Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Consultants of Nazareth

(News-Herald, April 2000) Scholars recently revealed that among the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls they have found direct evidence of the first known management consultants:

MEMO TO: Jesus of Nazareth, et al

FROM: Ernest Livgood, Management Consultant, Campaign for Sensitive Personhood

Here at CSP we have been following your career with some interest. We appreciate your invitation to join you in your work, but feel there are several points of sensitivity and effective packaging which you first need to address.

STAFFING: Your organization is simply too patriarchal-- too many guys. All twelve of your disciples are young working-class males of Middle Eastern/Jewish heritage. We suggest a group that better represents cultural diversity-- add at least three women, a Caucasian, and a few Africans. Perhaps some Confucians and Buddhists. A druid would be a nice touch, too.

You also show constant gender bias by referring repeatedly to God as a male. It would help if you could occasionally alternate the use of "Mother" and "Father." A better solution would be to refer to the Supreme Being with a gender-neutral term such as "Parent" or "Large Nurturing Presence."

QUALITY: We strongly recommend instituting a Total Quality system. While your organization possesses many of the characteristics of a fine collaborative effort, too many of your policies are handed down in a "top down" management style. Your "Sermon on the Mount," for instance, would benefit from being processed through a shared decision making model, allowing more of your customers a buy-in with the concepts.

To demonstrate the benefit of this approach, we have taken the liberty of forming a focus group here to refine some of the elements of that sermon. Our feeling was that, for example, the Beatitudes raised unreasonably high performance expectations and were also too exclusive.

For example, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Let us suggest instead, "Good news and positive energy are highly probable to those who express a reasonable humility that is still consistent with a high level of self-esteem based on a positive self-image growing out of whatever social, cultural or lifestyle choice backgrounds they may possess, because these individuals and many somewhat like them will eventually receive a just and reasonable portion of success (provided they are not the victims of political injustice from any oppressive government systems which fail to recognize their unique value as individuals)."

I think you will agree that this team-generated statement is much more inclusive. It also creates an expectation that we feel is less likely to lead to any legal action by any disappointed customers.

INFLEXIBILITY: Certain elements of your movement are simply too strict. Your regrettable tendency to label certain sorts of behavior as "sinful" and suggest that it could result in "eternal damnation" is entirely too harsh. Throwing all those potential sponsors out of the temple was simply bad business. If you have not already heard from the ACLU, I am sure that you will soon (See our attached memo re: "The Ten Guidelines").

At the same time, we are puzzled over your treatment of members of the movement who depart from the accepted guidelines. For these individuals to simply pray for forgiveness seems rather lax and liable to dilute brand identity and the movement's strength. It seems to us that some sort of sensitivity retraining before allowing them to reenter communion with the Large Nurturing Presence would help assure that everyone is on the same page.

The notion that their sin and subsequent forgiveness are somehow between them and the Supreme Being simply doesn't allow for enough checks and controls. We would also recommend that the practice of speaking in tongues be phased out. Instead, we recommend that a core committee develop a mission statement that members be encouraged to repeat in moments of extreme motivational enthusiasm. It might begin, "As persons of varied life choices, we are pleased to form consensus with the Large Nurturing Presence--"

At this point the scroll breaks off. Scholars will not yet comment on whether the charred edges are indicative of a lightning strike.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Frank Evans

(News-Herald, April 24) Amazing sometimes how one family’s story can stretch over so much time and distance. Here’s where a simple thread with just one local name took me.

The First Baptist Church started up in Franklin in 1867 with 23 members. By 1874 they were ready to build a full-sized church to seat 450 members (with Charles Miller footing a good chunk of the bill). That year the church hired the Rev. Frederick Evans, a minister in his early thirties, born in Wales and immigrated to the US (probably New York City) in 1866; it’s likely that this was one of the many times that Miller used his considerable financial resources to recruit and hire top notch people to fill positions in his favorite organizations.

