Category Archives: Education

Just a quick something to talk about, if you’re interested…

The rest of my week is pretty packed, but since I posted this on Twitter earlier, I’ll post it here, in case anyone is interested in discussing. It occurs to me this is a quick-and-dirty way to set up a discussion about something in the news today. If it works, I’ll do this more often. If not, you’ll have to wait until I actually have time to comment on something:

Kent Babb, Coach Fink and the Karr Cougars

We were the Karr Cougars!

We were the Karr Cougars!

Any of y’all remember Kent Babb, who used to cover sports at The State? He was very good at it. Y’all know I don’t really follow sports, but I used to read his stuff whenever I noticed the byline, because it was that good.

Anyway, he’s at The Washington Post now, and you may be interested in reading a piece he wrote recently about youth football culture up the road in Rock Hill. The news peg was the horrific Phillip Adams story, but Kent went deep into the culture Adams grew up in, one in which football is everything, and when it’s over, young guys tend to get lost.

That’s the part of the post that might interest some of y’all. The rest just interests me, most likely.

Apparently, Kent made a similar, even deeper dive into prep football in a whole other place, and has written a book about it, as I discovered recently on Facebook:

Throughout the 2019 season, I embedded with the Edna Karr High School football team in the West Bank of New Orleans. It’s a story about a championship program and how its head coach, Brice Brown, is a football savant who just sees the moving parts of a complex game in his mind.
But more than that, it’s about how Brown teaches life and survival skills to a group of at-risk kids in a city besieged by gun violence. This is a city where, in 2016, an 18- or 19-year-old Black male was 56 times more likely to die by gunshot than the national average. It’s a place that has big dreams but not much hope. The main player character, a soft-spoken linebacker named Joe, desperately wants to get to college. But “college” is something he can barely imagine; he has only seen references to it in movies. Joe’s mother is in prison, and Joe used to be her lookout, begging her to come inside at 3 a.m. If not for football, it’s very possible Joe wouldn’t have reached his 18th birthday….

Well, that dug up some memories for me. I commented:

Wow, Kent! I attended Edna Karr when it was a junior high, 1965-67. I didn’t even know it was a high school. Did anyone in the book happen to mention the legendary Olaf Fink? He was my PE coach in 8th grade, and he was also a state senator…

I guess it was the fact that this was about sports that made me think of Coach Fink, rather than other educators who made an impression on me back then. Kent replied:

Man, I didn’t know that. I don’t remember Olaf Fink’s name coming up, but Karr and the West Bank have undergone many dramatic changes since Katrina. It’s not a magnet school anymore; it’s a citywide charter that became a huge melting pot in 2006 because it was among the only schools in New Orleans that sustained minor or zero damage.

I saw that this morning, and wrote back:

“Since Katrina” doesn’t mean that much to me, since I went there from 1965-67. 🙂 According to Wikipedia, it was still a junior high until 1990. And when you look it up now, it’s apparently in a completely different location, near the river. Confusing. Wikipedia shows it in the old location. Better yet, Coach Fink is the one individual person mentioned in connection with the school. Famous in his day, but I’m not surprised people don’t remember him now. I learned from my brief research that he died in 1973.

Wow, Coach Fink. My old buddy. I was the scrawniest kid in his P.E. class. I didn’t get my growth until a year or two later (and was still super-skinny after getting my height). Coach Fink took notice of this one day when we were doing gymnastics and learning to tumble. He had this safety device that consisted of an adjustable leather belt with ropes attached to both sides. When we tried to do walkovers or whatever, we’d wear the belt while two other guys held the ropes to hold us up and keep us from breaking our necks.

Problem was, the tightest, skinniest holes on the belt left it still too loose to hold me. I reported this, and Coach scoffed, saying that was impossible. So I showed him it was possible, and he was impressed. From then on, I had a new name. Coach Fink called me “Sego,” which I suppose means nothing to younger people, but everyone got it back then. Sometimes he said “Metrecal,” but eventually settled on “Sego,” and that stuck.

From then on, I was sort of Coach Fink’s pet. He decided to make me a leader in the class. He deputized me to be in charge of various things. At the start of class, when we had just gotten dressed out and before he and the other coaches went back into the coaches’ office to smoke and watch game films and whatever else coaches did, he’d say, “Sego, run ’em through calisthenics!” And I’d tell the guys to line up — and they would, perhaps amused at the little guy being in charge but totally accepting that Coach had delegated his authority to me — and I’d stand in front of them and lead them through jumping jacks and such before we went out and played ball or whatever. Like the other boys, I just accepted this as my role; I don’t remember questioning it. After all, Coach had named me “Sego,” and that’s who I was.

