END OF THE LINE…AGAIN

I never intended to be that kind of teacher. You have had them. Angry all the time, lips turned downward or run out in front of their noses. Sour on life or why life was picking on them. As refreshing as a glassful of salted, warm dill pickle juice. Hanging on by their toenails, not for the sake of the kids they teach but for the paycheck they receive. I stepped away from corrupting young minds three years ago and coaching a year later for that very reason. It was my third “failed” attempt at retirement. Better to retire a year too early than a year too late and I could hear the sucking sounds of my patience reserves going dry. It was hammered home five or six months later when a teaching peer begged me to take her classes during her maternity leave…I am a sucker for a pretty face, even a pregnant one. It didn’t hurt that the district teacher of the year was doing the begging. Nine weeks later I found myself hanging on by my toenails not to be THAT KIND of teacher as we broke for Christmas and she returned.

Three months ago, she called again…pregnant again…begging again…and I’m still a sucker for a pretty face. I might have been a bit bored too. She might have played to my vanity. This wonderful, award-winning teacher wants LITTLE OLE ME to take her classes? I am unworthy…no really…I am unworthy. Yep, I’d say she played to my vanity. I also needed new tires for the truck and a hydraulic cylinder for my tractor. I didn’t need to work to pay for them, I could have written a check from savings. Next time I will. Did I mention it was half-time? Every other day, always with a long weekend. Twenty-two or three teaching dates. I could do this standing on my head…maybe.

I’m a two-day week away from the joyous end. One day is a half day. One and one-half days from heaven. Walking into a classroom hasn’t been any harder. The kids are no more difficult today than ten years ago. School staff and administration have been wonderful. It’s just me. The tank has run dry. I can’t do the job anymore as I once did. I have hit the end of my line.

Sciatica and the shingles haven’t helped. Limping into classes the first week of my tenure with sciatica, my scalp crawling and face blistering from shingles the last three weeks. No that’s just an excuse. A DAMN GOOD EXCUSE, but an excuse none the less. There comes a time when it is over and a wise man will recognize it. My friend Hawk, sometimes a wise man, has said often. “We can’t do this forever. I’m not going from an athletic field to the grave.” How many times have you retired and gone back Mr. “Do as I say and not as I do?” I have not been a wise man but I have gained wisdom. Who says an old dog…ahhhhhhhhh!

I had a wonderful puppy. She was a throw away that just appeared outside the front gate one day waiting for my beloved to feed her. Miss Sassy decided not to leave…until thirteen years later. Sick and old, she knew her time was near and went off to die alone. I like to think she didn’t want to burden us with the memories of her death. I want to be like her. I don’t want to keep hanging on…and to be clear, I’m just talking about my career…today.

I am thinking about the kids. Some are making me smile. I just didn’t have the time to develop the relationships except for a handful. Three or four from each class. It’s about the relationships. South Carolina history is important. So is culture and geography. It’s just not as important as the relationships for an old fart like me.

Anne, thanks for the opportunity but between us, don’t get pregnant again. Tie a knot, I’m not falling for it again, or if you do get pregnant, I’m not falling for it again.

To quote the Traveling Wilburys,
“Maybe somewhere down the road aways (end of the line)
You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days (end of the line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (end of the line)
Purple haze.” It is the end of that line.

“Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.” Find more musings and other reflections at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

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TEACHER APPRECIATION

We celebrated National Teacher’s Appreciation Week…last week. Our PTA was wonderful. Today I read a post from Dan Rather celebrating teachers and, after reading it, couldn’t help but think of those teachers who made an impact on my life, those who taught me and those I taught with.

My high school teachers were rural folk, under paid and over worked, often taking second jobs to make ends meet. They were noble people who answered a higher calling. I wonder if Mrs. Richardson or Mrs. McGinn worried about the state of education when I joined their ranks as a teacher in my own right. It wasn’t their fault I underachieved. I wish I had taken the time to tell them how much they meant to me. I wish I had told them that I learned much more than I ever put on paper or ever let on. I’m not sure they ever suspected…but they continued to try. Thank you for helping me to escape the cotton mills of my parents and the fields of my grandparents.