Evans (Ednyfed, to his Welsh family) never lost his connection to Wales; the Baptists of Franklin granted him a leave to return there where he delivered lectures in Salem Chapel, Glamorgan. Afterwards, he returned to Franklin and a newly-built parsonage, where he lived with his family. In print (not local) he was called one of the most moving preachers in all of Wales and America, and under his leadership, the First Baptist Church increased membership from 80 to nearly 300.

His son Frank was born here in 1876. The Reverend retired and returned to Wales, where he passed away in 1897. The next year, Frank served as an infantryman in the Spanish-American War right after graduating from Princeton. Apparently the military life agreed with him because he was commissioned to the marines in 1900.

By 1909 Frank Evans was a retired marine captain serving as secretary to US Senator Briggs of New Jersey. In October of that year he married Esther Caldwell Townsend of New York City, niece of Lawrence Townsend, former US ambassador to Portugal and Belgium. The couple’s wedding announcement ran in the New York Times.

Frank soon returned to military service first in the Philippines, and then in France during World War I, where he won a citation for meritorious conduct and a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. Other post war service included duty in Haiti as Chief of the Gender merle d’Haiti. He retired to Hawaii, where he died in 1941.

But the Evans name had not yet finished its long travels from home in Venangoland.

In 1944, the Bethlehem Steel Company manufactured an Allen N. Sumner class destroyer. She was launched in October of 1944, sponsored by Frank Evans’s widow, and commissioned in February of 1945 as the USS Frank E. Evans.

After arriving in Pearl Harbor, the Evans performed radar picket and escort duty, until after the war. She was placed on reserve in 1949, but reactivated in less than a year to serve with the Seventh Fleet in the Korean War. She served two tours of duty there, including the siege of Wonsan. After the war the Evans remained on patrol duty in the Far East, but there was one more chapter left.

In 1969 the Evans was near Saigon in company with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. They were part of SEATO exercise called “Sea Spirit.” A Time magazine report of the event described a dinner with the Melbourne’s captain, John P. Stevenson, reflecting on the horror five years earlier when the Melbourne had collided with a destroyer, sliced it open, and killed 82 hands. Australia could not stand another such disaster.

But four days later, the Melbourne cut the Evans in half. In just five minutes, the bow sank and took 74 men to their deaths (including three brothers from Nebraska).

The Australians made heroic rescue efforts. The Evans’s captain was reported asleep, a less-experienced officer responsible for a wrong turn that put the Evans in harm’s way. It didn’t matter; Stevenson was quickly hung out to dry for the disaster.

Stevenson’s wife Jo flew to be with him at the inquiry and on her own took page upon page of notes, which she later used in writing the book In the Wake as an attempt to cleanse the record. In 1999 Australia marked the anniversary of the collision, one of the worst maritime disasters ever for their nation, and Jo Stevenson was still trying to clear her husband’s name.

Her desire to clear his name is understandable; a name can travel long and far. The Evans name, even with its small roots in Venangoland, managed to spend a century criss-crossing the entire globe.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NCLB & the Texas Miracle

(News-Herald, January 2004) Okay, if it seems sometimes that I’m a little cynical about the current wave of education reforms, let me tell you a story.

One of the selling points of “No Child Left Standing” (or “Behind” or “In Public School” or whatever we’re calling it these days) was that it was a national version of highly successful reforms already proven in Texas. In 2000, Bush cheered the “Texas Educational Miracle.”

Since then, word has slowly been emerging that the miracle is slightly less miraculous than when your Uncle Floyd pulled a nickel out of your ear. But it does provide a good view of how this drive for “accountability” plays out in the field.

In Houston in February of this year, an assistant principal in Houston was surprised to discover that his school had a 0% drop-out rate, even though a freshman class of 1000 had become a senior class of 300.

