George Floyd’s Legacy

When Minneapolis jurors convicted Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd yesterday, I gave thanks that justice, in this case, had been served. Darnella Frazier’s video of Chauvin’s calloused disregard for the life of the person he sought to arrest might have been the only evidence the prosecution needed.

As Pres. Biden put it in his address yesterday, it’s time to bring an end to systemic racism in America. More particularly, it’s time to figure out how to police our nation in a manner that protects those who obey the law and respects the humanity of those who don’t.

What reforms can we pursue to make this happen? What must be done if we want to live in a country where Black and brown parents don’t have to have “the talk” with their kids?

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 13 Comments

The Lost Cause: Still Winning in Mississippi

Gavin Stevens, Yoknapatawpha’s learned attorney and most articulate southern apologist, quipped in Requiem for a Nun that “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” For Stevens, this means that the glory and the terror of antebellum Mississippi lived on in the hearts and minds of people who never fought in the Civil War. Those days became mythologized as being as pure as moonlight and magnolias. Every true Mississippi boy, Stevens believed, imagined he would join Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg to raise the high water mark of the Confederacy: love Mississippi and the South, death be damned.

Faulkner’s best work shows the absolute depravity involved in mythologizing antebellum Mississippi. In 2021, it seems surreal that Faulkner’s characters embrace an institution as vile as slavery, or as wicked as the government that enabled it.

That’s the thing about Faulkner: he was a realist, not a surrealist. Witness Gov. Tate Reeves’ April 7 executive proclamation that this month is “Confederate Heritage Month.” The proclamation aims to “honor those who served in the Confederacy” and “gain insight from our [nation’s] mistakes and successes.” The proclamation was given to the Rankin County Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter and shared on its social media.

Gov. Reeves made no hubbub about signing the proclamation. If his goal actually celebrated the idea of learning from history, he should have put his signature on this proclamation during a press conference. He should have explained the need to lionize those who fought for the south–and, by extension, for slavery. (Let there be no doubt: Mississippi seceded to protect the right of one person to own another.)

Why do you think Gov. Reeves proclaimed April “Confederate History Month”? Why do you think he issued the proclamation the way he did?

Posted in Politics, Race in Mississippi | 16 Comments

Mannerly Mississippi

Mississippians scold their children from toddlerhood forward for anything perceived as rude. Say sir and ma’am. Sit up straight. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Don’t say anything that might hurt somebody’s feelings, or about politics, or about church–unless it’s to claim how much you love your own.

Suppression comes naturally to us. Sometimes I wonder if we can fully articulate what we feel.

Our cult of mannerly behavior also makes it far more difficult to stand up for the truths embraced by a minority. We have a long history of using manners to shun those influenced by outside agitators and woke college professors. Mississippi isn’t a state, it’s a social club. Want to put an end to dissent? Don’t invite the dissenters to the party. Don’t let their bills out of committee and onto the open floor of the legislature.

Would Mississippi be a better place if we worried less about mannerly behavior and more about truth? Or should we continue to embrace manners, lest we find it impossible to get along without them?

Posted in Education, Ethics | 15 Comments

Pressing Ahead

Congratulations. You’ve made it more than three-quarters of the way through a year in pandemic education.

We’ve already used the blog to discuss the use (or non-use) of virtual teaching measures next year. Here’s a more fundamental question: what has this year taught you about the way you learn?

Posted in Education | 13 Comments

Good Intentions Gone Awry

Here I sit in an empty classroom: after administrators listened to meteorological reports last night, they decided to make instruction virtual. I appreciate that administrators prioritize safety over quality of instruction. However, it sometimes feels like we’ve slipped down the slippery slope of weather-born silliness. We’re not talking about staying in Gulfport for a category five hurricane. We’re talking about staying away from Hooper because there’s a chance of strong weather. It rains. People get wet on the way to campus and class. If there’s a tornado, we have safe places to go while we’re here.

On the upside: it isn’t like classes have been canceled while they’re taking place. That’s good!

I suppose I am revealing an old and curmudgeonly side, but I have grown so weary of virtual instruction that I would happily drive through weather of all sorts to teach in classrooms of actual (rather than virtual) students.

Another good intention: yesterday, Gov. Reeves signed into law House Bill 633, which requires the state Department of Education to include computer science in its college and career readiness curriculum. That’s a lovely idea. However, the reality is that very few people who qualified to teach computer science will be in Mississippi classrooms. Instead we’ll have coaches throwing powerpoints on the screen and calling it instruction in computer science.

We can’t really blame coaches–or any other teachers–for being asked to teach content they don’t know. The broader issue involves the divergent expectations that parents, schools, and legislators have for the children they want to educate.

Posted in Education, Ethics, Politics | 10 Comments

My Snow Day…

…was better than yours!

This almost makes up for all the times I’ve biked or jogged up that hill to ward off the middle aged spread.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Zooming into the Future

This morning, while most high school students in Mississippi slept in because of the weather, MSMS students filed into their Zoom rooms and stayed on track. Technology can seem like a blessing in situations like these, but I am curious: what will be the appropriate role for this kind of technology at MSMS next year?

Our infrastructure allowed us to offer a wealth of remote content and instruction for 240 students this year, so why not open MSMS classes up to students from around the state every year–why lock ourselves into a residential model when we can touch so many more lives remotely? Wouldn’t it be more equitable? If MSMS does more distance learning, what would happen to students’ college placement? The quality of their writing? Their standardized test scores? Conversely, assuming MSMS returns to its traditional, residential model next year, should teachers continue to record classes and conduct assessments on Canvas instead of paper? Now that the technology is embedded, will we continue to use it once we can return to traditional methods of instruction?

