Category Archives: Education

School Shootings and Our Culture of Death

Time to admit we are not a civilized society

By Michael M. Barrick

Ho hum.

More children and a teacher have been killed in a school shooting in Texas. We will express our collective outrage for a news cycle or two then go on about our business of letting it happen.

It is time, then, to admit that the school shootings – averaging at least once a week now in the USA – reveal that we are not a civilized society; what we have become, rather, are bystanders and even enablers to a Culture of Death.

culure of death yomex-owo-642587-unsplashThis is no longer a debate about gun rights or school safety. Rather, it is a debate about what has gone wrong in America. How have we come to accept a culture of death?

Here are just some of the examples of how we have come to accept and even embrace our culture of death.

  • Our granddaughter, who will have her 9th birthday this week, has lived in a nation at war her whole life.
  • Our wars have caused death and great emotional and physical injuries to tens of thousands of young Americans; and, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and throughout the Middle East have died or been made refugees since we have launched our undeclared wars in the region.
  • Capital punishment.
  • Abortion.
  • A health systems industry instead of a healthcare system designed to care for every American
  • Environmental degradation, public health disasters and sacrificial zones for the fossil fuel industry.
  • Funding cuts to mental health services.
  • Poor and vulnerable populations shut out from basic government services.
  • Food deserts.
  • Storing our elders in warehouses to die when they become inconvenient.
  • Weekly shootings in our schools, along with mass murders elsewhere, as in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and many other places.

We have truly reached the end of our rope on this issue. We need leaders who will help us come together. It can no longer be a binary choice. Children or guns is not the question before us. We have many questions that we have, up to this point, ignored. Can we sit at the same table? Do we have the courage to say we are a culture of death? Are we courageous enough to explore why? Are we willing to make the tough choices that show we value life?

Gun sebastian-pociecha-631796-unsplashRight now, those leaders are not found in legislative bodies, governor mansions or the White House. Those leaders are the friends of the very children being shot down. Let’s follow the examples of our children. They have proven to be far wiser than the elected adults. The students get what the “honorables” don’t – if we don’t stop school shootings, we will have demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that we value profit over life. Our children will grow up knowing their lives just aren’t important.

We must do better. Adults are screaming at each other, when we should be talking. We are setting terrible examples for our children. No wonder they have concluded the only option is violence. We must put every potential solution on the table, regardless of how unpopular.

culture of death FTR hugues-de-buyer-mimeure-325681-unsplashWhen Active Shooter Drills become routine exercises for school children – as they have – then we have clearly become a culture that does not value life. We are a culture of death. We needn’t look around anymore for leaders. They already exist. They are the students. We must lock elbows with them so strongly that the alliance can’t be defeated. We must all work to identify and address the root causes of our culture of death. Only then can we help turn our society into one that again values life – at all stages, in all circumstances.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Cemetery Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIME; Grim Reaper Photo by Yomex Owo;  Gun Photo by Sebastian Pociecha on Unsplash

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Message Delivered: Public Schools Matter!

Rallying with teachers, students and friends exhilarating and humbling

By Art Sherwood

RALEIGH – I stood in awe with teachers, students and friends this past Wednesday when tens of thousands of us delivered a very clear message to the North Carolina General Assembly – Public Schools Matter!

That is why I am seeking to serve the citizens of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the State Senate. The teachers are right! The legislature must properly fund our public schools.

Under Democratic governors such as Terry Sandford and Jim Hunt, North Carolina earned a reputation as a leader in public education. I want to help Governor Cooper restore us to that status. Participating in the rally Wednesday was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. However, if given the chance to serve in the State Senate, I will have many opportunities to stand proudly in support of public schools for our region and all of North Carolina’s children – through votes that restore our schools to their once proud standing.

That is why I stood with:

Teachers, students and allies from Burke County.

Teachers, students and allies from Caldwell County.

A friend from church.

In short, a mass of humanity moving forward in support of public education.

I look forward to the opportunity to stand with them again, in the North Carolina State Senate.

Courtesy Submission

 

I am Going to Raleigh in Support of our Teachers

Concern for students, not self, motivates teachers daily and will in Raleigh

By Art Sherwood

child learning pan-xiaozhen-423533-unsplash (1)LENOIR, N.C. – I am standing in solidarity with the thousands of teachers expected to descend upon Raleigh on Wednesday. Here is why: When we need an expert medical opinion, we seek the best professional help we can. In short, we seek out a subject matter expert. Well, there is nobody more expert about the conditions faced by students in North Carolina’s public school classrooms than the teachers staffing those classrooms.

