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Georgia Professor Shoots and Kills Incoming Freshman

I am a West Georgia alum (MEd 1998).

I never worried about this idiocy when I was a student.

Then again, I attended prior to Georgia’s 2014 gun law expansion.

University of West Georgia educator charged with murder in death of incoming student

NBC News

August 01, 2022

A teacher at the University of West Georgia who has since been fired is accused of fatally shooting an incoming student, school officials said.

Richard Sigman, 47, was arrested and charged with murder shortly after Anna Jones, 18, died in a shooting Saturday at a parking deck in Carrollton, Georgia, Carrollton police said.

Jones planned to start the University of West Georgia this fall, according to school spokesperson Colton Campbell.

Jones was pronounced dead at the medical center, and Sigman was arrested and charged with murder, three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of crime, police said. … He remains at Carroll County Jail, and his next court date is set for Sept. 2.

11Alive adds this detail:

47-year-old Richard Sigman is in custody in connection with her death. According to Carrollton Police, Sigman got into an argument at Leopoldo’s Pizza in Adamson Square. Police said security asked him to leave and he made his way to a nearby parking deck. 

Sigman then started shooting in the area and struck Jones who was sitting in a parked vehicle, authorities said. Friends quickly drove her to the hospital where she died.

Anna Jones planned to become a teacher.

So sad to read this news.

It’s the guns, folks.

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Teaching in Florida: 5-Year Cert, No Degree Necessary.

Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, and the Florida legislature are happy to hand over five-year teaching certificates to veterans. Not teaching veterans. Military veterans.

As NBC-2.com reports, this plan is an attempt to address Florida’s teacher shortage of approximately 9,000 teachers. Veterans who served a minimum of 48 months (4 years) are eligible.

The article opens as follows:

School is just weeks from starting in Southwest Florida and there is a chance your child’s new teacher may not have a teaching degree.

One edit is needed: The word “teaching” should be changed to “college.” Allow me:

School is just weeks from starting in Southwest Florida and there is a chance your child’s new teacher may not have a college degree.

No college degree necessary.

I am a supporter of the military. I have many family members who have served in the US Army, and my sister is an Air Force veteran. I appreciate their service to our country.

That noted, it is quite the stretch to count military service as experience logically connected to the K12 classroom. And in this case, it is the only experience necessary to be granted Florida teacher certification.

Below is the criteria for Florida’s Military Veterans Certification Pathway, as noted on the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) website:

For some reason, as noted above, Florida is also excusing veterans who wish to teach in Florida’s K12 classrooms from holding a college degree in any area at all, much less in education. Current enrollment in a degree program is also not required. No coursework on pedagogy, or human development, or classroom planning, or education policy/law, or special populations necessary.

One simply needs at least 60 college credit hours in any courses, taken at any time, and not necessarily centered on any course of study.

These folks would be certified to teach for five years– longer than it takes to earn a bachelors degree in education but without the requirement that college attendance continues at all.

Interested individuals do have to pass a subject-area test to “demonstrate mastery of subject area knowledge.” However, other Florida teacher candidates must also pass examinations on general knowledge and professional education. Not so for those on the military-veteran fast-track.

So, military veterans who do not hold a bachelors degree and who need not have any experience in the K12 classroom are excused from being tested on the following (from the professional education exam):

No need to know about “appropriate student-centered learning environments,” or “instructional design and planning,” or Principles of Professional Conduct of the Education Profession in Florida,” or “research practices appropriate for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs).”

No need to even know what an “English Language Learner” is.

But surely, surely, one must know something in order to be able to pass a subject area test.

Yes. But knowledge of subject matter does not automatically translate into legal, age-appropriate delivery of that subject matter in a well-managed classroom environment conducive to learning.

This idea has *litigation* written all over it.

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Uvalde and Teaching in the Age of the School Shooting

On July 17, 2022, the Texas House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary (Uvalde) Shooting released this interim report regarding the horrific events resulting in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers at the school on May 24, 2022.

I include excerpts from the committee’s findings at the end of this post, but I must say, in the terrible aftermath of yet another school shooting, as a public school teacher, I am tired of being expected by the greater society to also fill the role of safety super hero in my classroom and school.

I have a Louisiana friend who was raised in Uvalde, Texas, and who recently commented to me that what is needed is for all schools have only a single entrance and exit with security akin to that at airports.

Just increase security and have a single entrance and exit. It seems so simple, so easy to suggest.

I responded that our campus is not laid out like an airport; that we haven’t the money, personnel, time, and psychological energy to scan all who enter and exit throughout the day. There would be no teaching, which is frankly where I feel we are headed as I reflect on the increased burden for saving society that has been added to school day and school year since I began teaching three decades ago, in 1991.

More and more of my time and energy go into strategizing how I might actually be able to work around all that takes time away from instruction in order to effectively educate my students to some modest degree. School safety protocols appear to be an ever-increasing part of that demanding mix.

I am not advocating for a sloppy attitude towards professional expectations, or secure school campuses, or reasonable safety preparedness. However, I am a teacher, not a ninja warrior. Not James Bond. Not a security command center. Not a bullet-deflecting force field.

And yet.

And yet, I feel critically responsible for the safety of the students in my care precisely because I care for them.

When it comes to school safety issues coupled with the ready availability of firearms in America today, society has placed me and my teaching colleagues nationwide in the position of Sitting Duck, and I know it all too well.

I thought of further discussing the physical safety of my own classroom and school particularly in conjunction with certain report findings presented below, but I will refrain because I do not think it wise to divulge such information in a public setting.

On July 26, 2022, the principal of Robb Elementary, Mandy Gutierrez, was placed on administrative leave with pay apparently in association with some of the Texas legislative interim report findings regarding school security and facilities issues.

The report includes a dedication to the 21 victims who lost their lives; preface; background and history of the investigation; the attacker; law enforcement response; information flow, and factual conclusions.

Without further comment, I offer excerpts from the preface and background/history. I invite readers to read the entire document.

PREFACE
This is the interim report of the Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting of the Texas House of Representatives.

Conscious of the desire of the Uvalde community and the public at large to receive an accurate account of the tragedy at Robb Elementary School, the Committee has worked diligently and with care to issue this interim report of its factual findings. The Committee’s work is not complete. We do not have access to all material witnesses. Medical examiners have not yet issued any reports about their findings, and multiple other investigations remain ongoing. The Committee believes this interim report constitutes the most complete telling to date of the events of and leading to the May 24, 2022, tragedy.

This Committee has prioritized factual accuracy, as will be evident from our attention to conducting our own interviews and documenting our sources of information. Still, based on the experiences of past mass-shooting events, we understand some aspects of these interim findings may be disputed or disproven in the future.

The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency.

DEDICATION
The Committee submits this report with great humility and the deepest respect for the victims and their families. It is the Committee’s sincere hope that this brings some clarity for them as to the facts that happened. This report is meant to honor them.

You will notice the name of the attacker is not mentioned. We also will not use his image, so as not to glorify him.

INTRODUCTION & EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Of necessity, this report will describe shortcomings and failures of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and of various agencies and officers of law enforcement. At the outset, we acknowledge that those same shortcomings could be found throughout the State of Texas. We must not delude ourselves into a false sense of security by believing that “this would not happen where we live.” The people of Uvalde undoubtedly felt the same way. We must all take seriously the threats to security in our schools and the need to be properly prepared to confront active shooter scenarios.

Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any “villains” in the course of its investigation. There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making. We recognize that the impact of this tragedy is felt most profoundly by the people of Uvalde in ways we cannot fully comprehend.

The School
With hindsight we can say that Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus.

The school’s five-foot tall exterior fence was inadequate to meaningfully impede an intruder. While the school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and internal classroom doors, there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. At a minimum, school administrators and school district police tacitly condoned this behavior as they were aware of these unsafe practices and did not treat them as serious infractions requiring immediate correction. In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys.

The school district did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency. In particular, staff and students widely knew the door to one of the victimized classrooms, Room 111, was ordinarily unsecured and accessible. Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.

Another factor contributing to relaxed vigilance on campus was the frequency of security alerts and campus lockdowns resulting from a recent rise of “bailouts”—the term used in border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions. The frequency of these “bailout”-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.

Other factors delayed the reporting of the threat to the campus and to law enforcement. Low-quality internet service, poor mobile phone coverage, and varying habits of mobile phone usage at the school all led to inconsistent receipt of the lockdown notice by teachers. If the alert had reached more teachers sooner, it is likely that more could have been done to protect them and their students.

In violation of school policy, no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter. Once inside, the attacker continued into the adjoining Rooms 111 and 112, probably through the door to Room 111, and apparently completely unimpeded. Locking the exterior and interior doors ultimately may not have been enough to stop the attacker from entering the building and classrooms. But had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers.

The Responders
Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy, the law enforcement community has recognized the critical importance of implementing active shooter training for all officers, regardless of specialty. Also, all officers must now acknowledge that stopping the killing of innocent lives is the highest priority in active shooter response, and all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation.

At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.

