Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Let The Reindeer Games Begin
With the start of the holidays, young people face added danger in this special season otherwise known for celebration and good cheer.  The hooligan?  Often it’s alcohol.
School break offers up unstructured, and perhaps unsupervised, time and thus some significant risk – especially when you add in the propensity of some adults to promote alcohol-included events as a way to mark Christmas, Hanukkah, or the New Year.
Let the reindeer games begin.
Teens and Alcohol
According to research from SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance:
  • Almost one third (31 percent) of teens say that they have drunk alcohol with their parents.
  • Overall, one quarter of teens say that they are allowed to drink alcohol when they are not with their parents, about one in eight host parties where alcohol is served, and slightly more than forty percent are permitted to attend parties where alcohol is available.
As for the last point, more teens are saying that their parents allow them to go to parties where alcohol is being served in 2011 (41 percent) than just two years ago (36 percent). In addition, more teens are reporting that they are allowed to drink alcohol without their parents (25 percent) in 2011 than in 2009 (21 percent).
That’s not good news. 
Nor is the fact that one in three teens who use alcohol say drinking is allowed by parents on special occasions – like holidays.
Parental Support of Underage Drinking
Many adults support underage drinking because they believe they have little say in the matter (53 percent). In fact, parents who adopt zero-tolerance policies are the number one reason children don’t drink. 
For example, high school students who tend to avoid alcohol are more than twice as likely as those who repeatedly use alcohol to say their parents never let them drink at home (84 percent vs. 40 percent).
Other parents condone alcohol use because they feel if they allow teen drinking at home, it will keep their kids from drinking somewhere else.
Not really. 
More than half (57 percent) of high school students who report their parents allow them to drink at home - even just once in a while - report that they drink elsewhere with their friends, as compared to just 14 percent of teens whose parents don’t let them drink at home.
It’s also true that some adults just don’t see the harm in allowing teens to drink.  But, if that’s the case, they’re just not looking hard enough.
  • Young people use alcohol more frequently and in higher volumes than all other illegal drugs combined.
  • The earlier a young person starts drinking (research suggests the average age of onset of underage drinking is twelve or thirteen – meaning many are drinking at even younger ages), the more likely it is they will suffer from substance abuse problems throughout their lifetime.
  • And, neurological research suggests that alcohol use may permanently affect quickly evolving adolescent brains.  And not for the better.
Ringing in the New Year
From the early eighties to the mid-nineties, alcohol-related crash deaths among youth plummeted by 60 percent.  But progress can be slowed, trends turned, and higher risk realized if we don’t stay focused on the goal of keeping kids safe.
How does that relate to the holidays? 
Consider that teen drivers view New Year’s Eve as the most dangerous seasonal event when it comes to driving.  Wonder why?  After summer, New Year’s Eve ranks at the top of the list of when teens report driving impaired.
And much of that risk remains hidden from those who could be empowered to matter most:  parents.
Indeed, about one in eight teenage drivers report that they don’t tell the truth to their parents about driving under the influence of alcohol (13 percent) and one in seven are dishonest about driving under the influence of other drugs (15 percent). 
Even so, good news can be found in the demonstrated power of parents and peers to influence the driving-related decision-making of young people.  Together, they form a significant backstop against poor choices, saving young lives hanging in the balance. 
What better holiday present is there than that?
3D Month
It’s time to tame the trend on teen drinking and bend the curve back toward a safer place.  December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention Month – and the truth is that if young people aren’t drinking, they won’t be driving drunk.
So much for reindeer games.
Stephen Wallace serves as senior advisor at SADD, Inc. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University.  For more information about SADD, visit sadd.org.  For more information about Stephen, visit stephengraywallace.com.
Posted at 15:26 PM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2011
Another Year, Another Thanksgiving
With the Thanksgiving Holiday almost upon us, this year may be an occasion when Americans not only celebrate with traditional gatherings with family and friends, but perhaps we should all give special thanks that the American ideal is still celebrated during one of the most troubling and worrisome periods in our history.
With that in mind, following are some Thanksgiving messages that I thought you would find of interest:
First, a bit of humor:
They’re Coming For Thanksgiving
An elderly man in Phoenix calls his son in New York and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty-five years of misery is enough."

"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the old man says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her," and hangs up.

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced!" she shouts, "I'll take care of this!"

