BRINGING UP RASHEEM AND LARONDA

 

Rasheem and LaRonda are two students in a rural South Carolina County. A review of county statistics will show that county, all 699 square miles, is the third poorest county in the state. The median household income in 2014 was $37,715, while in its neighboring county, which is wealthy the median was $55,427. Since median means middle, 50% of Rasheem and LaRonda’s county earned less than $37,715, The two student’s families earn quite a bit less than that.

When you travel around the county, you are struck by the endless roads that seem to include only a forested area on both sides and a town or two with some stores and maybe a gas station. You must travel to the county seat to go shopping at the one supermarket, or travel to the other urban center at the bottom of the county.

Choices in any aspect of normal life are limited. There is one dentist in the area. He is a homer, comes from one of the towns. Other medical facilities such as a hospital are close to Route 95 near the bottom of the county. The rural districts that occupy both sides of Route 95 have been dubbed, “The Corridor of Shame.” That was also a documentary film done in 2007 to describe the area and the public schools.

We will have visited most of the 35 rural school districts in the state by the time you are reading this tome. There are many Rasheems and LaRondas in those areas. Having traveled to see away basketball games, we can point out that there are many similarities up and down these counties.

The school district personnel are well aware of the problems of both of these students. Rasheem lives with his grandmother. His parents have had other children and could not handle Rasheem too. So when he turned seven, they transferred responsibility for raising Rasheem to his maternal grandmother, Zelda. She provides all of the necessities of life, as much as she can, to Rasheem. She lives on a pension and social security.

Rasheem’s parents were divorced sometime after Rasheem went to live with his grandmother. They both have new families with new spouses or live-ins. Rasheem, is a senior in high school and like many kids his age, has dreams of getting away from home and making a better life for himself. He wants to go to college or join the air force or maybe become a racecar driver. He works part-time at a local Piggy Wiggly and has a used car he bought from an uncle. His earnings go to cover his car insurance, gas, and the $200 he must pay in South Carolina annual car tax. Anything left over covers his school clothes, which he keeps outgrowing. He plays basketball and hopes to win a scholarship. The coach thinks he’s good enough for a Division I1 school.

Rasheem has a 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average) and he works hard to keep his grades up so he has become pretty good at time management. The one subject he struggles with is math. It’s not really the math that is so hard; it’s that he can’t always understand his math teacher. Rasheem’s school, like many South Carolina rural schools, is very isolated and very poor. They can’t afford to pay teachers well and there are no places for teachers from outside of the county to live, so when the high school principal tries to fill vacancies with certified teachers, she often needs to recruit teachers from India or South America, people looking for any job they can find in America. These teachers may know their subject matter, but their grasp of American English and even their understanding of American students is often lacking.

Rasheem’s guidance counselor has been trying to talk to him about his future plans since he was a junior, but it wasn’t until he hit his senior year that he paid much attention. The guidance counselor has a big case load and students with many different and sometimes pressing problems so, much as she tries to remind her seniors about college applications and financial aid forms, the burden of staying on top of all this is up to the students. Rasheem does not have anyone in his family who has been to college; in fact, his grandma did not graduate from high school.

Neither Rasheem nor his grandma are familiar with anything to do with college, but among the good choices he has made are his decisions to join the basketball team and ROTC. Colonel Manning and Coach Phillips are both very caring, capable individuals who have Rasheem’s best interest in mind. They have been trying to talk to him about what he needs to do to realize his dreams.

Rasheem is planning to take the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a test you must take to get into the armed services. You need a score of 31 out of 99 to get into the Army and a 36 for the Air Force. He took the ACTs (American College Testing) last year and scored a 16 out of 36 on the test. He will need to bring that score up to somewhere in the mid 20’s which is not a score that many students get in rural South Carolina. While students from some of the advantaged districts come from families that prepare them for college, most rural parents are not aware of steps to take to help their children. Many of the parents have not gone to college and are not familiar with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms.

Students from families with college experience have been preparing for the transition from high school to college from the time their children were born. Their children have visited colleges and taken practice tests of both the ACTs and the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Rasheem has done none of that because he didn’t have a family helping him. This is only one challenge Rasheem is facing.

Other challenges are the fact that his high school does not have a high rating on the South Carolina state tests. They do not have a high graduation rate. Many of Rasheem’s classmates do not see education as a priority and so he competes for his teachers’ attention with disruptive students. Some of his teachers are burnt out from dealing with discipline problems and don’t provide the best possible instruction.

