• Category Archives Op/Ed by Gorrell
  • Esse Quam Videri

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    As state mottos go, “Live Free or Die” is unrivaled. We have the best state motto in the nation. But North Carolina’s Latin motto, Esse Quam Videri – translated as “To Be, Rather Than to Seem” – makes my list of the Top Five.
    The idea of “being” rather than “seeming” struck me as I endured that New Hampshire rite of spring, the annual school district meeting. Approving a budget of nearly $27 million dollars for a district with fewer than 1500 students (do the math – that’s more than $18,000 per student) to fund a system that is not, to put it charitably, a beacon of learning, was hard enough to swallow. What made this year extra special was having to debate (again) that ultimate feel-good-over-do-good issue, full-day kindergarten.
    Brought to the floor as a petitioned warrant article, the nearly $500,000 measure failed handily. The debate didn’t live up to the moral calling of either New Hampshire’s or North Carolina’s state motto. A relative handful of voters tried to push a costly program onto all taxpayers that might benefit a few parents but would not solve any of our district’s education challenges. Had it passed, full-day kindergarten (FDK) would have been an example of tyranny of the minority and the triumph of seeming over being. (Only 235 voters participated in the meeting.)
    The floor debate split along familiar lines. Those opposed focused on the fact that FDK programs have no documented success at improving education outcomes. What little measurable academic improvement was found for certain students had disappeared by second grade. This proposal was the wrong answer to the wrong question; we needed to be asking how we could best address our district’s mediocre academic performance, not how could we be like other districts.
    Yet proponents used that disreputable “but everyone else has it” argument (Did that ever work for you when you were a kid?), along with the equally odoriferous “for the children” as fallback. No amount of data was going to sway them from wanting to do what seemed or felt right, rather than figuring out what the right thing might be.
    Beyond the motto, the Tar Heel state has something to teach us Granite Staters about education. North Carolina has implemented an interesting program aimed at “being” – accomplishing the objective – rather than seeming to do so.
    Read to Achieve (RtA) was passed by the NC legislature in 2012. The program focuses on getting third-grade students to grade-level proficiency in reading before moving up to fourth grade. The Vision Statement is clear, simple, and measurable: All children will be proficient readers by the end of third grade.
    That metric is important because “Learning to read by the end of third grade is the gateway to lifelong success. When students are not able to read by the end of third grade, their risk of falling behind grows exponentially. In fact, research shows that nine out of ten high school dropouts were struggling readers in third grade. Students reading below grade level are almost six times more likely than proficient readers to not finish high school on time.” The clarity and logic of that statement stands in stark contrast to the emotional arguments used to try foisting FDK on a district struggling academically and financially.
    The results of RtA are promising. In the first 4 years, fourth graders improved half a grade level on the reading section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Students scoring below basic in reading decreased 5 percentage points. Students scoring at or above proficiency increased 4 points.
    In an education policy report card by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), NC received a C+ grade; NH earned a C-. WalletHub’s comparison of state school systems ranked NC 13th; NH was 3rd. North Carolina has more large, urban districts and students from racial minorities than we have; those factors tend to lower academic performance. That said, NC spends half of what we spend per pupil yet achieves comparable NEAP test scores. What could we learn from them?
    The achievement of “being” should trump the virtue-signaling of “seeming,” but I won’t hold my breath. Despite all the reasons to oppose FDK (neither the Winnisquam School Board nor Budget Committee supported the warrant article), the chairman stated that the Board recognized the value of the program and were working on ways to implement it. I challenge him to craft a Vision Statement for FDK as clear as the Read to Achieve declaration – and to promise similar, measurable results.
    In Winnisquam as in all school districts across the state, we deserve what we tolerate. But for education, when we prefer seeming to do the right thing over being right, it’s the next generation that suffers from our folly.


  • Context and Confidence

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Three years ago this week I penned “School-to-Prison Pipeline?,” for the March 5th, 2015 edition of the Weirs Times. It could have been written yesterday.
    I wrote that “Our education system should be refocused on meeting the educational needs of those children capable of functioning in a classroom. For many reasons, some children simply aren’t capable, and some make up what we call the criminal element.” I then asked if you’d want your child seated next to such a child.
    When those words were printed, the future Parkland, FL, high school mass-murderer had already been placed at Cross Creek, a special school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. A few months later, a school report would say that this young man was “distracted by inappropriate conversations by classmates” about “guns, people being killed, or the armed forces.” Less than a year later, he was reintegrated into regular classes at Stoneman Douglas High.
    For that 2015 essay, I pulled this quote from neaToday, the mouthpiece for the nation’s largest teachers’ union:
    ”Fueled by zero tolerance policies and the presence of police officers in schools, and made worse by school funding cuts that overburden counselors and high-stakes tests that stress teachers, these excessive [discipline] practices have resulted in the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of tens of millions of public school students, especially students of color and those with disabilities or who identify as LGBT.”
    Talk about a swing and a miss. At the time, I described the article as “displaying the childlike quality of being simultaneously simplistic, self-aggrandizing, and just plain wrong.” Add to that list: Deadly.
    The NEA complained that “…a quarter-million [students] were ‘referred’ to police officers for misdemeanor tickets, very often for offenses that once would have elicited a stern talking-to.”
    We now know that officials at Stoneman Douglas shielded students’ criminal behaviors – including drug use and assaults – from the justice system, part of a federally-funded policy to bribe schools across the country into ignoring real criminality and focusing only on reportable crime metrics. The idea of reducing crime by not reporting it is insane.
    The reality is that the prison pipeline predominately starts with bad families and dangerous communities. Does it surprise anyone that of the young men who turned into mass murderers since 2005, only one was raised by his biological father? (And that one – the Virginia Tech killer – was known to have been mentally unstable since childhood.)
    Those who have long fought to end or substantially restrict of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms – the right that “shall not be infringed” – ignore that reality. They use every mass shooting to advance their cause, focusing on the gun rather than the person wielding it.
    On the other side, the NRA may come across as dogmatic. But it stands fast against “common sense gun reforms,” because it knows full well that the American Left uses “common sense” only euphemistically; the phrase is simply a means to hide its true goal. NRA members like me know that the common denominator of violent crimes is not a particular weapon; it’s a person with criminal intent.
    Nothing substantive will come from this most recent horrible experience. Nothing will come from the next. Solutions are beyond our grasp because one side simply can’t trust the other. I revere the wisdom of the Bill of Rights. I believe our Constitution is a living document only in the sense that there’s a well-defined process to amend it when necessary. I will never trust those who seek to circumvent that process and undermine those rights, especially when using dead or traumatized teenagers to advance a political agenda.
    Trust requires context and confidence. As a sociopolitical movement, the American Left is undeserving of trust because, when viewed in context, its actions align not to the rule of law under our Constitution, but to a global political movement seeking to consolidate power within large bureaucracies. How can one confidently negotiate with such people when their North Star lies outside the Constitutional firmament?
    These are the same people, after all, who also lead, encourage, and defend campus protests against the First Amendment’s free speech protections, using “hate speech” as their hook. When pressed, “hate speech” quickly devolves into “anything we don’t like or makes us feel bad.” That such a belief has become normalized at institutions dedicated to knowledge and inquiry is irony defined.
    We will not solve cultural problems like mass shootings so long as the Right must work valiantly to shore up the Constitutional protections the Left is working feverishly to erode.


  • The Seed of Evil

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin.  ― Aesop

    Evil has been with mankind since the beginning. Yet we still seem surprised when it moves out of the shadows and makes its presence known, as it did in Parkland, Florida, last week.
    Before the shock wore off – or even fully set in – of seventeen dead at a school, the usual lines were drawn and invectives hurled. In the social media and “regular” media firestorm, many observers applied the label “evil” to their political opponents and to an inanimate object rather than the perpetrator. So Parkland joins Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine on the list of atrocities from which we will learn nothing.
    The sixth century BC call-to-action credited to Aesop is helpful only for those who can recognize the “seed of evil” when they see it. Many twenty-first century Americans seem incapable of accepting evil as a concept, much less recognizing it for what it is, even when it stares at them in digital brilliance just hours after committing a horrible act. Too many of us can look into evil’s eyes and see only the tool used, not the broken man who used it.
    Except, of course, when the tool is fertilizer, or an airliner, or a rented truck. Then, the tool is less important than the motivation. Except when the motivation is jihad, in which case the search for “evil” turns perversely to the perceived wrongdoing of the victims’ culture or society. Solzhenitsyn recognized that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Evil is a human trait only; no mere object is inherently evil.
    T.S. Eliot wrote, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” I’m not sure that was true even when he wrote it. Given what has transpired or been fully revealed since his death in 1965 – the full scope of Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean communist atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, African genocides – one wonders if even he would stand by his words today. Much mischief has been done by people with good intentions, but evil is an altogether different quality; it is done by people with evil intent.
    The concepts of evil and good are religious at heart. The more we’ve marginalized religion in modern society, the less able we are to deal with evil. Mass killings, especially at schools, grab headlines and our attention, and deservedly so. The death of young innocents wounds us all, which is why I can’t imagine a more emotionally-draining job than pediatric oncologist. But the oncologist fights a mindless disease; when we fight against evil, we fight against the actions of a heart and mind. Divorcing that fight from religion and morality disarms us.
    Other than the shock of mass death, we seem immune to the murder and mayhem that have become principal features of American society. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that while guns have been part of America since the Founding – and for a time even fully-automatic weapons were largely unregulated – it is our society that has changed. We have come to accept a level of evil that cannot long be maintained if we want to pass on a civic order to today’s children.
    In 2016, according to FBI statistics, 47 Americans died violently every day, on average. That’s 17,250 dead divided by 366 days in that leap year. Many of those people were young, and most had families and friends, hopes and dreams, and started out their day assuming they’d go to sleep that night. Except for local coverage, few of those deaths made headlines, though as a group they represent more than two-and-a-half Parkland massacres – every day of the year.
    As long as we debate tools and laws – as if just one more law on the books restricting the freedoms of law-abiding citizens will alter the calculus of evil people – we will have to endure more Parklands, more Columbines. Eventually they will merge with the background noise along with those 47 daily murder victims. Politicians do not have the answers. Foreign cultures do not provide meaningful guidance, because the cultural, demographic, and geographic variables are too significant.
    The answer to the question, “How do we reduce gun violence?” is as simple to state as it is hard to implement: We must raise moral citizens and enforce moral laws. That this answer is considered bizarre or unacceptable to about half our population and most of our media elites shows us just how far we’ve slipped, and how far we have to go.


  • To-Do, or Not-To-Do

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    The new year brought new state laws across the land, new experiments in the “laboratories of democracy.” That phrase, coined by Progressive jurist Louis Brandeis, sounds like a strength of our federal system: Fifty states, implementing laws and regulations that fit each one’s unique circumstances, within the framework of our national Constitution.
    It would be a strength, if not for the fact that some people – like Brandeis himself – see these experiments as merely a first step. Instead of letting states innovate, their ultimate goal is to impose some experiments on the rest of us, using one state’s “success” as justification. The worst and most recent example of this was ObamaCare.
    Only one state had experimented with a program similar to the ObamaCare blueprint: Massachusetts. President Obama’s touted his now-discredited law as a national extension of Republican Governor Romney’s state health insurance experiment. When he ran against Obama’s reelection, Romney was in the awkward position of advocating the repeal of a federal law that had been based on his own signature achievement as governor.
    RomneyCare wasn’t successful, yet the president and congressional Democrats covered their ObamaCare lies in part by invoking Massachusetts as democracy’s laboratory.
    A valid experiment must be replicable under similar conditions. But our states are not similar enough to justify the federalization of one state’s attempt at policy innovation.
    Geography, demographics, and history all play parts in making our states unique. Even in small and relatively homogeneous New England, each state has distinctive characteristics. I like to think that such as Bernie Sanders could never be elected to high office in New Hampshire. We have a very different tax structure than Taxachussetts. Connecticut seems intent on following in the footsteps of near-bankrupt Illinois, rather than applying the lessons of small-government in the Granite State.
    NH ranked #1 for economic freedom in a 2017 Fraser Institute report, followed by Florida, Texas, and South Dakota. Four very different states, but on Fraser’s measures of government spending, taxes, and labor market freedom, we are similar. At the other end of the spectrum, the least-free state was New York, at the bottom with California, New Mexico, and West Virginia. Again, states that otherwise have little in common share that ignoble distinction. Continue reading  Post ID 3205


  • Ten Years After

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    I’d love to change the world
    But I don’t know what to do
    So I’ll leave it up to you
    “I’d Love to Change the World”
    —Ten Years After (1971)

    British blues-rock group Ten Years After is one of my favorite Woodstock-era bands. They probably didn’t sing it this way, but when I hear “I’d Love to Change the World” on classic rock stations, I picture them with wistful, ironic smiles.
    The refrain reflects the disconnect so many young people felt at the time; wanting change, but not knowing how to accomplish it.

    Tax the rich, feed the poor
    Till there are no rich no more

    Acknowledging that we’ll run out of rich people before we run out of poor, hungry folks means your solution it has a major shortcoming.
    Looking to others to solve problems while proposing flawed solutions is part of the human condition, a bit of childhood we can’t shake as adults. And nowhere is this on better display than when we talk about improving public education.
    In my last essay I reached back twenty years to a 1997 scholarly paper on disengaged students to show that problems identified two decades ago were still hounding public education today.
    This week I’m reaching back just ten years, to one of my own essays. “Math Wars” struck a chord with mathematics “traditionalists” who opposed new mathematics curricula. It was posted on a few math-related online forums. It was even quoted in a 2008 paper by Prof. George Cunningham, published by the Pope Center for Higher Education Quality.
    I share this not because I’m entirely too pleased with myself, but because it shows that one doesn’t have to be a mathematician or teacher to understand a basic truth about teaching math. Prof. Cunningham pulled this quote from my essay:
    If by “meaningful computational algorithms,” we mean simple, accurate and repeatable – things like the traditional addition algorithm, or long division, then the average student will never develop such an algorithm and should not have to try. Universal mathematical algorithms were developed ages ago by Archimedes, Euclid, Descartes and Pascal. There are not many budding Pascals in our school districts, but there are plenty of children capable of learning from the methods discovered by the great mathematicians in history.
    Math traditionalists – mainly parent groups and mathematicians – believed in teaching those traditional algorithms. Getting the right answer using clear, concrete standards based on actually solving math problems was key.
    Reformists – mainly the education establishment – eschewed the memorizing of such core knowledge, preferring student “self-discovery.” For them the journey was key.
    I’m not making this up. Their own words: “The authors of Everyday Mathematics [a now-discredited reformist curriculum] do not believe it is worth students’ time and effort to fully develop highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms for all whole number, fraction, and decimal division problems.”
    How did that work out? Cunningham noted that “In the past, most students learned all of the traditional algorithms in fourth and fifth grades without great difficulty, as do students in other countries.” College students “without the ability to multiply or divide multi-digit numbers without the use of a calculator will quickly find themselves enrolled in remedial math, where they will be taught what they should have learned in fourth grade.” Which is, of course, exactly where many college students find themselves today. Mastering higher mathematics requires a solid foundation. Only an “expert” could fail to understand that.
    Prof. Cunningham was exploring whether the University of North Carolina’s education schools were helping or hindering potential teachers. Answer: UNC’s education schools, “like most throughout the United States, are very much in the thrall of the progressive educational culture” and “newly trained and certified teachers are not likely to be ready to help their students make the best progress they can.
    Leaving K-12 education up to “the experts” has been a disaster, and not just for math. Millions of young minds have been damaged in what can only be described as wide-scale progressive social experiments on live and unwitting subjects using unproven methods. (Yes, Common Core, I’m talking about you.)
    Sometimes the world doesn’t need to be changed. Sometimes we just need to rely on timeless truths, like mathematical algorithms. Since our public education system seems loathe to accept that, we need to apply the only leverage we have: Choice.
    Choice brings competition. Competition will lessen the impact of the “experts” who have been designing and imposing these damaging, universal social experiments, and whose livelihoods are enhanced when pedagogy shifts like women’s fashion. Competition brings control. It’s time to take control of public education.


  • Everything Old Is New Again

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Last week, advocates for education who put children ahead of institutions were given a reason to smile: SB 193, establishing education freedom savings accounts, passed a critical vote in the House. If all goes well, new doors will open for parents seeking the right educational opportunities for their children.
    When it becomes law, individual student accounts can be created using ninety-five percent of the state’s per-pupil adequate education grant designated for that specific child. The details are available on-line. Basically, education savings accounts (ESAs) will empower parents of modest means to take advantage of a wider variety of schooling options if they believe their local public school is not a good fit. Who could be against that?
    The usual suspects are against it: The state’s elected Democrats; the public-sector unions NEA and AFT; the ACLU; and organizations that want school choice to extend only to those parents rich enough to be able to opt-out of the public system. I think of these people as modern-day Aztecs: Like priests of that Mesoamerican civilization, they have a penchant for human sacrifice. Opponents of ESAs are willing to sacrifice other people’s children on the altar of a public-school system they deify.
    They are also hypocrites. I haven’t read anything from ESA opponents denouncing rich parents who fail to support their local public schools when they send their kids elsewhere (depriving their districts of that state adequacy grant). The same people who never miss an opportunity to denounce “tax cuts for the rich” refuse to denounce “education choice for the rich,” and oppose efforts to expand opportunity to all.
    Why might more parents want that opportunity? Perhaps it has to do with public school’s track record. I read an article recently decrying “Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards.” The author, Paul Trout, an associate professor of English, began by stating that “It is bad enough that many students who enter college are underprepared, underskilled and generally dumbed down. What is worse is that more and more of them are entering college – according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute – ‘increasingly disengaged from the academic experience.’”
    Students are spending less time studying, doing homework, and engaging in academic pursuits. Record numbers say they are frequently bored in class. Children are “sitting for hours in mental states that approach suspended animation,” learning to “get by with the least possible effort.”
    The author places some blame for this on the “success model,” where “every student – regardless of talent, inclination, and attitude – must succeed.” Academic rigor is “jettisoned to preserve self-esteem.” And now, lowered standards, expectations, and preparation in K-12 is poisoning higher education. In a vicious circle, colleges lower their standards to meet the (in)abilities of “college ready” high school students, while also training and certifying the “earnest pedagogues who imposed the stultifying ‘success’ model on primary and secondary schools in the first place.”
    Trout believes that the number of disengaged students “has reached some sort of critical mass at the primary, secondary, and now college levels.” He provides some possible remedial actions and….oh, did I mention that the article was written in 1997?
    The problems Trout highlighted two decades ago are still with us today. Solutions have been proposed, tried, and failed – repeatedly – as that critical mass has grown. Yet the deifiers of public education refuse to question their dogma. Their faith in one system is unshaken, despite what the data show. They can look at drop-out rates, test scores proving large numbers of graduates aren’t proficient in core subjects, and higher public education spending per capita buying lower test scores than our economic competitors, while condemning as heretics those who seek a different path. For decades they’ve been burying their record of failure under a mound of edu-speak and arrogance.
    This is what their failure looks like: In the Smarter Balanced tests, students are assessed as either being on-track to demonstrating the knowledge and skills necessary for college and career readiness (whatever that means, given decades of dumbed-down of standards), or not on-track. Last year, for all NH schools and all tested grades, more than 4 in 10 students were not on-track in reading. More than 5 in 10 were not on-track in math. More than 6 in 10 were not on-track in science.
    There are real children attached to each of those statistics. Advocates for ESAs see them as individuals, worthy of the chance to go where they can succeed. Opponents treat them as just so much grist for the mill.
    Education freedom savings accounts are part of a badly-needed education Reformation.


