Closing the Door on Art

When I read the recent news of the hostage beheadings, deep sorrow overwhelmed me. It was early in the morning, and I turned to my oldest son, Josh, with tears in my eyes. I told him I felt so bad and wanted to do something but didn't know what that could be. We talked a bit and decided that the very least we could do that day was to not complain about anything. A tiny, tiny thing -- but something to remind us all day of what was important.

As it turned out, Josh joined me for an art meeting I had with the Wylde Women Gallery director. We talked of the new show we were gearing up to have and what we would put in it. I said I had some doors I could bring to "funk up the place." We talked of splattering paint on them and just having fun with them. But then Josh turned to me and suggested I do something with those doors to express the feelings I was having about the beheadings. As soon as he said it, I knew I had to do just that. I was so full of these feelings, and they needed to tumble out somewhere.

I had ached to do something to honor those people. Tammy [Vitale], the director, lit up. I had e-mailed her earlier that day expressing my angst over the situation and my frustration in feeling so helpless. She totally understood and encouraged me to be fully me in my creation -- a gift I can never thank her enough for.

I thought of the doors and how perfect they were. Suburban doors. What so many of us live behind. What so many of us hide behind. I had been continually closing doors on my emotions as all of this was just too much for me to deal with. Doors. Closed doors. Perfect.

Josh and I did continue our "not complaining" campaign for the rest of the night. And as it turned out, it was an extremely significant and difficult night for Josh. As we sat next to each other in sadness, we looked at each other and remembered our pact. No complaints. And we agreed, it truly put everything in perspective for us that night.

As I sat the next evening watching my three sons work on their truck, I again was filled with the emotions of the news. My sons, 18, 16 and 12, all doing something all brothers should be doing: working together on something they loved. So much was moving inside of me.

I scrambled to get some paper and a pen. Things were coming, and I wanted to let them out. Two bone sighs were born as I sat there next to my sons tinkering.

I insisted that I get a newspaper to paint on. The bone sighs that had just been born were to be painted on newspaper and taped to the doors. I knew it. The doors would be splattered to look bloody. I knew it was what I had to do. It was 10:40 at night, and I found myself in the grocery store buying a newspaper. When 11:30 rolled around, I was madly painting my latest bone sighs on the newspaper. I was filled with this. I had to do it. Now.

I wanted so much to cry out. To wail. To tell these people they mattered. To honor the dead. To honor the human spirit that I must believe in. That I will not let go of. I had to do it.

The next morning found me early in the back yard splattering the doors and releasing so much emotion inside of myself. Art truly is therapy.

Noah and Zakk, two of my sons, helped me set up the doors in the gallery soon after that. They understood what they were about and were pleased to help set them up.

It didn't take long before someone came along and was offended. He was so offended that he turned them to the wall so no one else could see them. After that, Tammy called to tell me that this same man had called her, irate and demanding that she remove the doors. She refused, and he contacted the owner of the building.

Tammy and I discussed it. I told her that I would remove the doors in a heartbeat if she asked me to. Tammy is the only one I would have done that for. She had encouraged and supported me in being true to myself, and I would do what I could to keep that from causing her trouble. I'll never forget what she said. Without hesitation, she said: "Terri, some things are more important, and this is one of them. The doors stay."

I was in total agreement. The doors were to honor those who died. If we took them down because one person misunderstood their meaning, then the doors would only be a dishonoring of the human spirit. The doors stayed.

Soon after that we were asked to leave. It was the typical shallow go- around. Tammy and I wanted to talk it over with the people who were upset. I was excited at that thought. I thought of how it was like a microcosm of the world. We were having a conflict, let's communicate, let's see if we can hear each other. What a great chance to see if we could work together as humans. No one had time for that. There was only one thing to be done: Remove the doors. When I offered to meet [with others in the building] and to post an explanation by my piece, I was told the doors needed to be removed. And when I refused to remove them I was told that I had an uncooperative spirit. No one wanted an uproar -- "We are here to make money."

Perhaps it was more of a microcosm then I wanted to admit. And so, we closed. The Wylde Women Gallery that was created to make a space for everyone, the gallery that never turned one person down, that encouraged all to participate and enjoy, was censored and closed.

We packed up, cleaned up and loaded the trucks. As I turned for a last goodbye, I noticed some ashes that had fallen to the floor. I thought how fitting it was that they were there. "This is no place for agony," I was told. And I thought of how we can close the doors, even hide the doors away . . . but there are always ashes that linger behind.

Terri St. Cloud

Bone Sigh Arts

Accokeek

Discussion Is Timely

After reading the article that appeared in Southern Maryland Extra dealing with the Charles County Board of Education's proposed goals, I feel compelled to write. As a teacher in the Charles County public schools and the parent of two students in the system, I am alarmed by the direction in which the board appears to be headed with regard to policy.

