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All the news that doesn't fit in print

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    So given the hard time the media generally gives government institutions, you might think that as a journalist, I probably have a pretty low opinion of elected officials.

    That's true in specific cases I suppose, but in actuality, I have a lot of respect for people in public office.

    It can't be easy. After all, for starters, they have to deal with nosy jerks like me all the time.

    This being January, it is School Board Appreciation Month and the best time I can think of to make that clear.

    In the past I have mostly ignored this event as a way for people who already get a lot of press to pat themselves on the back.

    Then I remember that most of the press school board members get involves a controversy. As I have explained to many, "it's not news when somebody does their job."
    The Pottstown School Board

    But I also recognize that this means most of the press these volunteers get is when they screw up, or they have to clean up somebody else's mess -- these days that mess is most often made in Harrisburg.

    And now that I am writing a blog every day, I am constantly on the hunt for new subjects and a happy result of that search is I have found myself re-examining some the assumptions I work under and finding room for re-consideration.

    One of those things is making note of School Board Appreciation Month.

    Now if you have ever been to a school board meeting in January, you'll know it usually falls on the superintendent to make note of this event, read a resolution and present the board members with some token gift.

    The Owen J. Roberts School Board
    The resolution invariably talks about the contribution of time and effort necessary to be a school board member in Pennsylvania -- an unpaid burden if ever there was one.

    And they're right. It is all those things and each board member comes to it according to their gifts, be they few or many.

    Here a few factoids about school boards from the Pennsylvania School Board's Association:


    • 4,500 school directors serve Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts; all boards have nine members.
    • The “typical” Pennsylvania school director is male, well-educated, married with two or three children attending public schools, and voluntarily devotes 16-20 hours per month to school board business.
    • 16% of those serving on school boards in 2012 are retirees.
    • The number of female school directors was 35% in 2012.
    • More than 72% of Pennsylvania school directors have attained a college degree or beyond.
    • 22% of Pennsylvania board members have more than 10 years experience in 2012.
    •  57% of all districts involve students at their local board meetings. Of those districts, 95% rate their involvement with students at meetings as satisfactory or highly satisfactory.
    • During their meeting, most boards, 51%, allow two public comment periods; 48% allow one. Most, 72%, impose time limits on those comment periods.


    I was triggered into this line of thinking about these elected officials by an e-mail I received over the weekend from Upper Pottsgrove Commissioner Elwood Taylor, himself a school teacher and beneficiary of school board wisdom.

    It included a link to a blog called "Government is Good," a web project of Douglas J. Amy, Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College.

    Called "A Day in Your Life," it makes a laborious point about all the things that affect your life each day that might be impossible without government.

    Laborious though it may be -- it goes on for three pages -- it is a point worthy of consideration.
    In 2010, Four Daniel Boone High School graduates

    had their diplomas signed by their fathers, who
    were school board members.

    We're big on taking things for granted here in America and this post makes the point that we should instead take a moment to consider where these things come from, and for what our taxes really pay for -- clean water, food and building inspections, home ownership.

    (The election point made by then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren about how society and government helped businesses get built -- and the ensuing Republican response of "We Built That" -- is a case in point of how this discussion plays out nationally.)

    While the backbone of government is arguably the people we pay to do the work, Democracy, however occasionally (?!) imperfect, does not work without the elected people who make the decisions.

    Photo by David Powell

    The Spring-Ford School Board at work in 2011
    The worst form of government, "except for everything else," Democracy is the only option we've found that effectively allows those affected by policies to have some say in them -- and that say comes through those we elect to office to make decisions.

    Technically, that makes this a Republic, not a pure Democracy where everyone votes on everything, like in Greece, or New England.

    And while I'm tempted to make a joke about school boards indeed being the worst form of government, this is School Board Appreciation month so that would be rude...:)

    Ahem.

    Seriously though, as the post I mentioned talks about the National Weather Service, drug safety and organization of the airwaves all being government functions we take for granted, so too is this true of education.
    Upper Perkiomen School Board

    Given that school taxes are the largest slice of the property tax pie we pay, the actions of those school board members certainly bear constant scrutiny -- but they occasionally also bear a tip of the hat.

    Each day, when I grumble about dropping my son off at band practice at 7:15 a.m., I should remember that not only does the teacher have to be there as well (and then deal with the little terrors while I go back to my coffee), but so do the custodians, and the principal, and the secretary, and the teacher's aides.

    They have to be paid and the people who make that decision, who approve that organizational structure, who have decided that spending money on music, on athletics, on art or extra science help, are themselves volunteers who give an extraordinary amount of time to what I have long said is the most thankless job in local government.

    The Perkiomen Valley School Board
    Consider your time as a school board member dear reader:

    • Hours of meetings, mind-numbingly boring details and, if you're lucky, someone standing at a microphone shouting about some decision you made and telling you you're an idiot.
    • If you're really lucky, you can get yelled at even if you voted against whatever citizen X is yelling about.
    • About half the time, Citizen X will tell you to "listen to the people," as if that were an easy thing to do. Because experience has taught you that only the people opposed to something are there yelling and as soon as you change the decision, the other half of "the people" who agreed with the decision in the first place will show up at the next meeting to yell at you and tell you to "listen to the people."
    • Then every four years, (if you were me anyway) you pray that someone else throws their hat into the ring so you can bow out gracefully and go back to your life.
    • But given how unattractive and thankless the job is, all too often you're left with little choice but to run again because no one else will.
    • Are their spirited races? Sure.
    • Usually its because someone is angry about something. But anger is hard to sustain over four years and soon you either become an ineffective member, shouting in the corner, or you figure out a way to work with the others and try to win them over to your point of view.
    • Heck, you can even spend money on an election to win a seat that pays nothing. How's THAT for a great deal?

    Yeah, who wouldn't want that job?

    But I would imagine that there are rewards.

    It's not too often THIS happens at a school 

    board meeting.
    Certainly there are those that come from serving your community. And yes, there are those who take back-patting for that element to an extreme, but heck, sometimes that may be all you've got to show for the effort.

    And after a school concert, a championship season, a science fair, or a student presentation, I have heard enough school board members say "that's what this is all about" often enough to believe there must be some truth to it.

    I would think most must feel this way. Otherwise, why do it?

    To some extent, sitting on the platform at graduation, I would imagine many school board members look at the stream of graduates, listen to the valedictorian's speech, both touching and maudlin at the same time, and shake the hands of the students and parents there and think: "Yeah, I helped build that."

    So for that, for doing a truly thankless job, I sincerely thank you school board members.

    Now, about that secret meeting....









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    Not all prisoners are imprisoned justly.
    Blogger's Note:On Jan. 7 my father posted on Facebook about the death of his friend Harvey Shapiro. 

    A New York poet and former editor, Shapiro was the person who, in the early 1960s, as editor of The Times Magazine, suggested that the next time Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for his civil rights activities, that he compose a letter for publication.

    That letter, which ultimately the Times refused to publish and was  "published instead in The Christian Century, The New Leader and elsewhere," according to Shapiro's obituary in The New York Times, became the King's famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
    This photo ran with Harvey Shapiro's
    obituary. It shows him in 1975,
    the year he began his tenure as the editor
    of The New York Times Book Review

    Today, during Martin Luther King Day ceremonies throughout the nation, many will read from King's famous "I Have a Dream Speech" delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

    To mark the passing of my father's friend, and the day we honor Dr. King, I thought I would share another of Dr. King's writings with which people may be less familiar.




    16 April, 1963

    My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

    While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

    I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

    But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
    Dr. King in a
    Birmingham jail cell.

    Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

    You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

    Martin Luther King was often arrested for
    standing up for what was right. A reminder
    that "legal" and "right" are not always synonyms.
    In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

    Those who marched with Dr. King
    first asked themselves:
    "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"
    Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants  -- for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

    Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

    You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
    Direct, non-violent action, was designed to
    create a "crisis atmosphere" that would force
    negotiation by the white power structure, King wrote.

    One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

    "Freedom is never voluntarily given by
    the oppressor, it must be demanded by
    the oppressed."
    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

    We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

    There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

    Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

    Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

    Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

    I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

    Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

    We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    One of the original publications of King's letter.
    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

    In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

    You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

    I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

    Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

    But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

    Dr. King waves to the nearly 500 people waiting outside
    Harlem Hospital in New York City on Oct. 3, 1958.
    Dr. King was stabbed on Sept. 20.
    When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

    In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

    I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders
    as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery
    from Selma, Ala. on March 21, 1965.
    They were marching for voter registration rights for blacks
    .

    I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

    Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walks between 7-year-old Eva Gracelemon,
    left, and 10-year-old Aritha Willis as he escorts black school children
    to formerly all-white schools in Grenada, Miss. on Sept. 20, 1966.
    Violence erupted at the school when the schools were integrated.
    There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

    But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

    King in St. Augustine, Florida on July 1, 1964, announcing 
    plans for a south wide campaign to implement provisions of 
    the civil rights bill when it is signed into law .
    Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

    Dr. King, at Bimini, a tiny Bahamian Island off the Florida
    coast, where he came to write his speech of acceptance of
    the Nobel Peace Prize on Nov. 19, 1964.
    It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

    I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
    King, after a five-day stay in jail, tells a news conference in
    Selma, Alabama on Feb. 5, 1965, that he feels
    there is a need for new legislation on the right to vote.

    Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

    If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

    I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

    Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Published in:
    King, Martin Luther Jr.

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  • 01/22/13--01:00: Impactfulness at Rupert
  • Student Onjelay Nixon and teacher Mandi Langdon
    Blogger's Note:Once again, the I'MPACT Team at Rupert Elementary has taken to the streets of Pottstown, rewarded deserving students. Huzzah!

    The Rupert Elementary School I'MPACT Team (which stands for I'm Pottstown Action Team) recognizes students’ outstanding efforts and good citizenship by making home visits to students.
    Student Sean Rightnour, center,
    with teachers Anthony Edwards, left, and
    Rebecca Wyatt

     Teachers, along with Principal Matt Moyer, made personal home visits to students who were recognized as the first marking period I’MPACT award winners. 

    Students received a certificate describing the characteristics of good citizenship and academic achievement. They are recognized for following the Rupert Rules – Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be a Problem Solver. 

    In addition to the certificate, students received balloons and a Rupert I’MPACT polo shirt.

    Award winners for the first marking period included:
    Student Quyanni Shawell got a visit from
    teacher Britney Oxenford
    • Aimee White 
    • Jade Garber 
    • Sean Rightnour 
    • Qeyanni Shawell 
    • Cole Bechtel 
    • Onjelay Nixon 
    Teachers taking part in the home visits included: Jenni Kohl, Amanda Langdon, Rebecca Wyatt, Shannon Wagner, Laurie Gresko, Jacinda Bartolucci, Britney Oxenford, Jamie Fazekas, and Allen Ferster.

    Moyer said, “it is important for us to recognize the outstanding achievements and good citizenship displayed by our students. In doing so, the award winners serve as role models for the rest of our students. It is exciting to see the look on the faces of the students and the parents as they receive their awards and recognize the value of their behaviors.”

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  • 01/23/13--01:00: Getting the Royal Boot
  • On Sunday, Jan. 27, the Reading Royals will be hosting "In Ian's Boots Night!"

    The Royals will host the Las Vegas Wranglers with the game starting at 4:05pm. 

    During this game, the Royals will recognize the "In Ian's Boots" Inc. Organization, whose mission is to spread the good news of Ian's faith by providing shoes and winter boots to those in need.

    From each ticket sold on this page, $5 will go back to the In Ian's Boots Charity. 

    Tickets, which are $15 plus a $2 processing fee for on-line purchases, must be purchased on-line by 11 a.m. Sunday.


    Fans who bring a new or slightly used pair of shoes or boots will receive 2 vouchers that are valid for any 2012-2013 regular season home game.

    There will be a post-game autograph session on the concourse. 

    It is also a Berks Packing Family Day, which includes: $1 hotdogs, sodas, nachos, & popcorn.

    If you do not select to have your tickets mailed, they will be at will call under your name on the day of the game. 

    If you have any questions, call Jake at 610-898-7216.

    According to an e-mail from In Ian's Boots, last year's event raised $600 "and we would like to break this record!!!"

    The Royals play at the Sovereign Center in Reading.


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  • 01/24/13--01:00: Presidential Timbre
  • George Washington took the oath of office on a balcony
    of Federal Hall in New York City.
    Having just closed the nation's 57th inauguration, I think its safe to say that presidents are on people's minds -- for better or worse.

    Many of the traditions observed Monday by President Obama were set by our first president when he took the first oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City, the nation's temporary capital.

    But don't take my word for it, not when you will have the opportunity to have the word of an expert.

    Gordon S. Wood
    I have said many times that one of the things I like the most about having The Hill School in Pottstown is the opportunity it provides to meet many of the nation's leaders who are both alumni and featured speakers.

    For example, I've interviewed former Secretary of State and Hill alum James Baker twice and it was a genuine "local" story each time.

    The latest opportunity comes next month and the public is invited.

    History geeks among the invited public (yes, you in the back; you and me both) will understand then when I tell you why I am excited about this coming President's Day on Monday, Feb. 18.

    Let's face it, most of us think of President's Day as a day of stupid car commercials with bad actors dressed up as Lincoln and Washington.

    This is all well and good for the cause of commerce, but it is hardly the respectful, thoughtful commemoration  we all might hope the day would be.

    But we'll have that opportunity to make it exactly that Feb. 18 when presidential scholar Gordon S. Wood, who is at The Hill as this year's David R. Dougherty Senior Teaching Fellowship of American History speaker.

    His talk begins at 7:15 p.m. and will be held in the Alumni Chapel on The Hill campus.
    An expert on the Revolutionary period, Wood
    understands the importance of the role
    Washington played in the nation's earliest
    and, some might say, most dangerous days.

    Dr. Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University.

    But while that indicates his qualifications, he is so much more than that. To me, at least, the best recommendation to attend his talk is that he is one of the best modern authors books on American history that I have ever read.

    Of course I'm not the only one who feels that way.

    Certainly 1993's Pulitzer Prize committee felt that way when they awarded him the prize for "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," a book of his which I have yet to read but which my sister (only recently come to history) recommends strongly.

    Born in Concord, Mass. in 1933, Wood received his bachelor's from Tufts, his Masters and his Doctorate from Harvard.

    According to his curriculum vitae, Wood has taught at Harvard, William and Mary, University of Michigan, Northwestern and Brown universities.
    "The Radicalism of the American

    Revolution" won the Pulitzer Prize
    in 1993.

    According to his faculty page at Brown, where he has taught since 1969, Wood is: "the author of the 'Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787' (1969), which won the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize in 1970, and 'The Radicalism of the American Revolution' (1992), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize in 1993. 'The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin' (2004) was awarded the Julia Ward Howe Prize by the Boston Authors Club in 2005. 'Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different' was published in 2006. 'The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History' was published in 2008. His book in the Oxford History of the United States, 'Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815'" was published in October 2009.

    Wood reviews in the New York Review of Books and The New Republic. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

    So, in other words, no slouch when it comes to the founders all sides of current political debate love to cite.

    One of the things the recent spate of scholarship on the founders has helped me to understand is the importance of Washington to the founding of the nation.

