BTS Shopping a Great Way to Support Youth’s Leadership

We’re headlong into the rush to get all the BTS shopping done, with sales well underway and many families with children of all ages anticipating the Labor Day Weekend blowouts just before school starts. Whether you have children heading to school for the first time or back to elementary, middle, or high school, or even heading off to college, the purchases you make you can have a direct impact on funding in support of our local youth programs for the current academic year.

Retailers are supporting non-profits through a variety of programs. Youth’s Leadership is a beneficiary of three primary retail contribution programs, wherein participating retailers donate a percentage of the purchase price of every sale:

The Benefit Mobile app is a platform to purchase eGift Cards for your favorite merchants and retailers. You can use the cards yourself or gift them to others. For Amazon shoppers, the contribution to Youth’s Leadership for purchases at Amazon using a Benefit Mobile eGift Card is FOUR TIMES the normal contribution of an AmazonSmile purchase.

Many of the most popular and well known retailers are partners in the program, including Amazon, American Eagle Outfitters, Apple iTunes, Columbia Sportswear, Dell.com, Footlocker, Marshall’s, Nike, Overstock.com, TJ Maxx, Under Armour, and more. If you’re planning a day out shopping with a stop for lunch, buy yourself an eGift Card from one of the participating restaurants, such as Applebees, Dave & Busters, IHOP, Panda Express, Quizno’s, Red Robin – or just pick up a pizza from Domino’s with your prepaid eGiftCard.

Do you like one stop shopping? Make Youth’s Leadership your designated charity in Fred Meyer’s Community Rewards program. It’s easy to do, and every time you shop with your Fred Meyer’s member card or type in your phone number at a Fred Meyer store to receive your membership special pricing, a percentage of the total sale will be donated to Youth’s Leadership. We’ve put complete instructions on our website.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds and parking lots and do the bulk of your shopping online, the eScrip Online Mall is your gateway to some of your favorite online shopping destinations. Click from our website to create your account, designate Youth’s Leadership as the non-profit organization you wish to support, and start shopping. The portal will display the percentage of your purchases from each merchant and retailer you shop that will be donated to Youth’s Leadership.

These programs make it easy to support Youth’s Leadership every time you shop, with no cost to you! Your assistance in opening the doors for more youth to participate in local leadership programs is invaluable and makes a positive difference in the lives of children, families, and our community, now and into the future. Thank you.

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Restore Your Fred Meyer Rewards Card Support

Four months ago, in June 2016, Fred Meyer sent an advisory that on July 1, 2016, Community Rewards members chosen charitable organization(s) would be “un-linked” from their shopping Rewards Cards, effectively suspending all charitable donations from Fred Meyer for every shopper who did not login to their Fred Meyer account and restore contributions by re-linking their desired charity. Fred Meyer said little on their motivations for the interruption and the tedious nature of the ‘second opt-in’ method they adopted for customers wishing for contributions to continue to be sent to their favorite charities; but unintended consequences are now being felt by Fred Meyer and the many charitable organizations that formerly benefited from the Community Rewards program.

With about as much noise as the June announcement, which evidently went largely unheeded by Fred Meyer customers, the company is now reaching out to Rewards Cards members and charities and reminding them of the action taken in July. Why Fred Meyer did not simply send an announcement in June that offered members the option to ‘click’ to keep things as they were or login to make changes is a matter on which Youth’s Leadership and countless other charities are left to speculate, but we have some thoughts.

First things first, whether or not you were aware of the termination of Community Rewards on your card in July, if you have not reactivated it by re-linking Youth’s Leadership or another charity to your Rewards Card, then the time to visit the Fred Meyer website and login and restore contributions from Fred Meyer is now! Once you have logged in to your account on Fred Meyer, use our rewards information page for assistance in linking Youth’s Leadership to your Rewards Card.

The interruption was not a discontinuation of the Community Rewards program, but it has had an impact. Some members received notice and took appropriate action. But too many junked the notice, or did not understand that they needed to take action and reactivate their participation and name their charitable organization(s) all over again. Apparently, many brushed off the notice incorrectly assuming nothing would change if they did not ask for a change to be made on their own prerogative.

Consequently, Rewards Card member participation in the Community Rewards program has declined, and that means Fred Meyer has less to brag about in how much they donate back to the community because there is substantially less directed giving, and of course effected charities have received nothing in the way of support from the Fred Meyer program in the meantime. With a full financial quarter now under Fred Meyer’s belt and this decline on their public books, suddenly we find ourselves in October and Fred Meyer is urging us – the charities – to explain this to our supporters.

Some of us feel that by handing this off to the charities to communicate, Fred Meyer is trying to evade some public scrutiny, and responsibility and accountability for how this has been administrated from the start. Note, that Fred Meyer is not making the process any simpler or easier. Why Fred Meyer cannot or will not offer affected customers the ability to restore their prior Community Rewards selection(s) with the click of a mouse deepens the speculation. If the goal is to get Community Rewards giving back on track, doing so would be the most expeditious route.

We wonder if the objective of the June decision was to get members to reconsider their chosen charities by force. Arguably, peoples’ passions change over time, and a past charitable cause may not resonate as strongly as a newly discovered one.

Fred Meyer’s list of participating community charities doubtless changes and grows over time. It’s possible that newer charities may have expressed frustration that with the vast majority of Fred Meyer shoppers already committed to a charity, and unlikely to change it for the minor hassle it presented, the contribution opportunity was not equal or “fair” and a decision was made at Fred Meyer to wipe the slate clean and make everyone choose from scratch – which is exactly the decision that was made.

