Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

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To Those Worried Their Town Has Voted Wet – It’s Going to Be OK!

This is a “letter of love” to the citizens of Cisco, Texas, the small west central Texas town in which I grew up, and grew up “dry,” as dry as Cisco. This is not to change anyone’s mind on the issue of wet/dry, whether of Cisco or not; it is merely the sharing of what happened to my present home town, Waxahachie, Texas, on the issue of wet/dry. It is also meant to conjure thought upon the issue I’ve not seen considered all that much beyond the boundaries of moral emotion. In the end, I hope the anxiety surrounding the issue will be somewhat eased.

Discussion on this matter is often not very forthcoming, which is a shame. I also hope this serves as an example of how wet/dry discussion can be had without argument fueled by moral judgement. Perhaps this can also be an example of how a community can avoid an issue such as this from being divisive, turning the town into two feuding, non-communicating camps. I would hate divisiveness such as that to happen to “my” beloved Cisco.

Like Waxahachie a couple of years ago, or thereabout, Cisco recently voted wet, wet for the first time in my lifetime and, as far as I know, for the first time going back to the generation of my grandparents. Waxahachie’s change was the first since the first decade of the 20th century. In both cases, I think, it means businesses can sell both wine and beer, as well as eating establishments granted a liquor license selling alcohol as part of their menu. At stores selling alcohol, like grocery stores and convenience stores, no consumption is allowed.

The streets of Waxahachie, since voting for the sale of alcohol, have not run red with the blood of victims of drunk drivers. Accidents involving DWI have, if anything, gone down because fewer people are driving intoxicated, as they now go home from their local store with their purchase and consume it there. For the most part, the bars at the restaurants practice vigilance and restrict drivers as to how many drinks they have. After the vote in Waxahachie, a source of mine in the Chamber of Commerce said revenues from sales tax to the city jumped over a factor of two.

You see, the sale of alcohol is a matter of community economics, not community morality.

I grew up being taught there is something bad or evil in drinking. Like my friend Ruth Schaefer of Cisco, I saw as a child within my own extended family the tragic effects of alcohol abuse. Evidence points to the fact I have Native American ancestry (Eastern Cherokee), putting me possibly at risk of alcoholism, should I choose to drink. Yet now, I write posts on my website entitled “Beyond Good and Evil” articles like Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas (April, 2012). How come?

Suddenly I’m talking of personal experience. That’s because drinking is a matter of personal taste, not of good and evil. The problem is: drinking alcohol, like all tastes — favorite sports teams, music, and eating — can be abused; like any drug, alcohol can be abused, as, like so many drugs, it can be addictive for so many people and/or it can lead to behavior that can harm or endanger the drinker or others around the drinker. Each individual must confront his or her decision to drink alone; no one can do that for the individual. This is exactly like every person deciding on what his/her tastes should be, whether to drink or not, whether to smoke or not, whether to like sports or not, whether to like this or that music, and whether they need to watch their weight or not.

A lot of people want drinking to be a moral Christian imperative, as if Scripture teaches us the evil of alcohol; I remember that message a lot when I was young sitting the pews and sitting in Sunday School. But drinking being anti-Christian is such a crock of you-know-what. Biblical times, the setting of the origin of Christianity, were times in which alcoholic drinks were the safest thing to drink; Jesus turned the water into wine, as it was probably safer than the water. (Nothing like alcohol to take care of nasty microbes in consumed liquids.) Calvin, one of the leaders of the Reformation and the founder of Presbyterianism, suggested the best place for him to “spread the word” was in drinking establishments of Geneva to listeners over a glass or stein, but the town fathers, unlike so many city leaders of today, did not think that was a good idea. Bottom line, the Bible teaches against drunkenness, not against drinking per se, against the abuse of drinking alcohol, not against the alcohol. In other words, in the Bible, drinking alcohol, like so many other activities, is a matter of temperance. [Lev. 10:8-11, Prov. 20:1, Prov. 23:19-21, Prov. 23:29-35, Hab. 2:12-17, Luke 21:34-36, 1 Thess. 5:6-7]

I learned that “tee-totalers” in Christendom are, because of the points of the above paragraph, a very tiny minority; most adult Christians around the world drink. The Eucharist, done “properly,” normally means using real wine. I would hazard a guess that those denominations like the one in which I grew up, preach total abstinence from alcohol consumption because historically they were made up of families susceptible to higher-than-average numbers of cases of alcoholism.

