President Biden Keeps Promise About Student Loan Forgiveness

Finally, after years and years of pressing the issue in election after election, action has now been taken on student loan forgiveness. College and university loans now account for more than 40% of outstanding consumer debt in the U.S., outpacing the amounts owed on motor vehicle loans, for example, by more than $477 billion. Ponder that fact for a moment.

I have argued since (what year is this?) that our economy is hampered by the millions of people redirecting income towards student loan payments rather than doing what works best in a consumer-driven economy. The fact is if someone is struggling to pay off their student loans, they are not buying things that workers are making in factories or assembly lines. The tax revenue from such transactions is lost.

We know education is a great investment for the future of the nation, and it should be viewed as a most valued commodity. I very much disagreed with shackling the ones who have the ability to learn and then turn their knowledge into ideas for the betterment of society, with lifetime financial burdens.

So I very much applaud President Biden for directing the Education Department to forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for nearly all U.S. borrowers, an unprecedented decision that will affect millions of borrowers with immediate financial relief. This action will now forgive $10,000 for every federal student loan borrower who earns less than $125,000 annually. The administration is also canceling up to $20,000 for those student borrowers who received Pell Grants, applying the same income cap.

Here’s what the plan includes.

$10,000 in debt forgiveness for all federal borrowers…Federal borrowers who earn less than $125,000 and did not receive a Pell Grant will be eligible to have $10,000 of their student loan balances forgiven. This will likely eliminate the balances of at least 15 million borrowers.

$20,000 debt reduction for Pell Grant recipients…Millions of borrowers who received Pell Grants during college and meet the administration’s income requirements will see 20,000 removed from their balances. Data shows around 7 million students receive Pell Grants each year.

Extends pandemic-related pause on student loan payments…The administration is also extending the federal moratorium on student loan payments for a sixth and final time. Payments will resume in January 2023, concluding the pause which has spanned more than two years and two administrations.

While I advocated for the move taken by the Biden White House for a portion of loans to be canceled, I still hold very much to the realization that incentivizing education by having students pay a share of the burden makes sense. When personal effort is required to gain an education a more strict adherence to the books results.

When some voters feel a resume is to be snickered at and expertise is not something to be valued we need to be reminded of what took Americans to the moon. It was not just rocket thrust, but the science and technology that allowed our flag to be placed on the moon. That effort was made possible by students first sitting in a classroom and learning.

In late 2021 a shocking amount of money was spent on our national defense. The House passed an authorization bill costing $768 billion. Certainly then, a person in middle America should feel the federal government can lessen the student loan burden by $10,000. It can be correctly argued that a keen mind and skills learned are as valuable to a democracy as a missile.

Thanks go to President Biden and his administration for this outcome today.

UW-River Falls Lands Grant To Study ‘Detergent For The Atmosphere’

The increasing level of awareness about enacting proper policies to combat global warming, and educating the citizenry about environmental concerns is producing some good results. We can agree policy moves are not taking place fast enough to meet the changes that are being noted globally, but with more efforts made at informing younger generations, who will be leaders someday, it is hoped that more robust changes can occur.

I was delighted to learn, therefore, that three University of Wisconsin-River Falls students are using their summer months as part of a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of pinenes, molecules released by conifer trees, and other vegetation into the atmosphere. Why this matters, (and like you, I am learning as I blog), is that pinenes are oxidized by other molecules in the atmosphere and during the process produce an important molecule that acts as a detergent for the atmosphere. 

University of Wisconsin River Falls Chemistry and biotechnology Professor Stacey Stoffregen, left, with research students Lilianna Rolands, Makayla Mobeck, and Trinity Olguin.

There are many reasons to smile about this project and applaud the effort.

First, science matters greatly, and grant writing and securing funding is tough work. So to land the $459,686 three-year grant for the project is truly noteworthy.

Getting fresh young minds involved with research not only looks good for their future resumes, but also matters to the climate change dilemma, that now impacts the entire globe. Who knows what findings or new questions these students might land upon which move and shape another researcher perhaps in some other nation that will then spur on a finding that has far-reaching implications.

