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Wide White: May 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

They're not going to let him graduate

Here's the story the weekly Rhinelander newspaper ran on my brother's fight with the school board. They decided to let him satisfy the requirement through an independent project-based curriculum.

Just yesterday, he found out that the psychology teacher decided the work he'd done to satisfy his assignments still wasn't good enough. He got an email just after 10:00 telling him that, though he didn't see the email until later. My mom also got a voicemail at around 12:30 telling her to call the school back regarding the issue. The principal finally called her back later in the afternoon and told her that since the teacher decided he hadn't satisfied the requirements and he needed to satisfy them by noon yesterday, he couldn't graduate.

So, as it stands now, he's not walking with his class on Saturday. He could still satisfy the requirements by the middle of June and get a diploma, but he's disgusted enough with the school district that he's planning on opting to get his HSED instead.

He's the class president and was chosen to give a speech during the graduation ceremony. I'm not sure how that's going to play out now.

For those interested in reading it here (in case it's not available on the newspaper's website), here's the story. I wouldn't be surprised if there will be a follow-up story to this.

5/18/2007 11:17:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article
RHS senior was ready to choose beliefs over graduation

By Craig Mandli
Associate editor

Chet White is, by every definition, the All-American boy. He's a three-sport athlete, is involved with numerous volunteer organizations and serves as the president of his class. He's also ranked in the top 10 in his class academically.

Still, up until recently, Chet wasn't going to graduate.

Chet and his family are members of Northwoods Baptist Church. They consider themselves, according to Chet's mother, Cindy, Baptist Christians. It's because of this affiliation that the White family opposed Chet enrolling in a psychology or sociology course, one of which is required to graduate from Rhinelander High School.

"The teachings of the Baptist religion and the Bible encourage a different way of thinking than what's taught in these courses," said Cindy. "It's not so much that we disagree with the subject matter being taught, but rather that it doesn't leave its conclusions open to interpretation. The conclusions we've learned and believe through our church are much different than the conclusions taught in the text book."

Chet has easily accrued enough credits to graduate. According to information provided by Rhinelander High School Principal Mike Werbowsky, the school requires 27 credits for graduation, 13.5 of which are required by the state of Wisconsin. Chet has more than 30 credits; yet, because none of those credits were earned in a psychology or sociology course, Chet was informed in early March that he wouldn't be graduating with his class.

"It was a shock," said Chet. "In the past, the school board either waived the course or provided an alternative form of education to fulfill the requirements. I guess they were putting their foot down in my case."

According to Cindy, the board granted waivers in the past because of a discrepancy in the wording of the official school curriculum. "The curriculum used to state that if a student had beliefs that differ from what is offered in the course, an alternative would be found," she said. "They've changed it to say that if the student has a problem with the subject matter of one part of the course, they can be exempt, but they still need to complete the rest of the course. Our family disagrees with all of the sociology course, and too much of the psychology subject matter is controversial to us."

Still, many of Chet's peers don't understand his problems with the classes. "They ask, 'Why don't you just take the class and tough it out?'" he said. "They don't understand that it's not that simple for me. I'm going to disagree all the time with what's taught in these classes, even with the ideas that aren't open to interpretation. I morally couldn't sit there and learn those ideas."

Chet went before the board of education in April to plead his case, but was unable to sway the board voters.

"Almost every board member told me that they felt bad for me, and that they appreciated everything I've done at the school, but they wouldn't reverse the decision," he said. "It was a frustrating time. I've never been the type to feel entitled, but after four years of school and trying my best, I felt I deserved to graduate with my class. It felt like a slap in the face."

According to Cindy, one board member in particular stood by the idea that sociology or psychology was not only a school graduation requirement, but also was required by the state. However, citing budget cutbacks, the state dropped that requirement in 2002.

"It irked me that board member who is making curriculum decisions didn't even know that this requirement hasn't been on the state books for five years," she said. "When I showed her the proof, her jaw dropped."

Despite the dead end with the school board, Cindy and Chet met with high school guidance counselor Mike Mack in early May, and together they laid out an independent study, project-based psychology curriculum. With Mack's backing, Chet brought the idea before the school board's curriculum committee last week. To his surprise, the committee approved it.

"I don't know what happened between the time they told me I couldn't do an independent study course and the time they approved it," he said. "I'd like to think that some of my arguments hit home. The course still needs to be approved by the full council, and I still need to pass it, but it feels good to have progress."

If the plan hadn't been accepted, Chet was ready to take an exam at Nicolet College to receive a general equivalency diploma. "It's not something I wanted to do, but things still would have worked out," he said. "It would have hurt not being able to graduate with my classmates." Of Chet's three older siblings, two were at least partially home schooled, and hold equivalency diplomas. Both have gone on to college.

While school superintendent Roger Erdahl pointed out that he can't legally comment on the situation of a particular student, he did say that every school in the state has graduation requirements that differ in some way.

"The state requires certain courses, but after that, it's up to the individual school board," said Erdahl. "The way our curriculum is set up, there are only a few required 7th grade courses that can be waived, and that's because of high test scores."

While Erdahl believes that it's important that schools remain strict on graduation requirements, it's also necessary to maintain a level of flexibility.

"We deal with situations all the time, especially with transfer students, where we need to adapt the system a little bit," he said. "Independent study courses are one option. The school's goal is to see that the students graduate."

Erdahl explained that if graduation requirements were easily manipulated, it could lead to problems.

"I'm sure there are a lot of subjects touched on in school that not everyone agrees with, but the school board's goal is to provide a well-rounded education," he said. "That's why it's important to have flexibility in place, but also to stand firm."

For Chet to graduate, he'll have to complete projects based on learning, memory, personality, abnormal psychology and social psychology. Two projects will deal with his reasoning explaining the shootings at Virginia Tech University and his ideas for overcoming racism. "I'm sure I'll disagree with a lot of what I read, but at least I'll be able to incorporate what I learn and what I believe into these projects," he said. "It's a lot of work, but it's something I'm looking forward to."

If Chet completes the pass/fail course, he'll graduate. However, he isn't done advocating for a change before the school board.

"I have six little brothers and sisters who are going to face the same situation I'm in," he said. "I owe it to them to work for this change. I don't think it's fair that these subjective courses are required."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More anti-French fodder

Not that I was looking for it, but it just seems to pop up all over the place.

French workers biggest whiners, Irish happiest: study

Mon May 14, 10:31 AM ET

LONDON (AFP) - French workers are the world's biggest whiners, according to a study published Monday which said the Irish complain least about their lot.
Of course, you have to consider the fact that this study was done by the British, who notoriously hate the French.

Additionally, the U.S. placed fourth.

I also found this pretty sad:
"It is interesting to note that after France, Britain and Sweden, the world's biggest workplace whingers are Americans, despite their having by far the highest levels of income," said FDS chief Charlotte Cornish.

"Compare them to Thai workers: while real levels of income are more than eight times higher in the States, more workers in the US feel their pay is a problem than in Thailand," she added.
When others are making more, people just don't seem to be happy with what they've got.

(I still like the headline!)

Monday, May 14, 2007

A tax hike I can support

Twin Cities highways are in disarray. Anyone who's tried to do battle with the crosstown (I-35E/MN-62) or the I-94 corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul, not to mention various slowdowns on I-494 through Bloomington, knows that there are two words that best describe driving Twin Cities freeways: slow, bumpy.

My wife works 8 miles away. It takes her at least 25 minutes to get there - and that's on a good day. My old 16-mile commute took 45 minutes each way.

There are two solutions to this problem.

1. Redesign the freeways. This is being done at a few intersections and is badly needed. The cloverleaf ramps that dominate the area's freeway landscape are outdated and extremely sluggish. Spaghetti Junction in St. Paul is a daily nightmare. There are major improvements that need to be made.

2. Expand public transportation. I took the bus from Oakdale to Minneapolis, which still took at least 30 minutes, not to mention my 7-minute drive to the bus stop. It was bumpy and inconsistent, with bus times varying widely compared with what the schedule predicted and one bus even breaking down. I now take the light rail, which - I know a number of conservatives will hate me for this - is GREAT!! I love the regularity and smoothness of the light rail. It runs every 6-7 minutes and is standing room only by the time we get downtown.

Both of these projects require dollars. Those dollars don't just come from anywhere. I'm a big believer that our government should expand user fees and reduce general taxes such as the income tax or property tax. The Minnesota state legislature just passed a package that promises to provide the necessary funding for these projects.

Call me crazy, but there are a few tax and fee increases in this package that I actually support. I'd like to see them off-set with cuts in property and income taxes, but that's unlikely. Still, I think that we need the improvements, and I think this Democratic plan makes more sense than Governor Pawlenty's.

I've bolded the portions of the bill in this story with which I agree. Those portions with which I disagree are in italics.
The Minnesota House today passed a transportation spending package containing a controversial nickel-a-gallon gas-tax increase.