  • Tribal Tribulations

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    E pluribus unum. It’s one of the few Latin phrases kids learn in school – or used to. Given the sorry state of civics education, perhaps the motto of the Great Seal of the United States has been left on the curriculum cutting room floor.
    The American ideal of a single people forged out of many – the melting pot – has fallen out of favor. In its place we have a strange mélange of micro-tribalism and identity-politics, pitting small groups against each other and the best interests of the nation. Soon we may need to update the Great Seal’s motto to E pluribus chao: Out of many, chaos.
    The irony of this regression into ever-smaller and more bizarre tribes is that we have never been more “melty.” Race had been the big dividing line, not just for blacks but Asians as well. Even within the “white” label there was a pecking order, with Irish, Italians, Poles, and Jews struggling at times at the bottom of the pile. The lines have blurred in 21st century America.
    Mixed-race marriages no longer merit notice in most of America. Christian churches ordain and marry homosexuals. More women than men earn advanced degrees. Movement between income quintiles is much more fluid than the “income inequality” protestors acknowledge. Race, sex, and hereditary wealth aren’t the gatekeepers they used to be.
    It’s hard to tell from the twelve-year-old black & white photo that accompanies these essays, but I am a ruddy-complected red-head; by appearance my ancestry is clearly “UK mongrel”. A recent DNA test confirmed that, but with a twist.
    Seventy-five percent of my DNA is from the UK, which Ancestry.com defines as not just England, Wales, and Scotland, but also Normandy and a bit of the Low Countries. The test picked up my St. Lawrence River French settler connection. My great-grandfather’s marriage to a French-Canadian Catholic girl got him kicked out of our Anglo-Protestant family, a banishment that lasted two generations. Times have changed.
    The only other high-confidence match – meaning there definitely is a DNA connection – was Senegal. Yes, West Africa. It was only 4%, but it’s there. Senegal was a big slave-trading area for centuries. It seems one of my distant relatives did more than sample the native cuisine.
    Based on the science of DNA, I’m more “African” than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Native American.” Unlike Fauxcahontas, I won’t try to capitalize on a genetic connection (real, in my case) to get preferential treatment at Harvard.
    The senator’s former employer is being investigated by the Department of Justice for its race-based quota system that limits its Asian student population to about half of what it would be under a policy based on academic performance. Maybe Harvard should follow its Ivy League compatriot Brown University and adopt a process that allows applicants to “self-identify” as a “person of color.”
    Does that sound crazy? It’s the direction we’re heading, pushed along by Progressives who believe in the daffy notion of “social constructs.” Liberals claim the mantel of science, yet want us to believe that we can create our own reality just by wishing it so. Non-believers can either acquiesce or be forced out of the public square – violently, as we’ve seen on college campuses across the nation.
    DNA – our genetic code – is being cast aside in this rush to create personal realities. The problem with this, besides the obvious, is that newly-minted subgroups are now jockeying for position in the grievance hierarchy.
    Rachel Dolezal, the Caucasian woman forced to resign from her leadership position in the NAACP when she was outed as Black-in-her-mind-only, is still playing dress-up and staging a comeback. Blacks rightly reject the idea of race as a matter of “self-identification” that ignores their history and would open the racial preference system to, well, people like me.
    An administrator at a state university claims that campus LGBTQ centers are bastions of “homonormative whiteness.” The multi-colored rainbow flag is too “White,” it seems. The transgender movement works to normalize a psychiatric condition that favors “feelings” over the reality of XX and XY, leading to head-scratching headlines like this: “High School Boy Wins All-State Honors in Girls Track and Field.”
    When reality is considered a social construct, all bets are off. People will construct things that make sense only in their minds. Each “reality” will demand pride of place in the social hierarchy and spoils system. Progressives will insist that we accept these flights of fancy or risk the worst label modern society can apply: Judgmental.
    So, hang on. The social-construct roller derby is going to be bloody fun to watch.