On days when school is in session, Rasheem eats a free breakfast and lunch at school. When he gets home, after ball practice and before work, his Grandma gives him supper. On weekends and over vacation breaks Rasheem doesn’t always get three meals a day. Even working in a grocery store does not entitle him to free food.

His family has been generous enough to help him pay for senior pictures and the prom, but he will not be attending the senior class trip because he can’t afford it.

LaRonda is a junior at another rural school district. This district is in a similar situation to Rasheem’s. LaRonda is smart, quick with a quip and talented in art. Her family situation is that she lives with her mom, younger siblings and grandmother in a rundown motel outside of the biggest town in the county.

LaRonda cannot work outside of school. She is responsible for babysitting for her younger siblings, ages 8 and 9, while mom and grandma work a shift at the local Dollar store and at a local Kangaroo Gas Station and convenience store. Between these two incomes, the family barely pays the necessary bills. Luxuries are never even spoken about. Clothes are obtained from the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. Sometime their church helps them out with food and necessary items.

Transportation is a real problem. LaRonda’s family has one car and it serves mom and grandma and LaRonda (when she has a chance to go somewhere). LaRonda would love to get involved in some extra-curricular activities. She has no way of getting anywhere without a car. She always wanted to be a cheerleader. She is capable of doing that and a number of other things. However, she will not be able to do any of them.

LaRonda has a boyfriend. She sees him in school, but will not allow him to come to her home. She is ashamed of her circumstances. Even though her boyfriend does not come from a wealthy background, she is sure that he would look askance at her surroundings.

When she is alone with her boyfriend at some other place that is private, or in his car, they have unprotected sex. LaRonda knows that she is taking a chance that she will get pregnant or come down with some form of STD. She does not seem to care. She would love to be pregnant and show off to her friends. She has no thoughts that the young man would participate in raising the child.

LaRonda is angry. She resents her mother for having more children that LaRonda needs to care for. Her friends advise her to “have it out” with her mother and say she is going to get an after school job so she can have her own money. LaRonda really wants to do that, but then she thinks, “what will happen to my little sister and brother when no one comes to meet them at the bus after school.”  She is caught and she knows it.

When grandma, who loves her grandchildren, is mad at one of her granddaughters she will yell, “Get your ugly face out of here!”  An unintended consequence is that LaRonda feels ugly. She is looking forward to being on her own so she can have her own money and do as she pleases. She longs for a time when she can pay for a hair weave. LaRonda is a pretty girl with a tremendous smile, but she thinks if only she had a hair weave she would feel good about herself.

LaRonda has a GPA of 2.5, but that is more because she is quiet in class and doesn’t cause her teacher any trouble than because she does her homework or does well on tests. She has no idea how she will earn the money she needs to be independent or how much it costs to pay for the basics. LaRonda’s definition of success is, “When you have enough to eat, know where you will be sleeping next week and can buy clothes for your children.”

 

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ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

The first car was built in the mid-1880’s, at approximately the same time that the first fully automatic gun was made.  Approximately 15 years later, when cars started to become more prevalent, Chicago and NY required testing before being allowed to drive cars.  The first age restriction was placed for driving cars in 1909.  It took the US, in total 15 years to start getting serious about determining who is qualified to drive.  From there, we now have restrictions on the size of engines, speed limits, vigorous training and licensing testing, and regular license renewals, with testing.  While at the same time, it took nearly 55 years to enact the Federal Firearms Act, which began the firearm dealer licensing system.  Seems logical, after all, back then cars must have been used on what seems to have been a regular basis to conduct mass killings, whereas guns must have been there so people can shoot out the tires of those trying to run them down.

 

I agree with the right to bear arms.  Most argue against the slippery slope of regulating or taking away parts of that freedom.  Really?  That ship has sailed.  Why not bear nuclear arms? Oh yeah, they weren’t around when the second amendment was written, and that would just be plain old stupid.  But what about people having cannons in their front yards, after all, cannons were around then?  Oh yeah, we have that thing called common sense.  But let’s get back to cars.  Clearly since regulations were faster there and have better evolved.  If I have a couple of drinks and happen to be pulled over, even though I haven’t hurt anyone or intended to hurt someone, I can have my license pulled and be put in jail.  I have no clue if similar laws exist where gun holders in public have similar consequences. If someone leaves a bar with a gun, and a police officer sees them, is the gun confiscated?  Is their right to use a gun is taken away for a while?  Does the gun owner goes to jail?  I really don’t know the answer to that, and don’t feel like looking it up right now.

