Friday, September 4, 2009

Stupid Is

I have been watching with facination the recent controversy over the President's speech to school children scheduled for the day after labor day. Big chunks of the "Ropublican'ts" are up in arms that the President would dare speak to school children. Some of the "Democranks" are up in arms that the issue is even arrising. As a long-time school leader, I have found myself sypathizing with school leaders across the country who are damned if they show the speech and damned if they don't.

In 1991 President George H.W.Bush gave a similar speech to students. This was a year before his reelection campaign. I was a superintendent and didn't much care for that president--I found his push for vouchers and his unending criticism of schools offputting. Some questioned the political motivation and timing. My district, like most, showed the speech which turned out to be a rather benign call for students to apply themselves. Early reports are that President Obama plans a similar call to duty. So, what's all the fuss?

It appears there is a sizeable segment of our country who thinks anything this president does is tainted and that he is out to "brainwash" our youth. Since these are the same folks who like to compare him to Hitler or call him a "socialist" (that is a straddle that stretches credulity and the hamstrings!) they feel he is some dark influence. I suspect some see him as the Dark Lord Volemort from Harry Potter. I kind of thought that might have been Dick Cheney, but what do I know?

Let's get a grip folks. He is the President, recently elected and he won't be running again for over three years. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. If he is dumb enough to try to turn this event into a political one or one that pushes his agenda then he will deserve all the opprobrium that will come his way. Since when is this country a place that the duly elected President can't speak to our children and ask more of them? I keep seeing protests on television that people are screaming they want their country back. Well, so do I. I want an America where the President is, if not revered, at least respected and where the crazies don't dictate what everyone else can see and do. Forrest Gump's mother used to tell him that "stupid is as stupid does." Let's stop "doing" stupid, if only for a little while.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh, Canada

A few weeks ago I was priviledged to speak to a group of school leaders from Manitoba. I was there with a couple of my colleagues from the Center for Empowered Leadership to share some of our work with our Canadian counterparts. A couple of major lessons emerged from the experience.

First, I found the Manitoba leaders unusually interested in a wide variety of topics. They were well read and had wide enthusisam. They were very open to new ideas and were looking for solutions. As they told me about their work I realized how creative and "out of the box' they seemed to be. I was curious about this and asked them if they could tell me why that was so. The immediately pointed out that in Canada, Manitoba was the last provice to try to interfere with local school jurisdictions. They were not saddled by provincial tests and requrirements which allowed them to find their own solutions.

Ther great irony here is that one of the single biggest reasons for America's international dominence, in my opinion, has been our tradition of local control. We have historically encouraged states and local districts to address their unigque issues in unique ways. Of late, this has started to slip with increased pressure from Washington and the states taking back much of their power from local districts. Before we go too far, perhaps we need to visit Manitoba to be reminded of the energy created when people are allowed to exercise their own creativity to solve their problems.

The other lesson I got was about health care. Given the current controversy in the U.S. on this topic and given the scare tactics used by oppoents includinlg making the Canadian system a poster child for the perils of "socialized" medicine, I was anxious to get their take on it. First, they found our "town hall" meetings funny and scary. I was surprised by how much they knew about what was happending in the U.S. One of them said when you sleep by a 1000 pound bear, you keep your eyes open.

Everyone I talked with liked their system. They found it fair, comprehensive and affordable. They couldn't imagine going back to a non governmental model. I asked them about the horror stories of the long waits for service. Tehy said that was nonsense. They said if you have an elective, non emergency issue, you might have to weait. (I thouht of the three month wait I had to get to a specialist her." They said that whatever you needed you got, regardless of cost. (I thought of my friend who had just been told by her insurance company that she couldn't get an MRI because it was too expensive.) I asked about the stories of Canadians coming to the U.S. for treatment. They said, yes, I you need the Mayo Clinic, it is in the U.S., but our government pays for hte service. (I thought of the thousands of Americans who go acrosst he border to buy their medicine because it is much cheaper in Canada.)

The real take on socialized medicine was Clint who told me that if he and a homeless person needed the same treatment they would both get it, no questions asked. Perhaps that is what we are really afraid of--equal treatment. Perhaps we could learn from Clint who went on to say, "and that is the way it should be." I am not sure how much of the spiritual lessons we had served up to them had taken. I am not sure because they seemed to have already mastered them.