MMSD’s Carlton Jenkins Wrong About “Bullies”, Undermines Students Being Bullied

Words matter.

It was truly troubling to read that Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins cheaply used the word “bullies” to describe critics of the local education system. This is at a time when some students at our public schools are truly being bullied and striving to make it through each day.

This matter was brought to light in The Capital Times.

Jenkins said he welcomes critical feedback on that and other subjects, which he said can provide a chance to reflect on decisions and think about how to better communicate the reasoning behind them — though he added that “bullies will not move MMSD,” citing a difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited feedback.

There is no need for me to inform readers that bullying is a constant problem on school campuses and the impact it has on some students is most profound. To be singled out with verbal assaults or physical blows is a real bullying occurrence for some students.

So to then have the district superintendent use the word “bullies” to describe citizens giving feedback and perspective on the policies of the board is almost stunning. It is not fair to the ones offering legitimate opinions to the school district and most harmful to students who are bullied and need not have the word marginalized.

I write about this matter from a personal perspective.  My best friend and I were victims of bullies throughout our school years, with high school in the late 1970s being the most intensely troubling.  Three months after graduation the county sheriff arrived at my home to tell me of the suicide of the person who I had known better than anyone else since I was nine years old. 

I offer that insight for the sole reason of making it clear I know what is at stake when it comes to youth who are bullied.  I know what the term “bullies” means. Reacting in opposition to a school policy about classes being resumed or speaking out about lawlessness in the classroom are not reasons to label people as “bullies”.

How can a school district adopt plans to curb actual bullies, and the bullying of students, if the superintendent willfully misuses the word so to make him and the district look like the victims over policy disputes?

Words matter. And when they are misapplied it can cheapen that word and cause additional harm.

Students who are bullied need our collective attention and care. If you are aware of a situation where it is occurring please step up and demand action. Thank you.

And so it goes.

Student Loan Cancellation Needs Democratic Energy From Biden White House

This morning my newsfeed reported that now there are 26 House Democrats not seeking reelection to Congress. That is certainly a driving narrative of what the tea leaves are forecasting for the party now in power as the midterm elections approach. I feel the Senate can be held by Democrats, but the House will fall to Republicans.

Already, more Democrats have called it quits this year than in any cycle since 1996, when 29 members newly in the minority decided not to run again. The same number of Democrats, 29, retired in 1994, the year Republicans reclaimed control of Congress for the first time in four decades.

There are many issues that deserve attention in this calendar year as Congress ratchets up campaign efforts while keenly aware there is a shortening window to address national needs. One of the most pressing and also widely popular is the cancellation of a portion of the student loans.

This is not a new issue, but one that did drive much discussion in the 2020 presidential race when Joe Biden campaigned on forgiving $10,000 in federal student loans per person. That was a proper stance to take in the election, and should now be one that is addressed in the form of governing. The reason to put some energy and verve into implementing this idea is that it is smart policymaking and smart politics.

While I have urged 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.

So why then do I support President Biden making a move to end at least $10,000 of loans per person? At a time when our economy is weakened by an ongoing pandemic, there is a need to find whatever juice is available and inject it so to stimulate job growth and GDP. By freeing up money that would be paid to some student loans it would instead be invested in everything from homes to cars to perhaps even starting a new small business.

The second reason I urge action is due to strongly and continually advocating for education. It is not always possible or easy for young people to take the classes they want or need, but we know the power of skills attained and the revenue it produces in taxes and investments. This underscores why the federal action of loan cancellation would make long-term sense. We need to let young minds constantly know we value their interest in education.

I am confident that the majority of rank-and-file citizens well understand the benefit the country receives from educated young people moving into a wide array of jobs. A December poll released by the Morning Consult/Politico found over 60% of voters surveyed support student debt forgiveness. Polling research up and down the line point to national public approval for assisting people burdened with educational loans.

It has been strongly advocated, so to make this policy happen, that Biden uses his authority under the Higher Education Act of 1964 to enact wide-scale student loan cancellation through an executive order. The other option, of course, is for Congress to act legislatively and do the work. One way, or the other, this policy move needs to take place.

Intellectual strength is not something we talk openly about in this nation. But we should.

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.

Late last year 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.

And it can be correctly argued that a keen mind and skills learned are as valuable to a democracy as a missile.

And so it goes.

For Youth’s Sake Madison School Board Candidate Mary Jo Walters Needs To Withdraw From Race

Since 2015 I have often stated that nothing shocks me anymore. Nothing could leave me looking slack-jawed. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

After a cold and blustery Monday James and I sat down for dinner while watching the 6 PM news on the DVR. It was reported Madison School Board candidate Mary Jo Walters stated over the weekend that “I’m trans-a-phobic” when describing her platform for the spring election.

Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has three students in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.

