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A Second Amendment Lesson for School Choice

What follows is an adaptation of a speech to the Rhode Island chapter of the America’s Future Foundation.

This is the third annual Justin Talks About School Choice event before this group, and it’s not easy to come up with something new to say every year.  It’s not easy because the issue never seems to go anywhere in Rhode Island.

When the HBO series Game of Thrones was nearing its end, fans complained about one scene in particular.  Our heroes had traveled north and were trapped on a rock in the middle of an ice lake, surrounded by an army of undead soldiers… who could not, for some reason, find a way to get fifty feet or so across to them.

Of course, any fan could have predicted that the heroine would fly in with her dragons and save her allies, but the complaint was that it all happened too quickly.  For the sake of the story, the producers had bent the map of Westeros to get her across the continent in a short period of time.  Why?  Because they couldn’t have so many of the main characters sitting on a rock for multiple episodes.  Who would want to watch that?

That’s what school choice advocacy feels like in Rhode Island sometimes, and I’ve started to feel like the problem (at least to start) has less to do with the opposition than the support.

At a recent school choice event in Rhode Island put on by Rhode Island Families for School Choice, I saw a movie called Miss Virginia about school choice.  One scene and scene really resonated with me.  The main character, Virginia Walton, wanted to find a way to get her son out of substandard and violent D.C. public schools, so she went to Congress to talk with a representative from another state who had been a school choice advocate.  He told her they’d tried to get a policy passed in the city, but “parents in poverty with kids in terrible schools will therefore remain in poverty; the parents just didn’t want it.”  Miss Virginia said she didn’t believe him, and he told her, “it doesn’t matter what you believe; no one wanted it.”

As much as I share the congressman’s cynicism, I can understand Virginia’s skepticism.  Families should want increased opportunity, and moreover, they say they do when polled.  In 2012, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice polled Rhode Islanders on the issue and found that they knew things weren’t going in the right direction, as the following chart shows.  Of the 20 states in which the question was asked, Rhode Island parents were the most likely to say that public education was on the wrong track.  In fact, Rhode Island was one of only two states in which parents were less likely to say that schools were on the right track than the general public.


Parents know something’s not right.  They also favor a school voucher system.  When the system is explained to them, more than 60% of parents favor it.


Unfortunately, they don’t actually step up.  Why?

At the high end of income, maybe public school parents feel guilt that they could afford private school already if they’d just sacrifice a little. In the middle, maybe they have concerns that they’ll lose what they already have (that their OK school will lose money or bring in students who are used to bad schools) without providing a price they feel they can afford for private alternatives.

At the low end of income, I don’t know. This is where school choice advocates see the most support, but it’s also where you find the people least well positioned to demand change or to organize toward it. And there are all sorts of cultural challenges, including partisan allegiance. Lower-income families tend to be in the party dominated by the teachers union.

On top of it all, people who are generally advocates for freedom get caught up on the idea of taking government money to give to individuals or private organizations, especially if they might be religious.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this all is and what to do about it. It just feels like there’s this powerful potential out there to dramatically change things for the better — to improve our academics and our economy, to increase our sum of freedom, and to decrease the power of the special interests.

Two proximate events in Rhode Island really got the wheels turning in my brain.  The first was on MLK Day, when I walked into Park Theater for the movie mentioned above, and every seat had a yellow scarf on it, which is the signature of the School Choice Week campaign.


To give more detail about Miss Virginia, it’s about the woman who led the charge for a school-choice system in Washington, D.C., and the resulting program worked.  High school graduation rates where vouchers were offered were up significantly:


And as can be seen using the Center’s online tool showing results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test across the country, Washington, D.C., schools made huge progress during and after the program’s implementation.


Given these results in urban Washington, it isn’t surprising, that Park Theater was filled with a large number of minority families for an event from the right side of the political aisle.

A few days later, I turned on Twitter and saw this:


Those are images from the Facebook page of Republican state Senator Elaine Morgan, and it took a minute for my mind to adjust to the significance of all this yellow.  For a second, I thought it must have been another school-choice event, but this time, the color was representing support for the Second Amendment.  These are gun-rights advocates, and there was a line to get into the State House.

The direct political action from such a large number of people immediately raised two questions:

  1. Why did the Second Amendment rally drive this many people to direct political action?
  2. What if we could unite the people in both of the above pictures together?

That’s not impossible. Even just the fact that, for example, Republican state Representative Michael Chippendale was prominent at both events shows that.

I’m talking way beyond political power, here. Imagine if the sort of folks who support Second Amendment rights began to socialize and share ideas with the sort of folks who support educational freedom and who would benefit most from it.  If we started to see just how much we have in common — Man! — the progressives would be terrified.

So let’s think about the differences between the two issues:


The “basic impulse” row is probably the decisive one when it comes to different outcomes for the issues, and that’s interesting, because we’re seeing those two ideas battle over guns.  In this photo from the Providence Journal, we see the “we have to do something” side in red, and the “leave me alone” side in yellow:


These are the two major impulses of American politics, and they aren’t always in conflict. In fact, they’re strongest — maybe insurmountable — when they are combined.  Think of same-sex marriage.  Now, I think the narrative was wrong and even deceptive, pushing that issue, but with a massive, culture-wide marketing campaign, it was sold as if it was doing something about injustice and discrimination (such as referring to black civil rights) and leaving people alone (“love is love”).

When it comes to school choice, advocates’ focus has been on “we have to do something.” Our public schools are failing, and that’s why the policies that advocates lead with are to help kids in the most failing schools. But the issue also has a strain of “leave me alone,” especially if we rephrase to “just let my kids learn.  Let them have a chance, an opportunity, to make it.”

I think it can be put more forcefully than that, though.  You’re forced to pay into our nation’s education system at every level of taxation (local, state, federal), and yet, if you’re not a secular progressive, the public schools teach a worldview starkly at odds with your beliefs.  I mean… “leave me alone.” Let me educate my children the way I think they should be educated. At least let parents have some of the money they are forced to pay for education to cover their own children’s education.

In Miss Virginia, Virginia Walton worked endless hours, and she came up just a bit short on the private-school tuition. Leave her alone. At least a little. Let her keep some of those taxes to cover the margin.

