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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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Our Next State Superintendent

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I have written literally hundreds of articles and two books about very controversial issues, but I am reluctant to address specific individuals because it’s too easy to inadvertently villainize people nowadays. When we face an election like this week’s primary, however, we must consider people and pick sides. I am not sure the traditional sides fit anymore, so let’s start by focusing on the qualities of our next leader.

By “sides,” I refer to the extreme Pollyanna Public Schools (PPS) and Evil Public Schools (EPS) options that dominate public discourse lately. The PPS crowd insists that the only change needed in our public schools is more funding, and the EPS crowd insists that the only answer is giving them the same taxpayer funds to dismantle all public schools. Lost in the debate, however, are the majority of Okies alienated by both sides. Our next State Superintendent should reflect the following values. 

Inclusive: Our state superintendent should genuinely include all stakeholders, not just those who subscribe to a certain orthodoxy. Both sides claim to support parents and educators, but both sides quickly marginalize anyone who disagrees with them. We need a state superintendent who will listen to our sensible parents and educators more than the flaming pennies (the radical one percent willing to burn the world down to make a point). 

Peacemaker:  Tiny (but loud) factions of people continually stoking controversy currently dominate our public square. They seek either to force everyone to embrace radical beliefs or force taxpayers to fund our own separate schools. Our next state superintendent must bring peace and consistency to the sensible majority, not capitulate to partisans.

Failures and successes: Of course, we want a state superintendent who has a successful track record, but we also need someone who can be open, honest, and reflective about their failures. Winston Churchill overcame terrible public failure to become a great (but flawed) leader. Our next leader must not only have learned from missteps but also have taken ownership of them. If a leader is all thumbs, we would certainly have less finger-pointing!

Discernment and boldness: Our state needs a leader willing to champion bold change (which usually means betraying both sides), but we also need someone willing to check the bathwater before throwing out more babies. The last decade is a revolving door of hastily constructed change atop hastily scrapped ruins. Before we start swinging wrecking balls, let’s make sure we know what we are demolishing . . . and have a sensible solution ready to replace the rubble.

Solutions: Partisanship in education is both naked and blind, which means it is exposed and vulnerable to a pragmatic leader who can serve the sensible majority of parents and educators. Imagine a willingness to work with the opposition instead of an eagerness to gloat and lord power over them. Unfortunately, even when both sides agree something is good for kids, they will not currently hold hands because the other side is involved. 

Oklahoma’s sensible educators and parents cannot embrace a progressive march toward Marxism or a progressive march toward crony capitalism. My proof? If educators were widely motivated by the far-left rhetoric, then they could easily run rule any election. If parents were widely motivated by the far-right message, then schools would be privatized tomorrow. Instead, they focus on kids’ needs and try to avoid engaging the flaming pennies. They just want safe, caring, healthy, open, orderly, learning spaces. (S.C.H.O.O.L.S.)

After over a decade of inconsistency and partisanship, Oklahoma needs a state superintendent who will serve our sensible educators and parents over far away partisans with deep pockets. I believe that all of our remaining candidates sincerely want what’s best for our state, even if they disagree, but we won’t really know whom they serve until someone gets into office. Let’s hope it’s not the Pollyanna or Evil Public School caricatures. We need a superintendent committed to real, sensible Oklahoma parents and educators. After all, who loves their children more?

Tom Deighan is a public educator and author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at deighantom@gmail.com 

Wacky Waving Toby Dawn

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Nothing . . . absolutely nothing raises the ire of my lifelong friend and childhood hero more than a school bus drive around. He claims to have once been a school bus driver, but in reality, he merely borrowed one on our 5th grade field trip. Nevertheless, that experience created a sense of fellowship with all pupil pilots, so if he ever sees a stop arm violation, he goes “Toby Dawn” on the driver. He puffs up. He stretches out. He gyrates, waves his arms in the air, and screams like an injured cat. Picture our tall, red-headed Toby Dawn hollering like a fool in the middle of the road at the lowly offenders. “You gotta get their attention, Tommy Boy!”

