By MARY DUTY
Trib Board of Contributors
Tuesday December 11, 2012

American leaders have long been concerned about the education of their children. In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “Above all things, I hope the education of the common people will be attended to.” He believed our status as a free nation depended on it. He was convinced that a strong public school system is the very foundation of our republican form of government.

He was right. This common education is the glue that holds us together. Now, sadly, such education is under assault.

Next month when the Legislature convenes in Austin, there will be much talk of proposals for tax dollars to be given to private and church-related schools as an alternative to public education. These voucher advocates have wrapped vouchers in pretty new packaging. Tuition vouchers are now called “taxpayer savings grants.” At last summer’s hearings of the Senate Education Committee, testimony estimated these grants would save Texas taxpayers $3 billion over the first two years of implementation.

Sounds good, right?

Wrong. I teach social studies, not math, but one thing I know is that if these taxpayer grants are going to save Texans $3 billion, someone somewhere is going to pay the price. How much will these “grants” cost our children?

It’s ironic that during recent political campaigns politicians routinely called our children the “future of Texas.” Lawmakers often say these are the young Texans who need to be prepared to compete on a global stage with 21st-century skills.

Yet only recently a judge hearing the Texas school finance court case voiced a concern that children from Texas would have to compete with children from various other European nations, including Latvia. Latvia? I did a little research. As a teacher, I would love to have a Latvian class size. Their student-to-teacher ratio is 11-to-1. Latvian politicians understand the importance of class size. We don’t.

The Legislature last session slashed $5.4 billion from public education in Texas. Class sizes exploded. Support from Austin to prepare for new high-stakes tests was cut. School districts lost many of the tools we needed to be successful. School boards all over Texas were forced to make tough decisions about teacher layoffs, fine arts programs and class sizes — even going to the point of consolidation and closing some neighborhood schools.

We must remember the devil is in the details on these proposals. Here are several points every taxpayer in Texas must be aware of: If these grants are passed, tax dollars will go to all sorts of private and parochial schools. Our tax dollars would support classical Christian and Jewish schools. Funds could just as likely support a Wiccan school or a Muslim school.

A couple of years ago, I asked several of Waco’s private schools how they felt about vouchers. Most told me they would have rejected state voucher students. They didn’t want the government regulations and rules fiscal conservatism demands. Also, vouchers cover only a portion of private school tuition. It will not cover costs for free or reduced-cost lunches, books, fees or uniforms. Vouchers are not written to cover the enormous transportation costs of getting children from home to their school of choice and back.

We learned a bitter lesson with the initial charter schools in Texas some years back. Yes, some did wonderful work. But without financial oversight, millions of our tax dollars were squandered. Children’s futures were stolen. We do not have the luxury of experimenting further with voucher plans that show little if any academic gains. In fact, our children would benefit more from an experiment that was run in Milwaukee a generation ago. Along with their voucher schools, authorities tracked similar students in a school where the only difference was a reduction of class size. Reduction in class size worked. Some 22 years later, these Milwaukee voucher schools still show statistically insignificant gains.

I have studied voucher schemes across the nation since the early 1990s as a volunteer for the Texas PTA. What I have said since then holds true today: Let’s invest in the Texas public schools that educate more than 90 percent of the children in Texas. Let’s use the choice models such as magnet schools, charter schools and transfers, and leave the experimentation to our science classrooms.

We just don’t have the luxury of experimenting with the future of an entire generation of Texas children.

Local businesswoman Mary Duty is a social studies teacher in Tennyson Middle School’s ATLAS Academy.

MARY DUTY
Board of Contributors
Waco Tribune Herald
Waco, Texas

Sunday August 26, 2012

The good news is that as of today there are 72 days till the presidential election. The bad news is there are 72 days till the presidential election. In those days, my students and I will explore the idea of nation-building and compromise through a study of the U.S. Constitution.