    Ken’s email is kengorrell@gmail.com


  • Cleaning House

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Philosophers and theologians have debated for millennia what happens to us when we die. I am supremely unqualified to contribute to their search for the material or spiritual truth. But six months after being named executor of a relative’s estate, I know a lot about what happens to our possessions when we die.
    The liquidation process has taken longer than it would have had my second-cousin-once-removed filed a proper will, or if our genealogical connection had been better documented. In addition to being named executor, I was his closest living relative. But when the court demanded proof, I had to spend months searching our extended family tree, shaking the branches to make sure no long-lost relation fell out.
    In the meantime, my wife and I had to sort out the finances and the contents of the household. Not surprisingly, creditors were more willing than the court to accept me as a responsible party in dealing with the estate, despite the fact that I had no access to the accounts. They’ll get theirs, in due course.
    The household goods, now shorn of whatever emotional worth they once had to the deceased or might have to the family or friends left behind, revert back to their practical, utilitarian state. Their value is now entirely in the eyes of people looking for a good deal on used stuff.
    That’s not always easy to accept, especially since my cousin had been living in his childhood home. He had kept a lot of his parents personal items. His mother had been a homemaker and bookkeeper; his father an engineer with Westinghouse. Her oil paintings adorned some walls while others sat in a closet. She had been a talented amateur. Her art will find new homes in the estate sale.
    His father’s patent book, awards, and memorabilia from an interesting life that included work on Gemini and Apollo are now nothing but momentary curiosities on their way to the trash bin. So, too, the photo albums, including pictures of their 1955 family vacation to Niagara Falls. After remarking on how well-dressed the vacationers were, into the bin they went.
    His parent’s wedding photo, in the typical 1940’s style that made them look like movie stars, was harder to throw away. But the death of their 65-year-old son was the end of their line. The frame was worth something, but the memories it once contained meant nothing to any living soul.
    My wife and I spent four melancholy weekends sorting the memory items from the items of marketable value. We did set aside a few personal mementos, tangible bits to help us keep their memories fresh in our minds. Neighbors stopped by to offer condolences and share their own remembrances, which helped make the whole process less wearying.
    But once the sorting was done, it was time to think like an executor. My cousin was not the sentimental type; he wanted his property turned into cash and distributed – after expenses and the executor’s cut – to the five youngest members of my family. Even without a proper will, he had made his intentions clear.
    To meet his expectations, we turned to an online estate auction company. The magic of the market never ceases to amaze me. In its purest form, sellers and buyers exchange items that each finds more valuable than what they had. I suspect that if all manufacturing were to cease for a year, and we could find a way to perfectly match sellers and buyers, all our material needs could be satisfied by swapping around what already exists. Perhaps that’s why capitalist invented planned obsolescence and the fashion industry spends millions convincing some people that they need to be trendy.
    Aside from some tools, lawn and garden equipment, and a few collectibles, I see little of value in this 1950s cape. But virtually everything here will find a new home in the auction, even the not-quite-mid-century-modern furniture that spent the last five decades in the hermetically-sealed formal living room. The alchemy of the online auction will turn lead into gold.
    The house itself will be seen by someone as the perfect place to live, and perhaps raise a family. It had first sheltered a young family of four, and in the end protected the last member of that family until the paramedics arrived. Soon, a new chapter will begin, and the house will again be a home. Old memories will be replaced by new hopes and dreams. Even in our inanimate objects there is a circle of life.

    Ken Gorrell can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com


  • Hey Bungalow Bill

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    One of the lesser works on 1968’s The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) was The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, a song mocking an American who went on a tiger hunt during a spiritual retreat in India. The Beatles had been part of that retreat, and John Lennon found mixing hunting with spiritualism discordant.
    One can imagine Lennon’s song-writing reaction to President Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era ruling making it virtually impossible to import some big game trophies from certain African countries. Though Trump reinstated the original ban last week, the caterwauling media – both main stream and social – made two things clear: This is an emotional issue, and few understand the connection between conservation and capitalism.
    Hunting is a proven conservation technique, here and in Africa. While populations of elephants, lions, and other trophy-worthy African wildlife are dwindling in some countries due to poor land management, bad government, tribal traditions, and illegal poaching, in other countries the business of big-game hunting has helped to increase such populations. But after the Cecil the Lion incident a few years ago, journalists know they can tap a rich vein of emotion when reporting these stories. In the Trump era, journalists prefer emotion over facts.
    At Fox News, Army veteran and former military intelligence analyst Brett Velicovich denigrated trophy hunting, employing class-warfare rhetoric and sounding every bit like the antifa morons committing mindless violence on college campuses. America has been poorly served by our intel community in part because of “analysis” like this. Velicovich used Zimbabwe as his springboard to attack those who believe that hunting is a valid part of conservation efforts. Yes, Zimbabwe has been a political mess, bad for man and beast under the rule of its 93-year-old dictator, Mugabe. But other African nations have demonstrated tremendous successes, and last week Mugabe was removed from power. I hope current intel analysts saw that coming.
    For those who prefer facts over sentiment in their analysis, the reasons to support African trophy hunting are compelling. Even left-of-center media outlets have made the case. In 2010, The Economist reported that “Governments have mostly failed to protect Africa’s wildlife. But other models— involving hunters, rich conservationists and local farmers—are showing promise.” The article pointed to economic and social problems in Africa – not rich American hunters – as the primary reasons behind declining big game populations in some countries. To protect endangered species, “The first step is plain economics: a recognition that the wild has to pay its way.”
    The BBC – no part of the vast right-wing conspiracy – published a piece in 2015 pointing out that with big game hunting, “the nuances of this story are too complicated to be understood by a generation raised on films like the Lion King, and the resultant Walt Disney sentimentality towards Africa’s wildlife, and who are all too eager to tweet their disapproval.” In the real world, the “Circle of Life” isn’t a poignant song; it’s bloody and brutal. It’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, not a cute cartoon.
    Are big game hunters the callow cad immortalized by the Beatles? No. In 2006, a researcher in Kenya found that eighty-six percent of hunters interviewed for a study said they preferred hunting in areas where a portion of proceeds went to local communities. Nearly fifty percent indicated they’d be willing “to pay an equivalent price for a poorer trophy if it was a problem animal that would have had to be killed anyway.”
    Even CBS’s 60 Minutes managed to air a balanced segment in 2012 focused on the rise of African game hunting in Texas. “How did thousands of Texas ranches become home to the largest population of exotic animals on earth? It’s thanks to trophy hunters like Paul.” The opposing view was presented by the delightfully-named Priscilla Feral, president of an international animal rights group. Despite carefully-managed and growing populations, she doesn’t “want to see [exotic animals] on hunting ranches. I don’t want to see them dismembered. I don’t want to see their value in body parts.” One can only wonder what she thinks about the legal practice of killing a viable human fetus in the womb by dismembering it.
    National Geographic reported in 2007 that “southern white rhinoceros grew from just 50 animals a century ago to over 11,000 wild individuals today, because hunts gave game ranchers a financial incentive to reintroduce the animal.” The World Wildlife Fund pegs the current population at more than 20,000. That’s conservation capitalism in action. It’s a shame this complex issue became just another excuse to bash President Trump. The animals deserve better.

