Tag Archive for Sign On San Diego

Guggenheim’s Superman: Education Is Everybody’s Problem

SupermanHUMANE EXPOSURES would like to salute Davis Guggenheim. The director on An Inconvenient Truth has a new film out, and he is hoping that it will spark a dialogue about education in the same way his prior film has generated debate about climate change. Waiting For Superman is nothing less than an S.O.S. on behalf of our school systems nationwide. A call for awareness and action on this subject which affects us all.

It all started earlier in the year when Guggenheim and his wife decide to visit an obviously ailing school that they passed every morning while taking their child to her school. Why did he do it? Alison Gang, San Diego native and movie critic for Sign On San Diego, reports:

So why visit a school that his kids don’t even attend? ‘Superman’ makes the point that failing schools are everyone’s problem, even if your family has options or you don’t have children at all. But, Guggenheim argues, the system can’t be changed unless the public demands reform, which is exactly what he aims to inspire with his film.

‘I think there’s a series of often unspoken reasons that we give ourselves not to care, not to open our hearts to this,’ he said. ‘I want to puncture this kind of disconnect. That’s what a movie should do, connect all the dots and get people to go, ‘Oh, it’s real. This affects me.’’

This s exactly what we hope to do with our own documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing. Public awareness and dialogue are essential to effecting any substantive change no matter whether you are addressing education as Guggenheim is, or homelessness and the penal system as we have. Without that essential engagement — there is no pressure to produce change. Fortunately, it would seem that Guggenheim’s effort is getting some legs under it:

Whether ‘Superman’ will start the wave of massive reforms necessary to turn a notoriously intractable system on its head remains to be seen, but it has already earned a nod from Oprah Winfrey, who dedicated an entire show to the film, and it won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

With Oprah’s powerful reach behind it, this film will get a lot more attention. Step one is always getting people to see it so that it can motivate them to explore the topic further and hopefully take action.

Of course, anything that digs deeply into the long-established policy is bound to get a backlash. In this instance, the film’s stressing of educational accountability is, shall we say, less than popular with the teacher’s unions. Gang writes:

Less than pleased with the film are the teachers unions, which take issue with the film’s stance against automatic tenure and lack of teacher accountability. Taking on the normally taboo topic was a difficult decision for Guggenheim, a lifelong Democrat whose father brought him up to believe strongly in unions. ‘But that’s why you make documentaries. To say things that no one wants to say and to make people face uncomfortable truths.’ He smiles, ‘Not inconvenient truths, but uncomfortable ones.’

Uncomfortable truths are important. It is when we face these and deal with them that we mature, both as individuals and as a society.

Documentary film fans should visit the homes of both films on Facebook: Waiting For Superman and It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. Each covers a different aspect of the overall problem our society faces — providing proper support for children as they grow up in order to help them be productive members of society. Our film looks at the prison system and makes a great followup to Superman as it explores the frequency with which the issues Guggenheim examines impact those children in later life.

Source: “Guggenheim knows he isn’t ‘Superman’,” Sign On San Diego, 10/08/10
Image by emilydickensonrisdesabmx, used under its Creative Commons license.

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New Homeless Census in Downtown San Diego

HomelessEarly morning last Monday had seen faces that you wouldn’t normally see at that hour fan out through downtown San Diego, as the volunteers had attempted to take a census of the society’s disenfranchised. The effort is part of a national initiative to get better data about the homeless population so that help can be given to those most in need. The goal is to reduce the number of homeless on the streets by 100,000 between now and the middle of 2013.

Steve Schmidt brings us a moment from that morning in his latest post on Sign On San Diego:

Many of the homeless didn’t mind being awakened for the questionnaire, which ranged from their level of education to whether they have a prison record.

‘I think more people like to be heard, and (the homeless) don’t get a lot of opportunities to be heard,’ said Mitchell Clark, a clinician and case worker with Heritage Clinic in San Diego.

That makes perfect sense. When was the last time that you’ve engaged a homeless person in conversation? The social urge is a vital one for people, especially when it is frustrated by the barriers of perception. Schmidt writes,

A few people found the questions overly intrusive. One man crawled out of his tent, pointed to an ailing woman he was with and yelled, ‘This survey you’re taking, what good is it going to do her?’

Long-range gains are often outside of the expectations of the homeless. The immediacy of life on the streets takes precedence. Fortunately, the census takers had this in mind and showed up prepared:

Others became more willing to talk when they learned they would each get a $5 gift certificate for Jack in the Box if they participated.

