Tag Archives: commentary

First Love

“I remember my first love,” the man said, closed his eyes and sighed deeply.  “She was as sweet as dew at first light.  I have never met another like her.”  He knelt before the altar and worshiped First Love.

For most people, first love is a careless delicious surplus of sugary puffs of nostalgia.  They swoon in memories of white lace, tender moonlight strolls, skin as soft as silk floating on feather down, and a touch so smooth and delicate it speaks of a refreshing summer lemonade or a delicate red wine with floral undertones.  Over time, first love has a way of growing into a whimsical dream-like longing that paints it as more than a simple charity of nature.  For many, it morphs into a cosmic life event colored by all that is innocent, sweet, and righteous in the world – a lavish desert and entitlement of youth.

If man could negotiate time and the universe in a single breath and look upon the original blueprints for his existence, he would find first love was a gift, a charity, orchestrated by gods with nothing better to do.  They were spirits with no motive other than creating a smile and a warm place in the heart, who, to this day, toast one another with each first kiss of starry eyed first loves.  We should also toast first love and fall in love over and over with the honey scented nostalgia that cloaks it.  Yet, unlike those candied memories, we must take care not to place our first love on a wistful pedestal like a trophy.

First love is not an altar to kneel before.  It is not a stuffed panda, or fine wine to share openly as a prize, but a keepsake to fold into your wallet for safe keeping for fear it might sour with overexposure.  Like a mother’s womb, it is not intended as a warm cubby hole to hibernate forever.  Its sole purpose is to prepare for what is to come – to open eyes to the truth that two are better than one.  First love is training wheels on your first bicycle; the first cross you bear; the first callous on your heart.

Sweet as cherry blossoms in spring as it may be, nuzzling the fuzz on that first peach is meant as a personal curio to be placed on a sheltered shelf out of the way when done.  After all, it is charity, a gift, not intended for flaunting.  Unfortunately, human nature does not always allow first love to be treated as such; it will not permit it to be dignified by fading softly until vanquished respectfully and honestly.  No, we dig up the bones, cover them with wisps of Camelot and roses, regurgitate a surreal fleeting experience that never was as we wish to remember it.

Those first palpable pricks of the heart linger in a shadowy recess of the brain reserved for what might have been, what never was, and what we wish, want, and believe to be.  Its memory is the byproduct of an underdeveloped flap of grey tissue that utilizes spotting sparks of corkscrewed energy spitting from a humping brain stem to fabricate superficial intrigue and horny syrupy sweetness for a fleeting delusional moment in our lives.  We hold to that moment with a fondness reserved for high school pranks and fetching our own switch for Mama to tan our backside.  Those good old days and memories we sweeten with saccharin.

That most people are indebted to a name they only speak in moral seriousness is without question.  That they are ensnared deep within a constantly gentrifying lair of sugarcoated indulgence of half-truths is also without question.  In the name of first love, they allow themselves to be imprisoned by plain prose exuding romantic mediocrity blinded by sunlight caught in crystal windows.   Their reason is intermittently waxed incomprehensible; they are blinded or at least enveloped by a fantasy shrouded in essentialist qualities of love – a fantasy inseparable from reality.

A charity of nature designed to unlock hearts and open souls to the beauty of the human bond, first love should be smiled upon and thought of tenderly for its intended good.  It should not be allowed to fester into a gauzy distraction or a model holding all future love accountable.  It was never intended to be idolized or placed on a pedestal that might bring the adoration of future love into question, nor was it ever intended as a gauge for future romantic relationships.  First love is a foyer to a greater room; it is simply the beginning of the grandest adventure of all – love.  It is practice for the real thing to come; it was never intended as a prototype of the real game.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 9, 2018

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House Bill 957:  Same Song Different Verse

