Tag Archives: education

Strained

On September 1, several new laws went into effect here in Texas – 666 to be exact; a number that surely makes evangelicals tremble.  Some, like Senate Bill 968, which bans “vaccine passports”, became law immediately when Gov. Greg Abbott signed them in June.  Others, such as House Bill 2730, which deals with eminent domain, go into effect January 1, 2022.

Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups.  The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were.  Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become.  Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.

This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular.  One deals with voting and the other with abortion.  Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives.  To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty.  Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born.  Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.

Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant.  It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week.  In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed.  The term is misleading.  The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves.  Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks.  When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine.  But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way.  It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality.  In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.

But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000.  This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry.  Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject.  Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal.  Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal?  It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law.  Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.

I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world.  Where’s my financial compensation?

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to abortion rights when it refused to take up the new Texas law for consideration.  Previously, it’s overturned similar laws passed by other states.  But for the past few years, conservatives have been pushing these draconian measures for the mere sake of having the High Court review the Roe v. Wade decision and ultimately overturn it.  The Court’s refusal to examine this Texas law is a blatant nod to right-wing extremists who feel divinely appointed to control other people’s lives.

The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process.  SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting.  The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections.  Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access.  Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious.  But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies.  It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.

Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations.  This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri.  Scores of people died.  Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement.  And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?

The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad.  HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes.  SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process.  Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!

On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history.  In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México.  It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.

Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class.  The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.

I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights.  Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.

I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.

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Worst Quotes of the Week – May 1, 2021

“You know who else liked universal day care.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), responding to President Biden’s child-care proposal and referencing a 1974 New York Times story about the prevalence of affordable child care in the former Soviet Union

“[The new administration] wants to jack up taxes in order to nudge families toward the kinds of jobs Democrats want them to have, in the kinds of industries Democrats want to exist, with the kinds of cars Democrats want them to drive, using the kinds of child-care arrangements that Democrats want them to pursue.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), regarding President Biden’s USD 1.8 trillion proposal that includes expansion of investments into childcare and education

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Worst Quote of the Week – August 8, 2020

“[Children] don’t have a problem, they just don’t have a problem.  It doesn’t have an impact on them.  I’ve watched some doctors say they’re totally immune.”

President Donald Trump, in a video commentary on why schools should re-open, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The video had been tweeted out by Trump’s reelection campaign, but was promptly removed by Twitter for violating its newly-minted standards against spreading false information.

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Video of the Week – July 18, 2020

A school principal shared some thoughts with Betsy Devos, U.S. Secretary of Education, in a video shared by Bored Teachers.  The 2-minute video synopsizes the heroic efforts that teachers took on when the pandemic hit and how Devos needs to “sit down somewhere” and just listen.  In fact, that’s the best advice we can give to any political figure – especially those like Devos and others in the Trump Administration who sit in their gilded cages in the ivory towers of wealth and privilege; far removed from the chaos and drama of REAL lives.

Teachers like this gentleman stand at the front lines in the brutal world of education and are now faced with the very real threat of illness and death, as the Trump gang threatens to pull education funding from states that don’t open their schools next month for the start of the new academic year.

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Best Quote of the Week – May 8, 2020

A first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” that was auctioned in 2013. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District in Alaska removed the book and others because of sexual references and other language that the district viewed as inappropriate for teenage readers.

“Of course it can. All great literature makes us uncomfortable, because it addresses what makes us fully human. That includes our worst traits, like hatred of those who are different from us. So if your goal is to shield kids from discomfort, you’re going to have to censor a lot of really good books.”

Jonathan Zimmerman, education and history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, on the ubiquitous hypocrisy of liberals who want to ban books using racial slurs from grade and high school curriculums, yet remain silent about the banishment of other books by equally well-known authors with equally controversial subjects and verbiage.

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Retro Quote – Isaac Asimov

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”

Isaac Asimov

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Retro Quote – Margaret Mead

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

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Banned Books Week – September 22-28, 2019

Once again, it’s time for “Banned Books Week” – the annual event where we free speech advocates and other enlightened souls are forced to counter the anger of the holier-than-thou crowd who somehow feel imbued with the power to tell everyone else what they can read and see. Help support literacy and education. It’s they’re the best tools against ignorance and arrogance. This is a battle we’ll never win.  But it’s always worth fighting!

