Last year’s resolution went pretty well. I’m going to keep it on top and add two or three more:
- Live an integral life.
- Don’t live in a pig sty.
- Act on a more timely basis.
- Write more here and less elsewhere.
Anything else? I’ll keep thinking on it.
Last year’s resolution went pretty well. I’m going to keep it on top and add two or three more:
Anything else? I’ll keep thinking on it.
Fortunately, it had nothing to do with timeliness. I have one resolution this year and one only: To live an integral life.
I haven’t done badly so far with this. We’ll see how it goes.
I ended up with a dozen which aren’t in any particular order other than the one in which I wrote them down. Twelve resolutions is a lot. We’ll see which, if any, of these survive the next eleven months.
Here’s the prepared text for last Sunday’s sermon. It varies considerable from the sermon as given:
Public Education and Unitarian Universalist Values
So I was originally going to talk about that most Unitarian Universalist day in January, January 6, Four Freedoms Day, the day in 1941 that FDR declared these four freedoms should be universal: Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Especially freedom from fear. I was going to talk about how this painting is different from those other three paintings and use that to locate some of our values, and, well, freedom from fear is not what I’m going to talk about today.
Instead, I’m going to talk about public education and Unitarian Universalist values.
To start with, I’d like to make a rhetorical bet. Ushers, have you counted the room? Yes? Please tell us how many people are here today. Fifty-one people, right?
Okay, then I bet I am not the only person in this room who did not finish high school. I never got a GED. I left high school when I was sixteen and fooled around with college till I finally got my degree at the age of forty-seven, in order to be a good role model to my daughter Quincy. I’m not the only person here who didn’t get a college degree until later in life, if at all. That experience informs how I think about education and Unitarian Universalist values, or education and values, period.
A typical argument for education makes certain points: An educated workforce is good for the economy. Advanced study gives you better earning prospects. A UU making this sort of argument might add where education fits in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Those are okay arguments in some contexts–guidance counselors use them–but I would reject them today, here with you, as an expression of U U values as I understand them. More money, more personal growth. They’re advice for doing well rather than doing good. I’d like to present an alternative case for education built on one particular understanding of those values, one based on our covenant as stated by this congregation, especially: “The quest for truth is [our] sacrament, and service is our prayer” and “To seek knowledge in freedom, to serve humankind in fellowship”. Isn’t it interesting how those qualities are paired up? Truth and service. Seek knowledge and serve humankind. Freedom and fellowship.
We could base it on parts of the seven principles. Rather than relying only on “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”, I would talk about education as a foundational requirement for “[T]he use of the democratic process…in society at large.” And if I were to base it on FDR’s Four Freedoms, I’d base it on freedom of speech and expression–and I wouldn’t base, in fact, I would specifically exclude basing it on freedom from want. Whether you’ve gotten a diploma is a criterion by which it should be decided whether you and your family will go hungry or not.
My daughter goes to Booker Arts Magnet. I read in the paper that Baker Kurrus–for those of you who don’t follow local education news, Baker Kurrus just left the Little Rock school board after twelve years–considers the magnet schools to be relatively privileged schools. When I was at Booker for open house last year, our principal made a point of reading out our school’s scores on basic literacy and numeracy, and was pleased that our kids’ performance had risen such that about seventy percent of our children would leave with reasonably good scores.
I know those scores were better than last year’s scores, and I’m glad for that. Still, what that says to me–shouts it into my face, really–is that about one-third of the kids who leave that school after fifth grade are not going to be literate and are not going to know arithmetic.
If that doesn’t offend your sense of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, what does?
Now, that doesn’t mean Baker Kurrus wasn’t right about that relative privilege–I’ll disagree with him about something more fundamental in a minute–but I think he’s right that the magnet schools are schools of relative privilege, more so as you advance from primary, to middle, to secondary school. But my daughter’s elementary school scores aren’t that much better than other schools’ scores. At her level, attending a school of relative privilege hasn’t meant attending a school of relatively high test scores.
The citywide statistics are grim all over, and they’re much worse when you look at them broken down by race, and there is where I disagree with Baker Kurrus when he says the problem isn’t racial discrimination any more. You show me a school system where this sort of ethnically stratified result is accepted and I’ll show you a school system which is practicing racial discrimination in fact. I’m not talking about intentions–in my opinion, everyone has good intentions–but results and facts.
So with all that I’ve said, why is my daughter in the public schools?
Free, freely accessible public schooling is one of the really great, revolutionary ideas. Increased levels of fundamental thinking skills in the citizenry at large is another great, revolutionary idea. These are things which change the world, whether by their presence or their absence. I think public education as it is today, despite all its flaws, does more good than we realize. We’re conditioned by its presence to an unwise complacency about its continued existence.
So, given that, how could my daughter not be in the public schools? The presence of each involved parent makes the system better. The absence of any serious student makes the system worse. Presence and absence, again.
