Any report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is met with skepticism in some quarters, because these were the same people whose findings found that climate is changing and that human behavior is one of the causes.
The so-called “climate change deniers” continue to insist, regardless of the scientific evidence to the contrary, that humans are not to blame if there is any change in the climate. We can deny the latest report of the UCS, “When Rising Seas Hit Home,” at our own peril, especially in Virginia.
The scientists found that “important consequences of climate change are more subtle and slower moving than disasters. One such consequence is sea level rise. Unlike the catastrophic flooding that can accompany hurricanes, sea level rise impacts can take time to manifest. The final result, late this century and beyond, may be neighborhoods underwater.”
In a state like Virginia, with a major region named “Tidewater,” the impact can be especially great. UCS has identified three Virginia communities that will face chronic inundation by 2035, and 21 more by 2100. In the highest level scenario considered by the scientists, 38 communities would be exposed to chronic inundation by the end of the century. Visit the website to see a list of communities that will be hardest hit. Of little surprise is the finding that in the highest scenario, by 2080, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and the Naval Air Station would have up to a quarter of their land chronically flooded.
These findings should come as no surprise to Virginians. In 2015, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) completed a study on this issue at the request of the General Assembly. Its report, “Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia,” found that “recurrent flooding already impacts all localities in Virginia’s coastal zone and is predicted to worsen over reasonable planning horizons of 20 to 50 years due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and other factors.” The scientists wisely did not use the term “climate change,” which continues to be politically charged among some of Virginia’s political leaders.
Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded a grant to VIMS that, along with its match, will total $1.25 million to support “nature-based infrastructure” to help coastal Virginia counter and recover from flood events. Nature-based infrastructure includes tidal wetlands and living shorelines that can help to blunt and even absorb the effects of rising seas and recurrent flooding.
These efforts are important, but the UCS found even bolder policy changes and enhanced coordination among all levels of government must happen to protect our coastal areas. UCS concluded its report, “And even as the Trump administration seeks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we must work at state and local levels and with other nations to cut global warming emissions aggressively in order to help slow the pace of sea level rise.” Maybe then we can keep our heads above water!
Last week, without provocation, a woman in the checkout line at a local grocery store told another customer — a Muslim woman — “I wish they didn’t let you in the country.”
In the exchange that was recorded on a camera phone, the woman to whom the remark was directed explained that she had been born in the United States. Rather than leave it at that, the first woman went on saying, “Obama’s not in office anymore; you don’t have a Muslim in there anymore. He’s gone — he may be in jail in the future.”
I realize that there are more people than I would like to acknowledge that have strong prejudices against others because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other reason. It continues to shock me when I see the ugliness of the expression of such prejudices as the recording of this event provided. As the woman to whom the remarks were directed pointed out, it’s abnormal to start a conversation like that with someone you do not know. There really is something wrong with people who are so blinded by their prejudices that they feel compelled to lash out at a person who has done them no wrong. The comments reflect a deep-seated hatred that comes out for reasons only a mental health expert could help discover.
What is particularly troubling these days is the blurring of the line between political convictions and prejudice toward individuals. In our deeply divided political landscape, too often political views become opportunities to demonize people who hold different views. Unfortunately talk radio, social media and some cable news shows tend to invite this destructive phenomenon.
In addition to the repulsiveness I feel about the hateful comments, I was also saddened that social media and news accounts described the scene as a store in Reston, Virginia. I know from a lot of personal experience the amount of effort that so many people have made over the years to ensure that Reston is an open, welcoming and inclusive community. While I understand why the store did nothing to address the situation, I wish somehow there had been a disclaimer on the video: The woman speaking does not represent the views of the people of Reston.
The situation reminds us that building community is not a one-time occurrence, a workshop, or a feel-good session. Building a community of respect and love is an ongoing process that we work at a little every day. We greet those we meet; we hug each other; we attend each other’s houses of worship; we show respect to others; we speak out against hate and prejudices; we listen to each other. We use appropriate channels to discuss political views, and whether in person or online we stick to the issues and don’t resort to personal attacks.
