By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I loved Fausta’s view from her front porch Saturday; it looks sunny and warm and is exactly why I love living in the South.

This morning I was sitting in my swing under the magnolia tree, sipping my coffee, reading Southern Living magazine and watching the yellow hackberry leaves flutter to the ground like feathers.  It really never gets very cold here in Louisiana.  My husband grew up in Iowa and he swears that the reason he has trouble getting into the Christmas spirit is because it never gets cold here and there is no snow.

We sort of skipped Christmas last year; it had been a rough and expensive year and neither Steve nor I felt much like celebrating Christmas last year.  I’m known in my family for my ceiling-scraping traditional Christmas trees that are, of course, always real and feature our heirloom ornaments and real tinsel applied one single strand at a time.  It’s a herculean feat of decoration each year and I’ve always enjoyed it, but last year I just couldn’t muster the spirit.

I went to WalMart and I bought a fake, pre-lit tree and I bought blue and silver plastic ornaments.

You can not imagine the final damper this put on our Christmas holiday.

My grown son was horrified.  My friends were aghast.  Nobody could quite believe it.

I managed to make Chex Mix but there were no fruitcake cookies or fudge, and presents were token, impersonal items.

I just wanted it to be over.  It was too much pressure.

On December 26, I yanked that fake tree down, shoved it into a bag, and stuck it in the garage where it still is.  The tree was pretty enough and if there is a family in need in my area I’ll probably donate it to them.

This year has been a better one and although not without issues, so far they’ve all been things we can handle.  I’m in the Christmas mood this year and have put up my real Fraser fir, complete with lights and tinsel.  There are actually presents under the tree this year – well, not exactly under the tree yet because the new puppy would destroy them, but there are presents.  I made my Mama’s fruitcake cookie recipe, I’ve soaked the little things in Makers Mark, and they are aging nicely.  I made three giant pans of Chex Mix yesterday and I’ve taken full advantage of Cyber Monday.

The point is that sometimes these holidays are hard for people.  Very hard.  The pain we feel at the absence of people who can’t be here is very real.  The celebrations of our childhood are often romantic and lovely and we feel such a pressure to recreate those, but too often that can not be accomplished and we put more stress on ourselves.  I think as I grow older I’m learning to accept a new normal with the holidays, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, whatever.

Somehow, skipping Christmas last year has helped me this year to see things differently. The holiday came and went last year whether I participated or not.  It wasn’t the end of the world and when it was over I was kind of glad I didn’t have a big mess to clean up and a lot of credit card bills to struggle with.  I was a little envious of all the big happy family gatherings I saw going on around me – we have a very small family and not all of us like each other very much – but it was fine.  I had those I love close to me and it really was just fine.

But this year, I’m ready to get back into the fray.  I want the pretty packages, the smell of the tree, the twinkly lights, and the pleasure of finding just the right gift for someone.

I don’t want to be didactic, but try to be aware of those you know who may be struggling with depression or other issues during the holidays.  For a million reasons there are people that do not feel the Christmas spirit that perhaps you feel.  For many, the pressure to be as happy and perfect as the people in the Christmas commercials is just too much. For a lot of us, the pain of an absent loved one is crippling.

Be kind. Be generous when you can.  Smile at people.  Step back from politics for a while.  Quit worrying about the tax bill.  Who cares what Trump said on Twitter?  Sit on your porch, in your swing, in front of your fireplace, and enjoy the season in your own way.  If that means skipping Christmas or going all out, do whatever you need to do.

But most of all, be nice.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m bouncing off John Ruberry’s post this week; he reviewed the Netflix Longmire series and so I’m going to share my favorite series: Detectorists, which is a charming, funny, and beautifully written British series by Mackenzie Crook.  Let me stress the “beautifully written” part.

Oh, and the photography – breathtaking.

The show centers on characters Andy (Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones).  The two friends are metal detectorist hobbyists; the show is filmed in Suffolk and it’s always beautiful and golden.  The landscapes are stunning and the macro shots of bees or butterflies are breathtaking.  The ear-worm theme song by Johnny Flynn is perfection.  The series is sensory appealing in every possible way but the writing is what sells it.

The writing is smart British humor, not slapstick Monty Python humor (as gold as that is…).  Crook does the writing and he has a clear picture of his overall story arc.  Originally he planned for only two seasons but after the second series ended, he began to miss his “friends” Lance and Andy as well as their quirky friends in the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMCD), and he began to feel like he needed to have his characters put down roots and get settled, so he came back for a final third season.

Fans were elated.

From a 2015 review:

Another joy of the writing is the host of charming characters that come from it. The supporting characters of the DMDC and beyond are all quietly eccentric and really develop across the two series into a lovely group of oddballs. I particularly love Hugh (Divian Ladwa) and Russell’s (Pearce Quigley) joint mission in series 2 and basically any time Simon and Garfunkel (Paul Casar and the ever-brilliant Simon Farnaby) are on screen it’s comedy gold.

Rachael Stirling is really lovely as Andy’s wife Becky. She could so easily have become the nagging girlfriend sitcom staple but her relationship with Andy is so well drawn she never does. The show never claims that its characters are perfect so on the occasions where Becky does get frustrated with Andy it feels totally justified.

At the core of the show are two brilliant performances from Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones. As good as everyone else is they are absolutely the glue that binds the show together. The two play their chit-chat and occasional neuroses with absolute honesty; they bounce off each other so naturally that their relationship comes across as unfailingly genuine. Mackenzie Crook has a pedigree in comedy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as good as he is here.

Season 3 is running in Britain now and will be in America after the first of the year.  Unable to wait, I found the first episode online and watched it and will admit that at the end of the thirty-minute episode I gasped with love and anticipation for what is to come.  It was simply beautiful.

If you haven’t yet discovered this little piece of gold, you can stream the first two episodes on Netflix; they are also available on DVD.  The trailer for Series One is here.

Check it out.  It’s just lovely.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I am struggling with the Common Core ELA curriculum.  We’ve been talking about Common Core nationally for several years now but it has only this year actually trickled down into my high school classroom with the new, mandated Louisiana Believes curriculum which is hosted on Learnzillion.

Apparently what “Louisiana believes” is that students don’t need textbooks in many subjects any longer and students need lots and lots of standardized tests.

The fourteen day testing schedule spread out through an August-December block schedule has students breaking down and sobbing over their keyboards.

While the curriculum has been praised in the press as “written by teachers,” some of the teachers who wrote the units have said they would not teach their own units as written.

In ELA, students spend the semester working their way through four units of one turgid graphic organizer and worksheet after another.

The curriculum is 75% non-fiction; students no longer read whole novels.  In English 3, for example, students read only one chapter of The Great Gatsby.  Fiction is no longer relevant.  The standardized tests reflect this shift with students reading lab experiments, articles on microbes, and Supreme Court decisions (and dissents).

Teachers have been told to do these units faithfully, as written, with no deviation whatsoever.  They are not allowed to skip any of the Guidebook lessons.  Because the lessons are not engaging by any stretch of the imagination and because teachers feel they have lost their autonomy in the classroom, many are frustrated and leaving the classroom if they can.  Others are hanging on until retirement.  Teachers are no longer allowed to make decisions that affect the students they spend so much time with.

On the other hand, there may be some teachers who embrace the new curriculum for the very reason that all the thinking and planning is done for them.  All they have to do is pull up the PowerPoint slides, read the script (yes, it’s scripted) and pass out the worksheets.

There seems to be some support for this new approach.  In Education Week magazine, Dr. Bill Hughes writes:

Research continues to demonstrate that curricular choices matter. According to a recent studyby Johns Hopkins’ David Steiner, not only is curriculum a critical factor in student academic success, but “the cumulative impact of high-quality curriculum can be significant.” And Louisiana Believes is demonstrating early success: Louisiana 4th graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, and the second-highest in math.

But all that means to me is what we’ve taught a kid how to take a test.  Is that all that matters, now?