There were a variety of accounting techniques used to achieve this effect (remember, this is Texas, home of Enron, that we’re talking about). Students were reportedly encouraged to take a hike; an independent audit of the school system found that roughly 50% of the students who did not graduate should have been labeled dropouts, but were not (“Um, Johnny just moved out of the district, as far as we know…”). That was about 2,300 students.

The drive behind all this was, of course, the push to make good numbers. The superintendent put the principals back to single-year contracts, and they could be terminated “without cause.” Those principals were given mandates: “The district-wide dropout rate will decrease from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent.” In other words, their job was not to educate students, but to “make their numbers.”

When that same Houston superintendent took over, the success rate for the state’s tenth grade math test in one school was a measly 26%. The year he left, the rate was 99%.

How do we accomplish such a thing? It’s remarkably simple, actually. Houston’s technique was to keep low ability students in the ninth grade; after two or more years in ninth grade, they were bumped directly to twelfth grade. So the worst students in Houston simply never took the assessment test. In the year of the miraculous 99% success rate, there were 1,160 students in ninth grade and 281 in tenth grade.

Houston schools were also under pressure to keep their safety numbers in line to avoid being labeled “persistently dangerous,” another tag that triggers vouchers and loss of funds under the new rules of the game.

How do you keep those numbers down? Schools stopped reporting rapes, stabbings, and assaults as “school crimes,” because those students were arrested by the police and sentenced by the courts, not suspended by the school.

Over a four year period, the in-house police force recorded 3,091 assaults. In its report to the state capital, the school district reported 761 of those.

The Houston system was supposed to be the flagship school district for the country, and it certainly provides a fine example of how the sort of corporate malfeasance that has shot holes in the private sector can be effectively applied to school systems.

You tell your underlings that you will reward them for the appearance of success and crush them for the appearance of failure. It would probably be a better world if lots of people stood up to that sort of bullying, but when a bully holds a gun to your head and demands that you act like a supporter of Jefferson Davis—well, most of us will start whistling Dixie.

A survey of teachers by (take a deep breath) the National Board of Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College (phew) found that in states that use high stakes testing (like, say, the PSSA tests in Pennsylvania) 70% of teachers said that the test leads some teachers in their school to teach in ways that contradict their ideas of good teaching. I imagine that problem, of being pushed to do what you know is wrong in your job, is even worse for principals.

Now, none of what I’ve talked about this week is arcane or secret knowledge—it’s all taken from published reports in reputable papers like The New York Times. But my story is not quite over.

Who was this superintendent who led Houston schools through an exercise in cooking the books in order to give the appearance of compliance with the law, while actually avoiding it? And did anything happen to him when it was discovered that he had been thumbing his nose at the regulations?

He’s doing fine. He’s Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education. This would be the part where I become cynical about government reform.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Going Through the Motions

(News-Herald, April 18) What could be worse than Going Through the Motions?

Sometimes students want to GTTM. The favorite question to justify GTTM without becoming involved is “When will we ever use this in real life?”

The sarcastic teacher would like to answer, “What? You mean, when will you ever have to use your brain in life?” Unfortunately, the sarcastic teacher knows that there are many opportunities for people to go through life without using their brains or becoming involved.

People who focus on GTTM usually become focused on what minimum motions they need to go through, and hitting that minimum estimate is a skill in itself. A bad under-estimator would be the student who observes other students writing and thinks that the minimum requirement is to wiggle your pen around while making random marks on paper. Even teachers who are themselves going through the motions may require more than that, but not by much. I suspect many students can tell a story about the time they inserted the words to, say, the Pledge of Allegiance in the middle of an essay, and the teacher never noticed.

People in any organization hate bad leadership, but often what we call bad leadership is really no leadership at all, and no leadership at all most commonly takes the form of going through the motions. The non-leader isn’t involved, isn’t engaged, and never has a large goal in mind other than simply Going Through The Motions. The minimum required motions are generally defined as enough “to avoid breaking the law, being sued, or receiving angry phone calls.”