A display of hateful and ugly prejudice as we have just witnessed must bring us together in mutual support and respect as we want Reston and every other community to display.
Among the many institutions that seem to be under attack these days, the federal Department of Education and public schools are of great concern.
Public education predates the federal Department of Education, but the Department has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children. Left to their own devices, state and local school boards would go in many different directions that may leave quality and access more to chance than legal requirements.
I am reminded regularly by my constituents of their support for quality public schools, but last week I was reminded also of the range of controversy surrounding public education. A postcard I received in the mail had a picture of a yellow school bus on it with a caption: “The humanist machine.”
The card was from a group called Deconstructing the Coliseum whose stated purpose is “to eliminate humanist political policies, eliminate the machine (the civil government school system) that produces humanist politicians.” The text of the card goes on to explain that “The civil government is using force and coercion to advance its version of truth (humanism), under the guise of ‘public education.’ Thus, civil government schools must be abolished.”
Although this group has a Virginia address, I do not think that it would have many supporters in our community. Their ultra-conservative views are likely to get the attention of some downstate legislators.
As concerning are the views that are being espoused by the current federal Secretary of Education. As I understand her plan, public schools would be replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are held up by some as a panacea to cure ills real and concocted about public schools, but their results have been very mixed in the places where they have been opened.
The main issue for the proponents seems to be control. Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy, there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter school curriculum, standards and requirements without further supervision. There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.
Even with all their critics and those who remember wistfully how schools were when they attended, today’s public schools do an excellent job. Open to all students, they bring out the best in our children. They attempt to prepare our children for an unknown future. The school boards struggle every year with meeting needs that are greater than the resources available to them.
Whatever the perceived needs are in educating our children, there are none so great that would require the getting rid of “government schools” or replacing them with charter schools.
We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.
And we need, in this season of teacher appreciation, to thank the teachers for the exceptional work that they do.
Last week I attended the retirement reception for the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. The Honorable William Howell of Stafford is retiring after 30 years in the House with 14 years as Speaker. His tenure is the second longest in the modern period
The Republican majority in the House wasted no time in picking his successor, who was known during the last session as the “Speaker designee.”
Speaker Howell was the 54th Speaker of the House; Edmund Pendleton was the first, serving for one year in 1776. The predecessor to the House of Delegates, the House of Burgesses, under the Royal Colony of Virginia, had speakers as well.
The role of the speaker is to allow for orderly debate by requiring all speaking to go through the speaker–hence the name. Under today’s rules, as in the past, members must be recognized by the speaker to request to speak or to ask a question and must receive permission to speak. No debate is allowed among members without going through the speaker. While it may sound cumbersome, it actually works to keep debate orderly and to prevent the chaos that could result from members shouting at each other directly.
The role of the Speaker has evolved over the years. Far from just directing debate, the speaker has tremendous other powers. For example, the speaker appoints the members of committees, assigns bills to committees and renders opinions on enforcing rules and parliamentary procedures.
Up until 1950 there had been 48 persons who had served as Speaker of the House for an average of 3.5 years each. Since 1950 there have been six speakers serving an average of eleven years each. One speaker during that period left office after two years because of a sex scandal. If he is not considered, the remaining speakers have served for an average of 13 years.
I served under the last five speakers. My observation on the office of the speaker is that it has become increasingly partisan. In 1950 Delegate E. Blackburn Moore of Frederick County who was a leading lieutenant in the Byrd Machine became speaker and served in that role for 18 years. He ruled with an iron fist. Many of the stories that are still told about abusing the role of speaker come from his era when he refused to put Republicans on committees that met. The House was referred to as “Blackie’s House,” borrowing the name of a popular restaurant of the time.
His successor was the Gentleman from Mathews, the Honorable John Warren Cooke, who was the first speaker under whom I served. He was a sharp contrast to Moore and treated all members alike regardless of political party. Since his service the office has been held by a series of nice individuals of both parties who have expanded the role to be in practice, if not name, the majority leader of the House.