People occasionally allege that Toby Dawn is fictional, but I assure you that nothing is more real than a wacky waving Toby Dawn defending a school bus. And if it reminds you of something you’ve seen at local used car dealers and tax preparation offices, that’s because Toby Dawn McIntyre modelled the original inflatable flailing tube man. He reportedly even earns a commission from every single one, which might explain why he has been so excited about the recent NOPE movie that features so many Toby Dawns flailing about in the field.

Every August, however, he makes cameo appearances in school districts across the nation whenever some absent-minded driver commits a stop-arm violation. He leaps into traffic and violently waves his arms and shouts. Air horns. Confetti poppers. Silly string on the windshield, and occasionally, roman candles. Kids on the bus love it, but it terrifies the drivers, and not necessarily the bad ones. “Sometimes, things get out of hand when I’m strobing,” he confesses. (Strobing is Toby’s term for his wacky, waving arm display. Oddly fitting.)

Toby is the first to admit, however, that a giant Irishman strobing in the middle of the road is not the best solution for drive-arounders. “I ain’t Santa Claus; I can’t be everywhere, Mr. Superintendent.”  (He refuses to accept that I have returned to the classroom.) Nevertheless, he has a brilliant solution: install a giant, wacky waving arm Toby Dawn on each school bus. Whenever someone breaks the sacred cheese wagon code, a menacing tube man inflates to frighten and intimidate offending motorists. 

He has formally proposed his giant inflatable tube man several times to the National Transportation Safety Board as the ultimate deterrent for drive-arounds, but the NTSB keeps rejecting it. Thankfully, his other idea – replacing the stop arms with a giant chainsaw – has been rejected, too. Toby understands that many school buses now have cameras, but “Either a giant Toby or chainsaw would stop this overnight,” he claims. Toby’s not wrong; we need something dramatic to protect kids from stop-arm violators. Maybe something in between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Gumby. I wonder if school districts just couldn’t post the videos online?

I cannot imagine anyone purposely driving around a loading or unloading school bus, but I shudder at the possibility of a kiddo popping out. It’s the sort of thing that keeps bus drivers (and Toby) up at night. Thankfully, school buses are the safest form of transportation on the planet . . . inside the bus. Drivers speeding around the bus are another matter, so as school starts this year, let’s imagine a giant Toby Dawn McIntyre in the road. If the flashing lights don’t get your attention, a wacky waving McIntyre might. Nevertheless, he cannot be everywhere, so until the NTSB installs menacing inflatable tube men on all school buses, we must be uber careful. Drivers keep kids safe on the inside; we must keep them safe on the outside. 

Hopefully, next time you see an inflatable flailing Toby Dawn, it’s at a car dealership. Meanwhile, please pray that the NTSB keeps rejecting at least one of Toby Dawn’s school bus drive around solutions, and please pray for the safety of our students this Second Sunday of the month.

Tom Deighan is a public educator and author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at deighantom@gmail.com 

Plan Now to Pray for Schools

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Summertime for churches is similar to summertime in schools.  It is a time of recharging, but summer is also a critical planning time.  Little happens in the fall or spring without intense planning in the summers, which is why this is the perfect time to discuss formal plans for Second Sunday School Safety Prayer (or S4 Prayer).  Perhaps, it can become a tradition that spreads.

This monthly call to prayer originally arose after Sandy Hook, but this is only partly about school shootings, which are worst-case scenarios. On a practical level, school safety is a more complex community issue, and the acronym S.C.H.O.O.L.S. describes it perfectly: safe, caring, healthy, open, orderly, learning, spaces.  All parents, educators, and students want safe schools, and all communities and faith-based organizations want S.C.H.O.O.L.S., too.  Common ground in 2022?

