Archive for October, 2015

 

Every year the United States spends over $100 billion dollars on education and yet, we rank 36th as a nation in the world for educational quality and academically superior students. So what does $100 billion get us and where is the money going? For over 200 years, education was a matter left solely to parents and the local community, but in 1979 the former office of Health, Education and Welfare was split into two agency by President Carter forming the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. Ranked among the smallest of the cabinet positions, the department still has 5000 employees. Its stated mission is to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” This mission included the institution of Common Core and its re-teaching of our history to fit a Leftist agenda, and the department’s more insidious “P-20” plan that literally follows a student from cradle to grave, sharing information with other governmental agencies, violating, at the very least, a students’ rights to privacy. For $100 billion a year we get an academic version of the NSA, tracking, monitoring and recording all of our children’s movements within the educational framework, all inside an agency that has an insatiable desire to stick its nose into every facet of our childrens’ lives. Ten years ago there were 760 education-related programs spread across 39 agencies, costing taxpayers $120 billion a year. The situation has not improved much with educational spending at $107.6 billion in 2012. Every year the Department issues its Strategic Action Plan outlining its goals for the following school year and beyond. In comparing 2013 and 2014 two facts stand out. The first is that the goals for both years are entirely identical and, second, 2013 was an epic fail for turning around poor performing districts, at least in the DC district we previously investigated, that ranked lowest in the nation and spent the most per student at over $38000. Getting the picture?

Within the Department are a myriad of grant opportunities available for individuals, non-profit organizations, schools (surprise!) and “other” organizations and/or agencies. After reviewing the three hundred pages listing the grants, their descriptions and how much money is allocated to each one, it becomes apparent that anyone and his brother has an equal opportunity to apply for some type of funding. These grants run in the millions, can be used for virtually any purpose and aren’t necessarily educational in nature. For example, one grant allows equal opportunity for blind individuals to operate vending machine services in schools. Another allocated over $18 million in 2012 for the advocacy of disability rights. It also becomes obvious upon review that the number one use for allocation of these monies is to hire more teachers. Giving the teachers union more power and making sure there is an equal number of Coke machine contracts given to blind vendors is not going to raise our position as 36th on the world’s academic stage. The Department also operates with a variety of extraneous offices and subdivisions of its authority that appear to be completely unnecessary. For example, why does there have to be an Office of Risk Management? This office’s own mission statement is highly suspect: “As part of implementing Enterprise Risk Management throughout the Department, RMS is responsible for identifying risks and taking effective action to manage and mitigate risks that may adversely affect the advancement of the Department’s mission.” In other words, schools that refuse to implement a policy such as P-20 would be subject to action by the RMS. There is another office higher up the administrative food chain, the Office of Innovation and Improvement,that, among other things, handles better access to mental health treatment for veterans and their families, specifically mentioned in Obama’s executive order 13625, for suicide prevention and substance abuse. They, in turn, oversee another office that is instrumental in “innovation in television learning”. While this office is making sure Kermit remains relevant, it’s also staying on top of drug addicted veterans. Why is this a matter for the Department of Ed? With 5000 employees, you have to ask yourself if this department is even necessary.

Should we do away with the Department altogether as some conservatives have suggested? The

Department has been a total disaster and a thorn in the side of Republicans since its inception. Federal funding only accounts for about 10% of a state’s education budget, the remainder coming from state and local taxes. If this Department was eliminated, the supporting architecture of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that President Bush resigned would remain intact, including the ability to fund all the sacred cows of Title I spending (at $14 billion a year) and the language that guarantees equal educational opportunities and the monies saved in administrative costs and payroll could be rolled over into the states’ budgets. While the Department of Ed oversees Pell grants and the like, these monies could be returned to the states, who know better how to distribute funding ,as well. In all truthfulness, this department and the accompanying cabinet position has done nothing to justify its existence. The administrative affairs and political policies it implements does absolutely zero to add to the quality of a student’s educational success. Title I funding target underprivileged and under served districts, but this funding does more for the numbers of union voters than it actually does for the students.