Like all personal tastes, a person just reaching the drinking age, or an adult suddenly surrounded by opportunities to buy and consume in his/her newly wet home town, must, it seems to me, consider the pros and cons of drinking. Think about it, and talk to willing others about it. In the end, you make your own decision, taking the responsibility of that decision upon yourself. Like my selection of music, my decision to drink was not made upon religious, family, political, or moral considerations.

One always has the right to never drink, and, if the will power is strong enough, stop drinking at a point in time and never drink again. Charles XII, king of Sweden, it is said, went from a drunkard to a convinced “tee-totaler” overnight to please his sister, who was disappointed in him because of his alcohol abuse. If alcoholism is rampant in your extended family (native American or not), my advice is to take the choice not to drink; if your self-restraint and self-control need a lot of improvement, this choice is probably for you. If you cannot fathom risking harming your liver (sclerosis of the liver) over a life time of drinking, then either do not drink, or, do as I did — do not start drinking until later in life; I did not start until I was in the final twenty years of my full-time teaching career.

If you are a convinced “tee-totaler,” please consider doing me this favor: do not judge others if they drink. One of the disappointments I see at the all-school high school reunions at Cisco are self-righteous people with whom I attended school shunning association and communication with their classmates because those classmates have chosen to celebrate with beer and/or wine. Such self-righteousness reeks with pretension that hides inner weakness and fear. Besides, I would prefer spending time with all my drinking friends rather than with the non-drinking ones who morally judge others; the former are much more fun than the latter! And I can help make sure those fun friends who “party” too much make it to bed down safely for the night; it is the least a true friend can do.

Once you reach the drinking age, and you decide you want to drink, consider postponing starting until decades later; should you not postpone, and medical problems develop because of your drinking, just like smokers you must take responsibility for possibly shortening your life. If you have had experience and you know you are what is known as a “bad drunk,” as opposed to a “good drunk,” drinking is probably not a good decision. My son is fond of saying that a person is not going to do anything under the influence of alcohol he or she would not do sober, so, if this is true, you can tell if you would be a “bad drunk” or not without even drinking; ask your friends — they will be honest with you if they are good friends. Personally, I do not like to be around “bad drunks;” they are for me the persons I would never befriend anyway.

If you decide to try drinking and you are a person worried about what others think of what you do or say, and/or, you are far from a risk taker, drinking is probably not going to improve the quality of your life; try developing other tastes. Say you have decided to drink: be always cognizant of your risks — susceptibility to alcoholism, harm to your liver, negative reactions from the self-righteous. What are the advantages of deciding to drink? Those, by contrast, are usually individually discovered, and, certainly, if you do not discover any in your experience, then, for your own sake, stop! But most people do discover advantages that mean something to them and to friends at the “waterholes” of like experience. For me, I enjoy the taste of beer, not wine or liquor. I drink brews because they taste good to me, and I like to try different tastes of beer from all over the world. Most new drinkers discover they are either beer or wine, like either dog lovers or cat lovers; a few like both, maybe even including liquor. But, in my case, I found out the hard way soon after I started that I could not handle distilled spirits (whiskey, tequila, etc.) and I do not like the taste of wine. So, ironically, I am a convinced “tee-totaler” when it comes to liquor, wine, and wine coolers. Margaritas, mixed drinks, and other cocktails have little or no appeal to my taste; I am a beer drinker, period. But I respect the tastes of others in alcohol, and never argue about what others should or should not drink — it is a matter of personal taste, like music and the opposite sex. And, I discovered, gratefully, that despite my ancestry, I am not susceptible to alcoholism.

