An Open Letter to President and Mrs. Obama

Dear President and Mrs. Obama:

While the election of Donald Trump has created great uncertainty for the poor and minorities, there is no uncertainty about the impact Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos will have on public schools and our nation’s most vulnerable children. If ever we needed powerful champions for American public schools, their students, and communities we need it now.

During your eight years in office, your administration had very little impact on public education. Disappointing, I know, but the facts are indisputable that millions of American children are struggling in school. Once you leave the White House, however, you will be perfectly positioned to lead public education through a transformation. All that is required is that you open your hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about the reasons why so many of our children are failing and what we can do about it.

Think about what is happening in our public schools in urban and rural communities all over the U.S. The numbers are staggering. In just two school districts in Fort Wayne, Indiana, more than 7,000 students in grades 3 through 8 are unable to pass both math and language arts components of the 2016 ISTEP+ exams (Indiana’s version of high stakes testing). While seventy to eighty percent of African-American children are among that population, that total also includes white and other minority students.

These children are not just statistics; they are living, breathing boys and girls with names and fading dreams. Multiply that total by the number of struggling urban and rural school districts in the U.S. and we are talking about millions of children. This is a national tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope. That the percentage of children who pass both exams actually drops when they reach middle school is evidence that the longer we allow this reality to persist, the further behind these children will fall.

While many students do excel in public schools, the overwhelming majority of the students who are struggling will leave school without the skills necessary to give them choices about what to do with their lives. They will return to the communities into which they were born and will begin producing a whole new generation of children who are destined to fail in school and are doomed to live in poverty, just as their parents and grandparents have done. Many will end up in prison or die an early, violent death. This is not an exaggeration, it is incontrovertible fact.

This tragedy in public education exists because both education reformers and public school educators are wrong in their assertions about the cause of these failures and what to do about them. While public school teachers and administrators defend public education in spite of compelling evidence that the needs of disadvantaged children are not being met, education reformers promote the privatization of our schools through the use of charter schools and vouchers so that parents can use tax dollars to pay for their children to attend charter schools and other private schools.

The fallacy in this latter approach is that education reformers are doing nothing to help the public schools that are being abandoned. It is as if they have decided to help the children they can and let the rest fend for themselves. We cannot permit public education to become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer the opportunity for a quality education without which the American Dream cannot exist.

How many failing children does it take before we declare the evidence to be compelling? Only a fortunate few of these young people will find a good job on which they can support their families, contribute to American enterprise, and pay their fair share of taxes. The rest will continue to be an economic burden to taxpayers and a social burden on their communities and justice systems. The fact that these Americans are perceived as a burden is the single greatest factor in the chasm that divides the American people. It is this reality that solidifies the anger and resentment in the hearts of so many Americans and allows them to justify their prejudices and, in some cases, their bigotry. Donald Trump’s election is proof positive.

There is a simple axiom in business that if a system or process consistently fails to produce acceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people are working, then the system is flawed. Clearly, the educational process at work in our schools is flawed. In almost any other venue, leadership would promptly replace the flawed process with one that can and will produce the desired outcomes. Educators are not trained, however, to step back and examine what they do systematically. In public education, educators and reformers are entrenched in a ferocious battle over all of the wrong things and we keep making the same mistakes and enduring the same unacceptable outcomes.

Every once in a while, throughout history, there have been voices crying out in the wilderness with new ideas that changed the world. Consider the possibility that this appeal might be such a voice and, then, visit https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. There, you can review the implementation plan for my Education Model and a white paper that provides an overview of the findings and recommendations offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-first Century America. It is an education model that enables public school teachers to give disadvantaged students the time and attention they need to learn while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and that rejects the idea that learning is a competition with winners and losers. It is a model that is structured to support success and that rejects failure, absolutely.

Thank you for your service to our nation and for the class and compassion with which both of you have served. Then, please recognize that your work is not done. With your help we can alter the reality for disadvantaged children, far too many of whom are poor, black, and other minorities. Our nation’s children need you more than ever.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

How Can Trump Make America Great Again When He Has Made Us Embarrassed To Be Americans?

How can Donald Trump make America great again when he has made so many of us embarrassed to be Americans?

How can we trust a man who is so willing to accuse other people of wrong-doing? Just because Trump shouts out, over and over again, that “Hillary is a crook” and “should be in prison” doesn’t make it true. I remember being taught that the people who are quickest to accuse other people are often guilty themselves. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, in Hamlet, “[he] doth protest too much, methinks!”

