Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Health Law Repeal Would Toss Out Baby with Bathwater," my piece in The Clarion Ledger, 10/24/10

Click here to open the scanned version.  
Here is my article that came out today in The Clarion Ledger.  The article is called "Health Law Repeal Would Toss Out Baby with Bathwater."  You can open a scanned Adobe PDF version of the article by clicking here or by clicking on the link below the photo.

The regular text version of the article is here below.  I hope that this piece will have contributed helpfully to the debate regarding the Affordable Care act.  I've already received some very encouraging emails about the piece.  Thank you all for your encouragement.  Here's the piece:


Health Law Repeal Would Toss Out Baby with Bathwater

In the “Pledge to America,” some Republicans call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  If you want to amend the act, that is one thing, but outright repeal will hurt my family and many others.  People need to know what is good in the act so that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.  If Republicans want my vote, they need to differentiate what is right on target in the bill and what is worth reconsidering.  There are at least six ways the healthcare act has already benefited my daughter tremendously.  I’ll give just two examples.
*    In 2007, my daughter Helen was born and suffered a stroke.  This happens to one in six thousand children.  Just one of our many, many bills was for $100,000, which charged only for her stay in the hospital for her first month of life.  That did not include doctors’ visits, medicines, tests, the helicopter flight to the specialist hospital, etc.  The $1,000,000 lifetime cap on benefits that my insurance plan imposed per beneficiary might sound great to the inexperienced reader, but it can run out very quickly.  Were we to run out, my wife and I would certainly sell everything we have, go into bankruptcy, and get on Medicaid.  I would do what I have to do to save my little girl.
     The healthcare bill made this unnecessary.  I can sleep better at night.  My daughter will have coverage as long as I pay my premiums and as long as she needs care.  My insurance company can no longer cap benefits in the way that it did, in a blanket fashion for each person.  A simple call for repealing healthcare does not tell me whether those advocates will defend my daughter or return us to the frightening system we had before.
     Repeal of the healthcare act is no solution.  The answer: talk of amending the act, not of repealing it.  Let’s keep the baby and lose the bathwater.
*    A second crucial element of the act concerns pre-existing conditions.  How many Americans want insurance companies to be able to deny children coverage because of pre-existing conditions?  My daughter didn’t give herself an ailment.  She suffered a brain infarction at birth.  That is precisely why she needs coverage, yet this was reason people in the past would try to deny support.  That is simply outrageous, a moral bankruptcy.  So long as the Democrats alone defend this measure, they will have many people’s votes.  Repeal is not the answer.  Keep this measure.  Amend the act where needed – don’t repeal it.
     I love the references to the nation's Founders we’ve been hearing lately.  We should look more closely, though.  My favorite Republican of all time was Ben Franklin.  He was a man of compromise.  He did not think the Constitution was perfect, quite the opposite.  His speech about it was titled “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults”!  The Founders knew that they could only move forward with compromise and with plans for how they would in time amend what was wrong while preserving what was right in what they had done.  If you want change and if you want votes, tell us exactly what you will change and what you will keep.  Outright repeal of the healthcare bill will hurt my family and the families of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all over the country.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this article.  His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011 and his third book, Democracy and Leadership, is in progress.  Visit

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Choosing Civility: The Lemonade Lesson," Clarion Ledger Article from 9/19/10

Link to scan of the first page of "Choosing Civility"
Today, September 19th, 2010, The Clarion Ledger published a piece I contributed for them called "Choosing Civility: The Lemonade Lesson."  Once again, I benefited from the editors' excellent headline abilities, since my titles are never as punchy.  Mine are always more descriptive.  Anyway, I'm learning!  First, here is a link to a PDF scan of the article.  Along with that you'll find the text from an additional piece that the editors put together as a follow-up article.  This really made the opinion and perspectives sections today nicely unified in addressing a common point.  Kudos to the Clarion Ledger folks.