    Ken’s email is kengorrell@gmail.com


  • I Like The Blue One

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Last week, we got our first glimpse of the eight border wall prototypes vying to replace the inadequate – or non-existent – barriers along our nearly 2,000 mile national demarcation with Mexico. I like the blue one.
    We call it a border, but it is much more than that. It is a boundary containing our national identity; our political, economic, and social order. Without it, we are not a nation-state, and our political rights – from the Bill of Rights to present laws – are meaningless. That millions of Americans fail to understand this is testament that we have done a poor job teaching civics in our public school classrooms.
    The promise of a physical barrier along our southern border was a big part of what put Donald Trump in the White House. Seeing those prototypes put a smile on my face. The concrete and steel sections lack grace, but what they represent is beautiful national resolve.
    Six wall sections were the color of desert sand, one was gray metal, but one was sand-color at the base with dark blue metal stretching toward the sky. I don’t know which will prove the most impervious to illegals trying to steal that which doesn’t belong to them, but the blue one struck me as most esthetically-pleasing.
    Function must trump esthetics for our border barrier, but I have one suggestion for the final design: Make the wall educational. Use the wall as a classroom white board, a place where ideas can be written and lessons taught. In those areas where Mexicans and Central Americans are most likely to try to break into our country, let’s adorn the wall with engravings of the words that make the United States a great nation, that separate us from all others.
    What could be more natural on a wall marking a national boundary than the ideas that mark us as unique? For some, “nationalism” is a dirty word. But the desire to form a distinct state, a “more perfect union,” is what created our nation in the first place. Nationalism is embodied in our Constitution’s preamble: “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
    The words – in English and Spanish, of course – that should be permanently engraved on the south-side of the wall include the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I’d add the Gettysburg Address and a couple of other historic presidential speeches. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech from Berlin should be up there. After all, this is not a wall holding a people prisoner to a tyrannical state; this is a wall protecting a free people from those who would take from us that which is not theirs.
    Pictures worth thousands of words might cause a few potential illegal aliens to pause in their tracks. Despite Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s claim that Mexico is “a proudly mestizo, multi-cultural and diverse nation” and a country that “firmly believe(s) that this mestizo fusion is the future and destiny of human kind,” a collage of the most recent 10 Mexican presidents and first ladies shows a very Spanish-looking, and in some cases Anglo-looking, group. Mexico is a racially and ethnically-stratified county where indigenes hold little power; Pena Nieto throws stones from his perch in a glass house.
    Pena Nieto is leader of country with a national average IQ 10 points below ours. Illegal immigrants from Central America passing through Mexico come from countries with average IQs 10 points lower still. This is one reason why the debate about who will pay for the “big, beautiful wall” misses the point. Even if President Trump can’t find a way to tax remittances from Mexicans living in the US – money earned here but spent in Mexico – the wall will pay for itself by stopping even a small percentage of illegals from settling in our country.
    The Center for Immigration Studies made a compelling case in a paper earlier this year that due to lower earning ability and higher use of social services, “illegal border-crossers create an average fiscal burden of approximately $74,722 during their lifetimes.” If a wall stopped a mere “9 to 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross in the next decade” the social and economic savings would be $12 to $15 billion – enough to cover the cost of the wall.
    A nation has a sovereign right and obligation to its citizens to protect its interests and control its territory. The United States has been failing at this basic duty for decades, at substantial social and economic cost. Mr. Trump, build up this wall!

    Ken can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com


  • The Iron Lady

    Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Had she lived, Margaret Thatcher would have celebrated her 92nd birthday last week. I wonder how many in the U.K. would prefer the Iron Lady’s ghost to their current prime minister, the hapless Theresa May. When it comes to female prime ministers, the Brits are batting .500.
    The 1980’s triad of Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II changed the course of history in ways I’m afraid most Millennials fail to appreciate. America would be a very different place today if, instead of pointless inquiries into “Russian meddling” in an election, we were still facing the very real threats from the Soviet Union. Thanks in large part to Mrs. Thatcher, in 1991 the Evil Empire crumbled in the face of Western resolve, ending the Cold War in a win for the West.
    In my favorite photo of Mrs. Thatcher (which I have in a small frame on my deck), she and President Reagan are walking purposefully at Camp David, deep in discussion. She’s wearing a broad-shouldered coat in style at the time, and sensible shoes. He’s in a leather flight jacket and cowboy boots. When I think of the 1980s, that’s the picture that comes to mind.


    This anniversary of her passing didn’t end in a zero or a five, but it still deserved more media attention than it received. When we lose our connection to history, we lose ourselves. As Mrs. Thatcher said, “If… many influential people have failed to understand, or have just forgotten, what we were up against in the Cold War and how we overcame it, they are not going to be capable of securing, let alone enlarging, the gains that liberty has made.” She could have been speaking directly to former President Obama and his fecklessness in the fight against our Islamic enemy.
    Betsy Pearson, writing at Independent Women’s Forum, supplied us with the “Top Five Reasons Margaret Thatcher is Still an Inspiration to Women Today”. The article is worth reading in its entirety – and passing along to young women you care about.
    Pearson’s top five: She didn’t use her sex to influence her career; she was principled; she challenged the status quo, not caring about being popular (earning her the nickname “Iron Lady”); she had to work for her success; and she was a modern feminist, but not of the Left-leaning variety, which shunned her.
    So much of what she said and did transcends her time. Addressing the Conservative Party conference in 1983, she said: “Let us never forget this fundamental truth. The state has no source of money other the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more, it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. There is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers’ money.” I hope Republicans in the House and Senate keep those words in mind as they debate tax cuts and tax reform.
    So, too, they should hear Mrs. Thatcher’s voice saying “It is a very fundamental truth that is frequently and almost universally forgotten. Any time you see the terms ‘public funding,’ ‘public funds,’ ‘government funding,’ or ‘government funds’ be sure to substitute ‘taxpayer funding’ and ‘taxpayer funds.’” as they reform government health insurance and craft the next budget.
    A few other quotes from the Iron Lady that should resonate in the halls of Congress, as well as on college campuses and in our homes:
    “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
    “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.”
    “The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.”
    “Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus.”
    “Every family should have the right to spend their money, after tax, as they wish, and not as the government dictates. Let us extend choice, extend the will to choose and the chance to choose.”
    “There can be no liberty unless there is economic liberty.”
    “There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors… I mean it.”
    “To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best.”
    And finally, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” We should remember Margaret Thatcher not just because of her intentions, but because of her achievements and her effect on our lives.