So, when they say it is time to march on the state capitol to be heard by the North Carolina General Assembly, they have my attention!

Do not let their detractors fool you. This isn’t about demanding money for themselves nearly as much as it is demanding appropriate funding for the students they teach.

The legislature has cut more than 7,000 instructional assistant positions. Imagine teaching a class of early grade students who need shoes tied, noses wiped, have bathroom accidents, crying episodes, come to school hungry, have varying learning styles and learn at different paces. Now imagine trying to keep these same children calm and on task to learn while tending to all those needs. That is just one example of what we expect of our teachers. They have the right to expect support in return.

The legislature lacks understanding about classroom management because few have set foot in a classroom since graduating from high school. People who attended school when the teacher stood in front of the class to teach while the students listened need to step into a classroom where every student’s needs are being met on an individual basis through centers and differentiation. In doing so, they will understand the need for proper class sizes and legislation that truly returns local control to the person most qualified to exercise it – the classroom teacher.

Art Sherwood primary

Art Sherwood

Those teachers need proper funding though. That isn’t the case, as North Carolina ranks 43rd in per-pupil spending nationally. Improving that ranking is a priority for teachers, as it should be. Underfunding our public education system is cheating our children.

Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.

Meanwhile, Charter Schools divert funds intended for the public schools to entities not nearly as accountable as local school boards. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student. So, money that should be reinvested in the public schools instead go into the pockets of the Charter School investors. In short, Charter Schools are essentially private schools funded with public dollars.

Finally, teachers are correct to ask for pay raises. As Kris Nordstrom with NC Policy Watch noted, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”

It is no wonder teachers are marching in Raleigh. The people they care most about – the children they teach – are being short-changed. And they’ve had enough of it. That is why I will be in Raleigh standing with teachers this Wednesday. And, it is the single-most important reason I am seeking to represent Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the N.C. State Senate. I want to stand with them and the children they serve in Raleigh every day.

Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 46, which includes the Appalachian counties of Avery, Burke and Caldwell in Western North Carorlina. Learn more here.

Courtesy submission. Photo by HT Chong on Unsplash

N.C. State Senate Candidate Calls for Ban on Assault Weapons

Art Sherwood says sacrificing school children to protect weapons of war is outrageous; also slams gun lobby and idea of arming teachers

LENOIR, N.C. – Art Sherwood, the Democratic candidate for North Carolina State Senate District 46, today expressed outrage that school children are being murdered at astounding rates while the gun lobby and their Republican allies continue to insist on allowing civilians access to weapons of war.

Art Sherwood primary

Dr. Art Sherwood

Sherwood said, “While I commend school systems, law enforcement, mental health experts and social workers for working together to protect our children, the truth is – as evidenced by the relentless, ongoing school shootings – that these efforts are not enough.”

Sherwood continued, “Students across the nation have been demanding more action to protect them from mass murder. To turn a deaf ear to them, to continue to ignore the abhorrent and uncivilized killings made all too easy by lax gun laws is to abdicate our moral responsibility to ensure that, first and foremost, our schools are safe.”

Sherwood noted, “One of the primary reasons I decided to run for the state senate was to protect North Carolina’s public schools. First, however, we must sadly start with this most distressing matter of protecting the lives of our students and public school personnel from mass murder!”

In response to the epidemic of school and other domestic terrorist assaults such as those in Florida and Nevada, Sherwood said, “I support a ban on assault rifles and placing strict limits on gun shows. I also encourage schools and school systems to establish Human Relations Councils that include students that are empowered to address bullying, bigotry and other root causes of violence. Educational, mental health, law enforcement and other professionals can also work closely together to mitigate threats. Relying upon Active Shooter exercises – while appropriate preparedness – still signals that we are not tackling the essential questions. For instance, are we really trying to figure out what is making our young people so violent?”

… we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians? – Art Sherwood

He continued, “Even more importantly, we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians?

Sherwood also addressed the suggestion that teachers be armed, an idea advocated recently by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos said “There is a sense of urgency needed.” Sherwood countered, “Urgency is needed; it has been since at least Columbine! However, what is urgent is what the Republicans and gun lobby opposes – reasonable restrictions on guns. Arming teachers is reactionary. Teachers are not trained how to use firearms. They should be provided with safe schools so that they can do what they are trained to do – teach our children.”

