News and Tribune

Columns

February 25, 2014

THEIR OPINION — For Feb. 25

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press.

Wholesomely Indiana

Just a few hours after “Honest to Goodness Indiana” was announced on Wednesday as our state’s new tourism brand, it was already being pummeled by social media pundits for being too hokey, hicky and, well, Hoosiery.

“Golly gee-wilikers Pa! Can we really go to Indiana? It’s so WHOLESOME,” said one person who wrote on The Indianapolis Star’s Facebook page in derision of the brand.

And our newspapering colleagues at The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne headlined their editorial on the brand: “This is, honest to goodness, the best they could do?”

Even the website of the Indiana Department of Tourism Development, the very office that announced the brand, carried comments from critics who asked how the brand squares with a state whose governor and Republican leaders in both houses of the Legislature persisted in their desire to have a ban on gay marriage cemented into the state constitution. How, those critics asked, could that Indiana be seen as welcoming to all who might want to visit to explore the Wabash River, the verdant hills and gullies, the musical festivals, the community celebrations, the sports and entertainment events, and the offerings at our great colleges and universities?

Perhaps it was bad timing by the state to have launched the brand change amid the torrent of a divisive same-sex marriage debate. But even absent that fractious debate, the brand — perhaps any brand — was sure to draw potshots at the outset, and it did. No brand pleases everyone, including the brand that is being replaced: “Restart Your Engines.”

Slower to speak out will be those who support the brand’s embrace of traditional Hoosier values of hospitality, honesty and essential goodness. (Cynics, though, will find reasons to deny that Hoosiers actually demonstrate those values to outsiders or those who don’t conform to the majority view.)

Lost in translation may be the difference, in the arcane world of marketing, between a brand and a slogan. A marketing professional explained it to us this way: Nike’s swoosh represents the brand. “Just Do It” is the slogan. And the brand encompasses everything about the commodity being promoted, including the audience’s desired reactions to it. In this case, the brand is that which attracts people to Indiana for a visit or vacation.

While many, including us, would have preferred something more assertive, less folksy than “Honest to Goodness Indiana,” the sound of that brand may grow on Hoosiers — and others — as they see and hear messages built around the brand in ads and promotions in print, on the Web and on TV and radio. Those ads aren’t apparent yet, even on the tourism development department’s website.

A long-standing Terre Haute company, Williams Randall, was deeply involved in developing the brand as part of what has been reported to be a $100,000 contract with the state. So owners and staff at the company are seeing this debate up close — and personal. And not flinching. “We are confident in the new brand,” McKenze Rogers of Williams Randall’s Indianapolis office told The Star. “We are focused solely on moving forward.”

And, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the brand arose from a collaborative and progressive process that involved nearly three dozen people who work in travel, tourism, hospitality industries and government. Then, about 8,000 consumers took part in surveys and focus groups to test brand ideas. So “Honest to Goodness Indiana” wasn’t the first or only brand idea considered. Nor was it frivolously arrived at.

How much the brand matters remains to be seen, given the paltry amount of money Indiana budgets for promoting tourism. That amount was cut by a third to $2.3 million in 2013. Meantime, states surrounding Indiana spend far more to promote their virtues to attract visitors. According to IBJ, tourism budgets for Kentucky and Ohio range from two to four times that of Indiana’s. The tourism budget for Michigan has risen to $27 million, and Illinois spends more than twice what Michigan spends, IBJ reported. And all of those states advertise within our media markets to entice our residents.

So, that funding shortage may be the biggest test of the new brand’s effectiveness, or ineffectiveness.

Honest to goodness.

— Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

Teaching students cursive should stay a local decision

Just how far should the Indiana Legislature go in dictating to Indiana schools what they must teach? The Legislature has been trying for several years to convince a majority of members to require all school districts to teach cursive wiring, once a stable of public education. But so dominant has keyboard writing become in Indiana classrooms — and really, to our personal lives — that strict cursive handwriting for most has become a secondary thought.

Most of us who do handwriting use a combination of printing and cursive, as do our children, thanks to our use of digital writing devices such as computers and smartphones. That is why, in 2010 the Indiana State Board of Education made cursive writing optional for most districts. And no, this has nothing to do with the controversial Common Core. The state board decided simply to leave it up to local school districts to decide whether or not to teach cursive writing in their classrooms. That is as it should be.

Alas, some lawmakers again this year are attempting to make it mandatory that cursive be taught in all Indiana schools, whether or not local officials believe they needed it. Allow local school officials to best use their classroom time.

The legislation has passed the Indiana Senate and is now with the House, where it should stay.

— Evansville Courier & Press

State can’t put off pre-K education

Coming off the initial good reports about Read to Succeed, a project that put volunteers into Greater Lafayette schools weekly to help kids meet state goals for reading by third grade, organizers looked even earlier in a student’s life.

By early 2013, the collaboration of Greater Lafayette Commerce, United Way of Greater Lafayette and the three largest school districts in Tippecanoe County had put together a four-page handbook: “Things Your Child Should be Exposed to Prior to Kindergarten.”

Among the expectations that would put kids — and their teachers — in the best position were being able to recite the alphabet, identify colors and shapes, to hold a pencil or crayon, and to sit through a story being read to them. The handbook also covered of necessary social skills.

In other words, the goal was to bring kids who were not absolute beginners when they hit the kindergarten classroom. Educators agree that the more prepared students are in kindergarten, the better off they are for the rest of their school days.

The question organizers faced — and still face, as they mull this part of the community learning project — is how to get those expectations to kids, short of having a formal and universal preschool program.

Carving inroads through community efforts is one thing, and certainly worth the time and sweat. But eventually Indiana will need to address just how far back it is falling behind other states when it comes to access to pre-kindergarten education.

Gov. Mike Pence made pre-K education one of his top goals, taking time to testify for House Bill 1004, which would create a limited preschool program. It was the first time the governor had testified in a General Assembly committee for a specific bill.

Last week, HB 1004 was stripped down in a Senate committee. Questions about long-term funding left senators with second thoughts, as they sent the preschool issue to a summer study committee.

Pence’s agenda for this legislative session included several wishes involving substantial amounts of money. That’s always a tall order in a non-budget year for the General Assembly. So the governor’s preschool goals seemed destined for a full vetting in the 2015 session, when the General Assembly will piece together the state’s next two-year budget.

There will be no excuse next year, though. The General Assembly can’t keep walking away from a commitment to pre-kindergarten education. Too many Hoosier kids are being cheated.

— Journal and Courier, Lafayette

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