Sunday, January 23, 2011

WA Governor Prescribes More Disease as the Cure for Schools

If you read the Education page on WA Governor Gregoire’s Website, I think you’ll come away with the impression that Governor Gregoire thoroughly understands today’s goals and challenges with our Education System. She should, for goodness sake! She’s a Teacher, herself, having earned her teaching certificate from UW.

Furthermore, I think you’ll find that Governor Gregoire’s stated Education Agenda makes good sense. And, since it’s based on the recommendations of a steering committee called Washington Learns, that seems to give it more credibility. Considering that Washington Learns is headed up by Governor Gregoire, one has to wonder whether the committee’s recommendations might be slanted to match up with Governor Gregoire’s views but, without looking into this further, I’ll consent to the legitimacy of this committee’s recommendations.

Where things don’t appear to be adding up is in real life – i.e. How is Washington’s Education System actually performing and how is management of our State’s present budget crisis impacting this? According to the American Legislative Counsel, Washington ranks 16th amongst our 50 States, with an overall grade of C+. I guess that doesn’t sound so bad, by comparison. However, when you look at specifics determining this ranking and see that, as an example, only 37% of Washington 4th Graders are reading at or above a Proficient level, while 63% are reading below that level, it’s pretty obvious that there is great room for improvement.

Although Washington Learns touts itself as “a diverse group of business, community, education, government and minority leaders”, Washington State appears to be continuing with a Top-Down Management approach that is about as far from being connected at the “community” level as you can get. It is, also, obviously failing. The primary reason that Washington ranks 16th, as compared to other States, with an overall grade of C+, is because most other States are being run in a similar Top-Down manner and those States are failing too. It’s probably, also, true that today’s Proficient Level is no place close to the higher proficiency required when I was in 4th grade, in 1956/1957.

Now added to “real-life”, with Washington’s Education System, is Washington State’s budget crisis. To bring this down to a more personal level, this means, that just in Vancouver Public Schools (VPS), in the present school year, Governor Gregoire’s budget (crisis) proposal will result in a nearly $3 million shortfall. Although VPS has already trimmed nearly $1.5 million through freezing hiring, limiting travel, etc. the primary options available to VPS for addressing the balance of this shortfall pretty much adds up to a Reduction In Force (RIF). Obviously, this will result in fewer Teachers working in our Education System. Do you think the percentage of Washington 4th graders who are at or above a Proficient Level will go up or down from its current 37%, as a result of a RIF? I think even those 4th graders who aren’t reading at a Proficient Level could answer this question.

So, what is Governor Gregoire proposing to meet the challenges of our failing Top-Down Managed Education System, now severely impacted by our State’s budget crisis? Gregoire’s proposal, as summarized in a Seattle PI article on this, is to “centralize authority for kindergarten through the university level in one giant department of education.” In other words, More Top-Down Management. “How could a woman who earned a teaching certificate from UW, who gives the impression that she thoroughly understands today’s goals and challenges with our Education System arrive at this conclusion?” you ask. The “real life” answer is that she’s worked in state government almost all the time since getting her JD from Gonzaga in 1977 and she’s held elected state office, as a Democrat, since 1993. In other words, Gregoire is a Big-Government-Democrat Career Politician.

I, on the other hand, am a Limited-Government-Republican who has spent almost all of my working life in the private sector. I believe that our communities (our businesses, our civic organizations, our places of worship and especially, our families) are what have made our nation great, not our government. And, I believe that the solutions to the current challenges our nation is facing can be found best in our communities. Thankfully, I’m far from being alone in this belief, as it applies to meeting the challenges faced by our Education System today. One of the best examples of this is, the political advocacy organization founded by Michelle Rhee, the leading authority on education reform issues. A key foundational belief of states: “Parent and family involvement is key to increased student achievement, but the entire community must be engaged in the effort to improve our schools.”

Generally, plans for the above-mentioned reform are aimed at moving authority away from Federal and State Departments of Education and placing more authority at the School District level. The plan I favor goes a step beyond this. Here’s an overview of that plan:

Eliminate Federal and State Departments of Education, as well as School Districts.