I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.

Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.

No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.

Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.

It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?

I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.

So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.

And we must be pro-active.

Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.

There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.

Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.

And so it goes.

Michigan Parents Charged In Their Son’s Mass School Shooting

The time for sound legal reasoning, so to stem the tide of school shootings, has arrived.

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Michigan teenager accused of killing four students at a local high school, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly giving him the gun he used to carry out the shooting spree. I urged this week for such charges to be brought.

Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. As I wrote this week”… the law must follow the parents right to the jailhouse door and usher them inside.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said that a teacher had observed Ethan Crumbley searching ammunition on his cellphone and alerted school officials. The school tried to contact his mother but could not reach her.

McDonald told reporters that Jennifer Crumbley did not contact the school but instead texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

There is no disputing the evidence about the role of parents and other adults in school shootings. Not only relating to the tragic aspects of this week’s slaughter but also in cases around the nation for far too long.

Charging parents of juvenile shooters is uncommon, with just four reported instances in which the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock firearms fired by a child, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That’s despite the fact that if children as young as 6 did not have access to guns, well more than half of the country’s school shootings since 1999 would never have happened, The Post found.

“If you look at school shootings, the overwhelming majority are committed by students, and the overwhelming majority of those students have guns that they brought from their homes or a relative’s home,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

The four known prosecutions of parents did not stem from charges related to negligent-storage laws. The harshest penalty among those cases was a sentence of more than two years in prison for a man charged with involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy found his gun in a shoebox and killed a classmate.

While I am not a lawyer–though I read John Grisham–it would seem other adults are also absolutely negligent in the handling of this matter. When the obvious hints were discovered as to the violent mind of the 14-year-old law enforcement should have been notified. No waiting for some kinder way to broach the 800-pound problem in the school. The soft-handed attempts to deal with ticking time bombs are ludicrous.

“The morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher came upon a note on Ethan’s desk, which alarmed her to the point that she took a picture of it on her phone,” Willis said. “The note contained the following: a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointed at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet: ‘Blood everywhere.’ Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is the drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding. Below that figure is the drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of those words are, ‘The world is dead.’”

The student’s locker should have been busted open and properly searched. The classroom drawing of violence was not a hint–it was a billboard message!

School administrators failed this child, but not as much as his parents.

And so it goes.

Republicans Now See Porn In School Books, Too Much Concern About Racism

I will be the first to readily admit a lack of awareness when it comes to abstract art. I may like the colors used or the flow of the brush or the way drops of paint are splattered on a canvas. But when asked about what I ‘see’ my answer would have to be more about the wall it is hanging on than the work itself.

‘Some things are not visual. They only exist when the mind wishes to see them.

This brings me to Texas State Representative Matt Krause, a conservative Republican who is openly waging war on books. He ‘sees’ all sorts of ‘troubling things’ within their pages.

His list of offensive books (for now) only numbers 850. He insists that state schools should go through their stacks and determine if any on his list are found. The reason for such a book-hunting is obvious he claims as the books “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

As I scanned his list for censorship I found the masterful read, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. I can not fathom why that piece of literature should not be used to teach good writing to larger examinations of social issues. Students today are not coming in off the prairie. Rather they are tuned into social media and more aware than adults about an array of topics needing a discussion. Using the classroom to take what they know and then put it into differing perspectives is a most useful educational tool.

Books are an essential means to accomplish that task.

Matt Krause

Krause’s absurdity is but one of the latest and truly reprehensible actions taken as conservative Republicans marshal their forces to create a false narrative about schoolbooks and classroom texts. When a political party can not win on the actual issues, or create policy ideas that mesh with what is actually occurring in the nation then a fabricated and misleading concoction needs to be fomented.

When it comes to Krause and this specific action it becomes even more cynical. He will be in a primary fight to become the next Attorney General. What better way to play to the Trump base, who never saw a book worth reading, and at the same time make some headlines and cash in for a higher name ID in the state? After all, censorship and other illiberal actions are not outside the bounds of the conservative base.

The larger battle underway in the nation is for the midterm elections and the race for the White House in 2024. The culture war started this time from the books and educational material used, or purported to be used, to educate students about America’s history of institutional racism. Now they have swung into books by people of color and others who are gay or transgender.

The teaching of such material, if you listen to the far-right will make Little Johnny and Sally feel uncomfortable about being white children. They might have a fuller appreciation for the totality of the American experience, and that will not play well in rural America.

The students might view personal diversity as a positive aspect of our culture, and better understand the larger idea of America as a “melting pot”. (‘We must not have that in Texas or anywhere!’)

Lord!

Banish the thought that education is designed to open new horizons, ways of thinking, and yes, at times, make for personal discomfort. All that is called part of the educational process.

