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August 19, 2014 / jeffnward

Are boys failing in school or are schools failing our boys?

Back when my sons were in the throes of grammar school, my spirits used to soar this time of year. I’m sure it had something to do with those shorter days signaling the onset of yet another academic adventure. I still look back on those halcyon days with a wistful fondness.

But then, to my surprise (and dismay), about halfway through middle school, that feeling of exhilaration turned into something a lot more like cautious optimism. And now that we’re half way through high school, it’s become a general gnawing dread.

I’m sure a good part of that slowly sinking feeling is the result of an ever increasing school size, but I chalk more than half of it up to the fact that our sons are immediately behind the eight ball the second they walk through that school doorway.

So if I were granted a single solitary wish this school year, it would be that all of our teachers and administrators would finally recognize the leading role they’re playing in this country’s current war on boys.

My wife’s a teacher, so I clearly understand a plurality of parents readily abrogate their responsibility and then harbor utterly unrealistic educator expectations. But when it comes to the disciplinary arena, boys always bear the brunt of it.

According to Time Magazine, boys are almost five times more likely to be expelled from pre-school than girls and almost 70 percent of K through 12 suspensions, most as a consequence for your average age-appropriate act of defiance, are meted out to boys as well.

Please think about that. Expelled from preschool!  boys

And even though school shootings remain a rarity, it’s boys who almost exclusively run afoul of those ridiculous zero tolerance policies. To wit, a seven year-old Maryland boy was sent home for biting his pop tart into the shape of a gun.

Boys, whom epochs of hunter gatherer evolution have shaped to learn kinesthetically, suddenly have to board a crowded school bus and generally sit still. Then the bus drops them off at the building where, by virtue of their gender, they’re already suspects – and they have to sit still and be quiet for another six or seven hours.

It’s a lot like a prison sentence.

And most of ‘em can’t do it! So despite boys scoring better on those standardized achievement tests (especially among Caucasians), girls beat boys hands down on average GPA from elementary through high school (Business Insider). The reason for that disparity, of course, is that girls are perceived to be more disciplined and thus, they get a consistent benefit of the doubt.

So what do we do? We treat our boys as if they’re broken girls and drug them! According to author Michael Gurian, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and subsequently medicated which borders on the criminal. I firmly believe that 90 percent of ADHD cases are the result of lazy or overburdened school districts trying to rein in their most difficult pupils.

Gurian adds that boys are the recipients of the vast majority of D’s and F’s, they’re “responsible” for 90 percent of the discipline “problems,” they’re labeled with 75 percent of the learning disabilities, they make up 80 percent of high school dropouts, and in a recent turn of events, they account for only 45 percent of the college population.

So what’s the solution?

The first part of it is acknowledging that boys are systematically failing at an accelerating rate in school districts throughout the country. And whenever a phenomenon is that widespread, it’s time to start looking in the collective mirror.

Then, according to Educational Psychologist and consultant Lori Day, the rest is pretty easy; “Simple changes to the pace and tempo of the school day, such as incorporating several brief recesses throughout the day, devoting more time to physical education, and including more hands-on activities go a long way towards alleviating some of the natural restlessness of boys and harnessing male energy in positive ways.”

This means that none of this has to come at the expense of all the gains girls have made because we’re really talking about nothing more than an acknowledgement of the differences between boys and girls.

And the truth is, our primary and secondary school paradigms haven’t changed for over 200 years, and doing something the way we’ve always done it because that’s the way we’ve always done it, isn’t a good reason to keep on doing it.

To that end, I would encourage every teacher and administrator within the sound of my voice to read Richard Whitmire’s Why Boys Fail, and Gurian’s The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and in Life, because our jails are full enough already.

August 18, 2014 / jeffnward

Where’s the Tea Party?

In my ceaseless quest to provoke any Tea Partier into proving that racism isn’t the only thing that gets them out of the bed in the morning, I’ve tried to get those tax-o-phobic folks to explain why they won’t go after the local bodies responsible for taking the biggest bite out of their bank account.

But you’ve never seen a Tea Partier protest a school board meeting, now have you?.