I should also mention that I was honored to have Marshall Ramsey (his Clarion Ledger blog and his own blog) create some excellent art to go with my piece.  Here's the graphic:

Here is the text of my article:


Choosing civility

On a hot summer day, young girls gave out lemonade in their neighborhood. The fact that they were not charging for their kindness launched columnist Terry Savage of the Chicago Sun-Times into a rage. According to Savage, these girls were the problem with America and a symptom of it.

Savage yelled "No!" at the girls and berated them. They were giving away their parents' property, Savage thought, assuming that the girls had no allowance of their own to use as they pleased. She failed to imagine that their parents intended to instill a spirit of giving in their children. To her the only point of a lemonade stand is to learn about business, never about the value of charity or kindness. Just think of how mad Savage must be about Jesus' miracle of feeding the multitudes, which, according to her logic, contributed to inflation and involved giving away his father's property.
The lemonade story is a clear example of the problem of incivility in America. In his recent book, Democracy and Moral Conflict, philosopher Robert Talisse has argued that incivility is one of the greatest threats to democracy in our country. National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach, a 30-year Republican congressman from Iowa, has been touring the country to talk about the great need for civility today. Talisse and Leach have noticed the rise of incivility in the country and are as concerned as I am about it.
Incivility has been severe many times in the last few years. In 2007, took out a large advertisement attacking U.S. Gen. David Patraeus. Sounding like mean-spirited school children, they asked: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?"
More recently, town hall meetings around the country devolved quickly into screaming matches in which detractors wanted to avoid sincere debate about the need for health care reform. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's 2009 speech before Congress was equally troubling, though he has since apologized. Often the same people criticize President Obama for spending too much and then admonish all efforts to find cost saving strategies for reforming health care. Our problems are too big to be solved with partisan attacks and the avoidance of debate.
Conservative David Frum was right on target when he argued that unwillingness to engage in civil debate on health care reform meant that Republicans missed a real opportunity to shape the legislation that passed. Shortly after Frum made these remarks he was dismissed from the American Enterprise Institute, though his following has since grown.
At a time when oil and tar balls have devastated the coastal environment and economy in Mississippi and nearby states, we need civility profoundly. With high unemployment and low funds for Medicaid, we need political cooperation. Americans must tone down the virulence that plagues our debates. The disasters we face offer an opportunity to return to civility, to bring people together to address common problems.
It is fair to ask what civility is, after all. It sometimes sounds like what old people prefer or what the privileged classes call for when oppressed people rise up. No, civility is not necessarily a pacifist ethic. It is a set of at least three moral tenets.
The first rule of civility calls for open and intelligent public debate by means of respectful communication. This rule is broken when people falsify information or inflame the public against understanding groups who disagree. For instance, when Michael Moore shows only the devastation of job losses in Michigan in his film, Roger and Me, he omits any consideration of what happens when American companies fail to remain competitive. The disturbances of the town hall meetings on healthcare are another example of violating this rule.
The second tenet of civility demands respect for fellow citizens - that we see them as stakeholders and sources of insight about what keeps democracy afloat. One way to break this second rule is to demonize opposition. For example, the North Iowa Tea Party put up a billboard that, according to AP, "showed photographs of President Obama, Nazi leader Hitler and communist leader Lenin beneath the labels 'Democrat Socialism,' 'National Socialism,' and 'Marxist Socialism.' " Fortunately, the Tea Party members in Iowa came to see that the sign reflected poorly on them and they removed it.
It is difficult to imagine civil discourse between people who demonize each other. Consider CNN's reports in 2009 that "threats on the life of the president of the United States have now risen by as much as 400 percent since [Obama's] inauguration . . . [which] 'in this environment' go far beyond anything the Secret Service has seen with any other president." This year, past anger about the president's Christian pastor has been replaced with the contradicting pretension that he is a Muslim. Not only are these developments and the conflict over the building of mosques in New York and Tennessee disturbing for their efforts to demonize opposition, but they also treat Muslims as though they don't deserve the same freedom of religion as the rest of us. As citizens and voters, we must demand that our leaders address our real problems as a nation instead of stoking prejudices. Fortunately, we have a chance to make such a statement this November.
The third rule of civility calls for respect for public institutions. In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to accept the slow bureaucratic processes of the courts, but public institutions do something very important when they slow us down. They force us to wait, to allow anger to cool, and to let reason take over. Time and calmness are needed for intelligent thought and discussion. Without them, we get vigilantism, as in the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas.
Of course, respect for public institutions does not mean that we must avoid criticizing them. In fact, in America, criticism is a chief virtue. It is the most powerful tool for reforming unjust, ineffective, and wasteful practices. In that sense, then, respect for institutions requires scrutiny and criticism. These things are only meaningful, however, if it is possible for institutions to do better than they do. So, even civil criticism of public institutions implies optimism about the promise of better democratic governance.
Civility is not an empty term. It represents a class of virtues that we must foster in schools and in public debates. If constitutional democracy is worthwhile, it is because of its potential for intelligent social action. It can help the greatest number of people to be happy while respecting the rights of those who would fight even against civility itself.
We must not follow Savage's example. A civil answer to an offer of lemonade is "thank you." America today needs voices to be civil. The battle for civility is endless, to be sure, but without it we debase democracy and choose moral blindness over vision.
Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this article. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011. Contact him at
You can visit my Web site here:
Here is the follow-up article by the editors at The Clarion Ledger:

Civility: Agreeable disagreements

(by the editors of The Clarion Ledger)

As much more eloquently expressed in today's Perspective essay by University of Mississippi assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership Eric Thomas Weber, can't we just all get along?

No, that's not the real question nor is it even a plausible question. Of course we can't just all get along.
We are Americans. We disagree. It's in our national DNA. We have a constitutional right to disagree in a nation founded on the principles of guaranteed freedoms and the pursuit - at least - of happiness.
But must we disagree so disagreeably? Must we demonize those with whom we disagree? And most of all, must we engage in an ever-escalating war of character assassination and what has come to be called the politics of personal destruction in the process.
The concept of the loyal opposition in this nation is not-so-slowly disappearing and being replaced by those who value "calling out" and "taking down" those with whom they disagree far more than a civil debate of the issues in which the ultimate goal is the common good.
America over the last two decades has become increasingly polarized - left and right, liberal and conservative, progressive and patriot, black and white, rich and poor, hawk and dove.
It is as if America's political landscape is becoming - like professional wrestling - a carefully scripted pantomime of hero versus heel. One wonders what Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas would make of modern American political debate were they to tune in to the more animated discussions of the more extreme commentators on both MSNBC or Fox News on any given night.
What is lost in the growing incivility of public discourse at every level is the sense of American community.
In their debates, Lincoln expressed an admiration for the oratorical skills of his opponent Douglas: "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed."
Competition is good, particularly in the marketplace of ideas. Spirited, passionate debate from all corners of the political spectrum is healthy and fosters the germination and growth of ideas that lead to progress.
But the level of incivility that reigns in this country today breeds political gridlock and division that threatens to paralyze government at a critical juncture in the nation's history. How much progress our nation could make if we pulled together half as hard as we pull against each other on a daily basis.
- Editors at The Clarion Ledger.  Visit The Clarion Ledger here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Update on disability story and on next submission to the Clarion Ledger

Update on piece on disability

Those of you who had a chance to read my Oxford Eagle article on disability and the effects of Medicaid cuts to people here in Northern Mississippi might be interested in a short update.

The excellent news is that a week after the piece came out, John Robert Phillips, the little boy who needs cochlear implants, has been approved for coverage through Medicaid.  Of course these things may have been worked out entirely independently of the article, but who knows.  If talking about the issue helped move things along even slightly, I'd be very happy about it.  Even if it did not, that is fine too, since it is important to keep people aware of important matters like the one that the Phillips had to confront.  Congratulations, Rachel and John Robert!

