It’s a Question of Hitting the Ball

“This is not a war, this is a test of how far man can be degraded”
Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong


I didn’t mean to put this one together, but sometimes…

Last Friday, the Tennessee General Assembly closed up shop until next year, and I couldn’t be happier. Talk about a soul-sucking experience. And I’m not talking about either party in particular, all behaved in a less-than-desirable manner.

Hell, they couldn’t even decide what version of Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure to use. The clerk reportedly had the most recent edition, while whoever was texting tidbits to legislators was referencing an older version.

Representatives would site a particular passage for a ruling, and in the clerks manual that reference number was aligned to something completely different. Should be a simple fix right? A, “hey what page are you on, I’m on 176”, and the confusion could quickly be resolved. Maybe the clerk could secure a copy of the one referenced by the Rep.

But, resolving confusion didn’t seem to be on the agenda. Lawmakers would just read their desired passage and leave the clerk scrambling to figure out what they were talking about. Often times leaving him befuddled and confused about what was being asked. At home, we call that being used as a pawn.

In the wake, there were left great, “gotcha” moments, and soundbites that played well on social media when edited but offered little substance.

A good example, of what I am talking about is the debate over HB1269. A bill offering some protection to teachers, while requiring no other action.

The sole purpose of the bill was to protect teachers from civil liability in the event they don’t use a child’s desired pronouns. Seems like at a time when teachers are being exposed to greater liability on a regular basis, this is an understandable desired protection. It’s equally understandable where there might be some areas of question worthy of discussion. But in our new world, we enter every conversation with the belief that the other party has nothing but malicious intent in challenging us. As a result, we don’t have those kinds of conversations.

“This is bullying a student,” State Representative Bob Freeman, (D-Nashville) said. “I am not asking them to agree with anyone. What I am asking is the common decency of respect to address children and how they should be addressed. These terms matter. They matter to children and they matter to us. These are people who should be guiding these children. I trust they want to do what’s best. But there are bad actors.”

I consider Bob Freeman a dear friend, and one of the better legislators on the Hill, but that statement is extremely disingenuous and more appropriate to address a bill that requires teachers to only refer to students by their birth sex, than the one being presented. This bill was proposing nothing of the sort.

Is it a necessary bill? Unfortunately in the litigious society, we live in, yes.

Senator Heidi Campbell made that same kind of accusation when she told the State Senate during a debate on the Senate version of this bill, “I do think this is about giving teachers the right to bully our kids.”

If I didn’t know the two, my assumption would be that they believe that teachers don’t always have the best interests of students at heart and need lawmakers to understand the importance of their role in children’s lives. Remember, teaching is a service profession, that type of job doesn’t normally attract people prone to bullying.

Though, I would argue that this month standardized testing and high-stakes testing are a form of bullying. We’ll leave it alone right now though because that’s another conversation for another day.

I’m kinda picking on them here, but over the last several years we’ve had laws passed by others under the assumption that teachers were actively trying to not teach kids to read, they were attempting to kick as many kids as possible out of school and were refusing to care about dyslexic students, among other things. There is a pattern starting to show here.

I know, everybody loves teachers, but why would you believe that a teacher would intentionally bully a kid just because civil penalties are not in place?

State Representative Justin Jones (D-Nashville) called the proposed law a “license to bully students.” Jones went on to say, “I am sorry to the students who hear what is happening today. I apologize to these young people on behalf of this body. Because what we are doing here is perpetuating harm, trauma, and bullying.”

I’m unsure what he is apologizing for? Because there was a conversation that didn’t parrot his personal views? Because of an attempt to limit potential damage to a teacher who acts out of either religious conviction or just an inability to adapt.

I’m willing to do my best to call you whatever you desire to be called, but sometimes willingness isn’t enough.

I’ve got a friend’s daughter who has changed their name to another version over the last several years and adjusted her pronoun as well. When we are interacting, I do my best to honor their request, and despite 50-plus years of schooling and social conditioning, I get it right about 90% of the time. When we are working together and things get busy, I slip to about 70%.

Is it intentional? No.

Is it an attempt to bully? No.

Is it an attempt to marginalize? No.

If I realize I slipped, I go back and apologize, but I don’t always realize. If they call my attention to it, I also acknowledge and apologize.