I did underachieve, not really knowing what I wanted to do. My mother wished for a doctor, my grandmother a preacher. I let them down too. It wasn’t until I found myself in an American History class that I felt the spark to teach. Thanks Coach Gunter…and thanks for a spark to become a coach. Thanks for giving me a big enough spark to overcome Western Civilization and Dr. Farley my freshman year in college.

I’ve taught now for forty-three years, forty of them were full time. After having been away for a year and then taking a long-term position for a friend, I cannot express how hard teaching has become and how much esteem and admiration I have for the younger teachers I am now working with. They too, are noble and answering a higher calling.

Teaching was hard twenty years ago, it has now almost become impossible. I applaud their innovative approaches, willingness to give of themselves, their love for their children and wonder if I ever looked that young. Despite the lack of support they receive, the ridicule they sometimes garner, they somehow persevere. Their calling truly is about the children they teach and not about the big bucks they could be earning. Because of these teachers, the children are the winners.

I don’t know if I could teach and coach if I suddenly found myself transported to the future that is now. I was just as terrible as a teacher as I was as a student when I first started out. I hope I improved. If I did it was because of the Nita Leatherwoods, June Shealys and Marilyn Koons from those early years. Later it would be others. If I did anything right, I kept trying to learn and kept copying the Bob Crains, Bianca Jameisons, and Paul Burnettes of the world. They were successful and loved by their students.

If you have a favorite teacher or a teacher who somehow made a difference, take a minute to let them know. They would appreciate it, especially in this day and time when teachers are more likely to be ridiculed than appreciated. They will appreciate it more than gold.

For more witty repartee go to Don’s author page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

A PLAYER…ALL GROWN UP

For a guy who coached high school baseball for over thirty years, I don’t go to many high school baseball games. Just four this season. I feel a little guilty about not going but have found if I haven’t invested in the kids playing, I’m just as happy to catch a few innings of a collegiate or a pro game on the tube while relaxing on my recliner. Maybe I’m just being lazy.

Today was different. Instead of being lazy, I sat on the first base fence line watching a former player, Tim Perry, coach his high school team in our state high school playoffs. I might have been the only spectator who was more focused on the third base coaching box than the actual field of play.

The site of the game was a field where, in a past lifetime, I had wandered from the dugout to the third base coaching box and back again just like my former player was doing. I felt a certain kinship with him and understood the emotions he was possibly feeling. I watched him cheering, clapping, offering up nuggets of baseball knowledge and teaching the game. Picking his players up after an error or a strike out…no visible berating although I don’t know for sure what went on inside of the dugout…no berating I’m sure.

I was happy to be a spectator. The gut wrenching, acid churning and Tums gobbling days’ of “life or death” competition rest squarely on his much younger, broader shoulders and are, thankfully, in my rear-view mirror. I’d rather just cheer for him.

There is a comradery among coaches, even rival coaches, and these two knew each other well, having competed against each other since their little league playing days. After losing the second game, the district final, I wondered if they were still friends? Knowing Tim’s personality, I would guess yes.

When I first met Tim, he was a freckled faced ninth grader. He had one of those angelic faces that lit up the world when he smiled. Angelic face but full of “snips and snails, and puppy dog tails.” Short and just a few pounds past “stocky,” he resembled a “pleasingly plump” Alfalfa of Our Gang fame or maybe Howdy Doody of Buffalo Bob renown. If you look at him just right today, you can still see it.

Tim was trying out for our junior varsity team and had all the correct mechanics and moves, learned from hours of baseball camps and honed on hundreds of diamonds around the South, if not the nation. He looked good doing whatever he was doing. The problem was he looked good swinging through a lot of pitches, having a ball roll between his legs or having to line him up with a fence post to see if he was actually moving when he ran. I cut him. Doing so might, I say might, have been a mistake.

When a young kid gets cut he has a couple of options. He can allow it to ruin his athletic career, just quit and feel sorry for himself, or he can work harder and try again. I imagine you might guess which Tim did. It didn’t hurt he had a growing spurt over that next year, as in about six inches, a foot? No not that much but he was six foot plus by the time graduated. He turned into a good player, the ace of my pitching staff and good enough to play college ball. Yeah, maybe I made a mistake. I cherish the picture of us made when he signed his letter of intent to play for my old alma mater.

