Wardolf and Statler Eating Moonpies and Drinking RC Colas While Talking About Public Education and Politics

Simply put, there exist some famous pairs that when mentioning one you must mention the other. Think of peanut butter and jelly, R2-D2 and C3PO, Ernie and Bert, Wardolf and Statler. There’s eggs and bacon, cookies and milk, Itchy and Scratchy, and Moonpies and RC Cola.

Here in North Carolina, one cannot keep public education and politics from colliding in the same conversation. With a huge election upon us and a focus on public education, to make these two mutually exclusive is like acting as if one does not exist at all while talking about the other.

They are a pair.

In March of 2015, a bill was (SB480) introduced by Senators Wells, Brock, Wade, and Soucek called the Uniform Political Activity/Employees Bill that would limit political activity by school employees, supposedly while they were on the job. However, the language was vague enough to allow some to interpret it as not allowing teachers to speak out on any subject that could be perceived as having a political bent or having any link to politics.

Wear Red for Ed? That might be a criminal offense in some interpretations of this bill. But how could a teacher not be political when talking about his or her job and job conditions in this particular political atmosphere in North Carolina?

How could I teach AP English Language and Composition, which is a rhetoric and argumentation course, without talking about politics? The GOP debates in the primaries could literally carry the class when it comes to instructing on effective and ineffective ways to argue.

While bill is not law (yet), it does bring up some insight about the power of teachers’ voices.

Almost two years ago, I wrote an op-ed about the power of teacher voices for the Winston-Salem Journal.  In it I said,

“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. “

I can see how one would not want teachers to spout out personal political dogma to students. That’s not our job. But we do have a duty to advocate for our students and when that advocating comes in the form of dialogue with politicians, then it might be perceived as political.

Today, I was visited by Bill McNeill from WXII, the NBC affiliate of the Piedmont Triad. He specifically came by to talk about a post from this blog and how it was picked up by The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet”.

And he asked the question about whether what I was writing about was political in nature. Take a look for yourself in the video link below.

http://www.wxii12.com/news/west-forsyth-teachers-blog-draws-national-attention/39653634

Whether if I said those things in a meeting at school would be an offense in the way SB480 was worded is up for interpretation, but it’s not law right now.

However, I did officially “sign out” of school for an entire 90 period to take personal leave in order to do the interview. I was not being paid for my job while being interviewed. The camera man did take some shots of me teaching after the fact.

The interview itself took 20 minutes at most. I gave 70 minutes of my time back to the school system for free, I guess.

And that’s not unusual. I give multiple 70 blocks of time to the public school system on a weekly basis outside of my contracted time.  Most every teacher does. Shoot, think of coaches for high school sports.

Please remember that in November.

My Post along with Altered State (NC Policy Watch) on Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet

My post concerning how the NC General Assembly has “dismantled” public education in NC was placed on “The Answer Sheet”, run by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post‘s education reporter. Also included was a bit from Altered States written by the amazing Lindsay Wagner when she was with NC Policy Watch. Currently she is writing for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. Simply put, she does outstanding work.

Take a look if you can.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/

Open Letter to John Hood – UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation, Part 3

Dear Mr. Hood,

Your op-ed in The Carolina Journal (later reposted on EdNC.org.) entitled “How to Pay Teachers More” is another example of the deliberate disconnect from the reality of the teaching profession that many in Raleigh seem to not only revel in, but share as gospel.

And this column is just another attempt to broadly describe the condition of state education reform in North Carolina with glossy rhetoric as a way to present the current administration as champions of public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You are printed widely and read by many in the Old North State. As the former president (and current chariman)of the John Locke Foundation and the current president of the John William Pope Foundation, you have enjoyed the financial backing of one of the most powerful people in the state, Art Pope. No doubt that financial backing comes with its share of ideological mentoring, meaning that whatever is printed by the John Locke Foundation or the Carolina Journal (part of the Pope Foundation) by you has a certain slant to it pleasing to the people who fund its creation.

