Zealotry, Embarrassment, and Disgust – The 2013 Story of the NJEA

One of the concurrently great and not-so-great things about New Jersey politics is the presence of the New Jersey Educators’ Association (NJEA). They’re great because I believe a well-run, dedicated statewide union for educators can really work in the best interests of teachers, schoolchildren, and parents combined. They’re not-so-great because the NJEA is an anti-progress, angry group of zealots who only care about attacking Republicans and standing in the way of the types of solutions that help the very poorest schoolchildren achieve greater academic heights. I often wonder what the NJEA has against poor kids, but Lord knows they’d lie if ever asked.

The only Governor in New Jersey history who tells it like it is to the NJEA

The only Governor in New Jersey history who speaks truth to the NJEA

Anyway, if you live in New Jersey and of clear political mind, then you already know that the NJEA is a group of zealots that many of their own members no longer want to be associated with these days. The impetus for writing this entry isn’t just to rehash how sad of an organization the NJEA is today, but rather to react to a recent report about their spending habits during the current election cycle. Laura Waters of NJ Left Behind (Ms. Waters is a Democrat, by the way, who is a strong advocate of student achievement over all else) posted a short blog entry recently that referenced a few other sources regarding reports on the NJEA’s political spending. Most notably, she links to NJ Spotlight and their recent article which cites the NJEA’s spending on the current election at $13 million. A quote from the NJ Spotlight article:

The New Jersey Education Association’s political juggernaut keeps on rolling. With the latest campaign finance reports in, the teachers union has now topped $13 million in spending on the state elections next Tuesday, easily beating all other special-interest spending and almost matching Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign itself, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. The bulk of the money is out of its super PAC, Garden State Forward, which has been active for not only Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, with two television ads on her behalf so far, but also focused on helping Democratic candidates in a handful of legislative races that are considered tight.

How pathetic? How disgusting? What an embarrassment to those “members” of the union that are either middle-of-the-road politically or who fall right of center. For those of you reading this entry who are not familiar with the New Jersey system – each teacher in the state has to is essentially forced to join the NJEA. Sure, you can choose not to be a member, but even if you’re not a member you still have to pay a percentage of the annual dues (I hear it’s 90%) on the basis that – as a teacher – you still receive the benefits of union negotiations.

It’s a modern day racket system.

After reading the NJ Spotlight story on the NJEA’s unbelievably partisan political spending and adding that knowledge with all of the anti-academic achievement actions of the NJEA over the last few years, it makes one wonder what these folks really want for our kids. Sure, you can read their websites and other forms of propaganda and come away feeling all happy and nice. And yes, you can listen to their verbal propaganda and videos and think, “Wow! What a great organization for New Jersey!” But when it comes right down to it, after looking at the reality of the partisan, biased political spending for this organization you have to be embarrassed. You have to be embarrassed that this is the sorry organization that New Jersey has negotiating for its teachers.

Becoming a teacher is a noble and worthwhile profession. However, the NJEA as an organization is not worth of its own membership. The NJEA as an organization is a failure. It should be disbanded so that New Jersey’s long, statewide nightmare can come to an end.

Most of the Blogs Out There Are Not Written for Those With Crushing Debt Burdens

Even though this is probably no surprise to anyone out there – I read a lot. From books to magazines to newspapers to websites to blogs to academic reports to you name it. I find myself reading a great deal of varied content on a weekly basis. Right now, for example, I’m reading a book about post-World War II educational curriculum development in America as well as the ninth book in the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I’m also halfway through a book about how approaches to best educating students has changed in the last 20+ years.

But aside from all of these books and reports I really like to read blogs written by everyday people who accomplish extraordinary feats. I have a small cadre of such blogs fed into my RSS feeder. Some of these blogs are written by people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight, others are written by people who have gone from a skinny physique or a chubby physique to winning bodybuilding competitions. Some of the blogs are written by guys who were introverted and wound up changing their lives to become social butterflies. Other blogs are written by people who have managed to travel around the world for an incredibly small amount of money before they were a certain age.