    "Revolutionary Characters" was published 
    in 2006.
    While this may sound like a statement of the obvious, it is not always immediately obvious to a reader.

    Unlike the other founders, Washington was not college-educated; he was not a "man of letters" as Jefferson, Adams and Franklin were. Therefore, he has left less of his own thoughts behind for us to get to know him.

    One quote attributed to Franklin in reference to Washington being chosen to preside over a meeting has Ben saying: "We always choose him to lead us because he was always the tallest man in the room."

    In some ways, that epitomizes Washington's role in our founding. He may not have been well-educated, but while the other founders believed in the power of reason and rhetoric, Washington better understood the power of symbolism -- and most of all when it came to him.

    It is because of this understanding that he was able to be "the tallest man in the room" and be the one person all the squabbling factions of the Revolution could agree upon as the first president.

    "Empire of Liberty" was published in 2009

    and currently sits on my nightstand.
    And as such, he understood that everything he did would set a precedent, not only in what he said at the Oath of Office, but in his foreign policy and how he dealt with such insurrections as Pennsylvania's own "Whiskey Rebellion."

    I look forward to hearing Dr. Wood's thoughts on the man.

    I am currently reading "Empire of Liberty," which I recommend to all people who, like me, wonder "what happens AFTER you win the war?" 

    Or, to put it another way, the final words of Robert Redford's character in "The Candidate" who had just successfully won a seat on the U.S. Senate -- "Now what?"

    I can also recommend "Revolutionary Characters," which, like the recently read  "Lincoln at Gettysburg" by Garry Wills, helps the modern reader understand the context of the times and attitudes in which the people we now revere did the great things we all know they did.

    Hope to see you in the chapel.

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  • 01/25/13--01:00: This Joint was Jumpin'
  • Edgewood students Raquel Villegas and Ivyjahana Taylor
    'jumped' at the chance to help others.
    Blogger's Note:This post really has heart....

    Desmond Thompson

    got some serious
    air time.
    The students at Edgewood Elementary School, with the assistance of their physical education teacher Jane Thompson, helped jump start the American Heart Association’s fundraising efforts by taking part in the Jump Rope for Heart Event recently. 

    The students received pledges for taking part in a number of activities including jumping rope, hoola-hooping, and climbing rope. 

    They successfully raised $665.00 which was donated to the American Heart Association.

    Jimmy Chen was doing more than just
    hanging around.
    Top fundraisers included third grader Aaliyah Gourzong and second grader Leilani Alberto.

    “Our students enjoyed taking part in this healthy activity which not only saw them build stronger hearts and develop an awareness of the importance of physical fitness but through their efforts we were able to support the American Heart Association’s fight against heart disease,” Thompson said.

    Calista Boyer, Edgewood Principal, added, “once again I am proud of our students and staff for their willingness to help others and their understanding that our world will be a better place if we all care a little bit about our fellow neighbors.”

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  • 01/26/13--01:00: Recycle Mania!
  • Blogger's Note:This just in from Alana Mauger over at the college.

    Montgomery County Community College will once again take part in RecycleMania, a nationwide tournament among colleges and universities designed to increase student awareness of campus recycling and waste minimization.

    After finishing third in Pennsylvania — with a cumulative recycling rate of 34.85% in the 2012 challenge — MCCC expects to maintain momentum in this, its sixth consecutive year of competing.

    The preseason practice weeks run from Jan. 20-Feb. 2. The official competition kicks off on Feb. 3 and extends eight weeks to March 30.

    Over a 10-week period, campuses compete in different contests to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita or have the highest recycling rate.

    In 2012, 605 colleges comprising 6.2 million staff and students recycled and/or composted 94.4 million pounds of waste. In addition, Recyclemania 2012 resulted in a 148,897 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2E). 

    Of the totals, MCCC contributed 39,780 pounds of recycling and averaged 4.9 pounds of recycling per person each week. These efforts resulted in a greenhouse gas reduction of 35 MTCO2E.

    RecycleMania is made possible through the sponsorship support of The Coca Cola Company, SCA, American Forest & Paper Association, Alcoa and Keep America Beautiful. Additional program support is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WasteWise program, College and University Recycling Coalition (CURC), Campus Conservation Nationals and the United Negro College Fund.

    Check MCCC’s Think Green blog at http://mc3green.wordpress.com for RecycleMania stats and updates.

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    Albert Einstein is perhaps our most famous
    theorist. Turns 
    out, the evidence has proven
    him right. Win.
    Lately, I have begun to espouse a new philosophy which is distinctly non-philosophical -- "show me that it works."

    Both liberalism and conservatism are replete with theories about the way we should live and run our governments and our societies.

    Some theories -- trickle-down economics for example -- have lived long beyond the time they should have been abandoned for the simple reason that have failed to produce the results they promised.

    (For my entire adult life, I've been waiting for tax cuts for millionaires to ensure me a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Next.)

    Failure of this theory is no joke.
    Perhaps nowhere is theory more prevalent these days than in the field of education.

    And so, although dubious, I was willing to give school choice a chance under the rubric that if it works, let's go with it.

    After all, as someone who is the product of public schools, has a child in public schools and reports on traditional public schools on a daily basis, it was hard to argue that public schools have their problems.

    The answer to those problems, we were told, was a new beginning; charter schools; cyber-charter schools; vouchers; starting from scratch.

    Although I've always believed its better to fix the car than to buy a whole new car, I acknowledge that sometimes the car can't be fixed, or that fixing it would cost more than the value of the car itself.

    So OK school choice, show me this works.

    Fail.

    As traditional public education advocates have been shouting from the roof tops for the past week or so, newly re-calculated test results that actually compare apples to apples between charter, cyber-charter and traditional public schools show that fewer than 30 percent of charter schools meet national benchmarks.

    By way of comparison, at least 50 percent of traditional public schools run by districts met the benchmarks.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm no advocate for standardized tests being the only barometer of school effectiveness. They should be a part of a larger assessment.

    But its the school choice people who have shoved those test scores in our face as evidence that traditional schools are failing and who used the skewed results as evidence of their success.

    Ooops.

    So what's good for the goose is good for the charter school I say.

    Remember, the state slapped Pottstown High School with the dubious honor of being a "failing school" for missing one math benchmark and otherwise having grades much better than most charters and ALL cyber-charters.

    The 'level playing field' Pennsylvania envisioned for

    comparing traditional public schools and charter schools.
    Surely, in the interest of "the level playing field" we all claim to want, that label will now be carefully applied to all 12 of Pennsylvania's cyber-charter schools, none of which made the "Adequate Yearly Progress" required under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

    Surely, in the interest of providing parents with as much information as possible to make informed choices, that label will now be slapped on the 61 percent of the 80 brick-and-mortar charter schools that did not make AYP.

    Surely you're joking.

    This is Pennsylvania people.

    Consider that the reason those scores are new, is that until the feds stepped in and said no, Pennsylvania had one way of calculating scores for charter schools and a whole different (much harsher) way of calculating them for traditional public schools.

    In other words, as I wrote about in August, there was a double standard.

    Shocking I know.

    "How could this happen?" You ask.

    It's Pennsylvania people.

    The better question to ask is how could it not happen?

    Charles Zogby talks about Pennsylvania's pension crisis
    during a meeting with Digital First Media journalists on Jan. 10.
    Well, however it happened in the Byzantine halls of Harrisburg, I feel confident in the belief that just because former Secretary of Education Charles Zogby was subsequently a highly paid executive with a for-profit company with ties to the largest of Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools in no way ensured that a way would be found to make those companies look good and attract more investment.

    Because that would be wrong.

    By way of a little history, Zobgy served as education secretary under Republican governors Ridge and Schweiker from 2001 to 2003, and as the Director of Governor Ridge's Policy Office from 1995 to 2001.

