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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Halloween Story

A Halloween Story

I don’t know how many of you are like me, but I still get a big kick out of Halloween. Unfortunately, over the past few years, only a handful of youngsters have come by.

Once or twice, none showed up.

My wife said it was my fault because of the recording.

Oh, I didn’t tell you about the recording. It’s nothing really, just an old 33 1/3 record of Halloween sounds, wolves, owls, vampires—you get the idea. I’d put out a speaker in the shadows of the front porch, and when trick or treaters showed up, I’d turn it on.

Talk about running and screaming. I should have felt bad, but I didn’t.
Today, most little goblins attend church- or neighborhood-sponsored activities. I feel kind of sorry for the little ones who will never experience a full moon shining down on a deserted lane winding through the woods.

When the girls were in elementary, they hosted a Halloween slumber party for six or seven friends.

We roasted wieners and marshmallows, told ghost stories, and then unknown to my wife, I touched off the recording. It was set on the wolf howls.

Fifteen seconds later, I knew I’d make a mistake for everyone of those girls were clinging to Gayle and me like Velcro. We had to pry them off.

Finally, after they calmed down some, they decided they wanted to go down Sarah Jane Road and see the hanging tree.

The isolated road is as gloomy and scary as the spooky road old Ichabod Crane traveled the night he confronted the Headless Horseman. A perfect road for the Living Dead—and highly impressionable young girls.

We only had to drive about half a mile, so I loaded the girls in the back of the pickup and we headed out.

I pointed out the tree and suggested they get out an look at it.
They did not budge. No way they were going to approach that tree.

I knew how they felt. One Halloween on my grand-mother’s farm, an uncle told my cousin, Ed, and me that every Halloween, the ghost of an old farmer that had been caught in a combine and chopped to pieces came back looking for his missing hand.

We laughed the story off.

That night, Ed and I trudged down the lane to trick or treat the only neighbor. Their boys accompanied us back to my grandparents so we could trick or treat them. Before we left, we told our friends about the farmer’s ghost. They snickered at us.

Now, you’ve got to get the picture here. The full moon was straight overhead. On either side of the lane were pastures dotted with mesquite, and I promise you, in the dark, the twisted mesquite limbs took on mighty scary shapes in the eyes of spooky ten and eleven year old boys.

And the fact we were talking about ghosts and werewolves and such didn’t help. Our frightened eyes made every shadow into Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

And then we saw it. In the pasture, a floating white object. The wind seemed to be carrying it toward us, and then a mournful, whining moan came through the mesquite.

We set a world-record time getting back to the house. It took ten minutes to stammer out what happened. One uncle grunted. “Yep, that was old Burl. How long’s it been now, fifty years since he got cut all to pieces. He’s still looking for his missing hand.”

We listened to him with our eyes bugged out like a stepped-on toad frogs.

And I don’t have to tell you how big they got when my grandfather said, “Well, Kent, it’s getting late. You and Ed walk your young friends back home, and then hurry back.”

Wild horses couldn’t have pulled us from that house.

One of my uncles had to take our friends back home.

And they couldn’t get us outside the next day.

Years later, we learned the whole family had played a big joke on Ed and me. It was my Uncle Bud, Ed’s daddy, who played Burl in a sheet.

I tell you this, folks, those are memories I’ll never forget. And that will probably never come again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Leave Education Alone

Leave Education Alone

I will bring in jobs; I will lower taxes; and I will reform education.”

You know what those are, the meaningless words of garrulous politicians spouting
promises like Moby Dick spouted water.

The most frequent promise is to reform education.

Well, excuse me for saying, but that has been tried time and again. Obviously the reforms do not work because there’s a new reform every four years. The first time I heard it was from Price Daniels, and every governor, senator, and representative candidate since them has said the same thing.

About thirty years back, the legislature started tying teacher raises to various tasks such as test scores, teacher evaluation—a jump through the hoop sort of thing. Of they do is botch things up.

One of the current whims is merit pay based upon student test scores, which is simply another futile attempt to change education by throwing a ton of taxpayer money at a problem.

With forty-one years behind me, I can tell you that money is not the solution.
Another movement is to pay additional money to teachers who go to low-achieving districts. On paper, it sounds logical. In practice, it is not only a waste of money, but also a garish display of the proponents’ ignorance.