Reagan tried to do away with the department, but learned that federal agencies don’t just die. There’s too much red tape, too much bureaucracy, too many lobbyists involved, tightly rolled up in neat little ball with Benjamin Franklin’s picture everywhere. There is no definitive solution. Should the department be left out in the cold to die? Probably. But, there exists every chance that even then it will be resurrected like Truman’s War Department, split again into two or more federal agencies and create just another black hole for taxpayer money to disappear in. The secret lies in returning the issue of education completely to parents and states with more educational options than our standard K through 12 fair. Doing this would not only assure more control of curriculum content and funding distribution, but perhaps starve the beast into extinction. However, until the decision is made to be fully responsible for our children’s education, when and what they are learning, the Frankenstein that is the Department of Ed will continue to grow.

 

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I had nothing pressing to do Tuesday afternoon, so being the Netflix junkie that I am, I sat down to entertain myself with a movie.  While admittedly I pay the fee every month pretty much just to keep LOST on permanent loop, I have developed a passion for British mysteries and the occasional feature film.  I decided on the Oliver Stone mindfuck “The Doors”.

I saw the movie when it came out in ’91 after having devoted the previous ten years of my life to in-depth and intricate study of the life and times of Jim Morrison. ( My parents probably shoulda thrown a flag on the play when I was reading The Lords and the New Creatures at 13 and making notes in the margins….)At the time, my reaction to the film was like everyone else in the theatre: “Wo…”  For two hours.  I won’t get into an indictment of Stone’s disregard for the truth in favor of ticket sales-that’s not my point.  What I want to discuss is why the Doors?  More specifically, why Morrison?  Why nearly 45 years later (that’s over FOUR FREAKIN’ DECADES, friends) are so many of us still enamored with the Myth of Morrison?

The Doors rose to fame during a very turbulent time in our history; everything was changing.  The relatively new concept of television brought the world into your livingroom every night at six.  Long-established social rules and mores were being rewritten.  We were in the middle of daring to travel off-planet.  What a time it was; political and social movements that make Ferguson look like a Sunday school picnic took place constantly, and a younger generation was being made more aware of what they believed all the generations that had come before them had done wrong, and were doing it very publicly, keenly searching for that missing element that would set things “right”, whether it was through turning the accepted social conventions upside down or becoming disciples of Dr. Leary.  The Doors music at the time was like nothing else out there, and Morrison’s voice was so different, so distinct.  But, let’s be real; you can listen to LA Woman just so many times.  I mean, really -unless you’re stuck in the 60’s (or, hell, even the 80’s) there’s much better music out there today.  Is it because Morrison was one of the founding members of the 27 Club?  John Keats was 25 when HE died but he didnt make the cover of Rolling Stone.  So, what really IS the source of Morrison’s staying power?

I think it has to do with what Morrison was, away from the music.  It was never the music that drove him; he was uncomfortable with fame-so uncomfortable, in fact, that early on he couldn’t even face his audience.  Undeniably gifted, Morrison’s REAL talent lay in the words he wrote- he truly was a 20th century poet.   His lifestyle of excess and his premature death fulfilled a need in the psyche of Western Consciousness. He assumed a role no one else would and became everything we weren’t, a Picaresque hero in a time of violent change.

The role of the rogue in western literature has played a prominent part since the ancient Greeks portrayal of Ulysses.  It survived through Chaucer and Boccaccio, on into Shakespeare and beyond, resonating with readers who identified with that same small part within themselves that they could never present to the world at large.  Social constraints, regardless of the age, dictated particular behaviors be condone, while others vilified to one degree or another. Across time, those that chose to operate outside those boundaries have drawn our attention and even our admiration.  Who among us hasn’t secretly desired to be an outlaw, ? To indulge even for a moment in the stereotypical sex drugs and rock n roll?  Of course, the vast majority of us would never actually do that if offered the opportunity, but damn! we sure do think about it!  Like Jimmy Carter, we lust for it in our thoughts and maintain our life of respectability.  But, it is through those rogues that we live.  In them, we fulfill our fantasies of a different woman every night, of thumbing our nose at rules and regulations, of spending and indulging like frat boys on vacation in Aruba with Daddy’s American Express.  Those rogues that we privately admire and wish to emulate give us the chance to do so vicariously, without exposing ourselves to that same judgement we’re trying to escape.