Parents first want to know that the school is safe, caring, and healthy.  Only then can S.C.H.O.O.L.S. be open and welcoming places that foster high standards of behavior to ensure orderly, open learning spaces where children can flourish. Second Sunday School Safety Prayer (S4 Prayer), therefore, is about much more than simply praying for protection from evil people; it’s about praying for the essence of your local schools and entire community.  

Like it or not, your local schools are a perfect reflection of your community, much like Wal-Mart.  Ninety-five percent of your families attend local public schools, and I bet 95% shop at Wal-Mart; they both serve everyone who shows up.  You might not like what you see, but what you see in the mirror is usually the best you got!  Schools (and Wal-Mart) only reflect what is in the mirror, so if we desire to see change, those changes must also be reflected in the whole community. 

Praying regularly for your local schools’ safety, therefore, is prayer for everything that matters.  Your children, your parents, your community, and your culture.  Parents want S.C.H.O.O.L.S. wherein all children feel loved, and all children graduate adult-ready. This only happens when communities are in alignment.  Even in 2022, nothing can align a community faster than the involvement (or indifference) of its faith-based organizations. For positive change, we must prioritize consistent, targeted prayer for our schools on a truly broad scale. Schools cannot make this happen.  Only the faith community can organize this, and in an age when we cannot seem to agree on anything, praying for school safety seems like an easy start.

Praying monthly for S.C.H.O.O.L.S. may not seem like much, but whenever we pray for people, our attitudes often change first as we think and feel differently about them.  From that, relationships grow, and lives change. In an age when no one seems to agree on anything, we need to find something that brings us together.  Ultimately, however, we should not pray for S.C.H.O.O.L.S. because it unites us or makes us feel good.  We should do it because prayer works, and when our local faith community agrees in prayer about something so important – in an age when agreement is so rare – nothing is impossible.

America has certainly rediscovered the importance of public schools, but instead of seeking solutions, we have turned schoolyards into political battle zones. Where are the peacemakers if they are not in our churches?  Perhaps, a simple prayer every second Sunday of the Month for the safety of our schools is a good first step because like it or not, public schools matter to all of us, even if we do not like what we see in that mirror.  So, please pray this second Sunday for the safety of our schools in the upcoming year – and please plan now to do this every month during the school year. Let’s decide now to make S4 Prayer a monthly tradition.  Who knows what we will see in the mirror (or at Wal-Mart) a year from now? 

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Toby Dawn’s Fall Fireworks Prediction

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The doorbell rang shortly after sunrise. Barely awake, I scurried to the door, but no one there . . . just a faint burning smell that I recognized a split second too late. Pop! Pop! Pop!  And so it started, my annual fireworks battle with my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre. He loves Independence Day, and each year, he starts his surprise attacks with a bang.  

Toby has booby-trapped doors, trash cans, and even my sock drawer.  Roman candles in the grill . . . whistling chasers tossed from moving cars . . . and, somehow, underwater fireworks.  No place is safe. Once he tethered a fishing line to my back porch and hid in my neighbors’ tree as he ziplined explosive after explosive to our peaceful cookout. When our neighbors let their dogs out, however, Toby was stuck, and we had great fun with our garden hoses. Don’t worry, no one ever gets hurt except Toby Dawn.  “Eyebrows grow back, Tommy Boy!”

As I celebrate Independence Day, however, I worry about the political fireworks ahead this fall. Predictably, new and terrifying strains of COVID are surfacing, but this year it is exacerbated by an incredibly divisive political season.  The familiar mask-or-no-mask battleline is already forming, and if history repeats itself, we can expect renewed calls for schools to close sometime later this month. (Just a hundred weeks or so to flatten the curve.) I am not sure if this slow fuse leads to a lady finger or an M-80, but if history repeats itself, the start of school will be the opening salvo. For the kids! 

The topic of education has never been more relevant or more divisive. Parents are being told to put on their Gotham City Shades, assured that everything bad they hear about in faraway big cities is also happening in their evil neighborhood schools.  Educators are being told to irrationally resist any changes in public schools, because of course, all public schools are perfect (or would be if we had more funding.) 