He concluded, “Every time I see, hear or read of another school shooting, I have to ask, ‘How could anyone think owning an assault rifle is more important than a single child’s life?’”

Senate District 46 includes Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties.

To contact the campaign, call or email:

Michael Barrick, Campaign / Communications Director*

Citizens for Art

828-200-4565

michaelbarrick56@gmail.com

DISCLOSURE: Barrick is also owner of this publication.

West Virginia Teachers Authorize Statewide Strike

Rallies across the state point to plight of state’s working class heroes

NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from the World Socialist Website. The original article is here.

By Nancy Hanover
12 February 2018

A statewide meeting of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia (AFT-WV) and the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) in Flatwoods on Sunday announced that county-by-county balloting showed overwhelming support throughout the state for a teachers’ strike.

West Virginia teachers, now paid 48th lowest out of 50 states in the United States, are demanding an increase in salary and oppose plans by the bipartisan Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) to increase out-of-pocket health care expenses. Last week, the state senate approved an insulting 1 percent annual raise.

WVEA President Dale Lee quickly followed up by assuring the state legislature and big business interests that the strike vote “doesn’t mean we’re calling something on Monday. The legislative process is still early. It’s time to look at the legislation that’s moving and…work the process for the best possible deal.”

The union executives are clearly concerned that they may not be able to hold back statewide action by 20,000 educators. Christine Campbell, AFT-WV president, remarked that there were demands for strike action even in the remote rural counties. “It’s coming from everywhere,” she said. For his part, Lee emphasized he was ruling out any “immediate action” while the “legislative process” continued.

Rank-and-file teachers, however, are determined to fight. Rallies were held in Preston, Kanawha, Fayette, Braxton, Marion, Berkeley and Jackson counties. At a rally in Wheeling, an Ohio County teacher told the press that her family’s monthly premium would double under the proposed PEIA plan, from about $300 to over $600 a month.

West Virginia teachers demonstrate at the capitol in Charleston (Credit:Sheryl Thomas, FB)

“This whole movement has been from the bottom up and I’m going to do my best to make sure that we demand actions that will benefit all West Virginia public employees and West Virginia’s children,” Nicole McCormick, a Mercer County teacher, told the World Socialist Web Site.

McCormick, who emphasized that all public employees need a substantial pay raise, continued, “I feel, and many others as well, that now is the time to harness this historic opportunity to demand what will progress and redefine West Virginia.”

Around the state there were reports that teachers were threatening to leave the unions if they failed to call a strike, while others called for broader strike action by public-sector workers who are all affected by the state’s move to increase health expenses.

In 1990, 22,000 teachers defied Democratic Governor Gaston Caperton and the state’s ban on teacher walkouts, striking for 11 days in the state’s only official teachers’ strike. Conditions for educators today are the same, or worse, than they were three decades ago when their pay was 49th in the nation.

Expressing the militant mood, reading teacher Karen Stroup declared, “Without us, the state of West Virginia would shut down,” according to local media coverage of a rally in the eastern panhandle town of Charles Town last Friday. “We’re not out here just for teachers,” Jamie Bowden, an English teacher, was quoted as saying in a report in the Journal. “We’re here for all employees in West Virginia, because what’s going on in the legislature affects all of us.”

Teachers and school workers in Cabell and Wayne Counties voted separately to call a one-day work stoppage February 16, the day before a mass statewide rally at the capitol in Charleston called by the unions.

Governor Jim Justice, a coal baron and the richest man in West Virginia, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, has remained adamant that the state will give teachers no more than an annual 1 percent raise—a de facto pay cut after inflation—for the next five years. Justice began his career as a Republican, ran for governor and was elected as a Democrat in 2016 and then moved back into the Republican column, underscoring the unanimity of both big business parties against the working class.

Last week, the governor gave vent to the backwardness and class arrogance of the West Virginia elite, saying that there was “not a Chinaman’s chance” that natural gas severance taxes would be increased to fund education.

The state senate has approved Justice’s 1 percent proposal, while state house representatives are calling for 2 percent the first year. Posturing as friends of the teachers, legislative Democrats are calling for a 3 percent increase, which is no less insulting for teachers who have not had a raise for a decade.

Far from speaking for the working class, the Democrats, who controlled the governor’s mansion during most of the last 100 years, speak for the coal, gas and timber interests that run the state no less than the Republicans.

