Let’s Be Number One In Public Education

State Rep. Scott Cepicky frequently asks a compelling question: Why can’t Tennessee be the number one state in the nation for public education? Great question. Why can’t we be number one in education in the nation?

So many “education reformers” cling to the industrial age model of education. We need to use our imagination and start thinking about out-of-the-box solutions. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the speed and urgency we have used to fight this pandemic proves we can tackle even the most challenging issues when we focus as a society. There is never an easy solution for problems in education, but we have to get the fundamentals right. Albert Einstein said, “Problems can’t be solved with the same consciousness that created them.”

Viable public education is critical for a strong economy. Educators are the frontline of those efforts. Educators are the ones who must enact education policies. Too many of our teachers suffer from top-down management structures and lack of reward, and many have reached an apparent career plateau and become susceptible to a loss of creativity and drive. We cannot allow that to happen.

Yet, according to most economists and policy wonks, we do not pay commensurate salaries to get and keep the best and brightest in our classrooms. Educators have to move up to administrative positions to get bigger salaries. Sometimes the skills that made them an excellent teacher fail to translate into an administrative role. So let’s make Tennessee the number one state in America in which to TEACH. Governor Lee pledged to raise educator salaries. That was derailed last year due to the pandemic. We expect this year there will be at least a salary increase for all educators.  

Some other ideas include investing in high-quality induction and mentoring programs for our younger teachers. We must examine this process carefully if we want to keep our new teachers. We could provide student loan reimbursements, prioritizing educators in high-poverty schools, or critical shortage areas. The state needs to better work with and leverage school districts and statewide teacher associations to develop ongoing professional learning for emerging and experienced school leaders to better support school staff and their work. If we can do those things, we can attract and retain high-quality educators. We also need to take care of our support staff and give them salary increases, opportunities, and training.

Educators are not the only ones stuck in a system that is slow to change; students and parents get trapped as well. We must get our parents engaged in the education of their children. It is the critical piece that is often missing. Education law and policies must be written simply, clearly, and concisely, with the required degree of precision, and as much as possible in ordinary language. We need to remove the often-incoherent education terminology. This will help policymakers and stakeholders alike as we move forward.

During the upcoming special session, the state is going to address the problem of too many kids falling through the cracks, and afterward pushed through the system, unprepared for the next grade or life. We have had a sudden awakening of “learning loss” which is not a new phenomenon. It is hard to define, and even harder to explain. Are students who are not making adequate progress losing learning? Yes indeed. Our state will take aggressive measures to stem that tide, but this is not a short-term, pandemic-driven issue—it is part of a long-term systemic problem. So, if we couch it in a vague term such as “learning loss” and provide tutoring, summer school, and other supports, then it is welcome.

It also identifies another challenge of how we engage parents. Parental involvement is not a clearly or consistently defined term. Parental engagement is a better phrase. All students need a supportive home learning environment, and we must focus on how families can build on what they are learning in the classroom. The state is going to require districts to submit a phonics-based literacy plan for students, as part of their literacy efforts. We would argue that getting the parents involved in the education of their children is critical and districts should also include how they plan to engage parents in this process. Better communication with parents is always a win-win for districts, teachers, parents, and students.  

We must improve digital access statewide, in both our urban and rural communities. David Talbot writes in “The Hole in the Digital Economy,” the poorest people, who might benefit most from Internet access, are often the least likely to have it. It’s not just an economic issue, it is an access issue in Tennessee. Integrating technology benefits education. However, all citizens need digital access for personal and business purposes.

These ideas and strategies are to help strengthen our public education system. In the span of one generation, South Korea moved from a nation that educated less than a quarter of its citizens through high school to one that now ranks third in the world in college-educated adults. Why can’t Tennessee be the number one state in the nation for public education? We can! If it is important to us, we will find a way. If not, we will find an excuse.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

Thanksgiving Blessings to You

Do we need a holiday to be thankful? Probably not. However, this year has been tough for so many people, and circumstances have been tremendously difficult. Even so, we all have much to be thankful for as individuals, as a state, and as a nation. Celebrating Thanksgiving is one manner of telling the world that God is bigger than our problems.

