Saturday, February 23, 2008

If the legislators are going to pay themselves for all of the extra meetings and taskforces, why not pay them to participate in "working" meetings?

I posted yesterday about the Senate Education Committee's rejection of HB266, a bill allocating state funds to help pay for the International Baccalaureate program already in place at seven Utah high schools. I have also included the text of both the original article and today's follow-up.

(In an interesting sidenote, the second article had a less respectful headline when I first cut and pasted it here, indicating that some students were ridiculing the legislators' opinions. It has now been changed to a much more understated title. I wonder if some young copy editor just got demoted...)

The follow-up article confirms my suspicions about what the legislators knew about the program. Senators Dayton and Peterson had not seen or even spoken to anyone enrolled in any of the existing IB programs in the state, but instead relied on obscure conspiracy theories from the internet. Seriously. Let's see the quotes:
Dayton acknowledged Friday that she's never witnessed an IB class in session. She also said it's possible "good things" are happening in the program. It's the language she says is associated with IB that galls.
She has a problem with the program's association with the International Baccalaureate Organization, based in Geneva. She issued a written statement Friday that contends Switzerland's replacement of its arbitration rules in 2004 with those of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law taint by extension the IB itself.
This means, she said, that high schools signing on to the IB program must also by extension submit any program disputes and frustrations at the local school level to UN-inspired regulations and the goal of creating "global citizens."
"I would like to have American citizens who know how to function in a global economy, not global citizens," Dayton said.
Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi, said as he walked into last week's Senate committee meeting that he was prepared to vote in favor of HB266 until he conducted an Internet search linking IB with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After reading a line in reference to "worldwide socialization and training for a global work force," along with words such as "independence movements, exploitation and colonialism" his decision became clear.
"Socialization has been a failure everywhere it's been tried," Peterson said. "It's not the system we work in, and it's not the system that pays our education bills."

I wonder of Sen. Peterson was reading the exact article I linked to in my last post. There are seven operating IB programs along the Wasatch Front where one could obtain firsthand information regarding the content and effectiveness of the curriculum, and these two senators voted the bill down because Switzerland's arbitration laws resemble the UN's arbitration practices, and the IB program is based in Switzerland, and therefore students will have to argue their grades in front of UN-friendly Swiss tribunals where clever internationalists will brainwash them into reading books written by people from Africa and joining the Peace Corp. My comment here is ummmmmm....AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! I try and teach my junior high kids to look at all sides of an issue. I don't even care about the IB program; I just want more care given to finding out as much personally about the issues as possible.

Let's look at a contrasting experience. Here's a nice little article about two Davis County Commissioners going above and beyond to try and stay connected with their constituents. In the same vein, I really appreciated when Senator Dayton and a couple others held an open meeting at the nearby elementary school. The legislators need to talk to more of us more often. I know they're busy and their time is more valuable than teachers' time, but I think we need more than email contact. Lobbyists are so effective because they sit one-on-one over dinner and talk about issues. They connect. While still disagreeing greatly with many of Senator Dayton's positions, I have felt like it was much easier to respect each other and find common ground the two times I have been able to speak with her briefly on an individual basis. I know I could explain my concerns about education more effectively if we could spend some time in my classroom, see some of the same things, and discuss them for 30 or 40 minutes. We could both move beyond quotes in the paper to our personal experiences and philosophies. I bet other voters with different concerns feel the same way.

I don't know that I like paying legislators to get involved, but if that's what it takes, I would be willing to pay that price. What if legislators in the various committees were paid a certain amount each year at their normal rate for meetings to spend time at the type of business or government concern they are over? Senate or house education committee members would all spend a day at a school; (I'm generalizing the committee names for lack of desire to look them up right now) rural issues members could spend the day at a ranch in Cache County or one that was affected by the Milford fire last year; business committee members could actually go to a recreation center or Payday Loan place, observe the clientele for themselves, and ask those people questions about the service; healthcare taskforce members would spend the day in a hospital or doctor's office, talking to patients and hearing their stories, making their own observations and conclusions about the problems, and maybe even reading a few dozen files of anonymous insurance information to really see what people are experiencing. They would be required to visit different places each time; they couldn't go to companies owned by registered lobbyists or be accompanied by lobbyists; and they wouldn't generally visit companies in their own industry--i.e. developers wouldn't visit the offices of other developers, bankers wouldn't visit banks, etc. It would be just an individual legislator, talking one-on-one to various people, getting the direct suggestions of ordinary people in the community, and observing for the day. Maybe throw in an extra $50 if the legislator then blogged about their experience and impressions on the Senate or House website.

You could call the program "Community Outreach Meetings" or cynically, "Reality Check Days."

What do you think? I would love to have a legislator's ear for an hour and hear their point of view while expressing mine.

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