If reality is close to the hypothesis presented for the reasoning behind the decision, it overlooked the reality that if changing charities was too much of a hassle to expect customers to take action then surely making them go through the very same process just to maintain their current selection would feel even more onerous. The real question is, how much do you care about the cause you support, and is it enough to jump through the hoop again?

For many people, they still don’t even realize when they shop at Fred Meyer their purchases no longer credit donations to their favorite charities. But if you are a Fred Meyer customer, you can take the steps to restore Community Rewards giving to Youth’s Leadership on your card right now by visiting the Fred Meyer website and logging in to your account, and re-linking Youth’s Leadership to your Rewards Card. Remember, once you’ve logged in, you can use our rewards information page for assistance in making the link to Youth’s Leadership.

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Benefit Mobile Is Newest Way to Support Youth’s Leadership

With the Benefit Mobile app, you can buy, shop, and gift eGift Cards for many of your favorite retailers — and when you do, your eGift Cards benefit Youth’s Leadership by directing a percentage of the eGift Card value to our organization. The Benefit Mobile app is free to download and use, and there are no hidden fees in the purchase or use of the eGift Cards. You, and everyone to whom you send an eGift Card, gets the full value of the card.

Benefit Mobile has agreements with retailers to donate a percentage of purchases made with Benefit Mobile eGift Cards to registered non-profit organizations. The contribution comes directly to Youth’s Leadership from the retailer and Benefit Mobile. As the purchaser or recipient of an eGift Card, you don’t have to do anything other than use the eGift Card at your favorite participating retailers.

We’ve posted an abbreviated list of the retailers who have partnered with Benefit Mobile to make this innovative means of corporate gifting possible. Here are just a few retailers you’ll recognize: Amazon, AMC Theatres, Applebee’s, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabela’s, Hotels.com, Jiffy Lube, Old Navy, Panera Bread, Petco, Red Robin, Regal Cinemas, REI, and Starbucks. The full list is far too long to publish here, or even on our own web site. For a comprehensive list, visit the Benefit Mobile web site.

Buying gift cards for one’s own use has been popular for years for its ease, convenience, and benefits. Before that, gift cards were, well, just that — gifts — and they still are a great way to say “thank you” and let people know you appreciate them. When you send someone a Benefit Mobile eGift Card, you can support Youth’s Leadership at the same time.

Sending eGift Cards with Benefit Mobile is as easy as sending an email. That special person in your life, your friends and family members, everyone you send an eGift Card to will receive an email that you can personalize, letting them know an eGift Card is waiting for them. All they need do is download the free Benefit Mobile app to claim it; and getting the free app is as simple as following the link that will be provided automatically in the email you send.

Gift a card to anyone from within the Benefit Mobile app, by entering a name, email address, and an optional personalized note. Then select a retailer and denomination, and tap send. An email is sent to the recipient with your message and a link to download the app, and claim the eGift Card. Benefit Mobile even sends you a notification when the gift has been received.

We hope you are as excited as we are about this new shopping and gifting method right from your own cell phone. It really is a win-win-win for you, everyone you gift in your life, and Youth’s Leadership.

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Starting the Fall with An ‘F+’

After an amazing summer of outdoor youth activities filled with bikes, hikes, fishing, rafting, and camping against the backdrop of majestic Northwest mountains and trails and lakes and streams and ocean beaches, parents and volunteers share the same pangs of remorse and anxiety as our youth as they brace for an end to the heady days of fun in the sun and the return to the regimentation of learning under the fluorescent lights of the classroom. We all enter the Fall with joyful memories and high hopes for the new school year, and a curious mix of dread and excitement for the unknown.

As more than one parent recently observed, there’s been a lull in posting any sort of commentary on all that has been going on in our district and our State. We can’t keep waiting for good news forever, and parents interested in our take on events will want to know what’s been happening.

Set the Way-Back machine to mid August, (last month). Just before registration days at the High School, the District and our superintendent mailed out a reprisal of last year’s legally mandated notice to all families with children enrolled in schools in Enumclaw of the abysmal academic performance of our kids in the essentials of English and Language Arts (ELA) – reading – and mathematics.

For a second straight year since the teachers unions cost the State of Washington its waiver on education standards set by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, the schools have been required to share with their constituents – parents and families – the truth of the student proficiencies. (For a refresher, visit our post “Teachers, Unions, Public Schools Fail Children of Washington.”)

Naturally, a letter from the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), a coalition of superintendents representing school districts regionally, went out just as it did last year, condemning the federal Department of Education for its use of the word FAILING to classify Washington schools. The truth hurts – and we all know how much room there is in public schools for hurt feelings, especially among teachers, union representatives, administrators, principals, and school boards and their superintendents!

The PSESD argued again that the standards established by the NCLB were to blame, and stated that education professionals and lawmakers were unanimous in their agreement that the NCLB standards were at the root of the problem. The PSESD insists that a return to the State standards previously used under the waiver they tore up in Olympia would “fix” everything.

There are at least two problems with that claim: First, the previous standards permitted under the waiver were atrocious, and although if allowed they would expunge the FAILING label, they would not do justice to our children; and second and most relevant, the standards used in the most recent assessment were not from some arcane measurement established in 2001 – they were the new Common Core ‘Smarter Balanced Assessment’ standards!

Of course they were! Washington glommed onto Common Core to add another cash car trough to the federal subsidy money train.

As the Associated Press (AP) reported on August 30, for Washington and six other states that participated in the Common Core assessments, results were disappointing (to say the least). According to the AP, the bottom line is this: Common Core lowered standards, resulting in “higher” test scores – but scores so low they indicated less understanding and lower student proficiency than was achieved under prior (higher) non-Common Core standards.

Who should be surprised by this? Our kids aim for the bar: Lower it, and not only do the expectations we put upon our children go down, but the expectations they put on themselves goes down with it, too!

Is there any silver lining? Perhaps, as our post title suggests; (note the ‘plus’ after the ‘F’).

Whereas last year, notices included the advisory that children would be bused from at least two of our local schools to schools out of District with higher student performance, it seems that Enumclaw student performance improved just enough to avoid that consequence this year. The District is still restricted in how it must spend its budget, and must continue to abide by the requirements of the law to ensure improvement in student learning and performance.

But just when families who moved their children to charter schools last year thought they had outmaneuvered a broken and, yes, FAILING public school system, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that charter schools in the State of Washington are unconstitutional. This decision came after the school year had started, when tuitions had been paid, schedules were set, transportation was arranged, and all was seemingly in order for those families and their children. Instead, suddenly those families were advised their kids had to attend their local public school – or a public school – and make enrollment and other arrangements to do so, or home school their child(ren), or enroll them in entirely private schools.

Isn’t that genius, using force of law to compel families to put child(ren) where they don’t want, knowing the alternative is unaffordable and leaving families no choice but to capitulate to the State? So much for school choice for families in Washington, save for anyone but the wealthy.

For families of high school upperclassmen desiring their children to attend college or university, another insult and injury just manifested. The SAT/PSAT is an annual event in the Fall and sometimes also hosted in the Spring. The school has normally made a preparatory class available in the evenings, for a hefty fee (naturally). From reports of past participants and parents, we can say with confidence the class was worthwhile.

So, what happened this year? The class was scheduled, advertised, and even had a 30% fee increase (from $100 to $130). The problem? The school did this without having an instructor. They still don’t, and have now announced that they simply won’t. Families that cleared their Tuesday and Thursday evenings of activities for their junior and senior grade students for five weeks, and budgeted for the $130 cost to ensure their kids did well on the aptitude test for college acceptance, did so for apparently no reason at all this year.

What came next? Teacher strikes, first in Pasco and Seattle. Then, as another was being threatened in Longview, and more across the state, more than one frustrated parent took to the social media site Facebook, to vent their frustration. “Forget the fact that the Washington legislature made teacher strikes illegal a long time ago… laws don’t apply to you when you have allies (sic) in public office who depend on your union dollars for their campaigns.”

Lest anyone forget, it’s worth repeating that the teachers unions and their supporters in Olympia chose to lose the federal waiver for education standards by refusing to permit student learning and proficiency to be tied to teacher performance. This is directly connected to the strikes, which are about higher compensation for professionals who are FAILING our children. These strikes aren’t settled or negotiated with your child’s interests in mind – but we all pay more to sustain the FAILING system.

Strikes project a false image. Namely, they suggest that teacher wages have been stagnant much like the private sector. That’s a lie. The public sector is doing immensely better, for itself, and on the back of the private sector and the taxpayer. The legislature voted itself a 3% cost-of-living increase each year for two years, and a 1.8% increase the following year. At the same time, in Seattle, the teachers union was being offered $62 million in pay increases. The strike was because the union wanted nearly triple that increase – a whopping $172 million! What our schools have earned in the meantime for student performance is a slightly better FAILING grade – made possible only by lowering standards.

So, what can you do for your child’s sake? If you can get involved in your child’s school, do it. Schools are saying that not only do they welcome parent involvement, which may seem dubious at best to many, the letters from the District and superintendents make it plain that the schools are required by the law to petition parent and family input. Check with your school and district office to find out what systems and forums they have in place for your involvement and feedback. Check in with your child on what is happening inside the classroom, not just the status of their homework.

Here’s what not to do: Don’t make your child’s school the “end all, and be all” of their education and development. Instead, seek out community programs that expand their learning and social skills, and expose them to experiences that can never take place in the modern classroom. We advocate youth leadership programs in our community that build character, teach service, and purpose community awareness as well as social and environmental responsibility. It’s never too early or too late to get your child enrolled and involved.

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Hard Work Valueless or Not?

Steve Tobak is the managing partner of a private consulting firm. An IT veteran and Silicon Valley insider, Mr. Tobak is an online contributor to Entrepreneur.com and his editorials and opinion pieces are frequently published and reposted on numerous sites. Youth’s Leadership has quoted Mr. Tobak and shared his posts online, usually because his comments and insights on leadership and success are in line with the values Youth’s Leadership and its supported organizations extol and work to imbue in youth, and because they are inspiring.

Not so this week. Tobak collectively castigated youth and young working professionals who subscribe to this view:

“I was told growing up that, if I worked hard at school and at my job, my efforts would be recognized and rewarded and I’d do well in my career.”

Mr. Tobak’s reply:

“No one who would tell you that should be allowed to have kids.”

Sadly, Mr. Tobak does nothing in his column to soften, clarify, or add any context to that quip. In fact, his tone suggests he means it – without so much as an “I kid” or “I exaggerate” disclaimer.

To his credit, Mr. Tobak has a reputation for saying what he means, and meaning what he says. We’re not sure if he means forced sterilization of people who hold traditional work ethics and values, or merely advocates the institution and enforcement of a new federal law that would prohibit persons with these ideas from keeping any children by birth or adoption in their homes and raising them. His remark suggests he views the ethic and value of hard work as a genetic disorder or a social disease for which isolation is the only protection against transmission.

“Truth is, when it comes to business, nobody gives a crap about you. I don’t care if it’s your boss, a hiring manager, or a potential customer…” –Tobak

Wow. That’s inspirational and makes young people want to work hard to succeed – not! It’s tough to imagine a more demoralizing, counter-productive, and de-motivating remark from a consultant.

The question we wish to explore is not whether Tobak really holds this view in a literal sense, but what makes him conclude hard work is valueless. Did he always believe this, or is he making a social statement about the present state of the workforce and the workplace?