Leave in place or establish a State-wide organization, headed by an elected official. However, this organization should have minimal authority, minimal staffing, minimal hierarchy and minimal infrastructure. Its primary purpose is to serve as sort of a nucleus for a network of schools, operating as independent businesses. Legitimate roles for this organization would be along the lines of consolidated purchasing to leverage economies of scale – e.g. purchasing paper products, negotiating insurance coverage for all employees in the network, etc. Likewise, it would be legitimate for this organization to be supported through State taxes.

Establish schools in the above-mentioned network as independent businesses according to neighborhoods served by a respective High School – i.e. A High School serving a particular area plus the Junior High Schools, Middle Schools and Elementary Schools serving that same area. It may be desirable to include pre-K Education in this plan but Higher Ed should be managed separately. Otherwise, this plan is meant to cover K-12.

Each of the above-mentioned independent businesses would be managed by a Board comprised of the Principals of the respective schools, the most competent members of their school staff, the most competent parents of their school’s students and community members from businesses, civic organizations, places of worship, etc. Each Board would select a CEO who, along with the Board, would operate their business fairly autonomously. Their responsibility would include to determine the best way to get any remaining budget needed supplied by the community they serve and to operate according to a balanced budget.

Since present Union contracts are with organizations that are being eliminated, Union relationships with our Education System would be returned to Square One. I have to say that I’m particularly fond of this part of the plan. I come from a family of Blue-Collar Workers who were Union Members. I understand the legitimacy of Unions, as a safety net for workers. But today’s Unions, especially in the public sector, have gone way beyond their legitimacy. Union membership should be completely optional for workers. And, while it is legitimate for protecting workers to be a Union’s top priority, Unions representing Educators should also be able to easily provide evidence of how they benefit Students. I can’t imagine that today’s Unions can do that.

I know this plan may seem pretty drastic to some. It’s certainly not something that could or should be done overnight. But I’m convinced it’s the right direction to go. It’s become cliché to say that doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I don’t want to say anything unkind about Governor Gregoire and I do not think she’s insane but planning to fix our failing, Top-Down Managed Education System by applying more Top-Down Management just doesn’t make sense.


Top Down Managed Education

Submitted by Phil Frommholz (not verified) on Sun, 2011-01-23 16:10.


+-Question?? How many Federal and State levels of management are actually required to teach a child to read, add, subtract, multiply and divide? The answer NONE.

We have gotten away from basic teaching of core educational requirements to be successful in life. When we complicate it with all the other junk we impose on our school system we abandon the reason we have teachers in the classroom- to teach kids the basics. Yesterday I was in Office Depot and there were 10 of us on line waiting for one cashier. The other "sales associates were busy doing "inventory" They lost sign of their primary mission- "sales" which is in half of their title. Any time we use the word

"administrator" in the context of education , we have identified someone who is hindering the education of our children.

Washington Learns? Seriously?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 2011-01-23 16:41.


+-You're about two years behind the curve. Washington Learns hasn't meant much of anything since they released their final report--the real action since then has all been in the Basic Ed Finance Task Force and the subcommittees that HB6696 established.

It's not me who is behind the

Submitted by Gary Wiram on Mon, 2011-01-24 05:26.


+-It's not me who is behind the curve. Washington Learns is the reference on the Official Governor Gregoire Website.


Submitted by Mark Mahan (not verified) on Mon, 2011-01-24 16:20.


+-Gary- I agree with a lot of what you say. How does this fit in with "no child left behind"?

Great question, Mark. The

Submitted by Gary Wiram on Tue, 2011-01-25 05:25.


+-Great question, Mark. The plan I referenced is, obviously, aimed at creating a different business model for our education system. Improved education is, of course, the primary goal. If NCLB didn't go away, along with the DOE, it is one of many considerations each of the independent businesses would have to make. This is a good example of why we couldn't and shouldn't move to this model overnight.


Submitted by Mike M Boyer (not verified) on Mon, 2011-01-24 19:10.


+-Epic FAIL

school management plan

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 2011-01-25 13:19.


+-Gary, like you I hoped Rhee would bring a fresh watch to this "education reform" project, begun in Washington State by Boeing Corp with Goals 2000 late 80's. However, with her departure due to her sponsoring Mayor's race, you described the flaw in consolidating power for Education, taking decision-making away from local Districts' elected officials.

From one of those ranks, Ellensburg School Board, I can tell you Central Planners would have their hands full passing a bond or levy in a community. You NEED electeds who meet people in the produce isle or on the soccer field, who are responsible for the local decisions.

