Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Oaklanders Should Vote No on Measure G

When I think of liberal guilt, I always picture it as an ashen-faced bearded man, sort of in the mold of Karl Marx. Well, the bearded man of Oakland's election February 5 is Measure G.

This measure purports not to raise taxes, while extending indefinitely a previously temporary $195-per-parcel tax on nearly every property owner in the city. What the measure really does is helps to assuage people's liberal guilt by throwing money at a problem which money cannot solve.

People claim the school district is nearly bankrupt and needs the money desperately. BS. The district receives more than enough money from the state to pay for teachers, staff and supplies.

What the school district lacks is motivated students. Why? because at the failing schools, their heroes are largely rappers and drug dealers, both of whom are in jobs requiring no formal education.

History is full of examples of smart young people learning what they need to know with no money whatsoever. Books and ideas cost nothing. What we need to do is motivate our kids to align their ambition with the goals of education.

How to do this?

  1. Create a magnet program in the Oakland schools that anyone of any income level or region can enter if they test high enough. Not only would this lure kids back from private schools, but it would provide a real path of opportunity for those who currently must attend failing schools. Make this program run from first grade all the way through high school, and allow kids to test in at any grade level.

  2. Expel troublemakers and/or provide vocational schools for low-testing students. The reality is there is no point repeatedly trying to teach unmotivated kids the same material year after year. Give them an opportunity to learn something they might perceive as more useful, and the option to return to regular school if they can show commitment through test scores and hard work.

  3. Stop trying to replace parents. Nothing, and I mean nothing, the school does will save a kid whose parents don't give a damn. This is a sad fact, but it is a reality. Pouring money into programs that cannot be shown to work is at best wasteful. And I actually believe it does direct harm by preventing things like the magnet program mentioned above.

  4. Drain the profit pool for bad role models. My number one target here is drug dealers and the "drug war." The city needs to take the lead in finding ways to make drug dealing unprofitable. Kids are motivated by what they see as "success" around them. We need to stop drug dealers from becoming monetarily rich. The only way to do this is to lower the price of street drugs. The city should advocate for drug legalization, and seek ways such as decriminalization and refusal to enforce drug laws.

A word on #4. I realize doing this might cost the city some federal funding. I believe it's worth it. Federal funding in this case is harming our kids, and it's time to stand up to the federal government and say "enough is enough." The real drug problem is not people using drugs. It's our kids seeing drug dealers become wealthy and treating those same dealers as role models. Only by eliminating that path to wealth do other legitimate roads to success have a chance.

Oakland's kids are smart and capable. They want to be successful. We need to set up a system where the government no longer prevents them from achieving success. The first step is saying "enough is enough" and refusing to provide any more funding to a failing system.

Please. For the kids. Vote no on G.

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