Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm Sorry, But I'm a Coffee Drinker

I must admit, I remember being really excited the first time I read an article about the Tea Party. How great to have a contingent of Americans stepping away from the political norm, banding together and speaking up about the ills of government. These are smart, educated, successful individuals who have a passion about the direction and role of government in our society. But as I continued to be inundated with Tea Party politics, I realized that the Tea Party misses an important part of the change they seek.

The government has a role to play in our society. I don't care how conservative a person feels about politics but to assume that government should go away is irresponsible and downright ignorant. If you have spent anytime in a developing country, you would become quickly aware of how much we take our government for granted. Transporation, Education, Food and Drug Regulations, Air and Water Quality standards, National Defense, and Research and Development. Its absurd to think that we could succeed as a nation without these things. So many countries are unable to succeed because they do not possess these attributes of government and it leaves their citizens poor, sick, uneducated, and economically weak.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine and we were contemplating what the next American Revolution would look like. People rising up with their guns, marching on Washington, voting every incumbent out of office. Conservatives attacking liberals, Liberals attacking conservatives, rioting and looting in the streets. Of course with the Tea Party coverage by the corporate media supplemented with their own forms of propaganda, one would think that is how it will happen.

But don't drink the tea, it won't change a thing. If they wanted a revolution in government, if they truly wanted a conservative agenda, then they would be using their energies to build sustainable communities that can succeed with minimal control from Washington DC. They would focus on volunteerism to support local infrastructures. They would be focusing on giving back to their towns and neighborhoods. They would be growing their own foods to bypass government regulations and standards. They would stop buying goods from corporate America who sustain our members of Congress.

But they don't do this, so their conservative agenda is bogus. Unfortunately it is all talk and they have the corporate media on their side. I would advise the Tea Party to contemplate the words of Ghandi. "Be the change you seek."

I'm sorry, but I'm a coffee drinker these days. I am not buying the tea without the flavor.

Monday, April 12, 2010

America Turning 21: Hope We Don't Regret it Tomorrow?

Most of us envision that wild night; smokey bars and all the friends trying to get the birthday girl or guy to take that 21st shot of alcohol. And the story or memory is far better than the physical reality of this rite of passage in our society. I got off lucky I guess, I had my wisdom teeth removed the night before. My recovery was much easier than most of my friends.

But this classic night in our young adulthood could be a symptom of something bigger, something more complicated going on inside of us; confusion, fear, and the whole "Who Am I?" conundrum that we all go through as we become adults. I think this is what is happening in America today.

Think about the stages of life and compare it to historical or cultural transitions in our country.

Infancy of America(1791-1860) The Constitution had been written (DNA) but Americans were trying to figure out how to walk the American way. Simple cultural make up, mostly white, everybody else something less.

The Terrible Twos(1861-1890) Our first fight (the Civil War) divided us but we also had a huge growth spurt westward. No, No, No, We still only wanna be Caucasian. Why can't we have it? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Bang!

Early Teens (1900-1945) Massive growth and successfully ruling the world. (Is this not how pre-teens are in the house.) Suddenly it wasn't just about white and non-white, our whole body was changing; the color, the language, the religion.

The Rebellious Years (1955-1985) James Dean, Hippies, Standing up to authority and seeing what we are capable of followed by an experimental period of mind-alteration, followed by a slow rehabilitation phase. Now that our body had changed, what could we do with it?

The 21st Birthday (1990-2010) Who are we anyway? Its a little hazy and I hope we don't wake up with a headache tomorrow asking ourselves "What happened last night?"

No doubt about it, we are in the midst of another great transition in the American life and just as the liberal young hippies stood up against the government's wartime policies, a Tea Party movement of conservative anarchists is railing against our government's fiscal policies. And during both era's, most of these movements and counter movements stemmed from fear of the unknown and confusion about who we are becoming as a country and this leads to anger, an emotion we have seen in every transition in America.

So lets not be afraid of who we are, or who we become. Lets put that anger aside, its never solved any problems anyway. We should embrace the cultural changes and wake up from our 21st Birthday party feeling refreshed (not hungover) with a new plan and a new vision for America.

When America hits her 30's, I hope we can view this time as a period of growth and self-understanding. Its a coming of age as a multicultural society founded on common principles, not common race, heritage, religion, or language. Then we can get back to the business of America: the pursuit of happiness for ALL individuals.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What the Healthcare Bill Missed

A historic moment indeed! If you are able to see through the thick cloud of misconceptions, propaganda, and hate speech that has hovered over the Healthcare bill, if you are able to look passed your own self interests and understand that millions of people financially struggle to care for themselves or their loved ones old and young, and if you are able to recognize the drastic differences in the social/cultural/economic make up of this country compared to 50 years ago, then and only then will you begin to see that the Affordable Health Care for America Act was needed and needed now!

But in no way was this bill perfect, far from it indeed. Its a shame that the politics behind this bill resorted to backscratching and secret deals. But again, which bill isn't. The politically dividing lines are more than etched into our social fabric today. They are carved. And the opinion of our population is diverse This bill is a perfect example of what happens when you try to accomodate everyone, even the people on the other side of the carved line of ideology.

