MY BROTHER FROM A DIFFERENT FATHER

Tomorrow we head on to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Our days in New Orleans have been delightful. It is different from any other American city. It is a bit of the old world and the new. We will stay in Chattanooga for a day, look around and see the choo choo again and then head off to western North Carolina to see my brother Howard. Howard moved from Cooper City, outside of Miami to a place near Boone to be with his son, who taught at Appalachin State. His son moved from there to Columbia, S.C.

Although Howard is ten years younger than me, I did not know that I had a brother until I was thirty eight years old. I believe that is about the same with him.

Return to September of 1947. My older sister Renee and I and mom were living with my grandmother (and grandfather) on the lower east side of Manhattan. It was an old tenement building with an oft broken elevator (see Big Bang Theory). My mom was working as a waitress at the Mayflower Donut Shoppe at 46th St. and Broadway. She made a decent living and kept us out of poverty with her tips. She had worked there since 1943. She was proud to say that she had served some Broadway and movie stars, who came in to have a lunch or just coffee and some donuts.

Mom went out a great deal on weekends with various gentlemen (no it’s not what you think). She used to model her outfits that she was going to wear on her dates. Sometimes, she would even introduce us to the men that she was serious about. All seemed calm and settled until one day. Mom announced that she was having a nervous breakdown. Today we might call it a bunch of different things, but then is was n.b.

She told my sister and grandmother that she had to go to Florida to recuperate. I never really knew if she told anyone, including her sisters, the truth of her condition.

Fast forward to November 22, 1977. Once again it was my birthday (same as President Kennedy’s assassination), and I was all ready to have a sumptuous meal with my wife and children. That February I was named Superintendent of Schools in Kutztown and things were going pretty well (other than the state shutting down our junior high school).

I was called to the phone by Carol, who told me that it was my mom on the phone. This is the conversation as I can reconstruct it. “Hi mom, I guess you were calling me to wish me a happy birthday.” “Son, I have a skeleton in my closet.” “Mom, what’s the matter?” “You have a brother,” she exclaimed, I thought that she was kidding me so I said, “I always wanted a brother.” She shouted, “No, I mean it, you have a brother and he is coming to see me. He found me.”

By this time, I knew that there was something going on way beyond my ability to understand. I found that she was very serious. After a few moments, I remembered that she had been in Florida from September of 1947 to May of 1948. It was starting to make some sense. I asked about my new (old) brother. I am not sure that she told me his name, but explained how he found her. Remember this is her explanation.

There had been a middle man in those days to take a child from a woman and have the child adopted by another couple. This middle man (woman) had left some indication, so that my brother could find it. He contacted her and somehow my brother (Howard, by this time) could actually find my mother. He was coming up to New York to visit his wife’s family. He decided to meet his birth mother.

My mother told me that she was going to tell him that my father was also his father. I told her that unless they had frozen sperm in 1943, he would not believe her. I asked her who Howard’s father was, and she did not answer me.

Actually, she never answered either me or Howard. We really don’t know. I have tried to piece some things together with Howard, but all that we can come up with is some gentleman that used to visit my mother, even after she was remarried. My older and younger sisters had no idea either.

Carol and I went down to Florida at the holidays in 1977. Carol’s parents had moved down to Ft. Lauderdale earlier in the year. When we landed at the airport, I saw Howard and immediately knew that he was my brother. There was something about his smile and mannerisms. Carol thought so too. Howard and his wife were very gracious to us. They are wonderful people along with their children Dan and Bonnie.

They also have four grandchildren, of whom they are very proud. We see them from time to time. Howard came up to my 70th birthday bash. He has told me about his adoptive parents. They were not people with a great deal of means. I guess Howard and I share that kind of economic hardship. Although he had two parents and I had one, there is something similar about how we were brought up

Howard and Jan have done very well for themselves. Howard has been a successful CPA with some very big time clients. He is retired now in Western North Carolina and still does some work.

As the years have gone by, we have gotten to know each other. Yes, I always wanted to have a brother and by god, I have one.

N’AWLINS

Somehow the piano sounds of Antoine Domino singing, “I’m Walkin’” waft through the air as I stand in middle of Bourbon St. The crowds, many of them here because of the Southern/Grambling football game, walk in middle of the street even though the cars have not been blocked from going through. The smells are overwhelming and a Pavlovian response rests lightly on my palate.

