An Indian For A Day

Editor’s note:  J. L. Strickland is a retired textile mill employee in Valley, AL who refers to himself as a “Linthead Emeritus.”  He is also quite a good story teller and from time to time shares one of his tales with us.  They always make me smile, just as this one will do the same for you no doubt:

“To escape being removed from their traditional home, the Alabama band of MOWA Choctaw fled into forests and swamps over a century and a half ago. They existed, largely unseen, for lo, many years. However, later rulings and events led to their revealing their presence. While these benighted humans have made some gains, they have been frustrated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs refusal to recognize MOWA Choctaw as a legitimate tribe.

While an original 1830s treaty signed by all parties acknowledged the Choctaw Band as a self-governing entity, there was a sneaky snag in the fine print, as usual.  In the flowery language of that era, this document clearly recognized the Native Americans’ autonomy and guaranteed the Band would keep control of their lands for “as long as the grass grows, the winds blow, and the rivers flow.”

Or, ninety days, whichever came first.

Another fast one pulled by the White Eyes.  My heart goes out to the MOWA Band and other put-upon Native Americans.  For a fleeting moment in my life, I was a mistreated Native American, too. And believe me, I still harbor painful memories of that brief, but mortifying experience.

My transformation from an 11-year-old Scots-Irish paleface into a noble savage came during the first week of summer vacation, circa 1950.  Regular school was over, but my mother immediately signed me up for Bible School at the Fairfax (Alabama) mill-village Methodist church.

Thankfully, Bible School lasted only until noon. After that first morning’s dismissal, I trotted out of the church and headed to the drugstore up the street, seeking ice cream.

There was a barbershop beside the drugstore. Another kid, who often visited his Alabama mill-village relatives, was coming through the barbershop door that fateful day.  While I immediately recognized the older boy, I had never seen him in the majestic form he had assumed. I was stunned, awestruck. It was an epiphany.

This glorious lad had just received a fresh Mohawk Indian haircut. The shaved sides of his head seemed to be radiating some sort of mesmerizing, celestial light.  While I had often admired the Mohawk braves sporting their distinctive hairstyle in movies at the village picture show, I had never actually seen a real human being wearing such hirsute adornment. It was more than my B-movie loving soul could stand.

I had to have a Mohawk haircut and I had to have it right then! An irresistible craving had been flung upon me.  Seizing the moment, I ran into the barbershop and asked the barber, Mr. Siggers, to cut my hair just like the older boy’s. Being well aware of my red-haired mother’s fiery temper, Mr. Siggers refused.

The hesitant barber said that before he would cut my hair in such a drastic fashion, my mother would have to come with me and give her permission.  No way would that ever happen, and we both knew it.

Later, I sat on the curb in front of the barbershop, sad and dejected. I had even lost my appetite for ice cream.  Then I suddenly remembered another mill-village barber, Knotty Borders, just a few streets away. I quickly headed in his direction.

When I barged into his shop, Knotty was asleep in his barber’s chair. He was a small, wiry man, with a reputation as a drinker. As I explained what I wanted, he blinked and yawned and looked at me like I was crazy.  But, when I pulled out three wadded up dollar bills from my Hopalong Cassidy billfold, my total life savings, Knotty motioned for me to climb up on the chair.

In no time at all, he had shaved the sides of my head, leaving only a two-inch-wide strip of hair from the back of my head, across the top of my lumpy skull, to my forehead.

There, staring back at me in the cloudy barbershop mirror was my new awesome incarnation. I had taken on the fearsome visage of a Mighty Mohawk Warrior.  It was all I could do to stifle a terrifying war-whoop.

Other kids I passed on the way home stared at me with their mouths gaped open, rendered senseless by my overpowering magic.
I was Big Medicine now. My power was growing with each panther-like step. I walked a mile or so out of my way, just to practice my crouching, stalking, and glowering.

As the time grew near for my mother to come home from the cotton mill, I crept from tree to tree down the mill-village streets until I reached our back yard. There, I hid in the coal shed, planning a big surprise for her.
A real redskin’s ambush. Little did I know the true nature of surprises – a surprise can work both ways.