This fall we were treated to this narrative as it played out in the Virginia governor’s race. Fairfax County resident Laura Murphy took off after Toni Morrison’s treasure of a read Beloved saying that, in part, graphic depictions of sex in the book caused her son–then a senior in high school—troubling dreams.

Say it is not so! A teenager having sex dreams.

For the sake of the conservative base, I trust the dreams were not biracial.

Meanwhile, one does have to wonder what Matt Krause might see in abstract works of art.

And so it goes.

Madison Police Officer(s) Must Be Placed Inside East High School

Enough is enough.

Newscasts on Monday led with what once again was pure chaos and violence at Madison East High School. Dozens of students, at a time when data shows too many of them are failing in their education, tossed off the books and took to street brawling. With temperatures in the 60s, and apparently nothing more to learn on the first day of a school week, fistfights and pure mayhem broke out. Meanwhile, taxpayers in the city were treated to plenty of coverage concerning how their money is being spent.

Not on the use of textbooks, mind you. But rather on needed police activity so to battle violent teenagers at school.

If that opening sounds like this blogger is a mite upset with what is becoming the norm at East then score yourself competent in reading comprehension.

Channel 3000 reported in total, more than 15 officers responded. Barnes said an officer was hit in the face by a student during the incident; that student was cited for assault on an officer. Another student was cited for having an “edged weapon,” but police said they weren’t sure if it was scissors, a knife or some other object.

An officer was struck in the face trying to break up this fight. The officer attempted to detain this student, but family members and other students got in the way. Officers estimate around 250 students surrounded this fight with some of the students actively trying to get involved.

Many in this city, myself included, strongly urged the Madison School Board to not fall for the protest crowd’s mantra calling for the expelling of educational resource officers– city police–from our four public high schools.  I called such a proposal pure bull-crap. (This is a family-friendly blog, after all.) The board shunned logic and common sense and ousted the EROs–perhaps the only adult disciplinarian some students have in their lives.

If you wish to know what happens when the local school board kneels to the noisy contingents from the International Socialist Organization, Progressive Dane, and the Freedom Inc. Youth Brigade please refer to what (without doubt) will be front-page coverage in Tuesday’s Wisconsin State Journal.

The city was told that if we had police officers in the schools it would feed the “school-to-prison pipeline”.  Good Lord! It sure looks like some teenagers are more than able to take that path all by themselves, and are doing it most willingly. Perhaps the ones who shouted at the school board meetings about the police need to become mentors to troubled youth. There is a whole contingent at East High who could now be enrolled in such programming. That list is growing weekly.

It must not be forgotten that the community-minded EROs did have a large degree of popularity from many families in Madison. What proved difficult was to find the bandwidth to respond when it came to engaging with those who would shut down a street to make a point. The EROs, when in the schools, broke up many large-scale cafeteria fights and disarmed students bringing loaded weapons to school.

After today, we can again see why it is important to have such men and women in our schools to keep the students and staff safe from those who wish to inflict violence on others. Threats that we know all too well come from within and outside our schools.

Knowing that in order to quell the violence police were required to use pepper spray should stun everyone who reads the local news. Those students who came to school with violence and dangerous behavior in mind placed not only many students and teachers in harm’s way. They also struck out at men and women in blue.

Knowing that there are loose screws in the city allows me to state with assuredness that calling for the restriction of using pepper spray on teenagers will be heard in upcoming street protests and common council proceedings. That topic is coming again soon, from a local pol or community organizer needing some headline exposure.

For the rest of us, however, who think schools should be places of learning and not sites of multiple police cars and cruisers with lights flashing means that the citizenry must stand up collectively and demand that police again walk the halls of our public schools.

Enough playing to the loudest shouters on the street who truly have no idea what is required to make a classroom ready for learning. They have not a clue as to what a teacher endures to get just a short period of a class period filled with learning. Folks, we have to set some serious boundaries. Enough coddling of the violent ones in the schools who have no intention of learning, and who prove with the number of police calls only a desire to act disruptively, again and again.

There are students at East who know their path upwards in life is with a solid education. They are planning a college path and then onwards to their goals. They should not, must not, have their education stunted and their ambitions thwarted in any way by a segment of others in the school, who simply put, are not ready for polite society.

And so it goes.

Conservatives Wish To Politicize Mequon-Thiensville School District With Needless School Board Recall

If you have not been following the news from the Mequon-Thiensville School District you have missed one of the more troubling events facing those who are elected to serve on a school board. Four members of the board are facing recall elections in November. 

And all the for sake of undermining faith in our local institutions.

Wendy Francour, Erik Hollander, Akram Khan, and Chris Schultz are now facing an attempt to hijack a local school board by a group of people in the community who are just as willing to spread misinformation as they would cheese on a pizza. What has occurred over the recent weeks with this recall is another example of the lowest common denominator seeking to undermine facts and logic.

