Jackson County Opinions...

January 17, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 17, 2001

Advice Good For People Of All Races
I wasn't there, but the account I read of Andre Williams' talk at the local MLK Day festivities was a message young black people need to hear.
And young Caucasians and young Hispanics and older blacks, whites and people of all races and colors.
It was a talk about personal responsibility in which Williams noted that too many young blacks, particularly the males, are lacking. It can be assumed that Williams aimed his remarks at blacks because the makeup of his audience was largely black, but what he said applies no less to the rest of us.
Williams, noting that his father worked so that blacks could get justice, inquired as to what blacks have done with that justice. His comments suggested that blacks are not using fully and often abusing the right to vote, the right to integrated schools and the rights giving them equal access to borrowing money.
What young blacks need, he said, is "personal discipline."
Amen, brother, and that need is no less great in those of other races.
Because rights come with responsibilities. The right to vote brings with it a responsibility to vote and to be informed about candidates and issues. The right to go to public schools has attached to it a responsibility that one make every effort to learn, to pass and to not disrupt the learning of others. And if you have the right to borrow money, there is an obligation to learn how to manage that money and to repay the debt.
Our culture, however, does not stress responsibility. It promotes our rights.
You have the right to bring your cell phone into the classroom, church or restaurant, but that does not make it a responsible thing to do. And while it is legal to party all weekend every weekend, responsible people don't.
Teenagers have the right to get driver's licenses at age 16, but that doesn't mean their parents should give them vehicles and turn them loose on the road.
A successful society also requires responsible people working at all levels, but too many people focus on their rights as members of that society and ignore their responsibilities. Or, worse yet, they deliberately shun their responsibilities because they are free to do just that.
My banker wife has told me countless stories of young people who seem stunned when they cannot qualify for loans. They have the income to enable them to repay, they have the collateral. But they have a record of irresponsible money management, from bad checks to charge-offs on previous loans.
Chances are, Andre Williams' words weren't heard by the young black men he hoped would hear and heed them. They weren't there. They weren't paying attention in school either, they don't go to church, and their influences come from music, movies, pop culture and their peers. Williams knows that too many young black men are lost to drugs and violence and too many don't use fully or abuse the rights that were so hard won.
It was a message all young people need to heed. Rights and privileges are accompanied by responsibilities. Indeed, there can be no rights if there is no responsibility.

The Jackson Herald
January 17, 2001

BOC shouldn't become a confederation
Is the Jackson County government a single entity, or a confederation of independent fiefdoms?
That's a question citizens may want to ask as our restructured county government gears up. Two years ago, when debate over creating a new county government was at its peak, there was a lot of discussion over how the four district commissioners were to be elected. A majority of citizens eventually voted to adopt a strict district-by-district system where each district representative was elected only by those people living within that district.
But critics of that plan voiced concerns that such a system would create a situation where each district commissioner would focus only on his or her district to the exclusion of the entire county. Some, including then Sen. Eddie Madden, suggested that each district commissioner be elected at large.
Well, we hate to admit it, but the critics may have been right after all. Barely three weeks into the new form of government, the board is already acting like a confederation rather than a central government. That was especially evident Monday night when the board took up a long list of rezoning requests. Rather than discussing those issues from a countywide perspective, the board deferred to each district commissioner on rezonings that were taking place within his district. The recommendation by that individual commissioner was adopted by the rest of the board with few questions asked.
That's a bad practice. Developers aren't stupid. They will quickly figure out that to get a rezoning approved, all they need is the consent of a single district commissioner and the rest of the board will go along.
Not only that, but handling public issues in such a manner will foster a bad habit which will bleed over into other areas of the board's oversight. Commissioners will soon become reluctant to question issues that affect a fellow board member's district. Within a year or so, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will become nothing more than a confederation of chiefs with the chairman acting as moderator.
We don't have a problem with this board making sure that all segments of Jackson County are fairly represented in county government. But this board of commissioners was elected to serve all of Jackson County no matter where the individual commissioners might live.
If the board continues its practice of deferring to individual commissioners on rezonings and other issues, that countywide focus will be lost. And the citizens of Jackson County will be the ultimate losers.





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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 17, 2001

