U.S. Needs Clearer Thinking, Common Sense
In Attacking Our Educational Problems

Let’s start today with a focus on education, cradle to possible college degree, and what I consider to be some serious misconceptions about that potential journey, who should be taking it, how long it should take and how it should be paid for.

First, the misconception that every baby starts with the same intellectual potential and the only thing holding some children back is society’s failure to provide proper schooling in the nation’s public school classrooms.

But society can’t provide public school classrooms and teachers who, try as the might, can overcome the fact that an estimated 50% of young blacks are born to unwed mothers and 70% are raised without a father figure in the home.

Efforts certainly can be made—and are vigorously being made—by dedicated teachers who are given the advantage of smaller class size and special teaching aids but who simply can’t overcome the problem of the family heritage which many (far from all, but many) young black students—and a good many Hispanic students, too—bring with them into the classroom.

Vigorous Efforts To Improve But Problem Is Huge

Vigorous and effective efforts are being made to start the educational process very soon after birth, and this can certainly help close the gap between students who come to school with varying family backgrounds.

But there are a great many pre-school youngsters to be reached, even if a great majority of them could be reached, too many, as I see it, to close the learning and achievement gap for many of the students who tend to lag behind other students in scholastic achievement.

Moving on from pre-school and elementary and high school performance to the question of who can reasonably be expected to benefit from collegiate education:

Not all high school graduates should be encouraged to attend what used to be four-year colleges.  (Now they are more like five-year or more colleges.)

Some high school graduates aren’t capable of academic achievement at the college level and, importantly, some don’t want to attend college, turning instead to the potential of well-paying jobs in, for a current example, construction work.  (In the current job market there is a shortage of welders, not college graduates.)

Community College Can Be Sensible Alternative

In many cases, one or two years in a community college provides a sensible alternative spending five years or  more seeking a college degree.

As I see it, one of the greatest problems in American higher education today is the fact that supposed four-year colleges or universities have become five and six-year colleges or universities.

Some schools—notably including the University of Nebraska—has taken note on this disturbing pattern and are working towards four-year graduation rates.

Among other advantages beyond serving more students with the same physical facilities there is the obvious advantage of lessening the financial burden on students and their families.  It would seem obvious that four years in college would be less expensive than five or six.

Four-Year Degree Rewarding, Obviously Less Expensive

And making a college education less expensive—just as rewarding, but less expensive—would obviously help a great deal with the problem of student loans with which some students are loudly complaining they are burdened with on graduation.

Post-graduation debt might be eliminated or substantially reduced if a family started putting away money for a college education very soon after the child’s birth.

There are attractive investment programs which can grow, with modest annual contributions, into a substantial total in 17 or 18 years.

In summary, I think our educational system, from pre-school up to college degree, needs to be approached with more commonsense, and you don’t need a college degree for that.

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Do Polls Suggest Or Influence
The Outcome Of Elections?

Next a fresh look at one of my favorite targets:  public opinion polls which attempt to project election results.

The pollsters—and the news media which give the polls so much unwarranted publicity—don’t like to admit that the polls—such a tiny sampling of public opinion—may influence election results as much as they predict them.

The candidates may focus their attention more heavily on this or that area if the polls indicate they are lagging there.  But how about the voters who may be discouraged from even going to the polls where votes are actually cast on, this year, November 6th?

Over the years, I can recall campaigns in which the candidate and his followers said the candidate was gaining momentum but lost it as polls seemed to be projecting victory for the candidate’s opponent.

Today, the poll stories are played as the most important single news story of the day on the front page of papers ranging from USA Today to The New York Times.

2,453 Replies Indicate How Three States Might Vote?

An example of what I’m talking about:

The Wall Street Journal gave front-page play was given to a story with this headline:  “Obama Has Lead In Three Key States.”

If you turned to an inside page (newspaper studies over the years have indicated that readership drops off sharply when a story is continued on an inside page), and did some arithmetic from the figures available on that inside page, you would find that the front-page story was based on replies from 2,453 “likely voters” in Florida, Ohio and Virginia—a miniscule percentage of those who will go to the polls in those three states come November 6th.

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Senator Brenda Council’s Long Addiction:
Dramatic Argument Against Legalized Gambling

Count me among those who believe that State Senator Brenda Council should continue as a candidate for re-election despite the embarrassing disclosure that she had illegally used campaign funds to feed her gambling habit.

I share the feelings of Council’s opponent in the November 6 balloting, former longtime Senator Ernie Chambers, who expressed, “sadness and disappointment” that a person with Council’s record of public service should be a victim of gambling compulsion.

I agree with Chambers also that Council’s case demonstrates “how damaging an addiction to gambling can be.  “If this can bring down someone like Brenda, it should not be ignored.”

