The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Relationships between parents and teachers are key to improving education

(API/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

I imagine that when the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress numbers were released, somewhere in Mississippi a few very tired, long-suffering education bureaucrats poured a hot toddy from the kitchen of an antebellum home, raised their glasses to the west, and told Alabama, “well, you won’t have old Mississippi to kick around anymore.”

It really is depressing.

A lot of good people from practically every background and demographic imaginable have put in countless hours and exhaustive ideas to improve the quality of education in Alabama. There are numerous young professionals in all of our larger cities as well as rural areas who have sacrificed personal and professional opportunities in order to make their home state a better place. Wealthy Alabamians have invested millions of dollars back into their state in hopes of seeing depleted neighborhoods and failing schools revived.

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It’s a gut punch to wake up and realize that at this point, the needle has barely moved.

To add complexity to the situation, the truth is that a lot of areas doing just fine. Alabamians are well aware of the smaller municipal districts, magnet schools and elite feeder patterns that continue to produce high-achieving students who, on average, go on to successful careers in college, the military or the workforce. Most of these upper-tier school districts and feeder patterns are serving families that not only have numerous material advantages, but are also very deliberate in preparing their children for future success.

Too often we assume that there’s a straight line from a person’s income to the success of their children, but that’s not always true. Success is never an accident, and it’s worth considering what patterns and behaviors exist in these communities and how they might be reasonably duplicated elsewhere.

On the other hand, students at the lower end of the economic spectrum are, tragically, beset by much of the dysfunction that accompanies severe poverty. These problems exist in both rural and urban areas, and no demographic is completely immune.

Any educator who has worked with students in poverty understands that if life outside of school is chaotic, the task of education is that much harder. Thankfully, there are many individuals and organizations committed to helping residents break the cycle of generational poverty. These changes will not come overnight, and there is a role for both the public and private sector in bringing about positive outcomes. In any case, to the extent that the trouble in these school districts impact the state’s overall achievement, solutions here must be seen as a long-term project.

That leaves the middle class, the thousands of Alabama families who work hard and enjoy a good quality of life, but still want something more for their own kids.

These schools are not bad, at least not in the no-good, horrible, very bad sort of way that exists in the imagination. Yet despite the hard work and good intentions of so many educators, all evidence suggests that a lot of these schools just aren’t all that great, either.

That’s a tough thing to confront, because that’s where most Alabamians were educated. That’s where most of us made a lot of memories, and so we view these schools, and their administrators and teachers. with an understandable amount of sentimentality.

Yet sentimentality is a dangerous thing when it blinds us to the reality in front of us, and the reality is that there’s a large middle in our state’s education system that would undoubtedly move our numbers in the right direction.

Much of the task of improving these schools will fall on legislators, policymakers, and local school board officials. These efforts will not be without controversy or contention, and surely some proposals will be better than others. But as we’re concerned here with schools that, on the whole, do not face an uphill battle educating students in the midst of chaotic communities, it’s fair to ask what these communities could do to improve the situation. It would be particularly tragic if good communities took their children’s education for granted on the assumption that someone else – a teacher, a principal, a bureaucrat in Montgomery – will fix the problem.

A child’s education is not the most important thing in life. Parents want their children to be decent, virtuous, emotionally well-adjusted, to say nothing of deeper spiritual or religious commitments. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that these priorities become excuses as we downplay the importance of a difficult and even time-consuming education.

There are things that families can do to help their children, but they are not always easy.

It isn’t easy to drive kids to the library on a Saturday morning when it would be easier to stay home. It isn’t easy to keep the electronic devices out of small hands. It isn’t easy to turn off the television and video games. It isn’t easy to read to your kids every night and insist that they spend time with a book before bed.

I warned earlier against sentimentality. Perhaps it’s time that parents demand more of themselves but also of their local schools. That doesn’t mean undue harassment of a teacher or principal, but it does mean more intentional communication than ever before.

Parents have to know what they should expect of their children (they often don’t), and then they should demand it from their schools.

