Rude, crude and destructive

 03 N1902P59006CUp & Coming Weekly publisher Bill Bowman approached me almost 20 years ago about writing a regular column for U&CW, and I have been at it ever since. Having a forum for one’s thoughts, opinions, musings and storytelling is a great blessing, and I am grateful. Bill and I are longtime friends, and although we do not always agree on the issues I address, not once in nearly two decades has Bill asked me not to write something or censored a column with which he did not agree.

Some readers, notably grammarians and other English language-loving sticklers, have showered me with laurels, and others, including people with tattoos, have firmly set me straight on why they inked their bodies as personal or cultural statements. Readers comment with some regularity, and I am always interested in feedback, whatever it may be. Most comments have been polite, even when the writers disagree with my take. Some criticism has come with an edge, which is fair game for writers in the public sector. Political columns often generate comment, both positive and negative, and having been around the political block a few times myself, I know how fortunate we are to live in a nation that protects free expression.

Nevertheless, I was blindsided by the invective in this response to a column on presidential pardons. It is quoted exactly as it arrived in my inbox.

“Ms Dickson is a liberal hypocrite of the most repulsive type. President Obama, according to Wikipedia, pardoned more criminals than the last 13 presidents combined, and 330 on his last day in office. Worst of all he pardoned that traitor bradley edward manning who should have been executed for treason..Why didn’t Obama’s pardons bother her? Because she talks out of both sides of her mouth as the hypocrite that she is. Lady, crawl back under your scummy rock and never put pen to paper again, disgusting.”

Talking heads have been pontificating since roughly 2015 on the incivility that seems to have overtaken both public and private discourse in our nation. Walls of silence or wars of words break out among friends and family, creating breaches that will take a long time to heal — if they ever do. Partisan politicians who only a decade ago worked with each other are now afraid to be seen together lest their backers sense a weakening or — heaven forbid! — a compromise. 

Not for a moment do I believe Donald Trump, with all his bluster, name-calling and weak relationship with truth, created our incivility singlehandedly. American politics has always been a blood sport and not for the faint of heart. I do think, though, Trump’s harsh words and behaviors have given permission to others, including the author of the email above, to mimic him. Trump has freed people to say things their mothers surely taught them are rude, crude and destructive. What is more, venomous language and behaviors have opened the door for increasingly hateful attitudes towards people perceived as “the other,” including increase incidents of hate crimes.

Bill Bowman and I do agree on one of America’s most significant blessings. In these highly partisan and charged times, we are both profoundly grateful to live in the United States of America, where all of us have a Constitutional right to speak our minds. We also look forward to the day when our nation returns to one of civil discourse.

Supporting small businesses amid COVID-19 concerns

02 shopping local This week, Publisher Bill Bowman yields his space to Jenna Shackelford, editor of Up & Coming Weekly. 

Over the past few weeks, the effects of the coronavirus and the panic surrounding it have slowly unfolded in our community. Between mad dashes to the store for enough toilet paper to stock up a small country, waiting in long lines at local big box stores, and slathering our hands in sanitizer, people have watched and listened as the news, social media and experts have told us that the numbers of presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. 

Unfortunately, in our efforts to prepare for the worst — and don’t get me wrong, we should be prepared —  our local businesses are paying the price. With a decrease in traffic, stores in the area whose doors are wide open to their customers are suddenly finding themselves in financial predicaments. 

Cumberland County residents need to shop local now, or else when COVID-19 has come and gone, local businesses will have came and went, too. 

With the spread of germs, though, how can consumers be smart about how they support local entrepreneurs? 

By now, most people are aware that large gatherings are banned; but small gatherings with simple precautions, like thorough  hand-washing, are allowed and are much lower risk. Bear in mind that owners of businesses don’t want to get sick either, nor do they want anyone else who visited their establishments to fall ill, and are taking precautions to ensure that their workplace is santized. Many restaurants utilize delivery services, so support local restaurants by ordering carry-out. You could also support stores that sell local produce and make a meal at home to share for a night in. 

Check your calendar. Do you have some birthdays, weddings or other occasions marked that you’ll want to purchase gifts for? Now is a great time to do that. While outings are still safe, many small businesses have an online presence that you can order from and stay in. For those that don’t, consider calling the business and making purchases by phone. 

If you don’t have anything you particularly need from your favorite local business now, but you might later, purchasing gift cards for a future use is also an effective way to support the local economy. 

If you need to purchase items wholesale, putting in your orders now could provide a much-needed monetary boost.