Looking back, I suppose that experience helped boost my self-confidence. So you can blame him! But seriously, my ego was already pretty big in the academic classes, and now I had this added thing. Which was nice, for a kid who got picked last for games on account of being the little guy and having unremarkable (at best) athletic skills for overcoming that. (No one ever said admiringly of me, “Yeah, Sego’s little, but he’s an amazing playmaker at point guard!”)

Coach Fink. The first time any of us heard the name, we’d laugh, because this was at the height of the Rat Fink craze. (Let’s hear it for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth!) That his first name was “Olaf” only added to the effect. But that was when we’d heard of him but not yet met him. He was an imposing figure, and his natural authority loomed over that of the other coaches. Also, we heard that he was a “state senator.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but it sounded important, which seemed fitting.

Anyway, Kent and I wrote back and forth a bit more about Karr Junior High (unfortunately, I was unable to help him on the origin of the name), but that part of the conversation kicked my memory into gear, and I thought I’d share.

Sorry I haven’t posted lately. Things have been crazy. I’ll try to get back to it soon…

The departure of Caslen, the return of Pastides

Image from USC's "MEET OUR PRESIDENT: BOB CASLEN" page.

Image from USC’s “MEET OUR PRESIDENT: BOB CASLEN” page.

Well, I was planning to post something about General Caslen and his troubles, but now he’s gone.

So I thought, before I sit down to dinner, I’d post something to give y’all a chance to comment.

No great hurry since this isn’t a news blog. It’s an opinion blog. Trouble is, unlike most of South Carolina, I’ve never had very strong opinions about the guy — from the time of the brouhaha over his hiring until now, I was just watching and trying to make up my mind. Then these three things happened:

  • In a graduation speech, he called USC “the University of California.”
  • Also in a graduation speech (I’m not sure which one of the many he delivers), he plagiarized something Adm. William McRaven had said. After this, it was reported that he had offered his resignation to the trustee board chair, but that it was declined.
  • Then, we learned that the interchange between him and the board chair had occurred without the other members of the board knowing about it. And from what I read about that over the last day or so, some were kind of ticked about it.

I wouldn’t have fired him — or demanded his resignation, or whatever — over his confusing us with Berkeley. People make mistakes. It was a pretty weird mistake, but not a firing offense. But it was not a good thing. And as I collected information toward forming my impression of Caslen, that definitely went into the “bad stuff” pile.

And this was not a guy who could afford to have a lot of stuff in that pile, given the squirrelly way he was hired, and the fact that in the last two weird years, I hadn’t tossed anything, that I can recall, into the “good stuff” pile. So, not a good omen.

Nor would I completely abandon him over the plagiarism thing. I mean, you know, I love Joe Biden, so I’m sort of obliged to be open-minded about that. Still, it was something for the “bad stuff” pile.

At this point, I’m really wondering when he’s going to give me some stuff for the other pile.

The worst thing, for me, was the business about the board not being consulted before the chairman went through the whole “I surrender my sword/No, sir, I do not accept it!” routine. Of course, that’s not really on Caslen, is it?

That takes us back to the days when his hiring was being protested. Many of the most passionate people were calling for changing the governance structure.

Well, we just got a huge reason to seriously consider that. Because this board appears to be a mess.

My position on that is unchanged since about 1991 — back then, I advocated doing away with these medieval fiefdoms governed by their own, separate courts. I think we should do away with the USC trustees, the Clemson trustees, all those separate little kingdoms, and have one board governing higher education in the state. Make it a real state system, rather than competing private businesses. (Oh, and also restore state funding so they really ARE state institutions.)

That’s never come remotely close to happening, apparently too big a pill for too many, but we need to do something other than having all these little fiefdoms and princelings.

I’d be interested to see a real discussion about that, or about something other than what we have.

Meanwhile, I welcome back Harris Pastides, for however long the interregnum lasts. He’s a good guy…

 

 

 

Five Points, Columbia, South Carolina, 5:48 p.m. today

Five Points in Columbia, SC: 5:48 p.m., 9/9/2020

Five Points in Columbia, SC: 5:48 p.m., 9/9/2020

This seemed to provoke some interest on Twitter today, when I posted it a few minutes after it was taken, so I thought I’d share it here for my readers who don’t do the tweeting thing.