This op-ed makes many claims, provides little details to lend evidence and never really explains how your claims are verifiable.

Consider the following:

  1. You state, “Well, North Carolina is projected to run a substantial budget surplus this year. That, in turn, reflects the benefits of a growing economy, overall spending restraint during the past five years, and lower-than-expected growth in enrollments in other programs and institutions.”

Interestingly enough, that budget surplus was created by a tax revenue overhaul crafted by none other than Art Pope, who not only serves your mentor and boss, but also served as Gov. McCrory’s first budget director. You may claim that we have had lower tax rates than we did before McCrory took office, but there’s more to it.

While tax cuts did come for many, standard deductions were greatly affected. Many of the standard deductions and exemptions that were once available to citizens like teachers no longer exist. In fact, most people who make the salaries commensurate of teachers ended up paying out more of their money to the state, even when “taxes” went down. Why? Because we could not declare tax breaks any longer. Who designed that? The budget director.

Furthermore, there is now a rise in sales tax revenue because many services like auto repairs are now taxed. So to say that the surplus just appeared because of spending limitations is a little bit of a spun claim. In fact, most of those spending limitations in public schools came when we saw increased enrollment and costs of resources rise.

  1. You make another faulty claim when you say, “They’ve (Raleigh) junked forms of compensation that didn’t produce better instruction, such as the foolish practice of paying teachers to get largely irrelevant graduate degrees, while focusing legislative attention on starting salaries and pay raises for teachers in their early careers, which is when most improvement in teacher effectiveness occurs.”

You have made this claim before in an op-ed called “Not a matter of degrees” that was posted on EdNC.org last fall. I also made a rebuttal to this op-ed entitled “Why teachers believe advanced degrees matter”. Anyone can read the two and make his/her own decision.

But the assertion that teacher effectiveness mostly occurs in the early part of the career is misleading. With as many curriculum changes, standardized test changes, and teacher evaluation models that have evolved, and the growth of duties, class sizes and more classes to teach, it would be foolish to say that rising teacher effectiveness is only relegated to the first few years.

One, it is a way of foolishly validating why raises were given only to new teachers during this administration. Two, most new teachers look to veteran teachers for mentoring and growth. Three, most people cannot decide how to really measure teacher effectiveness because of so many changing parameters.

Furthermore, if veteran teachers have stopped improving, then how would you explain graduation rates increasing? (Actually, that is a whole other subject worth discussing).

  1. You further claim, “Still, policymakers seem inclined to continue reforming the way teachers are compensated, including differentiation by demonstrable need and pilot programs for performance pay. Given the petty politics and irresponsible rhetoric employed by their left-wing critics, this qualifies as courageous leadership deserving of conservative support.”

This is called “merit pay”. There is not one example of a merit pay model that has been successful in my memory. If you could offer any examples, your op-ed would have been a great place to list them.

Rep. Skip Stam has championed this idea. I wrote him an open letter this year explaining that his idea of merit pay and differentiated pay was faulty (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/02/03/a-public-school-teachers-open-letter-to-state-rep-paul-stam/). Some of the points I made included:

  • “The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money.”
  • “The GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores.”
  • “Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. It was never financed.”

If there is no explanation of what this merit plan would look like, then it is nothing but a baseless claim.

  1. You then bring in the latest NEA report and claim, “As the latest NEA report makes clear, North Carolina has raised teacher pay more than any other state in the nation since McCrory took office in 2013. The state still ranks relatively low in average salaries expressed in nominal dollars, but the NEA itself cautions readers of its teacher-salary report not to treat such a ranking as meaningful… For example, variations in the cost of living may go a long way toward explaining (and, in practice, offsetting) differences in salary levels from one area of the country to another.”

You are correct. Cost of living does vary greatly among the states. In fact, it varies greatly among counties in North Carolina. The Triangle versus the Triad versus Asheville, or Wilmington, or even the Outer Banks could show dramatic differences in terms of cost of living just within our boundaries.

