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Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence

It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer.

A new report from our Center, released this week – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers.

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In Advance of the Salem Grope Trials

For a little more than a year in 1692 and 1693, a small area in Massachusetts around the town of Salem provided the world with a classic example of mass hysteria, moral panic, or witch hunting… literally.  Two preteen girls in the family of the local minister began having fits, as if they were being assaulted via voodoo dolls, and the search for the perpetrators began.

Once that ball gets rolling, an accusation is a powerful weapon in an environment of unease and division.  Fingers are easy to point, and doing so comes with no consequence.  People with scores to settle have an opportunity, and even people who would never consciously set the mob upon somebody they don’t like may find themselves convinced that they’re doing it for the right reasons.

With our historical experience in this area, it’s shocking that this BBC article doesn’t even mention the possibility of abuse with a new device:

An anti-groping device aimed at tackling sexual harassment on public transport has been launched in Japan.

It allows victims to mark their assailants with an invisible ink stamp in the shape of a hand.

People can then use the device’s black light to identify those who have been marked.

Apparently, groping is a real problem along Japanese rail lines.  Still, the only concern expressed in the article is by Katie Russell, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, who is concerned that the device unfairly puts the responsibility on victims to take action against their assailants.

Put aside the silly, childish notion that people should not take responsibility for their own self protection and that it is somehow wrong to provide them with tools for that purpose.  What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anybody involved with the article that the practice of marking other people as perps could be abused.

It would be one thing for a man on the station platform to deny a false accusation.  It would be another for him to insist that somebody had unjustly pegged him with the groper stamp.

This may or may not be a sufficient problem to justify resistance to this new device, but the fact that it isn’t front and center in consideration of the thing indicates that abuse is likely.

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Fundamental Questions Vaped

Joanne Giannini’s essay in this space yesterday points in the direction of fundamental questions our society doesn’t seem interested in asking these days — much less answering.

A former state representative, Joanne was in office during a time when state government was cracking down on smoking.  She sees the rise of vaping as an as-bad-or-worse substitute cropping up and (one infers) probably deserving of the same response.

The first question is whether the rash of illnesses is actually an indication that vaping is truly dangerous.  Robert Verbruggen writes for NRO that reports of “the mystery vaping disease” merit investigation and concern, but indications are that they may be highlighting a tangential, not endemic, problem:

… while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.

This, in other words, may be less like cigarettes, which cause disease by their nature, than like food poisoning.  If that’s the case, then regulation should be less about limiting access as a way of discouraging use than about helping consumers differentiate between safer and riskier products.

Either way, the question remains what our society ought to do when the short- and long-term effects of a consumable are unknown or are known to be bad.  Limiting their use by minors, who are presumed to be unprepared to make informed decisions, is an obvious possibility.  But shouldn’t adults be permitted to balance the risks and rewards of these things for themselves?

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School Choice = Expanding Educational Freedom

Educational Freedom changes lives. How many Rhode Island families have been forced to move away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home? Rhode Island students and families suffer, because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity. The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families.

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A Disabled Society in an Abled Social Body

The headline of Ashley Taylor’s JSTOR Daily essay doesn’t so much articulate the problem as illustrate it: “The Complicated Issue of Transableism.”

In the late 1990s, the Scottish surgeon Robert Smith performed elective, above-the-knee amputations on two people. (The hospital he was affiliated with eventually compelled him to stop.) Smith’s patients are just two examples of people who have body integrity identity dysphoria, also known as being transabled: They feel they are disabled people trapped in abled bodies. Some people feel that they are meant to be amputees and will even injure themselves in order to create the desired amputation or make it medically necessary for a surgeon to perform it. Other people feel that they were meant to be blind or deaf.

A healthy society would not find “transableism” complicated at all.  It is an indication of deep mental illness, and it should be treated, not indulged.  To the extent our society cannot articulate this unambiguously, we are clearly falling into social illness.

At the very core of this question is a denial of our right as a community to hold Platonic ideals — not to mention the necessity and even inevitability of doing so.  Being able-bodied is the objective norm, the ideal.  When people are disabled, we make allowances and provisions for them in order to close the gap to that ideal.  It is therefore objectively wrong to expect society to offer those accommodations to somebody who deliberately moves away from the ideal.

Somebody of an opposing view might turn this argument around and suggest that all they’re doing is accommodating the person’s psychological distance from the ideal of feeling like an able-bodied person.  But making permanent physical changes compounds the distance rather than relieving it: the person is now disabled and still averse to being able-bodied.