More importantly, and more to the point, he’s turned into a good man with a beautiful family. I watched a three-year-old boy run around and play as the game went on. He is Tim made over, a freckled faced little imp. The little boy’s mother and sister are pretty, brunette images of each other, thank goodness. I’m not sure how much Tim’s wife actually got to watch the game while keeping up with two fireballs. I know I never saw her sit down. Tim’s parents were there too, aging but still pulling for their son, always his biggest cheerleaders…and greatest teachers. How much support does someone deserve…a lot in Tim’s case.

I would guess it was heaven ordained Tim would become a baseball coach. He was already a coach when he played for me. Tim loved the game too much not to pursue that vocation along with a career in teaching despite a short tenure in the “real world,” the non-teaching world.

I’ve found there are two kinds of men who coach baseball…at least at the high school level. Those who coach the game for the game, and those who coach the kids. Over the years, I’ve found I don’t have much use for the men who coach the game just for the sake of winning championships…and I know, we’re all in it to win or you don’t stay in it very long. Observing Tim, I saw a coach who was coaching baseball but more importantly he was coaching kids and having fun doing it…and they were having fun too.

Tim, I’m glad you were mine for a brief period and happy you have turned into the man you’ve turned into. I hope you know how lucky you are to be that man. Maybe next year Coach…and I’m really sorry I made that mistake.

Don Miller writes “memories.” If you enjoyed this short essay, more may be purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

BAD TEACHER

There was a time I didn’t worry so much. Chalk it up to being young and stupid…yeah, old and stupid too. I’ve taken a part-time, long-term teaching position as a favor for a friend. I must have her buffaloed. This is the second time she has asked as she plays momma on maternity leave . She really thinks I’m a good teacher. I wonder. Maybe she shouldn’t have any more babies. Her classes are good classes for the most part. Just a few little “Johnnies” and they aren’t too bad…yet.

I’ve begun to recycle faces. There is the little girl in third block. She reminds me of another little girl, a forty years ago little girl. She asked me where spaghetti came from. Just as seriously as she could, “Coach Miller, I’ve always wondered, where does spaghetti come from?” Just as seriously I answered, “It’s grown on farms in very long thin rows, sown very close together to keep them from spreading out too wide.” It simply popped out of my mouth. Usually when I was pulling someone’s leg I let them off the hook quickly. This young lady was so, so serious…I wonder if she still thinks spaghetti is grown on farms or worse, thinks what a jerk her physical science teacher was. I really wish I had told her the truth. Well pasta is made from wheat….

Most of my worries occur because of my mouth…the mouth that tends to speak before the brain tells it what to say. Most of the time it’s not purposeful, just my mouth tripping over words and the pause afterwards as I contemplate, “Did I really say it was a ‘single celled orgasm’ or the octopus had ‘eighty-foot-long testicles?’” The first one wasn’t too bad, they missed it…a young class, they probably had never heard the word before. The second one I made the mistake of trying to correct myself. “TENTICALES, TENTICALES!”

Oh no, the angry young lady I instructed to “SIT RIGHT THERE!” I just put an h in the word sit. She wasn’t angry very long but I don’t really suggest this as a method to diffuse tense situations. I admit it is hard to be tense with everyone laughing.

Sometimes I did things with malice and forethought. Sometimes, they had unintended consequences, especially during my physical science days. The lab assistants who blew up all the sink traps dropping sodium metal into a lab sink because they saw me demonstrate it. Yep, if a BB sized piece of sodium will do that in a sink full of water, think what a golf ball sized one will do when flushed down the drain. Thankfully no one “lost an eye” and sodium is no longer allowed in high school labs.

Potato guns are fun especially if you get to make one in Coach Miller’s class. Gee, what useful information. “YOU DID WHAT?” With eyes very wide and in a whisper, “The potato went through a window and through a wall?” “YOU TOLD THE POLICE WHATTTTTTTTTT?” My principal in a very authoritarian voice, “MR. MILLER! Could I see you in my office? There are two gentlemen here who would like to interview you about an incident that occurred yesterday.” Great, Sam Cooke is singing “Chain Gang” in my head.

Well thankfully no one tried to recreate my lit pickle demonstration. That might have been “electrifying.” We did bomb the parents in the car line with water rockets after a wind shift.

My biggest worry? That teachers don’t get to do the fun stuff anymore…no not tripping over their words! The other fun stuff, like blowing up hydrogen filled balloons and making dill pickles light up. Oh well…testing begins next week. A real reason to worry.

