Archive for March, 2011

Unions vs. Wisconsin

Posted in current events, opinion, politics with tags , on March 11, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

No. No way.

It’s the first words that popped into my head when I read the news that Wisconsin state Senators voted to drastically reduce collective bargaining rights for unions in order to help eliminate a budget shortfall.

It’s unfortunate and frustrating that this happened. The measure that passed virtually eliminated the right for unions to collectively bargain for pay raises unless a referendum is passed. It also requires a virtual pay cut, in that more money will be put toward government worker pensions.

Normally I try to make these entries a certain length, but there’s nothing I can say that won’t be said by everyone else. Most government workers are barely making enough money to live on as it is, and while redirecting some of that money to health care plans and pensions is a good idea, that means there is less money in the pay check.

The only thing that’s left to do is for the people of Wisconsin to do their part and get out and vote in the next election. Voting is always important, and now there is a chance to make a difference. If you strongly disagree with the tactics and decisions that were made in the past couple of days, get out and vote. Get rid of those shady people who spout empty promises. Make a difference.

Stay strong, Wisconsin.

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Atheism vs. Anti-Theism

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

In my experience with religion and religious people, I’ve learned that there are many different types of belief systems out there, even outside of the realm of Christianity. I’m proud to say that in my circle of friends, I have access to many different belief systems, which generally lead to some pretty good discussions. However, I also realize that within these different belief systems, there are some undesirable people. To me, there are two different types of “non-belief” systems: atheism, and anti-theism.

In my personal definition, atheists are people who choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, but pretty much leave other belief systems alone. Sure, they’re more than happy to get into the philosophical discussion about the existence of God, and where the proof lies, but they also recognize that they will have just as much success changing another person’s religious views as that person will have changing theirs.

Conversely, anti-theists are militant atheists. They are the atheists that are out in the world that choose not to acknowledge the existence of God in their personal lives, and try everything in their power to rid the world of all religion. Often, anti-theists are antagonistic and will resort to ridicule and button-pushing in order to “prove” that religion is for the weak.

In my experience with these two types of people, they are generally good people. They are usually intelligent, and given any other topic, they can hold conversation. Religious beliefs generally have nothing to do with a person’s personality or their interactions with other people, so removing that aspect of a person, they are normal human beings.

However, I’m not a fan of Anti-Theism. I don’t feel it’s my place to impose my beliefs on other people, and I feel that that same courtesy should be extended by everyone onto everyone. However, most anti-theists can’t extend that same courtesy. By simply believing in a higher power, I have apparently proven myself to be an inferior person, and only if I join forces with them and campaign against all religion will I become a worthy human being.

I believe that religious beliefs are a personal decision. If you choose to be a Christian, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, that is your choice, and I can fully respect that. I may not agree with it, and I would love to discuss it further, but as far as my influence on your personal life, I have none. I can’t convince you to join my team, no matter how hard I try. I would love it, but I can’t force you to do anything.

The practice of militant atheism is a confusing and disturbing one to me. There is no high score in religion. There is no prize in the afterlife for the belief system that gathers the most recruits. So there is no point for the antagonism.

My message is one that goes out to all people, regardless of religious identification: respect the beliefs of those around you, and if you do win one over to your side, chalk it up to providing a good example and enough evidence to be convincing, and not whatever clever tactics you employed in your little game.

Teachers and Taxes

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , on March 4, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Since Wednesday’s entry, I decided to pay a little more attention to the Wisconsin teachers union situation. In reading up and watching reports on TV (including the great satire of The Daily Show’s segment “Crisis in Dairyland”), I’m learning that one of the main reasons this is such a national story is that, in an effort to cut the deficit, Gov. Scott Walker is trying to cut the flow of tax dollars to unnecessary programs, which, in his opinion, includes public school teachers.

Again, the assumption is, public school teachers are technically part-time workers: they work five days a week, from 8 AM to 3 PM, and they have three months off of work. And compared to other workers, they have an incredibly high salary for doing such a small amount of work. Teachers are greedy and power hungry, and don’t deserve a lot of the benefits that they are receiving.

According to Salary.com, the average salary for a public school teacher in the US is just under $51,000. Comparatively, a Top Government Affairs Executive (which was Salary.com’s definition for both “State Senator” and “Governor”) is a little over $164,000.

With my basic knowledge of what each job does, I can see that these salaries are disproportionate to the duties involved. Teachers must provide educational opportunities for a wide range of kids with many different learning styles, deal with constantly complaining parents about how their children are being treated unfairly, plus a variety of other duties: meetings, conferences, lunch room duties, parking lot duties, grading papers, writing and grading tests, and keep up to date on current educational trends.

