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‘Adults In Wonderland’
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Obama ‘Stumbling’ To Victory? - 5-08-08
"‘Charisma’ Not Always a Good Thing" - 2-27-08
"Nosy Congress Makes
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"Stop Trying To Make God A Republican" - 10-6-07
A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
First, a reminder:
Attractive, hardbound copies of “Life With Marian”—a book which a good many readers have said they would be interested in owning—are still available for purchase (for $22.50) at The Bookworm in Countryside Village. If more convenient, you can now also send a check payable to Harold W. Andersen for $26.66 (includes tax and postage) and mail to me at P.O. Box 27347, Omaha, NE, 68127. A copy will be sent by return mail.
October 29, 2009
What has happened to the concept on which the “learning community” law was sold to civic leadership in Douglas and Sarpy Counties and to the Legislature?
(I’m not at all sure that the majority of parents and the rest of the public ever did understand exactly what or even approximately what would happen under what seemed to be a generally praiseworthy effort to share the cost of educating children from low income families—primarily blacks and Hispanics—and allow these children the benefits of transfers from their home districts when better learning opportunities are available in other schools within the two-county area.)
Now almost all we hear about is a quite different “learning community” goal: something called “socioeconomic diversity” in every one of the nearly 200 public schools in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
To reach that goal, a recent news story estimated, about 26,000 students would have to be bused around the two counties daily.
To what purpose would such busing be directed? According to a number of reports which have been published recently, the goal would be to create in each school building a mixture of “rich kids” and “poor kids” (that language was actually used in one news story) that would in each of the nearly 200 schools match the supposed metro-area-wide “socioeconomic” mix of the population within the two counties. According to one recent news story, the yardstick for moving “poor kids” out of their neighborhood schools would be based on the number of school children eligible for free lunches—an estimated 37% in the two counties.
Based on this formula, the goal would be to have 37% of the students in each of nearly 200 school buildings come from families whose children are eligible for free school lunches.
How in the world would you go about recruiting thousands upon thousands of such youngsters and, presumably with parental approval, putting them on buses each day?
A goal unattainable and not worth the effort if the objective is primarily to create an arbitrary “socioeconomic” mix in each of the nearly 200 school buildings.
The plan might be called “Back to Busing,” the hugely unpopular court-ordered busing of white and black children in the Omaha School District for 23 years, 1976-1999. Memories of busing include children standing on street corners waiting to be picked up on cold winter mornings, tensions created in some classrooms, a reduction in the school classroom day to allow for the time spent on busing and widespread opposition, by both white and black parents, to forcing them to send their children away from their neighborhood schools.
Incidentally but fundamentally importantly, the “37% free school lunch” formula for deciding how many “poor kids” have to be bused to sit beside “rich kids” contrasts dramatically with the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the poverty rate in the Omaha metro area remained essentially unchanged at 10.7% in 2008.
My questions and criticisms are not intended to disparage the objective of offering better educational opportunities—not “economic diversity” opportunities—by transferring youngsters within the two counties to classrooms where they can benefit academically.
You need look no further than my alma mater, Omaha North High School, to see am example of a school where white and black students have come together in significant numbers—come together because white students from throughout the Omaha Public School District have been attracted by the fact that North High School is a “magnet center” for education in the use of computers. The motivation has been learning opportunities, not “socioeconomic diversity.”
That kind of natural blending of students in pursuit of common academic goals seems to me to be eminently more practical and popular than busing thousands of students each day to classrooms across Douglas and Sarpy Counties with the objective of putting “poor kids” and “rich kids” in the same classrooms.
The Omaha School Board, to its credit, has cautioned against a rush to “socioeconomic” goals rather than academic goals.
Also to the Omaha School District’s credit, the Omaha School Board approved changes at four schools which will offer greater academic opportunities. Two of the four will become magnet schools which can attract students from across the district. This, it seems to me, is the kind of “diversity” which will bring students of various racial or economic backgrounds together with the encouragement of both teachers and parents.
* * *
Right on, Hal Daub, right on.
A tip of my columnist cap to the former mayor for saying that he doesn’t think a street or any portion thereof should be named for a recent mayor. More time should pass, Daub reasons, until a former mayor’s full lifetime of work can be evaluated.
Daub was reacting, of course, to an idea which started with a proposal to rename seven blocks of Webster Street for Mike Fahey, who left office earlier this year. This would be based on the fact that Fahey handled negotiations which resulted in the construction of a new downtown ballpark and an agreement with the NCAA to keep the College World Series in Omaha for another 25 years. The renamed section of Webster Street would parallel the new ballpark.
