November 2007

A couple of pictures for you. Look what’s going in right across the street from St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls, MN.

My fin’s feeling better already, really it is.

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

P.S. To see a full-sized view of each picture, hover over the image until the SnapShots preview comes up, then click on the link at the top of the SnapShots preview window.

Emblom Brenny Funeral Home - Future Site - Little Falls, MNSt. Gabriel’s Hospital, Little Falls, MN


Oxfam Unwrapped

I hate shopping for someone who already has everything. It reminds me of Uncle Pinky who had everything including original Van Gogh sketches, purchasing a gift was sort of a quandary. A family member once told me that they gave him a signed copy of Seven Year in Tibet, a few years later the book was re-gifted back to him after it was signed by the Dalai Lama. Yeah, like that. Uncle Pinky died a few years ago,  but I thought about him when I discovered the Oxfam Unwrapped website.

Oxfam International came up with a list of items that people around the world identified as items they needed to change their lives for the better. The list includes bug nets for sleeping under to prevent Malaria, a goat to produce milk that can be food or sold for income. The gift recipient will receive a card with a picture of the item purchased along with an explanation of how a goat, or a donkey or a camel can make a difference.

If you have an Uncle Pinky on your shopping list, or are just looking for something new and different check out Oxfam America Unwrapped, its a gift that keeps giving.

Brooke Trout

In Memory of Wynn Stuart Binger

12/7/1940 – 10/19/2003


The Our View section of the Morrison County Record this week (November 27, 2007) had a happy little piece about donating to charity over the holiday season. It’s a wonderful sentiment. We should remember those less fortunate than ourselves during this time of the year. (Well, we should remember the poor the other 11 months of the year, too, but that’s another story.)

The article suggests several local, regional, and national organizations and causes to which one can donate. The one that specifically caught my eye was the Salvation Army kettle drive. According to the Our View article, “No earthly reason exists not to drop your spare change in a kettle as you walk by.”

Well, now, I guess that all depends on one’s philosophical and religious perspective. I am one who believes in religious plurality and the right of individuals and organizations to live their faith as they see fit. According to the Salvation Army’s website:

“Salvation Army beliefs follow those of the universal Christian church, as derived from the scriptures.”

I have a little problem with the word “universal” here, in that universality implies unanimity of interpretation of Biblical texts across the entire breadth of Christian denominations. Christian churches are hardly unanimous in their beliefs.

One of the hot-button issues in churches is homosexuality. The Salvation Army appears to ally itself with Christian churches that lean to the right when it comes to same-sex relationships. You can find their official stance on the topic here.

I fully support the Salvation Army’s right to believe what they believe concerning homosexuality. However, I also fully support the right of other Christian denominations and organizations that lean to the left on the issue. Within the United Church of Christ, there are many congregations that support the ordination of gay clergy. In fact, the UCC ordained Malcolm Himschoot, a female-to-male transgender. Among the clergy of the UCC, there are many who support the right of same-sex couples to marry and have full legal recognition of their unions. In fact, some UCC congregations, such as Lyndale United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN, have gone so far as to proclaim that they will perform no marriages until everyone is allowed to get married. They will perform the religious ceremony, but the clergy will not file any of the legal documents required by the state for legal recognition – even of heterosexual couples. The church feels that the state is infringing upon its religious freedom.

It is with the cause of these left-leaning organizations and denominations that I am sympathetic. It’s not that I don’t support kids getting Christmas gifts, it’s just that I believe that I should give my money to organizations that will help children in a manner that is in keeping with my faith and moral code. Not only do I have an earthly reason to donate my money to organizations other than the Salvation Army, based on my faith, I have a moral obligation to do so.

Swimming in circles to the left,

Suckerlip Blenny

A little item in the Morrison County Record’s report of the Little Falls City Council’s recent meeting caught my attention. The Council approved continuing to retain Toni Wetzel as the city attorney. This without putting the work out for bids. The agreement was approved by a vote of five to three. By this time, we should all be able to figure out exactly who voted together in the majority because they always vote together.

The three dissenting voices were Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Mike Doucette, and Kate Davis, the three Council people who’ve had the most experience with city government and understand that you have to let things like this out for bids, not because of the competency of the current position-holder, but because the Council might be able to find someone who is just as, if not more, competent, but costs less. Kind of curious that those voting without calling for bids are the very ones who always bellyache about the city going into debt. Getting bids also allows others the chance to serve the city in positions that are hired out. As Kate Davis said, “And, we are an equal opportunity employer.” Right now, we aren’t seeing the Council live up to this commitment.

