Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Guns, “Gun Control,” and School Massacres (Part The Fourth) — the “Smoking Gun”

Dr. Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC television network has come up with an analogy powerfully germane, in my opinion, to the discussion of gun control in the United States. This argument is troubling and non-comforting to the victims of school massacres and their families, but these argument qualities galvanize its importance to every aspect of the ongoing discussion, of which this is Part The Fourth for this site Beyond Good and Evil — from caliber of barrels and capacity of ammo magazines to the shattered lives of families of innocent, gunned-downed school children.

Dr. Maddow compares the National Rifle Association (NRA) with the tobacco support groups and the tobacco lobby, an advocacy movement very successful and powerful in the past, but a movement nowadays not so effective, as shown by the decreased numbers of new smokers in the nation, despite the increased population of the nation. Some readers might remember the names of tobacco advocacy organizations, such as the Tobacco Institute, the National Smokers Alliance, and the Center for Indoor Air Research. The influence of these groups has waned, Rachel reminds us, because it was realized by the government and by citizens that they functioned solely by the funding of the tobacco companies, the manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. They were lobbying screens, buffer organizations, and makers of facades — all for the protection of the tobacco companies from the glare of a truth-seeking public. They functioned in an inhumane and deceitful way, countering scientific studies of things like the high correlation of cigarette smoking with lung cancer with groundless arguments, using statements — to use a poignant phrase guys in the school yard used to describe untruths masking truth: statements “pulled out of their asses!” — statements meant to deceive and create doubt. Many of those who “bought into” these lies printed in the brochures and spoken in the ads of the tobacco lobbyists undoubtedly died of tobacco-induced cancers.

The NRA is the most well-known of the gun support groups and is the principle gun lobby in State legislatures and in Congress. I agree with Rachel in saying the NRA is functioning today for the manufacture and sale of guns today just as the Tobacco Institute functioned for the manufacture and sale of tobacco products in the past. If this analogy holds, and I think it does, then the public needs to peer beyond the smokescreens of the NRA and organizations like it to put pressure upon the makers and sellers of guns. Just like the claims of the tobacco lobby came to be seen as bullshit, so many of the claims of the NRA should be exposed as the same. (I remember tobacco ads being very clear that one looked more debonaire and/or more glamorous with a cigarette in hand, and now we hear that the government is lying in wait to come into our homes and confiscate our guns — both equally B.S.!) Taking Dr. Maddow’s analogy further, part of the inhumanity and deceit of the NRA is based upon fear and a complete ahistorical misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Second Amendment. For fear of losing their guns, a fear fanned by the anti-government sentiments of the NRA, the shrinking number of people who own guns are badgered into buying more guns, often guns they in all likelihood will never use — all to keep those who make and/or sell guns in business! Just as in the case of tobacco growers and manufacturers, making a buck is more important to the gun business than reducing the danger their modern weapons bring to the lives of the innocent and the credulous.

It is no accident that the “ATF” on the backs of government agents stand for “alcohol,” “tobacco,” and “firearms.” (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) The “A,” “T,” or “F” can kill us, if abused. Just as it is in the interests of brewers’ and distillers’ wallets for people to abuse alcohol, it is in the interests of the tobacco industry’s wallets for people to “smoke like chimneys,” and, it is in the interests of the gun industry’s wallets for people to buy and use guns, as many guns as they can possibly afford.

“But!” screams the NRA, “what about the Second Amendment?” “Bearing arms is a right, guaranteed by the Constitution.” “There is no mention in the Constitution about the right to choose to smoke or to drink.” Not only does the NRA deemphasize the other parts of the Bill of Rights, they de-contextualize the entire Bill of Rights, not to mention the Constitution itself. Had history and the state of weaponry remained fixed in its late 18th century status, the NRA would have a point and the amendment need only one interpretation. Reality and the march of history has trumped their point and made it anachronistic. As I said in “(Part The Second),” the Second Amendment seemed a necessary part of the Bill of Rights at the time to help preserve our freedom, giving us the right to participate in defending our freedom, should the occasion to do so arise; if our nation is invaded by another, as it was in the War of 1812, or if our nation’s Constitution is threatened by a takeover from within, we as citizens are obligated to form a Militia in the defense of our Constitution, and, thereby, the defense of our freedom.

But the Second Amendment was written under the assumption of 18th century weaponry and under the silent affirmation that Americans of the time, in order to be Americans, especially on the frontier, are necessarily armed as individuals for individual protection and utility in rural areas [See “(Part The First)”]. When our country was born, almost everyone HAD to have the guns of the time. The just-mentioned assumption and affirmation do not fit well today in the 21st century. Today, unrestricted ownership of guns, encouraged as if the Second Amendment was one of the Ten Commandments, and the unforeseen sophistication of today’s deadly weaponry combine to make possible the murder of innocent school children, as in Newtown. Today’s situation is clearly not what the founders of our country intended. We have to put aside the silly arguments of the anachronistic NRA, reminding the leadership of the NRA they are only interested in the payola of the gun industry — NOT interested in taking a hard look as to how to remove the danger to citizens presented by modern guns, all without sacrificing the rights and freedoms of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, guaranteed to those same citizens.

Ignoring the groundless arguments of the NRA, or, better, of the leadership of the NRA, seems further justified in light of that leadership ignoring the positions of a great majority of NRA members. Most NRA members are in favor of extended background checks on those who purchase guns, and many prefer restriction of sales of assault weapons and of the size of ammunition magazines. Unfortunately, all those measures were just rejected in Congress, in no small measure because of the NRA lobby. Gun manufacture and gun stores have won again, and won against the preferences of a majority of the American people, including a majority of gun owners!

Consider: How would the Second Amendment be rewritten today, if our nation came into existence in the 21st century? It probably would state the right to bear arms as the right to form an armed militia, when the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are endangered. It would not assume that most Americans would be armed because of utilitarian necessity; instead, it would waive all requirements (e.g. background checks and gun licenses) to use a gun in times of Constitutional endangerment. As I indicated in (Part The Second), the American love affair with guns would overcome any discrepancy between the weapons of those who would jeopardize our freedoms, even if they were rouge troops of our suddenly malignant military — our “worst case” fantasy — or if they were troops of an invading foreign military force. It might also contain language preventing it being interpreted as some “blank check” right equating patriotism with shooting guns, a modern addendum preventing the interpretive distortions of the amendment made by the NRA and other similar organizations today.

I maintain that as it is, the Second Amendment is not what the NRA interprets it to be. Driven and financed by the profits guns and ammunition bring to the gun industry, the gun lobby, lead by the NRA, has placed the Second Amendment as the “king” of the amendments, like one might elevate one of the Ten Commandments as the “trump” commandment. The Second Amendment is the gun industry’s and the gun lobby’s “sugar daddy,” a gross distortion of what our founders intended — a distortion written in the blood of our massacred school children and in the blood of victims of armed criminals. Instead, in reality, in history, the Second Amendment is one of many additions to the Constitution included to insure the new document would be ratified by all the colonies-becoming-States as an improvement over the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Instead of what the NRA insists, the Second Amendment charges citizens with the responsibility of defending their freedoms, rather than depending upon the state itself to do so, should the country ever be put into jeopardy; it says nothing more, nothing less.

As I said in “(Part The Second)” I can think of at least one well-known example of the proper interpretation and use of the Second Amendment — the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815. General Andrew Jackson’s army that stopped the British invasion up the Mississippi River was overwhelmingly made up of citizen soldiers armed with the same weapons with which they defended themselves and hunted game. As much as I and others might think their use of their weapons to wage violence upon their neighbors or upon Native Americans was an abuse of their guns, abuse of their guns does not justify their possession of their guns; the frontier need for personal security and personal provision justified their possession. Perhaps my readers might think of other examples, but, surely, the Second Amendment has had to be brought “into play” very rarely in our history. In that sense, the Second Amendment is even today as it was intended — a very precautionary addition hopefully seldom needed to be called upon.