Shortly, I heard Mother banging about in our three-room mill house. She was busy at the sink when I snuck into the kitchen. Even though still a brand new Indian, she didn’t hear me creeping up from behind. I was a natural!

Shouting a loud battle cry, I pounced on my mother, who was washing a big cumbersome metal pot in the sink. Startled, she flinched in terror, dropping the pot, and splashing hot, soapy, greasy water all over both of us.

Since my mother was only slightly over five feet tall, and about 90 pounds, we were almost the same size.  But she had that incredible ligament strength and quickness that is commonly seen in red-headed people. It must be something to do with the freckles.

Angry and dripping wet, she grabbed my neck and the seat of my pants and body slammed me to the worn linoleum-covered floor. “What have you done to your head?” she shrieked.  I tried to explain about the older boy and his Mohawk hairdo; and how I really liked the look, and always wanted a haircut like this, but I was talking so fast I’m not sure she heard all of it.

I might as well have been jabbering in Mohawk.

Holding me in a tight headlock, Mother dragged me into the bedroom.  Totally outraged by the haircut, now it was she who was spouting gibberish.  As I vainly struggled to get away, she removed one of Daddy’s belts from the nail inside the bedroom closet.
Quickly using only one practiced hand, she expertly folded the belt into operational mode and proceeded to whip the living daylights out of my hind end.

(In fact, it was weeks before my daylights reached a normal level again. About the same time my hair grew out.)

Therefore, I get a tear in my eye every time I see or hear where Indians have been trifled with or abused or disrespected.
How well I understand the plight of the Native Americans. Been there, done that.

I was a proud Mohawk brave for fewer than two hours before I started hating white people myself. Especially those with a bad temper, a mean streak, red hair, and freckles.”

Four Chaplains

On this Memorial Day when the nation pauses to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice as members of one of the branches of our military, a now largely forgotten story from World War II seems especially fitting.

It is the story of four Army chaplains, all from different faiths, who drowned at sea so that others might live.

The Dorchester was a civilian liner converted for military service.  It sailed from New York on Jan. 23, 1943.  On board were some 900 military personnel, plus four chaplains.

Reform Rabbi Alexander Goode was a native of Brooklyn, NY.  He had been on active duty for only six months.  George Fox was the oldest of eight children from Lewistown, PA.  He was a Methodist.  Clark Poling was from Columbus, OH, a graduate of Yale and a member of the Reformed Church in America.  His father served as a chaplain in WW I.  John Washington, a native of Newark, NJ, was a Catholic priest.

The four met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard in 1942.

The Dorchester was in a three boat convoy headed for Greenland.  Three Coast Guard ships were with the convoy.  But just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943 a German submarine patrolling the shipping lanes of the north Atlantic torpedoed the Dorchester and panic set in, especially among troops deep in the ship’s hold.

The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation.  As life jackets were handed out, supply ran out before each soldier had one.  Each chaplain gave their own life jacket to someone else.  They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

Only 230 of the 904 on board were rescued.  Many died from hypothermia as the water temperature was only 34 degrees.  The bravery and actions of the chaplains was recognized when each was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.

This remembrance seems particularly fitting in these times.  These four chaplains put service to mankind above their own well being.  Such action is in stark contrast to what we see in Washington every day when devotion only to one’s self and their own political future is so often on display.

Which is why GOP “leaders” Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are apparently afraid of the truth concerning the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.  Rather than answer questions such as who planned this riot, who funded it, how long had plans been made, or did any current members of Congress have anything to do with aiding and abetting those who stormed the building, they are fearful of any info that might cast a bad light on the Republican party or former President Donald Trump.

While these four chaplains showed us the best that this country has to offer, we are now in a period where the opposite is the order of the day.

Thousands will visit the graves of fallen service men and women this Memorial Day and offer up prayers for them and this country.  We would also be wise to offer up prayers for those in Congress and ask that they show the same sense of duty as George Fox, Alexander Goode, John Washington and Clark Poling.


We Have Lost B. J. Thomas

One of my all-time favorite singers, B. J. Thomas, passed away in Arlington, TX on May 29 from lung cancer.  A native of Oklahoma, but raised in Houston, Thomas won a number of Grammys, most of them for his gospel songs.

