The Holland Sentinel. March 21.
Michigan needs more, not less, foreign language
Michigan's rigorous high school graduation standards are again under discussion in the Legislature, and this time one of the targets is the requirement of at least two years of a foreign language. The high school curriculum is definitely worth reviewing, but in a shrinking world where people of different countries are increasingly drawn together, we don't need less language education, we need more.
HB 4102, sponsored by Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, would allow students to substitute computer science for either the existing foreign language or Algebra 2 requirement. The intent is to create more flexibility in course selection for students, especially those interested in vocational classes. However, we believe foreign language is an essential part of a well-rounded education and eliminating the language requirement would be a step backward for Michigan students.
As a matter of national competitiveness, America urgently needs more foreign-language speakers — in business, in government, in the military — to communicate with the rest of the world. And we need skills in languages beyond the Spanish and French typically taught in high school — in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and other tongues spoken by hundreds of millions of people. A company of any size in today's global economy is an international business, buying, selling and collaborating overseas. Mastery of a foreign language is almost a golden ticket for employment. And that's not to mention the benefits of cultural understanding or brain development that comes when a student learns another language.
While most Europeans take one and often two foreign language beginning in elementary school, the United States may be the only major country where someone can graduate from high school and college without ever studying another language. Which students do you think are better prepared to function in a globalized economy?
Plenty of people in the Holland area recognize the value of learning a foreign language at an early age. Spanish immersion programs in local schools have been extremely popular, and Zeeland Christian School is now pioneering a Chinese immersion program for young elementary students. Immersion, of course, is the efficient way to learn a language. Two years in high school isn't going to give a student more than a taste of a language, but it's an important taste, helping students qualify for college and opening them to potential new worlds of understanding. (And for the record, students can now satisfy the state's foreign language requirement with elementary or middle school courses — they don't have to wait for high school.)
Which gets us back to the bigger question of the state's graduation requirements. First, contrary to what many people believe, they are flexible, and parents who take the time to work with school counselors can often work out a curriculum that's better suited to their children. Second, the requirements are about giving students options and building a foundation for future learning, not providing specific skills for specific jobs. Most of us who took advanced algebra or physics in high school in a previous generation don't use those skills in our jobs. However, advanced algebra and physics are essential if a student wants to pursue study and a career in science or technology. Similarly, learning a language in high school gives a student exposure to it and the chance to pursue it at a higher level. Letting a student slide through high school without taking challenging, advanced courses closes all kinds of doors for them. Not everyone will or should go to college, but we shouldn't put a 14-year-old freshman on a path that forecloses the possibility of higher education.
We certainly welcome a thorough discussion of Michigan's high school curriculum. We agree that students in vocational training programs should have options that integrate advanced math and science. However, we oppose any effort to water down the high school curriculum, and that includes any move to de-emphasize foreign language education.
Detroit Free Press. March 19.
GOP lawmakers show insulting hypocrisy over Wayne State contract
We're tempted to laugh pretty hard at GOP lawmakers in Lansing, haughty as they are in their disgust for an eight-year collective bargaining agreement between Wayne State University and its professors.
It stinks when political opponents use legal technicalities to skirt democratic intentions, doesn't it, guys?
But this is how the GOP played the whole right-to-work thing from the beginning. Let he (or she) who has not indulged democratic chicanery cast the first stone.
The House higher education appropriations subcommittee today passed a bill that would strip $27.5 million from Wayne State's budget because lawmakers believe Wayne State's new contract is designed to avoid the effects of right-to-work legislation passed last December.
"This has to do with trying to circumvent state law," thundered state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, referring to the fact that Wayne State's faculty would not be able to opt out of union dues or fees.
But Wayne State, technically, is following the law, right? Right-to-work doesn't take effect until the end of March, and the contract got signed before that.
That's just the way things work.
It's sort of like how legislators could plop an appropriation in the right-to-work bill, where it had no relevant policy purpose, as a way to prevent voters from trying to repeal it through a referendum. Or how GOP lawmakers, with Gov. Rick Snyder's help, rammed right-to-work through the Legislature during its lame duck session, inserting the law into shell bills that got no real debate and weren't really open to amendment.
The right-to-work sham last year was one of the least democratic exercises witnessed in Lansing's long, sorry history, and the GOP has itself to blame for that.
Turnabout, in the form of universities trying to delay the effects of right-to-work, seems a predictable response — maybe one of the only ways people of good sense can delay the inevitable strife and conflict that will arise when the new law inevitably drives a wedge between people who work together just fine right now.
So GOP lawmakers should spare everyone the duplicitous outrage.
Even worse, though, is the idea that the GOP would react by slashing at higher education budgets in response. Really? Exacerbate the gross inequity that has Michigan spending more on prisons than on higher education? Force universities (which can surely do more to economize but which also need billions more to stay competitive with peer institutions around the nation) to lean even more on skyrocketing student tuition and fees to make up for government's emaciated support?
That's beyond bad policy and well into the territory of stone foolish lawmaking.
Right-to-work will be law soon enough — the GOP made sure of that by precluding the regular democratic process from playing out.
GOP lawmakers would make themselves even more garishly petulant by punishing universities on top of it.