How have we gotten to such a point in our nation’s history that a candidate for President of the United States can make false accusations, ridicule and bully people, make sexually inappropriate comments to women, brand the citizens of whole nations and the worshipers of an entire religion as evil and as a threat to our public safety, and make outlandish promises without ever actually saying what he intends to do?

Even more difficult to fathom is the willingness of millions of American voters to believe everything Donald Trump has to say and jump on his bandwagon as if he is going to save our nation. He has already done more harm to America than any other public figure in our lifetimes and he has only run for President. He has brought out the worst in us, not the best. One can only wonder how much harm he can do if he actually gets elected to the Presidency?

We cannot possibly solve our nation’s problems and face the challenges of the 21st Century until we can find common themes on which the American people can unite. What Trump is doing is dividing the American people to such a degree that it seems improbable that we can ever work together to serve the best interests of the population, in all of its diversity. The only way he can possibly accomplish anything that he is promising will be to impose his will on the people and that means abandoning our democratic principles.

Is this the America we want for our children and grandchildren? If it is not, then please vote this coming Tuesday and that means voting for Hillary Clinton. Whether or not we agree with her on every issue, this women is guilty of none of the insane accusations that have been made, rather she has worked her entire life to help make things better for people. And, to suggest that this makes her responsible for all of the things that have gone badly is beyond ridiculous.

Read what Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Vice President, and the former Republic Governor of Massachusetts had to say about Clinton. In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, William Weld said: “I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton.”

“I have a lot to say about Mrs. Clinton that has not been said by others recently and that I think needs to be said. I mean I’ve known her for 40 years. I worked with her, I know her well professionally. I know her well personally. I know her to be a person of high moral character. A reliable person and an honest person, however Mr. Trump may rant and rave to the contrary.”

Talking about the massive difference between the Democratic and Republic party candidates, Weld said, “One would be chaos for the country, I think. And the other would be a very business-like and capable and competent approach to our affairs.”

How you vote in this Presidential election may be the most important thing you will ever do for your country!

A Nation Divided will Remain Divided after Trump Loses

As a consequence of his own self-destructive behavior, hopefully, Donald Trump has doomed his chances of winning this November’s election. That is the good news.

The bad news is that even if he loses this November’s election, Donald Trump and his supporters will not be going anywhere. Trump has given voice to a deeply angry and embittered population of Americans who not only believe that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are evil but also believe they are destroying our country. This population of Americans have shown a willingness to believe each and every ridiculous accusation made against Obama and Clinton and if Trump says it loud and often enough his followers will want to believe; it doesn’t matter whether or not it is true. Donald Trump is their champion because he is an authoritarian outsider who uses his platform to say everything his supporters have wanted to say but could find no one to listen. Well, people are listening now.

We need to be reminded of the fact that just a few short months ago, Bernie Sanders had an equally vehement population of supporters who were expressing their own anger and frustration about the status quo in Washington. Both movements illustrate how deeply divided we have become as a nation and as a free people. Fortunately, the Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters are at opposite ends of political spectrum because if they were able to find issues around which they could coalesce they could well have a clear majority of American voters.

Add the division that separates white Americans from blacks and other minorities, the division between the rich and poor, and between many Christians and people of other religions, particularly Muslims, and the chasm that divides us seems even more ominous.

What does it say about a democracy that so many of its people are bitterly unhappy with their government? How can democracy survive if American voters are so divided that common ground cannot be found?

What makes Donald Trump so scary is a combination of his ignorance of the Constitution of the U.S. and his willingness to dismiss that Constitution. Democracy is not a fact of nature rather it is a fragile state of equilibrium that exists between freedom and responsibility; an equilibrium for which the American people have always been willing to work hard to protect. It requires that we be able to compromise on issues about which we disagree and that all parties be willing to sacrifice a little of their personal freedom for the betterment of the whole.

Part of Trump’s appeal to the disaffected is that, as an authoritarian outsider, he professes a willingness to force his will on other people in order to make America great again. This is the way he has run his businesses and it seems this might also be the way he has pursued women. It should come as no surprise that he believes he can run the nation the same way he runs his businesses.

The greatest threat to democracy would be the election of a President in possession of a powerful ego and what he believes to be a clear mandate to make things happen; a President who is willing to disregard the actions of both the Congress and the judiciary. It would require a President who believes that he, alone, can decide what is best for the American people.

That sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump. As I have said in previous posts, this is the scariest thing that has happened in my lifetime and poses a far greater threat to our way of life than terrorism.

