Monday, February 1, 2016

Charter Schools aren't the answer ...

West Virginia's state legislature continues to waste time on policies that will not benefit the state, but the most recent incarnation of an attempt to allow for charter schools might be one of the most ridiculous.  Everyone wants quality education for the children in West Virginia, but the problems faced by the education system in this state will not be changed by charter schools. 

The foremost reason for not adopting charter schools is that children of West Virginia will not benefit from them.  A recent op-ed piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail cited a 2013 study from Stanford University as grounds for implementing charter schools.  While this study revealed that students at charter schools did perform better than traditional public schools, there are several more conclusions from that study worth mentioning.

The Stanford study also revealed that the modest gains charter schools had in student achievement were due to the fact that charter schools typically have an academic year longer than 180 instructional days.  If West Virginia's state legislature would like to expand the school year to see improvement in students, they would have the support of many teachers.  However, they will never expand the school year because it would expanding teachers' contracts and paying them more.  Does anyone really believe that would happen?  Would students attending the charter schools in West Virginia go to school for more than 180 days? 

Another benefit of charter schools touted by proponents is that teachers would be permitted to use different approaches to teaching.  As a teacher, let me respond to that by saying that I have been given wide latitude in how I teach my content.  While certain goals and objectives exist for coursework, a teacher in West Virginia is free to meet those standards in a variety of ways, employing any number of methods.

Individual counties in West Virginia can develop their own programs and initiatives under state law, and individual schools have the ability to apply for "innovation zone" status.  This program allows schools to adopt various policies outside of state law (excluding personnel decisions) to experiment with educational ideas to increase student achievement and overall development.  Essentially, this program already permits public schools to become like charter schools in certain capacities. 

The ability for schools and teachers to educate already exists, as does teacher accountability.  Teachers have to account for what they do in their classrooms on a daily basis, evaluate the learning of students, and undergo annual evaluations of their work.  Additionally, schools receive periodic visits from the state's Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA).  These audits provide feedback on what a school does well and where improvement must occur.  Schools are then given time to implement necessary changes before a follow-up visit from the OEPA.

Accountability in schools cannot be measured in the same manner as the business world.  Charter school advocates want to judge a school and its teachers solely by data, and that does not accurately reflect education or the progress of children.

Schools are attempting to educate a wide variety of children who show up daily with more physical and emotional baggage than I can describe in this space.  Somehow, a large number of children learn in spite of everything that works against them.  And we want to measure their growth and education by test scores and graduation rates?  No way exists to measure the impact that good teachers have on their students' lives beyond teaching content. 

The development of charter schools in West Virginia would only further divide a severely strained budget and create redundancy, while stripping away due process rights of teachers with respect to their job status.

Before we drink the Kool-Aid of charter schools, consider a few other options.  In 2012, the State Department of Education underwent an audit to provide suggestions as to how West Virginia could improve its public schools.  Maybe the state legislature should consider some of those options first.  The report recommended many changes, including increased teacher pay to help attract quality teachers. 

Instead of raising teacher pay to incentivize teachers, we have done the exact opposite.  No raises and a severe cut to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) means that teachers have become more financially burdened.  The audit called for a comprehensive plan to recruit teachers, and to my knowledge, no such plan exists.

The audit recommended numerous ways to save money that amounted to millions of dollars, including the reduction of administrators at the state Department of Education.  This wouldn't even include the numerous administration positions that exist in all 55 counties.  The number of these positions grows despite most counties seeing decreases in student enrollment.

The one change that would help the education system the most is the one our society fears:  change the disciplinary measures and policies within schools to allow principals and teachers to maintain order.  Many children have no fear or respect for adults in schools.  Some students have become increasingly emboldened by relaxed policies that coddle them.  Others are the products of poor parenting.  Either way, children (generally speaking) in modern America believe they are entitled to the point where they do not respect authority figures. 