Don Miller writes “memories.” Some may even be yours. Grab a copy or download today at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP.

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butt hurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterwards. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

GRUMPY OLD WHITE MEN

It’s four, IN THE FREAKING AM, and I have been awake for an hour, cursed with a racking cough caused by my fall allergies, dry-crisp air, along with the smoke from the twenty wildfires raging, ALL keeping me from being able to “dream a little dream of” you. I have coughed so much my ribs hurt and I guess I am a grumpy old man…but not for the reasons I have been thinking about and, since I have this time on my hands, the thoughts I am going to write about.

Lord have mercy! Dear God, can you please put a bridle on my thoughts? My “unbridled” pondering transported me to another time and place…another lifetime. Maybe it was a “semi” dream, standing in front of a sociology class fully clothed, attempting to explain what it meant to be a minority. Like a lot of kids, my students believed minority meant numbers, which is or WAS a factor. I was attempting to explain, “it is more about power and control.”

My example was me, the older male WASP in the room. At this time, maybe thirty years ago, we were the most hated group in America. “What do you mean Coach Miller?” Well, that would be the most powerful group in the United States, grumpy old white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men, fighting to maintain control over anyone not white, not of Western European ancestry, not Christian Protestant or, and of course, not male. One of my “little Johnnies” asked, “Shouldn’t you add teacher to that group?” Yes, Little Johnny, yes.

I would say, if recent developments are to be believed, this situation has not changed very much except the covert battle to keep our world like the television program “Mad Men”, if not “Leave it to Beaver”, may now be raging overtly, much like the wildfires around my home, ever expanding, destroying everything in its path. Grumpy old white men, destroying “the weeds” in our path…just to hold on to the power we somehow believe we deserve. Before my brother points out that I am painting all white men with a broad stroke…well…yes I am so I will add the word some. Better bro? Remember it is a system we have always been a part of and therefore we probably don’t even notice.

I continue to see “some” Grumpy Old White Men railing against all the social ills in the United States. Notice I said social ills. I don’t deny ISIS, the economy, taxes,the job market and more all suck. Socially, however, we Grumpy Old White Men seem to have all the answers while pointing our fingers at “them.” Unfortunately, there are those sneaky three fingers pointing back at us. I believe Grumpy Old White Men have created much of our social ills by going to war against everything that is not us. Women who don’t believe we are their saviors, other races, religions, and sexual orientations, even “globalization”, anything to maintain the status quo for the grumpy old white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men, and the traditions WE have created. After all, if we created them, they must be righteous.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

AN OLD TEE SHIRT

I have somehow collected hundreds of tee shirts over the years. Some are old athletic tees dating to the Mauldin years when I first began teaching and coaching at the high school level. Many are tattered and yellowed from age, others carry what I hope are grass stains. Some are covered in memories and is why I have a hard time getting rid of or “repurposing” any of them; the tattered “lucky” blue one I wore the year we won a state championship, another from a region championship, the only region championship, in football. Some are not athletic wear from former teams but are souvenirs from races I have competed in, if you can call my running even running much less competing. I am drawn to one, almost forgotten, which brought back memories of the player who gave it to me. It was off white from its conception, not just with age, and has a prominent hole in the back. Dang! How did that get there? On the front, there was a design including a Kiwi, the bird not the fruit, surrounded by the logo “Kiwi Country.” Underneath the logo, screened in block letters is “New Zealand.” Wow, I had forgotten all about this particularly beautiful fashion statement.

“Hobby” Hobson or Hobart R. Hobson had a thick and, by my Southern “hillbilly” standards, a somewhat odd English accent and the coaching staff decided to pronounce it as a cockney would, ‘Obby Obson’. I don’t think he was very impressed. Hobby was also not impressed when I began to sing “Walzing Matilda,” the unofficial Australian National Anthem. I would have sung the New Zealand National Anthem had I known it. Oh, yeah, it’s “God Save the Queen. Despite being in the same hemisphere as Australia and settled by the same imperial power, Britain, I found they were more than thirteen hundred miles apart in distance and even farther apart in culture and mind set.

