Driving My Ego

The essence of people is never so public as when people are driving their cars. I notice it a lot more now that I don’t own a car. It’s easy to see from a bike or walking along the sidewalk with no metal or glass blocking my view and no radio to distract my hearing.

There are big cars and little cars and shiny ones and filthy cars covered with dust or bird poop. There are carefully kept older cars driven by frugal people who think a large investment is worth taking care of. And there are newer cars already battered into old age by owners who obviously view the contraption as a throw-away.

I see aggression out there. Some cars are loud and rumble or whine as they pass. Some have ultra-loud stereo systems that rattle the hinges on their trunks. Some people drive with their foot full on the accelerator and drive very closely to the car in front until they have an inch of space to speed past them glaring with the contempt of the impatient and selfish. Many people are simply rude and selfish while they drive. I see people running red lights and stop lights and not caring to yield the right of way. I hear them honking their horns.

The other morning in the dark I was waiting at a stop sign properly on my bike when a man in a car came up behind me and revved his engine and flashed his headlights. He was rude. I was waiting legally for cross traffic to clear before crossing. But he didn’t care, I was on a bike, a lesser vehicle, and my presence was an inconvenience to him as he waited the ten seconds to make his right turn. He flipped me off as he rounded the corner. What a selfish person he was.

On the other hand I do see some cautious people who are doing their best not to cause an accident. But in their caution they sometimes cause others to make poor judgments trying to understand why the other person isn’t following the rules. I see people stopping for me on my bike when they have the right of way and I have the stop sign. I always wave them past, and they give me the look of the scorned gift giver. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their overture, I do, but I’d rather wait my turn than see them get rear-ended because they’re stopping where they weren’t expected to. Courtesy is unexpected on the road at times, unwelcome, and it can be dangerous if it makes someone guess what you’re doing, and they guess wrong. It is better to follow the rules, if everyone did that there’d be fewer accidents.

A man owns an Audi sports car in Woodland. It is sometimes parked in a lot along my walking route to the office. It’s a beautiful car, black and low and tapered smartly. A friend I walk with told me it is worth about a quarter of a million dollars. I suppose it would be nice to have enough money that buying such a car would not be a hardship, or at least that’s what I used to think. These days I think it’s such a waste of money.

I enjoy my bike. I love pedaling along, feeling the breeze on my face, so biting and wonderful in the early morning, so damp and hushed in the fog, so thrilling in the pre-storm winds. I wish there were streets just for reserved for bikes, that’s where I’d want my house to be. I guess riding a bike and walking says something about my ego too. I just hope I am doing both of them with a kind and considerate heart.

Photo Credit – chris gilbert

The Sacramento Bee Disappoints

I noticed an interesting example of media bias in the Sacramento Bee last week on January 19. The front page of the Bee had 2 headlines above the fold, they were:

  • “Governor opens his tax campaign: HE SAYS HIKES ARE NEEDED TO HELP SCHOOLS”
  • “Davis schools slip in scores: STUDENTS LAG FORMER PEERS”

Interesting combination don’t you think? The obvious inference in combining the two headlines is that Jerry Brown is right, we need higher taxes. The headline the Bee should have written to be forthright is, “We Advise You to Raise Taxes to Help the Schools.”

But then the Sacramento Bee would be A) openly admitting its bias instead of maintaining neutral journalistic integrity, and B) the writer would have to show evidence that substantiates the admonition.

The trouble is that what they’re talking about, the need to increase taxes to support school achievement is not supported by facts about the Davis Unified School District. All of the data cited in this article are easily available at http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us and at http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest . Anyone can look at these data for themselves, but the Bee chose not to look beyond the end of their noses.

Let’s deal with the headline that is meant to buttress the Governor’s call for higher taxes, “Davis schools slip in scores.” Did the scores really slip?

No they didn’t, and if anyone read the whole article they’d realize it actually debunks the headline but not until the very end where a UC Davis professor, Jamal Abedi is quoted as saying that Davis school results were more due to “bad luck” than student performance. So why would the Bee place such a misleading headline on the article? Why to support the Governor’s call for more funding of course..

And WHY would the governor call for more taxes? Because the California Teacher’s Association gave Jerry Brown $49,300 for his campaign for governor. He knows very well that any new money sent to the schools will be subject to the negotiating table and the unions will soak it up like bread dipped into olive oil.

Let us look at the truth of the numbers about the Davis Unified School District.

Teacher salaries are reported here because they are available on the Internet. Certificated (teachers and administrators) and classified (everyone else) and benefits comprised 86.02% of the Davis Unified General Fund Budget in 2009-2010 (this is about normal).

The average teacher salary reported in 09-2010 is $65,683 and the range of teacher salaries is $35,081 to $77,965. This salary does not include benefits or the district contribution to the retirement system. It is paid for a contracted work day of about 7 hours (8 – 3 PM) and about 183 days a year. Not a bad rate in my opinion, especially when one considers that the Bee reports that “shortfalls have cut $1,100 per student in state revenue to the district since 2008.” These cuts were obviously not made in full time teacher salaries.

It seems to me that the real story in Davis is that the students are performing remarkably well in spite of their programs being stripped to maintain teacher employment and salaries.

While there is a lot of puling a crying about how much education has been cut since the 2008 economic disaster, the number of full time teachers in Davis has risen from 422.3 full time teachers in 2007-2008 to 433.9 full time teachers in 2009-2010. The student teacher ratio dropped during that same period from 20.1:1 to 19.7:1.

So where is the fiscal crisis that the BEE article asserts would require Californians to agree to raise their taxes? Salaries in Davis for teachers have not fallen. The salary range (lowest and highest salary) remained exactly the same since 07-08 until the most recent report, and the average salary rose during that period from $63,810 to $65,683.

