Humans are not designed to live alone.  We are by nature designed to live together in community to reach our full potential.  English poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.”   Our actions can influence everyone around us.  Lasting relationships are perhaps the key to a happy life.  It is one of the benefits of education and school as we meet and become friends with people.  Many of those friendships are lifelong relationships which can forever change your life.

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.  I was member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds.” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.   It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced.  Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends.  I had just turned twenty years old.  And I was never more miserable in my life.

Fast forward 35 years, I am now a father and grandfather.  In the time since my days in the Marine Corps, I married my wife (whom I met in Junior High).  I have worked as a middle and high school teacher, worked for a governor and been a part of university and several think tanks and owned my own business.  There is no physical gift in the world that means more than me than actually being with my family.  No job or gift or experience matches that of grandchild yelling “Pappy” as they fly into my arms. The best gifts in life are never the ones you will find under a tree. 

Focus on your relationships.  Relationships develop when people spend time together.  Whether it is with friends or family, it is how you get to know people and how you become known to others.  Faith is also a relationship.  There remains hope for all of us.  It is never too late to change in life, until life is gone.   

Build relationships with those around you. Those relationships will bring more love to the world. Our self-worth is built in who we are in those relationships, not what we can accomplish in an occupation.  Good relationships are based on respect.  If you give up on people, you could miss out on something extraordinary. Never give up.  Live in the moment.  This Christmas give the gift of yourself to others.

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

I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

JC Bowman 1983

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. I was member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds,” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.   It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced. Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends.  I had just turned twenty years old.  Life is a cruel teacher. And I learned my lessons.   

Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. The Veterans Administration reports that an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. People who commit suicide often do not consider the emotional consequences for survivors, their families and friends. For depressed people, the holidays can be particularly difficult.   We experience added stress, loneliness and reminders of those we have loved and lost. If you have thoughts of suicide please get help immediately, or call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1–800–273–TALK (8255),24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When you next find yourself in need of help, please ask someone.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

As a teacher I used to keep a framed picture in my classroom which said, “Your Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your Life is your gift to God.” I truly wish every child could hear that repeated every day. And what teachers do with their gift benefits so many children on a daily basis.

Teachers are often on the front line of the poverty battle. It is important that children know from where their gifts originate. This Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to be thankful for the gift of life we have and the gift of others in our lives.

I have worked with many faith and community organizations and it seems to me that many of the problems they seek to address have one root cause: poverty. I take the problems of global poverty much more serious, and have noticed a rise in poverty in both urban and rural America.

It is the best American tradition of helping others help themselves. Now is an opportune time for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of our nation and the world. I see a passion for compassion diminishing in America. Government simply cannot meet the needs of all citizens. Faith and community organizations need help. They need your time and effort. They need your money and support. We should embrace government partnership with faith-based organizations and other non-profit community organizations to do the work of fighting poverty and other issues.

To his credit, former President George W. Bush recognized the poverty problem when he said, “The growing divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery, is both a challenge to our compassion and a source of instability. We must confront it.” “We cannot,” said the president, “leave behind half of humanity as we seek a better future for ourselves. We cannot accept permanent poverty in a world of progress. There are no second-class citizens in the human race.”

Bono, of the rock group U2, said in an interview, “It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Let’s be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.”

Poor and starving people are not particularly appealing news stories, but fighting poverty is and should be a moral imperative for citizens in our cities, state and nation. I am impressed by country music singer Tracy Lawrence, who regularly takes time of his schedule to feed the hungry in Nashville, and in other locations across the United State. Most recently Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley opened a free Nashville grocery store for those in need. That use of fame is a worthy cause that is under-reported in our country.

Faith reminds us that theological apathy is not an acceptable excuse. Yes, “the poor will always be with us.” However, Jesus, in his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

As we sit in our comfortable pews on Sunday morning singing about what it is like up there, we should remember that the poverty of spirit as equally lamentable to poverty of physical wealth. This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessing in our lives. If you are a parent and your child is about to enter the world, it would be a great comfort to know that your country will use all of its resources to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, so they can succeed in our country.

To paraphrase an oft cited poem, “If you want to touch the face of God or His heart, it is not necessary to escape the surly bonds of Earth.” Take an interest in the things that interest God. Eliminate some of those nonessential things that clutter our lives. Recognize what is really essential: faith, family and friends. Embrace others. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Lose control, let God love through you. Don’t fear the politicians. Hold them accountable. God will indeed hold us all accountable.

Think of those less fortunate this year before your Thanksgiving prayers, those in poverty whose plates are often empty. We are incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty without all of us working together. The number of hungry people in the world reached over 800 million, a harsh reminder that the world has yet to get serious about the challenge of ending hunger. We can make a difference, can’t we?

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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.

Heftiger Disput

During the holidays, our goal and objective is to have a peaceful gathering of family and friends.  Peace is not lack of conflict, it is the ability to manage conflict by peaceful means.  But is it possible to simply just avoid conflict when so many are outspoken about their beliefs?  Probably not, however, that should be our objective.

Conflict is inevitable, whenever humans live together.  However, it can be set aside for a greater purpose, such as fellowship, thanksgiving, worship, and helping others.  Dutch clergyman Henri Nouwen wrote that we find “words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.”  That is how we should approach interaction with family and friends over the holidays.

In modern times families have more commitments, and often there is a geographical distance between members of the family.  Historically, families do not gather together like they once did.  It would seem then, in the few minutes or hours that you may be with families and friends you can lay aside politics, and other items that divide families, ignoring past squabbles.  Simply enjoy the company of other people and give a moment of gratitude for our lives and blessings.  Failure to avoid conflict, may mean that some members avoid future family gatherings.  When that happens, everyone loses.

If you are sincere about making memories with people that you love the most you should avoid political talk and probably turn off the news.  Work on reconnecting with family and friends. Start new or enjoy old family traditions. If you are religious, do not change your belief to accommodate people who have entered your home. They already know who you are, and should respect it.  If you watch football or play football do that.  Watching the Macy Day’s parade on television on Thanksgiving was a tradition in my home.  Use laughter to defuse awkward conversations.  Remember the adage, it is hard to argue with food in your mouth, especially dessert.

Make the effort to create a relaxed environment.  Be focused to all your family relationships in between holidays, so that hurt and resentment don’t build up in between visits.  Time is important.  Set a time to start and a time to conclude an event.  We all have that family member who overstays their visit.  If you are not certain who that family member is, it’s probably you. Also, make sure you do your part to help out.  Hosting a family holiday is a lot of work.

Family holiday time is not the time for therapy. Turn to professionals for that, and handle in private. It is important to be reminded that you are not forced to spend time with people who are harmful to your mental health, even if they are your relatives.  However, with proper ground rules and a positive attitude you can avoid conflict and reduce the stress, making the holidays successful for everybody.  If you are still uncomfortable, have another piece of pie.

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

Tennessee is the Volunteer State. It is called the Volunteer State because in the times of crisis that our nation found itself, whether a natural crisis or in defense of our country, our citizens were the first to respond.

Members of my family have fought, and some even died, for the defense of our country. I am proud to have served in the Marine Corps and appreciate my fellow veterans. Anyone who has served will tell you it was an honor to wear the uniform of our nation and take the vows to defend our citizens, our country and our Constitution. Military enlistment has no expiration date.

This Veterans Day, in the year 2018, we must do more than repeat the well-deserved praises of the bravery and patriotism that our veterans embody. That was established the day they put on the uniform. Rather, we should reflect on how we are treating our veterans.

We know that the average number of veterans who commit suicide remains at 20 a day. We know that younger veterans are among that number. Suicide is a complex issue, and veterans are not getting the help they need. Why is this not a national priority? It is good political rhetoric during campaign season.

A lot of veterans end up teaching in Tennessee classrooms across the state. For them teaching is an extension of their service to their state and nation. Our classrooms are full of children who are the sons and daughters of active duty military and veterans. Tennessee has more current and former military among our citizenry than most states. So, on this Veterans Day let us remember the service of our veterans. Let us keep our promises and obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so we can live freely.

Veterans who are in crisis or are having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/get-help/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.You can learn more about VA’s suicide-prevention resources and programs at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.

Our veterans have served America with the fervent belief that freedom and democracy are ideals to be upheld around the world. The late Virginia Senator John Warner reminded us: “Tragically, the effort to make America and the world safer and to defend freedom around the world is not without an enormous cost to this Nation in terms primarily of lost lives and those who bear the scars and the wounds of war, and their families who must bear these losses. “It is time we make those who serve our state and nation a higher priority.

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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.

PocketConstitution

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.

robbie webb
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.

bald eagle and american flag

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!