Does it ever end?  From Mississippi Senator Angela Hill’s bill to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education to Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn’s bill to bounce the MAEP education funding formula for a new less expensive formula, the assault on Mississippi Public Schools goes on, and on, and on.  Since 2013, to inform people of efforts in Jackson to weaken and dismantle public schools, I have written enough for a book on the plight of public education in Mississippi.  For those who have listened, I along with many others have written and warned about what is happening, and true to those warnings, the nightmares are becoming reality.  With little to no input from state educators, legislating and railroading changes to public schools that are not always in the best interests of children and teachers appear to be escalating.  In Mr. Gunn’s case, he has done everything from writing a new education funding formula to handpicking the man who could push his bill through the House to the Senate in record time.  Never mind the bill contains issues, and it is less than complete as acknowledged by the House Education Committee Chair.  According to state leadership, those are trivial things that can be worked out later.  Right, and we can believe teacher pay in Mississippi will be raised to the national average in the near future!  As for Mrs. Hill, buying into the reasoning behind her chaotic idea to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education makes about as much sense as conceding all government control to local independent fiefdoms, but maybe chaos is her end game – at least for public schools.

There is a little more rationality in Mr. Gunn’s proposal.  He argues the MAEP formula was written almost twenty years ago and has failed to keep up with classroom needs.  He is partially right.  MAEP became law in 1997, but what the public does not hear him say is the formula has failed to keep up with classroom needs because it has been fully funded only twice in those twenty years.  It is Phillip Gunn and his fellow legislators who have failed to meet the needs of the classroom – not the current funding formula!

Why should anyone with a lick of common sense believe a new formula will fare better?  Two maybe three years down the road, 2020 maybe 2021, we are likely to hear once again legislators cannot be held accountable to an education funding bill passed by a previous legislature – only then, they will be talking about the 2018 Legislature.  State legislators have successfully gone down that road before, so why should they stray from a proven path.  They won’t, especially when they have duped the public into believing public school educators are the bad guys and private and school choice hungry legislators are the saviors.

I do not suggest all legislators are at war against public schools; there are a few who stand by state educators.  Those few are the reason Richard Bennett, Republican Representative from Long Beach, was handpicked by Gunn as the new House Education Committee Chair.  As a colleague and friend, Gunn knew Bennett was not likely to be swayed to any degree by those few dissenting voices.  From day one, not only did Bennet blindly champion Gunn’s funding bill, he did all within his power to railroad the bill into law.  By his own admission, he has never read the MAEP formula, so he really doesn’t know if the new bill is better or not.  His job was to run Gunn’s bill through the motions and get it to the Senate quickly with as few questions as possible.

Thank goodness there were a few legislators in the House who asked, “Why the rush?” For Gunn and Bennet that was simple, push hard and fast, and don’t allow time for study and knowledgeable pushback that might delay the bill’s passage.  As Democratic Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford noted, the 354-page bill was filed Thursday, January 11; dropped to the House floor Tuesday, January 16; and passed on to the Senate Thursday, January 18.  In comparison to time frames legislators usually work under, that is a remarkable achievement.  Such swiftness and urgency are almost unheard of, especially with a funding bill that should be studied, discussed, and tweaked often prior to any vote.  Instead, Bennet asked the House to fast track the overhaul of the public school funding formula.  He told lawmakers they would have two years to work out any discrepancies or problems in the bill, so they shouldn’t worry about any issues – just pass it.  Does that mean once passed they can manipulate the law anyway they choose?  Of course, it does; they’ve been doing that for years.

This smells strangely of deeds that should be scraped from shoes before entering the house.  Why soil the carpet when it is simpler to clean the mess at the door?  For whatever reason, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gunn have chosen not to do so, but Mr. Bennet has given his word they will clean up their act over the next two years.  He seems to think his word is good enough, but he has been in Jackson long enough to know better.  Teachers were given the word of state legislators in 1997, but legislators honored their word only twice over the next two decades.  Why should anyone who believes in and supports public education in this state believe Mr. Bennet now?  He is most likely an honorable man, but educators in this state have been bitten too many times in past years by legislators professing to be honorable men.  If you need a reminder of leadership ethics in Mississippi, think back to Initiative 42, and the boatload of mistruths used to confuse and divide the public’s support of public schools.