So if the average salaries have risen, the number of teachers has risen, and the teacher:pupil ratio has dropped, why are the Davis Schools experiencing a “slip” in scores as the Bee asserts?

Well, the funny thing is the Davis Schools are NOT experiencing a drop in scores. Witness the Davis Unified School District’s scores on the STAR testing which is the California test of standards. As the results clearly demonstrate, the Davis students are scoring better in 2010-2011 than they did in 2008-2009 in three of four subject areas and scoring at the same level in the fourth. Over the past three years there is no evidence of a downward trend in student scores on the California standards testing.

STAR Results – Percent of students scoring Proficient or Advanced

 

10-11

09-10

08-09

English Language Arts

75%

75%

75%

Mathematics

68%

69%

66%

Science

82%

81%

81%

History/Social Science

76%

71%

75%

 

A review of the data for dropouts also shows no increase: the dropout rate in 2010-2011 was 1%, and the dropout rate in 2007-2008 was 1% (Data Quest).

None of the data suggests an education crisis in Davis, and certainly no crisis that can be related to a loss in funding.

The data does not suggest that there is an educational crisis in Davis Schools as the Bee headline asserts and if there is no crisis, then why would the Bee place this ridiculous article on the front page opposite their article about Jerry Brown’s desire for more tax money?

There is no nexus between the economic crisis and the performance of students in Davis, or the pay of teachers, or even the number of full time teachers employed by Davis Unified.

Another key piece of evidence that the Bee fabricating a crisis in Davie to boost the Governor’s argument that without tax money schools will suffer is this, the California Department of Education’s Press Release of August 31,2011 for the results being reported by the Bee on January 19, 2012. Why did the Bee wait more than four months to report on this “crisis?” I suggest that Jerry Brown’s plea for more tax money needed some support and the editors at the Bee inserted a bullshit article that took up half of the back page of the main section of the paper and which, when you read it all the way to the end, contradicted its own headline by quoting experts who debunked the headline with a quote by Sacramento State Education Policy Professor, Su Jin Jez, “In the end, I would think, ‘Our students are doing very well,’” she said, “and focus on other things.”

Focusing on other things is good advice and should have been heeded by the Bee before they wasted trees and ink on a political puff piece designed to give credence to their other lead story.

 

 

 

On Riding Regional Transit

I ride the bus to work. I started last May when an uninsured driver rear-ended me in my Honda (hit and ran to be precise, a cold case by now unsolved by the PD in spite of blood evidence, and no doubt fingerprints). It wrecked my car but fortunately did not injure me too badly.

After the accident, I was forced to ride Regional Transit. I planned to do so until I received the insurance money. But after a month on the bus when the money finally arrived, I decided that rather than buy another used car with the meager insurance payout, I would keep riding the bus.

In order to ride the bus without a car; you must walk or ride a bike to a bus stop. The interesting thing about walking, riding a bike, and riding the bus is that it puts you on the same plane with a lot of other people. You are walking, not speeding, past the homeless guy shaking feces out of his pants leg, the Chinese woman up early pilfering recyclables from blue totes, and the worn-looking crowd at the methadone clinic You aren’t cruising a Mercedes SUV while sipping a double-shot latte (with a phone in your ear) forcing a bike rider into a pile of leaves; you are that cursing bike rider.

To ride the bus you walk, pedal, and sit among people. Leaving the house to ride the bus is to be where real people meet real people. It’s where conversations happen. It’s where people smell each other, touch each other, hear each other, and even listen to each other.

The bus is where the mentally ill meet the mentally brilliant, and the parolee meets the professional. The bus is where a common person can have a chauffeur every day. The bus is where you can receive condescending looks from women passing by in luxury cars, and where you receive the empty stares of  milky-eyed homeless people who wish they were going anywhere on the warm bus rather than sitting in the freezing cold on a metal bus bench.

The bus is a unique environment; it is raw, human, and sometimes a bit too real. It isn’t for people who’ve grown too comfortable living outside the world. The bus would be too much for many people who live cozy inside their small, antiseptic little worlds.

A few other key lessons:

  • Many people are tall, I am not one of them.
  • People drop things.
  • There are lots of lonely people.
  • Many homeless people are mentally ill.
  • Out there is where the people are.

I’ve learned some humility in the months I’ve been riding the bus. I’ve felt threatened by walking many blocks through the city to the bus stop past dark alleyways where homeless people are scavenging for cans and bottles hoping to beat everyone else to the loot. I’ve been loudly ridiculed by a guy in a pickup for carrying a Nascar lunch box with Jimmie Johnson’s number on it. I’ve been chastised by a cranky bus driver for standing more than eight feet from the bus stop sign.

I’ve also discovered how many interesting people there are in the world. I’ve felt valued and I’ve made new friends and acquaintances. I’ve also felt strangely superior under the condescending glare of an SUV driver whom I’ve inconvenienced as I cross the street. I am living green, I am enjoying life, and I am walking in the open air hearing sounds, feeling the weather and appreciating a world that is rich and diverse, dirty and imperfect, beautiful and dangerous.

I’ve felt an unexpected ego struggle about not owning a car. It is an unreasonable feeling of inferiority; after all, I chose not to buy a car. But that’s not why it’s unreasonable, it’s unreasonable because I know logically that owning a car does not make me a better person; it does not make me more worthy of God’s love or mercy; it does not even mean I have more money than people who ride the bus. This unreasonable feeling is the main reason I have not purchased a car, it is a culturally-fed form of materialism that I want to overcome. I want to be certain that I need to own a car, not just want one to make me feel better about myself. I haven’t overcome it yet, so I’m still riding the bus.