Friday, February 27, 2015


Someone’s got to be the heartless brute; it might as well be me.

I attended the February 21st “legislative dialogue” that was held at Presbyterian Manor. I got a real education. 

The Koch brothers have it in for our kids. They’re the reason we can’t get enough money for our schools. They’re greedy and they buy politicians, particularly Republicans. In the 2014 election cycle they purchased over $7,000,000 worth of influence, with 99% of that money going to rapacious Republicans.

Far be it from me to mention that the National Education Association contributed over $26,000,000 in campaign contributions during the same election cycle, with 99% going to Democrats. I never heard anyone at the meeting complain about that, nor did I hear a peep about the $73,000,000 that Tom Steyer gave to liberal causes or the $4,000,000 that George Soros gave to liberals in 2012. I guess money contributed to conservatives and Republicans must be tainted, while money given to liberals and Democrats is donated “ex-cathedra.”

One person asked our legislators if they were going to take a pay cut. It seemed only fair in the light of the “fact” that our kids were being mugged in the budget process. That didn’t seem like a bad idea to me, but I might have gone a bit further. I’ve seen the U.S.D. organizational chart. It’s a piece of work, something that would have done Nikita Khrushchev and the old line communists proud. About the only thing missing is a slot for a highly paid professional bureaucrat overseeing the department of seven letter words beginning with the letter “X,” Xeroxed for example. 

Someone’s got to be in charge of making all those copies. Right?

I suppose I shouldn’t ruffle too many feathers. I’m sure that every executive director, associate executive director,  assistant director,  assistant superintendent, associate superintendent, principal, assistant principal, or lowly coordinator has been fully cost justified in the same way as all that AstroTurf.

Almost every time I pick up my daily issue of the Gazette, I read about problems with education funding. The kids need laptops, tablets, or IPads. The school district is strapped for cash. This morning I read about the very real possibility of budget cuts.

I’m not an unreasonable man. I’d be willing to pay top dollar for a top tier product. But, my problem with the way education money is being spent is that it simply isn’t delivering the quality education it should be.

And, it’s not just me. The vast majority of us really do care about education. We want our kids to get a top notch education, but there’s a disconnect. We’re not getting what we’re paying for.
In the most recent P.I.S.A. (Program for International Student Assessment) study on math, science, and reading, for example, American students rank far below many of their international peers in countries like Korea, the Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Belgium, Iceland, and over twenty other nations. We’re mired in 27th place. 27th place!

That’s not a pretty picture. And, when we look at our local school district, things are every bit as bad. In a 2009 Bush Institute report comparing local school districts with their international peers, for example, the results were hair-raising. Our kids here in Emporia rank in the 39th percentile in math and the 46th percentile in reading. In other words, 61% of kids from countries like Finland, Ireland, Belgium, etc. are outpacing our kids in math and 54% are ahead of us in reading.

That’s unacceptable! I’d like to think we could all agree on that.

What role does money play in the results? The financial addendum to the P.I.S.A. report was quite revealing. The United States spends about $12,000 per student on education. Our local education spending is on par with that number. Only two countries (Luxembourg and Switzerland) spend more (in U.S. dollars) than us. Even Sweden’s roaring socialists spend less than us. How much do the Finns spend on education? About $9,600 per student. The Irish? About $9,000. The Koreans? About $8,000. The Poles? About $6,100, which is roughly half of what we spend.  How are they, and so many other countries, managing to do so much better than us with a lot less money?

I could go on and on, but it’s driving me crazy. I’m sick and tired of spending big money for 27th place. If our education system were a 27th place racehorse, I’d have put it out to pasture a long time ago.

The pundits and the bureaucrats say they want more money. “Fine,” I say. But I also want to tell them, “It’s time for you to belly up to the bar and figure out how to produce results commensurate with the money we’re spending.”

I’m ready to have that kind of conversation.

I don’t think that’s unreasonable. Our kids are Americans, for God’s sake. They deserve better than we’re giving them. They should be number one in the world, not 27th, particularly for the kind of money we’re spending.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


A couple of essays ago, I wrote about the millions who marched in Paris to express their support for freedom of speech. It was an impressive show.

The French say they support freedom of expression. Really? Why, then¸ did Bob Dylan run afoul of the French courts for something he uttered publicly in 2012. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

Before you could say, Je Suis Charlie,” some of Dylan’s Croatian fans expressed their outrage. That, in turn, prompted the Council of Croats in France to file a formal complaint.  Dylan was then charged in a French court with inciting hatred with his remarks. If he had been convicted, he could have faced a one year prison sentence and a fine of up to $62,000. So much for freedom of expression, eh?

Dylan escaped the clutches of the court on a technicality. He hadn’t given his consent for Rolling Stone to publish his remarks. But, it hasn’t ended there. The court ordered the director of the French edition of the magazine to stand trial for publishing the remarks.

I think it’s time to remind the French there are times when the physician needs to heal himself.
Of course, we on this side of the Atlantic do the freedom of expression thing better than the rest of the world. Right?

I’d be willing to be if I were to walk around Emporia and ask people whether or not they supported the principle of free expression, an overwhelming majority would say they did. But, do we truly support the principle? Or, do we just give it lip service? 

It wasn’t so long ago that Kansas University professor David Guth got the National Rifle Association lathered up with the following inflammatory tweet he submitted in the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut:  The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

It didn’t take long from the time Professor Guth submitted the tweet till the university placed him on administrative leave, where he stayed for seven months.

I’ve been on many college campuses over the years. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that the academic environment is all about free expression and dialogue, even when some of the ideas being expressed are out of step with those currently in vogue or ideas that most of us would find abhorrent. Too many to count, I think. The sentiment is noble, but it’s far from being true. In a 2014 report on speech codes on college campuses, for example, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that “nearly 60% of the 427 colleges and universities analyzed maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students.”

But, it’s not always students who are censored by academia. In 2014, Brandeis University rescinded an offer to Somali born Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree. Why was the offer rescinded? The Council of Islamic American Relations had complained to the university. In his communication to Ms. Hirsi, Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence said, “certain of her past statements” were inconsistent with the university’s “core values” because they were "Islamophobic.” In May of last year, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was invited to be the commencement speaker at Rutgers University. Some students complained about Ms. Rice’s work in the Bush administration during the Iraq War. They used their free speech rights in the campus newspaper to keep her from exercising her free speech rights to speak at the commencement. She decided to decline the offer the university had made. In her letter explaining her decision, she wrote, “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families.”

Someone had to take the high road.

Freedom of expression is always going to be a dicey issue. Nowadays, almost anything we say or think is bound to offend someone. And, when those times come, there will always be someone who is willing to use his or her free speech rights to shout their opponent down or use administrative levers to squelch the things they don’t want to hear.  More importantly, they want to prevent others from hearing and making up their own minds about what’s being said. I’ve seen it happen in public meetings I’ve attended here. I’ve even seen some of our paragons of public virtue attempt to squelch voices they don’t want us to hear.

As I’ve said before, it’s easy to say we support freedom of expression. But I think there’s a huge gap between what we say and what we practice. Maybe, as with the French, it’s time for us to tell ourselves, “physician, heal thyself.”