    Before returning to government service as Tom Corbett's budget secretary, a happy coincidence if ever there was one, Zogby, served as the Senior Vice President of Education and Policy for K12 Inc.

    That for-profit company is an online school curriculum developer and provider with ties to Pennsylvania Virtual Academy and Agora, two of Pennsylvania's largest cyber charters.

    This makes K12 seem like a perfectly nice company.
    In July, K12 Inc. offices were raided by federal agents and the firm is also under investigation on Wall Street for lying to investors and in Florida for using non-certified teachers.

    Surely, given the lobbying, the money, the poor performance, one would think it's time for some detailed examination of this school choice experiment.

    Surely, given that not a single cyber-charter school demonstrated adequate effectiveness in educating our students to a state-wide standard, we would have a halt on any new cyber-charter school applications until we could figure out how to do better.

    Surely, I've mentioned this is Pennsylvania right?
    More money, worse results?

    Let's have more of that.

    Well in Pennsylvania, when there's doubt about the effectiveness of an entity using public money to do a sub-standard job, we respond by saying: "let's have us some more of that."

    Yup, in a move that strains credulity, Pennsylvania is now considering approval of eight new cyber charter schools.

    That's a 50 percent increase in the investment of public money in a model now shown to be failing.

    Not satisfied with that depressing statistic, see if you can guess who would be contracted to run one of these eight new cyber charter schools -- you guessed it, K12 Inc.

    That's how we roll in the Keystone state.

    This year, Pennsylvania taxpayers will spend about $400 million so that roughly 35,000 students can be taught through cyber charters instead of traditional public schools.

    By 2017, we the taxpayers would be spending an additional $108.3 million to educate another 9,800 students in cyber schools if these new proposed cyber-charters are approved.

    Talk about throwing good money after bad. 

    Rhonda Brownstein
    In their review of the Philadelphia School District's operations, the Boston Consulting Group described the quality of Pennsylvania's cybers as "notoriously low."
    The consultants recommended that the district start its own online program to draw students back.
    And Rhonda Brownstein of the Education Law Center wants a freeze on all new cyber charters.
    "With all of the dismal academic performance, we think that the Pennsylvania Department of Education should slow down, take a look at what the problem is, and not go on to approve additional [cybers]," she said.
    But, according to Newsworks, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is doing the exact opposite.

    Carolyn Dumaresq, PA's deputy secretary of
    education sees "value" in a schools model that
    fails to meet standards 100% of the time.
    After all, it is the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

    It's not like its some non-partisan public entity dedicated to giving the Commonwealth's children the very best education for the lowest price.

    So, Carolyn Dumaresq, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary of education, showed up at the hearings "touting the value of online options," according to the Newsworks report. 

    Perhaps she went to a cyber-charter school herself. I'm having trouble understanding how more money and poorer results defines the word "value."

    "The beauty of the cyber charter is that any child, anywhere in Pennsylvania can participate," said Dumaresq. "I think they serve a unique role in providing additional opportunities for students."

    Which of course, brings us back to theories versus actual evidence in the real world; where the "opportunity" to participate in a failing enterprise from anywhere in the state, is a value greater than a public school where your chances of academic success are greater.

    A decision on the new charters is expected tomorrow. Anyone want to bet they all get approved?


    Corbett listens to a question from Phil Heron, right, the

    editor of the Delaware County Daily Times during a Jan. 10
    meeting with editorial staff from Digital First Media.
    When I joined a group of Digital First Media editors and reporters to meet with Gov. Corbett so he could highlight the crisis of pensions in Pennsylvania (see today's Mercury for an in depth-analysis of that problem) I asked him about the results for charter schools.

    As I wrote in a Jan. 13 post, Corbett's affection for the theory allows him to by-pass the facts.

    I started by asking him about the "voucher lite" program, that uses a business tax break to divert what would have been tax receipts that could have funded public schools (you'll remember them as the ones that are doing better than charter schools). Instead, the money goes to foundations that offer scholarships to private schools.

    According to an analysis I did in August, by an overwhelming margin, the program favors schools with a religious affiliation.

    So I asked Gov. Corbett if using the state to facilitate religious education bothered him.

    "Are you asking me if I'm against school choice? No, I'm not against school choice. Competition is always good," Corbett replied, completely ignoring the question I had actually asked him.

    When I pointed out, as we've shown here, that test scores at charter schools, cyber and otherwise, are in general worse than those in traditional public schools, he was untroubled.

    Smiling, he said these experiments in choice are "just getting started" and will have to "do better."

    Faith in the theory that "competition is always good" trumped evidence that this is not always the case.

    I would have hoped that a former prosecutor would be more moved by evidence.

    But that's just a theory.

    After all, this is Pennsylvania.


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    Blogger's Note:The following was posted on The Hill School's web site recently and pointed out by Communications Director Cathy Skitko. It has been edited somewhat.

    On a cold, clear Jan. 18 night Hill School faculty, trustees, construction officials, and guests from the Borough of Pottstown gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long-awaited East Faculty Village project.




    In noting that the Village will be home to Hill teaching, coaching, and advising "masters," Headmaster Zachary Lehman recognized efforts of many friends of the school, including former Headmaster David R. Dougherty and his wife, Kay, who worked to make this project a reality.

    (View more photos from the event by clicking here.)

    Construction began earlier this month as crews began site preparation that included work to close Green Street, as a portion of that road will become part of a lawn connecting the eight new homes (four duplex) Faculty Village with the rest of campus.

    The East Faculty Village homes are slated for completion this summer, with faculty and their families moving into the units prior to the 2013-14 academic year.

    On June 30, 2012, The Hill School completed a successful $5.7 million capital campaign toward the Faculty Village. The campaign received broad, major gift support from alumni; friends; current faculty and faculty emeriti; and current and past parents of The Hill. The gifts secured during this targeted campaign provided the necessary resources required for planning and construction of the East Faculty Village. A formal celebration recognizing all contributions to the project will be held during Hill's Reunion Weekend in June.

    An artist's rendering of the new faculty housing development.
    The Hill School’s reputation is founded upon the quality of its faculty.

    Therefore, The Hill must invest continually in the current team of almost 100 faculty members, as well as those to come and must demonstrate an institutional commitment to sustaining the highest standards of teacher performance, according to the post.

    Nearly all faculty members at The Hill reside in dormitories and serve as dorm parents or live in homes on campus, assisting and contributing to residential life in a variety of ways: coaching, advising students, and chaperoning weekend events.

    Because faculty members’ work is a round-the-clock commitment -- because their “job” does not end when they go home each evening -- the school needed to upgrade and expand housing options, especially for those professionals who have young and growing families and for whom many of the school’s current living arrangements simply are inadequate, or in need of significant renovation or repair.

    A rendering of what one of the Green Street duplexes
    will look like.
    The new East Faculty Village in the Green Street neighborhood to the east end of campus will be integrated with the main campus through extensive walkways and the grand crescent lawn. These essential houses will be spacious; energy-efficient, using "green" design components; and equipped with basic modern amenities.

    Significantly, the units will offer dedicated "living and learning" spaces for faculty-student gatherings and tutoring sessions.

    The Hill’s plan to construct attractive faculty housing on this longtime School-owned land also further demonstrates its commitment to remaining a vital part of the Pottstown community, according to the post.

    As part of the project, in an agreement approved by Pottstown Borough Council in June 2008, The Hill agreed to pay $100,000 to the Borough to support local economic development initiatives.

    The Hill, a tax-exempt not-for-profit institution, also agreed to make payments to the Borough on the faculty housing units as if they were taxable by the Borough, for a period of 20 years.

    (Blogger's Note:No such tax agreement exists or was sought with the Pottstown School District, whose revenue losses will be significantly greater.)

