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Staff Editorials

Happy Tax Day

    With April 15 looming around the corner next week, many of us are steadying our resolve for the inevitable tax bill and trying to hold on to what’s left in our wallets. After all, this is America where ambition is still rewarded – with high taxes.
    Regardless of how much we pay in taxes or exactly how Uncle Sam takes his share, America is still the land of opportunity - everybody can become a taxpayer (with many of us paying through regular paycheck withholdings, rather than an April 15th check).
    The Pew Research Center recently reported that a majority of Americans (56 percent) have a negative reaction to doing income taxes. But let’s be honest, people who squawk about taxes can really be classified in two groups: men and women.
    However, the Pew report said about a third of us say we either like or love doing taxes. But surely those are only those who expect a refund. Among those of us who dislike or hate doing taxes, most say the hassle and the amount of time it takes has gotten out of hand. And it requires way too much paperwork. According to the Pew study, people think tax forms are inconvenient and time-consuming.
    No kidding. When it was first introduced, the 1040 was 27 lines on one simple form. Today, it’s 77 lines long and so complicated it requires a 189-page appendix complete with instructions.  With many Americans in a daze from “intaxication,” not only do we have to pay Uncle Sam on April 15th, but the time it takes us in the weeks and months to get those taxes done is increasing at a maddening pace. According to the IRS, 68 percent of filers who use Form 1040 spend around 22 hours filing our taxes at an average cost of $290.
    One quip goes, the income tax form has made more liars out of the American people than golf. And seriously, George Washington never told a lie only because he never had to file a Form 1040.
    Of course many of us taxpayers dislike how the government uses our tax money. But at least they are flexible in some ways. As an internet joke lamented, one of the great blessings about living in a democracy is that we have complete control over how we pay our taxes…cash, check or money order.
    It’s hard to believe America was founded to avoid high taxation – remember the Boston Tea Party where our forefathers rebelled against British rule largely to protest unpopular taxes? We Americans have been annoyed with taxes from our humble beginnings. We’re not the only ones, however.
    Believe it or not other countries, notably Europe, impose far larger tax burdens on their residents nowdays. According to a recent study, Europe has the world’s highest tax rates on personal income, with Western Europe leading with a 46.1 percent tax rate compared to North America’s 27.7 percent. (Those in America’s highest income-tax bracket last year jumped to 39.6 percent). Ouch -- guess we’re lucky not to be rich.
    The time is upon us to ante-up and pay the piper (aka the federal and state governments). We’re just glad the latest income-tax form has been greatly simplified. As comedians like to say, it now consists of only three parts: (1) How much did you make last year? (2) How much have you got left? (3) Send amount listed in part 2.
    We may dislike paying taxes but a whopping seventy-one percent of us believe that not reporting all income on our taxes is morally wrong, according to the Pew study. So again this year we will be honest, pay the government our fair share and remember that we still have the first dollar we ever earned. But Uncle Sam has all the others.

Common Core is common sense

    State Senator William Ligon of Brunswick is like many critics of the Common Core educational standards. Ligon introduced legislation to have Georgia pull out of the Common Core. But according to an AJC report, when asked which standards he objected to Ligon wasn’t able to cite any specifics.
    It seems the majority of the critics of the Common Core object to the big picture of the standards – especially with the belief that these standards originated at the federal level.
    One local school board member said they have heard comments from several people on Common Core, who generally don’t like the idea of a mandatory requirements, but nothing specific concerning any requirements that students must follow.
    At a recent Tea Party forum a video was shown that cautioned the Common Core connection to the UN and brainwashing, but even that didn’t point to anything specific that children might be taught.
    Locally, a board member said there have been expressed concerns that the Common Core would require books that parents might find offensive. Nationally two objections  are that it might require a heavy dose of evolution or global warming in the school classes.
    But from the Pickens County schools central office, Dr. Sandy Greene said there is some confusion on standards versus curriculum. For Common Core there are some basic standards, but the curriculum is still a local decision. There are recommendations, but these are only recommendations.
    The earlier Tea Party forum featured the three incumbent school board members up for election who generally support having standards in place.
    Board member Dan Fincher said he became supportive of Common Core when he attended a discussion of school teachers and realized that the teachers didn’t have the problem with it – apparently it is mainly politicians who object, not parents. The New York Teachers Union has objected, but the national teachers union is supportive of the standards.
    One big misconception is that the Common Core standards were developed and handed down by the federal Department of Education; actually they sprang from the governors association.
    Common Core was adopted by 45 states. In Georgia it replaced the Georgia Performance Standards. In Georgia most of the standards have been implemented, with the process starting in the 2012-2013 school year.
    Pickens County students have already seen the implementation and as far as public outcry, comment or praise, none has been detected at school forums. In fact we had to call the central office to see if the Common Core is in use here, thinking something this controversial in the political  arena would have created some disruption on local campuses. Apparently it didn’t raise any ruckus.
    Based on the proponents of Common Core, these national standards were called for by big business (not a liberal cabal) because companies with offices stretched across the nation found too much discrepancy in what employees could do in one region to the next. If this is true, that’s a strong argument for the need of national standards. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is a supporter of Common Core.
    A second problem the Common Core was designed to address is the poor standing of American students when compared to other countries. American student math skills rank somewhere below the top 20 nations. A host of nations we dominate in every Olympic sport beat us at basic ciphering.
    One teacher described the Common Core as reigning classrooms back to fewer topics with more emphasis on going deeper in particular skills. American education, particularly math, was thought to be “a mile wide but only an inch deep,” according to a New York Times article.
    There are strong arguments that teaching to any standards is a flawed system. But, frankly, it is hard to see much alternative in the public school system. And conversely, knowing that schools in Jasper, Ga. will be held to the same standards as those across the nation is reassuring.
    And as our school board chairperson responded at a recent forum, we don’t aim to only meet standards, we aim to go far beyond what is bare minimum.