Then I asked that conservative crowd to describe just why they gave the previous Metra Board a pass. Because if big government corruption is the real problem, then it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

But you’ve never seen a Tea Partier sitting in on a Metra meeting.

Not one to take stunned silence for an answer, then I challenged the Tea Party to take on the scourge of corporate welfare. That $100 billion in government largesse utterly dwarfs the paltry $60 billion taxpayers contribute to social welfare programs.

But I’m still waiting for the Tea Party to make the first move.

Since I certainly appear to be a glutton for punishment, I’m gonna make one more attempt to get my favorite reactionary rightwing folk to explain yet another vast inconsistency that dominates their philosophical ranks.

Because when you consider that the Tea Party movement was largely fueled by the rise of militia groups who continue to rail against the black helicopters of the impending One World Government, one has to wonder how they’ve completely missed the militarization of the American police.

Thankfully, those sinister choppers are only a figment of some rather fertile imaginations, but as Ferguson, Missouri has clearly shown, local police forces acting as an occupying army are far from fiction.

swat

Not only has the Tea Party been silent on this most clear and present threat to our personal freedoms, but they’re actually applauding this use of force. Of course, the fact that two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are black might have something to do with their unyielding police support.

Primarily as a result of the futile war on drugs and accelerated by the events of 9/11, the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security have “gifted” $4.2 billion worth of military hardware to domestic police forces since 1995. The list includes, (but is not nearly limited to):

  • Military grade helicopters
  • MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles)
  • Tanks (Yes! An Arizona police force acquired a tank!)
  • Drones
  • Tactical armored vests
  • Bayonets
  • M16 assault rifles
  • Light machine guns

And a great deal of that equipment is going to small town police forces like West Lafayette, Indiana where violent crime is virtually non-existent. But that didn’t stop ‘em from picking up their very own MRAP!

The real problem is, any time you provide any group with these kinds of “toys,” it creates an inherent propensity to want to use them. According to the Wall Street Journal, there were just 3,000 nationwide SWAT raids in 1980. By 2005, there were over 50,000 of them.

In 2010, the New Haven, Connecticut police sent their SWAT team to raid a bar in answer to an underage drinking tip. A Baltimore SWAT team raided a VFW poker game. But the best one has gotta be this! A bunch of Iowa SWAT boys, in full regalia, were dispatched to apprehend a group of Tibetan monks who’d overstayed their visas.

This is not an indictment of the average police department as much as it is of the idiots who would freely provide this kind of equipment. Great police chiefs like Elgin, Illinois’ Jeff Swoboda have repeatedly declared their aversion to being perceived as an occupying force, but as it is with any profession, the lousy and mediocre always outnumber the cream of the crop.

While you can certainly change doctors if you’re unhappy with your current treatment, it ain’t quite as easy to change police departments.

Ah! But if anyone could make that kind of impact, it’s those overly vociferous folks of the Tea Party ilk. But while they will regularly accuse the IRS and President of harboring tyrannical tendencies, at a time when our precious personal freedoms really are teetering on the brink of a steep precipice, the silence is suddenly deafening.

What tea partiers will be all too happy to tell you is that their dissatisfaction and perpetual discontent with the state of this country has nothing to do with the fact the President is black.

Yeah right!

August 15, 2014 / jeffnward

At least we still have baseball

As the season starts to slip away at an ever increasing pace, the one place I can still find some summer solace is afternoons and evenings on WGN TV. So what if the Cubs are the fourth worst team in baseball? Much like life’s destination is actually the journey itself, the only thing that really matters is that they play the game.

Of course a win is always nice, but not playing baseball at all would be far worse.

Football is alright, but having to watch those genetic freaks hurl themselves at each other at absurd speeds seems silly. Hockey? It’s nothing more than visual caffeine. Basketball is yet another sport where the athletes have long surpassed the game and even though I’ve come to love soccer, I can’t quite get used to the “playing not to lose” mindset.

Those Europeans are a special brand of crazy.

cubs

Ah! But baseball is so much more than a game – it’s a shining metaphor for all the vagaries this life so eagerly throws at all of us. Think about it! Sometimes you strike out and sometimes you go yard!

