Stokely Poem

“There is a higher law than that of government. That’s the law of conscience.” -Stokely Carmichael

When systems are rigged
And the establishment is able to put forth
Actors following well defined scripts,
The people must speak.

When the actors are puppets
Spewing hate and telling the lies
Tapped out by the strings funding their candidacy,
The people must speak.

When the people
Have only an ability to follow
Blindly and with mouths sewn shut,
The people cannot speak.

When the people cannot speak,
Who will express the conscience
Of truth in our governors
Who seem unwilling to speak what the people seem to want?

Mankind is greater than the arbitrary collection
Of boarders and armies
That squash the voices of
People speaking for sensible leaders.

Perhaps the problem is speaking for leaders
Instead of acting with a proper conscience
That rises above the dogma
Spoken to us.

About 180 Days (Day 1)

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Photo Credit: pixababy.com via Pexels

There is a fine line between prison and school. Prisoners are given cells. Students are given desks. Prisoners get recreation time. Students have physical education classes and recess. Prisoners do time. Students meet hours. Both are told when to speak, how to act, and when they can go to the bathroom. Guards roam the cell blocks and halls to protect the sanctity of both environments to protect the individual missions. Prisoners are supposed to learn from their mistakes and take advantage of their sentences so that they may be reformed, thereby becoming productive members of society. Theoretically, students are allowed to learn from their mistakes in an effort to prepare them for the rigors of living as adults. Minus the bars and guns, prisoners and students have similar existences, although, the student experience is more lockdown than it was when Jack Allen was a student.

Jack grew up in an historic town just after court orders forced the school system to desegregate. His public school experience had been one that rode the energy of punk, disco, and classic rock music. He took away an appreciation for people and social justice instead of the book based lessons that seemed too limiting for his education. Thirty years after his graduation from high school and nearly ten years after getting a doctorate in education, Jack sat with the rest of his school’s colleagues in folding chairs that erased every bit of suppleness from their hips. They had been herded into the frigid gymnasium so they could taught the school district’s latest initiative, PIOUS, Practical Instruction Offered Uniquely System. The training began three hours earlier with batches of teachers talking about batches of students. Librarians were paired with English teachers, math teachers were grouped with foreign language teachers, and all of them talked about the relationship between poverty and language readiness as predictors of school success.

PIOUS was simple enough. The premise was that students learn better when the complexity of a concept is deconstructed into its essential parts. Jack found the discussion fascinating and sad. He was sad because he had become the old teacher that he swore he would never turn into. He remembered his first year of teaching when the initiative was to build academic vocabulary so that students would understand the key words in the directions of tests. Back in those brown haired days, Jack thought this to be enlightening, but nearly twenty-five years later, and under a full head of gray hair, he only wanted to push a button and go home to walk his dog. The PIOUS model promised to raise student achievement with a multitude of strategies that were gathered from lists of best practices and slickly packaged under an empirically tested model. Jack found that piece of marketing to be fascinating as the studies supporting PIOUS had been conducted by the same hucksters who were putting out the latest, greatest model of instruction and had been conducted under questionable research methods. Evidently, validity, reliability, and random sampling had no real place in educational research.

An administrator from the district office said, “Jack, what do you think about the relationship of the PIOUS framework to student success.”

Jack thought for a moment. On one hand, he knew that the correct answer was that PIOUS was the answer to helping close everything from achievement gaps to the problems of politicians who control public education funding diverting those funds to charter schools that are run by the very politicians setting educational policy. On the other hand, Jack, knew that the most important player in the educational process was being ignored by policy makers and educational opportunists everywhere. PIOUS removed all of the responsibility for learning from the students. The program while opportunistic removed the focus of education from the students to the teachers, thereby making learning an extrinsic proposition.

“If I might quote, Seneca, ‘You may, then, boldly declare that the highest good is singleness of mind: for where agreement and unity are; there must virtues be: it is the vices that are at war with another.’ I think PIOUS could be good if it promotes a singleness of mind.”

The administrator looked confused. “I don’t understand.”

Jack said, “The purpose of PIOUS is to strip the content down to the essential components of a lesson. In theory, this will allow students to develop a single minded view of what they are learning. Hopefully, they will be able to filter out all that noise that exists in childhood and see the importance of what they are learning. In that way, I think PIOUS is a tool to help students learn.”

“I hear a ‘but’ in your voice.”

Jack smiled because he knew that his answer would be received with the same appreciation as a rake being dragged over sunburnt skin, “The excerpt from Seneca suggests that vices compete with each other to interfere with finding virtue. If we are able to remember anything about our schooling, I bet we each had vices in the classroom. Maybe we didn’t like the teacher. Maybe the subject matter was boring or irrelevant to us at the time. Whatever they were, those vices competed with our ability to focus on what we were learning. It wasn’t until we were mature enough to give learning its due that we could allow school to become virtuous. We had to deal with our vices to find success in school.”

The administrator asked, “Are you suggesting that we bag PIOUS?”

“Not at all. I am suggesting that education, like prison, is not about what we do to them, it’s about what they come to realize while they are going to school. Prisoners who accept the opportunity of reform are able to survive outside of the walls. Students who become virtuous in an educational sense make the most of their school years. PIOUS is one tool that might be appropriate for a student. However, no matter how sincere we are in our belief that this is the best way to teach students, PIOUS is unlikely to fulfill its promise if the students don’t buy into the program.”