Herndon Man Dies in Route 7 Crash — Rush Hone Elmore, 69, died Friday after his vehicle was rear-ended near Leesburg. The impact of the crash forced his car off the roadway, where it overturned. He died at Reston Hospital Center. [Leesburg Police Department]
Units Respond to Kitchen Fire in Reston — Firefighters attacked a blaze Sunday afternoon at a home in the 12300 block of Brown Fox Way. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue/Twitter]
Plum Campaign Event Set for April 30 — Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) will kick off his campaign for re-election to the state House of Delegates with a fundraiser at The Lake House (11450 Baron Cameron Ave.). Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is scheduled to be in attendance to show his support. [Del. Ken Plum]
Reston Students Profiled in ‘KidsPost’ — Katie Damon’s second-grade class at Terraset Elementary School voted on their favorite author, singer, sport and more for a profile in this weekend’s Washington Post. The kids also reported what they want to be when they grow up and what superpower they’d like to have. [Washington Post]
Bridge Title Claimed by Herndon Woman — Li Yiting was part of the team that won the Machlin Women’s Swiss Teams event at the Spring North American Bridge Championships last month in Kansas City. This is her third championship win. [Fairfax Times]
When Thomas Jefferson finished what he considered one of the most significant deeds of his lifetime in writing the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, he returned home to Virginia and set about turning the ideals of the Declaration into steps that could lead to the formation of the first democratic republic.
Among his proposals was that a system of grammar schools be established throughout the state to be topped off by a grand university. He lived to see the University of Virginia become a reality, but his plan for a universal form of education for the masses did not come about in the Commonwealth until 1870 with a Reconstruction-era system of public schools.
The genius of Mr. Jefferson was the recognition that government by the people in a republic could be successful only to the degree that people were educated and that education could make them informed participants in the election of their representatives. Education is as important today, if not more so, as it was in the formation of the union. I am reminded of that fact daily.
The experiences of my early days as a classroom teacher remind me that there is a sharp difference between being schooled and being educated. The emphasis in recent times on the acquisition of facts with Standards of Learning and standardized testing fall short of the educated citizen that we need in today’s world. What facts could I have transmitted to my students that would stay with them to guide them through the rough waters of governance today? A few of course, but more important are the skills they may have learned by being social scientists, historians, and political scientists in my classroom and using the skills of those disciplines to understand and react to the world we face today.
Popular in the mid-1960s, when I was in the classroom, was the discovery approach to teaching the social studies made famous by Amherst College. There were few lectures in the classroom about what happened in history. Rather the students were taught to collect information, weigh evidence, identify points of view, question sources, draw conclusions and “discover” what went on in historic periods of history and why.
Those skills are more important today than ever. The ability to separate among news stories the fake news, alt-news, satire, points of view and evidence is increasingly vital. Hopefully there will come a time when more of those who make the news will be acting in an ethical and responsible manner, motivated to serve with the good of the whole in mind rather than simply personal gain.
With the increasing speed and number of sources of mass communications, skills of the social scientist are more important than ever. Thomas Jefferson was right — schools are critically important to democracy. Even more important is that the students coming out of school have the skills necessary to be functioning members of society that will preserve and strengthen our democratic republic.
At noon on Jan. 11, the sergeant at arms will enter the chamber of the House of Delegates carrying a 20-pound, 24-karat gold-coated mace that he will place in a holder in the front and center of the chamber signifying that the House of Delegates is in session. That formality has been followed since the 18th century, when it signified that Virginia was one of the British royal colonies. On the Senate side of the Capitol, the Lieutenant Governor, who is the president of the Senate, will call that body to order. The Governor will address a joint session of the House and Senate that evening.
With all the history and pomp and circumstance that surround a legislative session, the list of issues before the Assembly is very up to date. The need for legislation related to Uber, Airbnb and Tesla electric cars is likely to be heard within the context of new practices of commerce coming up against established traditions and turf. Lobbyists outnumber legislators more than six to one with some seeking to protect the status quo and others wanting new directions and innovation. The job of legislators is to determine the public good among conflicting interests.