However, when quoting Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and his “preliminary analysis” is asking a biased individual to affirm a claim. You and Dr. Stoops practically work for the same organization. It’s like a pharmaceutical company funding its own study to show that the latest drug it is marketing works better than the competition’s. It’s simply loaded. A “preliminary analysis” from a non-biased third party would be more believable.

Also the NEA report that you refer to is a 130 page .pdf. It also includes many nuggets of info that do not show such “growth” in NC’s educational condition. One really sticks out when talking about teacher salaries. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.

Furthermore, those “raises in teacher pay” included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.

  1. You claim, “In fast-growing states such as North Carolina where schools must hire new teachers every year just to keep up with enrollment, the teacher population tends to be disproportionately young. Ranking salaries by years of experience would bring North Carolina even closer to the national median.”

If that is not a rousing endorsement of keeping veteran teachers who have been through population shifts and constant flux to help new teachers, then I do not know what is.

Furthermore, if we have a rising population, then we as a state better be doing more to cater to the very teacher preparation programs that have served our schools in the past. Mr. Hood’s assertion that veteran teachers are somewhat stagnant in effectiveness and that graduate degrees do not matter is possibly alluding to a tendency to contract alternate teacher training programs like Teach For America. Just ask other metropolitan areas how that has worked for them. San Francisco just terminated their contract with TFA this past week.

  1. Finally you state, “Instead of chasing headlines or poorly measured statistical goals, McCrory and legislative leaders are boosting and reforming teacher compensation in order to attract and retain high-performing educators to some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.”

Concentrate on the phrase “some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.” That describes teaching in public schools fairly well. But has it always been that essential and challenging? Yes, it has.

Mr. Hood, why are you so clearly endorsing policies that will not adequately pay for teachers to do this essential and challenging service? Maybe because when you see the word investment, you look for a monetary return that profits you. When you see the word investment, it is always a cash transaction?

McCrory’s claim to want to raise teacher pay looks more like pure electioneering. It is synonymous to a deadbeat dad who shows up at Christmas with extravagant gifts so that he can buy the love (or votes) of his children.

Public education is an investment in people in all years, not just every four years.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Vault – Imagine Them Apples / Why Teaching Is Like Farming

From exactly one year ago. The kind folks at the Winston-Salem Journal printed this. Considering the time of year and the issues facing public education, I thought I would put it on the blog.

 

 Last August, Business Insider published a report from the Brookings Institute highlighting the 15 cities where poverty is growing fastest in the nation. Greensboro-High Point tied for 10th, Winston-Salem tied for 8th, and Raleigh tied for 3rd…with Charlotte. Earlier this year the Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and NC legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article entitled “Rotten Apples” which suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing  impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.

North Carolinians know agriculture. We understand that any crop requires an optimum environment to produce the best harvest. Farmers must consider weather, resources, and time to work with the land. Since many factors which affect the harvest are beyond their control, farmers make the best of what they have; they must marry discipline with a craft. Teachers do the same.

But if the environment suffers and resources are limited, then agriculture suffers. Is that the fault of farmers? If variables surrounding the environment of public education are constantly being changed by governing bodies, then are teachers at fault?

Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn.

In some instances, resources vital to public education are siphoned off to other “factory farms” and for-profit entities. Just this past December the Winston-Salem Journal reported that Rockingham County schools did not have enough money and were having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep public schools open and equipped with the basic supplies, even toilet paper. But at the same time, Sen. Phil Berger’s own son was slated to open up Providence Charter High School with taxpayer money in Rockingham County. Luckily, that endeavor never materialized, but the state’s Charter School Advisory Board just recommended that 16-18 new charter schools be financed by taxpayers.

The soil in which the public school system is rooted has been altered so much in the past decade that the orchard where teachers “grow” their crops has been stripped of much of its vitality. Look at the number of standardized tests, curriculum models, and teacher evaluation protocols thrown at public schools. And those will change again with Race to the Top money running out.

We are treating the symptoms, not the malady. We are trying to put a shine on the apples by “raising” graduation rates with new grading scales. It is analogous to constructing a new white picket fence around an orchard and thinking that the crop will automatically improve.