I don’t necessarily identify with any of these blogs or their writers because none of them really speak to my direct experience. In other words, at one point I lost 125 pounds so I already know how to accomplish that goal, I’ve never been an introverted person so I don’t need tips or pointers on how to get out there and meet people, and I’m not the biggest traveler so those lessons really don’t apply to my life. What I do enjoy about these blogs is reading the sense of accomplishment that these people achieve when they meet their goals. As someone who has met (and continues to meet) certain goals in my life, I understand how great that sense of accomplishment feels.

It’s awesome.

However, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in many of these blogs. All of these amateur writers are missing commentary that speaks to a growing number of individuals in our country. Let me be more direct: not one of these bloggers, these self-professed self-help gurus, these accomplished weight loss success stories, these people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, etc. have accomplished their major goals and retired a tremendous amount of debt.

While these bloggers build their own ego and create their own hype because they lost [insert large number here] pounds or because they traveled to [insert large number here] countries, you can’t find someone who has managed accomplish a major goal while saddled with a tremendous non-mortgage debt burden. And it’s like this all over the blogosphere. For example, I read a lot of guy blogs (those blogs focused on items of interest to guys in my age group). These blogs range in variety and type from guys who spend a lot of their time working out and talking about the best techniques for working out to guys who claim to have a lot of social success to guys who manage to weave the fundamentals of their faith throughout their daily lives.

All of the writers that I read on guy blogs eventually wind up writing an entry about how their readers can become better at [insert whatever here]. Well, the impetus for writing this entry was a piece of “advice” that I’ve seen pop up over and over again on these guy blogs. And that same piece of advice pops up on all of the blogs that I read – not just guy blogs. That piece of advice is that if you want to be the absolute best at [insert whatever here], then you absolutely cannot have any debt.

That’s right. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to lose weight, you can’t have any debt because you need the freedom to be able to spend as much time as possible working out instead of being stuck working one, two, or more jobs. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to increase the size of your social circle, you can’t have any debt because if you don’t have excess funds to do new and exciting things, how can you expand the number and type of people that you’ll interact with? I’ve even read bloggers who say that if you want to meet the type of girl that you think you’re most compatible with, then you can’t have debt because that debt weighs on you mentally and restricts your ability to see yourself with a successful girlfriend, fiancée, or wife.

But here’s the question that prompted me to write this entry…

Who doesn’t have some type of debt? I don’t mean that as a matter-of-fact type of question with the expectation that your response would be, “I guess everyone has some type of debt.” That’s not what I’m going for here. Think of the real answer to that question – who doesn’t have some type of debt? Well, you have independently wealthy people or those who come from tremendous wealth and don’t need to pay their own way through life. Okay. You also have those people who have worked their butts off and earned enough money such that they don’t have to carry any debt. Okay. And you know what? You might even find that people who are the exact opposite of these wealthy people also don’t have any debt. That is to say that those people who never took on college debt yet still didn’t graduate with a degree or those people who just graduated from high school (or not) and wound up living in their parents’ basement; the habitual underachievers out there.

Is there any other type of person who doesn’t have some type of debt? I really can’t think of any, but I would suggest that there should be a fourth category – those people who choose to write a blog focusing in depth about their success at achieving a goal other than retiring debt! After spending a few years reading some of these blogs I’ve come to the conclusion that people out there who accomplish what they believe are great things are not saddled with a tremendous amount of non-mortgage debt. They don’t have a significant amount of consumer debt and they don’t have a significant amount of student loan debt. They have that freedom that I referenced above – the freedom to not be tied down to one, two, or more jobs. And with that freedom comes the ability and flexibility to spend more of their time losing weight or working out or hanging out at local clubs or spending their time learning new hobbies or traveling around the world, etc.