By design, the county-by-county votes merely “authorize” the unions to strike. From the outset, however, the NEA and AFT have intended to use the vote as leverage in their backroom maneuvers with the governor—which both unions backed in the 2016 election—and the legislators.

The national AFT and NEA, as well as their local affiliates, are opposed to any genuine mobilization of teachers, let alone all public-sector workers, because that would immediately turn into a political clash with both corporate-controlled parties and raise the issue of why public education is being starved of resources in the state and nationally.

Having already sustained significant political and financial losses due to the state’s right-to-work law, the union bureaucracy is seeking to convince state officials that the unions are valuable to contain social opposition and help implement austerity if they are only allowed to retain their “seat at the table.”

WVEA President Lee signaled the union’s willingness to back a rotten deal in comments at a Princeton town hall meeting Saturday. “One percent is just the minimum, but when we get all these jobs coming and the revenue turns around and gets better, we are going to make that more,” Lee said, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

The WVEA president tried to dress up the legislators’ phony search for a funding source as “progress,” telling the crowd, Republican “House Speaker Tim Armistead wants a task force put together and wants us to have a seat at the table to come up with a solution to the problem.” The union official concluded, “I am cautiously optimistic the House leadership is really trying to come up with a solution to the problems.”

While the unions are preparing to call off the struggle, there is a growing sentiment among teachers for a broader battle which challenges the immense levels of inequality in the state. A teacher in the Princeton audience rebutted the claim that the state lacked “funding sources,” saying, “They [the coal companies] bled us dry and took the money to other states,” she said, adding that coal producing counties were left with no jobs, poverty and drugs.

Teachers also pointed out that the legislators were now looking to further impoverish the schools by eliminating the industrial property tax. The tax nets $140 million a year statewide and in Mercer County, 72 percent of it goes to the school system, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

Students also expressed their support. Trey Henry, a senior at Martinsburg High School, told the World Socialist Web Site that there were 200-300 people who came to support the teachers, including students from Martinsburg and teachers from around the county. “I think being a teacher is one of the most important jobs there is, if not the most important one. They set a foundation, they are life-changers. It is crazy that they are paid so little.

“Here in Martinsburg, the opioid crisis is terrible. I can’t take my little brother to the park without finding a syringe. My dad overdosed on heroin. This has really impacted my life and it is my family and my teachers who were my foundation. Because of that, I plan to be a teacher and major in secondary education. Most students feel this way, even if they are not yet willing to stand up like I do.”

The opposition of teachers in West Virginia is part of a broader movement of teachers, after more than a decade of attacks on them and the right to quality public education, spearheaded by the Obama administration and now being escalated by Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos. Teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota face a strike deadline on Tuesday, while teachers in Pittsburgh, who have been working without a contract since June 2017, are currently taking a strike authorization vote.

West Virginia teachers must take the conduct of the struggle out of the hands of the unions by forming rank-and-file committees to reach out to parents, students, public employees, coal miners and every section of the working class for a common struggle to vastly improve public education and living standards. This must be bound up with the development of a powerful political movement of the working class, independent of and against the two big business parties, whose aim is a radical redistribution of wealth and the reorganization of economic life to meet social needs, not private profit.

Learning by Teaching

Fellow students respond favorably to comic strip about Mountaintop Removal

Editor’s note: On Dec. 1 we published an article about Olivia Bouzigard’s efforts to educate herself and others at Appalachian State University about the deadly impact of Mountaintop Removal (MTR). I asked her to write an essay explaining how she chose the topic and method for teaching it. She explains below. Personally, I extend thanks to her instructor, Heather Custer, who has the rare ability to challenge her students to demonstrate evidence of minds at work. Also, the illustration is published again, just in case you missed it the first time. – MB

By Olivia Bouzigard

BOONE, N.C. – I am a sophomore at Appalachian State University (ASU) with a major in Public Relations and minors in Recreational Management and Philosophy. I am currently enrolled in a writing class where I was to take on the task of writing about an issue that I thought was important. When I came to ASU as a first year student, I was enrolled in a recreational management class where I learned about Mountaintop Removal (MTR). This was the issue that I chose to write about.

mtr_0388 courtesy OHVEC

Mountaintop Removal. Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

The first part of the project dealt with composing a white paper of the research that I had done. I interviewed several people, read books, watched a documentary and read through health studies people had researched about MTR. Finally, the second part of the project was to come up with another way to present this information. I chose to make a comic strip that combined all my research together into three simple illustrations. Then as part of the project’s requirements we had to somehow present this information. I chose to set up a contact table in the student union on campus and ask people for their time as I passed out my comic and taught them about MTR.