By the bye, Business DOES have its tentacles in the mix -- unfortunately it is the politically connected fat cats who want a "competitive global workforce" that will have their way with our kids.

Gregoire = Big Government

Submitted by Bob Dean (not verified) on Tue, 2011-01-25 13:32.



Do you realize that Gov Gregoire is trying to nationalize our state education system. Gregoire wants us to adopt the new Common Core State Math Standards which were written by outsiders. The assessments for these standards will be written and controlled by unknowns in Washington DC. Whoever controls the assessments controls what will be taught in every class in America.

Gregoire wants this despite the fact that we spent over $100 million dollars changing to new math standards in 2008. Our new standards were developed and written by Washingtonians and they have been rated higher than the common core standards.

The legislature and Gregoire authorized State Superintendent of Education, Randy Dorn, to provisionally adopt these standards last March before they were even written. Now there is legislation pending HB1443 that will make the adoption and nationalization of these standards permanent unless we can get it stopped.

State and local control of education has been at the core of our republic since its inception. Gregoire is doing everything she can to end that control and give it to those in Washington DC.

If people don't want to see this happen then they need to call and/or email their legislator and tell them to vote No on HB1443 and to vote No on adopting Common Core State Standards.

Bob Dean

Based on the actions of the

Submitted by Gary Wiram on Tue, 2011-01-25 17:41.


+-Based on the actions of the WA Legislature yesterday, the subject may be completely academic ... no pun intended. The Democrat Majority is continuing on a course that will decimate the ranks of good Teachers in WA. Here's a statement on this from State Representative Paul Harris (R-LD-17):

The House of Representatives today approved a bill that would make reductions of $340 million for the current fiscal year budget. The approved legislation would still leave a $260 million shortfall for the 2009-11 fiscal cycle, which ends June 30 of this year.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, voted against Substitute House Bill 1086 and issued the following statement:

“I believe we must abide by the state constitution which places basic education as Washington’s paramount duty. The budget Republicans offered today would better protect K-12 education. Unfortunately, the majority party voted down our striking amendment and chose to go with their proposal, which contained deep cuts to schools. I’m especially concerned this bill retroactively goes after money that has already been allocated by our school districts for K-4 enhancement programs. As a former school board member, I know firsthand how these cuts will impact school districts. Retroactively going after dollars already allocated feels like we are breaking a promise to our schools and kids.

“I’m also concerned this spending plan still does not solve our budget shortfall this fiscal cycle. This is a continuation of what has been done the last few budget cycles – unsustainable spending. The message was clear in November: Come up with some solutions to live within your means during tough economic times just like everyone else. Pushing spending into the next fiscal cycle does not do that. We need to solve these budget problems now in a responsible manner so we are ready to take on a much larger shortfall for the 2011-13 cycle. This just exacerbates the problem.”

Our Failing, Top-Down Managed Education System

Submitted by Al Peffley (not verified) on Fri, 2011-01-28 10:15.


+-The national association of teachers' unions must be lobbying hard for this national education standards political power structure. This is what happens when professional unions are allowed to take over all state government departments and form centralized management systems for civil servant services. The only power the voters have is to cut off tax dollars to feed the beast, and the economy "going down the tube" was a hidden blessing to help partially derail this socialistic, progressives-driven train. The "Stimulus Money" just bought them two more years of unsurpassed education programs spending. If you control the public education system, you control the majority of the public's attitudes on politics and social entitlement programs that enslave them to whatever the people in control want (as I look back, this progressive plan has been evolving in Washington State public schools, with specially-designed textbooks, since the late 1960's.) The complete God-less secular state, with a top-down management system for everything in education, seems to have been always their highest preparation objective...

This is good and bad

Submitted by Ethan Pulka (not verified) on Sat, 2011-01-29 12:17.


+-First off we do need to decrease the union and all the sidelines school's use. But if we privatize them as a business who is to say that Wal-Mart or another corporations only teaches our children how to stock shelves? We need a education guideline and test to make sure these school allow all the children to learn equally.

Also if we privatize schools, will we have to pay? or will they still be public.

will we have to pay?

Submitted by Gary Wiram on Sat, 2011-01-29 14:12.


