Editor’s Note: The students in Jordan Weisbeck’s Government class at Timber Lake High School submitted letters to the editor on issues before the S.D. Legislature. Although the Topic normally requires a signature, an exception is being made for these student writers.
“I can write my thoughts and feelings about a topic or text in an organized manner.” “I can give reasons for my thoughts and feelings” “I can write a conclusion.” —From the South Dakota Common Core standards for fourth grade English and Language Arts Now that the Legislature has successfully defended the Common Core standards, South Dakota schools can get on with what they do best — teaching kids. The three lines above are from the standards for writing. At each grade level the standards for writing become more sophisticated, more advanced, tougher.
It’s been said that nothing is certain except death and taxes. From now until April 15, the majority of law-abiding citizens will be compelled to pay attention to the latter. I’m no exception. I pulled out my tax stuff last weekend and attempted to make sense of those pesky little things called numbers. I sat at the dining room table, accompanied by a heaping pile of receipts from 2013, and scanned each slip for business expenses and other tax-deductible items. Along the way, I took a trip down memory lane.
I noticed the following headline in the February 4 edition of the Pierre Capital Journal, while I was in Pierre for a gathering of the South Dakota Municipal League: “SDHSAA Board Closes Meeting to Talk about Open Meetings.” The headline was followed by this opening paragraph: “Nearly all of the Republican leaders in the Legislature want to require the South Dakota High School Activities Association to comply with state laws on open meetings and public records. The association’s board of directors responded Tuesday by meeting for 90 minutes behind closed doors to discuss the situation.”
The subject was love, of course, with Valentine’s Day upon us, and that’s why the grizzled and semi-grizzled members of the world dilemma think tank had settled upon it. Well, to be fair, they agreed to talk about someone else’s love life, naturally. The problem – the romantic mystery – was Sarah McKinley. It started small, with just a few people wondering why this attractive woman was – still or again (no one knew which) – single. In a valley where being single is looked upon as a sin of omission, all those inquiring minds wanted to know.
Nearly two years ago, I became aware of a problem with our state’s criminal justice system. I learned South Dakota’s imprisonment rate was higher than any of its six neighboring states. Per capita, we were locking up 75 percent more men than North Dakota and four times as many women as Minnesota. Maintaining the status quo would mean building a new women’s prison and a new men’s prison within the next 10 years.
I wanted a kayak. It was a simple request I repeated repeatedly. I talked about how we would go kayaking this summer on the lake. We’d have a blast making family memories while building our triceps and getting a tan. I communicated as clearly as I could, in English, which is the language they speak. I wanted a kayak. They got me a blender. There was a reason for their actions. They like smoothies. And, despite the allure of a sleek kayak cutting through the cool, clear water, it was a distant vision. In my climate zone, you can’t kayak in the winter. You have to wait until summer. Smoothies are available all times of the year – for those with the machinery to make them. Months of waiting for warm weather or immediate gratification: the choice was obvious.
There’s something so satisfying about getting out of bed when the world is still dark and quiet and resting. Making the coffee gives us time to scratch and think. Well, scratch, anyway. Most of that thinking will start after about the third cup. But it’s a quiet time. A private time. When the world is dark, and there isn’t yet a hint of pink over the eastern mountains, it’s very good. We can relax. No one is expecting anything from us right now. Our guilt can take some time off, and we can listen to music or work a crossword puzzle or turn on the TV and watch the weather guy discuss millibars and troughs.
I’ve served in the Legislature for many years now and each session has its own rewards and challenges. Each day as I serve, I work to represent what I believe to be our commonly shared values of fairness, equality, and opportunity for all people. If our state is to progress, we must endeavor to advance all of our citizens and especially invest in the future of our state - our children and grandchildren.