The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

If I were President...

Let’s finish up with this, and get on to some new things.  First, let me back up to a prior subject:
1) Health.  Specifically, Obesity.  As a major health factor strongly influenced by personal habits, I would definitely put major emphasis here. People who sold fake weight-loss products would be in serious trouble. A combination of proper exercise and   eating patterns is primary: together, they CANNOT fail unless you stop.  It is just simple physics.  The third part of the triad is emotional health.   Over the years I’ve come to realize that people “store” a gigantic amount of pain and fear in their bodies.  This is a major factor in weight loss, and without health in this arena, the extra flesh is hell to lose, and the instant you take your attention away, it creeps right back.  As President, I would present honest information about these factors.

Drug addiction. In my entire life, I’ve never seen a single piece of anti-drug propaganda, or heard a single “expert” voice the simple truth that people get into drugs because they like the way it makes them feel.  Without addressing this aspect of the pain-pleasure equation, I think the problem will be impossible to address.

There is another hypocrisy: people who drink setting drug policy.  Frankly, I would love to have only teetotalers set the policy for both drugs and alcohol.  It wouldn’t be likely to be loved by many, but we’d avoid the problem of people who feel guilty about drinking alcohol projecting their guilt onto those who use another substance.  I think it’s vile to watch people drink as they discuss the marijuana “problem.”  Jeeze. 

Other than that, frequent readers know my solution: use any battery of substance-neutral tests you want, and apply it across the board to all mind-altering substances.  Anything that tests as no more toxic or addictive  than alcohol and tobacco is immediately decriminalized and/or legalized, and sold in plain brown wrappers. No advertising for any of  them is allowed.  All profits go into drug treatment and education programs held strictly accountable for success and recidivism rates.

This would save massive amounts of money in law enforcement and  prison expenses.  Considering the amount of street violence surrounding people trying to get their supply, or fighting for drug-dealing territory, I suspect violence would go down.  Drug use itself would probably drop, if the treatment and education programs were honestly addressed, not created by people who have a gigantic blind spot as to their own usage.

We’d also cut the profit motive for the gangs and cartels, diminishing violence in Latin America, and the vast amount of money that has corrupted so much of our Southern Neighbors—because of OUR demand for product.

I suspect we’d also increase respect for the law, because one gigantic hypocrisy    would be gone.

Education.  I don’t think the problem is that teacher’s aren’t paid enough.   I think that the problem is that the worst teachers are paid the same as the best.  I say let the teachers themselves come up with some kind of standard of excellence, designed to produce informed, contributing citizens.  Let it be weighted so that teachers who work in poor districts would score (slightly) higher than those who work in wealthy districts. 

Once the best teachers are being paid like superstars, examine their methods.  I am certain that there will be techniques of teaching that are FAR more efficient than what is often used (although I personally have no problems with rote learning.  Yes, it frustrates some of our brightest students, but history simply teems with brilliant, accomplished people of all cultures who began with rote learning.  Anything else I’ve seen seems to require entirely too much individualized instruction to be practical in a wide sense.)

When these new techniques are identified, they should be tested carefully in pilot programs.  If they prove, over time (say, 10 years) to be more efficient, go wider.

School voucher programs?  I would ask my experts to submit proposals, arguments and evidence for and against.
Understand one thing: I care NOTHING about the job security of teachers, in comparison to how much I care about the safety, security, and proper education of the children they are sworn to serve.  When I’ve discussed the above plan with teacher friends, I don’t much like their reactions: they seem to be far more concerned with their pensions and salaries than with the welfare of the children…

Except for a few, who are competitive, and like the challenge. It seems to me that they have a “bring it on” attitude…and think that THEY would be the winners in the top 20%, who would make as much money as the bottom 80%, as is true in most realms of human endeavor.  Man, oh, man—would I have loved for my education to have been dominated by THOSE men and women. 

But that’s just me.  I could be wrong.

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