That Moment When…

…you see a headline on social media that you just swear has to be from Babylon Bee, but it’s not:

St. Paul school board members aren’t paid enough, St. Paul school board members say

But sure enough, it’s a real story. Or as real as the mainstream media gets, anyway.

Of course, they preside over a crumbling district with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, on a board that serves mostly as a DFL farm team.

But it’s all about keeping up with the Joneses:

Board members get $10,800 per year, which is less than what comparably sized metro districts pay. However, members are eligible for district health insurance; those who sign up get a premium subsidy that’s worth $9,643 this year.
Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert, who are leaving the board next year after serving one four-year term, gave the strongest endorsements for a raise at a meeting Wednesday evening.
“I feel very strongly that there really does need to be an increase so we can make sure that we have people who have passion, who have expertise and who aren’t going to feel that serving on this board is going to make it impossible for them to meet their financial needs,” Schumacher said.
Vanderwert suggested a salary increase of $5,000 or more.
“I definitely think it’s time for us to do this,” she said. “It’s the most important work a community does, and the board positions need to be attractive to high-quality people.”

Full (but unneeded) disclosure – I worked with Mary Vanderwert a loooong time ago. Perfectly fine human being, although there’s that whole “SPPS School Board member” thing.

Did I mention the Joneses?

…Anoka-Hennepin, pays between $14,400 and $15,600, depending on the board member’s role, human resources director Laurin Cathey said.
Minneapolis, the third-largest district, pays $22,000.
Most board members make $9,000 in Osseo, $7,236 in St. Cloud, $7,200 in Bloomington and $5,000 in Brooklyn Center, Cathey said.
Cathey also looked at St. Paul’s national peers and found school board members receive no pay in either Des Moines, Iowa, or Portland, Ore.

I wondered if they bothered comparing school board pay to graduation rates, minority achievement or percent of students who need remedial classes in college?

And maybe correlate that with ideological distribution of the school board’s members?

Hmmmmm.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Problem…

…with trying to run a society with the entitled cranks that make up so much of the modern left is that if you’re a consevative, they really, really hate you and the idea of sharing a society with you.

University of Texas “Anarchist” (really Maxarchist) group promises to “dox” students who joint the campus’s conservative organization:

“Hey #UT23! Do you wanna be famous? If you join YCT or Turning Point USA, you just might be. Your name and more could end up on an article like one of these,” the tweet said, linking to previous doxxing posts of conservative students at the school. “So be sure to make smart choices at #UTOrientation

There are times I wish I was still in school.

Affirmative Consent

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Minnesota’s New Puritans trying to make college sex “safe” might destroy it, instead.  

The proposed legislation says consent to a sexual act must be given by words or actions that create mutually understandable, unambiguous permission regarding willingness to engage in, and the conditions of, sexual activity.   It goes on to say that consent may be withdrawn at any time.  

Does “at any time” mean “after the fact?”  Can a person regret having agreed to have sex and retroactively withdraw consent?  Do second-thoughts convert consensual activity into sexual assault? 

If a person is accused of engaging in sexual activity without obtaining express consent, at trial, how does the accused prove s/he did obtain explicit consent?  He-said-she-said testimony?  A witness who watched the sex act?  Sex video?  Who curates the library of sex videos? 

It would be much easier to enforce if they’d cut to the chase and say: “Students shall not engage in sexual activity while enrolled in college.”
Joe Doakes

My alma mater – at least while I was in school (I have no idea today) went through at least the formality of saying “nobody of the opposite sex in your room after 11PM – 1AM on weekends”. Everyone knew the rules were getting flouted – but the institution had the wisdom to imply “look, all you late-adolescents – we know you’re going to do it, because for all the academic jabbering you are all still governed by hormones. But we know you’re neither thinking clearly, nor ready for the consequences, and we’re at least going to nag you about it long enough that the consequences don’t happen on our watch”.

I’m pretty sure it was a better idea.

“Unexpected”

UPDATE: Not sure how this piece originally ran in its unedited version.  But there you have it.

The Democrats will be holding their convention next year in Milwaukee.  

Kevin Williamson thinks that’s pretty appropriate, all in all.  

In response to a particularly stupid column by Paul Krugman a few years back, our friend Iowahawk shared an interesting discovery: Schools in progressive Wisconsin on average outperform the schools in low-spending, Republican Texas — but the schools in Texas outperform the schools in Wisconsin when it comes to outcomes for white students, black students, and Latino students, each of which group produced higher test scores in Texas than in Wisconsin. Wisconsin came out ahead not because it does a better job with any particular group of students but because it is overwhelmingly white. In other states black and Hispanic students trail their white peers, too, but seldom as much as they do in Wisconsin’s graduation rates.

The Democrats own Milwaukee, which hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1908. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al. will be cheered to know that Milwaukee has had three times as many socialist mayors as Republicans since the beginning of the 20th century.

I’m exceptionally confident we’ll find Minnesota compares identically.

The World Academic / Intellectual War

The barring and harassment of conservative speakers on campus – even campuses like Grand Canyon and Northwestern in Saint Paul, which recently got heartburn over Star Parker – isn’t just a series of random snowflakes yelling themselves hoarse:

Lefties call this kind of challenge a structure test. It’s an evaluation of capacity. Organizations (or people) can either pass a structure test, or they can fail. In the case of the [Grand Canyon University] challenge, [Young America Foundation] passed. So, the next question is whether YAF has the capacity and willingness to pass that structure test somewhere else for the sake of Parker, who is a less prominent name than Shapiro.
After that, the question will be whether YAF can pass that test again, and again, and again. It’s an unending series of questions: Are you willing to fight? How much? For how long? How many fights can you sustain? How many fights can you keep track of? How many lawsuits can you afford to file?

Even I lose track.

The answer?

Organize – finally, once and for all. Of course, it’s easier said than done:

First off, let me stress that this kind of organization isn’t something just anybody can do. Some people are better placed to do it than others. The ideal person to be involved in this work is somebody who’s active in her alumni network, was active in campus life as a student, and has a good number of healthy contacts, preferably among people who are active donors.
If that’s you: sit down and make a list of people you know personally, who donate time and money to the university, who are unhappy with the way things are. Call them up on the phone—don’t text, don’t email, don’t Facebook. You’re using a personal connection here, and the human voice is important.
Sound them out, make sure they’re on your side, then make it clear you’re putting together a group of donors who want to pressure the university to make it a better place for conservatives. They should ideally be of a variety of ages — that way their networks will consist of different graduating cohorts. Discuss what you’re doing, what your demands will be, and get people to sign on.
This is your organizing committee

Read the whole thing. It’s worth it.

Disclosure: the pieces from the , which may as well be a click bait site these days.

On the other hand, there is nothing about what we know about political correctness, especially in the modern school and academic systems, that smells wrong in any way.

The principal at a New York performing arts high school ordered all Nazi symbol is removed from the stage

… of the play The Sound of Music. Which – if you’ve never seen it – was set in Nazi occupied Austria:

The principal at the elite “Fame” school, Lisa Mars, ordered Nazi flags and symbols removed from the stage set of the beloved tale of the Von Trapp family, who fled the Nazis from their native Austria as Adolf Hitler took power, students told the Daily News.

Now, there’s an old saying; “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”. So this ext graf – In which a 15-year-old high school kid would seem to have gotten it right…:

“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore performer told The News about the fuhrer furor. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.

is perfectly likely to turn out to be false. But I do hope kids are smarter about history than the adults who run most of the educational/industrial complex today.

I hope Dash indeed, I pray – that it’s true.

Unexpected

Anti-bullying programs seem to result in…more bullying?  

Seokjin Jeong and Byung Hyn Lee set out to discover how bullying prevention programs could be effectively transferred from individual schools to schools on a national level. To their surprise, they discovered that bullying prevention programs don’t always produced the expected results:

“Surprisingly, bullying prevention had a negative effect on peer victimization. Contrary to our hypothesis, students attending schools with bullying prevention programs were more likely to have experienced peer victimization, compared to those attending schools without bullying prevention programs. It is possible that bullies have learned a variety of antibullying techniques but chose not to practice what they have learned from the program.”

Such findings bring up an important point. We spend a lot of time promoting awareness of different issues today. But while awareness of a problem should be raised, is it possible to fixate on that problem so much that we actually increase it?

The fact is, high attention on any one issue can work both ways. On the one hand, it raises focus on the victim. Being able to come out and say, “Yes, I’ve suffered, too,” even for the smallest thing, can be oddly gratifying and status boosting. On the flip side, perpetrators also stand to receive a certain level of prestige and attention for their actions, however wrong they may be.

In much the same way as saturation coverage of mass shootings creates more mass shootings I suspect.

Root Hog Go Hungary

Hungary bans Gender Studies courses at state universities:

A Hungarian government spokesman told Breitbart the country’s employers have “no demand for gender studies graduates.”

The new rule won’t affect many; only eleven students were admitted to the gender studies program at ELTE, and only two more at George Soros’s CEU according to the Breitbart report.

Wonder if we can get Viktor Orban to run for governor of Minnesota?

The Real Resistance

“Resistance” implies one is fighting an all-powerful status quo.

LIberals in liberal cities are not the “resistance”; they are “the power”.

And teachers?  People in the public education system?  Going against the herd in the world of public education is truly resistance.

And teachers who have decided that their and their charges’ lives are worth more than the vague blandishments of security theater may be the bravest resistance of all:

On a recent morning in Newcomerstown, Ohio, a row of teachers stood in a line with guns drawn and moved slowly toward a row of steel plate targets.

As the teachers advanced, bullets pinged off the metal with each round they fired.

The teachers had come to take part in Faster Saves Lives, a voluntary training program run by an Ohio-based nonprofit that has taught more than 1,300 school staff members to carry and use firearms since 2013. (Faster stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training & Emergency Response.)

“My students are my kids, basically, and I want to be able to protect them just like I would protect my own son,” said a 34-year-old Ohio teacher of students with special needs who participated in the program and spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern that by going public, she or her school could be targeted by a shooter.

I suspect – and all the evidence that actually exists supports me on this – that the opposite is the case.

Anyway – more, faster, please.

The High Cost Of “Woke”

Evergreen State College – the ultra-“progressive” school in Washington State that’s spent the past couple years in an orgy of virtue-signaling and PC-witchhunting – has seen its enrollment projections drop by 20% this year – and its budget is accordingly in freefall:’

Both announcements come nearly a year after the college endured persistent riots following former professor Bret Weinstein’s decision to question the “day of absence,” an initiative that asked white students to leave campus for a day of off-campus diversity workshops, while people of color participated in on-campus workshops.

After besieging Weinstein in his classroom, student protesters proceeded to hold school President George Bridges and several other administrators hostage in the president’s office, temporarily refusing even to let Bridges use the bathroom unless he agreed to adopt their demands for additional diversity-related initiatives.

Carmichael warned employees that “it is impossible” to make a budget cut of such magnitude without “affecting some programs and services,” noting that the college “can’t afford” things like “theatrical productions in the Experimental Theater.”

Evergreen has been “experimental theater” for some time now.

But back on point – it almost seems like people looking for an education these days would prefer less pompous, often threatening and sometimes violent virtue-signaling and more…

…education?

It hardly seems possible, does it?

Tolerance

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The schools used to celebrate Christian holidays – Valentine, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – but had to quit because of our culture of tolerance and respect.

But the schools do celebrate Hmong New Year and have pow-wows so it’s not a ban on all holidays, only Christian holidays.  Because, you know, tolerance and respect.

The school board, under fire from parents, agreed to take another look at the policy to see if it supports the diversity in our community.  My guess: every religion is allotted one holiday and the board will decide which one you get.  Looking forward to the Catholic holiday: Shrove Tuesday.