Nearly 20 years ago, I began to worry about what could happen if the issues that divide us were to become intractable and I tried to envision what that would mean to the American people and to our democratic form of government. I began writing a book about how things could go horribly wrong if this trend were to continue. I finished that book fifteen years later and published it in 2013. It is a novel entitled, Light and Transient Causes, about what could happen if the American people were to become so angry and frustrated as to elect an authoritarian outsider to the Office of the President on the basis of his promise to make America great again, at any cost.

Because it shows how quickly things could go bad, Light and Transient Causes is a book Americans should read if they are fearful of where we could be headed. As one reviewer wrote, “It’s chilling in the sense that it is all possible in the world we live in today.”

Ironically, the words “light and transient causes,” which were taken from the Declaration of Independence, were prominently displayed behind the candidates of recent presidential and vice presidential debates. I invite the reader to check the book out.

Donald Trump Right for Once, But Just as Wrong As Ever?: An open letter to Hillary Clinton

As dangerous as his candidacy may be and as absurd as is most of what he says, there is a recent statement about which Donald Trump is simultaneously wrong and right. It is absurd to call Hillary Clinton a bigot given all that she has done on behalf of the American people during a lifetime of public service, however we might feel about policy.

Donald Trump is absolutely correct, however, when he suggests that the policies proposed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party offer nothing new for the black community, for race relations, or to the American poor, in general. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump offers only ambiguous promises while claiming that he has the answers for everything.

Due to the current situation in the U.S. with respect to both race relations and public education, there is a tremendous opportunity for Hillary Clinton and her party to capture the support of a huge proportion of the American people with a truly new solution to the problems of blacks, the poor, and other minorities. Given that Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has alienated teachers throughout Indiana and promotes charter schools and vouchers while virtually abandoning our most challenged public schools, now is an opportunity to draw clear distinctions. These schools serve our most vulnerable children, their teachers and communities.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the problems in our poorest urban and rural communities, which are disproportionately African-American, are not a consequence of poverty and discrimination. In our racist society, there will always be white Americans who judge African-Americans and others on the basis of the color of their skin. And, in spite of the accomplishments of so many African-American men and women, across so many venues, poverty and discrimination persist because millions of other black Americans lack the knowledge and skills necessary to compete for their rightful place among mainstream Americans.

Whether educated African-Americans in business and professional venues, or blacks in professional athletics or entertainment, they clearly demonstrate that African-Americans can be successful in any venue in which they are in possession of the requisite skills and knowledge. The operative question, then, is: Why do so many poor blacks lack the essential skills and knowledge necessary to compete in mainstream American society? The answer, of course, is public education. And it is here that Hillary Clinton could endorse a plan to reinvent the educational process and alter, forever, public education in America.

Black children and other poor or minority children lack those essential tools of success not because they are incapable of learning and not because they are plagued with bad teachers and schools. They lack the essential tools because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to meet the unique needs of disadvantaged children. While this flawed educational process has done a gross disservice to all disadvantaged children; African-Americans are impacted disproportionately. As a result, our poor urban and rural black communities are populated by multiple generations of men, women, and children who have nowhere else to go.

That the performance gap between black students and their white classmates exists is an indisputable fact. What is also indisputable is that poor black students arrive for their first day of school burdened by enormous disadvantages. That the majority of these children fail, just like their parents failed, provides compelling evidence that our educational process does an unacceptable job of helping disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages. That we accept this failure as if we are powerless to alter it is unfathomable.

Education reformers, like Mike Pence, attack teachers and schools for this intolerable failure and are working hard to replace our most challenged schools and their teachers with private charter schools that have not proven to have significantly better success in helping disadvantaged students than the public schools they are intended to replace. This is in spite of the millions of tax dollars paid to these charter schools through voucher programs. What these schools do best is filter out the least motivated parents and still some of these charter schools fall short of expectations.

Neither the education reformers nor public school teachers and administrators are taking the time to understand why so many of these children fail. Instead, they charge forth on the basis of their outdated assumptions while millions of our most vulnerable children find themselves on the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.”

People, in any venue, who are required to work with obsolete tools, systems, and processes cannot improve the quality of their work just by working harder and teachers are no exception. My biggest criticism of public school teachers, the majority of whom are unsung American heroes, is that they do not convert what they witness in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. What we desperately need from teachers is that they stand united and shout out at the top of their voices that what they are being asked to do does not work for disadvantaged students.