Spring is a beautiful time of year to explore the outdoors. Throughout Fayetteville, there are a plethora of outside adventures. From events for all ages at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden to activities like kayaking trips with Lake Rim Park, you’ll find events that everyone can enjoy. (Update: Since the publication of this article, many outside programs and activities have been postponed or cancelled, but visitors can attend the parks, which remain open, at their own discretion.)

The Greater Fayetteville Chamber is a wonderful resource with an extensive list of their members, complete with the addresses and phone numbers. Visit and click “member directory” under the “shop local” tab to explore all the great possibilities in our community. Who knows — you might find a new favorite hangout spot or resource you hadn’t learned about yet. 

Our community is resilient. Think back to all the storms — both literal and figurative — that we have collectively weathered. One of the best qualities of the people in Cumberland County is that, through thick and thin, we watch out for each other. We love our neighbors. We help in times of need. Now is no different, and it’s time for us to invest in local entrepreneurs the way they have invested in the community. Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Hope Mills resumes community roundtable March 19

Update: Due to the spread of COVID-19, as a precaution, the Community Roundtable has been cancelled. 

Mayor Jackie Warner has probably survived two of the most turbulent years of her political life. Like the persistent and ingenious Don Quixote, she took up her lance and, along with her faithful friend and sidekick Sancho Panza, better known as Commissioner Pat Edwards, they challenged the unscrupulous and formidable windmill that was stifling Hope Mills’ growth and tainting its image. Warner’s lance of perseverance scattered the windmill’s four sinister sails of nastiness, gossip, innuendo and fake news, allowing truth, honesty and integrity to triumph over greed, selfishness and small-town pettiness.

Now comes the celebration, and with it, well-deserved municipal progress and responsible leadership now sitting at the dais of authority, leaders that collectively have the same positive vision for the future of Hope Mills and its residents. Cooperation now seems imminent in the town, and that is the vital element
for success.

The March 19 Community Roundtable will be hosted by Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper, Harmony at Hope Mills and the town of Hope Mills from 6:30-9 p.m. Members of our Cumberland County legislative delegation will be on hand. They have recently demonstrated remarkable cooperation on significant issues by coming together and setting aside their political affiliations to address local issues that affect all residents — like the situation we now face with GenX.

People over politics. We hear that phrase a lot around election time. However, how often do we experience it? You will experience it March 19 when Sen. Kirk deViere, D-District 19; State Rep. John Szoka, R-District 45; District 44 Democratic State Rep. Billy Richardson; and Cumberland County Commissioner Michael Boose come together to speak on important issues that affect all of us. Local town updates will be provided by Hope Mills Town Manager Melissa Adams and Mayor Jackie Warner. Elizabeth Blevins, president of the Hope Mills Creative Arts Council, will discuss Hope Mills’ emerging arts and cultural programs. The evening will be fun, entertaining and informative with plenty of prizes and surprises. Mark your calendars to attend. It will be great fun.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly, Hope Mills’ community newspaper.

While waiting for the apocalypse

03 IMG 0739The media refers to COVID-19 as the novel Coronavirus. Being of a certain vintage, I recall when polio was big back in the 1950s. Before Dr. Jonas Salk invented his vaccine, life was a bit dicey. People had yellow “Quarantine” signs on their doors. Swimming pools and movie theaters were closed to keep large groups of people from congregating and sharing polio.

 Polio was apolitical. Coronavirus is highly partisan. This may not be an improvement. We have kindly epidemiologist Dr. Mike Pence in charge of keeping us safe from the Democratic hoax that is COVID-19. At the time of submitting this writer’s blotch, Dear Leader’s cure for COVID-19 is happy talk taken with daily swigs of Doc Trump’s 101 Proof Snake Oil. This not only cures Corona but also headaches, neuralgia, cough, cold, gout, hiccups, gonorrhea, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough and even Bowden’s Malady. That’s strong medicine. If we can hold out until April, the COVID-19 will vanish into outer space, leaving the survivors strong, healthy and perky as all get out.
Perhaps we can figure out how this story ends by looking at how literature dealt with plagues.

Stephen King wrote an entire novel about evil influenza in his book “The Stand.” The Cooties in “The Stand” were called Captain Trips. Captain Trips spread like gossip at a church social. Captain Trips began in an Army lab for biological warfare. Naturally, a boo-boo allowed the virus to escape into the general population, wiping out 99% of Americans. An unpleasant guy named Randall Flagg, who may be the Devil, was hanging out in Las Vegas, Nevada, with plans to take over what was left of the world. 
Edgar Allen Poe dealt with plague cooties in his short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.” The quarantine in this story is voluntary by Prince Prospero, who figures the best way to ride out the Red Death is holing up in his castle with a bunch of his buddies. The Red Death is wiping out the countryside. The castle walls keep out the sick peasants while Spero and his buddies are partying down. They figure they are safe. The poor folks outside are dropping like flies, but as Marie Antoinette almost said, “The poor have no vaccines, let them drink snake oil.”