Does Pickens want art?

    At the most recent Sharptop Arts Association meeting members and leaders tossed around the idea of developing an arts district in the county. Why? Because for years, arts and culture organizers in Pickens have said garnering public support is like living the life of Sisyphus – an eternity spent pushing a boulder up a hill.
    Art galleries open, flounder, and then close. Attendance at art-related events is often low and typically it’s the same handful of folks who show up. Remember ArtFest? Organizers shut down after the third year because they said they had a lack of community support in terms of volunteers and patrons. Some arts leaders and advocates think an art district here - or some other kind of unification of the arts - would bolster support in our rural county. The idea of a shared space scenario would reduce maintenance, utilities and upkeep for struggling arts groups. An art district would also serve as a kind of cross-pollination device. Attendees at one show would be exposed to info about upcoming events at a neighboring organization.    
    To us, art is kind of like hammocks or rainbows. It would be a challenge to find someone who doesn’t like or find value in it in some form - be it visual art, poetry, music or dance. Still, art is notoriously the first head on the chopping block for school curriculum, and is a difficult cause to get the public behind because it’s not considered “essential.”
    But there is one area the arts get big support for here – children. Theatre camps at the Tater Patch Players theatre and arts camps at VanGoghs have been very well attended (unfortunately VanGoghs closed last year); the Youth Art Month at Sharptop Arts Association draws more traffic than any other time of the year; and moms and dads come out in droves to band concerts and dance recitals.
    Parents encourage children in art because they see value in it. They know studies have found that children with a background in the arts develop strong, imaginative brains, and because of this development they perform better in school.
    It’s unfortunate that we encourage our children to create art, but when it comes to supporting art created by adults we don’t get behind it. The Progress has a working relationship with many boards and committees in the county, and we personally know of more than a few arts and cultural organizations that are considering cutting programs because of a lack of attendance and interest.  
     This raises the question, is the problem that the community is not doing its part to support these programs, or is the problem that organizations aren’t giving the community what they want?
    One woman who has been involved in the arts here for over a decade recently made a sad statement. Maybe, she said, Pickens just doesn’t want a big art scene. Maybe Pickens is more interested in sports and humanitarian endeavors. This woman wasn’t passing judgment, just posing a hard question. Does Pickens want art?  
    In our opinion every community should have a defined arts and cultural element. Without one, we might as well crawl into a dark hole. Who wants to live in a cultural vacuum? People will drive to Canton, Marietta and Atlanta to do “artsy” things. Why not stay here and do the same?
    Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as an “art lover,” we argue that there are reasons for you to support the arts.
    • Art makes merchants happy. If a couple or family goes to a play or show, they usually go to dinner or may do some shopping while they’re out.
    •Art brings in tourists. If people come in from out of town they spend their money here and support our economy.
    •Art creates stronger communities. Studies show that more art means more civic engagement and a stronger sense of community. Having a strong art scene also makes our community more attractive to others.
    •Arts inspire us. Art is an expression of our humanity. Because of that, art builds cultural bridges and helps us to understand one another. 
     While art may not be a basic necessity of life, we certainly don’t want to live without it.

