Teaching

Last week during a Mecklenburg County budget meeting, Commissioner Vilma Leake criticized the lack of progress made by students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. According to the Charlotte Observer, she said, “Every parent in this community ought to take out a warrant and have every educator arrested and put in jail for not seeing that their children are not given a quality education, college ready.”

Ms. Leake has many years as an elected leader, but I suggest she is wrong.

Instead, the persons who should be corrected (not arrested) are: The parents who send hungry children to school; the parents who send sleep-deprived children to school; the parents who send children to school who have not learned how to take direction, how to obey rules, and how to take turns; and the parents who give their children cell phones instead of books.

Also, let’s vote out the

 Politicians who poorly fund schools forcing teachers to manage (not teach) classrooms packed with 30 or more students who have vast differences in learning abilities; the politicians who cut the art and music programs “to save” monies; the politicians who use educational philosophies as political props; and the politicians who tell professional educators how to educate.

Ms. Leake is frustrated with the public schools, but I suggest that teachers are not the problem.

Relief

Take a moment and consider these stress-causing issues: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; The Supreme Court leak; Abortion; Political primaries for everything from the United States Senate to county commissioner; Hunter Biden; COVID variants; A seasoned deputy aiding a criminal to escape; Personal problems that affect us all; and feel free to add to my list.

Stress! We live in a world where we are constantly told by headlines “What you need to know.” I don’t know about you, but I resent that statement and avoid reading anything in a newspaper that professes to know what I need to know. The constant clatter of print and talking head news confirms that William A. Percy was correct.

Recently I re-read his autobiography Lanterns on the Levee. While I take issue with certain parts of his story (such as his racist paternalism), his writing is exquisite and a joy to read as it is chock-full of literary allusions. Published in 1941, it is dated in a way, but like all good literature, it carries a message for us these 80 years later. For instance, in writing about his years at Harvard Law school, he tells how students during the early years of the 20th century were restricted in having parties and social evenings. Thus, he writes, “Our chief dissipation was conversation.”  Each night at eleven after studying was finished, a coffee percolator was started in someone’s room and a night of superior talk about various topics was begun. However, Percy writes, “I wonder if this most civilized form of entertainment is fated for extinction by man’s effective mental opiate, the radio?” (italics mine)

Our world, it seems to me, is full of mental opiates: If a television is not blaring so called news that we must know, a machine pipes in unwanted music in public spaces such as airports. Many runners and walkers have the white plugs in their ears that carry music or other clatter directly to their brain. It is all, as someone observed, “A clattering of cymbals.”

Ours is not the first to have problems of a plague, wars, famine, and more. Yet, ours is the first to be able to watch these monsters as they consume us. Instead of taking months for  news to cross the Atlantic it arrives via social media immediately. That marvel causes stress like has never existed. Instead of reading about a death weeks later, we see it happen on a screen as it is played over and over. Stressful for sure, and that stress takes a toll on individuals and cultures. But what to do?

Unplug! Percy and other sages have warned us. Our parents knew of and told us of the dangers of hearing too much. Unplug from the mental opiate machines at least for a while. Stop the noise whether it be something we need to know, a game of snooker or football, a realism show that is likely pre-programed, and more. Stop the noise and sit under a tree or on a bank of a creek or anywhere that has as its “noise” the sound of nature. Let the wind going thorough a tree tell you about its trip to you or hear a bird announce its news or just sit and give yourself permission to not know what is happening in the secular world. Sit with a neighbor and hear about his or her joys. Converse with nature and the dear ones in your life.

Unplug! Even Wordsworth told us that “The world is too much with us; late and soon,”

In the end there is little that we need to know about the secular world for it, too, will pass. But we need to take care of each other and have stimulating, common discussions. After all, we were told to be good stewards of our world, and that includes each other, not just the trees, birds, and such.