It’s not just a matter of picking a low number of motions. GTTM is easy, but becoming really involved or really trying to get the job done often requires effort. Faced with the actual goals they should achieve, the GTTM person replies with some version of the age-old complaint, “But that would be haaaarrrd!”

If we’re going to do more than go through the motions, if we’re going to say what we mean and then behave as if we really mean it, life will often call our bluff and require us to step up. This is where all those clichés about rubber meeting the road and giving 100% and putting and/or shutting up could mean something (spouting clichés and platitudes is a great way to GTTM).

GTTM is also easy because we don’t have to bring our own compass. We just follow someone else’s directions, do as we’re told, copy and paste from someone else’s text. Because having to think things through yourself is haaarrrrrd. The enemy of the right thing is not the wrong thing—it’s the easy thing.

This issue distinguishes different types of malcontents. I disagree with most everything Ray Beichner has ever said publicly, but I totally respect that he doesn’t simply go through the motions. On the other hand, some of our local Grumpy People appear to fire off letters and lawsuits as a way to demand that others stop thinking and get back to GTTM. Dealing with people who are thinking and doing and actively trying to do what it takes to pursue goals—well, that’s just haaaaarrrrd.

Certainly everyone switches on autopilot now and then and just Goes Through The Motions. Sometimes you just need a break. But overall, I think life is not best served by GTTM.

One of the drawbacks of GTTM is that it eventually becomes hideously boring. If you never invest yourself in something, never awaken your passion and involvement, life can be a grey, dull, featureless expanse of blandness. Therefore, GTTM folks eventually want to skip over motions they find boring or unpleasant. “I wish it were the weekend” becomes “I wish it were next month/next year/ a decade from now.” This is spectacularly self-defeating, since such skipping ahead only brings you closer to the end.

Throwing away days because they are filled with dull GTTM instead of something to excite your passion is like throwing away twenty-dollar bills because they aren’t hundreds. Actually, it’s worse, because unlike money, our days can be invested with as much value as we care to put into them. Earlier this week hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by the funeral home to pay respects to Robert Porter. They didn’t do it to honor a life spent GTTM. At the end, no one ever says, “Well, at least he never tried to do anything haaaarrrd.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Professional Politicos

(News-Herald, April 10) There are lots of reasons to argue against the slow but steady intrusion of government into every nook and cranny of modern American life.

We could talk about the meddling, the separation of those who make decisions from those who must live with the consequences, the tendency of bureaucrats to get things wrong, or the way that government oversight makes endeavors stiff and inflexible, poorly positioned to deal with change.

Each of those is a valid complaint. I’ll probably get around to each of them sooner or later. But that’s not where I’m headed this week.

One problem with ever-spreading government is that it has created a widespread need for professional politicians.

My own profession is as good an example as any. Teaching has always been tied to government and bureaucracy; since we are an arm of government, that seems only natural.

Nowadays, the state and federal government make decisions about what I’ll in my classroom beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Harrisburg and DC make choices about what I will do in the everyday-to-day practice of my profession.

But when politicians want to talk about education, they don’t want to talk to teachers. They want to talk to other politicians. And so we have the PSEA and the NEA, groups of politicians who are hired to go talk to politicians about education. I’m not a big fan of either group, and I often suspect that they feel a stronger allegiance to their fellow politicians than to the people who hire them.

But the bottom line is that politicians in Harrisburg or DC are not going to talk to me, not even if they have a question about teaching high school English in Venango County. So if I want to have any sort of voice in the decisions made about my profession at all, I need to hire politicians to speak for me.

My profession is by no means unique. Virtually every walk of life in this country has to hire rows of professional politicians. Doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, people of retirement age, left-handed basket weavers—if you want to be heard as politicians make decisions that change the shape of your life, you must hire a politician to speak for you. Employers and employees and customers don’t settle matters with each other; they send their hired representatives to battle it out in a capitol somewhere.

