I see good people

I see good people

Cole Sear: I see dead people.
Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?
[Cole shakes his head no]
Malcolm Crowe: While you’re awake?
[Cole nods]
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They’re everywhere. The Sixth Sense (1999)

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Mother love

Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Today, one of our cashmere goats gave birth to a tiny, new and utterly perfect kid. I helped, after we determined it looked like it was breech. I took those little hooves in my clumsy hands and pulled carefully, gently and consistently as the mama strained and bleated until the little one emerged.

The birth of our kid

The birth of our kid

Once out, she was not feet first. Rather, she entered the world in a perfect pike position, nose almost touching her ankles. We should name her Greg Louganis.

My beloved husband asked me later if goat midwifing was on my bucket list and my answer was no. That’s an incomplete response. It wasn’t on my bucket list because I had no idea how amazing it would be to help another mama guide her new little one into the world. Seeing the miracle of  a living, breathing, alert little soul emerge was an unasked-for, now treasured, privilege. It evoked a reverence that came from some timeless place within me.

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Happy Independence Day!

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

Happy 4th of July!

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence may have been signed on July 4, or July 2, or sometime in August. What is certain is that Thomas Jefferson, the principal author, had quite a way with words. The language is fiery and unambiguous and, with remarkably few exceptions, timeless.

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In support of school choice

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Today, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the proposed school voucher program here in Douglas County. This is a shame, particularly because the ruling focuses on upholding something called the Blaine Amendment, a piece of religious bigotry found in state constitutions dating back to the Grant administration in the 1870s. Its original intent was to keep poverty-stricken Catholics out of the public school system and simultaneously deprive them of any public assistance to set up their own parochial schools. We now link it to the Establishment clause, the separation of church and state, in the Constitution. But Blaine Amendments are quite different: they’re more restrictive and more discriminatory.

Fast forward one hundred years. When I was in fifth grade at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in the early 1970s, my neighborhood school was the most wonderful learning environment in the world to me. We children came from various religious, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but I don’t remember those even being mentioned. Austin was a meritocracy, lacking much if any social stratification. Our talents were encouraged, challenged and supported.

In sixth grade, our little class moved to a larger middle school that was being desegregated. These new students, white and black, were behind us academically, but far ahead of us in worldliness. At that school, I remember:

  • A teacher coming to school drunk and going to sleep during class.
  • A student with a hypodermic needle chased a terrified friend of mine around the gym.
  • My father correcting teachers’ grammatical errors when I brought assignments home for parental signatures.
  • Classmates telling graphic stories about sexual experiences when most of us Austin kids, pre-teens all, had yet to even hold hands with someone.

The next year, my parents sent my older brother and me to St. Paul’s Episcopal School. Thanks to St Paul’s excellent academics, my brother and I were both National Merit Scholars. We both went on to obtain advanced degrees. We’ve had good careers (well, he’s had a great one.) We’ve seen the world as one of opportunity.

I wonder just how many of those children at that middle school perceived similar opportunity. They did not have the chance to move to a private school like we did. (For one thing, at that time, few private schools in Alabama had many black students. Now, thankfully, most are more diverse.) Mostly, though, private schools were, and are, expensive. School choice may lessen the limits poverty imposes on opportunity, irrespective of race.

I’ve followed this issue in my native Alabama and now in Colorado, for years. The Blaine Amendment continues to perpetuate the segregation of expectation and opportunity, just like we saw in 70s Alabama. Logistical challenges will arise however we try to improve our education system.  However, vouchers provide children with expanded educational opportunities. They let parents choose the best environment for their families. They are a good idea.

Here are some common misconceptions.

Vouchers promote religion.Most, if not all, voucher programs have restrictions in place to ensure voucher students are not required to participate in religious instruction and activity. Vouchers are not about evangelizing religious beliefs. Vouchers are about making educational opportunity available to all. Some private schools have simply figured out how to better prepare their students for college than the current public school system. Students deserve the opportunity to attend these excellent schools.

Vouchers are meant to give rich parents discounts at private schools. They are meant to do the opposite – to give students whose parents have aspirations but not the financial means to achieve them the chance to broaden their children’s options. We can break the poverty cycle through better education. These schools provide better education. We can give more students access to better schools.

Vouchers are meant to get rid of the entire public school system, starve neighborhood schools, and change the system to a for profit model. The vast majority of parents – me included – support  neighborhood schools. My son has attended public schools throughout his academic career. I loved my own neighborhood school. However, if a neighborhood does not have a good school, do we just count those children’s lost academic opportunity, their trajectory, as a sacrifice that has to be made to sustain the overall current public school model? Or do we look at ways, including vouchers, to make sure each child gets a great education?

