A Closet Libertarian

It’s been a very long time since I have posted political musings.  Today is a stormy day, I’m missing a family reunion due to back pain, and an email I received several days ago from my mom reminded me that voting is a privilege AND a responsibility.  All those things add up to RESEARCH time.

So while I wait for the soup on the stove to finish simmering, I’ve got my feet up and my laptop in my lap, fingers and brain clicking at the speed of light…well, almost.

First I need to send out a thank you to the Dallas Morning News for providing an online Voter’s Guide.  Candidates for the various races were mailed questions, and the News publishes their responses in an easy-to-read, side-by-side format.  I receive voting guides from various family-friendly organizations as well as homeschooling PACs, but I do like to read the words of the candidates themselves when making a decision.  As a writer myself, I know that our true inclinations and beliefs are revealed through the words we choose.  Reading the candidate responses has been enlightening, to say the least.

This year I took it upon myself to read some responses from ALL candidates, not just those of the two main parties.  As I see it, BOTH of our major parties are to blame for the state of our nation.  I am strongly in favor of approaching problems with innovative solutions.  As I read the responses of the candidates, I looked with an eye towards those candidates who, like me, are ready to challenge the status quo.  After all, according to Albert Einstein, insanity is:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

What I have found is surprising: I like the Libertarian candidates better than the Republican ones!  The advent of electronic voter’s guides has allowed me access to candidates that in the past I never would have considered.  They have little or no cash base and, up until recently, have had to rely on old fashioned “word of mouth” to get the word out about their stand on the issues.  They do not have the funds to run annoying television or telephone ad campaigns.  But they do have access to electronic media such as websites, blogs, and social sites like Facebook.

My surprising Libertarian leanings don’t have as much to do with rooting for the underdog as you might think.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that until the laws of man meet the rights granted us by our creator, we will have injustice in this world.  We who have the privilege to govern ourselves will forfeit that right if we do not exercise it in thoughtful, judicious ways.  For years we have jumped on a party bandwagon.  Millions of us pull the lever or push the button to blindly select those candidates who are affiliated with “our” party.

Has it worked?

I’ll let you be the judge of that for yourself.

Here are some of my most interesting discoveries.

Governor’s Race on Education

Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry apparently does not really understand what it means to have smaller government.  He’s in favor of smaller government yet eagerly touts his record in education spending.  But don’t take my word for it:

I’ve twice signed budgets that cut overall general revenue spending and education has always remained a priority. From 2000 to 2009, the state’s share of public education spending alone increased from $11 billion per year to $20 billion, an 82 percent increase.

How is that small government?  How is that local control?  He who doles out the money controls the strings. Governor Perry is apparently proud of that 82 percent increase in spending.  Of course I want the students in Texas to receive an excellent education, but frankly, they are not.   They are not learning how to think or to reason. Colleges devote a portion of freshmen years to re-teaching writing and thinking skills to their high school graduates!  I would like to see the classical education approach used in public schools…yet we continue to teach to the test, throw money at the problems, and expect different results.

His Libertarian opponent, Kathie Glass, has a different take on school funding:

We grossly overpay for our government schools which, largely due to lack of local consumer control, produce an inferior product. I call for elimination of the school property tax, which would reduce school funding by about 40%. Continued funding from the state should be distributed to local school districts on a per capita basis for citizens — free public education should not be provided to non-citizens. We must provide for the ability of local school boards — with voter approval — to steer their own course free of mandates from Austin or Washington by adding to this basic package from the state, to be able to supplement programs and services that the local community desires and is willing to pay for, and to determine how those extras will be funded.

Moving towards local control is a valid option.  Texas is not a cookie cutter state.  School districts in rural West Texas have vastly different priorities than Dallas ISD.  Currently, state money is tied to hoops that local districts must jump through (such as the aforementioned attendance rates).  The state even mandates the days when schools must be in session, taking the decision out of the hands of those who should have the right to decide for themselves…the voters.

Eliminating the school property tax would certainly be a step out of the status quo!  Many private schools educate students on much less than the $11,082 that Texas spends per pupil.  Where does all that money go?  The last time I checked, a second grade teacher with 22 students does NOT earn anywhere near $243,804 a year in salary.  Parents are essentially forced to pay into a system where they have no choice on the curriculum, the teacher, the school, or the principal.  All of those are pre-determined by governmental gurus who think they know better than parents what kids need to learn, when.  Vouchers would allow parents to vote on the BEST schools with their pocketbooks, and the free market system would soon put failing schools out of business where they belong.

On to the next topic: standardized testing in schools.  As a former classroom teacher, I know that standardized tests do have their place in the education continuum.  I use them as part of my homeschooling experience.  However, the difference between the Stanford 10 that I use and the Texas tests are immense.  For one thing, I do ZERO test preparation.  I use the Stanford as a tool to help me see where my child stands in her skill growth from one year to the next.  Texas uses the TAKS test as a promotion requirement, and it uses the test results to appraise the effectiveness of the teacher in particular and the school in general.  The test is scrutinized to see differences in racial performances.  Teachers facing contract renewal and salary increases teach to the test rather than inspire kids to learn.  I would like to see Texas go back to a nationalized, norm-referenced test such as the Stanford 10 as a once-a-year measurement and abolish the current methodology of basing everything on the TAKS test.

What does Governor Perry think about standardized tests?

Texas has continuously seen progress in student achievement statewide, as our students continue to rise to the challenge. It is important that we continue to raise the bar so that our students are the best equipped to compete in the global market. There is no bigger priority for Texas’ future, so moving forward, we are phasing in the STAAR assessment tests, a new assessment tool for elementary and middle school students, and high school students will be required to perform on their end of course exams.