The picture above was taken at 5:48 p.m. today in Five Points.

As I explained on Twitter, the kids weren’t waiting to get into Subway. They were waiting to get into the bar next door. As I said, I don’t think Subway serves beer. Although why they don’t, I don’t know — look at the crowd they could gather!

No, they were going next door.

One friend who was recently in college herself expressed some surprise at that, saying “They don’t even have a great selection!”

Yeah, well. I don’t think think they were lined up for “selection.” Unless you mean “natural selection.”

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? They think they’re invulnerable. Using the term “think” loosely, of course.

The tweet drew reactions from Bryan Caskey, Doug Ross, Phillip Bush, and “Mayor Bob” Coble. But I think my favorite was this one:

McMaster’s outrageous kick in the face to public education

McMaster

I keep putting off writing about this because I haven’t had time to sit down and fully vent about it. But I might as well post something to get the conversation started.

This guy that you my fellow citizens elected governor had $48.5 million at his disposal in the governor’s discretionary education part of the money Washington sent South Carolina under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed at the start of the pandemic emergency in March.

He decided to send $32 million — just under two-thirds of it — to private schools!

In all these years that the worst kinds of Republicans in South Carolina have tried to find ways to shift public funds away from public education and use it to pay parents to abandon those schools, I’ve never seen anyone even suggest attempting to do anything as bald, as naked, as outrageous as this.

As the Post and Courier put it, in this one swoop, McMaster has accomplished “unilaterally what advocates have tried to push through the Legislature for 16 years.” “Advocates,” of course, being a polite way to refer to enemies of public education.

As bad as we thought Mark Sanford was, he never did anything like this. Then again, he never had the opportunity. Of course, I have to admit that Sanford being Sanford, he would have spent all his energy trying to prevent the federal money from coming to South Carolina to start with. There are different kinds of crazy.

This isn’t crazy, though. It’s just hostile — to the very idea of public schools, to the bottom-line concept that all of South Carolina’s children should have an opportunity to get ahead in the world — or at least to start catching up. And of course it’s an utter rejection of the idea that the state has an obligation to help them get that opportunity.

He can’t order South Carolinians to wear masks to save lives. That would be too bold. But he can do this.

Shutting down the university, until… when?

The pedestrian-only portion of Greene Street in front of the Russell House today -- deserted.

The pedestrian-only portion of Greene Street in front of the Russell House today — deserted.

The last two days, I’ve sort of had the USC campus to myself as I take my daily walk through it. Which is nice, and also normal. It’s spring break.

But the students won’t be around next week, either. Which is far from normal:

The University of South Carolina has extended its spring break an additional week as a result of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus.

I stopped to use the men's room in the Thomas Cooper Library. This was on the inside of the door.

I stopped to use the men’s room in the Thomas Cooper Library. This was on the inside of the door.

Spring break will now run through March 22, and no classes will be held during that time, USC officials said on the university’s website.

“Classes and all campus events will be canceled for the week after spring break, March 16-22 as the university monitors the impact of COVID-19 in South Carolina and makes additional plans,” officials said.

Following that, all classes from March 23 to April 3 will be conducted virtually, the university said…

The thing is, how will we know the coast will be clear at that time? We don’t it seems to me.

Things are getting weird….

The empty food court in the Russell House.

The empty food court in the Russell House.

Look who I ran into! Harris and Patricia, and they’re doing great!

Harris and Patricia

In recent months, I’ve done more and more of my 11,000 steps a day walking around downtown during the day, and less on the elliptical in the morning.

One of the great things about that is running into friends.

Today, as I was walking along the edge of the USC campus — heading east on Pendleton Street — I encountered Harris and Patricia Moore Pastides!

As you can see, they’re looking great, and I can also report that they’re doing great. In fact, I should be doing so great.

Patricia admired the Irishness of the cap I was wearing, and I thanked her and told her I’d bought it outside Killarney last year. Then I learned that they’re about to go to Ireland, too, and they’re going to do it right. They’re not going to hustle about the country the way we did, but stay in one place — I think they said Dingle, which like Killarney is in County Kerry, right on the coast — and just go out hiking about from there!

Which is exactly what I’m going to do when I die and go to heaven. Or at least, when I wear out the two hats I bought and need another.

