Sunday, December 19, 2010

America - The Exceptional Nation

"To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race." President Calvin Coolidge.

The truth of this statement is no cliche - and it is often overlooked today.  America really did turn the world upside down by making the protection of unalienable rights the very purpose of government. Most governments in the past did quiet the opposite.

During this wonderful holiday season, take a few minutes to recognize the brave men and women protecting our liberty, and the blessings we have been given by our Founding Fathers and others who have struggled for us over the generations.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This date in American History

On this date in American history, in 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the Constitution.

A Republic - not a Democracy - Is the Key to Liberty

Alexander Hamilton remarked before the New York Convention that ratified the Constitution:

“It has been observed, by an honorable gentleman, that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity. When they assembled, the field of debate presented an ungovernable mob, not only incapable of deliberation, but prepared for every enormity. In these assemblies, the enemies of the people brought forward their plans of ambition systematically. They were opposed by their enemies of another party; and it became a matter of contingency, whether the people subjected themselves to be led blindly by one tyrant or by another.” 

Today, most political commentators and media sloppily refer to America as a "democracy."  Nothing is farther from the truth.  We elect representatives to Congress, and a President (indirectly through the electoral college) to pass and enforce the laws.  

This is a republican form of government, and it was purposefully made so to protect our freedom.  Although most states have introduced a bit of democracy through the initiative and referendum procedures, these are rarely invoked - and they often have unintended consequences.  

Likewise, essential to our system are checks and balances and separation of powers, both of which check the passions of the people.  Our Senate represents the Senates (albeit in a diluted form with the passage of the 17th Amendment), and the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections simply remove from the political debate our unalienable rights. 

Words, of course, have meaning.  The mischaracterization of America as a democracy undermines the public's and politicians' understanding of our government, and it inappropriately sets expectations.  Next time someone refers to our democracy - correct them.  This is not a quibble - our republic is at stake.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Innovate to educate: A lesson in how to fix our public schools

By Thomas Watkins, published in The Oakland Press

Will Michigan schools be part of the reinvention of our state or will our new state leaders remain content to simply do a little dusting around the edges of the existing model and continue to make minor tweaks to an educational system in great need of a major transformation?

Would any thoughtful, rational educator replicate the existing educational system given the opportunity to begin anew? We should re-imagine and rebuild public education with this in mind.

Up to 10 percent of Michigan school districts are currently under financial distress with more following close behind. Our largest school district, Detroit Public Schools, is teetering on the edge of collapse.

We have known for some time the funding and spending practices for our schools were unsustainable. Yet, we continued to pretend and spend as if nothing has changed — when everything has changed.

We are past the point where incremental changes to our schools are sufficient. Major fundamental change is required to get many schools, not only out of financial distress, but out of educational bankruptcy as well.

We cannot continue to take several small leaps across the wide chasm from what is to what needs to be.

Is public education in Michigan and America the “same ole, same ole?”

Or are our elected leaders and educators capable of implementing change in our K-12 public school system that will move us boldly into the 21st century?

This is not simply an academic question. Our collective future depends on the answer.

While state superintendent of Michigan schools between 2001-2005 and having since left that position, I continue to see the need for our schools to lead change.

In assuming that role in state government in 2001, our team drafted a “change” document — “Thirty Ideas in 30 Days, Our Children, Our Schools, our Future — a Call for Collaboration and Action” — that said, “... Our world is changing in dramatic ways and our system of education must embrace those changes ... or be totally engulfed by them.” And, “Our future is sitting in our classrooms today. The viability of our society, the strength of our economy, the quality of our lives, the vibrancy of our democracy, and our place in the world — all depend on our system of public education.” Fast forwarding nine years to today, and these sentiments remain true.

In 2004 I called for the governor, Legislature and state board of education to take action to address the unsustainable health care and pension costs and for the shared services and consolidation of school districts to drive more resources to the classroom in a report titled “Structural Issues Surrounding Michigan Schools in the 21st Century.” The question was the same then as now: Would our schools exist for teaching, learning and children, or exist for power, control, politics and adults? The latter won.

Actions taken to date addressing this crisis have been anemic at best. Our state leaders have known the problems existed for years, allowing them to fester. Without addressing these issues there will never be the resources available to educate our children to world-class standards.

The need for change and reform remains. We need to promote the new 3 R’s of education: Restructure, Reform and Reinvent and then and only then adding a 4th: Investing new Resources.

Any new money invested on our schools without restructuring, reform and reinventing of our schools would be nothing short of merely providing lubricant to protect the status quo. This will not get our children and our state to where we need to be, instead being the equivalent of pouring water into a glass with a hole in the bottom and wondering why the glass never fills.

Reinvention is necessary
If we do not have the courage to re-imagine and reinvent our schools we will fail as a state and nation.

Will our new refrain be “innovate to educate” as called for by the Symposium on (Re)Design For Personalized Learning or will we continue the “contain the change” mentality that permeates the debates surrounding education under the capitol dome?

While we worry about educated students fleeing our state after graduation, we need to be equally concerned about the uneducated and under-educated ones that stay behind. The uneducated are not the foundation required to reinvent or rebuild Michigan. We can either get smarter and wealthier economically and spiritually or we can become dumber and poorer as a state and nation — it is that simple. Continued...
The individual, city, state and nation that is educated will be the individual, city, state and nation that thrive. Without a quality education the future looks bleak.

How can we move into the information age/knowledge economy if our No. 1  information industry, education, remains mired in the industrial age? Holding onto the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive on be competitive on the world stage.

A symposium organized this past summer by the Software and Information Industry Association in collaboration with the Association of Curriculum Supervision & Development and the Council of Chief State School Officers came to the following conclusion: There is a need to fundamentally redesign our K-12 educational system around the student and is required for their and our nation’s future success.

On the surface, you may be scratching your head and asking, “You mean the current system is not designed around the student?” Sadly, in far too many schools across this state and nation, the answer is “no!”

Certainly there are islands of excellence and reform sprouting up across Michigan and America that should be supported and nurtured — but we need more than islands. We need our two mighty peninsulas to lead change and educational innovation.

One such island is WAY Program (Widening Advancement for Youth), co-founded and directed by Beth Baker and Glen Taylor. Glen was the only Michigan educator invited to attend the national education symposium.

The WAY Program is a personalized learning experience for students who struggle with traditional high school. WAY offers an alternative approach to education; one that encourages self-esteem, independence, and the development of 21st century skills that will facilitate a college education and subsequent career paths.

This past summer, change agent educators attended a national education symposium to focus on the need to “systemically redesign of our nation’s education system” joined together under a common belief “that our industrial-age, assembly-line education model-based on fixed time, place, pace and curriculum, is insufficient in today’s knowledge-based economy.” These education and technology industry thought leaders overwhelmingly concluded: “We cannot meet the personalized learning needs of students within our traditional system-tweaking the teacher/classroom-centered model is not enough, and systemic redesign is needed.” Continued...
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released its “2010 Technology Plan: Transforming American Education — Learning Powered by Technology.” As the secretary of education says in his cover letter to the report: “The plan calls for applying the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire educational system to improve student learning, accelerate and scale up adoption of effective practices, use data and information for continuous improvement.”

Former governors leading the way
In their new report, “Digital Learning Now!” former governors Jeb Bush (Florida, 1998-2007) and Bob Wise (West Virginia, 2001-05) have provided a road map for a portion of the road that needs reform.

The report details how digital learning can radically transform education by demonstrating how “Technology has the power and scalability to customize education so each and every student learns in his or her style at his or her own pace, which maximizes the chances for success in school.”

Every educator, parent and politico, community and business leader should read this report and ask: “Why isn’t Michigan leading the charge?” We can re-invent our state by using technology to personalize learning from the cradle to the grave, leapfrogging our global competition.

All that is now commonplace began with a vision. Yet this is not a pipe dream. Digital learning tools exit today. Capstone Digital has literally a library full of digital products, from pre-K to high school that support the learning needs of students through experiences that capture and engage young minds.

This is not your father’s educational material said Todd Brekhus, president of Capstone Digital. “We built our company vision and products on the premise that digital content for classrooms is not bound by time and space, by business and educational models of ‘checking in and checking out resources,’ we have thousands of digital books and resources that allow students to discover their interests, passions, and drive taking learning to a new level,” says Brekhus.

The difference between a pioneer and a settler is vision and action.We need leadership at every level together with the will to accelerate change and innovation.

We need to ask, what if the impossible isn’t?
As governor-elect Rick Synder discussed on the campaign trail, Michigan 1.0 was agricultural, furs and forestry, Michigan 2.0 was the Industrial Age with auto driving our futures. Today, our future lies in knowledge, creativity, innovation, globalization and technology — it is past time we reinvent Michigan, Michigan 3.0. We must substitute brain power for brawn power.

America’s and Michigan’s greatness has grown from organizing its human and natural resources through advances in science, technology, finance and commerce. These same strategies can be applied to education, which is one of largest local and global needs and global industries. Arguably, it is our most important industry. The solution to Michigan’s problems will be the result of the quality of education provided.

What if Michigan re-invents education in a new, personalized, technologically-driven way that helps us create a new knowledge/educational economy?

Michigan can lead an education revolution. We could export our reinvented educational processes to other states and countries. The old system of textbooks, and paper and pencil tests is about to dissolve just as trains, cars and airplanes displaced the old bicycle and horse and buggy days of the 17th and 18th centuries. The day is fast approaching where textbooks are replaced by digital tools and knowledge stores.

There are benefits and profits in bringing education, our largest knowledge industry, into the information age. Why shouldn’t Michigan lead the way in inventing this new educational system built on learning sciences using current and soon to be created technologies?

Our kids, our future
Be clear, this is not simply another ploy for more money for our schools and certainly not for the existing system. Until we can demonstrate how additional investments in education will help teachers teach and children learn and gain 21st century skills and knowledge, there should be no additional money for the educational system.

We don’t need more money. We need to spend the money we have based on different priorities. What gives the greatest return to our students, state and nation? We must break away from an educational system that has morphed into protecting adults at the expense of kids and our collective futures. A new system of educating our youth must not be about education associations or unions. Not school vendors or any other special-interest group. “Our Kids, Our Future,” must be our collective refrain.

In fact, if we adopted and acted on these principles, we might redirect billions of dollars into building a new system of education that would prepare our children for the future and make the country stronger.

Snyder plans to use his inauguration to launch a year-long effort to change people’s perception about Michigan and “usher in a new era of innovation.” The effort will be branded “The Power of MI,” a tag line meant to represent the “can-do” entrepreneurial spirit that made Michigan the arsenal of democracy, put the world on wheels, and allowed us to set a higher standard of living for America. With leadership, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit there exists a means to energize and reinvent our future.

The tools for change and reform exist. We need leaders willing to take the bold steps to lead change.

Clearly changing the cherished, historical, status quo, local school notion is riddled with peril. Not acting will be worse.

