Prophet, Pistols, and Participation

Things, at least political ones, are moving quickly here in North Carolina, and there is no tar on the heels of many of our elected officials. Take for instance our lieutenant governor, Mr. Mark Robinson. In a sermon a few weeks ago at Trinity Baptist Church in Mooresville, he notified attendees that he had no doubt that God had created him to battle the LGBTQ movement and he added, “…Makes me sick every time I see it, when I pass a church that flies that rainbow flag, which is a direct spit in the face to God Almighty,”  

And it seems that the state legislature does not want to be outdone by the Lieutenant Governor. This week the Republican led body of lawmakers overrode the veto of Governor Cooper without debate when three Democrats were absent.  The passed bill that is so precious to that august body eliminates the need for a permit in order to purchase a handgun. Thus, during the week of the shooting in Nashville, TN the state of North Carolina gives free reign to any violent, mentally ill, or just mean person desiring to own a pistol.

And then we have SB 430, a bill making its way through the North Carolina state legislature. Introduced by state Senator Timothy Moffitt, the “Eliminate Participation Trophies Act”  would ban participation trophies in state-sponsored youth sports across the Tar Heel state.

 Our Lieutenant Governor appears to see himself as a modern-day prophet much like some of those in the Old Testament. Maybe he sees his calling like that of Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” of Jerusalem, or that of Isaiah who, like Jeremiah, railed against the sins of the people in Judah, or like Nehemiah who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But I suggest he will find better advice on how to value lives different from his own in Matthew 5-7, and not spew hate against any God-given life from a pulpit.

Our elected Republican officials showed their mettle in the over-ride of Cooper’s veto when they voted to open the door to possible carnage. Permits are required for many legal functions in our modern lives. To legally own a dog a license must be obtained and proof of certain immunization, such as a rabies shot, must be demonstrated. Permits are needed  for most businesses to open and operate, and every vehicle, even bicycles in certain situations, must be permitted. But not pistols in the Tar Heel state whose state representatives legalize bloodshed during the week of a massacre in Nashville. But our politicians must agree with Tennessee’s elected official who said in response to the Nashville deaths that there is nothing to be done about it because, in quoting his daddy, “If someone wants to take you out, he will.” That warped wisdom apparently derived from the man’s WW II experience with Kamikaze pilots.

State Senator Moffitt’s introduced HB 430 is one more example of Republicans charging windmills. I guess he and his like-minded cohorts want to ensure that no want to-be athlete at the age of 5 or 6 is encouraged by a plastic trophy that will be discarded by the aspiring player in a few short years. Is the thought of being recognized for participating so repugnant to Moffitt that he sees fit to end the practice? How about the public school wrestling tournaments that recognize two outstanding wrestlers—one each for lighter and heavier weights? Will he next introduce a bill to require that public schools have only one valedictorian? There is no lack of windmills, but does their presence pose a serious threat to our culture? Hardly. Most are just novel ways of the world and do no harm, but Republicans seem to view such aspects of our culture as vehicles to be used to instill fear and distrust in the hearts of voters.

Sadly, too many Republican charge away into the so-called Culture Wars. But I hope some of them will think of Tennyson’s poem, Charge of the Light Brigade in which he writes: “Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

            Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!’ he said.

Into the valley of Death

            Rode the six hundred.”

“The valley of death” is a horrible place and for all our sakes should be avoided.

In The Doing of the Thing

The Latin phrase Carpe Diem, made famous in modern days by the American movie Dead Poet’s Society, was coined by the poet Horace. Most accurately translated as “Pluck the day,” after the movie it was printed on tee shirts, caps, and mugs. “Pluck” proved too much for American sensibilities and the phrase was translated as “Seize the day.”  Given a coffee mug with that inscription by the head of school where I then worked,  I understood the phrase, but in a certain way. Seizing the day meant that I, then in my mid-40’s, was in charge. Anything that was accomplished in my realm of the school was directly related to either my ideas or actions or both. It was up to me, and I lived several years following that belief in my personal and professional  life.