STAAR assessment tests will phase out TAKS in the next school year…but slapping a different name on a test that will continue to be used to punish students and teachers (not to mention bore the inclination to learn out of most students) is NOT the direction I would like to see us move towards in public education.  Governor Perry signed the law.  But STAAR is more of the same, under a different name.  What’s the definition of insanity again?

What say you, Kathie Glass?

The current rating system of testing is a joke and a waste of time and money. Student and teachers alike are abused by this farce. State mandated tests are only deemed necessary because our state government is grossly overpaying for education and would like to be able to show Texas voters that the money is not being wasted, but that cannot be done, as the money is being wasted.We should return public education to local control. This includes the ability and responsibility of local school boards and voters to decide what extras they desire in addition to the basic funding from the state, and how they are going to pay for them.

So far for me?  That’s Kathie Glass, 2.  Perry, 0.

Under the weight of these testing requirements and likely as a result of having NOT been taught foundational concepts to mastery (such as math facts and reading skills), many Texas high school students drop out of school.  Schools go after these students zealously, but their reasons for doing so are not what you might expect.  In Texas, school funding is tied to attendance.  Drop-outs equal diminished funding.

What does Governor Perry think should be done to encourage these kids to stay in school?

Moving forward, I have proposed expanding the virtual school network, which will expand online classes so that students who have dropped out can achieve a high school diploma without being having to take class in a traditional brick and mortar school. Further, I believe that driving in this state is a privilege and if you are under the age of 18, to keep your license you must remain in school working towards your diploma…

The virtual school network might be a good fit for some students who CHOOSE to continue to take advantage of a free public education.  But taking away the privilege to drive a car (and thus work) unless you are working towards a diploma is a violation of a person’s right to make personal choices.  My grandfather dropped out of school in the sixth grade so he could go to work to support his family.  Granted, this was in the Great Depression, but the principle still applies.  Furthermore, some high school student drop-outs might actually be better served if they learn life lessons in the real world rather than in the artificial environment provided by the school system.

Kathie Glass agrees with me:

Repeal truancy laws. Repealing a bad law does not require any funding. In fact, it will save money as we reduce class sizes and are not forced to waste precious classroom time on students who for whatever reason do not want to be there and are apt to be very disruptive.

Our dropout rate means that we are turning out an educational product so bad that we can’t give it away. The solution is not to put the intended consumer and his parents in jail, but to improve the product so that it does not have to be forced on unwilling participants.

Teachers can return to teaching in a calmer environment to students ready, willing, and able to learn, and can cease being misused as babysitters or wardens.

As a former classroom teacher, I say AMEN to that!

What about pre-Kindergarten education?  Is that necessary?   Some children are just not developmentally ready to be in school until they are older.  Having the ability to sit still without distracting others is a pre-requisite to success in the classroom, and it does not hit every child at age 3, 4, 5,6, or even 7 or 8.  That’s why homeschooling is such an attractive option: active kids can learn at home while being active.  Kinesthetic learners need to move around in order to retain information, but they are at a huge disadvantage in the classroom with its space constraints and the large class sizes.

The best thing parents can do to prepare their children for school is to READ to them.  Surround them with books.  Show them through their own actions that books are important.  It is not the job of the state to instill a love of learning in children.  The Governor can certainly use the bully pulpit to address parents and encourage them to make reading a large part of their children’s lives.

Governor Perry believes educating the very young is essential to their future success.

Texas must continue to take the right steps to guarantee a quality education for all students. Our state spends more on Pre-K than any other state, and is one of the top 5 states in the nation in the percentage of its students served in Pre-K. In Texas, every economically disadvantaged, military, bilingual and foster child is eligible to attend half-day Pre-K. Further, in 2009, more than $7.9 million in grants provided intensive instruction for “Limited English Proficiency” students and training to teachers. For the 2010-11 biennium more than 9.7 million each year has been appropriated for the intensive “LEP” instruction.

Our “smaller government” Governor is proud to announce that his state — that is in danger of running out of funds — will spend a combined 19.4 million dollars in specialized instruction for the poor, military, bilingual, and foster children.  My beef with this policy is this: does throwing more money at the problem solve it?  Are we being smart about how we structure this instruction?  Are there any evidence-based studies that prove that paying for additional training of teachers translates into better performance in these groups?

Opponent Kathie Glass echos my initial thoughts about preK instruction:

Children under the age of five should not be in government schools, they should be at home, in day care, or with babysitters, as their parents choose. Studies have shown that Head Start and similar programs have no lasting effect and are a waste of money.

What about higher education and the rising tuition rates?  Governor Perry favors a four-year “freeze” on tuition — a tactic I also agree with.  (Wow!  Finally, I agree with the Republican!)  What I want to know is, could there be a relationship between the rising tuition rates and the amount of state-issued financial aid to students?

Under my leadership, financial aid has been increased by more than 900 percent.

Nine hundred percent?  Where does that money come from?

Kathie Glass has a different take on higher education:

We must refuse in-state tuition to non-citizens, eliminate the 10% rule, get rid of remedial classes for students who clearly are not ready for college and may never be, require professors to teach full time, and eliminate wasteful and unnecessary research that adds nothing to education. Finally, we should recognize that not everyone needs to or wants to go to a four year college and provide more access to two year community or junior colleges, and better and earlier vocational training.

All these observations are just from the Governor’s race!  If I had to affix a label to my political leanings, I suppose I would be an Independent in the truest sense of the word.  I prefer to select my leaders based on their individual merits and beliefs and not just on the letter attached to the end of their names.  Based on this initial review, however, it appears that deep down I am a Libertarian!

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