    In addition, The Hill will pay up to $325,000 for repairs and upgrades of Edgewood Street (which runs between High and Beech streets), which will benefit many of the school’s community neighbors; the School also will be responsible for constructing other public improvements directly related to the project and the borough-approved vacation of Green Street which will allow students full, safe access to this area of the campus.

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  • 01/29/13--01:00: A Little Help?
  • Don't let these warm temperatures fool you.

    It's still winter.

    But that doesn't mean the Boys of Summer are not already gearing up for another season.

    And while the boys of the Pottstown High School baseball team are gearing up to gear up for the season, they've run into a little snag.

    Coach Jeff Evans reports that for the first time in recent memory, Pottstown had planned to follow the example of other area schools and take a trip to Florida and take in some spring training.

    "We'll do some practices and play a scrimmage or two," Evans said. "There are six or seven teams in the PAC-10 who have been doing this for as long as 20 years, but this will be the first time we're taking the entire team down from Pottstown."

    Money was collected and raised among the team members and through fund-raiser (no tax money is being spent) and all the arrangements were made.

    But then the facility, called Cocoa Expo, got behind on renovations and will not have an occupancy permit in time for the Trojans' arrival.

    Having already raised $15,000 to $16,000 to take the 18 players and three coaches to Florida, the team now finds it needs a little more money.

    Evans said the folks at Cocoa Expo secured the Trojans space at another facility, in Vero Beach, but now money is needed to pay for transportation.

    It's about $1,500 they need to pay the van company and they need it by March 7.

    A fund-raiser will be held on Feb. 12 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Jake's Wayback Burgers in the Upland Square Shopping Center off Route 100 in West Pottsgrove.

    If burgers aren't your speed but you'd like to lend a hand and send a check, it should be made out to: "Pottstown Baseball," and mailed to Pottstown High School, 750 N. Washington St., Pottstown, PA 19464.

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    AYP? Ummm, NOT SO MUCH: Once the federal government
    required all charter schools 

    to analyze their test scores
    the same way as traditional public 
    schools, there were no more
    smiles or banners for cyber-charters; 
    zero of which actually
    made Adequate Yearly Progress.
    So apparently all hope for sanity in Pennsylvania, hanging by the thinnest of threads, is not lost.

    It was announced in Tuesday's papers that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis Monday rejected all eight applications for new cyber-charter schools.

    You can read Elizabeth Chute's article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here; the Harrisburg Patriot-News article here; or the article in The Philadelphia Public School Notebook here.

    Or, if you're an originalist, you can read PDE's press release here.

    As this blog sputtered on about Sunday, it seemed ludicrous that the state would be considering allowing eight more cyber-charter schools -- a 50 percent increase -- when not one of them had met the federal benchmarks set out under the No Child Left Behind law.

    There is still a small chance that some of the eight cyber-

    charter schools rejected by Ron Tomalis, shown here, will
    ultimately be approved.
    But Tomalis did not cite this statistic among the reasons for his rejection.

    This is what he did say:
    “The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs. In addition, the financial plans presented call into question each applicant’s ability to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students.”
    While this may seem like a sudden epidemic of common sense, it is probably proper to add a pinch of caution here, as Benjamin Herold of Newsworks did in his Notebook article.

    Rhonda Brownstein
    Herold quoted Education Law Center executive director Rhonda Brownstein, who said: "as we saw last year, the department rejected seven applications in January, only to approve four of those applicants in June after they re-applied.”

    This year’s applicants may also resubmit their applications, or choose to appeal their denials.

    All of this news comes as the House Republican Caucus announced an ambitious  set of proposals to reform several aspects of Pennsylvania's charter school laws.

    The suggested changes deal only with funding, which is indeed a hot mess, and not with the actual success of charter schools, only 30 percent of which make the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, required by the federal law; or cyber-charters, none of whom made AYP.

    Pa. Rep. Mike Reese (R)
    And GOP dogma does require the following statement from Rep. Mike Reese (R-Fayette/Westmoreland): "Pennsylvania’s charter schools and cyber charter schools have generally worked well and have benefitted many Pennsylvania families, particularly those students in low-performing school districts."

    How 30 percent and zero percent equates to "working well" is a kind of math we'll have to address some other time, because the proposed funding changes are worth considering.

    Here are the key provisions:
    • Special Education Funding. Re-introduce legislation to create a commission to address inequities in the special education funding formula. The commission will be charged with determining how the Commonwealth should fund charter and cyber charter special education students.
    • Pension/Doubledip. Introduce legislation to allow deductions for school district pension payments prior to calculating payments to cyber charter schools. This one change will save approximately $165 million for school districts over the next five years. Blogger's Note:(This was the subject of an Aug. 19 post in this space.)
    • Cyber Funding Reforms. Reese will introduce legislation to make the following additional changes to the current cyber charter funding formula for non-special education students: 
    1. A new “Cyber Program” deduction to spur on competition between school districts and cyber charter schools. School districts will be permitted to deduct 50 percent of the costs of any cyber program they offer to their own resident students. Blogger's Note:(This would affect cyber-charter schools begun in the Pottstown, Spring-Ford and Boyertown school districts to directly compete with the outside schools.)
    2. Districts would be allowed to make additional deductions in calculating their payments to cyber charter schools; these deductions represent costs that occur in a brick-and-mortar setting, but not necessarily in a cyber setting. The proposed new deductions are:
    3. The “Extracurricular Activities” deduction will allow districts to deduct 50 percent of the costs they incur for extracurricular activities. This deduction will not change the availability of extracurricular activities to cyber charter students who choose to participate in their home school district’s activities.
    4. The “District Pupil Services” deduction will allow districts to deduct 100 percent of the costs associated with certain services that are offered in a brick-and-mortar setting but are not necessarily offered by cyber charter schools. These deductions will include student health services, food services and library services.
    Those are the changes the traditional public school districts would probably like, as it addresses some of the complaints they have made over the years.
    "There are some promising pieces in it that could benefit school districts across the commonwealth," the Pennsylvania School Boards Association wrote in a release reacting to the proposals.

    "PSBA has been in favor of eliminating such items as the pension double dip and creating a funding formula that more accurately aligns with the true costs of operating cyber charter schools, both of which promise to be addressed in future legislation," the organization said.

    Other significant parts of the proposal include:
    • Direct Payment of Charter Schools. Recognizing the concerns of charter and cyber charter schools not being timely paid by school districts, the Commonwealth will provide their funding directly.
    • Longer Charter Terms for Predictable Financing. The term of a charter will be lengthened from the current three years for an initial charter and five years for renewals, to five years for the initial charter and 10 years for renewals. Longer terms will allow charter schools to more easily secure predictable and consistent bank financing; the shorter terms have made private financing difficult for a number of charters in the state.
    Both of these seem reasonable on the face of them.

    And don't think that the irony of this flurry of charter and cyber-charter school news coming during "Pennsylvania School Choice Week" has been lost on the Digital Notebook staff.

    Eighty-four events to mark the week have been scheduled across the Commonwealth.



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    Mt. Frisby AME Church, located near Hopewell Furnace,
    at the former African-American community of Six Penny.
    Blogger's Note:The following is from Laura Catalano at the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area, whose offices are here in Pottstown. We present it here in honor of Black History Month, which begins tomorrow.

    For more than a century, African Americans lived and worked at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site alongside their white counterparts.

    Author Frances Delmar will discuss what their lives were like at a lecture and book signing scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices, located at 140 College Dr., Pottstown.

    Delmar is the National Park Service Chief of Education and Interpretation at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and author of the new book The African American Experience at Hopewell Furnace.
    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

    Because little is known or written about the African Americans who lived and worked at Hopewell from 1771 to 1883, Delmar researched the book by poring through daybooks, ledgers and other park records for information.

