Sunday, November 29, 2009

Elimination Challenge

COLUMN NOTES: For some background, the Greater Clark School Corporation in Clark County, Indiana, hired a new superintendent, Dr. Steve Daeschner, for an amount over what they budgeted for the position.

A local group, led by an ex-Jeffersonville Indiana mayor, Dale Orem, started a fund to collect donations to pay the excess amount. Orem and his crew set up a fund through the local Community Foundation, and now it has been ruled that donations made to that fund can remain private an anonymous, despite the fact that these funds go directly to paying the superintendent's salary.

The site did start a thread on this topic and if you want to see it, click here.

HARBESON: Columnist issues elimination challenge

Last May, in a column about Greater Clark County Schools’ hiring of Dr. Stephen Daeschner, I wondered who might actually donate to pay the portion of his salary in excess of the budgeted amount and whether we would eventually be told that the people donating need to be kept private.

It looks like I don’t have to wonder anymore. The people involved in raising the money seem to have successfully set up a fund in a way that will hide the identity of individual donors. Of course, this would make no difference if the people who donated stood up to be counted.

But they’re not exactly tripping over each other to do so.

I wonder why. It seems to me they would be out front and center loudly proclaiming, “Yes I support this man and you should too.”

But for some reason it’s all being done behind closed doors.

It’s fascinating, because many organizations accept donations for their causes, and I’ve noticed that these groups often proudly point to the individuals who make voluntary contributions.

They print up colorful, shiny programs and brochures which specifically list donors, sometimes even grouping them into categories of amounts given. They naturally want to publicly thank the donors, as well as show people that their neighbors think enough of their organization to contribute money.

Of course, these same organizations also respect those who would like to donate anonymously. The community at large seems to respect this privacy, because I’ve never heard of it ever being controversial.

I’ve also never heard of newspapers filing lawsuits to see who the anonymous donors may be to these organizations. So what’s the difference in this instance?

The difference is that these organizations are based on freedom of association, and government schools are not. The people who are donating to help pay Daeschner’s salary are supporting a person who is in charge of an institution whose very foundation is based upon compulsion and coercion.

So naturally, those who are forced to be involved want to know everything they can about the source of any money that flows into such an organization, especially when the money goes directly to the person who has the most power.

It’s similar to campaign contributions. Campaign donations are totally voluntary, too, but since the donations end up affecting how government force is used, some folks have worked hard to make campaign finance contributions more transparent.

It’s not difficult to understand why.

So if you want more transparency on who is paying Daeschner, there’s no need to be disheartened by recent events. There might be a way to get inside the box they’ve built around themselves by using a powerful problem-solving tool we should have all learned in school: The process of elimination.

All that needs to be done is to start an initiative to have everyone who is NOT donating to publicly stand up and be counted. As more and more people publicly out themselves as nondonors, the pool of possible donors will get smaller and smaller and it will become easier to figure out who donated money, even if they haven’t acknowledged it.

Where to compile this information? It would be very easy to set up a Web site for this, or maybe someone could just start a thread on, the site residents created to bring people together on issues of local interest.

No matter how it’s done, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to end up with a very good idea of who is involved. And it could be more fun than discovering it was Col. Mustard who did it in the parlor using a candlestick.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson finds the process of elimination very helpful after ingesting too many martinis with Professor Plum in the billiard room.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Letters

HARBESON: As always, columnist excited to hear from readers!!!

In my last letters column, “Want To Be Pen Pals?,” I mentioned one letter writer who was a bit enamored with the exclamation point. Evidently he’s not the only one, because I received several e-mails from others who feel the same.

Matt wrote this: “Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know I enjoy your column!!!!!!”

Then Mike wrote a nice note that ended with this: “I added my address just in case you want to send me a hand-written letter!!!!!!!!!”

I did send him a letter. Well, actually, it was a card. He e-mailed me back: “Debbie, I received the card the other day. Thanks, for thinking of me. I don’t get much regular mail, since they invented e-mail. I was going to send you a letter, but the only paper I could find here on the farm was the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

“I have to keep it for special purposes, and I was afraid I’d run short, since the spring catalog don’t come out ’til March. I read your column about selling booze on Sunday. I agree with you. We have far too many controls on every aspect of our lives, by the government, to feel we are a free country. If ol’ Tom Jefferson was here, He’d be Appalled!!!”

I’m not so sure he’s right about Jefferson. I don’t think he’d be appalled to learn how Mike uses the Sears catalog.