Because if we don’t allow that, what are we saying? Taking our money for failing public schools is not even “we have to do something”; it’s “we can’t risk doing anything.” And it’s definitely not “leave me alone”; it’s “your kids must go to the schools we set up for you, whether they’re any good and whether they brainwash future generations of your own family to believe something completely opposed to your beliefs.”

If you’re a Second Amendment advocate, imagine if you could send your children to a school with skeet shooting or a mandatory gun safety and electives using guns.  Think of how that would prepare them to safeguard their rights… and protect those rights… rather than look for government to protect them from scary guns. That’s the argument I make for school choice as a Christian, but applied to the Second Amendment.

This is how we get all those people on the same side: in a “leave me alone” coalition that offers another answer to helping people out, to doing something, because everybody’s interests are served. We’re doing something, and we’re leaving each other alone.

If we can get that going, I’ll have no trouble coming up with something new to say at this event next year.


Tanzi Wants to Raise the Age to Purchase a Firearm From 18 to 21

In January, Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Narragansett, South Kingstown) reintroduced legislation that would raise the minimum age to own a firearm or purchase ammunition from 18 to 21 in Rhode Island. Since Rhode Island already prohibits those under 21 from owning a handgun, this bill would effectively destroy the Second Amendment rights of 18-20-year-olds by preventing them from obtaining a long gun too.

Tanzi first introduced legislation that would increase the age to purchase a firearm or ammunition back in 2018 after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At the time, Tanzi claimed that her inspiration for raising the minimum age for gun ownership in the state was the existing law that made handguns only obtainable by those 21 or older. Tanzi said, “I have wondered why people could go in at 18 and purchase an AR-15-type weapon, but they have to be 21 to purchase a handgun. It seemed a little out of proportion to me. This [legislation] was an obvious way to act after Parkland.”

The data would suggest that Tanzi’s solution for solving gun violence is not only an overreaction but would be ineffective and unfair, as well. For example, the average age of a mass shooter according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government is approximately 33 years old. Likewise, most mass shootings are committed by individuals using handguns, not rifles or shotguns.

Furthermore, barring someone from owning a firearm when they are considered to be an adult in the eyes of the law is ludicrous. 18-year-olds can vote and join the military. Young men are also required to sign up for the Selective Service System when they turn 18. If somebody is deemed responsible enough to help select the next President or go off to war at 18, they should be able to own a firearm as well. Tanzi’s gun control bill would turn 18-20-year-olds into second-class citizens by denying them their constitutionally protected right to self-defense.


Mainstream Women’s Group Launches in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Women for Freedom & Prosperity, the voice of pro-liberty women in the Ocean State, today announced the launch of its new group, with Susan Wynne to serve as its primary spokeswoman and head of the group’s executive committee.

“Our goal is to give voice to the silent majority of moderate and conservative women in our state as a common-sense contrast to the extreme-left views pushed up at the statehouse,” said Wynne, a Lincoln resident and long-time pro-freedom advocate and former President of the RI Tea Party.

Joining Wynne on the executive committee are Ceasare Rivas, a self-employed single mother of two; Judith Bowman, an accomplished author and expert on civility; and Carey Jeffrey, who founded RI Citizens for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

“There are thousands of other women out there like me who need to come together in a unified voice and help make Rhode Island a great place to live, work, and raise our families. Join us today,” urged Rivas.

The mission of RI Women for Freedom & Prosperity is to empower and give voice to the silent majority of pro-liberty women in our state… to be heard and to effectively become involved our state’s political process and in society by providing them with the information, education & training, and motivation to confidently engage in civil public discourse and to become a trusted leader in the civic and business arenas.

RI Women for Freedom is currently accepting memberships at just $10 per year and is expected to soon engage in important public issues and to announce its initial training and educational events.

Commented one new member: “I value freedom and want prosperity for my family. I want to encourage more women to believe in the principles of this organization and give them the tools to change our state for the better.”

One focus of the new group is to provide the common-sense “other side” of the debate in many of the important policy and societal issues that arise … and to represent the views of mainstream Ocean State women.

Unlike the search-and-destroy tactics deployed by the left, RI Women for Freedom expects to advocate in a bold, yet civil and respectful manner.

RI Women For Freedom & Prosperity is a nonpartisan issue-advocacy group for pro-liberty women in the Ocean State and is an initiative of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: They Value What They Promote

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for March 9, included talk about:

  • Unionist Pat Crowley’s promotion.
  • More grand jurying around the speaker.
  • Gina and her endorsements.
  • Minimum wage.
  • Anti-Second Amendment tax honesty.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, March 16, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Reduce Roadblocks Prohibiting Meaningful Work

In 2018, our Center published one of our most comprehensive policy briefs, The Right To Earn, which highlighted Rhode Island’s bottom-10 standing when it comes to over-regulation and the need for across the board occupational licensing reform. The Ocean State has also recently been ranked as having the worst state business climate in all of America.

Since then, we have been encouraged that reforms continue to move forward based on our report on the heavy burdens of “occupation licensing” laws in the state.

If significant occupational licensing and regulatory reforms are enacted: more people will be free to engage in more and better jobs, more and better incomes will be earned, more families will be culturally stronger and will remain intact, and more and better businesses will expand or be established.
Center RIToEarn Man
The goal of an effective regulatory strategy should be to ensure that occupational licensing is no more burdensome than needed to address present, significant and substantiated harm. Under a “light touch” approach, businesses are freer to develop and produce jobs.

This year, H7892 similarly reduces licensing burdens across many occupational areas, and if the General Assembly passes this bill, Rhode Island would join the increasing national trend – both at the state and federal level – to reduce roadblocks that may prohibit certain individuals from engaging in meaningful work. Click here to learn more.


Perspective on Physical and Civic Viruses

Looking out beyond the boundaries of our town, for Episode 14, the Tiverton on Track podcasters discussed the coronavirus and the daily countdown of cases, leading to panic and a better-safe-than-sorry attitude that is closing schools and cancelling activities.

Part of the dynamic in the case of the pandemic seems to be political divisiveness, which also relates to letters to the editor, locally.  Criticism always seems to have more to do with who is doing something than whether the thing is good or bad.