My remaining worry is for all the people who either cannot or do not know how to be as strong advocates as some can be for their children.  Medicaid cuts, therefore, will affect more profoundly the poor and less educated persons with disabilities.  If you know of anyone in Mississippi or in nearby states who could use some help, send them my contact information (email:, phone: 662.915.1336).  As a faculty member at the University of Mississippi, I have the opportunity and some avenues for writing about matters like these, to call some attention to problems that need to be addressed.

Info on next submission to the Clarion Ledger

I am happy to report that I have today sent in a piece I wrote for the Clarion Ledger on the subject of incivility in America.  If it is a match for my editor's goals for the piece, then I'll be posting a scan and the text here soon.  If not, I'll post an update on where I'm headed with the project.  On the back burner, I'm slow cooking a book project on the subject of civility.  The challenge at the moment is to figure out how to get the people who need to read it to want to read it.  Until I can figure out the solution to that problem, the project will do more for the choir than for the congregation.  OK, that's a lot of metaphors in a row...  Come visit again soon for an update on this developing piece.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Disability's Financial Crisis," my piece in July 6's Oxford Eagle

Here is the article I wrote for July 6's Oxford Eagle, "Disability's Financial Crisis." You can read a scan of the original article in Adobe PDF form here.

Note in the last paragraph/bio blurb that I've listed the dates for a symposium I'm organizing on ethics and disability.  If you can attend, I hope you will.  It promises to be a wonderful event.  I'll post more information closer to the event as more specifics become available.  The organization which I'm planning this symposium is the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA), which you can learn more about here:

Here's the HTML version of "Disability's Financial Crisis":


Disability’s Financial Crisis

   Cuts to Medicaid are having devastating effects on persons with disabilities around the country and Lafayette County is no exception.  The Wall Street Journal recently related stories of the effects of the cuts, including for 67 year old Barbara Hickey of SC, whose reduced care would require her to “sit in a soiled diaper” for hours if she needed to use the bathroom between nurse visits.  In countless examples like this one, short-term cuts are made at the expense of citizens with disabilities.
   Among the victims of cuts to Medicaid are children.  One example in Mississippi is John Robert Phillips who is supported in part through Medicaid for children with disabilities living at home.  His mother Rachel told me that her son was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome and later with nerve deafness.  John Robert is a candidate for cochlear implants.  “I did not have trouble getting Medicaid last year,” Phillips explained, “but this year … Medicaid is wanting more evaluations and proof that he deserves” care. 

Denial ahead?

   Their case worker told Phillips that in Mississippi deafness and blindness are not considered major disabilities.  They have not yet been denied coverage.  Phillips’ worries are understandable nonetheless given that her son’s doctors predict that without the implants, John Robert may never learn to speak.   Lifelong deafness and inability to speak are surely more costly to society than a one-time surgery for cochlear implants.    
   In Lafayette County, cuts to Medicaid are not the only problem.  According to Physical Therapist (PT) Sally Clancy, who treats my daughter Helen, the need for PT is significant.  Treatment options are growing, but children need far more attention than they are getting.  The Project RUN Early Intervention program, which helps children up to the age of three, advertised a PT position which failed to garner a single applicant even in the middle of a recession with high unemployment.  The job of PT, no longer listed, was set to pay between $46,300.44 and $81,025.77, according to Project RUN Early Intervention Program Director Darlene Hoar of the North Mississippi Regional Center.
   Clancy said that she was not surprised that no one applied.  “Working with children takes a special kind of person no matter what the discipline… Unfortunately, it all comes down to money,” she explained. 

