Effective teachers are key in solving school safety issues

teacher and student

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The United States may be the Wild West of the civilized world. Many perceive us as a nation of freedom-loving gun-toters, and it has its perks. It takes a gritty spirit to successfully defend the homeland. We have been unconquered. Not every nation can say that.

Some want to strengthen the Second Amendment, and others want to weaken it. All, though, can recognize the need to balance our freedoms with public safety.

The aftermath of a school mass shooting rightfully focuses on the immediate loss of innocent life. The long-range view, though, is dire as well.

Our schools are already struggling. According to the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranked 30th in math and 19th in science out of 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

It’s a challenge to find and keep high-performing teachers in the classroom. They deal with multiple frustrations daily—some students who don’t apply themselves, a lack of tools they sometimes need to be successful in their job, and no increased financial reward or recognition for excellent performance.

And now we must add a sense of lack of safety to the mix.

A 2013 School Improvement Network survey reported that 31 percent of educators felt their school was not safe from gun violence. Now, that number has jumped to 69 percent.

At some point, these high-performing teachers will make the reasonable conclusion that they can take their skill set and be equally or more successful in another endeavor. And feel safer.

Our country can’t withstand that loss. A report entitled, “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” published by the Council on Foreign Relations, states, “Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

In order to keep our best teachers in the classroom, we must ask them what they need in order to feel safe and keep their students safe. It also wouldn’t hurt to survey our high-achieving college students who are pursuing teaching degrees.

We need to listen—and then deliver to the best of our ability.

There have been many suggestions to make our schools safer: Secure entrances with locked doors that require the individual to be buzzed in, increase police or security officer presence, utilize metal detectors at entrances, strengthen background checks for firearm purchases, allow concealed carry permits in schools, raise the age to purchase certain firearms, eliminate certain firearms, conduct active shooter drills, address mental health and social breakdown issues, educate all that when you “see something, say something,” and hold accountable authorities when they drop the ball.

Some of these solutions must be debated and tackled at the federal or state level. Others can be considered now at the local level. For every solution, there’s the potential of an unintended consequence. And nothing will make our schools 100 percent safe. But teachers’ voices should be one of the loudest when we aim for that goal.

In Iowa, a child who has reached the age of six and is under sixteen years of age by September 15 is of compulsory attendance age. Unless home schooled, kids have no choice and are required to be in these school buildings.

Teachers, though, choose to be in the profession of teaching. And they can choose to leave.

A loss of effective teachers from our schools would be harmful to our nation. A poorly-educated populace could lead to a different kind of Wild West—one that none of us wants.

Nonprofits needn’t worry that fewer will itemize

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The recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (affecting 2018 taxes) will help most middle-class wage earners keep more of their hard-earned dollars. It would be nice to celebrate this tax cut, but those who oppose the law are trying to take the fun out of it with their premonitions of significant drops in charitable giving.

That’s because the standard deduction has doubled to $12,000 for an individual and $24,000 for a married couple. Those are big numbers. Fewer will meet the threshold of $12,000-$24,000 in deductions—such as charitable donations—that bumps them into itemization. Instead, the better deal for this group will be to take the standard deduction.

And so, fewer will itemize.

But the rhetoric surrounding this issue tries to make you believe that charitable giving is the same as itemization of giving. It’s not.

Charitable donations will still happen, whether or not they’re itemized at the end of the year. Potential itemization is not the first or most important thought of donors when they’re considering whether or not to make a contribution.

According to a 2106 Gallup poll, “Donors invest money and effort in charitable organizations when they feel a strong emotional or psychological connection to them.” Also, a 2016 Holiday Giving Survey by World Vision reports that, “Roughly half of Americans (52 percent) would choose to donate to charities that support a cause they are passionate about, and more than one-third (35 percent) say they would choose a charity they have a personal connection to.”

Without surveys and polls, we know this makes sense when we think about where we send our charitable donations. Perhaps believing that no child should go hungry prompts you to donate to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. Or, maybe the spirit of doing “the wave” at an Iowa football game propelled you to make a financial contribution to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

On the flip side, there may be nonprofits that would never receive your donation dollars—no matter how great the itemization reward. If you’re not a fan of the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood, benefits of itemization wouldn’t be enough for you to write the check.

It’s the heart muscle that gets used when donating. It pumps successfully whether using the standard deduction or the itemization process.