Can I do better? Sure.

Do I deserve to face a potential lawsuit? If I was a teacher before this new law passed, that’s a possibility. And that is not fair.

This past weekend, I worked with a wedding planner I’ve worked with for 14 years, ever since she started her business. She called me “TK” all night long.

Was it annoying? Maybe a little.

Did I assume that she was trying to marginalize me and didn’t value my abilities? No

Was I offended? No.

I chalked up to her having a full plate with 1000 other things on her mind. Sometimes we have to extend some grace and decipher between what is intentional and what is malicious. the two are not always exclusive.

I would argue that any teacher deliberately ignoring a student’s wishes is probably failing students in another area, and thus natural attrition will occur.

We also need to recognize that there is a whole room of students, most of which subscribe to traditional pronouns. How are repeated lengthy discussions about pronoun usage serving them? Is there potential for a teacher to bully students into adopting a practice they may or may not be comfortable with, and if not, will we just tell them, “The times are changing and you need to get on board”?

I read a recent article shared by Diane Ravitch, that gave me some pause for cause for pause. The article posted by Anand Giridharadas asks:

As our society fractures, some change-makers are drawn to visions of progress that don’t bother with suasion. I’m thinking especially of those of us who live in what we regard as the America of the future and who think of ourselves as “woke” — aware of injustice, committed to pluralism, willing to fight for it.

As wokeness has percolated from Black resistance into the cultural mainstream, it seems at times to have become a test you must pass to engage with the enlightened, not a gospel the enlightened aspire to spread. Either you buy our whole program, use all the right terms, and expertly check your privilege, or you’re irredeemable.

Is there space among the woke for the still-waking?

There is a lot here in this short piece to scratch to ponder, the chief being, “The woke have a choice about how to deal with the ambivalent. Do you focus on building a fortress to protect yourself from them? Or a road to help them cross the mountain?”

Giridharadas concludes:

When we learn to detect such resonances, we gain the understanding of other people that is required to win them over, and not simply to resist them.

It isn’t enough to be right about the world you want to live in. You gotta sell it, even to those you fear.

On some levels, I don’t disagree. But the idea that there is one vision for America and one path to it, as defined by a group of individuals bestowed with complete authority, does not resonate with me. Interacting with people in an effort to “sell” them something, is not dialog, nor does it recognize and promote freedom. It’s a world where some have decided they have all the answers and questions only remain from those not on board yet.

There were repeated attempts during the House discussion to paint HB1269 as just another front on the war being waged by white Christians against everybody.

State Representative Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville), who is Black, embraced the “times are changing” meme, and said it is up to us to keep up with the times, before asking, “What harm is there to respect someone and call them what they want to be called?”

While I appreciate Dixie’s passion, he might want to ask that same question in his own community. Or the Muslim community. Or the Hispanic community. Or any other community. We are all growing together. None of us are fully evolved.

You can’t legislate kindness, and if you could, I’ve got a long list of items to include in that bill. I have long advocated for a kinder world.

Of course, the bill sponsor didn’t help himself with his response to Dixie.

State Representative Cochran (R-Englewood) answered the “change with the times” call from Dixie, by saying, “No matter how much times are changing you can not tell a person that their religious beliefs no longer matter.” The Representative went on to add that he didn’t believe that the bill permitted teachers to bully kids, but that it did protect teachers from being bullied themselves. He accused the “woke Left” of being among the biggest bullies in history.

And here we go again.

Eventually, the question was called and the House voted to adopt and conform to SB0466 by a vote of 72-22, with State Representative Ronnie Glynn (D-Clarksville) present but not voting. When it came time to vote on the bill, Glynn voted “nay”.

During the debate, several legislators made statements about, “words matter”. They absolutely do, and nobody believes that more than I do. We have to recognize that the words used by those on both sides inflicted a cost, where there didn’t need to be.

You can argue the merits of a bill without using disparaging terms toward or assuming the intent of the sponsor.

Lawmaking is a collaborative process, best accomplished when both sides push to improve the scope. Making debates personal, and focusing on your opponent as opposed to the bill doesn’t help. describing your opponent in deplorable terms does not invite collaboration.