Fortunately, not all issues are earth-shattering. Many of the more than 3,000 bills and resolutions that will be considered this year are fairly mundane, dealing with the operation of government. Since localities have only the powers delegated to them by the General Assembly, there will be numerous “local” bills that may affect only a given local government. There are likely to be only 15 or 20 high profile bills that will get widespread press coverage and heavy public lobbying.
With the outcome of the national elections, the social conservatives will feel empowered to put in their bills to limit or eliminate legal abortions. The Governor is expected to veto these bills if they pass just as he did a year ago when he vetoed Virginia’s version of North Carolina’s HB2 permitting discrimination against LGBT persons. The national election experience last year will result in more bills to eliminate fraud from elections even though none has been shown to exist in Virginia. These bills do keep many citizens from being able to register and to vote.
There is a strong citizen effort to have Virginia adopt an independent non-partisan redistricting law for which I have been advocating since the 1980s, but the party in power would have to relinquish their power for that to happen which makes the legislation a long shot. I and others will be introducing gun safety legislation, but the NRA grip on the legislature is firm. Hopefully more citizen involvement will help to loosen that hold and reasonable common sense bills can be passed.
The good news likely to be coming out of the session is that meaningful reform of Virginia’s mental health system will take place and positive steps reforming public education will be enacted.
I will be covering other issues in future columns. In the meantime, learn more about Virginia’s legislation process and the bills and resolutions being considered at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov.
While I enjoy studying history and reading the stories of the past, I equally enjoy studying the writing of history — historiography — which is “the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particulars from the authentic materials, and the synthesis of particulars into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods.” (Merriam-Webster) Recently I taught a course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University that I entitled “A New Look at the Old Dominion.” The purpose of the course was not so much to retell the history of Virginia as it was to examine the way in which the story of the Commonwealth has been told over the decades. Certainly the story of Virginia is ideal for a historiographical analysis. Much of the history has been glamorized for so long as to leave a confusing and contradictory understanding of the state’s past. I have been particularly concerned about the picture of the Commonwealth presented in state-written textbooks that were used in our public schools over the years. One could get the impression from these books that the land settled as Virginia was god-given to the colonists that they could save it from the heathens who inhabited it, that slavery was good for the slaves, that the federal government was the bad guy in every controversy, and that states’ rights should be preeminent over human rights. Fortunately, through the hard work of many individuals much of that misinformation has been removed from the classroom.
My concern for the future is how individual citizens, historians and teachers deal with the deluge of fake news that is swirling around us. The presidential election of 2016 is historic in the amount of fake news to which voters were exposed through the new technologies of social media. Of great concern is the inability of traditional news sources to deal with the fake stories and the gullibility of some of the public to believe whatever they read or hear from their identified news source regardless of the lack of credibility that source may have. Journalists themselves were even questioning what was true among all the falsehoods, denials, and diversion to other topics that were going on during the campaign. Certainly historians will face a monumental task of explaining to future generations what happened during this phase of our history.
If our democratic republic is to exist, we cannot simply wait for future analysis to understand what is going on. Certainly students in school should learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for future potential employment and consumerism, but I believe that for the future of our country students need to learn the tools and methods of historiography: gathering and weighing evidence, critical thinking, evaluating sources, and others. Our citizens and voters need to arm themselves with the tools of social scientists as they choose their leaders. That is why we need more civics education in our schools.
The State Board of Education recently released its 2016 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia. I think it is the most hopeful report on public education that I have seen in my tenure in office.
The report is honest and forthright as to the condition of public schools in the state and totally realistic as to the needs of public schools if they are to be improved. My highest compliments to Dr. Billy Cannaday, President, and members of the Board for their work.
During the last ten years, school enrollment in Virginia increased just over five percent for a total enrollment in 2016 of 1,286,711. During that same time period, economically disadvantaged students increased 39 percent, English language learners increased by 78 percent, students identified with autism increased by 222 percent, and the number of students in health impairment disability categories increased by 26 percent.