Charitable giving depends upon three things. First, citizens must have a disposable income strong enough in order to be able to give. The new tax law helps with that, by allowing individuals and married couples to keep more of the money they earn. Secondly, there must be a strong emotional connection to a cause. There are tens of thousands of worthy nonprofits in the state of Iowa. Pick one. Or two, or four, or more. Lastly, the donor must feel confident that donation dollars are being used wisely by the nonprofit. A 2015 poll conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy states, “When asked about factors that influence their giving, the biggest portion, 68 percent, said it is very important that the charity has evidence that its programs are effective.”

Instead of worrying about the itemization detail, nonprofits should focus their attention on successfully addressing a need that people in the community care about and then being transparent in how donation dollars are spent.

Many people give, but not all need to itemize.

The recent tax cuts were a win for the middle class. Nonprofits can be happy for these taxpayers.

Church leadership moment passes

cardinal

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Leadership requires the ability to be proactive. Sitting around and waiting for events to unfold is something anyone can do. From our leaders, we expect more.

Recently, the Roman Catholic leadership failed to lead. Again.

Catholic cardinals are considered “princes of the Church.” When one passes away in Rome, the funeral Mass is traditionally grandiose. Rows and rows of fellow princes come to pay homage. The pope, himself, may preside over the funeral rites.

This is all fine and good to honor a beloved servant of the faithful. It’s not what we expect to happen for a serial accomplice to pedophilia.

Two pontiffs ago, Cardinal Bernard Law knowingly and repeatedly moved around pedophile priests enabling them to molest fresh supplies of innocents within the Archdiocese of Boston.

Canon 1329, of the Code of Canon Law, states that, “Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae senteniae (excommunication that happens automatically) penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed…”

In this section, Code of Canon Law commentary gives the example of an adult “living in concubinage with a cleric.” Being an accomplice to a priest’s broken vow of celibacy through a consensual sexual relationship would get you excommunicated.

But apparently a cardinal can be an accomplice to mass pedophilia, without penalty.

After the sex abuse scandal broke, Law was moved to Rome where he was appointed archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Many would call that a promotion. He also served on the Congregation for Bishops, which recommends appointments to the pope. The cardinal still wielded power.

Church leadership was fully aware of the funeral protocol expected for a cardinal who dies in Rome. It’s their system. They created it. They could have avoided this special recognition for Law by first not assigning him to a position in Rome. After that lapse in judgment, a second error was made by failing to adjust the protocol of the funeral Mass for this particular cardinal.

Because of a lack of sensitivity and foresight, the Church reopened wounds and caused fresh pain for the victims who were set up by Law. He received a majestic farewell. The abused will not.

With Law’s passing, the Church had one last chance to show accountability to the people of the Archdiocese of Boston. Once again, though, the moment dissipated.

Clericalism—the setting apart of the priesthood class over and above the laity—continues to reign in the Roman Catholic Church.

The funeral Mass—any funeral Mass—is a time of asking for God’s mercy and not the time to denigrate the deceased. However, Law’s funeral could have been respectful without being quite so grand. A smaller rite would have been more appropriate.

Strong and just leadership would have known that.

 

Ethics are a good thing, until they diminish the law

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A civilized nation relies upon the rule of law. Lately, though, our nation seems more fascinated with the nuances of ethics than with a code of law. Maybe we’re becoming less civilized.

Ethics are abstract guidelines of acceptable behavior that require only a credible (believable) standard of proof in order to condemn, with no legal binding. On the other hand, laws are written rules that require a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and if found guilty is punishable with fines and/or imprisonment.

It seems pretty clear where we should be focusing our attention, and yet the news is filled with stories about scandalous ethics violations instead of real criminal charges. It becomes difficult to remember that an ethics accusation does not carry the same weight as a criminal conviction.

Or, it shouldn’t.

Television journalists, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, were immediately fired after allegations of sexual harassment.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is welcoming a congressional ethics investigation after a photo surfaced of him during his comedian career days with his hands on the breasts of a sleeping and unsuspecting woman.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from the Judiciary Committee after multiple staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

And the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, is accused of sexual misconduct with several individuals including a 14-year-old child several decades ago. The election is just weeks away, and he is under heavy pressure from members of both political parties to exit the race.

None of the allegations have resulted in charges of criminal activity.

If a law is broken, the breaker should be prosecuted and those who have been victimized should receive justice. Let the alleged offenders have their day in court to determine guilt or innocence, and let the alleged victims seek restoration through prosecution and the hopes that the abuse will not happen to others. And it needs to be done long before any statutes of limitations run out.