Thinking of the two interpretations of Horace’s phrase, I recall the saying attributed to  Mark Twain, that the difference between the right word and almost the right word, is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug. Pluck and seize when viewed as verbs are much alike, but one meant to control; the other meant to wait.

One of my mother’s favorite “chores” was to sweep the front porch, steps, and sidewalk of her mill house. She did not rush to arrive to this or hurry to finish. She would sweep an area of the wooden porch, stop, and look around her front yard, sweep some more and adjust the chairs and plants. Satisfied with the porch’s condition, she moved on to the three concrete steps and stepping down carefully, she cleaned each below her as she went. Pausing at the juncture of the steps and sidewalk, she would survey the goings-on of Juniper Street and then begin sweeping the private sidewalk that led to public one. Arriving there, she turned, chatted with any neighbor near or a passer-by, then carrying her broom like a proud knight carrying his sword, she went back inside her house to finish any cleaning left undone. My mother, a girl of the South Carolina Sandhills, grew up in a time when front yards of sand were swept to make a clean place to entertain company under a large shade tree. Sometimes, as Maggie did in Alice Walker’s fine short story, Everyday Use, people would make a design using the loose sand on the edge of the cleared area. Thus, a “living room” space was created for the company. While there was no sand on my mother’s sidewalk, steps, or porch, her daily sweeping of it made certain that no visitor would trip on a acorn or small limb, and its cleanliness invited folks to come on in.

Today we have leaf blowers, those noisy machines that will clean the area that took my mother thirty minutes or so to sweep in just a few minutes. Time saved, and all that dirt blown away into the yard or gutter. Time saved to be used inside cleaning or to be used on another household chore. Time saved is money saved. If my mother had had a leaf blower to use out front, she would have been more efficient and more productive. If my mother had had a leaf blower, she would have been “seizing the day” by taking control and producing more. But more what?

Yet, even had my mother been given a leaf blower, one she could have used, I know that she would have just left it gathering dust in her garage. She, like so many of her era, was not interested in just being more productive or efficient or cost effective. She swept her front porch, steps, and sidewalk with her straw broom because she enjoyed the doing of the thing. She enjoyed observing the activity on her street and its people. She enjoyed the result of her labor.

My mother understood that some moments are like waiting for fruit to ripen and if plucked too early in a desire for false mastery the fruit will be bitter. Just as an entire fruit bearing bush or tree does not produce all of its crop at one time, the ripe moments of every day arrive separately, and my mother understood that she should not pluck an entire day, trying to bend it to her will, but she could pluck a moment. One of her such moments was her sweeping, which she enjoyed, but she then continued on, like Haldane (Buzz) Holmstrom who soloed down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon in his home-made boat; he, too, came to understand that by getting all tangled up in a burning desire to control, the important will be missed. On November 21,1937, he wrote in his river journal: “… The Bad Rapid/Lava Cliff/ that I had been looking;/nearly a thousand miles./ I thought/once past there/my reward will begin/but now/everything ahead/seems kind of empty/and I find I have already had my reward/ in the doing of the thing….” A service station attendant from Coquille, Oregon Holmstrom discovered a lesson of living while paddling through the Grand Canyon; and like him my mother, in her sweeping, demonstrated that the joys and rewards of life are often “in the doing of the thing.”

Helping Our Schools

“Just because you live in a house does not mean you are qualified to build one.” So goes the old adage. But it seems N.C. state representative John Torbett, a past house contractor, has forgotten that old saw.

I eat poultry and have seen the large poultry houses in Union County N.C. and Shenandoah County VA. I even lived for sixteen years near one in VA and have read reports of the good and bad of the poultry industry. But I bet Brain Sloan, a newly elected member of the Iredell-Statesville, N.C. School Board, a poultry farmer and contractor, would not allow me to direct his businesses.