“We’re going to work through it,” Bennett said.  “This is not something cut in stone.”  Maybe so, but I for one will have to see it to believe it.  True, HB 957 may be an attempt by the legislature, as some have suggested, to apologize for years of inadequate funding and compromise with a formula that provides a watered down though more realistic funding formula in the eyes of legislators.  If that is so, House Bill 957 may be a bullet all educators have to bite and learn to live with at some point.  However, it does not make it easy when the process is surrounded by haste, isolation, and secrecy.  Trust means inclusion and respect, which is something public school educators have rarely received from state legislators.  It’s not easy to trust when educators have watched helplessly as other legislative promises that were cut in stone crumbled under them.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 20, 2018

My Top Five Christmas Movies

This Christmas season, I have watched a top twelve Christmas movie list on television, and read at least two other Christmas movie lists online.  There are probably a hundred or more Christmas movies to choose from when making such a list, but if you look closely, most of the lists contain the same twenty to twenty-five movies.  Usually, the only difference between list A, B, or C is how those 20+ movies are ranked.  However, my Christmas movie list is different in two ways: (1) it only lists the top five Christmas movies of all time, and (2) it is based entirely on my preferences and opinion.  If you agree with my top five movies, fantastic, and if not, it’s too cold to go jump in a lake, so instead, go watch your favorite movies and forget mine.  Here are my top five movies beginning with number five:

#5        How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

The story is about a green creepy/goofy looking monster who hates everybody including himself.  He sets out to steal Whoville’s Christmas, thinking by doing so, he will take their joy from them.  Of course, he is wrong.  His only salvation is Cindy Lou Who, who manages to thaw his cold heart and bring happiness to his dismal life.  As a child, I enjoyed the thirty-minute animated television special that aired at Christmas every year, but when Jim Carrey brought the Grinch to life on the big screen, I was amazed all over again.  The movie version with its occasional naughty innuendoes was made as much for adults as kids, and it succeeded on both fronts.  Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance was fun to watch, and the visuals were stunning.  Simply put, the movie looked, acted, and felt like a holiday classic.  It did not disappoint.

#4        Elf:

I am not a big Will Ferrell fan, but his role as Buddy in Elf was exceptional.  I am not saying exceptional in an Academy Award sense, but extraordinarily fun and entertaining for kids and adults alike.   As a human raised by elves at the North Pole, the role of Buddy fit Ferrell like a glove.  His trademark off-the-cuff antics, which are sometimes hilarious, but often just miss the mark, were perfect for his role as a lovable human-elf in search of his identity.  His innocent childlike behavior in a world of Christmas commercialization was funny, charming, and magical.  Elf is a holiday classic that should be on everyone’s watch list.

#3        A Christmas Story:

One of my all-time favorite holiday movies is A Christmas Story!  The story, set in the 1940’s, centers around Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  Throughout the story, everyone he turns to for help to get the gun, even Santa Claus, tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  Based on a story by Jean Shepherd, the movie is a trip back in time before X-box, PlayStation, Star Wars, and cell phones.  It was a time when kids played outside, and watched Westerns on television where the good guys and buy guys fought for supremacy with six-guns and lever-action rifles instead of laser swords.  In A Christmas Story, Ralphie faces school bullies, learns the horrible truth about secret decoder rings, has his mouth washed out with soap for saying bad words he learned from his father, and through it all, never loses sight of his perfect Christmas gift.  This movie is a slice of life from a bygone era, but it contains everything that makes Christmas special – family, memories, and the spirit of being served Chinese duck for Christmas dinner.  The kids may not fully appreciate the significance of playing outside or getting “double dog dared,” but this is a Christmas movie the whole family should watch together.