Meanwhile, rational parents and educators know better, despite the dire warnings of the Evil Public Schools or the Pollyanna Public Schools crowds. The radical one-percent of extremists, from both sides, continue to set just about everything on fire.  “I warned you about those Flaming Pennies;” Toby reminds me often, “they will burn the world down this election season to make a point!”  Common sense parents and educators, however, are starting to recognize much of these arguments as duds, because neither message describes many of our schools.  

I recently received fifteen fliers about candidates in one day, but none of them were sent by the candidates. In a year of unprecedented dark money impacting state and local elections, I have been fearful about the fireworks to come, but Oklahoman’s have impressed me.  We are stubborn, and we do not like faraway activists telling us how to vote.  A few high-profile dark money campaigns were effective, but overall, Oklahomans have made up their own darned mind.  Nothing makes an Okie bow-up faster than someone from Gotham City telling us how to vote, even if we agree.  

Yes, the fireworks will begin full force with the start of school, leading to a grand finale in November, but maybe, this season will reveal a brighter and more hopeful brand of fireworks: Oklahomans lighting up all this dark money with common sense and thoughtful determination. Oklahomans are too smart to vote locally while wearing their Cable News Goggles or Gotham City Shades. 

According to Toby Dawn McIntyre, “Anyone can blow stuff up, but only a skillful person can use fireworks to bring people together.”  Of course, this wisdom comes from a large red-haired man with only one eyebrow.  Nevertheless, as Fourth of July fireworks fade away, get ready for the real light show as school starts. All this dark money will surely make the fireworks brighter and more dazzling. Lets’ just hope all these flaming pennies don’t light some really destructive fires in our state, for they won’t be around to clean up the mess.     

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Pollyanna and Evil Public Schools

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Local rivalries abound in public schools, where parents and students rally around their local mascots. Likewise, collegiate supporters bleed the colors of their alma mater.  Such wholesome rivalries create a sense of community and an opportunity to cheer on our kids and the corresponding cartoon characters. On a national scale, however, the rivalry is not nearly as good natured. We are told to see our local public schools exclusively through our Cable News Goggles, and when we do that, we can only see Pollyanna Public Schools or Evil Public Schools.  

The Pollyanna Public Schools (PPS) hero myth paints all public schools as perfectly motivated institutions in need of no improvement or innovation, regardless of the facts or outcomes. The only thing Pollyanna Public Schools need is more funding to achieve educational utopia. The Pollyanna Public School crowd demonizes all public-school critics as greedily motivated to destroy public schools at all costs. PPS heroes stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that anything is systemically wrong within public schools, even in the most egregious situations. 

The Evil Public Schools (EPS) villain myth, on the other hand, paints all public schools as corrupt and incompetent institutions with no redeemable qualities or outcomes, regardless of the impossible challenges or expectations they face. The only option for the EPS antagonist is to dismantle public schools entirely and give more public funds to private entities. The Evil Public Schools crowd asserts that public school supporters are only motivated by greed and protecting existing educational power structures at all costs. The EPS villain stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that the school district does anything right, even when presented with truly stellar examples.  

Predictably, both sides faithfully scream, “Keep politics out of education!” And both sides profess to be fighting “For the Kids!” Nevertheless, both sides willingly ignore the obvious complexities of kid-level situations because nuance does not lend itself to high drama.  Few educators, however, have any Pollyannish delusions about their public schools, and likewise, few parents think their local educators are evil. Our modern Cable News Goggles focus almost exclusively on the extremes, incessantly keeping parents and educators on edge. It sure seems like we are being forced to choose between either a progressive march toward Marxism or a progressive march toward crony capitalism. 

Unfortunately, the kid-level voices of common-sense parents and educators disappear in the din of extremists. Ultimately, the PPS and EPS perspectives are simply two sides of the same political coin, for neither side has much of a message besides demonizing each other and asking for more money, without accountability.  One side refuses to consider any model wherein money follows the kid.  The other side rejects the idea of any public rules following the money as it is passed without oversight to private entities.  

