Friday, April 27, 2012

Ten states where my sons should not live, ever

By Bob Gaydos  
   I ran into an old newspaper colleague at the Times Herald-Record offices the other day and in the process of catching up and complaining that I didn’t know what to write about for my blog this week, he asked if I was the one who had written an editorial for the Record (they’re anonymous) about some congressman claiming there are about 80 Democrats in Congress who were members of the Communist Party. “The nut job from Florida,” he said.
I was, I admitted, proudly. He shook his head and said something to the effect of, “Where do they find these guys?”
Where indeed, I agreed. “But more to the point,” I heard myself say, “who are the people who keep voting for them? I mean, really, would you want to live in a place where people put a guy like that in office? It’s one of the things I try to get across to my sons -- you get to choose your own career paths, but please, you don’t want to live in places where they keep electing morons.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a column,” the newspaper guy says.
And so I do.
Brief intro: Max is 20 and currently studying art at SUNY Purchase. Zack is 17 and will attend (no declared major) Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., in the fall. They are both bright and, due to environmental influences, liberally inclined politically and accepting of people of all types -- except, bless their hearts, morons in politics.
So yes, if nothing else I tell them sinks in, I figured at least I can warn them off living in some states later on, unless they never want to see me or their mother ever again.
This is not, by any means a scientific effort. Rather, it’s an off-the-top-of-my-head-with-a-dollop-of-research compiled list of states where you (Max and Zack, that is) don’t ever want to live. The primary criteria for making the list are: Rampant racism, anti-intellectualism, bigotry, intolerance, religious fanaticism, and electing morons to office over and over again. (If anyone who reads this is from any of these states and doesn’t see it, well, that’s your right. Just add denial to the list.)
These are going to have to be in no particular order mainly because I couldn’t decide which was worst among Texas, Arizona and Mississippi.
Let’s start with Arizona since it starts with an A. Arizona has devolved to such an extent that Sen. Barry Goldwater, darling of the John Birch Society, who was famously demonized by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election (“Goldwater in ‘64, Cold Water in ‘65, Bread and Water in ‘66”), would have trouble getting support from the angry white conservatives who run the state today. Gov. Jan Brewer, who recently went toe-to-toe with President Obama on the airport tarmac, signed into law the most repressive, intolerant immigration law in the country.
The state’s current senators are Jon Kyl, whose only job as minority whip is to whip up votes to oppose anything whatsoever proposed by Obama, and John McCain, who used to have a spine and principles until he decided to run for president and needed the support of the Republican right wing. And he gave us Sarah Palin.
Also, Arizona is brutally hot, there’s no water and there’s a bunch of men with guns driving around patrolling the border with Mexico and they’re not cops (photo above).
  OK, Texas. I could stop with George W. Bush and Rick Perry as back-to-back governors. OMG, Texas. But there’s more. Texans are loudly proud of a board of education that never heard of scientific research and a penal system that likes to keep the line moving on Death Row. Toss in religious fanatics, Tom Delay and a hostility to anything not Texan and no amount of Tex-Mex cuisine is enough to want to live there. Plus, outside a few big cities, it’s miles and miles of miles and miles. It’s no country for young men either.
As for Mississippi, what can you say about a state that perennially  ranks at the bottom of lists of states whose residents have a high school diploma, whose children are read to daily, who visit the dentist regularly, and who have a livable family income. Then there’s the racism, the anti-gay atmosphere and lack of concern with proper nutrition. Haley Barbour stepped down as governor in January, but not before granting full pardons to 193 inmates, including five convicted murders. His successor, Phil Bryant, on Wednesday said of Democrats in his state: “Their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.” He said it after signing a bill to close down the state’s last remaining clinic that performs abortions.
Alright, this is getting depressing and that was not my goal. Let’s add South Carolina, which gave us the Civil War and, to prove things move slowly in the south, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, anti-Obama at all costs Sen. Jim DeMint, immigrant-bashing Sen. Lindsay Graham and former Gov. Mark Sanford, who told his wife and the world he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was getting his exercise with his mistress in Brazil. You might get away with that in New York, but considering South Carolina’s arch-conservative approach to religion, family, etc. that qualifies as rank hypocrisy. Plus they still like to fly that Confederate Flag.
I’m going to wrap it up because this now looks like it could go on forever and I‘m beginning to feel intolerant. Other states to avoid, boys:
  Alabama: See Mississippi.
  Oklahoma, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky: Lots of intolerant religious folk who carry guns, and don’t like blacks or gays. Or even women sometimes.
  Alaska: Texas with snow. Plus, they elected Sarah Palin.
OK, that’s ten, a nice number for headline writers. But I gotta warn you, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, I’ve got my eye on you, too.
(And thanks, Paul Brooks, for inspiring this column.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why not teach to the list?

