The program details for each school replicate those of the WORKS program at G.W. Carver High School, and the program framework, policies and implementation are similar. The resultant discipline data from each school is listed in the charts below.











     The data indicates the WORKS program, implemented in conjunction with a school -wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support program, reduces significantly not only the number of disciplinary incidents during the observed segments of the respective school years, but the combination of restorative justice methods and required parental involvement can positively impact the overall school culture and student and parental behaviors. The data also indicates the restorative justice model may provide an efficacious solution to many disciplinary issues in schools as opposed to simply a consequence.  As Assistant Principal Lisa Norris noted, “the works program at GW Carver High School has served to reduce the number of discipline referrals, the number of ISS assignments and the days of school missed for OSS assignments. Our students in the program learn that correction or direction by another student, a teacher or an administrator is not meant as a personal attack, and that there are other, more appropriate ways to respond than confrontation. Fewer disciplinary issues and consequences also mean our school climate and academic achievement have improved significantly.”




Dr. James Arnold
     Dr. Arnold retired after serving 41 years in public schools as a Band Director, Assistant Principal, High School Principal and Superintendent of Schools. He has published numerous articles in a wide variety of journals and educational publications, and currently serves as an Adjunct at Columbus State University and Troy University Phenix City.






References

American Psychological Association Zero-Tolerance Task Force, Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?, Vol. 63, No. 9, 852-862.

Balfanz, R., byrnes, v., and Fox, J., 2018, Sent Home and Put Off Track: The Attendance, Disproportionalities and Consequences of Begin Suspended in the Ninth Grade, Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, Vol. 5: Iss 2, Article 13.

Borman, G., Hewes, G., Overman, L., & Brown, S. (2003) Comprehensive School Reform and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis, Review of Educational Research, 73, 125.

Brookings Educational Research, 2017, Race and School Suspensions. Brown Center Report Part III.

Hattie, John, 2009  Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Corwin Press, US.

Jones, E. P., The Link Between Suspension, Expulsion and Dropout Rates, America’s Promise Alliance

Rumberger, R. W., Losen, D. J. 2016, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and it’s Disparate Impact, The Civil Rights Project.

Steinberger, M., Allensworth, E., Johnson, D. 2013, What Conditions Jeopardize and Support Safety in Urban School: The Influence of Community Characteristics, School Composition and School Organizational Practices on Student and Teacher Reports of Safety in Chicago, The Civil Rights Project, Closing the School Discipline Gap Conference, January 2013.

Vavrus, F & Cole, K. (2002) “I didn’t do nothin”: The Discursive Construction of School Suspension, The Urban Review, 34(2), 87-111.

Zehr, Howard, 2014, The Little Book of Restorative Justice,  Good Books, New York, NY.

Zurawsky, Chris, 2004, Closing the Gap: High Achievement for Students of Color, AERA Research Points, 2(3).


                                                                                                    

More information on the WORKS program may be found at https://www.chancesforkids.org/