Battle Creek Enquirer. March 20.
Steubenville should be our wakeup call
A high profile rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, ended in a guilty verdict, and more charges may still be pending. But let's be honest: We will not see justice in a courtroom.
Rape trials may be the furthest thing from justice. The victim endures unbearable scrutiny. Her integrity is questioned; her decisions, her choice of clothing, her choice of friends and her lost friends become ammunition against her in a painfully public setting.
The process piles trauma upon trauma, and, as it has in Steubenville where two girls have been charged with threatening the 16-year-old victim, invites further recrimination. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, society still blames rape victims.
Accused juveniles, more often than not, bear the burden of a troubled upbringing, their crimes an expression of accumulated traumas and misguided examples, their punishments usually a point of no return — in essence a life sentence, as their likelihood of repeating or escalating their crimes increases exponentially with incarceration.
And thus, the cycle continues.
Courtrooms don't break the cycle, but communities can. Ours can. We begin with a simple admission: We are Steubenville.
We may not be a faded steel town that projects its hopes and aspirations on a high school football team, but we are not immune to the rape culture that pervades our society and corrupts our youth, male and female, who believe that rape is normal, even acceptable.
It happens every day. The irony in Steubenville — what one writer called the rape culture's Abu Ghraib moment — is that the social media that made this crime so disturbing, that debased all those it recorded, made this conviction possible, and could be our wakeup call.
Violence, sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse among our youth are epidemic. The lack of compassion and humanity we witnessed in Ohio is reinforced by media every day. It glorifies acts of indecency and depravity, our modern-day sideshows in high definition; only today the actors are rewarded for their infamy by a ratings-obsessed, 24/7 "news" cycle.
How, against this, can we expect our children to treat their bodies, their hearts, their minds and each other with respect? We teach them — at home, at school, in words and in deeds.
Every parent should talk to their kids about sexual assault and consent. Many witnesses in Steubenville reported that they didn't realize the digital penetration was sex. Nobody told them otherwise.
Every coach should set aside one practice to talk about this with his or her team, and patrol for sexist behavior in the locker room. There is an undeniable link between "jock culture" and violence against women, and it should be acknowledged head-on.
Every middle school health or social studies teacher should set aside an hour to review how social dynamics escalate into tragedy. One person might have prevented this. Just one person with the empathy, judgment and courage to stay "stop, this is wrong."
Speaking of empathy, it should be firmly embedded not only in every school's curricula, but in its disciplinary policies and professional development programs.
As a community, we can adopt existing intervention programs that have been proven to reduce smoking, drinking and violence for thousands of teenagers.
None of these are unrealistic objectives. They are, indeed, painfully obvious. The only question is whether we care enough to pursue them
Huron Daily Tribune. March 20.
Questions raised by traffic crash data
The state has experienced significant decreases in traffic crashes over the past decade, according to findings from a Michigan State Police study of traffic-related crashes, injuries and fatalities.
The findings show traffic-related accidents decreased from 395,515 in 2002 to 273,891 in 2012. Looking at the long-term picture, Col. Kristie Kibbey Eteu, the director of the Michigan State Police, stated this is the fifth year in a row Michigan had fewer than 1,000 traffic deaths.
It's clear Michigan is making strides, but it's important that people do not become complacent. Lawmakers, law enforcement, educators and the public need to take note of some of the findings, as the report includes statistics that show areas of concerns as well as areas where improvement has been made over the past year.
— Motorcyclist fatalities increased 18 percent. Was this because of the state's repeal of the helmet law that went into effect last April?
— While cell phone-involved crashes decreased 9 percent, fatal crashes involving a cell phone increased (and it's unclear whether the driver was texting in these situations, as Michigan cannot track crashes that specifically involve texting). It is encouraging to hear that overall, cell phone-involved accidents are on the decrease. Is this because campaigns and other efforts to inform the public are effectively getting through to people? If so, this could be something to consider when budgeting transportation dollars at the state and federal level.
— Teen fatalities declined 14 percent. Is this decline because of improved driver's education programs? Could it be because of an increasing number of private instruction academies? Does the state's graduated license program have anything to do with this? And are teens getting the message that it's unsafe to use a cell phone/text while driving?
— Fatalities involving alcohol increased 3 percent, and those involving drugs increased 6 percent. Do law enforcement efforts factor into this growth, or does there need to be a greater awareness of the consequences of driving while under the influence? Should lawmakers consider reviewing current legislation, particularly when it comes to the consequences of people unlawfully driving under the influence of prescription medication or designer drugs like those dubbed bath salts?
— Commercial motor vehicle-involved fatalities increased 10 percent. What are some factors that could have contributed to this increase? Are Michigan's deteriorating roads or loss of road maintenance funding factors in this?
— Bicyclist fatalities were down 17 percent. Could this be because of efforts to expand bike paths and improve sidewalks? If so, that's definitely something to consider when discussing ways to improve Michigan's infrastructure.
We are encouraged by the improvements Michigan has made in transportation safety. Just as lawmakers have an obligation to address areas that are seeing an increase in fatalities, they also need to take note of what areas are making progress. We hope these are some considerations our lawmakers will have as they move forward on plans to increase transportation funding and improve Michigan's roads.