End Juvenile Solitary Confinement Now

Theoretically, the purpose of the juvenile corrections system is rehabilitation of juveniles who have committed crimes. In fact, all children incarcerated in the juvenile correction system will be released into the community as there is no such thing as life in prison for someone convicted as a juvenile. So, both the incarcerated juveniles and society at large are better off if rehabilitation is successful.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections system has failed to accomplish this basic goal of rehabilitation at its 2 locked facilities, Lincoln Hills (for boys) and the adjoining Copper Lake (for girls). In fact, the treatment of these juveniles has gotten so abusive that the FBI has been investigating these facilities for approximately 2 years. While the outcome of that investigation is still pending, more recently the ACLU filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin for abusing juveniles at these facilities, including, among other things, by the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement.

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The Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake juvenile corrections facilities

According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, the heavy use of solitary confinement and pepper spray violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process. Some inmates are confined to 7-foot-by-10-foot cells for months at a time. They typically get out for just an hour or two a day but during that time they are on a belt held by guards or chained to a desk.

Today, I was interviewed on the radio about the use of solitary confinement at these facilities. You can hear the interview here. In recent years, seven states have passed laws that limit or prohibit the use of solitary confinement for youth in detention facilities. For example, Connecticut law states that no child at any time shall be held in solitary confinement, but “seclusion” may be used periodically if authorized and the young person is checked every thirty minutes.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “the potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged solitary confinement are well recognized and include depression, anxiety and psychosis. Due to their developmental vulnerability, juvenile offenders are at particular risk of such adverse reactions. Furthermore, the majority of suicides in juvenile correctional facilities occur when the individual is isolated or in solitary confinement.”

In 1990, the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty establish minimum standards for the protection of juveniles in correctional facilities which specifically prohibits juvenile solitary confinement, stating, “All disciplinary measures constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment shall be strictly prohibited, including corporal punishment, placement in a dark cell, closed or solitary confinement or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health of the juvenile concerned.

Wisconsin juveniles should not have to wait for the outcome of the FBI investigation or the ACLU lawsuit. The Wisconsin legislature should promptly act to prohibit the use of solitary confinement at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. This is not just the humane way to treat these juveniles. Traumatizing these children decreases the likelihood of successful rehabilitation and increases the chance that they will commit another crime upon their release. If policymakers truly care about decreasing crime, then they will end this barbaric practice in this legislative session.

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

Productive Refugees

Our President wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and exclude refugees from countries that he deems terror prone. He claims he is protecting American jobs and our security. Those claims simply do not stand up to any serious scrutiny.

Although refugees and immigrants come from all around the world, currently, the most contentious group of refugees come from Syria. Fortunately, there is good data which demonstrates how productive Syrian immigrants have been after arriving in the United States.

According to the Center for American Progress:

Syrian immigrants earn good wages, with high levels of educational attainment.

The median annual wage for Syrian immigrants in the United States is $52,000. That is well above the $36,000 median wage for immigrants overall and higher even than the $45,000 median wage for U.S.-born workers.

Syrian immigrants are in general very well-educated, with Syrian immigrant men especially likely to have not only a college degree but also an advanced degree such as a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree. Twenty-seven percent of Syrian immigrant men hold an advanced degree, while for other groups—men and women, U.S.-born people and immigrants—the range is between 10 percent and 13 percent.

Syrian immigrants have among the highest rates of business ownership.

Syrian immigrants have extremely high rates of business ownership. Immigrants are, in general, an entrepreneurial group: 4 percent of immigrants in the labor force are business owners, compared with 3 percent of U.S.-born people. But both groups are far outstripped by Syrian immigrants, among whom 11 percent are business owners—more than double the rate of immigrants overall and more than triple the rate of U.S. citizens by birth.

Syrian immigrants have thriving businesses. The median earnings of Syrian business owners are $72,000 per year. These businesses provide employment, create jobs, and help spur growth in the local economy.

The kinds of businesses that Syrian immigrants are most likely to own range from medical offices—the most prominent type of business and no doubt part of the reason for high earnings among Syrian business owners—to food services and automobile dealerships.

Syrians integrate into American society over time.

Syrians have high levels of English-speaking ability. Fifty-seven percent of Syrian immigrants who have been in the United States for more than 10 years report that they speak English at least “very well”—a higher rate than for immigrants overall, for whom the rate is 52 percent.

Homeownership rates among Syrian immigrants are similar to those of other immigrant groups, with the percentage almost doubling from 34 percent for those in the United States for 10 years or less to 67 percent for those here for more than 10 years. The home ownership rate for U.S. citizens by birth is 68 percent.

