Monthly Archives: February 2014

You are Smart, Figure it Out

            Here we go again another year of inadequate funding for education.  However, once again there will be no shortage of new bills introduced at the state capital, and that may be part of the problem.  When it comes to writing new legislation, there seems to be an insatiable itch of epidemic proportions in Jackson that is absolutely mind boggling.  If 2014 is anything like the past several years, it is probably safe to say the combined number of bills that will be introduced in the Mississippi House and Senate this year will hover around 2,700.  Since 2010, there have been 11,088 bills introduced in Jackson of which 1,832 passed both houses and 1,687 became law.  That means Mississippi gets an average of 422 new laws every year.  Imagine the number of committee hours it must take to filter through all those bills to decide which ones actually have merit or support to move out of committee.  On top of that imagine all the hours of debate and wheeling and dealing it must take to get the House and Senate to agree on which bills will become laws.  The amount of time is unbelievable, but it goes a long way in explaining why it is so hard to get important things like education funding passed.  The good men and women in the legislature are so exhausted by the time they get to the discussion on education funding that they cannot keep their eyes open long enough to get the job done.  As a result, when it comes to funding education, the state is perpetually stuck in a 2008 time warp.  Maybe, if legislators curtailed the competitive itch to write so many bills of which eighty to ninety percent are without merit, substance or support, maybe, they could find time to take a serious look at MAEP, which to date is a complete fallacy.

            When will folks in Jackson begin to understand that they can write all the laws they want to write, but in the end their laws will be little more than ink on a piece of paper if the laws ignore the greater needs of the people.  Any legislator worth his salt understands that laws are nothing more than a tool to authorize change.  Laws by themselves will not make change happen.  Lawmakers can write laws that tell a man he must paint his house, but if the man is starving, the house is not likely to be painted regardless of the law.  Painting the house may hide the cracks in the walls and the peeling paint, which are symptoms of a greater problem, but painting the house does nothing to address the root of the problem – unemployment and/or poverty.  For the most part, laws in general and education laws in particular do a fair enough job at addressing symptoms, but they are generally very poor at addressing the core problems.  In fact, truth be known, most laws are little more than exercises in vanity.  Therefore, it is time our state lawmakers stopped trying to reinvent education in their own image, and listened and worked with state educators to find solutions for the issues rather than wasting time on the symptoms.

            The job of state legislators is not to lead a crusade against education, but rather to provide support for the children and educators of the state.  It is time for Mississippi legislators to understand that the overabundance of new laws and “hot air” that continually blow out of Jackson is not sufficient to support the educational needs of Mississippi’s children.  It takes adequate funding to do that.  That is why in 1997 MAEP was passed!  It was called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for a reason.  The state legislators at the time believed that education funding should be “adequate” to meet the needs of educating the children in the state.  Unfortunately, regardless of the reasons, only two state legislatures have felt the same way since 1997, and both of those years, 2003 and 2007, were election years.  Sad, but true. 

            Helen Keller said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”  Unfortunately, that pretty well sums up some of our state legislators when it comes to education.  They have sight; they see the problems, but they do not have a vision as to how to address the problems.  They believe the answers lie in the chambers of the state capital and within themselves to the point that they often refuse to listen to people within the state who have dedicated their lives to educating children. 

            All of this boils down to respect, and right now it appears the legislators in Jackson have little if any respect for Mississippi educators.  The sad part is that this lack of respect often imparts only short term hardships on adults in the state, but it imparts lifelong hardships on the children of the state.   So, what can we do?  Unless some things change, we will be having this same conversation five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years from now.  The question is how many generations of Mississippi children will we lose before Mississippi adults can get their act together and learn to work together for the common good of the state’s children.  To change the conversation, there are many things that must take place and soon, but first and foremost, funding the educational needs of our children and those who educate them must be a priority.

            The legislators elected to Jackson are arguably the smartest people from their home districts, and they were sent to Jackson because the voters felt they had the knowledge and backbone to get the job done.  If they cannot do the job, they need to go home and let the people elect someone who can.  It is no longer acceptable to hide behind the annual motto of, “We are sorry, but we just can’t fully fund education this year.”  Mississippi is in dire need of legislators who are not afraid to stand up and say, “We will find a way to fully fund education for the sake of our children.”  If indeed the voters did elect smart people to the state legislature, then it is time the legislators started using some of their “smarts” to find a way to fully fund education. Of course, that is not as simple as it sounds, but that is why the voters elect “smart” people to go to Jackson to get the job done.

