Monday, February 22, 2016

Who I'm Not Voting For - An Argument

This morning a relative of mine posted an old picture of Trump and Hillary at an event. The first comment says that the system is broken and we should vote for Bernie.

I've stayed out of politics during these primaries because of work and the insanity of these primaries.

But this social media post got me writing.

I really like what Bernie has to say. A lot.

And I think he could beat many of the GOP candidates in the general election (probably not Rubio or Kasich).

But I will not vote for Bernie for two important reasons.

First, Bernie's promise of a political revolution - the revolution that would allow him to overcome opposition to his agenda - is deeply problematic.

The Tea Party made a similar promise and sent a bunch of idiots to Congress in an attempt to overcome Beltway gridlock. To be fair to them, I'll cite two examples to support calling Tea Party representatives idiots.
1) They shut down the government and
2) They threatened to defaut on the nation's debt.
Many Tea Party people actually still think those were good ideas, and when you ask them why, they'll tell you it's because "the system is broken."

Bernie wants to sweep aside any opposition to his bold plans by ushering in a political revolution that will put new like-minded people in Congress. So, who are those people?
Seriously. I'm asking. I don't know who will fill those seats.

Is Bernie planning to bring in the Left's version of the Tea Party? That's what it sounds like, and I want no part of that.

Governing is challenging and complex work that requires compromise. The revolution Bernie is calling for fails to see that. It is uncompromising in its vision. I don't like that.

When I think of Obama's greatest achievements, I see bold plans that were blunted and bruised by the process, but they moved forward.

Second, even if Bernie's economic plans work in the long term (which I don't think they will), they will cause so much economic disruption that my generation will live in a very insecure economic environment. I'm raising kids. I have a great union job working for the State of California. The level of upheaval Bernie is proposing at the national level would create stress that might lead to backlash at the state level.

Now, I recognize some people in the US are struggling more than I am, and I understand this is a serious issue - one that should drive the decision about how we all vote. But when I look at Bernie's supporting evidence for his argument about how he'll pay for all this, I am not convinced.
From how Sander's will pay for College for All

Here's a screenshot from a white paper on how Sander's would use a tax on Wall Street to pay for his 'college for all' plan. In it, the economist assumes trading volume would fall by 50%. Ummm... That's kind of a big deal. If you were looking for a way to fuel income inequality, this unintended consequence is an excellent way to do that, because it would make it so only the wealthy could afford to invest in the US economy.

It's a bad plan. I'd love to see 'college for all' happen, but this is not a workable path to that idea.

This op-ed from Fareed Zakaria gives a sense of what the broader community of economists think of Sander's plans. The entire set of plans "assumes that per capita growth would average 4.5 percent (more than double the rate over the past three decades), and that the employment-to-population ratio would suddenly reverse its long decline and reach 65 percent, the highest ever. Even more magically, productivity growth would rise to 3.18 percent. As Kevin Drum has pointed out in Mother Jones, 'there has never been a 10-year period since World War II in which productivity grew by 3.18 percent.'"

These are not viable plans.

So, why are we listening?

Because these plans are what we want to hear. We want someone with bold ideas to come and fix a deeply flawed system.

But here's the thing. The system always has been and always will be deeply flawed, because it is a human system. We don't get to fix that without some kind of Skynet event.

The rise of Bernie's vision and others like it have been fueled by a belief that our system's flaws are leading us to some kind of destruction.

I get nervous when a politician tells me we have to follow his plan or else our world will fall apart. That's a desperate rhetorical trick.

Our world is not ending; it's changing.
The system is not broken, it's imperfect.
And no, Bernie, it is not a disgrace to live in an America with imperfect healthcare.

Sure, it might be a little embarrassing at times, but it is not a disgrace.

I wish we took better care of the poor. I wish we supported a stronger education system. I wish we did more to fight economic inequality.

But those are stars to navigate by; they are not policy goals for a first term.

And the thing is, we are actually doing an okay job... if you're willing to take the long view.

Our large and diverse nation is navigating changing times as well or better than the rest of the world.
We have 4.9% unemployment with some upward pressure on wages.
Our investment markets have been crazy, but they are functioning despite uncertainty out of Europe, China, Japan, Russia, and Brazil (to name a few).
At the end of last year we passed a huge infrastructure bill.
More people have healthcare.
It looks like people might start buying homes again.
Marriage equality is here to stay.
We've ended No Child Left Behind.
I could keep going, because we are moving in the right direction. It takes time, work, and patience, but that's how progress works.

The argument that we need a major upheaval is an appeal to emotion with very little basis in fact, and that is why I won't vote for Bernie.

And the length of this post is why I've been trying to avoid political conversations for the last few months. If you've stuck with me this long, thanks

Monday, February 15, 2016

That Thing We Do [fixed]

There's this thing many composition teachers do. I do it too.

We share our students' particularly egregious writing errors or silly writing constructions with friends, spouses, peers, and really, anyone who will listen. We do so looking for a laugh.

We need to do this. We read a lot of mistakes, and finding humor in some of those mistakes makes the difficult work easier.

I have no problem with this practice, although I'm not crazy about seeing student errors shared in big public spaces. I see a lot of it on Facebook, and sometimes feel like those post are exploiting our students. Regardless of what I think, however, this stuff does get out into the social media landscape and onto click-bait websites.

The problem isn't the sharing; it's the responses I often see when people read these errors. 

It's always some version of this: 
How did that student get into college? 
How did that student get out of middle school?

The follow up goes one of two ways. People either suggest A) kids today are dumber than they should be or else B) our teachers aren't doing their jobs.

There are so many things wrong with these reactions, but I only want to get into two of the problems here.

First, composition instructors don't share examples of average writing. The stuff that works in a composition class is not amusing to outside readers. The only thing we're going to share are the hilarious mistakes (maybe the occasional moments of graceful writing), and it seems a bit unfair to judge an entire generation (or their teachers) based on such a biased sample.

Second, let's not decide if a student deserves a university education based on a poorly-worded attempt at a writing task. I mean, if the instructor is any good, the task should be challenging, making mistakes all the more likely. 

Keep in mind, the entire discipline of composition and rhetoric has been defined and redefined by the continued expansion of access to a college. We owe much of our livelihood to people who believe the opportunity to attend college should be extended to a larger portion of the population. 
Here's some of that history:
Yes. We should admit veterans to college.
Yes. We should admit economically disadvantaged students to college.
Yes. We should admit minorities to college.
Yes. We should admit people who grew up with families that don't speak English to college.
Yes. We should admit students from other countries to college.
And the list will continue to grow, because knowledge is valuable. 

It doesn't make the job easier. So, we'll probably continue to share the funny mistakes our students make. Just don't allow those mistakes to be taken out of context. 

EDIT: When I first posted, I was in a rush and used images and links to some fictional student errors. I was trying to illustrate how this stuff gets out there - beyond the first Facebook share. But that wasn't really important, and the lazy link undermined the larger point - as my friend Aaron pointed out with some glee on Facebook. I've pulled those links and images, but here's the Snopes article on it.

Friday, February 12, 2016

New Teaching Stuff

I just wanted to take a second to share the support material I developed for my first-year composition course.

Here is the sample portfolio I set up to explain the purpose and format of the course portfolio.

I think it has turned out quite nice.