Bad schools are only a problem in <fill in the state, but usually Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi… anywhere but the state where a voucher program is under consideration.>There are bad public schools everywhere, in every state. This argument can only be made by someone who lives somewhere sheltered from the challenges in other less secure, less affluent, neighborhoods.

Times have changed. Your experience in 1970s Alabama is no longer relevant. A few years ago at a middle school football game with my son, I fell into conversation with the wife of the coach of the opposing team, which was from Denver. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that some of the boys’ parents were addicted to crack, so she made sure to pick those kids up and give them a ride to a safe place each night after practice. She said that they had a team sleepover each year, and it was quite a sight when the boys lined up “out the front door” to use the one bathroom in the coach’s home.

Her quiet courage and commitment were awe-inspiring. All played a rousing game of football that day, and everyone had a great time. But I was left with the knowledge that the challenges her boys faced here in supposedly wealthy Colorado were akin to those in 70s Alabama. Their life experiences were just as alien to my son’s safe suburban life, much further away than the 20 miles we drove to the game. Vouchers could help some of those boys, aided by a committed adult like that coach’s wife, escape bad family backgrounds, aspire to more, and someday help someone else.

If any of those kids have the chance to get an excellent education, however that can be achieved, I’m in. Children who are given the chance to excel early, in the learning environment best for them, have the best chance at a fulfilling life. Parents should have the choice about where their children should attend school. Providing school vouchers for these children, giving them an opportunity they deserve and might otherwise not even know exists, seems an excellent investment of public money.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge to the Blaine Amendment –  perhaps at the Supreme Court level. It may take a few years, but so did many other great efforts when people sought to ensure equal opportunity for all. This is a worthwhile cause.

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Keeping the dream alive

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What if a racist called for a race war, and nobody answered?

Did you hear about the racist who murdered nine       innocents, called for a race war, and caused  an         outpouring of love and unity instead?

We’re living in interesting times. A young man slaughters nine innocent people in the hope of starting a race war. What happens instead?

I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would think of this. Cynics may say that we should be further along when it comes to racial equality than we are (although those same cynics are often silent about how to create that change. Perhaps it’s easier to sit in the stands and throw “criticism popcorn” than do the work.) There’s an understandably vigorous debate about the emphasis on the Confederate flag. And yet, I marvel at this speedy and broad response.

I think that, while we mourn the senseless loss of the wonderful people who were murdered in Charleston last week, we should also note with some quiet satisfaction the complete and utter failure of the young man’s call to hate. His day is done, as is the day of racists like him.

When those extraordinary family members in Charleston came to the murderer’s arraignment and spoke with forgiveness and compassion to the man who killed their loved ones, the noble content of their character easily outshone the shabby racist lie on which the murderer based his short life’s work. In their time of grief, they gently and courageously showed us a positive way through this difficult dialogue about race, faith and violence. I find that heroic.

Their powerful example has inspired a notable, respectful response from all over the south, the nation and the world. It’s different – infinitely more immediate, unambiguous, united and supportive – than any we’ve seen to tragedies in the past fifty years. We can keep the memories of these loved ones alive as well if we, too, choose to live our lives with love, free of fear and hatred, minimizing anger and ignorance.

Those of us who are not part of the AME Emanuel church community will soon have the privilege of moving on, with sorrow and respect, but with our lives largely unchanged. We also have the option to forget this happened. Let’s not. Instead, let’s honor the lives that were cut short by building on the positive, sustainable change we can already see happening around us. It is often slow, not always visible in the moment. But it is happening, and it is the very antithesis of the race war the murderer hoped to ignite.

So, we different sorts – black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic…whatever your individual makeup is in this wonderful melting pot we call the United States – have the opportunity to grow closer, to truly be united.

We are, after all, one. On this, science and faith agree. Everything began as a single entity, whether you believe in the big bang theory, the story of creation, or “a world without end.” We evolved from a common ancestor. We are related.

The inspiring lives of the church family in AME Emanuel are thus connected to the possibly largely wasted life of the murderer, which is connected to you. You are connected to me. We’re all judged by the content of our character. I hope, myself, that I can live up to the shining example of Marcus Stanley.

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people. Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. I love you Dylann…”

So, I hope you will choose love. I hope I do. It’s so much easier to choose anger, to indulge in snark, to snipe at the person who cuts you off in traffic, who schemes for that promotion at work, who posts that obnoxious screed on Facebook, whose politics disagrees with yours, who’s just different in some strange and disturbing wayand then that disconnection simply escalates.

But then, stop and think: if a young, hate-filled man with a gun walks into your building tomorrow, will your life serve as an inspiration to your children, your friends, and total strangers?

With deepest sympathy and respect for the loved ones of The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson, and The Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.


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