    Her new book provides a glimpse into how these men and women came to Hopewell Village, earned their wages, interacted and were treated by the other village inhabitants.

    The slim 24-page book is attractively illustrated with photographs of re-enactors portraying 18th and 19th century African Americans on Hopewell’s grounds. It will be available for sale for $5.95 after the lecture.

    There is no cost for this event, but space is limited so call 484-945-0200, or email ckott@schuylkillriver.org to reserve a seat.

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    Thinking of spring, and these blooming callery pear trees on Beech Street, as the cold winter winds blow.
    Trees are among the oldest life forms on this planet.

    And whether for its spring time flowering, the initials carved in its bark, or its willingness to host your tree house, almost everyone has a favorite tree.

    But did you know they are also helping to keep you alive?

    This revelation came to me courtesy of Pottstown resident and arborist Alan Jensen-Sellers, who posted a link on Facebook to an article in The Atlantic magazine.

    The article had the tantalizing title: "When Trees Die, People Die," 

    The Emerald Ash borer is about the size of a penny, but its impact

    is huge.
    It explored the link discovered between the mass reduction of the tree population by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer and an increase in cases of heart disease in areas where the insect has struck.

    Here is the core of what was found:
    When the U.S. Forest Service looked at mortality rates in counties affected by the emerald ash borer, they found increased mortality rates. Specifically, more people were dying of cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illness -- the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. As the infestation took over in each of these places, the connection to poor health strengthened.
    You can read a copy of the study here.

    This is a case of a benefit being proven by its absence, which I like to call the "Joni Mitchell Effect," Re: (Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got till its gone...)

    Certainly we all know that trees produce oxygen, which we need to live, and take in and store carbon dioxide, which is also a good thing.

    They also act like giant cilia in the lungs of the world, filtering out air pollutants.

    For example, the trees of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC remove 63,500 pounds of ozone-forming pollutants each year, which has an annual value of $285,000.
    This again from The Atlantic:
    The Forest Service put a 3.8 billion dollar value on the air pollution annually removed by urban trees. In Washington D.C., trees remove nitrogen dioxide to an extent equivalent to taking 274,000 cars off the traffic-packed beltway, saving an estimated $51 million in annual pollution-related health care costs.
    We also know that trees perform something called "storm water services."

    What this means is that when it rains a lot, which is happening more and more thanks to global warming, trees absorb an amazing amount of water.

    This saves us money.

    How? Well the more water trees absorb, the less we have to deal with in storm drains, damns and stormwater containment basins.

    Urban forests can reduce pollution and stormwater run-off.
    A single mature tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water, releasing some through evapo-transpiration and some back into the ground more slowly.

    According to the U.S. Forrest Service, urban trees can reduce stormwater run-off, a pollution problem that is expensive to manage, by 2 to 7 percent.

    And since planting trees costs less than building pipes and expanding wastewater treatment plants, cities like New York and Portland, Ore. are undergoing projects to plant thousands of trees as part of what is now called "green infrastructure.

    What's my point? you may ask

    Not much more than to point out that while trees can be a pain, making us rake their leaves, falling on our house or car in strong winds, rooting through our water or sewer lines, they have their good sides too.




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    Blogger's Note:The following is provided by Beth Trapani and was written by Pottsgrove Middle School Principal Bill Ziegler about  Jan. 29 school session for parents about bullying.

    At tonight’s Community Connection meeting, Deb McCoy, an expert on Bullying, shared with parents how to recognize bullying and be proactive in addressing it with their children.

    Ms. McCoy started by saying that “bullying is not a student making fun of another student on the playground”

    “Instead, bullying is an intentional repeated act to do harm to another student.”

    An excellent website to learn more about bullying is http://www.stopbullying.gov

    This government site provides rich resources on how to talk with your kids about bullying.

    Deb shared that the three types of bullying are: Physical, Social, and Emotional. Cyber-bullying is often a piece of the social and emotional type of bullying.

    The number one form of Cyberbullying is text messaging with Facebook as second, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites follow right after Facebook.

    Texting is a leading form of communication for students starting as young as nine years old. 
    Deb McCoy talks at the Pottsgrove bullying seminar.

    Deb claims that the average female adolescent sends 4,700 texts per month and 3,700 for males.

    Digital reputations – students create their digital reputations through social media sites and anything that is posted on the web. Colleges, universities, and employers are combing the internet to identify your digital reputation. 

    This material is used to identify your character, history, and reputation. Deb challenged us toconsider the question, “What does your digital reputation say about you?”

    “Parents need to monitor and manage our children’s digital life as we manage and monitor their physical life,” she said. 

    The website http://www.uknowkids.com/ is a parenting digital intelligence system that allows parents to closely monitor their child’s phone, web, and personal digital use.

    Parents can track text messages, Facebook updates, and a myriad of other digital media.

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  • 02/03/13--01:00: 365, 12, 7, 24
  • Well Friday marked another milestone in the life of this Digital Notebook blog of mine.

    That was the day that marked a full year of daily posts.

    It was on Feb. 1 of 2012 that I began my experiment of seeing if I could post something every day.

    The experiment has proven its possible and, often enough, exhausting.

    "Why would I do such a thing?" you ask.

    Stupidity?

    Stubbornness?

    Curiosity?

    Yes.

    To be honest, the real reason was fear.

    Like a lot of guys, I don't like facing uncertainty sitting on my hands. I like to try to do something to address it, face it, possibly affect it.

    And, as many of you likely know, the company that owns The Mercury is in bankruptcy for the second time in the 15 years I've been here.

    Now this particular bankruptcy has more to do with shedding debt and selling ourselves to a newly created "stalking horse" subsidiary, than crash and burn financial distress -- but still....

    Newspapers around the nation are closing, reducing days of publication or trying to go the full digital route.

    Anyone who has been paying attention knows that journalism is going through a major transformation. The key question is: "Into what?"

    Easier to answer is the cause -- as it always has, it's technology that is bringing about this change.

    It was the printing press (combined with an burgeoning education system) which transformed reading from a magical skill understood by a few learned monks and aristocrats to the next big thing in mass communication since the town crier.

    It was a reliable postal service which made it possible for the founding fathers to keep the public informed enough about what was going on elsewhere in the Republic to establish the geographically largest successful democracy the world has ever seen.

    (Newspapers from one city were shipped to another, where they were gleefully cut up and the news stolen for re-publication in the new location.)

    Cheap newsprint and even better public education made penny newspapers ubiquitous in major cities and then radio made news and communication instantaneous.

    Television provided the instant images and the TV news anchor was born.

    But throughout all of it, the people who controlled the technology controlled the information.

    Not just anyone could buy a printing press, a radio station, or television network.

    Throughout it all, there were professionals who decided what was important enough to tell people and, in an information market, what they wanted to know.

    What this latest wave of technology has changed fundamentally, I've come to understand, is that anyone can use it. No longer are the decisions about what and when information will be provided in the hands of a few, trained professionals, often called "the gate keepers" in Journalism 101.

    Anyone can start a blog, for example, and many, many, many have.

    In the information marketplace, those with the best blog, best tweets, best Instragram, Tumblr or Pintrest pages get the most readers.

    This is neither good nor bad, it just is.

    Well, to be more precise, it is both good and bad.

    On the good side, Pottstown does not have just three reporters anyone; it potentially has thousands albeit part-time.

    This means when a storm hits, we can get information from people all over the place; what's flooded, what roads are closed, where the is power out. That makes for better instant information.

    It also means that stories we may once have ignored can be presented by readers, or at least that readers can advocate for their publication. In other words, it makes it easier to "give the people what they want."