Delving deeper, Tobak walks an obscure and precarious line to avoid contradicting himself in his latest piece. How can the foregoing be reconciled with the following?

“You start at the bottom, do your best, build credibility, and always reach for the next level up. That’s how you gain experience and confidence.” – Tobak

(Do your best? Where else have we heard that?)

We can’t imagine how “doing your best” is not the same as working hard. We get the whole “work smarter, not harder” mantra, but that’s not even what Tobak is suggesting here; and what about building credibility? Isn’t that the same as being recognized and rewarded for doing your best, e.g., working hard? What about his advice, “always reach for the next level”? Isn’t Tobak talking about career advancement?

Tobak excoriates “tooting your own horn” but emphasizes getting the attention of superiors by calling attention to real accomplishments and ideas for improvement that will benefit whole groups and organizations, not just acting the part of a self-interested individual trying to puff up their own importance. Yeah, okay, but… those accomplishments and benefits, they take hard work to realize and a commitment from everyone for the benefit to be organization-wide, don’t they?

Reflecting on this, maybe Tobak was simply trying to communicate the notion that hard work alone won’t lead to success… that you need to toot your own horn – no, wait, scratch that… You need to build credibility (how, if not by working hard?) and be recognized (for what, if not hard work?) to be successful.

We aren’t sure how many people achieve success without the persistent application of the full measure of their abilities and talents. In other words, we don’t know how many just get lucky and achieve success without trying by only meeting the minimum expectations and perhaps making personal connections along the way that bear fruit down the line. We do know it is the minority, by far.

But even the “it’s not what you do but who you know” paradigm now falls flat with Tobak:

“Don’t get me wrong. In time you’ll want to build solid, long-term relationships with all your stakeholders.” – Tobak

“In time,” you’ll want to do this? Not from day one? Sheesh! It takes time to build meaningful, credible, truly “solid, long-term” relationships with people: So why delay? In his own defense, we believe Tobak means this in the sense of not attempting to build such relationships until you have already established “credibility” – apparently, however, without working hard, and with no sense of urgency.

Hard work may certainly not be in fashion, but we believe it is essential in the formula for success. Likewise, leaders evolve through the pursuit of interactions with people at every level – all their stakeholders. Procrastinating in these regards, let alone eschewing them, is utterly contrary to the values and goals of Youth’s Leadership and its supported organizations and programs.

“Hard work is a given, but it’s not even close to what it takes to get ahead.” – Tobak

“A given?” It’s hard to imagine how that can be so, given everything said, and in light of the fact that one of the top complaints amongst businesses of all sizes, repeated regularly in the media, is the apathy and entitlement attitude that is epidemic in the current generation of young people entering the workforce. Rest assured those people are NOT getting ahead in their careers. Getting ahead may indeed take more than just hard work; but, hard work is optional, and the only way to get ahead.

We’ll likely be quoting and reposting Steve Tobak’s writing in the future in a very favorable and supportive light – at least, we hope so. For now, we’d like to think maybe Mr. Tobak just came off a really bad week.

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Second-Try Seniors ‘Super’?

Eleven educators in Atlanta were just pronounced guilty in a scheme to alter standardized testing scores in order to receive pay bonuses for improved student performance. Another half-dozen or so were also charged and pled guilty (to lesser charges in order to receive lighter sentences) in exchange for their cooperation in uncovering the full scope of the fraud and for their testimony.

Students were fed correct answers during testing, and incorrect answers on individual test sheets were changed during the scoring process. The fraud involved teachers, administrators, and at least one principal. As a direct consequence of the fraud, the purpose of the tests – which were designed to help identify students needing special attention and assistance – was undermined, and hundreds of students were knowingly and deliberately passed along and upward into higher grades utterly unprepared for the next tier of challenges they would face.

The children are the victims here, and no penalty served to those found guilty and convicted will give those children back the years they were cheated of the education they were supposed to receive. The teachers received thousands in extra pay for spending the time to defraud the test (and the children who were led to believe their test scores were legitimate) instead of actually helping struggling students. By passing them along, they only ensured those students would perpetually struggle against even greater and longer odds for their unpreparedness.

Here in Enumclaw, the empirical evidence shows we have a growing class of second-try seniors. They were seniors last year, and they failed to meet the least requirements for graduation. They are back in our high school this year, taking up seats in classrooms, in the administration’s hope that with another year of high school, they will have voluntarily enrolled in the requisite classes, will earn the minimum requisite grades, attend the minimum number of days, and achieve the minimum test scores necessary this time around to be presented with their diploma.

These aren’t drop outs who tried to make it in the real world and returned to high school to finish after receiving a nasty dose of reality. They’re just kids who didn’t put forth the effort and didn’t receive the attention necessary from parents, teachers, and administrators to earn their diploma in the expected four-year span of high school.

They call them ‘Super’ Seniors, and before you ask – yes – that is precisely how underclassmen, teachers, and administrators are directed to refer to this new class. They’re Super.

Don’t you want to be Super? Shouldn’t that be everyone’s goal? Well, in our high school, you’re Super if you fail to graduate!

We recently wrote about the declining standards for graduation in our schools (‘New Lower Standards Dumb Down Kids’) and the very existence of the Super Senior Class of 2015 serves to shine a light on the growing and compounding problem of diminishing standards in our schools. There was a time when such a thing was unheard of, when hardly one student who failed to graduate returned to high school for a bonus free year of public education.

Alternatives, namely the GED and equivalency options, were the primary avenue of young people and even older adults who failed to earn their high school diploma in the normal course of their public education. The GED unlocked the door to college entrance, as well as better employment – whichever was the aspiration of the applicant.