Syrian immigrants become naturalized U.S. citizens at high rates. Among those who have been here for more than 20 years, 91 percent have become U.S. citizens. This is significantly higher than the 71 percent rate for immigrants overall.

My grandparents all immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between the 2 World Wars when there was also a high degree of anti-immigrant sentiment. Most of my relatives who did not leave Europe before the Holocaust perished  in it. A few fled east to the Soviet Union.

Nearly 20 years ago, my wife and I had an opportunity to provide direct assistance to immigrants who fled a repressive regime in Uzbekistan. Since both my wife and I were working when our son was born, we needed to arrange for child care. At that time, there had been a wave of Russian immigrants to the United States, including Madison, and my wife thought Jewish Social Services might know of a recent immigrant who would make a good in-home nanny for our son. Fortunately, they did and Flora became Josh’s nanny until he started kindergarten. Flora and her husband Leo (the former cultural minister of Uzbekistan who became the bread baker at Madison’s Whole Foods) became like family members to us. We attended their son’s wedding, and they attended our son’s Bar Mitzvah. About 3 years ago, they decided to retire and move to Florida where they live near Flora’s sister, who also fled Uzbekistan (their brother is still trapped there). We recently had a lovely reunion with them in Florida.

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Flora reunited with my son Josh, and wife Sheryl

Flora, Leo and their children (and now grandchildren) are all now productive American citizens and some of the finest people I know. My family’s life is better because of immigrants like Flora and Leo. America is a better country when we welcome immigrants. Suggestions from the current administration that we should restrict immigration are not only inhumane. They are also counter productive as America’s success story is the story of successful immigrants.

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

Defeating the Dragon King

The President-elect may be the most successful practitioner of chaos theory to his personal advantage in modern history. Prior to entering politics, his success in business was predicated on chaos. No other businessman has used serial bankruptcies, constant litigation, and refusal honor contracts to such great success. Traditional politicians, pundits, and the public at large were simply unprepared for the most chaotic political campaign in American history, and that lack of preparedness helped to catapult Donald Trump to victory.

It is hard to know whether Trump intentionally creates chaos, or is merely successful at navigating it. After all, he did not cause 16 other Republicans to run for the nomination. But, he did successfully navigate the chaos of an unprecedented number of candidates to emerge with the nomination. It remains unclear whether he colluded directly with Vladimir Putin to obtain his electoral college victory or whether he is “Putin’s Perfect Agent of Chaos,” as Russia’s pro-democracy leader Garry Kasparov describes him.

His cabinet nominees are further indication of intentional chaos, as many of his nominees directly oppose the very purpose of the agency they are nominated to oversee. As recently reported,

Former Texas governor Rick Perry has advocated shuttering the Department of Energy he’s slated to lead. Betsy DeVos, who would head the Education Department, is a leading proponent of voucher programs that divert taxpayer funds from public schools. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency and, in his official biography, describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Ben Carson has criticized Housing and Urban Development rules designed to combat segregation in housing. Puzder has fought labor rules intended to protect workers.

In foreign affairs, even before taking office, Trump’s tweets and interviews are wreaking havoc with world order and threaten stability in a manner we have not witnessed since World War 2. He has similarly used tweets and one line pronouncements to create chaos in the stock market threatening economic disorder to provide both he and his billionaire cronies with further financial gains.

As millions of reasonable people struggle to figure out how to combat Trumpian chaos, perhaps due to his unique approach, there are simply no easy guideposts for the battles ahead. Certainly, traditional political protest, political activism and civic engagement are all important. Protecting those who are vulnerable and creating community at the local level are definitely critical.

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But we must be honest. Trumpian chaos will hurt many people both domestically and around the world. We must figure out how to make sure his reign is as short as possible. Given his novel political approach, it will likely take a novel approach to end his reign.

Examining chaos theory may be the key to unraveling the political chaos which Trump is wreaking. A few years ago, an analysis of extreme events occurring in complex systems – known as dragon king events – determined that they can be predicted and prevented. Although discussed outside the context of politics, this study may provide clues to how to deal with Trumpian chaos.

In order to use chaos theory to predict and prevent catastrophic dragon king events, it is important to understand that,

Chaotic systems are often very simple. They can be characterized by just a few parameters…but they also exhibit random and unpredictable behavior….[I]n the last few years, scientists in many fields have been looking closely at the behavior of extreme events – very large fluctuations in a system that often leads to catastrophic results. These occur in many complex, chaotic systems: enormous rogue waves in the ocean, extreme weather in the climate, or global stock market crashes.