Lauer and Rose were fired by their employers. Voters will eventually determine the fates of Franken, Conyers and Moore.

For the most part, employers can fire at will and voters can fire on Election Day. That certainly includes firing individuals who at least appear to be unethical or criminal.

It just seems that the right thing to do would be to determine guilt first—before punishment.

But that’s not where this civilized nation is trending.

“Adult coloring book” is not an oxymoron

coloring cupAdults and creativity go together. That’s why sales of coloring books for adults have taken off in the past few years. Sure, they’re promoted for stress relief. But it also confirms what we innately know to be true. Human beings desire to be creators, even if the best tools we can come up with are crayons.

Some people don’t need coloring books. They’re fortunate enough to be creators in their careers—professional artists, photographers, engineers, researchers, landscapers, florists, writers, carpenters, interior designers, jewelers, fashion designers, actors, chefs, musicians, architects, along with many other professions.

Problem solving is a form of creativity, and many are required to problem solve at work. Still, most of us come away from our jobs at the end of the day without the feeling that we were able to put our unique stamp of individuality into something. Over time, we become cognizant that there’s something missing.

It’s a noble thing to earn an honest living and to financially provide for our family.

But there’s more to life than being responsible. At least, there should be.

In, “The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive,” by Brendon Burchard, he defines creativity as one of ten necessary components to living a charged life—one in which you feel truly alive and not just drifting from one day to the next.

The biggest mental roadblock to creativity is the thinking that some people received the creative gene or gift, and others did not. But we were all born with the desire and ability to create, somehow and in some way.

Think about how excited children are to show off their coloring page masterpieces. That’s our natural state. But as we move into adulthood, we often lose that creative drive.

Part of the reason is that it does require effort. According to Burchard, “Creativity isn’t a trait; it’s a discipline. Those who say they are not creative are often those who are averse to the hard work of transforming a good idea into something truly magnificent.”

Even if we don’t achieve creative magnificence in our jobs, we can at least find creative satisfaction in our personal life and through our chosen hobbies. We may not be florists, but we can take great pride in our flower gardens surrounding our home. We may not be photographers, but we can put together a fun photo book that preserves memories from a family vacation. We may not be interior designers, but we can craft our home into a unique living space. All of these things can nourish our need for creative self-expression.

There’s a commercial that promotes the arts with a dog that runs with a stick in its mouth to a man and lays the stick at his feet. With wagging tail, the dog waits for the delightful moment when the stick is thrown so that it can retrieve it. The man looks down at the stick in a puzzled way and instead of considering the possibilities of the playfulness of the moment—he picks it up and puts it in a garbage can. His mind is too tunnel-visioned on being responsible.

With all of our necessary adult responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to play and create—but we need that dimension in our lives.

Don’t be the guy that puts the dog’s stick in the garbage can. Find a way to infuse creativity into your life.

Even if you start with just a coloring book.

We can unite behind term limits

term limits

The country is politically polarized, but one issue that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can unite behind is term limits for members of the U.S. Congress.

We wouldn’t need to have this conversation if Congress weren’t so dysfunctional. It passes highly consequential legislation without reading it (Obamacare), is incapable of managing our money ($20 trillion debt) and will not work together on an issue as bipartisan as term limits. What is good for the nation is many times pushed aside for what is, instead, good for the politician or party.

There are three common arguments against term limits, but they’re weak.

Some say that we already have term limits, and that it’s called voting. But we don’t really have primaries or elections anymore. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day citizens go to the voting booth and pull the lever for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that during the 2016 election, the average Senate incumbent raised nearly $13 million while the challenger raised about $1.6 million. The average House incumbent raised $1.6 million compared to $200,000 from the opponent. With the help of all that money, about 87 percent of U.S. senators and 97 percent of U.S. representatives were re-elected.

Money is helping to send the same people back to Washington D.C. over and over again, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if citizens actually had confidence in these elected officials. But high re-election rates don’t equal high enthusiasm for the work of the incumbents. A recent Rasmussen survey found that only 15 percent of voters felt members of Congress did a good or excellent job.

The vote is no longer efficacious.

A second reason given to oppose term limits is that while it would purge the corrupt and power-driven, it would also kick out the good ones. For example, it could be argued that decades-serving U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented Iowa well and done a lot of good for our nation.