However, his long career included country, as well as pop tunes.  Most famous was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” for the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I had the good fortune to hear him perform twice.  Once in Franklin, TN and in Virginia.

His first hit record was the Hank Williams classic, I’m so Lonesome I could cry.  For an amazing rendition of this song, go here.

Another Look At Mississippi Third Grade Retention

Editor’s note:  Governor Ivey vetoed a bill on May 27 that would have delayed implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act for two years.  Many people cited the “success” of Mississippi with the retention of poor readers in the third grade.  But as I told one of the governor’s staff, Mississippi is playing a game with kids in order to increase their National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) on fourth grade tests.

I have written about this in the past.  And at this point, that post is worth repeating.  Here it is:

Editor’s note:  When results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores were released, folks far and wide gave Mississippi accolades for drastically increasing their scores.  This was especially true here in Alabama where politicians touted this achievement when they said that we need to get rid of our elected school board and turn our schools over to the control of lawmakers..

But as this article from the Fordham Institute points out, the secret to their success probably has more to do with the fact that they retain a higher percentage of third graders than any other state.  And since NAEP tests only fourth and eight graders, this extra year of schooling no doubt plays a role.  The Mississippi legislature passed the Literacy Based Promotion Act in 2013 which retains third-graders unless they pass a reading test.  Not to be outdone, the Alabama legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Act in 2019, so perhaps our NAEP scores may someday also make amazing gains.  Of course, the fact that research shows students who are retained are more likely to become dropouts is secondary to politicians having something to brag about.

Here are key excerpts from the Fordham Institute article:

“One of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary 2019 NAEP report is Mississippi. A long-time cellar dweller in the NAEP rankings, Mississippi students have risen faster than anyone since 2013, particularly for fourth graders. In fourth grade reading results, Mississippi boosted its ranking from forty-ninth in 2013 to twenty-ninth in 2019; in math, they zoomed from fiftieth to twenty-third. Adjusted for demographics, Mississippi now ranks near the top in fourth grade reading and math according to the Urban Institute’s America’s Gradebook report.

So how have they done it?

Holding back low-performing students. In response to the legislature’s 2013 Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA), Mississippi schools retain a higher percentage of K–3 students than any other state.

The LBPA created a “third grade gate,” making success on the reading exit exam a requirement for fourth grade promotion. This isn’t a new idea of course. Florida is widely credited with starting the trend in 2003, and now sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade.

But Mississippi has taken the concept further than others, with a retention rate higher than any other state. In 2018–19, according to state department of education reports, 8 percent of all Mississippi K–3 students were held back (up from 6.6 percent the prior year). This implies that over the four grades, as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back; a more reasonable estimate is closer to 20 to 25 percent, allowing for some to be held back twice. (Mississippi’s Department of Education does not report how many students are retained more than once.)

These retention levels are much higher than other states. The closest are Oklahoma at 6 percent and Alabama at 5 percent. Florida, probably the most well-known example, today holds back 4 percent of its K–3 students, including 8 percent of third graders. When it first enacted its retention policy in 2003–04, Florida’s third grade retention rose as high as 14 percent before steadily declining; it has risen again in recent years. The average for all states is about 3 percent; many states have retention rates of 2 percent or less.

Among the flurry of literacy initiatives in Mississippi, how important is retention to its NAEP results? It’s hard to know for sure, especially without student-level data, but simple modeling suggests it may be a significant factor. Retained students are by definition the lowest performing readers, scoring in the bottom category of Mississippi’s third grade exam. As part of the LBPA, after being held back, they receive a variety of supports, including “intensive reading intervention” and being assigned to a high-performing teacher. Assuming that those policies improve their achievement, they should certainly score better once reaching fourth grade than they otherwise would have.

So is Mississippi’s lesson for educators that they should increase student retention? The traditional view of retaining students is strongly negative. In 2004, school psychology researcher Shane Jimerson famously labeled it “educational malpractice.” According to Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond (now President of the California State Board of Education), “The findings are about as consistent as any findings are in education research: the use of [retention based on] testing is counterproductive, it does not improve achievement over the long run, but it does dramatically increase dropout rates.”