 

I’m tired of going into movie theaters and looking at the exits, not so I know where to possibly run in the event of a fire, but in an event of a shooter.  When going into a theater with my family, I literally run through options of where to run, and how many of them I can get on the ground and lay on top of to shield them from gun fire.  This is not normal.  Why do my kids have to go through active shooter drills at school?  Somehow we look back at ducking under desks as crazy, but we are back at it, for a much more real and random scenario.  The first thing in every college tour these days has the tour guide boasting about not being anywhere on campus without having at least two emergency call boxes visible.  At a recent freshman orientation I literally listened to the head of public safety who was previously a chief of police for one of the largest police forces in the world, discuss active shooters and other safety concerns.  He even had the head of the local FBI field office in attendance.  This is not normal!!!

 

So here’s the solution.  Stop playing partisan politics.  Stop feeling like the answer always needs to be in the extreme in order to protect something.  Give me a break.  If a hunter needs an automatic weapon to kill a bear, they are not a good hunter.  Enact stronger gun controls.  Background checks, safety testing, regular license renewals, restrictions on number of rounds, restrictions on types of weapons, no silencers.  If a gun is allowed out in public, open carry must be required.  What’s the point of a concealed weapon?  If a bad guy sees someone with a gun, they may think twice before shooting.  Why have them start shooting and then realize that there is going to be a shootout.

 

Enough is enough!!!!!  I can’t even imagine what my kids will have to deal with when they have kids.

NINE BILLION DOLLARS

 

After eight years of writing a blog, I have learned a few things. One of them is, when I am really mad about something, the words seem to flow from my fingertips. This is one of those times that I cannot stop writing about an awful thing here in South Carolina.

According to an article written by Phil Noble, a syndicated writer across South Carolina, this is probably the biggest boondoggle and corruption event in the history of the state. I am not sure where it stacks up against Enron or the savings and loan debacle, but it comes close.

Here is the story as I have read about it.  Santee Cooper and SCANA (SC Electric and Gas parent company) lobbied the SC legislature in 2007 to pass the Base Load Review Act. It enabled the power companies to build nuclear facilities to provide electricity for the state. The legislation provided a 10.5% guaranteed profit to SCANA even if the project went into the tank.

Guess what, the project went into the tank. The legislation had passed in only a few days with only 6 house members voting no. Imagine school finance laws to help rural schools become more successful. Let’ see that might take over 20 years. Guess there must be a difference between the two pieces of legislation.

Rate payers in SC have been paying the cost of this project and will continue to pay for it until the 9 billion bucks is finished. Meanwhile, the management of the two companies has enriched them and publicly takes no responsibility for the failure of the project.

Do you think that money exchanged hands during the passage of this legislation? You bet it did and it continues today. Not sure how many of the legislators from 2007 are still around, but recently, the Governor of SC received a campaign  donation of 115k. At this point SCANA has refused to hand over a study by the Bechtel Corporation who did a study of the project in 2015.

Bechtel reported on a number of serious problems with the project and its construction. SCANA and Santee Cooper are responsible for this debacle. Their management will leave their companies with large golden parachutes. The President of SCANA, who was just let go by the board, will get a 16 million dollar severance package.

This is all a pile of caca de toro. If you took that 9 billion dollars and divided it by the 736,000 children in public schools in South Carolina, you would get an additional $12,228 per pupil. That would go a long way to solving South Carolina’s education problems.

 

 

MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN

Every time I see that hat that says, “Make America Great Again…” I feel like replacing great with the work white. To say that our current president invented the whitening of America is giving him too much credit. This has been going on since the establishment of our country.

It probably began even earlier before the Revolutionary War, when our former rulers tried to do away with Native Americans. We even pitted one tribe against another by signing treaties and then abrogating them. We learned a great deal from the British.

We institutionalized racism with the creation of the constitution of the United States of America. Not only did we not get rid of slavery at the beginning but we actually counted African Americans as 3/5ths of a human being. We certainly did not see them as citizens or tax paying voters. We actually had to fight a way in which 500,000 people lost their lives to get rid of slavery. Anyone tell you that the war was fought for economic reasons; tell them to go to heck.