Morrison’s lifestyle was one of absolute, unapologetic excess.  He made no excuses for who or what he was; he never blamed his parents, his girlfriend, his band mates.  He didn’t drop acid and claim it was because of a rotten childhood.  He never went on Dick Cavett and said he slept around because a bad relationship left him empty.  he did what he did because-like every other rogue before him- he WANTED to.  He wanted to push the limits of society- he wanted to test the boundaries of his own consciousness.  He wanted to see how far he could go on stage before the cops clamped down.  He tested Life in all its limitations and pushed way past all acceptable barriers.

By the time he died, Morrison had become the Messiah of the Counter Culture.  He epitomized the Dark Cinderella; the rocket ride to fame with an equally meteoric fall.  He represented everything that every misunderstood teenager wanted to be, do and say- and couldn’t.  Watergate came and went and by the time the Reagan Era came round, lines were clearly drawn, regarding what was “socially acceptable” and what wasn’t; what Mainstream Society would condone and what it wouldn’t.  The lines have blurred considerably since then, and in some cases, for better or worse disappeared altogether, but we as individuals still wrestle with that dark side of ourselves, that side that we hide from everyone else, try to keep at bay.  But, we see it in Morrison.  We let it play out when we hear the stories, read the biographies, or watch the movies.  It’s ironic really.  The man that sought to break on through to the other side, allows us to keep that side within ourselves contained.  Who knew?

A year ago, I died.

I don’t know how it happened, or when, or if it even registered on all the gizmos and machines I was hooked up to in the operating room.  But, I know that I did, and it has taken me a year- a YEAR- to wrap my head around what happened to me and be able to relate it in a way that makes sense to anyone reading this.  I should also say there is only one other person that knows the full extent of what occurred, what I saw, what was said to me.  I entrusted it to this person because, well, she’s a believer, like me- she believes there’s something beyond all THIS, even though she’s never seen it, or seen evidence of it.  Now, because of what happened to me, she KNOWS, just like I do, that THIS is not what we think it is.

Let me begin by saying there was no Tunnel, no White Light, no warm fuzzy Beings enticing me to join them.  There was only my father, passed now nearly 15 years, sitting on a park bench beside a lake I was later to learn was in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  He was enjoying a sunny day with many people in the park, picnicking, playing frisbee.  He sat there on the bench with my dog, Jake, also gone nearly as long now, reading the paper, drinking coffee from a brown flowered coffee mug I recognized only too well.  Dad was happy to see me, hugged me….and then asked what the hell I was doing there.  Naturally, I was all caught up in the whole “wow-Dad-it’s-so-good-to-see-you” mode and didn’t have any answer at first.  And then, it hit me:  shit.  I’m dead.  “No, you’re not”, he told me.  “Not yet.  You have a choice.  And right now I don’t want you here.  Right now, you’re not supposed to BE here, and you gotta go.”

Well, THAT sorta sucked.

Here I went to all the trouble of dying, and Dad didn’t want me there.

It was all over in an instant and I woke up in ICU wondering what the hell had happened.  It took me MONTHS to tell anyone.  It’s hard to write about, and even harder to talk about- this is the first my own mother is learning about the actual event.  But, it’s not the EVENT that is the important thing here; it’s what happened to me AFTER.