Critics of public schools have many valid points, especially after the issues that developed during the pandemic.  Champions of public schools also have valid points, and most educators are dedicated, selfless professionals. Yet, the endless back-and-forth between PPS and EPS has resulted in stacks of legislation unrelated to the three R’s and seemingly designed to control kid-level options.  On one hand, legislation forces people to celebrate what they should tolerate in a free society, and on the other hand, legislation restricts people from tolerating much individual freedom at all. 

Local parents working with their local educators can work miracles, but both sides will need to cede a little more local control for this to happen. The conditions, causes, or solutions are rarely simple, so let’s take off our Cable News Goggles when we look at our neighborhood schools, parents, and educators.  They probably aren’t evil or Pollyannish, but they are undoubtedly dedicated to the local mascot, and as long as we can agree about cartoon characters, we have hope.  Please pray for kid-level wisdom, and please pray for the safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the Month. 

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

More Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Needed

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The specter of a school shooting always lurks in the back of parents’ and educators’ minds, but this week, it openly torments us. Adequate prayers cannot be uttered at a time like this, but we pray, nonetheless.  In the days and weeks ahead, we will learn more details, but we will also lose focus and interest as well.  Before that happens, we must seize our current state of crystal clarity and chart a different course regarding school safety, juvenile justice, and juvenile mental health.      

First, we must recognize who is to blame for this school shooting. Yes, the Uvalde shooter was troubled, bullied, and disadvantaged, but so are billions of children who do not do such things.  This young man was simply evil.  Yes, he was once a good boy, but in the end, he proved to be pure evil. Yes, he watched bad movies, listened to bad music, and visited bad websites, but unlike the countless others who also do those things, he chose to do evil. Yes, in hindsight, everyone could have done more for him, but he alone is responsible for his evil acts, not everyone and everything else who could not see the future.  Evil people will always have somewhat of an advantage because normal people do not think the way they think.  Evil people have an even greater advantage, however, when we are unwilling to recognize evil, or we keep blaming evil actions on everyone but the evil person. He and he alone is responsible for this. 

Our responsibilities lie in trying to prevent this in the future, while this is fresh on our mind. We must commit to quickly rebuilding our juvenile justice and mental health systems. Almost without exception, people who were close to school shooters recognized the evil tendencies, but they rarely had any options because we have completely dismantled our juvenile justice and mental health systems in recent decades. Schools are clearly not equipped to serve the modern variants of violent or disturbed children, but schools are often legally required to keep violent and disturbed children in school with everyone else. 

We recognize the right of all students to attend school free of harmful adults. The same right should apply regarding a school free of violent or disturbed children.  We know that the earlier we identify and serve them appropriately, the better chance we have of helping them, and this cannot always happen in school.  I don’t know if the Uvalde shooter had such services available, but they are almost non-existent in Oklahoma. We desperately need a robust juvenile justice and mental health system for kids who pose a threat to other children, so they can get the help they need at early ages.  

Thankfully, few children turn evil, but those who are struggling deserve the appropriate mental health services, and often that means long-term, in-patient mental health care, especially for the violent or disturbed. School shootings are extremely rare, but the numbers of violent and disturbed children are growing, and they should not attend school with everyone else until they have received the services they need.  Such children are suffering greatly, and they also have a disproportionate impact on the schools they attend – even if they do not turn into shooters. No one wishes to institutionalize any child, but without that option, we are institutionalizing whole schools.   

We need a system to serve disturbed or violent children before they turn evil for their sake and for the sake of schools struggling to deal with them. This is a very difficult discussion, and not very politically correct for a superintendent, but we clearly need to adopt new strategies for this growing segment of students. They deserve to be helped, and our schools deserve to be safe, but we do not currently have the system to serve them.  While this wound is fresh, let’s commit to create that system.  And although our prayers seem inadequate, keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Uvalde.   