In elections past, some candidates wrapped themselves in the imagery of the flag. Today many turn to pocket copies of the Constitution. This is a change from symbol to substance, but I worry that we underestimate the hard work and sacrifice that went into crafting the Constitution. All Americans need to know just what it took to get it.

We must remember the Constitution would not exist as we know it without the fundamental principles of debate and compromise. Sadly, in the last few years compromise has become a dirty word. In many places, legislators who have been willing to work with the other side have been voted from office. Mere consensus-building has become dangerous.

The Constitution was developed through much compromise. First, small states and large states argued how to determine representation in the new Congress. Small states favored a one state-one vote approach. Large states felt that it was only fair to count the people living in each state and determine representation based on population. After spirited discussion, a deal was struck. The Great Compromise gave us the House of Representatives and Senate, which provided balance and representation.

The next sticking point: who to count. Free states wanted to count only free citizens. Slave-holding states wanted to count everyone, including their substantial slave population. Once again, after heated debate, the three-fifths compromise was struck, and 60 percent or three-fifths of the slaves were counted for purposes of representation. The list of compromises goes on, with agreements about how we elect our president, determine tariffs and regulate slave trade. Sadly, no one was ready to tackle the fundamental issue of slavery. The inability to compromise on that one came back to haunt us in the 1860s with the Civil War.

The Constitution would not have even been ratified had it not been for the last great compromise, the Bill of Rights. These first 10 amendments guaranteed individual liberties not listed in the original document. It brought anti-Federalists back to the negotiations and the Constitution was ratified a short time later.

To me, it’s clear that when we abandon the idea of thoughtful compromise, we end up in the predicament that we’re in today. We have a congress that is gridlocked. Everyone talks but no one listens. We have government that is frozen and unable to govern. The clock is ticking on our country and very few are willing to work together for the common good of all Americans.

Our sons and daughters spent the better part of 10 years fighting, bleeding and dying, working to bring some form of democracy to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops and advisers taught citizens there how to discuss and debate without resorting to car bombs and assassinations. Progress has been made, even though it might not be as much as we had all hoped for.

One thing that George Washington worried about was the division and strife that political parties bring to debate. Are we willing to take his advice and take a step back from our entrenched positions? Can we not find some common ground? In dangerous and precarious times, our Founding Fathers were willing to work together for the common good. Can we not remember their wisdom?

It is my hope we can return to the Founding Fathers’ sense of nation-building through healthy and thoughtful compromise. And we should elect those who encourage compromise and discussion with civility. It may be our last, best hope for this great nation.

Businesswoman and educator Mary Duty is a social studies specialist at the ATLAS (Advanced Talent Learning and Serving) Academy at Tennyson Middle School. Her son, Caleb, served two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq.

Mary Duty, Trib Board of Contributors Tuesday July 3, 2012

The Moonlight Music Fest held Memorial Day weekend in Meridian can be considered a success on many levels. Attendance was good. People left happy. The concert series even attracted foreign visitors. Folks from Canada and Germany prove Billy Joe Shaver can really draw a crowd.

Matt Alexander, our new Canadian friend, wrote: “We were blown away by the Texas hospitality! Thanks to Caleb, you, your family and the kind people of Bosque County, I met a songwriting hero of mine and left with rich memories.”

Most important of all, veterans from every conflict since World War II were honored during three days of music, games, good food and fellowship.

As readers may remember, the event was to be held at our farm near Robinson. But some residents approached the city council and voiced concerns about rowdy behavior, underage drinking, theft, vandalism and electromagnetic waves that might harm local livestock. The council voted down the plan.

Then Bosque County and the city of Meridian stepped up, offering us a location.

We’re happy to report that during the Moonlight Music Fest only two tickets were issued by the Meridian Police Department. Two young residents were cited for trying to sneak into the event. There were no other arrests for any other offense. No minor in possession. No DUI. No public intoxication. No vandalism. No complaints from neighbors about loud noise or burglary attempts. And, yes, all the livestock in the area made it through the weekend safe and sound.

And, true, five or six dogs did attend the concert, but there were no dogfights reported.

