Corner Column

By Phil Major
Posted 6/1/22

Through tears of grief, anger, frustration, but mostly sadness, the events from Uvalde last week set off ever-evolving thoughts, spurred by recent, at first seemingly unrelated events.

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Corner Column

Thursday's front page of the Uvalde Leader-News
Thursday's front page of the Uvalde Leader-News

Through tears of grief, anger, frustration, but mostly sadness, the events from Uvalde last week set off ever-evolving thoughts, spurred by recent, at first seemingly unrelated events.

It started with news the prior week that my sixth grade teacher had died.

Charles Borth, 89, was the same age as my father (they were born just weeks apart), which means that in 1966 he would have been not quite 34.

Funny how teachers seemed much older when you were in elementary grades.

It was appropriate that I was with my sisters at the time, for a family wedding, who also attended the same campus. Three years later he became the principal, held that position for 18 years, helped open a new elementary school, shepherded that campus three years and retired after more than three decades in public education.

He was one of the best teachers I ever had, at any level, and no doubt an excellent principal.

A few steps down the hall was Mrs. Rogers’ fourth-grade room. I’m guessing she was the oldest teacher I had in elementary. She seemed 60 though likely was not that old. If I knew her first name I do not remember it. 

She was a good teacher. She certainly had a love for children and for education.

We sometimes snickered in the back of the room when she would mispronounce the name of the tallest mountain in the world – Everset instead of Everest – and said “afraid” more like “a-fred.”

Years before there were class-size limits, we probably had 30-32 students and it did not seem unruly.

I cannot even begin to fathom that someone would come into that environment and commit 21 or 31 brutal murders.

Even though the year before we had experienced our generation’s first real taste of brutality in the public sphere.

It was a cold but clear November morning, which by the noon hour had warmed enough that we could head for the playground for a few minutes after lunch.

When we returned, Mrs. Roach was not in the room, which was highly unusual. When she arrived a few minutes later it was obvious she had been crying. I think one of the girls asked what was wrong.

“President Kennedy has been shot, killed,” was about all she could get out, followed by a collective gasp.

We have been dealing with senseless violence in our culture ever since.

As a student at the University of Texas for three-plus years, I cannot tell you how many times while walking across the mall I glanced up nervously at the tower where Charles Whitman had perched to gun down students.

The numbers since then are staggering, but apparently not staggering enough for meaningful change.

The next event on my mind was the graduation of students from the first Mineola after-school skateboarding program last Tuesday. Organizers became unexpectedly emotional in recounting how the program had evolved in such a short time.

Some of the participants are the types of students who would be considered at-risk, of falling through the cracks.

No one can say another Sandy Hook or Santa Fe or Columbine or Uvalde has been averted, but it is possible.

Thursday the front page of the Uvalde Leader-News, a small-town newspaper very much like the Monitor, appeared – reproduced here.

Solid black, with just the date, May 24, 2022. A powerful image among many coming from that community.

Word from our press association came that the longtime publisher said it was by far the worst day ever for his community, made even worse by news that the daughter of one of his reporters was among the victims.

This is the time of year when school news dominates community newspapers, with all the end-of-year celebrations and events.

You don’t drop your kid off at school and expect at the end of the day to be the victim of a gruesome tragedy – and no one should ever have to.

Among the events that led to my aforementioned anger was that news conference of all our so-called state leaders gathered on the stage at Uvalde High School.

They said nothing that mattered, along with some really stupid things, and they will accomplish nothing that matters. They could, and should, have stayed at home.

Our children, and especially public education, have been under assault from these leaders. What else could they – and we – have expected?

I come from a family of educators. I think, and worry, about my sister-in-law, an elementary teacher at a smaller Texas rural school district. And about her boys, students in that district.

And I wonder if our world has gone too far off the rails for anyone to step up and try to make it a better place for them.