There were reasons not to return for a fifth year of high school. Among them, crowding, and even just human perception: It used to be humiliating. But apparently, not any longer; now, it’s a badge of honor and special status.

Assuming these kids ever do graduate, when they go to apply for their first job and put their education down on their application, usually all they are required to do is put down the year of their graduation – not how many tries it took. If one of these students put down on an application where they are to list any honors received that they were a ‘Super’ Senior, would a prospective employer know what that meant? If the school were contacted, and asked “was this person a ‘Super’ Senior?” would the school merely confirm the title or think to explain its context?

What are these kids learning as they walk around campus, handled with kid gloves by teachers and administrators, and called ‘Super’ by their teachers and peers alike, all for having failed to graduate? What are their underclassmen learning about how seriously to take graduation requirements and the goal of completing high school in four years?

We mentioned the declining standards for graduation, set to drop again next year, and be lower still by the time the incoming class of freshmen reach their senior year. Can upperclassmen try and game this system? Will those who return for a fifth year, (or will there even soon be sixth year Ultra Senior Class?), say “Hey, I didn’t meet requirements last year; but you just dropped the threshold low enough for this year’s Seniors to where I would qualify, so just give me my diploma.”

On what credible grounds could such a request be refused? Especially knowing a plan is in place to drop requirements even lower still?

We doubt the school district is proud from an academic standpoint to have Super Seniors, let alone many of them. Or maybe they are: The district has State and Federal monetary motivation that parallels the motivation behind the scandal in Atlanta. But our teachers and school officials are unsettlingly and unapologetically proud of how they treat fifth-year seniors and the honor they extend them by calling them ‘Super.’ After all, the school district couldn’t possibly live with itself if it permitted an environment in which these kids were made to feel for even a microsecond that they had failed themselves, embarrassed the school, let down their parents and families, and shortchanged their own futures. They’re ‘Super,’ remember!

These ‘Super’ kids – no, wait; with a fifth year of high school under their belts, it’s virtually assured even the youngest will have reached the age of maturity – these ‘Super’ young adults still in high school, have an even greater sense of exemption from standards and expectations, special status, and entitlement than their peers because of all the accommodation they are given. When they do leave school, under whatever auspice, they are going to demand the same in the real world.

No doubt, they’ll sue if they don’t receive it; and much the same as they have been recognized as having a special status as a protected Super class now, they will probably be awarded some protected class status as “victims” of a failed education system then. They’ll win, and be told they are “winners,” and be further rewarded for having failed. Their personal riches won’t come by the fruit of their own labors; but they will be told they should be proud and are no less deserving than their peers who worked hard, achieved goals, exceeded standards, succeeded in school, and made successes of themselves in the workplace.

These phenomena of misrepresenting failure as success and mislabeling underachievement as laudable endeavor is now a cross-generational crisis that subverts legitimate goal setting, promoting and recognizing bona fide achievement, genuinely admirable role modeling, and credible leadership in our learning institutions (which credit themselves, by the way, as being accurate representations of our larger society). We hope parents of underclassmen are paying attention to the lesson being conveyed, and for the sake of their children, are actively countering it in the home, lest they become unwitting parents of the next class of ‘Super’ Seniors.

Of course, with standards on the steady decline, maybe parents of underclassmen have less to worry about when it comes to eventual graduation than we suppose. Good luck in the work place, everyone. Commencement 2015 is just two months away.

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When Did You Learn Self-Reliance?

Not all that long ago, an article by Abby Schachter (you can read her online bio here) appeared on acculturated.com decrying the criminal arrests of parents “punished for doing the right thing because as we all know, kids need some freedom.” Schachter’s article predates more recent headlines about the so-called “free range” parents in Maryland charged and found responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ child neglect.

Sounds like a trial and conviction took place. But nothing could be further from the truth in any conventional sense. Nevertheless, as a result of the ‘decision’ (again, sounds like a sentencing), Child Protective Services (CPS) will “keep a file on the [family] for at least five years,” reported the Washington Post.

Isn’t the turn to criminal charges and punishment without substance of any crime committed exceedingly more dangerous to a supposedly democratic, free, and open society than all the could-have-been hypothetical dangers that never materialized for these children? In place of imaginary dangers and phantom threats, real ones now face these parents and children – from law enforcement, courts, and government agencies.

What law was broken that required enforcement? On what basis or rule of law did a court find authority to hand down the ‘decision’? On what credible evidence can CPS claim to parent better than anyone else – they are, after all, going to monitor the biological parenting closely for at least the next five years, presumably with the authority to forcibly take custody of the children if they so much as perceive anything else ‘unsubstantiated’ they don’t like.

As Schachter wrote in her article, the summer of 2014 “…produced a series of banner headlines about parents who made the mistake of allowing their kids to spend time alone.” But ‘mistake’ is not the proper word: ‘Choice’ is.

This wasn’t an issue of neglect – this was a deliberate, considered, fully aware and conscious decision by the parents to allow their children the privilege of freedom with the attendant responsibilities of self-awareness and self-reliance. Neglect would characterize an instance where the parents did not endorse and encourage the activity and were unaware it was even taking place.

The children in this case are being taught that what they were permitted to do by their own parents constitutes criminal neglect and is somehow tacitly illegal. They are also being taught to fear the world, and that only government agencies can properly raise and protect them from a world so full of dangers, they can’t go play, and walk home, from the nearby park without risking life and limb.

The statistical fact is, despite the drumbeat of media headlines, urban centers and suburban areas are far more safe than they were even a decade or two ago (when most of today’s young parents were wandering them unattended, and their parents had no idea where they were or what they were doing – only an understanding that they were to be home in time for dinner). In light of the reality, “Why shouldn’t parents be encouraged to take advantage and let their kids develop their sense of independence and competence?” writes Schachter.