Joe Doakes

I’m just surprised they haven’t adopted (and I say this knowing that today’s sarcastic jape is tomorrow’s Saint Paul School Board policy) Festivus.

Opportunity Knocks

To: Hollywood, the major media, the opinion-making classes, the educational/industrial complex
From:  Mitch Berg, obstreporous peasant.
Re:   Want to do some good?

Millennials know nothing about the Holocaust:

Twenty-two percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.

The study, conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, interviewed 1,350 American adults in February and recruited by telephone and an online non-probability sample.

Asked to identify what Auschwitz is, 41 percent of respondents and 66 percent of millennials could not come up with a correct response identifying it as a concentration camp or extermination camp. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says that at least 1.3 million people were deported to the camp, run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland, from 1940 to 1945, and 1.1 million of them were killed. It was the largest concentration camp among many built by the Nazis during their campaign to wipe out the Jews and other groups.

But lest you think its just malfeasance and sloth:

Respondents indicated much more awareness of modern-day bias against Jews, with 68 percent saying anti-Semitism is present in America today, and 51 percent saying there are “many” or “a great deal of” neo-Nazis in the United States today.

So a majority “know” a non-existent factoid that is entirely a figment of propaganda intended to gull the hysterical, but a tiny fraction know why those people might conceivably matter.

So, media and entertainment industries – perhaps we could make with a  little of the “never again” in between comic book remakes and endless FBI “investigations”?

Just a suggestion.

That is all.

Watching The Bubble Pop

There are no worthless degrees [1] – only dumb, entitled or inflexible people.

My BA in English set me up pretty good for a life where I changed careers 2-3 times before I turned 40, and taught myself to work in a STEM-related field (and doing very well, thankewverymuch).

But my major advisor, the late Dr. James Blake, was a pretty no-nonsense guy. For starters, it was he the finally convinced me I was really a conservative (he characterized himself as a “Monarchist”); I doubt you could find anyone like him in an English program today. He was also pretty diligent about reminding us that unless we wanted to a) spend years chasing a PhD and then academic appointments, or b) teach high school, or c) work for near-slave wages in the literary world, the odds of “working in our field” after college were miniscule. We were going to have to adapt, be mentally nimble, and *think* to make a living.

So the chuckleheads who are cheering the demise of liberal arts and humanities programs have it half wrong. They COULD fill a very useful niche.

But today, unfortunately, outside of places like Hillsdale College, they do not. They are sinecures for intellectually sloppy but boundlessly entitled academics who “teach” soggy, rootless, post-structural, personal-feelings-based ideology rather than the arts and humanities that *civilization is built around*. And we’re all poorer for it, even if you didn’t go to college, or major in humanities if you did.

And for that, a reckoning is due.

[1] that don’t have the word “…Studies” in them, anyway. Those are all pretty worthless.

The Higher Education Butane Balloon

Students at the University of Wisconson’s Stout Campus must prove they’ve absorbed the PC narrative to Big Brother’s satisfaction before being granted a diploma:

In order to fulfill the requirement, students must complete at least six credits from a list of approved courses that address at least two out of four categories: Global Self-Awareness, Global Knowledge, Global Viewpoint, and Global Engagement.

“Global self-awareness” courses, for instance, focus on embracing the “values of diverse others,” helping students to “develop appreciation for diverse voices and stories and the contributions of cultures and countries different from one’s own.”

The “global knowledge” goal, meanwhile, addresses “the deeply interconnected nature of the world,” with courses exploring concepts like how “the impact of globalized capitalism and neoliberalism on economic systems, inter and intra-societal stratification, civil and human rights, and sustainability” form the “historical roots” of inequities around the world.

The “global viewpoint” category aims to introduce students to different cultural and historical perspectives, while the “global engagement” element teaches students to “take effective critical action” on the basis of their new knowledge by “contributing to positive change in globally diverse, interconnected, and interdependent natural, social, and business environments.”

