Veterans losing their dueThe guns finally fell...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Veterans losing their due

The guns finally fell silent at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918, but not before a generation of European men was slaughtered. Although our nation's involvement was shorter than other countries', the "war to end all wars" left a painful mark on our people and culture.

World War I touched most of the families in my hometown of Milwaukee. While many people knew of a doughboy who had made the ultimate sacrifice, everyone could see how the war ravaged those who did return.

The usual way to describe veterans forever unnerved by combat experience was, "and after that, he was never quite right." My wife remembers hearing that said of her bachelor uncle; he and his captain were the only survivors from their entire company.

As a youngster, I remember that on the "the 11th day of the 11th month," factory whistles blew at 11 a.m. Everything ceased.

Pedestrians stopped, faced east and put their right hands over their hearts. People in cars pulled over and did the same. The policeman directing traffic came to attention and saluted.

For a few moments, there was a deafening silence.

As a youngster, I remember that on the "the 11th day of the 11th month," factory whistles blew at 11 a.m. Everything ceased. However, a new generation soon came along that had no first-hand knowledge of what the veterans had suffered. Worse, it did not want to even hear about it.

I witnessed the change in attitude. My father was in the funeral business, and I helped out. Frequently, he and I were the sole mourners for a veteran found dead on skid row who never got over the mind-crippling horrors he went through in France.

Many were the times I pinned his Purple Heart, and occasionally a Croix de Guerre, on such a forgotten man in his casket.

The world ignored the man. His family had been ashamed of him and too self-centered to see that he was properly cared for.

Yet, what would the world be like today if that man, and the other veterans from World War I and veterans of each of our wars had never lived?

Arthur J. Brett Mount Airy

A day to say thanks to those who served

Thanksgiving is the day in November that most people look forward to celebrating. But people should also look forward to celebrating Veterans Day on Nov. 11. It is an ideal time to thank those who have served in our armed forces and especially our World War II veterans.

It's also a good time to make a donation to help build the World War II Memorial: the long-overdue tribute to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who bravely fought against fascism; to the "Rosie the Riveters" on the home front who contributed to the war effort; and to the high moral purpose that motivated America to become what President Franklin Roosevelt called the "arsenal of democracy."

World War II was the largest war in history and the defining event of the 20th century. Never before or since has the United States shared such a common purpose and determination.

On May 25, 1993, President Clinton signed a law authorizing the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish the World War II Memorial. The memorial will be on the National Mall in Washington, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Primary funding for the $100 million memorial must be raised from private contributions.

We need to constantly thank veterans who served in Bosnia, Kuwait Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea and other places.

But time is running out to honor the World War II generations.

A donation to the World War II memorial is one small way to thank them for their service to America and to freedom.

Granson Eckel Cambridge

Keeping good teachers

One partial solution to the current teacher shortage is to keep veteran teachers as long as possible.

Many counties now rehire retired teachers -- and pay them their regular salary, plus their pensions.

Had they made the veteran teachers feel more needed, they might not have left in the first place, saving taxpayers millions.

Here are some suggestions for retaining veteran teachers: First, make them feel wanted. For years, when there was no teacher shortage, school districts have encouraged veteran teachers to retire.

And among school administrators, the mentality still persists those who are still teaching in their fifties are mediocre at best, because they haven't moved into administration.

Second, return teachers' seniority rights. This is a trivial matter for everyone except veteran teachers, who feel they should have preference in staying at their school or being transferred elsewhere. At present, veteran teachers get no preference.

Third, recognize that veteran teachers have mastered their skills and should not be treated like third-year teachers when it comes to classroom observations and evaluations.

The whole process of observations is highly subjective and is often used as a weapon by principals to keep teachers on board whatever educational bandwagon comes through.

Veteran teachers have seen these dog-and-pony shows and know that what goes on in the classroom is what's important.

Fourth, rein in -- or at least look objectively at -- the results of the trend over the last decade to giving principals much greater power, under so-called "site based management" procedures.

Site-based management has frequently degenerated into a principal saying, "my way or the highway."

Finally, recognize that teaching is very stressful and veteran teachers also feel stress.