One particular class of these extreme events is known as a dragon king event. This is a catastrophic occurrence that falls far outside a normal expected probability. The name comes from looking at the wealth distribution in a medieval society. If you plot the number of people who have a particular amount of wealth, you would see many, many poor farmers and a smaller number of wealthier landowners and noblemen. Plotting the number of people versus a given amount of wealth would give you a straight line.

Now the medieval king, who typically has an enormous amount of wealth, would be outside this plot, far above the rest. Think of someone like Bill Gates or Carlos Slim whose wealth dwarfs even that of a modern one-percenter. While the rest of the population is described by the simple line plot, these people are outliers.

So why dragon kings? Because, like dragons, certain extreme events are entirely outside the normal classification scheme.

Just as chaos theory cannot always predict or prevent dragon king events, it is only one tool in the political arsenal to shorten Trump’s reign. However, just as medical research requires understanding the cause and roots of a given disease before it can discover a cure, understanding that the President-elect is taking full advantage of chaos to expand his power may be the key to removing chaos from his toolbox and salvaging whatever survives his chaotic reign.

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

Inspired by the Battle

Over twenty years ago, I represented 3 clients in a high profile fair housing case in Madison that became known as the drive by landlord case because the landlord would drive by to look at the race of prospective tenants and refuse to rent to African American tenants under a pretext. Although we lost the trial in front of an all white jury, I learned recently that one of my clients, Tomika Gray-Vukovic, was inspired by our battle for justice despite the loss.

I had not seen or heard from Tomika in many years, but fortunately met her recently when Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Madison in October to campaign for Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton. Tomika was working for Russ Feingold’s campaign at the time and recognized me when I entered the building. She greeted me with a big smile and reintroduced herself and let me know that her housing discrimination lawsuit inspired her to make a career out of progressive social change.

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Shortly after Tomika and her family moved to Glendale, she made a point of getting involved in the public schools. Due to her involvement, she was asked to run for the Glendale-River Hills School Board and was elected in April 2016. She loves working to make sure that the children of her community have the best public schools that can be provided for them.

Tomika was also approached to serve on the city’s Planning Commission. With a background in accounting, she brings a business perspective, as well as the perspective of a parent, progressive, and experienced community advocate to the Commission. She is committed to a vision of continued sensible and planned growth in her community. She wants to continue successful economic growth by developing relationships with new businesses and connecting them with numerous vacant property development opportunities.

Her involvement in the schools and in city government has opened her eyes as to how things operate, and how she thinks they should operate. She has noticed that many of Glendale’s alders are unknown to community members because they are not seen out in the community. She wonders how can they know what the community wants if citizens do not know them. This is what has propelled  Tomika to run for a seat on the Glendale city council.

Tomika has taken very seriously President Obama’s admonition to “pick up a clipboard and run for office.” In truth, however, Tomika was one step ahead of the President as she had already committed to run for the city council (in addition to her school board seat) before President Obama gave his farewell address.

When one is engaged in progressive systems change, there are many obstacles. It simply is not for the faint hearted. Losing battles will happen regularly. How those who desire to make this world a better place respond to such losses reveals whether one has the stamina and fortitude to stick with it and achieve positive outcomes eventually. Tomika is a shining example of how losing a civil rights battle propelled her into the fray instead of scaring her away. I am thrilled to see the great work she is doing and I am honored to have had a small role in helping her on her way. I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the years to come as she clearly has a very bright future.

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

US Education System Earns a C

Education Week is a non-partisan publication which produces an annual national and state by state report card on the health of our education system. Sadly, the 2017 report released today does not bring good news. Overall, for the third year in a row, the report gives the American education system a C grade, certainly nothing to brag about. Thirty-four states including my home state of Wisconsin, which earned merely a C+, fell into the C- through C+ grade range.

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To  come up with that score, the report uses a multifaceted analysis, with 3 broad categories: K-12 Achievement; Chance for Success and School  Finance.

Chance for Success considers many critical factors in the lives of our children which help determine the probability that they will have a successful educational experience, including:

  • Family income
  • Parent education
  • Parent employment
  • English fluency
  • Preschool enrollment
  • Kindergarten enrollment
  • Elementary reading achievement
  • High school graduation rate
  • Young adult education
  • Adult education attainment
  • Annual income
  • Steady employment

School Finance also uses a multifaceted analysis including both equity and spending.