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Toby Dawn’s Serious Summer Plans

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Please pray for me, for every year shortly after graduation, my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, attempts to whisk me away for a summer adventure. He once surprised me with a motorcycle and sidecar immediately after graduation ceremonies, “Hop in, Tommy Boy!” He said, tossing me a pair of old aviator goggles. “Summer Vacation starts tonight!” I was wearing a suit and tie, so I passed.  The next summer, he sent me a box full of fish heads as an invitation to join him at an Alaskan fish cannery. Last summer, he begged me to join him as a truck driver in Europe.  They had a serious driver shortage, “And they’ll pay us to see the sites!” he told me. So far, I don’t know what he’s planning this year, but he has been texting a lot of Mickey Mouse memes. 

No one takes their summers more seriously than Toby Dawn McIntyre, but few people can take three months to kayak down the Mississippi, not even most educators, despite the perception that we take summers off.  Mountains of work pile up during the summer, including most of the maintenance and technology projects.  If you have a student, you know about the endless stream of summer camps for everything from STEM to sports to the arts.  Many schools also offer summer school, which often includes busing and feeding children.  

In fact, summer is the busiest time of the year for principals and other administration because we must wrap-up one fiscal year, start another, and hire staff.  Many of the other staff also have summer jobs.  When I was a classroom teacher, I drove a semi, hauled hay, worked at a truck stop, and even worked at a summer camp. (I was a terrible camp counselor – too many spiders.) Those without summer jobs get recruited for stuff all summer long. Visit any Vacation Bible School or summer church camp, and you will find a slew of school staff.  They make summer stuff work when they are not working at school.  

Assuming that educators do nothing during the summer is like assuming that wheat farmers only work during harvest or that tax accountants only work during April.  Summers are less hectic, but the pressure is on for a good school year.  Great athletes are made in the off-season, and so are great school years, so whenever something looks easy from the outside, it probably wasn’t.  Hard workers and gifted people make things look easy, and most “gifted” people are really just hard workers.  All of this applies to students, too. 

Busy kids are happy kids, so put them to work, keep them engaged, and kick ‘em outside once in a while, so they can learn to drink from garden hoses. (Hose water is tangy!) And if you really want happy summer kids, make their bedrooms device-free zones overnight.  Sure, they will kick and scream a little, but within a short time, you might see those Tik-Tok “ticks” subside.  Let them start a summer job or project. I have mad respect for hard-working kids because they grow up to be successful adults. As Toby Dawn says, “At some point, you can’t fix lazy,” and I have rarely seen a hard-working kid become a lazy adult.  

As the 2022 school year wraps up, begin this summer with intentionality, for great summers do not happen by accident, and next school year depends on it.   Whether you are a parent, an educator, or a student, purposely plan now for a great 2022-23 school year. Work hard at having fun this summer, like my friend Toby Dawn, for summertime, like childhood, is fleeting.  Cherish every moment.  And if you see a large red-haired man riding a motorcycle with a screaming man trapped in a sidecar, move out of the way.  If we are also wearing Mickey Mouse ears, you can bet we are headed to Disney World.    

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

A World of Weary Well-Doers

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Feeling unappreciated, unwanted, or unwelcomed in the post-Covid age?  You are not alone. 

Although this column focuses (mostly) on educational issues, this is not just a school issue. Just about anyone in a “service” position has been tempted to feel this way recently. Service positions include anyone from parents trying to mitigate the soul-crushing influence of social media on their children to business owners fighting to keep people employed during supply-chain issues. Front-line workers might feel the ugliness most, however, as frustrated people can explode over the most trivial of matters. If people rely on you for their livelihoods, their security, or even a fountain drink, you can probably relate. Find an empty corner. Hug your knees. Rock back and forth. Welcome to the fellowship.

We tend to focus on the more visible “servants” who have been targeted with meanness lately, but this fellowship transcends all professions and positions to include all servant-leaders. You feel called to not only do your job well but to also make people’s lives a little easier. You might just be doing your duty, but you treat people with grace and gentleness. In our post-COVID age, anyone who does this stands out, and if this describes your heart, you are a servant-leader.

