Legislation to arm teachers fails to gain momentum

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Speaking at the annual meeting in Dallas, Donald Trump reaffirmed his support of arming teachers as a way to combat school violence. Apparently the NRA has made it their top priority. “Trump endorsed a top NRA priority to allow trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools and to install more armed security guards. Signs declaring a school as a gun-free zone, Trump said, were essentially invitations to attackers to ‘come in and take us’ (Washington Post).

“Your second amendment rights are under siege but they will never ever be under siege as long as I’m your president” (Washington Post).

Since the mass shooting in Florida, ironically Florida is the only state to support legislation to arm teachers. The school safety bill passed allows some employees, such as counselors and coaches, to become armed marshals. Twenty four other states have unsuccessfully tried to pass similar legislation.

The NRA supports teachers having guns because arming even a small fraction of the United States’ 3.2 million teachers would be a financial gain for gun makers (Washington Post).

In response to arming teachers, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “The idea of arming teachers is ill-conceived, preposterous and dangerous. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards, or receiving training to become sharpshooters” (NEA.org).

For a brief period of time, Trump tweeted support for stricter gun measures such as raising the legal age to purchase AR-15s and similar types of rifles to 21 and expanding background checks to guns sold at shows and online. However, his support was brief.

After meeting with members of the NRA, Trump was quick to back step support, instead calling for “more modest gun-related measures such as legislation to improve information sharing for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System” (Washington Post).

Eskelsen Garcia said, ““Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards, or receiving training to become sharpshooters(NEA.org).

In the ill-fated interview on 60 Minutes, DeVos was vague when Lesley Stahl asked for her stance on arming teachers. First, she argued it “should be an option for states and communities to consider,” but went on to say that she would hesitate to think of “my first grade teacher, Mrs. Zoerhoff…having a gun and being trained in that way.” She then changed tack again, adding, “but for those who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered, but no one size fits all” (Fortune.com).

Results of a NEA Poll found teachers opposed to the idea of carrying guns. Among their findings:

82 percent, say they would not carry a gun in school, including sixty-three percent of NEA members who own a gun.

64 percent, say they would feel less safe if teachers and other educators were allowed to carry guns.

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“The White House and Congress owe it those victims of gun violence and survivors across the country to work together to implement common sense solutions that really will save lives. We need to listen to them.”(NEA.org).

We used to be able to engage in conversations about controversial topics with respect – and agree to disagree. Now controversial issues are polarizing, with an attitude of, ‘I’m right, and you’re an idiot.’ I certainly have very strong opinions on this topic, and tend to share my opinions with like-minded individuals. I’ll admit it, it’s easier.

My hope is for more conversations to take place. Conversations. Dignified people who can come to a consensus; compromise. Lately that seems to be asking too much. High school students are reminding us how it’s done as they lead by example. We could all learn a thing or two from them. They’re inspiring.

These are my reflections for today.


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“Defendemos La Educación Pública”

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“Defendemos la educación pública” (We defend public education). This chant was heard in the capital building in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March. Teachers, parents, and supporters of public education rallied against a proposal to close more public schools.

If you ask Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher why she is closing an additional 283 schools this summer (last summer it was 167 schools), she would say it’s because of the declining enrollment as many students and their families fled to the US after Hurricane Maria. Keleher would cite 1 in 13 (22,350) students have left their neighborhood schools. There are 1,100 schools remaining (NPR).

Puerto Ricans have a long-standing history of resistance in the sphere of education. Lauren Lefty pointed out that since 1960’s and 1970’s, campaigns promoting community control of schools, along with the curricula focused on Black and Puerto Rican studies, with slogans, “Seize the schools, que viva Puerto Rico libre!” formed an essential part of the education reform.

But despite a history of strong resistance, “the island’s political leaders and investors are hoping the post-hurricane confusion and demobilization will allow them to push their agenda through” (Jacobin).

If you ask Mercedes Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation the same question, she would say Keleher is using the hurricane as an excuse to accelerate closures. “Our Secretary of Education has a plan to shut down schools. She wants to privatize and close more, but the communities have fought back” (NPR).

Martínez sees these reforms as part of a larger push to hollow out the public sector, undermine labor rights, and sell the island’s public education system to the highest bidder. “Public education in our country, like in all capitalist countries, has been under attack for many years,” says Martínez. (Jacobin).