JL                                                                         

©Jack Linton, 2014

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It’s a Poor Frog Who Doesn’t Praise its Own Pond

I believe it takes a special person to be a teacher, but sometimes they are the most exasperating people to deal with.  Maybe, it is dealing with snot and hormones every day that makes them that way, but whatever the reason, I find the most tiresome aspect of dealing with them is their tendency to bow down and meekly subject themselves to those who criticize and ridicule them.  That may offend some, but I believe it is a very fair assessment of the temperament of most teachers.  Rarely do teachers stand up for themselves, and when they do, it is with considerable apologetic fanfare, which in today’s world is a sign of weakness that generates even more abuse and scorn.  To teachers’ credit though, they are resilient; they take a licking and keep on ticking.  However, teachers have been beaten into submission too long; it is time for them to stand up for themselves and for their profession.  It is like my Uncle Cecil use to say, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond.”

My Uncle Cecil barely had an eighth grade education, but he could have taught today’s teachers a thing or two about self-esteem and standing up for who you are in the world.  For sixty-three years he was married to Aunt Birdie, and from all accounts during that time never uttered anything but praise and love for her despite the facts that she had partially blinded him and almost financially ruined him.  When he spoke of Aunt Birdie, it was with the utmost respect and appreciation for her as his wife, and he was quick to come to her defense if anyone ever dared speak of her in a negative light.    

To hear Uncle Cecil tell it, Aunt Birdie was the most beautiful woman on earth, but in reality a blind man could have seen that she was handsome in a rough sort of way at best.  During the early spring when she and Uncle Cecil spent close to sixteen hours a day working the fields, they often sported matching mustaches until she could find time to pluck the scraggly hairs from under her nose with farmer’s tweezers – a pair of needle nose pliers.  Uncle Cecil never seemed to mind though.  She was his, and he was not ashamed to stand up and say so.  Although they lived a hard life, it was a life filled with love and respect for each other in spite of the harsh conditions and Aunt Birdie’s occasional misadventures that left Uncle Cecil half blind and financially broke.

The day Aunt Birdie inadvertently put out Uncle Cecil’s right eye started innocently enough with a piece of chewing gum.  You see, Aunt Birdie loved chewing gum, and when I was a kid, I loved to visit her for that very reason.  She didn’t have a single tooth in her head, so when she pulled out a piece of chewing gum, which she did quite regularly, she would unwrap it, and hand it to me to get it started for her.  Once I got it started she would take it from me and gum munch it for the rest of the day and occasionally attempt to blow a bubble, which is what ultimately got her into trouble.  One day while trying to blow a bubble and not having any teeth to help hold the gum in place, she puckered up and spit a gum ball halfway across the room.  It hit Uncle Cecil square in the right eye.  He yelled and screamed and staggered around the room like a blind dog in a meat market.  He was blind in that eye until the day he died.  Mama was so afraid that he was going to kill Aunt Birdie that she stayed over with her and Uncle Cecil for a solid week.  That meant my sisters and I had to eat my Daddy’s cooking of skillet fried steak, grits, eggs, and bacon at every meal.  I almost wished Mama had stayed another week.

However, Uncle Cecil didn’t kill Aunt Birdie.  If nothing else, they became closer than ever.  Daddy said with only one eye Uncle Cecil only had to look at half of her at a time.  He said that made her almost tolerable looking.  The strangest part of the story was that despite losing his right eye to the gum ball and then a couple of years later almost losing his farm due to Aunt Birdie’s compulsive gambling on tick racing over at Myron McFadden’s place in Lamar County, he always found something positive and even loving to say about his wife.  The ladies at his church often swooned over his thoughtfulness and graciousness toward Aunt Birdie.  Uncle Cecil always the humble kind would just shrug and say, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond.”  He reasoned she could have just as easily put out both his eyes, and at worst tick racing was a seasonal bad habit, so he felt he had a lot to be thankful for in his life, but most of all he was appreciative for the opportunity to be a farmer because that is what he loved to do, and he was thankful to have Aunt Birdie in his life because that is who he loved to do it for.  Though his life was hard, he was proud of who he was, and although Aunt Birdie was not perfect, he was proud to have her as his wife.  The best thing though was that he was not afraid to stand up and let the world know he was proud to be a farmer and even prouder to have Aunt Birdie at his side.  Uncle Cecil praised his pond every chance he had an opportunity.      

So, why can’t teachers be more like Uncle Cecil?  Why can’t they understand that “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond?”  Teachers are special people, and they do not need to apologize to anyone for themselves or their profession; they should stand proud and self-confident in who they are and what they do for a living.  In a society in need of role models, they need not be afraid to point out all that is good with themselves and their profession.  If teachers do not, few others will do so on their behalf.