“Kiwis” do not like being thrown into the same pool as the Aussies. Despite the fact both were mapped by noted explorer James Cook and claimed by the British Empire, Australia was settled as a penal colony while New Zealand was settled as a religious colony. Think prisons rather than churches. Also, there are major environmental differences that provided opportunities for different cultural outlooks. Think deserts, snakes and drought in Australia and lakes, forests and glaciers in New Zealand. They also developed a love for different types of sports. Australia has Australian Rules football, which aside from its name, a very large football and large goalpost, resembles American football only slightly. New Zealand is known for Rugby which, despite its plumper ball, does resemble American football and is one of the sports that American football is derived from.

Foreign exchange student Hobby Hobson from New Zealand seemed to be a very serious and quiet young man; much more mature than his American counterparts. He was quite unlike the Crocodile Dundee character that I was still attempting to compare him to and he never understood why I continued to belt out “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” after his repeated denials of the existence of Kangaroos in New Zealand. Physically dark, with brown hair and a sturdy build, he looked and sounded nothing like Paul Hogan. This did not stop me from kidding him with questions about “shrimps on the barbie” or “What did your didgeridoo?” I always stopped short of cruelty and always goaded him with a smile on my face. I would not know how well he took it until much later. Hobby found that his serious good looks and exotic accent gave him an advantage when it came to man’s favorite sport, girls. Hobby was a “chick magnet” despite his quiet demeanor. They all seemed to want to take him gently into their arms and crush him passionately while lining up as if on a bill of fare at some blue-plate restaurant. When questioned about this week’s “menu choice” he would just smile and add that New Zealanders were more gentlemanly than their Australian counterparts. Never having met an Aussie I don’t know.

Hobby played rugby and therefore thought he wanted to play football. Of medium height and stocky build, physically he was typical of Riverside athletes, undersized for a linebacker or defensive end and too slow to play defensive back. A typical Riverside player, small and slow. We moved him from position to position until he settled in as an outside linebacker. He would hit you if he could get into position but there is a learning curve in football and sometimes we found him curving in the wrong direction. It began with the simple act of dressing. Did I mention that Rugby players don’t wear equipment? The game of rugby involves blocking and tackling, all without benefit of the equipment that we associate with our game of football including helmets and shoulder pads. This might explain why when “Googling” rugby I saw so many smiling rugby players without all their teeth.

Once he learned how to dress, and made it to the field, we decided to limit him to defense because of the learning curve involved with offense. In addition to never having played football, Hobby had also missed all four weeks of preseason practice. Defense is more about alignment and reaction than having to learn a play with all the terminology involved. “Bunch Right-Liz-Move-Combo Veer-On Three” is akin to learning another language in addition to acquiring the technical ability required to execute the play. He did find a place to play. Despite his disadvantages, Hobby would run as hard as he could and was not afraid to cause a collision. This made him perfect for the kickoff team and he became a good “wedge buster.” Unfortunately, this was not one of our better teams meaning we might not get to kick off but once due to our propensity for being shut out. As the season ended we also put him on the kickoff return team which gave him many more opportunities to play.

The end of football season also meant that Hobby and I did not run into each other as often. At the fall athletic banquet, he presented each member of the coaching staff a wall hanging of a New Zealand map which was divided according to their rugby teams and each of their team uniform shirts. After the banquet, there was limited contact until one day the following spring I saw him in the hallway and we paused long enough to catch up on how well he was doing and to remind him that I still thought he was Crocodile Dundee despite his protests. He was dressed in typical teenage faire, which is universal it would seem, blue jeans and tee-shirt. This tee shirt featured his county’s name and logo and I made a big deal about how much I liked it.

After bidding the seniors a fond adieu that spring, the next day would be spent completing those tasks that teachers must complete before we can run, cheering and dancing to the closest bar as we close school for the summer. I had completed my list of duties and had wandered to another room to try and assist another teacher. When I had assisted, or interfered all I could, I wandered back to my room and found the tee shirt neatly folded on my desk. There was no note but I got the message loud and clear. It would also explain why I have held on to it these years, hole and all.

