Private Prisons and Private Education

I subscribe to a newsletter which reviews the best stocks to buy with the best dividends and returns.  In the last newsletter the author described the plight of state owned prisons compared to  privately owned prisons.  He wrote that state owned prisons were old and decrepit, underfunded  and had poor employees.  I question the practice of privately owned prisons just as I question the practice of privately owned public schools including Charter Schools funded by the Federal Government.  When one considers prisons, there are many people in those prisons who were sent there for petty crimes such as smoking pot.  If a prison is paid for by a private company, what incentive is there for the company which operates the prison to allow the person who commits a petty crime to go free in a short period of time?  The incentive would be to keep that person in prison as long as possible by adding more time on the sentence for behavior while in prison.

With charter schools, the tendency is to select only the best students and allow the public schools to educate the rest. The other problem is that students who come from poor homes would very likely overlooked for charter schools.  I grew up in a rural community where many of us had to work on farms with dairy cattle which had to be milked night and morning.  This meant that we had to get up by five thirty a.m. finish our chores and catch a school bus by seven thirty a.m. and try to get a some breakfast in the two hour time period, plus we had to walk three fourths of mile to catch the school bus.  School was dismissed at four p.m. so by the time we got home it was five thirty p.m.  I remember being very hungry so I had to get a snack before going out to milk the cows.  We had our evening meal between eight and nine in the evening, so by that time I would go to bed and did not even look at any home work.  We also had another group of students in competition with us and that was the group of students living in the town and those farmers who raised row crops such as lettuce, onions, sugar beets, and potatoes.  If one only raises row crops, after the crops are harvested there is nothing to do until the following planting season.  This group of students could concentrate on school and school activities such as sports.  So it wasn’t until I went to college that I escaped dairy farming and could concentrate on studying and activities that interested me.  By the beginning of the 2nd year of college I was admitted to the men’s scholastic fraternity.

The other problem with private prisons and private schools is leadership.  When a young person has committed a minor crime, that person is rarely rehabilitated because long term hardened prisoners are well schooled in advanced criminal activities so that the  young person is exposed to people who can and do teach them the latest versions of criminality.  If a state needs a new prison they need to finance and build it with public monies and then examine the activities of the young prisoners it sends to prison and determine if there are other means of rehabilitation.  Since junior college is much less expensive than prison, maybe that could become an alternative to prison.

As far as public schools compared to charter schools, public schools are much less expensive and the leadership of the students stays with the community via the public schools.   The southern states are a good example of a solution gone wrong.  With desegregation, the white residents who could afford a private school sent their children to all white private schools.  Later, the more affluent black families did the same thing, and by the time my wife and I moved to the South in the early 1990’s both the affluent white and black families were sending their children to the same private schools which they labeled academies.  This activity left the public schools with the poor white and black students minus the leadership one gets when the children of all races and backgrounds are mixed together in one public school.   California is an exception in that the public schools were required to provide instruction in the native language of the parents which was a bad idea.  It created schools in which all the students were taught in chinese, korean, spanish, etc.  There was a problem finding fluent bilingual teachers in all these different languages.  The other problem is that we as Americans came to this country and had to learn to speak English.  By the second generation most of the population spoke English as their first language which tended to meld all of its citizens into a new Nation.  My ancestors spoke one of the native indian dialects, the dialect of Scotland, England, and the dialect of the South which I still have in muted form, but which returned in the five years I lived in the South.  I tried to explain to a friend that I was born in Oregon, but raised in the South, because of my mother who had the traditions she learned in Arkansas.  When I married my second wife  she renewed my Southern education except from a Mississippi point of view which varied slightly from that of Arkansas.

I spent the last eleven years of my teaching career teaching in three public schools where I had a mixture of students–One public school had two versions of Russian spoken, Spanish which was referred to as Spanglish because their parents had merged the two languages, Portugese because one group of Russians were referred to as Old-Believers, because of their religious beliefs, when they left Russia through Siberia and emigrated first to Brazil, then to Texas, and finally to Oregon, where some went to Alaska to fish. We also had another group who had emigrated from Russia to Oregon, but did not have much to do with the Old-Believer Russians.