You do not expect pats on the back. You find satisfaction in meeting the needs of those depending upon you. Whether that means getting someone’s coffee or processing an insurance claim or serving in a volunteer position, you find joy in the service, but it is increasingly harder to escape the temptation to feel unwanted, unappreciated, and unwelcomed. You never expected accolades or recognition, but you also never expected to be attacked, vilified or demonized. I have never witnessed this happen on such a grand scale. 

Remarkably, this can happen simply because someone works in a particular business, position, or profession. People put on their Cable News Goggles and just assume they have the right to dehumanize you. Consequently, many servant-leaders grow weary of well-doing. Losing faith in their calling. Questioning their value. Wondering if it is worth it. That’s scary, for when our servant-leaders weary of well-doing, then we face a world devoid of grace. 

If you currently feel unwelcomed, unwanted, or unappreciated, please know that you are not alone. Others like you are tempted to feel this way as well, and while that may be little comfort, I hope you realize that in times of darkness, grace abounds even more. Your kind word in the drive-thru lane. Your cheerful voice as you answer your company phone. Your gracious reply (or non-reply) to an email. You never know what may keep another person whole for a little while longer, for they are hurting, too, and hurt people hurt people. In time, the seeds of grace you faithfully sow may sprout eternal fruit in them, just as seeds of grace planted in us by others sustained us through tough times. The more you feel unwelcomed, unwanted, or unappreciated – the more you can certainly know you are needed, perhaps more than ever!  

Please do not weary in well-doing, servant-leaders, and whenever possible, make sure other servant-leaders know how much youwelcome, want, and appreciate them. They may not expect pats on the back, but the touch is welcomed, and everyone deserves to be noticed occasionally. In time, the bread you cast upon the waters will return to you for a feast of joy and reconciliation, kind of like a reverse supply chain of joy. You have been called for such a time as this, but if you must occasionally hug your knees and gently rock in the corner, that’s ok, too. You are in the best of company. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Easter: The Emptiest Holiday

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Marshmallow Peeps are the epitome of dietary emptiness – pure sugar, whipped into a fluffy puff, then dipped in more sugar. Confection perfection!  Peeps are my favorite Easter candy, and they cap off The Season of Eating that starts in late September and sweetly saunters on for the next six months. Halloween . . . Thanksgiving . . . Christmas . . . Valentines . . . and finally Easter. And candy is at the heart of it all!   Those empty, barren calories with no nutritional value. The more we eat, the more we want. The Fattening Five offer an uninterrupted stream of dietary nothingness . . . and I love every minute of it, especially Easter, because we save the best candy for last. 

Halloween candy impresses due to sheer volume, but the good stuff is gone too quickly, that is, if the trick-or-treaters even get it. If I am guarding the candy bowl, you can be sure the good stuff goes in my bag, but before Thanksgiving arrives, we are picking through the last of the candy-corn and Dum-Dums. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is a bit of a bust on the candy front, but thankfully, chocolate Santas start hitting the shelves. And if all else fails, pumpkin pie satisfies in a pinch. 

Christmas and Valentine’s Day candy are much better than Halloween candy, but they fall short of perfection for one simple reason: gotcha candies from those fancy gift boxes. When I bite into a chocolate, I should not be surprised, much less with raspberry crème. All the leftover candies with small exploratory dents or bites are an annual public health hazard. There should be a Surgeon General’s warning on any so-called chocolate with crème filling. We might as well fill them with ribbon candy.

But Easter candy, simply the best!  Almost all of it has chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, or marshmallow in it. Amazing Peeps, giant Reese’s Eggs, chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies, and the mysterious Cadbury fluid, and who knew that MM’s taste better in pastels?  The only way it could get any better is with it all combined into some sort of chocolate bunny dipped in sugar. As a matter of fact, the worst candy Easter has to offer is the colorful jelly bean. Not too shabby, Mr. Easter Bunny. 

