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Utah School Vouchers- D. Sirmize's Take

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Web Log (Blog), Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on September 17, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

Since Tyler’s August 26 post on school vouchers in Utah, several people have asked me to weigh in with my $.02 on the issue. Normally I’m more of a national and international politics kind of guy. But I have kids in public school now, so I should probably start paying better attention to local politics- especially when it could mean big changes for my kids’ schools. So I’ll change the channel for a moment from Headline News to KSL and set the Wall Street Journal aside and pick up (forcing back the dry heaves) the Salt Lake Tribune.

A little context first- just so you know where I’m coming from. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I lean a little bit to the Right, politically speaking. Ok, anatomically speaking as well (my right leg is slightly longer than my left, which means I go through pairs of shoes as quick the government goes through my tax dollars). Being conservative, I have an intrinsic distrust of and disdain for government programs of any kind. This is because democratic government, by definition, is inefficient and ineffective. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. The only efficient and effective governments are dictatorships. Unfortunately, this results in government programs- take welfare for example- that are bloated and misguided.

Government programs also tend to be run by bureaucracies fatally afflicted with Leftist groupthink. Modern American Liberalism (or neo-Marxism) bleeds into most government programs on both federal and state levels. This includes public education. The highest levels of Utah’s public education system are populated and run by social liberals. The school system is heavily influenced by teachers’ unions, which make up a sizable chunk of the Democratic Party. I am employed in a position that has me dealing with a smorgasboard of public education officials, school principals, and teachers intimately on a daily basis. Were I not writing under a pseudonym on this blog, my business relationships would be tense and strained.

The most troubling aspect the whole voucher debate for me is that I’ve met precious few people who actually possesses a clear understanding of the issue. People who lean Right tend to favor vouchers because they see public education as generally lacking and a voucher system theoretically gives the public a greater say in education. Left leaners tend to oppose vouchers because theoretically it amounts to government subsidizing of private enterprise and threatens the established system. Unfortunately, once a theory fits a person’s political framework, that’s usually where the thinking stops.

The heart of the problem is a combination of cultural misunderstanding and dubious politics.

Voucher proponents tend to look at the issue through the prism of business. In the private sector, a competitive atmosphere nets a better product. If something isn’t working, it goes under. It’s scrapped. It gives way to something better. The business world is fluid and ever evolving. Change is the only norm.

The exact opposite is true of government. Bureaucracies are innately resistant to change, and even the smallest financial and policy changes literally require an act of Congress. Because the overall structure and purpose of government is so different from the private sector, the concept of competition doesn’t apply the same way. Voucher opponents tend to approach the issue from a government standpoint.

Since private sector enterprise and public administration overlap in the arena of education, the framework for the debate is flawed. We’re comparing apples to oranges in order to describe grapes. Neither side can understand the other- and neither seems to want to.

Misunderstanding leads to heated debate. And just as a basketball team may resort to throwing elbows and flagrant fouls in a down-to-the-wire fourth quarter, both sides of this political battle have resorted to nasty tactics.

No, I don’t think Utah’s schools are as great as many, including Tyler, think they are. But it doesn’t help the pro-voucher cause that it’s primary media proponents are resorting to religious intimidation and out of state funding from phantom interest groups.

Conversely, Utah’s school system certainly isn’t as bad as many voucher proponents think it is, but it doesn’t help that much of the push to kill the voucher program comes from the decidedly liberal National Education Association, out of state unions, and other liberal activist groups.

The caricatured activists on the front lines of this debate further solidify the unresearched opinions most voters have on this issue. Further aggravating the fight is the issue of precedent. Utah is now the battleground for national education debate. Hence the pervasive involvement of out of state interests. Everybody- not just Utahns- seems to have a dog in this fight.

So where do I stand? I think Utah schools are generally well run. They’re well organized and run by good people with a passion for education. I admire most everybody I deal with in the education establishment. When I send my child to the bus stop every day, I know he is in good hands.

My beef with public education lies only in the politics. I despise the fact that public education is so deeply influenced by Marxist ideology. I was outraged when several Utah school districts refused to mention 9/11 on its six year anniversary. I was very frustrated that my elementary student’s class last year had 32 students in it and total chaos was only avoided when several parents per day volunteered in the classroom. Most of my child’s papers came home having been graded by me or some other parent. I hate that Utopian concepts of multiculturalism and diversity are given higher priority than accountability and individualized instruction.