Let me assure you, having spent over two decades traveling in China, the Chinese and other nations are not slowing down while we hesitate and stagnate.

We have a new governor with a technology, innovation background and change mandate. There is no better place to start than with our system of education.

It is time to innovate to educate.

The only question that remains — “will we?”

The reports mentioned in this article can be obtained at:
— Innovate To Educate: System (Re) Design for Personalized Learning Also see:

— American Education -- Learning Powered by Technology or 1-800 USA-LEARN

— E-learning for Michigan-- the New Education (R)evolution Wayne State University// Tom Watkins,

— Digital Learning Now press_releases/08182010

— Capstone Digital

— Change... Or Die Dome Magazine

— Way Program (Widening Advancements for Youth)

— Making Education Reforms Happen Dome Magazine

— Structural Issues Surrounding Michigan Schools in the 21st Century  

Tom Watkins is a business and educational consultant in the U.S. and China. He helped start the first charter school in Michigan and Florida, wrote and internationally recognized report on e-learning: The New Education (R)evolution  and served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools, 2001-2005. He can be reached

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Are we losing the rule of law?

    James Madison wrote:  "It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.  Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?"

    A foundation of our freedom is the rule of law - i.e., that the law - not the whims of politicians - govern.  Madison's statement brilliantly captures other key components of the rule of law:  it must be published, it must be understandable, it must be stable, it must be concise.

    One can only stop and wonder what Madison would think of today's thousands of pages omnibus bills, passed at lightening speed, with confessions by congressmen that they don't have the time or ability to read what they vote upon.  One can rightly ask, are we slowly losing the rule of law?

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Never too late for Thanksgiving

    Now that are recovering from our turkey induced haze, the agony of yet another Lions’ loss, as well as the Black Friday scramble, perhaps we should spend a few minutes actually giving thanksgiving for our blessings. (Lets face it, not many did so on the holiday).  
    In 1621, the Pilgrims in Plymouth celebrated with Native Americans a feast that spanned over 3 days, in which the Pilgrims gave thanks for the blessings they had received in the new world.  More poignantly, George Washington announced a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789, which, among other things, rendered “unto God our sincere and humble thanks” for, among others, “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge, and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer on us.”  
    Washington also “humbly offer[ed] our prayers and supplications” to, among other things, “pardon our national and other transgressions . . . To render our national government a blessing to all people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed . . . .”
    These sentiments, expressed over two centuries ago, cannot yet be improved.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Saluting Our Soldiers

    Today we honor those brave men and women who throughout the ages have defended our liberty in the armed services.  Originally today was called “Armistice Day” - in commemoration of the end of hostilities during The Great War (i.e., World War I).  In 1918, at 11:00 on 11/11, the great powers ended the fighting pending the approval of a final peace.  Because of the enormous sacrifices and historical significance of The Great War (many arguing that it would be the war to end all wars), in November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day as follows: 
    "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
    Taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, this photo reveals soldiers of the US 353rd Infantry in Meuse, France waiting for the Armistice to take hold. 
    By 1926, the state legislatures of 27 states had officially recognized the day, and Congress passed a concurrent resolution recognizing the day.  in 1938 it became a legal holiday.  After WWII and the Korean War, in 1954 the day was changed to Veterans Day.  For a while the day floated (1968-1974) to create a 3 day weekend, but in 1975 it was returned to November 11.
    The purpose of the day is to take time from the hustle and bustle of the day to give solemn remembrance to those who have given so much for our liberty.  Wilson’s original proclamation may have summed it up best:  
    “it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
    God Bless our veterans, and God Bless America.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Top 10 Reasons to Vote (by Tom Watkins)

    We have all have heard it before — this is a crucial election. It is.

    If you think elections don’t really matter, reflect back on the past decade in Michigan and America. Leadership matters and now is your chance to choose who will lead our state into the future.

    On Nov. 2, all of us, rich or poor, cities and suburbs, blacks or whites, college-educated or high school dropout — we all have one vote.

    Don’t use it and you are giving your power away and eroding the very foundation of our state and country.

    On Election Day we are all truly equal. We the voters hold the power to decide who will lead our nation, our state and communities into the future.

    But you must vote to make your voice heard. Better still — text, e-mail, tweet and Facebook your family and friends and get them to the polls as well.


    To honor those throughout our history who fought and died to preserve our independence and democracy.

    For the men in women in uniform both at home and abroad who are currently fighting for our freedom and to protect our way of life.

    For the civil rights activist who fought the injustices so African Americans, who gave their blood sweat and tears to help build this country, could share in all its glory.

    For all of the strong women of the Women’s Suffrage movement, who knew “right was right and wrong was wrong” and demanded their place in America.

    Vote as an example to our children and the youth of this great country. They will inherit all that freedom and democracy that has built to date. Vote as a reminder that it is their responsibility to build an even more perfect union.

    Vote and become a beacon to the world that America is governed for the people and by the people.

    Participate as a reminder that we should not take our freedom and democracy for granted. People have been imprisoned and have died for the rights we have come to expect in America.

    Vote to prove, once again, that polls don’t win elections. People who vote win elections. Time and time again, we have seen candidates being outspent and written off — only to stand tall in victory after “the people have spoken!”

    Voting is an investment in our collective future.

    Vote because you can. Democracy only works when we participate. Your vote will help make history.

    Vote on Nov. 2 or our liberty and freedom could one day be history.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    America & The Invisible Hand

    In his first Inaugural Address, George Washington remarked that "it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and the happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes . . . ."

    His prayer was followed by an astute observation - which might very well be controversial today if uttered by a President:  "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.  Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have distinguished by some token of providential agency . . . ."  