An investigation of school closures revealed Keleher “never conducted a comprehensive analysis of the impact of closing the 283 schools she plans to close.” However, after seeing mounting opposition to her plan, she quickly backtracked saying she plans to visit every one of the 283 schools on the closure list to make a quick and hurried assessment (NPR).

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Keleher has advocated to bring charter schools and reform the educational system since her arrival to the island as an education program specialist for the DOE in 2007.  She was appointed Education Secretary in January 2017. She has argued the hurricane has given Puerto Rico an “opportunity” to reform the system, citing the changes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Telesur).

The Puerto Rico public school system still is very rural and many of the schools are small, serving poorer communities that are some distance from urban centers. Following the hurricane, many schools became community centers and aid distribution sites and shelters. In some communities, parents and neighbors cleaned schools of debris and did repairs, even helping provide food for meals so children could return to classes (NBC News).

“No a los charters buitres!” (No to the vulture charters!).

Much like in New Orleans, the movement to privatize public education in Puerto Rico started before Hurricane Maria struck.  An IMF-backed, hedge fund–commissioned report sought school closures, with school-choice policies in 2017. However, unlike New Orleans where 7,000 public school teachers were fired after Katrina, Keleher announced there will be no layoffs or employment terminations. Those who currently work in schools slated for closure will be given new assignments in different locations.

Keleher’s plan is to start with 14 charter schools, two in each of the island’s seven provinces. “If the schools are super successful and more people want them, we should allow that up to a point” (The Intercept).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a group of reporters “she was very encouraged by Puerto Rico’s leadership for embracing school choice after the hurricane. She praised its approach for thoughtfully “meeting students’ needs … in a really concerted and individual way” (Politico).

The proposed legislation would also allow for the creation of virtual charters in Puerto Rico – a particularly contentious type of online school, even among school choice supporters. (DeVos is a big proponent of virtual charters, and a former investor in them.)  (The Intercept).

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has exacerbated concerns he is not considering the risks of the proposed education reforms. Last week he visited an ASPIRA charter school in Philadelphia, and reported it represents an “excellent charter school model.” Interesting statement. Two months ago Philadelphia voted to close two ASPIRA charter schools for their low academic quality, as well as a host of financial scandals and mismanagement issues (The Intercept).

Diane Ravitch identified many misleading statements coming from Puerto Rico regarding school closures and the impact to the island:

  • The Government of Puerto Rico has been unable to sell any previously closed schools and is leasing 50 schools for $1 annually.
  • The Governor acknowledged there is very little cost savings from closing schools.
  • A recent Pew research study found municipalities get a fraction of the savings they budget for when they close schools.
  • The government just passed voucher and charter school legislation written by Betsy DeVos that would cost the Puerto Rico up to $400 million a year.
  • The Puerto Rico Secretary of Education argued that school closings were driven because the fiscal board required it. However, in a recent interview with Telemundo, Jose Carrion, Chairman of the Fiscal Control Board, said the Fiscal Board did not require school closings.

If Keleher is closing schools because of declining enrollment, then why is she also opening charter schools at the same time? Using New Orleans or Philadelphia as exemplar models should scream what NOT to do. We know how this story ends. We’ve seen it before.

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These are my reflections for today.


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Teachers Wanted or Wanted: Teachers

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Any of you familiar with Blazing Saddles which is IMHO the second best Mel Brooks movie (Young Frankenstein being #1, of course), are familiar with this poster. My parallel today is with this poster and the charter/voucher debacle in Florida.

Last week I saw a headline from the Network for Public Education. “Raleigh charter school on state ‘watch list’ for employing teacher with suspended license.”
Under any other circumstances this is an alarming and disheartening headline.

But when I saw one from Florida, Raleigh paled in comparison. “Convicted criminals working as teachers. Welcome to voucher schools in Florida.” Orlando Sentinel reporters  Annie Martin and Leslie Postal wrote how Florida’s voucher schools are hiring convicted felons — “some of whom are supposed to be barred from teaching under state law.”

This report comes on the heels of a series of investigative reports on charter/voucher issues plaguing Florida. Scott Maxwell of the Sentinel writes, “We’re talking a billion or so dollars worth of public money and tax credits into a ‘scholarship’ system that has far fewer checks, balances and even basic requirements than public schools.”

Two convicted teachers were in classrooms, yet – according to Florida law- should be banned from teaching in any public school.

“One former convict was discovered at a Pine Hills school after she was arrested again on a child-abuse charge involving a student.”