That is the beauty of research! That is what excites me about this news.

And of course, the research branches out at UW-River Falls beyond these women as additional students will continue the research project for the next two summers.  Their contributions will supplement the growing understanding of atmospheric processes.

There are many news headlines that make up each of our days, and sadly, too many of them are the kind that can only be labeled as just awful. So it pleases me that there is a truly uplifting and hopeful story, coming from Wisconsin about young people and scientific research.

Let Kids Read…Whatever They Find Interesting

I read a column this week in the Los Angeles Times that again called our attention to banned books. The column also raised a memory from my childhood that strikes at the heart of this issue.

David Ulin composed a tightly written and fast read about the place we find ourselves with the latest pushes for banning books in places all over the nation. We might like to believe that such behavior is located only in red counties and conservative states. But that would be very much mistaken.

In 2018 the Monona Grove School District in Dane County was considering whether it should continue teaching To Kill a Mockingbird after a parent complained that the racially charged language in the novel is inappropriate.  That would suggest some in our area have no more ability to digest and discuss thought-provoking books than people we now argue with about banning James Baldwin. In the end, the school board continued the use of the book in the classroom.

That episode crossed my mind as I read Ulin’s opinion article.

The house where I was raised had an open shelf rule. This meant my brother and I were allowed to read anything, no matter how inappropriate or beyond our years. We never had to ask.

I spent hours of my childhood perusing the volumes on my father’s bookcases at will, trial and error. Histories, thrillers, science fiction, books on politics and culture — all of it was available to me.

I keep thinking about this as more and more school districts participate in what is shaping up to look like an open war against reading. According to “Banned in the USA,” a report issued by the writers’ organization PEN America in April, nearly 1,600 individual books were banned in 26 states between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Among the titles challenged or removed are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and Robin Benway’s “Far From the Tree.” All are works of abiding literary merit that address issues of identity and race and family — in other words, exactly the kinds of books students should be reading now.

Although the challenging of books and curriculum is hardly new in the United States, what we’re facing now is somewhat different. Of the current bans, PEN notes, “41% (644 individual bans) are tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.” It is not parents or even school boards driving many of these challenges. It is the power of the state.

I have a visceral reaction when the topic of banning books is raised. To place constraints on an individual as to what can be read and learned and what ideas can be entertained is just unacceptable. Books are a gateway to new concepts and allow for a higher level of reasoning.

My memory of attempted censorship took place when I was in grade school, the 6th grade.

“Do your parents know you are reading this book?”

That question from Mrs. Tunks, a schoolteacher of mine, was as close as book censorship ever came my way.  I still recall the stair steps in the old schoolhouse where she pointed at my copy of The Throne Of Saturn by Allen Drury, and while looking at it sounded her prudish alarm, though for what reason I could never understand. 

Other than the fact the book was 600 pages, and ‘kids’ were not supposed to read anything other than the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys series–which I blew through in the 4th grade, provides no real explanation for her remark. 

The fact my parents encouraged me to read, as it kept me interested in all sorts of things, did not seem to settle her skeptical mind as to why that book would intrigue me.  A space adventure between the United States and the Soviet Union was high drama for my 6th-grade mind, and I guess for lots of adult readers as well, or it would never have been published.  I finished that book and kept Allen Drury as a writer I have long enjoyed into my adult years.

And when the book was finished dad drove me to our little local library to get another one to read. Those drives were a Friday evening ritual.

Today the hard copy edition of that book sets on my shelf as not only a reminder of a good read but also to underscore a long-held belief of mine.  No one should be censoring reading material for inquisitive minds.

Let young people be exposed to books and ideas!

Wisconsin Justice Brian Hagedorn Correct: “The Business Of Courts Is Public Business”

The ruling Friday from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court was direct and to the point. The request from those bringing suit against the Madison School District to remain anonymous was denied in a case dealing with a gender identity policy. They must disclose their identities to attorneys arguing the case. The court did allow them to proceed using pseudonyms publicly.

