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Commentary

When “Fairness” is No Longer Fair

When a girl was denied admittance to her school’s gifted program because her family’s income was too high, it exposed the inherent unfairness of certain policies designed to redress economic inequality in public school.

In February 2010, Hannah Workman, a fifth grader and straight-A student in Florida’s Clay County School District, was denied entrance to her elementary school’s gifted program because she did not score high enough on the entrance exam. Remarkably, her mother later learned that Hannah would have scored high enough to enter the program if her family earned less. 

The standards on the entrance exam, she discovered, were based on income level and English proficiency. Students who qualified for free or reduced lunch or who spoke limited English only had to score in the 90s to qualify, while other children needed to score at least 130.

Though seemingly a minor footnote in the story of America’s public schools, the testing policy of this Florida school district cuts to the core of the philosophical debate over the role of education raging among educators and policy makers. It reveals much about the changing definition of “fairness” and the problem with using publicly-funded education to redress social inequality.

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Commentary

Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are

Every dollar spent at a locally owned business pays dividends in your community. If you wish to see a viable economy, choose local businesses over chain stores.

In 1895, educator and author Booker T. Washington cajoled members of his community to “cast down your bucket where you are” instead of seeking labor or employment somewhere else. Likewise, I believe more can be accomplished for the benefit of our community by casting our talents and our dollars where we live by buying and producing locally, as well as abandoning a “there’s nothing I can do” attitude.

It’s tempting in the face of seemingly intractable problems to uproot and leave, convinced that nothing can be done. Individuals and families make this choice every day. I spoke to dozens of friends and acquaintances who have left Illinois for greener pastures over the past several years, and I can count myself in that number. 

For a community to be successful, however, a collective effort is needed to bring the kind of entertainment, businesses, and recreation you want to see, as well as support those places already in existence. Supporting local businesses means using your dollars like votes in favor of the businesses you want to remain. 

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Saudade

How Life Has Changed in 30 Years

As I approach my 40th birthday and the birth of my first daughter, I’ve been thinking about how life has changed since I was a kid. What will the world in which she grows up be like?

Growing up in the 1980s and early ‘90s, my family didn’t have a home computer (not until I was in high school). There was no Internet, and if I wanted to play with a neighborhood friend, I just walked over to their house and knocked. There was no texting.

I asked my friends and family how many things they could think of that were commonplace 30-40 years ago that either aren’t around anymore, or wouldn’t be around in the next ten years or so. The list was long. Here are just some of the things I got to see/use/experience that my daughter will not:

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Commentary Saudade

My First Foray Into Local Politics

Running for public office can be a rewarding experience, if you learn the right lessons. It’s a crash course in local government with few downsides but, perhaps, a bruised ego.

In 2012, while living in Rockford, Illinois, I did something I never thought of doing before. With little money and little experience, and with a lot of personal reservations, I decided to run for public office. While I ended up losing the race, I gained valuable insight and experience into local politics, and I saw a side to the process that most people never see. I hope demystifying this process will encourage others to get involved.

It began with a casual suggestion: We need people like you to run for office. Then, a thought: Why not? I chose to run for a seat on the Winnebago County Board in the Republican primary election. 

In Winnebago County, Illinois in 2012, an aspiring candidate only needed 25 signatures for his or her name to appear on the primary ballot for the position of County Board Member (other elected positions require hundreds or thousands of signatures, and it is always a good idea to get twice as many as you need). After introducing myself and announcing my intentions at a community meeting, and being greeted by rowdy applause, I decided to commit myself to the race. Three other candidates, including the incumbent, joined me in declaring their intention to run.

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Commentary

Leadership we Can Believe In

With trust in government and other institutions at historic lows, only a leadership renaissance from bottom-up will restore public confidence.

What people most look for in a leader, whether he or she is in politics, sports, or any other profession, is honesty, competence, and a positive vision for the future. When leaders are performing at their best, they are doing more than just getting results, they are also responding to the expectations of their constituents. 

When times get tough, people expect these authority figures to give an honest assessment of the situation, determine the root causes of the problem, and act in the best interests of everyone to solve that problem. Good leadership depends on individuals who are willing to take that responsibility seriously. 

We are currently experiencing a severe leadership deficit at all levels of society and government. That deficit has led to a crisis of confidence in America in which poll after poll has demonstrated that public confidence in institutions like government, banks, churches, and corporations is at historic lows.

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Commentary Saudade

What Happened When I Tried to Start a Newspaper in Central Illinois

Freedom of the press is in serious trouble when a handful of self-appointed gatekeepers can so easily banish a news publication from store and library shelves.

In the summer of 2012, I briefly returned to Charleston, Illinois (where I had attended college) to help set up a monthly print newspaper. It failed spectacularly. The unexpected resistance I encountered taught me hard lessons about the limits of free speech and journalism.

Starting a newspaper is not easy. It takes hard work, travel, time, and financial resources. Still, it can be successful and rewarding with a receptive audience. Central Illinois is highly rural and conservative in temperament. Neighbors might be content to gossip on their front porches, but they’d rather not see the latest scandal plastered in the headlines.

For most of my life I had a naïve understanding of the role of the press. I imagined most newspapers shied away from controversy for any number of reasons, ranging from placating advertisers, adherence to a particular political or social agenda, or simply out of a lack of desire or resources to track down hard stories. I never thought pushback from self-appointed gatekeepers played a role.

Now I understand the blowback some of these news outlets face for reporting controversial events can be intense and make it difficult to conduct business.

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Commentary

Why Politeness Matters

Politeness is important, not only because it makes other people feel good, but because it changes the way people perceive you as well. It means you hold yourself to a high standard and expect the same from others.

Have you ever stood in line to order food and heard the person in front of you say, “I want a…” or “Gimme a…” or “Let me get a…”? I have, and although I admit that I’ve probably used those words before, it bothers me every time I hear them.

I can just imagine that clerk standing behind the register being bombarded by those kinds of requests all day, every day, as if working in a burger joint for minimum wage were not bad enough as it is. On top of the stress, the low pay, and long hours, employees are also subjected to the rude and sometimes abusive requests of their patrons.

Your choice of words matters. For that clerk, hearing these impolite requests makes him or her feel unworthy of respect, shamed, and will probably result in rudeness in return. For some people, being rude to others is a way of feeling better about themselves. They believe that it puts everyone else beneath them. Most people are rude simply out of habit, or because they never learned how to be polite.