Anyway, it was great to see them, and I hope they have a trip that’s just as great as it sounds like….

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

Well, they hired Caslen today, and I’m kind of surprised…

I’m surprised that the trustees went ahead and hired Gen. Caslen today. Some of you will protest that it was obvious that they would, and yes, in a conventional political strategy sense, you don’t precipitate something like this unless you’re sure you’ve got the votes.

You’re right. That’s conventional wisdom, on one level. But I didn’t think they would do it, at least not today, for two reasons:

  • I can’t think of the last time I saw the USC Board of Trustees step out and do something this risky, this controversial. Especially after they backed down so quickly before in response to protests, even though this was the guy they wanted — kind of absurdly quickly, it seemed at the time. It was like, We don’t want ANY trouble… That convinced me that they were super risk-averse on this. Yeah, I know that among the more emotional protesters there’s a belief that “The Man” always does mean, oppressive, insensitive stuff (which is the way they interpret this), but no — not this “Man.” Not normally. Not in my experience.
  • The Faculty Senate vote the other day. Everything else, I could see them brushing aside if this was really what they wanted to do — the student protests, even Darla Moore’s objections. And if it had just been a mild or even moderate expression of concern from the faculty, that too seemed surmountable. But a unanimous vote of no confidence in Caslen? Wow. I thought that was kind of extreme — like really, not ONE member of the body thought he might be OK? But it was unanimous, and now this guy’s starting a job with the entire faculty against him (assuming, of course, that the senate is truly representative). That would give me pause no matter how much I wanted to hire somebody.

But they did it, and I’m surprised. And at the same time, kind of… impressed… after the way they rolled so easily the first time.Caslen mug

What stiffened their spines?

To be clear, I’ve never had a problem with Caslen. I thought the excuse students gave for objecting to him originally was silly, and from what I could tell he was at least as qualified as the other finalists, and probably more so.

And my old boss James likes him, and I trust James’ instincts on this. Molly Spearman was impressed with him, too. And those are two thoughtful, reasonable people. And I tend to give more weight to reasonable people saying reasonable things despite an emotionally fraught situation than I do to a crowd shouting “Shame!” repeatedly.

But I’m still kind of bewildered at what just happened. I’m still mystified at what caused Henry to take the sudden, unprecedented step he took last week. And I’m puzzled that the trustees went along with him.

Maybe they’ve all been saying to each other in private for the last couple of months that they wished they hadn’t given up so easily before. Maybe they’ve been steeling themselves to do this for some time.

But I’m still surprised.

Well, he’s going to be president of our flagship university now, and I wish him all the luck in the world. He’s gonna need it. That, and some stupendous leadership skills….

USC mess: My question is, what’s Henry’s motivation?

Wherever possible, folks stood in the shade....

Wherever possible, folks stood in the shade….

I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of heat stroke.

I’m talking about this one, over at USC:

Jennifer was ONE of the speakers, along with Steve Benjamin, Bakari Sellers, and students and faculty members I didn’t know. I’m not sure who all ended up speaking, but this was the official roster in advance:

  • Todd Shaw – Associate Professor of Political Science
  • Zechariah Willoughby – Student
  • Christian Anderson – Associate Professor of Education
  • Steve Benjamin – Former UofSC Student Body President & Mayor of Columbia
  • Jennifer Clyburn Reed – Alumna & Center Director, College of Education
  • Elizabeth Regan – Department Chair, Integrated Information Technology
  • Bakari Sellers – Law School Alumnus & Former SC State Representative
  • Lyric Swinton – Student

And all through it, I kept wondering what I’ve been wondering from the start about all this: What’s Henry McMaster’s motivation? Why stir this pot?

The thing is, what he’s done is get a lot of folks who didn’t care one way or the other about this Caslen guy to get all mad because of the ham-handed way he’s gone about it.

What will happen on Friday? What’s happening behind the scenes between now and Friday? Is all this worth it? And if so, to whom?

Some of the speakers, awaiting their turns...

Some of the speakers, awaiting their turns…

Yeah, that was kind of what I was on about…

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968. Imagine a giant pencil instead.

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968: It really DOES look like a giant pencil, doesn’t it? A freshly sharpened one….

Just noticed that a piece in the Charleston paper over the weekend made reference to something I wrote last week.

The Post and Courier piece was headlined “Where does South Carolina’s teacher labor movement go after 10,000 person march?” (They left the hyphen out of “10,000-person,” not I. Y’all know I love hyphens. And commas.)