I love the effect drinking beer with others has in conversation; my inhibitions are naturally low, even when sober, but beer often lowers those in others. Ideas flow more easily; people who are “good drunks” are funny and hilarious; in the words of the Beatles, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.” Many “open up” for a cathartic experience; psychologists are not needed. For me, it is all worth the health risks, especially when I started so late in life.

Moreover, it is now known that alcohol in moderation, 1 or 2 beers or a glass of wine a day is medically good for you; it helps keep your blood vessels unclogged. It is one reason why countries like France and Germany do not have near the cholesterol problems we do here in the US.

Have I always been responsible in my moderation? No, but it has not happened very many times over the years, and I have never put myself in a situation where I am a danger to myself or to others around me. I apologize for any public or private embarrassments my lack of moderation may have caused others in my presence, but, then again, my life is replete with times I’ve made a real ass of myself while stone cold sober; how different is it when I make an ass out of myself when not so sober? I understand the concept of “social drinking” and understand its pleasures and risks. So far, I have not regretted the decision to partake of the fruit of the grain and hops, and, of course, I hope and pray I never do. (As to what beers I prefer, see Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas (April, 2012).)

As new opportunities to drink appear in Cisco and other places due to recent vote on local resolutions, a little summary of the situation is good to remember: If you decide honestly, you cannot make a bad decision. Should you decide that drinking is not for you, good choice! Just don’t “look down your nose” at those who do choose to imbibe; abstaining from drinking alcohol affords no one any higher moral ground. Should you decide that you would like to try drinking the form of alcohol that suits your taste, good choice! Just develop the habits of moderation and the use of a designated driver when drinking at public places or driving home; be responsible and safe. Both good choices should respect the views of the other side.

I’ll wrap this up with a couple of economic advantages a wet community like Cisco has over a dry Cisco.

a) All along I-20, eating establishments, unable to serve alcohol with their meals, have come and gone, save Pizza Heaven and the new Chicken Express; Cisco does not have a nice restaurant which travelers on Interstate and locals can regularly patronize. A good restaurant franchise, like Chili’s or Applebee’s, simply will not set up shop in a dry town; it is not economically feasible to do so. The Cisco Chamber of Commerce has pointed out that the town has a prime site for such a restaurant — the intersection of I-20 and 206 at the west end of town, where the White Elephant used to be. The recent vote may allow for a Chili’s or Applebee’s or some such to do a great business there and at other sites; travelers will stop at a restaurant name they recognize; they are looking for a sure thing more often than for an eating adventure. Think of the jobs available for local professionals and for high school and college students at such a great business.

b) Those of us who own property both inside and outside the city limits of Cisco (I understand property owners living on outlying farms and ranches got to vote on this issue this time.) might well expect a break from the rising property taxes giving us so much concern, given the increased revenue intake from alcohol sales.

I have seen the advantages of a) and b) in “Waxahachie” terms here.

Hope all of you in Cisco who decide to imbibe under the new situation are not “bad drunks.”  Hope I can join you in future at a public place or two inside our beloved town “bending elbows” and sharing Cisco stories. At the very least, I look forward to every time I visit Cisco not having to drive to Putnam or Ranger for my “brewskys.”


What is Wrong With Public Education… and What To Do About It

If our country is one big room, the elephant in that room is the state of public education. Everybody seems to know there are grave problems, but no one wants to talk about it. Well… almost no one… I am near the end of my teaching career, so I have no reservations in talking about the elephant, and to speak in, I hope, no uncertain terms.

As in most great issues there are “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” If names appear in all this, they are names of “the good;” the names of “the bad and the ugly” are withheld for obvious reasons. If a name does not appear, it does not mean I’m calling the person left out as “bad” or “ugly;” it means I don’t have room to list all the names of the “good” in education.