Meanwhile, “Top Government Affairs Executives” think up bills that will benefit the people they represent while simultaneously sticking to an agenda that, for the most part, does nothing for the people the represent. Then they propose those bills amongst much infighting and virtually no discussion, whereupon they vote on said bills. They make television appearances and talk about the opposite agenda that is interfering with their work. They get many phone calls and emails from their region or state asking them to vote a certain way on an issue, which they mostly ignore. Then they write books and go on extensive book tours. For many of these people, they spend most of a year debating whether or not they’ll run for president.

Both of these positions are payed through tax dollars. And yet Gov. Walker wants to cut salaries for teachers.

I’ve talked about taxes before, and while I agree that deficits should be reduced, I don’t agree with cutting necessary funding. Teachers go through a lot of crap every day. Their work day may end at 3 PM, but their duties continue on late into the night. I’m friends with one of my professors on Facebook, and I regularly see him on late at night, planning lectures and working on different assignments. And he only teaches a few classes.

Public school teachers work themselves to death every day, and they deserve a lot more than they’re getting.

If Gov. Walker wants to reduce the deficit in Wisconsin, he should really cut costs where it counts: some of his salary and benefits, some military spending. Keep costs steady with public workers and teachers, and work to spend less in general. There’s also the option of raising taxes on the wealthier of the state, which is an unpopular position to hold, but by bringing in more money, you can do more with your money.

I urge those who support Wisconsin teachers to stay strong. Gov. Walker will eventually have to back down, and no amount of bullying will change that.

Wrong About Teachers

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , on March 2, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

The situation in Wisconsin is a frustrating one. I have many friends and classmates from Wisconsin, and they are all in solidarity with the many students, teachers, and supporters of the teachers unions as they protest the bill that Gov. Scott Walker is trying to pass in the Wisconsin Senate.

Granted, I don’t know much about what is going on, and to read up on the events of the past two weeks might mean that the event would be over before I’m able to offer a belated opinion on it. But, from what information I’m gleaning, here’s how I understand what’s going on, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Wisconsin is in debt. Gov. Walker needs to reduce the debt somehow, so he’s cutting programs and other expenses from the state in order to get out of debt. Part of what is on the chopping block is pay raises for teachers and other unions. The unions, originally a little ticked off, understand that some sacrifices need to be made in order to improve the situation. It was only when they realized that part of the bill is getting rid of the unions ability to collectively bargain that they found a problem. Teachers have been calling in sick in order to protest, and the Democratic state Senators have left the state to prevent a quorum to vote on the bill that many are fairly certain will be rushed through illegally.

What gets confusing is that a lot of news sources are focusing a lot on teachers. It’s a disturbing narrative that a lot of news networks have that say that teachers are greedy, that they only work part time, and that they don’t deserve the money they’re asking for.

Those sorts of conclusions are infuriating. While there are plenty of other unions out there fighting for their right for collective bargaining, the focus is primarily on the teachers, and for good reason. For every Fox News commentator that says the teachers should quit whining and get back to their jobs, I can come up with several reasons for supporting those teachers in their fight for keeping their right to collective bargaining.

Teachers work hard and have to tailor the material to a wide range of learning styles, which range from “picking up things on the first pass” to “I don’t care and won’t learn this no matter how many times you shove it down my throat.” Teachers don’t work part time; the school day ends at 3 PM, but they spend all night grading papers, planning for the next day, trying to figure out ways to get kids interested in the material. Sure, there are some crappy teachers out there, and we should definitely get rid of those teachers. But most of the time, the problem lies in the kids.

No one gets into teaching to be rich, and those who do completly misunderstand the teaching profession. Most people idolize and worship sports heros and movie stars, but if you ask nearly any person on the street who their greatest influence is, they will most likely name a teacher.

The person who motivated me most in school was my AP Literature teacher in high school, Mrs. Copperud. It was senior year, when I was letting myself slump, that she gathered a small group of us together. We were all slumping, and she was disappointed in us. I’ll never forget it; she said, “You four are the pace cars. You’re the ones who should be setting a standard for the rest of the class. You’ve always set a standard, and I don’t know what’s going on now, but I need you to keep setting that standard.”

No anger, no yelling, no giving up. Just straightforward encouragement to succeed. And I credit most, if not all of my success, to that little pep talk.

To those who still think teachers don’t deserve pay raises, and even deserve the elimination of their rights, I encourage you to spend a day in the shoes of a teacher, with constant pressure and antagonism every day, from students, parents, and the administration. If you understood what it is that teachers everywhere go through, I feel that you’d be a little more sympathetic to the cause.

God speed to those teachers in Wisconsin. I truly hope you win everything you deserve, and more.