+-Do you not understand?! We already pay. Where do you think the money comes from to fund Public Schools?! It's from taxes, taken out of my pocket and yours (assuming that you do pay taxes).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Train up a child in the way he should go …”

– The Story of an Exceptionally Good Teacher,
Getting This Job Done -

The first time I REALLY became aware of Carrie Newton, she had come to work dressed as a Crayon. If, like me, you’ve spent most of your working life in the business community, you may be thinking that I’m talking about a colleague who ended up in serious conversation with her boss and/or HR regarding proper attire for the workplace. However, I should point out that, this past September, I started working in an Elementary School. Knowing that and knowing that Carrie is the Kindergarten Teacher whose classroom is next-door to the classroom where I work, should make her being dressed as a Crayon sound a bit more appropriate. Actually, I had noticed Carrie wearing costumes on two or three previous occasions. I’m not sure what it was but there was something about seeing her dressed as a Crayon that made me realize she is a person who is very enthusiastic about her work and it made me think that, if more Americans were as passionate about their work as Carrie is, the American workplace would be greatly improved.

Thanksgiving marked the next significant step in my interest being piqued by Carrie. Although this, too, involved Carrie wearing a costume, giving you more details than I did about her day dressed as a Crayon is in order. First, providing details about the costume, itself, are important. You may not be surprised to learn that Carrie was dressed as a Turkey for Thanksgiving but you can’t really appreciate it without experiencing it first-hand. Hopefully, the photo provided here will help. More important, though, are details about the Thanksgiving Program that Carrie led while in her Turkey costume. Since Carrie has responsibility for both a morning and an afternoon Kindergarten class, there were two Thanksgiving Program presentations. I got to attend them both. Again, you can’t really appreciate this without experiencing it first-hand but here’s an overview that I hope will be helpful:

- Carrie led each class into the school gym, wearing her Turkey costume.

- The backdrop of the stage in the gym was adorned with Thanksgiving decorations that looked like they could have come from my time in Elementary School … in the middle of the 20th Century. The decorations depicted adult and children Pilgrims as well as adult and children Indians. The centerpiece was a very identifiable Christian Church, complete with a cross on its steeple. Later, I learned that these decorations had been found at a garage sale, by Carrie’s Mother.

- Each of the kids was in a Thanksgiving costume that they had made from construction paper. The kids were grouped according to one of six costume types. Each group had specific lines that went along with the program that Carrie led. The groups and the lines they delivered, when Carrie pointed to them, included:

o Pilgrim Men – “Bang! Bang! Bang!” – With hands holding make-believe muskets.

o Pilgrim Women – “Mercy me.” – With tilted heads resting on folded hands.

o Pilgrim Ministers – “Praise the Lord!” – With up-raised right fists.

o Indian Men – “Big and brave!” – Accompanied with a “pumping up with Hans & Franz” sort of macho pose.

o Indian Women – “Hush, hush, hush.” – While cradling doll babies in their arms.

o Turkeys – Of course, “Gobble, gobble, gobble.”

o All – “Pop! Pop! Pop!” Whenever the word “corn” was used in the program.

It was obvious that the audience (Kindergarten kids’ family members, along with other classes) thoroughly enjoyed the presentation. At the conclusion of the program, Carrie led her students and the audience in singing the American Folk Song, This Land is Your Land. I have to admit that I was grinning from ear to ear and that I had tears in my eyes throughout both program presentations. Although I recognized that there were parts of the program that some might question for “political correctness”, in the end, I don’t think there was anything that could be pointed to as inappropriate. My thoughts along these lines were, “When you pour yourself into your work the way Carrie does and you develop the sort of following she has, minor points of ‘political correctness’ are unlikely to attract much scrutiny.” Moreover, I recognized that “The Story of Carrie Newton” is something I wanted to become more familiar with and to do my part in sharing that story, for the benefit of others.

In getting better acquainted with Carrie, one of the first things I wanted to learn about was what she saw as her overall objective, with the enthusiastic approach she takes to her job. Generally, I wasn’t surprised with her responses to my questions along these lines. She said she wants her students “to love school”, “to be enthusiastic about school” and for their experience with her to be “memorable.” What did surprise me was that, to exemplify this, Carrie referenced the book Made to Stick. I was familiar with Made to Stick, as a business philosophy aimed at helping companies to make their products/services more interesting/memorable. I, also, was aware that the Made to Stick philosophy has application to teaching, both within and outside of business. But, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at it being applied by a Kindergarten Teacher. I have to; further, admit that this revealed a prejudice on my part about the qualities of “a good Kindergarten Teacher.” Maybe, like me, you tend to think of “a good Kindergarten Teacher” as a good-hearted person who is naturally skilled with young kids, who has fun getting them started in school. If so, like me, you’re seriously underestimating the depth of “a good Kindergarten Teacher.”