As an educator, I’m torn because I’m basically a rule-follower and do what I’m told with regard to my job, but I feel like all we are doing as educators now is teaching kids to take a test.  I look back fondly on my own high-school experience when we read classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, short stories by Alice Walker, Shirley Jackson, and Edgar Allan Poe.  We are raising an entire generation of kids who won’t know about Julius Caesar, will never understand “the Ides of March,” who won’t know about Atticus Finch, Tom Sawyer, or Elizabeth Bennett.

Frankly, it makes me sad.  Maybe the world of education has passed me by.  Maybe I’m too “old-school” for my job. But, I still believe kids are kids and that children respond to an adult who loves and cares about them.  I still believe I can make a difference in the lives of my students.  So, I’m torn.

We’ve been told as teachers that we will never return to reading full novels and short stories again in the ELA classroom. We were told that if a student wants to read more than one chapter of The Great Gatsby, they can read it “on their own.” I will, however, continue to stock my classroom library with engaging fiction and meaningful literature that I will share with my students and will encourage them to explore.

I will continue to make a difference where I can.

I will not quit.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Well, that didn’t take long.

Tyrone White, a convicted car burglar who was released early under Louisiana’s new free-the-criminals criminal justice overall, has been re-arrested.  White was out of jail only five days before he picked up a gun and robbed a construction worker in Kenner, Louisiana.  He is now back in jail.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry commented:

“Gov. (John Bel) Edwards’ staffer, (corrections secretary) James LeBlanc, indicated we needed to give the ‘reforms’ time to work,” said the release from Citizens for Louisiana Job Creators. “Perhaps we could suggest that anyone who has SIXTY FOUR counts of burglary NOT be set free when Governor Edwards and the Department of Corrections decides to let the next batch of 1,500+ criminals out of jail on Dec. 1.

“As we said last week, lock your doors and, as U.S. Senator (John) Kennedy has suggested, ‘You ought to own a handgun just in case.’ “

Wait, he said sixty-four counts of burglary?!

Tyrone White has a 40-page criminal history in Jefferson Parish alone.  Is he an outlier?  Is he an early-release candidate that slipped through the cracks and should never have been released?  Who knows.  Who knows how many more Tyrone Whites are walking around right now, free, due to this new legislation package?

In the spring, in order to address Louisiana’s high incarceration rate, the Edwards administration pushed a sweeping criminal justice reform package:

Most significantly, the package of bills aims to overhaul sentencing in the state criminal codes. The package will reduce mandatory minimums, trim sentences and give some inmates access to parole eligibility sooner. It creates a medical furlough program, which allows the sickest inmates to temporarily receive treatment off site, and be eligible for Medicaid, which saves the state on medical costs. The package overhauls drug sentencing, allowing lighter sentences based on weights, and streamlines the state’s many incongruous theft penalties. One bill in the package will limit how often juvenile offenders can receive life without parole sentences.

The measure also expands prison alternatives, like drug court, and expand safety nets for people getting out of jail and returning to their communities, by reducing their financial burdens and helping them have better access to jobs. Another bill will help improve the way victims are notified when offenders have parole hearings or are released.

In this first wave of early release, nearly 2,000 prisoners were set free.  Another wave comes in a couple of weeks.

It is not surprising that the law enforcement community is unhappy about many of these changes.  It means they have to deal with the Tyrone Whites again and again.  And some law enforcement officials are making it known that the numbers of criminals on early release are much higher than what is being officially reported.

The early release provision indicates that “non-violent offenders” are the only prisoners eligible for early release.  In all likelihood, the construction worker on the other end of Tyrone White’s gun last week would beg to differ.

There’s nothing wrong with criminal justice reform and truly low level offenders perhaps deserve a second look and a chance of early release.  But these candidates must be carefully screened and evaluated to ensure their chances of success and assimilation back into society.  What tools are we giving them to ensure they can find jobs and avoid recidivism?

Tyrone White won’t be the only one of the early released to return to jail.  But perhaps he will serve a cautionary purpose in ensuring that those who are released in the coming months are given a second look.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I haven’t poured through the proposed Republican tax plan but I did get far enough to see that teachers will be losing their $250 per year tax credit should it pass unscathed.

The tax bill proposed by Republican leaders yesterday scraps a benefit that many teachers have come to rely on: the $250 “educator expense deduction,” which can be used to recoup the cost of classroom materials.

K-12 teachers who spend money out-of-pocket on books, supplies, professional development courses, and computer equipment and software for their classrooms can claim the deduction each year, according to the IRS. Health and physical education teachers can also use it for athletic supplies. Counselors, principals, and aides who incurred such expenses can claim the deduction as well. In 2015, Congress extended the benefit indefinitely.

Teachers spend about $530 of their own money on classroom items, according to a 2016 nationally representative survey from Scholastic. In high-poverty schools, they spend about 40 percent more—an average of $672.

As a teacher this irritates me.

I spend much more than that each year on my students to ensure they have the most basic materials necessary for class.  I venture to say that I spend $250 along just on notebook paper and pencils.  Every year before school starts I go online to the misprint pencil place and order four boxes of misprinted pencils and then I go on Amazon and order large quantities of notebook paper.  If I’m lucky these will last until the end of the year.

On top of that I buy boxes of Kleenix, pens, crayons, markers, colored pencils, art paper, and spiral notebooks.

Schools furnish none of these things.

In the past I have even used my personal blog to campaign for classroom sets of books and supplies.

I am fortunate to work for a district that will reimburse $100 of the money I spend on supplies.  That is at least something.

When there are so many areas of waste and so many entitlement handouts these days, why pick on the teachers?  We’re already the lowest paid people on the food chain.

Very disheartening, Republicans, very disheartening.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’ve done a fair amount of blogging in this space about our Caddo Parish Confederate monument and the anti-monument hysteria that is sweeping the country, so if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to bring you up to date on our local monument controversy.

Ours is not like any other in the country and ours will be one for those who watch legal precedent. In most cases the monuments have been on public lands.  Our is not.  Ours is on privately owned land.

Our parish governing body, the Caddo Commission, voted last week, reaching a 7-5 decision, to remove the Caddo Confederate monument from in front of the courthouse after years of discussion and wrangling over the issue.

What makes our situation unique from other cities, at least as far as I know, is that while the United Daughters of the Confederacy owns the monument, and while the UDC also contends they own the 400 square foot parcel of land upon which the monument sits, there is no deed to that effect.  There is only a statement in the 1903 minutes book of the Police Jury in which they “give to the United Daughters of the Confederacy” use of the land and a large cash donation for the monument.

By the same token, there is also no deed on record for ownership of the land on which the courthouse sits.

The plot thickens.

The land was owned initially by the Caddo Indians but in 1835, President Andrew Jackson sent an agent to negotiate with the Caddo Indians for their land.  Larkin Edwards was the interpreter for the Caddo and was the husband of a Caddo Princess.  The eventual treaty included 645 acres of land reserved for Edwards but their other land was transferred to the United States.  According to local historian Eric Brock:

This included land from the line of the Arkansas Territory south along the Red River to Pascagoula Bayou, west along the Bayou to Wallace Lake, across the lake to Cypress Bayou, and up to the United States-Mexico border as defined by the two governments, then northward along that border to Arkansas again.  This area encompassed roughly the whole of modern Caddo Parish and a part of DeSoto [Parish] as well.

The provenance of the land has been in and out of litigation ever since. Supposedly, Larkin Edwards sold his land to the developers of the eventual city of Shreveport, specifically to a man named Angus McNeill; later McNeill transferred the title of his purchase to the Shreve Town Company but later said he had been tricked.  The matter was in the courts until basically everyone died and was never resolved.

Bottom line – no deed for Block 23 where the Caddo Parish courthouse now stands.

This will be a tangled web for the courts and certainly will be appealed no matter who wins the first round.

As soon as the Caddo Commission voted to remove the Confederate monument last week, the United Daughters of the Confederacy filed, within hours, for an injunction to stop them.  Also pending is a lawsuit by a third-party local citizen for a judgment by the courts to determine who owns the land. That case is expected to be dismissed as the citizen has no standing to file such an action.

It will all be fought in the federal courts and will go on for years.  The only winners here will be the lawyers.

The UDC is raising money for their legal defense fund and the Caddo taxpayer will be footing the bill for the Caddo Commission.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The next mayor of New Orleans will be a woman.  In Saturday’s mayoral election, two women finished with a majority of the votes and will face off in a November runoff election.

While we’ve spent much of the past two years talking about monuments, neither candidate wanted to bring that issue into the campaign, with candidate Desiree Charbonnet calling it “a huge distraction.”

The race finished Saturday night with Desiree Charbonnet, a former Municipal Court Judge, and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell at the top of a long field of candidates. Charbonnet is a lifelong resident of New Orleans and had the bigger war chest and perhaps the better connections.

LaToya Cantrell is from California but moved to New Orleans in 1999 to attend Xavier University.  She was very politically active after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the levees broke and flooded her Broadmoor neighborhood.  She was actively involved in the rebuilding and restoration of that neighborhood.

Writing for The Hayride, Owen Courrèges sums up the candidates. On Charbonnet, he says:

Charbonnet is a former Chief Municipal Judge and Recorder of Mortgages for Orleans Parish, positions that shed little light on her policy predilections or executive abilities. Her candidacy for mayor has been punctuated by intense mudslinging; her opponents essentially call her corrupt and intimate that she’ll be selling the city to the highest bidder.  Charbonnet’s coterie consists largely of establishment figures who have been pulling strings for decades, which tends to justify these suspicions.

Nevertheless, Charbonnet is attempting to portray herself as a reformer, and the centerpiece of her agenda is her crime prevention plan.  Her plan entails the old policy sawhorses of hiring more officers and having a national search for a new police chief, but also in reducing funding to monitoring the federal consent decree.  Unfortunately, the NOPD needs more oversight and supervision, not less.  Overall, her crime plan is less a breath of fresh air than it is a revolting burst of halitosis.

And for Cantrell:

The problem with Cantrell is that she’s a major pusher of progressive, flavor-of-the-month legislation.  If San Francisco did something ten years ago, she wants New Orleans doing it now.  Cantrell pioneered New Orleans’ smoking ban, and has attempted to follow up that victory by passing a ban (or at least a tax) on plastic shopping bags, and a “rental registry” creating a new inspection bureaucracy for all residential rental housing in the city.  She has also been a major force pushing affordable housing mandates for new development, and even proposed that New Orleans provide useless municipal ID cards for illegal immigrants.

Cantrell has a reputation as a hard worker who provides solid constituent services, but her policy agenda is the worst species of faddish dreck.  She seems to have little concern whether the legislation she proposes serve any real purpose other than to make peoples’ lives more difficult.

Neither of the two women earned his vote, by the way, and now they will have about a month to earn the votes from the widely spread field of candidates.

No matter who ends up in the mayoral seat, it has got to be better than Mitch Landrieu.  (Funny, we said that after Ray Nagin’s tenure….)

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Let’s talk Common Core one more time.  I don’t know why this is still an issue, why this is still a thing, why it still exists, but it does.

Many states have renamed it, but no matter what name you give it, it’s still Common Core, and it’s rotten.

Besides the constant barrage of standardized tests (in many cases at least once a month), students are also forced to endure a scripted curriculum, mind-numbing pre-prepared slides, and endless waves of graphic organizers, Cornell notes, and pages of non-fiction to endlessly annotate, day after day after day.

Do parents really know this is still going on?  Do parents approve of this?  Do parents consent to having their kids put under the pressure of fifteen standardized tests per semester (not counting the endless Cold Read Tasks, Extension Tasks, and other actual classroom tests)?

This massive over reach into America’s classrooms has robbed teachers of any innovation and creativity in the classroom.  After years of Kagan strategies and Harry Wong strategies, now teachers are told that all kids learn the same, by the script, by the worksheet.

College professor, and former middle school teacher, John Spenser is an advocate for innovation in the classroom.  He writes:

Now, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with boxed curriculum. After all, a great novel is essentially “boxed.” The issue is when institutions force teachers to use boxed curriculum in a lock-step way where they lack the permission to make it their own.

This district adopted the prescribed curriculum as a way to embrace “best practices in education.” And yet . . . the district also describes the needs to meet the demands of a “21st Century Learning” and “spark innovation.”

But here’s the thing: innovation requires you to step into the unknown. If we focus all of our attention on best practices and codify these ideas into tightly packaged curriculum, we will inevitably fail to experiment.

When teachers are required to use these scripted programs with fidelity, by the letter, all creativity is gone.

Kids are reading very little fiction these days and there’s a much heavier focus on non-fiction.  In fact, in some districts the curriculum might include a novel, but only certain chapters.  Novels are now called “Anchor Texts” and students read articles, or “informational texts” about the novel, and perhaps will read the Prologue and a couple of chapters of the novel.

This is absurd. When teachers are required to use these scripted programs with fidelity, by the letter, all creativity is gone.

Teachers quit loving their job, they lose their passion, because really a robot could read a script and pass out a worksheet.

This is what’s going on in many classrooms across America.

Some districts, thank goodness, have rebelled and refused to participate in this indoctrination nonsense.  Some districts still believe that the teacher is the one who knows what the student needs because the teacher knows the student.

See, kids aren’t data.  Kids aren’t test scores.  They aren’t numbers.  They’re kids.  And it’s time school districts start remembering that.

Years of school letter grades and skewed teacher accountability programs have distracted us from the real goal – teaching kids not just how to take a test but how to be productive, compassionate, educated citizens.

Parents need to be involved and ask questions.  Meet the teachers who spend most of the day with your kids.  How often are your kids being tested?  What’s the curriculum look like?

This needs to change and teachers need to reclaim their autonomy.  We’re raising a generation of kids now who can annotate the heck out of an article on microbes but can’t tell you who Atticus Finch is or why he is important.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – OJ Simpson is out of jail.  I guess now he will be able to catch “the real killers” of his wife Nicole.

OJ left a Nevada prison, Lovelock Correctional Center,  after nine years of incarceration for conspiracy.

Now he is a parolee.

According to CNN:

The former NFL star left prison shortly after midnight local time, and was picked up by an unidentified friend, according to Brooke Keast, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections.

“I told him, ‘Don’t come back,’ and he responded, ‘I don’t intend to,’ ” she said. “He was upbeat, personable and seemed happy to get on with his life.”

It is unclear where Mr. Simpson will live: he’s not welcome in Florida where he was living at the time of his arrest and where two of his children live:

“Floridians are well aware of Mr. Simpson’s background, his wanton disregard for the lives of others, and of his scofflaw attitude with respect to the heinous acts for which he has been found civilly liable,” Pam Bondi wrote in the letter (via Associated Press). “Our state should not become a country club for this convicted criminal.”

While Simpson was acquitted for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1994, he was found guilty in a civil court in 1996 and ordered to pay over $30 million in damages to the Goldman family; that sum, with interest, is now reportedly around $65 million:

ESPN reported that his $33.5 million judgment has climbed to $65 million after factoring in interest and court costs. According to ABC News, Goldman’s father, Fred, and sister, Kim, plan on pursuing the judgment they were awarded and continuing to raise awareness for domestic violence, victim advocacy, and judicial reform.

How Simpson plans on meeting that obligation is not clear.

Simpson will be on parole for five years.

Maybe now he can catch the real killers.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport

(Photo credit: C.Pipes)

A friend of mine has a night -blooming cereus that she named Eudora, in honor of course of the famous Southern author Eudora Welty who had one in her own garden and was known for celebrating its buds with all night parties. When my friend’s cereus produced buds last week, rather than throw an all night party she sent a group text with a photo. Her message was filled with as much glee as Miss Eudora must have felt at her own blooms.  The flower finally burst into bloom last night and my friend stayed up all night long taking photos of it.  My text stream was filled with the evolution of a cereus this morning. By dawn the bloom was gone, closed up.

Miss Eudora has been much on my mind in past weeks as I picked up a volume of her collected stories recently. I have not read any of them in quite some time – since college, perhaps.  One exception would be “A Worn Path” which I use when I teach a creative writing class; other than that, the treasures of “The Wide Net” and “Clytie” have been long forgotten.  I spent several weeks this summer sitting outside under the shade of my magnolia rediscovering Miss Welty’s lovely southern prose and relishing the rich atmosphere she creates with her words.

There’s nothing more rewarding to me than picking up a book and rediscovering an old, favorite author.  While I read widely, both fiction and non-fiction, my preferences tend to Southern writers. Give me a Rick Bragg memoir, Flannery O’Connor, or even Faulkner and I am consumed with the words.

In the course of writing my soon-to-be-released biography of Cammie Henry I discovered the short stories of Ada Jack Carver, a bright light in the 1920s but who never produced anything of note after that.  Carver’s stories are rich in atmosphere and many have memorable characters such as old Baptiste in “Redbone” who initially seems to be celebrating the birth of a son by going into town to get drunk but there is more to the story…

What is it that makes Southern writers so distinctive?  Some critics contend that the Southern literary renaissance that began in the 1920s is still ongoing and I tend to agree with that.  When H. L. Mencken declared the south “The Land of the Bozart” and insisted that southern writers had produced nothing of substance, he fired up the pens and typewriters of every warm-blooded southerner who had a desire to prove him wrong.

The literature of the South is as unique and beautiful as its climate and its people.

I know that’s a matter of opinion — but it’s my opinion.

How long before this literature is targeted for criticism and banning as the Confederate monuments are?  Is that too much of a stretch?  Look at it this way: critics of the Confederate monuments say that the South lost the war, that the war was treasonous, that the Confederacy held slaves (as if the Union did not), and that the monuments were erected in the Jim Crow period; apparently their point with that last one is that these monuments are intended as some sort of subliminal white supremacy symbol.

This is all fallacious reasoning it seems to me.  These monuments were commissioned to honor the family that fought to protect their homes and their way of life.  And no, “way of life” is not code for slavery.  The way they lived was agrarian, it was slow and peaceful, it was with a work ethic and independent spirit.  Of course there were bad people who did bad things, but that has been the case throughout history.  Never has an entire culture been targeted because of that as is the case now.

One of our most beloved Southern writers was Harper Lee whose To Kill a Mockingbird is nothing if not a message on equality, tolerance, and dignity.  In Scout Finch we see the innocence of a child who has never been taught to see color in a person and who has never learned hatred or prejudice.  Those things are learned from adults and Atticus Finch’s lesson to his children was “put yourself in their skin and walk around in it.”  What are we teaching our kids now?

How many of us are living that way now?  How much of our hatred is learned and passed along to others?  How much of this monument mess and national anthem protest is just mob mentality?

And where does it end?  People ask that question often, but think about it.  For years overly sensitive lemmings have tried to ban books often citing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, and of course To Kill a Mockingbird among many, many others as offensive in one way or another.

How is that different than monuments?  These books are in public libraries just as monuments are in public places.  What’s the difference?

To me, both books and the monuments are works of art and should not be subject to censorship.  I disagreed when the Ten Commandments were removed from courthouses and schools but at least I understood the reasoning behind it (“separation of church and state”).  You could point me to a legal position that made that clear.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things because of course books don’t equate to monuments in literal sense but censorship is censorship wherever it lies.

If our society does not stop with this over sensitive offended culture we are perpetuating there is literally no end to it.  Everything is a target.  If you are traumatized by a monument how could you possibly read Delta Wedding?  When will the book burning start?

Miss Welty abhorred the Civil War: she had one parent from the North and one from the South and she saw what the war did to Mississippi where she grew up (long after the war, of course).  “Ravaged” was the word she used. But she also knew that there are two sides to everything; her parents taught her that.

As we consider the modern debate of monuments, we need to remember that there are two sides to everything and that the men we see carved in these granite and bronze monuments were men – they were not without flaw and they were not perfect but they were human, just like we are, and we can learn from them still and we can admire their dedication to home and family.  My fear is that we want to remove them now but in another decade or two we will regret this choice and it will be too late.

The night-blooming cereus blooms only one night of the year. Their blooms are fragile and temporary and draw people to it in admiration and awe, but then it is gone until next year. Welty called them “a naked, luminous, complicated flower,” and maybe that’s what our monuments are. Perhaps we all just need to spend more time looking at the beauty of a thing.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.