Here’s a list of the most frequently challenged books, categorized by year and by decade.

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While Fatigued

This is something I scribbled down on night in the spring of 1985, shortly before college spring break.  That year would turn out to be the single worst in my entire life to date.  Just about everything went wrong.  It was already starting to go wrong when I wrote this.  I was failing academically; trouble with a stupid fraternity; problems with my parents; and a dog in faltering health.  For me, the only good thing about 1985 was that it ended.

 

 

Almost midnight as the clock digitals glimmer,

And my arm has ceased to quiver.

Stopped for this moment to scribe this passage.

I want to relay a beleaguered message.

This day has run the gamut of my emotions.

They’ve slipped from private moments of joy,

To contained anger like silk lotion.

I feel a perverse love of this mixed décor.

It’s a delighted passion of my own soulful heart.

A concert of charms and spirits.

I grope in the dark amidst wrongs and rights.

Wondering if I serve purpose on this Earth.

Thinking my impact may be a single laugh.

Tired.

Hungry.

Eyes pleading for justice.

I overreact?

Underestimate?

This is the kill holding my fate.

 

Image: Christine Deschamps

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Knowing Jolyn

She looked a little out of place; this older woman attired in crimson red with a matching hat.  She seemed dressed for church, not a Toastmaster’s meeting.  Ironic, though, that the group met in a church every Friday evening around 6 p.m.  Most Toastmasters groups meet Monday through Thursday after work.  Some even meet before the work day starts, especially if it’s a company oriented-club.  But Friday evenings was the only time our group could schedule, when it was formed in 2000.  I joined it the following year and came up with a slogan: ‘A Different Kind of Happy Hour.’  People liked that, and it drew a wide variety of visitors.

It was just such a nondescript Friday evening in the spring of 2003, when Jolyn Robichaux arrived.  None of us realized it at that moment – and I’m certain not even she knew – but Jolyn would make an indelible impact on our lives.  Her personality was as bright as the outfit she wore that evening; her verbiage as graceful as the way she carried herself into the room.  Her worldly experiences proved she was one of those rare individuals who take life by the throat and wring every ounce of ecstasy from it.  With a vibrant smile and an infectious laugh, Jolyn had an incredible on anyone she ever met.  And I am honored to have been one of them.

Jolyn passed away a year ago this month.  She would have been 90 this coming May.  I’d last heard from her, via email, in early 2015.  I had always made it a point to mail her a birthday card; a simple gesture she knew was genuine, but – in this electronic age – she still found amazing.

“That you actually took the time to hand-write my address on it and mail it,” she once told me, “shows how compassionate you are!”

Jolyn appreciated such ordinary and inconspicuous acts; those “little things” people often overlooked or dismissed.  Her own life, however, was anything but ordinary or inconspicuous.  Born in Cairo, Illinois in 1928 to Margaret Love, a beautician, and Dr. Edward Chuny Howard, a dentist, Jolyn seemed to have two strikes against her from the start: she was female and Black; attributes that rendered her almost sub-human at the time.  Anyone growing up during the Great Depression learned how difficult life could be.  For people like Jolyn, it was almost unbearable.  Still, everyone did the best they could.  Jolyn’s father often bartered his dental services with neighboring farmers in exchange for food.  Many of those farmers were White and surely wondered how a Black man could have possibly become a dentist.  But he earned their trust and respect with his strong work ethic and concern for their dental health, at a time when dentistry often straddled the border between medieval cruelty and an unnecessary luxury.  There were joyous moments as well, she always emphasized, when discussing her younger years.  “You just have to look for them.”  And hard work is, most often, worth the effort; paying off “one way or another.”

Jolyn (back left) in 1943 beside her sister, Charlotte Howard, with brother William and their mother, Margaret.

Jolyn graduated valedictorian from Sumner High School at the age of 16.  But the happiness the Howard family felt over her academic achievements was tempered when her father fell ill with a rare blood disease.  What should have been a joyous occasion was shattered when Dr. Howard died shortly thereafter at the age of 48.