#2        The Polar Express:

The number two movie on my Christmas Holiday list, The Polar Express, certainly deserves the honor.  The movie stars Tom Hanks and is filmed in “performance-action animation,” which results in a breathtaking movie spectacle.  Hanks and the visual beauty of the film are reasons enough to see it, but I simply love the story!  The story is about a young boy who is beginning to doubt there is a Santa Claus, and on Christmas Eve catches a mysterious train, The Polar Express, to the North Pole.  On the train, he meets other children like him, a sometimes-cranky conductor (Tom Hanks, who also plays several other roles in the movie), and a hobo.  One of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie (there are many) is the singing waiters.  The first time I saw the movie at home, I stopped the video at least three times to watch that scene again and again; it is simply amazing.  Although Santa Claus appears in the movie, the movie is not about Santa.  The Polar Express is about bravery, friendship, and the spirit of Christmas!  It is a classic that should be shared yearly as a family tradition.

#1        It’s a Wonderful Life:

The Christmas movie that tops almost everyone’s list is It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It is the perfect Christmas masterpiece for the holidays.  The story is about an ambitious young man who sacrifices his dreams to ensure the dreams of others.  Continually hounded by miserly Mr. Potter, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) fights for the right of his neighbors to live a good life, and not struggle in the squalor of Potter’s tenant houses.  Unfortunately, life does not always treat even the best people fairly, and after a disastrous incident, George wishes he had never been born.  With the help of a guardian angel, George learns how his life has impacted the lives of people he loves, and they are not complete without him nor is he complete without them.  It’s a Wonderful Life has sacrifice, redemption, salvation, friendship, angels, and triumph over evil.  It is the root for the good guy, boo the bad guy, feel good movie of all time regardless of the season in which it is watched.  It is the movie that shows us how to get our wings.  It’s a Wonderful life is the epitome of the Christmas spirit; therefore, it is my number one Christmas movie of all time!

Whether you have a Christmas list of your own, or use one someone else has put together, the bottom line is grab someone you love or want to make friends with, and pop your favorite Christmas movie in the DVD and share the Christmas spirit.  I double dog dare you!

Merry Christmas,

JL

©Jack Linton, December 22, 2017

To Have a Great Day, Do these 10 Things

Everyone wakes up hoping to have a great day, but unfortunately, too many people do not have a clue how to make it happen.  The quality of their day is left to chance, luck, or placed in someone else’s hands.  Fortunately, having a great day, every day, is not difficult, especially, if you take responsibility for your happiness and DO the following:

  1. START your day by looking in the mirror. Take a deep breath, stick out your tongue at what you see, wink at who you see, wiggle your ears, laugh at what you see, but most of all, thank God you have eyes to see, a tongue to stick out, ears to wiggle, and a chance to breathe another day.  Do not despair about yourself – you are the best you have;
  2. DRESS like you are proud to be alive: wear deodorant, wear clean clothes, comb your hair, and brush your teeth before you leave your house;
  3. RELAX and take the day as it comes.  Do not try to conform the day to your desires.  Slow down!  There are no instant replays or do overs in life, so make the best of every moment, and do not take your one shot at living for granted;
  4. READ at least thirty minutes; seek to learn something new;
  5. COMMIT to three good turns – one for family, one for someone you don’t know, and one for yourself;
  6. DO at least one thing you don’t want to do;
  7. BE silly!  Do something completely off the wall and different for you.  Do not be afraid to be happy and enjoy life; you have earned it, and deserve it!  Laugh!  God did not put you on earth to be sad and create gloom.  He put you here because he believed you make the world a better place to live;
  8. TELL at least one person you love him/her;
  9. TREAT yourself! At the end of the day, if you have accomplished everything on this list, treat yourself to your favorite ice cream and toppings in front of the mirror, if you completed at least six items on the list, smile in the mirror and give yourself thumbs up, if you accomplished less than six, but gave it your best, stand in front of the mirror and pat yourself on the back.  Why stand in front of the mirror to treat yourself?  So, you get accustomed to what a happy person looks like!
  10. GIVE thanks! At the end of the day, thank God for his blessings, and before you sign-off, do not forget to tell God you are ready for tomorrow if he is willing and will walk with you.

For those willing to take responsibility for their happiness, post this list on your bathroom mirror and on the refrigerator.  Use the list daily!  Your happiness begins with you, so give yourself permission to be happy, and see what happens.  Put yesterday to bed, and before you worry about tomorrow, live the life out of today;

JL

©Jack Linton, October 19, 2017

The Continued Success of the Petal School District is not Luck!

