Sunday, December 26, 2010

We Need an Education Santa

HARBESON: A wish list for Education Santa

CLARK COUNTY — Don’t you just love the spirit behind the idea of Santa? Santa cares about kids and enjoys asking them questions. Santa is very curious about what a child is interested in.

I wish this spirit could spread to the schools because we desperately need an Education Santa, someone who cares enough to ask kids what they want.

People say our education system is for the children but it’s not. We don’t let students have much say at all in determining what they will learn and how they will go about learning it.

The folks in control don’t bother to ask children questions that could give them information to help teach students what they’d like to learn. Instead, students must sit quietly at their desks while the adults continually fight with each other over what education means and how to make it happen.

It doesn’t take long for most children to learn this vital lesson: individual interests don’t matter. They are quickly smashed down as the system molds kids to fit inside identical boxes, where very specific skills are crammed into a very tight schedule. Then when these students are finally set free and expected to figure out what they are interested in, most of them don’t have a clue.

It’s not that the schools don’t ask kids questions. Schools are hyper-focused on asking kids questions. It’s just that those questions have nothing to do with the individual child. The questions and answers are predesigned and predetermined by those who think a child’s interest is irrelevant.

Some teachers understand this very well and object to being held to standards that are based on how well they get students to succumb to this process. They understand that to excel as a teacher in the current system is to turn out a robotic product that is nearly devoid of any natural curiosity and desire to learn. And it only gets worse as the child moves along the conveyor belt.

A skilled teacher would welcome merit pay in a situation where the child and teacher collaborate together on a topic the student wants to learn. But this is not the purpose of an education system based on the nasty combination of compulsory attendance and funding. Our system is really only looking for teachers willing to train students in the two essential elements necessary to keep the system going: conformity and obedience to authority.

However, for those who really want to, it is possible to play Education Santa and ask the children what they want. I must warn you though, whether you’re a teacher or a parent, if you do decide to play this part, you’ll soon discover that respecting children enough to ask them questions and take their answers seriously will put you at direct odds with the goals of the compulsory system.

The people in charge will likely fight you in any attempts you make to give more respect to the kids. Remember, the system isn’t built on the freedom and flexibility needed to really help a child learn what he’s interested in learning. So if you dare to play Education Santa, you’re probably going to have to climb up the chimney and out of the coercive system.

Rest assured, though, that plenty of other Education Santas are already out there flying around and they would be glad to share the varied resources piled high in their sleds. They’re all happy to assist because they know that helping a child learn by following his interests at his own pace is the best educational gift anyone can give. And it’s just as much fun for the Santas too.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson slipped on some figgy pudding yesterday while chasing 10 lords a leaping at the company Christmas party.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be True to Your School and Do Some Drugs!

HARBESON: Drug seizure funding is a drag

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I don’t know how you feel about illegal drug use, but if you are currently against it and you also care about funding government schools, you may want to reconsider your position.

Here’s why: Indiana’s laws are set up so that the government schools can benefit from illegal drug trade through asset forfeiture laws. Of course, it’s kind of a bureaucratic process so a couple steps need to happen before the schools get any money from your illegal transactions.

First of all, your dealer would have to be caught so the government can seize his assets. Yes, that would put a crimp in your future support, but only temporarily. After all, we know from decades of fighting the drug war that someone else will quickly fill the void.

So that part’s really no big deal.

The hard part is the second consideration, making sure government officials actually follow the laws they set up for themselves. In Indiana, the law says that when a county seizes assets from a crime — and everyone agrees that most of these crimes are drug related — they are supposed to deduct the costs of law enforcement and then send the rest to the Common School Fund.

Now, some of you might think it’s kind of creepy to fund schools this way but it makes sense once you understand the drug war. Drug transactions are only crimes because government says so.

There is no victim needing restitution, so asset seizure only benefits the government that made the transactions illegal in the first place. Since this makes the drug war look like an unending profit-making scheme for the government, they have to direct some of the money to areas few will criticize.