More recently, Martin West and others, looking at the results from Florida’s 2003 retention policy, have taken a more positive view of the impact of early-grade retention, like that practiced by Mississippi. They report that third-grade retention increases high school grade point average and leads to fewer remedial courses, though it does not increase graduation rates (or lower them). With the first Florida cohorts now in early adulthood, we may get a better view of retention’s long-term impact. While some have criticized Florida’s past NAEP score gains as “dubious” and “highly misleading” due to its retention policy, others claim they represent “genuine progress.”

In the meantime, Mississippi isn’t waiting. Buoyed by the perceived success of the 2013 standards, last year the legislature raised the third-grade exit bar even higher, leading to 14 percent of the state’s third-graders failing the test, and 10 percent being ultimately retained (in some counties, up to 45 percent failed and 40 percent were retained).”

This Is Hilarious

Goodness knows we need an occasional laugh in today’s world.  Especially if we pay much attention to the endless bickering in Washington which is somehow supposed to pass for doing the business of the nation’s citizens–but in reality is the constant sniping of self-serving politicians who are at the center of their own universes.  (Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, can you raise your hands?)

So have a hearty laugh about the Lone Ranger by clicking this link.

Good News About Covid

Editor’s note: Slowly but surely, the news about Covid-19 is getting better in the U.S.  And this is the face of the mindless babble from folks like Tucker Carlson of Fox News who is more interested in TV ratings than American lives being saved.  Below is an excellent roundup from The New York Times:

“In the United States, there is now an excellent chance that the (Covid) retreat is permanent. Victory over Covid has not yet arrived, but it is growing close. After almost a year and a half of sickness, death, grieving and isolation, the progress is cause for genuine joy.

More than 60 percent of American adults have received at least one vaccine shot, and the share is growing by about two percentage points per week. Among unvaccinated people, a substantial number have already had Covid and therefore have some natural immunity. “The virus is running out of places to be communicable,” Andy Slavitt, one of President Biden’s top Covid advisers, told me.

The share of Covid tests coming back positive has fallen below 3 percent for the first time since widespread testing began, and the number of hospitalized patients has fallen to the lowest point in 11 months, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute noted. For the first time since March 5 of last year, San Francisco General Hospital yesterday had no Covid patients — “a truly momentous day,” Dr. Vivek Jain said.

There are still important caveats. Covid remains especially dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, as Slavitt noted, including much of the Southeast; these communities may suffer through future outbreaks. And about 600 Americans continue to die from the disease every day.

But the sharp decline in cases over the past month virtually guarantees that deaths will fall over the next month. The pandemic appears to be in an exponential-decay phase. “Every case of Covid-19 that is prevented cuts off transmission chains, which prevents many more cases down the line.”

This isn’t merely a theoretical prediction. In Britain, one of the few countries to have given a shot to a greater share of the population than the U.S., deaths are down more than 99 percent from their peak.

Globally, the situation is not as encouraging, but it has improved. Confirmed new cases are down 23 percent from their peak in late April. In India, caseloads have been falling rapidly for almost two weeks.

What’s behind the improvement? Several factors.

New restrictions on behavior appear to have helped in India and some other countries. The rising number of vaccinations also helps; it has exceeded 1.5 billion, which means that more than 10 percent of the world’s population — and maybe closer to 15 percent — has received at least one shot. (A new outlier: Mongolia has secured enough shots to vaccinate all of its adults, thanks to deals with neighboring Russia and China.) Natural immunity, from past infections, may also be slowing the spread in many places, and the virus’s seasonal cycles may play a role, too.

Most countries remain more vulnerable than the U.S. because of their lower vaccination rates. In Africa, a tiny share of people have received a shot, and the numbers are only modestly higher in much of Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The vaccines are how this pandemic ends. That point is coming nearer in the United States and a few other affluent countries, but it remains distant in much of the world. Accelerating the global manufacturing and distribution of vaccines is the only sure way to avoid many more preventable deaths this year. 

“Unless vaccine supplies reach poorer countries, the tragic scenes now unfolding in India risk being repeated elsewhere,” The Economist’s editors wrote. “Millions more will die.”