    Indeed, any one who truly understands our history would have difficulty in contradicting the sentiment.

    In the hustle and bustle of the day, take time to give thanks for the miracle that is America.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    George Washington - Humility by the Greatest Character of the Age

    My parents recently gave me a new book from the Smithsonian Institution, "Presidents, All You Need to Know" by Carter Smith.  I began by flipping to the back and re-reading George Washington's First Inaugural Address.  The beginning of his address is almost unimaginable in today's politics.  He essentially stated that he felt he was reluctant to become our first President, he was getting old and was ready for retirement, and was not certain he was ready for the task.  He asked that if he failed to meet their expectations, that the people remember that he took the office because he was called to duty by them and he loved his country.

    Humility is a trait that is noticeably lacking in today's discourse.  Yet, here is the greatest character of the age (that was the phrase given to him by his nemesis King George III) publicly expressing self-doubt in his major address as President to the country which he was helped create more than any other.  Washington's public professions should be more carefully examined - and followed - by those who govern today.

    Publish Post

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    America - Last Hope for Justice

    "Judging from the main portions of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy."  Walt Whitman.

    Whitman's observation is true today as it was made generations ago.  In the interim we have faced down the Kaiser, Nazism, Imperial Japan, and the USSR.  Today we are fighting for justice against extreme radical Islamic terrorists whose idea of justice is a one world caliphate, denying women equality, and abolishing all unalienable rights (such as the free exercise of religion, free speech, the right to assemble).

    Of course, the fight for justice at home is never complete, but we remain the world's last, best hope for freedom, equality, and justice.  As we confront our challenges - domestic and foreign - we will be best prepared to prevail if we keep our Founding First Principles at the forefront.  Otherwise, justice for us all will vanish into the darkness of history.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Truth Telling, Why So Revolutionary?

    George Orwell, stated;  "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

    One might think that in America, that truth telling would not be a revolutionary act.  But think again.  How many times have those in power lied and deceived the people?  The ex-Mayor of Detroit is serving time in a federal prison for lying under oath, and then concealing his assets in an attempt to avoid paying restitution.  New York and Illinois politicians have gone down in major scandals.  Corporate officers (witness, the financial crisis) are repeatedly found having skirted the rules and perpetuating fraud on the public.  Politicians are so distrusted that most expect that they will either lie or break their campaign promises as a matter of course.  The mainstream media is also distrusted; and bloggers, well, they are an interesting lot to say the least. Scandals involving the religious authorities hiding monstrous crimes keep erupting.

    Americans deserve better.  

    But America will only receive better when the public refuses to countenance the lies and those accountable take the truth seriously.  

    Over the last several years, I have tried to enforce the oath in courtroom by independently pursuing contempt of court for perjury - and have succeeded. Although a modest effort, it can serve as a model for others in the courtroom and elsewhere.  

    Although it will not be easy, it will be worth the effort - after all, the truth will set you free.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Bastille Day - Lessons Not Yet Learned?

    July 14 is Bastille Day - the day most historians mark as the beginning of the French Revolution.  On this day the citizens of France began the long road of revolution by storming the Bastille prison in the heart of Paris.  Little did they know that they path they began would lead to advancement of major political, economic, and social liberties, but end in the slaughters of the Terror and the dictatorship of Napoleon.

    The French Revolution ended so differently than the American, because the French, in the pursuit of liberation, ended up destroying the rule of law, the Social Compact, and the unalienable rights they claimed they were protecting.  The ends justified the means - tyranny, in the name of liberty, became the prevailing reality.

    That the power to do good can also lead to the power to do evil seems to be a forgotten lesson.  When one empowers the government with unlimited power with the expectation of it using it wisely, history reveals that the unlimited power almost always ends in the corruption of the government and the oppression of the common man.  This is a lesson we need remember at all times, lest the Terror be unleashed yet again.

    Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

    Watkins: Vote Aug. 3 as if your life depended on it — it does

    Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 11:00 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Wed Jul 14, 2010.
    Two Democrats, Virg Bernero and Andy Dillion as well as five Republicans, Mike Bouchard, Mike Cox, Tom George, Peter Hoekstra, Rick Snyder are on the ballot. One of these seven will be our next governor. Your choice in the primary will narrow the field.
    No, "none of the above," is not an option!
    It is our responsibility as citizens to whittle down the political field to one Democrat and one Republican to square off in the Nov. 2 election. If you need more information about the election, visit the Secretary of State voter information center at (or see a listing of candidates websites below)
    Don't allow other voters to make your choice for you. If you fail to participate and vote on Aug. 3 it will be no one's fault but your own if your candidate does not make it to the final selection. Remember, people around the world are literally dying for the chance to vote!
    Why Your Vote Matters?
    Perhaps at no time in Michigan history does the collective wisdom of the voters matter more. Who we choose will be the point person to lead our state forward.
    The litany of problems are monumental. Michigan has been at the front of the line for our nation's ills for some time now. Issues awaiting the next governor's attention include: Creating jobs, establishing a 21st tax structure, fixing crumbling roads, addressing deteriorating state services, declining property values, unsustainable pension and health care costs for public employees, higher education now priced out of reach for the average family while our investment in our public schools decays. Clearly, there are no shortages of challenges facing our state.
    Yet along with this laundry list of problems facing us, there are a corresponding and equal number of strengths upon which an innovative leader can build.
    Consider these:
    * Michigan is surrounded by 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water
    * We have the highest concentration of high quality engineers anywhere in the world
    * Our public and private universities and community colleges are excellent and capable of producing the talent needed
    * There is a latent entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative vein running deep in Michigan, ready to be tapped
    * Two -thirds of incoming legislators will be new and hopefully not saddled with the political anchors of the past
    * There is no place in the country where residential, commercial, retail or industrial property is cheaper
    * There is a growing understanding among the citizens that the world has changed and we need to not only adapt to change, but to lead it if we wish to prosper in the 21st century.
    * Michigan has been down so long there is a desperate hunger for a leader to help us rise again
    Vote Or Liberty is History
    Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you wish to have an impact, you must engage and vote.
    Don't skip the first inning by not voting in the Aug. 3 primary election, then complain when your choice for governor is eliminated and not around for you to consider on election day, Nov. 2.
    If you treat the August 3rd Primary as a typical July 4 -- enjoying a hot dog, hamburger, a cold beer, watching the Tigers and not voting -- you will get what other voters have chosen for you! And it is unlikely you will consider it a "picnic" as we move forward.
    In a few days you have the opportunity to help direct your and the state's fate. The choice is up to you.
    Try these image on for size: Look around the coffee shop where you are reading this column, or around your office, at your mother-in-law, your brother- in- law or that obnoxious guy at the gym. Now think about it -- you not voting and instead having these people make your choice for governor. A pretty picture?
    It's that simple -- the opportunity to effect your and our collective future is upon us -- don't blow it.
    Vote Aug. 3.
    Tom Watkins is a education and business consultant in the U.S. and China and served as Michigan's state superintendent of schools from 2001-2005. He can be reached at:

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Patriot Week Activities: American House Refresher Courses on American History

    [Originally published in the Oakland Press, but the link failed here]

    The American House Senior Living Communities has announced it will offer free American history classes at various locations throughout the state.

    The initiative was started by Bob Gillette, founder of American House.

    Gillette approached three teachers from the metro area to teach the classes at 12 different locations, including Farmington Hills, Rochester Hills, Pontiac, Southfield, Troy, West Bloomfield Township, Roseville and Sterling Heights.

    “We believe we all need a refresher course on our nation’s history so we can truly understand the founding principles of America and put the true meaning back into national holidays such as Independence Day,” Gillette said.

    The classes focus on the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and its signing. These sessions will culminate in September during Patriot Week, Sept. 11-17.

    Patriot Week was founded by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Warren with the goal of renewing America’s spirit. American House is a member of the Patriot Week organizing committee.

    “The teachers have been overwhelmed with enthusiasm,” Gillette said, boasting that the classes have been a phenomenal success.

    “Topics will change over time,” said Jennifer Cherry, the public relations employee for American House. Cherry said there’s discussion of expansion of other classes and areas in Michigan.

    Attendees are encouraged to call their local American House to put their name on the list for a class, but they also have the option of simply showing up before it begins.

    A special asset to the classes is a painting that Gillette recently commissioned from artist d.hummel-marconi — a painting exclusive to American House. The painting, “In God We Trust,” features 20 of the founding fathers of America.

    The painting was designed to engage students in the classroom. A corresponding guide identifies the 20 figures and will be used as a teaching tool in the American House history classes.

    “This painting, combined with our American history classes, really symbolizes what American House stands for and what we believe in,” said Gillette. “This will be an invaluable tool for our teachers to visually show our country’s founding fathers.”

    The history classes at American House are open to all ages.

    “We at American House are very passionate about patriotism and the need for all citizens, young and old, to be educated or have a refresher course on American history,” Gillette said.


    For a schedule of classes, visit

    resources. The list will be continually updated throughout the summer. Visit www.patriotweek.orgfor more information on Patriot Week.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    State v the Creator - The Global War Continues

    "[T]he same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God," said John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address nearly 50 years ago.  Those words continue to ring true today as they did over a generation ago.

    Most nations continue to cling to the belief that what a person can do depends upon what the state allows.  This understanding means we have privileges, not rights; and makes the people subjects, not citizens.  This allows the all powerful state to  oppress the people - even slaughter them when it decides to.

    Turning the world topsy-turvy, our Founding Fathers declared that it was the Creator who provided us rights - and those rights came first and before the government.  Such rights cannot be given or taken away by the government - that is why they are called "unalienable."

    Unfortunately, this First Principle of unalienable rights seems to be almost forgotten today.  When is the last time you heard a major politician utter the words "unalienable rights"? This fundamental First Principles is at the heart of what makes America, well, America.  If we intend to remain free, we must begin to reassert our unalienable rights vigorously - otherwise we will simply join the rest of the globe in slowly, but surely, losing our liberty.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Freedom Dies Slowly

    Before the Virginia Ratifying Constitutional Convention, James Madison (1788)  explained that "There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." 

    In other words, our liberties are most likely to be slowly eroded than taken by a bold, dramatic action.  The small, incremental steps are generally easily disguised as simply a slight modification, a minor change, and general meets little or no resistance.  But in retrospect, dozens of "minor changes" amount to dramatic infringements of our liberties.

    This is why we must be ever vigilant, because those in power (of whatever political persuasion) are much more likely to slowly chip away at our freedom than to make a huge power grab.  This is why every action of government should be viewed and critiqued in light of our First Principles of the rule of law, equality, the Social Compact, unalienable rights, and limited government.  We must hold the line now, or the line will be slowly erased, and we will cease to be America.