Since the first settlement, Americans continued the custom of establishing days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. This could be annually or in response to significant events. Traditionally, educators and historians recognize the “first” Thanksgiving as occurring at the Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621. 

President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789. The purpose was to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. Washington stated in the first Thanksgiving proclamation that “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

Later presidents, including John Adams and James Madison, also declared days of thanksgiving. Following those actions, President Abraham Lincoln took steps to designate a more permanent observance of Thanksgiving. With few exceptions, Lincoln’s example was pretty much kept by every subsequent president–until President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1941, President Roosevelt officially established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to remember the true origins and reasons for Thanksgiving. He also asked Americans to give thanks to those in our past who both fought for and gave us our ideals and values. He wrote in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation before he was assassinated, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” Kennedy wanted Americans to be thankful for the intrinsic things that we have. We have gifts, like hope and love, that are can only be destroyed if we allow it. Kennedy wrote: “We recognize too that we live in a world of peril and change–and in so uncertain a time we are all the more grateful for the indestructible gifts of hope and love, which sustain us in adversity and inspire us to labor unceasingly for a more perfect community within this nation and around the earth.” Kennedy challenged us to be mindful of those who have less than us and to strive towards a better world not just for us but for all of humanity.

President Reagan gave America eight Thanksgiving Day proclamations from 1981 through 1988. His Thanksgiving themes almost always expressed our need to show gratitude for family, friends, and good fortune. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the founding of our nation, the principles and ideals it stands for, and the ongoing need for citizens to give back to the community and country to uphold that vision. In 1985, President Reagan eloquently reminded us, “My fellow Americans, let us keep this Thanksgiving Day sacred,” urging Americans to thank God for the “bounty and goodness of our nation.” He then added, “And as a measure of our gratitude, let us rededicate ourselves to the preservation of this: the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Nobody can dispute the difficulty many Americans faced in 2020. Thanksgiving is just one day set aside that allows us to take a moment to reflect on the things for which we are the most grateful. This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessings in our lives. And just as in years past, we should seek with grateful hearts the political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible. However, we must recognize what is truly essential: faith, family, and friends. Embrace others and treat everybody with dignity and respect. If you want to touch the heart of God, take an interest in the things that interests God. Let God love others through you.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

We Need Innovators, Not Disruptors, in Education

Educators have to constantly fight against false premises that our public schools are failing, that educators are the problem, and that outsiders (usually non-educators) should take control of running our schools.

Harvard professor and businessman Clayton Christensen wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997. In the book, Christensen put forth a notion of “disruptive innovation” as a concept for business theory. Christensen’s theory is based on buying decisions made by businesses, not consumers according to Ben Thompson, a critic of this particular business theory.

Disruption is built on two varieties: low-end disruption and new-market disruption. The essential difference between the two is that low-end disruption focuses on overserved customers, whereas new-market disruption focuses on underserved customers. When it comes to government programs, such as public education, for example, every child is made to conform to the existing business model. When in fact, they may fall within both types of disruption. As we have seen, new technologies to assist educators have been neglected, and our state needs greater access to broadband for communities and schools. Granted, we are making a rushed effort to make adjustments, but during hurried efforts, mistakes are frequently made.

Tony Robbins clarified, “His theory worked to explain how small companies with minimal resources were able to enter a market and displace the established system.” Robbins added, “like most buzzwords, the term quickly took on a life of its own. Suddenly everyone in the workforce was ‘disruptive’ and/or ‘innovative.’” Education is the same way. We welcomed people who were out-of-the-box thinkers or had a business background. However, education is not always a precise science. In business, the bottom line is selling a good or service. In education, that good is someone’s child.

Mark Zuckerberg is famous for telling his Facebook development team, “Move fast and break things.” Phil Lewis in Forbes magazine asked the key questions about the concept of moving fast and breaking things. “What is it acceptable to break? Why? And under what circumstances?” The answers to those questions are critical. In education, moving fast may not always be the best interest of children. You may fix one thing and break three.