I am going to list the “mind crimes” committed against all of us when we were students, against our children as students, and against our grandchildren as students at the feet of a villianized group I shall call, for simplicity, Eduway — sort of like Amway, I suppose. Eduway consists of parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and tax payers; it is a group of “bads” and “uglies.” Thank God the “goods” are as equally distributed and widespread!

Who in the hell am I to pontificate about the problems of education? Just because I am a teacher? No, I hope to show, despite the fact I am a teacher, Eduway hamstrings the lofty goals of the lofty idea of public education because the “goods” struggling against Eduway are usually “lifers” in the profession of education or “traditionalists” who think their experience in education is the only one that can be had in education. They have nothing better with which to compare, or they refuse to look for anything better, in the name of “that’s the way it has always been.”

Briefly, I have been a professional teacher for over forty years; six years in higher education (Texas A&M University at College Station and University of Texas at Austin); 32 years in high school (Jrs. & Srs. in Waxahachie High School); three years in a private college-prep church school (Canterbury Episcopal in DeSoto). I chose to teach high schoolers; I did not teach because I could not do something else. The secrets to my longevity are my subjects I teach or have taught: upper level physics, upper level math, astronomy, computer science, history & philosophy of science — my discipline problems are essentially scheduled out. My teaching specialty is college preparation.

Professionally I am a “square peg in a round hole;” I do not fit. On the campuses of Waxahachie and DeSoto I was and am the only Ph.D. in the classroom. (Note: this is crucial — NOT a doctorate in education) My degrees are not in education, but in physics. Before I started teaching in high school, I knew how to teach, without a single hour of education. (I started in Waxahachie on a provisional basis, agreeing to get my “necessary” education hours in two years, thanks to Billy Bates, former football coach at Cisco High School and superintendent at Waxahachie ISD at the time.) How did I know how to teach without a single education hour?

Because I did not listen to Eduway, mostly made of “professional educators” eaten up with the myth of education. Mrs. Edward Lee of the Cisco schools (Ciscoites might remember she lived right across the street from the old 3-story high school building.) told me before I graduated from CHS, “Ronnie, take as few education courses as you can.” (At the time, I did not know I was going to teach — maybe Mrs. Lee knew something about me I did not; I would not put it past her.) I listened to Mrs. Lee — I took zero hours of education in eight years of undergraduate and graduate school at Texas A&M. I taught Jr. High and High School science and math teachers for Extension of UT Austin, and, as I visited with them and asked them what they would have done differently, they consistently said, “Take fewer education courses, and more content courses.”

Eduway says you must have education courses to be able to teach; that is a myth. I am living proof, and the world is filled with others just like me — countless college and university professors who know how to teach and have never had an education course in their life. I suspect they learned the way I did — on-the-job training, employing the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method. Thrown in front of my first lab course I taught, I mimicked my professors, like Dr. Nelson Duller and Dr. John McIntyre of physics and Dr. Manuel Davenport and Rev. Stadleman of philosophy; I mimicked my high school teachers like Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Evelyn Bailey, Mr. Jack Hughes, Mr. Arlin Bint; I mimicked my junior high teachers like Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Schaefer, and Mrs. Pat Owens. In my opinion, the only training needed for teachers is so-called “student teaching” — on-the-job training, and only on-the-job training.

My experience implies there is no science of education. Eduway acts as if there is. If such a science existed, then teaching and learning would be done the same way everywhere. But the truth is, how we learn is as complicated as how our brains work, and we know so very little in both areas. Education courses are propped up as content courses by college and university departments of education, like science and math courses are content courses, only the latter need no such propping. I can think of no more useless courses or of time more wasted than the time spent taking education courses. (Some of my best friends are education professors.) Even the professional “educators” know it: To finish up my required education hours for my teaching certification through Texas Woman’s University (TWU), the education department there allowed me to write papers in lieu of taking the rest of the courses, when one education professor, looking at my folder, said, “Now, let me get this straight — you have a Ph.D. in physics and we are signing you up in a course where you practice turning on projectors and setting up equipment in the classroom?” We both agreed that was pretty silly, to say the least.