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at the old man, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "They're coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own way"
Next, a Thanksgiving proclamation by the man who is arguably the greatest President in America’s history:
From The Heritage Foundation: “...enjoy President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation below.

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
Finally, a November 25, 2004 Wall Street Journal article, “A Very Christian Holiday,” by David Gelerneter:

"Fundamentalists" gave us Thanksgiving, and we should thank them for it.
The First Thanksgiving is one of those heartwarming stories that every child used to know, and some up-to-date teachers take special delight in suppressing. Many teachers approach children nowadays with the absurd presumption that they are triumphalist little bigots who must be taken down a notch and made to grasp that their country has made mistakes. In fact they are little ignoramuses who leave high school believing that their country has made nothing but mistakes, and they never do learn what revisionist history is a revision of.

It is especially sad when children don't learn the history of Thanksgiving, which is that rarest of anomalies--a religious festival celebrated by many faiths. The story of the first Thanksgiving would inspire and soothe this nation if only we would let it--this nation so deeply divided between Christians and non-Christians or nominal Christians, where Christians are a solid majority on a winning streak and many non-Christians are scared to death, of "Christian fundamentalists" especially.

Christian fundamentalists were the first European settlers in this country, and Thanksgiving is their idea. (Puritans were one type of Christian fundamentalist--"fundamentalist" insofar as they focused on biblical basics. The Pilgrims were radical Puritans.) Many Americans are afraid that fundamentalists are inherently intolerant and want to stamp out all religions but their own. Yet that first thanksgiving was celebrated by radical Christian fundamentalists, and American Indians were honored guests--as every child used to know. Obviously fundamentalists are capable of tolerating non-Christians on occasion. In 17th-century America, some Christians used the Bible to explain exactly why American Indians must be treated respectfully. But another fact about that first thanksgiving is also worth pondering: no one tried to convert anyone else. Most of today's fundamentalist groups don't fish for converts either -- but those who do ought to contemplate thanksgiving number one.
The Pilgrims celebrated that first thanksgiving in 1621; Edward Winslow describes it in a letter to a friend. "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours." There was a great celebration, "many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted." The Indian contingent "went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation."

The first settlers mostly wanted to be friends with the Indians--and not only for obvious practical reasons. Alexander Whitaker was an early Virginia settler. His description of America was published in 1613. He doesn't think highly of American Indian religion, but goes on at length about American Indian talent and intelligence. ("They are a very understanding generation, quick of apprehension"; "exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labour.") And after all, he points out, "One God created us, they have reasonable souls and intellectual faculties as well as we; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one."

In time, attitudes changed. American settlers and American Indians fell to treating one another savagely, and the Indians got the worst of it. But human greed and violence, not Christianity, brought those changes about. Christian preachers did not always condemn them--but, Christian or not, they were mere human beings after all.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony--settled by fundamentalists only slightly less radical than the Pilgrims--declared its first thanksgiving in 1630. By the late 1700s, independence was in the air, and the Continental Congress proclaimed many days of thanksgiving. President George Washington lost no time declaring the first thanksgiving under the new constitution in 1789. Each of these early proclamations was good for a single occasion. But after President Lincoln had proclaimed thanksgiving days in 1863 and '64--specifying the last Thursday in November both times--this characteristically American festival became a yearly custom. Lincoln was not only America's greatest president; he was our greatest religious figure, too. In his last speech--four days before he was murdered, with the Civil War at an end at last--he proposed one more day of thanksgiving. "He, from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for national thanksgiving is being prepared."

What to conclude? In a democracy where the majority is Christian, you can no more nitpick public life free of Christianity (as if it were so much lint on a frazzled sweater) than you can hold down the top on a pot of boiling water. Public life in this country has been fundamentally Christian since the first European settlers arrived. It continued Christian when the new nation won its independence and proclaimed its Bill of Rights, and will stay Christian forever, or until a majority decides otherwise--no matter how many antireligious rulings are extracted from how many antidemocratic power-mad judges.
Yet the fear of Christian fundamentalism that haunts a significant minority of Americans ought not to be casually dismissed. Some groups still see it as their duty to make converts of non-Christians. History suggests that they had better approach their mission with exquisite tact, or their designated target populations will soon come to hate their guts. I spend a fair amount of effort trying to convince friends and colleagues that their hostility to Christianity is ignorant and bigoted. But when a deadly earnest young Christian approaches, displays an infuriating though subliminal holier-than-thouness, and tries to convert me--it happens rarely, but occasionally--I metamorphose for an instant into a raging leftist.

