Justice, Waters, and a Benediction

Photo by Shauna Hambrick Jones

Photo by Shauna Hambrick Jones

The end is reconciliation;

The end is redemption;

the end is the creation of the beloved community.

It is this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.

It is this type of goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age

into the exuberant gladness of the new age.

It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts

of humankind.

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956

(Thanks to the Congregational Church of Middlebury UCC for the benediction, Sunday, January 19, 2014.)

Why the Capital High School T-Shirt Debacle Was Lose-Lose-Lose-Lose

Recently, my community witnessed an event that, in the scheme of things, was a tempest in a tea pot. Some graduating high school seniors defied the authority of their principal in the last few days of school, lost their right to march for their diploma, then regained the right to march. This was all over some t-shirts.

I don’t struggle much to define what I think about local events, but this one threw me for a loop. The butterfly effect of a series of choices by students, school leaders, parents, school board, and the chattering class kept the whole thing a moving target.

What went wrong?

In short, everything. There were so many bad decisions in play it was almost impossible to form an opinion as it went along. Today, the kids are graduated, the graffiti is scrubbed from city property, and we have all moved on.

The problem is, we may not really be able to start over as easily as we might hope.

My eyes were opened to some of the serious issues facing any administrator at Capital High School when I attended the funeral of its first principal, Mr. Clendenen. Clendenen presided over the consolidation of two power house schools in Kanawha County — Stonewall Jackson and Charleston High — into one school with strong identity and sense of pride. Many people thought that it couldn’t be done, that bringing together these long-standing rivals was too difficult.

In short, the Sharks and the Jets just don’t get along. Mr. Clendenen and the merging student bodies had a mighty task at hand.

What I learned at Clendenen’s memorial service is that we need to never take for granted the creation of a new and successful high school out of two former enemies. The very existence of one functioning school filled with academic achievement and student pride is a gift to our community. But from a historical perspective, it just happened.

From my armchair, I think the principal at Capital High School picked an odd battle to fight to the death. There is not much public disagreement about that. There are, however, a few more issues worthy of review.

A friend of mine put it well when she said, “You know who my parents would have been angry with over this? Me. If I were told five times not to do something by the principal and then I did it and encouraged others to do it, losing the privilege to march for my diploma, they would have taken it up with me.”

Requiring 18 year olds to face the consequences of their choices did NOT happen here. Parents and community members pitched a fit and asked the school board to intervene. Never wanting to miss a chance to lead a charge into an inappropriate drama, the school board asked the county superintendent to overturn the principal. Though phrased as a compromise, the principal lost. The kids marched, and then in an entirely predictable final act of defiance threw their victory in the principal’s face on stage. The adults in the audience erupted into wild applause.

It is a good thing when conflict can be resolved in win-win situations, but that didn’t happen here.

The principal lost: He was stripped of all respect and authority by the superintendent.

The parents lost: They can expect to get several phone calls from college and beyond asking them to come clean up their kids’ messes when they disregard life’s rules because they “just don’t agree with them.”

The kids lost: Not understanding the long-term consequences of what they did, they see themselves as heroes, and to many today they are. The sad thing is they learned the wrong lesson here, and leave town with an image of immaturity and privilege.

The community lost: The adults here tore down a good man. I can’t help but wonder how many people taking jabs at the principal would survive one day leading Capital High School. Though he may have made a tactical error, it was his to make.

Adults need to get a clue and rally around each other when the stakes are high. There were so many other ways this could have ended, not the least of which could have been an after-party for the kids where they wore their shirts and celebrated on their own terms.

I applaud the students for their willingness to take risk for their beliefs. The problem is, at the end of the day, the adults took back their real glory by erasing the consequences of their actions.

Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote letters from the Birmingham jail. As the saying goes, I’m just sayin’.

Little House on the Big Hill

Yesterday afternoon I experienced something I never thought I would.  It’s one of those things that you read about or see in movies and pretty much accept as someone’s romanticized interpretation of a far off and unlikely ideal.  And being perfectly honest, if you had asked me to pinpoint where it might happen if it ever could, I would not have said Charleston, West Virginia.

Word building in cursive at Charleston Montessori

My family was invited to attend an open house for a new school, Charleston Montessori.  I have some good friends who developed a vision of a diverse community school where they could actively participate with other adults in not only delivering but modeling an approach to life committed to natural self-direction, peace, and managing the environment for learning, not managing individuals themselves.  The Montessori Method is open to various interpretations and consequently lends itself to new schools and new communities of adults who want to do the very best by their children.

I am no expert in Montessori education, but I am an expert in honoring children.  I can identify in the beat of a butterfly’s wing if a person loves and honors children.  The adults who are coming together to build this new Creative Communities school on the West Side of Charleston do that, but there is something more.  This crowd is very interested in the school being part of an organic whole that is the community.  I pick it up in everything from the written communication, the transparent process of building the school, the willingness to let anyone engage, and sheer joy exuded while seeing this dream come to life.

There is an energy here that is magic.  My daughter walked right into the 3-6 year old classroom and went straight to “work” with the organized materials.  There was such lack of anxiety and stress from the teacher, just a patient fascination with my child and an eagerness to provide her the opportunity to learn in a natural way.  The confidence in her ability to direct herself was wonderful.

I’ve grown beyond weary with the complaints about education in West Virginia.  I know I am not alone when I say it may be wasted energy to try to “fix” our public schools.  Maybe someone can.  But the clock is ticking for my child, and like these parents who are building a new school I am not in a position to wait for the quarreling unions and politicians and school boards to put children first.  I’m with the philosophy of the new crowd that is saying enoughWe will do it ourselves, and we will do it for our children.

You’re welcome aboard, but don’t even think about trying to stop us.