We have been teaching children the same way for so long that we have become immersed in the educational process and inured to the harm it does to the disadvantaged. We know these children need parental support but we make minimal effort to overcome the mistrust of parents. We know these kids need close, nurturing relationships with their teachers but every year we pass students on to new teachers whom they do not know and may have never met. Only a few are able to begin anew and build the kind of special relationships the rest of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers.

We know these kids are unprepared, academically, yet we make no effort to identify the breadth and scope of their disadvantages so that we can create an academic plan tailored to their unique needs. We know these kids need more time to master their lessons but as much as teachers strive to give them that extra time, the educational process demands that we push them ahead with their classmates, ready or not. Rather than a system in which every child learns as much as they are able at their best speed, public education is structured as a competition in which some kids excel and others fail. Why would we ever be willing to accept the failure of a child.

We know these children need to experience success before they can master the process of success and yet we record their Ds and Fs in our grade books even though we know those grades begin to have a labeling effect. We accept these Ds and Fs even though they demonstrate, with great clarity, that these kids are unprepared to move on. We also know kids can take only so much failure before they give up on themselves, stop trying, and begin acting out. Why are we surprised when these young people leave school unprepared to participate in the American dream?

These tragic outcomes that we produce, so routinely, and that sentence young people to a life of poverty and second-class citizenship, are not inevitable facts of life for the poor and the non-white rather they are the inevitable consequences of a flawed educational process. It is a process that can be changed as easily as changing our choice of textbooks.

The changes required to correct these deficiencies in the educational process are simple and straightforward but they cannot be envisioned until we think beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom; until we think exponentially (outside the box). Neither can we implement these simple changes incrementally. Old habits are too difficult to break and it is too easy to slip back into the ways of the past. For these simple changes to be implemented, successfully, there must be an irrevocable break from past educational practices.

The reader is urged to check out the following, in any order or combination, to learn how the above reality can be changed, irrevocably:

• My white paper entitled, Breaking Down the Cycles of Failure and Poverty: Making Public Education Work for All Students Irrespective of Relative Affluence or the Color of Their Skin;

• My implementation plan entitled: Implementation Outline for Educational Model in Which there is Only Success and No Failure;

• My book, entitle, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America; or

• My blog: Education, Hope, and the American Dream.

The Danger of Donald Trump

As far back as twenty years ago, I became concerned that our nation was losing its sense of purpose and that the American people had begun to take democracy for granted. Democracy is a delicate concept that requires an equilibrium between freedom and responsibility. For democracy to work, people must share the same or at least a similar vision for our nation and its people. They must be willing and able to find common ground—a solution with which all parties can live.

When views become so disparate and extreme that people are unable to forge amenable agreements, democracy is put to a severe test. This is what we have seen in recent years with a Congressional gridlock where the best Congress can do is pass temporary legislation to hold off a government shutdown for a few weeks or months. Passing substantive legislation has become problematic, so great is the discord in Congress. This is also what happens when the focus of the principal players is to attack their opposition rather be a positive advocate for their own platform. It is a lack of positive leadership.

It has taken me 2 weeks to sort through my thoughts and feelings while watching parts of the Republican convention. I must confess that I could not make myself watch more than snippets of the major speeches during the convention. The rhetoric was simply too. . . . I cannot seem to come up with a word that accurately describes the disgust, fear, and even anguish of watching the Republic Party’s candidate for the Presidency of the United States calling people names, insulting their character, pandering to the racism and hatred in the minds of so many Americans, and making absurd promises that only the most gullible adults could believe. As I have written before, Donald Trump is the antithesis of positive leadership.

What I have come to realize is that watching Donald Trump at the Republican Convention is the scariest thing I have seen in my lifetime. It is not simply the things he says or the way he bullies people but something far more subtle but at the same time more profound. Donald Trump and many of the people who support him seem willing to trample the rights of people of whom they do not approve or with whom they do not agree. There is a viciousness to it that says no one matters but me and mine. This is hardly a recipe for democracy.

Throughout my lifetime, there has been simple concept that I have heard in many contexts and stated in many different ways that says “everyone counts or no one counts.” Is there anyone on God’s Earth that you would be willing to grant the power to pick and choose to whom we should extend the protections of the Constitution of the United States as delineated in the Bill of Rights?

During the entire Obama administration, attacks against our nation’s President have been nothing short of virulent and the overwhelming majority of the accusations are absurd and found to be untrue by any of the independent fact-checking services. The same is true of Hillary Clinton. You do not see Donald Trump attacking her ideas and accomplishments rather you see him brand her as a liar, much as he did with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio during the primary elections.