The NRA and other gun lobbyists, with the blessings of the gun industry, has misinterpreted the Second Amendment, making it easy to justify gun abuse. By appealing to our “right to bear arms,” the secret of our victory at the Battle of New Orleans, freedom unjustifiably becomes equated to gun ownership and to gun use; the illegal use of guns, their abuse, say, in violent crimes becomes too easy, as if criminals are expressing an “American freedom” as they commit crimes upon the citizenry. The NRA has no answers to violent gun crimes except to arm everybody for “protection,” all the time accomplishing little more than building up the prison industry. Contrary to our founding fathers, the gun lobby works, thanks to the funding of the gun industry, under the absurd assumption that guns are the only safeguards of our freedom, of our liberty.

From the beginning, between now and then, through today, the best, strongest defense of our life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the vigorous use of the ballot box; the citizens of the United States control the power and direction of the state through their right to vote. Should it ever be needed — and as we go into the 21st century, the likelihood it will be needed diminishes to a miniscule amount — the citizen-armed militia is always potentially there. (Personally, I would guess such a militia could form fully armed much, much quicker than was formed for Andy Jackson back in late 1814, given our present-day electronic social network.) As a world leader militarily and politically, the Second Amendment in the United States is a historical necessity, not a modern one. To treat and abuse the Second Amendment as the NRA and the gun lobby does is unconscionable. Especially since their zeal is fueled by the “almighty dollar.”

Abuse of all kinds causes tragedy, pain, and suffering, including abusing alcohol, tobacco, or guns. Abusing alcohol can be seen as symptomatic of an addictive disease; likewise, tobacco can be an addictive killer. The attraction of firearms is, if not addictive, dangerously seductive to so many. Distraction from this dangerous seduction is perilous. The use of guns in our history is part of this distraction, as is the gun lobby; the NRA and its ilk elevate the Second Amendment beyond its original intent, elevate it to a distraction near to historical distortion. The gun lobby distorts the Second Amendment as a license to abuse guns. That is not what the gun lobby says it does; that is what the gun lobby does. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown up to believe what people do, not what people say.

All this sound and fury about the Second Amendment (signifying, in the end, nothing) covers up the real “gun” problem — the abuse of guns (analogous to the abuse of alcohol and tobacco). Owning and shooting guns, therefore, is a matter of personal choice and responsibility, just like drinking or smoking. And this personal responsibility centers about your choice doing no harm to others. Just like a drinker should drink publicly in moderation and not drive drunk, just like a smoker should not subject non-smokers to secondary smoke, an owner and shooter of guns should keep his or her firearms secure and locked, out of the hands of small children, of the mentally unstable, of the careless, and of the criminal. In all three areas of “A,” “T,” and “F,” if you make the choice, you must take on the responsibility.

The ownership and use of guns is a matter of personal choice and responsibility; it has nothing to do with the rights of a citizen of the United States; it has nothing to do with patriotism or the power of a citizen within our society. All the Second Amendment does is say no one can or will stop a citizen from taking up arms in the defense of our country, our society, our Constitution.

Hence, every responsible citizen in our country has an “ATF” profile: I have outlined my “F” in “(Part The First).” I have outlined my “A” in “Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas” [April 2012] and in “To Those Worried Their Town Has Voted Wet — It’s Going to Be OK!” [Dec 2012] The only “letter” in which I am a “teetotaler” is “T.” My maternal grandfather smoked King Edward Imperial cigars, many family members and friends over the years smoked cigarettes, and I often am in bars where smoking is still allowed. I think I have inhaled more than my share of secondary smoke; I have never had the desire to smoke. I tolerate smoking as “red man’s revenge upon the white man” (along with casinos), and delight in its reduced overall use in our country. Thanks to our unveiling of the tobacco industry behind the tobacco lobby, tobacco abuse is on the decline.

Thanks to Rachel Maddow for reminding us we must also unveil the gun industry hiding behind the gun lobby, so that gun abuse will also begin to decline, so that the likelihood of more Newtowns in the future will wane. In my opinion, the implementation of wide-spread gun education programs such as suggested in “(Part The Second)” and the public distribution of gun-related statistics like those in “(Part The Third)” would corroborate this unveiling of the gun industry, an industry whose loudest mouth-piece is the NRA.

In a pun-like way, the “smoking gun” indicator of her reminder is the choice of smoking itself, of “T.”


3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need

Replacing education models 1) and 2) with 3) (See 1: Education Reform… and 2: Education Reform…) requires considerable change in how school personnel are organized and how they relate to the students. But the real radical and revolutionary change comes in how we certify teachers, how we get those who want to teach ready to teach and in the classrooms in front of those young minds needing altering through knowledge and skills.

But first and foremost, teachers need to be paid in proportion to the importance of the job they do, like brain surgeons are proportionately paid. Schools are institutions, not businesses, sports teams, or military units; the money needs to go to those who do the work and take on the important responsibilities regarding students’ minds. This means administrative personnel in schools need not only to be cut back in number (Even casual observers of Waxahachie ISD’s professional structure called it “top-heavy,” or, in deference to our school mascot, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”), the salaries of administrators (and coaches) need to be shaved down so that the highest paid professionals in the district are master teachers, whose contract has been renewed each year for decades, based upon consistent, high-level performance with students in the classroom.

Schools’ greatest assets are their students; schools’ greatest paid professionals are the nurturers of those assets, the teachers; therefore, schools’ greatest professional assets are their salaried teachers. Teachers should be paid in accordance to their importance.

If the salaries of public and private school instructors are brought in line with, say, the salaries of engineers, tenured college and university instructors, physicians, lawyers, and other professionals, then those “called” to teach have no excuse not to teach. Too many people who longed to teach felt forced to choose a better-paying vocation — due to concerns of not being able to meet his/her family’s financial day-to-day obligations. The teaching profession, when it comes to pay, suffers to this day from what I call the “school-marm syndrome,” by which taxpaying communities have become used to paying an idealist (the usually unmarried one-room schoolhouse teacher) a blue-collar salary for doing the most important white-collar job in the community. So idealistic and devoted to their students have been the teachers in their profession, this syndrome has been allowed to fester and spread. Today it is so pervasive, that if anything is deemed wrong with the schools, teachers are the first scapegoats cited; I remember the State of Texas thinking its education woes years ago were because teachers were “dumb,” so they gave us all competency tests! Almost all of us were found more-than-competent; we were not the problem!

[If teachers unionize, as has been done in many States, that just feeds the syndrome, in my opinion. In the eyes of many taxpayers, unionization of teachers would confirm classroom instructors no better than laborers working for the school and the State. Instead, teachers need to take the professional re-dressing step of creating their own professional association that guards and promotes the high standards of professions like doctors’ and lawyers’ (not to mention school administrators’!). (e.g. the AMA, the American Medical Association, and the American Bar Association). Such a teachers association, like that of the doctors and lawyers, would, as I have said in 2: Education Reform…, administer the certification of teachers similarly to the way doctors and lawyers are “certified.”]

Should teachers becoming certified in the way I am about to outline have competitive professional salaries to which to look forward for future financial security, teacher shortages will begin to fall to insignificance, schools can actually be more “picky” about the teachers they hire, and, most important, for students’ sake,  the student-teacher ratios in classrooms everywhere will begin to fall to the numbers they should be. Only in post-high school study are large classrooms workable. But, at every educational level, greater numbers of teachers mean more teachers can be hired, assuring smaller, more effective classrooms.

The way teachers become certified needs to be completely revamped. I am suggesting nothing less than the complete evisceration, “gutting,” if you please, of education departments and teacher preparation programs everywhere. Even if teacher salaries are raised, these departments and programs would remain essentially useless. And the evidence, as I pointed to in my own higher education development toward being a teacher in 1: Education Reform…, is all around us, especially in the faces of those of us who attended college or university. Most, if not all, of the best teachers I had in eight years of undergraduate and graduate school had not had a single hour of education courses; when I graduated with my Ph.D. without a single hour of education, I knew how to teach, having proven it many times as a teaching assistant in the physics department at Texas A&M. My first teaching job as a Regional Science Advisor out of the Extension of the University of Texas at Austin had me teaching junior high and high school science and math teachers. I got to talk to “my students” in this night class, asking them what they would do differently in their personal preparation as a teacher; overwhelmingly, they said they would have taken FEWER or NO education courses; these courses were useless to them as teachers; instead, they said they wished they had taken MORE content courses in their area of study. My personal experience confirmed what they were saying; I was required to have NO education instruction to teach this night class, as it was assumed, correctly, I did not need it.