I actually did gain a pen pal. Susan and I have corresponded several times and I knew we had a lot in common. After all, she wrote that she believes in ideas like “… individual responsibility and voluntary action within a cooperative society rather than the involuntary coercion and tyranny we so often labor under today.”

I noticed someone wrote a letter to the editor in response to my column on Baron Hill’s YouTube misadventure. That reader was disappointed but I also received this response from Dave: “…You made a good comparison with ‘quality assurance purposes’. I never thought of it that way. I’ve seen the video. You could have made it worse for Baron Hill. His stinky attitude really showed out.”

I’ve scanned this comment from Kim: “… I am always anxious to see what you have to say — and I am never disappointed. You say what a lot of us think!! I have cut out your articles many times and scanned them in for friends to read …”

Reader Frank does a nice job of one-upping a comment I made about pigs flying: “Pigs won’t simply fly; pigs will win dogfights against F-16s before you get rationality from elected officials.”

Finally, you may remember that I offered to send a book to the lady who wrote me a nice snail mail letter. Judith took me up on the offer so I mailed it to her and after a couple of weeks, she returned it. I’m not sure how we were able to accomplish this without taxing others for library services but we managed.

Judith again included a letter, where, among other things, she had this to say: “…Wonder of wonders, I did agree with Dr. Ruwart’s ideas on the marijuana problem. I am more convinced than ever that I shall remain an independent.”

Thanks to all the letter-writers out there. If you wrote to me and didn’t get included here, please note it has nothing to do with the space limitations. It means your letter was lacking in one of two areas — you didn’t use nearly enough exclamation points, or you didn’t compliment me nearly enough.

So feel free to try again.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wonders if ol’ Tom Jefferson would be appalled at how he was used to set up a joke for this column.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Education Is All About Control

HARBESON: Education needs a new way of thinking

I caused a near riot in an elementary school once. It happened in the late 1980s when I was a lunchtime/recess monitor. I wanted to give a present to the kids before winter break so I purchased a bunch of Hershey’s Kisses to hand out.

I decided to have some fun with this, so I hid the candy behind me, stood on a cafeteria chair, got the kids’ attention and said, “I think you guys are great so I want to give a kiss to each and every one of you.” Then I puckered up.

The boys responded just as I expected and started to boo. But then the trouble started as everyone started yelling — louder and louder. I grabbed the bag of goodies to show them I was only kidding, but by that time no one was listening and I think I even got pelted with a couple of tater tots. The kids were eventually corralled outside to work off their energy and I imagine the principal and teachers are probably still talking about it.

I tell this story because I think Indiana’s teachers and the state’s education schools might have a point being concerned about the proposals made by Indiana’s Superintendent Tony Bennett. The Department of Education is considering changing requirements for teachers, one of which is to require fewer “methods” or classroom management classes and more subject matter classes.

On the other hand, Bennett has a point when he says it should be easier for noneducation majors to teach in the schools. It never made sense to me that someone who has a passion for a subject and actually worked in a career where they used it has to jump through so many hoops in order to teach.

I can see how this is controversial. What it would say about our current teachers if people who don’t have a specific teaching degree but know the subject well do just fine, or even better, in the classroom than education majors? The possibility of this happening has to scare those invested in the current education system.

I question whether any of this really makes any difference though because as long as we continue to copy the Prussian school model, we aren’t really doing much for anyone interested in learning. It does work well to grind up and mold large groups of children and force them to fit into boxes that can easily be organized, controlled, and artificially measured though.

Teachers working in such systems do need “methods” courses. It takes some time to learn how to tell a lively group of kids they need to sit down, shut up and learn about stuff they probably aren’t the least bit interested in.

Controversies between teachers and administrators presuppose that it’s all about them but it’s not. It’s about the learner. But no one ever asks students what they think, which results in a system that too quickly subtracts out natural curiosity, innovative creativity and zest for learning. So whether or not Tony Bennett gets his way and changes the rules so teachers learn more content or whether pedagogy wins, the kids lose.

It’s really not hard to help someone learn if he or she is engaged and has a real, not artificially created, reason for gaining knowledge about a topic. We need to give kids more freedom in what and how they learn without all the control freaks getting in the way.

If we ever decide that it’s learning that matters and not simply controlling the masses and maintaining old institutional ways of thinking, many of our education problems will be much easier to solve.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson really enjoys starting riots in elementary schools, particularly now that she’s developed gear that offers protection from wayward tater tots.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proof You Won't Change The System By Getting Involved

COLUMN NOTES: I really became annoyed reading a column written by republican state representative Ed Clere. He wrote this column bragging about his success in bringing stimulus funds to our area while at the same time claiming he disagrees with it.