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Good Riddance May Day, Welcome Law Day

    May 1 marks "May Day" - a traditional holiday that had been usurped and celebrated in totalitarian communist regimes to show solidarity in the international movement for the overthrow of freedom loving, capitalist societies.  In 1904, the International Socialist Congress called for a work stoppage each May Day not only to support an 8 hour work day, but to express support for the "class demands of the proletariat . . . ."  Once the communist party took control of the Soviet Union (USSR), May Day became a major celebration - usually accompanied by military displays - of communists nations.

    In 1961, American countered by declaring May 1"Law Day" - a day dedicated to the First Principle of the rule of law.  Declared by President John F. Kennedy, the idea of Law Day is to celebrate the fact that we as a free people rely upon the protection of our unalienable rights through the law, and that the law - as opposed to brute force - governs.  

    Now that the USSR lies in the ash heap of history, we can say good riddance to May Day, and give Law Day its due.  As we move forward in this tumultuous times, we would be best served by remembering that we should work to support the rule of law - otherwise May Day may return with all of its attendant horrors.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Thrift, RIP - Time for a Resurrection

    I just finished reading Phillip Longman's The Return of Thrift (Free Press), which - despite its age (or rather, perhaps because of its age) - remains very current.  Published in 1996, the book provides a detailed analysis of the impending entitlement and debt crisis.  What makes the work so poignent today is that the problems he identified - huge deficits, growing medicare and medicaid liabilities, the impending insolvency of social security, and related fiscal issues - remain seemingly intractable problems.

    Although one could seriously debate his proposed solutions (and no one reading this should assume that this post is an endorsment of all of Longman's policy solutions), it does an excellent job reviewing the origin of many of our entitlement issues and poses almost insurmountable evidence that our entitlement schemes are unsustainable in the coming decades.    Indeed, with half-trillion dollar deficits for next decade, one would be hard pressed to ignore the crisis today.  

    Although our Founding Fathers were somewhat split about the desirability of debt (Hamilton supported its unifying effect on the country and its ability to transform our country into a commercial giant, while Jefferson hated it with a passion), there is little question that our current state of affairs would cause considerable concern about the long term well-being of the nation.  Huge debts have been the bane of stability, consumer confidence, and living standards worldwide - it has even propelled some countries into revolution (think of France, circa 1789) - we are fools to think that we are immune to these pressures.  With each passing day this crisis expands; the time to address it is now.

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    Our Limited Government

    "The people . . . erected this government.  They gave it a Constitution, and in that Constitution they have enumerated the powers that they bestow on it.  They made it a limited government.  They have defined its authority.  They have restrained it to the exercise of such powers as are granted . . . ."  Daniel Webster, Second Reply to Hayne.

    As Webster explained, the federal government is one of limited, enumerated powers.  The Constitution specifically sets forth its powers, and any powers not expressly granted to the federal government reside in the states.

    Although a core concept of our Constitution, the First Principle of limited government has often been but an afterthought in policy discussions.  Regardless of one's views about particular issues and policies, we do a grave disservice to our freedom and the Constitution when we fail to recognize and account for the limited nature of our federal government.  To maintain our liberty, limited government needs to front and center.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Hitler - Agent of Evil and Enemy of First Principles

    To defeat evil,  one needs to understand it.  As this is Hitler's birthday, today is a good day to learn about the abyss that was, and is, Nazism.

    "Adolf Hitler was born at half past six on the evening of 20 April 1889, in the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn at the small town of Braunau on teh River Inn which forms the frontier between Austria and Bavaria."  Alan Bullock, Hitler - A Study in Tyranny (1971).  Thus, began a life that would set the world at war, result in the tragic loss of millions of lives, and assaulted the very foundations of free civilizations across the globe.

    Hitler espoused the idea of the superiority of the Aryan race over mankind.  "Everything we admire on this earth today - science and art, technology, and inventions - is on the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race," he wrote in Mein Kampf.  "On them depends the existence of this whole culture.  If they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them."  

    Thus, Hitler advocated that the Aryan race dominate the lesser races, and a war of the racially superior to those of the inferior to preserve and advance mankind.  "All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning," he asserted.  "Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live."  

    Thus, "the folkish philosophy finds the importance of mankind in its basic racial elements.  In the state it sees on principle only a means to an end and construes its end as the preservation of the racial existence of man."

    Hitler's philosophy is exactly opposite of America's founding First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, equality, the Social Compact, and limited government.  We believe that "all men are created equal."  We reject the idea of superior people or races - we are all of God's (or if you prefer, Nature's) children.  We embrace the idea that all men and women have certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are instituted to protect those unalienable rights.  We reject the idea that government is intended to make some masters and other servants.  Thankfully we prevailed in World War II and set the stage for the historic spread of freedom following the Cold War.  

    The issue now is whether we can keep the freedom that we so have fought so hard (and which millions literally sacrificed) to obtain.  Without a firm understanding of who we are - and who the enemy is - we could very well lose those freedoms.  If we don't remain vigilant, the likes of Hitler can easily arise again.  The best way to preserving our freedoms is to understand the First Principles and our Constitution; understand our enemies; and meet them at every opportunity.  

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Unalienable Rights - Endowed by the Creator not by Government

    As Thomas Jefferson explained, “a free people claims their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift from their chief magistrate.”  This understanding is deeply rooted in the American experience.  We understand that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator from unalienable rights . . . ."

    This understanding rejects the idea that we depend upon the government for our rights.  Yet, this belief seems to be too often forgotten today. Many act as if everything we desire, everything we need, must come with the approval of the government.  This subverts the American principle - in America the government serves the people, not the other way around.