So the fact that hundreds of thousands of college and university instructors are successfully teaching their classes without any education courses seems to be ignored by departments of education, primary schools, and secondary schools everywhere! And there is at least one embarrassing good reason to ignore this fact; evidence is all around that education courses are useless. Somehow, departments of education have gotten degree planners to agree that to teach, one has to have hours and hours of their courses, which is blatantly not true, and schools have “played along!” Why? In my opinion, it is because THERE IS NO SCIENCE OF EDUCATION. And, education departments behave as if there is such a science. And all this mythology about teacher preparation and certification plays into the hands of proponents of educational model 1), one of the wrong models. (See 1: Education Reform….)

A couple of analogies will help: 1) education departments are like IBM years ago when they were the only computer company “on the block.” IBM assumed, and tried valiantly to get the public to accept, that they were indispensable when using computers; users could not get a computer to work for them without big brother IBM “looking over their shoulder.” That piece of BS fell apart when the “nerds” made the first Apple computer in their garage. Then, when personal computers under the control of the users could not be resisted, IBM desperately tried to sell the silly idea one had to know how to program a computer (which they could do for you, of course, for a price) in order to get the machine to work for the user. “Strike two” on mighty IBM, and look how they have had to redefine themselves today in order to avoid a third strike! 2) imagine good teaching is like driving a car safely. Then, imagine the people who issue the driver’s license determine that in order to know how to drive safely, you have to not only know how a car works under the hood in great detail, you have to know the history of the automobile and pay for tours of automobile assembly plants. Ludicrous! Just as you do not have to know how to program a computer in order to operate and run a computer, and just as you do not have to know exactly how your car goes down the road in order to drive safely on the roads and get from one place to another, you do not have to know the plethora of teaching models or Bloom’s taxonomy in order to be able to teach.

How do all the great teaching professors in higher education learn how to teach, then? The same way I learned how: observing as a student in classes examples of good and bad teaching, and then remembering the good and forgetting the bad. (If the student has been fortunate enough to have good teachers throughout their schooling, all the way back to grade K, and if the student is fortunate enough to retain memory of how those good teachers operated in the classroom — as was my case for both, then several school years of good teaching tips can be added to collegiate classroom observation.) Then, practice teaching points to your classmates in study groups as often as you ask them to teach you points in these groups. When you get the chance to actually teach a class (as I did for undergraduate physics labs, the same labs I had taken a year or two before), practice copying the good instruction you have observed; in other words, the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method of learning!

And once you have practiced teaching in an actual classroom situation, monitor yourself and see if you truly like it. Ask yourself if you enjoy sharing knowledge and helping students. If you love doing these things, as I did, then consider yourself “called” to teach. Even though I am philosophically anti-clerical, I understand and resonate with members of the clergy talking about being “called” to be a minister.

I believe there are more than enough potential “natural” teachers out there who can mimic good teaching and can communicate knowledge of particular subjects because they care about students receiving that knowledge to more than fulfill the need for good teachers in our public and private schools, from grade K to Ph.D. candidacy. If teachers’ salaries are as professionally enticing as they should be, it will be easy to believe this. And, moreover, the need is fulfilled without the efforts and expense of departments of education.

Here, then, is a model 3) typical path for a person X to become a certified teacher, say, in a secondary school: X attends the college or university of choice, majoring in an area of choice — in any area except education, for there is no such department anymore; the department of education has been replaced by a down-sized, much cheaper department of teacher certification, run by the national teachers’ association. If X feels “called” to be a teacher, whether through observation as a student, or through actually teaching, like in a teaching assistant-ship, or both, and when X decides to leave campus, after the bachelor’s, after the master’s, or after the doctorate in X’s area(s) of study, X applies for teacher certification at the certification office on campus. There, X is assigned to a school who has volunteered as a mentor-ship site for X’s area of expertise for a school year after graduation of “student teaching.” (In some cases, if X’s schedule allows, the student teaching can be done just before X graduates.) During this year X is paid a stipend funded by both the college or university and the school, a stipend proportional to the degree(s) earned by X, and is assigned to a mentoring master teacher. The mentor is responsible for having X experience all areas of teaching, and the mentor receives in return classroom help and aid any teacher would covet. At the end of the year (or semester, if X is in two semester classes with two mentors, rather than one full year class with one mentor) X will “take over” the class completely, with the mentor monitoring and observing X “in action.” X will be “mini-evaluated” like any other faculty member at the end of the student teaching.

With the school’s evaluation and with letters of recommendation from both the school and from X’s old campus department, X goes to the certification office and applies for a certificate. But only if X still wants to teach after the student teaching. Should X decide that the “calling” was misinterpreted as a result of the student teaching, the certification office need not ever be visited. Poor evaluations and recommendations could prevent the office from certifying X; this is how teachers who should not teach are kept out of the profession, regardless of their “calling.” However, should X feel “called,” the period in which X can apply for certification after student teaching is limited, say, to five or maybe even ten years, even when the office feels X is satisfactory as a teacher. The office, based upon the evaluation and recommendation information given, and upon any interviewing the office wants to do, issues a life-time certificate for teaching in the curriculum areas of X’s expertise. X is not only certified, X must join the teachers’ association. X then can apply through the office for a teaching position in the teaching openings listed at the office and/or at teacher job fairs. X’s hiring must be filed in the association office.

The teacher’s association certification office on campus, one of a nation-wide network of association offices, will do a “follow-up” of X’s progress at X’s new school after the first full year of teaching. If X’s one year contract has been renewed the association does nothing but wish X continued luck and offer future support. If X’s contract is not renewed, the association reviews X’s performance history at that campus and either supports the school’s decision or supports X’s continuation. If the association supports X, the association, funded by dues, provides legal representation for X, if X wants to contest the decision. The school’s school board determines, ultimately, whether X will continue to teach in that district, should X contest the non-renewal, supported by the association.

The reader should now know the difference between the two statements at the beginning of the first two parts: 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models! and 2: Education Reform — The Right Model. I stated that I am a physicist who loves to teach and that I am not a teacher who loves to teach physics and math. The story of X above describes what happened to me, up to the time of X’s graduation. By 1972 I had received my B.S. and my Ph.D. degrees, both in physics, and after eight years at Texas A&M University as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. By this time, I knew I wanted to teach, having turned down offers to go into industry as a staff physicist. Through teaching assistant-ships and the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method, I knew how to teach, with special thanks to examples in my own classes by outstanding teachers such as Prof. Manual Davenport and Mr. Richard Stadelmann of philosophy and Prof. Nelson Duller and Prof. John (Jack) McIntyre of physics. I was experienced in the “nuts and bolts” of teaching, having graded lab reports for the physics lab courses I had taught and having graded physics exams with Prof. McIntyre. Even the department of education that granted me my teacher certification AFTER I had started teaching at Waxahachie High School, the Department of Education at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), saw it was ridiculous for me to complete the education courses required for certification in the classroom, so I was allowed to receive half my “education credit hours” by writing papers instead of taking courses; I wrote papers on adolescent psychology and academic learning, easy to do by drawing upon my own experience as an adolescent. Before I came to Waxahachie, my first teaching job was a class of junior high and high school math and science teachers I’ve mentioned heretofore in this post, a class for which I was prepared to teach, thanks to the X-like training I had received from being in model 3) — though I didn’t know what to call it back then; and I was prepared despite the fact that I, as the instructor in this first class, was the youngest person in the classroom!

One final point about teachers “produced” by model 3): model 3) calls for an improvement and upgrade in teacher retirement benefits, lobbying for which is done by the teacher’s association. These benefits should be commensurate with the professional retirement benefits of employees and professionals working for the State. Here in Texas, I would call for a roll-back at the Austin headquarters for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) toward more austere and Spartan accommodations than at present, so that more funding can be funneled into retired teachers’ monthly payments. (We retired teachers do not need to “foot the bill” to keep “afloat” still another administrative staff — the TRS staff — with more lucrative salaries than we enjoyed as teachers. Nor do we retired teachers need to have to pay for massive facilities featuring hotel-like features like recreational areas for this TRS administrative staff.)

Specific teacher benefits should reflect those of State highway workers, department of public safety (DPS) professionals, and State government officials. The retirement benefits of those who served our students as a career should meet and exceed those benefits given to our State legislators, who served for a much shorter time than most teachers.

