Some with power and influence decide to lead the horse (us) to the water promising great miracles if we drink this water. When the horse has questions about what's in the water or what will happen if the water dries up, there are assurances that won't happen but not real answers. So instead of working with the horse to make them want to drink, or ensure the water is safe to drink, they force the horse into the water against it's better judgment, going deeper and deeper until the horse feels like it is drowning! When the horse, and even some of the ones who lead him there, begin to complain that this water wasn't what was promised, they throw them under the bus in an attempt to drown out their complaints and put a new spin on the initial claims.
I mix my metaphors intentionally so that you can understand the complexity of the issues that face our great state of Kansas. We have long fought the stigma of the Wild, Wild, West (think Dodge City and Gunsmoke days), flat lands with nothing of value, and the Wizard of Oz. For many, Kansas is just a place to pass through when travelling on I-70. But Kansas is a beautiful state with many wonderful people, a great place to live and raise your kids, and until recently could boast of some of the best education in the nation. But those days are quickly fading, although the Wild, Wild West image may be coming back.
This week we have seen a new round of attacks on farmers, led by legislators who live in the city and want to make taxes on property "fair." They don't understand (evidently) how this will affect all consumers as the "trickle down" economics that they so believe in will cause the astronomical property tax hikes the give to farmers to "trickle down" to every one of us in the form of higher food prices. The other part of their argument is that this will make the taxes more "fair." Really? I think their idea of "fair" and my idea are very different.
What is fair about the tax cuts that were put into law in the past couple of years that allowed the most wealthy in our state to pay less taxes? Or that small businesses (I'm one of those) pay nothing which provided big businesses with a loop hole to create LLCs (limited liability corporations) for some of their holdings so they don't have to pay taxes either? What is fair about using block grants to fund schools under the guise of local control when in reality the needs and resources of school districts throughout the state are far from equal? Fair does not mean equal. "Fair" is used as a selling point, but when we look more closely, fair is not really fair at all.
We have "leadership" in our state that are making changes that hurt more than help as they fail to consider the domino effect of their actions. They are listening to someone but not the constituents they were elected to serve.
There are many change models out there that we could learn from to understand how to best implement any change in any situation or organization. While they differ somewhat in the details, they all agree that change is best implemented when we know and explain why the change is needed, consider the concerns and needs of those who will implement or be affected by the changes, what end goal is desired, and provide support through the implementation process. Change models also suggest that people work together, not against each other or in spite of others. Relationships matter.
It is interesting that the backbone of our great state of Kansas, agriculture and education, are the prime targets this legislative season. Suddenly these are the groups we blame for all our woes? What would we do without those who provide us food and teach our children to become the workers and leaders of our future? How many of us have walked in their shoes? Farmers work long hours and don't get a "snow day." Their success is often dependent on things they can't control, like the weather, the price of fuel, and the selling price of crops following the harvest.
Educators teach every child, every day. Their success is also based on many things they can't control, like the home environment, previous experiences, or the levels of intelligence of each child and the resources (or lack of resources) they have to work with in their schools. We try to understand and provide support for the student learning needs, emotional needs, and contain their outbursts. But we take them all, love them, teach them, let them ask questions so they can learn more, offer guidance, feed them, and send them home. But the job doesn't end there. Teachers don't work 6 hours a day and have summers off. They grade papers, plan for instruction, make revisions to existing plans, look for new resources and instructional strategies so they can reach every student, worry about struggling students, and find time to do their own learning so they are always on the top of their game.
Farmers and teachers chose this profession because of the passion they feel for the land and for our children, both of which impact the future of every Kansan. That doesn't mean they deserve to be treated in ways that make them feel like they are being attacked or aren't important to who we are as a state and a nation by people who really have no other view point or expertise than that of a person who once attended school or as a consumer of the agricultural products farmers provide.
While I abhor the approach that has been taken in terms of making changes in our state, I don't want to imply that considering new or different ideas and perspectives isn't valuable. If we aren't tying to improve every day, then we will become stagnant whether we are educators, farmers, parents, or policemen. But we have to do this in a civilized conversation that moves us to a better place after listening to the ideas and perspectives of stakeholders.
If our goal is to win the gold medal in sprinting, we can't accomplish that in one year. Despite the fact it's a short race, it takes a great deal of training, tweaking, and practice to make that happen. Kansas has failed to account for the fact that if the goal is to streamline spending and make government smaller, it is a marathon in terms of planning and implementation, not a sprint, and can't be accomplished with one vote or stroke of the pen without pulling a muscle or doing unnecessary harm. It is ironic however, that in their efforts to reduce government spending, they are increasing the role of government by being much more controlling and intrusive into the everyday lives of the people and groups they say they are out to help.
The lessons for all of us are that change must occur if we are to keep improving, but it must be done in a way that brings people along and not drown them in the water they are hesitant to drink. Listen to the voices of the stakeholders not the money. Funny that as the governor and the legislature look to cut the spending of education and tax the land of the farmers more, they are taking more money for their own political campaigns. They keep telling us that money doesn't make schools better. They say the farmers will benefit from higher taxes on land because it will increase benefits in other places. Kind of an interesting spin. I do believe that in reality money can't buy happiness but it is necessary for many things, and in this case... it's buying a lot of misery.
So when you lead that horse to the water....don't forget to take the time to make them want to drink, listen to the concerns of the horse before they drink, and then ensure the water is truly safe to drink based on all the facts, then you won't need to throw that horse or anyone else under the bus.