The best one could say is that the person is closer to the ideal of being comfortable, but that is potentially fleeting.  After all, it is always possible to be more disabled.

Elevating the ideal of individual comfort is also destructive of the possibility of objective norms.  On the social scale, such principles have to be taken as simply true, else the utility of culture evaporates and society simply falls apart.

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Bright Today Educational Freedom Scholarships To Counter Collective Bargaining Inequities

At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism.

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The Best Way to Ensure a Long-Term Morality

My post this morning, about the incentive for those who rely on Minnesota trees to ensure the long-term health of Minnesota forests, came right up to the edge of a much bigger topic.  The most-important factor guarding humanity against the tragedy of the commons — wherein individuals use up natural resources because the incentive to preserve never outweighs the incentive to profit for any one person — is that the human beings involved think forward to the future beyond their own personal needs and desires.

As I wrote earlier, we can expect people not to poison their own well, so to speak, by destroying the resources on which they rely, but only within a certain range.  If the activity (like cutting down trees) is relatively difficult and the people able or willing to do it are relatively few, it is more likely they’ll collectively recognize their long-term incentives.  If something is easy to do and many people are doing it, then it is less likely that they’ll delay immediate profit for longer-term stability, because somebody else can come along and edge in.

Obviously, it also matters how far into the future the players are looking.  If people are desperate to have a meal today, they’ll be more careless about the resources.  The selfish, childless businessman of progressive fantasy need only preserve the resource to the extent that he can capitalize on it.

This is where the topic expands.  A business owner who sees him or her self as building a multi-generational source of income will worry about critical resources indefinitely into the future.

That principle extrapolates beyond businesses, too.  People who are thinking about their own children and their children’s children have a living, breathing reason to figure the future into everything they do.  That is, making families and children central to personal and cultural meaning has philosophical benefits for the entire society.

This realization points an interesting light at secular progressivism, which is fundamentally anti-family in its philosophy.  When progressives find it necessary to appeal to a long-term perspective for their political advocacy, as with the environment, they have to resort either to abstractions (the good of humankind) or to a religious elevation of something else (like the planet) as an object of concern in its own right.

Neither alternative can compete with the incentives that come from love of one’s children.

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The Ocean State Current Is Growing

We’re excited to have a new writer on the Ocean State Current!

Joanne Giannini, JFK Democrat, served as a Rhode Island state representative from Providence (District 7, Mt. Pleasant/Elmhurst) from 1994 to 2010.

She will be adding her voice to our independent nonpartisan news and commentary wing.

She has previously written commentaries for the Providence Journal, the Federal Hill Gazzette, GoLocal Prov, and RI News Review.

The Current’s mission is to leverage online multimedia to ensure that a well-informed public has the breadth of information required for healthy self governance.

During her tenure in the General Assembly, she made appearances on CNN network news, Primetime news, and American Morning regarding legislation she filed in the Ocean State.

You can read her new posts by clicking the links below:

What’s in…. What’s out… 8/9/19

Two Giants’ Gaming Wars in Rhode Island

We’re always looking to add broader perspectives to the news and conservative commentary that we offer on the Current, so that many Rhode Islanders have a place to express their views. If you, or someone you know, would like to submit work to the Current, please reach out to us.

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The Language of Collegiate Grit

Call me “old school,” or a fuddy-duddy, but my reaction to this story by Sarah Wu in the Boston Globe is, “Give me a break”:

Faced with mounting debt and strapped for cash, many low-income college students across the country are skipping meals, buying cheap junk food, or devoting time that could be spent learning to searching for free food events, researchers say.

A national survey published this year by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 48 percent of students in two-year institutions and 41 percent of students at four-year institutions experienced food insecurity within the past month.

The problem of food insecurity — an inconsistent supply of nutritious food — on college campuses has garnered more awareness in recent years, and psychologists have started to take note.

When I attended Carnegie Mellon University, I lived off canned vegetables for a while, selling my CDs to treat myself to Wendy’s every now and then.  That’s when I transitioned from my teenage preference for plain food to the enjoyment of meals with all the extras piled on — not because I discovered my taste buds, but because it hit me that the additional nutrition came at no extra cost.  When I found myself at the University of Rhode Island, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. some mornings to unload fishing boats and took whatever fish or squid were going to be discarded.