Our focus in determining to whom we wish to give our vote for President of the United States should be looking at their body of work and their overall integrity. In doing so we need to keep in mind that the longer one has been in public life or business the more mistakes they will have made and the more misstatements will have been uttered. It is simply a reflection of the fact that none of us are perfect, not even our candidates for the Presidency.

When we compare Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump you have two extremes in terms of career activity and objectives. Hillary Clinton has spent most of her life in some form of public service, whether working as a community activist or as a public official. Donald Trump has spent all of his life focused on his business interests. Both career choices are noble. If they are to be judged they can only be judged on the basis of the number and types of victims left in the wake of their respective careers.

Measuring overall integrity is problematic but what we can measure is the relative truthfulness of the two candidates. Truthfulness may not be the same thing as integrity but it is certainly a reflection of integrity.

Recently, Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact checking service that spares no one, found that 55 percent of Trump’s public statements were “false” which Politifact defines as “not accurate” and half of those received Politifact’s “Pants on Fire” rating which is defined as “A statement that is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.” (http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/)

This is compared to 13 percent of Hillary Clinton’s statements that were found to be “false” and only 2 percent of her statements were judged as “Pants on Fire.” (http://www.politifact.com/personalities/hillary-clinton/)

Looking at the two candidates from the perspective of truth, 72 percent of Hillary Clinton’s public statements have been judged to be “mostly true” compared to 29 percent of Donald Trump’s public statements.

If he acts true to form, one would expect Donald Trump to declare that Politifact is “unfairly biased against him.” It seems only fair to point out that other Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich were found by Politifact to be truthful roughly 70 percent of the time. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, by the way, were found to be 35 percent and 59 percent truthful, respectively. Bernie Sanders was truthful 72 percent of the time and had no “pants on fire” falsehoods.

In case you are wondering, President Barack Obama, according to Politifact, is mostly truthful 75 percent of the time, compared to Rush Limbaugh, who was found to be truthful only 17 percent of the time. I point that out only because so many of the outrageous accusations against President Obama and Hillary Clinton were originally voiced by radio and other talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. That people are so willing to believe such people says a lot about Twenty-first Century America.

The rude surprise that awaits Donald Trump is that, should he be elected, his authoritarian approach will face the same gridlock as his predecessors. The only way he can implement any of the ideas reflected in his campaign promises would be if he were to circumvent or otherwise subvert the democratic process. This, my friends, is what makes Donald Trump so scary.

If the differences that divide the American people continues to expand, it is only a matter of time until someone like Donald Trump is elected to the Presidency who believes they have sufficient power to impose their will on the American people and the democratic process. This would mean the end of the American democracy as we know it.

When I began to grow concerned, twenty years ago, I began writing a novel about how things could go horribly wrong if we were to lose our faith in democracy and elect an authoritarian outsider to the Presidency on the basis of his pledge to restore domestic peace and prosperity (make America great again) at any cost. My novel, entitled Light and Transient Causes, was published in 2013. I encourage the reader to check it out. If we want to prevent something like this from happening we must understand just how bad things could be if we abandon our faith in democracy. You can check my novel out at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/

Commentary on Mike Pence and His Destructive Public Education Policies

On Saturday, July 16th, Indiana teacher and young adult author, Shane Phipps, posted an article about Mike Pence, the now official running mate for Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The article was titled “Why Mike Pence Terrifies Me,” and was posted on Shane’s blog, Rambling Fractaled Musings: Welcoming You Inside My Random, Pattern Seeking Mind, and was then shared on Facebook. In the article, Shane shares what the overwhelming majority of Indiana public school teachers believe to be the destructive public education policies of Governor Mike Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels. It is a great read and I will post a link to the blog post at the end of this article. No doubt, Donald Trump will buy into the Pence/Daniels education reform agenda.

The following paragraph, which was taken from the article, is an accurate reflection of the public education policies of both Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, and seems to reflect the theme of the education reforms that are sweeping the country with their emphasis on privatization and high stakes standardized tests:

“. . .[Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence] implemented a plan that pitted high income schools against low income schools and judged them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades were given on the basis of scores on standardized tests where every school was judged on the same test which required all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This resulted in an (sic) predictable gap in achievement where the affluent school districts “out performed” the high poverty districts. As a result of the Daniels program, the lower performing districts got less funding than the higher performing districts.”