Is the only constant in this world the success of the Petal School District?  I was blessed to serve twenty-five years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Petal School District, and it was a great school district before I arrived on the scene, it was a great school district while I was there, and it is a great school district today.  Recently, the state released school accountability scores and rankings, and the Petal School District was once again ranked in the top five school districts in the state (number one in mathematics).  No one was surprised because no one can remember when or if there was a time in its history that Petal was not ranked at the top.  The mark of a great school district, athletic team, or great business is the ability to sustain success over time regardless of who is at the helm or in the trenches, and the Petal Schools have done a remarkable job of maintaining success even when key personnel have changed.

In the past four years, the District has had two superintendents, changes in directorships, and multiple changes in school principals and assistant principals, yet, it has remained a top-rated school district.  That is amazing!  However, what is more amazing is the District has maintained its success even with the loss of some great teachers who have retired or moved elsewhere due to family and career decisions.  Common sense says for a school to be successful it must have great teachers in the classroom.  In fact, research supports a quality teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in the education of a child.  However, in an era of state and nation-wide teacher shortages, it is not easy to find quality teachers to replace outgoing quality teachers even for a school district, like Petal, with a strong discipline and academic reputation, so how does Petal do it?

Having worked in the school district, I am very familiar with the “movers and shakers” (great educators) among the teachers and administrators, but until recently, while browsing the District website I was unaware of the turnover that has occurred over the past four years.  The school websites are filled with new teacher and administrator faces at almost every school.  Most of the old guard is gone!  The people I always believed made the schools great were missing, but success marched on without them.  How could that be?  Maybe, there is truth to the adage, “One monkey does not stop the show.”

Before I retired, I often bragged, the key to my success at Petal High School was the quality of teachers that lifted me and the students on their shoulders and made what sometimes appeared impossible possible.  Although many of the administrators and teachers who carried me to success are now gone, Petal High School and the District continues to be successful.  That is not only a tribute to the recruiting efforts of the District, it is a tribute to the foundation on which the District is built.  Superintendents, directors, staff, teachers, principals, and school board members come and go, but the two constants, the two non-negotiables, that never change in the District are “everyone is accountable for learning” and an undying attitude that “ALL children can learn.”  These constants result in a successful school district year after year regardless who leads the way in or outside the classroom.

Faces change, but as the battle-scarred veteran teachers gradually move on to another phase in their lives, fresh faces arrive to grow into their shoes.  Like those before them, they pick up the banner of excellence, refuse to lower standards for themselves or their students, and rise above the crowd.  They do so because that is the PETAL WAY; the only WAY for a Petal educator!  Petal educators expect the impossible of themselves and the children they teach, they rise above their imperfections and the imperfections of their students and show them what may seem impossible is but a grain of sand in their shoe.  They lift kids – their own and the kids of others – on their shoulders and carry them – sometimes kicking and screaming – to heights they would never know unless their teacher sacrificed a piece of their life, their heart, and their soul to show them the way.

However, where does the district continue to find quality teachers who have the ability to pick up where the masters left off and walk in their shoes?  Contrary to widespread belief, good teachers are not a dime a dozen; they are few and far between.  They cannot be contracted through Amazon and arrive in the classroom in two days, so where are they found?  Maybe, there is a secret door hidden under a green moss laden bluff somewhere along the Tallahala Creek where teachers with iron nerves who do not know the meaning of “quit”, teachers with hearts of glass kids can look into and learn trust, and teachers with eyes that say, “I am here for you – take my hand” stand waiting patiently for their time to step forward and cultivate our tomorrow.  Or, maybe quality teachers are born somewhere off the Gulf Coast in emerald waters salted lightly with rock flour and wisps of dreams and hope.  More likely, there are no secret doors or emerald waters, only a one-time school boy or girl who grew up to be a teacher with dreams to save the world one child at a time, and was fortunate enough to find like-minded people in a place that has yet to give up on its children and their dreams – the Petal School District.