Now, there are those who would tell me–and in fact, have told me–that my first concern should be with my daughter getting the best possible education. I have two little quibbles with that.
The first is, “‘Best possible’ by whose measure?” Her education is, in my mind, to prepare her to be a citizen. How else, then, do I prepare her to be a citizen of Little Rock? What better preparation is there than time spent in the public schools?
The second is, “Why is she deserving of the ‘Best possible’?” To get her the ‘Best possible’ by the usual standards, I’d have to start robbing liquor stores and lottery vendors. And if I did manage some such windfall, why is she–or any particular kid–deserving of the ‘Best possible’ when others aren’t? Rather than picking and choosing among students–and let’s admit that the theory of “school choice by parents” so often means “student choice by schools” in practice–why shouldn’t we be raising all of them up? Giving each of them what they deserve?
Again, these are things which change the world, whether by their presence, or by their absence.
There’s one objection to what I say that I’d like to address directly: Doesn’t this mean, Johnnie, that you’re depriving your daughter of the best possible education for some principle on your part? Is that why you’re sending her to inferior, unsafe schools?
There’s just enough truth in that to sting. There is principle involved and acting on it may deprive my daughter of some privileges over time. But let’s talk about the principle involved. As I see it, there’s a very simple test I can apply to how I think about my daughter’s education: Am I going to make things worse for her than they were for the kids who desegregated the Little Rock school system? To me, that’s a bright line test. My daughter is still way privileged next to those kids. If they could do it, we should do it.
Think how well off my daughter is. She’s got caring, well-educated parents, a loving family full of readers with a sprinkling of tinkerers, and this congregation, you, among other things, to make sure she does well no matter what school she goes to. I’m quite satisfied with that.
So what should we do for the public schools? I have, again, a simple proposal. I propose that, until we see the proficiency rates in basic literacy and numeracy up to ninety percent for fifth-graders leaving the primary system, we don’t increase any spending of any sort on anything to do with the middle schools or the secondary schools. I’d squeeze as many resources out for the primary schools as possible. I’d basically give up on everything but pre-K through fifth grade until we got that right.
Again, I take two historical precedents for this.
The first should be dear to us, from our Unitarian forebears the Adamses. During John Adams’ service to the revolution as a diplomat, he took his son John Quincy on a warship, through an active war zone, at the age of ten. As a result of this risky decision, by the age of fourteen, John Quincy Adams was working in the service of the United States, which he pretty much continued, as a diplomat, a president, a congressman, and a lawyer, up until his dying days.
The second is not unknown to you, from the Birmingham campaign of the civil rights movement. The main forces of the Birmingham movement had been depleted and the campaign was near disaster. A couple of organizers–working, I might note, in Martin King’s absence–began training high school kids in non-violent resistance. By the time those kids were deployed against the police forces, the ages in that group ranged as low as eight.
This brought about debate among the organizers. One argument which justified deploying those kids was that they were old enough to be church members, with all that implied, including possible martyrdom. Anyway, they marched, with the kids. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What I take from that? A primary school graduate is capable of being a citizen and acting in his or her own interest as well as the interests of others. It can be civil service or it can be civil disobedience (there are less risky alternatives), but that’s the age where it becomes possible. Ask yourselves: What is the youngest age at which you would consider someone for membership in this church? Not eight. Certainly no higher than fourteen. I’d split that difference and say eleven–a kid in fifth or sixth grade.
Consider what a citizenry in Little Rock which had that level of education, and the higher level of civic involvement that goes along with education, might be able to do, acting in its own interest and the interest of its fellow citizens and neighbors.
When I read that, I stopped to post this link. I’d been saying recently that if I wrote the book I had in my mind the first sentence would be, “This is not a book about whether or not there is a god.”
Here’s one core paragraph to convince you:
What they don’t know is that there’s a better way. Convince people of that, and you will change them.
Now read the whole thing. It’s worth your time.
So I’m still making my list of resolutions, on paper, but I liked the way “Resolution” looked up there.
Resolution is not one of the more noted or popular virtues but is a virtue nonetheless, and worth practicing.
There was a meeting tonight called by CAR to discuss their visibility action tomorrow to demand the resignation of a Midland school board member who made anti-gay slurs on this Facebook page.
I attended (but can’t, sadly, go to the vigil tomorrow) and these are my notes:
Randy Romo speaking about: the necessity of demonstrating. Of support for younger GLBTQ. About the media’s unwillingness to cover their request for support and talk about the eleven suicides in September. Meeting tomorrow morning at the Sherwood McDonald’s at 7 to head on out. State officials have denounced the slurs. “There to make a statement, not a scene.” No completed suicides reported in Arkansas, but several attempted that counselors know about. No kid should be bullied for what ever reason. Not just standing up for queer children but for all children. However, as younger kids are not usually out, an extra layer of difficulty. Also, to whom do they turn? Sometimes teachers, administrators part of the problem. Sheriff’s department aware they’re coming and they’re okay with that. A visibility action, and a vigil as well. Get over whatever disagreements we may have, but we’ve got to work together. Keep trying till we get it right, until full equality under the law. You’ve seen the “It Gets Better” videos, and that’s true for some, but others are hurt enough that it doesn’t get better. Let’s make it better now.