By now, it should be obvious that I’ve come to think very highly of Carrie Newton. And, I’ve quickly discovered that telling “The Story of Carrie Newton” can’t realistically be done in one sitting. Her story seems to have far too much depth and texture for that. No doubt, she is much more than “a good Kindergarten Teacher.” “Exceptionally good” seems like a more fitting label. With these things in mind, it seems appropriate to begin by considering the path that has brought her to this point and to take a look at some of the facets of her classroom that further indicate her depth, “beyond the costumes.”

The beginning of Carrie’s career in Education doesn’t sound a lot different from many who work in this field … as a young woman who grew up in Washington State’s Tri-Cities, who was entering college at Gonzaga University, she knew she “wanted to help people.” At Gonzaga, she discovered a love for Special Education. Upon graduating from Gonzaga, she was given offers from three different school systems. Southwest Washington is blessed that she picked the offer from Vancouver. Though Carrie truly loved Special Education, after 10 years working in that field, her two Daughters were born and she simply found these compounded responsibilities to be too hard. However, finances didn’t allow Carrie to work only as a stay-at-home Mom. Although she did leave her position in Special Ed, in addition to her Mom-duties, she worked at providing Home-Daycare and she worked part-time in ELL (English Language Learners) classes. Eventually, as Carrie’s daughters were reaching school-age themselves, this led to opportunities to work in Kindergarten, where she discovered another love. Thus, for the past seven years, she’s been working as a Kindergarten Teacher.

When it comes to aspects of Carrie’s classroom that show what I referred to earlier as her depth, “beyond the costumes”, I discovered a revealing example one day while waiting to talk to her in her classroom. I noticed, among the many things adhered to the windows of her classroom, a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. That led to me reflecting on my thoughts and feelings about MLK, as well as considering what a challenge it must be to convey the lessons embodied by that historic figure, if you didn’t come from his time yourself. Since Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 and Carrie Newton is an Educator who was born in 1969, she is among those who must deal with the aforementioned challenge. When Carrie arrived, I pointed to the picture of Dr. King and I talked about how different things were in the days when I was a student in a Kindergarten class. I talked about the three “colored kids” who were in that class, who continued in my class through High School, with at least one going on into college with me. I, also, shared that, as a “white kid” from that time, though I now recognize that what MLK represented resulted in some much needed seeds of change being planted in my heart, it wasn’t welcomed by me initially. I went on to disclose that I will always look back with deep regret for the painful experience it must have been, growing up as one of those three “colored kids.” Without my prompting, Carrie told me that one of the methods she uses to convey these “lessons of the heart” is to have a time in her classroom when only girls are given gummy-bears, as rewards and that she lets the boys know that it’s just because the girls are girls, like her. Of course, there’s no way to fully convey what our culture was like when I was in Kindergarten. Even I couldn’t do that with today’s kids. But it’s comforting to know of the intentionality of an exceptional Educator like Carrie to teach these “lessons of the heart” and to assure that our culture continues to strive to be one that “judges people by the content of their character and not by the color of (or shape of) their skin.”

Especially, considering some details of the Thanksgiving Program described above, I was surprised to visit Carrie’s Facebook page and learn that she defines her Religious Views as “Christian - still searching”. However, I really appreciated her candor and humor about her “still searching”, as expressed in her Favorite Quotation: “What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?!” When I asked Carrie about what might seem to be a contradiction between the things expressed in the Thanksgiving program and her Religious Views, she let me know that she is certain enough about her views that she strives to teach her students to have a “basic Christian attitude” and particularly, “to be kind”. In fact, “Be kind!” is a class slogan, as she teaches her students to view themselves as part of their “classroom family” and beyond that, as part of the community. Underneath this, of course, is Carrie’s understanding that a key to her effectiveness as a Teacher is her ability to establish a relationship with each of her students. Without inappropriately sharing any personal information, Carrie told me about her relationship with one student, that illustrates this well. According to Carrie, this was a student who “came in naughty” and that this seemed to stem from some very negative circumstances in the student’s personal life. As a result of Carrie’s kind and caring attention (my words, not hers), this student learned to express himself about these circumstances in a productive way and this has led to significant positive changes that have made this student fit in well with his “classroom family.”

