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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

As the Kids say, “For Dumb”

Did you see that some 900 Florida teachers are going to lose their jobs because they can’t pass the math section of the state exam? Doesn’t matter if math is irrelevant to the subject they teach or if they have excellent skill ratings in their field. The article I saw began with a drama teacher who built her school’s program from scratch, but even though she is experienced and popular, she’ll be out on the street. And this comes at a time when the dramatic arts are more and more profitable, as the entertainment industry expands into new forms.

This is still another indication of how the legislature -- and especially Governor Rick Scott -- prioritize test passing over real learning. There’s money to be spent there, as the international ed biz sells the annual exams and charges again for their grading – by minimum-wage workers. I wrote my own exams when I was teaching, and the lack of freedom to do that would be another reason not to enter today’s profession. These arbitrary firings also come at a time when Florida school systems have to go out of state to find teachers. Because even Georgia pays better, we recruit in rural states further away.

And have you tried to pass a math test lately? The teaching methodology has changed so much that even Hubby – who has an undergraduate degree in math and wrote a book on probability theory – had to do some studying to help our great-niece with her third-grade homework. I’m not opposed to the new methods, but I am opposed to firing a good teacher because of the capricious raising of math to an altar-like level. I wonder how many legislators could pass that test. Or if they want their budgets to be written in algebraic symbolism?

Speaking of Pay…

I was distressed – but not surprised – to see that we rank up there with New York and Connecticut as states with the highest income inequality. In Florida, the top one percent of families have an average income of $1.54 million annually, as opposed to the $39,094 average for the bottom 99 percent. That’s why we have Palm Beach not far from Immokalee, but the contrast is clear elsewhere, too. In Tampa Bay, the top one percent have incomes that are 30.4% higher than the average of $36,647. That’s why we have gated communities to guard against potential invaders from the trailer park down the road.

This study by the Economic Policy Institute pointed out that nationally, income inequality has been on the rise since 1970s and was exacerbated by the recession under Dubya. In Florida, they say, “the disparity is so lopsided in part because average Florida wages for the bottom 99 percent are well below the national average.” I looked up that ranking and found even Arkansas’ minimum wage is higher than Florida’s $8.25 an hour.

The study did not mention another huge factor: New York and Connecticut, of course, are known for high taxes – but Florida has no income tax at all. Thus the poor get poorer, as we depend on the regressive sales tax, something that inherently means the poor carry a greater percentage of the state’s burden than the rich. Again, even Georgia has a state income tax. When you talk to candidates prior to this year’s election, why not ask them about this? Do we really want Florida to become a Third World nation, with a few immensely rich people and crumbs for the rest?

A Way to Do Better

Britain, as you know, used to be filled with manors and palaces for the privileged, while workers on the brink of starvation huddled in hovels. After Parliament undertook economic reforms in the 1830s, these conditions slowly changed – and then rapidly after World War II. After suffering through that horror, when the UK was the only European nation unconquered by fascists, Britons undertook a deliberate economic change. Railroads and other basic industries were nationalized, thus becoming nonprofit; labor unions were empowered; and most instructively for Americans today, free medical care was introduced and never repealed. All of this has resulted in a happier and much more middle-class society – akin to what the US was until recently.

A personal confirmation of Britain’s superior economic values arrived in last week’s mail. All of Hubby’s three books were published in London, and to our surprise, a check came from some outfit we’d never heard of called “Informa.” It wasn’t a big check, to be sure, but someone somewhere apparently counted the clicks on the electronic versions of his writing and sent the equivalent of a royalty check.

I’ve been waiting for many years for that to happen with my American publishers. It’s been at least a decade since I filled out forms for the Authors Guild on my dozen or so books, but there never has been any check from anybody for anything. When I enter my name on Google, I get close to a half-million hits, and most weeks, I get at least one e-mail from someone who has been reading my stuff. Indeed, my own books frequently turn up when I’m researching something else -- often with Google’s yellow highlights, for which I’ve not been paid a dime.

Even before the internet, Britain rewarded creativity with Authors Lending Rights. On a random basis, libraries kept track of what books were most often checked out, and authors got checks based on that. Even in America, the entertainment business has proved that this sort of tracking isn’t hard, as playwrights, composers, actors, singers, and more long have been compensated for reruns of old works.

Yes, I have thought of moving to England, especially because of their care for the elderly and their wonderful flowers that don’t grow in Florida. You know I won’t – but if we elect a Democratic Congress that has a clue about the importance of information, I’ll lobby for changes in copyright law. I’m tired of being ripped off.

Peaks and Valleys

I am (again) working on a chronology of American women’s history, beginning in the 1500s with Spanish settlement in Florida. This timeline will exclude many milestones in my earlier books because I’m skipping over cultural/economic contributions to emphasize legal/political wins and losses. I’m up to nearly the end of the nineteenth century now and have at least one entry per year from 1827 onwards.

Until I got to 1889. I knew that the era was one of stagnation, as the idealists of Civil War times aged and died. Their children were less liberal, and of course, axiomatically, it is liberals who make history. “Conservative” means embracing the status quo, something that never merits historical headlines.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something more for 1889, but the only thing I’ve found so far was the election of a woman to the school board in Detroit. And that was hardly a big deal, as male voters in Boston had elected four women to that position in 1873. The incumbents initially refused to work with these female colleagues, but legislators soon passed a law forcing them to change their minds.

Indeed, a number of states allowed women to be elected to school offices long before they could vote for themselves. I mentioned this phenomenon to Hubby, and he asked why. The chief reason was that in many rural areas, there simply weren’t enough men who were sufficiently literate and/or willing to serve, and women were needed to fill the boards’ legal obligations. Some laws were extremely arbitrary: In the massive Dakota Territory, for instance, women were eligible for school elections -- except for fifteen enumerated counties, which happened to be the largest and oldest. Doubtless there was money to be made there.

So Hubby said I should write about that. Not only do we need to be reminded of how complex women’s history is, but we also need to be reminded that, as a nation, we have peaks and valleys. The 1840s and 1850s were a rising time of many new ideas, including the then radical notion of abolishing slavery. The 1880s and 1890s, also called the “Victorian Age” or “Gilded Age,” were regressive. Huge income equality developed after the Civil War, especially in the North, and the result was the nation’s first serious depression. Economic downturns always have been negative for women, and the only milestone I’ve found so far for 1891 is that the University of Chicago opened as a coeducational institution.

As a nation, we’re dealing with the faux gold of the so-called “Gilded Age” right now, and many of us live in the outposts beyond the palace -- but the twentieth century will come soon. Maybe in November.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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