The first wave of responders to arrive included the chief of the school district police and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team. Despite the immediate presence of local law enforcement leaders, there was an unacceptably long period of time before officers breached the classroom, neutralized the attacker, and began rescue efforts. We do not know at this time whether responders could have saved more lives by shortening that delay. Regardless, law enforcement committed numerous mistakes in violation of current active shooter training, and there are important lessons to be learned from each faulty assumption and poor decision made that day.

The Uvalde CISD’s written active shooter plan directed its police chief to assume command and control of the response to an active shooter. The chief of police was one of the first responders on the scene. But as events unfolded, he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan mentioned above, yet it was not effectively performed by anyone. The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.

A command post could have transformed chaos into order, including the deliberate assignment of tasks and the flow of the information necessary to inform critical decision making. Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in Rooms 111 and 112, and had called out for help. Some responders outside and inside the building knew that information through radio communications. But nobody in command analyzed this information to recognize that the attacker was preventing critically injured victims from obtaining medical care. Instead of continuing to act as if they were addressing a barricaded subject scenario in which responders had time on their side, they should have reassessed the scenario as one involving an active shooter. Correcting this error
should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to surviving victims. Recognition of an active shooter scenario also should have prompted responders to prioritize the rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders.

An effective incident commander located away from the drama unfolding inside the building would have realized that radios were mostly ineffective, and that responders needed other lines of communication to communicate important information like the victims’ phone calls from inside the classrooms. An offsite overall incident commander likely could have located a master key more quickly—several people on campus had one. An offsite overall incident commander may have suggested checking to see if officers could open the door without a key—in hindsight, they probably could have. An offsite overall incident commander who properly categorized the crisis as an active shooter scenario should have urged using other secondary means to breach the classroom, such as using a sledgehammer as suggested in active shooter training or entering through the exterior windows.

Uvalde CISD and its police department failed to implement their active shooter plan and failed to exercise command and control of law enforcement responding to the tragedy. But these local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy.

Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies—many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police—quickly arrived on the scene. Those other responders, who also had received training on active shooter response and the interrelation of law enforcement agencies, could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.

Yet in this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post. Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance. Several will suggest they were misled by false or misleading information they received as they arrived; however, the “chaos” described by almost all of them demonstrates that at a minimum, responders should have asked more questions. This suggests a training deficiency, in that responding officers failed to adequately question the absence of command. Other responders failed to be sufficiently assertive by identifying the incident commander and offering their assistance or guidance, or by assuming command in the absence of any other responder having expressly done so. In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.

Robb Elementary is slated to be razed.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Kentucky Teacher of the Year Speaks to Congress and Resigns

Willie Carver is the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

Willie Carver

However, by June 28, 2022, Carver could take it no more– “it” being the politicization of his identity and attempts to erase him as a gay man.

He quit.

From the June 28, 2022, LEX18.com:

Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year announced he has quit teaching after dealing with homophobia.

Willie Carver, an English and French teacher at Montgomery County High School, has been teaching for 12 years.

Carver says he spent years watching school administrators try to stifle LGBTQ identities.

He says the “straw that broke the camels back” was when school administration failed to address repeated harassment against him and LGBTQ students.

In May, Carver testified to Congress about LGBTQ inclusion.

Carver has taken on an administrative role at the University of Kentucky for the next school year, working in student support services.

In April 2022, Carver tweeted that he “was afraid to return to the classroom”:

A state teacher of the year afraid to return to the classroom because of “this current iteration of fear and bigotry”– Carver’s words in the continued conversation on Twitter.

I am so sad to read this, and grieved by Carver’s painful experience, which he pointedly makes plain in his May 18, 2022, testimony before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Below are Carver’s disturbing and powerful words to Congress, followed by the corresponding video.

Testimony of Willie Carver
Before the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
U.S. House of Representatives
May 18, 2022

***
Chairman Raskin, Ranking Member Mace, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to offer this written testimony on such an important issue.

My name is Willie Carver. I am a seventeen-year teaching veteran with a double endorsed MAT, a Rank 1 in French linguistics. I’ve worked at Montgomery County Schools since 2013. I sponsor multiple school groups, and am a published member of National Council of Teachers of English, the Kentucky World Language Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Kentucky Philological Association, the Center for Collaborative Center for Literacy Development, as well as a contributing and active member of the Kentucky and National Education Association and the Kentucky Adolescent Literacy Project. I am a recipient of two Praxis Awards of Excellence, a Kendall Smith Kentucky Star Awards recipient, a 2021 University of Kentucky Teacher who Made a Difference, and I am the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

When I was a kid in school, I used to teach my sister what I learned every day. She started kindergarten ready for first grade and to this day is still smarter than me. I was born to teach, and I’m good at it. I represent 42,000 Kentucky teachers as the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year because I transform students’ thinking, abilities, and lives.

Impact of LGBTQ role models

I’ve faced hatred, bigotry, and discrimination my whole career as a gay teacher, and I’ve weathered the storm because my presence saves lives. According to the Trevor Project, 40% of trans people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, and a heartbreaking 92% of them attempted suicide before turning 25. The Trevor Project also reports that just one affirming adult reduces LGBTQ suicide attempts by 40%.

Research on the impact of LGBTQ role models is hardly new. Research from the Journal of Adolescent Health from 2012 already indicated that having positive role models decreases the psychological distress of LGBTQ youth.

Schools have always been a major means of access to positive role models and behaviors. According to research published in Children and Youth Services Review, seeing teachers intervene in bullying against marginalized students increases the students’ likelihood to intervene themselves. Teachers are role models of inclusion of others and ourselves. Students need positive role models in their lives to be able to project an image of themselves into the future.

The need is immediate and the stakes are dire. Schools are dangerous places for LGBTQ students. According to the GLSEN 2019 Climate Survey, 59% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their orientation, 69% are harassed because of their orientation, and 95% hear anti-LGBTQ slurs daily. Sadly, according to research by Mcdermott et al, those same LGBTQ students experiencing these conditions are 400% more likely to commit suicide than their nonLGBTQ classmates.

These numbers are almost five years old. As shocking as they are, they’ve gotten much worse in the wake of the current political attacks against LGBTQ youth.

Legislation to limit students’ rights

As of this writing, over 300 bills have been introduced to limit or attack conversations or rights of youth who are Black, brown, or LGBTQ. There are bills, mandates, or new interpretations of existing policies, like those in Texas and Tennessee, that would prevent trans youth from getting affirming medical care, despite the fact that every major medical association agrees that affirming care prevents suicide. There are bills preventing trans students from playing sports, despite the fact that all research shows that inclusion is the best prevention of suicide among LGBTQ youth.

Perhaps most egregious, there are bills that limit conversations about the lived experiences of students. New, confusing, ambiguous anti-critical race theory (CRT) laws all but ban discussions
about the lived experience of Black and brown students in classrooms. They do so either directly
or by being unclear and leveraging disproportionately costly consequences against teachers and
schools. As a result, little will be read by Black or brown authors or about Black or brown people. They protect themselves at the cost of their students’ dignity and mental health.

The same choice teachers are making to protect themselves while harming students can be most clearly seen in the bills preventing discussion or inclusion of LGBTQ people in classroom settings. They require erasure. Florida’s infamous House Bill 1557 will prevent any and all inclusion of LGBTQ people in grades K-3 and, by virtue of the ambiguity of the “age-appropriate” label for older students, will equally erase us in the rest of students’ school experiences. Emboldened by the passing of this bill, other states are following suit, with Louisiana’s resurrection of House Bill 837 making lessons on LGBTQ identity in K-8 illegal and forbidding teachers from discussing their identity in any grade.

Rendering LGBTQ students and teachers invisible

Identity is rarely discussed by direct means. No teachers come out as straight. They are married to opposite sex spouses whose pictures sit on their desks or whose names come up in stories about vacations or weekend trips to the grocery store.

LGBTQ teachers and students will not be afforded this freedom. They will be required to deny their existence and edit the most basic aspects of their stories, unlike their classmates and colleagues.
Few LGBTQ teachers will survive this current storm. Politicizing our existence has already darkened our schools.

I’m made invisible. When we lost our textbooks during lockdown, I co-wrote two free textbooks
with a university professor, made them free to anyone who wanted them, and found sponsors to print them. I wasn’t allowed to share them at my school. Other schools in Kentucky celebrate similar work by teachers, but my name is a liability.

I’m from the small town of Mt. Sterling, KY and I was invited to meet the President of the United States. It was not advertised to my students and colleagues. My school didn’t even mention it in an email or morning announcement.

This invisibility extends to all newly politicized identities. Our administrators’ new directive about books and lessons is “nothing racial.”

We all know how to interpret this.

Works by white people living lives as white people are never called racial.

Works by Black and brown people living lives as Black and brown people are always called racial.

The politicization of identity erases their identities.

Parents now demand alternative assignments when authors of texts or materials are Black or LGBTQ; we teachers are told to accommodate them, but I cannot ethically erase Black or queer voices.

We ban materials by marginalized authors, ignoring official processes. One parent complaint removes all students’ books overnight.

Endangered educators

My Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), a campus group dedicated to discussing and helping make schools safe for LGBTQ students, couldn’t share an optional campus climate survey with classmates. I was told it might make straight students uncomfortable.

Students now use anti-LGBTQ or racist slurs without consequence. Hatred is politically protected now.

When my GSA’s posters were torn from walls, my principal’s response was that people think LGBTQ advocacy is “being shoved down their throats.”

Inclusive teachers are thrown under the bus by the people driving it.

During a national teacher shortage crisis, I know gay educators with perfect records dismissed this year.

A Kentucky teacher’s whiteboard message of “You are free to be yourself with me. You matter” with pride flags resulted in wild accusations and violent threats. During this madness, his superintendent wrote to a parent, “This incident … is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” The situation became unimaginably unsafe. He resigned.

Last month, a parent’s dangerous, false allegations that my GSA was “grooming” students were shared 65 times on Facebook. I felt my students and I were unsafe. Multiple parents and I asked the school to defend us. One father wrote simply, “Please do something!” The school refused to support us.

There are 10,000 people in my town; one fringe parent doesn’t represent most parents, who trust us.

Student suicides

School is traumatic; LGBTQ students are trying to survive it. They often don’t. Year after year, I receive suicidal goodbye texts from students at night. We’ve always saved them, but now I panic when my phone goes off after 10:00.

Meryl, a gentle trans girl from Owen County High, took her life in 2020. She always wanted a GSA. Her friends tried to establish one, but the teachers who wanted to help were afraid to sponsor it. Meryl’s mother Rachelle runs an unofficial GSA, PRISM, from the local library.

45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide this year. We chip away at their dignity and spaces to exist. The systems meant to protect them won’t even acknowledge them.

I recently attended Becky Oglesby’s TED Talk. She described surviving a tornado with first graders, how they huddled, her arms around them, as their school walls lifted into the darkness.

I sobbed uncontrollably. I realized that for fifteen years, I have huddled around students, protecting them from the winds, and now the tornado’s here. As the walls rip away, I feel I’m abandoning them.

But I’m tired. I’ve been fighting since my first day in a classroom. Fighting for kids to feel human. Fighting for kids to be safe. Fighting to stop the fear by changing hearts and minds.

I’m tired. I don’t know how much longer I can do it.

I need you. We need you. To be brave enough to face the storm with us.

Congress needs to act

We need you to remember that strong public schools are an issue of national security and moral urgency, and political attacks are exacerbating the teacher shortage, harming our democracy, and, above all, hurting our children.

We need you to pass the Equality Act, to make discrimination against LGBTQ people illegal.

We need you to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, to protect all students from harassment.

We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for fundamental human decency, dignity,
freedom from fear, and the same opportunity to thrive non-marginalized students and teachers
enjoy.

When we cannot regard others first and foremost as valuable human beings worthy of dignity and respect, we are much more likely to jump on the marginalization bandwagon and attempt to dehumanize and systematically erase those whom we consider *them* and not *us.*

This is a dangerous path, one that those who profess support for individual freedom and democracy should not take.

God bless you, Willie Carver. I thank you for your advocacy before Congress, and I’m sorry that you have to ask for federal protections from a hostile school environment. I hope Congress hears you and affords you those protections so that you might return to the K12 classroom in Kentucky should you choose to do so.

Willie Carver

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter (don’t be scared) @deutsch29blog

Gwinnett GA Teacher of the Year Resignation Speech

On May 23, 2022, Lee Allen, Gwinnett County (GA) teacher of the year, announced his resignation from Gwinnett Public Schools at a board meeting.

Man gets teacher of the year, then he says he has to leave. These things ought not to be, especially given that the district’s HR superintendent called this time “the Great Resignation.”

When the teacher of the year chooses to exit, perhaps it’s time for admin to both listen and act.

Allen had roughly three minutes to speak about his reasons for leaving Gwinnett County (not the profession entirely). I transcribed his words, which are captured on the Youtube video at the end of this post.

Lee Allen

According to his LinkedIn bio, Allen has been teaching high school math in Geogia for eight years: five in Whitfield County, and three, in Gwinnett County. He also holds certifications in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and gifted education (Georgia teacher certification search engine here; Allens’ certification number is 1359637.)

Allen’s reasons (and proposed solutions) will surely resonate with K12 teachers nationwide.

Good evening. My name is Lee Allen. I’m the 2022 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year. I’m here tonight to speak about teacher retention.

At the end of this school year, I will be leaving Gwinnett County Schools, leaving behind the opportunity to submit for state teacher of the year and roughtly $10K in salary and, most importantly, the students and colleagues that I have built strong relationships with.

I’m leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love. I’m speaking tonight to use my small platform to raise awareness on issues facing teachers today so that the district can consider a plan– a plan to proactively combat these issues before more learning is lost and more teachers leave.

I do not claim to speak for all teachers; however, I have spoken with several teachers across the district and state, and I have solicited and received feedback online from others.

The first issue at hand is student apathy and disrespect for school rules and norms. Returning from concurrent learning, we have an alarming number of students that simply do not care about learning and refuse to even try. We are also experiencing incredible disrespect and refusal to follow basic school rules. There is little to no accountability for grades or behavior placed on students or parents.

Rather than being asked what the student can do to improve their understanding, teachers are expected to somehow do more with less student effort.

Next: cell phone use. Teachers cannot possibly compete with the billions of dollars tech companies pour into addicting people to their devices. Phones allow constant communication, often being the spark that fuels fights, drug use, and other inappropriate meet-ups throughout the day.

We need a comprehensive district plan with support behind it to combat this epidemic and protect the learning environment.

Lastly, there’s a huge disconnect between administrators and teachers. The classroom in 2022 is drastically different from just three years ago. Most administrators have not been in the classroom full time in years or even decades. Many teachers currently do not feel understood, valued, or trusted as professionals from the administrators and the decisions that they make. Many decisions seem to be short-term bandaids placed on gaping wounds.

While these issues are not new, and there was a negative trend in these in education before 2020, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst and turned a slow, negative trend into an exponential crisis.

I won’t list complaints without offering ideas for improvement. First, all administrators from the school level and throughout the ISC (instructional support center) should be required to spend one week immersed in a high-needs classroom– without a suit, without people knowing your title– and in the same room all day for an entire week. If administrators truly care about improving the issues, then they need to understand what is happening.

You cannot understand the issues in planned visits or 15-minute observations.

Next, smaller class sizes need to be a priority; 36+ students in an academic class makes it near impossible to manage post-COVID behavior while effectively meeting the much-higher, post-COVID needs of every student.

Twenty-five students in a sheltered, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) is not what’s best for Gwinnett’s diverse student body.

Every single decision we make should be for the students. Picture this: A circular model of teachers, parents, and administrators working together with students at the center. Currently, the circle is broken. We must offer support without threats or frivolous lawsuits. We all want the same thing. We cannot accomplish this without supporting one another. Students need clear and consistent expectations.

Lastly, there needs to be transparency. [Note: Allen was out of time and rushing to finish.] In January of this year, GPS (Gwinnett Public Schools) reported that behavioral roles (rates?) are at the same level, yet many teachers and people are raising red flags about what is happening. Is it the same, and, as any good leader will tell you, you cannot fix a problem that you won’t admit exists. Thank you.

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“Teacher at Heart” John White Now Sells Eureka Math

According to the July 14, 2022, PRNewswire, former Louisiana state superintendent John White is now the Chief Success Officer for Great Minds PBC, a subsidiary of the nonprofit, Great Minds, which produces the Common-Core-birthed curriculum, Eureka Math. White promoted Eureka Math in Louisiana during his tenure as state superintendent.

From the PRNewsWire press release, which also includes plans regarding Great Minds’ expansion:

RICHMOND, Va., July 14, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Great Minds PBC®, the developer of widely used, highly regarded PK-12 curricula, today announced that A-Street, an investment fund focused on seeding and scaling innovative student learning and achievement solutions, has invested $150 million into Great Minds, comprising $100 million of newly issued shares to accelerate expansion of the company’s offerings and $50 million to acquire a stake from the company’s majority stockholder, the nonprofit Great Minds organization. A-Street is now a minority stockholder of the company.

The investment will further spur the company’s growth and empower the public benefit corporation to expand its offerings and grow its investment in best-in-class digital experiences, which will be seamlessly embedded in the curricula. The company will also expand all of its existing instructional materials to be available through high school.

The company also announced former Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White has joined the company as Chief Success Officer. White, who previously served on the Great Minds PBC Board of Directors, has been recognized for helping improve student achievement and raise graduation rates in Louisiana, strengthening the state’s early childhood system, modernizing curriculum, and improving teacher preparation. He previously led the Louisiana Recovery School District, helping to transform New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, and was Deputy Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education. A teacher at heart, White started his career teaching high school English in Jersey City, N.J.

Like other “teachers at heart,” White chose not to major in education and instead enlisted for a temporary classroom stint based on several weeks of crash-course training through Teach for America (TFA). According to his LinkedIn bio, White taught English in a New Jersey high school for only three years, from 1999-2002, and, as is characteristic of those with a heart for the K12 classroom, used his token stint as a stepping stone to become a TFA executive director on his way to being catapulted into high-level K12 administration followed by a smattering of education consultant and education business opportunities.

Teacher at heart.

PRNewsWire continues:

“Great Minds has grown exponentially over the last 15 years, from an organization advocating for high-quality, content-rich curricula to the leading creator of those resources. We plan to leverage this new investment and John White’s leadership to further innovate, broaden our reach, and put forward new resources that personalize and improve student learning, helping all children achieve the greatness of which they’re inherently capable,” said Lynne Munson, founder and CEO of Great Minds.

In his new role, White will shape and oversee how customers experience Great Minds’ products and services, including professional development, implementation support, and a transformational digital experience to maximize teacher and student success. He will also work with state and district leaders on the need for high-quality instructional materials for all students. White will begin his new role in September.

“Students in the U.S. have never faced challenges greater than exist today. Every child needs and deserves access to a high-quality curriculum and every teacher should be provided with the materials, training, and resources to help unlock the greatness in every child. Great Minds is working to make that a reality and I’m excited to join in their mission,” said White.

Great Minds PBC writes the knowledge-building materials Eureka Math2, Wit & Wisdom® (ELA), Geodes® books for emerging readers, and PhD Science®. The curricula have received top ratings through highly rigorous reviews in states like California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Texas, and by expert, independent curriculum reviewing organizations. Eureka Math is the most widely used elementary math curriculum in the country. The company reaches millions of students in all 50 states with its instructional materials and professional development and implementation services. The company has generated strong double-digit growth annually.

White is an education opportunist at heart. Prior to his exit as Louisiana state superintendent, White started a nonprofit, Propel America, with fellow TFA alum Paymon Rouhanifard, and while still Louisiana superintendent, contracted with two Louisiana districts to pilot his product and apparently blindsiding then-state board president, Gary Jones, with the decision. From the April 30, 2019, Advocate:

State Superintendent of Education John White has quietly become the co-founder and chairman of the board of a national nonprofit group [Propel America]….

Papers were filed with the Secretary of State’s Office in September [2018]….

But the undertaking is little known in Louisiana even while pilot projects are being launched in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

“If there is a time when I have to do exclusively business for one of the two nonprofits (White was also on the board of the Jeb-Bush-formed nonpeofit, Chiefs for Change), I would take a day off,” he said Tuesday. “But the mission for the work is completely critical to the children of Louisiana.” 

He said he did not publicize his role with the group because the pilot projects involving 50 students are not an operation of the state Department of Education.

Gary Jones, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said White’s role warrants attention.

“I am not sure that all BESE members are aware of it yet, but some of us have recently become aware,” Jones said. “I am sure at some point we will have a discussion about it.”

The 2018-19 school year was White’s last full school year as state superintendent. On January 08, 2020, White announced his resignation effective March 11, 2020.

Even as he touted his accomplishments, White, who was leaving mid-school-year, included no mention of a subsequent professional destination.

According to his LinkedIn bio, the Waltons picked up the tab for him, providing income for his as a Walton Family Foundation “fellow” from April 2020 to the present (July 2022).

Of course, White also had his own consulting firm, Watershed Advisors, which provides a place for a number of his former-La.-Dept.-of-Ed. cronies to land (or at least to provide indispensable resume decor to make the floundering professional seem busy climbing some ladder).

White also mentions being a member of the education advisory council to flagship in incompetence at a price, consulting firm, Alvarez and Marsal. Lots of background here. Alvarez and Marsal have their controversial fingerprints on Louisiana, New York, St. Louis, Montana, Rhode Island, and DC. Here’s a smidge:

Alvarez and Marsal in post-Katrina New Orleans (2006):

The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS (New Orleans Public Schools) real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations.

And in New York (2007), with reference to St. Louis (2003) (Note that White was a deputy chancellor under Joel Klein in NY at the time):

When Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein hired the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, without competitive bidding, one provision of the $15.8 million contract called for “restructuring the Office of Pupil Transportation to obtain annual cost savings.” Simply put: drive down the cost of busing children to school.

For the firm, which specializes in rescuing bankrupt companies, it was a logical task. After all, Alvarez & Marsal had helped the St. Louis schools carry out a consolidation of bus routes in 2003 as part of a broad effort to overhaul the financially strained school system.

But as the plan in New York combusted this week, leaving shivering students waiting for buses in the cold and thousands of parents hollering about disrupted routines, the complaints threatened to morph into a renewed attack on Mr. Klein’s reliance on outside consultants.

“You can’t run the largest school system in the country strictly as a business,” said City Councilman David I. Weprin, a Queens Democrat. “They should be consulting their constituents before consulting their consultants.”

Consultants from Alvarez & Marsal are all over the upper reaches of the Education Department. One of the firm’s senior directors, Sam Mehta, has essentially served as the system’s chief financial officer for the better part of a year, billing $410 an hour. A managing director, Sajan George ($450 an hour), runs the consulting operation with the title of the chancellor’s chief adviser on restructuring. Another director, Scott Milam ($375 an hour), served as the chief restructuring officer for pupil transportation.

Under that roughly $5 million contract, awarded in 2003, Alvarez & Marsal spent 13 months running one of the nation’s most academically and financially crippled school systems. In a report, the firm described its work there as a “textbook turnaround,” resulting in $79 million in budget cuts and improved student performance.

But in St. Louis — which had about 40,000 students at the time, a fraction of New York’s nearly 1.1 million — some parents, politicians and school board members said things were not so simple. They said the firm erred by eliminating needed positions, and ignored the human cost behind decisions like closing 16 schools with little notice. Today, they point out, the St. Louis system remains near bankruptcy, and student performance is abysmal.

“I think they made things far worse,” said William Purdy, the St. Louis school board vice president. “There were many, many protests, and people were angry.”

In fact, one of the firm’s controversial moves involved eliminating bus stops, changing routes and enforcing a policy that only children living within a mile of school should receive yellow bus service.

Peter L. Downs, a St. Louis school board member, described the changes as a “disaster,” saying “assignments were made without regard to highways, bus routes were drawn without regard to one-way streets or streets that had been blocked off.”

Veronica C. O’Brien, the St. Louis school board president, said Alvarez & Marsal had made a noble effort but the district did not follow through. “They did their work and they left,” she said. “We dropped the ball.”

But she said the experience also underscored the risk of working with consultants. “I hope they’re just not going from city to city making a quick hit and then running out,” she said. “Because if that’s what they’re doing it’s not worth it. You’re going to end up just like us.”

Going from place to place, charging beefy fees, and making an exit is precisely what those who want to make fine money off of education do. That’s the beauty of it: Make the score and leave the problems behind.

When Montana Governor, Greg Gianforte, contracted with Alvarez and Marsal, Montana Democrats offered this timeline of Alvarez and Marsal “bilking public institutions,” including this from Rhode Island:

2020: Rhode Island hired Alvarez & Marsal to study Rhode Island College’s finances, on a no-bid $76,000/a week contract. The consulting firm was paid more than $334,000 to “produce a seven-page draft report that offered unsurprising findings including that enrollment has been declining for several years, graduate programs are costly, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for the college.” 

In DC, Alvarez and Marsal was hired to investigate cheating under then-chancellor (and former TFAer) Michelle Rhee, the March 08, 2012, Washington Post observes, “It is not known how much experience Alvarez and Marsal has in test security.” None. But that is how education opportunism works– just get the contract, charge the fees, offer something (or nothing, or chaos), then leave.

Education opportunism. And the findest of education opportunists, John White, is on this opportunistic business’ education advisory counsel. Perfect resume dressing.

Ahh, but “teacher at heart” White has found his place, in curriculum sales for Common-Core-associated Great Minds.

John White

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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More About That Push for “State-Level Christianity” (Shaking My Head…)

Heads up: It’s Political!

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On July 06, 2022, I wrote how Pennsylvania retired teacher and blogger, Peter Greene, brought to my attention an organized push “to disincorporate the Establishment Clause (no state religion)” in an effort for individual states “to establish religion within their borders.”

In that post, I mentioned transcribing the words of two Christian pastors, one who is pushing the idea of officially-sactioned, state-level Christianity, and another who suggests that Americans in general should focus on fighting division itself. My first post highlighted the refreshing words of the latter, Andy Stanley of Atlanta, Georgia.

Now I turn my attention to the other guy– Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas.

In his July 03, 2022, televised sermon, “America Is a Christian Nation,” Jeffress argues that the point of the First Amendment is to prevent a national declaration of religion. However, he argues, that since in the early years of our nation individual states had adopted given Christian denominations as the official state religions, and Thomas Jefferson declared in a letter to Connecticut residents that no Christian denomination should take precedence over another, then individual states declaring adherence to general Christian beliefs is what the founders intended.

So, Jeffress is among those promoting the idea that individual states officially endorse Christianity as a state religion.

I transcribed Jeffress’ July 03, 2022, sermon, which is based on a book he wrote of the same title and also roughly related to two radio podcasts (dated July 01 and 04, 2022) that according to the intro on the first one, he has apparently delivered before. So, Jeffress is not new in advising against the Establishment Clause on the state level.

Below are some excerpts from the trascription:

First of all, let’s look at the spiritual beliefs of our founders. Were they neutral toward Christianity? Hardly; 52 of the 55 men who attended the Constitutional Convention were orthodox, conservative Christians. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were Deists, but even these men understood the importance of a spiritual foundation for our country.

Benjamin Franklin believed that the Continental Congress should begin the session seeking the favor of God through prayer. Franklin said, quote, “I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that except the Lord build, they labor in vain that built it.”

That was Benjamin Franklin.

Consider also the state constitutions. Every state had their own constitution, and almost all of the 13 colonies prior to the Constitutional Convention had a state-sponsored religion. And you see this in the qualifications that every state had to go to the Constitutional Convention. For example, if you were from Delaware, listen to one of the things you had to subscribe to. Article 22 of the Delaware Convention (misspoke; should be “constitution”) said, quote: “Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust. …shall. …make and subscribe to the following declaration, to wit:’ I [First Name, Last Name], do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, One God blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures to the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.'”

You say, “Well, pastor, what about the wall of separation between the church and the state?”

Never once do you find the words, “the separation of church and state,” and yet today, 69 percent of Americans still believe that that phrase is found somewhere in the Constitution. It’s not in the Constitution, and we’ll see in just a moment where that phrase originated. In fact, the first mention of that phrase, “the wall of separation between church and state,” doesn’t appear in a government document.

It appears in a private letter from newly-elected president Thomas Jefferson and a a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut. In 1801, almost every state had state-sponsored religion. They were Christian denominations. They were Christian religions, but they were different denominations according to the state in which you lived. It so happened in Connecticut that the Congregational Church was the state-sponsored denomination in the state of Connecticut. And so, part of people’s tax dollars in Connecticut went to support the Congregational Church. Well, the Baptists didn’t like that very much. And so, they would petition the government every year for the tax dollars that had gone to the Congregational Church to be redirected toward their church, and they were tired of having to go through that hassle. So, on January 01, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter in response to their earlier letter. And listen to what he said: “I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people, which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'”– he’s quoting the First Amendment– “thus building a wall of separation between the church and state.”

Now I want you to notice the context. The context had to do with the establishing of one Christian denomination as the state religion– which people were coerced to support financially. And it was in that context that Thomas Jefferson said no, we are not to establish a state church that coerces people to worship. We are not to elevate one Christian denomination over another. That is clearly the context.

One more I want to share with you. Vidal v Girard’s Executors, 1844. This was a very complicated case, but the gist of it is this: A man, a very wealthy man in Philadelphia, died and in his will, he stipulated that the proceeds of his estate would be used to support a school for orphans. They would call that a “college” back then, but it was a school for orphans, but he had one stipulation, and that is, no Christian clergymen could be allowed to teach in his school.

Well, the people of Pennsylvania were upset by that. They were upset that you would have a school in which Christianity couldn’t be taught. But the Supreme Court of the United States upheld that man’s will, using this logic. They said the fact that you don’t have a Christian minister teaching doesn’t mean the principles of Christianity can’t be taught, or shouldn’t be taught, and this is what the Supreme Court said. Quote: “Why may not the bible, and especially the New Testamant, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in the college; its general precepts expounded; its evidences explained, and its glorious principles of morality inculcated?”

There’s no reason not to teach the bible in this school and to treat it as the Word of God and to teach its morality to students.

Likewise, the court said in the same ruling that we don’t have to worry about parity, what effect such a ruling would have on nonchristian rulings. Listen to this, again, amazing: “It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider what would be the legal effect of a device in Pennsylvania, for the establishment of a school or college for the propagation of Judaism, or Deism, or any other form of infidelity. Such a case is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country.”

How do you explain this shift? What has happened in the last 60 or 70 years? Has the Constitution changed, and somebody didn’t tell us?

No. What happened is this: We’ve allowed the atheists, the secularists, the infidels to pervert our Constitution into something our founders never intended. And we cannot allow that to happen any longer.

It is time for us to stand up and say without apology America was founded as a Christian nation.

Consider God’s warning to his own people, the nation of Israel– a warning that is just as applicable to us today as it was 3,000 years ago. In Hosea 4, verse 6, God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

God is no respecter of people or nations. The nation that reverences God will be blessed by God. The nation that rejects God will be rejected by God. The choice is ours.

I selected the excerpts above to offer readers a sense of what Jeffress is promoting from his pulpit, but also to highlight two key weakness in his argument:

First of all, Jeffress admits that two of America’s founders, Jefferson and Franklin, were Deists, and he is quick to excuse them for not being the Chrsitians he intended to focus on (“Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were Deists, but even these men understood the importance of a spiritual foundation for our country.”) However, in subsequently quoting the Vidal v Girard’s Executors’ ruling, Jeffress notes that the judge classed Deism along with “other forms of infidelity.” Nevertheless, Jeffress quotes both Deists Franklin and Jefferson in his Christian sermon. Shall listeners conclude that these two Deists are infidels that Jeffress has let off the hook?

Second, according to the ruling in the same case, Judaism also falls into the “infidelity” class. Yet Jeffress ends his semon with a quote from the book of Hosea– an Old Testament document that predates Christ and whose audience– the nation of Israel– is clearly Jewish. Jeffress tells listeners that they should not extend the meaning of the words of America’s founders beyond their context even as he takes the liberty of directing Hosea’s Old Testament language as a word for today’s Christians.

But these are minor points in the greater scheme.

Observe that Jeffress mentions the First Amendment, but he does not mention the Ninth Amendment, which demonstrates that the framers of the Constitution knew they could not possibly list all rights and therefore created a catch-all of sorts:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

As Cornell Law cites from Griswold v Connecticut:

…the Ninth Amendment shows a belief of the Constitution’s authors that fundamental rights exist that are not expressly enumerated in the first eight amendments and an intent that the list of rights included there not be deemed exhaustive.

Surely one can reasonably conclude that any US state adopting even a general Christianity as a state religion would infringe upon the freedom of its citizens and would, as a result of such infringement, sow discord among them.

In pushing for US-state-level Christianity, Jeffress fails to consider that doing so would violate the Ninth Amendment.

Next, in his discussion of Thomas Jefferson (one of those two off-the-hook, Deist founders), Jeffress does not mention that in September 1789, Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which Jefferson proposed “that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law” because “the earth belongs to the living, and not to the dead.” Jefferson’s idea was that subsequent generations of American citizens should not be locked into a government that suited one generation but is ill-fitted for the next. Some more about his idea of a “generational constitution”:

The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.

Of course, one could reason that amending the Constitution is a means of addressing Jefferson’s concerns about the living being ruled in perpetuity by the dead– including being denied freedoms that simply did not cross the minds or experience of former generations.

Consider, for example, that the idea of each US state choosing its own state-endorsed version of Christianity may have seemed to that generation as freedom. At the same time, notice that Jeffress himself cites that the issue of the general populus being forced to fund a state-selected denomination caused discord and that because of this discord, Jefferson advised against the state choosing any one Christian denomination above another. The point is that in his written response, Jefferson was trying to quell discord. In 21st-century America, you can be certain that any state declaring any religion, Christian or otherwise, as the official state religion would present a hornet’s nest in discord and would violate the Ninth Amendment.

One more observation about Jeffress’ July 03, 2022, drive for America to “return to Christian values”:

Given Jeffress’ association with the Southern Baptist Convention, is incredibly hypocritical.

Not even two months prior, a formal report of the pervasive sexual abuse among Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leadership– including the longstanding, concerted effort to silence the victims in a culture of sexual exploitation in order for those in power to retain power– hit the national news– which makes it really rich to hear Jeffress declaring that America be forced into a state-dictated morality that his own Christian denomination has so royally violated.

Numerous men holding positions of leadership in the Southern Bapstist Convention have been sexually abusing parishoners as they and others worked to actively conceal that abuse and intimidate victims for years, which led to an independent investigation and subsequent, shocking report made public in May 2022. Below are some awful details from Kate Shellnutt in the May 22, 2022, Christianity Today:

Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from further abuse.

Survivors, advocates, and some Southern Baptists themselves spent more than 15 years calling for ways to keep sexual predators from moving quietly from one flock to another. The men who controlled the Executive Committee (EC)—which runs day-to-day operations of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform.

“Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits,” according to a massive third-party investigative report released Sunday.

The investigation centers responsibility on members of the EC staff and their attorneys and says the hundreds of elected EC trustees were largely kept in the dark. EC general counsel Augie Boto and longtime attorney Jim Guenther advised the past three EC presidents—Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and Morris Chapman—that taking action on abuse would pose a risk to SBC liability and polity, leading the presidents to challenge proposed abuse reforms.

As renewed calls for action emerged with the #ChurchToo and #SBCToo movements, Boto referred to advocacy for abuse survivors as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”

Survivors, in turn, described the soul-crushing effects of not only their abuse, but the stonewalling, insulting responses from leaders at the EC for 15-plus years.

Christa Brown, a longtime advocate who experienced sexual abuse by her pastor at 16, said her “countless encounters with Baptist leaders” who shunned and disbelieved her “left a legacy of hate” and communicated “you are a creature void of any value—you don’t matter.” As a result, she said, instead of her faith providing solace, her faith has become “neurologically networked with a nightmare.” She referred to it as “soul murder.”

Another victim, Debbie Vasquez, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an SBC pastor starting at the age of 14. When one assault led to her pregnancy, she was forced to apologize in front of the church but forbidden to mention the father. The pastor went on to serve at another Southern Baptist church, and when Vasquez reached out to the EC, her entreaties were ignored and evaded for years until a Houston Chronicle investigation three years ago.

Over the past 20 years, meanwhile, a string of SBC presidents failed to appropriately respond to abuse in their own churches and seminaries. In several instances, leaders sided with individuals and churches that had been credibly accused of abuse or cover-up. One former president—pastor Johnny Hunt—sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife in 2010, investigators found.

“How many kids and congregants could have been spared horrific harm if only the Executive Committee had taken action back in 2006 when I first wrote to them, urging specific concrete steps? And how many survivors could have been spared the re-traumatizing hell of trying to report clergy sex abuse into a system that consistently turns its back?” asked Brown in a 2021 letter. “The SBC Executive Committee’s longstanding resistance to abuse reforms has now yielded a whole new crop of clergy sex abuse victims and of survivors re-traumatized in their efforts to report.”

The report represents a $2 million undertaking, involving 330 interviews and five terabytes of documents collected over eight months. The EC also committed another $2 million toward legal costs around the investigation—making it a total investment of $4 million, funded by churches and conventions giving to the Cooperative Program.

Advocate Rachael Denhollander, who advised the SBC task force that coordinated the investigation, tweeted that “the level of transparency is … unparalleled.” It’s the largest investigation in SBC history; it’s already changed the makeup of the EC and stands to determine the trajectory of the 177-year-old denomination.

The Guidepost inquiry included privileged legal communications on abuse over the past 20 years, a provision that led EC president Ronnie Floyd to resign in October and the law firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price to withdraw their services after 60 years.

According to the report, the law firm actively advised the EC against taking responsibility for abuse. Guenther worked alongside Boto, an attorney who was involved in the EC from the 1990s to 2019, serving as a trustee, vice president, general counsel, and interim president. He was an ally of Paige Patterson during the Conservative Resurgence. (Last year, Boto was barred from holding any positions with Southern Baptist entities as a result of a legal settlement involving financial moves after Patterson was fired from an SBC seminary over mishandling a rape allegation.)

Boto and Guenther turned every discussion of abuse to a discussion of protecting the EC from legal liability, making that the highest priority, the report said.

“When abuse allegations were brought to the EC, including allegations that convicted sex offenders were still in ministry, EC leaders generally did not discuss this information outside of their inner circle, often did not respond to the survivor, and took no action to address these allegations so as to prevent ongoing abuse or such abuse in the future,” the report said. “Almost always the internal focus was on protecting the SBC from legal liability and not on caring for survivors or creating any plan to prevent sexual abuse within SBC churches.”

As president at Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries, Patterson discouraged two women who shared rape allegations from reporting them. He was fired from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 over his response and has been sued, along with the seminary, by the female student from Southwestern.

Patterson’s associate Paul Pressler, an attorney and leader during the Conservative Resurgence, also faces litigation over claims that he used his power to abuse young boys, and the SBC itself is named in the suit. (Neither Patterson nor Pressler, a former executive VP of the SBC and former EC member, agreed to be interviewed for the investigation, though Patterson’s lawyers submitted a two-page document.)

Houston Chronicle, 02/10/19

America is a Christian nation, huh?

Really?

When the news broke of the release of the SBC report, one of the first responses I read was by former SBC director, Russell Moore. Some excerpts:

Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I expected from the third-party investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. I said I didn’t expect to be surprised at all. How could I be? I lived through years with that entity. I was the one who called for such an investigation in the first place.

And yet, as I read the report, I found that I could not swipe the screen to the next page because my hands were shaking with rage. That’s because, as dark a view as I had of the SBC Executive Committee, the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systemic than I imagined it could be.

The conclusions of the report are so massive as to almost defy summation. It corroborates and details charges of deception, stonewalling, and intimidation of victims and those calling for reform. It includes written conversations among top Executive Committee staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama. It documents callous cover-ups by some SBC leaders and credible allegations of sexually predatory behavior by some leaders themselves, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt (who was one of the only figures in SBC life who seemed to be respected across all of the typical divides).

For years, leaders in the Executive Committee said a database—to prevent sexual predators from quietly moving from one church to another, to a new set of victims—had been thoroughly investigated and found to be legally impossible, given Baptist church autonomy. My mouth fell open when I read documented proof in the report that these very people not only knew how to have a database, they already had one.

Allegations of sexual violence and assault were placed, the report concludes, in a secret file in the SBC Nashville headquarters. It held over 700 cases. Not only was nothing done to stop these predators from continuing their hellish crimes, staff members were reportedly told not to even engage those asking about how to stop their child from being sexually violated by a minister. Rather than a database to protect sexual abuse victims, the report reveals that these leaders had a database to protect themselves.

Who cannot now see the rot in a culture that mobilizes to exile churches that call a woman on staff a “pastor” or that invite a woman to speak from the pulpit on Mother’s Day, but dismisses rape and molestation as “distractions” and efforts to address them as violations of cherished church autonomy? In sectors of today’s SBC, women wearing leggings is a social media crisis; dealing with rape in the church is a distraction.

Cooperation is a good and biblical ideal, but cooperation must not be to “protect the base.” Those who have used such phrases know what they meant. They know that if one steps out of line, one will be shunned as a liberal or a Marxist or a feminist. They know that the meanest people will mobilize and that the “good guys” will keep silent. And that’s nothing—nothing—compared to what is endured by sexual abuse victims—including children—who have no “base.”

When my wife and I walked out of the last SBC Executive Committee meeting we would ever attend, she looked at me and said, “I love you, I’m with you to the end, and you can do what you want, but if you’re still a Southern Baptist by summer you’ll be in an interfaith marriage.” This is not a woman given to ultimatums, in fact that was the first one I’d ever heard from her. But she had seen and heard too much. And so had I.

Russell Moore drew the line and left the Southern Baptist church. Proof of the in-your-face corruption was enough.

Here’s what Moore had to say about religious liberty, from a 2014 interview:

…When we are saying we are standing for religious liberty, we are not just standing for religious liberty for ourselves. It is not as though we are saying, “Let’s try to get enough votes so that conservative evangelicals have liberty or Southern Baptists have liberty, and we take that away from everyone else.” We are saying, “No, no, if we are gospel people, then that means you cannot impose your religion on anyone else, because religion is not something you can have issued to you by the state; it has to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.” … Whenever the government comes in and says, “You cannot freely practice and exercise your religion,” the government is setting up a religion of some sort or another. They are saying, “This is what the religion is that we are giving you from the government.” So, we are standing for religious liberty for everybody precisely because we do believe the gospel.

Liberty that is not for everybody is not liberty.

In contrast to Moore’s SBC exit, in response to the profound sexual abuses and concerted coverup in the SBC, Jeffress publicly condemned the abuse, but he chose not to publicly condemn the SBC, and, apparently feeling comfortable enough to retain the association, he stayed.

He stayed, and from the pulpit of his SBC church, he would smother America under a superficial morality that his own denomination has already profoundly torn to shreds.

Robert Jeffress calling climate change “an imaginary crisis.” Newsweek, 09/15/19

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Arizona’s Teacher-Prep in the Classroom: College “Enrolled” Is Good Enough.

In an effort to address teacher shortages in Arizona classrooms, the Arizona legislature passed a revised version of AZ SB 1159, which Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, signed into law on July 05, 2022.

This revision allows for Arizona school districts and charter schools to apply to the state to operate classroom-based, teacher-prep programs in which participants need only pass a background check and be enrolled in an accredited bachelors degree program before being allowed into the classroom– supervised, sort of maybe.

Just enrolled– meaning not even a single credit hour yet earned is acceptable, and in no particular field. Furthermore, the bill language is loose regarding who could be actually instructing the class, since the bill states that participants do not “regularly” instruct class unless a “full-time teacher, certificated teacher, instructional coach, or instructional mentor” is present.

What qualifies as “regularly”? Who knows? Is “regularly” different days of the week? Is “regularly” every day, with some mentor figure poking a head in the door on occasion to token-supervise, thereby CYA, so to speak, on countering “regularly” with a superificial, other-presence of sorts?

Also, notice that “certificated teacher” is only one of a list of potential sitters for these potentially, barely-college-enrolled person in front of class. Indeed, in Arizona, certain classroom instructors may already be exempt from holding bachelors degrees. (For example, from SB 1159: “…the following persons are not required to have a baccalaureate degree: 1. A teacher who is otherwise exempt by law from obtaining a baccalaureate degree and who provides instruction in STEM or career and technical education pursuant to section 15-782.01…..) So, according to the terms of SB 1159, it is certainly possible for Arizona public ed instructors who have already been exempted from holding bachelors degrees because of STEM or other expertise to be placed outside of their STEM or other expertise and in a teacher-training, supervisory capacity over any number of warm-body, barely-college-enrolled, inexperienced teachers.

Of course, the warm bodies are exempt from supervision if that individual holds “an emergency substitute certificate, a substitute certificate, or an emergency teacher certificate.”

In Arizona, emergency teacher certification requires only a high school diploma.

So there it is: A door to having inexperienced, token-college-enrolled individuals barely out of high school bumped up to temporary full-time teacher.

Subject-matter expertise aside, there’s is a lot to managing a classroom of students.

Thus, revised AZ SB 1159 has “ill-conceived” written all over it.

The flip side of allowing individuals to enter easily is that the commitment to remaining even for a full school year is also easily broken– which would feed high teacher turnover and, in turn, school instability.

When I chose to become a teacher, I invested years. It was an intentional decision, a costly decision, both in time and money; therefore, I am not likely to easily forego my chosen career.

Not so with the likes of AZ SB 1159, where potentially being in charge of a K12 classroom full of students requires decisions made in the span of a gnat’s life by those just out of high school themselves.

A subsequent exit can be just as speedy.

Arizona’s making it possible for a someone who has just graduated high school to simply enroll in any bachelors program in order to arguably fill a need similar to that of a long-term substitute teacher (for possible pay, but not definite pay, and not the same pay as an entry-level, certified teacher) invites a swift exit when too much is asked of this (likely) young person from a school or district already desperate for teachers.

As it is, in 2018, Arizona teachers participated in the first strike in state history as they wrangled with Ducey and the state legislature over raises and adequate classroom funding. After four days, teachers agreed to return to the classroom if the legislature passed a budget that included a 20-percent pay raise by 2020-21, billed by Ducey as “20×2020,” and restoring education funding following cuts dating back to 2008.

Most districts did not fulfill the governor’s 20-percent promise. The Arizona Auditor General documents only 87 out of 205 districts meeting or exceeding the 20-percent-increase goal, with the average pay increase from FY2018 to FY2021 at 16.5 percent, or $7,977.

Since alleged payraise money was allocated on a per-pupil basis and not specifically earmarked to increase teacher pay 20 percent by 2021, teacher pay in 17 actually decreased.

So much for Ducey’s promise.

As stated in an Economic Policy Institute report based on data from 2014-2019, Arizona teachers were paid only 68 cents for every dollar earned by workers in other fields with comparable degrees (that is, a 22-percent “wage penalty”)– the second highest such salary-comparison discrepancy of any state.

According to 2022 National Education Association (NEA) research, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, Arizona teacher pay rose from 46 to 44 in state rankings, but, still– 44 out of 51 (all states and DC). As for 2022 cost of living: According to World Population Review, Arizona is right at average– yet its teacher pay is not.

In short, focusing on paying Arizona teachers competitive wages seems to be a more solid, lasting strategy than “we’ll take anyone enrolled in any bachelors program, no minimum credit-hour completion necessary.”

Instead of such desperate-for-anybody schemes, the Arizona legislature would do well to actually designate money specifically for regularly raising teacher salaries so that Arizona teachers might better afford Arizona’s average cost of living.

In 2018, Arizona teachers strike demands included annual raises until Arizona teacher pay reached the national average and restoring education funding to 2008, pre-recession, levels.

Neither of these requests has been fulfilled.

According to the May 24, 2022, KTAR News, in the face of teacher shortages, Arizona state superintendent Kathy Hoffman says that Arizona already notably relies upon emergency certification to have those with high school diplomas teach. As for solutions, KTAR News has this to add:

Hoffman stresses the need for local lawmakers to consider giving teachers another raise for the upcoming school year with the state sitting on a $5 billion surplus.

State sitting on a $5B surplus.

Note to Arizona legislators:

Pay your teachers.

Fund your classrooms.

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New Federal Charter School Regs Put the Squeeze on For-Profit Operators

One of the frustrating politician talking points about regulating federal funds for charter schools has to be, “I oppose for-profit charter schools.”

The major issue is not for-profit charter schools, though those do exist. The major issue has been for-profit, charter-school managers/operators. That is, the charter school itself is likely a nonprofit entity– but it could (and too often does) pay a for-profit entity to manage or operate the school.

It’s not easy getting the public (and politicians) to catch on this for-profit-behind-a-nonprofit relationship, but it seems that House Appropriations has finally caught on and is taking more precise aim at the for-profit education management organization (EMO) pulling federal dollars from a comfortably-hidden position behind its nonprofit charter school.

On June 29, 2020, the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations released its 2023 Appropriations Bill Report for Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education. Below is the text from that report as it applies to charter school grants (pp. 256 – 258), including nixing federal funding that feeds for-profit EMOs– and a push encouraging Congress “fully phase out the concerning for-profit EMO sector.”

I highlighted statements I found particularly interesting:

Charter Schools Grants
The Committee recommends $400,000,000 for Charter School Program (CSP) Grants, which is $40,000,000 below the fiscal year 2022 enacted level and the fiscal year 2022 budget request. CSP awards grants to SEAs or, if a State’s SEA chooses not to participate, to charter school developers to support the development and initial implementation of public charter schools. State Facilities Incentive Grants and Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities awards help charter schools obtain adequate school facilities. These programs work in tandem to support the development and operation of charter schools.

For-profit Entities.—The Department has long recognized the particular risks posed by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs). In response to a 2016 audit, the Department conceded to the Inspector General, ‘‘ED is well aware of the challenges and risks posed by CMOs and, in particular, EMOs, that enter into contracts to manage the day-to-day operations of charter schools that receive Federal funds. We recognize that the proliferation of charter schools with these relationships has introduced potential risks with respect to conflicts of interest, related-party transactions, and fiscal accountability, particularly in regard to the use of federal funds.’’ Since that initial acknowledgement by the Department regarding for-profit EMOs, the Committee has been made aware of concerning instances of criminal fraud, conflicts of interest, and inadequate transparency.

In addition, the Committee is deeply concerned that for-profit charter schools, including those run by for-profit EMOs, deliver concerning outcomes for students. A 2017 report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes compared student performance at non-profit charters, for-profit charters, and traditional public schools and found that for-profit charters perform worse in reading, and significantly worse in math, than non-profit charters. In addition, the report found that for-profit charters perform worse in math than traditional public schools.

That is why the Committee is strongly supportive of the Department’s proposal to prohibit Federal CSP funding from supporting for-profit EMOs through its notice published in the Federal Register on March 14, 2022 (87 Fed. Reg. 14197). The Committee includes bill language codifying the prohibition to establish this precedent for fiscal year 2023 and for future years. Moving forward, the Committee urges the Secretary to work with Congress on efforts to fully phase out the concerning for-profit EMO sector. Such efforts could include reasonable transition periods that allow schools run by for-profit EMOs to shift to independent or nonprofit management. In the interim, the Committee is committed to continuing its oversight of the for-profit EMO sector and ensuring fewer taxpayer dollars enrich for-profit EMO shareholders.

Defunct CSP Grantees.The Committee is deeply concerned by the Department’s analysis that fifteen percent of the charter schools receiving CSP funding since 2001 have never opened or closed before their three-year grant period is complete, representing an unacceptable waste of at least $174,000,000 in taxpayer funds. Accordingly, the Committee is strongly supportive of the Department’s fiscal year 2022 CSP notice (87 Fed. Reg. 14197) that requires applicants to demonstrate local demand for new schools. The Committee rejects the premise that grant failure and school closure is the cost of doing business in CSP and welcomes reforms that will improve its performance.

GAO Mandate from House Report 116–450.—The Committee continues to be supportive of GAO’s work on the mandate included in House Report 116–450 regarding the Department’s oversight over CSP and whether the program is being implemented effectively among grantees and subgrantees. The Committee is particularly interested in the issue of CSP-funded schools that eventually closed or received funds but never opened; the relationships between charter schools supported by CSP grants and charter management organizations; and enrollment patterns at these schools, especially for students with disabilities. In addition, the Committee is interested in recommendations on potential legislative changes to the program that would reduce the potential for mismanagement and ineffective operations.

Oversight from the Office of Inspector General.—The Committee continues to support efforts by the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to examine grantee administration of Replication
and Expansion Grants, including charter management organization grantees. The Committee also supports the OIG’s efforts to evaluate whether the Department adequately monitored grantees’ performance and uses of funds for CSP competitions.

Students with Disabilities and English Learners.—The Committee encourages the Department to continue including in their evaluation of State CSP grants the extent to which State entities are utilizing the seven percent of funding received under the program to ensure that charter schools receiving CSP grants are equipped to appropriately serve students with disabilities and, by extension, prepared to become high-quality charter schools. In addition, the Committee urges the Department to ensure subgrantees are equipped to meet the needs of English learners. The Committee directs the Department to provide an update on these efforts in the fiscal year 2024 Congressional Budget Justification.

Charter School Effects on School Segregation.—The Committee is concerned by findings from a 2019 Urban Institute report which concluded that growth in charter school enrollment increases the segregation of Black, Latino, and white students. To address this concern, the Committee urges the Department to give priority to applicants that plan to use CSP funds to operate or manage charter schools intentionally designed to be racially and socioeconomically diverse.

The Committee is strongly supportive of proposed requirements in the Department’s fiscal year 2022 CSP notice (87 Fed. Reg. 14197) that grantees show that they will not exacerbate school segregation. Accordingly, the Committee urges the Department to examine the merits of diversity reporting that compares demographic data of grantees to that of local districts. The Committee directs the Department to share its assessment of CSP diversity reporting, along with any prospective plans for implementation, in the fiscal year 2024 Congressional Budget Justification.

For further discussion of the revised federal charter school regs and their nuances/implications, see Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris’ take in the July 05, 2022 Washington Post.

And if you want reaction from someone who frames the regulations as a passing fad that hinders the freedom of charter schools, you can read this July 06, 2022, K12 Dive Brief that concludes with a Center for Education Reform CEO, Jeanne Allen, lament.

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Authentic Christianity Does Not Urinate on the Rights of Others.

Heads up: It’s Political!

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Pennsylvania retired teacher and blogger, Peter Greene, brought to my attention an organized push “to disincorporate the Establishment Clause (no state religion)” in an effort for individual states “to establish religion within their borders.”

I did a double-take on the idea that there is an organized push to enable states to formally declare Christianity as an official state religion. That’s what this is: A far-right attempt to pee on the telephone pole of America, thereby marking it “for Christians only” and further exacerbating division in our country In the Name of Jesus.

I write this as a Christian: Such efforts stoke self-righteous egos and sow dangerous discord.

So, as I was flipping channels on my TV on July 03, 2022, hearing a Southern Baptist pastor mockingly use the phrase “separation of church and state” caught my attention. Sure enough, the point of his sermon was to promote a return to Christianity as the established religion on the state-level.

I recorded his sermon and transcribed it in order to write about it on this blog in a future post (not this one). It is a harsh, hard, self-centered promotion that I have some more work on editing and proofing prior to posting.

The point of this post is to present the words of another pastor, one I heard as I was recovering from the awfulness of transcribing the harsh, self-absorbed guy. This second pastor, Andy Stanley, who founded North Point Ministries in Atlanta, has a refreshingly different message, which he happened to deliver on the same day (July 03, 2022), and which shows that not all Christian pastors with major platforms are buying into the terrible divisiveness of some state-by-state, Christain Nationalism:

Christian nationalism tends to treat other Americans as second-class citizens. If it were fully implemented, it would not respect the full religious liberty of all Americans. Empowering the state through “morals legislation” to regulate conduct always carries the risk of overreaching, setting a bad precedent, and creating governing powers that could be used later be used against Christians. Additionally, Christian nationalism is an ideology held overwhelmingly by white Americans, and it thus tends to exacerbate racial and ethnic cleavages. In recent years, the movement has grown increasingly characterized by fear and by a belief that Christians are victims of persecution. Some are beginning to argue that American Christians need to prepare to fight, physically, to preserve America’s identity, an argument that played into the January 6 riot.

The relief I felt at hearing Stanley’s words– and the profound, soothing contrast his words made after my spending hours transcribing this other guy– I found so encouraging that I decided to transcribe Stanley’s talk (which I recorded on my TV and for which I can find no link) and present it to my readers before I post my transcription of what surely supports Greene’s unsettling post.

Thus, the point of this post is to present a truly Christian take (as in “love your neighbor as you love yourself”) prior to any post reeking of the stench of Christian nationalism.

Stanley entitled his talk, “Like Stars in the Sky,” which he gave as an episode on his weekly, 30-minute program called “Your Move with Andy Stanley.” His audience is likely predominately evangelical Christian, though not exclusively, and he verbally recognizes as much.

Unlike the far-right pushers who alienate all but their kind, Stanley promotes respect and honor for others, period. As such, his words directly confront any Us vs. Them, Christian ugliness.

The point of this posting is to show that at least someone with a major, Christian speaking platform is publicly countering extreme views on the dangerous path to authoritarianism.

Given the length of the transcription, I include below three excerpts from Stanley’s talk, but I really only scratch the surface by doing so. I invite my audience to read the full transcription by clicking the link at the end of this post.

Andy Stanley

From Andy Stanley, “Like Stars in the Sky” (July 03, 2022):

This week, we are celebrating Independence Day, the birth of a nation. I don’t know if it’s just the leader in me, or the entrepreneur in me, I’m not that entrepreneurial, but, from time to time, I think, and I know this is kind of strange, so bear with me, a lot of you have started a company, or you’ve launched an initiative. Imagine starting a country. “Hey, let’s start a country!” I mean, we can’t even imagine that, right? The United States of America.

Now, the challenge, of course, right now is that we don’t feel, and it doesn’t seem like we’re very united these days, and I think that bugs most of us. It seems like everything automatically gets divided up into one of two buckets, even though we’re the United States of America. Everything either goes in a red bucket or a blue bucket. No matter what the issue is or whatever the topic is, immediately, there’s a view that divides. It’s like whatever view you hold, its like, “Ohhp, red, everything.”

You’re like, “No, no, no, I’m not a 100 percent red.”

“You’re looking pretty red.”

“Blue, you’re blue.”

“No, I’m not.

“No, yeah. You’re blue. That’s your view on a particular topic. You go in the blue bucket.”

Two buckets, right and left, red and blue. And, I don’t think anybody’s happy about that, are we? Are you happy about that? I mean, normal people aren’t happy about that. Normal people don’t like to be pigeon-holed.

“Wait a minute, all I said was…”

“Well, then, clearly, you’re Republican.”

“Well, no I really…”

Normal people don’t like that. But, don’t tell anybody I told you this:

Some people love it.

Some people love the division, and the reason is, there is a lot of money to be made by keeping us divided, amd there’s a lot of power to be preserved by creating the sense that we’re more divided than we actually are. I mean, you’re adults. You know this:

Suspicion is profitable.

Fear is very profitable.

Division, consequently, is profitable.

I mean, if you convince me that there is somebody I should be afraid of, and if you convince me that you will protect me from that person for a donation and a vote, I’m going to give you a donation and a vote so you will protect me from those evil people.

I mean, has division ever led to a solution? If it has, it’s the exception, certainly not the rule, right? I mean, can demonizing, and this is the, you know, this is the part, we should just, this should just drive us crazy:

Can demonizing half the population based on party affiliation, or skin color, bring us together?

Can demonizing and criticizing half the population because of party affiliation, or the way somebody acts, or the way somebody believes, or the way somebody looks, can demonizing a whole group of people that you don’t even know, I don’t even know, can that possibly bring us together?

The answer is no.

Here’s an idea: Why don’t we, why don’t we despise division as much as we despise people who don’t vote like us?

The enemy is not the Republican or the Democratic Party. Our enemy is not a party. Our enemy is the division. Because it slows everything down, and it causes people to be hurt, and it causes people’s voices not to be heard when the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

So, why don’t we all just decide, “You know who the enemy is? The enemy is the division.”

So, here’s what I’m going to do for a few minutes. And this is going to be uncomfortable for some of you. I understand it, and I’ve asked you to do this before. For just a few minutes, and if you’re new, if you’re watching for the first time, I know you’re suspicious, you’ve got your guard up. I understand. You should, you know. I would like for you to try to take your political filter off your face for just a few minutes. I just want you– it’s just for a minute. If you’ll take it off, set [it down], and then, when I’m finished, you can just put it back on and go out and, you know, be whoever you want. But I just want you to try to listen for a couple of minutes, all right?

One thing– to start with some common ground because I think to move forward, we’ve got to find the common ground, the common ground– one thing we all appreciate about our nation– I hope we all do– is our Bill of Rights. Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.

(Slide: Bill of Rights: Speech, Press, Assembly, Religion, Bear Arms, Due Process, Jury Trial, Search and Seizure, Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Quartering of Soldiers)

It was created, as you know, to protect individual liberties because the founders were so amazingly smart. They looked into the future and they realized, “You know what? What is so relevant for this generation may not be as relevant for the next one.” So, they came up with the Ninth Amendment, that’s kind of the catch-all amendment, the “kitchen sink” amendment, just in case– well, not “just in case” because they knew in the future there would be other individual rights, there would be other individual rights that they wanted to make sure that people of the United States knew there was room for, that these, that those weren’t the only rights protected. So here’s how the Ninth Amendment reads:

“Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others (other rights) retained by the people.”

It’s like, what?

So, basically, they’re saying there’s going to be some other things that come down the road. And so, this isn’t saying this is the only list, so this is kind of the “kitchen sink.” So, I think– it’s my opinion– if we were to rewrite the Ninth Amendment– because it’s a little legalese, a little stilted– our version of it would look more like this. It would be like this:

“Amendment IX– Amended: The right to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights.”

My rights so long as my rights do not interfere with the rights of others. And that’s how it should be.

To anyone tempted to force some state-established Christianity down the American throat:

Authentic Christianity invites. It includes. It respects. It cares.

It does not impose.

It does not carve a pathway to authoritarianism.

As promised, here’s the link to my transcription of Stanley’s complete, 30-minute talk:

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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