Based on what I’ve told you about Carrie so far, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her interests in the field of Education don’t stop at her classroom door. She is deeply concerned for our Education system. Her first concern is for colleagues who are “losing the joy of teaching”, as a result of current pressures on those working in Education. Beyond that, she shares the concerns of many of her colleagues that, in looking for ways to improve our Education system, the public and elected officials may be in a position where they “can’t see the forest for the trees” and as a result, in looking for ways to reduce expenditures, they may end up cutting “muscle” instead of “fat”. Frankly, this is the basis for a more politically-oriented article I plan to write but I know that Carrie agrees with me that the best approach to resolving the challenges faced by our Education system is to do so from the ground up, rather from the top down. In other words, the folks who are in the best position to know the needs of the elementary school where we work are the folks who work there, not folks who work in Washington D.C. or in Olympia, WA. With that said, if you are one of those top-down folks, I heartily recommend that you do all you can to seek out those like Carrie Newton, who can benefit you with the wealth of their “where the rubber meets the road” understanding.

In closing, I want to touch on the topic of whether or not a Kindergarten Teacher like Carrie Newton can “make a difference”. Just from watching Carrie with her students, as well as with her colleagues around our elementary school, you can tell that she isn’t among those who may be “losing the joy of teaching”, as a result of current pressures on those working in Education. However, it does seem that these present circumstances have led to Carrie questioning whether or not her enthusiastic work really makes a difference. I was pretty surprised by this. Another book I’ve read for its application to business philosophy is entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Although its primary focus was on how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, I always felt that it provided an implied endorsement of the difference Kindergarten Teachers do make. Maybe I was wrong or maybe, since that book came out in the late 1980s, that understanding has been diminished. Regardless, it’s a shame. I think that the enthusiastic work of an exceptionally good Kindergarten Teacher like Carrie Newton clearly makes a difference and one easy way for our Education system to be improved is for work of this nature to be acknowledged and encouraged. In the absence of this, I felt compelled to encourage Carrie through sharing that Miss Summerlot (my Kindergarten Teacher) and numerous others, including College Professors, are still making a difference in my life. The most significant example I offered was of Laura Fasig, who taught Kindergarten Sunday School for me and before me, for my Mother. Mrs. Fasig was my Grandmother’s age and her teaching still makes a difference in my life … in my mind’s eye, I can still clearly see the scene she created, with felt cut-outs, of Jesus’ encounter with Zacheus. Sixty years from now, when I’ve had the opportunity to say “Thank you!” to my Grandmother and to Laura Fasig for the positive difference they made in my life, a man who “came in naughty”, as a student in Carrie Newton’s Kindergarten class, will be treasuring the positive difference she made in his life and the way that life contributed to our community.

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Let’s Sit Together!

 Although I’ve been a Contributor for Red County for nearly 2 ½ years now, I’ve continued to imagine an idealized blog I think of as We The Purple … where posts are more aimed at building on the common ground between the Reds and the Blues. It’s sort of my American Dream. Frankly, I was pretty much ready to give up on anything about that dream becoming a reality, as I observed the sad spectacle of those using the recent tragedy in Tucson to disseminate hatred for their political opponents. Thankfully, with the passing of time, the balance of commentaries has shifted quite heavily towards more sanity and truth. Along with these more rational and edifying words, have come some worthwhile suggestions for concrete actions that can be taken to move our nation in the direction of my American Dream. One of these is the idea put forward by Colorado’s U.S. Senator (D) Mark Udall that, for the upcoming State of the Union speech, Democrats and Republicans sit together rather than dividing up by party. I think this could be an excellent first step in the right direction.

I realize some may say that Udall’s suggestion is nothing more than empty symbolism. Of course, it would be symbolic but I don’t see it as being empty. I can remember participating in a TweetChat group around the time the Tea Party started forming. During one session, one participant commented on “those across the aisle” and stated that he wanted to “destroy them”. My @Reply to him was to remind him that “those across the aisle” are our fellow Americans and that aiming to “destroy them” was not appropriate. Since following Udall’s suggestion would mean that Reds and Blues wouldn’t actually have an aisle between them, it should make it easier for them to see each other as fellow Americans.

