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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My Election Day 2004 Story

Election Day 2004 found me standing at the corner of May Ave. and West Britton Road in Oklahoma City holding up a sign which read “Sportsmen for Brad Carson.” Brad Carson was the Democratic nominee for US Senate that year, and I, being the good Yellow Dog Democrat that I am, waved at the morning commuters encouraging them to get out and vote for Carson. (He lost.)

The reason I used this particular sign was that it was the only one I had. At one point I looked down and noticed that the "O" in the name "CARSON" was shaped like a target. So I became a bit more cautious as to where I held the sign in front of me.

But that's not my story.

My story starts after I had come home around 3:30pm that day. After my street corner time, I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon walking in North Oklahoma City, an area filled with pricey homes and gated communities. The area reminded me of a statement my papa, the preacher once made. He observed that the poor live in groups while the rich build wall: usually the richer the neighborhood, the taller the walls. Obviously, this was not prime Democratic territory, and I felt worn out from much walking with little to show for it.

I really needed a quick nap before hitting the election night watch parties, but my conscience would not let me rest. I just had to make one more try for this election. I remembered that I had a list of Democrats who lived on my street in The Village, so I got up, dressed myself once again against the cold, and took off in search of Democratic voters. I knocked on the doors on the list, introduced myself to those at home, and asked each if they had voted.

After I had done about 4 blocks, I came to a door that was answered by an elderly woman whom I shall call "Betty". I went into my spiel.

“Good afternoon, Mam,” I said. “My name is Lynn Green. I am your neighbor down the street. Today is Election Day, and I am visiting Democrats in the neighborhood. Tell me, have you been able to get out and vote yet?”

“No,” she replied, “I can’t drive, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to vote today.”

“Well,” I told her, “I would be more than happy to give you a ride to the polls if you need it.”

Betty thanked me profusely. She invited me in her home while she got her coat and her voting card. She got the card out first and then went to look for her coat. I glanced casually at her card. Right then I knew that we were in trouble. Her voting registration was years out of date: 1980's out of date. The precinct number was very old, and the voting location printed on the card didn’t exist anymore. Still, we got in my car and set off to exercise her American right.

I knew where she needed to go to vote because she was in my precinct, so I gave her my arm and together we drove over to our polling place. While with Betty I found out she was 95 years old, still very "spry" as we often say. She had lived in her home in The Village for 27 years having moved from Philadelphia where she had taught at a private school run by the Quakers. In fact, I found out many things about Betty and her family, daughter a teacher and son an engineer, because we ended up spending a lot of time with each other that day. Somehow I knew that enabling her to vote was not going to be the matter of a moment.

When we got to the polls, I found her a place to sit while I stood in line for her. When I got to the poll watchers’ table, I explained to them Betty situation. They checked their voters’ rolls, and, sure enough, her name was no where to be found. A precinct worker, showing tremendous patience and understanding, explained to Betty that the best she could do was cast a "provisional" ballot. This meant that Betty and the precinct worker would have to fill out some paper work for a chance to have her vote counted.Betty wanted to vote, but the forms were a bit beyond her, so with the precinct official sitting on one side of her and me sitting on the other, we moved gamely on. We did our best to get her through the forms.

This was not easy work. Betty did not have some of the information the forms called for. She had not brought her Social Security card, couldn’t remember the number, and hadn’t had a driver’s license in over a decade. However, we finally got to the payoff: Betty was about to cast her ballot.

Now, about this time, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Here I had found a Democrat, and I had personally taken a couple of hours of my time to make sure she got a chance to vote.

And vote Betty did. Voted a straight Republican ticket. She explained to me, “I’ve always be a registered Democrat, but this time I really want to vote Republican for a change.” So I watched, tongue firmly set in my jaw, and re-learned the great moral truth about no good deed going unpunished. Just for good measure, she also voted against every incumbent judge on the ballot.

Still, the event had its consolation. When I got home, I found my wife sitting in her rocking chair doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. I got to tell her my story, a story I am sure I will be telling the rest of my life. She looked at me sympathetically and said, "Honey, you have built up some serious Karma for yourself!"

I wonder if she means good Karma or bad?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A High School Teacher’s Caveat

The nation’s governors have been meeting at the National Education Summit to hear alarming accounts of the state of American high schools. “We can’t keep
explaining to our nation’s parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can’t do the work,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner who was chiefly responsible for the summit taking place.

The governors attending heard report after report on how high schools fail their students (as opposed to the usual vice versa experienced by their teachers).
The facts they site include the fact that out 100 ninth-graders beginning high school, only 68 graduate on time and only 18 make it through college on time.
Once in college, one in four students at four-year universities must take at least one remedial course.

The governors heard Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claim, “America’s high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they’re broken,
flawed or under-funded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed —cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.” Gates and others called for tougher courses for students and to have their graduation requirements match the expectations of colleges and the business
community.

As a high school English teacher, I believe that I speak for the vast majority of my colleagues when I say that we will take whatever educational policy
comes to us and work to the best of our abilities to make it succeed, just as we have always done. However, allow me to add a caveat to all the heated
rhetoric from those who by and large have never spent a single year in an American high school as an administrator, teacher or janitor for that matter. Be
sure that you pick our educational policy ruts carefully for us because not only will we be in them for a long journey; we need to be certain we like our destination.

First, let’s look at the claim by Bill Gates, a college dropout, that every student needs to be prepared for college. America is just about the only industrialized country where the mantra “all students need to go to college” is repeated so often that we don’t even question its validity. I remember when the high school where I teach did a student exchange with a group of teachers and students from Germany. During one of our faculty meetings, the German high school teachers gave us an overview of their high school system. First, unlike America, the school system is run by the German federal government, something that would raise howls of protest from American conservatives.