Wisconsin’s score breaks down as follows with its lowest score (D+) being in spending which raises serious questions as to how it will improve in the coming years:

Chance for Success: B (83.0)
*Early foundations: A- (90.3)
*School years: B- (79.9)
*Adult outcomes: B- (79.7)
K-12 Achievement: C (74.6)
*Status: C+ (76.7)
*Change: C- (69.9)
*Equity: C+ (79.2)
School Finance: C+ (79.1)
*Equity: B+ (89.2)
*Spending: D+ (69.0)

Unfortunately, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means that each state gets to choose its path towards improvement. Given the stagnant lack of significant improvement over many years, skeptics have every reason  to be concerned that any significant progress will be made in the foreseeable future. As the Report Overview states:

The question that loomed over the celebrations hailing ESSA’s passage in December 2015 remains: What will more state control mean for historically overlooked groups of students?
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, recalled that when ESSA became law, an influential civil rights leader in his state tweeted that he’d lived through states’ rights and it hadn’t worked out very well, a reference to segregation.
“I took that to heart, I took it as a personal obligation” to make equity for all groups a central tenet of Wisconsin’s plan, Evers said.
Civil rights advocates are heartened by such sentiments, but caution that states have a lot of decisions left to make.
“We’re still kind of in the thick of it,” said Daria Hall, the interim vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust, which advocates in support of poor and minority students. “There’s a lot of conversation going on right now, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can definitively say here’s where that conversation is leading us, for good, bad, or other.”

Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers is running for re-election in April and faces 2 opponents, John Humphries and Lowell Holtz, so there will be a primary in February. Parents, advocates and voters who care about Wisconsin’s education  system should ask all 3 candidates how they intend to improve Wisconsin’s education system given these long standing mediocre results.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin State Superintendent has no power over the state’s spending on education and does not write the laws that govern our education system, so parents, educators and advocates will need to pressure the Governor and state legislature to demand more funding and less diversion to private school voucher programs and charter schools which have failed to improve Wisconsin’s educational outcomes.

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

Key Protections for Students with Disabilities

Before leaving office, President Obama’s Department of Education issued critical protections for students with disabilities in 4 key documents. Given the desire of the incoming administration’s proposed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to expand charter and voucher schools, these documents will provide important protections for students with disabilities in the coming years.

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The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a comprehensive 47 page Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools which provides important guidance especially because most states fail to enforce this important law in public schools  and it is often ignored or misunderstood by public schools.

Key provisions include:

A school district must evaluate a student if it has reason to believe the student has a disability and the student needs special education or related services as a result of that disability, even if the student only exhibits behavioral (and not academic) challenges.

In OCR’s investigative experience, school districts sometimes rely on a student’s average, or better-than-average, classroom grades or grade point average (GPA) and, as a result, make inappropriate decisions. For example, a school district might wrongly assume that a student with an above-average GPA does not have a disability and therefore fail to conduct a Section 504 evaluation of that student, even if the school suspects that the student has ADHD or the school is aware that the student has been diagnosed with ADHD outside of school.

However, a student with a disability may achieve a high level of academic success but may nevertheless be substantially limited in a major life activity due to the student’s impairment because of the additional time or effort the student must spend to read, write, or learn compared to others.

School districts violate Section 504 when they deny or delay conducting an evaluation of a student when it would have been reasonable for a staff member to have suspected that a student has a disability and needs special education or related services because of that disability.

Section 504 is critically important for students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations and/or modifications to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) but do not require special education. As OCR states:

To the extent that services and aids, or changes to policies and procedures (for example, allowing testing accommodations such as extended time for exams) for a student with a disability can be implemented by a student’s regular education teacher, the regular education teacher is responsible for implementing them.

For example, a regular education teacher may need to provide a student with a disability an outline of the teacher’s lecture, permit the student to sit in the front of the classroom, or allow the student to turn in homework late.

However, the school district is ultimately responsible for ensuring there are sufficient qualified personnel available to provide the supplemental and related aids and services.

Sec. 504 provides important protections for students with disabilities who are bullied or harassed due to their disabilities.

Appropriate steps to end harassment may include separating the student who was harassed and the student(s) engaged in the harassing behavior, providing counseling for the students, or taking disciplinary action against the harasser. These steps should not penalize the student who was harassed.

OCR also issued a comprehensive 23 page Dear Colleague letter on Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities. Key concepts include:

For a student already identified as a student with a disability, a school’s use of restraint or seclusion could be evidence that the student’s current array of regular or special education and related aids and services is not addressing the student’s needs. Because the Section 504 FAPE obligation is ongoing, when a school district has reason to believe that the student’s educational needs are not being met, it must consider different or additional approaches or services to address the student’s behavioral needs, and if necessary, reevaluate the student, which could include evaluating the need for positive behavioral interventions and supports and other strategies to address the student’s behavior that could mitigate or eliminate the need for restraint and seclusion.

