Lou Steigerwald, Ed. S.
- School Superintendent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
- Plant Wrangler/Gardener
- Middling Gamer
Very tragically a middle school student in an Upper Peninsula school brought a gun to school, carried it with him and in the middle of the day used the gun to commit suicide. What happened next was predictable, an outpouring of shared shock and grief as well as condolences for the family, school, and community. Next will come the finger pointing.
Some will ask, “How could a someone bring a gun to school, carry it with him, and then use it with no one knowing he had it in school?” Others will blame the school and district for either not knowing the level of crisis the student was in and/or for not knowing the student had the firearm with him in school. These questions will only add to the pain in the community and the school district.
When these tragedies happen it is a normal part of the process to ask what happened and what could have been done. Since the tragic shooting in Oxford, Michigan, we’ve seen this same thing play out with some blaming the school district for what happened.
The saddest thing about all of this hindsightedness is its predictability, followed by the lack of any action that could help schools in a realistic and effective manner. Political systems are too often more prone to reactive rather than the proactive responses that could possibly prevent sad events. In the case of school gun violence we must add that it is apparent that even the simplest of gun laws, say a law requiring gun owners to place trigger locks on guns in their homes, is out of the question in today’s political environment.
Take the case of the U.P. tragedy and the lack of sufficient mental health care in American schools. In response to questions about the event the district superintendent, Bryan DeAugustine noted that the district had been trying to hire a new counselor but, “It’s been hard because not a lot of people are going into counseling these days.” No doubt Mr. DeAugustine is referring to the opportunity given to schools via ESSER funds and the Michigan 31o program that temporarily helps schools hire mental health workers in response to concerns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These programs are excellent examples of the sorts of knee jerk reactions schools too often get.
Under the 31o/ESSER program schools can apply for a grant from the state to fund school mental health workers or nurses. The funding provides for 100% of the expenses in the first year, 66% of expenses in the second year, 33% of expenses in the third year, and no funds in the fourth year. Does this mean that mental health issues will disappear in a manner concurrent with the financial support? Of course not.
The other problem with this program is that, as Mr. DeAugustine indicates, is that it was made available with zero lead in to the available funding. It is not as if there were a plethora of unemployed, competent health providers sitting around idly hoping for the someday when there would be a global pandemic and then government funds available for schools to hire them. Furthermore, what certified, trained professionals are eager to sign up for jobs that may well disappear when funding begins to seriously dry up three years later?
Schools might have a better chance at identifying and helping prevent school tragedies if, instead of reactive, and temporary programs, they were provided with guaranteed, adequate funding needed to hire and retain mental health professionals as well as even the mildest of gun safety laws. Without such support we will continue to face these tragedies and the hindsight finger-pointing that goes along with it.
Communities with declining and aging populations face challenging futures. In order to thrive and grow, communities rely on attracting and retaining families with or planning to have children. Economic opportunities follow growth as well. Families are important drivers of consumption; families provide employers with a working age supply of employees. In this important election year, voters should demand that politicians seeking office tell us their plans for reversing the trend of the Upper Peninsula’s declining and aging population. Nothing is more important than reversing this trend.
Dickinson and Iron Counties have not been exempt from a decline in population. Data from the World Population Review website reveals that, since 2020, Dickinson County has seen a decline in population of 5.3% and Iron County has seen a decline of 7.27%. Just as important, as our population has declined, our counties have aged. Even in a state wherein the age of the population is the twelfth highest in the nation at 39.8 years, Dickinson County’s average age of 46.5 years and Iron County’s 54.7 years, best the state average.
More evidence for the decline in family population can be seen in what is happening in our schools. The mischooldata.org website lists the combined enrollment of public school districts served by the Dickinson-Iron ISD as 5,253 students in 2012-2013, but just 4,905 students, or a 6.6% decline, in 2021-2022. Of the six districts in Dickinson and Iron Counties, only one district, Breitung Townships Schools, saw an increase in students over the same period. Based on the decline in population of surrounding districts, it is safe to assume that Breitung’s gains only came at the expense of a decline in its neighboring districts and is not due to an increase in school aged families in our region.
In order for our communities to thrive and grow, these trends must be stopped and reversed. Quite simply, any region that cannot supply its own economy with the working aged and skilled workers businesses need can thrive. Employers who cannot find employees will either have to close up shop or move away. Families will flow to where the well paying jobs are…as we see in regions of the nation that gained U.S. House Representatives as opposed to losing representation, as Michigan did.
While politicians may want to divert our attention away from answering what can be done to reverse this trend, voters must insist that those seeking office not be allowed to avoid answering questions about what they plan to do in order to bring families and businesses to our community.
Finger pointing at the “other” party, whichever party that is, must not be tolerated or accepted as a means of avoiding solutions to this vital topic. Our communities need new, attractive, and available housing for families. Where will those new neighborhoods go and what can be done to support this development? Schools across the U.P. and in our counties are struggling to fill teacher vacancies in nearly every grade and subject level. How do we attract young people to enter the teaching profession and to stay there for a career? What sorts of employees do our local employers need and how can our municipalities and communities work to attract those sorts of employees and families?