Teaching is an art, a skill; I think it is a calling. Despite my anti-clerical philosophy (Some of my best friends are in the clergy.) I understand what it means to be “called” into the ministry. You learn how to teach well by teaching, learning from your mistakes, and constantly adjusting and tweaking.

Two qualities must be possessed by a “good” teacher: competency and compassion. A “good” teacher has both to spare; a “bad” or “ugly” teacher has only one or neither. A lot of teachers teaching today are “bad” and/or “ugly.” Under a rare administrator at Waxahachie High School who did not listen to Eduway, faculty members, led by department heads, did the interviewing of applicants to join the faculty. We interviewed a veteran teacher we knew from the past whose mantra was “I just love kids.” Which was bullshit, because we knew he was a racist. No compassion, and probably not competent. “Good” teachers must know what they are talking about, and they must care deeply and passionately that their students develop a love of learning whatever subject they are teaching. “Good” teachers are not surrogate parents; they are not “friends” of their students (though, after graduation so very many of my former students have become my good friends; one of them is the administrator of this website).

Eduway has brought the profession of teaching to the brink of low-income labor — almost the antithesis of a professional career. Teachers should have the professional respect of lawyers and doctors, a profession self-governed and self-regulated, instead of being reduced to second-class citizens by low-income professional classification. Teachers are considered workers more than professionals. Eduway administrators of all levels get paid more than classroom teachers, as a rule, for doing little or none of the work with the students — the whole purpose of the entire educational enterprise.

Eduway has introduced the “business” model into schools, as opposed to the “institutional” model. (I watched the operation of the “institutional” model for eight years in college.) This has been as a cancer in American education, both in public and private schools. Not too long ago I had a board member of Canterbury hold up the “business model” as the guideline for private schools. I should have seen this coming, as over the years at Waxahachie compiling my list of “things I do not understand about public schools,” teachers stopped leaving the classroom to become principals; rather, they left to become “managers.” (Teachers-become-principals for money are “sell-outs” — they betray students. Now, some non-competent, non-caring teachers that can’t be shed need to be “encouraged” to become administrators, like the Corps of Cadets when I was at Texas A&M, wherein outfits would “push” assholes into the corps staff — promote them — so that the outfit would become much, much better without them.) Admittedly, many faculties would become much better with certain teachers “promoted” to administrators. Phrases like “chain of command” were introduced into faculty-administration relations- a setting where they do not belong.   As I saw in college and university administrations of “true” professionals, there is no need of a chain of command. (Some of my best friends are promoted school administrators.)

Notice how little I’ve said about the students themselves? Congratulations! You see the horror brought on by the self-aggrandizement of Eduway?  The idea of public education is probably the best, certainly one of the best, ideas the US has given the world — the idea that citizens of means and property would make a material sacrifice for the younger generation (pay their school taxes). Eduway has turned public schools into an adult affair, like any other business; Eduway would have schools be about budgets and the wise spending of taxpayer’s money, instead of being of the students, by the students, and for the students. Without students as the main concern there is no school. I remember times in Waxahachie when district policy was guided by the accountants, by the budget! That was no true school, that was a farce, or, better, a tragedy for young minds.

No wonder students don’t like school! The school is not theirs; it is an adult playground ill-concerned about learning wherein adults use the “business” of schools as a means of self-promotion and students are seen as end “products,” products of some kind of K-12 assembly line. Eduway wants students to become consumers, not independent, innovative thinkers; Eduway wants to rubber stamp for the student the same thing stamped for the student’s parents.