Improving Alabama’s overall standing in the nation won’t happen overnight, and the effort will require a tremendous amount of give and take from all parties involved. There is improvement that could start now, and much of it centers, appropriately enough, on individuals and families taking control of their own lives and doing the hard work to prepare their children for future success.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

1 month ago

If faith practices are ‘discriminatory,’ do we really still have free speech?

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Modern political candidates spend a lot of time presenting themselves as culturally acceptable to voters. That means a lot of talk about God, faith, and family, and often the winning candidate is the one who looks best driving a well-worn pickup truck. This is nothing new in American politics, but it’s a practice that is not without its shortcomings.

For those voters who care very much about policy and legislation, and the deeper philosophies of governance that uphold those things, all of this cultural signifying can grow old in a hurry.

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Yet there are a few cultural considerations that populist candidates are right to protect. It’s easy to dismiss the bluster about how we Alabamians “dare protect our rights,” but it’s worth remembering that rights must be defended or else they risk becoming something more like a privilege dispensed by those in power, and less like a freedom granted by and preserved in nature.

Political observers have watched a number of court cases in recent years over the matter of religious freedom, particularly as it pertains to same-sex marriage.

A number of plaintiffs have alleged discrimination when a wedding vendor refused to provide service on the grounds that to do so would violate their conscience. Plaintiffs have responded that conscience protections do not allow for discrimination, while defendants have in turn argued that the state cannot compel the creative work (i.e., speech) of the defendant in question. Court rulings thus far have varied in their application, though the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case that the state did in fact violate the rights to free exercise of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, though the court demurred on some deeper questions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Those questions are sure to be asked again in future court cases.

Alas, there is another element to religious freedom that is worth considering. While much of this fight will concern the application of specific laws in the various states and municipalities, the preconditions for such arguments are often established in the rhetoric commonly employed in the public square.

A recent decision in one of Alabama’s federal courts sheds some light on this problem.

Just a few weeks ago, United States District Judge Myron Thompson dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Southern Poverty Law Center by D. James Kennedy Ministries, a Christian ministry based out of Florida. The SPLC has, for many years, labeled DJKM a hate group due to its stance on LGBTQ issues. Judge Thompson dismissed the case, noting that while the court was not offering comment on the specifics of the SPLC’s charge, the organization was well within its protected First Amendment rights to make such a claim.

In a broad sense, it’s hard to disagree with the ruling. No one should be comfortable with a federal judge stepping out and saying “you can’t say that” to any person or organization.

Yet the SPLC, an organization that has long outlived its usefulness as a neutral arbiter of justice, is playing a dangerous game with its Manichean practice of labeling hate groups.

Of course, there are clear instances of hate groups; the noxious alt-right, neo-Nazis, racists and bigots of various stripes, and anti-Semites, though the latter finds increasing oxygen on both the far right and the far left these days. Indeed, thoughtful Christians must admit that however unfair the charge may be against D. James Kennedy Ministries, there are certainly some within the church who wield Christian orthodoxy as a cudgel against others in a way that is unsound on the merits of Scripture as well as public perception. To that point, religious organizations concerned about the changing outlook on human sexuality should recognize that their own rhetoric often affects real people with real struggles; they should exercise their First Amendment freedoms with great prudence and caution.

Still, it must be recognized that laws are upheld beyond the mere text on a page. There is a rhetorical function to our laws; if they are not upheld in custom then they are not likely to be upheld in practice.

Put another way, our cultural practices are often the precondition for the structure of our laws.

The writers of the Bill of Rights had no qualms about enshrining those freedoms in the Constitution because they already believed those things in the deepest fiber of their beings. While Judge Thompson’s ruling may be technically correct, the practice of labeling the orthodox Christian stance of human sexuality as hateful poses a real risk not just to religious freedom, but freedom of speech, as well.

Speech that is slowly but surely regarded as socially unacceptable may in time become legally unacceptable as well, and at that point, the First Amendment will have been stripped of all of its cultural and legal power.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and professor of the classics, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.