They don’t know what it’s like to work an 8am to 6pm job with an hour commute wrapped on either side of that workday plus spending an hour each morning before you leave for the office working on freelance projects and several hours at night when you get home at night working a second or third job. And I specifically wrote that last sentence to begin with “they don’t know what it’s like” because that’s the problem that I’ve been having with a lot of the blogs that I read: the writers just don’t understand how self-righteous and, frankly, alienating they sound when they write their entries.

And here’s the prime example that I know so many of you out there have probably seen before… How many of you have ever read a weight loss blog or a weight training blog that condemns those who say they don’t have the free time to work out? Usually, the writer says that this is just an excuse and that you can make time to lose weight or work out if you really want to…

If you really want to? Really?

Are you fucking kidding me?

The only person who would write such an ignorant comment is someone who don’t wake up at 5am (exhausted) and then fall into bed at midnight after working the entire day to earn money in an effort to retire debt. Who would tell someone who keeps this schedule 5, 6, or 7 days each week that they are lazy or that they are the cause of their own lament because they don’t make time for working out? I know who would tell someone that – a blogger who has never had to try to tackle both [insert a personal goal here] and retire a significant amount of debt at the same time.

The reason why I wrote this entry is because I know I have a lot of random readers on this blog and I can track where some of you come from out there on the internet. Some of you are coming from some of these self-help, conquer the world type of blogs and that’s great. Believe me, I want to conquer the world and improve my health, wealth, and well-being just as much as those other writers. However, I live my life in the real reality – a reality much closer to where you probably exist, too. I understand that it’s hard to train to climb Mount Everest when you have a six-figure student loan debt crushing you and dictating nearly every move you make. I understand that it’s really hard and really difficult to lose weight when you’re working 16 – 18 hour days (or longer). I understand that it’s difficult to put the proper amount of time and effort into increasing your social circle or even finding someone worthwhile to date when you’re so focused and, unfortunately, controlled by crushing levels of consumer or student debt. I understand where you’re coming from – I get it.

And I don’t think that you’re lazy. I don’t think that you’re anti-social. I don’t think that you’re making excuses. Not at all.

What I do think is that you’re stuck in the same rut that the majority of population is stuck in – you’re forced to do things to retire debt (or generally improve your financial position) that prevent you from fully engaging in the other activities that you want to engage in. You’re not going to find this understanding on those self-help blogs or the guys’ blogs or in many other places out there because the truth is that those writers simply don’t understand. In about 6 years I’ve paid off nearly $100,000 in student loan debt and I have another $21,000+ left to repay. I repaid that amount while losing a tremendous amount of weight, gaining most of it back, losing much of it again, and gaining some of it back again. Professionally, I work around the clock; not just a 9-to-5 type of job. Believe me, I understand the burden of debt and how it really does dictate what you can and cannot do with your life.

And, like many of you, I’ve sat there and listened to people in my personal and professional life ask me why I don’t [insert whatever here] while I’m young? These people also have no idea what it’s like to be suffocating under crushing consumer or student loan debt. Folks constantly ask me why I don’t go away on vacation (my last real vacation was back in 6th grade). Well, I don’t go away on vacation because I can’t imagine spending a thousand or two bucks on vacating reality while I still owe money on my student loan. That would be financially foolish. People ask me why I don’t go out and find a “nice” girl to date (usually, their definition of “nice” is different than mine, but that’s another entry). They don’t understand that when you work around the clock, you don’t have much time for socialization outside of your standard circle. And, to mix a little bit of a guys’ blog mindset here, they don’t understand that the girls you meet while you are burdened with immense debt, while you are out of shape, or while you are working around the clock are typically not the girls that you want to marry! I assume it’s the same for the ladies out there looking for a man.

To sum it up, I just warn you all to read these self-help, self-improvement blogs for purposes other than examples to follow. Chances are very strong that the writer you’re reading doesn’t have the same life experiences as you do. And chances are even stronger that they never had to tackle an immense amount of undischargeable consumer or student debt before, during, or after they accomplished whatever it is that made them an amateur expert.