Essentially, I wanted to illustrate a pattern that one cannot easily escape the effects of MTR and that everything that comes with MTR is devastating.

As students passed by the table I would stop them to ask if I could have a few minutes of their time. For those who said yes, I followed with the simple question: Do you know what Mountaintop Removal is? Those who said they did, I asked how they knew what it was and asked them to give me a description. Many said they had learned about it at ASU or in a class in high school, which I thought was interesting.

I then asked them to give a brief description of what they knew about MTR. One student responded, “It has to do with our energy and stuff, right?” Another student said, “I know that it is bad.” However, no one could give me an overall quick description of it. A key goal of my project was to help students to be able to quickly define it, so in the comic strip, I start off with a definition of MTR from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those who said they did not know what mountaintop removal was, that definition is the one I used.

MTR comic

Illustration by Olivia Bouzigard

I then explained the comic to the students that stopped by. I shared that the mountain is upset because it has no say in whether it is destroyed or not. Coal companies are known for coming in quickly, destroying the area, and then quickly leaving. Their focus is only on the coal and nothing else. Then the comic moves into air that is upset and lungs that are upset. The purpose of this drawing is because many people are breathing in the particles from the removal sites and do not realize it, so their lungs become damaged. The final picture shows a sad house, a sad human and an angry crane. This illustrates that MTR not only devastates the mountains but devastates the towns and ruins them. It also is illustrating that the people of these towns have no say in whether these coal companies come and they just wait for them to leave. The angry crane shows that the coal company is just there to get the job done and leave.

Essentially, I wanted to illustrate a pattern that one cannot easily escape the effects of MTR and that everything that comes with MTR is devastating.

After presenting the comic to students, I asked if it was helpful. Everyone said yes. Comments included that they now know what it is. There were many comments of gratitude for sharing the information and acknowledgements that MTR is a significant public health and environmental issue.

Still, I am not done. I know that people have spent lifetimes learning about opposing MTR, so I intend to continue to educate myself about MTR, keeping others informed and finding alternatives. The comic strip was a first, but very powerful step for me and those I taught.

© Olivia Bouzigard, 2017.

MTR photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. To learn more about their work, visit their website.

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Citing Medical Studies, Activists Call for an End to Mountaintop Removal Permits

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ASU Student Uses Art to Teach Peers about MTR

A mind at work inspired research and response

By Michael M. Barrick

BOONE, N.C. – In late October, a professor at Appalachian State University (ASU) reached out to me because she had a student that wanted to learn more about Mountaintop Removal (MTR). I immediately contacted the student, and within two weeks we were meeting at a coffee shop in Boone.

Olivia Bouzigard, a graduate of a high school in Raleigh, N.C., confided to me that until she enrolled at ASU, she had never heard of MTR. So, prior to and following our meeting, I sent her links and information about people and organizations in Appalachia – in particularly West Virginia – that were fighting to end MTR because of its deadly effects on people and the destruction it caused to vital ecosystems and watersheds.

MTR comic

I was impressed even before I met her, as our email exchanges revealed evidence of a mind at work. When I finally met Olivia, her interest and concern were clear. I don’t keep track of time well, so I don’t know how long we met, but it wasn’t long enough to tell her everything she needed to know. It didn’t matter. From that meeting, Olivia ran with it.

What is impressive about her interest is that MTR is not really relevant to her major. She just cared. So, the other – and perhaps most important thing that impressed me about Olivia – is that she defied the stereotype that I hear from far too many people – that the current college-aged generation is self-absorbed.

As I traveled down the mountain back home from our meeting, I wasn’t sure what Olivia would do with her new knowledge and interest, but I was confident she would do something. Oh my, did she ever. The comic above says more in five simple illustrations than the thousands of words I have written about MTR. Most noteworthy is that she is using the comic to educate her fellow students at ASU.

So to Olivia and her like-minded peers, I say, Bravo! Thank you for caring about the poor and vulnerable. Thank you for caring for the environment. Thank you for looking beyond your own concerns to the needs of others. Thank you for being creative. Finally, thank you for challenging people of all ages to educate themselves about MTR and other assaults upon Appalachia and all of the sacred earth which sustains us.