Governor Raimondo’s Team Explains Her Attempt to Infringe on the Right to Bear Arms

After members of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s tax and revenue team answered a question he had about a proposed sales tax on gun range and club memberships, Republican House Minority Leader Blake Filippi thanked them for their honesty, and with good reason.  For full video of the relevant House Finance Committee hearing, see here, but the following clip captures this particular exchange:

Perhaps the reason for the minority leader’s surprise at the bureaucrats’ honesty was that they seem to have presented the case that the new tax would (or at least should) simply be unconstitutional.

By way of a reminder, here is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

For those tempted to become bogged down in the significance of the Militia clause, it should suffice to note that Article I, Section 22, of Rhode Island’s Constitution does not contain that complication:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

According to Merriam-Webster, “infringe” means “to encroach upon in a way that violates law or the rights of another” or, in older times, “defeat, frustrate.”  To go a step farther, “encroach” means “to enter by gradual steps or by stealth into the possessions or rights of another.”

Now return to the video.  Asked about the motivation for the tax, the governor’s team said it was really more of a “policy” matter.  The governor opposes guns, and the tax is intended to reduce their usage.  As her chief of Revenue Analysis, Paul Dion, put it:

Dion: The governor’s position has been pretty clear on she would like to see less guns in the state and less use of the guns in the state, and by applying the sales tax, particularly on the shooting ranges piece of this would make it marginally more expensive to own a gun and use it at a shooting range, and she would like to discourage that type of consumer behavior in the state. I think she’s been very clear about that all five years, six years now, that she’s been in office.

Filippi: So, the belief is that by taxing hunting, fishing, and shooting ranges, people will participate in the sport less and purchase less firearms?

Dion: It’s not as linear as that, but yes. … To raise the cost of using a firearm, if you charge a sales tax, for example, at a shooting range, let’s just say for argument’s sake that you spend $1,000 a year at a shooting range. Now you’re going to have to pay $1,070. To the extent that discourages individuals from using the shooting range, that discourages them from using their firearms.

Defenders of the right to bear arms need perform no analysis or make any inferences, here.  The governor wants fewer people to be able to own and bear arms, and so she’s implementing this tax to infringe on that right.  Period.

How could a judge uphold such a direct assault on our civil rights?  Perhaps the governor doesn’t expect the new tax to become law, but wanted to use the threat of violating civil rights as a way to score political points with progressives.  I’m not sure that’s any better than proposing the tax and actually meaning it.


RI General Assembly to Decide on Polygamy

A post on Sabin Tavern puts a spotlight on a pair of bills that look likely to get through the General Assembly this session, S2136/H7541. The state Senate has already passed it, and Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Cranston) is the second sponsor  of the House version.

The benign title of the bills is “The Uniform Parentage Act,” but its effect will be anything but benign, and Rhode Island’s legislators need to know — and acknowledge — what it is they’re actually deciding when they vote on this act.

It falls into a category of legislation that politicians and commentators would prefer to let move along quietly.  Some of them actively support what the bills are doing, while others simply don’t want to be caught up in the uncomfortable public debate they can start.  Meanwhile, advocates for the bills are active and vocal, while advocates against them struggle to articulate what’s wrong with them.

This state of affairs is the fruit of years of battleground prep.  Radicals have pressed our culture to discard tradition as a guide, denying that it amounts to the wisdom of ages passed down and deserving of some level of deference so we don’t unintentionally undermine our civilization.  Therefore, tradition’s defenders find themselves struggling to articulate the reasons for things we’ve simply known to be true for generations.  At the same time, the sheer intolerance of the radicals for disagreement imposes a high price for those who judge the winds incorrectly to be against radical change.  They’ll experience auto-da-fé translated into social terms.

Start with the sentence in the legislation that most directly illustrates the radical change:

Consistent with the establishment of parentage under this chapter, a court may determine that a child has more than two (2) parents if the court finds that the failure to recognize more than two (2) parents would be detrimental to the child.

Supporters of the bills claim that it’s merely an “update” of the law to catch up to the reality of modern families.  If that’s the case, the multiple-parent provision proves what the activists believe the modern family to be.  They believe a child can have any number of parents of any variety of sexes.  That isn’t just cleaning up loose ends from the last radical change; it pushes us precipitously toward the next one.

Think about it.  This is simply the obvious, inevitable logic behind same-sex marriage (which traditionalists were savaged for pointing out when that was the radical change of the day).  Same-sex marriage thoroughly eliminated the link between marriage and the the creation of children and therefore took biology out of the institution.  If we deny that the law can recognize the unique quality of an intimate relationship between a man and a woman, how can that quality continue to carry weight for the product of such relationships?  Put differently, if the possibility of procreation is not grounds for defining the familial relationship between adults, how can procreation continue to define the familial relationship between parent and child?

Next the radicals will run the same-sex marriage playbook in reverse.  The Uniform Parentage Act also states that a person is “presumed to be a parent of a child” if he or she is married to the woman who gave birth to the child.  (Although the law is so radical as to leave out the biological fact that only women can give birth.)  Suppose a judge declares the biological father to be a third parent to the child, and the trio files a lawsuit to join him to the women’s marriage.

Suddenly, marriage and parenthood will be intrinsically linked again.  It will be presented as the height of irrational bigotry to deny the child’s multiple parents the right to be married.  After all, isn’t marriage all about children?  If we can’t agree that a child can only have two parents, on what possible grounds will we say that an adult can only have one spouse?

To this day, nobody seriously disputes that the healthiest circumstance for children is to live in households with their two biological parents — a man and a woman providing lifelong stability within marriage.  Indeed, middle-and-upper-class radicals continue to provide these circumstances for their own children because they know that it is best.  Shouldn’t the laws of our land be able to reflect that as an ideal somehow?

Look, we live in a representative democracy.  If you think the law of the land should permit polygamy, then fine, support that position, but be honest about it.  Making the decision to define parents as whatever a judge can be convinced to declare inevitably makes the decision about polygamy, too, even if politicians and the public want to hide from it.

Another reality that activists and legislators should be honest enough to admit is that there is a political philosophy underlying this movement.  Namely, progressives hold that everybody should get to do whatever they want sexually, and that government should, in turn, tax them and restrict their freedom in other ways in order to deal with the psychological and social consequences of a society that has discarded its moral guardrails.

If that’s your philosophy, at least have the courage to admit that you’re willing to go all the way.  And if you’re not willing to go all the way, you don’t have a choice but to stop it now.  Putting a bomb on a time delay doesn’t absolve you of the blame for the explosion.