Also, and this is the final point — I promise — critical to Texas is the implementation of serious funding of “sin tax” revenues, like money from the State lottery and from horse racing (and from future casinos operated in the State), to help finance public schools. Only a small percentage of the “sin tax” intake is given to schools now, apparently — a real disgrace — where does it all go, into the pockets of politicians? All of it should be funneling to the schools, so that a free 4-year higher education could be offered to Texas resident students who keep their grades high (passing) from semester to semester — as long as they attend any State school in Texas.

In summary, much needed education reform can be done, in my opinion, by discarding models 1) and 2) and by eliminating traditional departments of education — all in accordance with model 3). Raising salaries of classroom teachers to true professional levels, while lowering those of administrators, and utilizing the “sure fire” way of “training” teachers — the self-trained way that produces the outstanding classroom teachers in our colleges and universities — will insure an adequate supply of competent and caring teachers in future to meet our growing educational needs. This self-trained way is essentially the observation-and-practice, “on-the-job” training, “learn-as-you-go,” or, to repeat myself, “monkey-see, monkey-do” method, the model 3) method. The control of school campuses needs to be returned to the faculties of these campuses, and, by implication, returned to the needs of our students of all ages.

America, the United States of America, the origin of the ideal of public education, needs to make the changes necessary to live up to that ideal and return to the position of being the top world-wide leader in educational achievement and innovation. We owe no less to all young minds over the world; we owe no less to our future.


2: Education Reform — The Right Model

I have stated at the beginning of  1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models! that I am a physicist who loves to teach, not a teacher who loves to teach physics and math. I went on to say the difference is not so obvious unless one understands the education model I have numbered 3) — the institutional/colleague model. Then I tried to blatantly show that models 1) and 2) — the business/employee model and the coaching/team model, respectively, are woefully inadequate for our idea and ideals of education for our students/children/grandchildren. It turns out I have been in my almost 40 years in teaching primarily under some form or forms of 1) and/or 2), yet I was fortunate enough to be at the beginning of my teaching career a product of model 3). That, unfortunately, for most of my teaching colleagues over my career, makes me an anomaly among them.

But there is also a fortunate part to being an anomaly: because I have been molded by model 3) I can say by experience it can be the solution to the educational woes our American educational system suffers through today. My position, in a nutshell, is that model 3) should replace models 1) and/or 2), a replacement that would constitute a quantum leap toward the ideal of education we hold so dear.

What is that ideal, just to make sure we are on the same page? The American educational ideal is based upon our political philosophy of liberty, equality, and brotherhood (the French Revolution version was liberte, egalite, and fraternite) — equal educational opportunity for all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances or circumstances of birth, opportunity up to the level of high school graduation and beyond. Most people cannot pay for their children’s education — as the parents of the children at the private school where I now teach can, so public education was born: part of what people pay as taxes on their property is put aside as a public fund to finance education for all children’s grades K-12, regardless of whether those tax payers have children in school or not. (I have actually talked with ultra-conservatives who resent having to pay school taxes after their children have graduated! These are people who do not understand the concept of public education.) Note carefully, public education is no guarantee of equal results (Some children are smarter than others.), only of equal opportunity at grade K — everybody starts at the same educational start line. (This is like freedom being no guarantee that you can do anything you want; you can do something only if you do no harm of any kind to others in the process.)

So, the idea of public education is a public, social investment in future generations. It is a bet that paying “blindly,” investing, if you please, on educated future adults of our society will insure an improved society — better than the society we have had in the past. It is my opinion that is a good bet, as judged by the results over several decades. And I say this opinion not because I taught most of my life as a public school teacher, and, therefore, had a career based upon this bet, but, rather, I say this as a taxpayer. Based upon the property I own in both Eastland and Ellis counties of Texas, I am pleased to say that the school taxes I pay each year support three separate independent school districts, even though my two children have graduated from high school many years ago.

When I wax enthusiastic about America’s many contributions to the world’s civilizations, it is difficult for me to mark any contribution higher than the idea of public education. Yet, like the ideals of the American Revolution and like the ideals of the French Revolution, the practical action emerging from the ideal of public education has not turned out to be so “ideal.” Why? I think it is because we base our educational practical actions upon models 1) or 2) (See 1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models!) or some other wrong-headed educational model, and not upon model 3).

Allow me to preface the particulars of model 3) by stating that not only have I experienced model 3) in undergraduate and graduate schools at Texas A&M University, and, therefore, consider myself a product of that model, I, in retrospect, saw vestiges of model 3) in my public school days at Cisco, Texas, in the independent school district there. I saw these vestiges in the great teachers in whose classrooms I was lucky enough to be — teachers like Mrs. Clements, Mrs. Dunaway, and Mrs. Bisbee at West Ward Elementary, and teachers like Mrs. Hart (coincidentally, my mother-in-law), Mrs. Schaefer, and Mrs. Owens at Cisco Jr. High, all in the 1950’s. In Cisco High School in the early 1960’s I saw them in Mr. Toland, Mr. Hughes, Mrs. Pirtle, Mrs. Wagley, Mr. Bint, Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. Bailey. During my 32 years teaching at Waxahachie High School, Waxahachie, Texas, in the Waxahachie ISD, I saw them in teachers such as Mr. Hancock, Mrs. Cain, Mr. Harris, Mrs. Aday, Mr. Block, Mrs. Choucair, Mr. Cagle, Mrs. Price, Mrs. Ballard, Mr. Buttgen, Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Duvall, and Mrs. Cote and in administrators such as Mr. Bates, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Nichols, and Mr. Williams. Today, I see them throughout the faculty with whom I teach in Upper School of The Canterbury Episcopal School in DeSoto, Texas; I see them in our head master (private-school-ese for “principal”) at Canterbury, Mr. Doerge.

Therefore, I know 3) can replace 1) and 2). What, then, is 3), the institutional/colleague model?

As stated in 1: Education Reform — The Wrong Models! 3) is a model in which the teachers seem to “run” the schools. That is another way of stating that schools are student-centered, oddly enough. Schools are not organizations for adults to play their “adult games” of career, promotion, and tenure; they are facilities of convenience for everyone from K children to Ph.D. candidates to receive concentrated “doses” of learning, of developing and feeding the desire to know and how to do. Schools are for the students and of the students. When students are old enough, the schools could be also by the students, but the idea of schools run by the students is too radical even today. Research done by students towards a Master’s and/or Ph.D. degree(s) is as close as students come to running things (not counting the take-over of campuses by student bodies during the 1960’s’ protests). I personally have been privileged to see that research can be done by high school students (See Hard-to-Believe! High School Student Researchers? Say What? [August, 2012]), demonstrating how close high school students can come.

Hence, schools should be run by the closest persons to students, the teachers. A school district is not a profit-based enterprise seeking a balanced budget; it is not a sports franchise seeking athletic championships; it is not an elaborate baby-sitting effort to keep students off the streets. It is an organized vehicle for molding young minds with knowledge and skills. Its desire is to arm each young mind with the potential of discovering what each can do best in life, so as to maximize happiness in each life. The structure of this vehicle is based upon the student-teacher relationship, roughly called the “classroom situation,” a concept tried and proven since the time Aristotle tutored Alexander (the latter on the way to becoming “the Great”). All decisions made in a school district, from the decisions of the school board to the decisions of a teacher regarding a single class or single student, should be made in light of what is best for the students. Schools exist for the students, not for the teachers, administrators, and/or support staff of the schools. Yet, as I learned the hard way when I was student body president in high school, students do not have a real voice in school affairs and school policy. In model 3) students do have a voice through their teachers; teachers are like the representatives of the students, for, as professionals, teachers work for the students, not for the school, or for any administrator, or for any district, or for any State. Who speaks for the students? Good, great teachers do!

Model 1) would have teachers support the school as company employees; model 2) would have them support the school as team members; model 3) would have teachers represent the students as the essence of the school. The classroom situation places the teacher in the perfect position to be the voice of the students, it places the teacher perfectly in a position to monitor the pulse of the school — to monitor the “state of the students,” and it places the teacher perfectly in position to suggest how things can be improved along the way during the school year. No one outside the classroom, including all administrators, coaches, and staff, can have the insight on the classroom situation the teacher has. Students are the best stuffers of suggestion boxes for schools, but, since non-serious suggestions tend to negate serious ones in administrators’ eyes, teachers are the next-best suggestion box stuffers. And teachers are much cheaper sources of insight for districts than highly paid educational consultants and evaluation teams from outside the district!