The last public school in which I taught was in Corvallis, Oregon the home of Oregon State University which I attended while completing my doctorate.  We had students from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, South Africa, and many other countries.  I got many of these students because mathematics is a universal language, and I taught in what was called a Mathematics Learning Center in which I had students in Algebra II, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Analytic Geometry, Calculus, and Probability and Statistics.  This was a self-paced, non-lecture course with all the students in the same class.  I taught four periods of these classes which were a challenge for the first year until I became familiar with all the different students  and texts.  These classes were melting pots of  students from many nations who got along very well. So I believe in Public Schools because in the mixture of people the on finds in a Public School because I think the experience enriches us all.

I had one student I remember the most and also one of my favorites.  I had her as a freshman with two of her friends who spent much of their time talking.  She told me one day that I was predjudiced against her because she was black which I did not know because I did not pay any attention to the color of a persons skin.  She complained to her father about me so we had a conference with her father who was the Athletic Director of the other High School in Corvallis, Oregon.  When we met he was indeed black and a very nice person.  He listened while his daughter told me of all the trouble I had caused her because she was black.  He listened her and when he had heard enough of her complaints he told her that she was to go back to my class and behave herself.  I found out that her mother was blond and had blue eyes.  Fast forward two years.  We had a Business teacher was Philipino  and came into the cafeteria steaming because this same girl told him he was predjudiced against her because she was black.  His comment was that this was nonsense because he as darker than she was. I left the cafeteria knowing that she was going to ask me if she could transfer into my class.  When she asked me I told her she could,  but that I did not want to hear anymore of that nonsense I had heard when she was a freshman.  She assured me that she would not so she went to work and did very well in the class.  I would see her father every once in a while and tell him what a good student she was, and he was as pleased as I was.

Railroads and Accidents

Walter L. Bell Ph.D.

While listening to the news of a passenger train derailment, I remembered a conversation with an engineer for one of the major railroads in which we discussed why passenger trains had difficulty on tracks built for freight trains.  This conversation occurred about fifteen years ago, but what surprised me were the changes that had been made in the length of sections of the rails.  He told me that the length of the rails much longer than they had been in the years when both kinds of trains were common until after World War II, and when the railroads owned both passenger and freight trains.  The freight trains traveled as did passenger trains on short sections of rails in order to accommodate the higher speeds of the passenger trains.  

Once passenger trains were phased out in the 1960’s, the railroads slowly lengthened the sections of rail because the freight trains carried much greater loads at much slower speeds.  Also, as the temperature changed from cold to warm from winter to summer, the longer sections of rails expanded greatly because there were less spaces in the longer sections of rails for expansion.  This did not affect the freight trains because of their slower speeds and greater weight.  The passenger trains tended to derail due to this expansion because they were lighter and traveled at much higher speeds.  The passenger trains tended to derail during the warmer months when the expansion of the rails were the greatest.

We were parked by each other in our RV’s so we had time to discuss this problem in detail,  plus there had been some passenger trains that had derailed along one of the railroads in a Southern State.  I wondered at the time if Amtrak was aware of the problem, because the only passenger trains were operated by Amtrak.  Also, the engineer told me that with the longer rails there were no longer the click and clack sound of the train rails while traveling over the shorter rails.  Since I last rode on a passenger train once in 1958 and on an Amtrak train in 1987,  I liked the sound over the short rails especially at night because the sound tended to lull me to sleep.  I doubt that very many passengers on the trains east of the Mississippi know about the changes in the rails that affect the safety of its passengers.  Since Amtrak discontinued its rail service from Portland to Salt Lake years ago, the length of the rails is no longer a concern for this rail system.  At present, one has to travel to San Francisco and then take the train east over the mountain pass through Nevada to reach Salt Lake, so the Amtrak system in the Western States is greatly compromised thanks to our Congress which will spend money on anything except infrastructure.

I would like to have two dedicated high speed rail systems built from the Mississippi River to the West Coast.  One rail system would end in Portland, Oregon and the other in San Francisco or Los Angeles.  We could then build the third dedicated high speed rail system from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C.  This would provide the vast Western States with an alternative means of transportation. The definition of a dedicated rail system means that the railroad is enclosed with an Australian fence which will keep out large animals and people, since these trains travel at very high speeds.