Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I’d like to discuss the word accountability. It’s an interesting word that has been inflated to the point that it can mean almost anything. It’s like the phrase “moving forward.” Or another abused word, “reform.”
Let’s take the word “reform” first. It’s an innocent-looking word. But you can tell that the word has been corrupted when it represents the opposite of what you’d think it would mean.
For instance, education reform means “returning to the factory model of public schooling, where students are consumers of industrial-strength doses of testing and corporate curricula.” Pension reform means “taking money from someone else’s pension fund.” Financial reform means “business as usual.”
The word is used in a similar way in tax reform, which means that “the richest people will pay less and the workers will pay more.” Why else did the Oregon Legislature convene a special session in December of last year to ensure tax breaks for Phil Knight and Nike?
The word accountability has deep links to financial management and fiscal responsibility, to moral obligation and professional ethics. To be accountable was once something to be proud of. But look who now wants to place the noose of accountability somewhere else:
“Teachers must be accountable for student learning.”
This is clear in everything but what it doesn’t say. Certain people get off the hook. In fact, everyone who isn’t a teacher is off the hook. Mr. Knight doesn’t have to promise to expand Nike; only that he won’t move to expand. The legislature doesn’t have to be accountable for a fairer tax system or to fund its obligations. In effect, the accountability is all on the side of the public, or in this case, the teachers, and none on the side of Mr. Knight and his friends in the legislature.
If we take my previous example, “Teachers must be accountable for student learning,” then we agree that Mr. Knight is not accountable for removing revenue from the support of these same children. We don’t need to be concerned about the lack of a safety net that means 20 percent of children in Oregon live in poverty. Or that the Oregon legislature would rather give corporate tax breaks than raise the revenue necessary to fund schools.
So when there’s not enough revenue to make up the difference, teachers should pony up. They have a pension fund (let’s raid that). Contractual obligations, notwithstanding, it’s much easier to sell the idea that PERS is a massive entitlement than ask Mr. Knight to pay his share.
Mr. Knight, of course, has his retirement taken care of, thanks, in part to Gov. Kitzhaber and the Oregon Legislature, and the rest of us make up the difference or suffer.
George Orwell in his essay, “Politics and the English Language (1946) said, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”
Which brings me back to the word accountability: Who can we stick with that?
Mark Reynolds teaches English at Hood River Valley High School.
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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"
Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge