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Friday, May 13, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

A Pecos education - the
great boat anchor of life

“Education is the great equalizer,” a proponent of ending the enhanced education program in Pecos said at last week’s emergency meeting of the school board.

Sadly, the use of this phrase in connection with axing the enhanced program could not be more of an oxymoron, ranking right up there with military intelligence and government efficiency.

The ideas just do not go together.

Yes, education can be the great equalizer.

No, the idea is not to make sure that each kid walking across the stage knows the exact same thing and feels really great about herself.

The idea is this: If you have an education then you are equal to anyone no matter the color of your skin, your religion, who your dad was, or where you are from.

We have corrupted this idea to the point that we think letting children who are especially capable academically learn in an ideal environment is a type of discrimination.

All children must be taught the same?

No. All children should have the same opportunity. There is a difference.

There is nothing wrong, and in fact it is intrinsically good, for students who learn faster or who are advanced past most of the their classmates to be segregated into a different classroom where they can be taught more, faster.

That is why we have grades - the first such divider of students operating at different levels.

What our school board and administration have voted for is to retard the education of our best students in the name of social equality.

In essence what our school board is saying is, “If everybody cannot be brilliant we cannot let anybody be brilliant. It might bruise some egos.”

It is sad.

It is the horrible end result of politically correct irrationality.

It started with social promotion in the 1960s and now we have come to the final culmination where we cannot have a class for those children who learn faster than their peers.

Yes, 11 years from now, the current first graders may all be equal when they graduate from Pecos High.

Unfortunately, they will only be equal to each other in their mediocre education.

They will not be equal to the kids in other towns and states whose education was not intentionally retarded by their loving elders.

They will not be equal to those who they will be competing against for entrance into colleges, or for jobs - kids who were allowed to learn as much, as fast, as they possibly could.

Once again we have a case of perhaps well-intentioned people making irrational decisions based on how they want the world to be instead of how it is.

The vision of the world they have swallowed like a bass hitting a worm is that we should all be equal in all things at all times.

That is idiocy.

Human beings come in a vast multitude of colors, abilities and talents.

Our school board and administration have confused equal opportunity with equal result.

Line up 10 randomly chosen people and have them race for a mile and you will end up with 10 different results.

Each had an equal opportunity, but individual results vary. Motivation, athletic ability, training and age will all factor into the final times.

Education is no different.

On the track or in the classroom there will be a small percentage at the front of the pack, a small percentage at the back, and the majority huffing along close together in the middle.

Luckily for the kids running track, they have a lot of control over how fast they run.

Our kids in the classroom are not so lucky. In the classroom the teacher is going to set the pace.

Special education and the enhanced program adjusted the curriculum for the kids behind the pack and in front of it.

In both instances the teacher could set a pace that best suited the majority of her students, as could the teachers charged with teaching the kids who were the majority.

Next year that will not be the case for the kids who, because of maturity, intelligence, training and motivation, are in front of the pack.

Next year they will have an artificial speed limit set by our administration, school board and the realities of teaching to two or three groups of kids with very different abilities.

“Slow up kids,” our school board says. “Don’t learn too much too fast, it might be bad for you - and it might make the other kids feel bad too.”

We apparently have the common sense not to force the fast kids in track to slow down.

We apparently have the common sense not to force the kid with good hands to drop the ball sometimes.

We apparently have the common sense to implement a special education program for kids who are slower than the average.

We apparently have the common sense to have honors classes in high school.

Yet, we lack the common sense to allow our brightest elementary children to learn at an accelerated rate.

Yes, we will achieve a type of equality in Pecos. The equality of ignorance.

And we are discriminating mightily against this minority group of children who are capable of moving faster than their peers.

While we screech for “equality” out of one side of our mouth, we deny these students equal attention from their teacher.

In a class with four slower than average children, 16 average children and four quicker than average kids, and tremendous pressure for all kids to pass the TAKS or whatever tomfool test is the measure of the day, who do you think the teacher is going to spend the majority of her time with?

You can bet it will not be with the four quicker than average kids who will pass the TAKS despite nine months of drooling on their desk because they are bored stiff.

The only way education can be the great equalizer is when a child who is not born with advantages can use it to be the equal of those who were.

Using education to force “equality” of education turns education into the great boat anchor that insures that children born without the advantages of money or social status will never be able to compete with their peers that were.

Your View

More citizens voice their opinion about enhanced program

Dear Editor:

I have children in the enhanced program... having stated that I must add that this letter is neither for nor against eliminating the "Enhanced Program" in our school district. I will also state that 1 am disappointed with the reaction from some of the good people in our community. For individuals who participate in and represent academia I am truly surprised by the lack of restraint and the "name-calling" definitely not an endearing characteristic of an intellectual. I don't understand how athletics are being chastised for the decision; I do not recall anything negative said about academics in our school district when the turf issues were being discussed. Am 1 to understand that we should demoralize kids who participate in other school endeavors whenever we don't get what we want? My children also participate in athletics and from experience 1 can tell you nothing is more heartbreaking than to see kids give all of themselves to an unsuccessful season. Those who dare may not always be successful in the traditional sense therefore we should praise the effort not heckle them for the outcome.

Much has been invested into the Enhanced Program in terms of discussion, finances, friendships and the like. This program as intended merits appreciation however it is in the practical implementation that programs such as this tend to go awry. I state this after having myself served on a couple of Gifted and Talented selection committees some 15 years ago. I will add that in my experience too many subjective criteria are used versus truly objective ones. Thus I believe that a misappropriate number of children that qualify were left out because they did not have an advocate within the system. One person argued that as adults we are responsible for our children's education. This is so true, we are responsible for our kids for the other 17 hours a day and 3 months out of the year our kids are not in school. Dare we say, we as parents should challenge our kids to learn more or should we just leave that to the school system? It has been argued that teachers are not to be solely responsible to discipline children for the lack of it at home, thus the same can be said about learning. In other words accelerated learning begins at home. In another statement children who participated in programs such as the Enhanced have gone on to graduate from prestigious institutions of higher learning. Yet we as a community have yet to benefit from these successful individuals. To date I do not know of any MIT or Ivy League school graduate give back to this community. In contrast those individuals who were not "Enhanced" material have gone on to college and closer universities and have given back to that from which they have come. Many of those individuals who did not benefit from these special programs are the same ones we depend on when there is a fire or we need immediate medical attention. Some have established a business locally or in the area and have provided a valuable service to our rural communities. It is those students who do not receive extra funding via special programs who have been a greater asset to this community than any Harvard grad ever has. I am inclined to believe that the more prestigious the degree the least likely we as a community are to benefit from the fruits of such highly successful professionals. The majority of those kids of whom we have forgotten during this issue are more likely the ones we will rely on as a people who choose to live in Small Town America. They will be our teachers, coaching staff, nurses, volunteer firemen, business owners, law enforcement and as the case now, a hometown hero coming back from a war.

Don't misunderstand me, I do not wish to offend any individual who has distinguished himself by graduating from a highly prestigious school, as a matter of fact one of my closest friends graduated from George Washington University Law School. Instead I hope you feel challenged to help your hometown. Who knows maybe one day we will see an endowment for needy Pecos High School graduates so they too can attend more of these schools. Respectfully yours,

Dear Editor:

I appreciate the letter to the editor in Tuesday's Pecos Enterprise from school board member Steve Valenzuela.

He voted against the enhanced program, but was concerned enough regarding this issue to explain the due diligence and research he conducted in reaching his decision.

According to Steve he has visited with educators, parents, administrators, and researched state mandates on enhanced and GT classes.

Steve has been my neighbor, our pharmacist and friend for several years, and I think he is a good guy; but his argument for terminating the enhanced classes doesn't hold water.

In his letter he tells us that GT (Gifted and Talented) programs and enhanced classes are "designed to challenge cognitively accelerated learners and can prove highly effective if implemented properly".

If there was something wrong with the enhanced program that was currently in place that caused it not to be highly effective, what were the problems and why was fixing it never discussed by the board? Steve explains that a "regular" teacher should not be expected to "provide instruction that motivates and challenges each student according to their capabilities".

I agree. Isn't that why the enhanced program was put into place? We wouldn't think of firing a heart doctor so a general practitioner could treat all of our specialized cardiac problems, why terminate the enhanced program targeting cognitively accelerated learners?

Finally Steve makes his most important point - his concern that the enhanced program shakes the confidence of students who do not qualify.

This is based on the comment of a fourth grader who stated that the enhanced program, "is for smart kids...I did not make it".

What would the student say if you ask him, “What is the Gifted and Talented" program?

Try asking, "Why do those big boys have letter jackets?" "Why do those popular, pretty girls have pompoms?" "Why do those kids get to leave school for a competition while you are stuck at school?” "Why do those kids play instruments? "Why did those kids get scholarships?"

My final point is that we HAVE opportunities with "EQUITY FOR ALL CHILDREN" with the enhanced program in place. Education is the great equalizer because in our country it does not matter who your family is, where you are from, the color of your eyes, or how expensive the car is that takes you to school.

Your achievements are your own. That is why so many foreigners want to be here and have what we have.

Education is a way out of a bad marriage, a bad neighborhood, or a bad job. It is the way to financial health and self-support. It is the key to sound reasoning, good decisions, a healthier family life, confidence and advancement of every kind.

I am not "beating a dead horse" by continuing to push for all the enhanced learning our school can provide, but trying to save a prize roping horse from the glue factory. Please reinstate the enhanced program for next year. Study it. Improve it.

But please re-instate it. Laura Briggs

Col. David. H. Hackworth, 1930-2005 Legendary U.S. Army Guerrilla Fighter, Champion of the Ordinary Soldier

Editor’s Note: Col. Hackworth was a hero of mine. America’s warriors lost a great champion when he died. The following is his obituary as it appears on his website .

Washington, D.C., May 5, 2005 - Col. David H. Hackworth, the United States Army's legendary, highly decorated guerrilla fighter and lifelong champion of the doughboy and dogface, ground-pounder and grunt, died Wednesday in Mexico. He was 74 years old. The cause of death was a form of cancer now appearing with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue. Col. Hackworth spent more than half a century on the country’s hottest battlefields, first as a soldier, then as a writer, war correspondent and sharp-eyed critic of the Military-Industrial Complex and ticket-punching generals he dismissed as “Perfumed Princes.”

He preferred the combat style of World War II and Korean War heroes like James Gavin and Matthew Ridgeway and, during Vietnam, of Hank “The Gunfighter” Emerson and Hal Moore. General Moore, the co-author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young, called him “the Patton of Vietnam,” and Gen. Creighton Abrams, the last American commander in that disastrous war, described him as “the best battalion commander I ever saw in the United States Army.”

Col. Hackworth’s battlefield exploits put him on the line of American military heroes squarely next to Sgt. Alvin York and Audie Murphy. The novelist Ward Just, who knew him for forty years, described him as “the genuine article, a soldier’s soldier, a connoisseur of combat.”

At 14, as World War II was sputtering out, he lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine, and at 15 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Over the next 26 years he spent fully seven in combat. He was put in for the Medal of Honor three times; the last application is currently under review at the Pentagon.

He was twice awarded the Army’s second highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, along with 10 Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars. When asked about his many awards, he always said he was proudest of his eight Purple Hearts and his Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

A reputation won on the battlefield made it impossible to dismiss him when he went on the attack later as a critic of careerism and incompetence in the military high command.

In 1971, he appeared in the field on ABC’s “Issue and Answers” to say Vietnam “is a bad war ... it can’t be won. We need to get out.” He also predicted that Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese within four years, a prediction that turned out to be far more accurate than anything the Joint Chiefs of Staff were telling President Nixon or that the President was telling the American people.

With almost five years in-country, Col. Hackworth was the only senior officer to sound off about the Vietnam War. After the interview, he retired from the Army and moved to Australia.

“He was perhaps the finest soldier of his generation,” observed the novelist and war correspondent Nicholas Proffit, who described Col. Hackworth’s combat autobiography, About Face, a national best-seller, as “a passionate cry from the heart of a man who never stopped loving the Army, even when it stopped loving him back.”

Having risen from private by way of a battlefield commission in Korea, where he became the Army’s youngest captain, to Vietnam, where he served as its youngest bird colonel, he never stood on rank.

From the beginning his life was a soldier’s story. He was born on Armistice Day, now Veteran’s Day, in 1930. His parents both died before he was a year old and the Army ultimately stood in for the family he never had. His grandmother, who rescued him from an orphanage, raised him on tales of the American Revolution and the Old West and the ethos of the Great Depression.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he got his first military training shining shoes at a base in Santa Monica, where the soldiers, adopting him as mascot, had a tailor cut him a pint-sized uniform. “At age 10 I knew my destiny,” he said. “Nothing would be better than to be a soldier.”

He always credited his success in battle to the training he received from the tough school of non-coms who won World War II, hard-bitten, hard-drinking, hard-fighting sergeants who drilled into him the basics of an infantryman’s life: sweat in training cut down on blood shed in battle; there was nothing wrong with being out all night so long as you were present for roll call at 5 a.m., on your feet and in shape to run five miles before breakfast in combat boots.

In Korea, where he won his first Silver Star and Purple Heart before he was old enough to vote, he started his combat career in what he later called a “kill a commie for mommie” frame of mind. He was among the first volunteers for Korea and later for Vietnam, where he perfected his skill.

“He understood the atmosphere of violence,” Ward Just observed. “That meant he knew how to keep his head, to think in danger’s midst. In battle the worst thing is paralysis. He mastered his own fear and learned how to kill. He led by example, and his men followed.”

Just met him in the ruins of a base camp in the Central Highlands in 1966, where he was a major commanding a battalion of the 101st Airborne. “He was compact, with forearms the size of hams. His uniform was filthy and his use of obscenity was truly inventive.” What struck the journalist most forcefully was “his enthusiasm, his magnetism, his exuberance, his invincible cheerfulness.”

To young officers in Vietnam and long afterwards, he presented an unforgettable profile in courage. “"Everyone called him Hack,” recalled Dennis Foley, a military historian and novelist who first saw him in action with the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry in 1965. “

He was referred to by his radio call sign of ‘Steel Six.’ He was tough, demanding and boyish all at the same time, stocky with a slightly leathered complexion. His light hair and deep tan made it hard for us to tell how old he was. He wore jungle fatigue trousers, shower shoes, a green T-shirt and a Rolex watch. In the corner of his mouth was a large and foul smelling cigar. As we entered the tent, he was bent over a field table looking at a map overlay and drinking a bottle of San Miguel beer.”

With Gen. S.L.A. “Slam” Marshall, he surveyed the war’s early mayhem and compiled the Army’s experience into The Vietnam Primer, a bible on a style of unconventional counter-guerrilla tactics he called “out gee-ing the G.”

His finest moment came when he applied these tactics, taking the hopeless 4/39 Infantry Battalion in the Mekong Delta, turning it into the legendary Hardcore Battalion. The men of the demoralized outfit saw him at first as a crazy “lifer” out to get them killed. For a time they even put a price on his head and waited for the first grunt to frag him.

Within 10 weeks, the fiery young combat leader had so transformed the 4/39 that it was routing main force enemy units. He led from the front, at one point getting out on the strut of a helicopter, landing on top of an enemy position and hauling to safety the point elements of a company pinned down and facing certain death.

Thirty years later, the grateful enlisted men and young officers of the 4/39, now grown old, are still urging the Pentagon to award him the Medal of Honor for this action. So far, the Army has refused.

On leaving the Army, Col. Hackworth retired to a farm on the Australian Gold Coast near Brisbane. He became a business entrepreneur, making a small fortune in real estate, then expanding a highly popular restaurant called Scaramouche. As a leading spokesman for Australia’s anti-nuclear movement he was presented the United Nations Medal for Peace.

As About Face was becoming a best seller, he returned to the United States to marry Eilhys England, his one great love, who became his business and writing partner. He became a powerful voice for military reform.

From 1990 to 1996, as Newsweek magazine’s Contributing editor for defense, he covered the first Gulf War as well as peacekeeping battles in Somalia, the Balkans, Korea and Haiti. He captured this experience in Hazardous Duty, a volume of war dispatches. Among his many awards as a journalist was the George Washington Honor Medal for excellence in communications.

He also wrote a novel, Price of Honor, about the snares of Vietnam, Somalia and the Military-Industrial Complex. His last book, Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts, was a tribute to the men of the Hardcore Battalion.

He was a regular guest on national radio and TV shows and a regular contributor to magazines including People, Parade, Men’s Journal, Self, Playboy, Maxim and Modern Maturity. His column, “Defending America,” has appeared weekly in newspapers across the country and on the website of Soldiers For The Truth, a rallying point for military reform.

He and Ms. England have been the driving force behind the organization, which defends the interests of ordinary soldiers while upholding Hack’s conviction that “nuke-the-pukes” solutions no longer work in an age of terror that demands “a streamlined, hard-hitting force for the twenty-first century.”

“Hack never lost his focus,” said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth. “That focus was on the young kids that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf. Everything he did in his retirement was to try to give them a better chance to win and to come home. That’s one hell of a legacy.”

Over the final years of Col. Hackworth’s life, his wife Eilhys fought beside him during his gallant battle against bladder cancer, which now appears with sinister regularity among Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Blue. At one point he considered dropping their syndicated column, only to make an abrupt about face, saying, “Writing with you is the only thing that keeps me alive.” The last words he said to his doctor were, “If I die, tell Eilhys I was grateful for every moment she bought me, every extra moment I got to spend with her. Tell her my greatest achievement is the love the two of us shared.”

Col. Hackworth is survived by Ms. England, one step-daughter and two step-grandchildren, and four children and four grandchildren from two earlier marriages. At a date to be announced, he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Soldiers For The Truth is now working on legal action to compel the Pentagon to recognize Agent Blue alongside the better known Agent Orange as a killer and to help veterans exposed to it during the Vietnam War. Memorial contributions can be sent to Soldiers For The Truth either by internet or by mail to, P.O. Box 54365, Irvine, California, 92619-4365.

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