Improving Michigan School Literacy

Improving Michigan School Literacy

Michigan schools are back in session. Many started two weeks before Labor Day. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it has been oppressively hot and humid. Can you imagine what the learning environment has been like in classrooms with no air conditioning? I can almost hear the chorus of students and teachers reply, “It was miserable!”

Turns out miserable has consequences. NPR had a story not too long ago: “Heat Making You Lethargic? Research Shows It Can Slow Your Brain, Too.” It revolved around a new study from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard, which found that high temperatures can muddle our thinking.

I was thinking about this as I listened to gubernatorial candidates Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette answer questions about their plans to improve literacy rates among Michigan third-graders. Their answers are fine — general goals addressing the big picture. But I hope in the course of campaigning these next few months, they are curious enough to ask students and teachers what they need specifically. That way they’ll find out what’s really going to help.

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I Feel Sick

I Feel Sick

Sometimes the point of a conversation is to discuss an issue, not necessarily to resolve it. This goes against my middle-aged man tendencies. I’m inclined to want to find the resolution by providing the answer (or, let’s be honest, appearing as if I have the answer). But something like the current sorry state of public health in Michigan is a big, big issue and not easily resolved, certainly not within three panels of a cartoon.

So if you’re looking for my point this week, I must confess that I don’t have one. Well, not one that you would come to expect, like me having a very specific opinion or advocating for a certain course of action. No, this was more of me thinking the topic was important and wanting more people to know. (That and a desire to wedge in the Obamacare/Trumpdontcare joke.)

If you’re looking for actual depth, I would suggest you listen to the Stateside story from earlier this week. It explores a new report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan about how underinvestment in our public health infrastructure has cost us (and will cost us) much more than we think we’re saving.

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Can’t Get More Michigan Than This

Can't Get More Michigan Than This

I’m on my annual summer family vacation, so I drew this cartoon a week ahead of time. It’s always a challenge to guess at what will remain topical for 24 hours let alone a full week. These days it’s darn near impossible.

So I punted. I didn’t even try. I went with something eternally and quintessentially Michigan: Winter is always near. (Well, at least until global climate change takes full effect.)

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Michigan Water Crisis – New and Improved

Michigan Water Crisis – New and Improved

It’s heartening to see the reaction to the per-and-polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, known collectively as PFAS, found contaminating the water supply of Parchment, Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality appears to be engaged and vigilant. The governor and lieutenant-governor seem to be listening and involved. The local governments are actively working together, including the city of Kalamazoo quickly extending its water system.

Sure, it’s not perfect. It can’t be. Not with this many people and groups of people involved. The fact that the contamination exists is testament to our uneven track record in managing consequences. The city of Parchment was created to manufacture paper, after all, not to ensure the water remained pristine.

But now, this current set of people seem intent on doing the right thing. The mess needs to be fixed. Health and lives need to be protected. That is commendable.

Still, the real reason why intentions are so good can be directly linked to the Flint Water Crisis. Without that obvious (and continued) failure, there is no doubt Parchment would be enjoying a much lower level of attention.

So as is often the case, the biggest heroes are not necessarily the ones who are doing the right things — they’re the ones who have made the biggest sacrifice, despite it never being their intention.

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Michigan Gubernatorial Six Pack

Michigan Gubernatorial Six Pack

I try never to repeat an idea for a cartoon, but every once in a while I’ll do a variation on a theme. Sixteen years ago, I had a cartoon in the Grand Rapids Business Journal with the gubernatorial candidates for the 2002 primaries. The title was “A Flavor for Everybody!” and the candidates were listed below with their heads drawn as ice cream on top of cones:

  • Posthumus Very Vanilla: No artificial or natural color! (Dick Posthumus was the eventual Republican nominee and a very bland guy.)
  • Schwarz Swirl: Hard shell with gooey middle! (I have no memory of who this was.)
  • Blanchard Rocky Road: With real chips on the shoulder! (Jim Blanchard was attempting a comeback 12 years after John Engler had defeated him, and he had some issues.)
  • Granholm Granola Sorbet: Not sure what’s in it. Don’t worry! It’s good for you! (Jennifer Granholm was running a very clever — and ultimately successful — campaign of being vague.)
  • Bonier Donkey Tracks: Twice the size at only three times the price. (A dig at David Bonier and his support for high union wages. It made more sense pre-Great Recession.)

And then at the bottom I had a guy looking into a display case and saying, “Hey! Where’s the Fieger Pistachio Nut Job?” This of course was referring to Geoffrey Fieger who had run an unorthodox campaign (and lost big) four years earlier.

So I brought the idea back around, substituting beer for ice cream. Looking at it now, it makes me wonder — in 16 years, which joke might be as incredibly insensitive as that Fieger one?

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Bill Schuette’s Work Schedule

Bill Schuette's Work Schedule

This week Lt. Gov. Brian Calley made a somewhat unfair accusation against fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bill Schuette. Calley’s team obtained Schuette’s work calendar through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and noticed large gaps between appointments. Calley interpreted this as Schuette basically only working 104 full days in his eight years as Michigan’s Attorney General. That’s a big stretch, but consistent with Calley’s ongoing narrative that Schuette works more for himself than the people of Michigan.