I retired from what I consider one of the best school districts in the state—and I might add, with some of the lowest salaries in Southeast Texas when you compare it to districts of it’s size or larger.

Yet, we always had teachers from higher paying and lower achieving districts trying to find a position within the district. Some tried for years before they made it.

I know for I hired some from those districts. You tell me, why would they be eager to take a cut in pay to come to our district?

Even the idea of paying teachers extra if students score better is like trying to catch water with your fingers.

I used to joke with some coaching friends that I’d hate for my job to depend on 17 and 18 year olds. You never know how they will perform from one week to the next.

Sure, kids are hard to figure, to motivate. Like the old saw, raising a teenager is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.

But seriously, how do you hold a kid’s feet to the fire when he knows mom and dad will sue the district for him? How do you motivate a student when he knows regardless of how poor his work may be, he’ll still get a fifty or higher and probably pass to the next grade just to preserve his precious self-esteem? How do you get extra effort from a kid who sees other students treated differently because they are athletes?

So what happens? Reformers ignore the real problems, serious problems that would make a can of worms look like a simple five-piece puzzle for a three-year-old.

Now if you say ‘it isn’t the students’ fault, then I’ll say you’re right.’ On the other hand, you can’t blame a top-notch teacher for not wishing to undertake such a staggering job when the odds are against him.

States have thrown measuring devices at teachers for decades, and none of them work. They can’t because the basis of measurement is as intangible as a puff of smoke, a student’s effort or lack of.

The big problem in measuring teacher performance is that the reformers go to the wrong ones for input. You don’t ask school board members, senators, state education CEOs, college professors, or local political representatives. Most of them are like those ubiquitous education instructors I had back in the fifties, all theory, and little substance.

I conducted my first student teaching class as the professors taught, and the kids ran all over me. My cooperating teacher, a short, bowling ball of a lady, came in and promised to mash each unruly student under her thumb if they didn’t behave.

They behaved, and I taught. Poorly at first, but over the years, my classes were disciplined with only a few failures because parents and I made the kids study and pass.

When the smoke clears, all that is really left to help education are the parents and community following the discipline of:
1. Parents insist kids do homework
2. Parents stop making excuses for kids
3. Parents stop living their own youth through their children
4. Communities show the same pride in academics as athletics.

Practice those four disciplines, and I promise you, the kids will benefit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Enough is Enough

I try not to pay a whole lot of attention to what goes on in New York City. We’ve plenty of problems down here without taking on any more.

But, I couldn’t help shaking my head in wonder when New York City Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Governor Paterson asked the federal government to ban the purchase of soda pop and sweetened fruit drinks with food stamps.

You know what food stamps are, those federal vouchers used by 42 million low-income Americans to buy food.

According to Reuters, the two gentlemen from New York called sugar-sweetened beverages the largest contributor to the growing obesity epidemic.

Said Bloomberg, ‘There’s nothing wrong with an occasional one. But the kids are dinking a enormous amount of full-sugar beverages.”

And then the American Beverage Association jumped into the fray and started swinging by insisting the proposition is “just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it.”

Sound familiar?

Well, it isn’t much different down here in Texas. Forty percent of New York’s public school children are obese. Here in Texas, it is 35%--and growing. (no pun intended)

Now the food stamp regs do forbid purchase of harmful items such as tobacco and alcohol, but jiminy crickets, even a rocket scientist can get around that. Who out there has not witnessed items purchased with stamps or cards, then cash paid for the cigarettes or beer?

New York’s request has nothing to do with telling Americans what they can eat. All it does is state, ‘if we give you free money, then you are giving up the right to spend it anyway you wish. You must spend it according to the guidelines laid down.”

What is difficult about that? And what is wrong about that?

On the other hand, people are mighty slick at finding ways around rules and regulations.

My wife and I were waiting to check out at a supermarket in Beaumont when the lady in front paid for her groceries with a Lone Star card. I didn’t think much about it until the checker handed her twenty-five dollars in cash. Then the lady used the card to pay for her teenage boy’s one liter orange drink, and once again received twenty-five dollars in cash. She laughed and told the cashier she needed extra cash for the boat in Lake Charles. (for those who don’t know, the boat is a gambling boat)

I didn’t know welfare recipients could get cash, but when I went online, I discovered I was wrong. Recipients can receive a percentage of their benefits in cash-at least with the Lone Star card.