I am also intrigued by submarines and have read extensively about them-from their days as U-Boats to our nuclear-powered fleet, but would retired Captain Mike Kubiniec, who served in our submarine force for thirty years, and is another newly elected member of the Iredell-Statesville School Board, serve on one that was under my command?

The elected officials in N.C. would not allow any such silliness on my part, nor do I want to act in such a way. But they, and many others, want to dictate how professional educators conduct their business, under trying circumstances brought on my poverty, indifference of parents for their child’s education, and non-educators who meddle in that of which they know little.

Here are a few quotations or insights of each elected official named above:

Rep. Torbett: “”This bill [HB 187 which he sponsored] does not change what history standards can and cannot be taught. It simply prohibits schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts.” He also expressed to WRAL News that while he believes the U.S. has in the past been run by White males at the expense of Black and Brown people and women,  he thinks times have changed and the country is progressing.

Brian Sloan: “I think I could do it. I think I could do it at Statesville High … be a principal,” Sloan said at a school board meeting this week.

Mike Kubiniec: “I am tired of poverty being used as a reason schools don’t perform. There are plenty of high poverty schools that are As or Bs.”

Rep. Torbett must not read many teacher lesson plans, observe classrooms, or talk with N.C. school administrators because if he did he would know that schools do not endorse or promote “discriminatory concepts.” That simply does not happen across the state, and to imply that it does, as his sponsoring of H.B. 187 does, demonstrates his lack of knowledge about N.C. public schools. As an educator of over forty years, I know that sometimes an error is made in a classroom instruction by an individual teacher, but that is not reason enough for such a vague, inaccurate, and draconian bill as H.B 187. Such classroom errors, if they happen, are best handled locally, not by government over reach.

In regard to Mr. Sloan’s arrogant insult to every principal everywhere, not just Statesville High School’s, I suggest that he spend one week with Mr. Parker or one of his assistants to better understand the complexities of education in today’s climate. A school, just like a poultry house, is much more complex than it appears. Every job or performance is easy for the person watching, but it becomes much more difficult when the observer steps into the ring.

I hope Mr. Kubiniec, a retired captain in our Navy, will spend one week living in a 3rd rate motel with no reliable transportation and no internet or cellphone and be food deprived. In that way, I hope he gains some empathy and understanding concerning the harshness of poverty and its reality. He may then learn that poverty is not an excuse for poorer execution, but a reality affecting performance in every walk of life, but especially in learning.

Dictating to educators how to educate our children is not needed or helpful-they know how to do their calling. If elected officials really want to help education in N.C. then spend time in schools, listen to educators and children, read studies and reports about education, and hear from all parents, not just the outliers. Find the middle so as to help our schools accomplish the important task we have given them.

DMV Visit

Yesterday I spent three hours in the Mooresville DMV, when and where I had some personal opinions supported by observations.

First of all, no empathy for me is deserved because my visit was a result of my own negligence—I had allowed my driver’s license to expire and since I wear glasses to correct my vision, the lady in Raleigh told me that I could not renew on-line. After she also informed me that appointments were already booked until late May and even into early June, I gathered myself and trudged to the local Patterson Street DMV branch.

Explaining to the lady behind the desk why I was there, she gave me a ticket with the number I-731 and told me that it would be a long wait. However, not having much of a choice, I gathered myself for my self-imposed stint. The television screen showing called numbers, recipes, information related to vehicle accidents (38% of vehicular accidents involve alcohol), and various trivia soon bored me, so I began people watching and listening—eavesdropping even.

Hearing the lady who had given me I-731 tell multiple folks that the branch was no longer taking walk-in customers gave me some relief because it appeared that I was the last one so lucky. They all were told to call the 919 number displayed at her desk for an appointment in late May or early June or appear the next morning at 7:15 to 7:30 to get a place in line for a walk-in number. All the while I scanned the television screen and saw many appointment numbers called, but the walk-in number seemed to be stuck at I-726, so close and so much more self-imposed misery to go. However, an exchange between a customer and a worker grabbed me out of my stupor.