The truth of the matter is that parents are being arrested for choices that someone else simply disagrees are valid. In short, it’s yet another layer of evidence that proves ideas and attitudes that don’t meet with the approval or share the perspective of a certain group of self-annointed social elites are now criminal acts in and of themselves.

“When police handcuff women for ‘abandoning,’ ‘neglecting,’ or ‘leaving a child unattended’ and in every instance the child was unharmed, the state authorities are sending a message that you can be guilty for doing nothing at all.

These women were punished for the potential harm their choices could have caused. The children in the car could have died of dehydration and heat stroke. The girl who played unattended at the playground could have been abducted. But the potential for harm has never served as our basis for crimes and misdemeanors. It used to be about what you actually did. This shift from actual wrongdoing to potential harm is a worrisome trend that every citizen—parents and non-parents—ought to realize and work to change.” – Schachter

Of at least equal concern to the nature of our modern society is the behavior of those who have taken it upon themselves to be judge and jury, presiding over the parents of every stranger’s child they see. They pat themselves on the back every time they call authorities, and believe themselves to be so intellectually and morally superior for doing so, without taking time to know the children, the parents, the facts and circumstances – let alone respecting the lawfully legitimate choices other parents have made for raising children in their own families.

Every day, scores of children in our school district walk to each respective school in the morning, and walk home in the afternoon; and, ‘yes,’ this includes children 10-years-old and younger who may or may not be escorting younger siblings. They may or may not be in the company of one or more of their peers for any leg of the journey. We have public parks near the schools, where they dally unsupervised, while mom and dad are at work – their parents perhaps assuming incorrectly their child has gone directly to school and directly home. We have a downtown, and public library, in easy riding distance of bicycles, skateboards, and scooters. There are grocery store parking lots, shopping plazas and mini marts where teens and ‘tweens hangout – all without any direct parent/guardian supervision.

If this bothers you as a parent, you have every right to direct your own child in what is appropriate. If that’s not enough for you, perhaps you should look to raise your family in another community that isn’t so free and open, and doesn’t provide so much opportunity to explore independence and self-reliance. As for Youth’s Leadership, we hope the community of Enumclaw continues to recognize the importance of this particular characteristic and never sacrifices it. We believe it is one aspect of our community that makes it superb for raising a family that includes responsible, dependable, competent children.

There are going to be parents of young children, and older children, too, on both sides of this issue. Every child is unique. Some will demonstrate themselves worthy of trust and responsibility earlier than others.

Whether you are a parent that cannot bear the thought of your child in an unstructured setting with free time and no external direction, guidance, and oversight, or one that believes the only way your child will grow into the independent, self-reliant, confident, mature, and competent adult you envision is to provide them every unstructured opportunity you can conjure for them, we recommend you expand their early experiences by enrolling them in a youth leadership program. Not only will the structured, safe environment of these programs nurture them into successful leaders for tomorrow, it will provide them with skills to safely and smartly navigate the unstructured environments they are passing through today.

Everyone abhors and renounces genuine child neglect and abuse, including Youth’s Leadership, as does all its supported programs and the volunteers and officials who conduct them. There are guidelines and steps for intervention and reporting to ensure the safety of all children in both the program and home environment whenever neglect or abuse is suspected. We recognize the distinction between legitimate choices and criminal actions, and the necessity for thorough investigation by appropriate authorities when allegations are made or circumstances or evidence suggests the welfare of a child is in danger or being placed at risk.

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New Lower Standards Dumb Down Kids

Today, children in the Enumclaw School District are completing enrollment in classes for the 2015-2016 school year at the high school. Since Monday night, parents have had the opportunity to sit with their child and plan course selections that will enable their child to meet graduation requirements. As part of this process, parents and students review graduation requirements for their class year.

This puts a window on standards, which have been in steady decline, and continue to sink lower. As recently as August, we wrote of the failure of our schools to meet federal standards. (Teachers, Unions, Public Schools Fail Children of Washington, August 20, 2014; Schools Complain of ‘Fail’ Label, August 27, 2014.) We’ve also discussed the negative impact of the adoption of Common Core in Washington. (A Math Teacher Walks Into a Bar…, December 25, 2013; Common Core a “Black Box”, No Question, February 5, 2014.)

A look into the course guide and scheduling resource handbook for the next school year reveals that graduation requirements for students of 2015, 2016, and 2017 are substantially lower than those of the most recent graduates (2014); and what’s more, those for current and incoming freshmen (classes of 2018 and 2019) are lower still. This comes at a time when our nation suffers for lack of innovation and ability to compete in the global market, businesses complain graduates lack the necessary skills and even just classroom practical theory to succeed, and high profile billionaires and successful entrepreneurs promote and subsidize the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative to get kids to take an interest in “difficult” subjects.

Right now, there are youth enrolled in our high school Algebra II classes who are complaining they are still reviewing Algebra I, and have yet to review Geometry; this is what is happening when the students know that by now (it’s March, for crying out loud!) they should be applying Algebra II to advanced problems and learning Trigonometry to prepare them for Pre-Calculus next fall. So not only have the standards for graduation plummeted; so have the difficulty and quality of material and learning in current studies. These same youth, Sophomores with aspirations for college, are worried that not only will they be unprepared for the Pre-Calculus class next year, but that they will be done similar disservice then for the Advanced Placement Calculus class their Senior year.

And they and their parents should be worried. What should have been a clarion call to educators, administrators, law and policymakers to reform content and standards to meet higher expectations has resulted in precisely the opposite effect, through a curious circumvention. The aim is very evidently not to raise standards and improve the quality of education and raise the proficiencies of our youth. No, that would be too “hard” on everyone.