It took a moment to realize they weren’t talking about Evergreen State.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

And to think they say the left is utterly clueless about economics;   Feminist Business School promises to remove the profit motive from the free market

The Feminist Business School, founded by Evergreen State College graduate Jennifer Armbrust, teaches that capitalism is an “economy that values masculine traits” such as “meritocracy,” “competition,” and “individualism.” The California-based site recently launched two more online courses to coach aspiring businesswomen on how to “topple the patriarchy” and promote a more “feminist economy.”

Shunning the “profit seeking motive” of traditional commerce, the Feminist Business School advocates that businesswomen adopt more “feminine traits” such as “gratitude,” “intimacy,” and “connecting with nature.”

Did we mention it started at Evergreen State?

Training For Life In Any Democrat-Run City

There was a bit of a blizzard in the Twin Cities on Monday night.

Which is apparently a brand new thing to Saint Paul schools:

St. Paul schoolchildren were still on buses or remained at a handful of public schools at 9 p.m. Monday, a district spokesperson said.

Toya Stewart Downey did not say how many kids were still affected by the delays caused by Monday’s storm. Shortly before 8 p.m. a number of bus delays were reported on the district’s website, and many bus routes indicated they were three or more hours behind.

Stewart Downey said about 7:30 p.m. that several schools reported buses scheduled to arrive at 4 p.m. had yet to do so.

Now, just as a personal aside, the Transportation Department at the SPPS is the one government body in the United States that can’t look at Victor Maduro’s Venezuela and criticize.  I’m not sure if their motto is “Do A Bad Job Arrogantly”, but it sure could be.

Now, some parents were unamused and unimpressed with the district’s explanation:

many parents expressed their frustration and concern via social media and in emails and calls to the KSTP newsroom.

A post on the district’s Facebook page, which had more than 160 “likes” as of Tuesday morning, stated,  “‘Had we known…’ Are you even serious? Every forecast in the region was clear. The stress and strain you put on families and the children you put in danger when you put them on the roads tonight was absolutely unacceptable. Take responsibility. This was nothing short of very poor planning. Not only did you have a pretty clear radar as early as yesterday, you had enough snow by noon to know what the afternoon would look like. On the other hand, the teachers, aides, students, and parents went above and beyond as usual.”

Another post on the district’s Facebook page stated, in part, “Absolutely unacceptable does not even begin to describe what happened here. I trust that every single senior member of this school district is still in their seats at their desks and will remain so until every last student is home safely, which I understand the police are currently working on.”

Of course, 80-odd percent of these parents will vote for the DFL-endorsed school board that has made not only their kids transportation a sloppy mess, but their education too.

Wonder if charter school kids had that problem?

“It Takes An Elite Education To Be This Stupid”

Failed former Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges has left the US, dodging the opprobrium from progressives outraged over what her mismanagement of Minneapolis did not only to the city, but to the reputation of American progressivism.

“It’s not completely justice, but it’s a start” said Ramona Beel-Zebab, spokeswoman for The Association Of Progressive Associations”.

When last heard Hodges … was… was…

Oh, I can’t keep a straight face.

No, Betsy Hodges isn’t running from her legacy.  And good heavens, no, progs aren’t gut-checking their movement over the misery it’s caused.

No, they’re making it part of the next generation’s playbook:

The Harvard Institute of Politics announced Betsy Hodges will be among its 2018 resident fellows.

Her study group will focus on racial equality, policing and local governance.

Some of you may be asking – which half of this post is the parody?

Betsy Hodges on Racial Equality?

Betsy Hodges on Policing?

Progressivism is about making poverty, racial division and inequity permanent bloody shirts to wave in society’s face.

Shocked. Shocked.

Mahdatory diversity courses do nothing useful

A crminiology prof at Eastern Carolina University found out that:

After assessing the bias of students before and after the course—using prompts such as “a woman should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers” and “if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”—Stacey found that the course hadn’t altered students’ attitudes towards race or gender.

