Thursday, March 12, 2015

We Agree (sort of)

Conservatives are often accused of opposing the president's ideas for a variety of reasons, all of which assume bad faith on the part of the opposition. From racism to "extreme" partisanship, and every shade and combination in between, we are painted with a broad brush that stems from the concept that we are evil and don't have legitimate arguments. The president and his allies frame debates in such a way as to suggest that there is no legitimate alternative viewpoint. The recent flap over the ATF's attempt to unilaterally ban a common rifle round, the M-855, is an example of this tactic. The president's spokesperson came out and stated that "everyone" agreed that this was a "commonsense" regulation that would save police and civilian lives. Never mind that there was widespread opposition to the ban, that many felt that it was a significant misinterpretation of Congressional statutes, that the ammunition in question had been readily available for the past thirty years or so, or that there was no evidence that the ammunition was frequently (or ever) used in the commission of crimes, the Administration portrayed their opponents as a small radical minority lacking common sense.

However, when conservatives do agree with the President it is ignored or dismissed by the media. Take President Obama's recent statement regarding jobs training. This is an area in which I have long advocated for increased opportunities for teenagers. I am a high school teacher. I teach math at all levels. I have seen first hand the struggles of students who have no intention of going to college, are not suited for a career that requires significant academic instruction, and would be happier learning a useful trade. I had one student last year who told me flat out that he was waiting until he was old enough to drop out and go to the local technical college to become a welder. He has not passed a class in the last two and a half years. He has no interest. Why are we wasting his (and by extension our) time. He could have started a welding program two years ago. They could have required that he do some construction trade math classes related to his area of interest, as well as some technical reading and writing classes. He would now be prepared for a well paying career with a two year head start on his current situation. What's the problem here?

The problem is that those in charge of educational programs are highly educated. They are college graduates, mostly with advanced degrees in education. They have transferred their dreams and hopes onto every student in the country, insisting for years that every child should be prepared for college. Meanwhile those who either don't have the inclination or the ability to do college level academics are left to sit in classes that they don't understand and in which they have no interest.

If the president is serious about his proposal he will get a lot of support from conservatives who do not feel that a one sized fits all education system, designed for those headed to college, is particularly useful. Maybe it's time for the president to put forward an actual plan as a part of the No Child Left Behind reauthorization; a plan that would allow students who express an interest to leave the public school system early for job training in a technical career, whether it is welding, plumbing, automotive mechanics, or any other high skilled field. These students might spend a few years as a mechanic and decide that being an engineer and designing cars would be fun. They could go back to school when they are self motivated and complete the education that they were unprepared for and uninterested in when they were sixteen.

Instead, however, conservatives and the President are going to end up disagreeing on how to implement the plan.  The President wants yet another government program and has called for $100 million in new spending for this initiative.  Now you might argue that $100 million is chump change and that we should all just get on board but that misses the point of a new program.  They never go away and they never have enough money.  When was the last time you saw the Democrats and the Republicans agree on a program to eliminate?  When one side proposes eliminating a government program the other side screams bloody murder and demagogues the issue.  (By the way when was the last time the Ds proposed eliminating a government program, other than defense, but it still cuts both ways).  If we back this new program we will have it forever and it will get more expensive every year.

Instead, Mr. President, how about getting together with supporters on both sides of the political spectrum to use resources already available to get kids into technical training programs?  How about a waiver for the states from testing and graduation requirements for students who enroll in an acceptable tech program at age 16?  That's the biggest thing keeping this from happening.  Kids are required to be in school.  They can't leave except under exceptional circumstances and if they do leave the money doesn't follow them. 

What if it was OK for the money spent on high school to be applied to a carpentry apprenticeship program? 

What if working half time for a carpenter with the understanding that you had to pass some classes to stay in the program was an option? 

Do you think that the student I mentioned above would come to his two classes a day with a different attitude?  He had been working for several hours at something he loved and all he had to do to keep doing it was pass a couple classes?

I do. So Mr. President, I support you.  Not because of your race, not because of your ideology, but because you are espousing an idea that I think makes sense.  I don't support a new program, but maybe we can come together to figure out a way to make it happen without a new government office, and without new government spending.  There has to be something we could cut back on somewhere.

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