Posted in Education, Science | 11 Comments

Takeaways from the First Four Hours of the Second Impeachment

The House managers for the prosecution have rested after the first phase of this impeachment trial, which defends the constitutionality of impeaching a president who is no longer in office. They presented scholarship by conservative legal scholars in favor of the constitutionality of the trial, as well as a long video montage that depicted the events that led up to the riots of January 6.

Republicans will begin their arguments in the next few minutes. I anticipate that they’ll present their own bevvy of constitutional scholars, and show some screenshots of comments made by left-leaning politicians that they view as seditious, as well as a defense that I find stunningly short-sighted: the January exception. This “exception” has its roots in the idea that a lame-duck politician on his way out of office can say what he pleases and have his speech protected under the First Amendment. Moreover, they claim, because this particular politician is already out of office, bringing up past misdeeds can only serve to divide a country sorely in need of unity.

Such a defense shows an understanding of First Amendment that cannot even be described as sophomoric. The First Amendment does not give anyone the right to spread lies, engage in hate speech, or incite violence–all of which, arguably, the former president did during his January 6 address.

Viewing the montage, which presents a chronology depicting the former president’s speech and the violence it incited, makes me as angry today as it did on January 6. Actions on that day serve as a stark reminder that Trump did not accept the results of the November election–that, in fact, he perpetuated lies in his attempt to reverse it–and that he enlisted the aid of an angry mob to prevent the election from being certified. This is precisely the kind of demagoguery the founding fathers wanted to avoid. Even a cursory reading of Federalist Paper #10 confirms that.

In an earlier blog, I suggested that the second impeachment trial is a waste of time–not on the grounds of merit, but on the grounds that it will not result in 17 Republican senators convicting the former president. I stand by that assertion. However, I overlooked a far more compelling series of questions: why are Republicans currently in office interested in defending Trump? Is the Republican party interested in moving past Trump? Why would any party want to be associated with populism–particularly this brand of populism?

Posted in National Politics, Politics | 4 Comments

O Hell, Thy Name Is Instructional Video

I write important things down–not just because I don’t want to forget them, but because seeing them scratched into the page or flickering on the screen grants them a stronger sense of permanence than any other medium. Roosevelt and Reagan didn’t speak extemporaneously when they gave their first inaugural addresses. Gwendolyn Brooks didn’t just hum her poems at recitals. She read from the printed page because she wanted to get things right. We write because it’s efficient, too. Writing a grocery list down is simply more practical than leaving yourself a voice memo. Wouldn’t you hate to listen to the whole list repeatedly to make sure you got everything in the deli section?

You’d think if administrators want to stress that having a diverse learning environment is important, or that teachers should know what to do during violent crises, they’d let faculty and staff know their expectations in writing. Heck, if administrators wanted, they could even require a written assessment to make sure.

Instead, administrators at a local university sent faculty a link to “video courses” in avoiding subconscious bias and making good decisions during active shooter situations, among other things. Each video lasted about a half hour. Each featured modules with questions that had to be answered correctly before the course could be completed.

When I was subjected to these courses, I couldn’t decide if I was angry because the course took important material and presented it at a third-grade level. Seriously. A booger-licking fool could pass the assessments without paying attention to the videos. Or maybe I was furious because video instruction is inherently inefficient. I could have read the scripts and passed the tests in five minutes–or, better still, I could have read a memo written from an administrator that let me know expressly what his/her expectations were regarding subconscious bias or active shooter situations. I am a professional. Treat me like one.

However, I suspect that administrators at every educational level will continue to foist such idiotic material on their teachers. I have no idea why, unless it gives administrators a paper trail to prove how well prepared their faculty are for every contingency–or, more likely still, it offers administrators a chance to “present” such materials without having to prepare anything themselves.

Posted in Education | 5 Comments

Beggars Would Ride

If there had been an impeachment hearing on January 7, 2021, I do not doubt that Donald Trump would not only have been the first president impeached twice–of course, that’s still true–but also the first president removed from office by Congress. As you can see from my blog post on January 6, I believed that Trump’s dereliction of duties necessitated his immediate removal from office. I had also hoped rank and file members of the Republican party would come to grips with the forces they unleashed by enabling Trump, and purge their membership of officials who endangered democracy by repeating idiotic conspiracy theories about the election.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Yesterday’s vote to dismiss the Senate’s second impeachment hearings failed by a 55-45 margin, which means that Democrats need at least 12 more votes for this trial to be a success. If you see that happening, I have a bridge in Tibbee to sell you.

What will happen instead is that the trial will consume at least a week’s worth of testimony, and a final vote will fall largely along party lines. It doesn’t matter what Trump and his minions said. It doesn’t matter that they incited a riot. The political will to punish him has faded with the passage of time. Former majority leader Mitch McConnell knew this when he insisted that the trial take place after the inauguration. He could temporarily wash his hands of Trump, wait, then use a lengthy trial to blame Democrats for slowing down the “real” work of government.

Although I love a symbolic gesture in fiction, I also know that symbolic gestures mark the last heroic moments of defeated people. Putting Trump on trial amounts to another symbolic gesture from Democrats. Bringing Trump to Washington to put him on trial is like punishing a gator by throwing him in the swamp. It may feel good for a minute, but the gator’s the real winner. Trump will be in the limelight again. He will love it. His believers will, too, and they’ll be louder than ever as they come to his defense. Unless Democrats know they have 67 votes before the trial begins, they should outflank McConnell’s clever obstruction by bringing the trial to a close quickly so they can deal with legislation that matters.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Posted in National Politics | 4 Comments