    On the bad side, few of these people have any kind of professional experience.

    They are free to post anything they please; rumors, calumny and even outright lies, and they may well have agendas and motivations for what they are doing which are more than just a desire to inform the public.

    Worse still, they can do it anonymously. Unlike professionals, they often are not accountable for what they write or broadcast.

    Also, because these new digital newsies rarely make money doing it, or enough that they can do it full-time, what they produce is often a sideline and rarely sustainable over the long-haul.

    A lack of consistency works primarily to the benefit of those in authority. They can just wait out someone nipping electronically at their heels in the reasonable belief that soon enough, they will just go away.

    (Joe Zlomek's Sanatoga Post is the admirable exception to these observations and I continue watch with interest how his model is growing and succeeding.)

    Now I've used the word "professional" a couple times here and I should note that like any industry, journalism needed a shake up.

    For many journalists, the idea that you are pursuing and presenting the truth as best you can discern became a belief that because they say it or write it, it's automatically the truth.

    Add on the awards that journalists like to pat themselves on the back with (hey, if we can't get rich at least we can pin medals on our chests) and you have a recipe for eventual upset. Any market hates complacency and we were long overdue for our wake-up call.

    Having a lot of upstarts scoop you, come up with business models that make yours look like a steam engine and surf the fast-changing wave of technological changes with such skill that you look like the 98-pound weakling standing on the shore, will do one of two things.

    If its all too much, it may make you give up and start eyeing your pension (if you're lucky enough to still have one.)

    I've seen some of the journalists I know simply dig in their heels and refuse to recognize that change is not only coming, it's already here and it's kicking their ass.

    It's enough to make me want to pull out what's left of my graying hair.

    Or, these shake ups may motivate you to remind people that despite all the bells, whistles, touch screens, pop-ups, apps and tweets, you still bring a bedrock value to the game -- credibility.

    I've always thought the key to adapting to change is recognizing what new things bring value to what you do, without losing sight of the values and practices you can't afford to give up.

    Now, it's understood that "credibility" can seem a bit flimsy when journalism has been undermined in recent years by the need to compete and make money.

    I could never figure out why this stunt did not get
    Geraldo fired. Then I remembered, it's Fox News
    .
    It's lead to everything from TV spots about how great the news NBC season will be or, what I like to think of as the beginning of the fall -- Geraldo Rivera revealing the empty contents of "Al Capone's Vault."

    The blending of entertainment and news has made it ever more difficult to draw the line between news, opinion and fluff.

    This is, of course, one of the dangers of letting the market decide everything.

    It has given us hour after agonizing hour of "reality TV," as if you've ever seen anyone act completely normal while facing a television camera.

    Seriously? I mean seriously?
    Let's face it folks, "Honey Boo Boo" would not be on TV if no one watched it.

    All of which is enough to put a little fear of irrelevance into the heart of anyone who believes that it actually serves democracy to have an independent entity that questions authority, exposes stupidity, corruption and waste and is able to present it with enough credibility that the people believe it, and act to correct it.

    A little fear can be a good motivator.

    Which brings us back to this Digital Notebook blog of mine.

    Given that a newspaper only has as much space as the advertising pays for, I thought I might try this digital experiment of my own.

    This is not the kind of "bell and whistle"
    I meant folks.
    It started by creating a place that, just like the newspaper, is new every day, where all the news that doesn't make it into the paper can be posted for people to see, or not.

    It has also provided, as regular readers know, a place for me to spout off column-style from time to time.

    So what insights has this experiment revealed.

    Well, to a certain extent, it has primarily reinforced things I already knew.

    That in local news, people like news about themselves.

    Parents like to see their kids triumphs proclaimed, teachers like to see their work appreciated and people like to see those in authority held to account and, more than a little occasionally, ridiculed.

    This is, of course, nothing new to someone who has been in local news for 25 years now.

    "People like news, always have," was the sage observation boss lady Nancy March shared with me, with a smile, when I told her I was contemplating this post.

    As to the daily pace, that was a little harrowing. Good thing I have been working at a daily newspaper for 15 of those years.

    Nancy has another saying you get used to hearing during a typical newsroom morning, as we look over the paper, admire our handiwork and pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness, thoroughness or enterprise.

    "Yeah, that was a good story," she'll say brusquely, followed by the inevitable: "What have you got daily?"

    And so it was with this blog, planning how to get through weekends and, especially vacations.

    Also, one advantage of this technology is that rather than rely on received wisdom, you can actually count which posts get the most interest.

    The tireless John Armato
    And so I saw the self-evident evidence that when John Armato sent me a press release with photos (I could never have made 365 consecutive posts without his steady stream of good news about Pottstown Schools) and I dutifully posted it.

    He would then dutifully send out a link to all district employees, which translated into lots of hits.

    Another hit generator is a daily e-mail that comes from Lawrence Feinberg, from the Keystone State Education Coalition. It contains education news from all around the Commonwealth and, when I had a post about education issues, I would send him a link.

    Lawrence Feinberg
    If he thought it worth sharing, he would and, again, my "hits" would go up.

    All of this, of course, is the basic lesson of distribution. You can have the nicest or the cleverest blog in the world, but if no one sees it, what's the point?

    It's the newspaper equivalent of giving a party to which nobody comes.

    Finally, those posts which seemed to draw the most attention whose source was not obviously from someone with a wide distribution list sharing the link, were those not much different in subject from what I regularly write about in the newspaper.

    This blog gizmo shows the most popular posts right on the page you're reading this (presuming you've gotten this far) and you'll see the three most popular posts come from distribution lists.

    But the four and fifth place finishers are about Pottstown Borough considering new core values and a new mission statement; and a photo and ruminations on downtown facades.

    These are not exactly the kind of subjects that would have a tabloid headline writer drooling. But they are, apparently, the kind of things people want to know about their community and what their leaders are doing.

    All of which is to say that I spent a year in this dogged experiment and found out a whole of things I already knew:

    1) People like local news about their community, and they like when it comes from a trustworthy someone who doesn't have something to gain by its distribution.

    2) A good distribution network is as necessary for building audience for an electronic news vehicle you read on a screen as is is for a one you hold in your hand.

    3)  And maybe we don't have that much to fear after all. We just need to be smart, and pay attention to how each new different vehicle works, what advantages it presents, and which paths it may take us down.

    4) And finally, we need to figure out how to continue to provide this often-unappreciated function so vital to democracy in such a way that someone can make a living doing it.

    And so, 365 posts later, on-line 12 months a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and having garnered several hundred hits shy of 75,000 hits, we bring the experiment to a close.

    This does not mean the blog will end folks, merely that I am not so sure that I will continue my daily posting.

    I have made no decision about it one way or the other, just wanted to state that having run the course of my experiment, I am releasing myself from the pledge to do so.

    Who knows? Maybe that will turn into an experiment as well.

    It's not like any of this is planned or anything.








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    The Fifth Grade at Rupert Elementary School recently completed the 10-week D.A.R.E. program.

    Blogger's Note:Once again, we find ourselves thanking the tireless John Armato for more news about what's happening in Pottstown Schools.

    Rupert Elementary School fifth grade students recently completed a ten week D.A.R.E. Program. 

    Some of the Rupert D.A.R.E. winners.
    Officer James Yost of the Pottstown Police Department and Pottstown School District D.A.R.E. officer conducted each of the 50 minute sessions in which students talked about making healthy lifestyle choices which will lead to a better life and enable students to achieve to the highest degree of their ability.

    Officer Yost provided information to students regarding good nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and study skills.

    At the conclusion of the ten session program, students took part in an essay writing competition. 

    Officer Yost read all the essays and judged the top three in each of the fifth grade participating classes. 