Next week, after I eat the last jellybeans and marshmallow chicks, I will be sad to see The Season of Eating end. I will not only miss the sweets, but I will also need to shed five pounds and to recuperate from six months of shameful, regretful calories. But that is not the only emptiness Easter has to offer, for it is the emptiest holiday of all!  

The most amazing emptiness in history occurs on Easter: the empty tomb, from which broken and ashamed people have emerged forgiven and repurposed for two-thousand years. In its emptiness, we discover fullness of joy and redemption. For just like Easter candy, Christ also saves the best for last, sometimes following our darkest despair. On that spring morn so long ago, He conquered death and the grave, forever exchanging our heavy sorrow for the joyful emptiness of His tomb. So, no matter where you are or what you are dealing with, let Easter remind you that He always saves the best for last, and transforms sorrow to joy. Unlike the empty Easter candy we love so much, however, the emptiness of Easter fills us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

The Right of Parental Input and Output

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I have never visited a hot dog factory, but I have been warned against it by people who refuse to eat hot dogs afterwards.  Apparently, lots of stuff can go into a hot dog, and none of it looks like something you would slap on the grill, so the input does not match the output. I rarely buy hot dogs because I ate too many in college. (Seriously, the cheap ones were sometimes four packages for a dollar!) Nevertheless, toss a few on the grill, and I still find them hard to resist.  Something about animal lips and mustard!

Come to think of it, schools are like hot dog factories because the tiny tots that entered Pre-K do not always resemble the graduates we produce, but there is a clear difference between hot dog factories and schools. It is a matter of input and output.  Factories have full control of whatever enters and exits the manufacturing process, but schools can never exercise complete control over input or output, for those are ultimately parental rights.  Parents have the right to know everything introduced into their children’s education, and they also have the right to everything their child produces during that education. No individual parent can unilaterally decide policy, curriculum, or library books for everyone, but when it comes to your child, you have the ultimate right of input and output.  

Regarding input, nothing should ever be taught, introduced, or presented to school children without parental access to the information, parental knowledge, or parental assent.  Parents rarely demand to preview everything, because they are busy, but everything should be available if they ever ask for it.  And above all, parents should always be notified beforehand if something is potentially controversial, sensitive, or age inappropriate – to ensure parents can opt out their children for religious, moral, or cultural reasons. 

Likewise, parents always deserve full disclosure regarding the output. Anything a child says, produces, or discloses in a school must be provided, available, or accessible to the parents. This includes not only classwork but also potentially harmful or sensitive issues, so parents can be involved in the solution. One of the biggest mistakes an educator can make is withholding sensitive information from a parent, even if the motive is good. Parents have a right to know information about their children that is uncovered in school, even if it is unpleasant or difficult to discuss.

Of course, in extreme cases involving the safety of the child, parents may be temporarily excluded from input and/or output, but this is the exception and not the norm, and it involves the appropriate authorities. Normally, all parents deserve full access and disclosure to both input and output related to their children. When this happens, schools run well, and parental rights are upheld and respected. Parents and educators trust each other. Furthermore, when parents have access to all input and output, they can make the best educational decisions for their children, based on factors that only a parent can know. Thankfully, most parents and educators understand this partnership, despite what you may see in the news.  

Making hotdogs and making graduates are both messy processes, but unlike hotdog factories, schools do not fully control the manufacture of their future graduates.  Our “hot dogs” also enter the factory cuter than when they exit, so I suppose schools are backwards hotdog factories.  They enter as bubbly cuties and exit as moody teenagers!  

Another big difference: our factories are open for inspection by parents. You really should see your hot dogs being made, every darn step. You will not always like or agree with everything in your local school, but when it comes to your children, you can expect full disclosure about the input and the output.  It is a fundamental parental right, and if schools ever forget that, we have lost our way.  On the other hand, if you start demanding to know what’s in your hot dogs . . . well, you’re just asking for trouble.  Sometimes, ignorance (or mustard) is bliss.  

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com