Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oregon's Children Lose a Friend

by Steve Buel

Oregon's children, and particularly Beaverton's children, lost a friend this last weekend when John Burns died of a heart attack. 

Very few people have a combined commitment to both schools and good government and understand how it should all fit together. John was one of those people. His death will have a negative impact on the Beaverton School District for years to come. For he was committed to making changes to the embattled district which truly would benefit children. He was running for the Beaverton School Board with a contingent of candidates who he called "my people". "My people" in the sense that they understood education and the importance of spending money and time where it would directly benefit children, while at the same time supporting sensible things like teachers and parent input and fighting against backroom deals and illegal actions by government entities. He was terrific at finding out what was really going on in government and constantly emphasized the importance of getting "the facts". His best strategy was using shoddy governments' own words as the basis for his protests.  "Use their own words against them," he preached.

John was not just a candidate for the Beaverton School Board but one of the leaders in Oregon Save Our Schools. Hopefully, the contingent of candidates he was working with can carry on the fight they have begun. It would be incredibly sad if they didn't honor his legacy by continuing their fine work. It would break his heart.

I met John a few months ago when I talked to him about joining with Oregon SOS. We had since become good friends though it was one of those friendships where you gave each other a bad time -- but those are often the best friendships. I looked forward to working on his campaign, and then on helping him make Beaverton a better school district. We were also working on a sensible legislative agenda for OSOS. Lots of good stuff for kids.

I will miss him. But I won't forget him.

The last time I talked to him he had sent me a photo of the Beaverton contingent all wearing red at the last school board meeting. He was really proud of what they were doing. I hope he will still be proud years from now. He deserves to be.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Values and Value

Death leaves a frightening void. It's hard to shed light on such darkness. Maybe that's why we take a step back to re-evaluate our own lives and to pause for reflection.

John Burns died on January 27, 2013.

Who is John Burns? I can't really say. I was just getting to know him. Like most people who are unafraid of sticking their hands into a messy situation, he couldn't fully figure out how to keep the mess from obscuring his message. It grieves me that his own big heart silenced the messenger.

John Burns crossed the Willamette River to bridge Portland and Beaverton public education advocates. With compassion in his heart, he was a champion for his autistic son and other disadvantaged kids. With music in his heart, he was a champion for Beaverton Friends of Music. With justice in his heart, he was a champion for Beaverton taxpayers, scrutinizing the district's budget for missed priorities.

He did this voluntarily, working for free.

How contrary to the "free" market, where we exchange money and jostle for goods! The "free" market is about value. Value what is cheapest, and we cheapen our values. We consume more stuff. We waste more stuff.

Corporations devalue people, especially those who are lowest on the economic ladder, exploited for their achievement and skills "gap." The poorest can't afford basic needs and services: food, shelter and healthcare. This sets up teachers, and other educational professionals, to fail--particularly when corporate plutocrats demand value added measures.

The corporation values return on investment. Corporations weigh costs of lobbying and political contributions against the benefits. Most of us don't understand that these values (d)evolve "naturally" when profit-seeking corporations merge and acquire, seeking profit for their stockholders, using all legal means available

Corporations have no interest in so-called "negative externalities"--the social costs we suffer. Profits over people.  To the advantage of corporations, public opposition generally falls apart quickly because new economic and environmental wild fires rage and require attention.  Coalition is short-lived when we are atomized. This fission energy is disempowering and unsustainable.

Corporations can create private foundations to mitigate the costs of public relations. As the largest in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sets the bar for venture philanthropytying strings to policy-makers and other non-profits. The charitable contributions of the Gates Foundation yield an immeasurable return on education investment since Microsoft nets no-bid "commitments" from the White House. And what a Net! Claiming efficiencies and more "personalized" education, high-tech and virtual education investments will squeeze more teachers out of the classroom.

How could any grantee disagree with the Gates Foundation's notions of "College Ready Education" or suggest an inherent conflict of interest? Since 2005, the Gates Foundation contributed nearly $9 million to Stand for Children Leadership Center. Since 2005, Stand for Children dramatically shifted away from the grassroots.

If we are the grassroots, we must work on common grounds to light a bright future for posterity. Our work, free of monetary value and derived of human dignity and diversity, can generate fusion energy. Fellowship is harmony. Harmony is priceless.

Harmony begins with a chord. Thank you, John Burns, for finding the right pitch in Beaverton! Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.