The Long Pursuit of Rights

So, you believe some government agency is violating your civil rights.  What do you do?  You file a civil rights lawsuit, you make the argument, a judge gives it some thought, and there you go.  Sounds simple, right?

Well, there’s a little more to it than that — time, not the least.

Back in November, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity partnered with the Liberty Justice Center (LJC) to challenge unconstitutional requirements for the disclosure of donors to issue advocacy organizations.  As the press release notes, “this invasive and unconstitutional law exposes citizens to possible retaliation and harassment for simply exercising their free speech rights.”

About a month ago, Rhode Island’s attorney general, Peter Neronha, filed a 20-page motion to dismiss the case.  And now a month later, as announced in another press release, the Center and LJC have submitted their response.

This is a long, drawn out process that leads one despairing of the capacity of the average citizen to defend his or her rights.  Lawyers must either be paid or convinced to donate their time, and those whose rights are being violated must simply live with it for months and years.

If that’s the process, then that’s the process, but it’d be much better for legislators to keep their constituents’ rights in mind when creating laws.


A Law with Red Flags

2-24-20 Red Flag Law from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

Guest: Charles Calenda, Attorney with Inman and Tourgee,
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
Mr. Calenda was a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office for many years. Now in private practice he describes how the “Red Flag Law” has been implemented over the last 18 months and its implications on the constitutional protections of due process and unlawful search and seizure. He also discusses the “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazine” bills introduced once again in this current session of the Legislature.


Who Is Providence Students’ Weingarten?

Yesterday, Boston Globe reporter Dan McGowan gave readers one of those glimpses into the way things work that Rhode Island’s size helps facilitate. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (one of the two powerful teacher unions in the United States), was at an event in Rhode Island and mentioned a text message exchange she’d had with RI Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green. So, McGowan found the commissioner elsewhere in the state and managed to get a look at the messages.

Read the full article, but here’s a key passage:

In their text message conversation, commissioner Infante-Green told Weingarten, the national union head, that she has tried to avoid a public confrontation with the city’s teachers. She said she has been “killed in the media for not saying anything against the union.”

“I am concerned by the information that is being given to you,” Infante-Green said. “I am a person of my word. I have gone above and beyond to be silent and not be divisive.”

But Weingarten accused Infante-Green of taking “swipes” at the union and not including teachers in the planning process for the state’s turnaround plan for Providence schools.

“I don’t know how to be clearer,” Weingarten wrote. “You have lost whatever goodwill Evelyn and I created.”

Another key point is Weingarten’s assertion that Infante-Green would “lose a showdown over collective bargaining because most Providence residents support the educators” (McGowan’s paraphrase).

These messages confirm what I’ve been saying since summer — which is something that anybody should agree who’s watched education in Rhode Island and the tepid, short-lived attempts at reform. The problems in Providence and across the state do not get fixed without a major blow to the power and influence of the teacher unions, and that doesn’t happen without a commissioner (with the support of the governor) who is willing to recognize the struggle for what it is and make the case to parents, taxpayers, and voters.

“Working collaboratively” with the union can go no farther than the boundaries of their power. I’ve referred to this as “fix the system” reform, which only permits changes that make the machine of public education run a little more smoothly. The unfortunate reality, however, is that intrinsic parts of the machine (the system) are the problem, most especially the labor unions.

It’s taken about a half a year of wasted time to get there, but hopefully Infante-Green’s sharing of the text messages indicates that the commissioner (at least) is going to stand up for the students, who don’t have a nationally powerful advocate like Weingarten advocating for their unique interests. That ought to be their parents and all of us — including teachers, who ought to reject this sort of representation — but it too seldom is.

Featured image: A union activist protesting the East Greenwich town council.


Politics This Week with John DePetro: Rhode Island’s Civic Infection

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for March 2, included talk about:

  • The degree of confidence in the state government to contain a contagious disease.
  • The effect of distrust on public perception of the Veterans Home debacle.
  • The meaning of Weingarten’s texts to Infante-Green.
  • The ubiquitous Mr. Nee.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, March 9, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Trinity Rep Theatrical Craft Brings the Subversion We Need

It was the most progressive of plays,
it was the most conservative of plays,
it played up Northeastern prejudices,
it could not downplay universal Truth.
Whatever else it was,
it was a stunning artistic achievement.

Driving into Providence to see A Tale of Two Cities at Trinity Rep with my college-bound daughter, I remarked on one of the great ironies of contemporary artistry.  Namely, artists tend to be overtly radical in their politics and presentation, but art requires Truth, and Truth is implicitly conservative, at least in our post-post-modern, relativist society.  Radicals have long since enshrined the cliché that art should be subversive, and in a fascinating way, we’ve reached the point that the conservative nature of Truth can make good art subversive of artists!

But before the philosophy, the presentation.  Another point of conversation in the long, long journey into the capital city from the outskirts of Rhode Island was my anticipation of (and trepidation about) the stagecraft for two scenes from Charles Dickens’s novel:  the stoppage at the fountain (where the Marquis’ carriage crushes a child) and the storming of the Bastille.  How would a small production address these two challenges?

In both cases, the ensemble utilized theatrical abstraction to excellent effect.  The production begins on a stage set as an orderly library, with the cast members alternating a recitation of the famous opening lines of the book (mimicked at the beginning of this essay) as if arguing about current events.  Throughout the play, the actors intersperse narrative phrases about their actions as if reading from the book, and the library’s reading tables become props and choreographed representations of settings.  The latter device is so well done that the use of the plain wood furniture to represent such plot-critical objects as the Marquis’ carriage seems intrinsic to the story, rather than a concession to a budget.

The opening debate scene, the narrative dialogue, the innovative use of the setting, and various other aspects that you should discover for yourself give the play the feeling of an intellectually curious troupe building a case for something.  The actors aren’t so much preforming an adaptation of the novel as constructing an argument about it, hinged on Dickens’s assertion that “the period was so far like the present period.”  Speaking allowed lines that seem as if they should have been bracketed as stage directions doesn’t seem like a gimmick, but rather like quotation of textual evidence.