In OCR’s view, persuasive indicators that a student’s needs are not being met appropriately would include: situations that would impede the student’s learning or that of others, such as new or more frequent emotional outbursts by the student, or an increase in the frequency or intensity of behavior; a sudden change into withdrawn, non-communicative behavior; and/or a significant rise in missed classes or sessions of Section 504 services. A notable drop in academic performance, such as a sudden decline in grades, could also be an indicator of the need to consider different or additional approaches or services, but a change in a student’s academic performance is not a necessary indicator in every instance. Alternatively, a student’s current array of services might only address the student’s academic challenges but now must be modified to address new or changed disability-related behavioral challenges that the student may be experiencing. These and other indicators that the student’s behavior is out of the expected range of behaviors of students that age could trigger a school district’s Section 504 obligation to determine if the student’s needs are being met appropriately, and whether a reevaluation is needed under Section 504.

While federal law does not prohibit the use of seclusion and restraint, the use of these aversive techniques in inappropriate or discriminatory circumstances can violate federal law.

When a school district restrains or secludes a student with a disability for behavior that would not result in the restraint or seclusion of peers without disabilities, OCR would likely find that the school district engaged in unnecessary different treatment on the basis of disability prohibited by Section 504. Similarly, a school district that subjects a student to restraint or seclusion on the basis of assumptions or stereotypes about disability also engages in conduct prohibited by Section 504.

The repeated use of restraint or seclusion in school could deny a student’s receipt of FAPE in another way. Consider a student with a disability who engages in behavior in response to which the school secludes him for extended periods and on multiple occasions. While secluded, the student does not receive educational instruction or services. Cumulatively, the school’s repeated use of seclusion with that student could result in the school’s failure to comply with the Section 504 team’s decision about the regular or special education, related aids and services, or supplemental services and modifications that the student needs, or the appropriate setting in which to receive those services and therefore may constitute a denial of FAPE.

Last, but not least, the Department of Education issued two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) covering the rights of students with disabilities in charter schools under both Sec. 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

While state laws vary resulting in complex charter school governing statutes, one key concept remains valid regardless of the nature of the charter school:

All children with disabilities in charter schools must receive special education and related services and supplementary aids and services in accordance with the child’s IEP.

Regarding students who are not yet eligible for special education but are suspected of having a disability, the child find requirements in IDEA require states and school districts to have policies and procedures in effect to ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the State who need special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated, regardless of the severity of the disability. This responsibility includes highly mobile and migrant children with disabilities. The child find requirements apply to children enrolled in charter schools, regardless of whether the charter school operates as its own school district or is a public school within a school district.

In instances where charter schools are established to specifically serve students with disabilities,

Before a child with a disability is placed in a charter school established for a specific purpose related to the education of children with specific disabilities (i.e., to provide services for children in a specific disability category), the placement team must ensure that the child is able to receive a program of FAPE consistent with his or her IEP.

Given the growth of on-line virtual charter schools it is critical to understand that:

For example, virtual charter school LEAs must: (1) ensure that each eligible child with a disability has FAPE available to him or her; (2) implement evaluation and eligibility requirements; (3) carry out the IEP requirements, including those governing IEP content, IEP Team participants, parent participation, when IEPs must be in effect, consideration of special factors, the development, review, and revision of IEPs, secondary transition services and participation in State and districtwide assessment programs; and (4) implement the requirements regarding education in the least restrictive environment, including ensuring the availability of a continuum of alternative placements to provide special education and related services.

Regarding charter schools and Sec. 504, a key point is that regardless of whether it is a virtual on-line or bricks and mortar charter school:

Charter school students with disabilities, including current and prospective charter school students with disabilities, have the same rights under Section 504 as other current and prospective public school students with disabilities at the elementary and secondary school level.

Sec. 504 has broader coverage than the IDEA.

Section 504 protects all qualified students with disabilities in charter schools. Under Section 504, a student with a disability is a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Similarly, charter schools cannot get around their obligations under Sec. 504 by contracting out their services  to private entities.

The bottom line is the Sec. 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities.

This prohibition applies to the content of recruitment materials and to all recruitment activities, including formal presentations to, and informal conversations with, parents of prospective students. Additionally, all recipients must ensure that recruitment materials include a notice that the recipient does not discriminate on the basis of disability in violation of Section 504 in, among other things, the admission and treatment of students.