Just as Caleb vowed, it was a delightful, peaceful and thoroughly honorable event. Here’s what did happen that weekend.

Representatives from the Military Order of the Purple Heart set up the Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall that honors the men and women from Texas who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The memorial was erected in a grove of trees and gave concert-goers a place to pause and reflect.

The Meridian Volunteer Fire Department had a firetruck on display, held a raffle each night and collected donations for their benevolence fund. They were pleased.

Toward the end of Saturday night, Caleb invited all veterans in attendance to make their way to the stage. One by one they came out of the crowd. A nicely dressed older gentleman slowly made his way to the front. Then a young mom came forward with her children. A kid just back from Afghanistan joined them. Before long, the front of the stage was full of men and women, the young and not-so-young, all bound by service to country, shaking hands and hugging, laughing and sharing stories. We had vets from World War II and Korea and Vietnam, all the way to Desert Storm and Iraq and Afghanistan, and virtually any conflict in between.

Photographers captured in an instant all that Caleb fought for in his idea. Moonlight Music Fest offered a snapshot of the American Dream — children laughing and playing games, moms and dads watching their little ones spin and dance to the music, other folks sitting on the edge of the dance floor, holding hands and tapping their feet, and everyone enjoying an evening free from fear. We were living a modern-day Norman Rockwell painting. All weekend long we saw the things that men and women down through time have been willing to fight and die for.

These men and women we honored were the ones who stepped up to serve. They were the ones who ran to the sound of danger so we didn’t have to.

For one weekend, we were able to show in a very real and tangible way how much we care about them and what they were willing to do for us. The memory of their smiles and the tears in their eyes is the reason we will have a second Moonlight Music Fest.

Local educator and businesswoman Mary Duty is president of the Heart of Texas Blue Star Mothers of America. She and her son, Caleb, an Iraq war veteran, coordinated the Moonlight Music Festival during Memorial Day weekend.

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Pulling on my son’s boots

MARY DUTY

Board of Contributors
Waco Tribune Herald

Saturday April 28, 2012

One Sunday two weeks ago I walked five miles. And it changed my life forever.

I walked those miles in a pair of combat boots that belonged to Caleb, our Marine son. They were too big for me, but with a rolled-up sock in the toe and new shoelaces, I could cinch them up real tight. Off I went.

About 40 people joined Granger Smith and his band in Austin to kick off his 100-mile walk to Fort Hood. Smith walks 100 full miles and ends with a concert at Fort Hood. This is the second annual Boot Campaign Walk to raise money and awareness about the needs of returning veterans. For those of you who don’t know him yet, Granger Smith is a Texas country singer and songwriter who has a real heart for veterans. He has made trips to Iraq to entertain the troops and has even played at the White House on the back lawn in an event to support our men and women in uniform. His voice is angelic, his music is beautiful and his heart is big.

Smith is headlining Caleb’s veterans benefit concert, Moonlight Music Festival. It will be at Meridian on Memorial Day weekend, May 25-27. You may remember the Moonlight Music Festival as the music event that almost did not happen. It was originally planned for a farm in Robinson but was moved to Meridian after local residents expressed concerns about crowds and noise. Bosque County and Meridian stepped up to the plate and invited Caleb to bring his dream to their neck of the woods.

Caleb’s Bosque County event is raising funds for local veterans charities including VFW Post 6008 and the Central Texas Veterans Coalition. These folks are dedicated to serving our returning veterans and keeping the promises that our country made as they went off to serve us. We thought it would be nice to support Granger in his fundraiser, so off we went.

In the Boot Campaign Walk, everyone wears combat boots. There were moms and dads, wives and friends. Caleb and two Marine buddies joined in. Men and women who represented corporate sponsors walked. Retired Navy SEAL and author Marcus Luttrell joined the group. The governor was even there. Rick Perry made every step of the first five miles with us.