We call them lobbyists, but they are simply hired politicians (often retired from elected office), and each one is there because when politicians start deciding things, they want to talk to other politicians.

There was a time when Americans found their solutions locally. Problems were addressed by family solutions or neighborhood solutions or business solutions. Financial missteps and moral misjudgments were viewed as personal human problems. Now we treat them as political problems. If an issue needs to be addressed, we call for the hand of government. But any government solution is a political solution.

There was a time when we trotted out political solutions only for large problems, like the secession of half the country or massive widespread economic collapse or destroying the ugly legacy of segregation. But after discovering how effective that big club can be, we can’t resist picking it up for every little thing, and now we call for political solutions for smoking and bad salesmanship and dry cleaning chemicals and restaurant signage and spelling.

We don’t think we’re clamoring for more politics. We imagine that we are calling on the heroic figure of a good and just elected leadership. But whenever we call on the government, what we get is that guy-- “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you fill out these forms.” I hire my politician to go sic the major politicians on the people I think are the problem, and hire my politician to protect me from the politicians that other people have sicced on me.

The days where one could quietly stay in his corner and do a good job and be respected for that are fast fading. Doing a good job is not enough any more. You have to be able to sell it to a politician. And to have a voice in even the most simple parts of your own daily work and home life, you have to hire a politician to stand up for you, because no one else can.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Sister's Birthday

(News-Herald, March 2003) My sister turns forty this Saturday. She is the baby of the family (let’s not reflect on what her crossing the big four-oh checkpoint means to my brother and me).

I distinctly remember wanting a sister. I don’t remember my mother being pregnant, but I do remember staying with friends, waiting for my folks to come back with a new child.

Apparently I found my sister interesting at the time. There are many pictures of the three of us, highlighting her legendary hair. For the first several months of her life, it appeared that my sister’s hair was never actually going to lie down, but simply keep growing straight out, like an overachieving porcupine of a chia pet run amok. Even though she was too young to understand, my brother and I still made fun of her for it. It is never too early to start.

By the time we all moved to Franklin, we had learned how games like the running away game; some of you parents will recognize this as a more active version of “La-la-LAAA-I’m not listening!” It all evened out, because she had learned to get us in trouble for things we may or may not have done.

My sister is six years younger than I am, and six is a big number when you’re young. By the time she was in high school, I was off to college.

There are disadvantages to being a youngest sibling, I hear. Your older siblings may have acquired reputations of one sort or another and you face frequent comparison. As the oldest, you just follow your interests and abilities wherever they may lead; as the youngest, people expect that you’ll be good at this or belong to that. I know my sister wrestled with some of that. But there were compensations.

My parents never threatened to be the kind of permissive overly lax parents that messed up so many baby boomers. But by the time my sister was growing up, somehow all rules had disappeared from the house. My brother and I had a list of approximately six billion rules to follow, while my sister had roughly three. Our curfew was 8:15 pm; hers was mid-June. She and my parents will deny this, but my brother can back me up. The baby of the family always gets away with murder.

As the brother Off At College, I enjoyed a certain halo effect. When I would come home, my sister was delighted to see me and would defend me vigorously from any and all challenge, assault, or inconvenience. Well, for about the first forty-eight hours, anyway.

I was back at Franklin High School as a substitute during her senior year. It’s excellent training for a substitute teacher to try to get cooperation from someone who still remembers when you hid her toys and called her “pickle puss.”

She went to college at Mount Union and became a Marching Purple Grape (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the official name, but it’s all we ever called them). She fell in love with a man who played lacrosse, a game, as near as I can tell, in which players beat the daylights out of each other with webbed sticks while referees occasionally stop the action to administer first aid and announce random scores (I may have missed some of the nuances). She went to graduate school at Rutgers to become a librarian.

She got married, and they had a couple of sons; this was no small achievement, as she is one of those women for whom childbearing didn’t come easily. They lived in a variety of places, including a rather grubby corner of New Jersey. My sister is tougher than she looks.