“May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square?” opined Brad Warthen, a former editor at The State who worked as a spokesman for Democrat James Smith’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

As for the choice of date for the first protest action, Walker said her group chose it to stand in solidarity with North Carolina teachers, who were marching on their Statehouse the same day. She said she hadn’t heard of May Day or its socialist connotations before critics brought it up online…

Yeah, exactly. They chose it “to stand in solidarity” with workers elsewhere. Kind of what I was on about.

Before someone gets worked up: No, I don’t think the teachers are commies. Apparently, this one doesn’t even know about commies.

I’m all for the teachers. I’m all for public education. Always have been, the record will show.

I’m just saying what I said: That this is not a way to win friends and influence people — at least, not the people who make policy in this GOP-dominated state. While few enough among them remember the Cold War, one assumes it lurks somewhere in their collective unconscious (as much as they might deny, upon questioning, possessing a collective anything).

And especially not when the Republican speaker of the House has stuck his neck out trying to accomplish some of the things you say you want.

That’s all I have to say… except that I wish they’d quoted the part about the giant pencils. That was the good bit. The part they quoted was just the setup for the good bit. Ask Norm. He appreciated it, even within the context of taking me to task

That was a big crowd. Not the biggest, but pretty big…

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

Apparently, some people weren’t paying attention to what I told them yesterday. Tsk, tsk…

But seriously, folks… I want to thank Norm, and Phillip, and everyone else who cared enough about our schools to turn out for the demonstration today… even though I doubt it will help, and it could even hurt. My view of all this is that what’s going to happen on education is going to happen regardless of demonstrations.

The good news is that lawmakers this year have made more of a good-faith effort to help public schools than I’ve seen in 20 years.

The bad news is that they didn’t get it done this year. Which worries me, because there was so much momentum for it — even Henry, of all people, got on board — and I worry whether the mo will still be there in January.

We’ll see.

But hey, it was a big crowd today. Of course, we all try to mentally compare that to THE big crowd, King Day at the Dome in 2000. And I went hunting for that image, and found it. So here you go…

King Day 2000

Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed...

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed…

I’m inclined not to offer any arguments on this point and let Cindi do my talking:

Yup. The more of them who show up at the State House when they should be working, the less favorably lawmakers will view their wishes.

Walking out is a bad idea to begin with. Making the State House the end point of your walk is even less wise.

There are all sorts of reasons. Here are two or three:

  • We don’t have public employee unions in South Carolina. Never mind whether you or I think that’s a good thing; the point is that our Legislature thinks it is a good thing. So probably the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to get something out of the Legislature, is to act like a union, with a walkout.
  • As the editorial Cindi links to asserts, the assertion that teacher “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” rings extremely hollow when the lawmakers you are griping about are about to give you all a 4 percent raise.
  • May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square? Will Scud missiles (or perhaps giant pencils) roll down Gervais Street on trailers?

Is that all that should happen? No. This was supposedly the year for education reform, and thanks to the Senate being the Senate, that didn’t happen. The House did its job, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and the good-faith work of a consensus of the body, ranging from my old boss Mandy Powers Norrell to my own rep, Micah Caskey.

But I can’t imagine how a mass abandonment of duty on the part of teachers helps us get to where we need to be.

It will be interesting to see who walks out, and who doesn’t. This walkout is the work of the upstart SC for Ed organization, which has been trying to take the role of representing teachers away from the more established groups, such as the S.C. Education Association. SCEA president has expressed some doubts about the event.

But whoever they are, I don’t see the event furthering stated goals…

The new Henry McMaster (we can only hope)

henry

I’ve been meaning to write about this, but when it was timely — on Inauguration Day, and when we had the State of the State — I was too busy to blog, and let it slide.

But now I’m thinking about it again, so…

A number of times lately, I’ve thought, Hey, at least one voter out there was listening to us during the campaign: Henry McMaster.

At least it seems that way. Everywhere we went, James and Mandy touted their plan to raise teacher pay and take other measures to make all our schools places where kids were well educated and teachers loved their jobs and didn’t want to quit. And James had a crowd-pleasing line he used with regard to his opponent that went kind of like this: The only thing Henry McMaster has offered our schools is to arm teachers with guns. I want to arm them with better pay, and with the tools they need to be effective.

The line worked, because Henry offered nothing to counter it. He didn’t talk about schools. Any reasonable person could be forgiven for assuming that he didn’t give a flying flip about schools.

