Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Southwest Times Record, Dec. 13, 2012:
Drug Court Saves Lives, Strengthens Communities
It is hard to estimate how much the Sebastian County Drug Court has improved life in the county in the last decade.
Patricia Taylor, a graduate of the first class, described the day she entered the program to members of the most recent class at their graduation Saturday.
"January 9, 2002 — the best day of my life," she said.
It is a birthday of sorts for Taylor, just as entrance day is for many of those who work hard to succeed in the program. It is the day they took control, not of their addictions, but of their lives.
Drug court is an alternative sentencing program that offers addicts a chance to clean up without jail time or felony convictions. The program is not like summer camp. The arduous four-step recovery program typically takes at least two years to complete, and may take three or four years.
Sometimes those sentenced to drug court grumble about it, especially when they first enter the program. They complain about testing and meetings and the other hurdles they must jump over to remain in good standing. The consequences for failing to stay in good standing can include prison time.
But the benefits are outstanding. Where jail time can tear a family apart, drug court can provide a structure for keeping it together. Drug court also diverts some nonviolent offenders from jail, keeping limited corrections space free for really scary bad guys.
Perhaps most important, drug users who previously faced a life of shame and despair get a glimpse of another way to live. Many of them, statistically most of them, will grab that chance and make the most of it. One day at a time they learn to trust themselves and their higher power, however they understand it. They have support when they stumble, whether it's a pat on the back or a kick on the rear they need.
Drug Court also provides something a lot of users haven't seen in a while: role models who can tell them the truth because they have fought the same battles. Saturday's graduation included awards for people with 910 days, 850 days and 729 days clean. That's some serious recovery worth celebrating.
So we offer thanks from a grateful community to those who worked hard to establish this program, to those who work hard to keep it running, to the judges who believe enough in people to sentence them to this program and to the people who, despite their own tortured histories, believe in themselves enough to give it a try. Thanks also to rehabilitation services that work with Drug Court clients, to employers who take a chance on them. Thanks to local 12-step programs that always have room for one more at the table.
Sebastian County is stronger and more vibrant for the lives Drug Court interrupted and saved. Because of Drug Court, we have 10 years of people who add to our communities with sobriety and service. That's a great thing.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dec. 17, 2012:
Give hope a chance — and this charter school a try
The pope is on Twitter.
According to dispatches, for the first time last week Benedict XVI twitted or tweeted or twittered or whatever the kids call it.
It's a new world. A brave new one.
An elderly woman asked her middle aged daughter a question the other day: All of your children live out of state now. How can you handle not talking to them all the time, honey?
The reply: "Mama, I talk to my children every day. Several times a day." It's called email or Facebook or social media in general.
We know of a granddad here in Arkansas who can talk to his grandkids any time he wants-face to face, sort of. He fires up the ol' computer, and there they are, all living in Houston, Texas, and all smiling and mugging and generally running off at the mouth. And all readily available every day after school.
Imagine walking into this world from 1960! Or even 1980. It would be as surprising and confusing as Lucy's first visit to the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis' classic children's book. (Not that it isn't a good read for grown-ups, too.)
Comes now yet another dreamer proposing yet another charter school in Arkansas. This particular dreamer, a former public school superintendent, wants to open a charter school.
So? What's so new about that? He wants it to be online. That is, the students would stay at home, but meet with their teachers via some sort of videoconferencing technology every day. The kids would get their assignments online, they would work with other kids online-and they'd do it all at home. Or at grandma's. Or while traveling. Anywhere they had access to a working computer.
There are still some details to be worked out, as Gentle Reader can well imagine. For example, would the kids need to take tests in person? Few doubt that the technology to pull this off won't soon be available-if it isn't already.
Frank Holman, the dreamer in this case, calls it Blended Virtual Learning, because even if the kids aren't in a classroom, they're still under a teacher's supervision.
If the school can get off the ground, it would serve up to 500 kids-mostly in Northwest Arkansas. But maybe others around the state could join. It's online, after all. Physical distance doesn't count all that much. We ourselves still have an archaic prejudice in favor of face to-face communication. And the kind of civilized conversation/discourse it promotes. ("Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."-Francis Bacon.) But this Blended Virtual Learning idea does have possibilities.
An online school? Good idea or no?
We're gratified to be able to answer that question promptly: We don't know.
Patrick Wolf is in the University of Arkansas' department of education reform, and he told the paper it may not matter if the kids are actually sitting in a classroom. They can just learn long-distance. Online education hasn't been exactly a New Thing for about a decade now, so you'd think a lot of the kinks would have been found, straightened out, and ironed flat.
Now it's up to the state to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to this dream and dreamer.
The state's Board of Education is likely to take up the matter after the first of the year. Maybe as soon as January.
Here's hoping this online charter gets approved. And that dreams can still become reality. If we work at dreams, they can prove more than just dreams.
What if it doesn't work, huh, huh, huh? That's always the first, middle, and maybe last argument of those who oppose charter schools. When they aren't pointing to those charter schools that have proved duds-and therefore had their charters yanked. Which is the best answer to their argument: If the charter school doesn't work, that is, if it doesn't live up to its charter, it's closed down. And the kids are sent off to other schools. Better schools, let's hope.
The best argument for charter schools is precisely the number of charters that have failed-and paid the price. They failed. They closed. End of school, end of failure, beginning of a new and better chance.
When was the last time you heard of a traditional public school being shut down because it failed its students, year after year, generation after generation? But when charter schools fail, they're closed. And need to be closed. It's called trial and error. And the method can work as well in education as it does in science.
For now, charter schools are worth a try. They might have a new-fangled idea or two that works. Like online schooling.
Dream on, dreamers. We need you. Education needs you. Our kids need you.
Texarkana Gazette, Dec. 15, 2012
Rogue nation getting closer to nuclear missile goal
It looks like new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a chip off the old block.
The third in his family to rule the communist nation, Kim Jong-un took over from his father last year. Some hoped he would bridge relations with the West. Perhaps allow his citizens a bit more freedom. They hoped he would be a reformer.
Instead, it looks like he's very much in the family mold. He rules by fear, imprisoning or executing his enemies. Oppression is the order of the day. There is no free press, no free speech. The country is starving, save for the military and political elite.
Just like in his father's day.
Kim Jong-un has something else in common with his father, too. He wants a nuclear arsenal capable of striking far from home. He wants to be a real threat to other nations.
He got a step closer on Wednesday, when the nation launched a multistage rocket that apparently achieved orbit and operated as planned.
North Korea has tried to launch such a rocket before_and failed every time. This successful mission means its technology has advanced.
While it does boast a stockpile of nuclear weapons, so far, experts believe, North Korea hasn't yet come up with an atomic device small enough to fit in a rocket warhead.
But it looks like they have figured out how to deliver the warhead once that problem is solved.
The launch was in defiance of United Nations sanctions, of course. But when have such sanctions ever bothered North Korea?
And it's likely the U.N. will impose some more sanctions_equally futile.
It's much the same as the situation in Iran. The West uses diplomacy and sanctions. Iran sees that as weakness and continues to develop their nuclear weapons program.
This new development means that despite sanctions, despite being a desperately poor country, North Korea is working hard on its nuclear technology. And that it will achieve its goals unless something is done.
The idea that North Korea could have nuclear missiles capable of hitting neighboring counties_or even the U.S._is unacceptable. And all this talk is not working to stop such a scenario.
You don't let a rabid dog get near your front door. You shoot it before it's too late.
And that's something the West has to consider.