I came back different.  Even now, I’m not entirely sure I can articulate this in a manner that does not make me sound like I’ve spent too much time on a Vicodin holiday.  I think the people around me know something’s up, I think they sense that I’m not the same.  I think they ascribe it to the actual physical events that led up to me being in that operating room in the first place.  It’s more than that.  I came back different, true.  But, I came back feeling more like ME than I ever had felt before.

Since I “came back”, I’m happy 95% of the time.  For absolutely no reason at all.  Because of that, the rest of my life is changing, falling into place, reorganizing and reprioritizing itself.  Every day brings something new and fun and surprising.  I’ve learned things about myself I never knew, and things I thought I knew are no longer true.  I’m Scottish, I have a hair-trigger and a zero tolerance for stupidity; that hasn’t changed.  But, I find the things I flip out over being fewer and fewer and fewer.  Some might say this is just the discerning wisdom that comes with age; anyone that really knows me would say THAT’S bullshit, for sure.  But, I think they would ALL agree I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

I LIKE who I am now, who I’m becoming, because we’re all always in that state of BEcoming; that’s why we’re human BEings, not human DONEings.  I think this is problematic for some of the people close to me.  For others, it’s been received more like “well-what-TOOK-you-so-long?”.  I know there are some people that will not be part of my reality down the road-just like I know the bond I have with others will make us inseparable.  And I’ve learned to live my life by (and forgive my lame attempt at Scots-Gaelic here): “Na Iomall- Na Eagal”- No Fear, No Limits.

That’s the important thing to take away from all this; not that I looked Death in the face and said “Whatever,man”, or even that I “came back” different.  The important thing to take away from all this is that there ARE no accidents- the Universe DOES NOT make mistakes.  And no matter where you are or what you’re currently living, there is always-ALWAYS-a choice.  I have a perfect life. Nothing has changed, really.  I still have enough red hair for three people, I still live in the same house, I still have my beloved coonhound, Isabel, and I’m still waiting to move to that island with Naveen.  But, now I know- I KNOW– there’s more to this life than what we can only see.    I don’t walk into the grocery store and ignore the prices.  Yet.  I don’t have that strong size 4 body again.  Yet.  But, my life IS perfect because it’s all about perception.  I have such a greater appreciation for everything from the spider webs that form in their unrivaled intricacy across my begonias to the advice my mother offers or the stories of the Old Days she tells.  I love more unconditionally and had even made friends with individuals that some would consider strange bedfellows.  I forgive quicker, calm down sooner.  All because I now KNOW our lives are a DIRECT REFLECTION of our perspective.  Because I KNOW there is a Source, a Wise Intelligence, A Higher Self, that exists in each and every one of us that is ALWAYS on our side, that is ALWAYS in concert with our desires and goals.  If we tune into it- we don’t even have to hear it in the full Jane Roberts sense- if we can just FEEL it- Life changes in the most dramatic of ways.  Relationships evolve, situations shift, and our own emotions somehow smooth out and allow us a heightened sense of clarity and purpose.

It would take months for me to recover but my doctors were all amazed at the recovery I did make.  Apparently, for anyone else it would have taken much longer.  I can only attribute that recovery and my ongoing return to perfect health because of that shift in my perspective.  I’ve related this here because I’m hoping whoever reads this will understand that it’s not necessary to have a Near Death Experience to achieve the state of mind and emotional well being I have now.  I honestly thought it would wear off; that it was just a by-product of being so grateful to be alive.  Instead of diminishing, however, it’s only gotten stronger- more.  For everyone that’s reading this, I wish the same for you.  I wish that you can find this place as well, sans NDE.  I wish that every morning you wake and smile and your first thought is “I wonder what surprises are ahead today” and mean it with anticipation.  I wish we could ALL approach life that way, understanding we have the choice to create what we want by shifting our perspective.  In the end, I think we all will, as Humans.  I think that’s the next step in our evolution; creating happiness inside us right where we are, then watching it manifest around us.  Until then, I’ll wait right here, willing to share my own observations, my own experience, and FEELING good every day……..