For example:

Statements indicating discrimination in recruitment would include those:

  • Based directly on disability (e.g., “students with an intellectual disability will not be accepted”);
  • Based indirectly on disability (e.g., “all students are required to be present at school at least 170 of the 180 school days per year without exception” would indicate discrimination under Section 504 against prospective students with a disability that causes them to miss more than ten school days per year);
  • Based on noncompliance with an obligation that is required of the recipient under Section 504 (e.g., “students with a current or previous IEP or Section 504 plan will not be admitted” or “students who require a sign language interpreter will not be admitted”).

This is just a summary of these 4 important pieces of federal guidance. Interested educators, parents and advocates would be wise to study the complete documents linked above, and show them to schools that may be operating contrary to the law. The bottom line is that with less than a month left in its administration President Obama’s Department of Education has provided critical protection to students with disabilities which educators must heed, and parents and advocates must  work hard to protect when the new administration takes office.

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

Tikkun Olam-Repair of the World

Every day we encounter problems that cry out for Tikkun Olama Jewish concept that means repair of the world. As a founding member and President of my synagogue,  Shaarei Shamayim, who has dedicated my professional career towards Tikkun Olam, congregants regularly ask me for advice on what they can do to help repair the world. Such requests have increased significantly since the last election.

Globe with Bandaid/Plaster Over U.S.A/North America

Fortunately, my synagogue has a spiritual leader, Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, who is also dedicated to Tikkun Olam, and our congregation gladly supports her efforts. However, she knows that it is not enough for her to speak out or take action on issues by herself. Members of our congregation and our community must do so as well, if genuine repair of the world is to occur.

Shortly after the election, we were privileged to have one of our members, Ruth Conniff, the editor of the Progressive magazine, talk to our members about the election results. Her talk inspired many of our congregants to look for ways to get directly involved in Tikkun Olam. Rabbi Laurie convened a number of meetings to determine how best to facilitate the desire of so many members to do good work in our community. I am very pleased to report that we now have now formed 4 projects available to our members:

  • Friends of the State Street Family-providing food and other assistance to people who are homeless in our community.
  • Circles of Support-working with Madison Urban Ministry to provide support to individuals leaving the prison system and returning to our community. I am joining other members of our congregation to participate in this project.
  • Jewish Social Services Resettling Refugees Project-through which our members will help provide assistance to 50 new refugees to our community.
  • Protecting Vulnerable Communities – Reflection, Advocacy, and Action-a group that will look for ways to protect vulnerable communities that may come under attack in the coming days, weeks and years.

For some, it may be difficult to take time out of their busy lives to get directly involved in such projects. Many have realized that it is also important to provide financial support to organizations who are doing good work. I have provided links to the groups our Congregation is working directly with who can certainly use financial support. Recently, I responded to a congregant who was looking for Jewish groups who were taking on the important task of Tikkun Olam as she wanted guidance to provide financial support to them. While there are many such groups, in addition to the groups mentioned above, I also informed her about the following laudable organizations:

  • T’ruah-the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
  • Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS)-HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
  • American Jewish World Service-a community of Jewish global citizens committed to repairing the world.
  • New Israel Fund-Invests in hundreds of Israeli organizations whose work changes the equation on civil rights, on religious freedom, and on social justice. Also organizes, advocates, trains, and convenes to build a community committed to a vision of a democratic, just, and equal Israel.

Of course there are many more projects and organizations which provide ways in which to engage in Tikkun Olam and no one can engage in all of them. So, pick one or more if you are able, and do your part to repair the world. In helping others, you will feel better for doing so.

Although there is much to fear about the unsettled state of our world, I am inspired on a daily basis by the amount of energy that is going into all the work needed to make our world a better place despite the ominous forebodings that surround us. Together, we will repair this world.

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

Signs of Hope

It has now been over a month since the nation woke up to discover that a man who campaigned for President using hateful rhetoric, surrounding himself with advisors who espoused hate for large swaths of Americans, became our President-elect. Since his election, he has nominated members of his incoming cabinet and key advisors who pride themselves in hating those who are not like them. With an incoming administration seething in hate, it is no wonder that hate crimes have escalated all over the country and many Americans live their lives in fear of what the coming months and years will wreak upon our nation and indeed, the entire world.

Given the choices that the President-elect is making, a Secretary of Education who wishes to privatize public schools in  the name of God; a Secretary of Energy who has called for dismantling that agency; and an Attorney General who does not believe in civil rights laws, the fear which the President-elect and his appointees have instilled in so many Americans is, sadly, a well founded fear. We can and should expect the next Administration to do terrible things which will dismantle many of the civil rights and environmental protections that we have held dear for so many decades.