In the article, which appeared on Oct. 3, several members of the board are quoted expressing their opinions on the proposed goals. Among these opinions is one in which Mr. [Collins A.] Bailey is quoted as saying that any discussion of these goals is "way premature." With all due respect, I have a number of questions regarding Mr. Bailey's comment. Perhaps Mr. Bailey can explain why it wasn't way premature to take up the time of a board meeting to put forth these goals (which cover 14 pages) but it is "way premature" to discuss them now? In addition, I would like to know at what point Mr. Bailey feels it would be appropriate to engage in a public discussion of these proposals. Perhaps he feels as though we should wait until after the board has voted to enact them.

In addition, I would like to address one of the goals not addressed in great detail in the article. One of the proposed goals with regard to the Family Life curriculum reads [that it] "has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by theological perspectives of the Founders." Exactly which of these theological perspectives should the proposed curriculum reflect? Should it reflect the theological perspective of Thomas Jefferson, an atheist who fathered perhaps as many as six children out of wedlock with a female slave he owned? Maybe we should look to Alexander Hamilton, a known womanizer who had at least one well-known affair while he was married. I should add that it is well documented that Mr. Hamilton paid a large sum of money to the husband of the woman with whom he had the affair in an effort to keep the relationship out of the public eye. Perhaps Ben Franklin would be an appropriate role model. It was said of Mr. Franklin's time as a diplomat in France that no virgin in the entire city of Paris was safe. I would also like to point out that the current Family Life curriculum is prescribed by the State Board of Education. It would take more than the conservative ideological agenda of local board members to enact any curriculum that deviates from the one mandated by state law.

These are just a few of the many concerns I have regarding the proposed goals offered by the Board of Education. I strongly urge the public to obtain a copy of the full 14-page document (it is public record) and become educated on its contents. Please attend the board meeting Tuesday and express your opinions on this important issue. It is not, as Mr. Bailey contends, way premature.

James J. Campbell

Newburg

Honor First Amendment

According to [recent news reports], in the last three weeks the Charles County school board has decided to remove the word "public" from the American Education Week resolution and has released a list of more than 100 "goals" to be considered by the board, including distributing Bibles, teaching creationism and removing textbooks "biased" toward evolution. Not surprisingly, these actions have been of concern to me and many others.

On one hand, the board's intention could have been to recognize that American Education Week applies to all students, not just public school students, and to release an unedited list of all suggested goals. On the other hand, the board may be planning to define its function as overseeing all students in Charles County and to have the public schools accommodate religion-based requests from parents of the Christian majority in Charles County.

If the board has chosen the latter alternative, the majority of its members are about to violate their oaths of office and the First Amendment to the Constitution. More than 200 years ago, the founders of the United States, most of whom were devout Christians, agreed that the government, while conforming to Christian principles, would not advocate, enforce or prohibit religious dogma or beliefs, leaving these matters for the citizens to choose for themselves. They also agreed that avoiding tyranny requires a literate, informed citizenry and that one government responsibility would be to provide a secular education opportunity to every citizen.

To those who may question my motives in writing this, let me state that while I am neither anti-religious nor anti-parochial school, I feel that the government has no business getting involved in my or anyone else's religion or religious beliefs. That's what the First Amendment is all about.

Bruce Kirk

La Plata

Exhortation From a Teacher

An open letter to teachers of Calvert County public schools:

With "work-to-rule" continuing to impact instruction, and the education needs of teachers and students on our minds, I thought about writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper to voice yet "another teacher's" views. Then I realized what I really wanted to do was write a letter to all of you, in the hope that we can stand united and fight for our beliefs as teachers with school-based concerns as well as county concerns.

I am an elementary teacher, just like you. The only difference might be that I have taught for 32 years and may be thinking about retirement sooner than you. I find myself angry and saddened with what I see happening in our schools with No Child Left Behind, high-stakes testing, having to work without a contract and the ramifications that go along with all of the above.

No Child Left Behind? Shouldn't it be, No Child Left Out? No matter how hard we try, the truth is, there will still be students left behind. When is this realization going to sink in? We teachers work incredibly hard to include everyone in the learning process. We try remediation strategies, intervention strategies, and the list goes on. We all give it our best shot, nothing less. I know, as a classroom-based "researcher," that children don't learn as a group. They are individuals who learn at their own rates, some slower than others. When they are developmentally ready, things will "click" for them. Let me say this again: when they are ready, not always when we want them to.

It upsets me when I see bright, excellent teachers being told to spend their time "predicting" who among our students will be proficient or advanced on Maryland School Assessment tests. Why are we made to do this? I hear things like "research shows" being thrown in our faces as an excuse to get us to buy into the concept of teaching to the test.

Research doesn't show me a thing when people twist it into an excuse to micromanage my classroom. Don't get me wrong: I know that data review has its place, but our county has gone overboard.

Testing should be an indicator, not an indictment. And yet we are right there labeling children "basic" or "proficient," as if these one-time labels tell us the whole picture. High-stakes testing is pitting teacher against teacher and school against school. I don't see any good coming out of that. No wonder I get fed up when I hear more about assessing and less about teaching during our precious planning time "team meetings."

