Tag Archives: Mississippi

My Wife and I Shacked Up

This past week my wife and I did something we have never done – we shacked up!  We have been married forty-four years, so in a sense, we are old timer shacker uppers, but this time it was different.  We drove to North Mississippi and spent five nights at the Shack Up Inn located on the Hopson Plantation outside of Clarksdale on Highway 49.  The rustic stopover with authentic renovated tin roofed, rough wood-sided sharecropper houses as well as a cotton gin and grain bins reimagined and converted to overnight hotel apartments may not be for everyone, but it is certainly unique, and for us, a perfect getaway.  The whole complex is a historical marvel to behold, but at the same time, it is one of the most ironic places I have ever visited.  Over seventy-five years ago, families scrapping out a meager living farming another man’s land lived in these two maybe three-room shotgun style houses.  They spent their lives struggling, working from first light to sunset, to have a better life than living in a shack.  In contrast, today, people pay more money for a night’s stay in one of the shacks than most poor sharecroppers made in a year.  It is also sobering to think there are families across Mississippi still living in such poverty.

We stayed in the Crossroad Shack, relocated to the Inn from nearby Duncan, Mississippi.  The shack, although weathered and worn both inside and out was clean, warm on the cool nights we encountered, free of leaks from the rain that came later in the week, and peaceful and relaxing for a good night’s rest.  It would have been difficult to find a speck of paint anywhere, but it had all we needed for an enjoyable and comfortable stay.  The little two room building had indoor plumbing complete with a flushable toilet and hot water for a shower.  There was also a piano, a microwave oven, a coffee pot, a refrigerator, a gas wall heater, adequate lighting, and glory of glories NO TELEVISION!  The Internet was a bit sketchy, but that was okay.  Few people go to the Shack Up Inn to watch television or roam the Internet, but if that is your thing, some of the bins are equipped with television.  Like my wife and I, most people go to the Shack Up Inn to escape the everyday hustle of life, and relax away from Facebook, CNN, and Fox News.  The Inn is a place to put worries and trouble on hold and relax in a rocker on the screened back porch, read a book, take leisurely strolls around the grounds, and in the evenings kick back with a cold drink of choice and listen to the best Mississippi Blues you will find anywhere.  Of course, you can always jump in your car and head into Clarksdale to visit Ground Zero, The Blues Museum, Hambone’s, and Reds Lounge as well as many other local establishments and landmarks.  Despite being off the beaten path, there is no shortage of things to do at the Shack up Inn and in Clarksdale.

While at the Shack Up Inn, I attended a songwriting workshop I have been wanting to attend for some time.  Songwriting is a passion of mine regardless of success or lack of it, and by writing my own stuff, I don’t mess up anyone else’s music.  The workshop exceeded all expectations!  I have never been made to feel more at ease and appreciated in a workshop, and I have attended many.  Songwriters from all over the country were there, and I can truthfully say, I learned something from each of them.  If you are a songwriter or would like to be, and you are interested in learning the nuts and bolts of the songwriting craft, Ralph Carter’s “Songs at the Shacks” workshop is a no brainer.  However, don’t go if you are not serious about your craft!  You will work your butt off writing and performing, but by the end of the week, you will be thankful of the blessings that allowed you to attend.  I found the workshop well worth the money, time, and effort.  Thank you, Ralph, I can’t wait to be a part of another of your workshops.  I left the Shacks, tired, renewed, and for the first time ever with confidence I am headed in the right direction.  As an important bonus, the friendships made during the week were worth the price of admission alone.

To say, we had a wonderful week at the Shacks would be a huge understatement.  We had a super week!  How can shacking up with a beautiful woman, writing music, singing your songs, listening to great music, and being around friends be anything but fantastic?  We will certainly do it again soon, but for now it is back to writing songs, writing my blog, and writing short stories.  I hear a song, “Mama, Take Your Teeth Out,” calling.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 16, 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

Today’s Teachers vs The Way It was Back Then

Public education in Mississippi, in the United States, is a dead horse many politicians and a large faction of the public refuse to stop beating.  By underfunding public schools, shifting support to charter and private schools, and openly bashing teachers for everything from poor test scores to the spiritual collapse of the nation, public school haters have effectively beaten public education and its supporters into submission, yet, they refuse to unsaddle the dead horse and move on.  There are others they could pick on, such as themselves, for the less than satisfactory conditions in education and society.  Lack of political and public support for underfunded, underappreciated, and undervalued public schools is well documented, but villainizing public educators is far easier than sharing responsibility.

