Five Best Monday Columns

On poor, beleaguered February, a low-cost way to improve schools, and gun-runners on the border

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  • Philip S. Hill on the Calendar's Least Respected Month  "February, with only 28 days and no powerful gods to advocate for it, commemorates a pagan fertility and purification festival celebrated by flogging women with animal skins." What a sentence. February's status as an "abused" month goes back to antiquity, Hill writes in the New York Times. A bit of a runt at 28 days, February was a "clean-up month ... shrunk or stretched" to fit the whims of the calendar--and that's when it was even acknowledged. "The first Roman calendar, legend has it, had 10 months and no February," he says. It began with March and ended in December because "winter was of little importance," in an agricultural society, "and thus went undivided." Hill has a plan to correct the "historical injustices" against the month by moving "the last day of January and the last day of March into February to make it a normal month with 30 days, and a respectable 31 on leap years." By "making the first three months of the year each 30 days" the calendar would be moved closer to the lunar cycle. Despite the many risks in changing our measurements of time, Hill thinks it's only fair to February to give it a fair shake.
  • Gary Younge Reveals the True American Class Divide  The Guardian's Gary Younge observes that the battle in Wisconsin is indicative of the real class divides in the United States. The idea that wealth is within reach is ingrained in the minds of Americans, who have, unrealistically, "long seen themselves as potentially rich and perpetually middling." Younge notes that major economic events such as the recession and, now, the debate over public worker benefits, illuminate the reality of people's economic statuses and put their potential into perspective. "The idea of a class system where only a handful can ever be truly wealthy intrudes awkwardly on a culture rooted in notions of self-advancement, personal reinvention and rugged individualism, even if it is closer to reality," But interestingly, Young points out, "Old habits die hard. The weekend protests were organized under the banner 'Save the American Dream'."
  • Bill Gates on Spending Less and Achieving More  Education reform has been in the spotlight recently, but Bill Gates lays out a plan in the Washington Post that breaks some new ground in the debate. He lists several reasons for bloated spending--"automatic salary increases based on teacher seniority ... a bump in pay for advanced degrees," and paying more teachers in order to have smaller classes--that have proven to do nothing for achievement. Here's a specific idea he floats: "[identify] the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great."
  • The Los Angeles Times on Tracing Gun Sales on the Border  Drug and gang-related violence has been steadily spiraling out of control in Mexico and the Times' editorial board shows how the United States is complicit: "The U.S. accounts for an estimated 85% of guns seized by Mexican authorities." The Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives have recently sought legislation to track the bulk sales of semiautomatic weapons sold in border states that the Times urges the Obama administration to push forward. The proposed rule is modest: it would require gun-sellers in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to report to the agency "any sale of two or more rifles of greater than .22 caliber to the same person over five days." The Times thinks that it should be expanded "to apply to all gun sellers nationwide." Unsurprisingly the rule faces much opposition in Congress, where the NRA's money and action is a constant political threat. "Lawmakers are less concerned about the Constitution," the Times says, "than the cash that could be spent against them." What's the alternative? "The continued flow of instruments of death across a dangerous border."
  • Michael Bloomberg on the Right Way to Cut State Spending  In the New York Times today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighs in on the current battle between states and labor unions. He agrees states need to adjust severely the amount of tax dollars they dole out to public unions. But, he clarifies, while labor costs must be toned down, labor rights should not be sacrificed. "We should no more try to take away the right of individuals to collectively bargain than we should try to take away the right to a secret ballot," he argues. "Instead, we should work to modernize government's relationship with unions--and union leaders should be farsighted enough to cooperate, because the only way to protect the long-term integrity of employee benefits is to ensure the public's long-term ability to fund them." A modernized approach to unions is needed in his own city, he writes, where the "last in, first out" layoff policy--particularly for teachers--is outdated and potentially detrimental to the public school system. 
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.