“Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.” So wrote the British historian Bertrand Russell, and if you’ve read the papers this week you may think he was absolutely right. Years of education do not translate into intelligence let alone an enlightened insight into truth.
I write specifically about the American Studies Association (ASA), a nationwide organization of university professors. In an effort to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, its members overwhelmingly voted to boycott Israel’s academic institutions from collaborations with the universities here in the United States. Among local institutions affiliated with the ASA are New York University, Cornell, Columbia, SUNY Buffalo and SUNY Stony Brook. To be fair, the administrations of many of these affiliated universities have slammed the boycott but are just sitting on the sidelines.
A few weekends ago, I was honored to take part in the Kerry Rose Foundation’s first ever 5K-trail run at Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Commack. The foundation was created to honor the memory of Kerry Rose Fitzsimons, a Marist College student and Commack High School graduate, who was tragically killed in 2012 in an off-campus house fire in Poughkeepsie. The event brought together community members and first responders to raise awareness of and promote fire safety.
It may not be one of the more noble holiday traditions but I guiltily admit that one of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to settle down on the couch next to the fireplace with a bag of cookies and my dog to watch the endless stream of Christmas movies on TV. My wife and kids usually shun the endeavor and remind me that we’ve watched them, literally, dozens of times before. Yet this annual ritual gives me comfort, so I continue.
My favorite among these is A Christmas Story, which takes place circa 1940, somewhere in the midwest, and chronicles young Ralphie and his quest to obtain the ultimate Christmas gift, a Red Ryder carbine-action 200 shot range BB rifle with a compass in the stock. Despite steady objections from his mother, father and even teacher that he’ll shoot his eye out, he relentlessly pursues his dream gift with a series of clever tactics designed to subliminally plant the idea in his parents’ minds. When these efforts fail, true to childhood form, he turns in desperation to a department store Santa who dutifully warns him about shooting out his eye, then casually sends him on his way. Oh, the disillusionment.
I feel for Lois A. Schaffer on the tragic loss of her daughter and am truly sorry that her admirable quest to stir people to demand what she calls “legislative movement” is so unlikely to achieve success. The fact that more than one whole year, four seasons, 12 months, 52 weeks and 365 days have passed since the slaughter of 20 Newtown children last year, with no “legislative movement” from our national legislature makes it clear that we’re more likely to see “laxative movement” from its 535 members than any legislative movement. Collectively, these 535 men and women are a disgrace to civilization. I can’t help wondering if the Senate or House of Representatives would have passed any meaningful gun legislation if, somehow, the 20 children killed on “12-14” were 20 of their own children. Or, since between them, these 535 men and women probably have more than 1,000 children; if Adam Lanza had somehow managed to shoot every one of those “children” (even if now of adult age) to death with his assault rifle, would that have “moved” them to action? I’m not even sure that would have done the trick; although I’m sure they would have paid some lip service to the idea of some gun control, and would have made some impressive-sounding, passionate, stirring speeches, oratory and rhetoric. They may not be able to walk-the-walk of genuine legislators, but they sure can talk-the-talk.
I’m going to get straight to the point. Superstorm Sandy slammed into the south shore of Long Island on Oct. 29, 2012. On that date, more than 400 days ago, millions were left without power, and tens of thousands were displaced.
Now I’m reading newspaper articles that are making my stomach turn. Apparently only four (that’s right, four) of the 4,178 Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Long Island homeowners who qualified for federal housing reconstruction aid have actually received a check. Let me elaborate. More than 10,000 homeowners asked for help. Thus far a few more than 4,000 have heard back and only four have actually received a check. We watched press conference after press conference at which eager politicians promised help and took credit for new funding and here we are more than a year later and only 4 people have received a check.
Can someone please explain how this is possible?
If you haven’t already heard, Nassau County has opted into a state program to offer property tax savings to homeowners whose homes suffered a decrease in value resulting from Superstorm Sandy. The program is called the NYS Hurricane Sandy Assessment Relief Program.
Through this program, Nassau County will adjust, retroactively, the property assessment to account for losses in value due to Sandy for the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 tax years. Eligible homeowners will receive either a check reimbursing them for taxes already paid or a credit on taxes yet to be paid. The amount of a tax refund, credit or assessment reduction will depend upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) damage assessment determination and/or inspections that were conducted by the Department of Assessment based on bills paid to licensed contractors or paid homeowner insurance claims.
John Owens’ column reported the Board of Regents announced that on the upcoming April statewide tests, they’d take “10 minutes off the English exam.” Owens wrote, “Of course, in context, it’s not much. Our kids still can expect to sit through nearly three hours of testing.” He’s right, but I’d like to amend his “not much” to “too much: 10 minutes too much.” Because allowing kids to leave the testing room 10 minutes early will do more harm than good — and here’s why: I think the Board of Regents needs some Common Core courses intended to improve both critical thinking and problem-solving, given their foolish plan which stipulates that “students in grades 5-8 will be allowed to leave testing areas 10 minutes earlier on one day ... if everyone in the class completes the exam in less than the time allowed.”
Things happen for a reason and if you look closely enough you may find signs that, no doubt, the universe is progressing as it should. There is a synergy to it, a cycle. I was reminded of this just recently by two seemingly unconnected events.
I’ll begin with Leonard Wurzel, the long-time (22-years, to be exact) mayor of Sands Point who recently passed away at 95. He supposedly retired from his office in 2011 but anyone who knew Mayor Wurzel also knew that was impossible for him. He loved his village and the people in it too much to simply walk away, even if it was much-deserved. I know that his passion and joy were wrapped up in his public service.
I congratulate parents and teachers on their protests on Common Core curriculum and testing. I wonder if the authors of Common Core have any idea of the cognitive readiness of the children for the content at each grade level. The commissioner is throwing at the audience “educanese” policies which are meant to intimidate. To the credit of the audience he is not succeeding. In my 49 years of teaching I have I never witnessed such widespread disapproval of an education program; and confusion. But we have never had such radical change thrust on us.
You may recall that I recently called for the resignation of New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King. The initiatives he has undertaken in his brief tenure as Commissioner of the State Education Department, including his roll-out of the Common Core curriculum, testing, teacher evaluations, and gathering of student data, are shaping up to be among the most controversial issues I’ve ever dealt with as a public servant. It’s easy to see why. These changes have created confusion among parents, anxiety for our children, and put life-long educators at odds with the department of education in Albany. This was only exacerbated when he canceled town hall meetings on the issue.
So on Wednesday, Nov. 13, I moderated a forum, coordinated with the 15 school districts from our Seventh Senate District, at Mineola High School. Dr. King attended and fielded questions from parents, educators, school board members and even students on the Common Core standards and rollout, teacher evaluations, testing, and student privacy. We had more than 800 in the audience and over 2,000 watching on a live feed via the Internet.
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