But creating a law that tells government officials where to direct funds doesn’t mean they will actually follow it. Recently, a private law firm figured out that most counties in Indiana have not been depositing any money from asset seizures into the Common School Fund. This firm believes these counties are not following the law properly, so they filed suit.

The county prosecutors were completely offended. They said they certainly are acting properly and reminded everyone that the law says they can deduct law enforcement costs first and well, they can’t help it if it just so happens that in all the cases, the enforcement costs exceeds the value of the seized assets.

Supposedly, the law firm that filed the suit thought Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller would investigate this possible abuse of the law on behalf of the citizens. But Zoeller said he was going to defend the prosecutors instead.

Zoeller said there is a state law that says if a prosecutor is sued in connection with his job, Zoeller has to defend him. I know that sounds strangely cozy but, hey, it’s state law.

But even so, Zoeller figured out this was a sticky situation, so of course he’s passing the buck. He said the courts are not the proper place to figure out this problem. He said the state law is unclear and the prosecutors need more direction in determining how much to deposit into the school fund.

So this issue is apparently moving to the wise, all-knowing legislature. You know, the entity who already wrote the previous law that has professional lawyers all across the state confused. The legislature thinks they can come up with a formula, through the political process that will settle this once and for all.

And that will be just great because then those who participate in the illegal drug trade will be able to figure out exactly how many joints it takes to put another brick in the wall.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson bets that many readers of this column are now wondering how much you contributed to the common school fund over the years.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who's in Charge of the Drainage?

HARBESON: A draining issue

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clark County Surveyor Bob Isgrigg appears to have come out on top in two skirmishes with the Clark County Drainage Board.

Isgrigg contended that the Drainage Board spent funds improperly and a State Board of Accounts report backed up this claim. Isgrigg also won a lawsuit against the Drainage Board, accusing them of not following proper procedure when they bypassed the Surveyor to fix two drainage issues.

I’m on Isgrigg’s side as far as the SBOA report is concerned, particularly on the issue of government money being spent where private owners may have been responsible. According to current Drainage Board attorney Greg Fifer, when this issue came to a head, all parties agreed mistakes were made but by that time checks were deposited and the work was done so for various reasons it was declared moot.

(I’m starting to wonder if this is the preferred method of getting things done for our local governments. Just charge ahead, do what you want, ignore any laws or regulations and then when the work is done, shrug your shoulders.)

So, Isgrigg seems to be right on target in relation to the SBOA report. But when it comes to this lawsuit and any possible implications, I’m not so sure.

According to state law, the surveyor is the “technical authority” of all regulated drains in the county. However, for state law to be applicable, the county needs to have “regulated drains.” This is where the important controversy exists.

Does the county have “regulated drains” as defined by state law or not?

Isgrigg says yes. Judge Vicki Carmichael’s judgment, at least as it pertains to the two drains in the lawsuit, agrees. However, it’s the position of the drainage board and its lawyer Greg Fifer that the county does not have “regulated drains.”

Here’s my position: I have no idea. It’s complicated. All I know is that whether or not we have “regulated drains,” we certainly do have what I would call “regulated drainage” because developers are required to submit drainage plans and get approval before they can build in this county. So drainage in general is obviously regulated, but whether or not that has anything to do with “regulated drains” as defined by state law no one seems to know.

Maybe forcing the developers to pay fees and get drainage plan approval does transfer responsibility to the government. If so, that certainly doesn’t sound right. Surely we don’t want to have instances where the developers aren’t responsible for their actions. Yet this appears to be what Isgrigg is celebrating.

Isgrigg sounds giddy when he says homeowners can now sue the county for violating state law. He seems to want the county to be financially responsible for subdivision drainage problems. But why should government be responsible?

Isgrigg says the way the county has been operating meant homeowners needed to get help from developers. But that makes perfect sense. Developers perform the drainage work so naturally they are the responsible party.

