Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tax Factor

I'm not one for getting taxed exorbitantly but I'm also not one who wants to just close his eyes and pretend that raising taxes is inherently bad and unnecessary.
This issue came to mind after reading that the state of Illinois was increasing taxes by 66%. 66% sounds like a huge number because percentage-wise, it is. It is also somewhat misleading. Their rates changed from 3% to 5% which for all those that weren't math majors is a whopping... 2% increase...

Heaven help us.

I'm sorry if I don't sound sympathetic, I am, it's just that when you spend more than you're taking in, things need to be done about it. If you believe in the things you're spending on, find ways to actually pay for it. Every little bit helps or hurts, depending on the which direction that little bit is going, but if a jump from 3% to 5% is going to help fix that budget gap, it needs to be done. It seems that politically the numbers and percentages game is thriving much to the nation's detriment. Describing that hike as a 66% adjustment is accurate mathematically but it's use only serves to leave the reader with an unimportant number. Thankfully the article I read that announced this did first mention the actual change from 3 to 5. Still, it is worth noting that when numbers are thrown around, especially in politics, there are ways to use factual statements deceptively and we need to be aware of that. Inevitably we'll hear somewhere down the road that the state's administration is horrible for springing a 66% tax hike on the people. Critical thinking dictates asking the whys and hows of numbers, and we should.

Natalie Munroe versus the educational system.

The educational system and parenting are, at this point in time, predominantly thought of as two separate albeit neighboring entities. They are about the same thing though, or at least they should be, and that is teaching a child how to grow into a responsible adult. There are certainly branches of that end goal including basic life skills all the way through complex math and language. Still the goal is the same, or at least it should be.

Articles I've come across in print and on broadcasts often lament the United States' position in educational benchmarks compared with nations all around the world. Political campaigns often highlight the issue and programs and funding have been devised and implemented with seemingly little effect. The vented frustrations of Mrs Munroe highlight what I believe to be an accurate trend. My reasons for not being surprised range from personal experience in my own schooling, observations of kids and teens, and the prevailing entertainment that is directed at them. Another key factor is the parenting and it's own trends over the past few decades. As usual, it seems that we (as a society) have swung from extreme to extreme. That transition seems to have probably started in the late 50's and swung to the opposite end by the 80's. From discipline that was overly harsh to softer and less immediate (but nonetheless life-changing), we seem to have dropped the ball in finding that middle ground that is effective and versatile.

Examples of what I find frightening are as follows:
- Parents and schools that don't spank. (Done right it's a quick, direct, and effective negative reinforcement on bad behavior.)
- Calling the police and prosecuting under 18 kids for minor offenses. (I read about a kid being charged with assault for shooting spit-wads recently)
- Parents expecting the school or state to raise their kids. (Discipline only on one side can lead to all sorts of bad stuff.)
- The philosophy that throwing more money at the problem is the answer. (Surely most western parents can relate to spending a ton on some gift or necessity and their kid not caring or responding gratefully at all. If a kid doesn't already like to read, chances are a new library building won't change that.)

In the case of Munroe, she is clearly dealing with kids that are savvy to the limits she's been placed under as a teacher. I may be mistaken but as evidenced by the reaction by many and the school itself, she apparently can't implement tough love tactics. Of course the things she said weren't meant for the school or students to see, but the reaction reveals the underlying policies regardless.

I don't think beating kids or berating them constantly is the way to go, but for crying out loud, if they're not responding to more adult methods of discipline, they should be treated as the child they're acting like. There is a difference between beating and spanking, berating and critical honesty. I'd submit that most teachers, including Monroe, care about their students and want them to succeed. The same goes for parents with (probably) a higher percentage. If kids are being punished, it should be as quickly after the offense as possible and they should be told exactly why they're being punished as well as the reason for it which is to put them on the right track because of the care you have for them. Physical discipline should be something that stings but does not truly harm the child. Both that and verbal bluntness should be prefaced and suffixed by communication about the reasons and concerns for their well-being. It should also be from a known authority figure.

Of course all of this is made more difficult because our society has been diluted in it's understanding of proper behavior and common courtesy. How can we hold people with different beliefs or non-belief accountable and how can some students be punished while others are not? At this point, many parents are as indignant as the students the send out into the schools. That of course includes parents throughout the economic spectrum as well as intellectual one. Some won't believe anything negative about their kid and usurp a teacher's authority in doing so without due diligence in investigating their own child. Sometimes it's in part due to economical strains or personal choices with parents being too busy, sometimes it's due to learned defiance. The short of it is that the whole issue is a tangled mess with many complications. Regarding my thoughts at the moment on this, it can be summarized about like this:

It seems like if some people would take their heads out of their own behinds that maybe just maybe they'd see the correspondence between ever-softening approaches to parenting and discipline in home and at school to the steady decline of our educational produce.

 From my experience in multiple locations throughout the world, I can offer this. Families that are strict in enforcing the expectations they have for their children tend to produce above average academic results. There are of course instances when it goes too far and traditional cultural preferences interfere with development in some areas. With that being said, most results speak for themselves and perfection is nearly always just out of grasp. Things that Munroe daydreamed of saying to some students may very well have been a good wake up call to the parents and student. I'm a fan of constructive criticism because it helps me learn. 

There is another possible answer for the plague of under-achievement in our schools. Production. There are some that just don't have a passion for academia or social interaction and they need something to do. Perhaps we should focus more on rebuilding manufacturing and blue collar work. We fancy ourselves as a highly intelligent white collar nation it seems when many of us would be just as happy running a farm or producing goods as opposed to simply offering services. Our focus has been on educating everyone for the "jobs of tomorrow" without considering that the giftings and predispositions of others favor trade-related practical education. I mention all this at the risk of running into a hundred other topics but it should be said. Part of the reason many don't go into work like that is because of the low wages and benefits which to address leads to a number of other socioeconomic issues and so this is where this post will end.