The issue of school discipline is so important, I would gladly forego a pay raise to maintain an orderly school.  Students can be punished for their actions, they remain undeterred.  While it's natural for children to question authority to some extent, this generation and the ones that follow will ask 'why' for all the wrong reasons.  When these children question, it's related to their desire to behave as they see fit.  The level of intellectual curiosity about the world around them has diminished and our appeasement of them is a terrible disservice.

If the legislature wants to make changes to existing law and policy in education, then work through those changes with teachers providing input.  Loosen curricular requirements at the state and county levels.  Add more options to the innovation zone program.  Provide quality training for teachers.  Put more resources into vocational training.  Many options exist for making a better school system, and creating charter schools is not one of them.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mountain State Madness in the Legislature

New year for the Mountain State -- same level of insanity from the legislature.  While some of the upcoming agenda does focus on the significant problems facing West Virginia, a sizable portion of the bills presented divert our attention and resources from the bigger issues.  While the agenda itself is concerning, so are the actions of a few of the legislature's members.

Let's start with the ridiculousness of Delegate Rupert "Rupie" Phillips, Jr. (D - Logan, 24) who decided to mock the concept of global warming by handing out bottles of sunscreen to his colleagues.  Because it was the day before the season's biggest storm, Phillips decided that climate change wasn't real.  He told the other members of the state legislature, "I worry about you. You’ve got global warming going on. It’s not cold outside. It’s in your mind." 

What was the purpose of this stunt?  Phillips is from Logan County, one of the traditional areas where coal mining has occurred.  The significant decrease of mining operations in the southern part of the state has devastated the area economically.  Most scientific studies stress that carbon emissions cause damage to the environment, which has led to different ways of generating electricity.  The coal mining communities refuse to believe this, and Phillips appears to be pandering to their denial of climate change.  His gesture was meaningless.

Of course, Phillips isn't the only member of the legislature to act so foolishly.  Last month, Delegate Eric Householder (R - Berkeley, 64) responded to a constituent on Twitter in a fashion that quickly turned a large number of citizens against him.  Gina Pratt, a teacher in District 64, asked Householder to put money into the state's public employees insurance program (PEIA).  The delegate posted several responses, telling Pratt ways in which she should cut her budget and find a second job.  Householder has subsequently gone quiet and made his Twitter account private.  Incidentally, Householder has yet to sponsor any legislation in the 2016 session thus far.

Part of the insanity of the state legislature stems from the switch in party control of both houses after the 2014 elections.  Republicans gained control of both houses for the first time in nearly a century.  As such, the GOP is attempting to strike while the iron is hot.  Their agenda is advanced because of the party flip of Senator Daniel Hall (R - Wyoming, 9).  Hall was re-elected to the senate in 2014 as a Democrat, and quickly switched parties not even a month after the election.  This broke a 17-17 tie in the senate and gave Republicans an 18-16 majority.  Hall recently resigned his position for a job with the National Rifle Association.

So what's on tap for the West Virginia legislature?  Lots of fun items.

SB 1 - The Establishing WV Workplace Freedom Act, aka "Right to Work" law - This in itself is a misnomer.  It would permit employees the right to refuse union membership as a condition of employment.  The bill would also prevent any person from being charged fees or dues as a non-union employee.  I appreciate the efforts to provide people with the freedom to choose not to join a group against their will.  However, I do not understand why the legislature seems so adamant about a law that has demonstrated it does not improve wages or encourage more business to those states.

The legislature should also take into account the 'free rider' problem, where non-union employees benefit from union activity, such as collective bargaining.   The United States Supreme Court has ruled that unions can charge a fee to these non-union members for those services (see:  Communication Workers of American v. Beck).  I don't know how the state plans to deal with that even if this law does prevent union membership.  (Note:  I think labor law might be one of the most difficult areas to interpret, so I can't claim to fully understand every aspect of this.)

Beyond financial motivations, there is the matter of safety and workplace standards.  States with right to work laws have higher incidences of accidents and deaths on the job than those without.  Currently, 7 out of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are 'right to work' states.  So, is this bill not merely a measure to diminish the power of labor unions?