Only their attitudes towards homosexuality had changed, she found.

“The results of the t-test indicate that the only significant change over time in the scales was in attitudes toward homosexuality generally,” Stacey reports. “This would suggest that the course has no effect on [attitudes towards women], symbolic racism, or attitudes toward gays/lesbians specifically.”

that’s actually better than I expected; I’d have figured the courses would make matters worse.

Especially given that their purpose is not to foster diversity, but rather to provide jobs for activists and teach students not to question the Big Left’s narrative.

Why Johnny Can’t Read

News Flash:  The citizens, taxpayers and parents of Osseo, MN have discovered what the parents of Saint Paul, Edina and some other Twin Cities’ area communities have found out:  focusing to exclusion on “white privilege” as the reason for the achievement gap doesn’t actually change, or even affect, the achievement gap.

Unlike other Twin CIties communities, Osseo’s actually been able to do something about it; they’ve bagged their contract with Pacific Education Group – the company that has turned privilege-shaming into an eight-figure business model – the company:

In 2012, the Osseo Area School District hired Pacific Education Group (PEG) to help with the high suspension rate amongst its non-white students and achievement gap issue the schools faced. Last year, the school board cancelled its contract with the racial equity consultants after abiding by its suggestions for five years and watching the racial achievement gap grow.

Wait – grow, you say?

What is clear for Osseo according to statistics obtained from Minnesota’s Department of Education, math scores for black students in the School District have steadily declined, dropping from 33 percent in 2014 (which was above the statewide level) to 29 percent in 2017. In the same time period, math scores for white students remain largely unchanged at 73 percent. In reading, black students maintained a 36 percent proficiency in the same time period, while the gap with their white counterparts grew from 73 percent in 2014 to 74 percent in 2017.

No huge surprise – it’s pretty much true everywhere.

The surprise?  We’ve actually found a school board that’ll tell the Emperor he’s walking around naked:

“The problem is hard to fix when you have good teachers who are thinking about quitting, but you can’t help them because you’ve been sworn to not reveal their names,” Gerhart told Alpha News. “We have a staff that is currently about 80% white, so in effect we are using taxpayer money to systematically shame 4/5ths of our staff for simply being born.”

Gerhart describes an environment where teachers were afraid to step forward – teachers who were physically and verbally threatened and abused on a daily basis by their students.

The problem, of course, is that like most “progressive” “efforts”, the end results end up being indistinguishable from Stalin’s CHeKA, or the Spanish Inquisition:

“PEG has instilled a culture of fear among a number of teachers,” Gerhart states. “PEG likes to talk about having ‘courageous conversations,’ however in reality they have a number of ‘protocols’ in place that you have to agree and adhere to before taking part in the ‘conversation.’  These protocols frame the context of the discussion before the conversation even takes place, in essence disallowing true discussion much less debate or disagreement. If a person does not agree to these basic protocols, it is regarded as evidence of that person’s inherent racism. And remember, according to PEG, all white people are inherently racist no matter what, so a number of our teachers simply keep their mouths shut for fear of being labeled “racist” and getting fired or bullied out of their jobs.”

The “Conversation” is always defined by them.  Which means it’s never a conversation.

Congratulations, people of Osseo.  Your elected officials have exhibited just the faintest shred of courage.  It almost beggars the imagination.

 

 

George Barron

When people talk about what is wrong with American education today, at the end of the day most of the answers come back as some variation of “there aren’t more teachers out there like George Barron used to be”.

George Barron was my high school chemistry teacher…sort of.  He passed away late last month.

I say he was “sort of” my chemistry teacher because it didn’t really go well.  I mention this lest you think that this is going to turn into one of those Pollyanna-ish stories about teachers – Stand and Deliver or Mister Holland’s Opus or Watch Misplaced Teacher Turn The Meth-Heads Into Math-Heads or whatever –  where some plucky teacher triumphs over the recalcitrant kid (and the system that keeps them down, natch) and teaches everyone the Big Lesson by the end of the story.   It’s not.