You see, while it’s important to field a decent team if you really want to get anywhere, the game ultimately comes down to a confrontation between two players with diametrically opposing goals. The pitcher wants to get another out and the batter wants to get on base. Nothing else matters until that basic issue is resolved.

Some things are cut and dried. If you amass three separate strikes, you’re heading back to the dugout. Four balls, and first base beckons. Bill Veeck put it perfectly when he said, “If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

Then there are the times when almost anything can happen.

In those aforementioned other sports, whenever a participant comes into possession of the puck or ball, they can either pass or move forward. There’s not a lot of mystery.

But the folks who came up with baseball applied their unique wisdom in a fascinating effort to put the ball squarely in the hands of the defense. So when a batter comes up with a runner on base, the possibilities are almost infinite.

The batter can attempt a sacrifice bunt, he can swing away, he can look for a walk, he can drive a high pitch deep for a sacrifice fly, or he might get the sign for a hit and run.

In anticipation of the runner trying to take second, the catcher might call a pitchout. The pitcher might try to catch the runner napping at first, the outfield might play in with a man on third, or the infield might shift in the face of a consistent pull hitter.

Just like life, there are over 11 million possible plays in just one baseball game.

But despite those myriad of possibilities, the game moves at the kind of leisurely pace that soothes the soul. Unlike football, it doesn’t come at you like a downhill runaway semi, it simply unfolds before you.

And this game is played by real people. Football players are generally the result of a science fiction experiment gone awry, you have to be Canadian to play hockey, and basketball players look like they’ve been stretched at the event horizon of a black hole.

In baseball, you can be short, fat and slow and still excel as long as you can fling or whack that three inch white spheroid. What other sport allows superstars to fail 7 out of 10 times?

But the best thing about our national pastime is there are no time constraints. As long as you keep getting on base, the game goes on. No court in the land can take those three outs away from you.

Like life, baseball produces its share of heroes and goats, phenoms and flops, and often sends its adherents from paroxysms of hope right down to the depths of despair in a span of just nine innings. But fear not dear readers, redemption is only as far away as the next pitch.

“Casey at the Bat” isn’t a poem, it’s a psalm!

When you really think about it, there are very few things you can count on in this ephemeral existence, but rest assured that, tonight at 6 p.m., the TV will be tuned to Channel 9 and I will be sitting back in my most comfortable chair to watch the boys of summer engage in a game that was clearly handed down from the gods.

It doesn’t get much better that.

August 14, 2014 / jeffnward

This is the August 14 edition of Left, Right and You

Larry and I want to thank Illinois 50th District Democratic State Rep candidate Valerie Burd for dropping by the studio and fielding our fascinating questions. What I really liked about this interview was Valerie offered some real solutions to the perils facing our state instead of simply spouting platitudes.

burd2

Replacing the educational portion of property taxes with a graduated income tax is a great idea. It would be difficult to make it fly in Springfield, but ya gotta start somewhere.

And please don’t forget the August 28 fundraiser for retired Elgin Police Sergeant Tom Lindner at Danny’s on Douglas from 5 to 7 p.m. It’s just 20 bucks for pizza and soft drinks and a really good cause.

Nest week, Jeff Meyer will sit in for the vacationing Larry and Tribune reporter Rick Pearson will join us to talk about the gubernatorial race. See you then!

August 14, 2014 / jeffnward

Before you cast the first stone…

As I made those morning facebook rounds, aside from my Louisiana friends who cannot be convinced I’m not an Istrouma High School graduate, the general topic of the day was Ferguson, Missouri. If you are unaware of the current racial unrest there, I would encourage you to give Google your best shot.

And while I’m certainly not sayin’ there was a holier than thou gestalt to the posts decrying the ongoing actions of the Ferguson Police, I will say there was a slightly superior sense of this kind of thing being relegated to a redneck state like Missouri.

ferguson

Maybe what we’re really talking about is a matter of degree here – at least Kane County police officers aren’t gunning down unarmed minorities in the street. But before you start believing those regular Fox News reports proclaiming the death of American racism, you might want to consider this.

And yes! I’m gonna pick on the Tri-Cities again because I have far more first hand experience in that area, they have a statistically significant population, and they’re about as white as it gets.

Moving on!