The meeting ended at its mutually agreed contractual time. As usual, little attention was given to the greater philosophical implications of why the current initiative was being chosen. There is a blind spot in education that is as vacuous as a cesspool. The assumption is that if a message is delivered with recommendations and data, it must be the best way. In the coming months, the virtues and vices of PIOUS would play out with Jack being the dutiful implementer and open-minded seeker of the capacities and abilities of this new program.

The Casual Male

Never let it be said that I was ever a Carl Brown when it came to fashion sense. My man, Carl, was best dressed everyday of high school. To this day, I wonder what it’s like to have a fashion sense. I find myself most comfortable in the uniform of my career, shorts and a T-shirt, so on those rare occasions when I need to clean up, it’s a bit of a struggle. However, there was a day when I thought, perhaps with a misguided eye, that I had put together an ensemble that might be worthy to be seen in the catalog of Carl’s very dapper threads.

Coach Farrior had a rule that we had to wear a tie to away basketball games. I wasn’t a fan of the rule and relied on my father for clothes that would make sure I held true to the minimum standard of being dressed up for the away games. It happened that one away game took place on a day when we did not have school. My plan was to hang out with my friend all day, get ready of the game at his house, and then go to the bus for the game. There were two problems with this plan. First, I lived far from school and even farther from my friend’s house. Second, I forgot a shirt and tie for the game.

I didn’t realize my mistake until it was nearly time to leave for the bus. Panic set it as I thought about riding the pine for not having a tie. As stupid as I thought the rule, it didn’t matter. My coach thought it important, so I better think it important. My friend, the infamous Hubba and I jumped into my 1966 Mustang and took off on the Ironbound Express for the Williamsburg Outlet Mall. I got that 289 up to some serious NASCAR like speed. We ran into the mall, Hubba was already dressed for the bus ride and I was decked out with a three-quarters baseball shirt, grey dress pants, and my favorite Tony Llama cowboy boots. We rushed into The Casual Male, two illiterate fashion shoppers, thinking that putting a classy outfit together was as simple as snapping a few Legos together. I ended up with an off-white shirt, a tie-bar, and a a maroon skinny tie. I dressed in the store and we raced to school for the bus. I looked like Urban Cowboy meets Club New York.

The ride back up Ironbound Road was equally fast. The maroon blur sprinting back to Longhill Road is something people still hear on those quiet nights when legends and myths come to life. Somehow we made it to school with a few minutes to spare. I probably thought ZZ Top was singing about me as I strutted across the parking lot with my ridiculous combination of threads. I think we played Bethel that night and I showed how my lack of fashion sense was bolstered by poor decision making as I took a charge from Bethel’s version of the Mountain. Years later I met someone who went to Bethel who remembered me as a player. “You were the kid with the cowboy boots,” he said. I had made a stylistic impression!

So there, haters. My fashion sense made an impression, of sorts, somewhere.

Fast forward to 2016… I’m standing in the Lancaster, PA version of CBGB. I’m rocking cargo shorts and Polo with running shoes and a two-fisted approach to hydration at the concert I’m about to watch. My son’s band, the Good Fat (in that day that would have been Phat) is getting ready to go on stage. They came out and rocked their jam band stylings about as hard as they could. Keep in mind that I’m biased, but my son plays the kind of music that I can relate to and his band is really good. (Check them out on Soundcloud…shameless plug) As he was throwing down an Allman Brothers solo, I happened to take notice of his clothes. Hawaiian styled shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. Yep, he got my sense of “what-I-like-I-wear-style,” too.

And the boots; hand me downs from his father, those same Tony Llamas I rocked for a couple of years back in the 80s. I suppose that makes us casual males…

Sorry for that…

Mr. Day’s Misguided Vision

“EVERYONE SHOULD OWN A MACHINE GUN,”
Said Mr. Jim Day,
“You’ll see this will be the wave
Of the future.”

He was talking his truth,
But probably a different message
Than the one that would emerge
Nearly as quickly as one of his Mac-10s emptying a clip.

You see, Mr. Day owned a shooting range
Complete with these assault guns
That people could rent to shoot up old autos
In full automatic for as long as they could pay.

“People fish, they bowl,
Why not come out here and shoot some junk cars?”
The police were concerned the guns he sold
Might end up in the hands of criminals.

Day was not concerned,
Thinking the police could be a market for his wares,
Money and profit being his values,
Responsibility not a concern for his unconventional inventory.

We are getting closer to Mr. Day’s vision.
Thirty-six years later, I wonder if he has bitten the bullet.
If not, would he have a ready made excuse
For the violence happening in his nearby Dallas?

One that would say something about
Guns not killing, rather its the people
And it’s that logic that is killing me
As the escalation of gun violence seems to be because everyone has one.

Or at least the people who should not have them
Are toting rapid firing fifty shot clips,
Turning them on whoever they want,
Like, different, police, or target rich environments…

Thanks, Mr. Day for your entrepreneurial spirit
And profiteering on the Second Amendment
In a way that bastardizes the Constitution
For your gain and America’s loss.

(Source: NYT-July 14, 1980)