But cowering in fear will not solve the problem created by the President-elect. Much has been written about various ways to fight back and it remains to be seen how this will play out in Congress, the courts, and elsewhere.

Now is not the time for despair, as it is the enemy of progress. Instead, we need to encourage each other with real and genuine hope for a better future, as hope is essential to systems change. In fact, what we need is radical hope. As Junot Diaz recently wrote, building on Jonathan Lear’s book of the same name:

“What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.

The good news is that literal signs of radical hope are popping up all over the place. Groups are forming and actions are being taken to challenge every hateful action taken or inspired by the President-elect. While collective response is important, many people feel isolated and are unsure or simply unable to join either new or established groups to combat the hateful rhetoric and actions that seemingly surround us on a daily basis. Fortunately, there are easy actions that individuals can take that combat hate and create a welcoming environment in our neighborhoods.

Recently, my friend Jennifer Rosen Heinz helped to spearhead a yard sign campaign which was so successful that the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health has now made the sign available on-line in a variety of formats.

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Simultaneously, a local pastor distributed 700 of these signs that sold out so quickly that they are now available for sale at the Willy Street Co-op. These signs have spread nationally and the design is open for download. This welcoming sign even has its own Facebook page and has received both local and national press as it spreads across the nation.

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We proudly have both these signs posted in our front yard, and as soon as I posted the first one, someone walking by said she liked the sign.

Some may consider it naive to suggest that welcoming yard signs can effectively combat a powerful and hateful government. To be sure, yard signs alone will not solve all the problems which the next administration is likely to foment upon our nation and the world. However, by posting these signs of hope, each of us who does so creates a welcoming message of radical hope which provides more space and courage to do the hard work that will be needed in the months and years to come to protect the most vulnerable people subject to attack and to limit the damage inflicted by the next administration.

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

Sustaining our Dreams

One of the great pleasures of life is to fulfill one’s dreams. I have been very fortunate to fulfill a number of my dreams, including finding my wife, Sheryl, with whom I have had a loving 34 year marriage; raising a deeply thoughtful and caring son, Josh, who is turning into a mature young man; engaging in a successful career as a public interest civil rights attorney for over 31 years, and living in a lovely nearly 100 year old home in welcoming neighborhood for nearly 25 years.

Sustaining each of those dreams takes effort.

  • Marriage is a constant set of intricate negotiations that, when successful, allows each partner to maintain their own independence, while simultaneously allowing the partnership to flourish.
  • Raising a child is perhaps the most difficult and rewarding thing one can do. As I have told my son on many occasions, parents do not receive an instruction manual, and all the parenting books in the world do not anticipate every single situation parents encounter while raising their children.
  • My legal career has flourished in many ways, but it has also had its challenges, particularly when two employers chose to terminate my services, failing to appreciate my efforts for the greater good.
  • While we cherish our beautiful home and neighborhood, its age requires annual maintenance and we anticipate losing some of our dearest neighbors in the coming year.

Perhaps the dream that continues to fulfill me the most is our ownership of 86 beautiful acres of land in Adams County, Wisconsin, on Goose Lake. The sparsely populated area was made famous by Aldo Leopold in his iconic environmental tome, A Sand County Almanac, the descriptions therein could truly be descriptions of our land and the wildlife that we share it with. We keep a copy at our home on Goose Lake which I regularly re-read.

When we bought the land, it was completely undeveloped. There were 2 farm fields which had not been farmed in many years, acres of virgin oak forest, acres of wetlands, and a 2 track road to a camp site with a fire ring of rocks. Initially, we started with the basics, drilling a well and installing a hand pump, building an outhouse, and putting up a full time wall tent for camping.

Eventually, after saving our money, we were able to build a dream vacation home, which of course, needs regular maintenance. Around the same time that we built that home, about 13 years ago, we engaged in another dream fulfilling project. The location of our home is about 1/3 of a mile in from the County Highway along a gravel driveway. The initial part of that driveway was prone to snow drifts due to the slope of the hill and the emptiness of the farm field to the north of the road. We did not want to install an unsightly snow fence, so instead we planted 2,500 spruce and pine saplings in the scrubbier of the 2 farm fields we own that abuts our driveway.

Watching those tiny saplings grow into a forest full of trees, many of which are over 20 feet tall now, has been truly inspiring. However, like all dreams, it takes work to sustain the forest we planted. This past weekend, I thinned about 15 trees, giving 3 of the spruce tops to friends for their holiday decorations.