[Robin] Munro [an attorney and one of the organizers of the census] said the predawn hours are considered the best time to get an accurate read of a transient population. She and the project’s other coordinators plan to compile their registry by the end of the week.

As with all issues, accurate information is key to finding a solution. Campaigns like this one have already occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York. Of course, information is only worthwhile if you act upon it. Experts, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the federal Interagency on Homelessness, point this out as well. Several studies put forth by these groups show that registries are effective when they work together with the programs that dispense housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and other programs designed to help these people effect a return to society.

Source: “Volunteers start count of city’s homeless,” Sign On San Diego, 09/20/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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California to Shift Prison Population?

JailInteresting things are happening in the California penal system. Both sides of the aisle, left and right, have plans for a big change in the way the prison system works. Of course, much of this is being fueled by the massive deficit facing the state.

It seems that the shortage of cash on the part of the government has those in power trying to find ways to shift the prison population into less costly venues. Michael Gardener, a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, explores the details in his recent piece in Sign on San Diego:

The state’s plans to ship low-risk prisoners to local jails could cost counties revenue and are raising fears that inmates may be released early. Transferring non-sex offender prisoners to county jails are centerpieces of dueling plans put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Senate Democrats as they scramble to close a $19 billion budget gap.

The foundation of both proposals is to save the state money by offering counties incentives — including cash and greater alternative sentencing authority — to accept more prisoners.

The initiatives are drawing resistance from San Diego County supervisors, statewide law enforcement groups and Republican lawmakers.

‘Counties are very concerned and very suspicious,’ said Greg Cox, a San Diego County supervisor.

A variety of arguments, pro and con, are being presented by both the media and the political class. Suppporters stress that, if implemented, plans like this would give the counties greater lattitude to explore alternative methods such as drug treatment, supervised probation, and others methods that are slowly gaining steam as our prisons fill past the bursting point with mostly non-violent offenders.

On the flip side, the counties are wary of state-proposed programs due to the fact that state payments have usually lagged well behind the costs burden that the programs represent. The cost trail will be important to examine, since it will be one of the major factors fueling this debate. Another one, and by far the most important from a human standpoint, is the offenders themselves. While the phrase “early release” ring warning bells for many in California, it is important to examine whether these people truly need to be incarcerated.

What are your thoughts? If you live in California, we would particularly like to hear your pros and cons on this subject.

Source: “State’s plans to send prisoners to county jails worry officials,” Sign On San Diego, 08/25/10
Image by Tim Pearce-Los Gatos, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Troubled Education in San Diego School District

SchoolSo many issues trace back to childhood. The opportunities, the lack thereof, early life traumas, and all the other factors that can impinge on early life, create the building blocks from which the adult is sculpted. Educational opportunities are particularly key, especially during the early years when the mind is so hungry for knowledge.

The Constitution of the State of California guarantees free education. In 1984, the state Supreme Court handed down a decision that refined the legal interpretation to include extracurricular activities offered by public schools. It is an interpretation that the ACLU claims many schools are ignoring.

Tanya Sierra, a staff writer for Sign On San Diego’s Watchdog blog, tells us more:

This month, the ACLU wrote to the San Diego Unified School District in response to a report by The Watchdog that highlighted how fees for uniforms, spirit packs, gym clothes, cheerleading outfits and other items persisted despite a district policy saying such charges violate the state Constitution’s guarantee of free schooling.

[If you'd like to read the letters the ACLU sent to Poway, Grossmont and San Dieguito school districts there are downloadable PDFs of them on the same page as the Watchdog article.]

Corey G. Johnson, a reporter for CaliforniaWatch who specializes in K-12 education, notes that this is not a fresh issue. He has been reporting on it since early this year:

As we wrote in February and in June, numerous instances of school districts disregarding this law has surfaced. Earlier this month, ACLU legal director David Blair-Loy sent the San Diego Unified School District a letter asking for officials to stop several examples of ‘pay to play’ that were found at local schools. The group also asked for the money collected to be refunded to the parents.

The request followed a San Diego Union-Tribune investigation that found schools openly charging fees on their websites, despite a recent local grand jury investigation that slammed the practice.

San Diego superintendent Bill Kowba agreed that the practice was wrong and said the district will cease charging the fees and offer refunds where appropriate.

Situations like these need to be brought into legal compliance. The socialization entailed by extracurricular activities is an important part of childhood development, and access to them is already protected by law.

Source: “ACLU takes school fee effort north and east,” Sign On San Diego Watchdog blog, 08/18/10
Source: “More schools accused of pay-to-play catch ACLU’s gaze,” California Watch, 08/23/10
Image by House of Sims, used under its Creative Commons license.

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