Yes, year after year, it amazes me how superintendents, directors, staff, principals, teachers, and even school board members can change, yet, the school district continues to not only be successful but thrive.  Working hard and smart with kids as the bottom line while plugging in a sincere love for them and passion for learning is a surefire formula for success, and that success becomes even more sustainable when everyone from the superintendent to the custodian understands everything a school district does is about kids.  “Doing what is best for kids” is what ensures success for the District regardless of who the superintendent or the teachers in the classroom may be.  When a school district asks, “What is best for the kids?” prior to every decision it makes, it cannot not help but be successful year after year.  That single question puts every decision and every action in the proper perspective for a school district.  It enables a small, underfunded (by the state) school district like Petal to succeed where others fail.  My hat is off to those who laid the foundation, to the old guard who remain as models of commitment and excellence, and to those brave new faces that are carrying on the tradition of Petal excellence.  My hat is off to the Petal School District for always putting kids first.  By doing so, the District will always be a success!  Congratulations, Petal educators for another successful school year! You deserve every accolade laid upon you!  Your success is not luck!  You work hard for your success, so take a few minutes to enjoy a job well done, then get back to work – the kids need you.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2017

Delbert Hoseman has it Right

Under Barrack Obama, one of the reasons people screamed “bloody murder” over Common Core Standards in public schools was they thought the Federal government was prying into their lives and attempting to mine personal information about their children.  Now, under the presidency of Obama’s successor, the man most of these people voted for and support, the Federal government is truly digging for personal information.  What gives?  Where is the outcry that Washington is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong?  Where is the outrage over the millions of dollars being spent to fund President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, which is little more than an excuse to collect personal data on citizens and stroke the President’s ego?  The Commission says they only want to “root out” voter fraud; therefore, it is okay for Washington to ask states for the names, birth dates, and social security numbers of state citizens.  Hogwash!  The Commission on Election Integrity is a barefaced example of government infringement on the rights of private citizens.

Fortunately, at least one Mississippi state official, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, has taken a stand against President Trump’s commission and says he will deny access to confidential voter information.  Maybe, he recognizes, like so many others across the nation, little if any voter fraud took place during the Presidential election, or maybe, he is simply doing his job and standing up for the privacy of Mississippi citizens.  Most likely, he is doing both.  The fact that he has the courage to tell the Feds to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” is a testament to his integrity and commitment to do right by state citizens.  Kudos to Mr. Hosemann!

The fact the voter fraud debate is still circulating when there is no proof, only speculation about possible fraud, is ridiculous.  The election is over and the verdict is final; Donald Trump won the election by the same process as Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barrack Obama.  It is senseless for Trump detractors as well as Donald Trump to continue to fuel the issue that never was.  Like him or not, Donald Trump did what he needed to do to win the election, and the Democrats did not.  He was elected by the same electoral college that elected every President that preceded him, so the Democrats and other naysayers need to accept the verdict and move on.  In the 2016 Presidential election, the popular vote was not the deciding factor nor does it matter; the electoral college was the balancing factor that mattered.

Donald Trump also needs to get his ego under control and accept he did not win the popular vote.  “Trumping up” bogus voter fraud speculation to justify his failure to win the popular vote will not change that fact.  He needs to accept that he is simply not as popular as he thinks and understand that if there was truly widespread voter fraud, as he claims, he most likely would have lost the election.  To anyone with a lick of common sense, it is obvious the whole popular vote issue is built on hard feelings on the Democratic side and vanity on the Trump side.  Both sides need to get over it; there are much bigger fish to fry than a petty popular vote vs electoral college vote debate.

Thank God, at least one public official, Delbert Hosemann, seems to recognize a non-issue when he sees one and has the courage and integrity to say so.  Mr. Hoseman has it right, and it is time President Trump, the Democrats, Trump haters, and Trump supporters stop sending this country on “wild goose” chases.

Thank you, Mr. Hosemann for stepping up.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 2, 2017

Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017