I have taken the liberty of modifying Shane’s paragraph to represent what I believe to be the fundamental flaw in public education in America and in the education reform initiatives. Simply substitute the quoted paragraph, written by Shane Phipps, with the one I added below. It is a flaw that has tragic consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged students:

Public Education pits high income and middle income students against low income, disadvantaged students and judges them based on an A to F grading scale. These grades are given on the basis of scores on subject matter where every student is graded on the same tests which require all students to “clear the same bar” regardless of their starting point. This has resulted in a predictable gap in achievement where the affluent students out-perform the disadvantaged students. As a result, the lower performing students get less opportunities than higher performing students.

As I have pointed out in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, and countless posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, this is a flaw that can be fixed, easily, by redefining the fundamental purpose of public education and then re-inventing the educational process at work in virtually every public school in America. The same educational process is at work in most private, parochial, and charter schools, as well.

Implementing such a change requires no state or federal legislation and is within the statutory powers of local public school districts. By making the changes that I recommend, we alter the equation that has allowed multiple generations of Americans to be swept into the maelstrom that I call the “cycles of poverty and failure.”

When we alter that equation, we give choices and opportunities to every young adult who completes their education. Today, the default decision for these young people is a life of poverty, hopelessness, and powerlessness. It is a default decision that contributes to what many are calling the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track,” on which many African-Americans find themselves.

What we will ultimately discover is that the poverty that pervades so many urban and rural American communities is the consequence of the problems in public education rather than the cause.

The link for Shane Phipps blog post: https://shanephipps.wordpress.com/category/mike-pence/

The links for my blog posts that provide an overview of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream and for an outline of an implementation plan for the educational model I propose are:

https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/breaking-down-the-cycles-of-failure-and-poverty/

And,

https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/implementation-outline-for-educational-model-in-which-there-is-only-success-and-no-failure/

CBS 60 Minutes Report Comparing American and German Prisons

Visiting a prison in Germany, in a recent telecast, CBS 60 Minutes reported the stark differences between American and German prisons and “stark” barely describes the comparison. Even prisoners serving long sentences for violent crimes have an enormous amount of freedom, compared to inmates in American inmates, and reside in comfortable quarters that are closer in comparison to a retreat spa than to an American penitentiary. Some prisoners, CBS 60 Minutes reported, even possess keys to their own cells; if you can even call them cells.

Some notable questions for the piece were, “how do we explain the contrast between American and German prisons?” and “what can we learn from the German penal system?”

My response would be that there is not much we can learn that can be translated into changes in American penitentiaries because the differences in penal systems are nothing more than a reflection of the differences between German and American society.

Americans like to think that we live in the greatest nation on earth but that is more of a long-held assumption than a reality. This is particularly true if you are Black, Muslim, Mexican or other minority. The same can be said if you are poor, of poor health, or are the victim of a gun related crime. The German government, much like many of the other industrial democratic nations of the world, actually takes care of all of its citizens, rather than a privileged few, and it provides a much safer environment, the threat of terrorism notwithstanding.

Racial tension and prejudice permeates American society. German society is much less diverse and while there are certainly racists among the German people, recent incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore are, arguably, much less likely to happen. The German people, probably, are far more charitable to President Obama and his family than “conservative Americans” who view the President as evil.

I have not been to Germany but I would be surprised to learn that one would find the same long lines that we see at community food banks in cities around the U.S. Similarly, the disturbing failure rates among American public school students, particularly on the part of poor and minority children, are not part of the German socio-cultural experience.

One of the other differences in the two societies is the prevalence of guns in the U.S. There is an old but not very funny joke that, in a country like Germany, citizens have a right to healthcare but will find it difficult to get their hands on a gun. In the U.S., we have a right to purchase a firearm, even an assault weapon, but may well find it difficult to get access to or be able to afford healthcare for our families. The freedom to purchase and carry anything from handguns to assault weapons creates a whole different level of violence on American streets.

It would be prudent for Americans to acknowledge that our over-crowded prisons and the violent nature of our inmates are symptoms of jagged rips in the fabric of the great American democracy. They are evidence of an expanding chasm between rich and poor, healthy and sick, white citizens and people of color. This rift between the haves and the have-nots is a source of the deepening resentment some Americans have for others. It is a division that threatens the very principles of democracy. They threaten our ability to work together and to find solutions that work for common good.

If there was ever any doubt of the divisions between us, the emergence of Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination should settle the matter. Donald Trump’s appeal is his pledge to take drastic action in response to some of the problems we face as a society. As we pointed out in a previous blog post, that so many Americans are willing to embrace the authoritarian nature of such a candidate may pose the biggest threat to American democracy, its principles and traditions in our lifetime.

