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Staff Editorials

When did kids get so busy?

    This past weekend hundreds of kids attended the county recreation department’s opening day ceremonies for t-ball, baseball and softball. On average these sports will require those kids (and parents) attend practices each week and games on the weekends.
    But for many of those children their extracurricular activities don’t end there. Some are also taking karate (to help with their self control and concentration), voice or violin lessons (to develop their right brains), Boy or Girl Scouts (to foster a sense of civic responsibility), or one of the other plethora of choices arranged by the parent that will create the perfect, most well-adjusted child possible.
    Unfortunately, having your kid enrolled in multiple enrichment activities has become synonymous with being a “good parent.” This world-view posits that the best parents will sacrifice anything (even money they probably shouldn’t spend) to give their child every opportunity. What if our child is a tap dancing prodigy or the next Mozart, but because we don’t fork over $65 a month for lessons they never realized their potential? So here we go, signing them up for activities that change from year to year, and which can result in stress for both the child and the parent.
    This world-view also causes some parents (whether they admit it or not) to feel pressured into signing their child up for activities – if they didn’t they feel they’d be seen as a bad parent.
     Some studies say there is no such thing as the “overscheduled child,” but we disagree. Some kids are just way too busy to enjoy being kids. 
    One Psychology Today article goes into the life of Kevin, a boy who was on the verge of clinical depression because of his hectic schedule. When he spoke in private to the author Kevin said he missed time playing with his friends outside. When the author asked Kevin’s mother about his schedule and suggested a link between that and the depression she said he was crazy. Kevin loved the activities - and even though her own schedule was hectic she wanted to give him a “good childhood” because her parents never did anything with her.
    Beyond the potential for stress, overscheduling our children also inhibits their ability to be creative. John Cleese – the brilliant mind behind Monty Python - gave a lecture to a group of video students on the subject of creativity. In his lecture he outlined five basic requirements he found to be crucial for fostering individual creativity -- Space. Time. Time. (Yes, he listed it twice). Confidence and Humor.  Without having that downtime, he said, there is no time for our brains to relax into a mode of being creative.
    Speaking in the Psychology Today article, Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist and professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, agrees.    "Middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no 'nothing time,'” she said. “They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity."
     One part of the problem is that unstructured time is intimidating and uncomfortable for some, and the truth is our lives seem less trivial and more meaningful if our day planners are full. The harder truth is most of us wouldn’t know how to handle not being busy. How would we fill in the space?
    Fortunately, this incessant busyness is not mandatory– it’s something we’ve chosen and it’s something we can un-choose. We agree that these activities do teach things like teamwork and responsibility and they do develop skills parents can’t teach, but too much of a good thing is a problem.
    Our kids need strong relationships, not a relationship lived on rides in the car from fast-pitch lessons to baton. Let’s focus on our parent-child relationships and everything else will fall into place.

How much rock and roll is noise pollution?