Since 1) wants teachers to be obedient employees and 2) wants teachers to be obedient team members, teachers under these models tend not to be effective suggestion-makers, even when given the chance, fearful that honest critical suggestions might threaten their position with the “bosses” or “coaches.” 3) would be a model in which teachers’ suggestions would be continually solicited and discussed with departmental meetings and campus-wide meetings. Teachers are not “underlings” under administrators of all levels and under coaches; they are at the same level or above; they are the adult essence of schools.

Do not misunderstand. We need administrators in schools. We need them, however, not because they make up the heart of schools, but because we necessarily need people to take care of the things that take up teaching time from the teachers, things that had to be done in the one-teacher school-house in the old days in addition to teaching. Teachers need administrators just like they need staff to keep the buildings clean, orderly, and working. Administrators need to keep the halls clear so classes will not be disturbed; administrators are needed to take care of discipline problems in the classroom the teacher cannot handle, so that the class is not disturbed by the unruly. We need to remember that the reason principals are called that name was that, originally, they were “principal teachers,” not the “managers” they see themselves as today. Teachers need district-wide administrators, such as business office and technology center personnel, as support for the complicated position of teaching, not as sources of policy for the administration. I recall one time in Waxahachie when what we could or could not do in the classroom was mitigated by the business office of the district, by the “bean counters,” as we called them! And for decency’s sake, a district personnel office should be a safe source of help for teachers and staff, not a strong-arm of administrative restraint, as I’ve seen it be in the past.

But the “company,” the school organization is primary for administrators, not the minds of the students.

Likewise, we need coaches in schools. If a student has little or no academic motivation, no better substitute motivation is there than motivation to participate in sports, in the band program, and in all the auxiliary groups around sports. And this is not to mention other fine arts programs, such as theater arts, or drill teams. These simply are supplementary, secondary programs to the two types of classrooms — academic and vocational. School districts should recognize academic and vocational achievement even more than athletic achievement. And I say this as a life-long, die-hard high school and college sports fan.

But the “team” is primary for coaches, not the minds of the students.

What model 3) does is redefine schools as student-centered institutions, institutions run by the faculty on behalf of the students. Primary for model 3) are the minds of the students. Specifically, this means:

Teachers are evaluated in their classrooms only by a committee of their peers and are evaluated by that committee several times a school year, not just once or twice. The only time an administrator can be part of a teacher evaluation committee is if that administrator teaches at least one full-year class in addition to fulfilling administrative duties. Each teacher’s committee is chaired by that teacher’s department head or senior teacher of a subject, and when a department head or senior teacher is evaluated, that committee is chaired by a head of another department or a senior teacher of another subject. After the end of each evaluation, the evaluated teacher has the right to discuss the outcome with the committee, and after final evaluation of the school year, discussion is mandatory. The committee will submit its recommendation for renewal or non-renewal of the teacher’s contract for the next year to the superintendent’s office, which will draw up the new contracts for school board approval.

There will be no multi-year contracts, only single-year ones. Contracts are professional agreements; “insubordination” clauses are not allowed. As usual, the grounds by which contracts can be terminated are spelled out in the contract.

Faculty meetings are conducted by the faculty, and administrative and high school student body representation are required.  Administrative meetings are conducted by the administrators, and faculty and high school student body representation are required. Faculty representation and high school student body representation are required at school board meetings, the meetings conducted by the board. Departmental meetings are open to administrative and high school student body attendance. (“High school student body representation” means members of the elected Student Council or Student Government.)

New school policies, or changes in school policies are presented by either the faculty bodies, the administrative bodies, the school board, or the Student Council to the other groups for discussion and approval. All four vote on the proposals, and become part of school policy if a 2/3 approval vote is tallied across the voting members of all four groups. The overall school organization called for by model 3) is a.) the entire student body of all campuses is represented by the collective faculty, by the teachers actually in the classrooms, b.) all administration, from campus level to district level, (which includes any “educator” outside the classroom, like “curriculum directors”) is a support group for the teachers, helping the teachers represent the students; the superintendent or the equivalent is the head of all the administration, and, c.) the school board represents the tax payers of the district, the “purse” of the district, if you please, orchestrating the administration to maximize support for the district’s faculty and serving as the liaison between the school district and the community. The administration is not the coordinator of the faculty, and the school board is not a “rubber stamp” organization for the administration. Student views are infused at every level by high school student body representation at faculty meetings, at administrative meetings, and at school board meetings.

The curriculum will meet and exceed State standards. Beginning at grade 6, students are placed on one of three tracks — a.) college-bound or advanced placement (AP), b.) high-school academic , or c.) vocational, applied, or “hands-on”. a.) is for college- or university-bound students, b.) is for students whose plans do not go beyond an associate degree at a community college, and c.) is for students planning on entering the work force right after high school graduation. As students progress or digress, they may move from track to track; a student is never “stuck” on one track. At the junior high and high school level, each of the core curricula (language arts, social studies, science, and math) will offer a graduation path of all three tracks. A high school graduate will therefore complete 4 tracks, one for each core, and the highest possible graduation status, the one whereby a student could attend the university of his/her choice would be, the “4 tracks of a.)” graduation status; the lowest would be “4 tracks of c.)” For ranking purposes within a graduating class, the grades of each track would be weighted proportionately, a.) being the highest weight.

Universities and most colleges would want to admit exclusively those graduates with “4 tracks of a.),” generally, it would seem. Only within the a.) track in each core, a student qualifies to take the next a.) track course the following year by achieving a certain level grade in the end-of-year course of the present year, or by having a certain level report period average in that course at the end of the year, or both. If the student does not meet these requirements, it is understood he/she will take the b.) course in that track in that core the following year, unless he/she produces evidence of high achievement in catching up during summer course work. In this way higher education can be confident “a.) trackers” are graduates who are qualified candidates for college work.

A curriculum organized around three tracks within four cores, means there are tens of possible combinations of graduation achievement. This means that students can “tailor make” their curriculum to “fit” their learning strengths and weaknesses. There is no need for magnet schools; academic emphasis is built into the general breadth of the curriculum. Every course list in a track in a core can utilize all the teaching technology decided upon by the school’s four groups (students, teachers, administration, and school board), restrained, in my opinion, only by the size of the technology budget and by the avoidance of “full-blown” on-line courses. In my view, complete credit for a course on-line toys with the possibility that one who completes an on-line course risks being nothing much beyond a reclusive, “lone-wolf” scholar whose only reliable skill is the ability to answer multiple-choice questions well. Such “lone-wolves,” as well as the long-term home schooled, risk missing the consistent socialization schools offer; socialization is critical for the complete education of the young mind.

In-service (“staff development”) for teachers is all in-house, meaning it is intra-faculty. Not only will money be saved by the district on expensive consultants and experts, the in-services will be useful for a change — listening to fellow teachers share their classroom “secrets” known to work locally, as opposed to ideas “from the outside” that may work only God-knows-where. I have had only small tastes of such in-house in-service in almost 40 years, and those small tastes were the best, most useful, and most memorable in-services of them all! Not only are they informative, they build faculty comradery and morale. It is depressing as a teacher to think of how much sharing I could have absorbed from the master teachers within my faculty over the years; as it was, I feel as if I got pittance from my gifted colleagues. What a waste!

Disruptive, uncooperative, or careless students who would “hold back” their classrooms in tracks a.), b.), and/or c.) either academically, behaviorally, or both, would be tested out of the regular track classes and put in an “alternative track,” whose goal would be to achieve the equivalent of a high school diploma — using everything from individualized instruction to on-line course completion. Faculty and administrators in the “alternative track” will work in cooperation and collaboration with community social services and work force offices toward placement of these “high school equivalents” somewhere within the work force.

If the reorganization of schools into model 3.) seems radical and revolutionary, the degree of shock is proportional to how pervasive have been models 1.) and/or 2.) in individual minds for many, many decades. I contend model 3.) resonates with early public and private school education in America, from the little rural one-room school-house to the first public and private universities on our eastern seaboard. In many ways, it is not a dismantling; it is a return to what we know works for students.

The “radical, revolutionary” part comes in 3: Education Reform…..


1: Education Reform — Wrong Models!

I am a physicist who loves to teach. I am not a teacher who loves to teach physics and math. This is the first of postings dedicated to focusing on the difference between the previous two sentences. I maintain that difference is crucial, for in that difference are the keys of how to reform education and return the US to the worldwide top of the heap in providing the best education for young minds anywhere.

I will try to not sound like a classroom teacher, because, even though I have taught in the classroom for almost forty years, I did not behave like the average teacher who was trained in some undergraduate education curriculum. Why not? Because I was not trained in any education curriculum; I never took a single hour’s worth of education on how to teach physics and math before I began to successfully teach physics and math. My entry into public education, therefore, was not traditional. Consequently, my perspective on public and private education has never been traditional. I received my teaching certificate as an afterthought to my first two years of teaching on probation, because the rules of teaching said I had to have such a certificate. What I learned in education courses getting my certification did not help me to improve my teaching in the classroom; teaching in the classroom, and only teaching in the classroom, helped me to improve my teaching in the classroom.

Not being a product of the traditional teaching training path, I was not considered a good example for young teachers wanting to enter the profession; it was as if there was a concerted effort toward preventing future teachers following my entry path into public education. In all my teaching career, despite all my success and all my teaching awards and accolades, there NEVER was a teacher-to-be to whom I was assigned as a mentor. My class was observed systematically only one time — by the teacher who was going to replace me when I entered my first retirement phase in 2001, Mrs. Emily Price. By that time she had been a certified teacher for years. When we department heads at Waxahachie High School, Waxahachie, Texas, (WHS) were part of the interview process of prospective teachers, any person with a Ph.D. wanting to teach in high school, like I was when I began teaching at WHS in 1973, was never hired, despite the fact I thought they would be successful as I had been. As I have said elsewhere, it was as though the school administrators did not want another “me.”

Consequently, I see things “from the outside,” more objectively, I think. I represent no tradition in teacher preparation, and, so, have nothing to lose in being critical of that tradition. I am near the end of my teaching career, am now teaching in a private school, and, so, have no fear of “losing favor” with the powers in the public school system. We have sunk to the level of education in our country relative to other nations partly because too few speak out. I feel fortunate having the freedom and ability to speak out.

I cannot say I am surprised education in the US is in trouble. From the start back in the 70’s there were so many things I never understood about public education — about why things were done the way they were. I saw these things because I had emerged from a model of teacher preparation different from the models used throughout my 32-year teaching career in the one high school — WHS. The thrust of this post is that these models used in traditional public education are wrong-headed, and, consequently, are the template of failure sapping public education of its ability to fulfill its mission to the minds of students.

How did I survive all that time teaching, yet being from the “model not used?” My courses, basically. It is hard for schools to find people who can teach physics and calculus and astronomy. The wrong-headed modelers had to put up with me. It was only after I retired for four years for health reasons and came back as a “retire-rehire” did I have to clash with the wrong models at WHS. Because I could not conform to those models for the students’ sake, my contract was not renewed, and, soon thereafter, I was able to teach in a much better place for teachers, The Canterbury Episcopal School in DeSoto, Texas.

I began to see my case was but a “drop in the bucket” of a whole lot of teacher “drops” leaving education because of the wrong models. It had been the fact that I, by chance, happened to have come from the best teacher preparation model we know that I came to see all the problems of the public education system that did not seem to bother my colleagues all that much; coming from the best model also kept me in trouble with many of the administrations with which I worked — I asked questions as a professional and acted professionally at my own discretion; most of my colleagues never did the same — the few exceptions were like breaths of fresh air, but breaths that did not last long, for they were not fortunate enough to teach the vital subjects I did.

Every State school system is different, every school district is different, every campus is different, every faculty is different, and every school administration is different, true enough. Yet, there are some generalities that can come close to being universally applied: There are two wrong-headed models employed in public schools — 1) the business/employee model, and 2) the coaching/team model, a combination of which that was employed all the time I was at WHS. I happened to have come into public schools “through the back door” from the third, and best, model — 3) the institutional/colleague model, the model used today at Canterbury.

This first posting on education reform is a call for US schools, for the sake of students and for the sake of returning to worldwide educational leadership, to renounce 1) and/or 2) in their school structure and return to or take on for the first time 3) as their structure’s “blueprint.”

The difference between 3) and the duo of 1) and 2) is the heart of the difference between my first two sentences of this post.

The differences among the three models center on how teachers are seen and treated by the school administration and by the community. 1) sees teachers as employees or workers and the administration at all levels seems to “run” the schools; 2) sees teachers as team members needing a coach and the sports program and coaching staff seem to “run” the schools; 3) sees teachers as professionals who need guidance only when it is asked for and the faculty seems to “run” the schools. As I will point out in the second of this education reform series, it is my opinion 3) implies that in a real way the students actually “run” the schools.

In this, the first of the series, I will describe unequivocally the “wrong” models 1) and 2):

1) The business/employee model: Sure signs of this model are a.) when fellow teachers leave the classroom to become “mid-managers” — business-ese for assistant principals (We teachers at Waxahachie called such leaving the classroom as “going over to the dark side!”), b.) when teacher contracts have an “insubordination” clause in them, c.) when the faculty is arranged in a “chain of command,” and d.) when administrators actually believe teachers work for them, as if the principals were “bosses.” So many teachers I knew actually believed their principals were their bosses. I remember one of my principals looking at me one time and sincerely saying, “You work for me!” It was all I could do to keep from laughing in his face!

Teachers are not workers or employees; they are professionals who work, like all professionals, for their clients — their students. Just as doctors work for and are responsible to their patients and lawyers work for and are responsible to their legal clients, teachers work for and are responsible to those young minds before them in the classroom. No better place to see the silliness of applying the business/employee model to professionals than in the college-level faculties, both undergraduate and graduate. I recall in graduate school an administrator of an institute in which I worked as a graduate student — an administrator trying to run the place with silly rules like signing in and out, as if it was a blue-collar factory. He insulted all the faculty of the institute; they ignored him and laughed at him behind his back; the administrator was “relieved” of his position within a few short weeks. I also recall a WHS principal trying to get the faculty to sign in and out — worked like lead in a balloon, and professional performance in the classroom, on the average, fell rapidly, along with professional morale among the faculty.

In model 1), students are seen as molded objects, as products of an assembly line-like system. It is an incredible failure of 1) not to see students as living, organic, dynamic, ever-changing, different from week-to-week (if not day-to-day) beings. Only the teachers, the faculty, see the students as they really are. Administrators deliberately remove themselves from “the action” of education — from the classrooms, like military officers from the “trenches,” from the battlefield. Like the military, in their attempt to “step back” so as to get the “big picture,” school administrators, following 1), sever their ability to see what is going on in the classrooms; they become self-blinded to the changes going on in students’ minds class after class. Yet, they are supposed to evaluate the teachers’ ability to teach! Just like doctors and lawyers monitor and regulate their own, only teachers should monitor and regulate the faculty, their own. The only adults who know what is going on in the classroom are the teachers. The only way administrators can claim to know what is going on in the classrooms is for administrators to be required to teach at least one course along with the rest of the faculty.

Yet, “education theory” is developed by administrators self-blinded by their distance from the classroom; “education experts” often are people who have not taught in a classroom in years; professors of education in college and university departments of education bestow teaching certificates upon new teachers who are de facto more experienced with the contemporary classroom than their professors — through their recent student teaching requirement inside classrooms!

Great teachers who should remain in the classroom are lured away by model 1)’s pay scale for administrators; administrators get paid more than teachers, even though they are blind to the classroom, and, thereby, what is going on with the students. Teachers who want to better themselves financially have no other way to climb the pay scale significantly than become an administrator — no, excuse me, a “manager.” It is like a great young surgeon stepping away from a life-saving technique he/she has developed in the operating room to run the hospital — all so that he/she can own a bigger, better house. To hell with all the patients he/she could still save! Our best minds need to be teachers, not administrators.

In model 2), students are seen as team members under the direction of a coach of some sort whose word is law. It is a model that fits sports and other competitive activities, such as academic quiz bowls. As a sports fan, I have no problem with this model per se, but when applied to teachers and their classrooms, it is as disastrous as model 1). Questioning what the coach says is not a good idea if you are trying to win a game or a championship, but is a very good idea in the classroom. Socratic-type questioning by both teachers and students is a wonderful tool of learning; if a teacher has not answered the question “How do we know x?” unsolicited, then students should ask of the teacher “How do you know x?” Such questioning becomes indispensable in personal scholarship, both my sons and I have found in our separate educations. I have tried to teach such questioning to all my students throughout my teaching career.