Be rational, believe in yourself, and tackle your debt first. Once you remove that crushing yoke, then focus on your health (losing weight, gaining muscle, etc.), and after that you can focus on your social life. There’s no way around doing what makes sense and this is the path that I really believe makes the most sense for the most people out there.

Now… back to the grind!

Unnecessary Complications: Folks Who Can’t See Past Politics

By now, I think that if you frequent JerseySmarts.com you know that from time to time I like to tell stories. I don’t know if I’m a good storyteller, but I think I get the job done well enough. For this entry, I’m going to just write a little bit about something that has been bothering me, but without going into too much detail about the origin of the angst.

Let’s see if I can do it!

Do you know people who blindly follow everything that the leaders of their chosen political party or political point of view say? You know – that friend of yours who never thinks that anything a Republican/Democrat (depends on your friend’s point of view) does is worth any good at all. These people bother me. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of these brainwashed people from both sides of the aisle emerge over the national debt debate. There are conservative minded people who think that the government should stop spending money, period. There are liberal minded people who think that the debt ceiling should have no limit because they don’t think it matters. And then there are the vast majority of Americans who believe that something needs to be done that includes both spending cuts and getting rid of loopholes that allow the ultra wealthy to not pay their fair share in taxes.

In other words, there are people who understand that compromise is the right way to go and there are people who have a blind allegiance to whatever one political party says.

Those people with the blind allegiance frustrate me.

However, forget about the national debate over the debt limit for a moment. There’s an example much closer to home that frustrates me even more. Here in New Jersey we have a very healthy charter school system. For those of you who do not know what a charter school is – it’s a free, public school just like any other public school. There are two primary differences between a charter school and the traditional public school system. The first is that a charter school does not operate under the thumb of the local Board of Education. They’re independent and not beholden to the sometimes crazy local politics that shape local Boards of Education.

The second difference is funding. You know all of that money that you pay in property taxes? Well, that money is filtered through the system in New Jersey a “per pupil” amount is decided for each school district. Ideally, you should be able to track your property tax dollars throughout the system and ultimately say something like, “My 2010 property taxes paid for X students to be educated in the local school district.” Except for charter schools. Yes, they are funded through the same revenue stream as the regular school districts, except they only get 90% of the “per pupil” funding.

Two major differences – independent of the local school board and given less money in an attempt to do a better job at educating your students. Got it? Good!

If you’ve followed the charter school movement in New Jersey, then you know that they are admired by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. In fact, Governor Chris Christie has ramped up many of the charter school programs that were supported or enacted under former Governor Jon Corzine. There has been a gradual increase in the amount of charter schools operating throughout the Garden State – I think we’re at 70 something schools now. And the most important note to mention about the charter schools operating in New Jersey is that, by and large, they are succeeding.

All you have to do is look at schools like TEAM Academy Charter School in Newark or Camden’s Promise Charter School in Camden or Hope Academy Charter School in Asbury Park and you’ll find students whose parents have rejected the local school districts and are now achieving levels of academic success never before thought possible in these districts. It’s happening, folks – and it’s real. There are a lot of people out there who try to marginalize the charter school movement and their arguments are pretty lame. One of the biggest arguments that I hear goes something like, “Charter schools are private schools! They take money from the public system for a private school!”

That’s totally ridiculous.

Charter schools are totally free, public schools that you can send your child to if you so choose. If there are not enough seats in the charter school to accommodate all of the applicants, then the school holds a public lottery to allocate the seats. It doesn’t get any fairer than that, people.

But what aggravates me the most and what drove me to write this entry is that many of today’s complainers about charter schools didn’t say a word a few years ago when Corzine was governor. Not a word. In fact, many of them lauded the great work that Corzine was doing to support quality charter schools throughout the state. And now we have a very strong, very well-liked Republican governor in a predominantly Democratic state and all of a sudden the supporters of charter schools have become detractors.

It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s blind political allegiance.

Mark my words – as soon as a Democrat becomes the governor of this state again, you won’t hear a single peep out of the hate groups that run around these days lambasting Governor Christie’s heroic efforts to support the charter school movement. Those with blind political allegiance will hoot and holler about how great the Democratic governor is and how he or she is fixing all of the problems that Governor Christie “created.”