Finally, thank you for giving me hope about the future. When I was teaching, I always challenged my students with this guiding tenet: Every day, all that I ask is that I see evidence of minds at work. With Olivia, that is exactly what I experienced.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017. “Classic Mountaintop Removal” comic, © Olivia Bouzigard, 2017

Meanwhile, Outside the Beltway

Obsession with Russia is manipulative, voyeuristic, and distracting from vital issues

By Michael M. Barrick 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY, U.S.A. – Here, where it is not Red Square or either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the spectacle playing out on our TV screens, computer devices and in the newspapers regarding alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is simply nauseating.

For God’s sake, enough already! You’ve lost me.

I’ve quit reading, listening and watching – that includes you John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, et al. That means I’ve abandoned my primary source of news – late night comedians who are really journalists; and, my secondary sources – the mainstream media and alternative media, who are clowns posing as journalists.

It is a topsy-turvy world, indeed.

Am I surprised that Russia probably meddled in our election? No. However, I think we’ve got that covered. Between the special prosecutor and congressional committees, plenty of investigating is occurring. That’s good. What we don’t need, however, is speculation. And, 99 percent of what I’ve seen, heard or read is exactly that.

 … election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.

On the part of the media, it’s manipulative, voyeuristic, and ultimately rooted in a sick drive for profits. But it’s also distracting us from what is important. Let me pause here and say, yes, a foreign government interfering in our election is concerning. So, let the investigators investigate. And, yes, I would expect any editor or producer to assign a reporter or two to the story. However, we have far too many issues that are simply being ignored by The Fourth Estate. Additionally, election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.

Hence, the media needs to abandon the feigned outrage and get to work on covering what most of us living Outside the Beltway know are the vital topics of the day.

More about those in a moment; but first, a quick demand of Congress and the president – do your jobs! America and the world have multiple challenges – not the least of which is a scarcity of leadership.

beltway-education-megan-soule-250672

The public schools are essential, but must also be scrutinized. Photo credit: Megan Soule

Now, about those vital topics; following is just a quick, partial run down the list:

  • Health Care: Polling shows that the majority of Americans support universal, single-payer health care. In short, Medicare for all. Only one in six support the current GOP proposal. Why? Because those of us living Outside the Beltway understand that the Medicare for all approach is the most humane; it provides for our most vulnerable citizens.
  • North Korea, et al.: Even our own military strategists say that a war with North Korea would almost certainly kill millions, and perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands just on the first day. The Korean War, which is still technically exactly that since we have only a truce with North Korea, was caused by inept diplomacy – Harry Truman indicated to the Russians that the U.S. would not wage war over control of the Korean peninsula. Today, we have a president who is the opposite. All he does is issue threats. Every president in between has kicked this matter down the road. That simply won’t do anymore. What I believe we expect Outside the Beltway is that a peaceful solution be found. Yes, waging peace is harder than waging war. But hey, we sent men to the moon. We’ve sent enough of our youngest adults to die on foreign sands and distant hills. We can figure this out.
  • Campaign Finance: Because of Citizens United, we are experiencing an age of crony capitalism like that of the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is evident in many places, but currently most obvious in the health care debates. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest obstacles to meaningful – and simple – reform (we’ve been doing Medicare a good while now). Gerrymandering has also altered the political landscape in a manner not consistent with voting patterns, accomplished through the buying of legislatures by the millionaire class. As a result, our most fundamental right – the right to choose our elected representatives – has been degraded or denied.
  • Infrastructure – From aging school buildings to hospitals not equipped to handle modern telemetry, to collapsing bridges and pot hole-filled roads, we have simply been negligent. We have not maintained our infrastructure. We all know it. We all see it. We have allowed private companies to own and manage our water systems, diverting money that should be reinvested in those systems to far-away shareholders that care only about profit and nothing about the quality of the water you and I drink. Certainly, the country that intends to send people to Mars by 2040 can fix roads and sewer pipes.
  • Failed War on Drugs: Billions of dollars have been spent, and tens of thousands of people sent to prison, simply to restrict the use of a naturally growing plant – marijuana. Our treatment of it – legal here, illegal there – is more schizophrenic than any alleged side effect of it. Three years ago, when interviewing John Buckley, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia, this is what he had to say about the War on Drugs: “What makes drugs a threat to society is the drug gangs pushing them because there is a hefty profit in pushing it. We have not stopped the war on drugs. We have not accomplished the goal. We have spent money. We’ve jailed people, yet we still see an increase in crime. We haven’t made a dent. We have set horrible legal precedents in rigorous law enforcement. When you add them all up, and say we haven’t made a dent in drug abuse, it cries out, ‘Is there a new approach?’ If you eliminate the profit, you eliminate the gangs and the terrorists profiting from it. If we will take a new approach, then it allows us to address it as a medical issue, not a criminal issue.” He was right then, and has been proven to be right repeatedly since that interview.
  • Education: We’ve known for years that educators reaching retirement age hit the door the first minute they can; what is more disturbing is that our best and brightest young teachers are leaving also. Why? They have lost control of their classrooms to everything from bureaucratic interference to children not ready for school because of poor living conditions. Virtually our entire society makes its way through our public schools. If we do not address society’s problems, every day in the classroom becomes more difficult. And, there are systemic problems as well. This is an example where a political party – in this case, the Democrats – must challenge a sacred cow. Yes, public education is essential; that, however, does not mean we refuse to take a critical look at its failures and alternatives. Additionally, the cost of college (and textbooks) must be addressed. Having to go into debt for years to earn a degree is counter-intuitive. Once educated, one cannot contribute to society unless unencumbered with unnecessary debt.
  • Ecology: Last, but certainly not least, is how we approach the management of the ecology – that is, our interaction with the natural world. Presently, human health and the environment are in great distress for a number of reasons. Mountaintop removal, fracking, clear-cutting and other practices that support the fossil fuel industry are harming people and the land, air and water which give us life. Climate change is real. Responsible reporters, for example, should not be asking politicians if they believe in climate change; rather, they should be asking what they know about it and how they intend to address it.
beltway-ecology-jeffrey-workman-19042