Donald Trump: The Antithesis of Positive Leadership

As an American who has spent his entire career as a student, advocate, and practitioner of the principles of positive leadership, it is staggering to think that not only is a presidential candidate spreading a message of prejudice and hatred but also that he is garnering the support of a significant percentage of Republican voters. The man behaves like a bully and a name-caller of the same ilk as a rising political leader in Germany, eighty-five years ago. If you do not agree with someone, call them names, threaten to do harm to them, persecute an entire religious group, or deport millions of others.

Over the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of bitter enmity on the part of Americans who are so full of hatred and prejudice that they will believe even the most outrageous accusations against President Obama, a man whom they despise. No doubt, someone recently spouted that “Obama probably paid protesters at a recent political rally for Trump” and now those accusations are sweeping across the internet, taken as gospel. Equally ridiculous are the accusations that “Obama arranged and paid for the assassination” of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

How can people be so full of hate that they are willing to believe such unsubstantiated nonsense about the President of the United States?

The sad thing about Donald Trump is that the man is correct about some of the things that need to happen to keep our nation healthy and “return it to greatness.” Support of Trump on these few issues becomes impossible, however, when the man preys on the ignorance and prejudices of millions of Americans and when his political strategy poses the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime.

We do need to put the restoration of the U.S. infrastructure at the top of our nation’s priority list. We do need to take control of immigration. We do need to put people back to work. We do need to replace politicians who have become little more than puppets of some of our nation’s richest and most powerful political action committees. We do need leadership that is beholden to no one other than the American people.

We desperately need positive leaders who recognize that the issues with which we struggle, today, did not just happen rather that they are the consequence of 65-years-worth of ineffectual policies, whether liberal or conservative, republican or democrat.

What we need most of all is a positive leader with a vision for the future. A leader who recognizes that poverty is a consequence of an obsolete educational process that has set generations of American children up for failure and that makes it almost impossible for even our best teachers to do what they dreamt of doing when they chose their profession. It is an educational process that can only be further damaged by reforms focused on privatization and standardized testing.

We yearn for a positive leader who understands that the strongest economy during the latter third of the 21st Century will be the one that has ended its reliance on fossil fuels and has mastered the production of renewable sources of clean energy. It will also be an economy that is committed to responsible stewardship of the environment.

We hunger for a positive leader who believes that all Americans are entitled to comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs as a right of citizenship and who understands that we can provide such healthcare without socialized medicine if only we open are hearts and minds to a new way of thinking.

And, finally, we need a positive leader who can help us renew our faith in democracy and in each other; a leader who can show the American people that our greatest strength as a nation is, has always been, and will always be our diversity. We seek a leader who can rebuild a nation in which the American dream is an achievable reality for all of its citizens; not just a privileged few.

My novel, Light and Transient Causes, is about one way things could go horribly wrong if a man like Donald Trump was elected President. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/ The reader is invited to take a look.

Open Letter to All Presidential Candidates

What is the matter with you people?

Right now, in this 2nd decade of the Twenty-first Century, Americans are in desperate need of a new kind of leadership. People know, intuitively, that the leadership of the last half century, whether democrat or republican, conservative or liberal is not working. What they do not yet grasp is that the outdated policies of yore are the cause of the problems we face today, not the solution.

The appeal of Donald Trump is an expression of the frustration of the American people and their thirst for a new vision. We can only hope they wake up and recognize that Donald Trump provides only an illusion of new leadership before he actually gets elected to anything.

What we so desperately need is a leader who can articulate a new vision of the future that unites Americans behind a common cause, not leadership that divides us even more than we are already disunited. We need someone who embraces policies of inclusion not exclusion of people who look, think, or worship differently than we do. We need leaders who recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength, not our biggest weakness.

The issue with the county clerk in Kentucky provides a perfect example. While she has an absolute right to her beliefs, she does not have the right to foist those beliefs on others. When one takes the oath of public office, one pledges to abide by the constitution and by the laws of our state and nation, irrespective of one’s faith. If we cannot then we need to exit public life and this principle applies as much to presidents, legislators, judges and governors as it does to county clerks.

The truth is that we cannot turn back the calendar to a simpler time. We must live in today’s world with our eyes on tomorrow.

The world population is exploding and is projected to reach between 10 and 16 billion by the end of this century. Combined with the diversity of the world community; the complexity of its marketplace; the fragility of the ecosystem; and, the speed with which everything is changing we can be certain that the policies of the past will be as ineffectual as first generation antibiotics are in treating the exotic bacterial and viral diseases sweeping the planet.