At the same time, Virginia students outperform their peers nationwide on the ACT by 15 or more points. The on-time graduation rate grew to 91.3 percent with more than half the students graduating with the most rigorous diploma. The Report recognizes that with the progress that has been made there continues to be a lot of work to do.
What stands out to me are the priorities that the Board has identified “to ensure that all children in the Commonwealth, regardless of their circumstances, have access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful, healthy and fulfilling life.”
The priorities are:
- The public school experience must be redesigned to better prepare students for life after high school by ensuring that all students, during their K-12 experience, achieve and apply appropriate academic knowledge, demonstrate productive workplace skills, exhibit responsible and responsive citizenship, and align knowledge, skills, and interests with career opportunities.
- Teachers and school leaders must be better supported to effectively deliver and serve all Virginia K-12 students.
- Virginia’s accountability system must provide tiered interventions aligned to need, encourage continuous improvement for all schools, and measure and report multiple indicators of school quality.
- Greater attention and support must be provided to school communities with high poverty where achievement and opportunity gaps persist.
Public education is a shared responsibility between state and local governments as defined in the State Constitution. The responsibility for running the public schools is at the state level by the State Board of Education and at the local level by county and city school boards. None of the boards at the state or local levels have taxing authority.
The State Board is dependent on the General Assembly and the governor; local school boards depend on boards of supervisors and city councils. Needed revisions to the state Standards of Quality will require additional investments that are required for future success.
It is essential that all elected officials review the State Board’s report, embrace its findings, and provide the revenue to ensure the success of our public schools.
The National Conference of State Legislatures sponsors a “Legislators Back to School Day” each year as a way to promote the idea that more legislators should visit their local schools to see the good work they are doing, as well as to understand the challenges that school administrators and teachers face.
I take advantage of that opportunity, and other times I am invited to visit schools in my district, and sometimes to visit schools in other areas to learn about special programs.
For me, the visits are very positive experiences. I continue to be impressed with the outstanding work that our schools are doing, especially considering the thousands of children–more than 180,000 in Fairfax County–they have to educate. Ensuring that every child reaches his or her full potential is a continual challenge, but I find administrators and teachers at every level working earnestly and diligently to make sure it happens. The children in our community are amazing! They are, for the most part, eager learners who are full of questions and curiosity. And they are good citizens.
One question that I get from children that may be a curiosity of some adults as well is, just what is a delegate? I discuss with the students the meaning of “to delegate” and explain that I am given a delegation of responsibility by the voters of my district to go to the state capitol each year to represent their interests.
In most states, and at the federal level, members of one house of the legislature are called “representatives;” they represent their constituents in the legislature just as I am delegated to do by the people who live in my legislative district.
Their follow-up question is a key one that must be answered appropriately if our representative form of government or republic is to be successful: How do I know the interests of my constituents? I give several explanations.
My term of office is for two years. When I stand for re-election every two years, I tell the voters in my district what I stand for and believe in. Their vote for me is an affirmation that I stand for the kind of things that they want in their government. If I do not represent the interests of my voters, they have an opportunity every two years to take back the delegation of responsibility they have given to me and give it to someone else.
Secondly, I know many of the interests of my constituents because I am out and about in the community all the time. I listen to a lot of people. I encourage people to call or write to me. I try to stay very active in the community to understand my constituents and their needs. I encourage people to respond to my annual constituent survey, which you can do at my website.
Along with Senator Janet Howell, I also hold public meetings; the next one is Monday, Dec. 19, 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne. Please come and participate.
Being a delegate is supposed to be a part-time job in Virginia; for me it is a full-time job and a half, but I am very honored to have been entrusted with this delegation of responsibility.
Photo of Del. Ken Plum at 2016 Legislators Back to School Day, courtesy Del. Ken Plum.