It isn’t my place to judge others, but you can’t help wondering upon witnessing another situation where a young couple, both seem perfectly healthy, paid for two baskets heaped with groceries with a Lone Star card.

Oh the other hand, when friends and acquaintances are subjected to various drug tests in order to keep their jobs, it somehow seems unfair that no such tests are required for those who apply for welfare. What it boils down to is that many must take drug tests to work so their taxes can buy drugs for those who do not have to take drug tests to draw welfare.

Am I wrong? If so, explain it to me.

Now this isn’t confined to just Texas and New York. The abuse is rampant across the entire country.

The LA Times reported that 69 million in California welfare funds to help the needy had been spent outside the state on a variety of luxuries including Las Vegas slot machines, Hawaiian vacations, and luxury cruises out of Miami.

How is that even possible when the benefit for a single parent of two is about $500.00 in California? It isn’t possible, which means those individuals have additional and unreported income. I think they call that fraud. Obviously those agencies involved are doing nothing about it.

I sympathize with the lady who told the president she feared for the American dream. We all should. This sort of abuse is pushing the dream far beyond our reach.

Let’s help those who really need it, not the moochers who are always trying to get something for nothing. Let’s hold their feet to the fire for once, not the American workers’.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Little Man's Party. Really?

I’ve told you, probably too often, about my two little grandsons, Mikey and Keegan. Well, guess what? We now have a brand-new little granddaughter, Kenli Marie Johnstone, Keegan’s little sister.

She was born October 1, only four days before Keegan’s birthday on October 5. Can’t you just visualize just how chaotic that birthday week will be in the coming years?

But, she’s healthy, ten fingers, ten toes, black hair, 20 inches long and topped the scales at six pounds, nine ounces.

Now, I know there isn’t a grandparent out there who doesn’t believe their grandchild is even prettier than Kenli. And that’s okay. I know the truth.

She came along a day so after I ran across some rather startling data online. Aware of just how online data can be manipulated, I checked all the information, and the results were very interesting.

Why? Well, you see, as soon as little Kenli gave her first cry at 1:21 pm October 1, that bundle from heaven was already $43,572.43 in debt thanks to our government. When I say government, I don’t mean just the present administration although it has set records that I hope will never be matched.

They spend money they don’t have. Why?

In the name of helping citizens.

Does it really? Take a look at the following data, and then you decide if the government has really helped.

The ten poorest cities over 250,000 in America.

City % below poverty Democratic mayor
1 Detroit 36.4 since 1961
2 Buffalo 29.9 since 1954
3 Cincinnati 27.8 since 1984
4 Cleveland 35 since 1989
5 Miami 26.9 since 1947
6 St Louis 26.8 since 1949
7 El Paso 25.3 since 2001
8 Milwaukee 26.2 since 1908
9 Philadelphia 25 since 1952
10 Newark 24.2 since 1896

See what they hae in common? They all adhere to the principles espoused by democrats. Now we all know that the Democratic Party is known as ‘the little man’s party’, a moniker of which that party’s politicians are proud.

What I see here are cities wallowing in an economy of entitlements. Naturally, those recipients are voters. And naturally, they do not want to lose free money. It is the poor who habitually elect Democrats based upon the promises of help and aid.

But you know what? Those poor are still poor after all these years. You tell me, what good have the Democratic mayors done for the cities?

The majority of those percentages want the government to take care of them. They want something for nothing. And obviously in those cities, that’s exactly what they are getting, nothing.

Oh, the politicians—hey, they’re cleaning up like bandits while the citizens are still waiting for handouts.

Now before any one becomes too rabid over what I’m saying, understand, we must help the sick and infirm as well as those who are making an effort to shed the shackles of poverty.

The others?

In 1942, Presbyterian minister William J.H. Boetcker published the pamphlet, Lincoln on Limitations. He also added ten of his own quotes to those of Lincoln, and often, writers have attributed those quotes to Lincoln. Some have attributed them to Reagan.

1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
3. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
4. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
5. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
6. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
7. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
9. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.

If you think about our present administration honestly, not with the colored lens of party affiliation, you’ll have to agree their actions are the opposite of these ten philosophies.

And that spells nothing but trouble.

I don’t want my little granddaughter or you grand children $43,572.43 in debt because of irresponsible congressmen and their leaders.

Do you?