Here is where the Trinity Rep company was more successful than, perhaps, they or most of their audience realized.  The presentation of the Marquis incorporated a not-so-subtle reference to President Trump because… of course it did.  Some among the French revolutionaries were wearing pink knitted pussyhats because… of course they were.  And yet, a conservative in the audience couldn’t help but wonder whether those around him chortling at these political allusions felt at least a little uncomfortable at the shadow this casts on the popular, progressive narrative.  When the revolutionaries exploded in frustration at the aristocracy’s disregard for the common people, did anybody else in the audience think the word, “deplorables”?  (Google the reference if necessary.)

In the play, as in the novel, the revolutionaries do not come out looking very good.  That is especially true as compared with the other thematic “city” of the plot: a love story/triangle.  The wanton sacrifice of a hated Other in the name of radical rage juxtaposes as a slimy, sticky, bloody smear against the warm, meaningful glow of personal sacrifice in the name of love and marriage and parenthood and heritage.

Did the playwright and director mean this all as a warning to their peers that their movement may be going astray, or was it merely Truth subverting fashionable progressivism?  (“Merely”!)  For the intriguing possibility of a knowing wink, keep an eye out for a red baseball cap.

As to that production team, their achievement would have been impressive enough had the script been taken down from the canonical shelf, having been fleshed out in trial and error on stages across the world.  The reality is more impressive.  Playwright Brian McEleney and Director Tyler Dobrowsky are local talents at Trinity Rep whose theatrical experience in Rhode Island and (in McEleney’s case) time teaching Brown students have honed their understanding of their craft such that they could take the risks they did in A Tale of Two Cities and succeed.

One hopes they’ve put their vision to paper sufficiently that it can be published for use by other companies, particularly among students, who desperately need cause to consider and debate the literary subjects they so adeptly capture.

For now, A Tale of Two Cities is only showing through March 22, so don’t miss your chance to see it.


A New Day Dawning in the Ocean State?

It’s encouraging to see different groups working together in Rhode Island, taking a stand for religious freedoms and moral values. I believe, along with many others, that we have a large group of values voters here in the Ocean State that only needs to be awakened to have an impact. The average church-goer longs for a common-sense morality. You might even say that we are on the verge of having our own “woke” movement!

Concerns that are causing people to awaken include the extreme lack of morals and family values in our schools, institutions and especially in our State House. This void is felt, and God is using it to bring people together.

Family Policy Alliance is part of a Pro-Life Coalition made up of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and various family agencies. We’re actively supporting pregnancy resource centers and other ministries, including adoption and foster care services.

Beyond the life issue, we are working with MTN, a group that specializes in equipping churches. We will be hosting a Bible Gender & Sexuality seminar on April 24-25. This issue is greatly impacting our families and our schools. Churches struggle with applying the gospel to the sexual issues of the day, including transgenderism.

Our main speakers will be J. Alan Branch, Professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Seminary, and Dr. Michelle Cretella, Executive Director of the American College of Pediatricians. There will also be various breakout sessions for youth pastors, children workers, counselors and teachers. Our goal is to equip church leaders and workers to share the love of Christ without compromising the gospel’s eternal values. We want to love the sinner but not the sin. You can save with early registration here.

One more point of encouragement is that Rhode Island has more spiritually and morally conservative legislators than you think. Family Policy Alliance has been helping to support and resource them.

As I close let me challenge you to:

  1. Pray that God would give us godly leaders. God will give His people the type of leaders they really want! Let’s REALLY want them and PRAY!
  2. Consider running for office in the party of your choosing. Pray Isaiah’s prayer: “Here I am Lord. SEND ME!”
  3. Be an active part of a movement that makes RI a place where God is Honored, Religious Freedom Flourishes, Families Thrive and Live is Cherished!

At the Top of the Patronage Network

As I mentioned to John DePetro last week, one of the notable developments in the controversy of Speaker Mattiello v. the Convention Center Authority was that labor union pooh-bah George Nee was a co-author of an op-ed pushing back against the Providence Journal’s strong support for Mattiello’s audit idea.  As the editor’s note explains, Nee is a vice chair of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority.

Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg gave Rhode Islanders a bit more of a look into the way things work around here when she tweeted that “AFL CIO president and ConvCtr board member George Nee confirms he too has family on RICCA payroll. His sister in law, Eileen Smith, is admin asst to RICCA exec director.”  Gregg’s tweet links to an article in which she reports that the Convention Center’s employees technically work for a private company, ASM Global, which refuses to “disclose names, job titles and pay of these workers.”

Our look into the way things work can only go so far, I guess.

For a little bit more of a taste, recall a March 2016 post in this space that points out some additional Nee connections.

  • Brigid Nee, who appears to be his daughter, was at the time development manager for the non-profit Year Up, which began receiving money from the Governor’s Workforce Board when the Dept. of Education began reducing funding for the group.  You might have guessed that George is a member of the GWB.
  • No fewer than half of the 16 members of the board had associations with organizations receiving money from it.
  • In 2010, when 38 Studios was on its way into the state, Nee (who, Surprise!, was on the board of the Economic Development Corp. that handled the controversial money transfer and is still on the board of RI Commerce) worked his connections trying to get a job for Shana Mancinho, daughter of one of his AFL CIO coworkers.
  • It doesn’t appear that Mancinho got the job, but the state’s transparency site shows a Shana Autiello (which appears to be her married name for the past several years) working in public relations for the Department of Labor and Training (at $70,820 per year), which is the agency associated with the GWB.

This isn’t even just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a few flakes of snow on the sharp point of the tip of the iceberg.  All those boards… all that money… all that influence.

That brings us back to Mattiello v. the Convention Center Authority.  The crux of the alleged controversy is that the Speaker of the House ordered an audit of the authority when a “Mattiello friend,” James Demers, began having difficulty there as an employee.  News reports suggest Mattiello backed off the audit after a conversation with another “friend” inside the authority, the Teamsters lobbyist Paul MacDonald — whom Gregg reports as a board member with multiple relatives employed by the authority.

When one thinks of the surprising audacity of the authority in rejecting the audit and, in fact, calling for an investigation of the speaker, a question comes to mind: Is all of the controversy just the unions and other insiders teaching the speaker a lesson about his actual place in this network of patronage?


The Census’s Opportunity for Redistricting

2-24-20 RedrawRI from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

Guest: John Marion, Executive Director, Common Cause RI,
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
Mr. Marion is the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island a non-partisan organization promoting clean, open and accountable government. He discusses the importance of the upcoming census and its impact on redrawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This has given rise to a movement called RedrawRI a campaign to reform how RI legislative districts are drawn. It calls for an impartial citizens’ commission to redistrict the state.