Now, he’s all on fire for education reform. Which is why, after the State of the State, Mandy Powers Norrell tweeted this:

It’s great. It’s gratifying. But don’t think I think we deserve the credit (and I don’t think Mandy does, either). I don’t flatter myself that Henry is taking his cues from the Smith campaign. I do think he’s taking them from House Speaker Jay Lucas. And that’s a good thing.

(Oops, I forgot to use The State newspaper’s recent style. On first reference, and sometimes even in headlines, it’s always “powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas.” It’s become such a part of his title, I expect them to start capitalizing the “P” next. Back in the old mainframe days when we were on Atex terminals, we would have said, “they’ve got it on a SAVE/GET key…”)

Lucas has been wanting to get serious on helping our schools for several years now. Even though the Supreme Court has backed off on forcing the Legislature to provide all the state’s students with a better-than-minimally adequate education, Lucas really wants to do something about it.

And he’s willing to let Henry get in front of the parade and take credit for it.

And to his credit, Henry for once is acting like a leader and stepping out to do something, to lead, to be a governor.

His first two years in office, we saw no sign of that. In fact, when Lucas and others in the State House tried to lead, Henry lay down in front of their efforts. He only cared about the upcoming election. It was painfully evident that, on a twist of another of James’ campaign lines, Henry would rather keep the job than do the job.

The way he tried to block leadership on the roads bill was the perfect example. Rather than support the lawmakers in the risk they were taking, he vetoed the bill, and neither tried to offer a viable argument why nor made any effort to get lawmakers to sustain the veto. He knew they would override him. He just wanted zero responsibility for what happened. (Which reminds me of a postwar German phrase: Ohne mich. They could do what they liked, but without him.)

Now that he’s been elected governor for the first time, he seems to have decided he’s going to act like one. For a change.

I worked so hard to get James Smith elected mostly because of my tremendous respect for him, personally. I’d have been for James even if Henry had been a fairly decent governor. But I worked even harder for him because Henry gave no sign of being any kind of governor at all, decent or otherwise. It was an extra spur to my efforts.

And when we lost, we had little reason to hope for anything better going forward.

Which is why it’s so encouraging to see Henry accepting the mantle of leadership that the Speaker has offered him. It’s not as good as having James as governor, not by a long shot, but it’s something.

I applaud this unexpected development. And I’m daring to hope that something good will come out of it. After all, Dum Spiro Spero

Sheheen takes step in right direction on higher ed

When I read this yesterday morning…

A South Carolina lawmaker has a plan to stop college tuition from going up — just don’t expect it to get passed this year.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, will file a bill to fix what he sees as the four biggest issues in higher education: tuition increasing at “an astronomical, unsustainable rate,” colleges recruiting out-of-state students to balance their budgets, fixing campus buildings that have fallen into disrepair and “streamlining a bureaucratic mess.”

Sheheen will unveil the proposal — and detail the plan’s specifics — Tuesday at an 11 a.m. news conference on the first floor of the State House….

… I resolved to drop by the State House to hear the proposal. I did so, however, knowing what I’ve known for years: If lawmakers want to stop the rise in tuition, the solution is obvious. You have to start funding higher education again.Sheheen mug

Back when I was in school and tuition was dirt-cheap, the state actually funded “state-funded” colleges and universities. Now, the state’s taxpayers are minor contributors, providing a percentage of operating costs that long ago dropped into single digits. University presidents spend the lion’s share of their time trying to scrape up funds from other sources — and yeah, tuition is one of those other sources.

So there’s always been a great deal of phoniness in many legislators’ hand-wringing over rising tuition — unless they’re willing to address the actual problem. It’s always been completely within the power of lawmakers — as a body — to do this.

But I expected that Vincent Sheheen knows this, probably better than I do, so I went over expecting to hear something real. And I did. Or rather, since I arrived just as the presser was breaking up, I read something real on this handout before briefly interviewing Vincent and others present, such as USC President Harris Pastides:

sheheen doc

It’s not much — it probably won’t even pull state funding back out of the single digits (a Senate Finance Committee staffer is running down the numbers on that for me, but I don’t have them yet).

But yeah, providing more funding from the state is the one thing that’s needed for keeping down tuition. So, while this will do little more than slow the rise, it’s something. And it’s honest.