This used to be considered part of the rewarding, empowering struggle to advance in life, and of course — obviously — it was a more common experience among the disadvantaged.  The difference was that it was something of which to be proud; you started there, and through this dedication, you are headed somewhere different.  With the label “food insecurity” tacked on, that source of pride now “disproportionately affects low-income, first-generation, international, and other minority students.”

The insinuation is that society’s failure to give you what you deserve is hindering you from getting where you would naturally transition, as if without effort, and that you can’t reasonably be expected to advance based on your own grit. Unstated is that framing things in this way takes the emphasis off of the individual and the employers who provide opportunity and moves it toward the sociologists who get grants to do the studies, the political advocates who force redistribution of wealth, and the social workers who dispense it.

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Maybe Providence Schools Need to Allow Diversity

This isn’t a way of thinking that I tend to encourage, but we’ve all been trained to it, and in this case, it might apply.  Go back and take a look at the photos from Mark Patinkin’s interview with students from Providence schools who say that teachers have taken no interest in them.  Now, click over to Dan McGowan’s interviews with five Providence teachers of the year, in which they suggest fixes.

What do you notice?  The list is missing the teacher of the year from 2017, but your observation that they are all white women still applies.

Now, I believe that hiring and, especially, professional awards, should be done based on objective criteria; whoever wins, wins.  And of course, the teachers of the year aren’t necessarily representative of the entire faculty, demographically.

That said, when black male students are expressing a sense that teachers in a failing school district don’t take an interest in them, and the stars among those teachers are all white women, we might reasonably ask whether we’re missing some important criteria.  Consider that the student who most directly insisted that not a single teacher has taken an interest in him did concede that the dean of students seemed to care, and his mother told Patinkin that the administrators at the school “were the only ones who tried to get students on track.”  At least as currently reported on Gilbert Stuart Middle School’s Web page, the administration is four-fifths male.

Our current approach to education, as well as political correctness, make it difficult to think of a fair solution that could conceivably make it through the public-policy gauntlet.  Here, again, educational freedom might help.  If a school could try to fill an obvious need by emphasizing male teachers, for example, then families who think that environment might help their children could give it a try, and we could all observe the results.

As it is, we’re locked in to making universal decisions within the confines of discrimination policies that have to apply across the board, and that are founded on narrow ideological views of fairness.

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The Important Perspective on Providence Schools

If you missed Mark Patinkin’s interview with four students from Providence schools last week, rewind a bit and give it a read.  This may be the biggest gut-punch of the thing:

I asked Saquan if any teachers took an interest in him.

“Nope.”

Not even one?

“Nope.”

Then he said the dean of students did care, but not any teachers.

His mom, Sandra, agreed with that — that the administrators at Gilbert were the only ones who tried to get students on track.

Sandra had hoped teachers would provide the kind of role models she said are often lacking for kids like Saquan, but she’s been disappointed.

It’s heartbreaking for a student to feel this way, but we need to broaden the picture if we’re going to figure out a way through our current crisis.  We can certainly expect teachers to do more than the minimum and to take an interest in their students, and we can hope that they’ll be role models for students in particular need of such examples.  But we can’t count on their being so.

Time is just too short and human beings are too complicated.  Connections between people form in unexpected, often-inscrutable ways.  Therefore, children should be in as many situations where they might find healthy role models as possible.  When it comes to disadvantaged students, families need to be able to be more efficient in that search.

If we accept these principles, than it’s ridiculous of us to expect public schools to fill the same purpose for every student.  Different students within a community will require different settings, and the default public school in each community should be tailored to the students in that community.

This is one reason I’m skeptical of statewide curricula and that sort of thing.  It’s also why I’m a proponent of school choice.  To be sure, standardized testing would seem to be in contrast with this view, but that is only a necessity because a lack of choice leaves a school bereft of real accountability.

Or perhaps I should start modifying that assertion.  Providence shows that if things get bad enough, accountability might … might … find its way in, but we should set our social alarms to be much more sensitive than that.

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Education to Build Sturdier Bubbles

As Glenn Reynolds suggests, news like this isn’t exactly “startling”:

In a surprising new national survey, members of each major American political party were asked what they imagined to be the beliefs held by members of the other. The survey asked Democrats: “How many Republicans believe that racism is still a problem in America today?” Democrats guessed 50%. It’s actually 79%. The survey asked Republicans how many Democrats believe “most police are bad people”. Republicans estimated half; it’s really 15%. …

… But what’s startling is the further finding that higher education does not improve a person’s perceptions – and sometimes even hurts it. In their survey answers, highly educated Republicans were no more accurate in their ideas about Democratic opinion than poorly educated Republicans. For Democrats, the education effect was even worse: the more educated a Democrat is, according to the study, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview.