That said, a voucher system- at this time and in this form- is not the answer. I predict that the referendum will fail (because referendums in Utah have historically failed- even hotly-debated ones) and that the passed voucher legislation will be implemented. But it will be ineffective and inequitable, for the very reasons Tyler mentioned in his post. There is no need to rehash the points he’s articulated.

But let’s consider a heretofore unexplored aspect of the issue. The voucher system will not only hurt public education, it will also be the long term downfall for private schools. Many studies suggest that taxpayer-funded voucher systems will likely increase the cost of private education. One must also consider that no money has ever come from government without strings attached. Many private schools worry that vouchers will effectively turn private schools into de facto public schools, essentially stripping them of the things that made people want to send their kids there in the first place. Private schools will become dependent on public money and will eventually subject to government regulation. That prestigious Catholic private school might someday lose it’s religion.

I’m not sure there’s any way now to clarify the argument this late in the game. It’s unfortunate that the issue is so politically charged. The spin from both sides has clouded the facts, and honest dialogue has given way to malicious rhetoric. It’s sad that neither side is willing to appeal to the other by simply laying out the facts, divorced from politics and ulterior motives.

Brace yourselves, my friends, we’re in the fourth quarter. It’s going to get even more interesting.

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My Opinion on Vouchers - Referendum 1

Filed under:PTA, Religion, Politics, Opinion — posted by Tyler on August 26, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

Utahns for Public SchoolsI’ve been meaning to write about my feelings on private school vouchers for quite some time now. This is a hot topic in Utah right now. I don’t want to bother with the history, although the history of the topic plays into the issue quite a bit so if you’d like to educate yourself on the topic, this blog [http://accountabilityfirst.blogspot.com] is a good place to read up on it starting with this post and then read on from there.

My point is to clear up some of the misconceptions that people may have about vouchers. Some misconceptions come from what seem like very reasonable commercials that I originally thought were funded by an organization called “Parents for Choice in Education” or PCE for short. But while researching the commercials for this post I found out that they were produced by Crowell Advertising for a client who wants to remain anonymous.[source: Salt Lake Tribune]

The commercials (I’ve only heard radio spots so far but you’ll no doubt see TV spots as November comes closer) take a single talking point, competition for example, and speak to it in terms of why it will be a good thing to help the students of Utah. I only remember two of the commercials specifically so those are the ones I will speak to, but I hear there were four; now probably just three because one of the spots was pulled, which I was glad to hear.

The first one I heard talked about how vouchers will create competition and competition is a good thing for business, right? Anyone hearing these commercials would naturally agree on the point that competition is good for business so you pretty much get trapped into agreeing with the commercial. Pretty clever. In reality, competition when it comes to public schools in Utah wouldn’t really make them better. They’re already great! Perfect? Of course not…there is always room for improvement. But improvement for our public schools comes not from pumping public money into private schools. How exactly is that going to make our public schools better? One of the biggest complaints I have about our public schools is that our teachers don’t get paid enough for how important their job is. The way this commercial portrays competition just doesn’t apply when it comes to public schools vs. private schools. The ad is misleading.

As I talk to people about vouchers competition is one of the points they bring up the most. Their argument is valid until they start looking at the big picture and realize that it just doesn’t apply in this case. It’s like talking to people about how rain is so good for plants, something we can all agree on, and then trying to apply the argument to pavement. No, I’m not trying to liken public schools unto pavement, but you get the idea. Maybe I’ll come up with a better analogy later.

The other commercial that I remember was one that I was surprised by. It was the one that quoted 3 Nephi 6:12 [lds.org] from the Book of Mormon. I couldn’t believe anyone could get away with that, and apparently they couldn’t because this is the one that they stopped playing. It didn’t seem right for them to use holy scripture for political purposes; something that the LDS church does not condone or allow. Some may have been tricked into thinking that vouchers were the popular opinion among those that believe in or read the Book of Mormon. And why not tailor your propaganda to a large majority of the State of Utah? Another clever and logical, but very sneaky ploy.

The last misconception that I’ll speak to tonight is concerning Charter Schools. It may be news to many of you that Charter Schools are not Private Schools! Yes, that’s right. Charter Schools are in fact Public Schools! So if you thought that parents could apply for a voucher to get their children into the latest Charter School that just opened up down the street, it’s not going to fly. This is a misconception that many people have and if they realized that 96% of Utah children attend public schools they may look at the issue a little different.