And amid all of that rubbish there will be nearly no truth.

The truth is that charter schools have succeeded under Republican and Democratic governors alike. The truth is that charter schools have been given a tremendous amount of support under Republican and Democratic governors alike. And the truth is that this state’s politics are so wallowed in people with a fiercely blind political allegiance that those of us with independent voices must continue to shout to be heard above the chorus of blind hatred.

I wonder how long it can last. I wonder how long before someone takes these blind political zealots to task. For the sake of the future of this great state, I hope that day comes very, very soon.

A Graphic Look at the United States’ Education System as Compared to the World

Have you ever wondered how the United States ranks in terms of education spending, how many years our education system requires for completion as compared to the rest of the world, hours of instruction as compared to other countries, and any other number of topics? Well, we’re pleased to bring you the graphic below which lays out a great deal of metrics regarding the United States and its education system. I hope you enjoy reading through this – I find it pretty interesting!

Pretty interesting stuff, huh? It’s amazing how many different ways you can break down the numbers and show these statistics.

Guest Editorial: On Personal Finance and Our Educational System

Hi everyone! Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest editorial from Patricia Briggs. Ms. Briggs has written a guest editorial for us once before, which you can find by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy Ms. Briggs’ latest contribution which starts right after this paragraph.

How to Make Personal Finance Education A More Integral Part of Our Education System

Despite the proposal creeping up numerous times by so many people over the years, there has never been a solemn attempt to include personal finance as an integral part of the high school curriculum. There is no doubt that personal finance has always been an integral part of our daily lives. Children will have more command over their finances if they grow up acquiring knowledge about personal finance while in school.

These days millions of children leave school without any knowledge of personal finance. Even, many leave the University without a single class on the banking and fractional banking system, function of the Federal Reserve, currency devaluation, compounding interest and mortgage interest. It is really awful that the education system has now become a platform for job rather than proper knowledge and entrepreneurship.

It is quite evident that some fundamental things are wrong within the system. A question might arise that in whose interest the government is not employing personal finance education in schools. Again best-selling personal finance and business author, Angie Mohr says, “At the beginning of another school year, we find once again that our kids are learning more about theory and less about practical financial concepts. Our kids can explain the Pythagorean Theorem but can’t make change from a $20 bill. They can memorize passages from Shakespeare but don’t know how to compare the value of two items in a grocery store.”

However, as a single optimistic step toward implementing personal finance education as an integral part of our education system, President Obama has declared April Financial Literacy Month after witnessing years of personal finance decline.

It is obviously a good sign that President Obama has declared April Financial Literacy Month. However, that is not going to solve the whole lot. There are still some robust steps need to be taken to ensure personal finance classes for teens about how to mange their money.

The Federal government and the state machineries should jointly take initiatives to ensure compulsory teaching of personal finance in the States. Further, the parents should also be aware of the importance of personal finances in their children’ life. If parents compel the local schools and state governments to take positive steps in this regard, there can be a positive outcome. The government must be compelled by showing examples of the poor condition of the economy and the tearing consumer-debt that resulted from the lack of knowledge of personal finance among common people.

However, some pioneer schools have already started to figure out personal finance as a subject to be taught to teens. According to a study by the national Council for Economic Education in 2009, 13 states are required at least one semester of personal finance instruction (see the requirements in your state).

Now it is time for other states to include personal finance education into their core curriculum. Further, according to a June 2010 Capital One study, 45% of high school graduates are even not ready to manage their money after their graduation.

Author’s Bio: Patricia Briggs is a guest columnist, blogger, author for various websites and communities including Oak View Law Group, CCHFA, CSCDA etc. She has completed her Post Graduation in Social Welfare from California University and is currently working with a reputed bank located in California. She loves to write articles during her free time especially on topics like bankruptcy, debt settlement services, investment opportunities, monetary policies, etc.