And note that it even meets Doug’s test: If you want more money for something, findi it somewhere in the budget that exists, rather than raising taxes.

So, you know… something for everybody…

Help the children of Dominica learn to dance again

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Still from a video of one of Becca’s classes.

Y’all know that my youngest daughter did a two-year Peace Corps tour of duty in Thailand awhile back, because we went to visit her and I posted about it. There, she did the usual kind of Peace Corps work, like something out of the movie “Volunteers,” only Tom Hanks and John Candy weren’t there to help her. She was way out in the countryside on her own, teaching such things as English and basic life skills in the local schools. She was the only farang for many miles around. When someone had an event and wanted to draw a crowd, they invited her to present the award or cut the ribbon or lead the parade, and people were sure to turn out, just to see the blonde foreign girl.

You may not know that before she was in the Peace Corps, she was a classical ballet dancer. She had spent her last year of high school in Pennsylvania training intensely at a respected school there, stayed another year after graduation, then came down to USC to study in its dance program. But some of her teachers persuaded her to leave school and turn pro. So she did, dancing with companies in both North Carolina and Columbia before having to “retire” because of injuries. She went back to school, to get her degree from College of Charleston, then joined the Peace Corps.

She had no way of knowing those two paths would combine in a unique opportunity.

After she had been back from Thailand a short while — she worked for a dance company in New York during the interval — she saw an ad for a position in the Peace Corps Response program. The island nation of Dominica in the Caribbean, a place with few economic advantages, wanted someone to teach its children to dance. With Peace Corps and professional dance experience, Becca — being uniquely qualified — got the job, and started in January 2017.

The wrecked arts center.

The wrecked arts center.

Everything went fine (here’s a piece Becca wrote about her work a year ago) until Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria in September. There was no chance to evacuate ahead of time. As it bore down on the island, the storm started the day as a Category 1, and by landfall was a Category 5. Everyone knows what Maria did to Puerto Rico. But Dominica, a former French and then British colony before gaining independence in 1978, doesn’t get as much press. And Dominica was hit first — and harder.

Dominica was devastated. The island, which is rocky and mountainous and lacks the attractive beaches of some of its neighbors, had been building a bit of an ecotourism industry, but its forests were torn up by the roots, the trees littering the island. Agriculture was completely destroyed, plantations losing 100 percent of their crops. And practically no one had a roof that hadn’t been ripped open to the sky.

The almost 20 Peace Corps volunteers on the island had been summoned together to ride out the storm in a hotel in the city of Roseau. It was a harrowing experience. For days after, their only water was what had collected on the roof. Eventually, the Peace Corps hired some fishing boats to take them off and transport them to St. Lucia, from whence my daughter came home to stay with us a few weeks.

And then she went back. She was one of only five Peace Corps folks to return, and she did so at the particular request of local officials, who still wanted their children to have a chance at cultural enrichment.

Becca’s efforts have drawn some attention recently. Buzzfeed did a feature on her and seven other Peace Corps volunteers who were “Using Sports To Strengthen Communities Abroad.” Never mind that ballet isn’t exactly a sport, they had nice things to say anyway (mainly derived from the piece she wrote last year):

For Rebecca Warthen, ballet is everything that makes life worth living: beauty, romance, music, joy, passion, and physicality. So when she saw a Peace Corps Response opening for a ballet instructor and teacher trainer on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, she applied immediately, hoping to change lives with the art form that changed her own.

Warthen said one of the best things about dance is that you don’t need expensive equipment. “All you really need is your body, space, and the desire to learn, and your future is yours to determine… More importantly, they’re learning something new from a culture different than theirs, from a person with a different skin tone and different background, and through that they will become more accepting, open-minded people, which is what this is all about, isn’t it?”

No, you don’t need much special equipment to dance, but you do need a place to do it. And the one dance studio in the country — the Dominica Institute for the Arts — had been destroyed in the storm.

Since her return, Becca has been teaching in the schools — those that remain — and other spaces as available. But she’s determined to restore the island’s one studio, a beautiful facility that had been donated by a Dominican who had had success in the wider world and wanted to give back.

Here’s a story on the Peace Corps website about her effort. It will cost a little more than $28,000. The people of Dominica, who don’t have much to give, have come up with $20,000 of it themselves. Becca is trying to raise the rest.

If you can, please help. You can give at the Peace Corps site. The people of Dominica, who want broader horizons for their children, will appreciate it. So will I.

Becca and some of her students.