Voting with the minority fish in the city pond,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

There was a letter to the editor in this week’s Morrison County Record from the second graders at Dr. S. G. Knight Elementary School in Randall, Minnesota.  The kids are asking for help in saving the planet.  They suggest ways to cut down on the consumption of electricity, especially during the upcoming Christmas season.

The thing you have to know about Dr. S. G. Knight Elementary is that it has a school-wide attitude of feistiness.  The teachers are creative and find inexpensive and innovative ways to educate the students.  The school feels like a cohesive community, a big family where everyone knows everyone else and they all look out for each other.  It’s a great place to have your kids educated.

If the Dr. Knight second graders have decided to lick global warming and pollution, I have no doubt that they’ll make some serious headway on the issue.

No longer stringing lights on the seaweed,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Don Heinzman, what can I say. It seems like every other week he’s given some chunk of blank space in the Morrison County Record where, for the past several weeks he publishes articles on school issues; like the one where he and the ECM editorial board advocated for denying the community the right to vote on whether or not to approve a school tax levy. So, every other week I read his ultra-conservative right-wing education opinion and think of the little bunny who covers his ears while chanting…make the stupid people shut up. Yep, that sums up my feelings. As Heinzman has gotten increasingly comfortable in his position on the ECM Editorial Board his messages on education have moved further and further to the right, so far right that his knuckles have to be dragging.  As last weeks guest columnist Heinzman penned the exception when he over shot the right-wing  inlcuding the majority of right-wing conservative politicians and  planted himself firmly among the warm, hard bunny pellets of fascism. 

In that article Don Heinzman jumped on the tiny, precarious bandwagon with Taxpayer’s League of Minnesota President, Phil Krinkie.According to the article, Krinkie claimed that school staff are babysitting children with special needs in the Minnesota public school system. What Heinzman didn’t include in the Viewpoint letter was that Krinkie’s views on education were so extreme that during the same speech he also advocated for high school classes with as many as 200 students, he rationalized this statement by saying that some University of Minnesota lectures have that many students, so why can’t our high schools. After a remark like that who in their right mind would think it was prudent to jump in and march in Phil Krinkie’s greed-monger parade? Apparently, Don Heinzman and naturally the Morrison County Record saw fit to print it.

While there is no debate that the American system of education took its cues from the industrial revolution, Krinkie’s recommendation would catapult students from the current industrial model of education to a model gleaned straight from a textbook factory farm. Save money by boxing students in from wall to wall while injecting them with antibiotics to deter disease in the overcrowded cesspool of an environment. Not only does Krinkie throw all special needs students under the short bus but Krinkie closes his speech by tossing all high school students in after them.

Stating that school staff are babysitting says nothing about special need students and everything about Krinkie and Heinzmans gross and utter ignorance on the subject. Heinzman also insinuates that special needs students require a vast amount of staff support which is also a stereotype and a blatantly false statement. The article goes on to attack individual education plans (IEP) as being a burden to our public schools.

It is important to point out that only a small fraction of special needs students require the aid of a staff person, this is an exception not a rule and IEP’s more often than not contain simple provisions and accommodations. Some common examples of provisions extended in an IEP would be being given additional time to complete assignments and/or modified grading. When the article discusses an Individual Education Plan (IEP) it makes it sound as though these students are given their very own curriculum and their own instructor when in truth the accommodations are usually simple adjustments that serve to level the playing field for the student. That having been said, I should also point out that we are in fact discussing services provided by PUBLIC schools that were established and funded to accommodate, well…the public, not just the Heinzman/Krinkie Aryan race.

What Heinzman and Krinkie are suggesting smacks of a  good’ol,  Jim Crow mentality. While the Jim Crow system rationalized that whites were superior to Blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior, Heinzman’s and Krinkies remarks bare a frightening resemblance when they suggests that special needs students require babysitting, a statement that blatantly implies that special needs students require closer supervision and are therefore less civilized. There elaboration also suggests that special needs students cannot benefit from public education in the same meaningful way mainstream student can therefore they clearly must be less intelligent.

I have to wonder what mathematician and Nobel Prize Laureate (Economics) , John Forbes Nash would say.  Or better yet, British theoretical physicist and Lucasion Professor of Mathamatics at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking, whose key scientific works to date include Roger Penrose, theorems regarding singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, known as Hawking Radiation. Too bad Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is almost completely paralyzed, that means that according to Phil Krinkie and Don Heinzman, Stephen Hawking needs a babysitter.

