Sunday, May 15, 2011

Live and preserve your heritage - by Judge Jim Gray

At this point in my life, I have lost my grandparents and parents and all of their siblings. So as far as who the "elder statesmen" are on my side of the family, my sister and I are now the ones.
Fortunately, before they died, I was able to tape record my mother and her siblings singing the songs that I heard her and them sing when I was a child, and also my father telling some of the stories and poems he had recited during my childhood. So their voices and some of our heritage have been preserved.
In addition, my father also took the initiative during the later years of his life to prepare what he called his "letter to his grandchildren." This consisted of about 12 volumes of photo albums and scrapbooks with his written explanations tracing the history of many of the ancestors on both sides of our family, providing some of their letters and mementos, telling some of their stories, and identifying their pictures that had been kept in shoeboxes for years.

I strongly suggest that you take similar actions to preserve your heritage. While there is still time, interview your grandparents, if you are still fortunate enough to have them with you, as well as your parents, their siblings, and other important people in your lives. And record the interviews in audio, or even visual form, while they tell about your family's history, noteworthy stories, songs, or whatever they and you feel would be interesting. I guarantee that you and your family will always be grateful to have those recorded memories and conversations!What a gift, because once my parents and their siblings were gone, the bare pictures and effects would have meant almost nothing to us. But with my father providing their names, dates and backgrounds, an important part of our heritage was preserved. This was so important that we caused the letter to be transferred onto CDs, with each of our children receiving a copy. (The original "letter" was donated to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, as they are interested in preserving California history of all kinds.)
Upcoming Heritage Festival
And speaking of living your heritage, remember my Feb. 6 column in which we discussed the upcoming Heritage Music Festival? Well, that event will be held from noon to 7 p.m. May 22 at the Heritage Museum of Orange County. Please be sure to join us and be a part of a truly wonderful and bonding family occasion that will increase your family's heritage.
Three excellent bluegrass bands, as well as one big band, will perform.
Stephanie and Luke, who are unbelievable on the fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin, will stage a children's concert at 1:15 p.m. The big band A Wing and a Prayer will then perform at 2:20 p.m., followed by Stephanie and Luke again at 3:25 p.m. with their bluegrass music, the Dennis Roger Reed Band at 4:30 p.m. with great cowboy blues music, and then Folding Mr. Lincoln will perform at 5:35 with their fiddle-driven folk music.
Before the concert, Chief David from the native tribes of Orange County has kindly agreed to give his ritual blessings upon the festival. In addition, there will also be a delicious barbecue of tri-tip steak sandwiches and more, plus a great craft brew beer and wine garden, as well as community tables for other nonprofit organizations to show you some of the good things that are continuing to happen here in Orange County.
And now comes the extra special family part, because all through the afternoon we will have fun and educational events and demonstrations for children. Among them is a demonstration at the Heritage Museum's working blacksmith shop, storytellers, hands-on adobe brickmaking, mounted officers from the Santa Ana Police Department, a vintage 1921 fire engine, native tribal exhibits, a caricature artist, children's art classes and more.
The Heritage Museum is next to the Godinez High School in Southern Santa Ana, which is on Harvard Street just off Fairview Road between Edinger Street and Warner Avenue and between the San Diego (405) and Garden Grove (22) freeways. You can get more information by calling (714) 540-0404, or visiting
As a disclosure, I have joined the museum's board of directors, because this is a gem of a place that has not yet come close to reaching its full potential to serve our community. But with this annual family event we are getting closer. And we are also grateful that this heritage event is scheduled to be recorded in documentary form by some film school students at Chapman University.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at or Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Let parents make best school choices - Judge Jim Gray

One simple question should resolve the "school choice" issue for most thoughtful people: "Who is in a better position to decide how and where children can best be educated: their parents or the government?"
The answer should be transparent, so why not actually allow parents to make those important decisions?
Recently there were headlines that the Los Angeles Unified School District has (finally) agreed to measure a school's success at raising its students' performance. But if parents could choose the school that their children could attend, no other rating system would be required.
Simply stated, if parents felt that their child's school was not doing as effective a job as another school within their area, they would move their child to the better performing school.
Then, systemically, if many parents withdrew their children from a particular school, soon one of two things would happen: That school would either begin to compete by improving its services, or go out of service, or be sold to others who would do a better job. This is what happens routinely in the private sector as a result of competition, and it consistently produces good results.
Thus we would not only have better schools for college preparation, but also for almost any trade imaginable, because flexibility and innovation are the hallmarks of a competitive system. Not every child wants to or should become a Ph.D., or even go to college at all.
Many will be hugely happy and productive as computer programmers, airplane mechanics, beauticians, performers in the arts, or in countless other trades. And if there is a demand for students to learn those trades and skills, schools will be created to teach them.
So how could such a program work? The government would send a payment slip to the parents for each child that could be "spent" for that child's tuition at a school chosen by the parents, as long as the school satisfied some basic criteria set forth by the government. Whether the payment slip is called a voucher, scholarship, tax credit, educational savings account or something else, it would allow parents at all economic levels to enroll their children at the school that would best fit their needs.
Today such programs exist in various forms in the states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and that list is expanding. California should join them. And along the way these programs also re-insert equity and fairness back into the system, so that parents who want good schools are not forced to pay both for the failing government schools and also tuition at a private school.
Of course, no system is perfect, and there might be some parents who would not care enough to seek out the best school for their child. But when they saw other parents in the neighborhood moving their children to better-performing schools, the odds are good that they would follow along.
In this discussion it is critically important to realize that our schools do not suffer from a lack of funding.
During the last 40 years, spending per student throughout our country has literally tripled in real dollars. In 1970, the government spent $50,000 (in 2009 dollars) to educate one student for the 13 years from kindergarten through high school, and in 2009 it spent $149,000 for those same 13 years.
Only Switzerland spends more money per child than we do in educating our children. But you don't need me to tell you where we rank in education around the world, and the results are continuing to get worse.
So we have an institutional problem, or as Joe Klein, the former chancellor of New York City's Department of Education put it, "We have a 19th Century classroom model in the 21st Century."
Furthermore, the only real remedy that is being discussed is requiring teachers to focus upon a high-stakes end-of-the-year test. But even this test is not working, and never will, because it really does not measure learning. Only parents really can do that, and we should let them.
Frequently the question arises, would a school-choice system allow parents to "spend" their vouchers at religious schools? The answer is, yes.
Would this be a violation of the separation of church and state? Not any more than the G.I. Bill's college program by which veterans have for decades been able to choose to "spend" their V.A. eligibility at Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Southern Methodist University or any other religious school that they wish. School choice for K-12 grades would present the same situation, because it is the parents' choice where the money would be spent, not the government's.
So who is against this new and innovative system?
Poorly performing teachers and schools, as well as large numbers of non-teaching bureaucrats, and many of them (naturally) want to protect their vested interests. Currently they feel threatened enough by the prospect of change, that they are placing advertisements on the radio about how we must spend even more money on education, because "it's for the kids."
But it's really not for the kids — it's for the bureaucrats. As responsible and caring people and voters, it is time that we see this approach for what it is: More funding for a system that has been failing our children for years.
So help us move into the 21st century and bring back quality, innovation and excellence into our schools by re-inserting incentives and entrepreneurship.
As consumers, we decide what kind of automobiles and clothing to purchase and use from a wide variety of choices furnished by market incentives, and we will be able to obtain a good education for our children by employing the same system of incentives in our schools.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at or Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.