Eduway spends time, money, and effort drumming up useless “in-service” programs for teachers, when almost every faculty has an almost endless source of meaningful, applicable “in-service” resources: its “good” teachers. Great in-services are actually the cheapest ones! Money is wasted paying curriculum directors, whose contributions to the classroom are, in my opinion, as useless as a ham sandwich at a Jewish picnic. So-called H-R departments, or human resource centers, become, thanks to Eduway, little more than enforcers of heavy-handed administration; H-R centers should be help centers for teachers, not centers harboring even more administrators.

Too many coaches are teachers, and too many teachers are coaches. In my experience a good coach and a good teacher in one is as rare as that aforementioned picnic sandwich. Coaches should not be allowed to become administrators unless they have morphed into something more than a coach, as did Billy Bates and Lonnie Nichols in Waxahachie. Nothing sadder and weaker than an administrator who can never be more than a coach. (Some of my best friends are coaches.)

Eduway shows its stupidity no better than in the sphere of teacher evaluation. Teachers are evaluated by people removed from the classroom! They should be evaluated by a practicing panel of their peers — pure and simple.

All principles should be required to teach at least one class, and be evaluated like any other teacher.

At the high school level, students should be empowered, given a sense that the school is not the adults’, it is the students’. Student body representatives should be present at all faculty meetings, all principals’ meetings, and all school board meetings; also they should have a say in what teachers are hired or fired. (Eduway would say I am calling for the inmates to run the asylum — idiots!) I lived an actual case when bright students actually wrote the scheduling software for the school; it did not last long; many adults hate to be outshined by students, even on the students’ “turf.” I wrote a short novel years ago entitled Brave New School, describing a school with such an empowered student body; unfortunately, Eduway librarians would file such a publication under “fantasy.”

This can go on and on, but I will truncate this with an appeal to pay teachers like professionals, not like second-class employees. Teachers don’t work for a State, a school district, or a boss; they work for students, just like lawyers work for their clients and doctors work for their patients. We need salary incentives to attract the best minds into teaching instead of desperate minds who cannot function in other capacities. You get what you pay for, and tax-paying parents should be outraged that their most precious children are placed in classrooms for most of their young lives too often with people paid proportionally to their competency and their compassion. It is almost organized child abuse! Meanwhile, look at the high-end salaries given to people who hardly step into the classroom. (Some of my best friends are campus administrators and district administrators.)

Elect school board members who are more teacher supporters than business people; elect school board members more interested in what goes on in the classrooms than on district fields of athletic play; elect school board members more interested in academic achievement than extracurricular contest winners. (Some of my best friends are school board members.)

Again, somebody has to talk about the elephant in the room. Perhaps it is appropriate the talk comes from someone like whom (possessing a Ph.D.) Waxahachie made sure they did not hire again; appropriate from someone who was never assigned as a mentor for an aspiring classroom teacher — maybe, for fear of what would “rub off” on the aspirant?; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, in the end, was drummed out of public schools for doing what he was asked to do when coaxed out of retirement; appropriate from someone who, when given the choice, always sided with the students; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, I think, never “sold out.”

I speak up for the “good” teachers at Canterbury, with whom I share so much in background, as well as lunchtime — teachers with last names like Hoffmann, Reves, Bailey, Polewski, Caulder, and Edwards. I did it for the “good” teachers of Waxahachie High, past and present, C.W. Block, Kathryn Aday, Amy Cote, Mona Choucair, Billy Ray Hancock, Emily Price, Brittney Duvall, Ron Appleton, Lisa Elliot, Sean Cagle, Doris Butler, Carrie White, Wanda Cain, Don Bowman, Ted Harris, Benji Arnold, Tommy Simpson, Dr. Rusty Reeves, John Nickols, Billy Stoffrogen, and Don Henslee. Add to the two Waxahachie administrators mentioned prior, the names Harold Dorsey, Jerry Colosimo, and Don Williams. And, of course, I speak up for those Cisco High School teachers and Texas A&M profs I’ve already listed above.

But most of all, I did it for all the students I have known, inside and outside my classroom, and for students everywhere. May those young minds who are coming after today’s students receive better from public education.


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