About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Value of Work to a Kid

For San Diego's North County Times

Newt Gingrich has a cure for failing schools. “Get rid of the unionized janitors,” he declared in a recent speech, “have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools." I’m guessing he’d give the same advice to Carlsbad school officials considering layoffs as a cost savings measure to close next year’s estimated $7.8 million budget shortfall.
It’s hard to picture ten-year-olds eagerly signing up to clean toilets. But Gingrich’s put-children-to-work plan got me to thinking about what I learned from the jobs I had as a kid.
I entered the work world as an assistant paper boy, helping my big brother with his route. I continued to deliver daily newspapers until I graduated from high school.
Picking strawberries was a given for June. I looked for other summer jobs to escape the raspberry and bean fields in July and August.
Hauling hay was one of my favorite jobs. I reveled in the manliness of snatching up 40-pound bales, tossing them on to a slowly moving flatbed truck, then riding atop the bales back to the barn.
A job in a raspberry packaging plant involved the use of my index finger only, as I stood at the end of a chain line that emptied berries into 10-ounce cartons passing before me on another line.
One summer I helped put a roof on a warehouse. My task was to pound nails all day, motivated by a boss shouting at me periodically, “I wanna hear that hammer rattling, kid!”
I learned a lot from those menial jobs: a work ethic, how to get along with a boss, coping with tedium, the satisfaction of spending the money I earned through hard work, and the importance of getting an education that would save me from a lifetime of unskilled labor.
I grew up at a time when kids were expected to work during the summer to pay for their school clothes. Today those who can afford it head for summer camps or travel the world.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in July, 2011 the population of 16 to 24 year-olds working or looking for work, was less than 60 percent, the lowest on record and 18 percentage points below the 1989 peak.
A friend once told me she wouldn’t let her teenage daughter work before finishing high school, vowing to give her a carefree childhood before having to face the hard reality of earning a living.
Working may, indeed, make childhood a little less carefree. But maybe the payoff is in a more carefree adulthood made possible because of lessons learned from the experience.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Voluntary Pledge or Plain Bullying?

For San Diego's North County Times

Wouldn't it be nice if grocery stores and gas stations would sign pledges to stop taxing us with higher prices until they cut their business expenses an equal amount? They could protect their profits by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in their operations. We customers could help them find the waste to prove they don't have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.

Sound familiar? That's the thinking behind a local political activist group that's asking state office holders and candidates to sign its Promise to California Taxpayers pledge. Signers must promise to vote against all tax increases, amendments to Proposition 13 and increased taxpayer contributions to public employee pension plans.

In a recent opinion piece for this newspaper, Gary Gonsalves, North County's self-styled Grover Norquist and co-founder of Stop Taxing Us, claims his group has created "a tool to clearly facilitate communication between elected officials and California taxpayers." STU Director Brian Brady puts it more bluntly. He says the pledge helps office seekers to "articulate clearly that raising taxes is something they will never, ever do."

Brady claims the pledge is "absolutely voluntary." But Gonsalves promises to post the names and photographs of signers and non-signers alike on the STU website, together with video recordings of the signing or their refusal to sign, some of which may be unannounced to the interviewee.

That sounds more like coercion than facilitation to me. If you don't sign the pledge, there will be consequences. If you do sign it, you will be agreeing to place the interests of this small activist group above those of your politically diverse constituency.

I emailed two of the five signers, both of them candidates for the 76th District Assembly seat, to ask why they signed it. Farrah Douglas responded promptly. To this date I haven't received a reply from Sherry Hodges.

When I asked Douglas if she would check with STU before voting on tax bills, she told me, "I will be a true representative of my district's best interests and study each bill carefully and vote for what's best for my constituents, not what's best for me politically. I will make my own decisions without being swayed by lobbyists. I will not vote like a robot." She said she'd support tax reform that incorporates more fairness in the tax code.

Douglas's campaign website identifies wasteful government spending and higher taxes as major issues facing California. If she's elected, will she be guided by her commitment to independent decision-making on behalf of all her constituents, or by the heavy-handed influence of single-issue activists? Will Hodges make the same promise to her constituents as Douglas has? Stay tuned.