After 1,700+ miles roundtrip, the old car pulled into my drive about 11:45 last night (March 30). And yesterday was a new record for me, 785 miles in one day. (Not something I recommend for any one.)
Made all the stops I wanted to make, learned some things and met a number of folks in Texas very dedicated to their public schools (which have more than five million students). Always enjoy listening to, and visiting with, Diane Ravitch. She certainly has the credentials to back up her work, which includes several best sellers about the perils of corporate “education reform.”
She was an assistant U.S. Secretary of Education under the first President Bush. Back then, she was a true believer in vouchers, charters, testing, etc. But along the way she came to realize that many of the reforms she and her think tank colleagues were promoting simply were not working. And to her credit, she admitted that she was wrong and for the past ten years or more has been one of the country’s most out-spoken advocates for public schools.
As she said in her remarks in Austin, TX, “I am a conservative. But that does not mean I believe in tearing down institutions that have been important to our democracy for many generations, such as public schools.”
But as much as anything, this trip was about again satisfying my curiosity about this great country and reminding myself that who and what we are today is only because so many generations came before us and piece by piece, built what we often now take for granted. So on my way west I left I-20 at Marshall, TX and turned southwest. As I passed through little communities called Tatum, Neches, Oakwood and Hearne closed store fronts reminded me that the implosion of once-thriving rural places is not unique to Alabama.
Small churches with large cemeteries were silent testament to a time gone by, when men, women and children provided the power to wrest a living from the land. And with the window down, smells on the Texas spring night air jerked me back to long ago days before my hair turned gray.
New mown grass, smoke from a wood fire, the pungent aroma of a pole cat who met his maker on an asphalt road, freshly plowed fields, a feed mill where soybeans were being ground. They took me back to Friday night football games, a little Ford tractor pulling two bottom plows through south Alabama dirt, burning brush piles late on a fall afternoon.
Yes, my trip was about an eye on the future and things we need to yet do. But it was also about the past, about steps daddy and grandpa and generations before them took to make my todays possible.