Such a Mind as This (A Biblical-Theological Study of Thinking in the Old Testament)

Richard L. Smith

WIPF and Stock, 2021

394 pages

When I ordered Smith’s book, I was  anticipating a book similar to other studies of the Old Testament that I had read, such as Getting Involved with God by Ellen Davis.

Smith obviously had read and studied the Old Testament. His Bibliography extends from page 395 to 410 and is a rich resource. Whether he has read all these sources or not, Smith has written a complex book in which he attempts to show the reader how to think biblically.

I first read his chapter on Job, one of my favorite stories (myth?) in the Old Testament. What I read was not new information or insight into the great story of Job, but a complicated vision of the great story.

I appreciate the work of Smith but find his book too verbose for reading it like  another study of the  OT. However, I think it a  fine reference that will help the student of the OT have a better grasp of the OT. Just keep it on your shelf until you have a particular need for information.

            Racism Hidden Behind Grammar

Readers often respond to the writer of an article or essay they have read. Recently one such reader wrote to a writer about an article printed in the Washington Post Magazine. Printed below is the email as shared by the writer.

                                    Hi Damon:

I like your pieces in the WP magazine but I really stumbled reading your article in tomorrow’s edition.

Specifically:

…although it ain’s a perfect analogy: ain’t? Really poor choice.

…some of them white boys: them? How about ‘those’?

You do good work; don’t try to  sound like you are still in the street.

Regards,

            The writer shares the reader’s email in which he or she rails about the use of “ain’t” and whips to death that old horse. That is a choice any of us can make, but I see that specific complaint like a charge against a windmill. However, what I find most distressing in the reader’s email is its tone and subtle racism. 

The reader has some knowledge of grammar and punctuation-the correct use of the semi-colon in the last sentence shows this, but he missed a comma in his opening sentence. However, the condescending tone and subtle racist attitude expressed in the reader’s last sentence is startling. The reader might as well have written, “You do good work, boy; don’t try to sound like you are still in the street.”  For one thing, who is the  reader to pronounce to the writer that, “You do good work;”. The writer knows that his work is good, or he wouldn’t be doing it. This clause is pure arrogance on the part of the reader because he or she assumes a superior position and passes a judgement, not an opinion on the work of the writer. But it is the veiled prejudice that steals the show. The last clause exposes the racist attitude of a reader commenting on the written words of a Black writer. The reader shows that he or she thinks that every Black writer must have, at one time, been “in the street.” In other words, if  you are Black you come from an inferior environment, even if, by now, you do good work. How is a writer to respond to such a tone and words?  Shuffle as he looks down and says, “Thank’ ya, Massa.”

But the writer, like any writer, is free to sound any way he or she wishes. However, in doing so, the writer must be willing to suffer any just and fair consequences—such as having a helpful editor make a change or changes. But a racist attack is  never warranted, and this email demonstrates another way of expressing racism, in a sly and sinister manner.

However, the writer does err in one regard. He writes in his splendid and controlled response this: “If you were better at this than I am, you would know, as I do, that the rules of grammar are mostly suggestions. Guardrails to help us corral and curate the mess in our heads into something cohesive.”

I suggest that rules—grammar or otherwise—are rules, not guidelines. In the usage of them or those, the rule concerns case; the difference between nominative and objective case. However, this rule’s distinction, like so many others in our grammar, is being lost through careless writing or editing or both. However, does it matter if the writer gets his message to the reader? Consider this example of the lowly comma and it use: “Let’s eat Grandma.” Let’s eat, Grandma.” Grammar and its cousin punctuation matter for the sole purpose to facilitate effective communication. They are rules to be followed as closely and respectfully as possible so that all readers will find the writing to be a road map to a destination or conclusion.

But the arrogant tone and subtle racism of the reader’s email far outpace the writer’s misuse of case. The use of case is the type of error which is easy to correct, but the ugly tone derived from privilege and its cousin racism is a choice, not a mistake. But unlike the mistakes we make in grammar, it lives and breathes and hurts us all like COVID.