    Ken can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com


  • Getting What They Paid For

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Using public polling as a political weapon is nothing new. A recent bought-and-paid-for-by-the-AFT poll simply lowers the bar.
    The leaders of the American Federation of Teachers, a public-sector union representing employees of an education system where nearly two-thirds of its graduates lack proficiency in reading, want you to know that “Parents Prefer Good Neighborhood Schools Over More Choice.” Surprising result? Of course not. They got what they paid for.
    The survey by Hart Research Associates is available online, so you can see for yourself how to craft questions to elicit a client’s desired responses. The claims that “five central themes emerge clearly and consistently” and that “choice” isn’t among parental priorities sound impressive – until one wades into the devilish details armed with an inquisitive mind.
    The five themes are nicely constructed, at least as seen from a distance. But like that North Korean “Peace Village” in the DMZ, when examined more closely, the nice-looking buildings are revealed to be nothing more than empty shells.
    Based on loaded questions, the poll purportedly shows: Parents believe public schools are helping their children achieve their full potential; they want access to a good neighborhood public school much more than increased choice of schools; their top priorities include ensuring a safe and secure environment and equal opportunity for all; they believe public schools are inadequately funded and oppose shifting resources from regular schools to charters and vouchers; they disapprove of Betsy DeVos’ performance as Secretary of Education; and they want more investment in traditional public schools, with particular emphasis on supporting art and music curriculums and providing health and nutrition services. Continue reading  Post ID 3205


  • Roses And Thorns

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    When I wrote my last essay I was preparing for a week-long camping trip with a Boy Scout troop. That trip has joined a long list of camping adventures I’ve enjoyed with this group of Scouts and adult leaders. Each event has been unique despite the similarities: Tenting, building camp fires, hiking and other outdoor activities, learning and developing leadership skills, and, of course, enjoying the camaraderie.
    At the end of each trip we gather around for “roses and thorns,” a time when each person presents his high and low point of the event. No names, just experiences. Usual “roses” are the big events, which in this case included an overnight Mt. Washington hike and playing in the natural water slide off the Kancamagus Highway. Usual “thorns” are what you’d expect: meal clean up, lack of sleep, and rain.
    I always focus more on the thorns, which provide greater insight into how these kids think. A recurring thorn from last week was rooted in the kids’ sense of “fairness.” Some complained that they had been asked to do more chores than other Scouts. I’m sure it’s a common refrain heard by parents and teachers, but we usually avoid it at camp, where the fun-to-drudgery ratio is high and the older Scouts nip it in the bud.
    This time we had a younger group, and it seemed as if some them had spent the week thinking like accountants and referees. One Scout railed at the perceived injustice of being tasked to do more than others. At his age, justice and fairness are inextricably intertwined, and he couldn’t see how debilitating that mindset can be. Somewhere further along the path to adulthood he’ll learn that fairness ranks low on the justice continuum.
    How do you explain to 12- or 14-year-olds that one of the secrets of life is “Life ain’t fair” – and that that’s not a bad thing? How do you help them see that life, in all its wondrous complexity, is too big to be constrained by such a small-minded, petty concept as “fairness”? Maybe there’s a celestial balance sheet or scoreboard maintained by beings more capable than us, but with our limited view, we can’t possible see and keep track of all the things done for us by others. By making good deeds transactional, you’re missing the point. Doing the right thing has a value all its own. That was my thorn for the week, but I’m not sure I got my point across.
    I told the Scouts that I sometimes feel embarrassed thinking about all the things people have done for me – people I’ve known, others I’ve not known, doing things I’ve recognized (and, I hope, acknowledged), but also doing things on my behalf that I didn’t even know were done. I told them that I can only pray that in the end I’ve managed to do for others as they’ve done for me, but that there’s no way of keeping track. Treating life like a balance sheet means missing out on the joys and serendipity of life.
    Nietzsche was wrong. Perhaps his Übermensch is strengthened by surviving near-fatal adversity, but for most of us humans, that which does not kill us usually just makes us surly and resentful. What makes us stronger and brings true happiness is making personal connections through the deeds we do, and weaving them tightly into the tapestry of our lives. A focus on fairness interferes with making those connections. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who keeps score?
    Moral character is developed by making a habit of doing the right thing, without regard to the immediate benefits it might bring or what others have done for us. Fairness has no place in that calculation. Setting the example lifts spirits and makes all but the most defiant better and happier. It’s not a contradiction to believe that by giving more than we get, we will get more than we give. That’s a lot for a young teen to learn. It’s part of Scouting’s mission to help them figure it out.
    Part of our challenge was generational. It’s easy for kids to think that we old guys just don’t understand, especially when we clearly didn’t recognize the signs of withdrawal for kids losing access to their smart phones. Luckily, we had two Eagle Scouts with us, former Troop members and now college students, who were well-positioned to bridge the generational divide. Their counsel and example helped these young Scouts understand that keeping score is for sports. In life, it deadens the spirit and distracts from the mission. It’s also impossible.