    As we move forward with new policies, we need to keep in the forefront that the people are sovereign, and do not require the government to bless their liberties.  Indeed, our liberties are blessings - from nature and the Creator.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    The People's Constitution

    Daniel Webster famously explained in his Second Reply to Hayne that "It is, sir, the people's Constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people."

    This idea underlies the First Principle of the Social Compact - articulated in our Declaration of Independence "that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the government."

    The growing frustration and resentment of the public - on all sides of the political spectrum - with government today often stems from the belief that government of the people has been subverted to the interest of the government of the special interest.  The pitching of factions against one another has always been a feature of our republic, but the domination of special interests in so many political avenues threatens the legitimacy of our system.  With so many political discussions devolving into rancor and personal attacks, that many have become cynics is not surprising.

    So what do we do?  Become educated, become more engaged in the political process, and hold our leaders accountable for their actions.  To do otherwise cedes the field to the most corrupting influences in our politics.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Freedom is Lost By Gradual and Silent Encroachments

    James Madison warned that "Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations . . . ."  Stated another way, we don't simply lose our freedom by coups and martial law - our liberties can be suffocated by small measures, which over the course of time, strangle our liberty.

    We need to be vigilant to protect our liberties, and the only way we can expect to keep our freedom is if we are well educated in connection with our Constitution and the First Principles that undergird it.  Take some time away from American Idol and Tiger Woods, and spend some more about learning about our Constitution and First Principles.  Then, and only then, can we halt the otherwise "gradual" and "silent" affronts to our liberty.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold . . .

    "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity."  -- William Butler Yeats 

    Today, it seems that we are in world full of passionate intensity from quarters who care little for our First Principles and Constitution.  This punishing wave only displaces those who try to marshal their forces in favor of liberty and freedom.  We cannot let Yeats come to fruition.  Form the centre - and hold it fast.

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Hold Firm To Preserve Liberty - Even in the Face of Good

    George Washington stated, "let there be no change [in Constitutional powers] by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."  

    Washington well understood that often the liberties of the people are destroyed not by those trying to do evil, but by those try to do good.  In other words, in the hope of achieving a desired policy end, politicians have often skirted the law, ignored precedent and tradition, and otherwise undermined constitutional limitations.  When this happens, the law is corrupted, and liberties of the people are no longer safe.  

    Simply put, the power to do good, is the power to do evil.  Once constitutional limitations are shattered in the pursuit of a "good policy", those same limitations become irrelevant to stop "bad" policies.  This is a most common path to the subversion and ruin of free peoples.  Thus, we must stand firm to protect the Constitution - even in the face of the good.

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Iraq Stands Up for Liberty

    Less than two weeks ago, millions of Iraqi citizens stood up for liberty by voting in the parliamentary elections, in the face of militants who attempted to foil freedom by disrupting elections.

    Perhaps our citizens at home could take a lesson from those who braved threats and intimidation to vote.  Although this year has generated a great deal of heat and controversy, traditionally Americans have been less engaged as is healthy for our republic.

    If our celebrity obsessed media would have spent as much time on the Iraqi election as they did Tiger Woods, we would have all benefited. Still, we can take a cue from Iraq and find the determination to be thoughtfully engaged in the political process.

    If not, we get the government we deserve.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Remember Limited Government

    A fundamental First Principle of our Declaration of Independence, and embedded in our Constitution, is a limited federal government.  Having just beaten back British tyranny, and fearful of a centralized, overbearing and uncontrolled government, the Founding Fathers determined to give the federal government specific, enumerated powers in the Constitution.  

    The idea of limited government is articulated in the Declaration of Independence's explanation that "that to secure these [unalienable rights], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."  It is specifically confirmed in how the Constitution was drafted - Article I specifically enumerates the powers vested in the federal government.  To eliminate any doubt, the 9th and 10th Amendments expressly provide that any powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved to the States or the people.

    Today, however, the idea of limited government is mostly ignored.  There is very little discussion on most issues regarding whether it is appropriate for the federal government to act.  Although the health care debate has raised serious concerns about the appropriate scope of the federal government, most policy discussions involving a whole range of issues revolves around how the federal government should address a particular issue.  

    Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The construction applied ... to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate Congress a power ... ought not to be construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument."  His counsel is mostly ignored.  

    When a proposal for federal intervention is made, the very first question that should be asked is whether it fits within the powers given to the federal government.  To ignore that question only guarantees the subversion of our Constitution.  

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Forget Presidents' Day - Time to Renew Washington's Birthday

    Although today is the federal holiday of Washington's Birthday, in reality it is all but ignored.  Our popular culture has transfigured it into "Presidents' Day."  We now celebrate Washington with the same vigor as Benjamin Harrison and Franklin Pierce.  Today it is an empty excuse for thrilling sales on carpets, appliances, and cars.

    Washington was really THE indispensable man to the success of the American Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution.  We need to acknowledge his many accomplishments by putting a stake into the heart of Presidents' Day and reviving Washington's Birthday.

    Better yet, we should work on celebrating all our Founding Fathers and great Patriots via Patriot Week.  Co-created by myself and my daughter, Patriot Week renews America's spirit by celebrating the First Principles, Founding Fathers and other Patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history.

    Anchored by the key dates of September 11 and September 17 (the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution), each day has a separate focus.  In the Inaugural year of 2009, over participants were involved (schools, media, universities, nonprofits), and we expect 2010 to much bigger.