Democrats without high school diplomas are three times more likely to understand members of the opposing party than Democrats with PhDs.  That may not actually be that surprising, but one odd finding is that ignorance of the opposition’s beliefs increases as people become more politically engaged.

Of course, we should layer on the caveats.  The questions by which the study collected its data deserve scrutiny, and there could be all sorts of distinctions that might correlate with party affiliation and/or education, such that neither is really a cause of the effect.

That said, the study makes intuitive sense that corresponds with conservatives’ interpretation of modern political dynamics.  Working class Democrats are more likely to be conservative, which would give them more sympathy with Republicans; if you hold a particular political view, for example, you’ll be able to see that it isn’t implicitly racist.  Moreover, at lower levels, occupations are less likely to be a matter of choice, so perhaps those who hold them are more likely to be thrown together with people in similar circumstances who have different political affiliations.

At the same time, education has shifted toward indoctrination, which means that it teaches and prioritizes judgment, not understanding.  This, in turn, changes the nature of political engagement, as being politically active shifts away from an emphasis on addressing real problems and toward the dominance of an ideology.

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A Need for Courage on the Right

Princeton Professor Robert George offered important advice at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver:  We need to display conspicuous courage. This explanation is important to keep in mind:

George acknowledged it is not easy to suffer such “abuse” and “defamation,” noting it places jobs, relationships, businesses and much more in jeopardy. But the more people stay silent, the bigger a problem it becomes, he said.

“If we want our children, if we want our young men and women, to be able to stand up on a college campus and not be bowled and not be intimidated, and to speak the truth and to speak their minds — we had better set an example in our own adult lives,” George said, prompting applause.

“Anyone who succumbs to the intimidation and bullying, anyone who acquiesces or goes silent out of fear, not only harms his or her own character … he or she also makes things harder for others,” George said. “We owe it not only to ourselves to be courageous … we owe it to God.”

In cultural matters — as well as spiritual — we’re all part of a chain.  Each person who steps back from the challenge makes it that much more difficult for the next person in line.  The ideal state of a movement is for its members to be so uniformly sturdy that is difficult for the weakest to break ranks.  On the other end of deterioration, even the strongest find it difficult to be sturdy.

One can observe this in play as an ideological strategy when even the most reasonable progressives refuse to acknowledge that a conservative is making a reasonable point.  In such cases, reasonableness is a sign of weakness (in actuality betraying the weakness of the position that the progressives are defending).

That is not a model that conservatives should emulate, because it is morally wrong and intellectually vapid, but it merits remembering:  Whenever you feel yourself wavering in the face of hostility, bring to mind those next in line who will find it more difficult to uphold your shared principles because you backed down.

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A Comfy Softness for Radicalism

Not to go back to the well of content that is Naomi Chomsky, but this passage from an interview appearing on Liberation (“Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation”) is of note far beyond the topic of drag queen story hours:

What about media coverage of the events?

It’s been quite positive. I’ve done a lot of back and forth with the Massachusetts Family Institute. They made comments comparing drag to blackface, and called it misogynistic. But they’re fighting to restrict women’s bodies. They also are proponents of conversion therapy. I said this to everybody, and mentioned how these groups are attacking abortion rights— but none of the media printed that. They sort of softened my message a little bit, as they do.

Softened the message as they do for whom?  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a conservative, for example, complain that the media is softening his or her message — quite the opposite.

If you don’t read very broadly, across alternative media from all ideological angles, your understanding of controversies of the day is going to be very limited.  And it’ll be limited in the particular way of softening the edges for the progressive pill that the mainstream news media wants our society to swallow.

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How You Can Help Break the Union Grip that Contributed Mightily to Providence Education “Horror Show”

By now, you must have heard about the scathing Wall Street Journal editorial on the Providence school system. They didn’t hold back, and it is right in line with what our Center has been saying for years. It is a total embarrassment for teachers who truly care about educating kids.

The WSJ put blame on the powerful teachers unions as a key reason why students are not receiving the education they deserve.

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Rhode Island’s Politicians Are Failing

For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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