HARBESON: Let’s clear the rhetoric

Wow, it must really feel good to be federally stimulated. At least Indiana Rep. Ed Clere makes me think so. I’m sure he’s right because the deal he recently brokered as paid political middleman would certainly make some people feel good. I do have friends and family who will benefit from this forced transfer of funds from one group to another so it’s nice to know someone locally is being stimulated.

Good for Clere. He performed his job well. This is exactly what he’s supposed to do. By filling out the right papers, he’s made quite a few people very thankful and they’ll take care of him now. So the system lives. The system grows.

I also can’t blame Clere for writing a column promoting his successful stimulation of sewers. What I don’t get is why he felt the need to pile on so much additional doo-doo.

Most ridiculous was his comment about how important this is because it helps Georgetown residents afford their sewer bills. Well of course it’s hard to afford it; they have to pay for the stimulus projects his cohorts are also handing out around the country.

He also explains that he’s making sure this area gets back our “fair share.” But what does that mean? What evidence does he have to prove that this was our area’s “fair share?” Does the citizen living in Podunk, USA, who received nothing think this is true? “Fair share” is impossible to calculate, nor do we know what economic activities have been stifled due to the stimulus handouts.

Even worse, he says Floyd County taxpayers are off the hook. This is a perfect example of how politicians use the layers of government to their advantage. The Floyd county taxpayers are paying plenty for this because the tax bill was simply transferred to another government entity. One much harder to control by the way.

But by far, what bugged me most is when Clere congratulated himself while at the same time claiming to disagree with the federal government’s way of stimulating the economy. I simply do not get that. All of his energy was spent on continuing the system, in fact, legitimizing the system, and none on figuring out how to change it so why bother to even say that?

What are we to do with that information? Is it supposed to make everyone feel better about taking the money? Is it supposed to make the people who don’t get lower sewer bills feel better? Did he change anything that could improve our children’s future dealings with the federal government? Was it simply more pandering just in case someone criticizes how he spent the last six months of taxpayer time?

I understand if money’s been taken and we can do something to get some back, it’s certainly practical to do so. Yet there must be a feeling that something’s inherently wrong with the system or else Clere would not feel the need to share that he disagrees at the same time he’s proclaiming success.

What can those of us do who think the entire system needs to be changed? Obviously electing new people, even those who belong to parties that pretend they don’t want bigger government isn’t going to change anything. We clearly, or should I say Clerely, see how joining and working inside the system is not going to accomplish this task, so what now?

If we are to accept the idea that it’s only practical to try and get money back that’s been forcibly taken, then the root issue must be handing over the money in the first place, right? The money gives the system its power. Or to be more exact, the belief that it’s moral to take the money in the first place is what gives the system its power.

As I see it, the only way to get started down a new road is to do what we can to avoid handing over our money and/or get a conversation started on how we can morally justify the taking of money by force.

Once enough people think the system is morally reprehensible, they will act on that belief. They will refuse to hand over the money and neighbors will back each other up because it’s the right thing to do.

So how about you? Where do you stand on the basic morality of a group of people being able to take money by force when you as an individual cannot do the same? How many will it take to stand up with me and say we are morally opposed to this system of coercion before more people join in?

If this is the wrong way to go about change, then what other alternatives are there for those morally opposed to the existing system?

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson recently experienced an unusual shiver up her spine and wonders if it’s a result of local federal stimulation of the economy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Run a Business Like a Government

HARBESON: How to run a business like a government


Because of Clark County government’s money-management problems and the resulting new income tax, some citizens are grumbling that “government needs to learn to run like a business!”

I used to think that too, until I realized I had it completely backward. I want to use this revelation to help others, so with that in mind, here are some tips on “How to Run a Business like a Government” for anyone who wants to give it a shot

Tip One

When you choose your “services” to provide, don’t concern yourself with market demand. This is irrelevant because you are going to initiate force against people in order to fund your service. However, if you want to lessen the chance of skepticism, find one person who’s struggling with an issue and use this anecdote as evidence of a “crisis” which your service happens to “fix.”

Tip Two

Hire someone to hold your gun for you. Oh, come on, don’t look so surprised. Remember, this advice is geared to running your business like a government. See, what you are going to do is force people to pay for your service, but you want to have some semblance of illusion here that what you’re doing isn’t threatening violence to ensure compliance.

