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At the risk of embarrassing a friend, I want to share something I wrote recently. Rusty is a friend to many and has had immeasurable positive influence during his life, but I didn’t know him at the beginning of this story.
During the third grade, I had Rheumatic Fever and missed the last half of the school year. My parents made sure I had a tutor, but we decided it would be best for me to repeat third grade. All my friends moved on to fourth grade. At the beginning of the next school year, I felt lost walking alone on the playground and dribbling a red kickball. Rusty and a friend of his, Mark, came up and asked if I’d like to play basketball with them. They were my first new friends that year.
A few years ago, I mentioned this incident to Rusty and could tell he didn’t remember it. I thought it must have been because he did kind things so often. How could he possibly recall them all?
I’m sharing this simple story and poem in hopes that students will follow Rusty’s example. Who knows? Maybe some of their acts of kindness and friendship will be remembered for years to come.
Being a friend when a friend was most needed
was so natural a part of who he was.
Years later, he had no memory of that crucial
day when kindness was shown to a schoolmate on
a dusty playground.
He had no idea of the weight his friendship might carry.
He had no thought of self-serving motives, or earning merit with his creator.
He could not see at that time how a kind act would result in lifelong admiration.
I guess that’s how it is for people who are truly kind to the core.
There is so much goodness that it often comes out unrecognized and without fanfare.
It’s just the essence of who they are.
Criticism of those who protest the flag even as others use the flag as a weapon led me to wonder what the flag might say if it had a voice, so here’s a note from the United States Flag.
Someone asked if I’d like to do high school over again. After some thought, I decided I would do it again if I could know what I know now. Here are a few things I would do differently…
I would thank my parents for coming to performances and events.
I would thank my teachers from time to time. I’d thank guest conductors for their work after region band and choir events.
I’d say some of the stuff I was afraid to say to my peers the first time through.
I’d spend more time visiting with those of different races or backgrounds.
I’d say, “I disagree with that” when someone says something I disagree with.
I’d smile and speak to peers who don’t seem to have friends.
I’d worry less about what different social groups think me, realizing they’re probably not thinking anything of me.
I’d ask my teachers more questions, especially about their lives.
I would read more, especially books not required.
Some of our lawmakers want to be sure educators (and other state entities) don’t teach any “divisive” concepts while teaching about race relations, slavery, social injustice, and stuff like that. Sounds to me like these lawmakers want some serious revision history to be taught, or they’re trying to “fix” instruction that might not meet their approval.
I experienced typical history teaching in school and am now trying to fill in some gaps to better understand how slavery and racial injustice shaped our nation. My observations during life confirm that these issues have shaped our country with tragic results. Guess some lawmakers want to be sure we fail to honestly face racial division and current and past injustices.
Below is my reading list related to this topic from the last year. Remember, I’m just playing catchup. Please beware; some might perceive some of this stuff as divisive. Some of it even hurts my feelings or makes me uncomfortable when I read it. Sometimes discomfort means we’re learning something new.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (currently reading)
The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas by Kenneth Barnes (currently reading)
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America by John Lewis
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois
The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. by Peniel E. Joseph
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Douglass
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s become a cliche’ that most education policy is sponsored, written, argued, and voted into law without ever consulting educators. This needs to change!
I’m linking to a well-written, but sad, account of a teacher who testified before the House Education Committee recently concerning House Bill 1371. Sounds like some of our elected officials could use a few lessons in active listening. They might be listening to those with money but not those most able to help them shape policies to benefit voters and our children. Follow the link for Gwen Faulkenberry’s short story.
Teacher Gwen Faulkenberry spoke to the House Education Committee on behalf of rural children, who make up the vast majority of school kids in Arkansas. She hoped to educate lawmakers on what education means to regular folks, but instead they taught her a painful lesson.
I once walked through Statuary Hall of our nation’s Capitol. No one told us to be quiet in those halls. It just seemed natural out of a sense of respect. While there with a group of school principals from all fifty states, my wife and I visited the State Department after being interviewed earlier so that we could be cleared for security later that evening.
We were given time to view pieces of furniture that had connections with some of our country’s early leaders. My wife and I stood on a terrace looking out over Washington DC. In the distance, we could see the Air Force Memorial. In that moment, I remembered how I used to stand with my grandfather on his front porch in Smackover. It was a quiet time and I enjoyed just being with him as we watched steam rise from a lumber mill in the distance.
As a child, I had no idea what people and forces were at work to give me that feeling of security. While standing at the State Department looking at the Washington DC skyline, everything seemed connected. The freedom I felt as a child in small town Arkansas was provided for and protected by lives invested and sometimes sacrificed in this great city.
On Wednesday, January 6, I felt sadness as I watched our nation’s capitol stormed violently by our nation’s citizens. I didn’t feel anger as much as hurt and a sense of violation. I remembered these halls as secure. Approaching the sacred buildings in Washington DC felt like entering iron citadels, places that were secure and heavily defended.
The next day, I could finally feel anger. Do not come in and disgrace sacred spaces at the seat of our country’s power and authority. Our founders were flawed, as are we. They argued, debated, and wrote words beyond what they could fulfill during their lifetimes, but these words continue to challenge us today. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Like the dates below, January 6 will be a day I remember where I was when I witnessed this crime.
11/22/1963 John F. Kennedy assassinated (sitting at my desk in elementary school in El Dorado)
4/4/1968 Martin Luther King assassinated (playing music at a friend’s house in El Dorado
9/11/2001 Twin Towers and Pentagon attacked (greeting students in front of my school in Alma)
1/6/2021 Insurgents took possession of the US Capitol (watching presidential delegate counting on television)
A friend lost his mother today. While thinking of her kindness and love for family, I began to think about the many acts of kindness that characterized my parents.
In the late 1980s, we moved to El Dorado so I could take a teaching job that would allow our new daughter, Christen, to be closer to grandparents. My father had a little empty rent house, so we rented it at a fair price.
I loved my new job as band director at Rogers Junior High and found a passion for teaching. We paid our bills promptly and felt pride in knowing we were making our way. When we found a place to buy out on the Strong Hwy, my father wrote me a check for all the rent I had paid him for that little rent house.
He and my mother took great pleasure in doing that. They also enjoyed working on our new “fixer-upper” house to make it livable. I used to marvel at the satisfaction they showed while working to make something better for others.
I had a very good father and mother. I miss them very much.
I need to write more letters! Emails and positive social media posts are good, but there’s still a need for words written on paper.
When the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated in-person visits, I wrote a few letters. One was to Wendell Evanson, who had been my teacher through college and beyond. I knew his health was declining and did not expect him to be in any condition to respond. What I didn’t anticipate was the satisfaction I felt in knowing that I’d said to him very clearly how much his influence meant to me, musically and personally. Mr. Evanson died on November 3, so I’m thankful I shared my thoughts in June.
Another person I wrote to was Dr. Wes Branstine, who taught low brass and jazz band at Henderson State University. These guys, and others, invested themselves in their students and the relationships they built didn’t end at graduation. In the letter to Dr. Branstine, I shared one example of the continued learning I experienced through his generous giving of time. He wouldn’t accept payment for the extra instruction that made a big difference in my teaching.
Some might know that I think of blogging as an online scrapbook. So, what follows is my letter to Dr. Branstine and a portion of his response. It was a thrill to reconnect with someone who made a positive difference in my teaching and my overall approach to life.
A few years ago, I posted about the influence of several music teachers on my learning. We can probably all point to teachers who made a difference. Is there someone you need to thank? I definitely need to write more snail mail!
My teacher, Wendell O. Evanson, died this morning. My eyes teared up when I typed that sentence because of the weight of the words “my teacher.” He was my teacher from 1974 to the present, and his influence continues.
Like most great musicians, Wendell O. Evanson was passionate, committed to the art, complex in his thinking, and driven to do great work. As his student, I learned he also had a soft and compassionate side that revealed itself when you were down or disappointed. I was the recipient of his encouragement several times while in college and later as a music teacher.
The first time I saw his compassionate and encouraging side was while playing in the pit orchestra at HSU for a musical that included community members. I noticed the delight on his face as a young child, who had struggled earlier, was singing his part. You could read Mr. Evanson’s lips as he said, “That-a-boy! You’ve got it!,” and several times he laughed with joy because he was so proud of that young man’s singing.
I’m thankful for Mr. Evanson’s life and his immeasurable influence on his students.
What follows is just one small example of Mr. Evanson’s conducting. Lawrence Hamilton, a wonderful singer, invited Mr. Evanson to conduct one of his performances.