New teachers get support from mentor now "coach" teachers. Smart principals should recognize the great resource a veteran teacher can be to a new teacher.

David G. O'Neill Princess Anne

State education and multiculturalism

In July, state superintendent of schools Nancy Grasmick decided to withdraw and revise proposed additional wording to the state's "education that is multicultural" regulation ("Disparity, rich and poor," Aug. 4).

The withdrawn proposal would have added "sexual orientation" along with other characteristics to the groups of students guaranteed freedom from harassment. In its place is new wording which is supposed to be more inclusive, as it extends protection to "all students in Maryland's public schools, without exception."

As one who has been a social studies supervisor in a local school system for 19 years and an educator in Maryland for more than 30 years, I believe the decision to revise the original proposal is a mistake.

The original wording included not only "sexual orientation," but categories such as race, ethnicity, religion, disability and gender.

Unquestionably, students identified with these more mainstream groups also face discrimination and harassment.

But their omission from the anti-harassment provision would in no way diminish the protections they enjoy. They are covered by both state and federal statutes and constitutional provisions.

Additionally, these students can turn to parents, peers, staff members and community groups . At a minimum, they have the open support of other students who share the same identification.

This is not always the case for gay and lesbian students. Many choose to keep their identity secret to avoid public disdain, isolation and harassment.

Often, if they come out or are "outed" they have few support systems in place and face rejection from parents, staff members and fellow students.

Maryland's schools have made notable strides in respecting students and staff members' cultural identity. Many schools set aside days and weeks for special activities to celebrate diversity.

Specific groups are mentioned by name in the state curriculum documents, including the High School Core Learning Goals.

These "politically correct" groupings comprise a laundry list that is not arbitrary, but based on historic circumstances. However, such listings do not include gay and lesbian students.

This allows an insensitive or bigoted person to conclude that gay and lesbian students do not fall under the multicultural umbrella or deserve the protections other groups enjoy.

The alarming statistics regarding suicide among gay and lesbian students and the recent spate of hate crimes nationally can should be a wake-up call. Gay and lesbian students are fast becoming the favorite target of hate groups.

Many parents, fellow students, staff members and community groups are either uncomfortable dealing with or are openly hostile toward the needs of gay and lesbian students. But such personal discomfort or beliefs must not be allowed to dictate public policy.

It is imperative that educators do the right thing for all students and not bow to the pressure of those with less inclusive agendas.

Gay and lesbian students and staff members are in our schools. They deserve protection from harassment and the assurance that their safety is acknowledged and respected.

This issue is not about special rights; it is about safe schools.

R. William Sowders Columbia

Who is protected by closing exhibits, canceling plays?

The principal of Owings Mills High School closed down a theatrical production of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" because she finds its language and some scenes inappropriate and not politically correct ("Curtain for a classic drama," Oct. 30).

The administration of Harford Community College (HCC) allowed intimidation to close the exhibition of prints and drawings by alumnus Dan Witmer at HCC's Chesapeake Gallery.

In both situations, leaders opted to turn away from dialogue to protection. Protection of whom and from what?

Owings Mills will be protected from an award-winning story that uses harsh words to convey the idea that hateful language paves the way for hateful acts and a hateful social order.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" shows human behavior at its best and worst -- and suggests hope through communication, self-control and truth.

HCC students and gallery visitors were protected from extremely beautiful art.

Mr. Witmer's shadowy images are inspired by the Old Masters. He exploits the shapes of masks, bishop's mitre and historical costumes, and in a very few pictures the hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, to explore fear and that nameless, faceless anxiety that looms over us.

Owings Mills principal Margaret I. Spicer worried that the play might offend some members of that diverse community.

HCC wanted to protect students under-educated in the arts and history, who might misinterpret the works.

As an adjunct member of the HCC, I attended the meeting held by its Multicultural Advisory Board. I heard many people say: If a picture offends even one person, the exhibition must come down.

I hear the authorities at Owings Mills High School saying: If there is a danger that a play might offend anyone, that person's sensibility must take priority over our educational mission and our moral leadership.