Acting as if the people on the other side of the aisle achieved their position through divine intervention, does not support Democracy.

Which, belies the question of whether America functions as a republic or a democracy. This point was brought up repeatedly in the last week of the session. I’ll leave you with a quote from U.S. Congressman James Clyburn:

The Constitution establishes a federal democratic republic form of government. That is, we have an indivisible union of 50 sovereign States. It is a democracy because people govern themselves. It is representative because people choose elected officials by free and secret ballot. It is a republic because the Government derives its power from the people.

To achieve that representation, we hold elections. Ideally, the people that win these elections, represent the will of the majority of their constituents and write laws accordingly. If not, they run the potential of getting voted out.

Now independent surveys and polls are useful guides to gauge public opinion in a broad manner, though they seldom deal with the nuance that goes into crafting quality legislation. All you have to do is look at presidential polls prior to the last couple of presidential elections and you realize the limitations. Without knowing, how the questions were worded, who was asked, and how many, it is impossible to get a true picture. Opinion polls make great headlines, but the story is often more detailed.

Getting 9K people out on a workday to form a 3-mile human chain sends a message that the subject is important to 9K people. It does not mean that it is imperative that it is equally important to the other 7 million people in the state. It may, be but that’s for elections to decide.

Much has been made of the “Tennessee Three’s” rise to fame, and what a force they are to be reckoned with going forward.

Well if I’m organizing a parade, I’ll call them. If I need someone to preach at church I call them. Despite all the noise, here’s how the scorecard reads:

Expanded Voucher program: passed

Ending teacher payroll deduction: passed

Armed SROs as part of a school security bill: passed

Third-grade retention adjustments: minor and delayed until next year

Representative Parkinson (D-Memphis) got a bill through the House that would end the Achievement School District, but it died in the Senate. maybe somebody should ask Parkinson how he has become one of the most esteemed colleagues in the House, while still taking his shots. Parkinson ain’t scared to throw a jab, but he’s also never shied from doing the work. Nor has Representative Love. Nor Representative Powell.

I just mentioned the education bills, there were plenty of others areas where Republicans proceeded undeterred, and all the fame and so-called “shame” translated to no discernible legislative wins for the Democrats.

Some Democrats would argue that they’ve energized people across the state. Yeah…that’s great…but the next election is in 18 months. Is there a plan to sustain that enthusiasm?

I’d also caution that the antics of the three have equally energized voters on the right. Just because they are not blasting hourly screeds on Twitter, doesn’t mean they are not taking notes.

If I’m a Republican candidate, in a rural or suburban community, I’m praying the lawmakers take a picture with the President on their visit this week.

The next election cycle in Tennessee includes a presidential race. While I pray it’s not another Trump vs Biden rematch, it’s becoming more likely that will be the case. Remember Trump won in Tennessee in 2020 with something like 60% of the vote. The only counties won by Biden were Shelby, Davidson, and, Haywood. State Representatives will benefit from sharing the presidential ballot, the question, as always, is which candidates.

Democrats in Tennessee for the last decade have been screaming oppression and decrying their diminished voice. Again it’s a great sound bite, and will likely play well on Rachel Maddow and MNBC. What it won’t do is help win elections, and that should be the goal.

A super-majority is not good for anybody. It makes those in power fat and lazy while demising the alternative voice. It provides means for both sides to retreat to their silos and scream at the walls.

My son plays youth baseball. Over the years, we’ve come up against umps whose strike zone falls outside of the conventional area. In these instances, my boy has at times struck out looking. In the car ride home, he’ll complain that those weren’t strikes and it’s unfair that they were called as such.

In response, I ask, “Did he call them that way the whole game?”


Then your responsibility is to adjust and figure out how to hit the ones that he calls strikes because that is your job as a hitter. Complaining to him won’t change anything, may make things worse. The stat sheet is not going to show that you struck out due to miscalled strikes, just that you struck out. Get enough strikeouts and you’ll find yourself on the bench because the coach needs hitters – if you are not a hitter, there is no sense in putting you in the game.

That’s where Tennessee Democrats sit these days. The question is, and remains, are they going to be media darlings or are they going to be hitters?

– – –

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Categories: Education

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1 reply

  1. Commish out tomorrow afternoon.

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