We are in New Orleans, one of the most singular cities that I have ever been in. Yup, it is touristy and such, but it is so much more. Even its architecture tells a different story with each neighborhood that our Hop On Hop Off bus takes us to. This is a city of history, of the Cajuns, the Catholic Church, Creoles, Andrew Jackson, Jean Laffite, Thomas Jefferson ( who bought it from Bonaparte), and a host of French names like Bienville, Lafayette, Malign, etc. It is also a city that during the time of slavery at the outset of the Civil War had more freedmen than any other state in the South.

Saying the New Orleans is the South may not give it the description that it really needs. Although it has a statue of General Lee, he was never here and the statue was paid for by a group of people not associated with the city or the state. People in Louisiana thought of those in Virginia as Northerners. Not that they were in the Union, but felt that they were so far above them geographically that they weren’t really the South.

Not as many confederate flags flying in New Orleans. Their history, music and culture are one that stands out as individual. Their heroes are more Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and other jazz greats. As a visitor, we are certainly treated as well and better than most other places we have visited.

The food sets things apart from anywhere else. There are so many fine restaurants and just plain good food, whether the Ruby Slipper, Mother’s, Emeril’s, Brennan, or K-Paul, the fare is sublime. I am not sure that I have ever had pumpkin grits before (I am a grits fanatic), but I had it here and it was wonderful. Do you ever wonder that when you are on vacation, everything tastes better than it did at home? Maybe that’s true for New Orleans, but I wouldn’t mind someone sending me home with a bag of Pa Pa’s Pralines, and a passle of beignets.

LET’S STOP THIS IDIOCY !!

The death of Michael Brown and the ensuing riots in Ferguson have brought out the worst in us. There are now sides being drawn with those believe that the policeman Wilson is at fault and that the grand jury was correct in clearing him and those who think that the dead teenager was a thief and “a demon.” The media is also drawing lines that describe the events in totally different ways. Protests mount around the country decrying the actions of the authorities in Ferguson, while those who believe that the police are being wrong rally around Ted Nugent singing, “Don’t let your son grow up to be a thug (or something like that).

Is this the way we are coming together in the second decade of the 21st century? Are we doomed to fight every single happening to its illogical conclusion? Will we forever be divided by something called the “red states” and the “blue states,” and now the “purple states?” God forbid this is our path into the future.

What is happening to our country? Are we forever going to hoist our most basic instincts to crush our opponents? Or are we sane enough to realize that our discontent is just what our enemies want.

Yes, we do have enemies and not just in economics. There are really folks out there that want us to be defeated by internal strife and discontent. It is their wish that we reenact the civil war and kill ourselves without them lifting a finger.

Have you ever wondered how we came to be so angry with each other? Why is it that we both love and hate our heroes? Does it matter that people call the president “your president” or “my president” without even realizing that our foes love to hear such words.

It is our blamed idiocy that keeps us from realizing that we are making a mockery of our values. Those who wish us ill cannot stop laughing when we are angry with each other, when our public figures act more like little children, than like statesmen.  They see our fissures when we divide even our entertainers and sports figures into those who agree with us and those who oppose us (whoever us is).

Are we now going to label our music makers into patriots and treasoners? How are we ever going to face all of our problems when we are busy making armies of dissention?

Doesn’t it strike you as peculiar and dangerous that some speak of secession? Didn’t we kill 500,000 of our young men over that issue? Doesn’t anyone remember that?

Stop for a moment with your absolute idiocy and return to your senses. If this continues, is it not long before we destroy everything that we have fought so hard to achieve amidst the blood of those who have died to protect our way of life?

IS THERE ALWAYS ANOTHER SIDE???

I have gotten into an imbroglio with a person with a title at a university. It is one of the few times over the last few years that I have run into, whose background is in public education and who is now on the opposite side of the fence on the issue of charter schools.

According to this person, charter schools are funded by both public and private funds. He is also under the impression that charter schools are not public schools. His views are at such variance with mine, that I am beginning to think that maybe I should review my feelings about charter schools here in Pennsylvania.