For example, in high school, we got a new principal. He believed that by cutting time between classes we could add to the instructional schedule. We went from 5 minutes to 4 minutes. That meant we could add an extra minute to every class. What did that do? It also angered students and teachers. It forced students in our very large high school to forgo a bathroom break, get to class, and then get permission to be excused to go to the bathroom. Rather than add time to class it took away time from class time. The goal may have been well-intentioned, but the end results were predictable. We changed back very quickly. So much for disruption.

Too many people simply bought into the jargon fostered by disruption innovation. They are so enthralled by breaking the rules of the game that they forget what game they are even playing, thus changing the objective of their particular business. Robbins points out that Christensen himself was so troubled with the misuse of his theory that he published a 2015 update in the Harvard Business Review on what the term “business disruption” really should encompass.

Every single attribute of business simply cannot be documented and measured. Lewis points out that “innovation is ultimately a human enterprise, to do with our ability to inspire each other, think creatively and collaborate.” We do not need disruption in education, as much as we need innovation. Education is a pathway to the future. It provides a foundation for life.

In public education we are succeeding, despite the challenges we face. Schools alone can never be fully responsible for the outcomes that our students achieve. Educators are the key to solutions that schools face, but they need more assistance to confront the serious societal problems. We must ask ourselves frequently: What kind of state or community do I want to live in, work in, and raise my family in? What kind of schools do we need? We need more innovators and fewer disrupters.


JC Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

On Being Transparent

catching the train

It was Willie Nelson in “A Song for You” that talks about the price of fame.  Keep in mind, I am neither famous or wealthy, but I have always lived my life in the public eye.  So, people have watched me grow up and now I am growing old.  What have I learned? A lot.  I also have come to understand that the world is a cruel place filled with many good people.   Besides, there is evil out there.

I accept that countries lie to their citizens and that we are, regrettably, governed by men and women who are sometimes corrupt. That is undesirable, but it is a fact of life. Often choices made by the government are not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. We have done exactly what George Washington warned us against by embracing entangling alliances. We have largely abandoned our Judeo-Christian heritage, in fear of lawsuits and in the name of inclusion. However, we still have the rule of law, right?

I am reminded of Robert Kennedy’s speech in which he was discussing the law. He said about the law: ‘The road ahead is full of difficulties and discomforts. But as for me, I welcome the challenge. I welcome the opportunity, and I pledge to you my best effort — all I have in material things and physical strength and spirit to see that freedom shall advance and that our children will grow old under the rule of law.’

People of reason can disagree with issues and have civil discourse. ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,’ according to the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Who also reminded us that culture, not politics, determines the success of society. Respect of our fellow human beings is the core outgrowth of a nation committed under a rule of law. It is our shared history in America and one in which we must be personally committed to following. That is the real lesson to teach. If we fail to pass that to the next generation, freedom, the political process, civil liberties, individual rights, and media independence will be lost to the dustbin of history and no longer tolerated.

Because I live my life transparently and almost all details of my life are readily accessible online, I have been subject to false allegations, being misquoted, words twisted or taken out of context and verbally attacked consistently.  I have even received death threats, even though I did not take them seriously.  Chances are if you post online or have any type of social media presence or operate in the public eye any of this can happen to you as well.  If you think someone has committed a crime, you should report that to law enforcement.

As any lawyer will tell you, an accusation of criminal conduct is presumed to be defamatory.  And if so, it is likely actionable.  Many times, they hide behind false identities or even fake online names and pseudonyms.  You should consider alerting law enforcement if serious and consult with an attorney.  Law enforcement, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, can unmask these identities, even if the perpetrator resides in a foreign country or uses an email provider located in a foreign country. Law enforcement is trained professionals who know how to handle these situations and what type of evidence will be required to persecute.  Finding and punishing wrongdoers is why we have law enforcement.  Call them first.

Sunlight, as the old saying goes, is the best disinfectant. I will continue to live my life in the open, willing to be subject to being misquoted and taken out of context.  Why?  Because I think most people are still basically good.  I may be naïve.  However, it is a risk worth taking—especially if you have nothing to hide.