Schools, libraries and museums are places that open doors -- safe places that are venues for discovery, novelty, challenge and freedom, even when those experiences are difficult and disturbing.

When a person leaves such a space, his or her mind and heart should be larger and more full than they were before entering.

No one thinks that all materials are right for all people of all ages. But I do not think that most parents are unequipped to evaluate the needs of their own young children. I do not think that most college-age individuals need to be protected from art.

I do not think that anyone of any race or nationality older than 12 or 13 will misuse or misunderstand "To Kill A Mockingbird."

And I certainly don't think that what is politically correct is necessarily right.

We keep hearing that we need to talk. I hear plenty of talk, particularly when knees jerk.

Maybe we really need to speak less from our reflexes and more from our hearts and minds.

Ellen B. Cutler Aberdeen

The writer is a former adjunct professor of art history at HCC.

I was very disturbed by The Sun's article about Owings Mills High School canceling its production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" ("Curtain for a classic drama," Oct. 30).

The book is a great American classic that teaches that there is prejudice in the world, and that it is wrong.

It also teaches that everyone should be treated fairly, regardless of their skin color or what other people say about them. This is a lesson every man, woman and child should learn, regardless of their skin color or national origin.

I think it's high time we start worrying about teaching the right lesson to others -- and stop worrying about what people will think about that.

Rosemary Jordan Hampstead

Principal Margaret I. Spicer's decision to scrap Owings Mills High School's production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" because it is "not politically correct" was gutless.

Atticus Finch, the story's protagonist, is a white knight in American literature. He fights to right the "politically correct" racial intolerance of his time.

He is a consummate father and a man of honor, integrity, courage and principle -- everything we want our children to be.

Would I want my young son to come to a play like this? I'd go out of my way to see that he did.

Instead of caving in to concerns over "inappropriate" language like "nigger" and "whore lady," Ms. Spicer should have stood up, as Atticus Finch would have, to defend the higher cause at stake.

Instead Ms. Spicer has done what Harper Lee asks us not to do: She has killed a mockingbird -- and its moving, timeless song that teaches us what's good and noble.

Gary Ingber Owings Mills

How unfortunate that principal Margaret Spicer has chosen to prevent the performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird." By doing so, Ms. Spicer is suggesting that her student body is unequipped to learn about a time in America when bigotry ran rampant and hatred was politically correct.

Ms. Spicer apparently has no confidence in those young people's intellect.

While terms in Harper Lee's masterpiece are surely offensive and racist by today's standards, only by leaning how far we have come with regard to race, can we fully understand how much farther we have to go.

Richard Bryan Crystal Baltimore

It was with astonishment and incredulity that I read of the cancellation of a production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at Owings Mills High School.

Principal Margaret I. Spicer has bowdlerized a literary and teaching process, by killing the mockingbird and replacing it with a sanitized and vacuous drawing-room comedy that teaches nothing about the big heartache we call the human condition.

John Van Meter McDonogh

The writer is a former director of the arts at the McDonogh School.

Principal Margaret I. Spicer has presented her students and community with what we teachers call a "teachable moment." Her students should study the situation carefully.

Ms. Spicer's apparent refusal to elaborate on what she means reflects the fear that is the root cause of prejudice.

Any student has the right and obligation to demand that a teacher specify. Terms such as "inappropriate" and "politically correct" should always prompt the response: Specify.

Joshua L. Shoemaker Towson

The writer teaches dramatics at the Bryn Mawr School.

Let me congratulate Owings Mills for banning the high school's performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Trash like that, and toilet-mouths like Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken have no place in our schools.

How can we expect our children to grow up to be politically correct sycophants if we present controversial, thought-provoking material to them?

Next they'll be challenging the order of the perfect world that we've created for them.

Orin Smith Owings Mills

Thanks to a high school principal's unwillingness to offend anyone, countless young people and adults are being deprived of the chance to be uplifted by the humanitarian, anti-racist message of the play "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Not everyone will read the book or see the movie from the 1960s. But this play would have educated many about what racism was like in the past, and what one man could do to fight it.

I find this an incredible tragedy -- and the antithesis of what a high school should be about.

Pamela Weston Baltimore

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