In the face of the challenges of dealing with international relations, terrorism, hunger and poverty, crumbling infrastructure, civil liberties, immigration, public education, healthcare, overburdened justice system, crime, drugs, violence, the environment, our dependency on fossil fuels, racial and religious discrimination, and the need for unprecedented leaps in technological development people who believe we can solve our problems through cuts in spending are childlike in their naivety.

If we are going to survive the balance of this century as a free and democratic society then we need the absolute best from every single man, woman, and child. We must make enormous investments to bring everyone on board as full and equal partners in the American enterprise and we must forge agreements and partnerships, even if imperfect, with the people from every nation across the globe.

The last thing we need is the kind of encapsulated thinking and uninspired leadership that has been paraded across our television screens in recent debates or that has emanated from our nation’s capitol.

Who knows what the next 80 years will bring but if we cannot elevate our game that future will not be pretty. Most of us will not be here to see what life will be like in the year 2100 but our grandchildren will and they deserve better. Will someone please step up?

Donald Trump: Illusion of Bold Leadership

The willingness of so many Americans to embrace Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for President is evidence of just how frustrated Americans are with the leadership in Washington, whether President Obama, whom so many demonize, or a dysfunctional Congress.

Trump’s immediate popularity is also a function of a desire for quick and easy answers to the seemingly overwhelming cascade of challenges facing our nation, its people, and the world community.

We do need bold, new leadership with fresh insight into the unprecedented number of issues of the Twenty-first Century but Donald Trump provides only the illusion of bold and fresh thinking; the kind one would expect to find on any of the inane reality shows on television.

The more frustrated we become with the challenges facing our society the more tempted the masses are to abandon good judgment and also the core principles of democracy. The truth is, the more complicated and critical the issues become the more important it is to cling to our democratic principles. Relinquishing those principles, however briefly we might envision doing so, is the single-most dangerous strategy a free people can contemplate.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we often confuse our democratic principles with over-simplified political dogma, catch phrases, and clichéd solutions. I love, for example, the assertion that we can turn our country around if we just cut spending or balance the budget. How could the logic be any simpler? Is it not common sense? The answer, of course, is only if we ignore the realities of society.

The reality is that a full third to nearly half of the American people depend upon their government for their economic survival. The underlying theme of conservative ideology is to cut off the poor, the infirm, the disenfranchised, and illegal immigrants because we can no longer afford to support their dependency. We quietly include the growing population of the elderly in this sweeping agenda but we are careful not to mention them too loudly. Neither do we draw attention to the fact that so many of the poor are minorities.

It would be one thing if the proponents of such radical spending cuts offered up alternative solutions to the problems facing the unfortunate members of our society but, of course, they do not. Rather they offer up the metaphoric equivalent of “Let them eat cake!” And, we have not addressed the enormous cost of protecting our environment and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Sadly, this burgeoning population of Americans, many of whom have lost all faith and hope in the American dream, are the product of 65 years’ worth of dysfunctional policy making; both democrat and republican and both liberal and conservative.

If we cut them off, where do our leaders think these people will go? Will they quietly disappear and let the rest of us go on with our lives?

The growth of this population of vulnerable Americans will accelerate in the aftermath of our nonsensical policies regarding public education, poverty, healthcare, aging, employment, immigration, and Social Security. The greater their number the louder will be their clamor and the more reactionary will be the response of “middle Americans” and the government representing them.

The greater the enmity between the “haves” and the “have nots” the more incendiary our society. The social wildfire that will burst forth as a result of an inevitable spark will rage more furiously than anything we have experienced to date. How can a nation survive leadership that so egregiously neglects the needs and interests of such an enormous segment of its population while claiming to represent and serve the American people?

If we do not find meaningful solutions to these challenges the future will not be pretty and the more vulnerable we become as a nation the bolder will be the response of the nations that compete with the U.S. for economic, political, and military supremacy.

If we are to have any hope of sustaining the great American democracy throughout the balance of the Twenty-first Century we must find a way to bring our entire population on board as productive members of a fully participatory democracy. Not an easy task, to be sure, but it is impossible only if we fail to pull our heads out of the landfill of the past century’s failed policies and outworn platitudes.

Our future can be secured only if we reach beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom for real solutions to public education, healthcare, poverty, immigration, discrimination, and the environment using all of our imagination and ingenuity. Only when we learn to think exponentially will new and innovative solutions be discovered that can meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

In addition to this blog, Mel Hawkins is the author of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, a nonfiction book offering a blueprint to fix public education and transform American Society; and a novel, Light and Transient Causes, about what happens if we don’t.