Now, ain’t that the truth.

Legislating from the Bench

Before the Senate vote for Judge Jackson, I contacted Senator Tillis and encouraged him to vote for her. After voting against her,  he answered me explaining that, while he found her well qualified, he was concerned that she would “legislate from the bench.” I wonder how the Senator views the recent ruling of Judge Kathryn K. Mizelle who voided the national mask mandate for public transportation?

In her 57-page ruling,  Judge Mizelle writes: “Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”

So, here we have a 33-year-old, newly appointed judge for life, not approved by the ABA, who writes that the CDC does not know its science, and that she knows more of masks that it does. By the way, the ABA stated that its reasons for giving Mizelle a “not qualified” rating include that “since her admission to the bar [2012] Ms. Mizelle has not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

Legislating from the bench is a problem, but not with Judge Jackson.

Kevin’s Last Email

Kevin’s last email to me arrived nine days ago. It followed a brief text exchange in which he admitted that his health was deteriorating because of his struggle with COVID. He died this week, but his email is still on my computer screen, not tucked away in a folder or tossed into the trash. But more on that later.

Kevin Gaghan wrestled for the Bishop Ireton teams that I  coached in the early 1970’s. He was a good wrestler and placed high in every tournament he entered. Opponents may have scored more points in a match against Kevin, but none of them defeated him. But one of his matches is still remembered by his teammates, by his opponent, and by me.

Bishop McNamara was the visiting team for an afternoon dual meet. It promised to be an exciting one between two all-boy’s Catholic schools that were members of the athletic Metro League in Washington, DC.  Ireton was favored to win, but McNamara had several good wrestlers, so some exciting individual matches were anticipated. One of those was Kevin’s match against his opponent, also named Kevin. My memory of the match is that our Kevin took control and had a comfortable, but not large, lead. However, he twisted an ankle causing him much pain. He knew that his ankle was badly injured, but he told me that he wanted to continue the match because he did not want to forfeit to the McNamara wrestler. The two scrappy wrestlers continued their match, while the McNamara coach all the while screamed for his charge to “Grab the ankle, Grab the ankle”, but the McNamara Kevin won a close match without touching the injured ankle.  After the dual meet he told me that he had not wanted to beat Kevin Gaghan by taking advantage of the injured ankle, which is a testament to the character of them both—one forged ahead in the heat of adversity and the other exhibited sportsmanship.

As an adult Kevin Gaghan used the exemplary character he showed in a high school wrestling match to build a successful business. He married, shared life with his wife and two sons, and gave generously to many people and programs such as the ailing high school wrestling program that I coached after retiring. He even donated to a wrestling program here in North Carolina after I asked him for support. Kevin was a caring benefactor to a wide assortment of schools, hospitals, individuals, and programs.

The last time I saw Kevin, he had stopped to see my wife and me during a road trip he was making to see his siblings in various places, and an older brother lives in the same town as us, so he came by to share a fine afternoon before he went on to eastern North Carolina to visit one more brother before returning to his immediate family. “Just tooling around to see everybody,” he said. I admire that in Kevin, the man who took the time to visit and talk and share with loved ones.

But back to Kevin’s last email to sixteen of us. His words are italicized.

 Kevin Gaghan Thu, Apr 7, 3:37 PM (9 days ago)

The power of words!!  If you like music after seeing the video, click on the you tube link of the tenors singing halleluha (or however it is spelled)

The Palindrome Video

A palindrome reads the same backwards as forward. This video reads the exact opposite backwards as forward.  Not only does it read the opposite, the meaning is the exact opposite.

I don’t know if Kevin knew this would be his last email to folks. But in his match against the McNamara wrestler, young Kevin showed us what a wrestler should aspire to be. A few days before his death, through the email, Kevin Gaghan shared with us a message that shows what we should aspire to be. That is his life-long lesson to us.