But our elected officials can help or at least remove the obstacles for those who can.

The General Assembly can invest more in pre-K programs. They can stop funding for-profit charter and corporate-run virtual schools. They can expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy. They can reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then they can give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here.

Our public school teachers and administrators are not looking for a profit to gain; they already see the value in each and every student.

Imagine those apples.

 

 

Going Barefoot When You Need Wading Boots or Legivangelism 101 – An Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

No doubt many in your party have congratulated you on your recent appointment to the Chairmanship of the very important Senate Education Committee which oversees the state’s K-12, Community College, and UNC systems. Additionally, you were reaffirmed as the Chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.

In your brief tenure as a legislator (3 years), you now not only have a direct hand in the funding of public schools and universities in North Carolina, you now have a direct say in how those monies are used.

As a veteran public school teacher and parent of two children in traditional NC public schools, I cannot congratulate you on this “achievement”.  To me, your new role on West Jones Street is nothing more than a political ploy to have someone in the mold of a Sen. “Skip” Stam and Sen. Phil Berger to continue the General Assembly’s assault on our public schools.

Your voting record that aligns strictly along party lines, your sponsorship of key acts of legislature that alienate many of the very children you represent, and your very own words firmly support my assertion that you not the person needed to decide the fate of public schools.

Sen. Barefoot, your voting record on “Key” votes as revealed in on votesmart.com shows that out of 48 votes shown, you voted “yea” for all but 6. However of those other six, you were the sponsor of co-sponsor which means that your vote already was a “yea”. You voted only “Nay” on two of them. Ironically those two had to deal with sales tax, which many counties use to fund their schools (https://votesmart.org/candidate/key-votes/136399/chad-barefoot#.Vzh75ZErJ1s).

This voting record of yours is just indicative of the rubber stamp that you would be in the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. That does not bode well for public school children when opaque charter schools and virtual schools are given more funds and less oversight, when vouchers are set to get more tax-payer money, and when federal government had slapped a law-suit on our state.

On the NCLEG.net website you are listed as the actual primary sponsor on a variety of bills that have been detrimental to public schools and their employees. The most apparently egregious are:

  • Senate Bill 444 – Teacher Compensation Modifications. This bill raised pay for new teachers, while deliberately ignoring veteran teacher pay in an attempt to raise “average” pay.
  • Senate Bill 536 – Students Know Before You Go. This bill was “AN ACT TO PROVIDE ACCURATE AND COMPLETE DATA TO STUDENTS ON 3 POSTSECONDARY STUDENT COMPLETION, GRADUATION, AND EARNINGS FOR OUTCOMES AT NORTH CAROLINA POSTSECONDARY INSTITUTIONS.” In reality, it was a way to discourage students from pursuing certain majors because of how they were monetarily presented. Some of those were education preparation programs in UNC system schools which might help explain why you co-sponsored Senate Bill 836.
  • Senate Bill 836 – Alternate Teacher Preparation. This is an act that would authorize local school systems to have more lateral entry. What this really means is that you spend less to obtain in many cases less qualified teachers to teach in hard to staff areas. Rather than elevate the teaching profession, you are making the teaching profession less desirable to those in NC.
  • Senate Bill 862 – Opportunity Scholarships Forward Funding. This will give more money to vouchers thereby diverting tax-payer money to more religious-based and private schools that do not have to maintain standards that public school must. More importantly, nothing has shown that these vouchers have actually increased student achievement for those who use them.

You were also a co-sponsor of SB2 (2014) that prohibited the expansion of Medicaid for many in North Carolina. That alone hurts MANY children who attend public schools. Your vote for the controversial HB2 bill threatens federal funding for the very schools for which you now are dictating policy.

Sen. Barefoot, your strong faith is emphasized on your Facebook page, website, and also highlighted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where you obtained a Master’s Degree in Christian Ethics. SEBTS even did a special profile of you on their website entitled “Southeastern Graduate Chad Barefoot: The Youngest Senator in North Carolina” (https://www.sebts.edu/headlines/articles/SoutheasternGraduateChadBarefootNCSenator.aspx).