Despite the tragedy, Jolyn knew she had to move forward.  One curious attribute of successful, independent people is their ability to handle death – even the deaths of loved ones.  As painful as it was to lose her father at such a young age, Jolyn knew the world wouldn’t stop because she was sad and began attending classes at Fisk University in Nashville.  Two years later, however, Jolyn decided her mother needed help, both financially and in caring for the two youngest Howard children.  Jolyn left Fisk and moved to Chicago to work full-time, while planning to take evening classes at Roosevelt University.

Classes at Roosevelt lasted only a year, as Jolyn told me, because Chicago’s “fast life” got hold of her.  That included the bevy of handsome, well-dressed and well-spoken men she encountered.  Both of her parents would have howled in anger, Jolyn said with a laugh, at the mere thought of her “getting frisky” with any man.  Remember, this was late 1940s / early 1950s America; a post-war nation where opportunities looked endless on the personal and professional fronts – even for women and non-Whites.

Now ensconced in a more liberal and open-minded environment, Jolyn found work with the Chicago Veterans Administration and the National Labor Relations Board; as an executive secretary with two other large corporations; and even as an assistant to a renowned diagnostician.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but for a Black woman to take such jobs at the time was incredibly radical; almost rebellious.  Yet, like much of what she’d do throughout both her personal and professional lives, Jolyn wouldn’t let herself be assigned a certain role or position, as then-contemporary norms prescribed.  She was already dictating her own place in this world – not by someone else and not even by society as a whole.  Radical, indeed!  But to her, it was as natural a reaction as breathing.  There was just no alternative.

Amidst the many people she encountered in Chicago, Jolyn cited one particular individual as having, perhaps, the most significant impact: Mary McLeod Bethune.  As Jolyn would do in the coming years, Bethune didn’t let her race or gender define her or keep her from attaining success on her own terms.  Born to former slaves in South Carolina in 1875, Bethune would go on to become an acclaimed educator in the African-American community and was an especially charismatic role model for women.  Although not naïve to the traumas of racism and sexism, Bethune still felt that education was a vital tool in the pursuit of equality.

Jolyn realized how important this was to her, too, and went on to earn a degree in education from Chicago Teachers College, graduating magna cum laude in 1960.  When I made the decision several years ago to return to college and earn a degree in English, Jolyn expressed as much excitement as my parents.  I lamented the fact that I’d waited so long to complete that one life-long ambition.

“The important thing is that you get it done,” Jolyn told me via email.  “If it’s important to you, then it’s important!”

In 1950, Jolyn met Joseph Julius Robichaux at a private party in Chicago.  While dancing that same evening, he startled her by asking her to get married.  Perhaps even more surprising to him is that she didn’t say yes immediately.  Again, it’s hard to understand now, but in mid-20th century America, women normally didn’t say no to marriage.  With so few opportunities for even well-educated women – especially Black women – the roles of wife and mother were pretty much the apex of their lives.  Telling him no put her, as she eloquently described it, “the naughty girl list.”  But Joseph persisted, certainly knowing what an extraordinary woman had entered his world.  Jolyn eventually said yes to Joseph, and the couple wed in 1952.  Four years later they welcomed their first child, Sheila.  In 1964, their first son, Joseph Howard, was born.  By then, Jolyn had fallen – somewhat – into that traditional wife-mother role.  But she still managed to do so on her own terms.  Aside from completing her education, she participated in various civic activities and assisted her husband in his burgeoning political career.

Jolyn and Joseph Robichaux (center) in 1964.

In 1967, the Robichauxs entered into a new venture, when they purchased Baldwin Ice Cream Company.  Baldwin had been founded as the Seven Links Ice Cream Co. in 1921 by Kit Baldwin and six of his Black coworkers at the Chicago Post Office.  As a Black-owned and Black-operated enterprise, Baldwin stood out in the maze of corporate America.  In 1948, Baldwin bought out his partners and renamed the company after himself.