  • Repeal and Replace Republicans

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    By the time this edition hits the stands, it’s possible that Republicans in Congress will have passed a health care bill that saves us from the sinking ship that is ObamaCare. Given their performance over the past six months, though, the smart money isn’t on GOP success.
    Like the proverbial dog that caught the car, Republican leadership was completely unprepared when voters gave them the opportunity to live up to a campaign promise. And not just any promise: They used the “Repeal and Replace” mantra in multiple campaigns, with all the earnestness and bravado of a ball player begging, “Put me in, coach!”
    The problem is that the GOP isn’t a team made up of team players. In sports, fans expect that each player works hard to win. In Republican party politics, players can’t even define what “win” means, much less work together as a team to achieve it. In sports, they say “There is no ‘I’ in team.” The political corollary is that there is no principle in law-making. That’s the harsh realm of politics that some politicians don’t understand. Yes, we are a nation founded on principles, and we should be guided by those principles, but laws are grubby little things that have to be passed in order to matter.
    Cue Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine. They sit at opposite ends of the Republican spectrum, but are kindred spirits. Through word and deed, they seem intent on proving themselves more righteous than their peers, not team-players. Paul portrays himself as a knight-errant able to slay the ObamaCare beast with a single stroke of his sword if given the chance. Collins hides behind concerns about those who might be hurt by a GOP bill, seemingly oblivious to the millions hurt now by ObamaCare and the many millions more who will be hurt as the system continues to spiral out of control.
    The sausage-making analogy for the process of turning a bill into a law never worked for me, because at the end of a messy process, sausage is a harmony of wonderful flavors. It tastes good by design. Laws, on the other hand, are usually a disharmony of unappealing bits, held together by a tough casing of political expediency. Republicans like Paul and Collins say they want something better, but by their actions they will leave us with the indigestible status quo.
    Democrats have no problem understanding this. Unfortunately, the reality of their ideals is a nightmare of Big Government intrusion into our lives. And, of course, the Dems love the Big Lie. Even the most transparently ridiculous lies work on gullible voters, conditioned with the “But wait, there’s more!” advertising for products we all know can’t possibly live up to the hype.
    Who truly believed that after Dems built a wall of additional regulations thousands of pages high between patients, doctors, employers, and insurance companies that cost-curves would bend downward? When has more bureaucracy ever improved efficiency or service? Who believed that we’d be able to keep the health plans and providers we liked, given that millions of Americans get their health insurance through their employers and therefore don’t even own their policies? How can you keep what you don’t really have?
    We sent liberal sycophants instead of leaders to represent us in Washington, so Granite Staters have little voice in congressional debates. But back home, GOP control of the corner office, executive council, and legislature gives us the opportunity to take advantage of President Trump’s pen. Through executive orders, he can give states greater flexibility in how they work within existing law and provide more choice for consumers. It’s only a temporary patch, but our president can make our lives better without congress. Governor Sununu should encourage President Trump to return power to the states. With that power, Concord can take action while congressional Republicans dither.
    Beltway Republicans haven’t matched campaign rhetoric to reality. The irony is that as purists from their ranks claim to stand on principle while others do the dirty work of law-making, we drift further away from those principles. The Founders got their hands dirty, making the difficult compromises necessary to create our shining city upon a hill. It’s not too much to expect a couple of senators to get down in the dirt to help repair the damage done to our insurance and health care markets by their true ideological opponents. But until they do, states should be given the lead. It’s time for President Trump to use his pen and his phone.


  • Left-Hand, Left Behind

    Ken Gorrell

    by Ken Gorrell,
    Weirs Times Contributing Writer

    Has somebody ever said something to you that hit you full in the face like the wind coming off a freshly manured field? I experienced that sensation last week while attending a local “Town Hall on Education,” hosted by Reaching Higher NH.
    The meeting started off as expected. Though it claims to be nonpartisan, from their “About Us” webpage, it’s clear that Reaching Higher is left-of-center. But the host presented an even-handed summary of recent state and federal education legislation. When the two panelists were introduced, however, the meeting lurched noticeably to the Left.

    I didn’t mind the recently-passed bill funding all-day-kindergarten being referred to derisively as “Keno-garten” (as if a funding mechanism based on voluntary contributions is worse than one based on forced taxation), or even the state being criticized for “downshifting” education costs to taxpayers, as if Concord gets its revenue from magic elves. But when a Democrat state representative insisted on calling our education scholarship program a “voucher” system that (cue the ominous music) gives tax dollars to religious schools, I knew I was behind enemy lines.
    After an hour of being told how wonderful but underfunded – or at least, inequitably funded – our public school system is, I asked the two panelists what the drop-out and non-proficiency rates were for the Laconia system. They didn’t know. I asked because those students are being poorly served by a system that pours nearly $15,000 a year into preparing them for the adult world. The latest data for Laconia: 10.9% drop out; non-proficiency rates for 11th graders in reading, writing, and math are 24%, 37%, and 75%, respectively.
    The focus on and testing for college- and career-readiness ignores the needs of a sizable number of students. When I asked a panelist about those students whose academic abilities place them well to the left on the bell curve, I received the odoriferous answer: He didn’t believe in the bell curve. This educator didn’t believe in applying the “normal” distribution, a well-established concept in statistics, to students. His “all students can succeed” claptrap may make him feel better, but ignoring inherent limitations is cruel.
    I haven’t been in the dream-crushing business since my days as a Navy officer. When a sailor’s sense of self interfered with the ship’s mission, a personal recalibration was in order. While teachers should be inspirational, encouraging students to reach higher, that encouragement should not ignore the real world, where failure to “make the grade” is not only an option, for some it is a probability. Expectations matter, but so does ability.
    Academically, most of us occupy the middle of the bell curve, but some are further to the left, closer to the break-point between success and failure in life. By focusing so much on standards a sizable percentage of students can’t meet, our public education system is failing to provide them with the skills needed to live independently, make a living at an attainable job, pay the bills, and participate in their communities.
    Public schools produce many young adults who earn only debt, not a degree, from their college experience. Some must pay for remedial courses to learn high school-level material. Some newly-minted college grads first encounter real-world standards during the interview for the job they didn’t get. But the kids our system truly leaves behind are the ones represented by the dropout and non-proficiency rates.
    For a variety of reasons – IQ, socio-economic, family stresses – some students will never meet college- or career-ready standards. That’s not a moral judgement; it’s simply a fact. It’s time to take those kids out of the current curricula and testing regimen. Some of the 115 out of 152 students who started 11th grade in Laconia in 2013 unable to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics could be better served with a program aimed at providing them with the basic body of knowledge for independent living. Relevant proficiency is more valuable than irrelevant non-proficiency.
    The academics of this program would be built around key life skills, such as a basic understanding of civics, current events, and history; the mathematics required for personal finance and trade-skill jobs; fundamental scientific concepts; home economics; law and order; and society’s expectations for adults.
    Teaching and testing at levels some kids can’t reach, covering material they will never use, is a waste of time and resources. Worse, the kids know it. They vote with their feet by dropping out or tuning out. Encouraging students to reach higher is the right thing to do, but only if what they are reaching for is meaningful to their lives and realistically within their grasp.

    Ken can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com