The middle-aged female tried to explain her problem to a worker, who was now out of sight, sitting at her cubicle. The middle-aged lady’s voice rose a few decibels when she heard that no more walk-ins were being taken. As the lady began to explain her problem to the worker, the clerk politely said, “I don’t understand your question.” The customer said in a harsh tone, “You’re rude” and stormed away, while repeating at each step, “There’s no reason to be rude!”

“Have a nice day,” the worker said to her receding back, and a woman sitting next to me mumbled to no one but everyone, “Never been to a DMV, I guess.” Before too long my number was called, I went to Station 1 and passed the eye test, then waddled home with my current driver’s license.

            As I review the three hours spent in the DMV, I appreciate more and more the polite professionalism of the staff on Patterson Street. Every exchange I heard between staff and customers was patient and informative. What I witnessed and experienced was trained workers dealing with a myriad of issues and temperaments. I applaud the staff at Patterson Street; however, I wonder who in Raleigh makes life so cumbersome for citizens and workers who service them.

            For instance, if the reservation system is so backed-up that a person must wait at least 2 months for an appointment, why not find some relief for everyone. I mean, what does a person who works an hourly wage do if he or she must arrive at 7:15 in the morning to be given a slot  and then wait for however long? Could not our elected leaders make more of the process involving vehicles computer friendly. My license, for example, states that I must wear corrective lenses, so why could I not simply agree that that is still my situation on an on-line service? It seems to me that with the available technology, some of the burden placed on local DMV workers and their clientele could be lessened. It seems the bureaucrats in charge want to continue using manual labor to move boulders when there is available machinery to do such work.

            However, to be impolite to DMV workers strikes me like being ugly to any worker in a bureaucracy. They, after all, are only small clogs dealing face to face with citizens caught in the same wheels. Because of inefficient thinking or cold indifference, many of us are caught in an antiquated system that every lawmaker and politician should be forced to deal with as ordinary folks must do.

            Let’s require every governor and DMV director to walk in or phone in to his or her local DMV to renew a driver’s  license or obtain a Real ID.  Then let us hope that as they sit in the waiting room waiting, watching, and listening maybe each one will learn from his or her citizens. After all, it does not have to be this way.

Our Lake Norman Place

Place: A noun signifying an area with a specified border; a transitive verb defining an act;  a modifier to describe a finish in a race. So many ways to use such a simple word: The place is packed with weeds; place the cup on the table; my horse did not place in the race. But when used as in, “My place….” ownership appears, and things get personal.

Mary Ann and I are selling this place, our home on Lake Norman; but it is much more than a place, a distinct area where we have lived for almost six years. This address is more than a specified area on a map or a group of photographs on a realtor’s website. It is more than all of that because it bears, for better or worse, our mark, our signature on this postage stamp of earth. Over those few years we made it ours by adapting to its confines but also by rearranging some of its parts. We joyfully planted, and we reluctantly removed; we built, and we repaired; we watched sunrises, and we marked sunsets; and then it was time to go, to leave our little slice of lake life.

Our place has the shape of a funnel-wider near the road and narrowing as it slides toward the lake, thus there is ample room for forty-two pine trees in our front yard. I remember the first summer we were here and the work I did to remove layers of pine straw from the edges of the driveway and around the trees; under which I discovered forgotten stepping stones. As I worked to stack stones and create piles of matted pine needles to haul to the transfer station, I thought about the cost to remove some of the trees. I thought then that to thin the trees a bit would be a good thing, but while enough stones were found to create borders for two flower gardens in the back and the matted pine straw was hauled away, only three of the pine trees were eventually removed-and that only after a storm four years later. The magnificent pines had changed my thinking.

