Ageism Rears its Ugly Head

My first job as a young attorney at the Center for Public Representation was as an advocate for the elderly.  My youngest clients during those years were 60 years old and I represented many clients who were over 90.  I learned a lot about aging and the wisdom that comes with it from many of my clients.  In addition, these clients also taught me that age is not just a number.  It is an attitude.  I represented clients in their 60s who were suicidally depressed, as well as clients in their 90s who were vital and vigorous.  During those years, a colleague gave me a wonderful book of photographs of senior athletes entitled, “Growing Old is Not for Sissies.” growingold2 old

Among the panoply of federal civil rights laws is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which Congress passed in 1967, prohibiting setting arbitrary age limits regardless of potential and,

to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age.

Due to states’ rights under our Constitution, the ADEA does not apply to state judges, and 31 states have mandatory retirement ages between 70-90 years old (with most set at 70 or 75), despite absolutely no evidence that these mandatory retirements improve our judiciary.

Wisconsin has a murky history on this issue. Wisconsin used to have a mandatory retirement age for judges and Supreme Court justices. From 1955 to 1978, judges and justices faced mandatory retirement at age 70. Since 1977, the Wisconsin Constitution has authorized the legislature to impose a maximum age of no less than 70, but the legislature has not done so, resulting in no retirement age in effect.

Now, a Wisconsin legislator, Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), wants to set a mandatory retirement age of 75 based on this nearly 40 year old stale authorization.  His statement to the media mentioned nothing about how this might improve our system of justice.  Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson notes that,

To the extent that either enactment affects presently sitting judges and justices, it ignores and overturns the vote of the people. The people elected the members of the judiciary for a fixed term and a set office.

If this bill passes, it would require the immediate retirement of Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justice Patrick Crooks, followed by the retirement of Justice Roggensack in July of 2015, despite recently being re-elected to serve until 2023, who would then be followed by the retirement of Justice Prosser in 2017, despite  being elected to a term that does not expire until 2021.  While I have certainly been critical of the dysfunction of the current Wisconsin Supreme Court, arbitrary age based retirements of 4/7 of the court in the next 3 years, promises only to politicize the court further by accelerating high stakes campaigns for these coveted seats.

There are better ways to reform a highly politicized state judiciary, including independent merit selection, a form of which is in place in 21 states.  Indeed, instituting mandatory retirement means more judicial campaigns, bringing more campaign cash into our judiciary, which has demonstrated skewed results from judges who are afraid of how their decisions will be portrayed by their opponents in campaign ads.

As our nation struggles to overcome pervasive racism, let’s not add ageism to further corrupt our judiciary.

For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Dialogue: Now more than ever

We live in perilous times.  On the domestic stage, Americans continue to protest police violence.  Around the world, terrorists continue to engage in horrific murderous acts like the Taliban’s recent rampage killing nearly 150 school children.

While such peril can and does easily lead to violent acts of retribution, attempts to justify torture, or on the personal level, sinking into depression, unless we choose to allow those who commit these horrific acts of unjustified violence to prevail, we must find ways to keep our sanity and allow the best parts of humanity to rise to the top.

At a basic level, if individuals, communities and nations are unable to talk with each other, then their ability to resolve grievances is severely compromised.  Today, we finally see the end of a failed policy through which the United States refused to talk with Cuba, as President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations after 50 years.  While each nation continues to have grievances with each other, with normal diplomatic relations, the opportunity now exists to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

In the Middle East, we have seen that the inability of Israel and the Palestinians to successfully negotiate a resolution of their longstanding grievances has fanned the flames of violent acts committed by extremists on both sides.  The world watches anxiously as Israeli elections in March may determine whether a path towards a peaceful resolution can be achieved.

At the local level, I continue to work to engage in dialogue with whomever is willing on difficult topics.  In the Jewish community, talking about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians is a touchy subject, which splits friends and family.  Fortunately, as I have written previously, there is a way to engage in safe & meaningful dialogue, through the methods developed by the Jewish Dialogue Group.  Utilizing these methods of facilitated dialogue, I helped bring the Madison Jewish community together earlier this year for 3 such sessions co-sponsored by my own synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, Madison’s other two synagogues, Temple Beth El and the Beth Israel Center, the University of Wisconsin Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Madison.  Each session had about 12 participants, including members of all 3 synagogues, as well as unaffiliated Jews.  Feedback after the sessions was overwhelmingly positive with the only significant critique being that many wanted to participate in additional sessions.

cover_image_for_constant_contact_eGiven that success and the desire for ongoing dialogue, with my coordination, these same 5 organizations came together to obtain an Innovation grant from the Jewish Federation of Madison which will allow us to convene dialogue sessions on a monthly basis throughout 2015. We will gear some sessions for those who have never participated in such a dialogue and other sessions for those who want to deepen their experience by participating in additional sessions.  In addition, some sessions will target affinity groups, including young adults, college students, interfaith couples, Jewish institutional leadership and Camp Shalom staff.