SB 5 - Photo ID voter requirement - When taken at face value, most people would think this to be a good idea.  I mean, after all, no one wants another individual impersonating them at the polls.  That's wonderful, but this bill has failed numerous times in the state legislature, and with good reason.  First, the cost is inhibitive.  The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy studied this issue in 2012-2013 and estimated that implementing this law would cost the state approximately $5 million. 

The law also doesn't make sense considering that since 2000, the number of voter impersonation cases in the country have amounted to less than 20 and none in West Virginia.  Anyone attempting to rig an election wouldn't use voter impersonation because the risk of getting caught is not worth it for just one vote.  Voter fraud is far more likely to occur in another capacity, such as tampering with ballots or purging people from the registration rolls. 

SB 6 - Drug Testing for TANF (welfare) recipients - Even on a practical level, this law doesn't make any sense.  Other states have implemented similar statutes and they have found it is not cost effective.  Conducting the tests would actually cost more money than what the state would save from cutting off recipients who tested positive. 

Also, let's consider the possibility that this law might not withstand scrutiny when challenged in the court system.  The state should consider the principle behind this.  By passing this bill, we would be saying that we should be suspicious of people simply because they are poor.  Someone struggling financially has done nothing to arouse suspicion that would warrant what amounts to a search of their body.

SB 9 - Creating a Court of Intermediate Appeals - I'm not objecting to the notion of a court of appeals on the basis of principle, but on practicality.  When an individual or group wishes to appeal a court ruling, they are able to send that appeal directly to the West Virginia State Supreme Court, and subsequently, to the United States Supreme Court.  This bill calls for these judges to serve as elected officials (a long standing problem in our state) and would create more government.  Ironically, the GOP often advocates how they wish to have less government.  Creating another layer of courts will only sap a budget that has a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars. 

SB 143 - The Marshall/WVU basketball game - Senator Mike Woeffel deemed it necessary enough to sponsor a bill requiring these two schools to play in men's basketball.  Seriously?  Can't they work this out on their own or just not play.  I love sports as much as anyone but this has to be low on the priority list.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 5 - Sports themes abound!  State senators hope to name an Interstate exit after the late Bill Stewart, who coached the West Virginia University football team for three seasons.  You want to name an interstate exit?  After a guy who coached for three years, and was unceremoniously dumped.  Why do West Virginians have an obsession with naming every single bridge, road segment, overpass, underpass, outhouse, and interstate exit?  It's an interstate exit.

HB 2032 - Raises for principals in schools - This would raise salaries of school administrators by 3%.  As much as I like many of the administrators I have worked for, they are not the ones who need raises.

HB 2109 - West Virginia Firearms Freedom Act - The latest in many attempts to claim that any guns made and kept within state borders are 'intrastate' commerce and thus not under the regulation of the federal government.  How many guns are even made solely within the state?  And really, this is an attempt to 'stand up' to the federal government.  The bill invokes the 9th and 10th Amendments (states righters' favorites) and fails to account for the obvious truth:  the federal government is supreme in its affairs and can regulate guns. 

HB 2119 - The Intrastate Coal and Use Act - Same dang thing as the gun law.  This is an attempt to avoid federal regulation and it's a waste of time.  I know it's not easy to believe, but coal isn't coming back, and the president of Appalachian Power stated as much in a recent op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.  This bill and HB 2109 have many of the same sponsors, who proposed these bills last year, to no avail. 

HB 2184 - Discontinuing "Common Core" standards for schools - Guess what West Virginia?  The standards in Common Core aren't much different than the former West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives we had previously.  Most people object to Common Core because they believe the federal government created these standards, which isn't true.

HB 2250 - Sweet Treats Bill - I wish I could say I was making this up, but this bill would allow teachers to have snacks that have sugar in them during the holiday season, provided they get permission slips from the parents a week in advance.  Why is this a thing the state legislature is dealing with?

HB 2448 - Sale of Raw Milk - Why is this happening?  "Raw" milk by definition has not been pasteurized, and is a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.  This can make you dangerously ill.