Why this matter finds concern on this Madison blog is that this recall effort epitomizes the larger threat to our democracy that has played out around the nation. Not only does the usual quackery emerge about mask mandates, vaccine shots, and a disdain for dealing with racism through the curriculum but more importantly the willful sowing of seeds to undermine our institutions. In this case, a duly elected school board is falsely branded, and the skills of the board members derided, so the faith in the electorate is undermined.

The post here is about the Mequon-Thiensville School District but the fact is this modus operandi is taking place around the nation. Hence, the larger threat to democracy.

Without actual problems so to reasonably force a recall the angry ones have stirred the larger community into believing that something untoward and outlandish has taken place by the board. It has not, of course.

But if enough false charges can be lodged from the continually resentment-filled (echoes of 2016 presidential election) then chaos can ensure, a recall can emerge, and who knows that can happen! That is the game plan of these conservatives.

So from that perspective, this recall is one that has eyes on it from all over. After all, a partisan-inspired hijacking of this type should never be allowed.

The attempt by those to take over the board by the use of politically based rhetoric runs counter to the data-driven requirements that board members need to operate under so to make sure a school is as effective in education as possible.

It should be noted that the Mequon-Thiensville School District now scores an 89.5% out of 100% rating. That is not some ranking that the board created for its own purposes, but rather the result of data collected and analyzed from the Wisconsin Department of Education.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District Significantly Exceeds Expectations on the 2018-19 School Report Cards issued in November 2019 by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

It might seem easy to think this school board matter is happening ‘over there’ and does not need to register across the state. But the fact is this tactic used by those who harbor resentments against different aspects of our larger pluralistic society are using every means they can to upend our working institutions.

All eyes need to be on this recall effort, and work to see that it fails.

And so it goes.

COVID Aid Used For School Sports Programs, Whitewater Academics Second Place To Turf Fields

While a strong advocate of government funding and the muscle that comes with programming meant to make a difference in the nation, I am also lamenting once again the lack of needed requirements on spending such money.

The lead paragraph in the Associated Press story woke me up Wednesday morning almost as fast as a cup of French Roast.

One Wisconsin school district built a new football field. In Iowa, a high school weight room is getting a renovation. Another in Kentucky is replacing two outdoor tracks — all of this funded by the billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief Congress sent to schools this year.

No one needs to be reminded of the concern felt around the country when schools needed to close to stem the spread of COVID-19. Scores of national stories were reported about the shortcomings of virtual learning, the slower pace of learning, and the loss for some students of basically a year in their education.

When the federal government stepped in with a large package of funds to address the pandemic and specifically schools which were severely impacted most people were pleased with the efforts.

When school officials in Whitewater, Wisconsin, learned they would be getting $2 million in pandemic relief this year, they decided to use most of it to cover their current budget, freeing up $1.6 million in local funding to build new synthetic turf fields for football, baseball and softball.

Athletics officials in the district of 1,800 students said the project was sorely needed to replace fields prone to heavy flooding. They touted the federal money as a chance to solve the problem without asking local taxpayers for funding.

“If we don’t do it now with this money, I’m not sure when we would ever do something like this,” athletic director Justin Crandall told the school board in May. “I don’t see us being a district that would go to a referendum for turf fields.”

Two school board members objected, with one raising concerns that just $400,000 was being used to address student learning loss — the minimum to meet a requirement that at least 20% goes toward that purpose.

The board approved the plan over those objections, and the new football field had its grand opening in September. District Superintendent Caroline Pate-Hefty declined to answer questions about the project.

Call me old-fashioned but athletic programs in schools should come in far behind the core reason we build classrooms and hire teachers. The academic mission should be front and center. Following what took place in schools nationwide in 2020 there should not be any district that fails to understand the first order of business is to get every child to the level they need to be at so as to advance further with learning.

Regardless of the state or school district, we should not need to read that coaches or athletic directors are number-crunching to see how federal funds in a pandemic can be used. Prioritizing sports programs over the academic needs of the students is a larger problem than just turfs over textbooks.

This is an example as to why there are always problems with large government programs, and it should bother all of us. As a liberal, I fully appreciate the power of government to act for the needs of the moment. Such robust legislative actions, as the COVID funding bills, do have a real meaningful impact. Many people needed and received a variety of assistance.

But it is also clear that large funded programs often are marred by problems due to too few restrictions, and when that happens it makes for a lack of confidence among the populace for future moments when needs arise. That is why it is essential for those of us who align with an active and robust central government to then demand the implementation of programs be as reflective of the original goal as can be attained.

In Congress, lawmakers from both parties say it’s wrong to use the money on sports. Democrats say it’s not what it was meant for, while Republicans say it’s a sign it wasn’t needed.

And so it goes.