Workers of Wisconsin, Unite

As I’ve followed the past week’s protests at the WI state capitol concerning, AB 61, the “Right to Work” bill, I thought back to the 2011 protests.  That year, I was the vice-president of our union, and I remember my email being flooded the weekend after Gov. Walker introduced the now-infamous legislation regarding collective bargaining.  I spent the weekend reading the proposed legislation and wrote a speech to give that Monday in front of the Joint Committee on Finance.  The next two days of protests were electrifying, and I was proud to have been part of them.

Fast forward to today, to the Public Hearing on AB 61.  My Twitter feed blew up with commentary about testimonies, and it made me nostalgic about my testimony.  I searched through WisconsinEye and eventually found it.  I was unable to embed it into this post, so you’ll have to click on this link, choose the video that’s almost 17 hours in length, and fast forward to 3:21:47.  If I seem bouncy, it’s because I was both nervous and excited.

If you have any thoughts on my testimony or the current “Right to Work” bill, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.

Rebuilding US-German Relations

The February 7th edition of The Economist left me with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, as a proud German-American, I was quite pleased to read an article titled, “German-Americans: The Silent Minority.”  On the other hand, I was disheartened when I read the piece, “Germany and America: Ami Go Home.”  The first piece was nice because it discussed the legacy and traditions of Germans here in the U.S. (and in particular my state of Wisconsin).  The second article, however, is the one that I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks.

Since the “Ami Go Home” piece only presented data on support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), I want to present some other data concerning Germany’s sentiment towards the United States.  First, the most recent polling data (July 2014) from the Pew Research Center shows that only 51% of Germans have a favorable view of the U.S.  This puts Germany in the category of Top 10 Global Critics of the United States.

Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/1/country/81/
Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/1/country/81/

Second, a June 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal had this to say about relations between the two countries: “German government officials readily acknowledge that anti-Americanism—fueled most recently by revelations of National Security Agency surveillance activities in Europe—plays a significant role in how the public perceives the Ukraine crisis and has bred a reluctance among many Germans to side with the U.S.”  The piece also included polling data with a very telling caption.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-germany-anti-american-sentiment-fuels-push-to-tread-softly-on-ukraine-1402443505
Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-germany-anti-american-sentiment-fuels-push-to-tread-softly-on-ukraine-1402443505

Given the importance of the transatlantic community in facing current global challenges, and recognizing the role that German plays in European politics, it is in the best interests of the United States to improve relations with Germany.  The question now is how to best go about that.  What follows are four programs that could help with the rebuilding process.

The 2014 Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting Activities lists a number of programs that could help reduce German anti-Americanism (in fact the report has a “Spotlight” on Germany on pp. 168-169.)  In the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, there are two programs designed to build relationships between youth on both sides of the Atlantic.  The German-American Partnership Program connects German and US secondary schools.  My school has something similar, and it has been a valuable program since it started.  The three Congress-Bundestag Exchanges (Youth, Vocational Youth, and Young Professionals) provide American participants the opportunity to learn the German language and gain academic or work experience in Germany.  Along those lines, the Congress-Bundestag Staff Exchange is designed to “help Americans and Germans learn about each others political institutions and discuss issues of mutual concern.”

In addition to the federal government, two Washington, DC-based think tanks offer programs to strengthen US-German relations.  The German Marshall Fund runs the Congress Bundestag Forum, “a parliamentary exchange that brings together members of the German Bundestag and members of the U.S. House of Representatives for a series of discussions on areas of mutual concern.”  The Atlantic Council established the US-German Next Generation Project, designed to bring together “experts in key issues for the bilateral relationship, such as economic/business cooperation (TTIP, energy), defense/security cooperation (NATO, Russia, Iraq, Syria), the internet/privacy/cyber and intelligence cooperation, scientific cooperation and US-German cultural and educational exchange.”