This is a selection from the book “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”, a feel good kind of book based upon Don Miller’s forty plus years of teaching and coaching. Should you be interested in purchasing this book or other’s of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try the following link: http://goo.gl/lomuQf

IN DEFENSE OF KIDS

I have to speak in front of our local Lion’s Club, well I don’t have to, I agreed to. The subject is kids, something I should know something about having taught and coached them for over forty years. As any educator will tell you, JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU HAVE SEEN IT ALL, THEY WILL DO SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU REALIZE YOU DON’T. However, even saying that, I BELIEVE KIDS ARE STILL KIDS. I read or see our next generations being characterized as entitled, elitist, dumb, stupid, weak, soft, lazy or gullible…should I go on? No because I believe, like a lot of “OLDER GENERATIONS,” we are not giving them their just dues.

There were entitled, elitist, dumb, stupid, weak, soft, lazy and gullible kids throughout my teaching career. What has changed is not the younger generations, what has changed is the world we live in. Technology, social media, the destruction of the middle class forcing parents to work longer to put basic necessities on the table, national media focusing upon the negatives that sell rather than the positives that don’t and giving out trophies to everyone who participates in any an extracurricular activity are just some of the reasons that SEEM to make kids appear to be different, weak and entitled. They are different but different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and if it is bad, it’s because we, the previous generation, have made it that way.

These new generations do things differently than “our generation” …the same way that I did things differently than my parents and my parents did things differently than their parents. I don’t think any of us want to go back to planting seeds by hand or using a seed drill pulled by horses to put beans on the table the way my grandparents did. This “new generation” doesn’t learn the same way that we did nor even work the same way we did…if they are lucky enough to find a job. I don’t believe we want to give up our computers, smart phones or data processing software for an abacas or wax board, rotary phone or old Royal typewriter with correction fluid. I do call my daughter when I need to program some new form of technology.

Maybe I am looking through rose colored glasses because I was always associated with good kids for the most part. There were a few little “Johnnies” but not many. I don’t think I am suffering from cognitive dissonance because I taught at many different types of schools; urban and rural, large and small, economically entitled with over a ninety percent college attendance rate, unentitled schools where kids were more likely to go into military service, predominately white and predominately other races. I found kids to be nothing more than kids who wanted to learn, who wanted to be taught boundaries, who wanted someone to listen to them and give them some attention. The only difference seemed to be that the modern generation tended to use the word teachers and coaches hated the most…” Why?” “Why do we need to learn this or why are we having to do this.” “Because I said so” was not the best answer to provide.

Children of all ages, races and socio-economic standing want attention and, unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter whether it is negative or positive. They want love and will look for it wherever they can find it; at home with their family, in church organizations, with positive mentors or with drugs, gangs or bad interpersonal relationships. That was true fifty years ago and it is true now. Unfortunately, the numbers involved in negative activities seems to have increased.

That is where you and I, the old generation, comes in. We need to bridge gaps whether it is through the Lion’s Club, the Phyllis Wheatly Center, tutoring, the Y or just coaching a little league team. All we are doing is investing a little time to insure the successes of our next generation.

For more unique life stories or posts by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

I AM NOT A RACIST…AM I?

I understand “white fragility” and now understand I have it. Because of my “white privilege” I did not even know I had it. I know other people who refuse to recognize their “white privilege” or that white privilege actually exists. I guess they, like me, have an excuse although not a good one. You see for sixty-five years I have been white and have no desire to change who I am. I just want to change the way I think about certain issues such as race. I do not apologize for the fact I am white or that I view the world through white eyes. I just want to learn and understand…and be a better person because of it. For the first twenty-three years of my life I swam in a culture awash with “whiteness.” Schools, textbooks and what little media there was, were all presented from a white viewpoint. In most cases I “feel” little has changed. Back then, in the fog of my youth, African-Americans were on the fringe of my peripheral vision or in some distant city, seen only through the screen of my black and white television. It would be impossible for me to view the world any other way. But…I do have a brain and a desire to change the way that I look at the world.

I grew up in an area and in a family neither racist nor prejudiced…overtly. Now I realize there were covert lessons to be learned and I learned them well…even though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I went off to an all-white college the lessons became more overt. The fight song was officially “Hail to the Redskins,” racist in its own way, but we played “Dixie,” much more. I hate to admit that the de facto anthem of the Confederacy still causes chills to run up my arm. I CAN admit it because it is my “Southern white privilege” to do so. My first collegiate history course was taught by a disciple of the “Lost Cause” history of the Civil War although I would not realize this fact until I heard him speak at a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting…the only one I ever attended. I decided, on my own, that despite their claims to the contrary, they were, in fact, racist…as am I. It was the only class I took under Dr. “White Supremacist” and I was fortunate to have a “damn Yankee” husband and wife team for most of my American History courses. They did not believe in the “Lost Cause.” As I have been too slow to realize, I don’t either.