I will leave the cut trees to dry and cut them up for firewood next year, as I did with last year’s cuttings.

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While this may seem idyllic, it takes hard work and I feel my body’s age increasingly each year. Although somehow, doing hard work to sustain a dream always seems a bit easier than other chores.

In addition, sustaining this dream includes unanticipated work, such as dealing with invasive species. After cutting firewood and thinning our spruce and pine forest, I turned to attacking the invasive Buckthorn that appeared for the first time this fall, at the edge of the spruce and pine trees we planted along the county highway. I prefer to avoid using toxic chemicals on our land, so I was glad to discover that someone at the University of Wisconsin developed a non-toxic method of suffocating the Buckthorn stumps with black bags. Fortunately, I was able to accomplish this task before the snow came down the next day.

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For as long as I live, I will continue to dream. Accomplishing and sustaining my dreams is what makes life worth living.

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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.

Charisma and Messaging

As Democrats ponder their recent election losses and pundits wonder how it is possible that approximately 17% of the electorate could support President Obama, but voted for Donald Trump, many simply shake their heads and wonder how this could happen. There are, of course, many theories: sexism and Democrats allegedly abandoning the working class and rural America are commonly mentioned. However, almost nobody mentions the one thing that President Obama and Donald Trump have in common. They both have tremendous charisma which enables them to convey powerful messages. Indeed, when I googled “images for charisma” these are the first two photographs that showed up.

Understanding both charisma and messaging are critical to any successful political campaign. Of course, charisma matters more when discussing specific candidates and messaging goes beyond candidates as it also includes issue campaigns.

In the case of charisma, Hillary Clinton conceded that she simply does not have it. That may have been wise for her to simply be honest about it. But acknowledging a flaw does not make the flaw go away. Of course, nearly 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton, nearly 2.5 million more than voted for Donald Trump, which means that charisma is not the only deciding factor and for many people, Hillary Clinton may have been more charismatic than Donald Trump. But, given our electoral college system, as well as the results in the Congressional and gubernatorial elections, serious political analysis cannot ignore the fact that Donald Trump was able to galvanize far more people to attend his rallies which helped to generate media attention in a way that smaller attendance at Hillary Clinton’s rallies simply could not match.

It is true that charisma alone does not automatically result in winning elections. One need only look as far back as Richard Nixon to understand that Americans will occasionally elect candidates who simply have no charisma. But in order for those candidates and their issues to prevail, they must overcome their lack of charisma with powerful messaging that enables them to win elections. Whether by coincidence or design, it is worth noting that both Nixon and Trump used silent majority messaging to win their elections.

A quick look at some of the hot button issues of our time demonstrates why many traditionally Republican issues have galvanized such a strong following. For example, if you put your own views aside, and you do not have strong feelings about abortion, it is fairly easy to see why the message of: pro-life is more compelling than pro-choice. After all, who is against life?

In the case of the private school voucher debate, the pro-voucher campaign succeeds because it wisely uses the phrase pro-choice and in this case, the anti-voucher campaign simply has no galvanizing message other than it is anti-voucher.

Although it was ultimately abandoned as failed policy, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform of federal education law passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in 2001 and remained the law of the land despite widespread acknowledgment of how poorly it was working until 2015, because of its name. After all, who could argue with the basic concept of no child left behind? Regardless of how the law failed, the name carried such a powerful message that it sustained despite years of bi-partisan recognition that it did not come close to fulfilling its mission.

Although President Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress, and the name appeared to carry a good message at the time, it is likely to be abandoned or at least significantly modified by the next Congress not just because of the election results. The simple fact is that unless you receive a subsidy, the Affordable Care Act is not affordable! This is a case of the original messaging running so contrary to reality, that its name may help to bring its own demise.

On the charisma front, it behooves any political campaign to keep this critical factor in mind as it searches for successful candidates, especially in large scale statewide or national elections where TV appearances will be frequent. Failure to do so will result in losing elections in most cases regardless of whether voters agree with the views of the candidate.

Messaging is manufactured and its success starts with listening to what voters care about and testing messages with focus groups. Although I am not a political insider, I am a keen political observer and I have heard enough whining about voters who vote against their own interest to understand that such whining does not win elections or issue campaigns. Listening to voters and crafting messages that they want to hear and are congruent with the values of the candidate, party or issue is how campaigns are won. Patience and perseverance are critical as voters have demonstrated that they will easily switch parties based on charisma and message.

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