By Bob Gaydos
Memo from: New York City Dept. of Education
To: Makers of standardized tests to be used in the New York City public school system:
“There should be no mention of dinosaurs in the tests. No birthdays either. No Christmas, Halloween or Ramadan questions. No mention of divorce, disease or death. Politics and religion should be avoided. Also violence, poverty, junk food and homes with computers or swimming pools. Come to think of it, let’s also leave out television and video games, war and homelessness. Also rock and roll. In fact, we’ve provided a comprehensive list of words and subjects to be avoided in standardized tests because we don’t want the kids who grow up in the largest city in the country to feel uncomfortable or unpleasant while taking the tests.”
Relax. While that memo -- or some version of it -- may have been sent to providers of standardized tests, the list of banned words did not became policy in New York City. Yet.
The story, which broke a few weeks back, fortunately, had a short shelf life. After a couple of days of incredulous headlines, the city education officials responsible for putting together a list of suggested words to be banned relented and decided to let the test writers do their job.
That job, by the way, routinely involves avoiding words or subjects because of possibly justifiable geographical or cultural differences or wholly arbitrary decisions to avoid offending some group. And we wonder why American kids test so poorly when compared to those in other countries. Our tests may be standardized, but they omit a good deal of the actual lives our kids lead.
New York City’s list made headlines because it was long and, well, stupid. (It’s at the bottom of this column, so you can make you own judgment.) NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the intent was merely to give guidance to the test developers. “So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct;” he said. “This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests.”
Good lord, many of them are already wary of including anything on dinosaurs (which kids love) on the tests because that would suggest that evolution is indeed a fact. Can’t have that in Tennessee. Halloween (and other topics that suggest the occult or witchcraft) is also routinely avoided, even though it is the second biggest holiday in the country after Christmas. Which is also verboten. And, of course, any mention of birthdays is off limits in many places because Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate them.
Maybe not, but they do know that other people do. And it’s not as if Christmas or Halloween are underground holidays, whatever one’s religious beliefs.
Rich? Poor? Married? Divorced? Healthy? Sick? Are these not universal topics? How are slavery and terrorism part of this nation’s history but not fit topics for a standardized test?
Children today are exposed to all of life on a daily basis as never before through TV and the Internet. It could be argued that kids who grow up in New York City are even more exposed to all of life because of the vastness and diversity of the city -- things city officials like to brag about. So why hold that against the kids?
No, you don’t have to go out of your way to make kids feel uncomfortable with topics such as sexual abuse, bullying, addiction, suicide or even natural disasters. The people who create the tests should be skilled enough to know what those words or topics are. But they shouldn’t be pressured to go beyond common sense to try to make their tests so innocent of life as to avoid offending any possible group.
Children learn to make judgments and distinctions as they grow up. They meet new people and hear new ideas all the time. Learning to assimilate those ideas into their lives and to adjust to a world in which they exist is a major part of maturing. We could use more of it in America.
People die. They get divorced. Countries fight wars. Celebrities do stupid things. Politicians, too. There are people for whom poverty and hunger are primary concerns every day. Others vacation in Aruba. Children don’t need to be shielded from the “uncomfortable” facts of life. Instead, they need to be taught about them and how to deal with them in proper settings.
Chancellor Walcott should take that now-abandoned list and try to figure out how to incorporate lessons on each topic at the appropriate place in the city schools’ curriculum. Then he can test the kids on it.
* * *

Here’s the list:
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Bodily functions
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
Junk food
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Nuclear weapons
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Rap Music
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.
* * *
What do you think?