Text books not the answer for teaching civics
Evan Adams’ recent letter to the editor (“SVHS civics books completely out of date,” Dec. 6) addresses an important issue but gets some things wrong.
First, the argument tying solar panels to textbooks is a specious. Money from facility improvement bonds is targeted and can’t legally be used for textbooks or curriculum improvement. Funding streams are complicated and sometimes seem arbitrary, but there are good reasons to look long-term and short-term simultaneously. If we let the facilities deteriorate beyond repair, where will the civics classes meet?
Second, Sonoma voters have actually been good to our district, relatively speaking. We have approved several education-related tax measures – difficult to do in the current tax-phobic environment. Mr. Adams’ anger should be directed at Proposition 13, a statewide initiative that requires approval from two-thirds of the electorate to pass any local tax increase. Similarly, our elected officials can’t raise any taxes unless both legislative houses have a two-thirds majority. The effect of this has hamstrung state and local governments, school districts included.
This law was passed in 1978 and had national implications, so I’m sure it was in that old civics textbook. If we could have envisioned the long-term harm it would do, I bet we would never have passed it. (Just wait until we gut Medicare to solve a short-term crisis.)
Third, the textbook model is flawed and hopelessly outmoded anyway, especially when used to teach civics and history courses.
It is one thing to teach relatively immutable math or grammar concepts from a book, but quite another to use static material to teach living, ever-changing subjects. There is a place for texts that teach basic government concepts, of course, but if we really want to keep our kids current we’ll join the digital age and give students access to the latest information. If this is a mystery to you, get your hands on an iPad for a few minutes and consider the possibilities for education. And if you want to get really angry, do a little research on the corrupt textbook industry that has a death grip on state and local Departments of Education.
Last, I was distressed to read that Mr. Adams wants to move from Sonoma. We need thinking people like him, people who are outraged about the current situation and take the time to communicate it. Evan, you’ll have to leave California, and perhaps the country, if you want to see an improvement, because conditions are deteriorating nationwide. Even Minnesota and Wisconsin, once considered to be the dual Holy Grails of education funding, have elected anti-tax, pro-business politicians who have gutted social services and have skewered the police, fire, teacher and public-service unions that furnish the services. Canada, maybe? That’s pretty close.
The fact is, the wheels will continue to come off the bus until we confront the reality that someone has to pay for services and schools and textbooks and roads and fire protection and, oh, so many other things.
What’s fair? We all have to come to that conclusion for ourselves, but maybe it’s time we all do an ethical gut-check and ask ourselves whether we’re responsible for the education and general well-being of our fellow citizens and the upkeep of the infrastructure. If so, what are we going to do about that?
I would also suggest that we might start by going after the low-hanging fruit, like changing the part of Proposition 13 that grants exemptions from property tax increases to corporations. And might not we tell our politicians to reconsider their unwillingness to ask the wealthy to dig a little deeper and pay at least what we do? Seems fair to me. In the short and the long-term.
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Bernie Fleming is a Sonoma resident and a former SVUSD teacher whose work life became infinitely easier when he left teaching.