When the charter school law was passed here in 1996, I had a feeling that it would lead to skullduggery and a waste of public funds. The intention of the legislature was to create schools that could be innovative, models for public schools, and would be freed of some of the more onerous mandates on the heads of public schools.

It is now almost 19 years later and the results of the legislation are plain for all to see. After over 40 investigations by both state and federal authorities, it appears that there is, in fact, massive skullduggery. Private management groups have hoisted the flag of for profit entities and are going wild with the money they receive from public schools. They are now taking over 1.6 billion dollars from the coffers of local school districts.

Yes, they are freed from many of the regulations that hamper local school districts. The cyber charter schools, using distance education technology, are probably the worst of all. There are ongoing investigations going on about the largest one, and all of the rest have not made passing grades on any of the state tests or standards. In fact, in a Stanford study done in 2010, national numbers show that charter schools do not match up positively with local school districts.

Most of the charter schools are in the city of Philadelphia. Parents see them as ways of keeping their children out of local schools. They see those schools as moribund and in some cases dangerous for the students to be there. I can see their point. I cannot see that the state has fulfilled its role in making funds available to improve those public schools. We then have the state pushing children into charter schools that are absolute failures, in academic terms.

I have done some eyeball stats on SAT scores and have found all charters averaging lower (by far), using weighted averages, to the state average SAT scores. In some cases the physical charter schools are doing well. I am happy about that. Are they models for public schools? How can they be, since they do not follow the same rules and regulations? Further, some of these schools use a very large application and meetings with parents to screen out those who might not do well in their schools. That is called cherry picking.

In my diatribe I am forgetting that charter schools, at the outset, might have benefitted from some input by those who really had concerns about public education, not those who saw it as a cash cow, every year more students and more money and more profit. Has anyone looked at the salaries and profits made by these “institutions of learning?”

If we are to support an innovative view of education, why not allow public schools the opportunity to escape from crushing mandates and act as their own models of education. There have been a myriad of suggestions about how we might accomplish that. Could we actually help kids who are in the lowest socio-economic group raise themselves by their own bootstraps if we give them a chance. Let’s unbridle the public schools, get the sharks out of the educational waters and let our imaginations fly.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

I am not sure that we planned it this way, but that’s the way it turned out. Since we could not go on our 8,000 mile journey in September, we left Harrisburg on November 16th and headed south. Our first stop was in Monticello. Our next stop was Roanoke to see our eldest grandson at Roanoke College. We took Mr. Cameron and his friend Alex to dinner. We were shocked when our grandson told us that he was paying the bill. Cameron is a very generous kind of guy and we were happy to see him be delighted with the change of roles.

We then headed down to Sun City, South Carolina. Our friends, Hed and Sam were gracious enough to invite us down for a few days. We were there for four days. They wined and dined us, took us for some sightseeing and Sam took me golfing. Hed prepared meals for us. She is a wonderful cook. She even had gluten free things for me to eat. We could not have had a greater time. We were sorry to leave.

Hed and Sam had just gotten a new dog and he was a delight. He is nine years old and is certainly a rescue. He is well trained and enjoys having company. Sam and Hed(wig) would love for us to come down and live in Sun City. We even had additional friends who are going to move there. It certainly is tempting.

We then left Sun City and traveled to Tyrone, Georgia to visit Marshall and Charlotte. They are also transplanted Harrisburgers. They actually lived on a small farm near Carlisle, PA with horses and other animals. Char is a dog groomer and Marshall is a financial consultant ( a real one). They purchased a house her in Tyrone for a great price (in comparison to Harrisburg) and are quite happy living in the South.

They are entranced by the kindness of neighbors and the thoughtfulness of the people. They have wined and dined us, entertained us and have looked after all of our needs. They even drove me to a supermarket to see if they have “real” tangerines. I have not found these things in any store in the country that I have tried. Yes, there are things called tangerines, but they do not have any of the characteristics of real tangerines. You old folks out there, try to find them for me- easily pulled off skin and a real sweet taste. Yes they have pits. If you do find them let me know.

We will be on our way to Montgomery Alabama tomorrow to sample their wares. There a bunch of places that accommodate tourists and we certainly are them. The next day we will be off to Orleans and Emeril’s and K-Paul Proudhomme and Bourbon Street. We can’t wait.

We have further mooching after New Orleans when we go visit my brother in Boone, North Carolina. Hopefully, the snow will be gone by then.