In this profile you state,

“How amazing is it that Baptists in this state, collectively, have taken care of the needs of young children for over 125 years. What started out as an orphanage now looks to rebuild broken families. Baptists provide physical and emotional shelters for children but also tell them about Jesus. The focus is to find them an eternal home… After prayerful consideration I realized that what the state [of North Carolina] needed was leaders who were well-grounded in understanding the difference between right and wrong.”

As a man of faith, I will not argue with the assertion that children are our most precious gifts. Taking care of their needs is paramount. But does your concept of the difference between right and wrong derive from your interpretation of the Bible or from the Constitution, the same constitution that allows for same-sex marriage to be legal and protects basic civil rights regardless whether people believe in the same religion or spiritual path?

Christ was the greatest of teachers, one who stared down people in power and admonished them on behalf of those in need. And when we in North Carolina have almost one in four children living in poverty, then there are a LOT of children in need.

So with a political record that denied Medicaid expansion to many families of these children, kept monies from going to their public schools, and discriminated against those who are transgendered, how can you honestly say that you are willing to ensure “that every child in North Carolina has access to a high-quality education”?

When people take office they are usually asked to put a hand on the Bible to uphold the Constitution, not the other way around. And our state constitution requires that all our students have the right to a quality public education, whether those students are poor or rich, Christian or non-Christian, straight or gay or even transgender.

Your actions, allegiances, and words do not suggest you are willing.

The Master of Breakup Songs and Ended Relationships – A Taylor Swift Mix-Tape for Elected Officials

Here’s Tay-Tay!

No. I have not turned in my Man Card. Actually, I am playing with an entire deck. You have to in this election year when there are some in Raleigh who have cards up their sleeves and they get to deal as well.

I am playing the Daddy Card. I have a middle-school teenage daughter who has in her time made me listen to all of these songs. Repeatedly.

I am also playing the Generational Card. I am a high school teacher, and if there is a demographic that could affect the outcome of the 2016 elections most, then it is the high school, early college group that has had the privilege of coming to age with Taylor Swift.

So this Taylor Swift mix-tape is dedicated to all of the out-of-touch GOP leaders in Raleigh whose words, actions, lack of actions, and prejudice-driven policies have made me search for answers using the words of an artist half my age who can be both country and pop because she wants to be.

Oh, and she actually writes most of all of her material unlike puppet legislators who are submitting bills written in the dark back rooms of ALEC officials’ offices.

 

  1. “Blank Space” – 1989

“I’ve got a blank space, baby
And I’ll write your name.”

Taylor here, I think, is referring to a list of names that bear former loves in her life and there is space for one more. I like the idea of “former” here as in “no longer in office”. In fact, I would say that there are a lot of blank spaces for names of former legislators waiting to filled in November.

  1. “Shake It Off” – 1989

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Is there really anything else that could be said here? Players, Haters, Heart-Breakers, Fakers – all synonyms for the very people in Raleigh who need to be voted out.

I mean dang! She even raps in this song! Come November 8th, we can shake it off.

  1. “Bad Blood” – 1989

‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look what you’ve done
‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood
Hey!
Now we got problems
And I don’t think we can solve them
You made a really deep cut
And, baby, now we got bad blood
Hey!

This young woman is reading my mind!!!

At one time we did have some mad love for a few of these people. Even McCrory was a moderate sweeping into Raleigh with a banner of bipartisanship. But look at what’s has actually been done – deep cutting problems.

Bad blood indeed.

  1. “Wildest Dreams” – 1989

Sorry. I can’t even imagine how to explain this one. But it is forever etched in my memory because of how many times I had to listen to it.

  1. “I Knew You Were Trouble” – Red

‘Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
‘Til you put me down, oh
I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground
Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble
Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble

Plain and simple message here – we shouldn’t have voted you people in. As soon as both the governor’s mansion and both houses of the General Assembly wen to GOP control, the trouble started.