Now they live in State College. My brother-in-law has one of those University computer sub-contract for the Defense Department “I can’t tell you what I did at work today” jobs. My sister spent years as an at-home mom; now she runs the Christian Education program at a church.

It is true that my sister can be a bit of a den mother. She once scolded me for walking outside in the rain in my bare feet. I was forty-three at the time.

But my sister is one of the handful of people on the planet that I actually admire. It’s not just that she’s family, though I think it’s true that no one ever knows you quite like a brother or sister. I feel bad for those who have lost that connection; I know that there are toxic siblings, just as there are toxic spouses and parents, but I don’t think you can’t lose the connection to a sibling without losing a piece of your own past.

Somewhere along the way my sister became the responsible adult dependable rock solid nurturing member of the family, and I want to be like her when I grow up.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Surprise Surprise

(News-Herald, April 3) Everywhere you look, you can find people who are surprised.

I notice it, for instance, in the grocery store. Frequently, while moving through an aisle, I find myself behind someone who parks in the middle of the aisle and slows to a speed that I would describe as glacial, except that these days we are told that glaciers are melting a few feet per year, which makes them much faster than my shopping roadblock.

Eventually the puzzled shopper registers the collective death stare of the half-dozen shoppers he has trapped, looks up, and is surprised to discover that other people are shopping in the store! Imagine. And many of them want to use the very same aisle!!

I can actually sympathize a bit. Many’s the time I have found myself transfixed by a particularly lovely piece of packaging (fruit and pasta are both delightfully arty). Since my son began his side-career in late-night grocery stocking, I have learned a certain professional appreciation for a good facing job (Facers are like little grocery store elves who toddle into the store in the dead of night to make sure that each shelf presents a full and lined-up front that hides gappage behind it; facing is a sort of consumer-based sculpture that captures the battle between chaos and order, human accomplishment and existential angst, oreos and fig newtons. When you decide you won’t buy the cheesy puffs after all, and stick them in between packages of soap, you’re making work for some facer).

At any rate, I can see how grocery displays might lead one to absently forget about the traffic around. But then I meet the surprised people in the check-out line. These are the folks who are, apparently, surprised that food costs money! They unload their food, watch the checker ring it up, and then, only after the checker has announced that the customer will, in fact, be asked to pay for the food, does the customer begin to consider how the transaction might be completed. Does she have money in her purse? Might she write a check, or could this be a plastic kind of evening?

It’s a suspenseful moment, best appreciated by people in line who had no hopes of going anywhere soon. I pass it by imagining the conversation later at home. “Yes, dear, I got groceries. I thought I might not have to get out money this time, but it turned out they charged me for the food again!”

Probably the biggest class of surprised people are the folks who are constantly surprised to discover that they are not the only human beings in the world.

Grocery stores, the mall, the highway—you can find them everywhere, acting as if it had never occurred to them that they might be sharing space with other slices of humanity.

You can find a full herd of them in just about any school parking lot at the end of a sports event or other post-scholastic activities, bobbing and weaving and honking and being rather surprised that they are not the only person there to pick up Junior. Other people want to drive past the school entrance? I should park my limited edition custom land cruiser athwart the traffic lane? That’s just crazy!

Some people manage to be surprised by the events that unfold in front of them. The best way to experience this sort of surprise is to simply ignore history. It took a real willful ignorance of history (both Iraq’s and our own) to be surprised by the hash of events in the Persian Gulf and the failure of USA style democracy to quickly take root and bloom.

Likewise, one would think that local leaders, trying to accomplish anything quickly and quietly, could hardly be surprised that people A) catch on, B) jump to conclusions and C) become cranky. Nor could any of us be surprised any more than the result of some local crankiness is that some folks will hit the speed-dial code for their lawyer faster than a junk yard owner can yank his bad-mannered attack dog out of its shed.