Using the 2013 Illinois Traffic Stop Study and the 2010 census data, the good news is the St. Charles PD pulls over minorities at a rate perfectly proportionate to their population – about 15 percent.

The Batavia and Geneva police departments? They both stop minorities twice as often as you’d expect. But that doesn’t look as bad as it should because, by whatever formula the study uses, it allows all Kane County cities (except Aurora and Elgin) to claim a 36 percent minority driving population.

Now, I don’t know about you, but by sheer unscientific observation, I can tell you with calm certainty that one out of every three Randall Road drivers ain’t black or Hispanic – and that’s a main artery. It’s a lot more along the lines of 1 in 20. So clearly, the rest of the county’s getting the Aurora/Elgin benefit of the doubt.

But the rubber really hits the road when you compare who gets more citations.

Though they’re better than the other two, this is where St. Charles falls off the impartiality wagon. A minority motorist stopped there stands a 42 percent greater chance of driving away with a ticket. Those odds improve to 55 percent in Batavia, and Geneva writes up Hispanic and Black drivers more than twice as often as Caucasians.

So it should come as no surprise that, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of receiving an invitation to the Tri-Cities court call in the Circuit Clerk’s building, 40 to 50 percent of the attendees are minorities.

And I’ve seen you white folks drive!

The real irony is that Elgin’s, and especially Aurora’s, numbers are much more in line with what you’d expect.

Then there’s personal experience.

It’s rare to see anyone pulled over on the sidewalks or side streets of our Geneva subdivision, but when it does happen, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s bound to be a minority. And that means someone had to call it in.

We do get our share of overly-aggressive door-to-door salespeople, but I’ve also heard some interesting comments about the minority folks who are courteous and respectful.

Some of my neighbors have also found an interesting use for sidewalk chalk! To be fair, it all started with some anti-semitic ramblings, so apparently some of ‘em take issue with the wrong kind of white folks too. But last summer they moved on to musings of a more racial nature which I will not repeat here.

But this one is my absolute favorite.

Having parked across the street from the Geneva Post Office, I noticed a rather confused looking young African-American gentleman. Perhaps this is my own version of racism, but since you don’t see too many black people wandering down Third Street, I quickly surmised he was at the wrong courthouse.

Given my eminently shy nature and the fact that Genevans don’t truly appreciate wandering minorities, I asked if I could help. He said the taxi driver dropped him off at the Kane County Courthouse, but this didn’t seem to be the building.

I explained this was the civil court and the one he wanted was a bit further west. Dismayed, he asked about any busses and while theorizing there must be some Route 38 route, I realized my convoluted explanation would take far longer than simply driving him out there.

Now, I am not a person of any great virtue – just ask my wife (and some of my readers) – but, as the young man got into my car, I will never forget the horrified looks on the faces of the people who’d paused to eavesdrop.

So before we consign all those heinous racist tendencies to Ferguson, perhaps we can use this opportunity to consider our own evolution and whether we’ve really come as far in this regard as we think we have.

It would be the Christian thing to do.

August 13, 2014 / jeffnward

Politically, Kane County’s actually got it pretty good!

Maybe it’s the inherent bell curve nature of this existence, but it seems like, within every body of local elected officials, there’s always one who’s willing to take the whole thing off the rails. And much like Chaos Theory, it applies to every political level from those lowly library boards right on up to county offices.

And we pay more attention to those folks because they’re kind of entertaining and it reinforces our preconditioned belief that all politicians have descended from a lower life form. The problem is, then we tend to ignore those who simply do their job.

For an all too obvious reason, this is especially true of Kane County right now. But if you take the time to peer past the obvious, you’ll quickly realize just how good we have it out here.

So excluding the Chairman’s office, which is an entirely different beast, let’s take a closer look at our county-wide elected officials:

1. The Sheriff

It’s difficult to get Kane County Democrats to come to a consensus and, historically, it’s even harder to get the Republicans to see eye to eye. But the one thing both sides readily agree upon is that they love the Sheriff.

Sadly, his tenure is about to end, but during the past eight years Pat Perez took the most difficult county office, returned it to a firm footing, and set it up for smoother sailing for years to come.