Teachers need to begin each day with a focus on the great things they will do that day, and end the day with a focus on the great things they have done that day.  They need to stop and remember that teaching is like a sandwich, the teacher forms the top and bottom and the students are protected, nurtured, and grown in the middle – without teachers there are no doctors, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, businessmen, nurses, welders, and the list goes on and on and on.     Teachers need to quit undervaluing themselves, and take a lesson from Uncle Cecil – be appreciative of the gifts and opportunities God has given them.  Teachers need to understand that sometimes it is okay to lay aside their “people pleasing” hat, put on their “toot and tell it” hat, and toot the hell out of their own horns.  Teachers need to be proud of themselves and their profession.  They do not need to apologize to anyone for who they are or for what they do for a living.  After all, like Uncle Cecil would tell them, “It’s a poor frog who does not praise its own pond.”

 JL

 ©Jack Linton, 2014

The Halftime Show that Wasn’t

I will always remember Super Bowl XLVIII as a game and halftime show that did not live up to the hype.  Now, do not get me wrong, although the game was a dud, there was a brilliant halftime performance by Bruno Mars with an energetic appearance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  The halftime hype I am referring to is “The Halftime Show that Wasn’t,” or more precisely the mass gay wedding that wasn’t.  It seems the Internet, or Rumornet as I like to call it, reported a mass gay wedding would be performed at halftime of the super bowl.  Of course, it was a hoax and did not happen, but some people were duped, hoodwinked, fooled, or just plain misled into not watching the halftime show due to the ruse.  That is a shame because they missed one of the better Super Bowl halftime entertainments that we have witnessed in a long time.  However, what makes this really sad is that this is another example of the “Chicken Little and the sky is falling” mentality that has engulfed our society over the past few years.  It is simply madness, but I will talk more about that later.  First, I want to address a couple of simple truths.

Truth number one:  Do not believe everything you see or hear on the Internet.  This is one of the first lessons about the Internet that we teach school children.  Intermingled with the reliable information are rumors, misinformation, pranks, garbage, and outright lies that the responsible Internet surfer must wade through to get to the truth.  Unfortunately, that does not always happen when kids get on the Internet, and apparently it does not happen with some adults as well.  When dealing with kids, that is expected, but when dealing with adults, that is irresponsible.

Truth number two:  It is irresponsible for any adult, but especially adults in positions of trust such as the ministry and public office to spread rumors, gossip, or hearsay.  I know what I am saying may be offensive to some, but it is the truth.  People in leadership positions are not perfect, and they will from time to time make honest mistakes, but a mistake that is the result of uncorroborated information is irresponsible.  People look to their leaders for guidance, and when a leader says or infers something anti-Christian will take place during halftime of the super bowl, people listen.  People look at their leaders as informed, and believe they would not say it unless it was true.  Therefore, it is wise for people in positions of trust to exercise some forethought and maybe even a little caution when speaking publicly as well as privately, especially in this day of social media where everyone lives in a glass house.

We are all human, and as a result, we are all guilty of overloading our mouths from time to time.  However, let me put you in touch with a little reality secret.  If you are truly seeking the truth, you should stay away from such websites as Adobo Chronicles, Deadspin, and The Onion.  Everything you read on these sites is based on truth, except for the lies.  Of course, I am only naming three of countless Internet websites that pander misinformation as the truth.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, or if it is so far to the left or right that it borders on the ridiculous, that is probably a good sign that you need to seek more information before you buy into it.

However, “The Halftime that Wasn’t” would hardly be noteworthy if it was not another example of Chicken Little screaming the sky is falling.  This is just the latest episode of the untethered paranoia that seems to be swallowing our country whole.  Folks, it is pure madness what is happening in our country.  When I think about the psychotic fog that has settled over our nation, I am reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”  The poem, which depicts the slow fall of a distraught lover into madness, could be seen as an allegory of today’s America.  With each passing day, we seem to become more and more a distraught society slipping ever closer toward insanity.  In fact, madness seems to have become our raven sitting on the “bust of Pallus,” but rather than speaking the ominous “Nevermore,” our madness speaks of conspiracies, paranoia, hate, and distrust.   Our madness demands our opinions be heard, but yet takes offense when other people dare voice their opinions.  Our madness cries out to believe and live as we choose, but yet is repulsed by the beliefs and lifestyles of our neighbors.  Our madness takes exception to anyone who does not like or agree with what we say or do, but yet, thinks nothing of condemning what others say or do.  Our madness proclaims we are Christians, but yet is quick to judge and dismiss the religious rights and beliefs of others. Like the distraught lover in “The Raven,” who mourns the loss of his love, our madness laments the loss of freedom, but yet forgets freedom comes with tolerance and understanding.  Unfortunately, such madness is a reflection of our hearts, and if not reconciled, this madness will continue to give birth to such insidious events as the “The Halftime that Wasn’t,” and over time decay the very morals on which we have built our society.

 JL

 © 2014, Jack Linton

Teaching in “The Good Old Days”

            From time to time, I hear people say they wish teachers could go back to teaching the basics.  They reason their children would be better off, and that their lives and even the lives of teachers would be less stressful.  They have this idealistic notion that if teachers could teach like they did back in the “good old days” all would once again be right with the world.  However, were the “good old days” really that good? 

