Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dems, advocates blast food stamps cuts in educrat welfare bill

Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers.

House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says.

But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans.

Arguably one of the most outspoken opponents on the Democratic side is Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has blasted the move as “a bitter pill to swallow” but still voted yes.

“I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act, and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year,” DeLauro said in an e-mail sent to “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low income families.”

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that several state advocacy groups, including the Texas Food Book Network and the Houston Food Bank, rallied for House members to strike down the legislation, which passed 247-161 in the House. Three Democrats voted against the measure, while two Republicans voted in support of it.

Democratic rank and file members, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, say the cuts won’t take effect until 2014 and will merely return food stamp benefits to pre-stimulus levels.

The Food Research and Action Center said a family of four would see benefits drop about $59 per month starting in 2014.

"While we support the education initiatives (in the bill), we adamantly oppose using food stamps to pay for them," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. "The rain on food stamps to pay for other things absolutely has to stop and stop now."

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of people on the food stamp rolls has been growing to record levels for 18 straight months. Nearly $5.5 billion in aid went out to beneficiaries in May alone. The number of May recipients marked a 19 percent increase from a year ago and the USDA projects that next year's enrollment will reach about 43.4 million.

Republicans, meanwhile, vocally opposed the state aid bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News it rewarded "irresponsible states" and their unions.

"It is basically taxpayers from fiscally (responsible) states bailing out fiscally irresponsible states. ... Medicaid funding, teacher funding, the more popular of the public unions, what this is, it's a bailout to prevent states from doing the necessary spending prioritization that they need do," he said.

The Obama administration pushed hard for the $26 billion bill. The White House argued that it is essential to protecting 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from election-year layoffs and will not add to the national deficit.

"If we do nothing, these educators won't be returning to the classroom this fall, and that won't just deprive them of a paycheck, it will deprive the children and parents who are counting on them to provide a decent education," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden shortly before the bill passed on Tuesday.

"This proposal is fully paid for, in part by closing tax loopholes that encourage corporations that ships American jobs overseas. So it will not add to our deficit," he said. "And the money will only go toward saving the jobs of teachers and other essential professionals...I urge members of both parties to come together and get this done, so that I can sign this bill into law."


Parenting isn’t a bunch of skills that can be taught in a British school

British proposal to have a High School course in parenting would denigrate both what it means to be a parent and the purpose of education

If the Lib-Con education secretary Michael Gove really means business and plans to keep his promise to raise educational standards, then he should politely reject Frank Field’s hare-brained proposal to put parenting on the GCSE curriculum. At a time when far too many schools are struggling to teach their pupils basic literacy and numeracy, Field has proposed a formal exam for 16-year-olds which would turn them into the ‘five-star parents’ of tomorrow.

When I first read the proposals, drawn up by Labour’s Field but now being considered by the Lib-Cons, I thought it might be a clever work of satire designed to poke fun at Britain’s inept and meddling politicians. Hitherto, the dishing out of gold stars and smiley faces was confined to increasingly sceptical schoolkids; now, however, parents could find themselves infantilised by having their methods and behaviour judged by a star system in school classrooms!

What better way to degrade education than to suggest, as Field does, that ‘schools will want to teach this to boost their standing in the league tables’. At a time when many British schools already try to manipulate league tables by encouraging their students to opt for soft, unchallenging subjects, exhorting schools to embrace yet more nonsense in a dumbed-down curriculum just seems surreal.

Hopefully, there are still some serious policymakers who will understand that a school course on parenting would do nothing to improve the quality of family and community life. Parenting is not a skill or an academic subject that can be effectively communicated in an institutional setting. The core assumption of social engineers, and of policymakers like Field, is that child-rearing consists of a range of practices that mothers and fathers need to learn. On the surface of things, no one could dispute this assertion: every human relationship involves learning and gaining an understanding of the other person. A parent needs to learn how to engage the imagination of a child; how to stimulate him or her; how to restrain him or her from doing something harmful. Yet these things cannot simply be taught to prospective parents; instead, experience shows that effective child-rearing is learned on the job. Why? Because the most crucial lessons parents are learning have little to do with abstract skills and instead are about the very relationship they are developing with their children. Learning how to manage this relationship in order to guide a child’s development is the crux of effective parenting.

