Ideas Worth Sharing

We all have ideas worth sharing with others, and this is the place to do it. I am particularly interested in those ideas which, if enacted, might make a significant difference in the world in which we live. I'll start with a few of my own ideas which I've mulled over and nurtured for years. I welcome your constructive feedback and will post ideas from others that I think fit my criteria. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

IDEA #19 Voluntary School Integration

Yesterday I read in the New York Times that the nation's public schools are today more segregated than they have been in the thirty years since court-ordered desegregation plans were put into place. The final blow to the dream of integrated schools seems to be the rescinding of more and more of the court orders mandating the bussing of students to schools where the majority of students are black. However, the plan was less than effective from the start as white parents who could afford to moved their children further and further from the city core in order to prevent their children from being bussed to largely black schools.

What went wrong here? First of all, the federal government made the mistake of deciding that parents were going to allow the burden of healing this country's deeply divisive racial history to be placed on their children. Secondly, the government decided that force and only force would be effective in reversing the tremendous opportunity gap that was in existence between white and black children. Thirdly, inner city schools were allowed to continue to deteriorate. Little wonder that forced school desegregation has been one of the least popular and least effective government interventions in our communities.

Solutions that rely on government force often seem like the most efficient, effective, and low-cost way to go about solving social problems at the time. However, any student of history can tell you that such solutions provoke unintended negative consequences as great as or greater than the intended reform. As the rate of change and speed of communication continue to accelerate in our society, negative consequences become apparent and come home to roost faster and faster. Perhaps in our lifetimes we will even gain enough first hand experience of this phenomenon that we will be able to predict the outcome and forego the use of such forced solutions.

So what could we have done (and do now) differently? First of all, we need to recognize that in a free society people need to be and remain free to live in neighborhoods of their choice and send their children to schools of their choice. Secondly, we need to bite the bullet and recognize that only a tremendous investment of resources in schools and their teachers is going to improve the educational opportunities of all of our children. Thirdly, we need to put that local, state, and federal investment where it is needed the most--in inner city and rural schools where the majority of children come from poor families.

A commitment to building, maintaining, equipping and staffing model schools in the poorest neighborhoods will attract people of all races and ethnic background to the excellent schools. Having small classes and first-rate teachers will guarantee success. Every large city should have college preparatory academies and boarding schools available for the children of the poor whose (often single) parents are working two or more jobs and who do not have the time, energy, or knowledge needed to supervise their children's learning.

Where local funding cannot provide such schools, states and the federal government must step in to fund them. Only in this way can we voluntarily integrate our diverse society--by attracting parents of every ancestry to the very best educational opportunities available in our nation. Any realtor can tell you that parents will move to districts with excellent schools for their children.

The future belongs to the educated of all classes, colors, and cultures. America needs to have the very best schools at every level available to all her children if we are to remain in the forefront of human history.

To let me know what you think
Click Here

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

IDEA #18 Sharing Houses

SPRAWL--even the word sounds ugly. There seems to be an increasing public awareness of the downside of urban sprawl. Now an ecologist says that the diminishing number of people in the average household is driving the expansion of sprawl into natural and agricultural areas to an even greater extent than the increase in population (which has more than doubled in my lifetime).

Call me an old hippie, but I still think this movement from "everyone has his/her own room" to "everyone has his/her own house" is a move in the wrong direction. I actually think home life can be enriched by sharing one's home with more like-minded people. That might mean expanding one's household to include a widowed parent or maiden aunt or it might mean sharing a house with a number of friends.

That's only a theory on my part, mind you--my family of origin was only four people and my own nuclear family was only three people. But when our son moved out and my husband and I became a couple again our home life was diminished, and when our son moved beyond visiting range we suffered real loneliness where we had once enjoyed family living. After living six years in southern California our son decided to return "home" to Oregon and moved in with us until he could find an apartment. The effects of the recession on his industry and on the Oregon job market have made it necessary for him to extend his stay from one month to more than a year now. Have we felt crowded in our two-bedroom townhouse, our privacy invaded? Not at all--our family life has been enriched by having our son and his two Siamese cats in our home daily, and further enriched by having his close friends come to our home regularly.