A big need

A PT who works with adults can treat four, five, or six at once, having each exercise as the PT cycles from one to the next.  When you work with an infant who cannot sit on his or her own, however, the only solution is one on one care.  In short, even in a recession the market is not filling a crucial need to help innocent, suffering children.  In a period of high unemployment, people must become aware of the great need for more therapists.
   Even when services are available, many “families have been denied coverage this year, even though they had been covered in the past,” says Clancy.  When “children will go without the services they need,” as Clancy knows they do, we must see this problem as a crisis on a par with the others we face today.
   Clancy told me another story about the troubles of availability of services and cuts to Medicaid that sums up the problem.  A girl who was brought to her has an individual education plan (IEP) from her school calling for 15 minutes of PT per month.  In surprise, Clancy checked to see what goals could possibly be the target of only a few minutes of monthly therapy.  The IEP set no goals for PT.  Making matters worse, those 15 minutes of therapy were then used as the reason why Medicaid would not pay for any PT outside of school.

Remember everyone

   As a country we are facing financial crises, but persons with disabilities are confronting crises also.  We cannot claim to be a moral nation if we save ourselves at the expense of persons with disabilities.  Markets rebound and allow us to repay debts in time.  John Robert Phillips has only one chance to learn to speak, however, and needs surgery now. 
   If you are concerned about cuts to Medicaid here in Mississippi, let our Oxford and Lafayette county representatives and senator know.  

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi and is expressing only his own point of view in this article. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy will be released in 2011. He is organizing a symposium on ethics and disability for February 25–26, 2011. Email to be added to the contact list for the event. Information for parents about disabilities and care can be found on the Mississippi Parent Training and Information Center Web site:

Although the paper did not print the phone numbers of the representatives and state senator that I hoped they would include, you can find their info here on the Oxford city Web site:
To make it easier, here are their numbers: MS House Rep. Noal Akins: 662-236-2473, MS House Rep. Tommy Reynolds: 662-473-2571, MS State Senator Gray Tollison: 662-234-7070.  

Saturday, July 3, 2010's article on my new project

I don't know well, but the piece they've put together for it on my new project is a nice little summary of what I'm working on regarding poverty and education in Mississippi. The article here may or may not stay up - such is the world of internet writing. It seems there is quite a demand for people to think about how to address the problems of poverty and educational failure, though. This little article is one of about 7 or so times the same kind of short review has been written on the work I'm doing. I think it's great to get the word out. Maybe it will help as I make my case to the funding agencies for the project. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Author's Page

I have recently setup my author's page. It allows you to post a photo and a little biographical information. It may also grab these blog posts, though I haven't gotten that to work yet. If you're reading this on Amazon's author page, scratch that last remark.

For anyone interested in what I'm working on next, I'm finishing up a book right now called Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, which will be released with Continuum Press also (the publisher for my first book). This summer, I'm finishing up work on three other proposals. The first one is for my next academic book, Democracy and Leadership, which you can learn about on my Web site's writings page. Next, I'm developing a book with a colleague on the moral, political, and economic promise of expanding internet access in rural Mississippi. Finally, I'm developing a project on civility, which will be intended for wide audiences. I've got a number of other projects in the works, but these are three that are on my mind at the moment. If you're interested in learning about a few other books I'm developing, visit my writings page, where I list a few more projects in development or email me to talk about it.

A bit more writing worth mentioning are a few pieces I'm putting together for Mississippi media outlets. First, I'm writing a piece on civility for The Clarion Ledger and another on rural access to disability services in Mississippi for The Oxford Eagle. Some new developments are starting up too for me to get on Mississippi Public Broadcasting's radio show to talk about disabilities and special needs in education, but that development is still new. I'll post more as there is more to say about it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Clarion Ledger Article from 6/10/10: "Cultural Divides: Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment"

This article came out this past Sunday in The Clarion Ledger. If you've got feedback for me on it, feel free to email me at Here's the text of the article.


Cultural Divides: Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment

Mississippi appears to be stuck in a vicious Catch-22, which accompanies the state's troubled racial history. On the one hand, Gov. Haley Barbour has noted that education is the No. 1 economic development issue in the state. At the same time, poverty and racial stereotyping inhibit educational success. The problem appears irresolvable.

