Monday, November 14, 2011

Just crazy enough to work?

As an educator, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the budget crisis afflicting California's schools.  The direness of the situation varies district to district, but here in Napa County, if the state and federal trigger cuts go into effect (which is looking likely) and our fiscal situation remains unchanged, our district will become fiscally insolvent by about April of 2013--in short, we will be bankrupt.

Why are we going broke?  Is it because we are paying our teachers too much?  Is it because of the "illegals?"  Is it because of the "golden plated benefits and pensions" that public employees receive?  Nope.  None of the above.  We are going bankrupt because the amount of funding we are supposed to be receiving continues to be cut while our student population continues to grow and inflation drives up the cost of living and working.  We are going broke because for every dollar promised to school by Prop 98 (which if you don't know sets the legal MINIMUM funding requirements for education) we are getting a mere fifty-five cents.  In other words, we are not receiving forty-five percent of the funding we are promised.  This, in effect, has placed California near dead last in per-pupil spending.

A number of solutions have been proposed, each one more ridiculous than the last.  One thought has been to try to implement parcel taxes.  As you know, taxes are rarely successful; for instance, even though just re-instating the vehicle licensing fee (which hardly broke anyone's bank) would restore $6 billion a year in income, most people would never vote to bring back that sensible fee.  Some counties have voted in favor of parcel taxes in order to prevent their schools from closing or being taken over by the state, but not all counties have enough voters to pass such measures.  Many districts are taking furlough days which equate to pay cuts across the board for all employees (and fewer instructional days).  Other districts bus their children into San Francisco to pan handle on the streets (okay, this was only one school, but it did happen).  The point is, many ideas are proposed, and each one seems more unlikely or more idiotic than the last.

I have an idea.  Hear me out on this.  We essentially get a forty-five cent I.O.U. from California for each dollar we should be receiving.  This money is legally required to go to the schools--eventually.  In the same way that banks packaged up debts and sold them as "investments," we should start selling our I.O.U.s.  My thought was that we could sell them for roughly sixty-six cents on the dollar.  Said another way, if someone gave us a thousand dollars, we would give them fifteen-hundred dollars worth of debt.  This would give them a fifty percent return on their investment, which is not a bad bit of profit.  It would give the schools two-thirds of the money they never thought they were going to see.  Most importantly, it would encourage communities to invest in their schools in a way that would theoretically give them a return on their investment in not only improvements in the fiscal solvency of their schools but also in the form of a personal profit on their investment.

But how will the investors be repaid?  Simple.  If we enacted this plan all over the state of California, suddenly instead of schools sitting on the corner begging for money, we would have millions of investors all looking to get the return on their investment they were promised.  These investors, in coordination with the schools, would then lobby for the necessary changes to our spending and revenue systems in the state to ensure that schools are getting paid everything promised under Prop 98.  The schools could then use the increased revenue to repay investors--each of whom would get back 150% of their initial investment--and would then continue to see increased revenue for the years to follow--thus bringing hundreds of schools back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The worst case scenario is that funding levels will never be restored and the investors will never see the profit on their investment.  Even still, their investment will have helped saved a least a few schools from bankruptcy.  Considering, however, that the law REQUIRES California to fund education at a higher level than it is currently doing so, that is a very unlikely outcome.  More likely, by allowing people to have a financial stake in the funding of California's schools, more people will join the fight to see that funding levels meet the MINIMUM requirements established by our law.  This in turn will make our schools better, which will make our society better, which will make our economy better.

Just sounds crazy enough to work--doesn't it?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Making the Invisible Visible P.S. I am gay.

As a gay teacher, I was concerned starting my career about just how honest I should be with my students.  Yes, we are living in a fairly progressive society and the state of California has laws that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in both housing and employment, but that still doesn't mean the world we live in is entirely safe for those in the LGBT community.  That said, though I do not include it in my day one introductions, nor do I write it on my walls, I have made the decision to be honest about myself---or said another way--I decided that I would not lie to my students.

Each year I have come out to my students at a different time and in a slightly different manner--all of which seemed appropriate for the occasion.  My first year teaching I came out while we were working on a writing assignment about discrimination.  The class was brainstorming types of discrimination that took place on a high school campus, some people were sharing personal encounters with discrimination, and I spoke about some of the reactions to my own coming out process.  Last year though I had made no "official" statement regarding my orientation, a student wrote "mr alger is fuckin fagget (sic)" on our class website and I responded--which I wrote a blog about.  This year, as we began brainstorming major life events for writing autobiographical narratives, I again shared my coming out process as one of my major life events.

A lot of conservatives get up in arms about gays making themselves visible.  The common question is "Why do you need to make your private business all of our business?"  Different people have different answers, but I think the answer is one remarkably simple answer.  Gay people need to come out and make themselves visible because they are an invisible minority.  While you may think you can look at someone and tell they are gay, at the end of the day there is no piece of clothing, hair style, or even make-up application that has any bearing on a person's orientation.  The only person that knows for sure if someone is gay or straight is the person in question, and even they might not have it figured out yet.

Gay people make themselves visible to belong.  People of a certain ethnicity can look around and see people that look like them or sound like them and know that they have a community to belong to.  People of a certain religion have churches and other places where they meet and find belonging.  Gay people have to make themselves visible in order to find each other and create a community, for if they didn't--they would have no community.

Different people make themselves visible in different ways, I and I would argue that the majority of them do so subconsciously.  Some people adopt a particular style of dress, or style themselves a particular way.  Others adopt certain stereotypical vocabulary words or speech patterns.  More rally around certain cultural icons.  Whatever the means, there are certainly stereotypical qualities of the gay community that exist, and while they are indeed stereotypes, they are a visible part of the community that someone who wants to be visible might find themselves embracing.

The problem, however, is that not all people that fit the stereotype are gay, and not all gay people fit the stereotype.  Even within these means of visibility, there are still many that are left invisible and many that are mistaken for belonging to the LGBT community despite the fact they are straight.  Indeed, many young people especially are teased and called "gay" or "fag" for inadvertently displaying any of the stereotypical behaviors or signs even if they are straight.  Some instances of this have even driven straight youth to suicide.

Where that leave us, is coming out.  Coming out is an important step in ever LGBT person's life and is equally important for the rest of our community.  The purpose in coming out is to settle the questions once and for all.  Coming out says to the rest of the LGBT people around you "Yes there is an LGBT society, and I am a part of it."  Even if you think you are alone, you can never tell if you are alone until you come out--perhaps if you do, someone will follow suit.  A black person never has to say "I"m black" in order to be a visible part of their community.  But if none of us ever said "I'm gay" our community would no exist.

I was reminded how powerful that experience is just today.  Yesterday was the day that I officially came out to my class and talked, briefly, about my coming out experience in relation to my own autobiographical narrative.  Today, a student told me that they went home and came out to their family afterwards--thereby coming out to me today.  It was an incredibly powerful experience and we were able to talk about it a bit, and afterwards I thought--I could never be a supportive resource for this student had I not taken that step first.

So to all the people who say that we gays have no business letting the world know that we are gay, that we should keep it to ourselves, I say--until you have a better way for us to let the people who are still afraid to be themselves know that there are other happy, healthy people just like them out there, until you have a way for us to realize that we are not alone in the world, until you have a way for young people to stop killing themselves because they feel they have no place to belong, and until you can think of a better way for us to make a community that accepts us, we will keep coming out.

My name is Michael Alger
I came out the fall of 1998.

I am gay.