The first 2 sessions are scheduled to take place at UW Hillel on:

  • January 28th-7-9 PM for young adults (20-30 something); and
  • February 12th-7-9 PM for college students.

Additional sessions will be announced in the coming weeks.

RSVPs are required and space is limited to 15 participants to ensure that all participants have a full chance to engage in meaningful dialogue.  You can get more information and register by e-mailing: .

From the local to the international, through dialogue, we can achieve peace & justice.



For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Staff Appreciation: Improving Education in ways that cannot be measured

My son has competed in 3 high school sports throughout his 4 years of high school.  Since I may be his biggest fan, I have attended countless soccer & hockey games as well as track meets.  However, it is only his hockey team that holds an annual Staff Appreciation Night.  Indeed, I have not observed any other high school team host such an event.  Last night, the Madison Eastside Lakers (comprised of students who attend East, La Follette and Shabazz High Schools) hosted this wonderful event one more time.

Last year, this event inspired me to write about how student athletics helps improve grades and graduation rates.  Studies prove this and my observations of my son and his teammates verify this improvement in many cases. However, this year’s event, likely my last, gives me pause to reflect on the intangible ways in which appreciating staff enhances education in many ways.

We organize Staff Appreciation Night by asking the players and managers to invite any school staff member who means something special to them.  This can range from a school custodian to a principal and every type of staff person in between.  Thus, the appreciation begins before the actual event as the students must put some thought into whom they wish to invite, and actually ask the staff person (and perhaps more than one if the desired first choice is unavailable that evening).  The athletes then give their chosen staff person their away jersey to wear to the game.

Parents provide potluck treats for staff (and the players after the game), as their own way of saying thanks to these special staff.  We invite them to come early to enjoy these treats, and their early arrival also provides them a chance to meet parents, in many cases for the first time.

Every time we have held this remarkable event, staff enthusiastically participate and have a chance to provide unsolicited feedback to the athletes’ parents.  Indeed, as I sat in the stands watching the game, teachers who had not yet connected with parents asked me to help them find them so they could talk to them.  In our case, my son invited his Chemistry teacher, whom we had yet to meet.  She had high praise for our son, which was greatly appreciated and I overheard similar conversations throughout the stands.

I also heard many teachers remarking at how impressed they were at how hard the  boys worked at playing hockey.  So, this event provides the opportunity to allow staff, students and parents to get to know each other more holistically, rather than solely through the lens of the classroom, school assignments and tests.

While no student athlete will be graded for his or her performance in a given sport, the benefits to both students and staff of showing genuine appreciation can be seen in the unrehearsed smiles from both.

IMG_2288Of course, there was also a hockey game, and having so many school staff attend always gives the team a boost. IMG_2285

On behalf of the Madison Eastside Laker parents, I extend my thanks to the dedicated staff from East, La Follette and Shabazz high schools, who gladly came to last night’s game, without monetary compensation, to cheer on their students who, in turn, extended their appreciation to  their much beloved teachers.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change  contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Madison’s Behavior Education Plan: Can’t Measure Progress without Goals

As I have reported previously, I worked hard to get the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) to adopt its new Behavior Education Plan, which went into effect at the beginning of the current school year.  However, while it was a good step forward towards teaching appropriate behavior instead of removing so many children from education, I expressed concerns about the failure of MMSD to set specific outcome goals and to provide sufficient training and support to assure effective implementation of this ambitious plan.

Recently, local media reported stories of MMSD teachers complaining that implementation of the Behavior Education Plan was not going well and that their schools were more chaotic than ever.  Moreover, while the Behavior Education Plan has indeed resulted in fewer suspensions, racial disparities have actually increasedDespite these glaring problems, the school district’s first quarterly report continues the pattern of failing to identify specific outcome goals so progress can be measured and implementation can be adjusted as needed.

oss ethnicity 1314 oss 1415

In response to these concerns, MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham wrote an OpEd in which she declared that Madison schools are “aiming for excellence, equity.”  That sounds great, but with equity actually getting worse, it is remarkable that her OpEd follows her pattern of refusing to set specific outcome goals.

Perhaps the biggest concern in failing to set reasonable outcome goals while the Behavior Education Plan is attacked from within is that parents and teachers who want safe schools will demand the repeal of this otherwise excellent plan.  These concerns must be met with clear goals and better training.  The tools are there.  Teachers just need training and support.

In Gainesville, Florida, for example, teachers are using a multi-tiered approach to support behavioral needs because they understand that:

“If a child is not behaving there’s a need not being met, and that’s the premise I always go on.”

MMSD’s new Behavioral Education Plan represents a sea change in how we teach our children. It has the opportunity to keep students in school, teach them appropriate behavior, improve academic performance, and close racial disparities.  However, if MMSD continues to fail to set reasonable outcome goals, and does not provide sufficient training and support for its staff, it will all be for naught.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact  him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.