There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

I’ve probably studied and written more about Confederate monuments than anyone in Lakeland. I know the history of Lakeland’s specific monument and several others around the state. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of the intent of the people who erected them. I’ve worked very, very hard to understand it from their point-of-view. [See this long, deep chapter from my book, Age of Barbarity.] And that intent comes with a large degree of historical and human complexity. I can also confidently say that the people who raised these monuments gave no meaningful thought to the human complexity of the people who might have objected to these monuments at the time of their dedication. The people who might have objected to Lakeland’s monument in 1910 Lakeland or Florida had no power. And Lakeland and Florida treated them that way. They were at the very literal mercy of the people who built the monuments. All monuments everywhere are about power. I would like to see Lakeland’s Confederate monument moved to a museum where it could be studied and understood through the prism of history and context of its time. I think these monuments are important to American history in their way. They are evidence of something. This modern period of conflict over them reflects another important moment in American history. It’s also evidence of something. Studying that something, and trying to understand it, is the nature of history. But what you’ve just read is merely my personal position, based on much thought and research. I’m asking you to put that aside for a moment. I’d like you to consider a much simpler question. How many symbolic centerpieces can your city have? I can’t see any other answer but 1. Can you? The definition of a centerpiece is that it’s the centerpiece Herein lies the core problem of Lakeland’s monument. It’s less the existence than the location. The monument is the centerpiece of the park that is the centerpiece of our downtown that is the centerpiece of our city. It’s ground zero of our city. And now it’s ground zero for social conflict — forever, as long as it holds that spot. You see this illustrated quite nicely this morning in The Ledger’s collection of monument letters from readers. They sprawl across an entire page in the editorial section, restating the now familiar contours of inflexible argument on this issue. Other than an election, I...

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Clarifying the record on the Tenoroc investigation

The Polk School District is investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Tenoroc High School Principal Jason Looney. This investigation started at some point in July. Several of the complainants, including the woman most directly affected, came to me with their stories. I forwarded them to our HR officials and top staff. I told our staff through internal emails that I take the allegations very seriously and that I expected a serious investigation. For the record, I also forwarded the stories and perspectives of staff supporters of Mr. Looney. After some initial concern, I’ve been convinced for weeks that we are investigating these allegations seriously. This is a sad and ugly and hurtful situation. My supervisory relationship policy suggestion and very public vote against administrative appointments relate closely to this Tenoroc issue. I had hoped that we could complete the investigation before having to address it in public with school and person names. However, School Board Member Tim Harris severely complicated that wish on Thursday of last week. Harris attended a mandatory staff meeting at Tenoroc, in front of Jason Looney, and gave a 12-minute speech. He made a dismissive reference to “rumors” — and he said both he and the superintendent supported Mr. Looney. The superintendent did not attend, and to my knowledge, she did not authorize Harris to speak on her behalf. I will republish a transcript of Harris’ speech below so you can see it. I am addressing this today because I’m afraid that Harris’ appearance and message at Tenoroc on behalf of the superintendent might discourage open and honest testimony or statements. I think I need to clarify the record. At our School Board work session yesterday (Tuesday), I asked Harris if he knew there was an ongoing investigation of Looney when he went to Tenoroc. “No sir,” he replied. I think that’s important for people to know. I think it’s also important to know that the superintendent said the investigation is ongoing. Here is the clip of the brief discussion. [The first couple of minutes are audio only for some technology reason.] You will hear me make reference to a 2010 investigation of Mr. Looney for sexual harassment when he was an assistant principal at George Jenkins High School. I have read it. The allegations were all based on eyewitness accounts, and the investigators said they could not verify them. Mr. Looney received no disciplinary action....

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Let’s take a visceral human tour of what Florida’s sociopathic education model looks like in real life for real people — children and adults alike. We’ll start at the end, with these three marvelous young women from Stambaugh Middle School, a traditional zoned middle school in Auburndale. This video is short. Watch it. Here’s the background: some time in the last few weeks, Polk was ordered by some detached bureaucrat in Tallahassee to forcibly transfer several dozen teachers from about a dozen schools — after the school year started — because of their score on Kelli Stargel’s/Florida’s discredited value-added model equation (VAM). Failure to do the transfers came with explicit and implicit threats to funding for our schools that most need it. Understandably, our district obeyed — without really consulting the School Board. I think we should have considered saying no and facing the consequences. But I didn’t raise enough hell about it to be effective. That’s my fault. And so these young women came to our School Board meeting to tell us about the human effects of our state government’s thuggery and our local decision not to stand up against it. Behold the human consequences of a sociopathic education model that creates sociopathic institutional behavior. And understand this: nobody in state government from Richard Corcoran to Hershel Lyons to Pam Stewart to Kelli Stargel to Neil Combee to Rick Scott to Joe Negron gaves a rat’s rear end about “choice” for these girls. Choice in Florida is a lie. 70 to 75 percent of parents and kids choose traditional schools like Stambaugh. Your state enjoys punishing and hurting them. Here’s a key quote from one these extremely articulate girls: “A lot of these kids are suffering because of the educational situation. These subs cannot help us the way our teachers can. You guys are tearing us away from those teachers that we’ve had for so long and known from many years prior. I would like to say that these teachers who are being replaced have been some the best supporters and encouragers I’ve ever had. And I think that is really hurting everybody at Stambaugh Middle School.” In case you’ve forgotten, or don’t know, VAM is this equation for deciding teacher effectiveness and merit pay, which Polk County’s main state senator Kelli Stargel takes credit for helping create. VAM is big government social engineering at its absolute worst....