When each immigrant group came to this country in the 19th century, they were restricted in what they could do. The Irish went through this development before they were considered “white.” The Italians went through the same thing. The German Jews became white in the 19th century, even as they mostly discriminated against Russian Jews. Which brings me to a startling fact. Jews were not considered “white” until the 1960’s. I wonder what Ethiopian Jews are called here in the United States/

The whole anti-immigrant feelings in this country led to restrictions in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Interesting that at the beginning of World War II, the Japanese Americans were incarcerated, but not the white German Americans (of which there were millions). So, it appears that our nation is not color blind.

Today there is a vast undertaking happening in this administration. Brown skinned people are  being rounded up and put into holding areas and being sent back to wherever they came from. Interestingly enough the Republican centered Cuban brown people who came here illegally during the Mariel Boat crisis, are not being rounded up, nor are their children being sent back to Cuba.

At the beginning of this Administration, 7 countries were singled out for the Muslim Ban (that’s what the President called it).  The seventh country was Iraq. There are over 100, 000 Assyrian Iraqis who came here many years ago, mostly illegally, who are in Michigan. They gave the President his 11,000 vote majority in that state. They were sure he was going to help with the Iraqi problems. He would never call down ICE to send them home.

Oh yes he did!! ICE started to round them up until it was found that Iraq was no longer on the Muslim ban list. Funny how that works if you are the wrong color, but you give me bunches of votes. Not sure that doesn’t happen almost every election.

So with possibility of DACA people never being able to be citizens (read that- have never voted against the present administration), we now understand that this persecution has nothing to do with national security. If we make America White Again, we will continue to be in power. Bring on the Brown shirts.

I WILL NOT RETIRE

We moved to South Carolina for different reasons than most people. Our friends were moving away or dying. My time as a lobbyist for rural schools has ended. I still have some contacts with legislators, but just sporadic phone calls. Those were the reasons, not the weather.

I live in adult Disneyworld (Sun City). This is an over 55 community. The overwhelming number of them has come down here to retire in the real sense of the word. There are so many activities here on campus that some people get sick joining everything that there is available. There are even two softball leagues and a great field to play on. Whatever your interest, there is a club.

You can hang around with interest groups, people from your state, and people with the same disease that you have and play golf to your heart’s content. Those are out retirees. They have worked hard all their lives and they deserve these moments in the sun.

I am not involved in any of those activities. I do belong to one club- the Doo Wop club. We listen and sometimes sing to old doo wop records. The leader of the club is the best doo wop historian I have ever heard. I can listen to him forever. Tonight there will be a doo wop dance and I am looking forward to it.

I do exercise here on campus. That’s about it. I have few friends that I have made here. My friends come from Harrisburg, where I lived before coming here. I have really no individual friend’s that I have made. Our couples friends go out with us, come to our home and play funny card games, and drink diet caffeine free Coke.

My life is outside the walls of Sun City. As it has been for most of my adult years, I advocate for rural schools and communities. My favorite times down here are when I meet with juniors and seniors from the Ridgeland Hardee High School and spend time with them. They fill me with joy and sometimes sadness. You can’t win them all, but when you get a text from a young man who I had to push hard to get to a college, it is all worth it.

Carol works with 10 young women. They are tougher than the guys. They are incredibly hard on each other. We have spent many hours with people who live here and understand that kind of culture. Carol has saved, at least 3 young women from going down the tubes. There is so much more to be done.

The kids here are the same as anywhere else in rural America. They mostly have not been out of their county, not have they flown, taken a train or gotten to other parts of the country or world. We try very hard to have them see that there are other places and other opportunities rather than making up beds in hotels on Hilton Head Island.

The students that we are working with are articulate, intelligent and soak up things like a sponge. Some are closer to me than others. There are those who shy away from either a handshake or an NFL hug (no touching). Some though feel comfortable enough to give me a big hug when they come into our meeting and then when they leave. Some are so big that they make me disappear in their embrace.

Unless some disease fells me, or I become senile, I will continue to work with the kids. I will not retire.

 

 

 

IF YOU CONTINUE TO DO THE SAME THINGS, YOU WILL CONTINUE TO GET THE SAME RESULTS

Our new friend, Dr. Wesley Boykin is a well-traveled educator. There is literally nothing that he has not done both in this country and abroad. Talking to Wes is like talking to an education encyclopedia. We are fortunate that he has volunteered to be part of the staff of our nascent rural schools group, SCORS.