If people are having trouble with developers on drainage issues, how does that make the government responsible? Doesn’t that just mean the homeowners need to pursue action against the developers? If class-action lawsuits are a good idea now, against the county, why weren’t class action lawsuits filed against developers?

Who does he think is going to pay if there are judgments against the county? Governments have no wealth; they can only take wealth from the private sector.

Will the taxes the developers paid in drainage approval fees be enough to pay for any drainage responsibility that Isgrigg thinks this lawsuit covers? If not, will only those who directly benefit be the ones to pay? Or will any action drag in others who had no part in any of this and receive no direct benefit? If so, then this is not a win.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is wondering how to handle her own current drainage issue: Should she just sniff or go get a tissue?
Photo courtesy wikimedia

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homeschoolers Caught in the Crossfire

I made my first video on Wow it was really fun. I recommend that site for anyone who wants to have some fun writing scripts and making videos.

This video is in response to a controversy that is brewing in Indiana due to the increased concentration on dropout rates in government schools. Richmond Community Schools has been embroiled in controversy on this issue for some time now. You can read more about that here.

Here's the video I made in response to the controversy:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Citizen Intimidation in Charlestown Indiana?

HARBESON: This is water torture

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — If you are at all concerned about government intimidation of its own citizens, you’ll want to keep your eye on Charlestown city government.

Charlestown, by way of the Board of Public Works, recently threatened to sue Citizens for Better Government, a local organization that placed an advertisement in a local weekly paper, The Leader.

This ad listed several points about manganese in water systems. After a few minutes on Google, I found a lot of information about manganese and, like many things humans ingest these days, opinions differ on what is considered safe. Just the fact that the effects of manganese are still being studied is enough to merit this as a valid topic to bring to people.

But Charlestown government didn’t think so and they threatened to sue. How did this government arrive at that decision? What thought process did officials use to conclude that they should use taxpayer funds to threaten a group of citizens who decided to share information about an important issue?

According to Mayor Bob Hall and Board attorney Mike Gillenwater, they were concerned about water customers’ fears after seeing this ad. They were concerned people would panic when given information about manganese in the water supply.

I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen. Maybe they thought this ad would send Charlestown’s water customers out in the streets screaming, completely mortified by the sight of a glass of water. Or maybe they thought the movie “Psycho” was nothing compared to the fears people would have now when pulling the shower curtain.

We know they certainly didn’t consider that individuals might follow up on the details. We know they didn’t consider that customers might use the ad to learn more for themselves. We know they didn’t even consider that families in possession of those new government-school-issued laptops might actually use them for real research.

What does this say about Charlestown government’s opinion of the people they serve? How much confidence do they have in the residents’ ability to think for themselves if they assume citizens can be so easily led by one advertisement simply stating information about manganese in the water supply?

Don’t you wonder how they thought this through? Was this action based on the expert advice of attorney Mike Gillenwater? Or was he just following the orders of Hall and others on the Board of Public Works?

We do know that Hall thinks the group implied that Charlestown’s water was unsafe and they wanted to panic customers. And yet we don’t see the mayor upset about the advertisements out there for water filtration systems making implied health claims and listing manganese as a substance their filters can control. To be consistent and fair, shouldn’t he threaten to sue those businesses?

We also know that Gillenwater thinks the group ran the ad to embarrass the mayor before next year’s election. If the attorney advising the city on issues believes this, then how did that affect the discussions on this matter?

The government is reportedly dropping the legal action that initiated the threat of suit and what we’re hearing now is officials inviting these citizens to speak during government meetings.

Who knows what the individuals involved will do, but I know that I wouldn’t care to go to a government meeting and speak under the constraints and imposed rules of those in charge of running such meetings, the same people who were willing to sue.

I’d rather use any and all communication methods available to me in the private realm, and stay as far away as possible from government control, manipulation and most of all, intimidation.

But that’s just me.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson isn’t afraid of showers. However, she goes absolutely psycho if she sees herself in the mirror after stepping out of one.
Photo courtesy wikimedia