Adults should play on Team Parent

    If you are a parent or guardian ask yourself the following:
    You come out of a store to see a middle-aged man with his hand on your son/daughter’s shoulder. Your child has a can of spray-paint in his hand and there is a half-scrawled obscenity on the wall of a building beside him. Do you:
    A - Immediately call 911 and report the man as a pervert who touched your child;
    B - Punch the man and tell him he has no business bothering your child;
    C - Start yelling loudly there is no way your child would graffiti a building and threaten to sue the man.
    D - Drag your child to the car while promising to return with cleaning supplies and walloping the kid at the same time.
    This week’s editorial is inspired by an essay, Attaboy, from humor writer David Sedaris, who witnessed such a scene where the parents of a young man chose A, B, and C.
    Sedaris was strongly of the opinion that D is correct. We agree. Maybe not to the level of violence, but that may depend on the child.
    Somewhere during the past two decades an opinion that children have all these rights snuck into our culture. As the theories about modern parenting took root, the idea that children shouldn’t have a healthy respect (bordering on fear) of all parents slipped away.
    A First Lady once penned a book advising that it takes a whole village to raise a child. This advice applies to discipline as well.
    Just ask a person who is older than 35 about the way discipline used to be enforced – spankings, whippings, and lashings with a belt were prescribed for any number of infractions. And the thought that a child ought to be asked for his side of something would have been ludicrous. Yet, we don’t know many of these adults who complain now about permanent disability – either physical or mental - from the punishments.
    Once upon a time all parents plus aunts and uncles were on one team and all the kids were on the other and the teams stuck together. But somewhere over the past two decades, the kids-team convinced many parents to be turncoats. Now you hear their rallying cry of “nobody had better tell me how to raise my kids.”
    We don’t really advocate non-family members dispensing corporal punishment, but we  do feel  too many parents are much too intent on sticking up for their offspring, rather than disciplining their foul-mouthed little punk.
    We have put a man on the moon; we have created darn fine meals from microwaves, we have made computers affordable, but we have yet to figure a way to prevent teenagers from making bad decisions. Parents need to go back to the general operating system of sooner-or-later my child is going to misbehave and I should believe that neighbor who spotted him smoking down in the cul-de-sac... and be thankful I can now take corrective measures. It’s hard to believe that many adults have the free time to sit around making up lies about teenagers for the sheer thrill of it.
    Being open to reports of kids run amuck is particularly important if the person calling is a teacher, youth group leader or cop. You seek advice on your car, your gall bladder and your septic tank, why not take a little input from a pro on child raising?
    When kids realize their parents always go to bat for them even while ignoring obvious evidence of misdeeds, it is a big step down a steep slope that will likely end in front of a judge one day. “No officer, my child says that was laundry detergent in the bag in his pocket, not meth.  Y’all quit hassling him.”
    Discipline and a healthy respect of elders and the laws can easily be untaught by parents who see their children as incapable of doing wrong.
    So if you answered anything but D to the above question, we’d advise you to switch back to the parents team.

Students need make-up days

    Last week the Pickens County School board decided students will not be required to make up seven of the nine school days missed this year because of wintry weather, with March 21 and March 24 having been approved as the only two make-up days for both students and staff.
     Not only do we think seven missed days of school will negatively impact students education, the BOE’s decision adds insult to injury when you take into account that the state is requiring teachers make up all nine days. 
    The state school board granted each district the option of whether or not they would require students to make up those days and we respect their decision to give local boards freedom of choice. We only wish our school board had put top priority on academics and cut some holiday time, or added days to the end of the calendar.
    After Pickens began to run up a high snow day count, it seemed like board chair Wendy Lowe agreed that more class time was called for. Lowe said she thought the breaks should be downsized for the sake of academics. 
    We understand make-up days are a tough decision for the board, which has to juggle the remaining months in the school calendar and the possibility of cutting into family vacation plans. We believe a better approach would have been requiring students make up at least five days of missed days. They could have forgiven the other four days which the state allows as a standard weather policy, assuming no state of emergency situations. 
    Many of us at the Progress have school-aged children and we know how long it takes for them to “get back in the swing of things” when their regular schedule is interrupted.         With four days missed in two separate weeks because of the snow, we might as well count those single days of attendance lost causes. If we look at education globally, U.S. students should probably be in school more than they already are – we don’t need to hack off more days from the calendar because it’s inconvenient to make them up.
    In her blog, AJC writer Maureen Downey points to a study that found poorer performance among students during years with a high number of snow days.
    “In a study that spoke directly to time lost to snow days,” Downey writes, “researchers by Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen examined how Maryland and Colorado schools fared on state assessments in years when there were frequent snow days compared to years where there were fewer. The study found the percentage of students passing math assessments falls by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school is closed.”
    Teachers are already slammed with material they have to get through, and a week-and-a-half out of school is a lot of curriculum to make up. We’re thankful dates for the CRCT were ratcheted back for more consistent blocks in the classroom, but we worry there’s going to be even more “teaching to the test” to make up for the lost time. 
     We were disappointed to see local and state education leaders jump at the chance to avoid the hassle of figuring out how to get in a few more days, which brings us back to the question of the teacher make-up days. If kids aren’t there, what will teachers be doing for those seven days? The Pickens school board has already tacked on two extra “post-planning” days to the calendar, and we wonder how much additional post-planning is needed beyond the original schedule? Isn’t that similar to a baker delivering a wedding cake, then spending the next two days in the kitchen thinking about the cake but not baking anything new? To us this sounds like a waste of taxpayer-funded time.
    Beyond the necessary planning days, if we’re paying teachers to be at school our children should be there too.