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The Jackson Herald
February 16, 2000

Senate should seek to fix details
Now that the governor's education reform bill has passed out of the House, the real debate begins. While we like most parts of the legislation - the increased accountability and emphasis on parental input - we hope the Senate will be able to answer a lot of questions about funding in the bill. Some education leaders say the bill will cause massive property tax increases to meet new mandates, but the governor says that isn't true.
So it is now up to the Senate to hash out that question, among others. One of the key controversies in the bill, abolishing teacher tenure, appears to be settled. While tenure would be abolished, school leaders would have to give a written reason for firing a teacher. Many speculate that such a mandate would force administrators to do a much more careful evaluation of teachers, which is a good thing for all involved.
But the Senate could take that one step further and allow all school employee evaluations to be open for public inspection. Currently, even evaluations for superintendents are closed to the public. But in this era of more accountability, the public should be allowed to see how superintendents, administrators and teachers are being evaluated. The governor said last week he supported such a proposal, although it is not currently in the bill.
Another change the Senate could make is to level the funding for our brightest students. Gifted and challenge programs are woefully ignored by the education establishment. State funding formulas are heavily weighted toward those at the bottom of the academic ladder and there are a multitude of programs for children with various "disabilities." There is only one program for "intellectually gifted" students and it barely receives additional funding based on state formulas. But the reality is that public schools cannot solve all the social problems a child brings to school no matter how many social service programs it creates. In the attempt to do so, politicians have diverted resources away from other children and have failed to adequately fund programs to challenge our brightest kids. That should be changed.
We like the overall thrust of the governor's bill, but as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."
And so it is now up to the Senate to work on those details to make sure the massive 152 page bill doesn't fix one problem, while creating two new problems.

By Mike Buffington
February 16, 2000

'Wrassling' for culture?
I have a suspicion that there is some direct correlation between the decline of public education and the rise of pro wrassling. (Don't dare call it "wrestling" - that would insult the real sport.)
I'm amazed, even shocked, by the number of people who consider wrassling as entertainment. Normal people. Church-going people. Hard-working people. Even those who should know better.
Frankly, I don't get it. Pro wrassling appeals to the lowest common denominator of human existence. It's a cultural debasement so inane that it makes roller derby look like grand opera.
In a word, wrassling is pure, undiluted schlock.
So imagine my surprise when I read that Syn, Harsh, Izzay Blackwell, T-Bone and other wrasslers were going to be a major part of the annual Commerce City Lights Festival in June. And get this - the "superstar" event will be held in the Commerce High School gym.
I wonder how the school's real wrestlers, those boys who work and sweat in that gym, feel about having their home venue turned into a sideshow for freaks. Undoubtedly, that show will bring in more people in one night than CHS wrestlers brought in all year.
I thought the Commerce City Lights Festival was to honor the country music legacy of Bill Anderson, who wrote the famous "City Lights" song while working as a DJ in Commerce. Country music was a big part of the area's culture long before today's "pop country" was cool. So it makes sense to honor that tradition with an annual event.
But tying that event to wrassling and putting the word "festival" on it gives all festivals a bad name. It's one thing for private enterprise to exploit the public's appetite for violence by calling wrassling "entertainment" and charging people to watch. P.T. Barnum said there was a sucker born every minute, and if people are willing to pay hard currency to watch large men in tights do a fake fight, then let the cash registers ring.
But for a town to adopt such schlock as part of a local cultural event, even housing it in a public school, is beyond belief.
Now, I know Mr. Anderson and others want to raise some money from these events toward building a center for performing arts at Commerce High School. That's a worthy cause. All too often, the arts get shortchanged in our schools due to competing demands from other areas. And while few people actually make a living from artistic pursuits, the arts bring a depth to education that is impossible to get from any other activity.
I don't say that as some kind of cultural snob. An occasional art or music event can fill my empty cultural cup for several years at a stretch. I like a good play now and again, especially if it's done by a local school where the kids work hard and bring enthusiasm to the project. And while I could probably tell the difference between a Picasso and a Rembrandt, it's not something my life revolves around.
But even though I have an average appreciation of the arts, I'm not sure the end justifies the means in this case. Wrassling is not a performing art, no matter what some hucksters may tell you.
The truth is, if a community has to stage pro wrassling to raise money for a performing arts center, then that community probably doesn't need such a center in the first place. How can we say that we appreciate real performing arts while staging a wrassling event?
Perhaps someone can make sense of all this for me. Why do we need to stage low culture in order to pay for real culture?
Why do we have to stage fake entertainment to pay for real entertainment?
I don't get it. I just don't get it.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

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