7/20/19

Terms of Enrichment

Terms of Enrichment


         It would seem that Congress, almost without anyone noticing, has set themselves up over the last 60 years or so to a point where “politician” has become an acceptable, if not necessarily respected, profession. Up until the 1950’s, serving as a member of Congress was still considered, barring the occasional national emergency or world war, part time employment, and elected citizens not only kept their primary jobs they did not intend to make politics a career.  The original intent (you can look it up) was that serving was an obligation to be endured and not a career choice. “What’s wrong with politics as a career?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t we be glad that someone wants the responsibility of helping run our country effectively?” Why, yes, I answer quickly. We should indeed if that were the case. What we see instead is that Congress lives in its own world divorced completely from the realities of the citizens of our country, is neither effective nor responsible and as a group lacking the moral fiber and self discipline to make difficult decisions.
     I believe there are several reasons for this. First and foremost, Washington DC may be IN America but its inhabitants do not represent the beliefs or feelings of most Americans.  Perhaps there is an invisible wall defined by the Beltway that excludes common sense, patriotism and fiscal responsibility from those within. Insulation over an extended period of time from the constituents they are supposed to represent leaves many Congressmen hopelessly out of touch and subject to the opinions, beliefs and policies of party leaders and lobbyists. While their original idea may have been to represent their own geographical area of the country, the myopic effect of constantly being the center of attention surrounded by lobbyists, news media and fellow politicians eventually leads them away from being a representative and into the misguided belief that they are leaders. They are not. They are representatives and nothing more. The longer lawmakers spend in DC the more likely they are to become part of the problem and a member of what has become a permanent governing political class exempt from many of the laws they pass for the citizens they represent. If experience is such a positive thing then why do so many issues go unsolved? Perhaps because their primary purpose is in reelection and the accumulation of power and not service to their state and country. .
     It would seem the longer one serves as a political elite the less interested and less likely they are to attempt to solve any issue for fear of losing votes, for fear of having no issues to campaign upon and especially for fear that the public in general might discover how useless most of them really are. If news reports over the last decade or so are to be believed, the primary purpose of a politician seems to be pointing out the verbal faux pas of those in the opposing party. My belief is that should your primary occupation be playing “gotcha” with politicians from the other party, that behavior reflects far more negatively on you than on those you are discussing. You certainly don’t have to be elected to behave like an eighth grader.
     There are several studies that indicate that the longer Congress is in session the less effective they become and the longer and more complex laws become.  The complexity of a law is inversely proportional to its effective enforcement, and, even worse, complexity practically guarantees increased costs. They do seem to be rather efficient at spending other peoples’ money, and the profligacy of pork in the budgetary process provides plenty of evidence of waste and financial mismanagement. What is Congressional pork, after all, except monetary bribes for votes from the people back home? If reelection were not a primary concern perhaps it would be easier to cut Congressional spending.
     Congress has also, quietly and with little or no fanfare, set up their own retirement system independent of Social Security, exempted themselves from health care choices that were mandated for every other citizen, and extended themselves the benefits of larger staffs, transportation, travel and postal services all at public expense.  How many of us still depend upon the postal service as our primary means of communication and commerce? Not many, yet Congress spends about $17 million dollars per year on this privilege for their own use. First class travel expenses also run about $15 million per year. Junkets is an apt description of these vacations posing as “fact finding missions” to other countries.
     Add to all of this the fact that Congress is spending our country into oblivion and you can begin to understand at least part of their lack of popularity (less than 20% approval for the last 10 years). The budgetary process in Washington seems to most citizens to be nonexistent, and based solely on arguments between the two parties on whether or not to continue raising the current budgetary limits rather than reigning in spending to manageable levels consistent with the amount of money available to spend. It’s apparently difficult for people that see themselves as the country’s leaders to say “we can’t afford that because we don’t have the money” or, even more germane, “that function is not one the Federal government should be undertaking.”  When they begin discussing, on rare occasions, “how do we pay for this” then the answer almost invariably becomes “why, more taxes of course.” Budgets should not work that way. Our budgets at home don’t. The answer is not in raising taxes or printing more money but in cutting programs and expenditures that we cannot afford, no longer need or should not have been a Federal program to begin with. Did you know $1.7 billion of our taxes pay for maintenance and upkeep for over 770,000 unused buildings nationwide each year? Can anyone tell me why we still need to fund the Rural Electric Association? How about $6.34 million for artwork at a California Veteran’s Affairs Center? A Federal Department of Education? The Federal Register, available online, is printed every day and given to members of Congress at a cost of over $1 million each year. Responsible representatives should know that sometimes, for the good of the family or the good of the country, you have to say NO.
     Which brings me to another problem.  Congress’ primary purposes seem to be centered on reelection rather than what’s good for the country. The issue of reelection is presented to constituents as the importance of keeping “experience” and “leadership” when in fact it is neither. Loyalty of those whose primary purpose is reelection will quickly go to those that provide the money necessary for the process rather than those that cast the actual votes, and party loyalty becomes far more important than loyalty to “the people” primarily because of the sums involved.
     It would seem to me that Congress has in fact become a financially lucrative (if rather shady) career that it was never intended to be, and that politicians are far too afraid of saying no and taking the chance of offending voters or contributors than in actually doing what they think best for the country without consideration of who might be offended. The lack of moral fiber, character and leadership are astounding.
     I have several suggestions. 
First - there is no reason politicians cannot telecommute and work from home at least part of the time.  Mama always said that if you find yourself in a toxic environment the first thing you should do is remove yourself from it. Don’t tell me that technology can’t make that happen. If I can press a button on my computer and simultaneously order and pay for anything from anywhere and have it arrive at my home three days later I believe technology has progressed to the point where politicians can study, communicate and vote from afar. This will allow more time among the people they are supposed to represent and less time within the Washington Beltway. 
Second - every Senator and Representative should be a part of Social Security and whatever health care they approve for everyone else. Separate health care and separate pension systems, both funded by tax money, are lipstick on a pig.  Congress should never be exempt from laws they pass for every other citizen. 
Third - if we cannot put enough public pressure on Congress to impose the same term limits on themselves they did for the office of President there must be a grassroots movement to impose those limits by never voting for the same candidate more than twice. It:s that simple and does not need Congressional action. When a politician has served two terms, discover for yourself how easy it is to just say no.
Fourth - serving in Congress should return to being a part time position.  The end of the “professional politician” would immediately make representatives more accountable to the people they serve. Good businessmen are almost never found in politics. If they were there they would never allow some of the idiocy we see in Washington DC to occur.  Imagine your business - whatever it is - sending a significant part of its profits to a competing business in another country as “foreign aid.”. Imagine allowing your business under any circumstances to lose track of 6 billion dollars or so because of “improper control of contracting procedures” and nobody is held accountable.  A lot of the financial insanity would end quickly if accountability were inherent and not avoided.
Fifth - Each member of Congress should be given a budget for staff, travel, mailing and all expenses. Anything they spend over that amount will be personally funded.
     The purpose of our elected representatives has become confused and misguided to the point that self aggrandizement, personal enrichment and the accumulation of power have replaced representation of the people that elected them.  Harry Truman had it right. “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I'll show you a crook.” I don’t care that they make $174K per year, but I do care that most of them seem to leave office far wealthier than when they were first elected. Perhaps being part time would let the honest ones serve more effectively if for no other reason than by limiting the time the crooks have in office. Wouldn’t it be nice for adults to be serving our country again, and to have statesmen rather than politicians? You can make that happen. All you have to do is make “career” and “politician” mutually exclusive terms.