Combating the Racism of Low Expectations Once Again

Sadly, the battle to combat the racism of low expectations in our schools is pervasive.  I previously wrote about this issue in the context of the decade old class action I fought against Milwaukee Public Schools and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Now, I am confronting this issue in rural northern Wisconsin, on behalf of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LDF Tribe).

While many of the members of the LDF Tribe live on their reservation in northern Wisconsin, just west of Woodruff, their children attend the Lac du Flaubeau Public School, a K-8 school which feeds into the Lakeland Union High School (LUHS), along with the primary schools from Arbor Vitae, Minocqua, and Manitowish Waters.

The LDF Tribe’s Education Director asked me to meet with and train parents on their children’s rights in school because they are experiencing many problems ranging from physical and verbal abuse, failure to comply with special education laws, excessive discipline and low academic performance leading to low graduation rates, and blatant discrimination, even in homework assignments, such as the “What Happened After Chief Shortcake Died?” math assignment which rightfully outraged the LDF Tribe, garnered an apology from the teacher, and attracted media attention, just a little over a year ago.


Of course, one racist assignment does not make a whole school, but one look at the LUHS School Report Card reveals that LDF children are not receiving the education they need to succeed as adults.  While the graduation rate of White students at LUHS is almost 97%, the graduation rate of Native American students is only 57.9%.  This is not terribly surprising when one finds that 41% of LUHS Native American are reading below a basic level, and almost 54% of LUHS Native American students are performing math below a basic level.

There are many reasons for this, many of which have deep roots in American history, but a few comments from my session last night spoke volumes about why such poor academic performance is tolerated by the LUHS.

  • Apparently, the LUHS administration is protesting the low Native American graduation rate on its school report card,  because it does not want to count drop outs!  Fortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has refused to accept the LUHS position on this issue.
  • LDF members have been told by school officials that their children have a high rate of Speech & Language special education needs because their parents do not read to their children, rather than understanding the genetic issues of a high proportion of LDF children who develop middle-ear infections causing Speech & Language delays.
  • When confronted with bullying issues, school officials have simply responded by stating that, “boys will be boys,” rather than instituting anti-bullying programs and policies which protect children and support victims.

Fortunately, the LDF Tribe’s Education Department has seen enough and while it wants to work collaboratively with the public schools to improve their children’s educational outcomes, it is also prepared to bring in additional advocacy resources to help them achieve this goal.  I look forward to empowering LDF parents and children to combat the racism of low expectations and improve their children’s educational performance.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.


Marriage Equality: Dancing Together Builds Community

For over 40 years, I resisted taking dance lessons.  Growing up in a very Jewish community, I was invited to many Bar Mitzvahs and my mother wanted me to take dance lessons so I could dance at parties.  I refused due to a lack of coordination and fear of embarrassing myself.  As an adult, on and off for our 31 years of marriage, my wife has asked if we could take lessons.  Once again, that klutziness and childhood fear stood in the way.

But just last weekend, our friends Grace Cooper and Leslie Bernstein invited us to their wedding reception.  This was a unique celebration.  Since Wisconsin still considers a marriage between 2 loving women illegal, a few weeks ago, they went to Iowa, which has legalized marriage equality, and our Rabbi, Laurie Zimmerman, married them.Image Continue reading

Procrastination Nation

As our nation and the entire world breathes a collective sigh of relief that the United States will not default on its debts for the moment, one must wonder if the world’s only superpower, has earned a new moniker, Procrastination Nation. 

The dictionary definition of procrastination is:

To postpone or delay needlessly.

As James Surowiecki wrote in his article aptly entitled, Later, a few years ago in the New Yorker,

the percentage of people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination quadrupled between 1978 and 2002. In that light, it’s possible to see procrastination as the quintessential modern problem.

The question is whether our federal government should be modeling such behavior when it is so remarkably unproductive.  Indeed, Surowiecki goes on to point out that,

Each year, Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time. The Harvard economist David Laibson has shown that American workers have forgone huge amounts of money in matching 401(k) contributions because they never got around to signing up for a retirement plan. Seventy per cent of patients suffering from glaucoma risk blindness because they don’t use their eyedrops regularly. Procrastination also inflicts major costs on businesses and governments.

Indeed, this current federal shutdown has cost the nation billions and its full cost has not been totaled yet.  As the New York Times reports,

The two-week shutdown has trimmed about 0.3 percentage point from fourth-quarter growth, or about $12 billion, the forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, based in St. Louis, recently estimated. Standard & Poor’s is more pessimistic, estimating that the shutdown will cut about 0.6 percent off inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, equivalent to $24 billion.