The Fahey naming proposal resulted in a suggestion from a Daub political associate that a portion of 10th Street in front of the Qwest Center carry Daub’s name because of his support of construction of the center. Let’s hope that Daub’s rational rejection of the proposal will result also in withdrawal of the Fahey street-naming proposal.
Incidentally, are any of the proponents of substituting Fahey’s name for a seven-block stretch of Webster Street interested in knowing anything about the man named Webster who was honored years ago in the naming of Webster Street?
None of the television or print accounts which have come to my attention have mentioned the man whose name would be linked with Fahey’s.
I know the answer, but I think I’ll wait a week to see if it occurs to anyone in the local news media to report any part of the interesting story of the man for whom Webster Street was named. You can read that story here next week.
* * *
Count me among those Nebraskans, including Secretary of State John Gale, who are skeptical of the idea, being pushed by State Senator Bill Avery of Lincoln, to allow election-day voter registration in Nebraska.
Avery argues that this would increase voter participation.
I’m not interested in participation by voters too lazy or too disinterested to register before Election Day. Earlier registration gives election officials time to process the information, raise challenges if appropriate and get the information out to the various polling places.
We don’t need simply more numbers turning out on Election Day. We need more voters interested enough to register in advance and go to the polls as interested, informed voters.
* * *
Why do legislative bodies waste so much time dealing with what might be called “feel good” legislation which is sought by this or that special-interest group?
Such proposals would perhaps be harmless, since they aren’t likely to make any real change in real life situations. But they can take up a good deal of legislative time and create needless divisive debate over issues of questionable importance or even questionable constitutionality.
A current example is the proposed “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” which President Obama says he intends to sign.
Shepard, a homosexual college student, was beaten to death in Wyoming. Byrd, a black hitchhiker, was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas. Bigotry seems to have played a role in both crimes.
But, as columnist Jacob Sullum recently pointed out, without the benefit of any federal law aimed at bias-motivated violence, the killers in each of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd deaths were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison or death—“all without the benefit of hate-crime laws, state or federal.”
As to the constitutionality of a federal statute on the subject, Sullum points out that as the United States Supreme Court has noted, the federal government has no general authority to fight crime.
The “hate crime” legislation pending in Congress goes so far to try to avoid constitutional challenge that it specifies that it would apply to any so-called “hate crime” which in any way involves or “affects” interstate commerce even if the connection is limited to a weapon made in another state or country.
Can a so-called “hate crime” legally or rationally be found to be involved in “interstate commerce”? That stretches the rationale for this particular piece of “feel good” legislation well beyond the bounds of credibility, especially when the killers of the victims for whom the legislation is named were convicted and sentenced to either life in prison or death without the need for even state “hate crime” laws.
* * *
A recent World-Herald editorial had fun with the topic of various communities strange claims to fame—or at least notoriety.
Mentioned, for example, was Carhenge—the tourist magnet just outside Alliance in western Nebraska, recently named second-wackiest place to visit in the nation by a fun-trip website.
Other wacky tourist attractions listed in the editorial were the “Minnesota Twine Ball” in Darwin, 12 feet in diameter and 17,400 pounds. The World-Herald pointed out that the people who chose this Minnesota pretender to the ball-of-twine throne apparently didn’t know about the Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas.
The Cawker City Ball of Twine weighs 17,980 pounds and is 40 feet in circumference. “Stay tuned for developments in the Kansas/Minnesota “twine-ball wars” the editorial said.
Members of our family are certainly aware of Cawker City’s world champion Ball of Twine. But more important to us than any ball of twine, famous as it may be, is, of course, the fact that Cawker City, Kansas was the boyhood home of Charles Weaton Battey, father of my wife, Marian, and her brother, C. W. Battey, Jr. of Kansas City.
Wheaton Battey came north to Lincoln, Nebraska to attend the University of Nebraska, met and married Freda Drath of Herndon, Kansas who had also come to Lincoln to attend the university, and stayed on to become a civic and business leader, serving as president of the Continental National Bank and chairman of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce as well as an early member of the board of trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Both Marian and her brother Chuck, both graduates of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, have made their own marks in the world of civic service.
I question whether Darwin, Minnesota, the home of that smaller ball of twine, can offer a similar family success story.
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