But I disagree with those Council supporters who say that she should be given a second chance.  Another chance?  Yes.  But she has already been given a second chance, and she failed the test.

In 2005, Council signed a form voluntarily banning herself from all Iowa casinos.  Such bans generally are used by people who want to stop themselves from gambling.  That ban became public after Council pleaded guilty to trespassing at Bluffs Run Casino after signing the voluntary ban.  At the time she denied having a gambling problem.

Council’s case is further evidence—as if any further evidence were needed—of the shameful mistake of governmental entities—Iowa is among the leaders—promoting gambling as a source of governmental revenue.

Nebraska, of course, is not free from the scourge of state sponsorship of gambling, as witness the deluge of advertising promoting participation in the state lottery—and publicity given regularly on telecasts—to the winning numbers and to the occasional story when a Nebraskan—or a group of Nebraskans—hit a major lottery jackpot.

Too late, of course, to roll back some of the damage that has been already done by the shameful state-government performance in Iowa and to a lesser extent, in Nebraska.

But certainly Council’s case is a compelling argument against any effort—sponsored by an Indian tribe or by anybody else—to extend the scourge of casino gambling into the State of Nebraska.

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I Think You’re “Gonna” Enjoy
Today’s Variety Of Smorgasbord Items

A particularly tasty serving of smorgasbord today, he said immodestly.  Enjoy.

–Whatever happened to the letter “g” as an appropriate ending for an action verb as in “going”?

First Lady Michelle Obama’s half-hour address to the Democratic National Convention included a number of examples, as in her statement that something was “gonna” happen.

And a local television sportscaster must have dropped at least half a dozen “g’s” in a single report of an evening’s high school football results.  This might have been expected, considering that this is the same sportscaster who described Cornhusker running back Ameer Abdullah’s 167-yard performance against Arkansas State as “a buck and 67 yards.”

And when will supposedly educated people, capable of proper use of the language, stop referring to “future plans”?  Don’t all plans look to the future?

–One thing the Nebraska Cornhuskers don’t lack this football season is coaching from the press box, rather detailed coaching in some cases.

A couple of examples in—where else?—the post-UCLA comments of World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel.

In Shatel’s view of the game, the Huskers were guilty of “trying to tackle the shoulders” and a mistake in calling for the “zone read” (whatever that is) on the NU 5-yard line.

–I have long been aware of the attractive dining room in the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City.  Good food, reasonably priced.

But I wasn’t prepared for a page worth of extravagantly complimentary tribute to that dining room in a recent issue of The World-Herald.  Several color photos were included.

In excruciating detail, a staff writer told of her visits to the Lied Lodge to enjoy its “incredibly delicious” cuisine.  (If it is truly incredible, does that mean we shouldn’t believe that it’s really all that good?)

I have been under the impression that there are fine restaurants also in Omaha, perhaps not serving “incredibly delicious” food but food that would compare favorably with that served in the Lied Lodge restaurant.

I would think the owners and operators of those splendid Omaha eating places might have some questions about the nomination—I think that’s a fair description—of the Lied Lodge dining room as perhaps (if not certainly) the best place to dine in eastern Nebraska.

–The people of Great Britain were properly elated when Scotsman Andy Murray won the U.S. Open tennis tournament.  After all, it had been 76 years since anyone from Great Britain had won one of the Big Four tennis championships, the four being the British Open, the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open.

But those who know British history are aware that the Scots have long been restive as a part of Great Britain—a role continued by force of arms when Scottish forces led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (more properly Charles Stuart) were defeated by English-led forces at the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1846.

So Marian and I agree that while applauding Scotsman Andy Murray’s triumph in the U.S. Open, the English are still waiting for an Englishman to be the first to win a major tennis championship since Fred Perry won at Wimbledon in 1936.

The fact that Andy Murray’s victory had a Scottish, not English, flavor to it is indicated by these words from a television commentator:  “Bagpipes will be blaring all over Scotland tonight.”

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Rex Burkhead Already An All-American

They won’t be picking All-American football teams until season’s end or close to it, but I’ve already made one pick—Rex Burkhead of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Burkhead is a tough-to-tackle running back, deserving of the recognition which he has received in three seasons, a Big Red fan favorite.

Modest in his post-game comments, always sharing credit with his teammates and, importantly, dedicated to post-game performances like the one last Saturday after a game in which he didn’t play because of a knee injury from which he is recovering.

World-Herald sports columnist Sam McKewon described the scene:

“When does Rex Burkhead return?  He already did after the Arkansas State game, when he threw passes to a couple of kids on the Memorial Stadium field for a half-hour.”

This typical concern for others puts Rex Burkhead on my All-American team.

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