The first time I came into contact with large groups of non-white races was in the teaching setting…students, players and teaching peers. I studied all of my new black friends and students…and Asian or Hispanics. I also studied my white friends and I had an impossible time reconciling what I was hearing about groups of people with the people I knew. The group “stereotypes” did not fit with the individuals I had gotten to know. The stereotypes could not be correct. For me this was an epiphany, not caused by a lightning strike on the Damascus Road, but rather a realization that occurred over time. Much like Job, I attempted to avoid being called to a cause and admit to having been a “closet non-racist” racist for too many years. I also admit to continuing to think of the “stereotypes” when I looked at groups of people I don’t really know. I believe many of us, of all races, continue to express this view and can’t seem to admit to the creation of a “system” which, in itself, is racist.

We sit back in our “Ivory Towers” declaring how non-racist we are and wring our hands over what is happening in cities like Chicago. We rail about how the “liberals” or “thugs” have destroyed the city and make jokes about turning the presidential “rallies” into “job fairs” to keep the protestors away. We are blinded by our own “whiteness” and refuse to admit that those of us at the top of the racial strata have caused the problems not only in Chicago but in cities throughout the country, despite the money we believe has been thrown at the problem.

After the “Great Migration” of Southern blacks to Northern and Western industrial centers to escape Southern Jim Crow, “we non-Southerners” defended our “birthright” with violence, intimidation and legal maneuvering that included mortgage discrimination and restrictive covenants in order to restrict where people of color could live, work and chase the “American Dream.” Later, in the Seventies, cities underwent what was called “White Flight” as whites with means fled to the “burbs” and a better life “away from those people.” So why didn’t the people of color just leave the decaying inner cities for better opportunities? I am reminded of a Chris Rock standup routine bringing attention to starvation in Sub-Saharan Africa: “Why don’t you just take them to the food?” I posed that question to a group of ninth graders in a geography class and was not surprised to find their answers to be quite mature. “Lack of resources to move, unfamiliarity with the new area, not wanting to leave families behind, fear of the unknown, civil and religious wars, and people did not want to accept them.” I would say most of those statements are true about Oakland, Atlanta, Baltimore, or any of the other areas “we white folk” proclaim to be bastions of free loading and democratic liberalism, along with the thought “Why should they have to leave.” More to the point “These people” are right where “the system” wants them and “these people” are angry about it…something we racist can’t see or understand.

I have been fortunate to make contact, through social media, with many former students. Some are very conservative, others very liberal and they represent a broad spectrum of races and religions. I read some of their post and am shocked and appalled at their thinking. Recently I made contact with Dr. Mary Ann Canty Merrill. I remember her as a pretty little black girl with a big smile who sat very quietly in a ninth grade class many years ago. She went by the name Mary Canty back then. Today she is a beautiful and capable woman who is anything but quiet. Among her titles, which includes psychologist, teacher, life strategist, author and humanitarian, are the descriptors warrior and provocateur. I would add activist. She is ACTIVELY involved in a WAR over the way people view and think about race. The term provocateur is defined as someone who provokes and she has certainly provoked me into thinking differently about my past life and what I want to do with the years I have left. She has also provoked me to re-edit a dozen or so “essays” I had written about “Heritage and Hate” as it relates my home state and the Confederate flag issue. Oh well, it’s just time.

Mary is not a “thug” looking for a “handout” as many of “these” people are being “wrongfully” portrayed. She is actually a “white bigots” worst nightmare. A successful, intelligent black woman who is not going to sit quietly on her hands. That sure goes against the stereotype presented by “certain” people. All of my friends of color go against the stereotype I see advertised by “certain” people. My friends and acquaintances are educated, black home owners, with families, who go to work every day and pay their taxes…just like me. Despite their successes and their hard work to realize them, they too are pissed off at the “system” that I believe “we white folk” have created and maintained for the past one hundred and fifty years. I cannot imagine how people who have spent decades without resources are feeling.

