Madison County Opinion...

April 10, 2002


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
April 10, 2002

Frankly Speaking

Some more about Southern history
April is Confederate History and Heritage Month. One of the purposes of the observations is to present an accurate history of the Confederacy and the War for Southern Independence. That includes pointing out inaccuracies in popular history of the era.
Included in the false history is the statement that the Confederacy was formed to protect the practice of slavery. Last week I wrote that any 10-year-old child with a copy of the U.S. Constitution and a calculator can disprove that statement within 10 minutes or less.
Some of you called to ask how that could be done. Here is how:
In 1860, the year before the Confederacy was formed; the right of each state to decide the question of slavery was clearly protected by the U. S. Constitution, legislation by the Federal Congress and decisions by the Supreme Court. The only way slavery could be outlawed was with a constitutional amendment. The Constitution clearly states that 3/4ths of states must approve any amendment. One fourth of the states can prevent any change.
In 1860 slavery was legal in 15 of the 34 states and the District of Columbia. Using these figures, it is easy to see that only nine states were required to block any anti-slavery amendment. Even today with fifty states, 13 states can block amendments. If the purpose of the Southern states were to preserve slavery, they would have remained in the Union where slavery was already protected! It was the secessions of Southern states that created conditions allowing slavery to end. Clearly, without the Confederacy, slavery might well be legal today!
There is no doubt that the slavery question contributed to the dispute between North and South. But as long as the Constitution protected the system, there was no need for the southern states to rebel on that account. The Southern Rebellion was a response to unfair taxes, improper concentration of power in the federal government and a concentrated attack on the sovereignty of the individual states.
Federal tax policy was the factor that caused the first round of secessions. Southern states were paying up to 80 percent of all federal taxes. At the same time, 75 percent of federal spending was on northern infrastructure. Lincoln’s principal campaign issue was to raise those taxes even higher. When Congress passed his tax program, the first seven Southern states pulled out and formed the Confederacy. The other six Confederate States left when Lincoln called for troops to attack the Confederacy.
President Lincoln made it clear that his purpose in assaulting the Confederacy was not to end slavery. He said in his first inaugural address that he had no right or intention to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. His sole purpose in invading the Confederacy was to “preserve the Union.”
Those who attack Southern icons are using false history. This month is dedicated to presenting an accurate picture of the South and Confederacy. I urge each of you to read the original documents for yourself. If you do, the truth will become obvious.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His e-mail address is frankg@mcga.net.

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
April 10, 2002

From the Editor’s Desk

Let’s keep perspective on standardized tests
George W. Bush may have had good intentions proposing his “no child left behind” campaign. But the feel-good phrase rings hollow to many who look at federal and state policies and notice that children, teachers and schools are reduced to simple integers in an enormous bureaucratic tab sheet.
Standardized tests rule educational decision-making. But these tests fit into the same genus — different species — as Nielson ratings and pre-election polls. They are indicators. They offer snapshots of a small group at a specific time and from these narrow results vast judgments are made. This is unfortunate. You can’t look through a peephole and describe a landscape. Yet, we accept sweeping changes in curriculum and school funding based on these narrow portals into the vast field of education.
Look at Title I funding now and you’ll see that a cookie cutter testing approach has put common sense on the back burner. Title I funds are distributed to schools with a certain number of free or reduced lunches. It’s a way to get money to poorer kids who need extra help. But to qualify for Title I funds, schools must reduce the number of students failing the math and reading portions of the Criterion Referenced Competency Test by five percent each year. This is absurd. Should schools with very low failure rates miss out on needed funds because they don’t have as much room to improve? Should a school that makes a giant improvement of 30 percent one year not qualify for funding the following year when it fails to tack on another five percent improvement? If this were a foot race, would we want some kids to run less fast for fear of winning big now, knowing we’d pay for it later?
Why can’t we simply accept that this school or that school has more poor kids and needs more money? Does it help to fix an arbitrary and punitive testing system to the process?
Another troublesome testing matter centers on state plans for automatic retention in 2003-2004 of kids who don’t earn grade level scores on the third grade CRCT on a second try — with the automatic retention rule also applying to fifth and eighth graders in coming years.
This plan goes against the common political mantra of “we need more local control.” Most would agree that parents and teachers know kids the best and are most qualified to determine who gets held back and who doesn’t. Is it wise to reduce their role in deciding advancement?
This falls right in line with the tendency of the times, which is to put pressure on teachers to buck up, to do better, while shifting assessment of students out of their hands, implying that they aren’t qualified to make such determinations. In the old days, a report card was good enough. But now teachers must direct more and more of their teaching time to standardized test preparation and pep talks, knowing that they may face harsh judgment from their superiors if some of those sleepy-eyed kids in the back of the class pull down the class average. Forget all the hours of diligent work, of taking real interest in a kid, as far as the system goes, producing numbers to brag about is the real measure of success.
Ultimately, standardized tests can be a tool of educators, a club in the bag, so to speak. Results from these tests can be used as indicators of a bigger picture.
But they shouldn’t become the bigger picture.
When we dumb down the process to such a simple black and white, when we overlook the intangibles that come with a year of growth in a classroom, focusing instead on a week of stressful testing, are we acting in the best interest of kids? Is that the answer to “no kid left behind?”
Trends come and go in the field of education.
And if we remain in the age of the “golden test data,” we remain a long way from a Renaissance.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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