Finally, I encourage readers to visit the websites of the following organizations devoted solely to this topic:
1) The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies
2) The American Council on Germany
3) The Goethe Institut
4) The German Academic Exchange Service

US-German relations have slowly deteriorated the past few years and took a big hit in the wake of the NSA scandal.  Given the importance of Germany to the U.S. economy and in dealing with Russia, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to build them back up.  If you know of any other programs that should be mentioned here, please mention them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

In Defense of Teachers: A Response to The Economist

I just read a Leader from The Economist titled, “Teacher Recruitment: Those Who Can,” and I have to say that I am quite disappointed.  The piece paints teachers in such a negative manner that I felt compelled to immediately respond.

First, let’s start with the notion that “at least the holidays are long.”  Yes, because we all take ten weeks off in the summer and do nothing but relax and drink fruity drinks with little umbrellas.  Oh, wait, that’s a fantasy.  The reality is that most of my colleagues spend their summers in a variety of ways: working a second job, taking classes (pedagogy or content), and of course, preparing for the next school year.  The breaks we have during the year (the longest being a winter break of 1 1/2 to 2 weeks) are usually spent catching up on grading and reading, as well as preparing for after the break.

Second, you write that “Teaching ought to be a profession for hard-working altruists who want to improve children’s life prospects. But all too often school systems seem designed to attract mediocre timeservers.”  Are you kidding me?  Are. You. Kidding. Me?  The implication that teachers do not work hard is so absurd that it is evidence you have not been around teachers for very long, if at all, except for when you were in school as a student.

My colleagues are some of the hardest-working people I know.  Our contract time is 8 am to 4 pm, but I know of no teacher who actually works only that time.  I wake up at 4:45 am every morning to read the news, looking for items to share with my students that day and to build my content knowledge.  After my 35-minute commute, I arrive to work 1 1/2-2 hours before my contract even starts.  In that time, I read, make copies, grade, look for resources, etc.  Some of my colleagues arrive early as well, while others opt to stay later after school.  When we go home, many of us continue to work there as well.  On top of our “regular” work (although really, there is nothing regular about it) teachers take graduate classes to improve upon their pedagogy or build their content.  Try teaching full time, raising kids, and taking 3-6 credits of graduate classes each semester and tell me that teachers are not hard-working.  Lazy people do not constantly talk about the need for more time, and yet, ask educators what they could use more of, and that will be one of the top answers (my guess is that money would also be a response).

As for being altruistic, do you have any idea how many teachers spend their own money on classroom materials and supplies?  Or how many give up time with their own kids to go to a student’s play/recital/sporting event?  What about the teachers who volunteer their time as club advisors, spending hours of their free time so that they can enrich their students’ lives?  We didn’t go into teaching for the money or prestige, that’s for sure; we became educators because we care, and we want to change lives.

Also, do you really believe that “mediocre timeservers” would choose teaching as a career?  You cannot be mediocre and expect to survive, let alone excel at, teaching.  Why would a slacker want to teach?  We’ve got to deal with expectations from a variety of levels- policymakers, administrators, parents, and students.  In my thirteen years of teaching, I have yet to see somebody who would be a “mediocre timeserver.”  Teachers have to be high-flyers, or else the system will chew them up and spit them out.

Third, you propose that the reason students don’t succeed is because of the teachers, as if we’re the only people in students’ lives.  (“No wonder so many children struggle to learn: no school can be better than those who work in it.”)  You forgot about external factors to students’ academic success.  Broken homes, lack of resources outside of school, working a job, taking care of siblings, etc. all take a toll on students.  Parental pressure to be the very best, increasingly competitive college admissions, teen angst, peer pressure, etc. all take a toll on students.  And yet, for some strange reason, you seem to think that it’s only the teachers in the school who affect how students learn.

Finally, you chose Teach for America as a model to lure high-flyers into the classroom.  I have a number of problems with that particular organization, many of which are summed up nicely in this petition.  Additionally, TFA left a sour taste in my mouth after watching a documentary on them in a grad class.  When asked why they were joining TFA, one of their high-flyers said that they wanted to do something good before they got a real job.  You know, because teaching is not a real job.  Their hearts may be in the right place (helping kids), but TFA only exacerbates the problems with the U.S. education system.