HB 4028 - School Calendar - This bill would reduce the school year from 180 instructional days to 175.  Moreover, it would stipulate the school year could not start until September 1 and would be required to end on June 5.  Apparently, the people who sponsored this bill don't understand that our state schools are routinely disrupted by snow days, which would continually diminish teachers' ability to fully educate students.  Shrinking the school year helps no one.

Strangely, West Virginia lawmakers must enjoy license plates.  Three new types of plates are up for debate:  "In God We Trust", "Second Amendment", and "Family of an Officer Killed in the Line of Duty".

These bills tell us much about the state of West Virginia.

West Virginians believe the federal government is the source of all their troubles and that's not true.  People in the Mountain State are struggling to find good paying jobs.  Substances abuse is higher than ever, with more serious drugs than ever.  Keeping the state's talented young people here is becoming more difficult.  I understand that we are at a more critical point in West Virginia's history than ever before.  But the federal government is not the enemy.  The level of employees in the coal industry has been declining for a long time and we have to blame ourselves for not preparing for this inevitable day. 

Federal regulation exists for a reason.  We wouldn't need an Environmental Protection Agency if we actually took care of the earth that we all inhabit.  The Food & Drug Administration is there to prevent us from ingesting substances that would otherwise harm you.  The Mine Health & Safety Administration helps the working individuals here and in other states.  Do you really think these organizations sit around and plot the destruction of West Virginia? 

Also, please remember that West Virginia benefits greatly from federal tax dollars in the way of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF benefits, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP), and several other federal grants.  This doesn't include retraining and education programs created by the federal government to help people in the coal industry find work in other fields.

The Republican party is as hypocritical as the Democrats.  The state's GOP is doing everything they can to convince people they want less government.  That's right, get government out of your way!  That sounds good when taken at face value, but many of their proposals for this legislative session seem to do just the opposite.  They're adding government and layers to state agencies by  creating a system of intermediate courts, forcing two schools to play a basketball game, implementing a photo identification system, and drug testing a large swath of the citizens.  The state of West Virginia is our biggest employer and the GOP seems content on adding more to that.

The members of the legislature who make you believe they can 'stand up' to Obama and the federal government are lying to you.  Despite bills that promise the freedom to avoid federal regulations on guns and coal mining, the state cannot subvert legislation from the federal government.  The federal government has plenty of ways to enforce their will and cutting grant money would absolutely cripple this state.  The Supreme Court would most likely strike down any of the laws that attempt to assert 10th amendment rights.

West Virginians do not seem to pay attention to what their representatives are doing.  Denying the science on global warming?  Okay, that would be your prerogative.  But grandstanding on the floor of the House of Delegates is beyond ridiculous. 

Misleading your constituency by running as a Democrat and flipping parties immediately after being elected?  Shady.

Attempting to denigrate a public school teacher for being angry about her health insurance being dramatically cut?  Jerk move.

Sponsoring bills that are trivial in nature, but make the masses happy?  Wasting time.  The economic troubles and drug problems will not go away because we can place clich├ęs on our license plates or name an interstate exit after a coach that WVU fired. 

This is our state legislature.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

I'm not a racist ... or am I?

I cannot, and would not attempt to deny, that racial problems exist in the United States today.  I’m keenly aware that the election of a black president does not wipe away the hatred and animosity that some white people exhibit towards minorities.  I would not tell anyone that I fully understand what black Americans encounter in their daily lives. 

The catalyst for this post was an opinion piece in the New York Times, penned by George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University.  The article was an open letter, titled, “Dear White America,” and I’m white.  So, I wanted to see what this man had to say pertaining to white America.  I would encourage you to read the article in its entirety. 

The theme of Yancy’s article centered on the concept that all white people are part of the race problem in the United States and we should not only confess our inherent racism, but, according to Yancy, he is “… asking you to enter into battle with your white self.  I’m asking that you open yourself up; to speak to, to admit to, the racist poison that is inside you.”  That escalated quickly.