Of course, I was walking in Caleb’s combat boots. So there was a connection that grew with each step on the grassy shoulder of the highway as we made our way. As I walked, I thought of the places that those boots had taken him. I remembered the videos of house raids and bursting into school rooms chasing snipers. I thought about Caleb and his friends as they patrolled the dusty banks of the Euphrates River. With each step, I felt more and more connected to him and ultimately to all the folks who lace up these boots every day to serve and protect us back home in America.

As the miles ticked by, pain in my feet began to intensify. It was not from the size of the boots so much as from the uncertainty of the path ahead. Again I was drawn to the realization these boots had been where I would never go. They had protected our son’s feet through chases down long dusty alleys and the back rooms of houses. These boots kept him warm during that cold winter when he spent Christmas Eve sleeping in a Humvee somewhere in the desert of the Al Anbar province. That winter Caleb often went days without getting out of those boots. Chasing the bad guys, he said.

And then I looked ahead. I saw Caleb and his buddies talking, smiling and jogging — comrades once again. But this time they were not after the bad guys.

This time they were walking and running for a new future. They were walking for the ones who cannot. They were walking for the ones who didn’t make it back. They were walking to make sure that we never forget the price that is paid by those who choose to lace up those boots every single morning and go out into an uncertain and hostile world.

I encourage you to get a pair of combat boots. Get ones that fit. Walk in them. You will never be the same. And I encourage you to attend Caleb’s Moonlight Music Festival in Meridian this Memorial Day weekend. By supporting young people such as Granger Smith, a musician with a heart for our troops, and Caleb Duty, a young former Marine with a vision for healing the mind, body and spirit of the warrior, you can join them all in their long walk home.

Mary Duty chairs the social studies department at Tennyson Middle School and co-owns Poppa Rollo Pizza. Her son served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines in 2006 and 2008.

Mary Duty, Trib Board of Contributors: This news was well worth the wait!

By Mary Duty
Board of Contributors

Tuesday May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden is dead? Could it be?

On Sept. 11, 2001, I had prepared a lesson on colonial America for my students. Instead, I taught about world religions and conflict and tolerance. Monday, I got to finish that lesson with a group of students who were in pre-school that day.

Sept. 11, 2001, was the day that our son Caleb decided to become a Marine. After four years of JROTC, he joined the military. All because of Osama bin Laden.

He is a combat veteran of two tours in Iraq. In this global war on terror he lost 15 friends to improvised explosive devices and sniper fire. He cleared buildings and chased insurgents from room to room in dark and forbidding houses. He endured those hot Iraqi summer days patrolling in temperatures that soared to 130 degrees. I wanted to be sure that he could see the final chapter of bin Laden’s story unfold. He earned it with his blood and his tears.

I could tell that Caleb was pleased. His Facebook post said it all: “It took 10 years, but we got him! Now if we could just find the WMDs. . . .”

A Marine buddy reminded him that they found them in the couch cushions. It’s good that, in the middle of such a momentous day, they could still find a bit of humor in it all.

His phone was ringing and text messages were coming in fast and furious. Buddies from his days in combat were calling to see if he had heard the news. We got him! We got him! Yes, we got him! All that sacrifice and work were worth it.

Flood of emotion

Sunday night I was swept away by a flood of emotion. Waves of gratitude and thankfulness came over me. And Monday I got to finish my lesson. We made comparisons to other world leaders. Hitler’s name came up. We looked at pictures of the party going on in Times Square on V-E Day. We compared those to the pictures of Sunday night. We looked at ground zero. We listened to the words of firefighters and policemen as they recalled that awful day.

Most of my students recognize that the death of Osama bin Laden marks a victory by the forces of good over evil. They know that for over 20 years this man has plotted and planned destruction and mayhem. He had been firmly in charge of the terror networks that operated out of Afghanistan. Sunday night that ended. The head of the snake has been removed.

The prayers of a grateful nation are lifted up tonight and in the days to come for all those who wear a uniform and for all those at home who stand behind them. All those who served have a part in this victory over the forces of evil and darkness.