Clean water is essential for human survival and a healthy environment. Photo credit: Jeffrey Workman.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can certainly add to it. My prescriptions to the vital topics of the day may be different than yours. In fact, they likely are. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as this: that we agree that politicians of all stripes and the media need to be taking a critical look at these issues and working together to solve them rather than obsessing over Russia. In time, conclusions by the Authorities Having Jurisdiction regarding Russia will be reached. That will be news. For now, all the talk inside the beltway and TV studios is simply commentary that rivals the Tower of Babel.

We expect action, not talk. Sure, there are political purists (or opportunists) who will refuse to work with others, but they are in the minority. We know that because in our families and communities, we have to work together.

At least, that’s how it is Outside the Beltway.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

Helping Happy Valley, N.C. Return to its Roots

Incubator Farm Program set up at historic Patterson School

By Michael M. Barrick

HAPPY VALLEY, N.C. – With the grays and browns of winter having surrendered to the rainbow of colors that heralds the arrival of Spring, a new farming program is being launched at the historic Patterson School in this historic Upper Yadkin River Valley community.

The Patterson School Foundation has started a new Incubator Farmer Program, having taken the first, vital step – hiring a full time farm manager. In addition to helping oversee the incubator program, Ian Driscoll, a 2014 graduate of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. will manage the 1,400 acre property.

Patterson Ian Driscoll

Ian Driscoll

The Incubator Farm Program will invite new and experienced organic farmers to lease up to half an acre to farm at Patterson, with the availability of farm equipment and mentorship, and with access to farm-related workshops through the farming season.

Driscoll, 24, is from Chicago and graduated with majors in history and political science. So, on paper, he might not seem like the person you’d expect to revel in plowing up an acre of land and working his hands until they have the unmistakable coarse feel of a working man. Yet, he lives and farms in Happy Valley,  just three miles from the Patterson School campus, and is experienced in many of the necessary aspects of farming – compost production, planting / tending / harvesting crops, greenhouse building, fencing, animal husbandry, swine and poultry production, grazing systems, mowing and operation of farm implements, haymaking, water drainage systems, lumber grading and general farm maintenance.

I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” – Ian Driscoll

Indeed, upon meeting Driscoll, one would think he grew up in this fertile valley that has been farmed since at least the 1700s, when the first European settlers planted themselves in this mystical and majestic river valley, an area once vital as a food source to the Cherokee.  He walks the grounds as if his feet have been rooted in the valley soil his whole life. Baseball cap slightly askew on his head, his blue eyes sparkling, even on a drizzly day, surveying the land he has plowed for the incubator farm and the first raised bed he was working on, he said, “I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” Pausing, gazing across the broad, greening valley, he added, “I don’t have reasons. I can’t explain why.”