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“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

You are looking at the Putnam County Confederate monument. It was erected in 1924, three years after the 1921 dedication of a tiny little plaque to the multiracial Putnam County veterans who gave their lives for democracy in World War I. You can’t see that monument in this picture. It’s off to the right. Try to Google an image of it. You won’t find it. I wrote the piece that follows somewhere around 2011, as part of my book Age of Barbarity: the Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida, which I published in 2013. The book focuses closely on the rise and and fall of Florida’s powerful and popular 1920s Ku Klux Klan. My family, led by great grandfather J.V. Walton, played a complex and important role in defeating the mainstream political power of the Klan. Simultaneously, my family played a pivotal role in memorializing Confederate myth and raising this monument. This piece dives deep into those complexities. It’s long. But I think it holds up well in today’s ongoing battles over monuments and memory. I’m sort of an educator now, I guess. And I think you could do worse on this subject than this chapter. ———- In the last few decades, historians have looked far more critically at the Lost Cause myth of the Confederacy and how the battles over the historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction shaped modern America. Those battle lines are often considered as North versus South, black versus white, industry versus agriculture. But the post World War I conflicts in Palatka and Florida show that this battle played out within southern whites and Confederate nostalgists as well. Any cursory reading of contemporary sources makes it clear that virtually all southern whites venerated Confederate soldiers. The Reconstruction Knights of the Ku Klux Klan proved a more complex question. Many white Protestants, perhaps even most, goaded by Thomas Dixon and D.W. Griffith, the creators of The Birth of a Nation, saw the Bedford Forrest klansmen as straight up heroes. But many others perceived them as a necessary evil. The distinction would matter in the 1920s. In January 1924, the Palatka Times-Herald published a history of Palatka’s “Patton Anderson” chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. My great great aunt Susie Lee Walton wrote it. Weedie, as she is known to the family, also read this history aloud at the chapter’s first 1924...

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

America’s worst, most corrupt School Board sits in Tallahassee in comfy state legislator chairs. Your vote for a local School Board member matters little or nothing to them. Their behavior shows they believe they can do anything to you — or allow anything to happen –and get away with it. Therein lies the elegance of the 7069 lawsuit. It’s not the charter school stuff or even the Title 1 theft. Lawyers can hit those tennis balls back and forth all day. Rather, the transformative value of the suit comes from challenging the bad faith nature of 7069’s political creation. In short, our corrupt legislators created an unvetted, haphazard buffet of hooey – and called it a meal. They did it at the 11th hour of the session. They gave no thought to implementing it. And they were completely indifferent to the opinions and observations of the officials elected by their communities to oversee education. Even more importantly, they were indifferent to the human experience of the people who must execute and learn on the ground. To state the obvious: that is not how a good faith partner behaves. That’s how an abusive spouse behaves. The 7069 suit is the governmental equivalent of a restraining order. A derelict partner I’m not a lawyer, but most analyses I’ve heard indicate that 7069 is most vulnerable legally to the “single subject” doctrine. That’s the idea that you don’t cram multiple varieties of unvetted hooey into a single law. You don’t do that because it shows bad faith to the people who elected you — and that you are supposed to serve. 7069, above all else, is a massive steaming pile of bad faith dumped on Florida’s local communities. Challenging it provides a clear community declaration: you are acting in bad faith, legislators. I am fully confident my community wants me to make that statement. And I will proudly vote to make it on Aug. 22. The vast majority of what you experience in Florida schools, as a parent or teacher or student or taxpayer, emanates directly from our one-party Legislature and governor. The rest of it reflects incentives created by Tallahassee that shape behavior hundreds of miles away. Those incentives are generally terrible and often reward abusive leadership and management at the local level. In truth, one can argue there is no such thing as a local School Board. Our funding comes...

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