Q: Are we carpooling or convoying? Can we leave our cars there?
A: Recommend leaving cars at First Presbyterian (CAR office there) if you’re carpooling.
Q: What about contingencies if not enough people?
A: Continue on; this is a first action. Charge all of you to write a letter to the superintendent asking for resignation and for safety for all kids there. They can’t force a resignation, but they can ask for it, and we can keep asking them. Recommend sending snail mail as well as email.
Q: Can you bring one to give to the superintendent?
Q: Will he be there tomorrow?
A: According to the news, yes. Also, a school board meeting on November 15th.
Q: My understanding Mr. McCance has a business which does business with the school district. (Yes.) We could picket there.
Uneasiness about picketing if his business is home-based.
Q: Concern about PR. The middle-road Arkansan turned off by out-of-state people and unconventional people. Very crucial that we present an image.
A: Why we’ve asked for avisibility vigil. No argument, no confrontation. Just standing there silently for those dead kids.
Q: Preferably grammatically correct signs.
Q: Two or three slogans and no more than that easier to promote. Focusing on children.
A: “Resign.” “Say no to hate.” “All kids matter.” I have no doubt that we will remove Mr. McCance from the school board.
Q: Purple shirt?
A: Yes, by all means, wear your purple shirt, if you have one. Something purple.
Q: Can’t be there, but would like to make signs? Can you carry them?
A: Yes, please do. Contact your friends, text them, facebook them.
Q: Useful know what time we’re coming back.
A: Plan to be back in LR no later than one. No need to stand out there the whole day, but we’ll be back.
Q: Can you let us know when you’re coming home?
A: Yes, we’ll do that. How many of you are on the facebok CAR page? Join that (not the group). We’ll also email you, so sign up tonight.
Q: What would you like from other organizations in the way of support?
A: Certainly a letter. As this progresses, we’ll need support to go to the district and stand in vigil. That’s Rev. Bob Klein from UUCLR, where we had a great time with them at their coming out day service.
Q: I just recently moved from there, lived there 27 years, endured the same bullying then. Principal told me to move to another school. Harassed, but did not move then because they would have won. We must stop this.
A: I’ve heard so many people say they’re moving away, but if we all move away, who’s going to fix it? Justice means all of us–we don’t get to cherry pick. In Arkansas, every year the house has an anti-GLBTQ measure and an anti-immigrant measure. They’ll be there again next year. We’re here to make it better for all youth, whoever they are.
Q: More detail on the Arkansas official who spoke out?
A: Head of Arkansas Dept of Education. Seeing signs that pressure is being brought to bear.
Q: Possibly a felony to create a hostile environment for students.
(Recap for those who came in late.) You just have to hold your ground and not engage, hold your peace and say your piece. And wear purple.
Q: How many going tomorrow? (Looks like sixteen, about half the room.)
A: If you have friends, relatives, who are strong allies, let them know. We want moms and dads there. We’ve drawn a line in the sand on this tonight.
Q: NWCenter for Equality and Kathy Webb have also called for resignation.
A: Working to get them engaged, also PFLAG F’ville and R’ville.
Q: Address on website.
A: Yes, on CAR Facebook page.
Q: What time to you plan to be there tomorrow?
A: Roughly nine to twelve.
Q: Schoolwide event tomorrow, lots of parents there and kids outside.
Q: Sheriff says sidewalks are fine, but be careful not to step off sidewalk.
A: Yes, and if an officer says to move, comply. Don’t go getting yourself arrested for the cause. Sometimes civil disobedience is necessary, but not what we’re doing tomorrow.
Q: If you were a gay soldier who fought for your country, wear your uniform. I’m going to.
It’s just so good to see you all out here today. I went through this when I was a kid. Thanks to Christ Church, and to our clergy who are here. It’s so important.
Here’s the lead sentence from an AP blurb about an author’s upcoming appearance at UA-Fayetteville:
Differences in literacy rates among different racial and ethnic groups in this country will be a topic on Tuesday at Fayetteville.
Now, can you guess the author? Surprise! It’s Jonathan Kozol. He knows class exists. Does the blurb writer?
This is wonderful in its description of the horrible:
So often we seem to be in a battle with something we can’t see. The other side makes a claim that is provably false — like that Obama has raised taxes or quadrupled the deficit — and rather than ask for examples or evidence, large numbers of people just nod their heads. We can’t get important issues like global warming or the increasing concentration of wealth on the national agenda, while the other side can conjure issues like the ground zero mosque or Obama’s czars out of thin air.
How does that work?
In a word, the problem is propaganda: The Right has the Left way outclassed in terms of propaganda. And because most of us have no idea how propaganda works, we feel like we’re battling with ghosts.
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