Some people wonder why I complain about in-service. When I am offered an in-service day on Math Content Standards, I want to be able to say, "I don't teach math, haven't for years. Rather, I'd like to discuss reading, or writing, or how to develop spelling lists, you know, do something that will be meaningful to my students." Does this sound familiar? Does this make sense to you? Why am I always told to attend anyway? I have to keep reminding myself that I teach elementary-aged children. I shouldn't allow myself to be treated as one.

And then when I do attend, it makes me crazy to hear that we are going to revamp our whole curriculum and cover tested items first. That reeks of "teaching to the test" to me. Something I am vehemently against. Before you know it, we'll all be saying what my son's history teacher told his class in preparation for the high school citizenship test: When you take the test, if you're not sure of an answer, always bubble in "Judicial Branch" because "research shows" that response is used most often. Now there's good teaching if I've ever heard it. But I feel that that is what we have been reduced to. Poor teaching, scared teachers.

I am passionate about teaching. Not administering tests, or teaching to a test, or teaching vocabulary words. I am not proud of the job I have done when the day is over and my students have been pushed through pages of materials that they haven't understood or have been made to answer meaningless multiple-choice questions so they can score one more point on an MSA test. To me, this isn't teaching.

I am most proud of my teaching when my students tell me they are going to go home and learn more, or read more or talk more about things we have done in our classroom. I'm proud of my teaching when my students begin to listen to and respect one another's opinions. And I am proud of my teaching when I can present content in a creative and meaningful way, so that my students do want to come to school to learn more and more and more. My job is done when I see my students becoming passionate learners.

I am used to giving 200 percent of myself to my job. That's a lot of time and effort that I'm giving to this school system for free. We all are. Usually when the contractual day is done, at 3:25 p.m., I am only halfway through my day. I go home and write lesson plans, grade papers, think about how to present lessons, complete Scholastic book orders, e-mail parents, write newspaper articles, grade projects, and the list goes on. Sound familiar? And that doesn't even include the time I spend on school work over the weekends. You too?

Whoever said that work-to-rule doesn't affect students? Of course it does. If I can only give 100 percent of myself to my students when they are used to the benefits of 200 percent of my time, it has to affect them. My lessons are dull, my grading cannot be done in a timely manner and the "little" extras -- student of the month, interims, schedules, bulletin boards, extra credit booklets, journals, telephone calls, notes home and "team meeting" journal writing and paperwork -- will not get done. This is one of the ramifications of having to work without a contract.

The excellence of a school system should never depend on the volunteer efforts of its teachers. Do you volunteer your time, too?

Have you ever known a member of our support staff who hasn't given 200 percent, too? Our school is excellent, and that's because of the concerted efforts of all of us, as a team. We need to stick together -- united -- and fight for a contract that is fair to everyone.

I always tell my students that the key to their success in school is organization. I believe that the key to our success as teachers is morale, something that we all seem to lack these days. Everyone knows that if you treat your employees fairly they will be more productive. Is it fair to be expected to work above our contracted hours when we don't even have a contract? That's why we work to rule. Work to the rule of the contract, nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

I'd like to see our superintendent show a real commitment to his teachers and support staff. A commitment to excellence. Why not? He expects it of us, and more important, we already expect it of ourselves.

I don't know if we can expect the community to rally around our cause, but we can all support each other, and rally around Shannon Fitch, the president of our Calvert Education Association. He is putting himself out there on our behalf, and he has earned our support.

No teacher should go a full day without time to plan. Representation is a good thing for everyone.

No, we shouldn't accept a contract that leaves us with a pay increase that doesn't even cover the cost-of-living index.

And separate can never be equal.

Retire? I don't think so, not while I still have this passion to do the job that I prepared for in college and continue to prepare for through recertification classes. I am the teacher that I would have wanted my own children to have -- and so are you. So, please, stick together through this work-to-rule and stand up for your rights. I'll stand with you anytime.

Fran Armstrong

Port Republic

Is Stadium Necessary?

It is my understanding that 12 million taxpayer dollars ($6 million each from Charles County and Maryland) will be used to fund the proposed baseball stadium in Hughesville. Again, 12 million taxpayer dollars, which funds two-thirds of the cost, not to mention the additional costs to the taxpayers for infrastructure. Maryland is already one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation; projects such as this only exacerbate that tax burden.

Is this stadium really necessary? State and county residents would be better served by lower taxes, reduction of the state's deficit and improving the quality of life, via preservation of rural character, which benefits all residents. Will our elected officials pledge to the taxpayers that taxes will not be raised in the future due to costs associated with this endeavor?

Do we want Hughesville to become a carbon copy of the Bowie area in Prince George's County? The type of commercial/industrial complex being proposed will result in more development, both residential and commercial, not only in Charles County, but also in St. Mary's County.

In addition, development of this magnitude will further deplete the aquifers, which are the only source of water for Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

At one time, the Southern Maryland region was known as the "Land of Pleasant Living." This is a phrase, which in the not too distant future, will be irrelevant inasmuch as Southern Maryland is rapidly becoming part of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan complex. Is this the legacy we want to leave for future generations? I hope not.

Cheryl E. Thomas

Welcome

Terri St. Cloud says a desire to honor the hostages beheaded in Iraq led her to create this artwork, which was displayed at the Wylde Women Gallery.