Having forty-two pine trees meant that we could not install a sprinkler system to water a  lawn of fescue grass. So with some nurturing our place eventually took the look of a small forest with a high canopy of green and a dappled sunlit turf, not like several of our neighbors with their overly sprayed and fertilized lawns. Each day as I picked up fallen pine cones and wind-blown branches, I grew to listen for the sounds of our forest: The softness of a breeze moving across the green needles high above me; the calling of Carolina chickadees as they chattered in a feeding of insects hiding in the pine bark; the hammering of woodpeckers seeking grubs and beetles; and the barking of an angry squirrel scolding me for my disturbance in its wood. I came to understand our front yard as the community of plants and their dependent animals that it was; and my daily ritual of gathering pine cones became a time of contemplation when I listened to our front yard forest, heeding the words of Thomas Merton about wind, pine trees, and God, “Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.”

Now the “For Sale” sign is in our front yard; but it’s white, plastic post and decorative blue sign look out of place under the forty-two tall pine trees. Eventually a transaction will occur, and the new owners will change things, as we did, as we all do. Like the artisans in the ancient halls who stamped an identification mark on the bottoms of created wares to show the world who made the item, we mark our new homes by changing colors, replacing light fixtures, tearing out walls, putting in fences, and more. We spend money, time, and energy to show that this newly purchased place is now ours. It is all as Billy Pilgrim often repeats in Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes”, his reminder to us that some things in life, like new owners of a place altering it to their style, are inevitable.

But as the new owners select their own paint colors and different styled kitchen cabinets and more modern floor coverings, I hope they pause in the front forest long enough to hear its vibrancy, its life, and realize the joy it will bring to their place on Lake Norman.

Mettle as Model

We all need positive role models–those heroic people who show us how to act or conduct our lives when defined by the kind of courage needed to do what is seen as impossible or unpopular. When we think of folks such as Rosa Parks we encounter such a positive role model, an ordinary but heroic person, and one especially worthy and one (among many) about whom young people should learn.  For instance, J. Elmer Morrish was a bank vice-president and Robert Emmett Fletcher, Jr. was a state agriculture inspector. Both lived in California during the outbreak of America’s entry into WW II.

My first such hero was Glenn Cunningham, the great University of Kansas middle distance runner. In the 1932 Olympics he placed 4th in the 1500 meters and won the silver medal in the same distance four years later in Berlin. His best mile time was 4:06.7, and he retired in 1940 after holding numerous collegiate and national records in the half-mile and mile. But those accomplishments tell little of Cunningham’s story. To fully appreciate that, you must return to a cold Kansas schoolhouse when his older brother Floyd and he were burned in a stove fire. The brothers would arrive early and light the stove so that the room would be warm when the teacher and other students arrived. They would pack the stove with wood and soak it with kerosene before lighting. But that morning the mixture exploded because someone had placed gasoline in the can. Floyd was killed in the explosion and because of the severe burns to his legs doctors told Cunningham’s parents that he would never walk again. However, as he later said, to walk hurt too much, so he ran everywhere after teaching himself to walk again by holding onto a picket fence around his yard. His story, read in school books, offered so many of us 1950’s elementary-aged children a role model for what could be accomplished with enough grit.

Recently I read about the heroic acts of Morrish and Fletcher following President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 which removed over 100,000 people of Japanese descent to isolated camps. 70,000 of those were U.S. citizens and some had family members serving in the armed forces, like Daniel Ken Inouye who was awarded the Medal of Honor and became a United States Senator. The following is an example of the posters placed across Pacific Coast states, this one on May 3, 1942, in Redwood City, California:   “All persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above area by 12 o’clock noon, P. W. T., Saturday May 9, 1942.” Families had little time to settle affairs such as selling automobiles, securing homes, and managing their businesses, and it is estimated that $1 to $3 billion was lost by families during this forced removal. However, some families had allies to turn to for help. Bankers such as Merle Carden in Hayward, California, Louis Lopes in Watsonville, California, and J. Elmer Morrish, the vice president of the First National Bank of San Mateo County, acted heroically to help their removed neighbors: They managed bank accounts, helped with taxes, and managed property. Fletcher, the Sacramento, California Agriculture inspector quit his job and he and his wife cared for for the fruit farms of Japanese families during World War II. Heroes all.