JC Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.


Some People are Just Plain Mean

boss blaming an employee

Beverly Flaxington, writing in Psychology Today, reports that “bullying is a fact of life for most school children – over 70% report they have witnessed some sort of bullying event at school. More than 80% of girls have been bullied at school or online, and close to that number for boys.”

Bullying occurs everywhere, even in schools that exhibit the highest academic performance. Adults continue to suffer bullying in their workplaces at about the same rate as children in schools, and it’s even found among teachers and in senior living communities. My grandmother said it best, “Some people are just plain mean.”

Social media is a breeding ground for mean people. Bad behavior and bullying are accelerated by those on social media. Bullies can throw stones at someone, and delight in their role of keyboard warriors, knowing they can’t be seen, and victims can’t respond right away, if at all. It turns a fun and potentially useful tool into a cesspool. Anonymity is harmful and also a problem when people can hide behind aliases or fake names.

On platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, bullies not only post mean things, they troll others and post mean things about them or to them. In political discussions, it is particularly vicious. People do not look for solutions, they want to beat up on someone who does not share their political views or ideology. Civility is seemingly a lost option.

Former President Barack Obama rightly called out some of his supporters for being too ideologically rigid and judgmental. His comments were highly praised on social media across both sides of the political aisle.

Talking directly to his fellow progressives, Mr. Obama said, “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” the two-term Democrat said. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you.”

Obama, like so many, understands the premise that as adults we must have conversations that include people whose values you may not share. Even the CDC now acknowledges the impact of “electronic aggression” or “cyberbullying” on mental health.

This pervasive human problem is having an impact on our children. Do we think adults who cannot behave civilly online in social media are kind and caring people in real life? Do we suspect that rigid parenting or sibling bullying will increase or decrease when even more civility is lost?

Merely raising awareness of the problem has not created change. We see bullying occur, we see social media filled with hate, we see people in elective office using twitter as a weapon to castigate opponents. Is there a solution? Clearly, punishment and zero-tolerance for bullying have been ineffective, because the problem is growing. Unless we change the culture or start directly confronting these bullies about their actions it will only continue.

Even then we may be too late. Refuse to be a party to the negativity.

Almost universally, when someone bullies other people, they are likely hiding something themselves. I am reminded of a public-school superintendent who gained notoriety in his district for his promotion of making schools kinder, despite being known to a certain degree inside the school system of being a bully himself. He was better at hiding his deep insecurities; however, his urge was correct that being kind is critical for our emotional and physical well-being. One of the reasons bullies on the public stage can get away with their actions, is that few people know the truth behind their actions.

My grandmother was not a scientist, but she was certainly correct when she said, “Some people are just plain mean.”

The debilitating scars of bullying are real. Bullying is too prevalent in society. My fear is that this type of harassment is increasing and we haven’t found a real solution to the problem.

We know that bullying can have a lasting effect on a person’s mental health. In fact, scientists found strong evidence that being bullied as a child puts kids at high risk for depression as a young adult. We are likely reaping some of that now.

Bullying behavior should be taken seriously by teachers, parents, and others. Early intervention in childhood bullying can help prevent its long-term mental health consequences. And it would probably help all of us if we unplugged from social media and set stricter limits for children.


JC Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.


Keeping Student Discipline on the Legislative Agenda


Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited as reasons why teachers leave the teaching profession, often as much as low salary and poor working conditions. Too many policymakers yearn for a time that no longer exists and do not understand the reality of what our teachers face daily.

Our classrooms have an abundance of students exhibiting an assortment of disruptive behaviors that take the focus off academics, and in some cases even worse make learning impossible. A teacher might have several of these students misbehaving in the same class. Yes, we need to get students supported in many cases. However, we need to re-establish the foundational support for our educators and schools because they are on the frontlines of student discipline issues.

Education stakeholders can no longer maintain their reticence on the issue of student discipline. We have to speak up and speak out. It is easy for those who are not in classrooms to have a nostalgic sensation about things they do not have to live. However, educators deal with student discipline issues every single day, and it is time we move beyond talk. It is time for the General Assembly and School Boards to finally address it. And I know some legislators will tackle this challenge.

We can have an endless debate about the root causes of student misbehavior. Researchers generally point out two primary causes: 1) The disintegration of the family. And, 2) The lack of parental involvement and support in and for the schools. Those issues are unlikely to be solved by those in the classroom. These are cultural issues, and society has to work to address them. Acknowledging them is the first step.

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett states: “Clearly many modern-day social pathologies have gotten worse. More importantly, they seem impervious to the government’s attempts to cure them. Although the Great Society and its many social programs have had some good effects, there is a vast body of evidence suggesting that these “remedies” have reached the limits of their success.” Bennett is, and was, correct.

However, Bennett did not stop there. He added: “Our social and civic institutions–families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and civic associations–have traditionally taken on the responsibility of providing our children with love, order, and discipline–of teaching self-control, compassion, tolerance, civility, honesty, and respect for authority. Government, even at its best, can never be more than an auxiliary in the development of character.”

So why should the Tennessee General Assembly even bother to address student discipline issues? Perhaps because we still believe that in our free society, and that the ultimate responsibility still rests with the people themselves. And we must embrace the optimism Bennett shared, “The good news is that what has been self-inflicted can be self-corrected.”

Just as student discipline has been a critical issue for our educators in the last thirty years, it is time we place this behemoth issue of student discipline on every legislator’s agenda. Thus far this year we have numerous legislators’ step into the fray in an ethereal and calm manner with reasoned legislation.

We are particularly supportive of pending legislation introduced by Representative Charlie Baum and Senator Bill Powers that better defines “qualified immunity.” We are extremely supportive of pending legislation by Representative Scott Cepicky and Senator Joey Hensley that gives greater authority of the teacher over their classroom, establishes procedures following removal of a student from the classroom and establishes placement review committees. Senator Ferrell Haile and Representative William Lamberth have proposed legislation to allow a director of schools, or the director’s designee, to determine whether a suspended or expelled student should be required to attend alternative school or an alternative program, to remove a student from alternative school or an alternative program if the student is not benefitting from the placement, and to determine whether, and how, if applicable, to enforce the suspension or expulsion of a student who transfers into the LEA under suspension or expulsion from another LEA. We urge the passage of all three needed pieces of legislation. This forward-thinking legislation should be supported by all members of the Tennessee General Assembly that want to create an orderly environment where educators are free to teach, without chronic student discipline issues.

We cannot continue to lay the blame for continued societal problems at the feet of public education. It is true, public education has its issues, from design to execution, but every problem faced by society gets manifested in our schools. We need more community support and cohesive education policies statewide that enables educators, schools, and districts to address critical issues such as student discipline.

We have heard the desperation in the voices of educators across the state. There is nothing more discouraging than caring, committed teachers, who have lost hope. We need consistent, uniform guidance and enforcement of student conduct. Talk to your legislators and share your thoughts and opinions with them on student discipline. In a self-governing society, we must engage in this critical matter. Failure to do so may well mean that in the near future there will be nobody willing to teach our children.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Men Who Helped Shape Our Lives

Francis Bowman JC Bowman

My dad would have been 87 today. Strange how dates become milestones. They say memories fade. Some should never fade. Over time I have learned to reflect on the good in people. My dad and I had a tough relationship, to say the least, but one thing I know because of him I literally have no fear of facing tough situations in life or difficulties. He was a self-made, often stubborn man, who died too soon. That stubborn trait was passed on to his sons. I fear no challenge in life, not even death itself, because I watched my dad take on life’s difficulties with a laugh. Here is to the men who helped shape our lives, imperfect as they may be, may we always remember them and be grateful for their influence. Thank you, Francis Bowman, Happy Birthday in heaven. —- JC Bowman

Tennessee has Played a Seminal Role in Civil Rights


Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, almost 52 years ago. Few know of the significance that Tennessee has played in Civil Rights. First, Tennessee played a pivotal role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920.  This year marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  Second, Tennessee was at the forefront of Civil Rights and integrating America.  We should remind ourselves of this history on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020.

The groundbreaking 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the case in which the Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It signaled the rightful end of the “separate but equal” principle outlined in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Ferguson case constitutionally allowed laws barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools, and other public facilities as whites — known as “Jim Crow” laws — and established the separate but equal doctrine that would stand for the next six decades.

Linda Brown, then a nine-year-old girl, became the face of the issue. Ms. Brown died at age 75 on March 25, 2018. Her national legacy in Civil Rights went far beyond public education. Brown said in a 1985 interview: “I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education has made an impact on all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second-class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of our young people greater, today.”

Few people know the role Tennessee played in Civil Rights and public education. Avon Williams, Jr., a Knoxville, Tennessee native, became a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 and began a long career in civil rights activism. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Williams filed Tennessee’s first public school desegregation suit such case when he sued to integrate the public schools in Anderson County, Tennessee. (McSwain v. Board of Anderson County).

Williams’ first cousin, Thurgood Marshall, was the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP. Marshall later became the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams and Marshall worked closely on racial discrimination cases. Williams went before the Supreme Court seven times to argue cases involving discrimination in public schools, public housing or other public accommodations. In 1955, Williams, Marshall and Z. Alexander Looby, a fellow African American lawyer focused on civil rights, filed suit Kelley v. Board of Education against the Nashville city schools on behalf of African American children.

Looby and Williams were without a doubt the most prominent civil rights attorneys in Tennessee during their lifetime.

The Journal of African American History stated that “Looby and Williams’s work in school desegregation cases alone encompassed every major case in the state (with the exception of Northcross v. Board of Education) and entered the highest realms of legal activity. Federal judges at the circuit, appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court levels cited and considered many of their cases as the post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) litigation world unfolded.”

In 1968, Avon Williams, Jr. was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in that body since the Civil War. As a senator, he worked to put guidance counselors in elementary schools and to establish kindergarten classes in Tennessee. The state has a proud, but often untold history in Civil Rights, which greatly enhanced education in our state.

Racism, bigotry, and vitriol hate have no place in modern culture. All children are created in the image of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Does character still matter? Of course, it does.

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it appears that there is no longer a consensus about what that should mean. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display.

Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Linda Brown, Avon Williams, Alexander Looby, and Thurgood Marshall helped integrate America, and move the nation past the old paradigms and backward thinking that dominated our society. We need to remember and reflect on that history. More importantly, we need to fulfill our destiny as a nation where all citizens can realize the benefits of integration and equality of opportunity regardless of the color of their skin. The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die in Memphis in 1968, it is still alive in 2020.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

Shine as Lights to the World

JC at SoL

No dreams are too big, but sometimes we lose the courage to pursue them.  French Nobel Laureate André Gide writes that “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Fear keeps us holding onto the shore.

Time is running so fast, flowing like a river in our lives, sometimes stormy, sometimes with stillness.  We all encounter the world’s brokenness in different ways. For some we know there are more days behind us, then in front of us.  We struggle to find relevance in a changing world, which we helped create but sometimes do not understand.  When we were young, we never took advice, now we want to pass along the experiences and it falls on deaf ears.  Greek poet Heraclitus said it best: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Life is about change, and managing the seasons of our lives.

Many of us are not the person we desired to be as we thought we would be growing up.  Life has taught us many hard lessons.  We can feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We grasp to find the sweet memories from our past, discover the strength to face today and find hope for the future.  Amazing how we can get so lost in a broken world, and forget who we are—or whose we are.

When we strip everything back to bare basics, we are all the same.   We want to find love.  We want someone who knows that we are not perfect but treats us as if we are.  We want someone whose greatest fear is losing us, and we want to hang on to that love and meet challenges all couples face—together.  When they tell us they love us, we want to hear that conviction in their voice.  When those we love are with us, we want them present at the moment. We want to smile from within, because we know smiles are often faked on the outside.