But it’s not that Grassley has done something wrong. It’s that there are lots of other people who are fully capable of doing something right. If we vote with the fearful belief that there’s a scarcity of intelligence and wisdom in our country, we’ve already become a nation at risk. There are more than 535 individuals, out of 200 million adults, who love this country and can do what is necessary to keep her safe and prosperous.

Lastly, it’s said that it’s just too difficult to pass term limits because it requires a constitutional amendment.

The last amendment was the 27th and it stopped Congress from giving itself a pay raise that became effective immediately. Now, pay raises don’t become effective until after the next election. But without term limits, all it means is that instead of 100 percent of the current session of Congress enjoying the pay raise, just incumbents or 87 – 97 percent get it.

The amendment was needed, but the lack of term limits is the loophole that keeps members of Congress voting for their pay raises without consequence. We passed an amendment that has done little to rein in the power of lifer legislators. It’s worth the effort to pass an amendment that could dramatically reshape Congress back into a staff of citizen legislators, as was originally intended by the founding fathers.

In 1776, the colonists had the crazy notion that people didn’t need a king and could self-govern. It was a radical idea at the time, but now we take for granted that it will always last.

There will be, though, opposing forces driven by the lure of power that will continuously challenge this great Republic and our ability to effectively govern ourselves.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s time, proponents of slavery—thinly disguised as a states’ rights issue—was the opposing force. But in the Gettysburg Address, we hear his concern not just for a nation in a civil war, but also for the fragile future of such a country when he laments, “…whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.”

Our “great task” is to ensure that it will endure.

For many today, there’s a sense that our government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and part of the problem is the feeling that we’ve lost control of the political process.

Term limits could go a long way to bring power back to the people.

Country has bigger problems to solve than legal immigrant benefits

statue of liberty

Nobody gets into the country illegally. That’s been President Donald Trump’s message to his base, and it’s been well received. Now, though, he’s adding that nobody gets into the country legally without showing that he or she can be self-supporting for the first five years. He shared this message at a recent Cedar Rapids visit, and his supporters gave raucous accent.

On the surface, it makes sense. Many taxpaying citizens are not fond of punching a time clock for 40 hours a week, just to hand over part of that paycheck to new arrivals seeking immediate government handouts.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 already states that immigrants are not eligible for any federal means-tested public benefit for five years after arriving in our country. If not independently wealthy, it means that many require sponsors either through an employer who promises paychecks that are sufficient enough to be self-supporting or through an individual—often a relative—who promises to provide for the immigrant financially if paychecks fall short.

But emergency medical care, public health assistance, school lunch programs and other benefits are still available to immigrants and are exceptions to the rules. And although it may take a permanent legal resident up to six years to become a naturalized citizen, the household qualifies for some assistance immediately once a child is born on U.S. soil. Lastly, the five year rule is not so awfully long. After that period, a greater number of government programs become available.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a 2012 report showed that legal immigrant households, receiving assistance, consumed $6,378 annually in government benefits.

Nobody wants to deny lifesaving health care, and every child should have their basic needs met. But this shows that taxpayer dollars are, indeed, finding their way into the homes of immigrants.

I get what the president is after. We want to be the land of hope and opportunity, not the land of generosity that can be easily manipulated.

Six thousand dollars, though, isn’t enough to support a family. It means that immigrants are working. They’re just not earning enough to provide for their family. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between working full time and being self-supporting.

The solution to the immigration and welfare problem isn’t to limit newcomers to just those who already possess the skills, education or wealth to be completely self-sufficient upon arriving in our country. We can certainly welcome the elite immigrant, but it seems a little harsh to deny legal immigration to individuals without those advantages.

A better approach to further reduce benefits to immigrants is to increase the federal minimum wage. This is the legislation that Trump should be promoting. Small businesses can absorb a reasonable increase (not a ridiculous 100 percent increase to $15.00 as some advocate), and it would give immigrants and all workers a better chance of supporting their families without government assistance.

People will continue to legally arrive in our country and receive government benefits, no matter what Trump would like to propose. The sensible goal is to strive to keep benefits at a minimum. We’re not a country that refuses emergency medical care. And once children are born in the United States, they become citizens. A household with low wages then qualifies for assistance that not even Congress or the president can take away. Trump’s time would be better spent on solving the illegal immigration problem.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses…” That belief system seems to be in direct conflict or tension with attempts to allow only self-supporting immigrants or the elite into the country.

Over the years, the huddled masses have done their part to build our country and build a better future for the next generation. More want to do the same.

Trump is a self-described builder. He should recognize that same desire in others.