MGSD Act

This week I had an appointment in the office of The Mooresville Graded School District, which is located in the old post office at 305 North Main Street. When I  drove into the parking lot I was surprised that there were no handicapped parking spaces. However, I had faced that before and occupied two spaces in order to open my van door. I did manage to push my manual wheelchair up the incline to the front door but faced two steps leading to the entry. After managing entry through the loading ramp at the back, I mentioned to the administrator I met  with about the situation for handicapped citizens. She explained that the building had historical designation  and walked with me to my car, apologetic all the time.

Later that afternoon the administrator called me to share that she had contracted the MGSD superintendent and assured me that after the spring break the situation for handicapped access would be remedied by purchasing a portable ramp for the front entry and creating parking spaces for wheelchair uses.

Thank you Ms. McLean and Mr. Mauney for listening to my concerns and acting so quickly.

Planes, Pine Trees, Birds, and the Lake

Today’s morning ride was a cold one which is all-too common in many springs. The sun was just clearing the spit of Lake Norman we live by, and planes busily passed overhead on their way to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The landing traffic here is steady, but not heavy, and I enjoy watching the massive machines seemingly float across our part of the world as they glide into the airport southwest of us. The planes come in from the east at about 1,000 feet and some bank for their landing and others directly approach it, but I enjoy watching them all, especially the larger international planes which, at first glance, appear not to be moving but hovering above in the golden hued morning light. While my view of the air traffic is a relaxed one, I’m sure the workers in the airports and control stations must be hard at work to keep up with all the coming and going. So much technology and human work is involved in accomplishing what I leisurely watch on many morning rides.

But the man-made flights are not the only ones this morning. Across the street is a flock of crows, their rich blackness almost too large for the landscape. They fly from pine top to pine top while telling each other some morning news. Lower to the ground are the robins who, after having established territory, busily build nests made of mud and pine needles which are almost perfect circles.  Behind me the resident mocking bird, named Atticus, announces its presence from the holly tree while the smaller Carolina wren challenges with its own high and melodious volume.

But my attention is held by the bird box attached to a tree directly in front of me. In the past nesting seasons it has been the home of titmice; however, this year its tenants are brown-headed nuthatches or bluebirds. I can’t decide which because there is a dispute going on over who has rights to the bird box. I watch as I ride and note that the small nuthatch seems to have the upper hand because one of the pair occupies the box-its small brown head protrudes from the entry hole and its mate calls from a near-by tree. But the usually timid bluebirds are not giving up and one of them flies from the roof of the box to a tree and back again to scold the brown-headed nuthatch in the box. It is a back and forth with much bird communication between each pair and harsher notes aimed at the opposing pair. I ride and watch. Eventually the bluebirds leave, the one nuthatch remains in the box, and the other glides over from its perch on the tree to take dominion over the box as it sits on the roof.

And while I have watched this dispute in nature, planes continued their approach for landing  at the airport over thirty miles from where I ride. Certainly the speed, the size, the noise, and more features of the planes overshadow those of the crow, the mockingbird, the nuthatch, the blue bird, and the other birds in every way.  The planes provide a service as does the lake I live on with its shoreline of 520 miles. It provides power for citizens of this state, and most civic leaders and other people extol the lakes economic benefits. In 1959 Duke Power began the damming of the Catawba River just northwest of Charlotte and the flooding began–all the way to the 760-elevation line when the lake is at full pond. All this and more for progress we are told, and some of that argument has merit, but not all.

The 42 pine trees in our front yard prohibit us from having a manicured lawn like our neighbors. More than once we have been advised that, if we removed the trees, we could have an overly sculpted, sprayed, and un-natural shade of green grass. That may be true, but we then would be trading the birds, the shade in summer’s hot western sun, the butterflies, and all the other abundant life that, along with us, call this spit of land home.

I have ridden in planes. I enjoy seeing the piece of Lake Norman we live by. But most of all, I cherish the life under, in, and by the pine trees. All 42.