    We can tell when we have a story that sparks particular interest as the comments begin flowing immediately and come in all directions.
    Such was the case last week with the article on the planning commission for the third time throwing up their hands and saying we can’t approve a conditional wedding/events venue use for a Pickens property.
    Some of the comments we heard are that people are ready to fight for their right to party (technically not a guaranteed right under the Constitution).
    Others recalled unpleasant experiences from living too near a loud/overly-well-light public event area and the problems that spiraled out from it.
    Public events are a grey area in regulation terms for Pickens County. Property owners can still hold various gatherings as there are no laws such as crowd limits, traffic restraints or noise ordinances to stand in the way. The difference comes when someone needs governmental approval for a permanent commercial operation, such as the wedding/meeting venues sought in two recent planning commission meetings.
    Public sentiment is mixed.
    To boil it down, no one wants to be the neighbor of an outdoor entertainment venue, but many people feel we need one somewhere in the county.
    Those on the pro-side generally argue that such a venue would boost our economy as well as the social scene.
    Those on the negative usually maintain that the venues are too loud, messy and generate too much traffic. Thrown in are some subtler concerns about the likelihood any successful festival/wedding/event venue would serve alcohol and how to regulate that.
    We agree with all the comments. There is apparently a business need to meet the public desire for venues that could host everything from weddings to motorcycle rallies. On the other hand, people who live in a quiet, peaceful corner of this rural county shouldn’t be forced to tolerate late night party sounds, traffic and weekend disruptions so that others will profit and have a place to go.
    Thus far the planning commission has dodged the issue a trio of times in the past few years. First, the owners of a large tract in the Big Ridge area sought a permanent spot for festival and events. They held a run/adventure race to benefit a local non-profit, then held a motorcycle rally.
    Both events went well and the property is well suited for large events with one notable exception: To access it, normally quiet country roads are used.
    The next events were both wedding venue requests for two different spots along Cove Road. The first denial looked pretty obvious as the parcel in question would be entered near the top of the steep curves on that road and it doesn’t take a DOT engineer to recognize the dangers of adding and stopping traffic in that spot.
    The other proposed site was further out Cove Road and the proposal met the ire of nearby property owners who noted they could “sing along with music” from an event already held there.
    Looking at the planning commission’s rejections, it’s important to note they didn’t say we don’t want events/wedding chapels or motorcycle rallies. They made it plain, the county lacks established codes to govern any potentially large, loud, raucous gatherings and, once permitted, safeguards will be hard to add after the fact.
    We’ll give venue operators the benefit of the doubt and assume they really will maintain a family-friendly site, will be considerate of their neighbors, wind down the music at acceptable times, and keep a close eye on alcohol consumption.
    But in reality, there will be pressure from the paying customers to “turn it up.” The planning commission is dead-on with their insistence that an honor system won’t work and it’s reckless to permit anything until there are rock-solid rules in place.
    With three requests in recent months, we’d suggest the county commissioners, planning commission and appropriate law enforcement agencies begin looking at this hole in our county codes.

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.

In praise of KPB’s environmental efficiency

By Dan Pool, editor
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    Several years back I was talking with a lifelong west Pickens resident who said many of new farms out there look nice, but aren’t real farms – “not enough junk laying around.”
    He explained that when he was growing up in the 40s, no one ever threw away anything, “never knew when you might could use it again.”
    While those farmers of the past generation would probably reject the label environmentalism, their attitude perfectly exhibits the pragmatic conservation you see in groups like Keep Pickens Beautiful – “re-use is the ultimate form of recycling.”
    A centerpiece of KPB’s Great American Cleanup is recycling throughout the county. They will even  set up recycling stations at events as a community service. And dealing with others’ dirty plates is in no way glamorous. These are committed people.
    There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged about bigger  environmental issues such as the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (hint: it’s not looking good). However, it is heartening to see that in Pickens County there is a group making a difference at the grassroots level. Less waste is generated and more is recycled and that is, at least, a start.
    There is something of the Appalachian farmer in my own attitude on recycling and environment and it comes down to efficiency and conservation. Why waste future resources when we can re-use stuff we already have? I am naturally a  packrat.
    Unfortunately for me there is one small but beloved place where I have a conflict. I love the coffees that come out of the single-serving plastic pod containers often called K-Cups. They are tasty, quick and so convenient - and there is no clean-up.
    I am not the only one who has jumped on the Keurig and Tassimo bandwagon.  A  survey by the National Coffee Association found nearly 1 in 5 adults drink single-cup-brewed coffee on any given day.
    The problem has always bothered me that for every cup of great coffee, you end up with the little plastic pods they come in, which are not re-useable and difficult if not impossible to recycle -- the aluminum tops would have to separated and the used grounds washed out. 
    There is also some more advanced questions as to whether the specific plastic composition, necessary to keep the coffee fresh, is practical to recycle.
    So, essentially for every cup of my favorite java I create a small piece of plastic garbage that is somewhere on the planet forever. Whereas with a regular cup of coffee, you wind up with only a paper filter and some grounds which can be thrown out the backdoor (my kind of composting).
    So what’s the big deal about a few extra pieces of plastic? Consider this, that in 2013, 8.3 billion K-Cups were produced, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5. The number of t-discs (for the Tassimo) isn’t readily available.
    The K-Cup dilemma is just one example of how a globe altering negative impact can creep up on us.
    Conversely, KPB shows how one  group can make a positive impact and hopefully similar groups are doing equal good work in other places.
    Thanks to Keep Pickens Beautiful for their environmental efficiency.

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.