Instead, the aim is quite obviously to lower standards and make curriculum as “friendly” as possible, to get as many kids as possible through the doors. For youth, the objective appears to be one of addressing drop-out rates nationally, by making school easy instead of challenging and “fair” for students who won’t apply themselves with equal drive and ambition. For educators and school administrators, the objective appears to be changing the statistics in their favor (and chase federal funding at taxpayer expense), without consideration of the real-world consequences for youth and their families.

The creators of the national standard Common Core admit the mathematics standards and testing requirements are wholly inadequate for entrance to college and ordinary workplace demands. Moreover, these same “reformers” propose, as solution to that disparity, revisions of the SAT and college entrance exams to only test to the Common Core standards.

It’s not difficult to foresee a time in our very near future where businesses will complain that neither high school nor even college graduates possess necessary and desirable skills. In fact, it’s already begun.

The writing on the wall could not be more plain for all to see, when high school graduation requirements are reduced successively three times in just the five class years from 2104 to 2018. Remember those math students who want to assure themselves of success in their goals? We hear them talk of self-imposed studies and homework using the textbook as their teacher, outside tutoring, and summer school.

Those youth are determined to help themselves succeed, in spite of the complacency and false-entitlement traps in front of them. Businesses will be smart to hire them. We have no doubt these youth will standout and achieve great things, while their peers scratch their heads at the supposed inequities of life and perhaps even rant and seethe their unjustified jealous rage on social media.

But the fact is the classroom shouldn’t do any of these youth the harm that is being done. Most egregiously, it is being done in deliberate fashion, to serve the interests of adults in positions of authority who are seeking first to make themselves only appear better rather than genuinely improve conditions for the next generation. Worse, the gap isn’t even generational any longer: The degradation of quality education has achieved an unprecedented speed.

Parents who wish their children to succeed are already supplementing the public education of their children with external and private resources. Some of these include youth leadership development and experience programs like those supported by Youth’s Leadership. Those kids we keep mentioning, who are concerned for their own futures and have taken it upon themselves with the support of their families to take up all the slack in the line for their own sake – yep, we know them and what they are doing because of their involvement and participation in youth leadership programs in our community.

Schools have complained for decades, and in some instances perhaps accurately, that parents are disinterested and too preoccupied to be involved, and expect them to do everything. We believe the opposite: Parents are interested, desire the very best opportunities for their children, have certain expectations of the schools, and actively seek experiences and environments to partner in the healthy development of their children – including youth leadership programs – that reinforce the values of the home. It’s more important than ever for parents and families to do more for their children outside of school, because when it comes to standards of education, schools are doing less.

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Opportunity Is Not Entitlement

Have you ever observed in conversation with anyone on the topic of assistance programs, public or private, the complaint of ever more entitlements? In certain instances, there may be substance to the objection. But in many cases, the inaccurately derided ‘entitlement’ is nothing more than a mischaracterized opportunity.

Anything that a person pays for, even if they only paid a little of the whole cost, is not an entitlement. Consider for example secondary education for a child, financed in part by grants, scholarships, and loans. Even with tax credits, and interest deductions on the loans, the student is not getting a ‘free’ education.

When they leave school, whether or not they were able to continue through to completing their degree, they leave with a mighty financial burden of debt. Typically, they have just six months before they need to start making payments, if not immediately. Failure to do so comes with its own consequences, which can be severe, despite talk of reforms in the so-called system to lower costs and even ‘forgive’ indebtedness.

But putting all that aside, the student isn’t guaranteed anything, especially not an education. That’s not a one-way transaction. To learn, the student must apply themselves. To succeed and complete their degree, they must work hard, meet standards in prerequisites before advancing to more complex studies and subjects, and have the persistence to see it all through to the reward and recognition that comes at the end.

That’s no small effort. That’s an uncounted cost that is too easily dismissed. Standing out in a crowd demands even more from an individual – particularly when competing for a job while possessing no practical experience, with education as your only qualification. Again, there is no guarantee, explicit or otherwise; there is only opportunity.

Even then, opportunity is never equal, no matter how hard we may try to delude ourselves into believing it can be made so. That’s another misconception that permeates our society: Namely, that somehow, ‘equal’ opportunity (which is a myth) equates to social ‘justice.’ Is there a job for every person that wants one, let alone a job for every person to do what they are trained or simply prefer?

Of course not: The opportunity is not equal.

The opportunity is to compete. That is a profound American ideal: Everyone is guaranteed the right to pursue happiness – no one is guaranteed to ever attain it.

There is a lot of nonsense going on about trying to give everyone their ‘fair share’ by making everyone else pay their ‘fair share’ through force. Have you noticed the people who have appointed themselves in charge of deciding what that ‘fair share’ is are also often exempting themselves from the very process?

There is nothing noble in this pretend ‘Robin Hood’ ideology that loots hard won American success. It creates apathy in those who have achieved it, knowing the fruits of their labors will be stolen by the hand of a corrupt government; while at the same it creates a symbiotic apathy in those who learn they need not labor so hard – need not compete – to receive the fruits of success by the labor of someone else.

Charity is a good thing, a great thing. What makes charity noble is its voluntary nature, its motivation of pure and genuine sympathy and concern. No one should have their opportunity to do charity usurped by anyone or anything else, especially not usurped by government. Charity speaks directly to the condition of the soul, (assuming you believe you have one). Should the government or anyone but you dare to assume responsibility for the condition of your soul?

When the government operates its ‘entitlement’ and social ‘justice’ programs, someone else is paying – by force: It’s tax season, remember.