The natural question then is: What does Calley’s work history look like? But since that isn’t available by a FOIA request, Calley himself would have to supply it. Which he won’t, at least for now. He says it would involve too much information about other people’s schedules in government, and he needs to be careful. While technically a plausible reason, I think we can all agree it scores pretty high on the weasel scale.

The chair of the Michigan Democratic Party chimed in to say, “We’re glad Bill Schuette and Brian Calley are finally recognizing that neither of them have been doing their jobs.” As if all of their candidates have pristine work histories. Uh-huh.

Here’s the thing, though. If I were to be falsely accused of not working enough hours to qualify as a full-time worker, it’s difficult to imagine Bill Schuette siding with me over, say, a corporation. Especially on a healthcare issue. So it’d be kind of satisfying to see Schuette lose his benefits long enough to experience firsthand the joys of being on the outside of the system.

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Michigan’s New Education Award

Michigan's New Education Award

My household received a mailer this week that was jammed with praise for Lt. Governor Brian Calley and his boss, Governor Snyder. It exhorted me to “take the Comeback to the next level,” which included the specific goal of “making Michigan’s pre K–12 system the best in America.”

This was either outrageously ambitious or incredibly ill-timed because I had just heard a report on Michigan Radio that Michigan has recently become the only state failing to meet special education requirements and now requires federal intervention. Huh. That doesn’t make any sense. How is Calley going to make us the best, when he proudly aligns himself with the leadership that has made us the worst?

It’s a direct contradiction, and yet I have all been so thoroughly gaslit these days, I start to question myself. Technically, the mailer wasn’t from Calley or Calley for Governor, but from “The Fund for Michigan Jobs.” Did Calley even know about this? Can he be held fully accountable? Aren’t there other players who have contributed to this? And I have heard on more than one occasion that Calley is an advocate for those with special needs and a fine Christian man. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people….” Calley knows all about that, right?

Thoughts can become muddled quickly, which is why it’s especially important to seek fresh air and breathe the truth whenever possible. A women named Marcie Lipsitt seems to have a handle on this particular situation. As a special education advocate for 20 years, Lipsitt is able to provide a full assessment of how the Michigan special education system has reached this low point and a clear-eyed vision (that is without political agenda) for improving it. I encourage you to listen to the full story.

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Winning a Modern Argument

Winning a Modern Argument

Michigan Radio had a story this week about the Michigan State Employees Association union petitioning to allow state park rangers to carry guns. Some rangers do not feel safe, citing a perceived uptick in illegal activity and are suggesting guns and bulletproof vests as a solution.

Phew! How was that? It took me quite a while to write that paragraph. It was really difficult to figure out how to tell you what happened as impartially as possible. Still, some of the words are inevitably tripwires (guns, state, union) — they instantly take us off the actual topic and into a race to tell those with a differing view how stupid they are.

That’s pretty much the reason why the cartoon stopped being about the park rangers and guns in the first panel. I just couldn’t figure out a way to wedge something witty and insightful ahead of the inevitable breakdown.

As a editorial cartoonist, I’m the last person in the world that should be judgmental about this. In most cases, we are the ones actively laying the tripwire. And we know how to do it because something has already set us off.

So to be clear: I most definitely believe some people and the opinions they hold on certain topics are in fact stupid. But if the goal is to persuade them to change their minds, then leading with “you’re stupid” is perhaps not the most effective strategy.

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Summer of Relaxation

Summer of Relaxation

Whether you prepare for the looming trade war with a cold beverage by the pool or panicked online shopping (may I suggest the Michigan Radio Store if you intend to throw money?), I will not take any more of your time this week. No matter what happens, the constant remains that summer in Michigan is too short.

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Michigan Marshall Plan

Michigan Marshall Plan

This week Governor Snyder signed legislation that he has championed as a “Marshall Plan for Talent.” It’s not a precise metaphor — the original Marshall Plan was the post-World War II effort by the United States to fund the economic redevelopment of the war-torn Western Europe to help rebuild an entire society. For our version the State of Michigan will spend $100 million in education initiatives, training, and scholarships to help rebuild our pool of skilled trades talent. So, different scale and stakes, but similar concept.

At its core, the plan is really about education reform. It’s an attempt to help correct a bias to nudge all students toward four-year college degrees when a two-year degree or trade school training would better serve those who prefer hands-on work. The hope is to allow students to prepare themselves for careers that match their interests and talents. Former “Dirty Jobs” host and trades advocate Mike Rowe refers to this as “Work Hard AND Smart” (as opposed to the advice of “Work Smart, not Hard” that he received when he was in high school).

But mostly the plan was approved for its potential economic return on value. Michigan identifies as a place where stuff is made. To support that notion, we need people with the skills and talent to actually make stuff. So if we encourage and assist the people who enjoy working with their hands to pursue a career doing just that, they will fill the open positions and grow our manufacturing sector. Assuming, of course, a trade war doesn’t kill it off.

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