This former student has certainly become the teacher and the new student has become a rapt and uncomfortable learner. After being allowed to join Mary’s website “Voices for Equality,” I have found myself shocked, appalled and quite uncomfortable with the anger I found. I also find myself being “educated” as to why there is anger. Like Saul on the Damascus Roads, the scales have fallen from my eyes but the landscape, bathed in bright sunlight, causes me to squint and cock my head to the side in wonder. “How did we get ourselves in this hot mess?” My conclusion is that the “system” has always been a hot mess, now suddenly uncovered and stinky. Because of my comfortable “white privilege” I had been able to ignore it.

I say these things because I am still learning, still evolving as a person, an “old dog” attempting to learn new tricks…something I wish the rest of my generation might emulate instead of sitting back and being comfortable looking through their “white eyes.” I have been told repeatedly that people are flocking to a certain presidential candidate because they are unhappy. Shouldn’t we also recognize that the unhappiness spans all races and our history? Shouldn’t we ask the question “Why?” There is an answer somewhere if you are willing to allow yourself the opportunity to find it. You might start by asking a black friend…or making a black friend.

I salute you Dr. Merrill. This is Women’s History Month and you are carrying forward the same traditions of women who have passed before you. Thank you for carrying on with the standard.

From your racist student.

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TRIPPING OVER A ROOT WITH ESTERLEEN

As I have gotten older I tend to view my past through, at the very least, a guise of humor. My own form of historical “rose colored glasses.” It was not always that way when the past was just too near the present. My wife hates it when I try to hide behind present day humor. In fact, seconds ago I got the “Your humor is inappropriate” speech. Geez I feel like a slug. I often wonder if there are some subjects that viewing with humor should be a taboo? My interactions with the opposite sex, including my wife? Yes, we still interact and I did write a book entitled “Floppy Parts.” My heart attack? There is little humor in an elephant sitting on your chest. Race Relations? I am always unsure about joking about race relations.

By 1977, seven years after complete desegregation came to the state of South Carolina, tensions were still raw but at least they were being kept in check…and mostly under wraps. Then came the miniseries “Roots” and LeVar Burton’s debut as Kunta Kinte. My little classroom world suddenly became a little less calm. As a faculty, we were warned that this television production based upon Alex Haley’s book of the same name, might cause ill will and the trouble associated with it. We were instructed to be ever vigilant and try to defuse any situation that might arise from the unrest. Enter Esterleen Hill.

Esterleen could cause unrest on the calmest day. It was just her way. She was impressive in size, not fat, just very healthy especially in the areas that men like for women to be healthy. She had a healthy grin and laugh to go with her healthy size and tended to wear her ”healthy” feelings on her sleeve for all to see…and hear if you were blind. While seemingly mature beyond her years, she was not likely to let her feelings go unheard by anyone willing to listen. Actually you were going to know her feelings whether you were willing to listen or not. Outspoken? You bet. Using the vernacular of the times, she was also just a tad bit militant when it came to race relations. I am not saying she had Black Panther posters pasted to the inside of her locker but if given the choice between an autograph from Huey Newton or Martin Luther King, Esterleen would have picked Huey’s. She told me many times, “Just go on and leave me alone! I didn’t ask to be here anyway.” Here would be the recently desegregated Mauldin High School.

For reasons that escape me, Esterleen and I connected although at times the connection would be strained. Because of our connection, when a “good old boy” attempted to stir the racial pot by saying, “I don’t know why God made n@#$%^s!” I took it upon myself to try and defuse the situation and steered Esterleen and her half dozen or so minions into my room. My intent was to utilize what is called a “teachable moment” and have them participate in a “healthy” discussion. First, I had to get control of the situation which at this moment was controlled by Esterleen. With her voice at its highest volume setting she proclaimed that she was not going to let that “honky son of a bitch get away with that shit!” I fixed her with one of my “teacher” stares and in my best authoritarian voice instructed her to “BE QUIET AND SHIT RIGHT THERE!” Did I just say that? Judging from the look on Esterleen’s face, I guess I did. In a somewhat less authoritarian voice I said, “I mean sit! Sit right here!” Judging from the laughter that had exploded and the bodies rolling on the floor I guessed that I had “defused” the situation. Teachable moment? Healthy discussion? No just laughter…and the calm that followed.