The issue is not so much whether parenting needs to be learned, but whether it can be taught. Everyday experience tells us that not everything that has to be learned can be taught. Parenting can’t be taught, because it is about the forging and managing of an intimate relationship. And when it comes to relationships, people learn principally from their experiences. Relationships have unique characteristics that are only really grasped by the people involved. People learn through reflecting on their experience of joy and pain, the exhilaration and the disappointments of their interactions with someone who is significant to their lives.

When it comes to a real school subject, such as maths or science, it is possible to teach facts without the student having personally to experience and discover them for himself. It is possible to teach skills that can be applied in all scientific experiments. But this is not the case with parenting. The very instability of parenting advice, and the regularity with which yesterday’s authoritative recipe for ‘good parenting’ is dismissed as hopelessly inaccurate and replaced with another, indicate that the idea of ‘teaching parenting’ is really prejudice masquerading as a skill. It is sad that a respected political figure like Frank Field has not yet learned that parenting is not a skill, but a relationship – and a messy one at that.

Sadly, we live in a world in which virtually every social problem is associated with poor parenting. The simplistic doctrine of parental determinism spares policymakers from engaging in the serious business of grasping complex social phenomena. Parenting has become an all-purpose causal agent that apparently explains all the bad stuff. Solving this apparent parenting deficit is presented as a way of fixing society. At a time when parenting is more extensively discussed than ever before, it is curious that Field states that ‘our nation has fallen out of love with the art of being good parents’. In the real world, parenting has acquired a sacred, quasi-religious character. Parenting is culturally valued more than ever before. Indeed, there is now a veritable parenting industry and there has never been a time when British fathers and mothers have felt so anxious and concerned about their roles. Thirty years ago, parenting was not seen as a suitable issue for policymakers. Today, it has become a focus for political discourse. And as I argued in my book Paranoid Parenting, this obsession with parenting has had the perverse effect of eroding parental confidence and complicating family life.
Fiddling with the curriculum

Field’s proposal is bad news for parents. But if implemented, it would have serious damaging consequences for education, too. Some hoped that after the defeat of New Labour, policymakers would resist the temptation to politicise the curriculum. But sadly, some politicians remain addicted to the dead-end strategy of attempting to fix the problems of society through fiddling with what is taught in schools. Anyone familiar with the experiences of the past two decades knows that our schools have become the target of competing groups of policymakers, moral entrepreneurs and advocacy organisations, all of whom want to use the curriculum to promote their own ideals and values. As a result, pedagogic issues are continually confused with political ones.

The school curriculum has become a battleground for zealous campaigners and entrepreneurs. Public-health officials constantly demand more compulsory classroom discussions on healthy eating and obesity. Professionals obsessed with young people’s sex lives insist that schools introduce yet more sex-education initiatives. Others want schools to focus more on Black History or Gay History. In early 2007, the then New Labour education secretary, Alan Johnson, announced that not only was he introducing Global Warming Studies, but that he would also make Britain’s involvement in the slave trade a compulsory part of the history curriculum.

At a time when educators feel unable to endow their vocation with real meaning, they continually turn to new causes in order to transmit at least some semblance of values. This was the intention behind Johnson’s announcement, in February 2007, that ‘we need the next generation to think about their impact on the environment in a different way’. Johnson justified this project, aimed at shaping the cultural outlook of children, through appealing to a higher truth: ‘If we can instill in the next generation an understanding of how our actions can mitigate or cause global warming, then we lock in a culture change that could, quite literally, save the world.’ ‘Saving the world’ looks like a price worth paying for fiddling with the geography curriculum and using it to instruct children about global warming. But behind the lofty rhetoric lie some base assumptions.

The curriculum is increasingly regarded as a vehicle for promoting political objectives and for changing the values, attitudes and sensibilities of children. Many advocacy organisations who demand changes to the curriculum do not have the slightest interest in the subject they wish to influence – as far as they’re concerned, they are simply gaining recognition for their cause. That is what Nick Clegg, deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats, was doing when he argued that education must tackle homophobia and that Ofsted inspectors should assess how well schools are managing the problem of homophobia. Sex experts continually demand that the amount of time devoted to sex education be expanded. In July 2008, the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV noted that pupils were getting inadequate instruction because sex education was not a compulsory subject. The same month, the Family Planning Association argued that children as young as four should receive age-appropriate ‘compulsory sex education’, with sex and relationship education enjoying a position in the curriculum similar to other compulsory subjects, like maths and English.