Two reactions are common. The first one says things are not so bad in Mississippi - the denial of failure. The second sees failure everywhere and expects nothing else of the state - the prophecy of failure. Exceptional students who overcome adversity are proof for the deniers and negative stories about Mississippi are confirmation for the prophets of failure.

Both views are troubling. Most people have a hard time denying the state's great problems. Some think that if only we would quit pointing out Mississippi's troubles, we could get people to invest here and to grow business. There is some truth to this concern, but ignoring real problems only lets them grow. My own optimism for the future of the state comes from the fact that the Catch-22 is only apparent. It can be overcome. The difficult problem falls on the side of the pessimists. They create and sustain self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is an error of reasoning. When people commit this fallacy, they call some circumstance inevitable and then, through their own actions or inaction, they make it true. The conclusion they draw from the experience is that they were right: the outcome was inevitable.

Take an example from baseball. A kid who says he will never get a hit decides not to swing. When the third strike whizzes by, he says "See! There was no way I was going to get a hit!"

Failure in baseball has miniscule effects compared with failure in school. Imagine the same thought process at work when a student believes that he or she cannot succeed on a test. If messages continue to predict poor students' failure in education, we should not be surprised when some think there is no point to school.

A number of my students told me about their experiences in transition to college and gave me permission to pass on their messages. The first four are African-American students and the fifth is white. Christopher Cox said: "My high school guidance counselors told me that coming from my background that I would struggle during my tenure. They said that I should attend junior college. This increased my doubt in myself being able to achieve at a four-year institution . . . these statements were discouraging, " he said.

Chris will be a senior in the fall at the University of Mississippi and has a bright future ahead of him.

Nick Luckett shared with me the fact that some members of his community warned him against coming to UM in particular. They told him "Don't go there. You'll get killed." Clearly this warning was racially motivated.

But other teachers told him he would be better off attending a community college, rather than a four-year institution, advice with economic implications. He explained: "Despite all the negativity I received because I decided to come to Ole Miss, I have had a great experience here at this university and I am so glad that I came."

Next, Andre' Cotten and Melissa Cole, both inductees in the UM Student Hall of Fame, have related difficult transitions to college. Andre' wrote that "from my experience, I find that some prospective minority students get discouraged because of the stigma of social injustice that some people who are not familiar with the Ole Miss community attach to our university . . . on the contrary, from my experience as an undergraduate I found that there seems to be a comfortable place for everyone to fit within the Ole Miss family."

Melissa explained that "when I told my friends, neighbors and fellow church members that I would attend Ole Miss, I was always asked 'Why?' or was received with a frown." Certainly racial history played an important role in the culture that inspired these forms of discouragement, but it is important to notice the economic impact that comes along with it.

Finally, Brent Caldwell, one of my white students self-described as a person from a modest financial background, has explained to me that he has "a few friends whose parents didn't go (to college) and who gave them the attitude of 'well we didn't need to go to school; why do you?' . . . Unfortunately, most of these friends never went on to college or flamed out of community colleges." Brent explained that between himself and his former friends, he experienced a "palpable feeling of class difference there," which ended a number of his friendships.

In examples like these I see a symptom of what appears to be happening at all levels in the state. There is still an outlook that inspires people to think that certain institutions and successes are not "for us," for poor African Americans or whites, or for Mississippians generally. These attitudes are observable at many levels, despite the shining examples that contradict them.

The cultural challenges for Mississippi impact us all. When people get too used to hearing negative things about Mississippi, they become more likely to accept low expectations for the state. We need the opposite. We need high expectations, but without denying the problems we face.

Something very important for cultural leadership is at work in the examples of the successful students I have mentioned. I have asked my students how they overcame discouragements from going to college or from coming to the University of Mississippi.