But what school-age child will read of their courageous acts? What school-age child will read of how these citizens stepped up to do the right thing? What school-age child will learn about them and use their lives as models of right living?

Few I fear will, if any, because of political pressure to sanitize much of the history taught in our public schools. To fully appreciate the courage and humanity of such folks as Fletcher and Morrish, we would have to see them in the light of Executive Order 9066, which would shine light on a dismal period of American history—one so grim that under President Reagan every surviving Japanese internee was paid $20,000. Sadly, according to the wishes of some parents and politicians, that episode of ours cannot be taught and each child slighted would miss out on learning about such heroic folks as Morrish, Carden, Lopes, and the Fletchers. In fact, could the awe-inspiring story of Floyd and Glenn Cunningham’s horrible accident be taught in today’s elementary grades? Or would some mother for her own liberty object because the story is too horrific and may cause feelings of disquiet. But as Cunningham wrote later, he was forged in fire, and out of fire comes strong mettle.

To teach about and read about such lives is to model as best we can life as it should be lived. To do less is to cheat our children.

            Designated Gifts

Some years ago my wife and I attended a small Brethren Church in the Shenandoah Valley. When the congregation wanted to build a new, larger sanctuary and remodel the fellowship hall, I chaired the committee for the project. The experience was enjoyable, and I was reminded more than once of the brethren lesson concerning designated, named funds. A few years before, I helped remodel the foyer of the old sanctuary, and I wanted to remove a small desk that had on it an engraved brass plate with a donor’s name and date.  The pastor explained to me it had to remain when he said, “That’s the trouble with accepting a named gift-it stays around forever.” So, as we raised funds for the expansion, no monies would be designated, and no plaques with names would appear anywhere in the church.

Private organizations need to raise funds in order to thrive. Churches, private schools, and institutions of higher education spend money in order to raise money. In fact, many of them have entire departments dedicated to such an end. And, unlike the Brethren Church in the Valley, most schools of learning at any level will accept designated funds naming a building or field or specific division after a donor. A private, liberal arts university in Virginia now faces a challenge after accepting funds (some designated), then removing the donor’s name from its law school.

Robert C. Smith, a Richmond attorney who graduated from the T. C. Williams Law School at the University of Richmond, is the great-great grandson of T. C. Williams, an early and generous donor to the university. Last year the university’s board changed the name to the University of  Richmond School of Law after its new policy concerning the naming of school entities began. Williams, a university graduate, was a wealthy 19th century Richmond businessman who owned tobacco companies and slaves. Following his death, his family donated $25,000 for the law school. But since he was an enslaver, his name was removed in 2022.

Now, his descendant wants the family money returned.

According to the Washington Post, Smith writes, that “T.C. Williams and three of his brothers all served in the Confederacy and ‘did their duty to protect their wives, children, homes and public institutions from a voracious and plundering invader.’” He believes that the Williams family made the university possible through generous gifts across generations, especially by T.C. Williams, Jr. But since the university, by the name removal, has determined the family money to be tainted, he asks that it be returned. He values the family gifts at $3.6 billion. If the family money is so bad, Smith seems to reason, it is too bad to keep—so, on the principle of the thing Smith thinks the university should return the money. Which is an interesting view.

The Williams family donated money over the years and the university accepted it whether it was designated or not. Now the university Board published its policy concerning the naming of university entities in March 2022. The ten-point policy explains what personal characteristics the university wishes to celebrate when it names a university entity and gives some examples, such as  “… significant wrongdoing or misconduct may include a significant and material role in the promotion of segregation, eugenics, or other forms of discrimination based on protected class, as legally defined, or conviction of a felony. for which it will not name anything.” The tenth point reads: “The University’s Board of Trustees retains final authority for decisions about namings, de-namings, and re-namings at the University.”

What the Board policy does not state is whether it would or would not accept a donation from such a person who it deems not in line with the university’s principles. In other words, what if for example, a known Christian Nationalist wrote a non-designated check to the university for a sizable amount, no naming an entity, just take the money and do as needed. Would the university accept the money or refuse it on principle? Even the best endowed school benefits from every sized gift, but as Mark Twain revealed in his short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, at what price will a principle be corrupted.