While the campaign to transform sex education into a compulsory school subject is sometimes questioned by traditionalist critics, many similar initiatives around different causes are not remarked upon. In September 2008, the New Labour government announced changes to the national curriculum that will instruct boys as young as 11 on how to be good fathers. Children would be taught that if they abandon their offspring they will face prosecution and a possible jail sentence. Where did this initiative come from? It certainly doesn’t represent a response to a pedagogic problem identified in the classroom – rather it emerged from the deliberations of policymakers and experts who feel strongly that something should be done about ‘deadbeat dads’. And when that question ‘what should be done?’ is posed, they inevitably come up with the now-formulaic solution: deal with it in the national curriculum.

So Janet Paraskeva, chair of the UK Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, stated that: ‘There needs to be something in the national curriculum to make children aware they will need to take financial responsibility for their children.’ Parakeva insisted that she meant business, arguing ‘this won’t be a simple bolt-on to the national curriculum’ since ‘we want to give children at a young age a good understanding of the financial commitment of becoming parents’.

Pareskeva’s proposals expose the fundamental flaw in all this curriculum meddling. It assumes that the problems of the adult world can be fixed through instruction in the classroom. But of course, it is not a lack of information that is responsible for anti-social behaviour or the disorientation of the adult world. Forcing children to deal with adult problems exposes them to issues that they can’t do anything about, while depriving them of a real education. Field argues that disadvantaged children in particular will benefit from studying for a GCSE in parenting. I beg to differ. What disadvantaged children need is high-quality, subject-based education. They can’t afford the luxury of wasting time on well-meaning social experiments. Experience shows that the proliferation of social-engineering initiatives on the curriculum benefits no one, while disproportionately penalising those with minimal access to intellectual capital.


Australia: Leftist school expenditures no help in financial crisis

WE'LL say it again. Labor's capital works stimulus spending could not have "saved" Australia from recession, as Julia Gillard claims. This is because the crisis had passed by the time the hard hats got on to the school building sites.

This was clear from last week's review of the Gillard Building the Education Revolution, which showed that less than half of the $14 billion earmarked for primary school halls had yet to be spent by June this year.

And now an Auditor-General's review of the $550 million stimulus spending on 137 "strategic" local government projects similarly finds that the construction work ramped up after the recession risk had passed.

Labor's stimulus promised a "timely" counter to the global financial crisis that hit in September 2008. The $550m of strategic projects, part of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, were supposed to be concentrated last year.

The Treasury's stimulus estimates assumed that "timely and efficient" program delivery would result in "minimal lags" in boosting the economy. But the Auditor-General finds the scheme was flawed from the start, mismanaged along the way and plagued by council porkies [lies].

A "large proportion" of projects were not ready to proceed, were always going to take longer "than necessary to provide timely stimulus" and were hit by "high project delivery risk". By the end of last September, only a quarter of the 137 projects were reported as having started. By then, however, the economy already had been growing for three quarters in a row.

And Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens assessed the economy's downturn to be "mild".

Even then, the Auditor-General finds, local councils and the federal government seriously over-reported the construction progress. The Commonwealth Co-ordinator-General's progress report claimed that "over $248m" had been paid to councils by the end of last year "based on their construction progress". But the Auditor-General disapprovingly finds that 97 per cent of the $247.8m actually paid to councils by then "did not relate to construction progress".

Much of the money was paid well in advance of actual construction. And the Auditor-General's random site visits found that council reporting was not "sufficiently accurate". In NSW, construction of a Bega Shire Council aquatic centre did not start until February this year, even though reporting to the federal government claimed work had begun in October last year.

Labor can stick to its combined 2009 and 2010 stimulus estimates, but it can't claim this stimulus avoided a recession because much of it was pushed into this year, when the economy already had dodged the bullet.


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