By 1971, it seemed life couldn’t be more fulfilling or more perfect for the Robichaux family.  But tragedy once again punched a hole into Jolyn’s life, when Joseph, Sr., died of leukemia.  While dealing with such a heart-wrenching event, Jolyn realized she had three choices (albeit difficult ones): continue the family’s interest in Baldwin, find work teaching, or become a full-time mother.  She chose to stay with Baldwin.  The company was in receivership by 1971, due in part, to a staid routine that no longer yielded a profit in a rapidly-changing economy and culture.

That same year Chicago Mayor Richard Daley appointed Jolyn to replace her deceased husband on the Jury Commissioners Board of Cook County.  The position – which she held until 1979 – provided a steady income.  In 1975 she earned a certificate in ice cream technology from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).  Jolyn then re-made Baldwin into her own.  She developed business relationships with other ice cream executives in the Chicago area and increase sales in Baldwin’s 17 chain stores.

Baldwin’s phenomenal success prompted President Ronald Reagan to name Jolyn as USA Minority Business Woman of the Year for 1985.  She received the award personally from Vice-President George W. Bush.

In 1992, Jolyn sold her ice cream business and made an unexpected move: 4,130 miles (6,646 km) to Paris, France.  Still bristling with an entrepreneurial spirit, Jolyn created a one-woman business that brought American gospel singers to Paris for performances at the American Cathedral in Paris.

Shortly thereafter, Jolyn was back in the U.S., settling in Dallas to be closer to family.  But retirement appeared to be an alien concept to her.  In 1997 she participated in the Heart Disease Research Project at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  From 1999 to 2001 she served on the Dallas Opera’s Board of Directors.  She was a docent at Southern Methodist University’s prestigious Meadows Museum of Art; served as a mentor at Dallas Life Foundation, an organization that helps homeless people get off and stay off the streets; and even worked as a substitute teacher in the Dallas Independent School District.

I knew she loved opera and not just because she had lived in Paris.  We both shared that passion.  But not until after her death did I learn she did so much for her community and many of the people who occupied it.  It doesn’t surprise me.  Jolyn wasn’t a braggart.  Unlike some sports and entertainment celebrities and more than a few politicians, Jolyn did what she liked to do and helped whenever she could.

Jolyn with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in 1974.

She was more than just a friend; she was a trustworthy mentor to me personally.  I could relate the various trials tribulations of dealing with my parents’ declining health, not really thinking that Jolyn was actually a few years older than either of them.  She was truly inspirational; choosing to celebrate other people’s accomplishments and aspirations.  After presenting one of my most passionate speeches, “A Matter of Respect,” to Toastmasters one evening, she almost jumped out of her chair to give me a hug.  “I saw the fire in your eyes and could hear it in your soul!” she proclaimed after the meeting.

She read several of my short stories and essays on this blog and predicted, “You will get published!”

If I counted my own personal achievements, they’d certainly fall short of even just half of what Jolyn did with her life.  Like me, she kept a regular journal; understanding how truly therapeutic it could be.  They were her essentially her autobiography – as are most journals – but told me via email, “They will not be published.”  That may have been a wish she asked of her family, but I honestly hope they defy her on that one.  If there’s anyone whose life story deserves (must be) told, it is that of Jolyn Robichaux.

About 5 years ago Jolyn invited me to join her at a dance class not far from where I live.  I told her I would, but a family emergency arose at the last minute.  She expressed greater concern for my welfare than for my absence at the class.  And I thought later, ‘That’s just like her; already in her mid-80s and learning something new.’

That described Jolyn perfectly – dancing to the very end.

 

“When I Die”

“When I die, when I finish living this life, when all my stakes and claims in this world are rendered null and void, I want to leave like the final swirl of smoke from a smoldering ember, rising as a smile into nothing.”

– Jolyn Robichaux, 2005

Jolyn’s family has asked that donations be made in her name to the Vivian G. Harsh Society, which maintains the largest collection of African-American history and literature in the Midwest.

 

Vivian G. Harsh Society

c/o Harold Washington Library

400 S. State St., 5th Floor

Chicago, IL 60605

http://harshsociety.org/donate/

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