Sometimes, it’s really hard to choose the most appalling news of the day.
I could begin with the continued embarrassment that is Dick Lugar’s campaign.
Yesterday, Lugar was one of 31 (male) Republican Senators who voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act; evidently, “true Indiana conservatives” consider laws against wife-beating an infringement of their liberty. Today, we learn that Lugar has invited aging crooner Pat Boone to campaign for him. Whatever his merits as a singer, Boone is primarily known today as a right-wing crank. He is a creationist. He has compared gay activists to terrorists. He is a “birther” who insists that Obama was not born in the U.S. and is not a Christian. He is exactly the sort of person the Dick Lugar I once admired would have avoided like the plague.
Granted, Mourdock is a toad. But watching Lugar frantically shed what is left of his integrity in an effort to appeal to the baseness of the GOP base has been endlessly disheartening.
Lugar is hardly the only public figure who has allowed his ego to trump his judgment. Today’s news also focuses on Eugene White, who seems equally intent upon disgracing himself.
It seems that White is doing everything he can to torpedo the impending State takeover of several IPS schools. He’s refusing to turn over student information, spreading misinformation to IPS parents, removing equipment from the targeted schools and otherwise making the transition as difficult as possible–all without any apparent regard for the children whose education is supposed to be his first concern.
I am no fan of State Superintendent Tony Bennett, who clearly has an ego problem of his own, and I harbor grave doubts about the wisdom of the state takeover. But White’s response is infantile and destructive–a description which, come to think of it, has characterized his entire tenure at IPS. A school board that took its responsibilities to children seriously would have fired him long before this.
Whatever happened to public servants who wanted to–you know–serve the public?
This morning’s news included a report that the IPS school board had extended the contract of Superintendent Eugene White–by a 4-3 vote. Given the lockstep voting that has characterized the Board in prior years, the close vote was a notable signal that White should (but probably won’t) heed. In fact, his high-handed and arbitrary leadership style has landed IPS in hot water with our equally high-handed and people-skills-deficient State Superintendent, who evidently subscribes to the belief that privatization of school management is “the answer” to whatever ails education.
The current ego-driven arguments about who knows best how to educate all children is depressing in the extreme, so a morning discussion with Michael Durnil, Executive Director of the Simon Youth Foundation was a welcome respite.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know very much about SYF except that it existed, so I was impressed to learn that they operate 20+ alternative schools spread across several states, devoted to working with high school students at high risk of dropping out. Their success rate–in excess of 90% of their students graduate, and a significant number go on to college–is impressive. What accounts for it? From what I was able to glean from our conversation, it is their focus on the individual needs of the students they admit. No rigid ideological framework that students must fit within, no “secret formula” that must be imposed. Just a recognition that students are people, and people are most likely to flower and achieve when they feel valued and listened to.
American political figures (and make no mistake, Superintendents these days are first and foremost political figures) are increasingly focused on the search for a magic bullet that will allow them to apply a favored approach to all students. It’s understandable, since recognizing and addressing the diversity of learning styles and personal attributes of every student requires much more work and is much more costly than “one size fits all.” But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it successful.
In the real world, one size doesn’t fit all.