Veterans of Government Error

How is it possible that people don’t look at stories like the problems at the Rhode Island Veterans Home — which are very common in the Ocean State and around the country — and conclude that the notion of ever-more government involvement in our lives is the wrong way to go?

The narrow doorways are one of many issues at the home fueling frustration among residents, families and employees. Expensive equipment goes unused, visually aesthetic rooms sit empty and the crown jewel – an eye-grabbing galley at the center of the home – has served more as a venue for lavish parties thrown by outside groups than as a central dining room for residents.

Multiple people told Target 12 that Veterans Home employees staffed at least some of those events, raising questions about whether taxpayer money went toward private parties held at a publicly funded nursing home for veterans.

If one were to evaluate this as a grant-funded project from a non-profit organization or something, the conclusion would have to be that the entity took on a project that it was not competent to complete.

Those things happen across the economy and in every sector, of course, but governments are the the one sector that can’t go out of business.  So why do we keep imagining that the same system will get the next great-sounding project done right?


An Election About Suppressed Dislike

With Bernie Sanders’s front-runner status in the Democrat primary for president, political analysts are starting to contemplate the consequence on that race and on down-ticket races.  Many of us can’t help but see the parallel to Republicans’ predicament in 2016, when they were forced to grapple with their own discomfort with candidate Donald Trump.

This topic came up at the tail end of Republican Representative Michael Chippendale’s appearance on the Matt Allen Uncut podcast.  Chippendale’s position is that he’s uncomfortable with Trump, the man, but his policies have been positive.  That phrasing makes me think of Game of Thrones.

As a fan of the books years before the show was even a rumor, I was captivated by J.R.R. Martin’s character development and underlying themes.  Those aspects are what made the HBO series such an epic mega-hit, but its being HBO, they were delivered with a lot of gratuitous moral assaults, particularly with sex scenes in the earlier seasons.

Those of us who could have done without the moral challenges could still appreciate the writing, the story-telling, the themes, and the show-craft, but the question arises: At what point does the bad outweigh the good?  That’s an individual judgment concerning not only what we allow into our own brains, but also what we promote and normalize for others.  A Christian who emphasizes personal purity could still plausibly claim that the sex scenes do not rouse lust in his heart and that the combination of compelling art and cultural awareness make the risk worthwhile, but only for mature audiences.  As the famous question goes, who am I to judge whether what that person says about his feelings is true?

Just so with President Trump.  A good, moral conservative needn’t elevate Twitter etiquette and a history of boorish behavior into a litmus test that disqualifies the president from support no matter what he accomplishes.  The challenge is to make ourselves, and our society, better and more mature so as not to be affected by the negative.

Therein lies the distinction between President Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The objection to Trump is behavioral and related to insinuations about his motives, whereas the objection to Sanders is his history of anti-Americanism and dangerous policies.  That’s a problem of substance rather than style.  At best, that’s Game of Thrones without the gratuitous sex, but with an evil, dangerous theme.


Why Young People Should Support the Second Amendment

The past few years have been rife with highly publicized mass shootings. The tragedies that occurred at schools such as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, inspired young people across the United States to demand action on the issue of gun control. Across the nation, young people staged protests and school walkouts to send a message to politicians that violence in the nation’s schools is unacceptable, and that the blame for these shootings should fall not just on the disturbed individuals who carried out these attacks, but the gun lobby, firearm manufacturers, and even the firearms themselves. In fact, a Pew Research report from last October found that 64% of Americans aged 18–29 favor stricter gun laws. That compares with 22% who think current gun laws are satisfactory and 14% who think there are too many gun laws on the books.

Although the lines between Millennial and Generation Z are still blurry, based on Pew Research Center’s parameters, I fall into Generation Z, or those born after 1996. Being 22, I’m on the older end of Generation Z’s spectrum. I also hold the minority viewpoint within my generation that there are too many gun laws on the books and that, in addition to being a fundamental American right, gun ownership is actually beneficial to society.

My experience with guns is a bit on the unusual side. I’ve lived my whole life in Massachusetts, a state with notoriously stringent gun laws. Oftentimes, Massachusetts is held up as a state with gun laws worthy of emulation due to its low overall gun mortality rate. It’s important to note, however, that this figure includes not just gun murders, but gun suicides, as well. When only gun murders are considered, many states with loose gun laws experienced some of the lowest levels of gun violence. For example, neighboring New Hampshire, a state with virtually no gun laws, had one of the lowest firearm murder rates in the nation in 2017, whereas South Dakota, another state with few gun laws, had the lowest firearm murder rate in the nation in 2017.

Massachusetts not only bans the pseudo-category of “assault weapons” — a term originating from Bill Clinton’s Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994 (also known as the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994) that re-classified guns based on cosmetics — but forces gun manufacturers to submit different colors of the same gun for testing before allowing them to be sold in the state. Apparently, Massachusetts regulators think the color of a gun somehow changes its function or deadliness.  (It doesn’t.)

Nevertheless, my father was a Massachusetts gun owner and taught me how to shoot at the age of 14. My father passed away a few months after teaching me how to shoot, but in those months, he taught me the basics of gun safety. Always treat the gun like it’s loaded; don’t point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot (know what’s behind your target, too); and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. When I turned 21, I applied for, and received, my concealed carry permit from the State of Massachusetts.

Owning a gun is controversial among people my age, especially in the Northeast. It’s not unheard of (I have a few friends around my age who also legally own firearms), but it certainly isn’t broadcast, mainly due to the stigma that young people have either placed on, or have been conditioned to accept, about gun owners. I’ve heard arguments against gun ownership from people my age varying from statistical citations about gun violence (which are vastly inflated due to the inclusion of suicides in the data pools and distorted due to the inclusion of people who break existing federal laws to obtain firearms) to ad hominem attacks portraying gun owners as selfish people who are so obsessed with their own love of guns that they are willing to turn a blind eye to mass shootings.

I’ll address the statistics in full, but the argument that gun owners don’t care about the well-being of their fellow citizens is completely unfounded. It is a narrative that unjustly vilifies law-abiding citizens who simply want a means of protecting themselves, their loved ones, and yes, even their fellow Americans, as Jack Wilson demonstrated when he stopped a mass shooting at his church in White Settlement, Texas, in December.

