Wednesday, August 13, 2008

School is Just Around the Corner. Hard to believe, but with the earliest Labor Day possible, public schools will be in session starting in less than three weeks. With that, I suppose it's time I got away from my intermittent posting and get down to regularly-scheduled messages to all those who are interested. So, it's back to the keyboard. I'll be looking for interesting stories and information to pass on to interested parties so if you have something you think would be of interest to those involved in education policy in Minnesota--especially SEE members--don't hesitate to pass it along.

MSBA Summer Leadership Conference. The MSBA Summer Leadership Conference convenes tomorrow for its annual one-and-a-half day run. I plan on being there for most of the conference and look forward to meeting with as many of you as possible. It's always fun to see membership outside of the formal confines of SEE events for relaxed discussion and to catch up on a summer's worth of activity. I'll be the guy with the camera trying to get some quality candids to post on the blog, so don't be shy.

Type III Vehicle Hubbub. One of the issues facing school districts in the coming weeks is going to be the new qualifications for drivers of Type III vehicles (cars and vans). Legislation was passed during the 2008 session that brings many of these drivers under greater scrutiny. The legislative intent was to exempt those drivers, principally coaches and other extra- and co-curricular advisers, from coming under the purview of these new guidelines and instead concentrate on those individuals for whom driving is their principal duty.

The Department of Public Safety has read the law and has decided, in spite of the legislative intent expressed by the bill's authors, to enforce an interpretation of the language that will require that anyone for whom driving is an assumed part of their responsibility to meet the new requirements. This does not necessarily involve placing these drivers into a random drug-testing pool, but it will require greater training and, in some instances, may create a situation where this pool of drivers will drive their own vehicles instead of a school vehicle to transport students involved in a specific activity. I know most of you aren't personal injury attorneys, but I don't have to tell you of the nightmarish situations that could be created when staff uses non-school district-owned vehicles to transport students.

I will keep you updated on this issue as a number of you are in the midst of putting together these transportation plans for the year ahead.

Movie Review. Yep, along with all of the education-related information I provide, I also share my viewpoints on some of the popular culture that is floating about in the ether. Today's review is Kevin Costner's latest "Swing Vote." I went to the movie not expecting a whole lot. Costner's box office swagger has largely evaporated in recent years, as the wrinkles in his sun-weathered face have taken some of the luster from his once boyish California good looks (Hey. I know. He still looks about a hundred times better than me. I get that.).

The first 90% of the movie is pretty much your standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Costner's character--Earnest "Bud" Johnson--stumbles into a very odd state-of-affairs which invests in him the obligation, as a single voter, to choose the next President of the United States. Along with this fish-out-of-water tale is a not-so-veiled critique of the current state of political campaigning. A lot of this stuff is flat laugh-out-loud as the two campaigns vie to mine Bud's mind for the issue that will swing the vote their way and their reactions to Bud's responses.

But it's the last twenty minutes of the movie that are both touching and instructive, as Bud finally realizes the responsibility that has been thrust upon him. Underlying the action is a not-so-subtle swipe at the Baby Boom generation (and as a member of that generation, I cannot say we don't deserve it). I won't give away the ending, but would urge anyone who watches politics in the early 21st century to carve out some time to see this. This isn't Plato or Thomas Hobbes, so don't expect any grand political theories to spout forth, but a message worth heeding does spring forth.

This isn't Costner's first foray into the realm of the political. There was a time in my life when I would do movie doubleheaders on the weekends and one particular weekend, I saw Costner in "The Postman" and the star-studded cast of "Wag the Dog" back-to-back. For those of you who cannot remember, "The Postman" was slaughtered by the critics, while "Wag the Dog" was their darling. Seeing them both on the same day gave me a whole week's worth of food for thought (and I remembered to keep it in the refrigerator so it wouldn't spoil). "Wag the Dog" was an extremely clever, but unbelievably cynical movie. In many ways, it supports the notion that there is this oligarchy of politicians and public relations people who simply make the truth malleable enough to maintain a grip on power. "The Postman," on the other hand, is this homespun (and not particularly well done) paean to the power of individuals to stand up to threats to their ability to run a democracy. In terms of cinematic construction from the script-to-shot, "Wag the Dog" wins hands-down. But as in the case of "Swing Vote," the message of "The Postman" is far more uplifting and elemental.

In its purest form, democracy is rather banal. There isn't much exciting about it. But that is its beauty. Democracy affords all of us the opportunity to design the social contract and map society's destiny. It just takes work and persistence. In this election year, regardless of where one sits on the ideological spectrum, that's an important thing to remember.

Now, if you really want a hoot, go rent the cult classic "Bubba Ho-tep." But don't let yourself escape too far in this election season.

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