But that long-ago First Thanksgiving still speaks to and for every American, and we ought to listen. It speaks to Christians; they thought it up. It speaks to Jews--Pilgrim Christianity was a profoundly "Hebraic" Christianity; the Pilgrims saw themselves as a chosen people arrived in a promised land; their organizations were based on "covenants," and they were devoted to the Hebrew Bible. (Late in life the eminent Pilgrim father William Bradford began studying Hebrew, so he might behold "the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty." More than most American Jews can say.) Those who are neither Christian nor Jew are also present in spirit, represented by the great king Massasoit. Everyone is "entertained and feasted," and everyone leaves with the same faith that brung 'im. Thanksgiving speaks for Americans too: it is just like us to set a day aside for a national thank you to the Lord, or (anyway) to someone. Americans continue to be what Lincoln called us, the "almost chosen people," struggling to do right by man and God.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
© 2011, Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Friday, November 11, 2011
Beckner: Professional Educators Defy Unions, Embrace Reforms
By Gary Beckner

Education and labor reforms have been the subject of much of this year’s domestic headlines. Teacher protests, picket lines and fiery rhetoric between teacher unions and reformers have been playing out in Wisconsin, Ohio and beyond.

While the war of words continues to rage on, individual teacher voices are often lost as the union interests of self-preservation and forced dues trump the needs and changing views of our most noble profession.

After this year’s eventful legislative sessions, a survey released in mid-August indicates that Americans overwhelmingly support teachers but not teacher unions.

Among the survey results, a solid majority (71 percent) of respondents said they have trust and confidence in America’s teachers. However, when asked about the teacher unions, 47 percent say they believe the unions have hurt education, compared with only 26 percent believing the unions have helped education.

While the findings are nothing new to the growing number of teachers disenchanted with their unions, it appears that the public has begun to draw a clear distinction between teachers, as individual professionals, and the actions of the teacher unions.

This distinction is further sharpened by a survey released last week by the Association of American Educators, the largest national nonunion professional educator organization.

The AAE randomly polled its members from all 50 states to better understand the changing sentiments of teachers relating to education and labor reform. The findings show that more and more teachers are embracing reforms — contrary to union-held stances relating to alternative certification programs such as Teach for America, school choice, virtual education and collective bargaining.

For instance, despite desperate union-led attempts to preserve its monopoly on teacher preparation programs and teacher certification, AAE members recognize that in order to attract our nation’s best and brightest to the teaching profession, we must consider policies that allow degreed professionals an easier path to the classroom.

As an example, while union officials have nationally denounced programs such as Teach for America for “union busting,” 85 percent of AAE members support Teach for America and its mission to place recent top-tier college graduates into high-need classrooms after an intense training program.

With regard to school choice, 61 percent of those surveyed agree with an Arizona law providing tax credit scholarships to special education students in traditional public schools, allowing them to attend the public or private school of their choice. While the union-backed establishment sees school choice as detrimental to the teaching profession, AAE member teachers support varied policies that empower parents to choose the learning environment best-suited for their child.

While defenders of the status quo see virtual education options as a threat, professional teachers are embracing new technologies as the wave of the future. An overwhelming 75 percent of AAE members support a Utah law guaranteeing high school students access to any course via a state online database, allowing students to customize their learning experience.

In the wake of 48 states considering labor reform legislation in 2011, the value and cost of collective bargaining and a one-size-fits-all system has been heavily debated. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents assert that collective bargaining has little to no effect on their ability to teach effectively, and just 28 percent believe collective bargaining equates to a better-compensated workforce.

A majority of member teachers (63 percent) would prefer to negotiate their own contracts to account for their unique circumstances, further calling into question the union’s one-size-fits-all system. A nearly unanimous 98 percent of AAE members believe that teachers should be free to choose whom they wish to associate with, further advancing AAE’s position that no educator should be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, despite laws to the contrary in 21 states. Moreover, 84 percent of those teachers surveyed believe that teacher unions are hurting the teaching profession.

This powerful data demonstrates that teacher unions are out of touch with the opinions of many classroom teachers. It is this disconnect that has caused thousands of teachers to leave the unions for nonunion, professional associations that offer many of the benefits they need without the union baggage.

In considering new common-sense reforms as we move forward, policymakers and other stakeholders need to know that hundreds of thousands of classroom teachers are indeed agreeable to policies that put students ahead of labor union interests.