Becca and some of her students.

Hey, alla you kids get offa my campus!

Horseshoe

The Horseshoe.

Part of my daily routine of getting in at least 10,000 steps (and preferably 15) is to take an afternoon walk around downtown, usually through the USC campus and around the State House before heading back to ADCO.

This has been particularly peaceful this week, with the kids gone for spring break — even though it’s not, you know, technically spring.

I suppose I’ll be tripping over them again next week. But it was nice to have it mostly to myself for awhile…

The Russell House -- a student center with no students.

The Russell House — a student center with no students.

Thomas Cooper Library.

Thomas Cooper Library.

It was great to see Valerie and the gang at USC tonight

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Valerie Bauerlein was back in town this evening, which became the occasion for the biggest gathering of former denizens of The State I’ve attended since we lost Lee Bandy.

Valerie, now of The Wall Street Journal, was here to deliver the Baldwin Lecture at the J-school at USC.

Her topic was “Retail Meltdown: How Online Shopping is Changing our Communities.” She did a  great job, as she does with everything she undertakes. To give you a sense of the lecture, here’s part of a Q&A with her from the USC website:

Last year I went to Elmira, New York, and Wausau, Wisconsin, to report on the ripple effects of the collapse of retail. What I saw there is not so different than what is happening at shopping centers in Columbia and in lots of other places.

Elmira used to make everything from typewriters to TV tubes. As manufacturing went away, the mall out by the interstate became a bigger and bigger driver of the local economy, drawing people from miles away and employing hundreds of people. The local governments became dependent on sales tax to offset property tax and other revenue as manufacturing declined. So when the mall started to fail, people lost their jobs and became more dependent on public aid. And the city had become so reliant on sales tax to make its budget, it had to make deep cuts, even in its police force. There are lots of communities like this, who are dealing with the death of a big mall or outlet center that has been an anchor for the economy.

Wausau, on the other hand, is a prosperous place, by some measures the most middle-class community in America. The mall is failing there, too, in spite of being the only one in a 70-mile radius. In Wausau, the city didn’t need sales tax to make its budget and the local governments could absorb the decline in property taxes from the mall and other shopping centers. The big worry there was the death of what had been a community gathering place, and how to get new life into a building that was in the center of town. The other issue was how to support small shops in the downtown, so the people would want to live and work there.

So there are fiscal and civic ripple effects to our communities from the collapse in retail that are fascinating and often overlooked….

I was a bit late for her talk, but she let me know that I was quoted in her introduction, delivered by Tom Reichert, the new dean of the College of Information and Communications. He used this from a 2009 post on this blog:

She’s one of the nicest, most pleasant, kindest, most considerate people I ever worked with, to the extent that you wonder how she ended up in the trade. Not that news people are universally unpleasant or anything; it’s just that she was SO nice. And very good at her job, to boot.

Yep, that sounds like something I’d say about Valerie — and mean it. Here’s how nice Valerie is — she gave a plug to my recent blog post related to her topic (the one on deserted malls).

Afterward, we went to Hunter-Gatherer for a pint. Which is where the picture above is from. That’s Valerie with the big smile in the foreground at right. You can also see Sammy Fretwell, Megan Sexton, Bob Gillespie, Paul Osmundson, Carolyn Click, Grant Jackson and various other present and former denizens of The State — plus such fellow travelers as ex-dean Charles Bierbauer, media lawyer Jay Bender, former Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer and other friends.

It was good to see all the folks again…

Racist signs at USC: Was it a Bernie Bro?

Racist signs found at USC.

Racist signs found at USC./Photo from Twitter feed of @KingShady__.

Students returned to USC for the spring semester today to find racist messages taped up in several university buildings, including one on a display case outside the African-American Studies department in Gambrell Hall.

The precise nature of the messages was interesting. As the Charleston paper quoted:

“We’ve endured a YEAR of Blumpf instead of enjoying one of Bernie because your DUMB BLACK A**** just pull the lever for whomever the party (illegible),” one sign says in Williams’ photo.

“All this bull**** about a ‘King’ when you (illegible) simpletons can’t even pick a candidate properly,” a second sign says. “You stupid monkeys handed Trump the White House the minute you handed Hillary the nomination!”

So… is this the work of a Bernie Bro? Or someone trying to deflect blame and pin it on a Sanders enthusiast?

Whoever did it, it’s pretty disgusting.

(I got the image above from this Tweet.)

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan