Through the curmudgeon's lens: Four Snapshots
MARCH 7, 2001
After a weekend of rain, Monday's blue skies brought reminders that spring is on the way. I'm one of those who responds to the seasons. The onset of each cycle sparks my sense of connection to planet earth and this creation we share.
One of my Native American buddies, a Blackfeet healer, talks about living into the rhythms of the spirit of creation. I'm not sure what he means, but I do know the blossoms of spring, the warm sands of summer beaches, the yellow and reds of fall and the feel of winter snow all speak to me in a pre-literate language.
And as I'm feeling this connectedness with creation, that powerful picture of the late Iron Eyes Cody weeping comes to mind. We've not been very good stewards of our patch of planet. You guessed it. It is time for each of us to take a tour of the contrasts of beauty and ugly in our communities.
In our efforts to see how much of Lauderdale County we can grade, pave or develop, it appears to me that the only standard is greed. Don't get me wrong, I understand self-interest is the engine which drives our market economy. My concern is our low level of "enlightened" self-interest.
Drive a few of the highways, by-ways and even backroads of this place. We are fouling our own nest. Or at least allowing each other the option of trashing "our" property. But then we would not want to tell people what they must do with "their" property.
We've done a readership survey. It's official, I have four readers. Five, counting Sally. One of the four checked-in recently to chide me for my inattention to the rules of the writing road. And she's correct, I don't write by the book.
I confess. I put words together my way. Somehow I can not make my patterns of expression conform to acceptable syntax. Yes, I know the rules of grammar. No, I don't willfully ignore them. Rather I try to write for my own understanding, such as it is.
If I were grading my work for an English class, it would be awash in red ink. Words like "awkward" and "fragment" and "trite" and "convoluted" would be writ large upon my manuscripts. But then I'm no longer in school.
I regret this may trouble folks who believe I ought to write like I was taught to write. Sadly, like Popeye, I yam what I yam. And as George Jones sings "take me as I am or let me be." And, yes, Bob Dylan also recorded that one.
It's also true that I don't always walk on sidewalks. But I do know where they are.
Your Mississippi Legislature at work. Lower the age for compulsory attendance. Fine. By golly, let's treat these guys and gals who don't want to go to school like adults. Their disruptive behaviors interfere with students eager to learn. Let 'em opt out of school, take charge of their lives. Move along life's road.
Anything wrong with this picture? Absolutely. It's not higher math. Mississippi must provide better schooling or build more jails and prisons. How about this? Let's give all 15 year olds a choice. Go to school and learn, or as the Monopoly board says, "go directly to jail."
Lock 'em up
This would save all that expense of increased law enforcement. Locking up the drop outs sooner rather than later might hold the crime rate down.
Why not deal with disruptive behaviors, early. Let's build a better range of early interventions beginning before birth. That's right, parenting begins well before birth. And far too many infants have a very, very low quality of life.
Does this sound a bit like "Big Brother?" You bet it is. Another of those "brother's keeper" instincts at work. We can do much better by our infants and preschool youth.
Back at the high school section of the educational pipeline, how about linking driver's licensure and school attendance? No school, no drive. Let the police, sheriff's departments and state patrol enforce this regulation.
In the interest of not seeming to be "negative" about state legislation, I propose a 100 percent sentencing protocol. Why not raise the 85 percent standard to a higher level? After all, if serving 85 percent of a mandatory sentence is a strong deterrent to crime, 100 percent would be even better.
And look at the leadership opportunity. Our institutions of incarceration continue to increase in enrollment. Mississippi becomes the corrections capitol of America. Lockup central. The Gulag of the western world.
And can you imagine calling a piece of legislation "The Mississippi School Safety Act?" Sounds like something straight out of the Dick Morris playbook. Jackson may become "Spin City, USA." Best I can tell this piece of legislative meddling is one of those "sounds good" deals which reduces the options of teachers and principals while increasing the paperwork hoops.
Our elected leaders can "point with pride" to their "tough on crime" and "zero tolerance of school disruption" laws. In our unwillingness to deal with the roots of violence we continue to piddle around with the symptoms. Is that fiddle music I hear and smoke I smell?
We Americans have certainly learned how to provide grief and crises counseling to high schoolers and parents. We are certainly well practiced in our response to tragedy. Too well practiced. Or are we simply calloused to the wellsprings of violence?
And in Mississippi, let's lead. No negatives, only positive Mississippi spoken here. What an idea! Lower mandatory school attendance, kick more kids out of school in the name of school safety.' Build more jails to teach the higher arts of violence. Mississippi can lead the nation!
Is this curmudgeon's lens out of focus?
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.