Their answers are often that "I knew her" or "I knew him." Students saw examples of success and wanted it for themselves. A crucial component of leadership in educational attainment in Mississippi must come from a few individuals who swim against the powerful currents of discouragement. When they succeed, others can see that their own prospects might also be bright. The more our students succeed and are visible, the harder it becomes to assume that failure in school is the only option.

My proposal to overcome the apparent Catch-22 is simple: We must fight culture with culture and on many fronts. One way I suggest we do it is with a documentary. There are countless examples of success that we can show kids in Mississippi to contradict the harsh discouragements that many children confront. We have rich resources in our fantastic students who must be talked about, who must be shown to others as the exemplars that they are. A growing number of students have overcome self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. With a documentary we can highlight our many successful students.

We can make the video available for classrooms and public television, but we can also post it online for each student to watch through our expanding avenues of communication that technology has enabled. I envision a viral video that students can access directly on computers at school or in local libraries, to circumvent the common channels of discouragement.

Such efforts could be just the kind of force needed to turn today's cultural current around, to replace a negative and discouraging culture with a culture of excellence.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this article. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011. Contact him at


I've got a scanned version of this file here, in case you'd like to see the original printed version. You can visit my Web site here or send me feedback via email at

Clarion Ledger Article from 3/6/10: "Try Charter Schools Experiment Where Others Failing"

This was my first piece as a guest columnist for The Clarion Ledger. This article was published on March 6, 2010, page 9A. Here's the text:


In January, three University of Mississippi undergraduates advocated for charter schools before the Mississippi House Committee on Education out of concern for the crisis of education in the state. The Public Policy Leadership majors, Chelsea Caveny, Cortez Moss and Alex McLelland, met resistance to partial measures for progress.

Aside from a few vocal opponents, the general response from Republicans in the room was positive and some Democrats were cautiously open to charter schools. The most vocal opponents of charter school legislation worried about the children who stay behind in traditional schools. One representative exclaimed: “Separate but unequal!”

I can understand the resistance. If charter schools only help some, are they not institutions that tell others to wait? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to explain time and time again “why we can’t wait.” He was a great opponent of the numbing gradualism of his day. Being patient is not something suffering people can easily stomach. Despite this powerful motivation, however, the objection to gradualism is misapplied when it comes to charter schools. Charter schools represent the potential, certainly not a guarantee, for substantial progress in education in the state.

At the committee meeting in January, three worries arose. First, if charter schools are the answer, why not overhaul the whole system to follow their method? In response to this concern, the issue is not a desire for progress to be slow. Rather, what is needed is sincere experimentation. In different states and regions, different methods work well or poorly. Charter schools need fine-tuning. Good experimenters, furthermore, don’t stop after one try. Once a model is successful in our state, we should replicate it then and then only, as the urban prep schools did in Chicago.

The second worry that our legislators raised was that charter schools may not work as well in rural areas. There are clear exceptions to this concern, however, such as the KIPP schools (Knowledge Is Power Programs) which have locations in Helena-West Helena, Ark. What seemed to be lacking in the legislators’ responses to the students’ presentation was the will to try, to experiment with new ideas. Innovation and change require openness of mind to the possibilities that others may not have attempted.

A final concern came up. In the accusing charge of “separate but unequal!” was the reasonable worry people have about achievement gaps between white and minority students. This week, the House version of the charter school legislation made sure to emphasize that charters could be established only in replacing schools with a three-year track record of failure. This requirement would ensure that charters be created only where schools most need help, not simply as alternatives for already advantaged students.

Charter school legislation is moving forward for consideration. What is crucial for the future of Mississippi, I believe, is that we regain the will to experiment and to try new ideas. Charter school legislation may only be a partial measure, a step in a larger plan.

With good legislation written to allay the worries people have about charters, however, the charter school initiative could represent a great step forward and in the right direction.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is assistant professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi, expressing only his own point of view in this guest column. His second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy, will be released in 2011.


