Thursday, January 12, 2012

Column: Ellie Kinnaird's greeting from Raleigh

Dear Friends,
In a bizarre session called for this purpose and that kept the House in until after 1 a.m., the legislature did not override the governor’s veto of the Racial Justice Act for which the special session was called. The Senate, where Republicans hold 31 seats to the Democrats' 19, easily overrode the veto.
The debate in the Senate reiterated the reasons for the original bill: I spoke about the several conclusive studies showing that race is definitely a factor in the imposition of the death penalty. Law Professor Boger and Political Science Professor Uno researched a comprehensive study of the death penalty as administered in North Carolina. They hired recent law graduates to go into every court house in the state and review every death penalty. The study found that there were three situations in which a person was given the death penalty over others not given the penalty: rural areas (that is understandable because in a small community everyone knows everyone and the emotions run high), poverty (rich people don’t end up on death row) and the race of the victim (white) and the perpetrator (black). The numbers were significant.
Two other studies have shown the same thing. The Michigan study done just last year shows that a black person is 2.5 time more likely to get the death penalty in cases where the jury had either no black people on it or only one. It sadly is about race even though we wish it weren’t.
But the House Republicans did not have the votes so instead decided to vote on overriding the veto of the bill that prohibited teachers from an automatic withdrawal of their dues to North Carolina Association of Educators. Many other groups ranging from United Way to state employees will still be allowed to participate in automatic payroll deductions. So for the legislature to disallow teachers the same privilege looks suspect since teachers vigorously objected to the cuts in education in this years’ budget. The bill affects not only the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state organization, but many other local teachers’ and teachers’ assistants’ associations throughout the state.
One of the Legislative Commissions is the Child Fatality Tax Force, which this year produced a recommendation that was passed into law requiring teens getting a learners’ driver’s license to log in 60 hours spread over six weeks driving in the car with an adult and record it in a journal. To get to the provisional level, students have to log 12 more hours but without requiring an adult in the car. The proponents feel this will cut down on teens’ reckless driving that leads to many serious accidents. This may help accountability and teach responsibility, and I voted for the bill, but I think many parents may find this difficult to fulfill.

The Public School Forum studies issues that affect our public school system. They have studied 10 foreign systems so far and just reported on their trip to Finland, which has one of the highest educational achievement records in the world. While Finland is more homogenous than the U.S., it has a large Swedish population with distinctly different cultural and linguistic traditions than the Finns. They also have Russians, Somali and Vietnamese immigrants and now even more diversity from the opening of borders from the EU. Finland is also a nation of diverse and well-balanced economic development. Their school achievement arises from several fronts. High pay and Masters Degree training for all teachers (even elementary) who are well-respected. Teachers work fewer hours to prevent burn-out and do not have all the burdensome paperwork we require. School systems are equal in rural and urban areas. Finland attracts the best and brightest into teaching and limits the number of teaching schools to those with high standards and that use research extensively. The teachers come from the top 20 percent of high school graduates.
All students are expected to do well, but testing is only for diagnostic purposes, and schools and teachers are not graded on test results nor are they published.
Prevention is the guiding philosophy. Finland focuses on special education and special assistance to students needing help, from eyesight to language impairment. Early education begins at 8 months of age, continuing through age 5. It is run by the health ministry and focuses not on education but on overall well-being, with staffing of one full-time teacher and two full-time nurses for each 12 students through age 3, and from 3 through 5, one teacher and two nurses for 20 students. At age six, children begin pre-school but don’t start formal training but instead focus on socializing. When they start formal school at age 7, children begin language acquisition and other subjects.
Finland also has a diversified and balanced economic system and is ranked as one of the most competitive. 76 percent of health care is provided by the government. Finland is rated No. 4 on child well-being and No. 1 in low rates of child still birth and best place for women to live (Finland granted women the vote in 1906.) The pension system provides 60 percent of the average of a retiree’s last four years of income in the private sector, 66 percent for public sector.

Occupy Chapel Hill has decided to shut down, at least for a time. I greatly commend those who started the movement, and we must keep their message alive. It expresses what so many are feeling and the desire and need to bring real change to our country.
However, it is not surprising that it would end and may eventually end throughout the country. To start with, the streets are already home to a group of people: the homeless, some of whom are mentally ill and prefer the streets, some who can’t give up alcohol and won’t adhere to the homeless shelter rules, some drug abusers and some criminals. When Occupy moved into their territory with tents, and food and medical supplies and chairs and other comforts of home, that was ready-made for the street crowd. Unfortunately the two didn’t mix very well.
Beyond that, while the message is so important, only talking without action is unsustainable. The difference between the civil rights movement, divestment of apartheid, ending the Vietnam War and even the Tea party is that concrete changes took place through either working in the system to get people elected or civil disobedience on a grand scale with the goal of changing discriminating laws or stopping the war.
Where does Occupy go? That remains to be seen, but I know their general assembly is still meeting and planning. Maybe we’ll see a new and effective direction emerge.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to send us a comment. Just be sure to keep it clean and respectful. And we reserve the right to not publish anonymous comments.