Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bring together political activists, candidates, elected officials, and government public affairs folks in a comfortable setting. Slowly mix in MSM editorial writers, and party officials from both parties. Add a dash of high school students and what do you get? An outstanding conference on political blogging in the Old Dominion. The Blogs United conference at Christopher Newport University on Saturday did exactly that and achieved the same results. With Chef Jim Hoeft taking the lead, the all day event was notable for its peace, good humor, rapt audience and stellar array of guests.

One presentation caught my attention. VA House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian Moran reviewed priorities for the fall campaigns and the next legislative session. Among those priorities was one he shares with Governor Tim Kaine, mandatory universal pre-K education. Moran premised his argument for this expansion of public school on the proposition that "80 percent of brain development occurs between birth and five years of age." While one might agree that significant development occurs during this period, it is worth considering whether it is a good argument for state provided education at age 4. Information at the Missouri Extension Service site leads me to think otherwise. The site identifies sensitive periods for child development. The Extension service comments that:

"Sensitive periods are the broad windows of opportunity for certain types of learning. Sensitive periods represent a less precise and often longer period of time when skills, such as acquiring a second language, are influenced. But, if the opportunity for learning does not arise, these potential new skills are not lost forever. Individuals learn new languages at many different times in their lives."

"The skills acquired during sensitive periods are those that some people are better at than others. They include the social, emotional and mental characteristics that make us interesting people. Individuals who work with children need to be aware of the sensitive period concept so that they can provide learning opportunities that benefit children in many ways. The early brain research highlights birth through age 3 as a sensitive period for development and learning in all areas."

Thus it would appear that citing child brain development as a reason for providing public education to 4 year old children is a non sequitor at best and dishonest at worst.

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling's address at the evening banquet was accompanied by information about his 100 Ideas for Virginia. Bolling made an earnest and cogent plea for integrity, and civility in the political process, conjuring a vision of a better future for Virginia through increased citizen participation. He posited this increased participation on toning down angry political rhetoric. The distributed information however left me wondering if there was anything there there.

The list of challenges included: We must keep our neighborhoods, communities and schools safe from the threat of crime. I would be much more enthused if the challenge was not to remove the threat but to remove the crime.

Also among the challenges was: We must remain economically competitive in the global marketplace of the 21st century. I would imagine that we will be competitive no matter what we do. Even the last person in the race is a competitor. Our challenge is to win, not remain in the race.

Fuzzy thinking is not the key to future. Maybe we need some sharper arrows in the quiver.

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