These questions require collaboration, regardless of party affiliation, research, hard work, and clear plans for vitalizing and growing our very special region. This important election year brings with it a chance for voters to elect politicians who are dedicated to finding answers to these entrenched and difficult challenges. Voters must insist on real plans and viable answers.
Republicans in state chambers have taken to trying to pass parental education rights bills that give parents the right to direct the education of their children. These bills seek to move the determination of what kids should learn and how they should learn it away from schools and society and over to parents through assertions of their rights. In addition to placing education’s and society’s needs and goals for individuals to the side, the often claimed thinking with this bill, that parents should be able to determine what and how their child should learn, is wrongheaded as a basic business model and, if enacted, could lead to employers, universities, the military, and other end users to not having well-trained and educated choices for hiring, placement, etc.
If we consider education from a business model standpoint, call it critical business theory (CBT) if you like, parental rights supporters are assuming the incorrect consumer of education’s “product” (the product being graduating seniors at the end of our K-12 assembly line). Unless parents are going to hire or use our product, they are not our end user. Our end users are the businesses, post high school training and education entities, the military and other users who rely on the education production line to supply them with the human resources they rely on.
Parents (and I am one myself) are interested parties in the supply chain and are important to the process. The parental role is to provide each child with love, shelter, food, care, and support, to name just a few responsibilities, but unless a child is going right from the graduation stage and into a family business (and any business of note needs all employees to be well-educated, family run or not), parents are not our end product consumers.
Very few parents tell their children to do well in school so that the kids can live in the basement until the death of the parent(s). Rather, the parents of the most successful students tell their children to go to school so they can get into college, get a good job, etc and begin their adult lives away from their parental abode. Those parents then focus their efforts on seeing to it that their children have what they need to be successful in school academically.
Supplying the end users of our model with the human resources they need is driven by the needs of the end users. These consumers need well-educated that are able to walk through the doors of businesses, colleges, and other programs that employ and train them. Parents are critical partners in education, but they should not be determiners of what students need to learn or how they are taught. That role falls to society and other post secondary end users, as it should.
It is long past time to accurately label the GOP as the party of white hatred. New laws discriminating against LGBTQ folks are just the latest step demonstrating that the GOP has decided that fear and hatred of anyone who is not straight and white are their brands and their best way to success in elections.
This fall Americans will not be faced with a choice between Democrats and Republicans, they will instead be faced with a choice between being an accepting, multi-cultural society or being a country that embraces hatred and exclusion as the hallmarks of our nation.
Folks who favor and accept the concept of America as a melting pot, whether they are traditionally liberal, conservative, or moderate will have to cast their votes based not on political ideology, rather they will have to cast their votes based on what sort of country they want themselves and future generations to live in.
While there certainly is merit to assertions that cancel culture has too often gone too far (mainly by passing judgment ahead of evidence), it is not equivalent to believe that hatred is equal to or less harmful than its counterpart. Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Trump are all hate filled, white power extremists. It is also not too far to state that in order to support these folks is to support hatred. There comes a point when, whether one holds some values in common with any such folks, one must make a moral choice between supporting acceptance or supporting hatred.
Today’s GOP presents not a choice between political ideologies, rather today’s GOP presents a choice between a loving, welcoming, diverse society, or a closed, cruel society of hatred and fear.
Now that Betsy DeVos is no longer a national scourge and ironic choice for federal education secretary, she has returned to Michigan and reset her sights on attacking public education in Michigan. Her Let Kids Learn campaign is nothing less than a Trojan horse for school voucher. Vouchers themselves are Trojan horse for tax breaks for the wealthy.
Michigan’s voters have rejected voucher campaigns twice already. Betsy and her family have restructured vouchers into “opportunity accounts” into which private donors or corporations can pay into these accounts, fund a child’s education, and receive a tax break on the account. Guess who has the money to fund expensive private education? If you guessed wealthy folks like Betsy DeVos and her family…congratulations! You nailed it!
These accounts are simply a sleight of hand to allow the wealthy to pay less taxes than they already do. Is anyone actually worried that families, such as DeVos’ are struggling so mightily to make ends meet that they need another tax break? Well, in case you are worried that maybe poor Betsy might have to suffer without freeloading some more on American taxpayers, you can sign a petition to help ease her troubled lifestyle.
Because most Americans are generous, even though they are not wealthy, we project similar values onto folks like Betsy. Too often those of us who actually have to work for a living believe that Betsy and her ilk actually give a damn about their fellow Americans. Not so. Betsy was born into wealth and married into more wealth. Like the blue-bloods and royals of centuries past, Betsy believes she is special, privileged, and entitled to treatment that allows her to be untroubled by the burdens of normal Americans. You know, troubles like paying taxes into the society that allows her to live her pampered lifestyle.
Michiganders need to not be fooled by Betsy’s latest assault on public schools. Let Kids Learn is another craven attempt by a spoiled, wealthy greed monster and her family to turn into law yet another tax break for the wealthy.