I could probably listen to Wes for hours. I have actually done it for two hours straight in our home about 2 months ago.  His understanding of education goes way beyond almost anyone that I have ever heard. He has experience in all kinds of districts, rural and urban, universities and research organizations. He has even served time with the ACT organization, producers of the ACT test.

Therefore, when Wes says something, I listen intently. Carol and I both found ourselves at a meeting in Columbia, South Carolina. . The meeting was part of a federal program called the Promise Zone. The idea of the program is go gather folks from many agencies and schools to work together to improve a certain area. In this case it is the southwest part of the state of South Carolina. It includes six counties and 10 school districts.

Carol and I have visited most of these districts and find their lack of funds and lack of proper teaching staff depressing. The meeting was well directed by a gentleman who has a long history in education and now serves as the education director of a children’s museum that caters to children from economically deprived schools.

Not that they don’t have children from wealthier schools, but as soon as you walk in, you know what they are about. It is called EdVenture. It is truly a wonderful place.

Marc, the leader, broke us into 3 groups to discuss what is going on in these areas and what might be some solutions to their problems. The discussions were lively and filled with interesting ideas. I kept mostly silent in the education group. I guess I was waiting for some sort of explosion of new ideas.

Carol was in the families and communities group. Wesley was in the Health and Nutrition group. After the groups concluded their discussions, they were asked to report to the larger group. There were some interesting points, but nothing astounding. I believe Marc expected that there would be some sort of product that he could hold onto and present to the people in charge of the Promise Zone.

As Wesley began to speak, a thought came into my head. Here we were, a group of professionals speaking at a problem. The problems inherent in these communities lay in the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. They are at the basic needs stage.

Wesley’s point came into sharp contrast to what had already been said. He pointed out that all of the proposed items were just overlays that had already been tried before. Simple used templates will not improve the Promise Zone. We are all restricted by what we know and what we feel comfortable doing. Therefore our solutions are circumscribed by our experiences.

These continual problems will not cure themselves with what we have already tried before. Just because you raise your voice to a deaf person, he/she will not hear you.

Looking at the all of the variables that were presented to us, it was apparent that what we have tried is not working. It was sad to come to such a conclusion. It is simple to say that either the people who live there do not want to improve, or that they don’t have the resources to improve, or that there are few jobs, or that the system is corrupt.

Have you ever seen someone take hold of an organization and make it sing? Have you seen one person lift a community by him or herself? Should we not be looking at unusual things done by unusual people? In a book that I am reading now, “My grandmother told me to say she was sorry,” one of the characters says, “The world is not changed by normal people.”

HERSCHEL, THE MAGNIFICENT JEW

(stolen from Old Jews Telling Jokes.com)

A long time ago, I was in Kenosha Wisconsin setting up a storage container manufacturing plant. That was in 1966. In the evening of the first night that I was there, I drove into town. In front of the Capitol Theater I saw a sign that said, Herschel the Magnificent Jew. I was very curious.

So I bought a ticket and went in and sat down. There was a pretty good sized crowd. The announcer introduced Herschel with lots of clapping from the audience. Mr. Herschel was a normal looking guy wearing a bathrobe. He took his bathrobe off and was completely naked on the stage.

Whatever large sized equipment you have ever seen on a man, this was four times bigger. Arrayed in front of him were three walnut shells on a table. He took his member and smashed the walnuts to pieces. The crowd roared and clapped. They were still clapping as they left the theater.

I did not return to Kenosha for about twenty years. By this time I was visiting my nephew in Madison. Would you believe when I went into town, The Capitol Theater still had the sign up, Herschel the Magnificent Jew. I was astounded. How could this possibly be?

I bought my ticket and went in and sat down. The crowd was still pretty large. The announcer introduced Mr. Herschel, who was wearing the same robe as he did twenty years before. When he disrobed, he looked exactly as he did twenty years before.

Arrayed before him were three coconuts. He took his member in his hand and smashed the coconuts to smithereens. The crowd roared and clapped as they did twenty years before. They continued to clap as Mr. Herschel put on his robe and bowed.

I was so curious, that I managed to go back stage and saw Mr. Herschel. I asked him about his switch from walnuts to coconuts. He looked at me with sad eyes and said, “As I got older my eyes weren’t as they used to be.”