When my friend, August Wallmeyer, wrote his book, “The Extremes of Virginia, Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore: Two Separated and Unequal Commonwealths. Rural, Poor and Largely Unknown (Dementi Books, 2016),” he included a chapter on illegal drug use for obvious reasons. In 2014 for the first time on record fatal drug overdoses became the most common cause of accidental death in the Commonwealth, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
As the Secretary of Health and Human Resources reported to Mr. Wallmeyer, “In 2015, we lost more than a thousand Virginians to opioid or heroin overdoses. More Virginians now die from drug overdoses than from car accidents.” For another reason, the rate of fatal drug/poison overdoses in the poorest areas of the state are 47 percent higher than those in Virginia as a whole. The picture has been getting worse.
Last week, the state health commissioner Dr. Marissa J. Levine declared opioid addiction to be a public health emergency in Virginia. She said the Commonwealth has seen a 77 percent increase in opioid deaths from 2012 to 2016. So great is the concern about this epidemic that Commissioner Levine issued a standing order that allows all Virginians to obtain the drug Naloxone without a specific prescription.
Naloxone is used to treat narcotic overdoes in emergency situations. Persons who know someone who is struggling with opioid addiction are advised to visit a local pharmacy to obtain Naloxone and keep it on hand for possible overdose emergencies. For more information on Naloxone, click here. Another website of the Virginia government offers resources on how to best discuss addiction with someone.
Attorney General Mark Herring is extremely active in combating drug abuse problems in Virginia. A documentary he produced on the heroin and prescription drug epidemic in Virginia is available to individuals and organizations for their use. The Attorney General has led the effort to distribute 80,000 drug disposal kits to individuals through the Department of Health and to hospitals, law enforcement and nonprofits.
These kits will allow for the safe disposal of prescriptions that could be abused by others. There is a strong link between misuse of prescription drugs, opioid addiction, and the use of heroin when prescription drugs become too expensive or are no long available. Some studies found that half of young people who use heroin got started abusing prescription opioids. The Attorney General reported that more than 500 people went to a Virginia emergency room from a heroin overdose in the first four months of 2016, a 250 percent increase over 2015.
No longer is the problem of opioid abuse one that is primarily in the poorer, “extremes” of the state. It can be found in all areas of the state affecting people of all income levels and backgrounds. The strong response to the need by the Attorney General and the State Health Commissioner are very important. Coordination among agencies and work at the local level to end root causes are critical. Fortunately, they are underway to end this epidemic.
During the week following the national presidential election, I attended two lectures on George Mason, the man. There was no connection between the election and the lecture dates other than coincidence, but for me hearing again the work of George Mason in the formation of our nation was reassuring.
The first lecture featured Professor Jeff Broadwater who discussed his book, “George Mason: Forgotten Founder,” as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and the George Mason University Department of History.
Broadwater asserts that although Mason is often omitted today from the small circle of historical figures referred to as the Founding Fathers, his contributions to the basic framework of our government were legion. He wrote the first constitution for Virginia and was an active participant in writing a constitution for the new nation. He included a Declaration of Rights in the Virginia Constitution but went home from Philadelphia without signing the U.S. Constitution because it did not include a statement of the rights of citizens.
His firm opposition to a constitution that did not address rights of citizens led to a promise that such a statement called the Bill of Rights patterned after Mason’s Declaration of Rights would be added, and they became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
Broadwater argues that “Mason’s recalcitrance was not the act of an isolated dissenter; rather, it emerged from the ideology of the American Revolution. Mason’s concerns about the abuse of political power went to the essence of the American experience.” That experience was the attack on natural rights by a series of acts passed by Parliament. An enumeration of rights in the constitution would protect citizen rights from future abuse by the government as Mason reasoned.
Those rights are the same ones that are being looked at by me and others who are apprehensive about the new administration taking over the federal government. Certainly the rhetoric of the campaign would suggest attitudes at odds with our constitutionally protected freedoms. I have as a result increased my annual giving to the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org) that does a superb job of defending our rights from extremists. I have joined the American Civil Liberties Union for the same reason. Organizations like these will be major watch dogs in protecting our rights in these uneasy times.