There are many perspectives that can be had about the policy and its implications on both transgender youth, and parents or guardians of those children. I will not wade into that fight, but rather wish to write about the process of open and transparent government that must be adhered to if all are to be treated and viewed fairly.

If our system of government is to be open and transparent there can be no justification for keeping the names of those seeking redress through the court system secret.  As Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion, “While we protect certain vulnerable legal participants, such as children and crime victims, the business of courts is public business, and as such is presumed to remain open and available to the public.”

If one can not stand in the light of day to their convictions when seeking a remedy in the court system then perhaps there is a problem with the position that they are privately taking. 

It should be remembered John Hancock used a large bold script when signing the Declaration of Independence, so large in fact that ”…fat George can read it without his spectacles.”  That should be the model of our convictions today.  If people can not publically stand by their views as expressed in court proceedings and are ashamed of having their names made known in the press or seen in the public square, we need to ask why they seek cover?

When one lobbies in any fashion for the government to take any action it should be public knowledge.  The consequences of using a conservative law practice to attempt, through the court process, to hide and harbor those who bring a suit when perhaps they are not even living in the school district or have students in our Madison schools run counter to the openness that our government should always strive to maintain.  (The same holds true for the individual who signs a petition concerning a heated issue.)

This issue of anonymity should not be a conservative vs. liberal issue but instead viewed as one of strict adherence to higher ideals. A good government issue. A process concern about how to proceed when our judicial system operates.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a favorite of conservatives, spoke to this issue in oral arguments regarding individuals seeking anonymity for signing a petition to get policy matters on the ballot. The oral argument was in John Doe # 1, et al., v. Reed, et al. (09-559)

Declaring that the rough-and-tumble of democracy is not for the faint-hearted, what Scalia referred to as the “touchy, feely” sensitivity of some political activists, the Justice said “you can’t run a democracy” with political activity behind a First Amendment shroud.  “You are asking us to enter into a whole new field,” Scalia told James Bopp Jr., the lawyer for Washington State signers of an anti-gay rights petition.  Politics, the Justice went on, “takes a certain amount of civic courage.  The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.” 

Scalia was most correct with that point.

Let me be most direct. The higher ideals of our state and the judicial process can not be made hostage to the fears of retaliation.  If that had been the case at the beginning of our national story Thomas Jefferson would never have set quill to parchment.

Would it not be great if, in the face of this needless court case concerning Madison schools, brought by people who may not even have any direct connection to the district, we could fully recognize the need for openness and transparency about how our court system must continually operate?

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How To Excite Students About History

Some years ago, I tutored a high school student in history for one semester. We were starting with the Articles of Confederation and the War for Independence on this side of the pond. He truly was not interested in ‘those dead men’ and looking at his textbook I could not argue that the writing was tortured and not aimed to excite a young mind.

Enter my favorite Founding Father.

I brought some copied pages from a book that told the story of the morning Alexander Hamilton and Arron Burr met for a duel that killed one and ravaged the reputation of another. I added the slice of trivia about how Dolly Madison and Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth Hamilton, waved from carriages at the celebration when the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was put in place.

Bit by bit over the weeks I supplemented the staid textbook with the richer and more colorful aspects of the lives of the ones he was to learn about for classroom discussion. While I am sure the student did not become a history major, I know he passed that class.

Using outside sources to aid in teaching history would seem to be essential for teachers, as I can not imagine the school textbooks have improved to the point where they are engaging for students. Recently that thought came to mind when reading Russian history. (If you think teaching American history is tough—ponder Russian history from the early 1700s!)

Over the decades the caliber of historical writing has grown along with easier ways to research the past. Using the outcomes of such advancements in the classroom (even with the restriction on copyrights) can go a long way in creating the context for students to ‘see the past’, and better understand why it matters.

From The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

My Endorsement Of David Blaska Makes Front Page Of Wisconsin State Journal

This is from the bottom of today’s front page of the Wisconsin State Journal. Please go vote as this is Spring Election day in Wisconsin, Polls stay open until 8 P.M. To read the entire article click here.