Yancy’s article seeks to bolster its thesis by attempting to neutralize any attempt by the reader to exempt themselves as a racist.  He wrote,

Don’t tell me that you are married to someone of color. Don’t tell me that you voted for Obama. Don’t tell me that I’m [emphasis original] the racist. Don’t tell me that you don’t see color. Don’t tell me that I’m blaming whites for everything. To do so is to hide yet again. You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism. After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.

I have several problem with Yancy’s statement here.  First, you can’t disarm an argument in the fashion attempted in this sense.  This thought process tries to place all of us into a scenario where we are inherently racist because we are in a corrupted system.  I’ve seen arguments like this before, where all white people are lumped into one category as hopelessly biased at the unconscious level. 

Even if I agreed with the notion that we are somehow unconsciously biased (which I do not), Yancy has overlooked the crucial fact that as a human being, he too is susceptible to subconscious biases.  If we are as unaware as he claims, then is he not equally unaware of some glaring flaw?  Is he not also a potential perpetrator of racism?

 I don’t understand the logic Yancy is using here.  That a white person would marry a black person would suggest that they see past color.  The fact that Yancy gives a strong implication that he isn’t capable of racism is as ridiculous of an assertion as the one he asserts towards white people all being part of the ‘system,’ as if we’re all stuck in The Matrix and he is Morpheus, rousing us all from our sleep. 

Yancy endeavored to portray white America as unloving and aloof to their racism, noting that he is providing a gift.  He wrote,

As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering. Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist. That is the gift that I want you to accept, to embrace …

Take another deep breath. I know that there are those who will write to me in the comment section with boiling anger, sarcasm, disbelief, denial. There are those who will say, “Yancy is just an angry black man.” There are others who will say, “Why isn’t Yancy telling black people to be honest about the violence in their own black neighborhoods?” Or, “How can Yancy say that all white people are racists?” If you are saying these things, then you’ve already failed to listen. I come with a gift. You’re already rejecting the gift that I have to offer. This letter is about you. [emphasis original] Don’t change the conversation.

The crux of what Yancy is saying here is that if you don’t agree with him, you have clearly taken the wrong position.  White I understand many of us hold views about various issues that are just as absolute, I find it insulting and degrading to be so dismissive of someone else’s life experiences, of which Yancy is completely unaware.  Is that not the one of the preeminent problems many black Americans have faced?  And now, would Yancy be so quick to dismiss others? 
Yancy would have people believe the issue of racism is so singular, and that addressing issues like the number of crimes perpetrated by black citizens against black citizens isn’t important.  But this is significant.  It can’t be ignored, just the same as the notion of white privilege can’t be ignored.

Oh, I definitely went there.  Privilege in society is definitely a real thing.  However, I would say all people are born into positions of various levels of privilege.  Yes, I’m both white and a man.  I’m certain that I’ve had an easier life than others because of these two factors.  Yet, I would not count these as among the most important privileges I have in this life.

I can’t even begin to address the number of times I’ve contemplated how fortunate I was to be born to two loving parents in the United States of America.  I live in West Virginia, which despite some drawbacks, is a relatively safe place to grow up.  Those privileges have mattered more in my life than my race or gender. 

If you live in the United States, you are born into privilege.  Your standard of living is significantly higher than most of the world.  Educational opportunities are everywhere and it might be the freest civilization to have existed.  Social mobility is a reality here.  Are we now going to create the term “American privilege”?

Moreover, would Professor Yancy admit that his children (if he has any) would be born into privilege?  Their father would be a professor with a tenured job at a fairly well-known institution of higher learning.  They would have access to education, means, and the ability to craft their own future.  They don’t have to grow up in Syria.  They’re incredibly privileged to not have to worry about bombs raining down into their living room. 

There will always be people who have an easier path in life, and those who have a far more difficult time.  We all have varying degrees of privilege, and I accept how fortunate I have been for a variety of reason.  Yet, that cannot be what defines me as a human being.  Don’t paint me or anyone with the broad brush of “privileged white person.” I hate racism too.  I firmly believe society should be committed to racial equality and harmony.