“Another teacher was fresh out of prison on $47,000 worth of Medicare fraud — and banned from teaching in public schools — when she was hired by a voucher school the next month” Orlando Sentinel.

Hiring convicted criminals is just the most recent example of the dysfunction in Florida. Recent investigative reporting  () uncovered a host of other issues plaguing charter/voucher schools in Florida. Following are headlines from their reports:

October 17, 2017 – Florida private schools get nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight

October 17, 2017 – Florida’s school voucher and scholarship programs face little oversight

October 18, 2017 – Orlando private school with troubled history took millions of dollars in state scholarships.

October 19, 2017 – After student alleges abuse, principal shutters one private school, opens another

Betsy DeVos, while speaking at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education said, “The Sunshine State is one bright spot in otherwise gloomy national achievement results and should be an exemplar to other states”. She continued, “It’s really attributable, I think, to this concerted effort to tackle reforms on a student-focused, student-centered basis”  (The74Million).

In contrast, Maxwell wrote, “Florida’s voucher system is the Wild Wild West of education with tax dollars and children’s futures on the line” (Orlando Sentinel).

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Life is Beautiful. In this movie, Roberto Benigni’s character was at least aware life wasn’t beautiful. DeVos has no idea.

Public schools would not close in the middle of a school year leaving children at a loss, employ convicted criminals, close in one neighborhood because it’s failing only to open in another.
Billions of dollars are poured into charters/vouchers not only in Florida, but all over the country. No oversight, misappropriation of funds, child-abuse…the list goes on.
Recruit certified teachers who will work tirelessly to help children. Invest in public education.

These are my reflections for today.


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Vainglorious Steven Schwarzman

A vainglorious person is not a very likable person and is often annoying to be around. Vainglorious people are excessively boastful, and have swelled pride. The base word, vainglory, dates back to the 14th century and means “worthless glory” (vocabulary.com).

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Today’s blog is about the vainglorious Steven Schwarzman, who is currently the Blackstone Group chairman and CEO. He was a graduate of Abington High School in Abington, PA where he was on the track team and served as student council president. In 2004 Schwarzman donated $400,000 to the school for a new football stadium – so named the Schwarzman Stadium.

Recently Schwarzman announced he was donating $25 million to Abington High School, saying this investment “yields one of the best returns imaginable – a new generation of creative, capable and collaborate future leaders…” (Philadelphia Inquirer).  This is the largest gift ever given to a public high school.

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What wasn’t immediately revealed in this announcement was Schwarzman wanted, among other things, the high school to bear his name – Abington Schwarzman High School. While many parents and alumni reacted negatively to this level of egotism, the School Board didn’t immediately find issue with it. Superintendent Amy Seichel, a friend of Schwarzman’s only responded after over 1,300 people signed a petition opposing the deal, saying that because of concerns raised “by a minority in the community” the school would not be renamed (Philadelphia Inquirer).

According to (Philly.com) Schwarzman asked for:

  • The new name — the Abington Schwarzman High School — and, “for the avoidance of doubt,” officials would make sure the name was displayed, “at a minimum,” at the front and above each of the six entrances.
  • An increase in technology classes
  • Parts of the campus would be named after his brothers, former high school track coach and two friends on the track team.
  • Schwarzman’s portrait would appear “prominently” in the school.
  • Schwarzman would have input into the construction of the new campus, which is set to be done in 2022, including the right to approve contractors.
  • He would receive regular reports on the progress of a computer literacy initiative.
  • The agreement would be kept secret unless Schwarzman approved its release.

Controversy erupted at the meeting when parents learned just exactly what was going on. Abington parent David Judge, attended the board meeting with concerns the public wasn’t told about the change until the day of the board vote (Philly.com). The board waited a few weeks after approving the contract to release this information to the public. When parents found out, the board rescinded the agreement and promised to vote on a new pact with most of the earlier demands stripped out.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post wrote, “The new pact gives Schwarzman a far reduced role, and the school will no longer be named after him, though the new science and technology center will be, and new gym facilities will be named after his former coach and track team mates. Demands were dropped for contractor approval, portrait hanging and regular reports on computer literacy”.

By comparison, in 1992 a local South Jersey businessman and philanthropist by the name of Henry Rowan donated what was at the time the largest amount of money to a college or university – $100 million. Rowan and his wife, Betty, said their gift was meant to express their gratitude to the state where he grew up and where they created a global conglomerate (NY Times). Two months after Rowan announced his gift, the university was rebranded from Glassboro State College to Rowan University. However, unlike Mr. Schwarzman, Hank Rowan told the NY Times, “I didn’t ask for the name change… It was offered to me.” (NY Times).

Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Perhaps the vainglorious Mr. Schwarzman could heed Truman’s advice and learn a lesson from Mr. Rowan as well.

These are my reflections for today.


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Drawing (obvious) Conclusions

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Results are in from the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress, also called NAEP or The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is a national exam given to fourth and eighth grade students to “assess what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas” (The Nation’s Report Card).

Average reading scores for eighth-graders increased from 2015, yet there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade. Reformers say their efforts are improving scores, and public school advocates say their increase in scores- “were “flat” and “stagnating,” “mixed” and “steady” or even contained “bright spots” (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

After reading the scores, one educational advocacy group wanted better “screening” for teachers, another more private school options. Several said schools needed stronger accountability, which usually means testing, but an anti-testing group said nearly two-decades of high-stakes tests had produced little progress (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

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What about the achievement gap? Well, to no one’s surprise, it’s widening. “In fourth-grade reading, for example, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of students widened by four points. In fourth-grade math, the gap widened by six points” (Hechinger Report).

The gap in reading scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by three points. The gap in math scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by six points (Hechinger Report).

Students in Chicago, touted last year by the New York Times as “the most effective school district in America, based on how much students had been advancing each year from 2009 to 2015″ did not show gains this year (Hechinger Report).

After many years of impressive gains in Washington DC (now attributed to questionable practices), educational progress stalled in 2017 as students remain well below the national average. While in San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles, schools reported gains in fourth grade reading scores. At the same time higher income districts also showed gains.

None of this should be a surprise. Top income level students fare well on the test, and  bottom income level students do not. The gap doesn’t narrow if both groups continue to move (or not move) at the same rate. So how do we narrow the achievement gap? Continuing to take tests and report results no one finds surprising doesn’t help. Pointing fingers at who’s fault it is doesn’t help. Pointing out stagnant scores of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, though glaringly obvious, also doesn’t help.

According to Brookings Institute, “Unless we rapidly increase the rates at which we close our race-, ethnicity-, and income-based gaps, unequal access to education and the consequences of this inequality will affect students today as well as subsequent generations.”

We have to change the variables. Offer students support they need in reading and math to get better. Fund initiatives that support students who need assistance. Train teachers to be more effective with students who continue to score low.

NAEP scores are a big deal, but mostly to people who want to point fingers at each other. My dad used to say, “Figures don’t lie, liars figure.” NAEP scores tell us what we already know. What are we going to do about it? For the sake of all children, do something differently next time.

These are my reflections for today.


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Oklahoma Teachers: “It’s not just about the money.”

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In an effort to save money, ninety school districts in Oklahoma worked a four day week because of a severe cut to school funding. While this made many students happy, it outraged teachers and parents.

Teachers pay in Oklahoma is the third lowest in the country, driving many teachers to work two jobs- at Walmart on weekends or in restaurants at night. Many argue even with a drastic decision to move to a four day week will do nothing to make up for the significant budget shortfalls (The Economist).

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“The real reason why so many school districts are resorting to a tighter calendar is that it is the only true perk they can offer to poorly paid teachers, whose salaries start at $31,600 and who have not received a rise for ten years. The exodus to Texas and Arkansas, which included Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, continues unabated. A 20-minute drive across the border often results in a $10,000 increase. Dallas’s school district has unashamedly set up booths in Oklahoma City to poach what talent remains” (The Economist).

The issue is not just salary. Teachers have expressed concerns over the high cost of health insurance. “Under the cheapest plan on offer, monthly premiums are $400 for a single person. The cost of adding a spouse is another $470 per month; a child is $208”(The Economist).

So last week they went on strike, impacting more than 500,000 students statewide. In early negotiations, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin offered teachers a $6100 pay raise, but the teachers said no. To read just the offer, an outsider would think teachers were crazy to pass that up, and selfish to move forward with the strike.

That wasn’t enough for the teachers, who are seeking $10,000 over three years. Even with the $6100 pay raise approved by lawmakers, their mean salaries would be still be lower than teachers in every neighboring state, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed.

This according to Alicia Priest, President of the Oklahoma Education Association:

“This package doesn’t overcome a shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It’s not enough,” Priest continued. “We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28 percent of funds they cut from education over the last decade” (The Hill).

