Betray the Age

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One of my musical heroes, Bono, the singer for the rock group U2, shares the story of the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly. He relates that Kennelly has a memorable poem called The Book of Judas, and there’s a line in it that says: “If you want to serve the age, betray it.”

Then Bono asks: “What does that mean, to betray the age?”

Answering the question, Bono says: “Well to me betraying the Age means exposing its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.”

Prevailing wisdom says that it is no measure of mental health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Every day in Tennessee, educators are challenged by a wide-ranging mixture of social, psychological, and physical problems that impede the improvement of so many students entrusted into their care.

Unfortunately for educators, policymakers worry about the results of a test given at the end of every school the year, used so that we can measure the effectiveness of those teachers educating children. We have made textbook companies and test publishers prosperous, while we engage in a rigorous debate over trivial items.

We eagerly listen to wealthy philanthropists (or organizations representing them) that lack the prerequisite background in the policy areas that they are influencing. By virtue of their wealth, they have gained an unfair advantage, as well as access to policymakers. They then promote public policies by the access of their political donations and may not even understand the problems average people face. In education, they certainly do not understand the challenges confronting public school educators.

For example, Tennessee is the 12th poorest state based on the last US Census figures. Even more startling is that the child poverty rate is 26%. So when the philanthropist experiences donor fatigue and migrates to their next passing interest, educators will still be here to do what God has gifted them to do — which is to educate and demonstrate compassion for the children of our state.

The late political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote, “No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history, has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny.” When political donations replace the contributions of men and women from controlling their own destiny, tyranny will gain a stranglehold in our society.

If we oppose state control of the means of production, it stands to reason that production in the hands of a few would also be undesirable. Politicians understand it is much easier to make laws than repeal them. Too often the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum are heard and the majority of people get silenced.

Every age has moral blind spots, with issues such as slavery, discrimination, unequal pay between sexes, and religious intolerance. Still, my Irish heritage compels me to believe in the idea that anything is possible when we embrace freedom.

The question for educators is this: where are we willing to spend our moral and intellectual capital, our money, or our sweat equity outside of the walls of our classroom or homes?

In a field as diverse as public education, we must all collaborate together to foster a more constructive dialogue among education stakeholders and policymakers. We share a common destiny. We have the power to create amazing change in this world and be champions for the vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves when they need us the most.

This is the time for bold measures. This is Tennessee and we are the generation of Educators to bring change, not only to our profession but to all of our society. Betray the Age.

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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.  His Blog is at http://www.jcbowman.com 

We Give Thanks this Thanksgiving

1 thanks photo-verse-jpg-barefoot-manI used to keep a framed picture in my classroom: “Your Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your Life is your gift to God.” I 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 grew up with the knowledge I wasn’t any better than anyone else, but nobody else was better than me. Because my parents understood that we were all created in the image of God. I believe that we should never be intimidated by those in power. Power is perception, and people who have it over you do so because you give it to them in most instances. Bono, of the rock group U2 in a Rolling Stone interview said: “I don’t fear politicians or presidents. They should be afraid. They’ll be accountable for what happened on their watch.” Too often unelected bureaucrats exert influence over our lives and careers. We need to look closely at the issue of the legitimacy of power.

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 efforts. 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, 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 added, “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. Educators are often on the frontlines‎.

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 paraphase 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. Do not be so eager to grow old or love your children as long as they will let you. 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 nearly 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. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

Statement from Professional Educators of Tennessee Executive Director JC Bowman

As Shelbyville and Bedford County, as well as Murfreesboro and Rutherford County brace for white supremacist rallies, we anticipate needless conflicts.  We see the “us versus them” attitude that prevents us from collectively working to improve our communities, our state and our nation.  Racism, bigotry and vitriol hate have no place in a modern culture.   All children are created in the image of God.

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.

We reject the creed of bigotry, which is rooted in hate, that any race is superior to another.  We hope protesters, who are likely not even from the state of Tennessee, will choose to stay home and leave our residents and communities free from incurring unnecessary taxpayer expense of an event that the majority of our citizens reject.  More importantly, we hope that racist attitudes and behavior are rejected here in Tennessee, and across the nation.