Proponents of model 2), the coach-minded, tend to take inquiry as affronts to their authority. If a former coach becomes an administrator, but still thinks like a coach, he or she is a poor administrator; if a coach also teaches classes, but tries to teach as if his or her classes are teams, he or she is a poor teacher. As a student I have had great teachers that were also coaches, but not many; I have had too many coaches who taught classes as matters secondary or tertiary to their coaching. As a department head I’ve had faculty colleagues who could be both good coaches and good teachers, but not near enough of them. Worst of all, I’ve had former coaches become principals who could not move beyond being a coach. Lonnie Nichols and Don Williams are two coaches who became good principals at WHS — not because they were coaches, but because they went beyond coaching and embraced, at least in part, model 3). One Waxahachie superintendent I’ve had, Billy Bates, was a former coach who became a great administrator because he moved way beyond the mind-set of a coach.

School administrators immersed in models 1) and/or 2) tend to look upon teachers not as colleagues, but as supportive employees, “yes” men and women, members of a loyal team, loyal to the administrators — in other words, such administrators want people who “kiss up” to them. Proponents of models 1) and/or 2) seem not to grasp the principle that respect needs to be earned, not expected, especially in education. If students or teachers do not behave as these proponents think they should, they are “insubordinate” or “bench warmers,” nearly always without ever taking what is best for the students into consideration.

Models 1) and 2), therefore, are not student-centered models. They are adult-created models of education, created for adults within which adults play adult games — games of promotion, tenure, chain of command, and “ladder climbing.” While these games are being played as the primary activity, students and consideration of students are secondary or tertiary in these models. Often accomplishments of teachers and students are labeled as accomplishments of the administrators or coaches — part of the adult game models 1) and 2) promote; administration takes credit for what was actually done by teachers and/or students; I saw this happen many times over the years in Waxahachie.

1) and 2) are actually antithetical to the idea of education in general, public education in particular. Primarily, education has to do with students’ minds and getting these minds in contact with people who are gifted at altering these minds as being possessive of knowledge and skills they did not have before — in contact with good teachers as defined by model 3). The “spelling out” of 3) is the subject of “2: Education Reform…..”


Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole

For so many years, decades even, one of the things that defined a graduate of Cisco High School (CHS) was the Senior Play, regardless whether the graduate was actually in the play. In a book by Ed Jackson, entitled No Other Time Like This, about the CHS graduating class of 1947, it is clear the Senior Play was always memorable to all, whether members of the class participated directly in the play or not. I remember in the late 1950’s being invited by my older cousins Faye and Joyce (Redwine) to see the Senior Play in that classic auditorium in the old 3-story building between west 6th and 7th streets, between avenues K and L.

But by the time my class became seniors — class of 1964 — the Senior Play had been taken out of the picture, part of the many things our class was denied. We were even denied a high school building — the 3-story classic was condemned! We had to attend our Senior year in high school in the Junior High building we had been in for grades 6 through 8. (See The M-4….And the “M” Stands for… [May, 2012]) I am not seeking sympathy, empathy, or pity here; I believe our class adjusted to circumstances beyond our control to rise phoenix-like above the mediocrity to which many thought us doomed; we emerged as one of the most unusual graduating classes ever, academic-wise and activity-wise. The strong bonds of friendship Cisco schools made possible definitely combined with our teenaged angst struggling with adult pressures created by our unusual circumstances to create unusual results, like the birth of the M-4.

Nonetheless, it is inaccurate to say we did not have a play our Senior year, even though it was not “the” Senior Play. And it was done in a very unorthodox way, commensurate with the very unorthodox CHS Seniors 1964. Moreover, an unexpected, unintended “M-4″ moment flashed along the way.

In the summer of 1963, before the school year started — a school year we knew was literally going to be topsy-turvy with make-shift campuses all over town and students shuttled among all of them — several of us, including Adling, Berry, Cole, and me (those who would become the M-4) approached Mrs. Mulliner, sophomore English and speech teacher, wife of Rev. Mulliner of the First Presbyterian Church in Cisco, about offering a speech class; our thoughts were that we did not have to have a bare-bones schedule just because we had bare-bones facilities (e.g. Our science labs were held at CJC on the hill.). Also, such a class, in our thinking, would help sooth the “wound” of no Senior Play, in a round-about way.

To her credit, Mrs. Mulliner agreed to teach it and got administrative approval. I’m really speculating now long after the fact, but this agreement seems like a compromise looking back so far. For many of us Mrs. Mulliner had lost credibility with us as our teacher back when we were sophomores, not so much due to her fault, but because she had been miss-assigned, in our opinion — she was better suited for lower grades, and we felt she had been treating us as pre-high schoolers; the fact we had been prepared for high school so well by such master teachers as Mrs. Hart and Mrs. Schaefer in Cisco Jr. High made us expect more than we got from Mrs. Mulliner. Not that we were deserving of being treated as mature, for our behavior toward her in Sophomore English was indeed sophomoric in level and below that! Perhaps there were a few of us who felt guilty of how we had treated her, and perhaps she felt she had a second chance to treat us differently than she had previously. So, my speculation goes, there was a two-way opportunity to make amends for all involved in the creation of an originally unplanned class — speech.

In order to justify the creation of the course, for not enough had responded to the invitation to join the four of us who had approached Mrs. Mulliner, several people were “persuaded” to add speech to their schedule, a situation the “persuaded” did not appreciate. So, joining the four of us and Mark Kurklin, Joe Woodard, Earl Carson, Carolyn (Hamilton), Jamie (Rawson), and Hope (Harrington), were Billy Pence, Mike Joyner, Keith Starr, Charlie Stephenson, and Buford Green. Conflicts were inevitable because of the “drafted” enrollment, and Mrs. Mulliner’s authority was challenged right away; I felt partly responsible for getting her into this mess, so I tried to keep my “shenanigans” to a minimum (VERY difficult for me personally); Cole was known to date Mrs. Mulliner’s daughter, Margaret, so he was compelled to be as “good” as he could be in speech (VERY difficult for him, also); “natural” troublemakers in the class, notably Macon, Keith, and Charlie, kept the class disruptive, and it rubbed off on Adling, himself already a “natural.” He walked out of the class despite her warnings not to do so, which led to him to drop the class in the middle of the school year; Berry had sided with Adling on all the conflicts of the first semester, and he also dropped the class. Half of the M-4-to-be (half of the “proto-M-4″) thus spent the time as teacher aides for Mrs. Edward Lee for the second semester. I can’t remember how many did drop, but the class was definitely smaller the second half of the year.

Partly to make up for the losses in enrollment, and partly because we reminded Mrs. Mulliner of why we had wanted the class in the first place, the speech class decided to form a Drama Club and invite any Juniors or Seniors not in speech class to join, all under the idea that we would put on some kind of play — in spite of our unusual, Spartan facilities and circumstances.

By the time I had gotten over my chicken pox from the Christmas holidays (See That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) I had written two short plays, plays written in the spirit of my short stories from the previous year — stories designed to shock and startle, like those of Edgar Allan Poe (I called them Stories to Ponder.). One play was Analysis In Black, a story of five trapped miners who all die from poisonous gas in the end, and the other was The Paper Switch, a twisted play on pardoning a death-row prisoner about to be executed. (Those who know me well and have read some of my stuff from back in those days know that I was motivated by writing the last thing my fellow students and my teachers would expect a high-schooler to write.)

After the month’s laughable “probation” for the M-4 (meaning about mid-March or so) (for more on this “probation,” see The M-4…And the ‘M’ Stands for…. [May, 2012], as well as That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) I, as President of the Drama Club, began pushing putting on one of my plays, reading for the speech class and the club Analysis In Black.  Of the two plays it would require the simpler set, an important factor, given the play had to be presented in the middle of the gymnasium floor — the stage on one side of the gym had been converted into a classroom. Despite the fact there were no female roles and because of the fact the school was divided in sympathy for the M-4, interest began to grow. Because Mrs. Mulliner was sympathetic toward our unnecessarily harsh “punishment,” I now speculate, she was easily supportive.