While I found the entire article to be a statement of ignorance and blatantly discriminatory, nothing offended me more than Heinzman saying that funds in a schools general budget are being used to subsidize the special needs students. In fact a schools general fund covers a huge array of expenses, and is intended for ALL learners not just the Krinkie/Heinzman Aryan race.  Singling out special needs students as though money in the general fund isn’t equally theirs is in itself an attitude of discrimination and an endorsement for a hostile learning environment. The money in the general fund doesn’t belong to any subset of students as Heinzman suggests but is intended for all learners. Portions of special education funding has always come from a schools general fund and all districts are expected to budget and allocate those funds accordingly.

Since Heinzman has taken the latitude to suggest that the education of special needs students is being subsidized at the expense of the mainstream student population then it fair interject my own assessment:  special needs students in the Little Falls school district have been subsidizing the financial mismanagement of past school boards, which includes their profound ineptitude when it comes to administrative contract negotiations.

Placing a lack of priority on education has become the American way, similarly when resources are tight it is equally American to blame our countries most vulnerable citizens. If it isn’t the poor kids driving down our test scores, it’s those special needs kids sucking up resources we could be spending on normal kids.  America’s primary issue isn’t financial, the primary issue is that our values suck. We’ve become so bought into capitalism that we can’t assign a value to anything that doesn’t produce buckets of money. So how do we respond? We pour money into defense spending so our elected officials can earn dividends on their stock options.

Section 504 has been an unfunded mandate on the books since 1973, yet when we moved to Little Falls the school district had never even implemented that section of education law and all students who qualified we unserved. Little Falls school board didn’t adopt 504 language until 2004/2005 which accounts for 32 years of unmet education needs effecting the chronically ill and disabled students within the school area. What this says is that it didn’t matter how much funding the state and federal government provided. I must also point out that even after 32 years of shafting that segment of special education, the school district still plummeted into statutory operating debt.

While I agree that the federal government has fallen down on its responsibilities to provide funding for special education it is apparent that funding is only one issue that special needs students face. If a vehicle to properly utilize improved funding doesn’t exist then the amount of funding provided is irrelevant. 

Heinzman also says, “No one likes to talk about inequity, because it involves programs for special needs kids. Parent of special needs children understandably fight fiercely for every benefit their children can get.”

In compiling his Viewpoint piece Heinzman obviously never bothered talking to students with special needs or to their parents for that matter. His statement makes it sound as though special needs students have so many advantages because their parents are such staunch advocates that these students are being handed whatever they want and need. This statement is a testament to Heinzman’s ignorance when it comes to special education.

Heinzman doesn’t know that when the parents of a special needs student requests an evaluation and accommodations they will find themselves facing off with a room full of district staff. While some districts truly work to meet the needs of the student other districts enact an exclusionary policy and their sole mission is to deny service to any and all extents possible. It is an uphill battle so arduous that disability advocacy organization like PACER mail out manuals to parents to try and aid them through a difficult process where they are clearly out numbered. Johnny’s education is not every schools priority. Yet Heinzman actually discusses this as though mainstream students are getting short changed when in fact this population is not only making the grade but they have a significantly lower drop out rate statewide.

Maybe Heinzman should talk to a parent who has been through one of those meetings in Little Falls, or spend time with a Little Falls student who drives to Peirz school district because they are more willing to accommodate special needs so they transfer out through open enrollment.  Until Heinzman has done his homework on the subject he is not qualified to pronounce an opinion as to equity because he has no basis withwhich to define equity.  His only information stems from a few dollar figures, outdated stereotypes and ignorant assumptions. Unless of course, Heinzman is suggesting that equity is measured in dollars spent rather than met education needs.

While it is true that we need to hold state and federal lawmakersaccountable, it is fundamental that our local school boards be held accountable for the exclusionary policies enacted by local school district employees.

Definition-fascist: a person who is dictatorial or has extreme right-wing views. (My special needs son pointed out that Don Heinzman’s advocacy for removing voters rights to decide on school tax levy issues also falls within the realm of fascism, and my special needs son is of course correct.)

Definition – Subsidy: A direct pecuniary aid furnished by a government to a private industrial undertaking, a charity organization, or the like.

Stephen Hawking on disabilities

Olive Rockfish

I was entering Coborn’s the other day and my eye caught a small, triangular sign on the door.  It read, “Audio monitoring on these premises.”  Hmmm.  They’re listening to our conversations now?  What are they hoping to discover in the grocery store, or hardware store, or  video store?  Where are those hidden microphones?

Filled with that creeping sensation,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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