Therefore, I recommend hiring someone to stand behind you, holding the gun. For added effect, give him a spiffy uniform. Now all you need to do is talk about the wonderful service you provide.

Tip Three

Another important element for success is creating a board of elected officials who vote for your various price increase schemes. This will make your “customers” feel like they have a say in your pricing decisions. In addition, the elections will keep people so busy that they stop thinking about that gun you have in the background.

BONUS TIP: Make sure you find people who are good at wringing their hands and saying how sorry they are, but in order to keep providing the service, they simply have to increase the price.

Tip Four
You will run into people who don’t want to pay because they don’t need your service at all, or would prefer to use a competitor. Just smile and tell them they are free not to use the service, all they need to do is fund it.

BONUS TIP: It’s often very helpful to instill guilt by inserting abstract phrases like “social contract” and “common good.”

Tip Five

Besides the guy with the gun and the elected officials, you will of course want to hire other people to administer the service. (Unless you’re in Jeffersonville, in that case just hire Republican elected officials.)

Don’t worry about ability; you’re developing dependency not competency. These people do the work of silencing and ridiculing those who continue to question the efficiency, validity and moral legitimacy of your actions.

Warning: Don’t let this group get too big or you will ruin your business because no one will be creating wealth for you to take.

Tip Six

Keep information flowing on the importance of your service and how well it works.

Warning: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to determine whether your service really does work well. You can’t figure this out because this information only comes from using the voluntary market and again, this is about running your business like a government.

Looks like that’s all the room I have for now, but this should get you started just fine in operating your business without having to concern yourself with persuading people to voluntarily trade with you for something they consider to be valuable and worthy.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wondered why her new bra was bothering her when writing this column, until she realized she had it completely backward.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Got Me A Car, It's As Big As A Whale

I don't think any column notes are really necessary for this one...

HARBESON: The drive to impede

Driver’s education was the only class I took in high school that I can remember being enthused about. Finally, the chance to take a class that had an immediate benefit.

The experience would have been even better if I could have studied the written portion on my own rather than sitting through another class.

Nowadays, I figured the age of computers meant that all Indiana students could freely choose an online option. But I was wrong.

Currently, only students in the Indianapolis area can take the classroom portion online and only through a single approved government source, the Central Indiana Education Services Center.

Other districts in the state and private driver’s education organizations would naturally like to offer online classes, too. But it’s not just a simple matter of them developing their classes and offering them to anyone who wants to take advantage of the opportunity.

No, that would make too much sense. And it also wouldn’t give the state legislature anything to do.

Therefore, we have another Indiana Legislative Interim Study Committee, this one on driver’s education, and one agenda item is whether or not to allow students to take the classroom portion online.

By the way, Indiana students don’t have to take these classes, but if they don’t, they have to wait longer to get their license, which is another example of government interference in your family decisions.

Some legislators do not appear to have a problem with an online option, but there are others who have “concerns.” One legislator in particular is worried about the possibility that someone else other than the student who signed up would do the work.

This is a ridiculous argument because new drivers have to take the written test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Either the student needs the online class to learn what he or she needs to know to pass the written exam — which means the person has built-in motivation — or he or she can coast through the exam without needing the class anyway — which I suppose would also bother some people.

I suspect this legislator knew he was driving down a dead-end on the above issue, because he was ready with another one: He said that those who took the classes online would miss out on valuable classroom discussions. But online classes have proven to be a very effective alternative for students to learn at their own pace.

By now, you may be confused as to why this guy is looking so hard for reasons to restrict the freedom to provide online classes. Here’s a possible answer: He’s a driver’s education teacher in a government school system.

I watched part of a video (hey, online learning!) of one of these meetings and it was funny to see everyone seriously discussing whether or not to give teenagers the freedom to take the classroom portion online while the politicians were sitting there with their laptops in front of them.

It was also interesting given the recent developments of the computer laptop program in the Greater Clark School System. What’s the point of giving kids the opportunity to learn about computers if they are denied the chance to experience a real benefit of the technology?

I see no reason for these politicians to waste time discussing this issue. If companies want to provide the option and families want to purchase it, just get out of the way.

After all, when it gets down to it, actually getting out and driving a car is how students learn to drive. Not by being forced to sit in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about it.

SIGLINE: Without the benefit of any classes, Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has proven to be an excellent back-seat driver. Just ask her husband.