Well, not directly.  Indirectly, it very much is.  But we’ll come back to that.

A solid generation before I took his chemistry class, George Barron was – or so I was told – a Navy dive-bomber pilot.  He didn’t talk about the war – none of the small group of teachers that were WWII veterans ever did – although he did make sure we knew that, during the war, he trusted his life to a tailgunner not much older than we.  Us, on the other hand?  He didn’t trust us to fetch donuts from the bakery. We had a way to go before we got there.

Judging by old high school annuals, Mr. Barron got out of the Navy, came to Jamestown, and became a chemistry teacher.  I know he was teaching when my father was a student, back in the fifties; he was still there when my dad came back to teach in the mid-sixties, and he was still teaching in 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school.  His legend preceded him; you learned a lot from his classes (Jamestown High School produced an inordinate number of doctors and scientists in those days, all of them alums of Barron’s classes), but he was tough.  .

I was not.  Not academically, at least.  I’d spent 9th and 10th grade bored out of my skull; English was a mind-numbing reiteration of grammar classes; History was taught by football coaches who had read less of the material than I had; but for languages (three years of German), Orchestra and Stage Band, I had pretty well checked out.

Which wasn’t a great start.

Toward the end of my sophomore year, as we were signing up for next year’s classes, we got a mimeographed sheet from Mr. Barron explaining that:

  • People who wanted to go to college took Chemistry.  People who wanted to go to Vocational school took “Practical Chemistry” from Barron’s associate, Mr. Scherbenske.  People who wanted neither, took neither.
  • He was tough, and made no excuses for it.  He had standards, and if you didn’t measure up, you’d get an “F”.

The page included a list of students who’d succeeded, and students who’d dropped the class – which struck me as a little odd at the time.  But I signed up anyway.

Of course, on top of everything else my junior year, Chemistry hit me like a truck.  Oh, Mr. Barron’s class hit everyone like a truck – but I was really, truly not ready for that.   I was disorganized, didn’t really have the math down, and just could not keep up.

I’d love to say there was an inspirational speech, or some moment standing at the blackboard trying to calculate a reaction where I had a blinding flash of epiphany that would be presented in a movie with a montage of late-night studying, slow improvement, and cutaway shots of Mr. Barron’s implacable grimace slowly softening into the hint of a smile.

But that’s Hollywood.  Me?  I cratered.  After my first six-weeks’ grade (a solid “F”), I dropped the class.  No, I didn’t switch to study hall; I managed to talk my way into Latin I; I started seven weeks behind the rest of the class, and caught up by the end of the semester.

My other classes?  I jumped from the C’s and D’s and occasional F’s of my first two years of high school to mostly A’s and B’s.  This was also my first year at the radio station – and I threw myself into that as well, and learned a lot of radio by the end of the year.  Part of it was that I was finally taking classes I cared about, and taking them from teachers who actually cared about the material themselves – my dad’s speech class, writing and a few others in particular.

Part of it was to not only live down, but expunge the stench of “quitting”.

Toward the end of my junior year, a sophomore friend handed me a copy of Mr. Barron’s mimeograph for the next year’s class. My stomach fell down my leg in an icy ball of confusion; I was listed among the kids who’d dropped the class.

My first reaction was to hunt him down and make him eat a bunson burner.  But the girl who’d sat behind me in class – let’s call her Lori – said “he’s just putting you out there as an example of a smart kid who didn’t gel with the class”.  It may have been BS, but I felt a little better.

The main point being, I spent the rest of that year, and the next, living that scarlet “Q” down.  And through four years of college, where I averaged over 20 credits a semester.  And the decades since, where in trial after trial, “don’t quit” has been the only real palatable solution.

And I owe that to Mr. Barron.

His “practical chem” colleague, another former Barron student, and my dad’s chess partner, Mr. Scherbenske, wrote a memorial to Mr. Barron in my hometown paper that sums the man up pretty well.