Lenhoff Money

            Since California high school football for the fall 2020 season was cancelled because of the pandemic, and the spring season looked doubtful,  Carla and Steven Lenhoff allowed their son Lucas to search for options that would allow him to play. After a thorough search, he settled on Charlotte, NC, and last year his parents moved from California to Charlotte where he enrolled in Myers Park High School, along with 10 other students from California, Texas, and Georgia who came with his family. Carla and Steven rented 3 houses in the Myers Park district to house the players, and Steven bristles at the suggestion that his wife and he brought ringers to Charlotte: “What upsets me is people say we brought a bunch of ringers out here. Well, outside of one kid—and Lucas was probably the most well-known—besides the color of their skin, how were they ringers in football? A lot of kids didn’t even play. They hadn’t played varsity.”  

When a Myers Park parent notified the school, Dr. Robert Folk investigated the possibility of ineligible players being on the football team, and after the inquiry he self-reported one of the oldest and largest high schools in NC. The school forfeited all of its games for the 2021 season and since their arrival, some of the students who arrived with the Lenhoffs have left Charlotte which causes Carla Lenhoff to observe, “What happened with all the kids is the most disappointing part off this because I feel like I failed. I would’ve loved to watch all of them graduate together. Its’s disappointing and this is not about football, and I think people don’t’ get that. These kids have been together a long time.”  

Words matter because they reveal how the speaker thinks. If we examine the above quotation of Steven Lenhoff, we hear a white man defending his bringing of 10 Black youngsters  to Myers Park by explaining that “besides (italics mine) the color of their skin” how else would we see them as ringers. Thus, Steven Lenhoff wants us to think that only Black players can be ringers or exceptional players, but he apologizes for the ones who did not play or make the varsity team.  Is there subtle racism being expressed in his words or is he speaking for us?

Carla Lenhoff wants us to believe that her family move across the United States is not about football, but her son, husband, and she move so that Lucas can play a season of football and be recruited by a college. It seems that the Lenhoffs brought other players at the family’s expense to join the team. But, Carla Lenhoff tells us …this is not about football.”

The Lenhoffs have the means to help children, and they seem to have done so in a fashion. However, to move across the country so that even one child can play football is mis-guided. It teaches horrible lessons such as football is most important; if one is wealthy enough he or she can buy anything; and that rules are inconveniences that can be circumvented. Those lessons, and others, the Lenhoffs have willingly taught their son and other children. That is shameful.

If the Lenhoffs want to help, there are many charities that will accept their monies without harming children.

A Lake Norman Day

            This last day of March 2022 arrives clothed in a delightful mix of warm, wet wrappings of flowering trees, grasses, and flowers. The dogwood trees in the back garden hold not yet fully opened blooms of their soft white petals as if not wanting to release them to onlookers. Cardinals, nuthatches, doves, Carolina Chickadees, and many more birds take residence as they build nests or hunt for food in the azaleas and grass. A small gathering of the boat-tailed grackles visit the ground beneath one of the feeders which encourages a grey squirrel to move away, but only for a moment because the grackles find the offerings lacking, so they flew away in a flush of black purple sheen towards the lake and the tall pine trees. Next to the white fence the gardenia spreads its deep green leaves which, in its time, will grace the garden with a sweetness of scent unlike any other save the Ligustrum. Next to it are the three Lyda roses which will bloom in concert with each other to add a blush of pink to all the color.

So much life in such a small space. Yes, more birds, flowers, bushes, trees, and grasses would be found in a larger space. But here, in this small back garden, a visitor can hear the wind travel through the tall pine trees near the lake and feel the brush of air as a bird flies by. The fragrance of gardenia is captured here in this air as if held for ransom, and even the scent of freshly cut grass lingers long after the mower has finished his work.

Hours later another day has passed, and the rain travels to other lands. A bright spring-blue sky hovers above and Nick the beagle puppy sleeps on one bed of pine needles. To paraphrase the town crier, “Late afternoon and all is well.”