I know this is a very controversial subject and I should have left this one up to guest blogger D. Sirmize who has the luxury of posting anonymously on this blog. I don’t have that luxury but I’m the one with the strong opinion on this topic. D. Sirmize is still surmising, but we’ve talked at length on the subject and I welcome his comments.

Certainly my strong involvement in the PTA influences my opinion, but not everyone in the PTA agrees on this issue either, but it is the official stance of PTA that vouchers are not good for ALL of the children of Utah. And how can it be when there isn’t even a private school in all of the counties of Utah?

To set the record straight, I am not against private schools. They’re just not held accountable to the standards of the Utah State Office of Education so in this issue I have to believe that they shouldn’t be getting public tax money since it’s not up to the public as to what is taught. Private schools, especially in the area of Special Education, serve a wonderful role to our children and make a remarkable difference, but that doesn’t mean they deserve our tax dollars in the form of vouchers.

I’m glad the people have the opportunity to decide this issue in November and I hope you’ll join me in voting NO on Referendum 1.

Other informative reading on the subject:

National Education Association
Jeremy’s Jerimiad
The Wall of Separation
Utahns for Public Schools
Singing Bravely

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Al Gorevara and the Global Warming Super Fad

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Media, Guest, Web Log (Blog), Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on June 12, 2007 @ 11:17 am

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Do you know who Che Guevara is? Probably not. But you know what he looks like. You know, the t-shirt. The one you see at night clubs, college campuses, and leftist protests across the country. The famous posterized image was even recently spotted on the streets of Baghdad. But I’m willing to bet 300 carbon offsets that outside of Latin America, nobody knows anything about the guy gracing their $30 t-shirts. I’m not going to waste space on the guy. Google him if you care. Better yet, Wikipedia him.

The only thing that bugs me worse than political stupidity is fads. The Atkins diet, beanie babies, Survivor. They hit the pop culture scene, drive hordes to obsession, then disappear as quickly as they came. Ok, so Survivor hasn’t yet been voted off the island, but when was the last time you heard “Sorry, I can’t tonight. Survivor’s on.”

Today it’s myspace, organic food, and “going green.” Of course if I were smart and would have been the guy who invented these things, I’d be on sitting on some beach counting my stacks of green.

Today’s Che Guevara is Al Gore. Who’da thought? Some turds just don’t flush. Seven years ago I would never have believed that Al Gore would lead pop culture’s pantheon of idols. Of course Gore would be nothing if his pet cause hadn’t taken the world by storm. Al Gore has become the face of Global Warming. And he’s recruited quite a cabinet of indoctrination pros- Hollywood, national news media, academia, and education. Musicians like Pearl Jam croon about green living while distinguished climate experts like Sheryl Crow and Leonardo DiCaprio preach about conserving toilet paper and living “carbon neutral” lifestyles. Network news reporters poo-poo even the most intellectual challenges to Global Warming theory and college professors teach it as gospel. Even red state elementary schools have made “An Inconvenient Truth” a curriculum staple (never mind that the premise of this Gore flick is shaky and packed with exaggerations and stretched truths).

Global warming will go down in history as the super fad of modern times. I’m constantly amazed at how it has gripped the country. I recently attended a large educational conference whose keynote speaker was Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The subject of his speech, as stated in the conference program, was “promoting educational technology.” After a few self-serving stories about his various inventions, the lovable geek we all grew up watching on PBS launched a tirade on Global Warming (known nowadays by it’s current fad name, “climate change”). Nye told the several thousand educators present that their main goal should be to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming. He ended with the following:

“We are facing a serious business here on Earth; we are facing a very serious future unless we get on it,” he warned. “This is where we, as educators, must change the world.”

I think I was the only one that didn’t give him a standing ovation. So much for educational technology. Can I get a refund?

Come on, you say. Climate change isn’t a fad. It’s science. Al Gore says so. Well there’s plenty about this “science” that doesn’t sit right with me, which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts. Even if the science is sound and humans are indeed affecting global climate, today’s climate change chic is still a fad. And like all other fads, most of the people wearing the t-shirts don’t have a clue what’s behind the graphic. And also like all other fads, it will be gone once the hype dries up.