It bothers me that unwarranted police brutality occurs.  I hate the idea of someone being followed merely because of their race.  I cringe when I hear the “N word.”  I believe the Ku Klux Klan is one of the most cowardly and terroristic groups in the nation.  I always want people to see past skin color. But when someone casts an entire race of people as poisoned racists, I take umbrage.

Professor Yancy’s article was dismissive, divisive, and hypocritical.  The message itself was flawed and presented in a manner that was condescending, not at all worthy of a man of his academic stature.  I’m saddened that a member of academia can only see white Americans as part of the problem.  That’s exactly the sort of narrow-mindedness that we do not need in addressing the problems of racism. 

So, no, I'm not a racist.  And I won't characterize anyone else as such based on a sweeping generalization. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: The Year of Outrage!

When I was still in college, I had a friend who had the curious habit of naming each year, based on what had transpired in his life. I feel like if I took this approach, 2015 would easily be labeled the "Year of Outrage." The last 12 months have brought the country many different issues which we could find ourselves angry about without much effort. Racial injustice is still prevalent. Terrorism is a daily concern for the entire world. Gun violence within the United States seems as pervasive as ever. Drug addiction has claimed thousands more lives. 

Make no mistake that problems exist and we should be outraged. With the turmoil engulfing the nation, citizens should be active in seeking to remedy these problems, right? Or not. Expressive conduct in the United States is directed at trivial issues rather than the horrors that we should be screaming about at the top of our collective lungs.

One of the more annoying expressions of faux outrage in the nation comes from college campuses. The most recent example of how strange our culture has become is evident at Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio. Last week, students were upset that the school's catering service used various substitute dishes in some of the Asian cuisine offered to students. They claimed the school was being culturally insensitive and insulting to various ethnic groups.

Am I sympathetic to college students from foreign lands who don't get their traditional foods prepared exactly the way to which they're accustomed back home? Not really. Would a college be so responsive to an American student who complained because the dining hall's grilled cheese isn't like mom's? I really hope not, but apparently Oberlin administration is taking the matter seriously and trying to create a more "vibrant menu" for their students. Is this really an issue that has gained traction throughout the nation?

At Princeton University, one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, a group of students organized protests and a sit-in over the school's treatment of former President Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the most famous of the school's alum. President Wilson, though an accomplished and a capable leader, had a history of racist actions which would not be even close to acceptable in today's society.  

No one denies that Woodrow Wilson was an unapologetic racist, nor do they condone his views on race. Yet, to scrub Wilson from the history of Princeton would be to claim his life would be solely defined on his stupidity in one area and to not recognize his contributions to society.

A similar situation developed over a statue of President Thomas Jefferson at the College of William & Mary. Because of Jefferson's views on race, students wanted his statue taken down. Regardless of the positions any of us may hold about Jefferson and Wilson, I'm baffled that the serious racial issues of the day seem to center around names and statues of individuals whose defining traits were not racially motivated. 

There are several racial issues that deserve the attention and energy of people from all races. Do we really care this much about statues? No one is calling for the removal of the Martin Luther King, Jr. because he wasn't faithful to his wife. No one is calling for Franklin Roosevelt's removal from history for his infidelity.

The Black Lives Matter movement is confronting the issue of unwarranted police violence, and these students are up in arms over the legacy of a man who died nearly 100 years ago? I feel like there's a serious difference in the problems being confronted here.

Since it is the Christmas season, that means it's also the time for nativity scenes that don't quite represent or celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, an Ohio man decided to create a nativity scene where Jesus and all the other figures were zombies. A more popular display that has popped up in multiple locations is a nativity where famous Americans gaze upon a copy of the Bill of Rights in a manger.

As a Christian, do I find these displays insulting? Of course. But the anger directed as these displays seems insignificant when compared to the suffering that people encounter on a daily basis.  I'm far more disturbed by the lack of empathy from the church and society, and the failure to teach the gospel than I am at ridiculous nativity scenes.

Maybe you also remember the scandal in the National Football League, where the New England Patriots and Tom Brady were accused deflate footballs during a playoff game. The investigation of the incident reveled no conclusive evidence existed that the Patriots or Brady knew about the deflated footballs. Yet, people were acting as if this was as serious as Watergate.