  1. “Style” – 1989

Sorry. This is another song that I can’t even bend to some sort of explanation. It too is forever etched in my memory. My daughter says that it is about Taylor’s relationship with Harry Stiles of One-Direction.

I really will be taking her word for it.

  1. “You Belong with Me” – Fearless

If you could see
That I’m the one
Who understands you.
Been here all along.
So, why can’t you see
You belong with me,
You belong with me.

This song represents all of the candidates on the ballot this November who really have the people of North Carolina’s best interests in mind. Their names are on those ballots screaming, “You belong with me!”

  1. “Love Story” – Fearless

‘Cause you were Romeo – I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said, “Stay away from Juliet”
But you were everything to me,
I was begging you, “Please don’t go”
And I said…

Not just one, but TWO allusions to great literature – Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. That’s why it is on this English Teacher’s list.

Reminds all that we need to read good works of literature to exercise the parts of our brains that STEM doesn’t.

  1. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – Red

We are never ever ever getting back together,
We are never ever ever getting back together,
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back together

Like, ever…

Damn right we’re not.

 

  1. “22” – Red

Uh oh!
I don’t know about you
But I’m feeling 22
Everything will be alright
If you keep me next to you
You don’t know about me
But I’ll bet you want to
Everything will be alright
If we just keep dancing like we’re
22, ooh-ooh
22, ooh-ooh

Ah, to be young again. Maybe it may feel that way come November.

Enjoy listening.

Week in Review for May 9 – 14 – Bathroom Strawmen,Suing Su Casa, Respect, Salt-n-Pepa, Oh Brother! Where Art Thou Rose?

Yes, busy week.

Read for the first time again.

Mommy! There’s a Strawman in the Girls’ Bathroom!

 

Mi Casa Will Sue Su Casa!

 

The Reward of Having Respect

 

Salt-n-Pepa’s Here – An Open Letter to Chuck Hughes and the Rowan County School Board Who Put Salt in Our Wounds and Pepper in Our Spray

 

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Reform? I Mean Re-Form?

 

Rose Goes On The Front Big Guy – The Script of Bull Durham Acted in the NC Legislature

 

 

Special Thanks to EdNC.org for:

This teacher wants more than a reward from my governor. I want respect for all public school teachers.

 

Special Thanks to Camel City Dispatch for:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren’t Dead! They Live in Eden – An Open Letter to People Who Will Vote in Sen. Berger’s District

 

Rose Goes On The Front Big Guy – The Script of Bull Durham Acted in the NC Legislature

There are a lot of tangible life lessons that can be drawn from movies that involve sports. Movies like Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, and The Sandlot are iconic films embedded with a keen exploration of human nature. They teach us about ourselves and make us reflect while focusing on the human aspect rather than a game.​

My personal favorite is Bull Durham, arguably the best written movie that deals with sports.

Bull Durham centers around Durham, North Carolina and the minor league, Class-A Durham Bulls baseball team, the “Greatest Show on Dirt.” It is especially well-acted and investigates what makes people vulnerable. The quotes and one-liners are timeless. The setting is authentic. You can still visit the “DAP”. They play occasional games there even though the Bulls are now housed at the “DBAP” as the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

If you have not seen it, then find it. Listen to every word. Enjoy the humor. Regale in the verbal exchanges and the chemistry shown by Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins.

And if you happen to be familiar with the affairs in North Carolina, see how well some of the iconic quotes perfectly frame our political and social landscape because films like Bull Durham imitate real life in so many ways.

Quote #1 – “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”- Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon).

Many people could claim that there are many on West Jones Street who are not self-aware or even aware that their actions on bills like HB2 exclude others and make them more self-aware because of discrimination.

Quote #2 – “This is a simple game: You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it!”- Skip (Trey Wilson)

This quote seems to come right out of the playbook used by many GOP officials in Raleigh on how to pass regressive legislation. It’s almost like one could say,

“Politics are a simple game: You create a bill secretly, modify it in late night committees, and pass it during special sessions. You got it!”

