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On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign one of the greatest documents ever created:  The United States Constitution. In 2004, the late Senator Robert Byrd led the effort to rename the day “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” which requires public schools and institutions to provide information on the history of the country’s constitution.   Our Founding Fathers would likely be pleased that the document they signed 231 years ago is still providing inspiration and guidance for American citizens and other countries around the world.

I was re-reading a letter I wrote to an attorney nearly two decades ago, who was striving to remove any vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage from our country.  I have always maintained that religion has an appropriate role in the public square.   His position, of course, is that faith should be removed.  My answer to him was simple: “base your arguments on the US Constitution, not letters from dead Presidents.”  He had a clear misunderstanding of the Establishment Clause, despite the law degree, and was citing a letter in defense of free exercise of faith from a man who was not even present at the passage of the Constitution.

The United States Constitution is the one document in our public life that operates as a social contract between citizens and government, defining our basic rights and the limits of government with three main purposes:  First, it creates a federal government comprising of a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch, with a system of checks and balances among the three branches.  Second, it shares power between the federal government and the states.  And third, it safeguards the liberties of all citizens.

The United States Constitution is an indisputably remarkable document, enduring in a world much different than the one in which it was written.  Our founding principles are critical as our country moves forward, if we are to survive as a nation.  It is one area in which Americans are likely to find agreement.  The power, scope and reach of the government is clearly defined by a simple reading of the document.   Since the only oath every member of Congress takes is to defend the Constitution, it would seem that citizens would place a high priority on this governing document.  However, we are reminded, that interpretations of the Constitution can hold opposing views.

Limiting the power of government and protecting the rights of our citizens is something we must all make a conscientious effort to protect. We should be especially appreciative for the protection afforded in our Bill of Rights, especially our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, protest, and our speech, religion, protest. A free society does not just occur. It has to be deliberately and intentionally preserved. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

The founders knew it wasn’t a perfect document, yet the Constitution has adapted and prevailed. On Constitution Day, take a few minutes to read the document for yourself.   In order to protect the values, we hold so dear, we must guarantee that generations to come will embrace and uphold the one thing that sets us apart from every other nation. That one thing is the United States Constitution.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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Our nation was attacked on September 11, 2001 and our world changed.  Terrorists called al-Qaeda, with training camps all around the world were responsible for the death of the more than 3,000 victims.  This is an enemy unlike any we have ever faced.  There are multiple countries, multiple fronts and multiple threats.

This enemy is committed to the absolute destruction of the American way of life and imposing their beliefs and values upon the world.  In their world, law is determined by force—those with power—whether military strength or political dominance—make the rules. It is our belief in freedom, human rights, idealism, personal responsibility and economic opportunity that extremists dislike the most.

If you were a classroom teacher today how would you address the events of September 11, 2001 with your students?  Would you blame the incident on the very people who lost their lives?  Would you blame those with a misguided ideology for killing innocent people?  To me, the answer is very apparent.   And those who would blame victims or our nation are siding with evil-doers and promoting savagery.

Since Jeremiah Wright first shocked our nation with his comment in 2008, parroting a Malcolm X phrase, that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” which was widely understood as meaning that America brought the September 11 attacks upon itself.  Every year that has passed since 2001 that sentiment has been voiced in one manner or another. Eventually that will end up in our classrooms and textbooks.  My fear is that the victims will be posthumously put on trial while the terrorists are seen as genial freedom fighters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems to many that we treat perpetrators of evil kinder than we treat their victims in our society.  It is an obvious assault on law and order.  It is law which enables man to live together, and creates order out of chaos.  We first and foremost a nation of laws. Founding Father and future president John Adams called America “a nation of laws, not of men.”  These rules should not be subject to the whims of those in power.   And those who fail to understand history in the proper context will write textbooks to inform future generations.  It is why curriculum has been such a highly debated issue.

Historian Bruce Kauffmann wrote about “the Soviet Union’s infamous dictator, Josef Stalin, who in the late 1930s had millions of innocent people incarcerated and murdered after they underwent show trials, or no trials, in which the “nature and cause of the accusation” against them were such specifically identified and legally provable crimes as being “foreign agents,” “counterrevolutionaries,” “enemies of the people” or “enemies of the state.” Have we become so politically correct that only one opinion is allowed?

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 government is 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 follow.  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.

We must remember September 11th in our homes and in our classrooms and engage in this important dialogue.   Never let it be said that the flame of freedom was extinguished on our watch.   That can be summed up in two words:  We Remember.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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Robbie Webb, my great-great grandfather.  Monroe County, TN  1861-1932

Labor Day is a day we set aside for American workers.  It also marks the unofficial end to our Summer.  Labor Day has many meanings, but one meaning is that we must recognize the incredible effort and work it took to build this great country.  It is worth recalling our own history and leadership of President Calvin Coolidge.  A man renown for his silence and wit.

Coolidge acknowledged the importance of workers and Labor Day when he stated that “this high tribute is paid in recognition of the worth and dignity of the men and women who toil.” Coolidge actually valued American labor and the spirit of work and his policies led to job creation and economic expansion in America. Coolidge added:

“I cannot think of anything that represents the American people as a whole so adequately as honest work. We perform different tasks, but the spirit is the same. We are proud of work and ashamed of idleness. With us there is no task which is menial, no service which is degrading. All work is ennobling and all workers are ennobled.”

It seems in this age we may have lost that respect for the worker.  Some of that may be connected to public sector unionism.   Coolidge won national recognition for his handling of the Boston Police Strike, when he intervened and famously stated that “there is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”  Many union leaders, not necessarily the union members themselves, continue to embrace political activism over members themselves.  These unions support candidates and causes opposed by many of the workers that union bosses claim to speak for. It is why union membership is in decline across the nation.

Does the end justify the means?  Perhaps the best answer to that question is from the controversial and radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who wrote: “The meanness and inhumanity of the means make you mean and inhuman and make the end unattainable.”  When the means justify the ends, ethical consideration focuses on what you do, not the consequences of what you have done.   Results-based ethics means that no type of act is morally wrong.  This is a harmful position, for an individual, a business or a nation.  As a nation, we understand that there are consequences for our actions.  We have an individual responsibility to work to the best of our abilities and we must expect fair wages.

Martin Luther King, Jr., also insisted not just on the ends, but the means.  Mahatma Gandhi, like King, understood that for the rational people to survive in revolutionary times that his focus must remain on the means, just as much extremists do by their “do anything” philosophy.  Machiavelli who is credited with phrase: “The end justifies the means,” actually wrote, “Si guarda al fine.”   This phrase may be better translated as “Pay attention to the result.”  As President, Calvin Coolidge created a period of economic expansion and prosperity through his administration’s economic policies, that was a result of focusing on both the ends and the means.  It was a period of individual prosperity and economic growth.

Robert Ferrell, in his book The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge, states the results of Coolidge’s philosophy: “Real wages for industrial workers were 8 percent above the base year (1914= 100) in 1921, 13 percent above in 1922, and 19 percent above in 1923. For the next two years, the figure remained at this level and then increased, reaching 32 percent in 1928. The workweek declined from 47.4 hours in 1920 to 44.2 in 1929. This meant a five-and-a-half-day week…All the while unemployment was a low 3.7 percent between 1923 and 1929. This compared with 6.1 between 1911 and 1917, a fairly prosperous time for workers.” Certainly, there is a correlation between a prosperous economy, increasing wages and worker happiness.  This is a lesson we should bear in mind.

Coolidge recognized that a thriving economy and higher wages built the middle class.  It also depended on following common sense on fiscal matters.   Garland S. Tucker wrote that he never lost sight of his belief in a strong work ethic and the spirit of America, as Coolidge declared:

“We do not need to import any foreign economic ideas or any foreign government. We had better stick to the American brand of government, the American brand of equality, and the American brand of wages. America had better stay American.”

This Labor Day we must reminded ourselves of the unique heritage of our nation and the effort so many people who came before us put forth so that we their heirs could enjoy the fruits of our own labors. In a presidential speech, President Coolidge reasoned that he could not “think of any American man or woman preeminent in the history of the nation who did not reach their place through toil.” I am not so sure Calvin Coolidge was as silent as he is portrayed in our history books.  It is a good lesson for all generations.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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So grateful for all the freedoms we enjoy on this Independence Day and every day! A special thank you to all those that have made those freedoms possible and continue to sacrifice to preserve them to this day! Happy 4th of July everyone!

 

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Jefferson Memorial with Declaration of Independence 

Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th in the United States.  “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison.

Thomas Jefferson, known for his expressive writing style, was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.   Ben Franklin reminded delegates of the Continental Congress of the importance of the occasion by telling them: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  While we often focus on the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

It is the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence that has always remained a powerful reminder of a promise among the signers of the Declaration to: “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” These men thought liberty was more important than their own lives or their very possessions.  By risking everything, signers of the Declaration of Independence, men of wealth, many of whom the ultimate price—either through loss of life or prosperity.

Ronald Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”   What sacrifice would we be willing to make today for freedom?  That is a question we should ask frequently.  Benjamin Franklin would likely respond “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The last letter Thomas Jefferson ever wrote was about the celebration of Independence Day and missing the 50th anniversary of America’s independence.  He was 83 years old and would die within ten days of penning a poorly punctuated letter in 1826, that still contained brilliance within.   It’s good to know he wrote that “our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.” Jefferson wrote:

“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

Freedom should never be taken for granted.  Today we are debating the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.  While many citizens are very passionate about our country, others seem disillusioned and some openly hostile.  It is why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document. It expresses what it means to be an American.  We would be wise, as a state and nation, to teach the next generation of Americans what the words of the Declaration of Independence mean.  We must remind ourselves and children that there once lived men who mutually pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the love of freedom.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at www.jcbowman.com     

101026-M-8682Y-003“Courage, of all national qualities, is the most precarious; because it is exerted only at intervals, and by a few in every nation” wrote David Hume.  It takes courage to risk life and limb for our state and country. Norman Schwarzkopf said “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

It is fitting then, that we set aside a day to remember those who have given their lives in service for our country. The least we can do as a nation is to honor these heroes. These brave few who became legends meeting their end on a battlefield, fighting our nation’s enemies.

According to the book Roster of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Tennessee, there are about 4,500 veterans of the American Revolution interred in Tennessee.  One is my 4th great-grandfather, Colonel James Taylor, who is buried at Centenary Baptist Church in Blount County, Tennessee. Fortunately, he was able to come home and raise a family.   A privilege that was denied to many.

The first casualty of the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks.  He was killed during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.  Attucks was believed to be the son of a slave and a Native American woman.  As hostilities intensified between the colonists and British soldiers, the British confronted a group of unruly colonists by opening fire and killing five men including Attucks, who was the first to die.  In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praised Attucks for his part in American history. It is worth noting that Attucks was displayed with the others at Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state.  The men were then entombed in a common sepulcher.  There was no segregation for Patriots.

Traditionally, Americans observed Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials of our fallen war heroes. In recent years, it has become more of a party celebrating the launch of summer, thus losing the original purpose and meaning.  I think we must remind ourselves to honor those courageous men and women who have served and then given their lives for the cause of freedom.  Freedom cannot guarantee a meaningful life, merely the possibility of having one. To keep that possibility, we need to embrace and strengthen freedom. It was Thomas Jefferson who reminded us: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

We need to take a minute to THANK those veterans who gave their lives so we Americans can enjoy our liberty.  Life is so precious.  No doubt those who made the ultimate sacrifice had their hopes and dreams as well for our country.  We should also ask our politicians to remember those veterans who made it back and ensure that they get the benefits they were promised, and the highest quality medical care available—including mental health.

Thomas Smith wrote one of the best tributes to those who died for our nation: ““This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. God Bless America and All Veterans.”  I remember their sacrifice.  George Patton added: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” That is why I honor Memorial Day.

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

 

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Mother.  Perhaps no other word speaks to as many people in any language or touches our heart.  Yet, when we write about mothers, the words rarely do justice to the subject.  We are rarely able to show our gratefulness to the women in our lives, the women who gave us life, or to those who give life to our children.  Mother is a word that sparks deep self-reflection when you reflect about the amazing importance this woman has on your life, growth as a person, or significance to your children it is inconceivable.   The hand of a bride becomes the hand of a mother, and the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Before the man even discovers that he is going to be a father, the woman knows.   A myriad of emotions runs through her brain, some of them at the same time.  She may be anxious, afraid, confused or unprepared. And on the roller coaster ride of emotions, she will also be excited, happy, and joyful as they are about to embark on this life-changing journey.  Having a baby is undeniably hard work.   The best gift for a mother-to-be is continual support and assurance from those around her is that she can navigate this stage of life.  She does not know it yet, but she was created for this role and she will be ready for the moment.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote about being set aside even before birth.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Mothers know and love us as we grow inside of them.  They love us even before they meet us. It is a love that goes beyond explanation, it brings out the strongest emotions in the human soul.  Her raw feelings will run deep and certain, she will expose her deepest emotions to protect her children.  She knows the baby she holds in her arms will grow quickly. A mother’s love is the closest thing most children will experience to God’s love for us.

You never have to earn a mother’s love, nor could you buy it.  It is freely given.  And her love will last until her dying breath. Her prayers for her children are never-ending.  She may stay in a challenging marriage for the security and well-being of her children or escape for their safety.   She may be abused, verbally, physically or both.  She will put the needs of her children above her own.  She gave us life, never asking for anything in return.

Author Donna Ball wrote in At Home on Ladybug Farm: “Motherhood is a choice you make every day to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is, … and to forgive yourself over and over again for doing everything wrong.” For those who have lost their mother, whether recent or long ago, the day is particularly bittersweet.  Rutgers Professor Deborah Carr reminds us the day is: “marked by fading memories, or musings about what ‘could have been…’ if our mothers were still alive today.”

Mother’s Day isn’t just an activity designed to sell holiday cards to reflect on a mother’s compassion and influence.  If language is everything, we could not, even if we tried, honor the women that shapes and inspires our lives.   No matter how much you thank the woman who does it all for her children, once a year is never enough.  However, we must reflect on a mother’s sacrifice of tears, toil and time.  We must also acknowledge the unique value, vision and virtue of women.  So, to all the mothers, wives, daughters, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, stepmothers, godmothers, friends, teachers, and all women that have everlasting love for children, we honor you this Mother’s Day.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  You can follow him on his blog at www.jcbowman.com