I think we’ve all caught on to most of that. And yet, I can already smell the preamble to that inevitable moment when folks are shocked and surprised that Two Mile Run County Park & Cage Match ends up costing county taxpayers money. Surprise!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

1960's Newspaper Nuggets

(News-Herald, February 2004) There’s nothing like reading newspapers to give you a sense of historical perspective. For example, I recently read a series of articles about middle-eastern troubles. Seems the Kuwaitis deployed soldiers because Iraq claimed that Kuwait belonged to them.

I read that in newspapers published in June of 1961.

In my continuing efforts to reconstruct the history of the Franklin Silver Cornet Band, I’ve read through miles of newspapers on microfilm. I’ve recently been working through the early 1960’s. There are plenty of other interesting non-band items that turn up.

For instance, I never really appreciated just how controversial the moving of Franklin High School was at the time.

The early sixties were a big time for building in the area. Venango Campus of Clarion, Venango Christian High School, the airport expansion, and numerous elementary schools were built in that time, all with great fanfare about moving Venango County forward.

There was even a major push to raise money for a Fort Franklin reconstruction. An editorial in the News-Herald said of that project “This project will succeed or fail in 1961. It may well mark the turning point in the future of this city and this area.”

But when the joint board for the area school districts proposed that a new Franklin High School be built out on Pone Lane, there was massive squawking.

A Citizens’ Committee was formed to oppose the move. It addressed the Chamber of Commerce, and even took out a full page ad in the paper, listing all the school directors by name. Oddly enough, none of the coverage that I read of this group’s activities lists names associated with this opposition group.

Letters to the editor were frequent and spirited. Writers insisted that the move would be bad for the city, that having the school in the middle of town was an essential part of life in Franklin. One writer claimed that the children would be at risk going up “that treacherous hill.” Another pointed out the school’s proximity to the newly expanded airport “poses a real threat.”

Other writers replied that the school was a joint project, and that many of the rural students already had to ride buses and that the wimpy city folk should stop whining (I’m paraphrasing a little here).

This was all accomplished before the various school districts were merged. That merger vote came in the spring of 1963. Those figures were fun to stumble across as well. Canal and Mineral township actually rejected the merger (Canal voted 109-39 against, Mineral 39-37), while in downtown Utica, they went for it by 74-16. Polk joined up with a 106-16 vote while Sandycreek hopped on board 213-49. The City of Franklin itself was less enthusiastic—merger passed in town by 1179-817.

But nothing I stumbled across regarding the school system could top the fun of finding a full-sized feature story about the Warren Light Center. Out on Creek Road (aka the back way to Utica), the WLC has long been a source of myth and mystery.

According to the article, the Warren Light Center, headquartered in Newton Falls, Ohio, bought the 130 acres in 1954. In covering their seventh annual solstice, the paper noted that it was a “new thought religious group” that based its studies “on astrophysics and cosmic science.” Members studied “archaeology, religious philosophy, magnetic currents, and a variety of other fields.”

Writing about the 1962 solstice observance, the paper continued: “ Last Saturday night a campfire meeting was highlighted along with the sky watch. Several groups scattered to different parts of the property to watch for spacecraft. They reported seeing several such craft, describing them as ‘friendly forces.’” Inspired, I checked the internet for WLC references to spacecraft, but found only someone’s childhood memories of watching fairies dance near French Creek.

People had come from Ohio, Sharon, Miami, and Los Angeles for the celebration. 170 were present for a dinner at the Elks Club to hear an Egyptian Coptic Master speak.

Said one of the local leaders, “There is nothing prescribed—we take truth wherever it’s found.” Asked how he determines what is truth, he stated that it can be sought out by going directly “to the root of the matter.” Oh. Well, that explains it. The group anticipated a golden age on Earth in about the year 2000. Allowing a fair margin for error, it might be too early to declare them wrong.

From my Flickr