Now I consider myself an environmentalist. I love nature and I contribute annually to several conservation organizations. I drive a fuel efficient vehicle, recycle, and actively oppose unwise land development in my county. I believe humans should be good and wise stewards of the earth. Climate change I can believe, but I’m not so quick to believe the change is caused by humans. But even if any of the hype pans out, there are a few things about the hysteria that bug the hell out of me:

1. Al Gore. Ok, you must realize by now that I think Al Gore is a lying, hypocritical, steaming pile. I couldn’t stand him during the Clinton years and I can’t stand him now. The man has no credibility and I’ve never understood his appeal. The best way to convince me of something’s falsity is to have Al Gore promote it.

2. Celebrity activists. First of all, to think your average celebrity has any sense of reality is ridiculous. How much in common with the everyday Joe do actors and musicians have? And they’re telling me how to live my life? Shut up and sing.

3. Carbon offsets. Nothing like buying off guilt.

4. Indoctrination. Despite what Al Gore and Bill Nye say, global warming science is not set in stone. There is a difference between scientific hypothesis and scientific law. I’m no scientist but I’ve read enough to know that there are many, many climate experts who seriously doubt the theory of human-caused global warming. But you’ll never hear them on the news and your kids will never read their side of the story in school. On the other hand, Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is required viewing in many American schools. It is widely shown in elementary schools. Some students have reported seeing the movie several times in several classes. I do not pay thousands of dollars in taxes for the government to ram these things down my kids’ throat.

5. Purging dissidents. Scientists who have doubts about Global Warming theory face a modern-day witch hunt. Just ask Oregon state climatologist George Taylor, who faces possible removal by Governor Ted Kulongoski because his views aren’t in line with “the consensus.” John Christie, Alabama state climatologist, told Cybercast News Service “It seems if scientists don’t express the views of the political establishment, they will be threatened and that is a discomforting thought.” Read the New York Times or watch a network newscast. Anybody skeptical of man-made global warming is painted as a marginal hack funded by Big Oil, while the fact that global warming alarmists are openly paid by environmentalist groups and far-left foundations goes unscrutinized. I’m no expert on Democracy, but since when was silencing critics a democratic value?

Global warming alarmists may be able to indoctrinate a sizable portion of our kids, but as long as they promote their agenda by fad, they’ll never reach adults with half a brain. I anxiously await the day when celebrities and scientists alike will lament the fact that they tarnished their names with the global warming fad- like an old lady regrets getting that huge tatoo on her back in her younger, more ignorant days. Environmental problems can only be tackled with true open debate, exhaustive peer review, and politics-free analysis.

Thanks to Glenn Beck for the awesome Al Gorevara graphic! Somebody should put that on a t-shirt…

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Rachel's Challenge - Accepted

Filed under:Inspiring, Journal, PTA, Religion, Opinion, Friends, USOE, Family — posted by Tyler on May 19, 2007 @ 8:28 pm

Rachel’s Hands

I’ve been involved with the PTA since my daughter began school in September of last year. I attended my second Leadership Training Convention on Thursday and Friday which happens annually in May. Last year I was inspired by Ronda Rose, Legislative Vice President on the Utah PTA Executive Board. She finished up her term this year and she will be greatly missed because of her ability to speak from her heart, stand up for her convictions, and truly inspire! All the effort I’ve given and all the effort I will continue to give will be, in part, inspired by this amazing woman.

This year I was inspired by the last workshop that I attended; one that I really didn’t have time to attend and one that I had to leave half way through, but the half that I was privileged to listen to proved extremely worthwhile. The workshop was entitled Rachel’s Challenge and was brought about by the tragic events of April 20, 1999 when two students killed 12 students and 1 teacher at Columbine High School. Rachel Scott was the first to die that dreadful day. But little did anyone know, except Rachel herself as she foreshadowed in her diary, that her death would touch millions of hearts.

After her death an essay that she had written for a class was found under her bed. The message of the essay inspired the family to share and challenge people everywhere to take upon themselves Rachel’s “Codes of Life“. There are five of them and they gel nicely with my personal beliefs. But put in perspective of her life and tragic death, they suddenly took on new light and meaning. How this girl of 17 was able to have such vision is a miracle.