So today I do applaud the democrats for their success with this imperfect bill. It has been a long time coming for this political victory and many people have waited, filed bankrupcy, and died waiting for this reform to happen. But there are some key elements that the lawmakers missed.

1. Tort Reform. It just seems so obvious. Doctor diagnoses patient. Patient doesn't like diagnosis. Patient find lawyer. Lawyer finds that doctor didn't provide some menial test. Patient sues doctor. Patient wins. Doctor pays. Patient dies anyway. Doctor has to raise costs of healthcare to pay damages to patients family and malpractice insurance costs. We need to protect doctors from this abuse. Democratic legislators would be wise to allow tort reform to be a part of any revisions which are sure to follow.

2. Health and Wellness. The United States is home to the largest portion of unhealthy human beings on the planet. We live stagnant lives and the western diet is not balanced. We eat food from boxes that are preserved in toxic chemicals like high fructose corn syrup. We have record breaking statistics of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. We should not be allowed to continue living unhealthy lifstyles. If you want to decrease Healthcare costs, start living healthy lives. Very easily could some parameters be defined regarding an individuals lifestyle that would determine the amount of coverage they deserve.

3. Business Incentives for Healthy Employees. Which costs more a gym membership for 200 employees or healthcare for 200 employees? Let me guess. Why not provide tax credits and benefits for businesses that provide opportunities for healthy lifestyles within their workforce. Being physically active makes people happier, healthier, and more positive. This in turn would create better work environments and lower healthcare costs.

So, I will leave you with this question as we continue dappling in the controversy surrounding Healthcare in America. Do insurance companies take advantage of us because the government allows it, or is it because we have come to rely on healthcare to provide the patchwork for our unhealthy lifestyles? Don't expect insurance companies to do the right thing and don't expect the government to pass a perfect bill. One is driven by profit, the other is driven by a complex collage of interests we call the people of the United States.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When a Student Makes Your Day

The last few weeks have been very stressful. As the California budget looms over teachers, tensions get high, fear sets in and the rumors start flying. This describes the recent days within my school district in Danville.

True colors often shine in times of uncertainty. Why just two years ago, the San Ramon Valley Union School District was praised for employing excellent, highly trained teachers that provided rigorous curriculum that challenged students to think critically. Our state tests scores indicated this, our WASC (Western Association for Schools and Colleges) accreditation indicated this, and many Californians strived to send their students to this district. What changed? I don't know. But clearly it is a matter of perception in a time of stress among our community.

Keeping up with the local forums has been an eye opener. Its amazing what some will say behind a pseudonym. In just two years, teachers in our district are now labeled as obstructionists, unionists, freeloaders, and my favorite, babysitters for the rich white folk. I have also learned that public education is not highly regarded, teachers do not establish the learning environment of a classroom, and class size reduction is a union ploy to keep teachers hired, not to support students.

It was in this moment when an ex-student of mine approached me after school one day. He is a large, very lazy student who barely scrapes by in all of this classes. During his Sophomore and Junior year in which I taught him, he came across as ultra-conservative but never could argue his points and usually didn't know the issues well enough to discuss them in depth. A typical dialogue might have gone like this:
Mr. Gardner: "Hey, what do you think we should do to promote democracy in Iraq and help stabilize that country so our troops can come home?"
Student: "Why don't we just bomb them even more until they give in and surrender."
Mr. Gardner: "Hmmm, I don't know. How would that promote a peaceful existence between Iraq and the United States?"
Student: "Who cares. Can I go to the bathroom?"

When he approached me he had a very blank look on his face, almost sad. He held his hand out to shake mine and said, "Mr. Gardner. I'm a registered liberal."

I didn't know what to do or say in that second. My instinct was just to laugh. And I did. And I laughed some more, and then some more. He just stood there staring at me, almost looking a little offended. When I gained my composure, I asked, "How does one become a registered liberal?"

He told me about a couple of surveys he had taken that asked his opinions about political and social issues and how it all started making sense to him. I think he even mentioned that he had "seen the light." He seemed defeated as he was tellimg me how he fared on these surveys. It was the first time that I had a genuine smile on my face the whole week.

All good teachers realize this is a teachable moment. Of course I corrected him and said that liberals and conservatives aren't required to register but that you will need to register for a political party, if there is one, that suits your interests. I encouraged him to keep questioning his own biases and learning about the issues and of course offered him the opportunity to discuss this more at any other time. My door is always open.

I thought about this for a long time. Why would he pick me to tell this too? Does he consider me to be a flaming liberal? If so, am I biased teacher? In the end, I realized it wasn't about that at all. It was about a comfort level that he and I have established as a student and teacher. He was comfortable telling me and I was so happy that he chose me to express this to.

I ran into this student today on campus. I reached out and shook his hand and truly thanked him for opening up to me. I told him how stressed that week had been and that he had totally made my day! That he had really made me smile! And this student beamed at me like I have never seen before and I just smiled back.

As I slapped him on the shoulder I said, "Now get to class, the bell is gonna ring!"