Quote #3 – “1) We gotta play ’em one day at a time. 2) I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub. 3) I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out. – Crash Davis (Kevin Coster), listing “cliche’s”.

And those in Raleigh use lots of empty cliché’s. There’s the “religious freedom” platitude from Phil Berger, Dan Forest’s banality of “if we can save the life of one child”, and the governor’s “plan to reward” teachers. All of them ironically seem to be reading off a script when they say these things.

Quote #4 – “How come in former lifetimes, everybody is somebody famous?”- Crash Davis

Maybe this could be written to say “How come in present lifetimes, these people (lawmakers) believe they are so famous?” The direction that North Carolina is heading now would probably make these people infamous in the eyes of others.

Quote #5 – “You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Lollygaggers. – Skip

If you replace the word “ball” with “bill”, “the infield” with “West Jones Street”, “first” with “legislative chambers”, and “the dugout” with “committee meetings”, then you have a perfect explanation with what is happening in Raleigh.

Quote #6 – “Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” – Crash Davis

Think of that quote in this way:

“Did you know the difference between a regressive state of North Carolina and a progressive state of North Carolina? A few more resources allocated to our citizens. There’s a lot of people in this state. If you get a little more Medicaid expansion, a public school system that is no longer a dying quail, a voter ID and HB2 law repealed, then you’re playing in the big leagues.”

Quote #7 – “Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in Baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’” – Annie Savoy

Baseball is a patient game. You play until someone wins. In Raleigh, the people should win, not special interests. And that means that legislators should repair losses that have happened over the last three years. We should feel like they have our blessing, rather than feeling like we got blessed out.

That is if those “big guys” remember that “the rose goes on the front.”

 

 

 

 

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Reform? I Mean Re-Form?

In October of 2014 toward the end of the contentious and expensive Senate Race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, I wrote a piece that Chad Nance and the Camel City Dispatch kindly posted entitled “Oh Thom Tillis, Where Art Thou?” It explored the use of the crossroads motif in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and how the movie was a metaphorical depiction of making a Faustian deal in order to gain earthly power.

I began the piece with the following:

Film and literature have that wonderful quality of not only imitating life and giving us a clearer picture of human nature, but they can instruct us on how to better our lives and make wise choices.

I love the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This cinematic tale loosely based on “The Odyssey” is an entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating work of art. I have heard many teachers using it as a tool for class because they see how students could revisit many of the concepts learned American history and American literature.

Currently, I am showing part of this film to my AP English Language and Composition classes to take a look at concepts local color, allusion, colloquial rhetoric, and overall cultural value. And while Thom Tillis is not running against Kay Hagan in this election cycle there is a lot of perspective one can gain from this film for the current 2016 election, especially when it comes to the use of one word: reform.

Just look at the word closely.

Reform

Homer Stokes plays a populist (and racist) gubernatorial candidate who is running a grass-roots campaign against the incumbent Menalaus “Pappy” O’Daniel, a flour magnate. Making stump speeches and kissing children along the way he makes a claim that is one of the better lines in the movie. He says,

“We’re gonna take the broom of reform and sweep this state clean!”

 

It is as if the word “reform” automatically garners votes. When the word is stated, many people hearing it are conditioned to believe that what we have had before is not acceptable. And the person who states the word gets to claim the title of “reformer”, thus placing a spun, yet positive, image on himself.

The people in the state of Mississippi seem so enraptured by the “reform” message of Homer Stokes that even Pappy O’Daniel’s farcical political brain trust thinks of trying to use some of that “reform” as well which is humorous because they are the incumbants. There is a great scene when the governor and his son, Junior, have a comical exchange about the word “reform”.

PAPPY
Languishing! God*** campaign is
languishing! We need a shot inna
arm!  Hear me, boys? Inna god****
ARM!  Election held tomorra, that
Sonofab**** Stokes would win it in a
walk!
JUNIOR
Well he’s the reform candidate, Daddy.
Pappy narrows his eyes at him, wondering what he’s getting at.
PAPPY
…Yeah?
JUNIOR
Well people like that reform. Maybe
we should get us some.
Pappy whips off his hat and slaps at Junior with it.
PAPPY
I’ll reform you, you soft-headed
Sonofab****! How we gonna run reform
when we’re the damn incumbent!