Last Friday the Oklahoma Senate considered proposals to expand tribal gambling and tax certain Internet sales that would generate roughly $40 million annually.  Lawmakers approved the state’s first major tax increase in a quarter century, a $400 million revenue package (Reuters.com).

According to NBC News, Governor Fallin has faced the brunt of criticism from teachers, many of whom blame her for supporting subsidies for businesses and tax breaks  granted to the energy industry, which were worth $470 million in fiscal-year 2015 alone. When energy prices declined a few years ago, so did the state’s tax revenue, leading to deeper cuts in education spending. Teachers are seeking $200 million in increased annual education funding.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized Oklahoma teachers telling them to “serve the students,” according to the Dallas Morning News.  “I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” This from a billionaire who never had to work, never attended public schools, surrounds herself with a security detail costing taxpayers millions of dollars, talking to Oklahoma teachers  who have an average salary of $42,460, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, placing them at 48th in average U.S. classroom teacher salary (Dallas Morning News)

Oklahoma’s teachers are following the same path walked in West Virginia, where teachers secured a pay raise, and Kentucky, where teachers rallied Monday and are threatening to do so again if the state government doesn’t meet their demands. There’s grumblings Arizona could be the next to see a teachers strike.

After nine days of striking, which led to tens of thousands of people – including students- filling the capitol building, the strike ended Thursday night. OEA President Alicia Priest said, “After getting $479 million in funding for the next school year, the OEA decided to end the walkout, though the funding falls short of what we’d hoped to achieve” (CNN).

The OEA polled its members and by Thursday, 70% of respondents indicated they were unsure of continuing the walkout (CNN).   Teachers agreed that while the strike may be over, the fight will continue to restore funding and improve conditions.

I applaud teachers who stand up for better working conditions for themselves and better educational opportunities for students. I hope talks will continue past the strike, but it shouldn’t have come to this.

These are my reflections for today.


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Linda Brown Thompson

Oliver Brown was an assistant pastor in a Methodist church in Topeka, KS. He also worked for the Santa Fe Railway. Within four blocks of where Brown lived with his wife and three children was Sumner Elementary School. Brown’s children couldn’t attend Sumner because it was for only white children. Rather, Brown’s children had to walk through a railroad yard and across a busy intersection to catch their bus to travel two miles to the all black Monroe Elementary School.

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Linda Brown, who was seven in 1950, recalled the day her father took her by the hand and walked the four blocks to Sumner Elementary School. Linda remembers hearing her father ask the principal why his daughter couldn’t attend this school because of the color of their skin. All Linda wanted to do was go to school with the other children in her neighborhood. She remembered hearing the voices of her father and the principal getting louder. Soon after, Mr. Brown walked out, took Linda’s hand and walked her back home.

“My father pondered, ‘Why?’ Why should we have to tell our children that they cannot go to the school in their neighborhood because their skin is black?’  (Washington Post).  Little did Oliver Brown or his daughter know that what transpired from that day would lead to what many say is the most historic Supreme Court decision in American history.

In February 1951, NAACP attorney Charles Scott filed a lawsuit against the Topeka School District in federal court. By July, a federal court panel heard testimony from Oliver Brown and 12 other plaintiffs who argued that when it came to public schools, separate was not equal.  The court’s decision supported segregation in the Topeka Board of Education (Washington Post).

In 1952, the case, Oliver L. Brown et. al v. Board of Education of Topeka, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which consolidated the Brown case with five other desegregation cases from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., into a single case. Thurgood Marshall led the legal team arguing that black children were denied access to all-white schools, challenging the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that had stood since 1896 with the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (Washington Post).

On May 17, 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren rendered the unanimous decision of the court that all black schools were inherently unequal and school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Linda Brown remembers coming home from school that day to find her father in tears. “My father believed strongly God would move people to do the right thing” (Washington Post).

Linda Brown Thompson worked as a Head Start teacher after college. She also spent her life telling audiences the story of her father, and what he did for his children, and for all black children in America. Oliver Brown died at the age of 42 in 1961.

On the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Linda Brown spoke of the decision, and the impact it had on her family and this country.

“Looking back on Brown v. Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of our young people greater today” (Eyes on the Prize).

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Linda Brown Thompson died March 25 at the age of 76.

In hearing of Brown’s death, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer made a statement. “Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world” (Biography.com).

These are my reflections for today.


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