Sitting astride their decomposing steed, they reminisce about their glory days in school.  They recall the “good old days” when public schools were home to superhero teachers, angelic students, apple pie baking moms in lacy aprons, uncompromising no-nonsense dads, and principals welding a board of education nicknamed “Old Hickory.”  These buckaroos worship at the alter of “The Way it was Back Then” –  a time when there were no bad teachers, kids were only mischievously delinquent, and Coca-Cola miraculously taught the world to sing in perfect harmony amid fields of butterflies flitting under skies painted with candy striped rainbows.  If you listen to the saddle busters, the world and everything about it was cool and perfect in the “The Way it was Back Then” until public schools kicked prayer out the school house door and messed up everything.

I lived and taught school in “The Way it was Back Then,” but the world singing in perfect harmony and mischievous innocents somehow escaped me.  Yes, over time, prayer became less conspicuous in public schools, but only after it disappeared from most homes.  Granted, there were many good teachers back then, but no more than there are today.  Forty years ago, you were considered a good teacher if you kept a low profile and did not bother anyone, and no one was bothered by you.  If you left parents alone, and never troubled them about their child’s behavior or grades, you were a good teacher.  You were a good teacher if you did not send discipline referrals to the principal’s office, and if you were popular with all your students, you were considered the best of the best teachers.  Little has changed over forty years, teachers still get brownie points for all the above, but today, in the era of accountability, it is much harder for a teacher to be considered good just by laying low out of the principal’s hair.

In a profession where every Joe on the street believes he can do it better, and political and education gurus who haven’t been in a classroom in years, if ever, dictate how to educate kids, today’s teachers must be better than good; they are expected to be perfect.  They must have the thick hide of a rhinoceros to withstand twisted evidence they are the problem rather than the solution; they must hold their tongue when factors beyond their control such as poverty, inadequate funding, and apathy in the home toward education are left out of the student failure equation; and they must cower before an accountability system that has become more about judging and dismissing teachers than assessing the strengths and weaknesses of student knowledge.  The result is public school educators feel so negatively stigmatized and traumatized they are fleeing the teaching ranks in droves.  Forget about recruiting new blood!  Why would a bright, energetic, young person with compassion for children want to be a part of a profession in which teachers are expected to be mechanical in their approach to learning, unquestioning before the data gods, submissive to political whims, and tied to research that often is only given the light of day if it is convenient and relevant to the ideology of the status quo.  In an era, where selective evidence is used to undermine teacher quality, turn teachers into scapegoats, prescribe quick fixes, and look at school reform as a process rather than a cultural change, it is a true miracle the American public-school teacher has yet to be added to the nation’s extinction list.

I say these things not to be negative, but to illustrate teaching is not for the faint of heart.  Even the best teachers I worked with during the “The Way it was Back Then” would not have stayed in the profession more than a year or two if they had been subjected to the distrust and lack of respect today’s teachers face.  Also, today, teachers never have a moment of peace from change.  They are subjected to change with every new fad, book, article, or political agenda.  Of course, change is not all bad, but when it occurs solely for the sake of change itself, to sell books, or is politically motivated, it can be frustrating and even demeaning.  Who can blame teachers for rolling their eyes and thinking “this too shall pass” when presented the latest, greatest ideas or programs?

Today, other than change, the only constants in the life of teachers are cutting corners to make financial ends meet for their families, providing parenting in the classroom for kids who don’t get it at home, bringing their “A Game” to class every day regardless of the cards they have been dealt professionally and personally, and being unappreciated and ridiculed for their efforts.  Teachers are not perfect.  However, they do not deserve to be unfairly judged and persecuted, especially for those things over which they have little or no control.  Contrary, to popular misconceptions, teachers are human, and occasionally, they deserve a break as well as a little TLC!