 

They really have no idea of what “reform” they may use; they just know that it is a conditioned buzzword used by many to create concern and instill fear.

Ironically, that same use of “reform” has been used by many in office or seeking office here in North Carolina. These people have used the anthem of reform to re-form law to help propel their own political ambitions when what was being reformed really did not need reforming but maybe needed more resources and attention.

Look at the word carefully again.

Reform

Now look at it this way.

Re-Form

Same sounds to make both words, but they have different meanings. “Reform” seems to want to improve something. “Re-form” connotes that something is taken apart and then rebuilt to suit someone’s needs, even if the original form was viable.

People said that we needed to “reform” voting registration, so the law was “re-formed” into the new Voter ID law. Something that didn’t need reforming was re-formed along with other provisions to ensure that a few certain people benefitted.

Another example is public schooling here in North Carolina. GOP powers in the General Assembly used the mantle of “reform” to “re-form” the public school system into a shadow of its former self. Just look at what has been used to “reform” public schools within the last three to four years.

  • Frozen teacher pay
  • Removal of Graduate pay
  • Removal of Due-Process rights
  • Standard 6 and ASW
  • Testing measures
  • School Grades
  • ASD districts
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Removal of class size caps
  • Less money per pupil
  • Charter School Growth
  • And the list goes on and on.

That’s not reform. That’s “re-form”!

Homer Stokes does not get elected in the movie. He is found to be a racist and an unforgiving man by our heroes, three of whom are “reformed” through the penal system while the other is a black man who sold his soul to the devil. (I guess that would be religious freedom).

Reform does not always have to be a bad word, not if it is done with noble intentions transparently and without special interest. But right now, I would say we certainly need a lot of repealing (HB2) and restoration (respect for teachers and public schools) in order to recapture what used to make us great.

Salt-n-Pepa’s Here – An Open Letter to Chuck Hughes and the Rowan County School Board Who Put Salt in Our Wounds and Pepper in Our Spray

Dear Mr. Hughes,

According to a May 11th report in the Raleigh News & Observer you and the Rowan-Salisbury School board have just adopted a policy “allowing high school students to carry pepper spray this fall.”

And why? Because it “may be useful for students who encounter transgender classmates in the bathroom.”

You claim that it is “purely defensive” as you referenced “the North Carolina law that limits LGBT rights, saying such sprays could help female students if they go to the bathroom and don’t know who’s coming in after them” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/nation-world/national/article76827092.html#storylink=cpy).

If the blatant call to use violence with pepper spray against people who have already had salt poured into their wounds with HB2 is seen as being defensive, then you might need to reevaluate what it means to be a public servant.

This is not a defensive measure. It’s offensive. Mr. Hughes, you assume that transgender people are sexual predators. It is like you are licensing people to inflict violence on students who are transgendered because they are “different” or may appear that way.

You and the others on the school board are allowing labels and prejudice to dictate policy. But is it not the actions of people that define character? If hearsay and fear drive elected officials to create discriminatory rules, then you are guilty of not defending some of the very students you were elected to serve.

Mr. Hughes, I have a teenage daughter in a public school. If she wants to carry pepper spray, that’s fine. But as an 18-year veteran teacher in a variety of high schools, not once have I ever heard of a transgender imposter ever attacking a student in a school bathroom or locker room.

If I were like you (which I am not) and allowed speculation about people to become gospel, then I could classify every male republican in a prejudiced light because of the actions of people like Larry Craig, Dennis Hastert, and Jerry Sandusky.

Two of those men performed their sadistic deeds in bathrooms and locker rooms. Two of those men sexually molested school kids. Two of those men were elected republicans like yourself.

Makes one wonder where we should be taking our pepper spray.