Year of Opportunity

Posted on January 2, 2015. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s been many years since “Land of Opportunity” graced our license plates as the state motto, but I always liked its idealistic message.

How inspiring to live in a place declared to be full of possibilities!

How uplifting to have the whole state essentially proclaim a welcome to those with high aspirations.

And how appropriate, in the still-rippling wake of historic elections, to designate 2015 as a Year of Opportunity in Arkansas.

The electorate rightly has some great expectations, even if not fully expressed, about political change translating into governmental achievement.

The good news is that there is much room for improvement, which ironically is also the bad news. Change takes courage—much more than election campaigns do.

Big change takes a lot of courage, plus vision, dedication and tenacity. And yet, elevating Arkansas out of the mid- to low 40s in derogatory state-ranking categories will never be accomplished through seeking small, incremental advancements.

A new year, with a newly elected changing of the guard, calls for bold, new approaches.

My suggestion at this annual observation of the turning year is to approach our state challenges with a new commitment to speak for–shout for, if necessary–those whose voices are rarely heard.

They are the thousands of families of victims of violent crime whose woe and shattered lives languish in the shadows while headline-grabbing trials highlight criminals as causes célèbre for this issue or that.

They are the generations of kids trapped in schools where learning is the exception rather than the rule, while educators earnestly toil to tweak a “system” rather than teach individual students.

In short, they are casualties of modern social policies that badly need rethinking. And the best way to rethink them is with an innovative perspective from the people who pay the highest price when misgovernment prevails.

Victims need a voice

There is simply no reason for our state crime rates to ever exceed the national average. We’re too small and too poor to have to also suffer the ignominy of rampant criminality.

Let’s start the New Year off with a resolution to give victims the loudest voice in shaping crime policy.

Instead of giving ear service to highly funded special-interest outfits and “studies,” let’s take to the streets and go door to door in our most crime-ridden neighborhoods to ask people for ideas about reducing crime.

I have an idea of what citizens who have to live in the midst of thugs might say about improving the justice system, but let’s hear it from the front lines in their own plain words.

They’ll be a fount of fresh clarity on issues such as profiling, gangs, gun control, loitering laws, police presence and more. Better than anyone, they understand the fear and tragedy of crime far beyond its statistical analysis.

If the legislature can’t fund a task force to conduct extensive community surveys, let university research classes do it.

It’s wearisome to watch protests in support of criminals. There needs to be a movement to actively and aggressively support those suffering most under the scourge of high crime rates.

They likely will strip away all the politically correct claptrap and suggest common-sense solutions. Let 2015 be the year we give them that opportunity.

Ask the ed experts

How all the truisms about education, which were so well understood generations ago, have gotten trampled beneath such a bloated bureaucracy is a mystery that defies explanation.

Per-pupil spending is at an all-time high. Yet learning achievement hasn’t kept pace (indeed, in many schools it’s regressed).

In any other business, that’s a formula for bankruptcy and oblivion. Only in government enterprises do bankrupt ideas continue to get bankrolled.

It’s time to ask the real experts—teachers—for their input. We need a referendum on what’s right and wrong with education from those at the heart of its delivery.

We all know teachers and have probably been privy to their hand-wringing, shoulder-shrugging and head-shaking reactions to the various Education Department experiments du jour.

Teachers’ insights into detrimental changes in schooling are rooted in up-close and personal experiences in real classrooms—not on the latest theories emanating from so-called think tanks with ulterior agendas.

Let’s resolve here in the middle of the school year to empower teachers, students and parents with the loudest voices in structuring education priorities that line funding up with the most fundamental problems.

Lack of discipline, for example, is an oft-mentioned culprit in poorly performing schools, but solving it is never a conspicuous education budget line item.

Teachers will have loud and clear ideas about everything ranging from discipline to paperwork to consolidation to class size to standardized testing to long-distance learning and more—if we’ll only ask.

Educrats with their politically correct playbooks have held sway long enough.

Let 2015 be the year we take the opportunity to restore students and teachers to positions of prominence in our school policymaking.

Speak now

Crime victims and teachers, parents or students need not wait on state surveys to be heard. Email me at dana.d.kelley@icloud.com and I’ll share your collective voices in a coming column.

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