We need to connect to God on a spiritual level, but we need another person to connect with on an emotional level.  When we find them, we have to hold on to them and value how blessed we truly are.  Being truly fulfilled mentally, physically, and emotionally is essential to being truly happy here on earth.  John Rzeznik, of the band Goo Goo Dolls, sings in Better Days: “I wish everyone was loved tonight, and somehow stop this endless fight, just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.”

in a dark world, full of lies, hate, and confusion we can all find better days, by looking inside ourselves and being better people.  Hard to fathom, but you may be the only light in a dark world that some people will ever see.  We all have a mission to bring hope to the world and show a heart of compassion to others.  It is easy to judge and condemn, it is harder to engage with love and show kindness.  We should find something in life to be grateful for, and see our lives as a gift. And share that gift with others, not in isolation.

Those who bring hope to the world in the darkest of times and battle despair, inspire hope for future generations.  Light drives out darkness.  Nothing is ever lost, if hope is on your side.  Philippians 2:14-16 says:  Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.  Shine your light in the world, we need it now more than ever before.


JC Bowman, Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Children are the victims in ‘reading wars’ of educators

I tend to avoid the debates among people discussing reading. I think there is some truth in all sides of a debate. I learned to read early and easily. I am also unabashedly an advocate for children with dyslexia, as it has been an issue identified and championed by the members of Professional Educators of Tennessee. I am encouraged by the research being conducted at the Center for Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University. I believe the work they do there will affect thousands of children across the state who learn to read because of their research and efforts.

‘The reading wars’

For the better part of the last five decades, what has been described as “the reading wars” has pitted “phonics-based” instruction against “whole language” instruction. Another approach in the reading wars, a hybrid of phonics-based and whole language instruction called balanced literacy, has emerged in the last decade. However, the debate over reading instruction itself is centuries old. The debate will continue as long as educators are free to hold differing opinions.

All sides of the reading debate have proponents, often found in the ivory towers of academia. The dispute is a genuine political issue, and the opinions of policymakers drive our education policy. You may not notice the debate, but it is occurring when states approve and purchase textbooks and other materials for instruction, how we teach in our teacher preparation programs, and what is offered in our professional development for teachers.

Emily Hanford, an advocate of phonics-based reading instruction, points out that according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, “more than six in 10 fourth-graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.” In her New York Times editorial, she states that the faculties of colleges of education simply do not teach the science of reading.

What about phonics?

Stacy Reeves, an associate professor of literacy at the University of Southern Mississippi, says, “Phonics for me is not that answer.” Her former colleague Mary Ariail, past chair of the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the University of Southern Mississippi, remains opposed to explicit phonics instruction. Arial states: “One of the ideas behind whole language is that when [reading] is meaningful, it’s easy,” she said. “And when it’s broken down into little parts, it makes it harder.”

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Ariail left her position in 2018 because of her disappointment in changing reading instruction in Mississippi. She said she sees it “as an example of lawmakers telling educators what to do,” and she doesn’t like it. She now resides in North Carolina working as an independent consultant. Mississippi did an exhaustive evaluation of its early literacy programs in a recent study.

Whole language? Balanced literacy?

Mark Seidenberg, a University of Wisconsin cognitive neuroscientist and author of the book “Language at the Speed of Sight,” argues that “Balanced literacy was a way to defuse the wars over reading. … If the whole language/balanced literacy approach is as flawed as described, many children will struggle to learn,” Seidenberg insists. For those students, in thousands of U.S. schools, there is Reading Recovery, “an expensive remediation program based on the same principles. Fewer children would need Reading Recovery if they had received appropriate instruction in the first place,” he writes. As for teachers, they are “left to discover effective classroom practices [on their own] because they haven’t been taught them.

Educators have argued about multiple approaches to reading instruction since public education began. The politics over literacy will continue to be contentious and debated. Perhaps we as educators know less about how children actually learn to read or how they should be taught than we care to admit. Perhaps it is different for every child. The more we honestly look at the issues surrounding the reading wars, it is clear that a one-sized solution does not work for everyone.

JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville. 

As featured in The Tennessean on 12/31/2019:  https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2019/12/31/children-victims-reading-wars-educators/2777698001/