So when Dawn, author of "this woman's work" weblog, posted a note about a website that has a matching service for single moms who want to share housing, I thought, "What a great idea!" Think of all the economies and efficiencies two single-parent families could enjoy by joining together into a single household. Not to mention what a wonderful support it could be to have another adult to talk things over with when important decisions need to be made.

It reminded me of another great idea that I read about some time ago and lost track of: wouldn't it be wonderful if there was something akin to a retirement home facility for single-parent families, including a nursery and after-school day-care center, common dining room and entertainment center. Why should only retirees enjoy the pleasures of onsite hairdressers, banking services, and planned activities? Which of us wouldn't like to have ready access to a spa, fitness center and large-screen TV for movies?

Perhaps sharing houses and joining together with other like-minded people at all stages of our lives would decrease our expenses and increase our human resources of all kinds. Perhaps it would even end sprawl, preserving our precious farmland and natural environment for generations to come.

To let me know what you think
Click Here

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

IDEA #17 Responding to State Budget Crisis

I live in a state with a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. How about you? My impression from my reading is that most Americans are in this same situation. In Oregon we are being asked to vote this month on an increase in our income taxes to avert some of the cuts in government services that will otherwise need to be made to balance the budget. Even if we approve this increase, the legislature will have to make program cuts to balance additional deficits which have accrued since the ballot measure was proposed last September. So our choice is between deep cuts and deeper cuts in state services.

And, of course, every cut in state agency budgets means layoffs of state employees--this in a state which has had one of the highest unemployment rates throughout much of this recession. In other words, there are no other jobs readily available for these laid off employees to move into. That means lots of money will be going out for long-term unemployment benefits at the same time that government services will be minimized for lack of workers.

Facts like these can be so discouraging that we avert our eyes and let the legislature do the dirty work so we have someone else to blame when we find ourselves hurting from lack of the services we take for granted and to which we feel entitled. This year I've decided not to do that. Instead I've put my creative mind to work to find solutions--big and small--that might improve our state situation until the economy recovers. I've sent some of these solutions to my state senator, to the local newspaper, and to appropriate agency heads. Some may be totally unworkable, but I feel it is my duty as a citizen to respond to this financial crisis instead of belatedly reacting to others' solutions to it.

To minimize layoffs and program cuts I have suggested that the legislature enact a cap on administrative expenses of 15% of each agency's budget and mandate a reduction of supervisory layers of management to no more than two layers above line staff (the people actually carrying out the mission of the agency--building roads, teaching kids, managing caseloads, etc.).

I've also recommended that the 2002 state income tax forms have a checkoff after the refund is figured for donating all or part of one's refund to the state's general fund or school fund.

Even though I voted against having a state lottery and have not purchased lottery tickets in years, I've decided to buy two dollar's worth of lottery tickets each week to help boost state income at this time. I've also decided that if I should win a prize, I'll purchase lottery tickets with half of my winnings up to $500.

I've also suggested that our state enact my first idea on this web log: that the governor and legislature have an annual honorary banquet for and with the individuals and company CEO's that pay the most in taxes each year. I think this would encourage wealthy individuals and corporations to pay the full extent of their taxes due in order to gain access to our elected officials at such an occasion.

Instead of arguing against my specific ideas above, I hope you will become committed to finding and voicing your own creative ideas for what each citizen can do and can suggest to their elected representatives in the weeks and months ahead to help us weather this fiscal crisis. In the meantime, I intend to vote for Oregon's Measure 28 to raise our income taxes to lessen the number of program cuts and layoffs that will need to be made by our 2003 legislature. How about you?

To let me know what you think
Click Here