As the author of the play, I was the director, and Cole volunteered to be chief stage manager and sound effects man. I got to choose five guys from the Drama Club for the cast from a series of try-outs; I chose Macon Strother, Billy Wilson, Joe Woodard, Mark Kurklin, and Jr. David Waters (barely over Earl Carson — don’t know if Earl ever forgave me for that!).

Such was the background of one particular week night of play rehearsal of Analysis In Black about midway in our rehearsal schedule over at my house. Ever the award-winning parents for patience, my parents had allowed us to clear a large area in the middle of the living room as our “rehearsal stage.” It was a rehearsal Mrs. Mulliner could not attend, which did not bother her, for she was confident from our previous rehearsals we could do the play without making fools of ourselves, or, at least, that was the impression she had given me.

That night Adling perhaps was having a bit of regret dropping speech, as he called to find out what was going on. I suppose Berry was on a date that night (He was the chief “ladies’ man” of the M-4.) or, perhaps, Berry was serving an extended “grounded” period of probation placed upon him by his parents in the wake of the birth of the M-4. Anyway, Adling came over to the house, as that was the “happening” place that night. I scheduled with the cast to pull a prank on Adling by having him read the line that queued Macon to attack the speaker of the line. (All in step with the stuff Adling and I have done to each other over the years — see Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling, [May, 2012].) We were still laughing over that when who should show up but Cole, a surprise, as the stage manager did not have to be present for this rehearsal. Three of the M-4 were now present.

Cole was not pleased with the news he bore. He shared with us that the sophomore class had run up a class flag close to the top of the flagpole near the front entrance of the faux high school where the M-4 had put all the school desk-chairs atop the flat roof back in February. Cole could not rip the flag down by himself, as they had greased the bottom half of the pole generously with axle grease. Hardly any discussion was necessary; we had to stop everything we were doing and go take that flag down! Junior David Waters, the only non-Senior there was as enthusiastic as the rest of us — the sophomores (class of 1966) were not his class (class of 1965)! For the just-off-probation three, it felt flattering that the chaos we had started for the school year was being continued, but the fact it was not our class (class of 1964) doing it trumped that feeling. We had our upperclassman pride to uphold!

We decided to all go attend to the matter in Wilson’s dad’s pick-up, which, handily, had a ladder in the back, and in Cole’s car. I think I told my parents we were all going to Woody’s (“the” hamburger, jukebox joint of Cisco) for a break from rehearsal, and soon we were on our way, driving slowly and quietly as we approached the building. The “very experienced three” reminded everyone that we had during the chair escapade to deal with the threat of Mr. Mitchell, Senior Robert Mitchell’s dad and school custodian, living across the street from the school, so stealth was important.

Stealth seemed “thrown to the winds” as Wilson ground the gears and gunned the engine while backing the pick-up bed up against the greased pole to give the climber, whoever that would be, a “stepping stool” start-up the pole. Neither Mr. Mitchell or even a passer-by motorist appeared. Cole stepped up and volunteered to climb the pole, as he felt responsible for getting us in position to be caught, which was true enough. Wiping as much of the grease off as he could with proto-rags from the vehicles, we assisted Cole up the pole. He shimmied up the pole admirably, grabbed the home-made flag, and ripped it off the pole.

As Cole hurled the flag down into the pick-up bed and started back down, car lights approached! Who should these lights belong to but the principal, Mr. Midkiff, who just happened to drive by at that moment! It was a moment pregnant with decision, but all eight of us sensed we should make a break for it. Cole jumped down into the pick-up bed and arm-vaulted over the side of Wilson’s pick-up. How the non-drivers scattered was all chance; Cole headed for his car; Strother, Kurklin, and I just happened to follow Cole; Woodard, Waters, and Adling stayed with Wilson, who had the pick-up started and on its way. The “Cole four” hid in the shadows of the building’s entrance near the spot where the M-4 lifted the chairs and watched the “Wilson four” roar southward down the side street (Avenue H). It looked like Mr. Midkiff was giving good chase and that he was about to catch up to the pick-up, but we in the shadows did not hang around to make sure. Fairly certain we did see the vehicles down the road stopping as we peeked over our fleeing shoulders, we made quick time to Cole’s car and spun gravel to head for Woody’s and/or my house.

Imagine what was going through Adling’s head as Mr. Midkiff, having stopped the pick-up, came up to the cab to see who had tried to elude him. There Adling was, just over a month from being expelled for the chair/desk escapade, caught red-handed with warnings of “keeping his nose clean or he would not graduate” erupting in his head. Adling was quoted in my memoirs at this moment as saying to himself, “This is it! It’s all over now!” He immediately thought he would be the one M-4 not allowed to graduate, while the other three received their diplomas, two of which were lucky enough to be in the “Cole four” right now instead of with “Hard-Luck” Adling as part of the “Wilson four.” Mr. Midkiff fixed his gaze on Adling and said something like “You just can’t seem to stay out of trouble, can you?”

An explanation of what was going on, corroborated by a greasy ripped flag in the back of the pick-up, was quickly communicated to the principal. After a pause, he let them go and told them he would speak to them later in school. When Wilson’s pick-up returned to my house with its four, much to the relief of we four already at the house who had got off that night “Scot-free,” the two groups compared stories of what just happened, forgetting about play rehearsal. Five cast members and three-fourths of the M-4 — Adling, Cole, Wilson, Woodard, Strother, Kurklin, Waters, and I, had a school night to remember, and a certain four, containing a very nervous M-4 Adling, were a little more apprehensive about attending school than usual the next few days.

Nothing ever came of Mr. Midkiff ever talking to anyone, including to Adling, about the flag and its greasy flagpole. Now, about 50 years later, I am going to guess why, as, given all that was still to come in the school year (That Damn Dam Painting [April, 2013]), we never risked asking why back then. Mr. Midkiff, throughout all the M-4 did, never seemed antagonistic toward the four of us; he was just the mouth piece of the powers that tried to squelch us; he just might have been on the side of the community who thought we did not deserve the punishment we got; whenever he could, he tended, in my opinion, to give us some slack. But, mainly, I think that the undoing of a prank the night of play rehearsal we pulled off with only half of us caught was seen for what it was — we did the administration’s work, the clean-up, for them, something they did not have to do the next morning.

Besides, when Mr. Mitchell, who had heard all the commotion at his house from across the road that night and had started to walk across when he recognized Mr. Midkiff’s car, found out the details of the greased flagpole, he said he would have been happy to help us get the flag down, allowing us to use a taller school ladder from inside, had he gotten over before Mr. Midkiff showed up.

Needless to say, Adling was the most relieved of all, when it came to visited play rehearsals and greased flagpoles.

Amidst trying to pull off an unlikely play for class pride, we had unexpectedly saved our class pride in a quicker, slightly different way. And the reputation of the M-4 received a boost to boot!


P.S. Analysis In Black was presented in the middle of the gym floor on a tarpaulin in front of black-painted stage flats and black-painted real rocks, all prepared by Cole and me. It was supposed to be a play of Poe-like shock and awe, but, predictably, the play was remembered by serious moments misinterpreted as comical. There was laughter at my poorly written line “Don’t take it so hard…” rendered by “older uncle” miner Billy Wilson to his “younger nephew” Mark Kurklin when it was clear they were all going to die. And when the lantern was blown out signaling the play’s end, when no one was supposed to have much breath left as they were all dying, “young nephew” Kurklin blew it out with a mighty breath! Mrs. Gena Cotton, freshman English teacher and choir director, one of the best, sweetest teachers ever, afterwards scolded her classes for laughing inappropriately, I heard later, reminding them of the effort the production of a play like this took under such severely handicapped theatrical conditions. Thanks to Mrs. Cotton!

Personally, I appreciated the efforts and dedication of the cast; they did not have to do what they did. Among my fond memories from our “substitute” Senior Play, besides the greased flagpole, the sophomore flag, and being in the right group of four on that one rehearsal night, are a.) Adling and Berry crashing another rehearsal at the gym by crawling up into the roof above the area where Mrs. Mulliner was sitting, b.) the entire cast asked to remain “dead” after the play until everyone had exited the gym, and c.)  the sudden, renewed interest following the play in my short stories.

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