JEFFERSON AND MONTICELLO

A couple of years ago Carol and I took a trip west for about a month and saw plenty of the U.S. We were going to do the same thing this year, but some health issues interfered. We are now on a foreshortened trip to the Southeast and mooching off our friends. Our first stop was Charlottesville and Monticello. I have been a Jefferson freak for as long as I can remember. I majored in history and taught history for 7 years (as well as English).

I had never been to Jefferson’s home. Carol really wanted to go there on our way south. We stopped there this morning and spent about three hours touring and looking at some of the museum things. There is now a visitor’s center and some nice things in the museum shop. Even more interesting was the actual description of his home by the tour guide.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that she was an actress. Her descriptions of the home and the people who lived there could not have been more entertaining. Yes, I had read about Jefferson (most every biography ever written). Took a course on Jefferson, taught by Saul K. Padover who had written the definitive bio of him up to 1963. However, just seeing his home, his architectural skills, his interest in botany, his clever way of telling what day it was and his clock, were amazing to actually look at.

He was affected by his 5 year stay in France as ambassador. He spoke 8 languages and was fluent in writing and translating in all of them.

His skills as an architect created his Monticello home, which he remodeled a number of times. He read voraciously and put some of what he read into practice in such wide ranging subjects as botany, engineering and government. He was truly a person of the enlightenment and most certainly was the last of the general geniuses in the 18th and 19th centuries. He died fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was finalized. It was the same day that his friend (after their presidencies) John Adams passed away.

They don’t make people like him anymore.

HOW THIS CASE AFFECTS KIDS IN SCHOOL

The big stories about how school funding affects kids in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania usually appear in the large metropolitan newspapers. Therefore the stories revolve about the cities and some suburbs. Since our organization, PARSS (Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools) represents schools and districts that never make the large papers or other media outlets, our problems remain hidden in the pages of the Oil City Derrick, the Clarion News or the Punxsutawney Spirit. Yes that town from Groundhog Day.

Someone has said when a rural town dies; it is always a quiet death. The lack of funds from the state for our schools has an instant effect on what goes on daily in rural and small schools. Here is a small example of how that works. Fannett-Metal School District in Franklin County has about 500 students K-12. That number could probably fit into one bathroom in a city high school. Jim Duffey, the superintendent of that school district is a straight forward honest guy. When he tells you something, you are almost condemned to see that he is telling you the truth.

Because of the unpredictable way in which schools are financed in Pennsylvania, he is never certain about how much money he will be getting. Since there has been a trend to cut funding, he has had to make some really hard decisions. I learned of this first cut from a former student at Fannett-Metal. The entire music program was removed from the school. That program consisted of a 32 year veteran teacher. That person had to be let go. In another cut, Jim had to eliminate a few teachers at the high school level. That meant that students could not be afforded to take certain courses. Because of the cuts, the school district had to lower its graduation requirements from 27 credits to 24 credits. This, in a time when we are trying to raise standards.

The new School Profile numbers came out the other day and they are desultory. Our scores for most of the state in some of the variables have gone down. All this at a time when the state is asking the school districts to raise their standards. The answer from on high is that districts were not used to this new way of looking at things.

Let’s try and see why. Here is a very simple case. I am sure you know what advanced placement courses are (AP). Take them and pass the test (with a 4 or 5 score) and you can get college credit for them. Let’s think now. How many courses are there in some of our wealthy districts? Are there more than zero or one? Of course there are. The numbers are staggering. We also have schools in rural areas that do not have even one AP course. PARSS got some dough a few years ago to train teachers in some rural schools how to teach AP courses. Many of the districts in that effort had none to one or two.

It does not take a great deal of money to mess up a small and rural school. The cry for consolidation would make these districts more efficient, right? How would combining two 300 square mile school districts make those districts more efficient? Would one 600 square mile district do it? How about a 900 square mile district (Clinton County) fare if combining with a neighbor? Let’s leave that alone for a while.

All of those who spoke at the news conference this morning are suffering. However, those in rural areas will suffer in silence. As with the original case in 1991, the public really did not have any idea of what was happening. Hopefully, with the p.r. that has been generated to date about this new case, we will all get a good shot at helping ALL children in Pennsylvania.