I listened eagerly as Dana Scott, Rachel’s sister, shared her story with us. The presentation consisted of heartfelt narration by Dana along with video clips and slide show pictures. It was the best powerpoint presentation I had ever seen. I found myself watching Dana as she watched the video clips and I tried to imagine what she must have felt losing her sister and nearly losing her brother. I watched as her emotions changed from sadness and fear during the news clips that showed the tragedy of that day to pure joy when they showed footage of her as a child, full of joy (incidentally her middle name) and life. I felt myself empathizing, which has only begun to happen in my life as of two years ago.

Several years ago I had a friend who had cancer. I wasn’t being especially empathetic as I talked about the situation with my wife in the car one day. She chastised me for my lack of a Christ-like attitude. At first I didn’t accept that I needed to change. My feeling was that difficulties happen in everyone’s life and that you just accept it and get over it; a complete lack of empathy. But the fact that I recognized that it was not Christ-like to have such an attitude led me to search out that attribute and I began to pray for it.

Several months passed and nothing major had changed despite my prayers. I still had a general sense of disdain for other people’s burdens but continued to search out a change of heart. It was a hot day on the 18th of July, 2005 where Clint (a friend and co-worker) and I found shade under the curved steps of the Salt Lake City Library. Just as we were finishing our 7-11 hot dogs we heard what sounded to me like a skate board hitting the pavement, but much louder. It wasn’t long before we both realized that something terrible had happened. We ran over to where the noise came from and much to our shock we found the body of a woman lying face up on the brick-lain sidewalk. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say, the woman had jumped from the top of the library to her untimely death, despite what paramedics tried to do for her.

I was still unaware how much this event would effect my life. Clint and I tried to deal with it the best we could through humor, but as the days went on it haunted me. I found myself reading her obituary and all of the online comments from the online version on the local newspaper’s website to try and find out who this woman was and why she would do such a thing. Her name was Michelle Marie Macy and she was only 39 years old. She was a pharmacist and married, but had no children. She loved cats. She had family who loved her. I began to recognize feelings of empathy within myself, but the true change of heart came when I found the courage inside to pray for Michelle - a complete stranger. I prayed for her family and those who must be feeling the pain of her untimely passing. I experienced true compassion and charity during that prayer and when I finished I found that I was crying. The change of heart that I had been praying for had finally come!

I hope Michelle’s family will find comfort that her death was not in vain, just as Rachel’s death was not in vain. My life was touched and I learned a lesson that was long overdue. I hope that one day I can give Michelle a hug and tell her that I love her. I don’t know what circumstances she must have been going through to come to that point, but I know that Jesus Christ loves her. I know that her family loves her.

So it was with charity and love that I listened to the message that Rachel’s sister had to share. Her message did not fall on unfertile soil. I will take the message to heart, re-evaluate my life, and strive to improve myself. That is the Purpose of Life - day by day, week by week, year by year.

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Rocky Rally II: Give Mercedes Benz a Chance!

Filed under:Media, D. Sirmize, Guest, Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on March 19, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

My Pal Rocky’s at it again, bravely leading the charge to impeach President Bush, and Tyler and I were there to snap some pictures. The crowd was notably smaller than at Rocky’s last protest and it seemed not quite as peppy as last year’s party. But it was amusing nonetheless. We recognized the troubled youth bucket brigade from last time, but no sign of the paper mache Bush. There was a nice flag-draped homemade coffin that really impressed. And what would a good left-wing protest be without an abundance of Mercedes Benz peace signs? Enjoy.

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al Quaida?

Confusing Messages

Not to mention the many mixed messages that were shared through various conflicting or misspelled signs; some beautifully decorated (such as another Mercedes Benz peace sign), others a mere scribbling.

I’ve said before that I think protests are just plain stupid. I wonder what a protest rally would be like, sans the press. It seems the only people there are the speakers, the sign-holders, and people like Tyler and I who are simply there for the entertainment value. Then there are the press, who seem to flock to the City-County Building like paparazzi every time Rocky passes gas. Today’s rally will be followed up with a silent candlelight march this evening. Won’t that be special!

UPDATE:  Couldn’t resist popping over for the candlelight march.  There were maybe 50 people in all marching from the Federal Building to City Creek Park.  A lot less yelling, but more colorful protestors.  I snapped a few shots with my phone.

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See also: Death to Israel Rally in Salt Lake City, Let’s Talk Some Smack, Shall We?

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