Gary Beckner is executive director of the Association of American Educators.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Watch Your Mouth – Part II
By Harris Sherline

My wife and I have recently seen several movies in which we felt that the language was over-the-top.  The latest was The Ides of March, which opened with a barrage of four-letter words that would make most people blush when they are used in mixed company.  It was so bad that a few people left shortly after the beginning, which we speculated was probably because they were offended and unwilling to wait and see if it got any better.
Another recent movie in which the lead character barely had any lines that did not contain at least one offensive word was 50/50.
I’m not sure what motivates screen writers to write scripts that are dominated by such language, but assume it’s because they think it will make their films more appealing to movie goers, or at least the audience they are attempting to reach.
I submit that it doesn’t.  I have never heard anyone say that they wanted to see a movie because it had a lot of swearing in it.
Furthermore, call me old and out-of-touch, which I may be, but there are a lot of people in my generation (I’m 83) who agree with me, and we are a significant part of the movie-going public.
There was a time when openly swearing was not just frowned upon, it was illegal in some circumstances, such as on the air (radio or T.V.).  But, unfortunately, time and the changing mores of American society have not only made inappropriate language commonplace but almost universally accepted.
Years ago, it was not unusual for parents to wash their children’s mouth out with soap for using “bad language.”  Today, it seems as though many parents have been corrupted by the change in mores to that point that they not only tolerate their children’s use of offensive language but frequently use it themselves.  We are routinely assaulted by over-the-top verbal assaults in the movies, on T.V., in the schools and workplace, even in public speeches on occasion.
For example, in March 2010, the Vice President of the United States dropped the “f-bomb” when the President signed the health care reform bill.  Joe Biden’s comment was intended for Obama’s ears only, when Biden whispered, “This is a big f-ing deal,” as they shook hands in front of a cheering crowd.
Researchers point out that swearing has been around for centuries, noting that the taboo status of certain words is what makes them powerful, because they enable people to express strong feelings.
Studies have found that swearing can provide both “emotional release and relief from pain.”  People often feel better after saying something that might otherwise be considered taboo.  The specific words that are considered unacceptable change over time, but every generation has such expressions.
The power of swear words comes from their status as generally being inappropriate in “polite society.”  The more restrictions there are on specific words, the more alluring it is to use them.  Geoff Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, notes, “It’s emphatic and has an intensity of emotion.”
Psychologist Timothy Jay, of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, believes that words like the “f-bomb” have “an intensity of emotion that conveys the intensity of emotion that best expresses strong feelings.”
Curse words have been around for hundreds of years, maybe more, although the specific words that are considered vulgar change over time.
Throughout history, swear words have reflected the taboos of time and place. A century or two ago, religious words dominated the lewd lexicon: Hell and damn were unspeakable in proper company.
Lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary wrote a book called “The F-Word,” noted that the “f-bomb” has 15th-century Germanic origins, and that the word's root meant "to move back and forth."
Over the centuries, the f-word has appeared repeatedly in obscene contexts in letters and poems, sometimes written in code. At some point in the 20th century, Sheidlower said it began to be used beyond its sexual connotations. As the word became more figurative, it also became increasingly versatile.
Today, variations of the word can function as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb and an expletive. It can be used to describe almost anything. Not only can the word be anything you want it to be, it has also become an equal-opportunity expression.  That is, women use it just as much as men do..
"I think this is one of the most important words in the language," Sheidlower said. "People use it all the time."

Swearing in the workplace has also become more commonplace, although there are limits, such as being openly using swear words in meetings or when they are directed as specific individuals, such as calling a woman a “bitch” or a “whore.”
In one dispute, the defendant argued that he had a right to freedom of speech based on section 16 of the Constitution and should therefore not be disciplined for his statements. However, the arbitrator found that this right also carried a duty, which related to respecting the fundamental worth and dignity of fellow human beings. The argument was therefore rejected and the finding of dismissal confirmed.
One important labor law case concluded that there are a variety of employment environments where vulgar language is accepted as a standard means of communication. The finding noted that vulgar language in the workplace occurs in two situations: when an employee or manager swears as a sign of frustration and not at a person, and where swearing is directed at a fellow-employee. Although swearing may be the cause for a reprimand of the employee, swearing that is directed at a fellow-employee could result in serious grievance and/or disciplinary action, perhaps even harassment claims against the employer.
© 2011 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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