     All six essays were read aloud at a full school assembly to recognize the D.A.R.E. graduation class. 

    Officer Yost congratulates first place winners Daiyana Wilson,
    right, and Kito Thompson.
    The top six essay award winners received medals in recognition of their ability to demonstration what they had learned.

    Award winners in Amanda Langdon’s class were: Dayvia Beasley, Alexandria Olvera, and Daiyana Wilson. 

    Earning first place honors from her class and receiving a D.A.R.E. stuffed lion was Daiyana Wilson.

    Award winners in Deborah Wilson’s class were: Tyler Bruton, Celicia Thorpe, and Kito Thompson. 

    First place winner from her class was Kito Thompson.

    Every student participating in the ten week program received D.A.R.E. tee-shirts which were donated by Glenn Simms from Simms Abrasives.

    “I am always excited to visit our school district’s elementary schools and present the D.A.R.E. Program to fifth grade students. Over the years I have seen how this program has helped youngsters understand the value of making good decisions that will lead them to a better life,” Yost said.

    Rupert Principal Matt Moyer said the D.A.R.E. program “is a great opportunity for our students to come in contact with one of our police department officers who serves as a role model for them and is an excellent representative of the Pottstown Police Department.”

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  • 02/05/13--01:00: Cub Reporters? Not Likely
  • Scouts from Pack 146 get a sneak peak at the front page of Tuesday's Mercury from editor 
    Jim Wright during a visit to the newspaper offices Monday night.



    So who asks more questions than reporters?

    As it turns out, Cub Scouts.

    The members of Cub Scout Pack 146 paid a visit to The Mercury Monday night to fulfill "Achivement 17 C," which their Scoutmaster Bill Parker, said requires a visit to a newspaper, radio or TV station.

    We talked about things like how you define "news," which one helpful scout told me stands for North, East, West, South.

    They learned how reporters gather stories (slowly); how we find out about spot news (photographers with scanners); how stories get checked for accuracy (closely) and how we put the stories and photos down on the page lay-out (skillfully).

    They visited The Mercury "vault," downstairs, where the ghost of Mercury founder Shandy Hill is said to be seen occasionally, and looked up what was on the front page on the day they were born.

    One scout found out that Hurricane Ivan was raging on the day he was born.

    Then his mom told him "we had to drive through that storm to get to the hospital."

    (Thankfully, his parents had enough sense not to name him "Stormy.")

    But it does go to show you, even years later, The Mercury providing crucial information to area families.

    They were a smart bunch.

    Although they asked many questions (my two favorite were: "Why is it so hot in this newsroom?" and "How old are you?") none were tempted by the tour to answer "yes" the question I asked them -- "So, would any of you like to be reporters when you grow up?"

    The silence was deafening, but not unexpected.

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  • 02/07/13--01:00: Skating Against Cancer
  • The Hill School will host its Sixth Annual "Skate Against Cancer" event on Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Thomas Eccleston, Jr. Rink and Edward Tuck Hall Arena

    Hill School students Mackenzie LeClair ’14 (Havorford), Scott McKean (Chester Springs), and Sydney Munro ’14 (Phoenixville) organized the annual fundraiser. 

    The event that raises money for The American Cancer Society through the Pottstown area Relay for Life. 

    This is event is open to the community. Admission is $3; skate rentals are $2.

    In addition to ice skating, attendees will enjoy raffles, t-shirt sales (original designs by Hill students), and refreshments. 

    Raffle prizes include an iPod and autographed Philadelphia Flyers paraphernalia.
    "Working with their faculty adviser, Instructor of English Courtney Neese ’00, Mackenzie, Scott, and Sydney have organized an evening that melds both fun and charity," Jennifer L. Bechtel, The Hill's Associate Director for Communications and Website Editor, wrote in an e-mail to The Mercury.

    Please note: All skaters must wear knit hats or helmets at all times when on the ice.

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  • 02/08/13--01:00: Pottstown Borough Briefs
  • No! Not that kind of brief. NEWS BRIEFS. Sheesh.

    A couple of little news briefs from Wednesday night's Borough Council work session for your consideration:

    Hole in the Ground No More?

    Repairs on the collapsed arch on Grant Street, between Walnut and Beech streets, are estimated to cost between $40,000 and $50,000 Public Works Director Doug Yerger told council.
    The collapse arch is adjacent to The Hill School's physical plant.

    He said bids are expected to be returned soon and he will present them to council for approval at the Feb. 26 joint meeting with the Pottstown School Board.

    Work will begin,hopefully by the end of the month.

    The collapse occurred in December and was discovered by a borough consultant looking for water main leaks.

    The most recent arch collapse, on North Hanover Street, in August, 2011, ultimately cost only $15,000 to repair, in large part because the size and shape of the hole made using a pre-fabricated replacement practical.

    The 2004 collapse in the first block of Walnut Street cost more than $500,000.

    The arch in question here carries the stream which runs through and feeds a pond on Brookside County Club, thne fills the Dell pond on The Hill School campus.

    From there it runs under the campus and connects with another stream system that ultimately enters the Schuylkill near the intersection of Washington Street and Industrial Highway, Yerger said.

    Mission Probable

    Although discussion in The Mercury and on a previous blog post in which we talked about the new borough Mission and Core Values being proposed garnered quite a bit of conversation here and on The Mercury's web and Facebook sites, that was not the case for council.

    As we first reported in this Jan. 19 post, Borough Manager Mark Flanders has proposed an updating of the borough's Mission Statement and Core Values, which was most recently updated in 2011.

    The post garnered 10 comments on this blog, two on The Mercury web site, when the story ran there Tuesday, and a few more on The Mercury's Facebook page.

    But council had nothing to say and Flanders said other than what was posted on the articles here, he had received no feedback from council members over the past month.

    "I received no suggestions from council so I have to assume you're OK with this, although that may be a mistake," said Flanders.

    The old values and statement were "cumbersome and out of date," Flanders said.

    It will be on the agenda for a vote at the Feb. 11 meeting.

    New Contract Maybe?

    Speaking of Monday's meeting, Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said he hopes to have a proposed contract settlement with the AFSCME workers union before borough council for approval.

    AFSCME stands for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. A unit of this national union represents the borough hall, parks and recreation and public works employees.

    Police are represented by a separate union.

    "We didn't make it, trying to get it done by the end of the year, but we hope to have something for your consideration Monday," Garner said.

    The current two-year AFSCME contract was adopted in July, 2011 and included a pay freeze for the first year.

    That pact also as much as doubled employee contributions to health care insurance, saving the borough between $35,000 and $45,000 in the first year alone.

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  • 02/09/13--01:00: MC3 Alumni Hall of Fame

  • Blogger's Note: Alana Mauger from Montgomery County Community College wants to hear your success stories former students....

    Montgomery County Community College’s Alumni Association Board of Directors is now accepting nominations for distinguished alumni to be inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame.

    Each year, several outstanding individuals are nominated and selected for the Hall of Fame from the more than 55,000 College alumni. The Hall of Fame inductees represent the best and the brightest who have made notable, positive differences in their careers and communities.

    Nominations for 2013 are being accepted until Feb. 28. Nomination letters must include the name of the candidate, years of attendance, graduation year, reasons for nomination, achievements or awards, volunteer service, as well as any press clippings or third-party recognition. Alumni may nominate themselves.

    Nominations may submitted via email to alumni@mc3.edu or mailed to Montgomery County Community College Alumni Office, East House, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

    Selected nominees will be inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame during a celebratory program on Oct. 11, 2013, and their names will be added to the list of Hall of Fame honorees on display at the Science Center Theater at Central Campus in Blue Bell.

    To see a list of past recipients, visit: www.mc3.edu/foundation/alumni/hall-fame/members.aspx.

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