After a two-hour debate, the House voted 90-43, sending the package on to the Senate for an expected endorsement later today. The vote was what will be needed to help override an expected veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said he opposes any bill containing a gas-tax increase.

The legislative package, reached by a conference committee last week, would raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for roads, bridges, and transit. Supporters of increased roads spending say more than $1 billion a year is needed to upgrade road conditions, make them safer, reduce congestion, and help maintain the state's business climate.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites led the call for more spending.

"We have needs now," said Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove. "Not in a few years. We need this money now."

"This is a good bill," said Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, the chief sponsor of the House bill.

The bill was opposed largely by Republicans.

"We want a bill that will be signed into law," said the House minority leader, Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall. "This bill will not be signed into law, members."

But not all Republicans were in the camp.

"If you are worried about it being too expensive, it's not even enough," said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.

In addition to the gas-tax increase, the bill would authorize the state to borrow $1.5 billion over a 10-year period, with the debt repaid from a gas-tax surcharge of up to 2.5 cents a gallon. The nickel-a-gallon gas-tax increase would raise $145 million a year.

The 5-cent-a-gallon gas-tax increase would go into effect Sept. 1. The gas tax has been at 20 cents a gallon since 1988.

The bill also would give metropolitan-area counties authority to impose a half-cent sales tax and funnel that money to local transportation and transit projects. Rural counties could do that if they get voter approval.

In addition, it removes $189 and $99 caps on motor-vehicle license-renewal fees in place since the Gov. Jesse Ventura administration.

Initially, those proposals would raise more than $500 million a year and increase to more than $800 million by 2011.

Pawlenty already has vetoed four budget bills, and has promised to veto this one. His transportation proposal relies on a $1.7 billion borrowing package over the next decade.
Do I hate the idea of increased fees and taxes? Of course. Who likes paying more money? But money doesn't come out of thin air. There are times when a tax/fee hike is necessary, and I believe now is one of those times.

Two things with which I disagree: a.)Authorization of metropolitan county tax hikes without voter consent and b.) borrowing money. I don't think the state should ever borrow money. Debt is a horrible thing for enough individuals; it's reckless for the state to join the club. And I don't like my county taxes being raised under the authorization of the state.

If you're still reading, I'm not sure why. This is probably a pretty boring topic to most of you and I don't have that many readers. Willy-nilly. Just checking to see if you're paying attention.

Okay, for those of you who did read the whole thing, I'm ready to hear about how I'm a turncoat and how awful it is that I'd suggest that DFL leaders are right. Bring it on; I'm ready to be brought down.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dump your newborn here

I'm not really sure what to make of this.
TOKYO - A Japanese hospital opened the country's only anonymous drop box for unwanted infants Thursday despite government admonitions against abandoning babies.

The baby drop-off, called "Crane's Cradle," was opened by the Catholic-run Jikei Hospital in the southern city of Kumamoto as a way to discourage abortions and the abandonment of infants in unsafe public places. The hospital described it as a parent's last resort.

A small hatch on the side of the hospital allows people to drop off babies in an incubator 24 hours a day, while an alarm will notify hospital staff of the new arrival. The infants will initially be cared for by the hospital and then put up for adoption.
Sometimes there's no need to issue an opinion on an issue. All you can do is mourn the sadness of the fact that it exists. This is one of those times.

Monday, May 07, 2007

But it doesn't change the fact that they're still the French

How many cars would you burn on an average night?
On election night, scattered violence was reported across France. Police reported that 270 people were taken in for questioning and that 367 parked vehicles had been torched. On a typical night in France, about 100 cars are burned.
Note to self: when in France, take a taxi.

Can America Get A President Like France's?

Jacque Chirac's replacement seems like a pretty swell guy.
PARIS - French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy plans to waste no time making France a friendlier place for business — and a less inviting place for criminals and would-be immigrants — but first he must win control of parliament in new elections next month.
The win gave Sarkozy a strong mandate for his vision of France's future: He wants to free up labor markets, calls France's 35-hour work week absurd and plans tougher measures on crime and immigration.
Exit polls offered some surprises. Some 46 percent of blue-collar workers — traditionally leftist voters — chose Sarkozy, according to an Ipsos/Dell poll.
I don't know much about his other views, but I'd say this is a pretty good start, especially for the French.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The true global warming culprit

Methane emissions from flooded rice paddies contribute to global warming just as coal-fired power plants, automobile exhausts and other sources do with the carbon dioxide they spew into the atmosphere.

In fact, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting this week in Bangkok concludes that rice production was a main cause of rising methane emissions in the 20th century.
The solution to global warming seems simple to me: Asians just need to stop eating.