He’s proven to be more fiscally conservative than many Republicans and, to accomplish that goal, he had to gain the respect of three separate unions at a time when the economy made salary negotiations far more treacherous.

Perez has never played favorites, nor has he used his office to punish his enemies. No matter what the initiative, he always moves forward with the best interest of the Sheriff’s office and his constituents in mind.

The bottom line here is, whenever Republicans and Democrats manage to agree on anything, it’s certainly worth noting.

2. The State’s Attorney

As Joe McMahon likes to say, this is the job he was meant to do and it shows.

Holding a group of generally underpaid and overworked prosecutors together is never an easy task. Then you have to consistently consider that, not only are you responsible for enforcing those county statutes, but you’re also the attorney for each and every elected official. And they’re not always the most rational people on the planet.

Then, to consistently display a level of calm certitude when one simple case of human error can make a life or death difference, is something very few politicians manage to pull off.

But what I like best about our State’s Attorney is that he clearly believes in the always imminent possibility of redemption. At a time when it’s politically expedient to take a “throw away the key attitude,” whether it’s drug court or a student sexting issue, he and his staff never forget that they’re dealing with frail human beings.

There’s a good reason Joe McMahon never has a primary election opponent.

3. The Circuit Clerk

Tom Hartwell is yet another example of a politician who set his sights on solely serving the public. He came into an office with its own set of challenges and he’s done nothing more than silently go about setting that ship straight.

He came in $1.1 million under budget this year, he’s become an integral part of the success of the new court data system, and he navigates that potential citizen – state’s attorney – judiciary minefield with a great deal of skill and tact.

Much like our two previous contenders, I can’t think of a better person to fill these shoes than Tom.

4. The Treasurer

When was the last time you heard anything about Dave Rickert? Considering the press’s propensity to print only the negative, that’s a really good sign.

And let me tell ya, taking a property tax check right out of a citizen’s right hand is no walk in the park. The Treasurer’s office can’t afford to make a simple mathematical mistake either, because then they will write about you!

Rickert always stays above the political fray and simply does a good job.

5. The Chief Judge

Or as I like to call her, the good Judge Judy. I realize this is not an elected position, but it’s important to note that the efforts of a good chief judge can have far ranging results.

Whether it’s coming to the budgetary rescue like last year, coming up with a Kane County foreclosure mediation program, or simply staying a step ahead of those potential pitfalls, Judge Brawka does an excellent job.

Just like the State’s Attorney, the Judge is another example of a public official who, despite wielding a great deal of power, understands the notion of balance. She knows that the folks winding their way through the court system generally got there out of some sense of desperation.

6. The County Clerk

Running one election in a county the size of Kane is a daunting proposition. But when you consider those ever evolving election statutes, doing it year after year without any serious issues takes real foresight and skill.

And Kane County’s model early voting program makes casting a ballot easier than it’s ever been.

Jack Cunningham consistently comes in with the lowest per capita budget of all the collar county clerks, he insists that anyone who enters the Clerk’s office be treated with respect, and he hosts a monthly elected officials’ luncheon that keeps everybody talking.

Now, I’m not purposely giving Auditor Terry Hunt or Recorder Sandy Wegman the short shrift here, but we’ve already gone a little long and, suffice it to say, they’ve both proven to be exemplary public servants as well.

Again, if you don’t hear anything about them…

So while it’s fashionable to pile on politicians and we tend to focus on those who actually do deserve our scorn, it’s equally important to note that, politically, we actually have it pretty good out here in Kane County.

August 13, 2014 / jeffnward

Left, Right and You is coming up!

So here’s the August 14th promo!

Since one of our long-time listeners challenged Larry and me to have more women on the show we’re gonna do just that! This week former Yorkville mayor and Democratic Illinois 50th District State Rep. nominee Valerie Burd will join us in the studio.

burd

We’ll discuss her impending race against Keith Wheeler and whether a Democrat really has a shot in that heavily Republican district.

That’s this Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. on WRMN AM1410.

Larry and I would also like to welcome the law firm Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer, P.C. as our latest Left, Right and You sponsor. Ancel Glink’s areas of practice include local government, litigation, labor and employment, land use and elections. We certainly appreciate their support.

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