To be sure, lazy, incompetent teachers exist; however, for The Economist to imply that they are the norm is irresponsible and demeaning to all of the great teachers out there who have a positive impact on students every day.  Not every teacher is going to be John Keating, but we try, and we continue working hard in a thankless, demanding, rewarding profession.

Thanks for reading.

What Should US Teachers Know About Transatlantic Relations?

This year at the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies annual conference, I will be giving a presentation for teachers on why we should teach about transatlantic relations and what to teach about them (themes, resources, etc.).  Most of my presentation is based on the two pieces I wrote on the subject (here and here) and my own teaching experiences.

As I thought about how to make the presentation even more useful for social studies teachers, however, I wondered about giving them suggestions or ideas based on recommendations from European/transatlantic think tanks, organizations, agencies, embassies, etc.  I see this as a great opportunity to exponentially increase the reach that some of these organizations have here in the US.  So, if you work for something or someone that might fit into one of those categories, feel free to leave a comment below or email me.

Thanks for reading.

Social Media in the Madison Mayoral Campaigns

In my previous post, I outlined the web presence of the Madison mayoral candidates, but now I want to delve a bit further into how they are actually using social media.  According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of online adults use Facebook, making it the most popular social media website, whereas only 23% use Twitter.  As such, when it comes to campaigns, social media can be a powerful tool to organize followers, inform them, and engage in discussions with possible voters.  It can be even more powerful if the candidates use their various accounts in conjunction with each other, not just as separate entities.  With three months until the April election, I expected to see websites and social media channels that work together to coordinate the candidate’s message.

Every candidate has at least one website, one Facebook page, and one Twitter account.  Generally speaking, the online base for a campaign is the website.  Accordingly, I would expect to see the Facebook and Twitter icons so that visitors could check those out in addition to the website.  Of the five mayoral candidates, only Bridget Maniaci has the icons to both Facebook and Twitter.  Scott Resnick and Paul Soglin have the Facebook icons, but Christopher Daly and Richard Brown have no icons.  This leads to two questions- 1) Why do Daly and Brown not have the links, and 2) Why is it that Maniaci is the only one to link to Twitter?  If candidates want to use social media to its full potential they should include the links to all accounts on their website’s main page and make them easy to locate on that page (not at the very bottom underneath the treasurer information).

As for Twitter, this particular social media site allows users to include a URL in their profile.  This is a great opportunity for candidates to link to their campaign’s main website or Facebook.  Only Maniaci and Daly take advantage of this opportunity- Daly links to his Facebook page, while Maniaci links to her campaign website.  Mayor Soglin has a link, but it is to his own website, Waxing America.

It would also be in the best interests of the candidates to change their Twitter profile to include something to the extent of “The official Twitter account for (insert name), candidate to become Madison’s next mayor.”  If not that, then briefly tell visitors about your ideas.  One way to do this effectively would be to use hashtags.  For example, “Candidate for Madison mayor. Supports #sustainability, #publiceducation, and #transportation.”  This way, candidates not only share a glimpse of what they believe in, but when any Twitter user searches for those hashtags, their profile comes up, thereby increasing their reach.  Along these lines, it would also make things easier for voters if candidates used just one Twitter account for their campaign.  Right now, Maniaci and Mayor Soglin each have two accounts, and it is unclear if either one is the official campaign account.

Since more people are likely to use Facebook than any other social media site, candidates should definitely ensure their accounts are full of information.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook has no character limit; therefore, candidates should expand on their ideas.  Besides the main campaign website, candidates should put their platform on Facebook.  They should also include links to the campaign website, other social media accounts, and ways to contact the campaign.

Social media can be extremely powerful, especially as a campaign tool.  In the race to become Madison’s next mayor, candidates should consider how they can use their accounts effectively to reach possible voters, inform them, and most importantly, engage with them in discussion.

Thanks for reading.