Spero puts on a fancy masked ball for the lucky 1% inside the castle. Suddenly, a guest shows up wearing a red mask and dressed in a burial shroud. This puts a damper on the festivities. Spero decides to kill the intruder. Spero chases down the party pooper but falls dead himself when he touches the masked man. It turns out the wet blanket is actually the Red Death. The revelers try to high tail it out but they all die from the plague because they are locked in. Poe leaves us with the happy thought: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Not to leave you with too bleak an outlook, allow me to suggest you buy a bunch of comic books. Turn to the inside back cover where you will find a full-page ad for treasure chest of fun products. Order them now because when the Walmarts are closed, it will be difficult to find things to amuse you or to eat. Imagine the hours of fun you can have during quarantine with such products as X-Ray specs that let you see under the clothes of your lady friends. Onion flavored gum is a laugh riot. Joy hand buzzers and a skinhead wig will make you the life of the quarantine. The magic voice throwing ventriloquist whistle will let your voice appear to come out of the giant pile of tuna cans you hoarded. Learn to hypnotize your friends into thinking they are giant chickens. The list goes on.

Wash your hands. It’s gonna be a bumpy flight.

Easy grades produce hard landings

05 N1402P28001CWalt Disney was no stranger to adversity. He grew up in a large, itinerant family of modest means. His first film studio went bankrupt. But Disney never gave up. And he never stopped learning from his mistakes.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me,” Disney once said. “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Celebrating the virtue of perseverance may sound old-fashioned. In reality, however, it is a sound application of modern social science. In education, for example, there is a growing empirical case for the proposition that if we ask more of our children instead of trying to protect their supposedly fragile egos, they are more likely to enjoy success in school and beyond.

A new study of grading practices right here in North Carolina has gained significant national attention. Seth Gershenson, an associate professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, looked at the records of some 350,000 North Carolina eighth- and ninth-graders who were enrolled in the state’s Algebra 1 course from 2006 to 2016. Gershenson chose these students because they had the same teacher for the whole year and were required to take an end-of-course test to assess their mastery of the subject.

For all 8,000 public-school teachers covered in the study parameters, Gershenson averaged the grades they gave their students and used a variety of statistical controls to adjust for student background and prior performance, teacher background and credentials, and other variables that might influence the grade averages. He then compared those average grades to the performance of the same students on the end-of-course test for Algebra 1.

The idea, in other words, was to see if the students of tougher-grading teachers were more or less likely to succeed than were students of easier-grading teachers — all other things being held equal.

Gershenson’s results suggest that tougher grading practices are an example of “tough love.” By expecting more at the front end as a student takes Algebra 1, the teacher makes it more likely that student will eventually achieve mastery in the subject. On average, students assigned to the toughest-grading quartile of North Carolina teachers scored 17% of a standard deviation higher on the exam than if those same students had been assigned to the easiest-grading quartile of teachers.

That’s not a small effect. “To put this difference in perspective,” Gershenson wrote, “consider that it amounts to a little more than six months of learning. It is also larger than the impact of a dozen student absences or replacing an average teacher with a teacher whose students consistently outperform expectations.”

Even moving from the easiest-grading 25% of teachers to one of the middle quartiles still boosted student learning by a significant amount. Gershenson also found that having a tough-grading teacher for Algebra 1 made it more likely a student would do well in subsequent math courses such as Algebra 2 and Geometry. And the benefits of higher academic expectations extended across all racial and family backgrounds.

That last point is particularly important in light of another of Gershenson’s findings: tougher grading standards are not equally distributed across public schools. Suburban schools and those with relatively low shares of poor students tend to have teachers who give lower grades. Rural and high-poverty schools tend to have teachers who give higher grades.

It is at least conceivable that teachers and principals in the latter groups of schools worry that rigorous grading might discourage students who are already facing significant challenges to their academic success. Their concern may be well-motivated but this study shows that acting on that concern is not well-advised.

As North Carolina students leave high school for college or the workplace, what matters most is how well they retain and apply what they’ve learned, not how students feel about themselves. Easy grades early in life can set them up for a hard landing.

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