Former Madison ‘Mayor Dave’ Endorses David Blaska For School Board

Some speculated it was going to happen. And today it did.

Former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz added his voice of gravitas and endorsed the write-in candidacy of David Blaska for Seat 4 on the Madison School Board. The election is Tuesday, April 6th.

In what can only be termed as direct and unequivocal the former leader of our city summed up the present situation that our school district now finds itself.

People, this is nuts. This is just bat-shit crazy. 

Cieslewicz gets to that point in his endorsement after reminding readers of what we read in our newspaper all too often.

Massive fights involving both students and parents. Kids bringing loaded guns to school. Special needs kids being beaten. An official policy, enthusiastically endorsed by Muldrow, that actually discourages calling police when a child is beaten.

I’m voting for David Blaska. God help me. But God help us all if we continue down the path laid out for us by the current board without at least someone to challenge the status quo.

Yeah, he’s a lot more conservative than I am, but that does not change the simple fact that what he’s saying about school safety is true. He wants to make the basic safety of students and staff a priority. He would return the SRO’s and get rid of the wrong-headed Behavioral Education Plan, which discourages staff from calling the police even when there’s physical violence. These things are just common sense.

Madison’s logical core of voters surely are saying, “Thanks, Dave”.

I have for decades argued for pragmatism in our politics. When first cutting my teeth in politics in Door County up to this moment for truth when addressing violence in our Madison schools. I am so pleased that Mayor Dave is standing resolute for common sense and honesty as we enter the final days leading to our Spring Election.

And so it goes.

Wisconsin Spelling Bee Reason To Cheer For Bright Young Minds

This weekend one of those annual events occurs which just alerts us all to the many bright young minds in our state. With all the harsh headlines that greet us each day this story is one that we can all feel good about and embrace.

Each year I try to post about the Wisconsin Spelling Bee as it proves how much better these kids are with spelling than I ever will be, and also how much we have to be proud of when looking at our younger generations.

To know that a student who was under pressure and being watched could correctly spell “Beethovenian,” an adjective relating to or characteristic of the famous composer, or “himation,” a type of ancient Greek clothing alerts me to their brightness.

I firmly believe that all the contestants are winners. There is no way someone gets to this level of competition without being bright and most able to think their way through sounding out a word and then placing the letters in the proper order.

I have followed one local 11-year-old student over the past years in the spelling competition simply due to the perfectly charming photo that was used in a 2019 Wisconsin State Journal story. Don’t get me wrong, all the kids are worthy of being singled out for this post. But, truly, who can not root for this smile.

Blessed Sacrament sixth-grader Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya was the winner a few weeks ago in the Madison All-City Spelling Bee. We just know that had there been no need to wear a mask due to the pandemic his smile would have been most photogenic. In 2019, he competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and placed third in the All-City Spelling Bee last year.

GREG DIXON, FOR THE STATE JOURNAL

Aiden said he’s been studying words for 30 minutes at a time between school, tennis, tae kwon do and piano. He’s been in the spelling bee since third grade, making Saturday’s win “a buildup of things for the last few years.”

Also in competition this year is former winner Maya Jadhav from Vishva Home School. She was featured on this blog following her win at the Madison All-City contest in 2021.

Wisconsin State Journal photo Gayle Worland

I have been struck, repeatedly, by the effort at learning which these contestants talk about with reporters. Last year I posted the quote from a middle-school student.

Matthew Brock, then 14 and an eighth-grader at Toki Middle School said, “I read a lot and I practiced the study list. Every time I see a word I don’t know, I look up the definition and try to understand whatever the context may be.”

While I enjoy doing crossword puzzles as they are relaxing I would never do many in ink. Having a comfortable feel for words is one thing, but spelling like the champs…well, that is for the top spellers in Wisconsin!

I wish them all the very best as they stand up and do what the vast majority of the rest of us could not do. As always, we also need to send out a thank you to the parents who instill a love of reading and words in their children along with the desire to learn. 

Gosh, there are truly many reasons to smile over these young minds.

And so it goes.