    Please join the effort by visiting

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    America, What Can Be Imagined Can Be Achieved

    I just finished watching an Episode of the X Files ("Max" from Season 4), which closed with this bit of cogent truth from Dana Scully:

    "There are extraordinary men and women and extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals... that what can be imagined can be achieved... that you must dare to dream... but that there's no substitute for perseverance and hard work... and teamwork... because no one gets there alone... and that, while we commemorate the... the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifice of those who make these achievements and leaps possible."

    Although this quote is from a Canadian science fiction show, it very much captures something that makes America very unique - our combined spirits of imagination and hard work.  Americans are not idle philosophers - we not only imagine what should be, we act very hard to make it happen.

    Indeed, our nation was founded by Founding Fathers who combated against terrible odds and made enormous sacrifices to create a government of what should be.  They turned the world topsy-turvy by establishing the only government in history founded on our First Principles of the rule of law, equality, unalienable rights, the Social Compact, and limited government.

    Today it seems that too many are willing to dream, but not to do.  Or rather, to complain, but not sacrifice.  America has large challenges before us, but we can certainly meet those challenges.  Dana Scully has reminded us of the way.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Iran - Time to Change an Oppressive Regime

    Today marks the anniversary of the collapse of the old regime in Iran and the triumph of the Iranian Revolution.  Prior to the revolution, Iran had been ruled by the military fist of the Shah.  Beginning in 1978, a mass movement drove the Shah out of power and the country, leading to the rise of an Islamic Republic in 1979 - which still stands today.

    There is no question that the Shah embodied a corrupt, dictatorial regime and should have been driven by power – but this is one of those cases where the cure is worse than the illness (or, stated another way, be careful for what you ask for).

    Iran is now ruled by a corrupt, dictatorial, theocratic regime - which uses an internal terror apparatus to steal elections, suppress women’s rights, violate free speech and press, and imprison and execute dissenters.  Not content to oppress its own people, it literally exports terror by supporting various terrorist groups across the world.

    The Iranian people have a long and proud civilization, which has been usurped by an oppressive regime.  The current regime is established on principles exactly opposite of America’s First Principles.  The rule of law has been supplanted by the rule of force; unalienable rights are violated; there is no Social Compact – the regime imposes its will on the people; equality – especially for women – is subverted; the government is unlimited; and there is no right to alter the government.

    Let us hope that the protest movement continues to take hold, brings down this unjust regime, and introduces our First Principles to a people that so desperately deserve them.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Justice Sandra Day O'Connor & The Fight for Liberty

    Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a speech by former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  At one point many called her the most powerful person in America - as the pivotal "swing" vote in many Supreme Court cases, she often determined the outcome of very critical cases.

    As a former Arizona legislator and court of appeals judge, she was a vigorous protector of federalism (a concept all but forgotten today).  Since retiring she has become an outspoken advocate of civics education.  Many of her writings reflect the same concerns I have about our ability to survive as a free people when we are forgetting the basics of our Constitution.

    Yesterday, she discussed the vital importance of judicial independence.  In particular, she advocated for insulating courts from the pressure of politics.  She argued that there needs to be a safe arena in our constitutional system for the rule of law to prevail.

    As Alexander Hamilton argued, without judges to ensure adherence to the Constitution, it would "amount to nothing."  We need to heed O'Connor's and Alexander's warnings today, or we could very possibly lose our liberties tomorrow.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Groundhog's Day - Again!

    In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a mean and spiritless reporter who re-lives the same day (Groundhog's Day) for what appears to be centuries.  Of course, he is the only person who retains a memory of the day, and is forced to re-live it until he finds true love.  In addition to being a very funny and entertaining film, it teaches us a Dickens' Christmas Carol like message.

    However, it is also a great lesson on the fact that trying to do the same thing over and over only leads to the same results - over and over.  Newt Gingrich likes to point out that real change requires, well, real change.  

    Our system seems to be mired in a continuous Groundhog Day.  The same arguments, the same partisan disputes, the same issues seem to repeat over and over.  Perhaps this is because our political culture has become so unanchored from our Founding First Principles and generating history that all we can do is recycle the threadbare arguments of the day.  For a fresh approach, we need to go back to the future.  If our political culture and media would begin to exam today's issues through the lens of the rule of law, equality, the Social Compact, limited government, and unalienable rights, maybe we could break the never-ending cycle.

    How refreshing it might be if we discussed critical issues like cap and trade, health care reform, and deficit spending in light of unalienable rights, limited government, and the Social Compact.  Not that such analysis will always lead people to the same opinions, but it could not but help elevate the debate and provide much needed illumination (as opposed to heat) in today's debates.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Honoring MLKJ & The Equality

    Today we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and his epic struggle to make America live up to one its founding First Principles - equality.  The Declaration of Independence is rooted in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal."  Of course, at the time of the Founding - and more many generations thereafter - that commitment was honored in the breach when it came to African Americans.

    America, however, had committed itself to the principle of equality, and the struggle for racial equality began even before the colonies declared independence.  That struggle continued through the ante-bellum period, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Progressive Age, WWII, and the civil rights era.

    King was an indispensable leader for racial equality.  At Grosse Pointe High School in the Detroit area, on March 14, 1968 (just three weeks before he was assassinated) he delivered "The Other America" speech.  Those remarks called upon the nation's "sacred heritage" to advocate for racial equality:

             We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and
              the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. . . . .

              With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a
               beautiful symphony of brotherhood....

    At that heart of that sacred heritage was the belief that God had endowed all persons with unalienable rights, and that everyone was equal before Him.  That clarion call eventually lead to the passage of the many civil rights era reforms that have brought a greater realization of the First Principle of equality.

    We are not done with that struggle, but we have Martin Luther King, Jr. to thank for moving us significantly forward.