Others may say that Udall’s suggestion seems like a typical Liberal reaction, looking for an opportunity for us all to hold hands and sing Cumbayah. I suppose some may have that sense in doing this but I see it as an action that can begin to effect positive differences in the way our elected Representatives work together. My views on this come from the practical experience of having run a network of office equipment Dealers for over a decade. One of the biggest advantages to using a Dealer network, as a channel of distribution, is that you have the opportunity to have your products and/or services represented by the strongest independent office equipment companies in their respective markets. One of the biggest challenges with this is that you’re working with the strongest independent office equipment companies in their respective markets … underline the word independent … and having them work together seamlessly with their fellow Dealers doesn’t come naturally. One of the best strategies for overcoming this challenge is to get the Dealers together regularly, giving them many opportunities to socialize. When you’ve had brunch with your neighboring Dealer at the Moana Surfrider and you’ve taken a picture of him and his Wife, as they shop along Kalakaua Boulevard, it becomes much more difficult to be stiff-necked with that guy the next time a Dealer Territory dispute arises. I see Udall’s “Let’s sit together!” suggestion as holding this same potential for our elected Representatives.

One aspect of Udall’s suggestion that makes it more likely to be a “Cumbayah moment of empty symbolism” is that it’s a suggestion for a one time event. To really effect positive differences in the way our elected Representatives work together, I suggest that this step should be applied in general and not just for the State of the Union speech. My thinking is that, if our Senators and Members of Congress regularly find themselves in circumstances where they’re less self conscious about expressing views that may conflict with the stance of the party they’ve chosen to align with, it’s more likely that they will succeed in expressing the views of those who they’ve been elected to represent. According to Carl Anderson’s new book, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media, “In dealing with many high profile issues, we have found consensus where conventional wisdom would have us believe it is most unlikely: on the issues of religion in public life, abortion, marriage, and the role of government, among others.” According to this, We The People are, in fact, We The Purple. If so, all the more reason for eliminating artificial barriers that prevent this productive environment from being a reality and instead, foster a counterproductive atmosphere.

Finally, I want to suggest that, if this step can be taken, that we not stop there. One question I haven’t addressed here is: Why have our Senators and Members of Congress been sitting separately, by party, for State of the Union speeches up to now? The answer is that it’s just been a custom. There is no requirement to do so. With that in mind, I think the time is right for us to take a close look at all the routines our elected officials follow that aren’t requirements. The goal in doing this, of course, would be to determine if these routines should be replaced with methods that are more effective for our elected officials in truly being our Representatives.


Let's Sit Together

Submitted by Craig Williams (not verified) on Sun, 2011-01-16 15:17.


+-Gary, I wholeheartedly agree with you! We are all citizens of the same great country and no matter what our political differences we are all due respect and civility.

Our state and country is in fiscal crisis, and fighting over deck chairs while the ship sinks is foolish.

- Craig Williams

Vancouver, WA

advocatus diaboli

Submitted by Michael Frome (not verified) on Sun, 2011-01-16 16:50.


+-Hi Gary, I'm going to not exactly disagree with you in spirit, but would like to add my observations as a neophyte in the political realm.

I have in the past (as I still do) been able to see and even articulate different sides of a policy argument, even when thinking about a policy in which I've decided my position...indeed, such thinking is needed to determine one's position.

Having said that, I see myself as a historically moderate independent who has been pushed with great force directly into the conservative camp. There are some aspects of conservative ideology that I quite frankly disagree with; however, in the face of a liberal agenda, relentlessly pursued, and which in my opinion has both the capacity and aim of destroying aspects of my freedom that I hold dear, I must choose a side and act upon that choice with vigor.

In short, my view is that the current liberal movement as embodied by the democrat party has an aim to unlawfully restrict my exercise of freedom, and the conservative movement embodied by the republicans...much less so.

In my experience, the greatest damage is done when these two groups actually are acting in concert, because it often represents an unholy compromise that yields principles to expediency.

Seating by State

Submitted by Jon Russell (not verified) on Sun, 2011-01-16 20:30.


