Archive for August, 2010

Wading In to the Mosque Debate

A year ago, President Obama waded into the local conflict between a black Harvard professor and a white Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer.

It ended with beers on the White House lawn, but it didn’t end well for the president’s reputation as a politician who often oversteps his bounds.

Two weeks ago, the president weighed in on another local issue that has become a national hot button: the New York City mosque planned meters from Ground Zero.

Mr. Obama subsequently backed off his initial endorsement of the “wisdom” of the idea, much to the chagrin of project proponents, no doubt.

Those proponents claim that nothing would uphold the values of freedom that were attacked on September 11, 2001, like an Islam worship facility near the terror site.

They assert that public support for the mosque will prove that our nation doesn’t implicate the faith of many because of the deeds of a few.

They also worry that opposing the mosque will provoke radical Islamists to further anti-American acts. My guess is the radicals are plenty committed to their cause already.

America is a sensitive land. For centuries it has welcomed wanderers from all walks of life. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of color, creed, gender or handicap.

Mosque organizers should pay homage to this characteristic of our nation. They should recognize the strangeness that many feel about their building in that place.

Many Muslims such as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the Ground Zero mosque movement, acknowledge the false teaching in their faith that they have yet to root out.

This admission shoulders them with a responsibility to deal carefully with the effects of their false teachers.

Rauf’s congregation currently meets twelve blocks from Ground Zero. Surely there are many real estate options for his new center that would include a wider buffer from the World Trade Center site but still offer proximity for his congregants.

Unfortunately, his priority seems to be proximity to Ground Zero and for presumably noble purposes (build bridges, heal the past, create community, etc.).

But one man’s bridge can be another man’s umbrage. Given that he has options, the imam should bend over backwards not to offend.

In 2008, a Netherlands legislator wanted to release a film about the violent and fascist elements of the Muslim faith. Many officials in the Dutch government condemned the idea.

In the Washington Post at that time, Imam Rauf commended the Dutch Foreign Minister for “standing by the right to free speech while putting reasonable parameters on the proviso, saying ‘freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend.’”

I wonder if today he’d stand by the right to free worship while putting reasonable parameters on the proviso, saying “freedom of religion doesn’t mean the right to offend.’”

Back to Schools: Edumacating our Youth

Former President George W. Bush had his fair share of grammar critics. His butcherings of the English language offered fodder for many a late night TV host. “Nucular,” “misunderestimate,” “strategery” are all credited to him.

Yes, he even once asked, “Is our children learning?”

The spirit behind that question compelled him to make education his top domestic priority. He sent Congress a draft of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) just three days after his 2001 inauguration.

Ultimately, he crossed partisan lines to make NCLB the first nationwide education accountability system. It was modeled after a plan he signed into law in Texas.

Like Mr. Bush, NCLB has its fair share of critics. But those who want to return to the days of spending billions without measuring results endorse managerial malpractice. Common management wisdom says: what gets measured gets done.

Does NCLB cause some lower-end instructors to “teach to the test?” Sure, but if the test is rooted in the substance we want children to ascertain, I can live with that.

Of course, we want teachers so passionate and so talented that standardized tests are an easy afterthought.

But how much worse off would a classroom be with a teacher who had only the ability to teach to the test but who had no test to teach to? That was the case in many states before NCLB.

NCLB’s results speak for themselves. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), reading scores among nine-year-olds have improved more in the last 9 years than in the 28 years prior. Math scores have also improved, especially among minority and disabled kids.

Admittedly, the law prioritizes low performers at the expense of high performers. Bringing the lowest children up to a common denominator is, after all, the point of the law. Still, NCES reports that test scores have increased among every category of learner.

There will always be work to be done, but one federally-required test per year that gives parents and taxpayers a gauge of how things are going on campus doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Stakes are high but so is the risk of sending kids into an information-based economy with no idea of how to produce and communicate information that the marketplace values.

In Boerne ISD, congratulations are in order to Superintendent John Kelly and his teachers and staff. Last month, the Texas Education Agency awarded the district with its highest “Exemplary” ranking based on testing required by NCLB.

It’s human nature for ranking systems to seem more legitimate when your team is at the top. But I can’t help but believe that the national accountability system President Bush and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy worked into law some 8 years ago has done more good than harm.

No Child Left Behind has, in the words of our lovable 43rd president, “made the pie higher.” Do you miss him yet?

Arizona Dreaming

Susan Boyle dreamed a dream. Susan Bolton dashed one.

The former Susan, of course, is the Britain’s Got Talent prodigy who stunned the world last year with her songbird sound. The latter is the federal judge who struck down Arizona’s landmark immigration law last week.

What’s a state to do? In the ordinary course of things, the federal government requests help from the states to execute its priorities. Often, these “requests” come as unfunded mandates.

But here’s a case where a state offers assistance on its own accord and the feds refuse the help. My, what odd times we live in.

It gets stranger. Unless Virginia and twenty other states are successful in overturning Obamacare’s mandate that individuals buy health insurance, we will soon be required to show proof of medical coverage but not proof of citizenship!

Something seems backwards. The federal government desires to defend our individual bodies from viral invaders, but it is much less concerned about parasitic invasions to our corporate body.

No one appreciates immigrants more than yours truly. See last week’s column for a case in point. Still, I can see how Arizona’s elected representatives voted to bring some order to the immigration chaos.

Is their law a blunt weapon? Maybe. But they don’t exactly have the resources for a scalpel.

Contrary to Ms. Bolton’s opinion, the law is not onerous. It would be even less so if federal immigration authorities would promulgate an electronic system of identification. Why aren’t fingerprints attached to every Social Security or visa account?

Is there a chance for profiling under the new Arizona law? Of course. Might there be a racist sheriff’s deputy out in the desert who will take advantage of the situation? Sure.

But for the most part, law enforcement professionals are just that: professional. We don’t withhold authority from all because a few might let power go to their heads. Doing so is a recipe for anarchy.

Where to go from here.

First, secure the border. Easier said than done, but still of utmost importance. Border integrity is critical to the constitution of any organization. Texas and California have deployed technology successfully (a reason Arizona is a popular entryway). Arizona’s borders need similar tools.

Second, create or improve a national system of identification. If our best corporations can track hundreds of millions of customers worldwide, then our government should be able to identify 300 million here at home.

Third, expand guest worker channels so that those who merely want to earn a better living and provide a useful service can do so in the light of day.

Lastly, the Obama administration should accept the assistance of state and local authorities in Arizona and elsewhere. If there was ever a time for a team effort, it is now. The solvency of our social safety nets depends on it. Our national security does, too.

It’s time to think practically, not politically, about immigration. Arizona was courageous enough to dream a dream. We shouldn’t dash it.

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