I believe the University of Richmond Board’s March 2022 document concerning its policy on naming. It is a principled document and because of those expressed principles, designated monies from the Williams family should be returned.

The pastor of that small Brethren church in the Valley taught me a proper lesson, and for the university to do anything less would be going against its own principles.

Pastor Stevens and the FCA

Mr. Rick Stevens is a Florida pastor who serves on a book-reviewing subcommittee for the Florida Citizens Alliance. In that role he has said that school librarians should welcome an extra pairs of eyes to review books, and he believes that will lead to more pristine school libraries, stocked solely with texts devoted to the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. He also says, “Sexual issues and sexuality — our children don’t need to be introduced to that. We don’t have to feel a responsibility to provide every kind of material for students.”

As a budding baseball playing youth growing up during the 1950’s my favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I liked the team even when adults and contemporaries in my life referred to it as “That N-word team.” After all, what player could be better for a young boy to worship than Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella. Then arrived Roberto Clemente who dazzled fans and me with his play in right field and with his hitting. While Clemente was signed by my Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, a mistake by the team allowed him to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 where he spent his baseball career. Nevertheless, he and the Dodgers inspired me during my short career as a right fielder.

This is why I was surprised to read that a large Florida school district, Duval County Public Schools, removed a child’s biography of Clemente in order to determine if it is “developmentally appropriate for student use.” According to news reports, new Florida law states that all books in school libraries and classroom collections for independent reading must be reviewed by a certified media specialist. Books must be free from:

*Pornography – defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”

*Instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through three.

*Discrimination in such a way that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

That last requirement must be why Jonah Winter’s picture book, Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was pulled from the shelves in Duval County. It is the story, illustrated by Raul Colon, of the Baseball Hall of Fame player, early Latino great, and humanitarian. Clemente is still revered in the Caribbean community for his baseball prowess and remembered for the 1972 humanitarian flight to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Because reports explained that earlier aid to the victims had been stolen, Clemente decided to accompany the next shipment of aid to ensure its safety. The plane on which he rode crashed on takeoff and the great Clemente was killed. Winter tells Clemente’s inspiring story and part of it is the racism that he faced as a young rookie in the Major Leagues.

So, I wonder if this picture book was removed for inspection because Winter told the complete story of Clemente’s climb from the life of a poor boy in Puerto Rico to a $10,000 signing bonus in 1955-which was huge in that era. Yes, the book includes a few pages about the discrimination Clemente endured, so will it be banned after its removal for evaluation for that reason?

Since Pastor Stevens is on a committee of citizen reviewers and another set of eyes for librarians, I wonder if he will remove any Bibles from public school shelves in Florida. After all, the Old Testament book of Judges has such stories as that of Jephthah who killed his daughter and Sampson who brutalized foxes and lusted after harlots so much he allowed one to betray him. Will he remove Bibles because of Genesis 6 that tells the story of the “men of renown” who saw the daughters of the earth and mated with them? These and other parts of the Bible are far from pristine, but I wager that Pastor Stevens and other folk involved in the FCA would argue that while the Bible does contain those stories and more like them, its total message is of great importance. For instance, to understand and fully appreciate King David, we will be more capable to do so when we know from whence he came and the struggles he endured, such as learning about his early life as a shepherd boy and the rape of his daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. Both of these experiences, and more, are parts of King David’s life. They helped mold his character just like discrimination helped shape Clemente. To remove the uncomfortable parts of life is to tell our children that lives are pristine and level and without difficulties; but even Jesus warned us that trials and tribulations must be endured. Books about folk who overcame diversity inspire our children and should never be removed unless being checked-out to read and study.

What’s Your Fuel

In reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this morning, I read this verse: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6, RSV) Paul is writing to explain to the Corinthians that they must mature as Christians and understand that all power comes from God. While he and Apollos and others may bring God’s message of salvation, they are merely servants like all humans.