Competition is in our human nature. It’s primal. It is rooted more strongly in some than in others, but it is there nonetheless. We repress the better part of ourselves, the instinct to build, expand, and improve, when we pretend competition is a bad thing. When we act out that instinct, not only do we improve our world, we improve ourselves, and more often than not (in spite of what you might hear from others), we improve the condition of those around us. We inspire our neighbors, our friends, and our rivals.

We are a deeply conflicted society, at present. The most successful people in the world run wildly successful companies because of their competitive drive and innovations. They are rich, as a consequence. Why should anyone begrudge them their success? The envious should compete. We have laws that protect consumers by requiring competition.

Building a proverbially better mouse trap, be it a product or service, or inventing something new that has the potential to change our society irrevocably, is a worthy aspiration. No one should dare to suppose that it has all already been done. We have seen more revolutions in technology in the last fifteen years than in the preceding modern history of man, and they have changed society in ways that even their inventors never foresaw.

Not everyone has to be an Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison, or Tim Berners-Lee. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were a team, and so were Bill Gates and Paul Allen. In fact, many of the greatest innovations of the past century were collaborations – a fact which proves that a person can compete and still be part of a team. Those individuals and countless others who changed our world didn’t always agree or see eye to eye.

One of the myths we must shatter to rediscover our greatness both as individuals and as groups that share a passion is the lie that no one can stand out. There is a terrible mantra that is repeated in business and social circles: There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.

The next time you are met with this fallacy, that you are somehow invisible (or should be an invisible part) in the whole and not discerned for your unique contribution, we urge you to stand up and point out that from your point of view, there is no letter ‘I’ in TEAM but you can clearly see the letters ‘M’ and ‘E’ – and that spells ME. Tell them you see it as a personal challenge to compete, to bring the very best you have to offer to the team effort, to stand out for your notable contribution and do it boldly.

There is only opportunity. The opportunity is to compete. We must cease squandering opportunity when it comes, and be bold.

Programs recognized by Youth’s Leadership help teach your child to compete in healthy, safe, constructive, collaborative environments in meaningful ways that include service to others and community. Learning these leadership traits and experiencing the rewards and recognitions that come with them from an early age ingrain in your child a positive desire to seize the opportunity to compete when it comes.

Every parent wishes success for their child. Success is a hallmark of good leadership. Good leaders can see opportunity where others do not, and in some instances, even create the opportunity where none existed previously. That most certainly has nothing to do with entitlement.

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Lessons for Youth and Adults About Privacy – Part III

Leaving the NSA out of it for a moment, parents need only remember the nationally publicized incident of a school district that distributed laptops to students without their own personal computers at home. Those good intentions were completely undermined by school district employees with access to the anti-theft software, pre-installed on the laptops prior to distribution to students, and subsequently remotely activated by employees without the knowledge of district officials or the consent of the parents and their student children.

The ‘lo-jack’ software technology allowed employees to remotely turn on the laptops and activate the built-in cameras without the tell-tale LED’s illuminating. In other words, the power light and camera-on status lights remained dim, as if the laptop and camera were powered off – but the opposite was true. This enabled the employees of the district to watch the underage teens with the laptops wherever they were, including the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Lawsuits and criminal investigations followed, and deservedly so. District employees were terminated, and the agreement with the company that provided the monitoring service was severed. But all that was after the fact, after parents and their children learned about the voyeuristic secret snooping.

This was an iteration of the same technology that permits law-enforcement and investigators to remotely activate a phone – or any device with an IP address – and determine its location by its hotspot connection to the Internet, cell tower triangulation, or extrapolating a location by ‘seeing’ through the lens of a built-in camera.

The school district intended for the technology to be used to recover laptops that went ‘missing.’ Instead, it was used by pedophile employees to peep on unsuspecting students in their own bedrooms.

What was done with those laptops can be done with a ‘Smart’ TV, remotely activating its microphones to eavesdrop and transmit conversation and never illuminate the screen or sound the ‘beep’ Denison so blithely champions as your complete assurance of total privacy until you do something to compromise it.

Parents should give all the credence to Denison’s advice to “just enjoy your TV. And feel free to share your innermost secrets in front of it,” they would advice from a car salesman who said to their kids, “when a stranger pulls up in this beauty, just take the candy and get in and go for a ride,” because, what could possibly go wrong?

Denison opened his article with the characterization of the outcry of privacy groups and their concerns as “irresponsible… loosely rooted in ignorance and imagination.” We beg to differ. These concerns are credible, tightly rooted in recent history and the present day reality of social media and corporate greed and government domestic ‘oversight’ of the public, including our children.

Google has been aggressively advertising its plug-and-play Chrome browser for TV’s for some time. It’s just one more way for them to intrude into your habits and interests to make another advertising buck by selling your information, namely your TV viewing and TV-enabled web browsing behaviors. But parents should remember that Google, and every major search engine, was ultimately compelled to admit that they regularly submit data on users to the NSA and other government agencies – an admission that only came out after those same companies denied in the most emphatic of tones that they did not comply or cooperate with government ‘requests’ to surrender data on user behaviors.

There’s little point in trusting anyone who insists they can be trusted, but has proven they cannot be. Google is counting on the fact that you’ll plug in that little device, and just leave it there, because it’s too inconvenient for you to remove it and plug it back in later when you actually might want Google to know what you’re watching or downloading – whether it’s you, or your kids, consuming the digital content.

Admittedly, as a society, we have slid a long way down the slippery slope. But parents should not resign themselves to the notion that privacy is dead, cannot be revived, or is valueless. Awareness is the first step, and teaching that awareness to your children is the only way that what is left of individual privacy stands a chance of being preserved for another generation. Maybe together, we can even win some of it back, if we stand together and refuse to play along only for the sake of minor conveniences and false perceptions of security that, without which, we used to get along in our lives just fine.

Read Part I of this series here… | Read Part II of this series…

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