Then, in Germany, there are three different types of high schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. Each one educates its students to the level of their ability. The Hauptschule is the lowest level of education. It lasts from the 5th grade up to the 9th grade and after the 9th grade they achieve the lowest certificate of education. In the Realschule there are those who learn faster and they are taught until the 10th grade.

Gymnasium is for the college bound and includes a 13th grade. All the teachers visiting us were Gymnasium teachers. All of their students were potentially
college bound and therefore their standards matched the ones that Gates and the governors call for. One can easily see why. One teacher told me personally, “I could not imagine teaching in a school where you have so many different levels of intelligence as you have in your classrooms.” The German system of education matches those in other European countries as well as those in Pacific Rim countries like Taiwan and Japan.

We do it differently in America. Sure, we could maintain standards simply by teaching only students willing to meet those standards as do the Germans. However, this would go against our American democratic education traditions that require every child to be educated on an equal basis regardless of aptitude or ability. In America, we want to have all children to have a college prep education despite the fact that not every child wants or even ought to go to college.

Yes, we need engineers, business executives, doctors, teachers and lawyers (well, maybe not), but we also need plumbers, electricians, builders, contractors and other skilled workers. And who was it that decided
that we need to fill all empty desks in our colleges other than college administrators who may have to face the fact that we continue to build and maintain more colleges than we actually need? Is it any wonder that we have high school students taking remedial courses when colleges will admit nearly anyone who walks through their doors with sufficient available financial resources?

Not long ago, achieving a high school diploma was as far as one could reasonably expect in this country. College was for the very few. Then along came the GI Bill which brought in a different kind of collegiate and helped to fuel the boom of the 50’s both by educating a new generation of Americans and, not coincidently, keeping them out of the job market till it could absorb them. Then came the 60’s with its Pell Grants and National Student Defense Loans (both now woefully inadequate) which paid for Baby Boomers’ college expenses. All of these helped to create a beast which high school teachers are called on increasingly to feed.

Of course, jobs once available to drop outs have been shipped to third world job
markets, but this is not the fault of our high schools, only the corporations whose heads call us “failures.”

America needs to decide what kind of education system it wants, but we teachers ask them to remember that we didn’t create the beast, we merely are given the responsibility of tending it in its cage.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Me at Home Posted by Hello

Terri's Tragedy

I suppose that I ought to comment on the Terri Schiavo tragedy that is being played out on the news, the internet, and on thousands of blogs across the country.

These are some of the relevant facts about the case.

1)This is not something that has suddenly sprung up overnight. Terri has been hospitalized for 15 years now.

2)The case has been endlessly adjudicated in state and federal court. They have decided that Michael, her husband, has guardianship of Terri. He has testified under oath that she did not want her life artificially extended, and would wish a dignified death rather than mere existence.

3) This is at its heart, a family matter. The parents have squared off against the husband. Had they agreed on her death or her continued care, none of us would have heard of this.

4)In order for us to live dignified human lives, we must have a right to privacy. Without this right, we are really not fully human.

Therefore, it seems to me that justice demands that we honor the wish of the husband who wishes to carry out what he believes is his wife's intentions to die with dignity.

I believe that the strongest argument for the husband's position is the fact that he has NOT divorced his wife. That would be the easy way out for him. Then his parents would take over guardianship, and they would act as they wish to in regards to Terri. The fact that Michael has decided to remain her husband, in spite of the fact that he has attempted to go on with his life, adds credibility to his claim that Terri would not want to have her life prolonged any longer than it has been.

Respectfully, we should honor her wishes and butt out of this.

Above all else, this has spurred me to get a Living Will. The last thing I would want for myself is to become what Terri has become: a poster child for the Religious Right and a chance for politicoes to grandstand before the public and improve their election chances.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

OK House Republicans Hate the Teachings of Jesus

"A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly." Proverbs 18:23

In his "Sermon on the Mount", Jesus of Nazareth taught us, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Recently, the certain Oklahoma House of Representative members showed that they think very little of the Nazarene's words. At issue was HB 1699, which would have brought victims of rape and domestic violence under the protection of the Family and Medical Leave Act. As many of you know, this law,passed during the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton, grants employees up to three weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs when they have to deal with situations such as the birth of a child or the care of a seriously ill family member. Victims of rape and domestic violence often have to deal with a host of problems ranging from hospital and medical care, meetings with law enforcement officials, and relocation to safer living quarters.

Several women, victims of violence, had stepped forward to testify about their experiences with employers who were less than sympathetic to their plight.These courageous women were not so much as granted the courtesy of a hearing due the actions of the House members of the committee considering the bill. Their objection centered on the fact that such protection would place an "undue burden" on employers, ignoring the burden such victims would face from the loss of a job. Some members suggested that these victims could very well use their "vacation time" in such a case. Rep. Guy Liebman complained that the reference to "rape" in the bill's title was distasteful to him. He asked if another more suitable name could be found.

I can think of some suitable names for Rep. Liebman, but Christian charity forbids that I use them in public. I would only pray that he learn the true moral value of such charity, and remember that Jesus told us that relief of human suffering was a true mark of any citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.I would urge all of you to contact your representative and ask them to consider the words of the Nazarene who told us, ""Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! . . .you have neglectedthe more important matters of the law-justice, MERCY, and faithfulness." Matthew 23:23 (emphasis added)