+-I think they should be seated by State Delegation. The States they represent are more important than party politics.

Seating by State

Submitted by Gary Wiram on Mon, 2011-01-17 07:19.


+-Thanks for the suggestion, Jon. I very nearly included that suggestion in my article. However, I think this is a good idea for State legislatures too.

seating by delegation

Submitted by Michael Frome (not verified) on Mon, 2011-01-17 10:32.


+-I really like that idea!

It would serve as a reminder to our representatives (of both parties) that there exists within their constituency people of different opinions who are also entitled to be heard and whose concerns must be weighed.

Perhaps it would provide a better mechanism to demonstrate to them that they owe their allegiance and effort to all of their constituency, not only their base. Hard to say. Perhaps it would just make everybody really uncomfortable until someone had the gumption to propose changing the rules back to "party seating" would be an interesting experiment.

seating by state delegation

Submitted by Craig Williams (not verified) on Mon, 2011-01-17 17:03.


+-An excellent idea Jon!

- Craig

In memory of Judge Roll in particular

Submitted by David Knight (not verified) on Mon, 2011-01-17 18:52.


+-I would be more in disagreement. While I appreciate the need to keep a civil tongue, and avoid unfounded and personal accusations, there has been all too much R's and D's ganging up against the people. When politicians get along too well, all their friends get bailouts and the public gets the bill.

They are indeed a political class which walk around airport body scanners and exempt themselves from mandatory federal health plans. This is why there is a tea party. There is absolutely NO mandate for ANY more laws, especially in the realm of gun control for the little gal.

If they want to have a little friendly competition to see how many "oh so well intentioned but" repressive laws they can lift off our backs, that might be a good place to start. The FDA for instance, would make a fine consumer advisory panel - a place from which they can justify all those decisions made on our behalf - to all the other advisory organizations that will spring up to guide consumers in their quest for REAL health. They are one of the main reasons our health care system is a mess today.

Great and mighty organizations seek to mislead us - and as in the past - will stop at NOTHING to achieve their ends. In memory of the Assassinated Judge - who was a true constitutionalist and hero to our country - we could stand a bipartisan effort to return to the principles that made this nation great, the original intent of the constitution that we swear an oath to.

The enemy

Submitted by Edmundg (not verified) on Tue, 2011-01-18 01:39.


+-Horse manure! Now, I know that there is a huge push for civility in political discourse, but it is only in one direction---we conservatives must be civil, whilst the left has no such restrictions. Consider the "Daily Kos" printing a headline shortly after the Tucson shooting: "Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin!"

What many do not yet realize is that there are very few Democrats remaining in American politics. That party has been usurped by communists. Yes, yes, I realize that they prefer other names, such as liberal, progressive, social democrat, socialist, state capitalist, etc. But you can paint a jackass with zebra stripes all you want; it is still a jackass. These are communists and they are hell-bent upon overthrowing the greatest Republic ever. Therefore, they are the enemy!

What they are doing is illegal and unConstitutional, and I resent it.

Hahahahahaha, yup, you've got

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 2011-01-18 14:05.


+-Hahahahahaha, yup, you've got us Edmundg, we're communists, all of us. Because, as you well know there's a pretty straight line between "healthcare for poor people" and "lets overthrow the government and do only what the government tells us to". What's worse than that is that not only are we communists but we're actually attempting to destroy America. It's probably because we hate all of the good that America does, because as well as know communists are also all godless and actually are the creation of the devil to destroy mankind as we know it. It starts with protecting the poor, and who knows, after that maybe ensuring clean drinking water and then BLAMO, instant American destruction.

What's especially fiendish is that, in an age of 24-7 news coverage, we've managed to usurp an entire political party and have just lying in wait for when we can send out the secret communist signal to have all Democrats rise up and destroy the government from within. Why we didn't take over the Republican party, which would be far less obvious, is beyond me (especially since we got together as communists have been unable to do in the past and decided to take over a national political party at all levels). Oh well, what can you do...

I do hope you realize that I'm being fully facetious and am really just mocking the absurdity of your claim. I mean, at least disagree with me on issues in an intelligent manner like a rational person, but please try to stay away from the conspiracy-theory type broad-based personal attacks. They come across as rather, well, desperate.

I agree with the point of this post though, I think the idea of sitting together at the SOTU is a great idea.