He did share one reason he could explain. He met his very soon-to-be bride at college. Her home is Happy Valley. In talking with him, it sounds as if he fell in love with the valley almost as quickly as he did with the lady he is marrying on – appropriately – Earth Day.

Patterson walking path bounded by oak trees

A path at Patterson School shaded by Oak trees

Still, he is certainly not the first person in this valley to arrive from a distant home, feeling embraced by its ridges, woods and the meandering Yadkin River, still not able to explain the attraction beyond a sacred connection to the land. It was fertile ground for crops then, and is today. As Driscoll stood alongside his recently plowed field, he observed that the soil is so rich that it does not need fertilizer.

Comparing the valley he now calls home to Chicago, Driscoll offered, “I thought people were rude. There was too much commotion. There was no privacy, and nothing to do if you don’t have money.” In fact, he says he gets bored when he visits home. “There’s something missing,” he observed.

That something might be connection to the earth that he first experienced on a family farm in Wisconsin. He also mentioned that as a Catholic school student, he went on a trip to eastern Kentucky. He noted that while the region was impoverished, there was a sense of community – and perhaps, counter-intuitively – isolation that he found attractive.

And while eastern Kentucky is more isolated than Caldwell County, both are in Appalachia, so there are tribal similarities. Happy Valley has families that are descended from those original settlers. Some still have farms; even more have small family gardens.

Indeed the region has played a critical role in the history of the state’s rich agricultural tradition. Samuel Legerwood Patterson, the first elected Commissioner of Agriculture in North Carolina, was born in 1850 at Palmyra, the family home on the historic property. It, too, is being methodically restored.

We are alive and breathing.” – Liza Plaster

Despite that rich history though, farming is not as common as it once was. So Driscoll is determined to see that the incubator program helps folks in Happy Valley – and beyond – return to the region’s rich farming roots.

Explaining why he initially came to North Carolina from his home in Chicago, Driscoll said “I moved to North Carolina because I had received a flier from Warren Wilson College and was interested in the area. Although I grew up in Chicago, I did not like the city and was eager to leave. It didn’t take much for me to want to move here after visiting.”

He continued, “I had ties to farming growing up through friends and family members; my parents owned an 80 acre farm at one time that we lived on part time. I like to work and provide for myself; farming is hard work and you see your reward with what you grow and eat. Reviving the farm at Patterson School will be good for the community. Working there will be a good opportunity for new and old generations to get involved with the community and learn about farming.”

My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.” – Ian Driscoll

He said that once the incubator program is running successfully, he hopes to hold workshops at Patterson that get the community, especially school children, involved in farming.

Indeed, collaborating with the Caldwell County Schools is an important part of the foundation’s activities now, said Liza Plaster, the foundation’s publicist.  In fact, on each of the visits to the farm, this reporter observed numerous school buses and children on the property.

In fact, said Plaster, the restoration of Palmyra, the strong relationship with the school system and the incubator program all send one message: “We are alive and breathing.”

Patterson school 1909 first day

The first day of class at Patterson School in September, 1909

Clearly, the most visible example of that is the incubator farm. “We want to create a way for people to have an occupation that was, at one time, a major occupation in this valley,” said Driscoll. He emphasized, though, that the program is open to anyone. “This is an opportunity for anybody to strike out on their own and save money too.”

As much as he loves the land, he is ultimately motivated by challenging himself to work as hard as he possibly can. “My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.”

Contact Information

Driscoll can be contacted for more information about the Incubator Farm Program and about raised bed gardening opportunities for children on campus during the growing season at idriscoll41@yahoo.com

Related Articles

Crossing the River: The Catawba Valley and the Appalachians (1747 – 1849)

Horseford Bridge Connects the Piedmont to the Mountains

Note: All photos courtesy of the Patterson School Foundation.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.

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Now I’m Seriously Peeved at Donald Trump

Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family

By Michael M. Barrick

Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.

So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.

Ssmuppetgang1972

And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.

Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.

You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.

Sesame_Street_sign.svgAnyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.

We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.

Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”

So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.

So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.

Pbs-logo-800How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.

As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.

We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.

You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).

In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.

When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”

Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).

BigbirdnewversionI learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.

So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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