Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Chuck Roast

Chuck Gregory is a local fellow who doggedly tries to respond to my letters to the editor in our local paper (of which most of these posts are made up of). The following is a response to his reply to my "horse's mouth" letter, posted previously.

I have to admit to a grudging respect for Chuck Gregory. It isn’t often that one person can be so totally convinced of his own omniscience that he seems to have no need to check his facts before opening his mouth to drool. It’s become almost routine for him to call me to task as his lead-in to opining on something he is almost completely ignorant about, completely misinformed on, or intentionally misleading his audience about. Is it possible that he truly buys into the crack-pot conspiracy theories?

I’d like to have Chuck explain how the “Republican Agenda” is at fault for the failure of the American Public School - it’s been run by Democrats for forty plus years now. Chuck says “the success of the public school system is absolutely tied to the social fabric.” Fine, Chuck, but who’s woven that “social fabric” for the last half-century? It’s been liberal Democrats and what a wonderful job they’ve done, wouldn’t you say? Chuck criticizes me for supporting school vouchers (which I have never done in print nor in his presence - more proof of his omniscience), suggesting that would be my response to a situation he describes wherein a “Union Street school principal had to forcibly put on the bus a child who didn’t want to go home.” Chuck implies that there was abuse at home. Chuck, as you well know but aren’t honest enough to say, that principal could have scheduled a meeting with the parents and, if he suspected abuse, could have called Social Services to report his suspicion (which is what I would have done). Chuck ignored the Vermont principal I gave as an example of schoolhouse sexual predators when he lied about “none of them [being] in Vermont.” Furthermore, in complete disregard for the rising evidence of schoolhouse abuse (which I cite from Carole Shakeshaft’s Congressional report), Chuck blames parents as the primary abusers of children. So what Chuck is saying is ‘ignore schoolhouse sexual abuse because it sometimes occurs in the home too.’ I think that’s an irresponsible attitude borne of the refusal to recognize a problem in a beloved social program. And he says I’m a shill :)

Chuck wants us to consider Finland as a model for our education system. I wish he would, Finland has a system very similar to what we used to have. With typical disregard for truth, Chuck uses only the information he likes, disregarding what he doesn’t. Lizette Alvarez reported for The New York Times in April 2004 that in Finland “spending is a paltry $5,000 a year per student...there are no gifted programs and class sizes often approach 30...All teachers in Finland must have at least a master’s degree [and] they are no better paid than teachers in other countries.” Some in America would call this ‘draconian cuts in education.’ Finnish students in early primary school are required to learn art, biology, civics, environmental studies, two additional languages, as well as the nationally recognized language (Finnish or Swedish), geography, history, mathematics, phys ed, and (God forbid) something they call religious knowledge. After ninth grade, Finnish students are strenuously tested and their test scores determine their future education, they are either matriculated into a college prep program or they take vocational studies. So, please Chuck, do not try to compare our Public Day Care System to a system committed to education.

Chuck notes that I consider Finland a socialist country, and I do, because it is. I fail to see Chuck’s point, other than that socialist countries do “it” so much better than we capitalist slobs (‘it’ being, I guess, everything). However, there’s a price to be paid for socialism, one which it’s proponents, like Chuck, are loath to admit. Helena Pentti, a Finnish Economist, wrote that “an employee on an average salary will pay approximately 35 percent in tax on their income.” Here in capitalist-employee-hell the average salary will pay 21 percent in 2004. Seppo Penttila, professor of Tax Law at the University of Tampere, Finland, notes that “Finnish taxes levied on earned income are extremely high by international standards, with the tax rate ranking among the highest of all OECD countries.” The reason the tax rates are so high is precisely because they have a socialist government that mandates untenable social programs, especially in the area of employment. It is remarkable how otherwise intelligent people don’t recognize the relationship between staggering taxation and soaring unemployment: when businesses are squeezed to pay overly generous workers’ compensations, they do not keep large work forces and are very slow to hire new workers to meet increased demands (which in turn depresses their ability to compete), and as a result many workers are left unemployed. Finland is a perfect example of this according to the Jan. 2, 2005 report from the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat), which placed Finland’s unemployment rate at 8.9% (where it’s been for over a year). In comparison, the US unemployment rate is at a low of 5.4% (a level lower than ever Bill Clinton managed). Chuck, if you’re going to take a position, at least take the time to learn something about it and don’t waste the time of our good readers with your ill-conceived political drivel.

I was shocked to see Chuck admit that “Bush may not have lied about Iraq.” It is a pity that Chuck couldn’t stay with the truth when he said Bush “certainly lied about his support for education.” No lies from Chuck are more easily exposed than these: “Bush vehemently fought a reduction in classroom size from 44 to 26 students when he was governor of Texas....abandoned his other initiative for Texas educational reform...[and as President] cutting funding for both” Head Start and vocational education. Classroom size in Texas was a result of a lack of teachers - there were 63,000 teaching vacancies, but only 41,000 could be filled. However, despite the scarcity of teachers, under Bush’s watch, according to Jay Greene’s New York Times article (Texas Education Miracle No Mirage) class sizes were reduced from 15.9 students per teacher to 15.2. Greene also reports that under Bush, per pupil spending increased. During Bush’s term as Governor, the percentage of teachers with masters degrees decreased. Conversely, the percentage of teachers with less than six years’ experience increased. Oddly enough, the NAEP scores for Texas during Bush’s term increased. According to David Grissmer, a researcher for Rand who did an analysis of Texas education, “Texas students ranked high nationally, particularly in the fourth-grade math, and black fourth graders in Texas made bigger gains than fourth graders in any other state on the math portion of the national test.” As for “cuts,” well, that’s the expected liberal spin where budget increases that don’t rise to the requested levels are called cuts - I don’t know about you, but when the boss gave me a smaller raise than I wanted, I didn’t call it a cut in pay.

Chuck doesn’t like it when I quote sources and document facts, he calls it a “smear technique.” Yet does he give his sources or document his daft claims? While he’s using pejorative language like “neo-conservative” (a label that means nothing), “smear,” “shill,” and “greedy parvenue,” I simply point out the facts that others have documented and studied. As I said earlier, I don’t have Chuck’s omniscience, so I don’t have the documented information at my fingertips to blame parents for the ills of the public education system as he does. Last I checked, most parents don’t work in the schools, so I find it hard to blame them for the failure of public schools, as Chuck does.

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