It would be one thing if the current Congressional dysfunction was a one-time rare occurrence, but sadly it has become a pattern of procrastination causing long-term economic harm, in addition to loss of standing in the world.  A new report, The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy.  This report concludes that,

Since late 2009, fiscal policy uncertainty has…lowered GDP growth by 0.3 percentage points per year, and raised the unemployment rate in 2013 by 0.6 percentage points, equivalent to 900,000 lost jobs.

Very few good decisions are made by panic.  As a nation we can do better. We must do better unless we want the whole world to just consider us the, Procrastination Nation.  


Rather than continue this Great Dysfunction, our nation needs:

  • Real statesmen who are genuinely want to govern for the common good, not just pressmen seeking to take temporary advantage of the next sound bite;
  • Consensus Driven Leadership instead of a divide and conquer mentality; and
  • The collective will to Get to Yes, rather than constant bickering and fighting.

It is clearly easier said than done, but voters must demand it, or our nation will continue to suffer the ignominy of being known as a second rate Procrastination Nation.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Pressmanship: The Opposite of Statesmanship

As our nation watches our federal government sputter to a halt with the rest of the world wondering whether we will risk the world’s economic health for the purpose of scoring political victories, I continue to lament the lack of statesmanship, which is so very hard to find these days, as I wrote about previously.  Indeed, every day, regular Americans are impacted by the Congress’ failure to pass a budget.  Whether it is closure of local VA offices, the inability of farmers to get the information they need to make important planting and harvesting decisions, or the myriad of other large & small impacts both here and abroad, perhaps the biggest impact is the worldwide loss of respect for our nation’s ability to govern itself.

While the pundits and politicians continue to cast barbs at each other, I have been searching for the word that would best define the current paralysis plaguing our federal government.  I have been searching for the word that is the opposite of statesmanship. Remarkably, the English language does not have a word that is a true antonym for statesmanship.

Some have claimed that the Founding Fathers set up our government of checks & balances knowing that there would be conflict, thereby reducing the chances of a temporary Congressional majority or a demagogue of a President ruling by fiat.  However, as James Madison stated quite clearly in Federalist Paper # 10, entitled, The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, 

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.

Madison also lamented about statesmen:

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

But he certainly did not envision a Congress that was prepared to violate the Constitutional requirement to pay its debts!

My search for the opposite of statesmanship finally bore fruit in an article from the London Times from 1852, entitled, Pressmanship and Statesmanship.  While the article may be somewhat outdated for the 21st century, the word pressmanship seems to be what our federal leaders are engaged in: battling for sound bites in the press to gain political advantage, rather than acting as statesmen in the national interest.


For our nation’s sake, we can only hope that our nation’s leaders will start acting more like statesmen then pressmen.  If not, perhaps the voters will elect more statesmen in the 2014 elections and boot out the pressmen so the storm clouds can lift and the sun can shine on our nation’s Capitol.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Systems Change Requires Inspiring Action

Whether it is due to government dysfunction, lack of hope, or a variety of other reasons, it is often difficult to inspire people to join together to advocate for systemic change. Recently, at the J Street national conference, I had the fortune to attend a workshop conducted by a Palestinian, Nizar Farsakh, of The Leading Change Network.  Mr. Farsakh discussed his utter loss of hope as a Palestinian living in the occupied territories, but then told the story of watching Hamas militants shoot a 10 year old boy, which rather than depressing him further, inspired him to dedicate his life to using positive and peaceful tools to advocate for systemic change.

Farsakh went on to explain that many people have one or more of the following inhibitors which prevent them to take action to change the system which oppresses them.

  • Inertia
  • Apathy
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Self-doubt

Fortunately, each of these inhibitors can be overcome by motivators.

  • Urgency overcomes inertia
  • Anger overcomes apathy
  • Hope overcomes fear
  • Solidarity overcomes isolation
  • Knowing you can make a difference overcomes self-doubt

For many, of course, it is much easier to say these things than do them, especially if one or more of the inhibitors is rooted very deeply.  Therefore, it is essential to develop a strategy for systems change.

The New Organizing Institute has an on-line toolbox to help those interested in organizing for systemic change.  One of their trainings, on Theory of Change.  One key element of that training is the lesson that:

Strategy is turning the resources you have into the power you need, to win the change you want.

This can be applied to any system that requires changing and is the key to successfully accomplishing your systems change goals.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.