As far as the statistics about gun deaths are concerned, instances where dangerous individuals obtain firearms and commit atrocities do not account for the majority of gun deaths in the United States. In fact, a Pew Research study conducted in 2017 found that six in 10 gun deaths are suicides. While this high rate of suicides is alarming, gun control might not be the most effective solution to this obvious problem. When Connecticut mandated that an individual obtain a permit to purchase a handgun in 1995, gun suicides dropped. However, suicides overall also dropped during that period, preventing researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research from identifying a clear causal relationship between gun laws and suicide rates. Furthermore, according to the Center for Disease Control, suicides increased in the state from 1999 to 2016 by 19.2% despite Connecticut’s 1995 gun-control law remaining on the books and several more being enacted.

The same Pew study also states that 37% of gun deaths can be attributed to murder. While this number is indeed high, once again, gun control is not the most effective way to combat gun violence. Currently, felons are federally prohibited from owning or possessing firearms due to the Gun Control Act of 1968. That means that anybody with a felony in their record will not pass the background check that every federally licensed firearms dealer must initiate via the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and therefore will not be allowed to purchase a firearm.

In fact, in 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that about 10% of state and federal criminals currently serving time in prison who possessed guns while committing their crimes during 2016 obtained their guns via retailers. While 10% might seem high, keep in mind that there is no good way to predict who might be a potentially dangerous individual and therefore deny them weapons, if they have never committed crimes before. We have due process constitutionally enshrined in this country, and that means that people are given the benefit of the doubt until they are proven guilty of a crime. This extends to the Second Amendment as well.

Given the low percentage of people who buy guns at traditional retailers who then use them to commit crimes, one might wonder how, exactly, are criminals obtaining their firearms? The DOJ found that 56% of criminals who possessed guns while committing crimes either stole them, found them at the scene of the crime, or had bought them on the street. An additional 25% received their guns from friends or family members as gifts Even if there were a federal law preventing private transfers, it would be incredibly difficult to enforce. (How would one ever be able to stop somebody from giving someone else a gun unless they were kept under surveillance 24/7?) Similarly, the DOJ does not clarify whether the 25% of people who received guns from somebody else had criminal records to begin with, which would have disqualified them from gun ownership outright.

Gun control advocates routinely hazard the idea that criminals are overwhelmingly obtaining guns via private sales or at gun shows, which are enjoyed by many law-abiding citizens, and therefore more regulation of these activities is required. However, the data shows that most gun-control efforts would realistically only affect law-abiding citizens and fail to address the larger issues of mental health and criminal gun ownership in the United States.

Generation Z is still quite young. I implore others in my generation to avoid falling for the rhetoric and impure data that so many Millennials have seemingly accepted. Instead, they should actually study the available data for themselves. Gun control will surely continue to be a proposed solution to every act of terror committed by a madman with a gun. Nobody wants violent individuals to be armed, so let’s stop pretending that those of us who want a means to protect ourselves are saying otherwise. Let’s seek solutions that will actually combat the issue of gun violence without stripping Americans and future generations of their fundamental right to self-defense.


Political Monday with John DePetro: Is Political Change Circling the Speaker?

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 24, included talk about:

  • Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung files to take the speaker’s district away from him.
  • The media does (and doesn’t) cover the day of key grand jury testimony.
  • Blake Filippi expands his JCLS lawsuit (and maybe the chance for real change).
  • The Jobs & Opportunity Index shows continuing stagnation in RI.
  • The rise of Bernie Sanders makes things potentially uncomfortable for RI Democrats.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, March 2, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


Center’s School Choice Message Sprouts Roots

Recently, two prominent Rhode Island politicians have publicly supported our Center’s long-time policy idea – even echoing our own language – to advance educational freedom for Providence families and all parents across our state.

For years, behind the scenes, I have been advising politicians and candidates – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – on the benefits of educational scholarship accounts (ESAs). And now, with the high-profile crisis in the government-run schools in Providence, some of our work is starting to bubble up.

House GOP Minority Leader, Blake Filippi, at a chamber of commerce event last week spoke boldly about the need to empower parents with the freedom to choose the school of their preference for their kids, who cannot afford to wait for the long-term reforms that may or may not succeed.

Also, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate from Rhode Island, Allen Waters, has come out in favor of increasing educational options for parents, by openly supporting school choice in our state, as well as the President’s Educational Freedom & Opportunity Scholarship Act.

In past years, Democrat Representative, Ray Hull, was the primary sponsor of our ESA legislation; himself, a beneficiary of being able to attend a private, parochial school.

It is very encouraging to see our ideas finally taking some root. Depending on whether or not the new Education Commissioner and the Superintendent of Providence Schools are true reformers … will determine whether or not educational freedom will truly grow to fruition in Rhode Island.


The Trick of “Move Forward”

A theme that emerged during Tiverton on Track Episode 13 was the tendency of government insiders to urge the public to “move forward” from the problems and mistakes of the past.  Depending on your perspective, it’s either a bug or a feature that this has the effect of making it more difficult to fix underlying problems.  (Probably because a major underlying problem is often the government insiders!)

In this episode, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and I discuss ways in which local government can get a handle on things, including meetings in which not everybody has to agree.


Christopher Maxwell: A Quick Cost Benefit Analysis for Tolls

The all-powerful director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, Peter Alviti, has invoked the authority granted to him by Gov. Gina Raimondo and General Assembly to double the toll rate at Oxford Street overpass. The increase is justified by a nebulous, internally-concocted cost-benefit formula.

I am reminded of the very telling testimony of one Mike Riley, my friend and the former head of the Connecticut Motor Truck Association, who joined us in opposition to RhodeWorks before the House Finance Committee back in 2015.

He stated: “Methinks your director protests too much. He wants way too much authority and you ought not give it to him. You ought to stop. You ought to think about this. Remember the highway intersection sign: Stop, look and listen.”

With the General Assembly’s self-proclaimed “firewall” against car tolls currently taking on water, the recently-announced move by RIDOT to “nationalize” the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and this latest toll increase maneuver, I urge Rhode Islanders to “stop, look and listen.”