The seven sins of public education
My rump's a little sore. Last week, it got chewed on in letters from several teachers who found fault with an earlier critical assessment of the Georgia Association of Educators and a suggestion that outside professionals should have an easier road to teaching in public schools.
Based on the tone of those letters, it's obvious that there is a growing chasm between the public and some in the academic world. This gulf has widened, in part, because of the political rhetoric at the state level. The fight last year over Gov. Barnes' education reform legislation polarized opinions on all sides.
But this chasm between the public and the education establishment is also the result of years of inertia by academic elitists. Even though our society has changed dramatically in recent decades, academic elitists have resisted making fundamental changes in the structure of our public schools. That's why we have a school calendar that is based on when the crops come in rather than on what may be best for learning. Barnes' reform efforts magnified these basic differences and hardened positions on all sides.
With the GAE's encouragement, that debate led to a widespread belief among teachers that they are being picked on by those who offer a critical assessment of public education. Unless you put teachers on a gilded pedestal, the GAE brands you as being anti-teacher.
But most of the criticism I see has to do with the problems of the "system," not individual teachers.
So what are those problems? Here's my list of the top "Seven Sins of Public Education:"
Sin #1: An overemphasis on "underachievers." Everybody wants to help those kids at the bottom of the academic ladder. But public education is putting too much of its resources on that small number of students. It's also watering down its standards in an effort to bring those kids closer to "average." The losers are the true average and above-average kids who aren't being challenged to their full potential.
Sin #2: Too much "mainstreaming" of disruptive children. The classrooms in our public schools are a mess because of this "mainstreaming" trend. Disruptive kids are put in regular classrooms because of some psychobabble about how it will help them learn. In reality, the other kids in those classrooms are being cheated out of a proper education because of the emphasis being placed on that one child.
Sin #3: Too little emphasis on individual efforts and achievements. You're not supposed to be smart anymore if you're a student. Group projects and group grades are all the rage. Grade competition in the classroom is discouraged. Someone might get his feelings hurt, poor thing.
Sin #4: Unwillingness to motivate teachers through a real-world pay scale. Public education is the only institution where pay is based strictly on how long you went to college and how long you've been working rather than how you actually perform. The GAE, for example, fights any suggestion of merit pay or higher wages for specialized teaching fields, and it opposes teacher accountability standards. All teachers are equal, they argue, and deserve equal pay increments. The result is that good teachers are underpaid, mediocre teachers overpaid. Such a pay system would never exist in free enterprise and it should not exist in public education.
Sin #5: An overemphasis on the process of education rather than the actual outcome. You'll notice in the letters last week a great defense of those Mickey Mouse college education theory classes and the belief that no one is worthy of teaching unless they understand the learning "process." Lost in all that hokum is any emphasis on the actual student performance. This "process mentality" is pushed by our colleges of education and is one reason our nation's schools often underperform when compared to other industrialized nations where student performance is more important than process.
Sin #6: too much emphasis on social rather than academic development. Sure, there are a lot of social problems in our society. But public education should never have taken on the burden of attempting to solve all those problems. Such efforts have taken the focus away from academics, which should be the core emphasis of our schools.
Sin #7: A misplaced "Us vs. Them" mentality between academic elitists and the public. Too many people in our nation's academic leadership believe that the rest of us are all ignorant bumpkins. Parents who question the curriculum or performance of public education are viewed with suspicion and distrust. Politicians who criticize public education are branded as fools. There is a belief among these elitists that no one outside their own circle understands education and they bitterly resent those who question the status quo. Unfortunately, that mentality has begun filtering down to others in public education as well.
To that thinking, I offer this suggestion: Get over it. The time has come for public education to change, or face a declining base of public support.
And teachers, don't take it personally when those of us outside academia question the performance of public schools. As parents and taxpayers, public schools belong to us, too. We don't have an interest group like the GAE to carry our banner for us, but we still have a right to ask questions and air opinions.
No institution is above such scrutiny. It goes with the territory, even if it is sometimes uncomfortable.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at MikeB21081@aol.com.

The Commerce News
January 17, 2001

California Has Given Us An Early Warning
Whether fad or fashion, pop culture or education, whatever trend begins in California seems to work its way east over the entire country.
That's just one reason Georgians should watch what's happening in California. Georgia residents are complaining about the cost of natural gas; Californians are dealing with exorbitant electricity prices, rolling brown-outs and the prospect of several major utility companies going bankrupt.
The ramifications of a shortage of electricity cannot be overstated. Already, industries that might expand or move into California are looking elsewhere and some are making plans to leave the state. Nobody is building additional generation capacity, so the problem stands to get worse, possibly much worse, before it gets better, and if the rest of the country doesn't make plans to deal with it, the rest of the country will experience it too.
It is not impossible to imagine Georgia in the same situation in the not-so-distant future. The only electrical generation capacity being built anywhere in the U.S. is in the form of gas turbine generators like the plant in Center. And with California's power supply in question, few industries will locate there, which means states like Georgia will get the industries, and their power demands, that otherwise would have gone west.
There is a fixed amount of electricity available, but a growing demand. Without the construction of new generating plants or some very significant conservation measures, other states will duplicate California's experience. And if California has difficulties in the winter, imagine the potential for chaos next summer.
One problem is that nobody wants to undertake the cost and the liability of building generating plants. Nuclear plants have proven to be very efficient, but there is still no solution on how to safely dispose of radioactive wastes and still a great fear of the ultimate disaster. Coal plants are out of the question because they generate so much pollution, and hydroelectric facilities are environmentally destructive, hard to place and produce relatively little reliable power. That leaves few choices, and in deregulated climates, why would a company take so much risk when it can buy and sell electricity like a commodity without generating any at all?
People laughed in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter, faced with an energy crisis, declared that the effort to become energy self-sufficient was the "moral equivalent of war." That crisis ended, but it's clear that the "war" was not won.
The California crisis can be the wake-up call if industry and government will heed it. Perhaps much of the rest of the country has time to examine and rectify problems relating to building new plants, distribution of electricity and pricing. Perhaps there is also time to find ways to stretch our energy supply further.
We know the crisis is imminent. If we fail to prepare for it, we'll have no one but ourselves to blame when the lights go out.

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