In November, the outrage expanded to Starbucks. The coffee giant annually changes their cup design to something oriented to the Christmas season, but this year they opted for a simple red cup. Various groups of people took it as an affront to the Christmas season because a coffee company didn't make a Christmasy type of cup.

This past summer, Americans became furious over a Minnesota dentist who killed a lion in Africa. It's not that people didn't have a reason to be upset, but Americans seemed angrier about it than the people of Zimbabwe.

Why is it that we are more upset about a lion we knew nothing about? Why are we outraged about all the things that don't really matter while ignoring the greater issues of the world?

Much of the outrage in America today stems from a sense of moral superiority. Man has an innate drive to become better than others, to achieve at greater levels. While the desire to push oneself is not inherently bad, the perceived need of being a better person than the other guy is a problem.

Humans have this deeply rooted tendency to not only want to achieve, but to denigrate the accomplishments of others so that we can further exalt ourselves.  When we attempt to diminish someone else, it somehow makes us feel like we are more special and maybe the world will notice. In exposing the flawed nature of another human being, we not only attempt to lessen their significance, but hope to elevate our own stature by being the person who brought forth the truth. It feels good to be right, doesn't it?

Not only do we wish to diminish the achievements of others, but we are envious of everything that they are. It's almost as if we're waiting for them to make a mistake that we can seize upon. Who doesn't bash a celebrity now and then? And why? Because they deserve it? Are any of us really so foolish to believe we could measure up to the standards by which we judge others?

The nation's anger over such minuscule issues also reflects the unhappiness of many individuals. Haven't you hear the old adage, 'misery loves company'? While many people express outrage and anger as a means of developing a sense of moral superiority, others become enraged because they are unhappy with their own lives.

I would submit that the anger from many Americans is partly connected to our sense of entitlement. The concept of the 'American Dream' has been a piece of our political culture for decades. We buy into the notion that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will succeed in this country. While the 'American Dream' might have been true in the 1950s, time has dealt a cruel blow to the ego of our people.

The world owes us nothing and will sometimes give us nothing even when we work in the most diligent fashion. How does a person respond when they realize that they have been deceived? I would expect most humans would react with a twinge of anger, and it's difficult to blame a cultural concept for your problems. As a result, that anger manifests itself in another form, like over a red cup. 

Political parties promote part of their agendas through the use of outrage. They're counting on their party base and the rank-and-file members to be so outraged as a means to point out how the other party represents everything wrong with the nation. Democrats and Republicans attempt to manipulate people based on the outrage.  Look at either one of our last two presidents and see how they have been the object of anger and scorn, and how much of it was truly deserved?  Is the president really responsible for all of your problems? 

American cultural landscape in the 21st century makes it significantly easier to make your outrage known to the rest of the world.  The advent of the Internet and social media allows any citizen to express their views about any topic in an unfiltered manner. Posting your outrage online is easy, and it provides a forum where you do not have to face another person. The level of difficulty in expressing outrage increases exponentially when you must look another person in the eyes.

The problem our nation has also resides within Americans partly because of our First Amendment right to free speech. Americans love to talk and tell you precisely what they think about any given person or issue (even if their opinion isn't well-founded). We are quick to wield this right without giving much thought to the ramifications of what we say or whom it might hurt.

The mentality of 'because I can' far exceeds any notion of whether the words will actually contribute any merit to a discussion. Our ability to speak freely is an amazing gift, but when we do not temper that freedom with wisdom about the social value of the message accompanying those words, the result is this crazed sense of outrage.

Of course, my thoughts on the level of outrage might be subject to the criticism that these minor inconveniences are still problems. I'm not attempting to diminish the complaints people have about society, but to perhaps put them in the proper context.

The frustration exhibited over these less than significant issues takes attention away from the bigger problems that face the world. How can we live in a world where people care more about getting authentic ethnic cuisine than they do about climate change, drug overdoses, terrorism, or the suffering of other humans?  Because that's the reality of our culture and it speaks to the shallow nature of our society.