I've got a scan of this article here, posted on my Web site in case you'd like to see the original in print. If you'd like to visit my Web site, this link will take you to the main page.

Clarion Ledger writings

Today I've signed a freelance writer's agreement/contract with The Clarion Ledger to write pieces for their editorial section. I've received permission to post my articles online generally and on my blog here after they've come out in print. I'll post them and label them "Clarion Ledger Article: [Title of article]..." I know, it's a really creative label that required all that explanation...

Anyway, I've been very lucky to have had a strong response to my first two articles in the CL. I've received a number of very nice and encouraging emails. I appreciate everyone's input. Soon I'll post the first two articles I've had come out already. I should have another come out in July and will be sure to post it here as well. Happy reading. Feel free to send me feedback at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poverty and Education in Mississippi - 1

Today, the Clarion Ledger published my piece called "Barriers Remain to Educational Attainment." The editors shaped the title. I'm not very experienced writing headlines.

The paper's Web site keeps posts online only for so long, so if this link to the article: doesn't work, that's why. For my digital records, I've scanned the article and posted it on my Web site here. You can go directly to the PDF file by clicking here.

An article should be coming out tomorrow too in the Oxford Eagle about the research and documentary plans I'm putting together.

One of the things that I'm planning (as explained in the Clarion Ledger article) is a documentary, highlighting the great successes in education that students have achieved in the face of substantial discouragement. I want kids, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents to see the forces that bear down on less fortunate children as well as the many examples of shining students who have overcome the odds.

For the documentary, I'm looking to setup a database of contacts (full name, full contact information, and info about the person, position, and insight about poverty and education in MS) to have ready once the plan, funding, and personnel line up. If you are interested in taking part and have a unique perspective that can add to addressing the story, email me at with the information I've mentioned.

Eventually, I hope to setup a Web site where people could enter their info online to add themselves as persons I could interview for the documentary. I look forward to learning from and with you about Mississippi's cultural challenges. To address them, we need to show them for what they are first. Then, we can work on solutions.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Philosophy and Disability

Recently, I've started toying with the idea of putting on another SOPHIA symposium, this time on the subjects of Philosophy and Disability. It's a growing field. After putting on a SOPHIA event (, click on Events, and see the one called "Ethics at the End of Life"), I've found that these events are fantastic ways to get a jump start into an area of study that I'm generally interested in, but have only a little bit of experience studying.

For those who are unfamiliar, SOPHIA stands for the Society Of PHilosophers In America, which in truth does not say much about what we do. That said, it is a group with a long history and an interest in showing the value of philosophy for real life, as well as in learning more about philosophical studies from people who live the matters that we read and write about. At the event in Oxford, we had nurses, doctors, social workers, lawyers, students, members of Oxford's retired community, pastors, and scholars of religion, philosophy, legals studies, and more. The diversity of the group was exactly what we were hoping to have at the event. The first tenet of SOPHIA as the board has been redesigning the organization is to bring philosophical study to communities that could learn from and teach scholars about their work.

The next element of SOPHIA's purpose is to encourage not only paper presentations, which are an incredibly common form of academic presentations, but conversations too - perhaps primarily. Thus, the person who at a usual conference would serve as a keynote speaker would serve at a SOPHIA event more the function of facilitator of discussion. A specialist in the relevant area of research is important, as is someone who would be a good match for the topic of the event in any number of ways, such as a person who has friends or family dealing with the matter at issue, or who lives certain elements of the matter himself or herself.

The idea for a possible upcoming event that would be of interest to me would be the matter of living with or supporting persons with disabilities, with a philosophical framework of consideration of the various facets of this less common way of living. I am sure a great deal of prejudices must be overcome, as well as negative attitudes in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies. Much more is relevant, though, of course, such as concerns of equal opportunity in education, access to proper health care resources in rural communities, and more.

Anyone who would like to send me ideas about putting on such an event can post comments here or send me an email ( I'm thinking about developing a program for sometime in the fall of this year (2010).