The verse reminds me of a poem by Marcie Han titled Fueled

            By a million


            wings of fire-

            the rocket torn a tunnel

                        through the sky-

                        and everybody cheered.


                        Only by a thought from God-

                        The seedling urged its way

                        Through the thickness of black

                        And as it pierced

                        The heavy ceiling of the soil-

                        And launched itself up into outer






            Practical Help for Our Schools

North Carolina Republican lawmakers have introduced the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in another attempt to give more control over public education to non-educators. The introduced bill addresses matters such as requiring a teacher to make classroom teaching materials available for inspection by a parent or guardian. In my tenure of over forty years in classrooms, I never knew a teacher at any level who would not have happily shared his or her teaching materials with any interested person. After all, sharing knowledge is what teachers do. While it appears that many elected leaders are primarily concerned with culture war issues surrounding education, I applaud them for at least expressing some interest in public education; I have a few recommendations for them to pass into law if they seriously want to improve our public educational system.

  1. Create a state-wide living wage for our teachers:  In 2021 the average salary for teachers in North Carolina was about $55,000. This figure needs little or no explanation, so raise it to a wage that allows our teachers to be able to live lives of quality while not needing to seek second jobs and one that will attract quality educators to our state.
  2. Mandate smaller classes: Hire more teachers to decrease the number of students in every classroom. Cramming thirty or more students, of various interests and abilities, into a ninety-minute class, does not produce good education. Our teachers and their students need classes of fifteen or so in order to have quality not quantity in public education.
  3. Increase the number of electives: Our children have various interests and talents; so create a wide range of electives such as drama, art, dance, and more in every public  school.
  4. Offer more non-academic classes such as cosmetics or bricklaying: Not all students want or need to attend college, so provide the funds for our schools to offer classes where a student can begin to learn a skill to help him or her enter the workforce.
  5. Equalize monies spent on every child across the state: A child in Robeson County, for instance, should have the same amount spent on his or her education as one in Wake County. The inequality of public funds spent on public education only harms the entire state and it does little to eradicate pockets of poverty.
  6. Require every child be taught cursive and help teachers find a way to accomplish it: After years of not teaching our children this most basic of skills, much evidence now points to the error of our ways. Writing and reading cursive is a skill needed in our world, regardless of the computers we all use. Not possessing this ability is akin to having a basketball player not able to dribble with both hands.
  7. Help educators devise an effective and honest policy for student attendance: A student cannot learn if not in class. Laws exist concerning attendance, but other measurements of our schools, such as graduation rates or test scores, nullify an honest enforcement of attendance when students are “passed along” in order to satisfy other state mandates. Help our schools put meat to the bone of attendance by holding students (and maybe parents) accountable for poor attendance.
  8. Develop a just state-wide yearly calendar: We are no longer an agrarian society, so create a school calendar that reflects our modern economy and life while being sensitive to local traditions such as county fairs.
  9. Provide a system of free meals for our needy students: Schools today, unfortunately, must nurture more than the minds for many of our students. Hunger gets in the way of learning, so furnish nutritious food for every student who has that need.
  10.  Help educators establish programs for students with special needs: Mainstreaming such students does little to help them grow; while requiring them to attend regular classes is unjust to them and other students who do not require special services,

Our teachers, like our police, fire, nurses, EMT’s, and other public servants are dedicated to their profession and deserve the respect of us all. Just because you live in a house does not mean you are qualified to build one, and that adage applies to education. Too many people think that because they once sat in classrooms they are qualified to tell educators how to educate. If nothing else was learned during COVID, we should have come to appreciate the work our educators do.

 All our teachers and their supervisors work under a local school board that sets policy for them, so state mandates concerning issues such as mentioned in the first paragraph are classic examples of government overreach. Laws passed to mollify a microscopic number of complaints do not help our students or their educators. Instead of passing such laws, show respect for our educator’s work by providing for them what they need to better educate our children-more resources.