Methinks (MeKnows) you are next on the establishment’s “cost-benefit” menu. After all, the formula is very simple: your cost will always be to their benefit.


Christopher Maxwell is president and CEO of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.


Political Monday with John DePetro: RI’s Political Machine Starts to Shake

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 18, included talk about:

  • The Convention Center
  • The Speaker
  • The N-Word
  • The Minority Leader
  • The List of Candidates

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, February 24, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.


December 2019 Employment: Has the National Boom Finally Reached RI?

Employment results reported for Rhode Island by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continued to show an upward swing through December.  With unemployment hovering around 3.5%, the Ocean State has seen continual increases in employment and labor force since June, but a full recovery of employment since the Great Recession continues to evade Rhode Island.

The following chart shows those two data sets since the recession began in Rhode Island.  Reviewing the chart, readers should consider the historical experience of BLS’s annual revisions.  When those numbers are released in the coming weeks, these lines may be changed from a story of complete stagnation followed by a boom in order to show just the continual, slow growth that has characterized the economy under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo.



Because employment has been going up, the state’s unemployment rate has been improving for a positive reason, in contrast to the period of time when it was improving because people were giving up their job searches.  Thus, a chart of what the unemployment rate would have been if Rhode Island’s labor force had remained steady since the beginning of the recession shows improvement.  However, the unemployment rate would still be 6.2% had that been the case.



The following chart shows the percentage of employment and labor force versus its peak levels for Rhode Island and its two neighboring states, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  The Ocean State has long been the lagging member of Southern New England, but its upward trend has been stronger over the past several months.  That said, the moderated line of regional powerhouse Massachusetts could suggest a downward revision is pending for Rhode Island.



Despite the upswing, Rhode Island remains one of just a handful of states that have not yet matched their levels of pre-recession employment.  The Ocean State has been below that line for 13 years.



The next chart shows the number of actual jobs counted in Rhode Island (light area) versus the number of Rhode Islanders who say they are employed, which would add those working outside of the state as well as those who work for themselves or as contractors.  On the other hand, the jobs number counts Rhode Islanders who hold multiple jobs multiple times and also includes out-of-state residents who work for Rhode Island companies.  The number of jobs has surpassed its peak level, but the growth has been achingly slow, including during the time that employment numbers appear to be booming.



The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) should also temper enthusiasm.  Rhode Island remains mired in 47th place and has not had a better rank than 47th since 2011.  Meanwhile, New Hampshire remains the first in the country.



Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson on Pending Legislation

2- 10-20 Vaping and Other Pending Legislation from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

Guests: Julie Casimiro, State Representative, H-D 31,
Camille Vella-Wilkinson, State Representative, H-D 21,
Host: Richard August
Topic: Vaping and other pending legislation
Host: Richard August Time: 60 minutes
Representatives Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson discuss a broad range of pending legislation and other matters, which have their concern. Topics include vaping legislation; a veteran joint oversight committee; pharmacist having birth control prescription authority; reproductive health; firearm legislation; climate control; out of school time learning; early parole for young rehabilitated offenders; military sexual assault trauma; and more. Other matters include the need for a constitutional convention; line item veto; minimum wage; and candidate endorsements.


Putting Children Over Bureaucracy

Probably the most on-point thing any official has recently said about education in Rhode Island came from Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green on a Providence Journal podcast featuring her choice as Providence superintendent, Harrison Peters:

I do worry that we’re going to put adult agendas before children.  So, as we move on, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is the education system for the students.  And I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations that are around students, but not totally focused on students.  So, my fear is that we can’t make that transition fast enough so that that agenda stays on the table all the time.

This is a central distinction articulated in this space again and again.  The ultimate, irreducible function of our education system is not currently the education of children, but the interests of the adults involved in the system.

Every adult interest group within the education system — the teachers, the administrators, the superintendents, the school committees — has advocates to guard their interests when they differ from those of students.  A system that is supposed to be set up to pursue the interests of children generates positions for people whose job it is to advocate for the adults, ultimately leaving student-advocacy to parents, who are not paid full time for their work and who lack the institutional experience to resist being misled by the professionals.

Erika Sanzi mentioned one of these professionals in a recent post on her blog:

Tim Duffy is the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees and he wants to see underperforming charter schools close. Seems fair, until we consider the fact that he never calls for the closure of district schools that have quite literally failed generations of students and often perform as badly or worse than the charters he’d like to close. It’s outrageous that holding on to the tax dollars children bring the district is more important to him than ensuring all students get the education they deserve. If districts want more money, they should open up the many available seats they conveniently choose to hide.

Duffy’s job is to promote the interests of school administrations, and they do not see it as in their interest to diffuse their resources and authority to schools that are partially independent.  Just so, school administrations also would not see it as in their interest to have a policy that spotlighted and targeted their own failures.

The only way to check all of these special interests is to empower parents directly by giving them access to school choice.  We’ll see whether our education commissioner can follow the thread of her insight that far.


The Independent Man Needs YOU: Consider This Call To Civic Action

Is it time for you to get involved… to save our state? If we are ever going to change the policies that are driving away families and crippling businesses, the sad truth, my friend, is that we are going to have to change the players.

Rhode Island’s political class is so beholden to so many special interest groups and agendas, that they are paralyzed when it comes to considering common-sense, pro-growth policy reforms.

That’s why I’m asking you to ask yourself… if you are willing to run for public office … at the state or local level. Our government needs more conservative elected officials at all levels. Can you consider answering the call?

What our state needs is business people and common-sense men and women who want to make our state a better place to raise a family and build a career … people who want to keep Rhode Island as our home … people like you.

If your family situation and business career is at the point where you can spare a little time to help improve the lives of the good people of Rhode Island then please take a minute to think about this call… the ultimate public service!

In talking with current lawmakers who are engaged in business and are deeply involved with raising their families … the time requirements are not that burdensome, and can actually be quite rewarding.

Whether you consider running as an independent, Republican, or Democrat… I can put you in touch with experts who can help you think things through and, even help organize your campaign. It’s not too late for the 2020 elections.

It is the civic duty of each one of us to consider this call to action… very seriously. I have strongly considered this option myself, but have concluded that I can provide a greater service to my state in my current capacity as CEO for the Center. What about you?

I would enjoy talking with you if you’d like to discuss further, but keep in mind… your state needs you! Godspeed with your decision.