The other lecture I attended the same week was at the Fairfax County Annual History Conference whose theme this year was “Fairfax County’s Founding Fathers: The Masons Are Coming.” Of course Fairfax County does not have any hesitation in including its native son among the Founding Fathers. Scott Stroh, executive director of Mason’s home– Gunston Hall — in Fairfax County, put Mason’s contribution in clear focus with his lecture, “George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights and the World Changing Power of One Document.”
One way to deal with the uncertainties of our time is to remember Mason and our rights and to be thankful for him and them.
This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
As an avid user of social media I was surprised that a link to a Forbes article I posted recently on Facebook on “Why We Desperately Need to Bring Back Vocational Training in Schools” had been shared by nearly a hundred of my friends on their own pages.
Obviously, the subject hit a chord of interest on the part of many people. The author, Nicholas Wyman, asserts that the “college-for-everyone” attitude has pushed vocational and career education programs to the margins. He says that “if we want everyone’s kid to succeed, we need to bring vocational education back to the core of high school learning.”
He is not alone in his belief as evidenced by the wide range of readership of his article. I can relate to what he has to say because for several of the years of my 30-year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, my job title was director of vocational and adult education.
There is widespread interest in a redesign of high school education. As many point out, high schools are largely operated under an industrial model that has not changed in a 100 years even though the world around public schools has undergone major changes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Challenges that has funded dozens of new schools around the country that take new approaches to learning that include online and personalized learning. (more…)
As I write this column the final votes of this election year will not have been cast and hence not tallied. The winners and losers are not yet known. Whether voters in my district took the recommendations in my Voter Guide 2016 or made different judgments will only be known as the final votes are counted the day before this column appears in print.
Regardless of who the new president is and who controls the Congress there is much work to be done. Suddenly the realities of significant issues become clearer than the simplistic slogans of campaigns might suggest. There are no easy answers to ever-increasing tensions in many parts of the world, to the rising cost of health care and its lack of availability to too many people, to major inequities in wealth and opportunity among the people of our country and among the nations of the world, to crumbling infrastructure–to name just a few!
The greatest challenge of all may be the sharp division of opinion apparent during the election season on the role government should play in responding to these needs. Complicating any reasonable discussion of the differences of opinion is the lack of trust of governmental institutions and politicians felt even more strongly after the rough and tumble of this election season.
While the only state-level elections this year were special elections to fill vacancies, the tenor and outcomes of federal elections are likely to have an impact on how business is conducted in the 2017 session of the General Assembly beginning in January. If the extreme right is successful in this year’s elections, those that are in the General Assembly may feel emboldened to continue to oppose taking federal health care monies, to adopt additional restrictions on abortions, and to pass laws that discriminate against LGBTQ citizens. While Governor McAuliffe will still be around to wield his veto pen, there could be many protracted debates on social issues.
On the other hand, if Democrats are successful in capturing the presidency and one or both houses of Congress, moderate Republicans in Virginia may feel less need to insist on hard lines on many issues as we have seen in the past. After all, Virginia will elect a new governor and House of Delegates in 2017, and both parties will want to side with the prevailing political winds.
It is essential that all political leaders learn from this election cycle and do what we can to help mend divisions in our state and in the nation. One thing we can do is listen. Senator Janet Howell and I will have our annual pubic meeting to talk with voters on Monday, Dec. 19, 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne Plaza. Come and tell us what is on your mind and offer your suggestions as to what we should do in the upcoming General Assembly session.
Also, my constituent survey is on my website and I encourage you to complete it. After all, the elections are over – time to get back to work.
Next time you are out to dinner or lunch notice the check you receive from the server for payment for your meal. Few people realize that in the Towns of Herndon and Vienna, the Cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria and the County of Arlington a meals tax is added to the cost of the food. Not so in Fairfax County.
While initially that may sound like a good deal, it really is not. Revenues that may have been raised from business lunches and dinners, travelers passing through the County who stop to eat, and persons who come from neighboring jurisdictions are lost. With the limitations on the ways that counties can raise revenue the cost of local government falls disproportionally on property owners through the property tax. State law requires counties to have a referendum before a meals tax can be imposed as a way to diversify the tax base. (more…)