            I started teaching way back in 1976 for a salary of $8,400 a year, which included $200 for coaching football, $200 for coaching basketball, $200 for coaching baseball, and $100  for driving a school bus.  I really enjoyed teaching, and I often bragged about being the first teacher in my family until my father set me straight one afternoon.  He told me that my Uncle Juby, short for Jubilee, had actually taught math for a spell in the late 1930’s.  The story goes that Uncle Juby drove over to Wilmer, Alabama to pick up three cows.  Back then there were not any interstates or major highways, so most roads were narrow county roads at best, and it took him half a day to get to Wilmer and locate the farm.  By the time he found Coy Grayson’s farm somewhere just north of Wilmer, he was tired and ready to the get the cows loaded and start back home.

            He was prepared with a roll of 21 dollar bills in his pocket to pay top dollar of $7.00 for each cow.  The price had been negotiated by my grandfather over the telephone, so Uncle Juby was expecting to finalize the deal quickly and be back on the road within an hour.  However, after seeing the cows, he was not pleased with what he saw.  My father could not remember what the problem was with the cows, but he did know that Uncle Juby was not happy with the pre-arranged price, so he began to haggle with Farmer Grayson.  After about an hour of haggling back and forth, the two men finally agreed on $6.00 for each cow even though the old farmer kept mumbling about the price being highway robbery.

            Uncle Juby feeling rather pleased with himself over the new price he had wrangled out of the old farmer, unrolled the wad of one dollar bills.  “It has been a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Grayson,” he said.  “At $6.00 each for your three cows, I owe you $18.00.” 

            Farmer Grayson looked at him strangely, “Young man, you figured that out real quick,” he said.

            “Nothing to it,” Uncle Juby shrugged handing him eighteen one dollar bills, “just a little head arithmetic.”

            “You don’t say,” Farmer Grayson said rubbing his chin thoughtfully.  “Head arithmetic? Hmmm.”

            The cows were loaded on the trailer, and Uncle Juby headed for home, but just before he crossed into Mississippi, he heard a siren and looked up to see lights flashing behind him.  Convinced the old farmer had had second thoughts about the deal and called the sheriff, he pulled the truck and trailer off the side of the road, and pulled out his bill of sale.  When the sheriff walked up to the driver’s side of his truck, Uncle Juby handed the bill of sale out the window.

            “Boy,” said the sheriff, “I don’t reckon I have much use for your bill of sale.  Ain’t why I stopped you.”

            Puzzled Uncle Juby pulled the bill of sale back into the truck, “I’m pulling a trailer loaded with three cows, so I know I wasn’t speeding,” he said.  “I figured old man Grayson sent you after me.”

            “He did,” said the sheriff turning and spitting a long stream of brown chewing tobacco over his shoulder.  Wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, he drawled, “Sent me to offer you a job.”

            “A job?” Uncle Juby asked even more confused.

            The sheriff nodded his head, “Yes sir, you see Mr. Coy has a brother-in-law on the school board in Mobile County, and when he saw you use that – uh – what did you call that thing you did to add them numbers?”

            “Head arithmetic?” Uncle Juby offered now completely dumbfounded as to what adding some simple numbers had to do with him being pulled over by the sheriff..

            “Yeah, that’s what Mr. Coy said you called it – head arithmetic.  He said he hadn’t ever heard that before, and to tell the truth, I don’t reckon I have either.  Mr. Coy said you used that “head arithmetic” to add numbers faster than a hot knife can cut butter – and he said you did it without taking your boots off.  He figured right then and there that you might be the right person for the school teacher job that’s open at the high school, so he sent me after you to offer you the job.”

            “A teaching job?” Uncle Juby asked trying not to laugh. 

            “Yes, sir,” said the sheriff.  “Mr. Coy told me to tell you they will pay you a fair salary if you’re willing.”

            Uncle Juby always the suspicious type asked, “Is Mr. Grayson offering me the job, or is the school board?”

            The sheriff turned away to spit again.  “Son,” he said turning back to Uncle Juby, “Mr. Coy said you have the job if you want it, so you never mind the school board.  What Mr. Coy says is gospel around here.”

            My father said Uncle Juby drove back to Wilmer the next day and became a teacher.  They paid him $1,700 for the 1939-1940 school year to teach math or more precisely teach kids how to count to twenty without taking their shoes off. 

            To this day, every time I hear someone say the only change we need in education is to get back to the basics and let teachers teach like they did in the “good old days,” I think of this story.  For me, allowing teachers to teach like they did in the “good old days” is the most confounding education argument I have ever heard.  You see, I don’t understand what people have against kids keeping their shoes on.

JL

© 2014, Jack Linton