The good news is teachers, with few exceptions, are making a difference in the lives of their students.  They sacrifice, jump through hoops, dance sideways, do cartwheels, do whatever it takes to help students learn and become responsible citizens, and they do so despite a never lifting veil of distrust.  The cynicism against public schools is sad since so much of it is the result of perceptions caused by clueless negative hearsay.  Most school naysayers do not have an inkling as to what goes on in public schools; how could they?  With few exceptions, they have not set foot in a public school or any other school since they were high school students themselves.  Before anyone gives a blanket condemnation of public schools, it would be nice if they first visited one to see for themselves rather than blindly accept scuttlebutt and data that fails miserably to tell the whole story.  Yes, there is work to be done in public schools, the same as there is in private and charter schools as well as any other institution that depends on the human element for success; however, I am confident if the naysayers would put political and personal agendas aside for a closer look, they would be less likely to condemn public schools as a whole.

I taught school during “The Way it was Back Then,” and I will tell anyone who will listen, teachers have come a long way, baby, and the best is yet to come!  The challenges will not dwindle and go away; if anything, they will continue to grow, but the overall quality and resiliency of today’s teachers give hope the challenges will be recognized, addressed, and eventually rectified.  When it comes to quality teaching for all children, forty years ago was not the “good ole days” as so many seem to believe.  We are living the good days; thanks to better prepared, knowledgeable, caring teachers.

There are more challenges to educating children than ever before, but the number of teachers with the knowledge and skills to address those challenges are as great, probably greater, than any time in our history.  Therefore, my advice to everyone – teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and the public –  is don’t look back; keep your eyes on the future.  Overall, we have good teachers in the driver’s seat, and if we hold on to them, support them, and don’t rock the boat every time there’s an uncomfortable swell, they will get our children and grandchildren safely to their tomorrow.  However, we must be willing to give them a chance, and not desert them to wolves with agendas other than doing what is right for children.  Although the current mindset toward public school education, it should be clear by now, you cannot beat a good horse to death, and expect to ride it to victory in the race.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 1, 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

Facebook is People Being People

Sometimes people get upset and bent out of shape over posts on Facebook – sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for reasons not so good.  There are times when you laugh with people on Facebook and times when you want to wring their necks.  If you choose to be a part of social media, you will experience both.  Why?  It is simple.  Facebook is people being people, and if you can’t accept that, you have no business being on Facebook.

At the end of the day, there is one given with social media – people will post just about anything for just about any reason.  That means the odds are excellent you can find something to offend you if you look hard enough, or you are in the right frame of mind to be offended.  There are offenses to meet every taste on Facebook from really rotten truly offensive stuff to petty, silly, downright ridiculous stuff.  At times, people even get their panties in a wad over innocent things that were never intended to offend anyone, but what is sad is when the offended person refuses to let it go regardless how many apologies are forth coming.

Please, let me repeat!  Facebook is people being people, and if you can’t accept that, you have no business being on Facebook.  People post for a variety of reasons, and other than holding a stinky rotten cheese stick to their head, there is little anyone can do about it.  If a person owns a computer, tablet, or smart phone, with a Facebook app, they can post whatever they please.  If it offends, you can laugh it off, you can ignore it, you can lash out, you can hold a grudge, you can act like a blooming idiot and make a fool of yourself, you can offend them back, you can dig up dirty laundry you know about the offender and post it, or you can unfriend the offender, but that is about all you can do.  As of now, offending someone – intentionally or unintentionally – is not punishable by prison time or the death chamber, so move on – let it go, especially if the offending person offers an apology.  Remember, Facebook is people being people, so accept it, or go do something more constructive with your time like read a book.

People being People on Facebook:

  1. People who post to witness and share their religious status;
  2. People who post because they are lonely and seek human contact;
  3. People who post to be funny or humorous (at least they try);
  4. People who post to share something that makes them happy or excited;
  5. People who post to affirm their existence;
  6. People who post to share a political or social view or rant;
  7. People who post because they are on Facebook and don’t want to be perceived as lurking in the background;
  8. People who post to provoke a rise out of people or get their goat;
  9. People who post to Facebook as a family scrap book;
  10. People who post because it is easier to post to Facebook than actually talk to people;
  11. People who post because they like noise of any kind in their lives;
  12. People who post because they don’t have a life;
  13. People who post because deep down they really like people and like being around them;
  14. People who post on Facebook because they have a short attention span and cannot read or write anything beyond a handful of sentences;
  15. People who post because Facebook is the only family they have;
  16. People who post to share their pity party;
  17. People who post to keep up with friends;
  18. People who post because it gives them a sense of being somebody;
  19. People who post to simply inform; and
  20. People who post because they can.

Facebook is people being people!

JL

©Jack Linton, April 27, 2017