The air we breathe today is sweeter. The sky is a prettier shade of blue. God bless all of you who lived for this day. You got him!

Mary Duty, a teacher at Tennyson Middle School, is president of the Blue Star Mothers of America’s Heart of Texas Chapter. Her son, Caleb, served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines in 2006 and 2008.

Mary Duty, Trib Board of Contributors: Help veterans with VFW’s old-fashioned dance marathon

MARY DUTY
Board of Contributors

Saturday March 17, 2012

This St. Patrick’s Day there will be a very special event going on at VFW Post 6008 in Hewitt. You may remember this post for its immediate outpouring of support for the fire victims in Bastrop last summer. And when the troop care packages were in danger of missing their destination at Christmas, VFW Post 6008 rose to the occasion. With the generous support of Central Texas, those packages made it to Afghanistan, Korea and other overseas addresses before the holidays.

Well, they’re at it again . Today the Ladies Auxiliary is hosting a marathon dance to raise money for the post. For those of us too young to remember marathon dances, they’re dance contests that last for a number of hours, with prizes going to the couple that can hoof it, shuffle it and drag it out the longest.

This year’s dancefest carries a $500 prize. Dancers need to get sponsors to donate an amount per hour. Proceeds of the dance will go toward developing a place more friendly to younger veterans at VFW 6008.

Renovations have already begun, and it’s becoming a place where the vets of our current conflicts can mix and mingle with the folks from the Vietnam and WWII eras. Veterans’ interaction helps our sons and daughters move past their war experience and into productive, happy civilian lives.

There are many silent warriors in our communities. They go about their business quietly, making change happen and making our world a better place. The VFW Ladies Auxiliary works tirelessly behind the scenes making the veteran’s transition from war to civilian life easier and more manageable.

The dance starts at 2 p.m. and lasts till 2 a.m. Last couple standing gets the $500 prize. Other prizes will be handed out along the way. So grab those dancing shoes and get your friends to sponsor you.

Hoof it up for a good cause. Join us on St. Patrick’s Day to dance day and night away.

Mary Duty chairs the social studies department at Tennyson Middle

 
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Staff photo / Meridian Tribune
During a press conference at the Bosque Bottoms Jan. 3 Mary Duty, next to her son Caleb, explained her commitment to her son’s endeavor to organize a music festival/fundraiser Labor Day weekend in Meridian
Meridian to host Moonlight Music Fest
by Staff report
 (Posted 1/10/2012 09:47 am)

In a press conference held Jan. 3 at the Bosque Bottoms, Iraqi Freedom-veteran Caleb Duty announced Meridian was hosting the Moonlight Music Fest he is organizing. With the country music festival, Duty wants to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning from war. Duty and his family hope to draw a large crowd by engaging several big name bands to the two-day event, planned for Labor Day weekend. “If your motives are right, and your heart is right, things will work out,” Bosque County Judge Cole Word said at the press conference, explaining his support of the music festival. “Caleb’s motives are right. We need people like him, with his experiences to help others. Caleb is called to give back and help other vets to get back into their communities and families. God bless you for stepping out. I am proud of this day. I am proud of you.” Duty originally wanted to host the festival-fundraiser on the family’s 121-acre homestead, but Robinson’s City Council shot down his proposal, as neighbors were concerned about noise, security issues and trash dumping. On hearing this, local veteran Ronnie Ogel contacted Word, encouraging him to support Duty. According to Word, Facebook did the rest. Word contacted Mary, Duty’s mother through Facebook. And the ball got rolling, starting with the National Barbecue Cookoff Board allowing the event to take place in the Bosque Bottoms. “Caleb’s got his bases covered,” Meridian Police Officer Chris Blanton said. “With the assistance of North Bosque EMS and the Meridian Volunteer Fire Department, we don’t expect any big problems.” Duty expressed his thanks to Meridian for welcoming him with open arms and for the support he has received. At this time Duty is not at liberty to disclose names of the Texas Country musicians they are negotiating with, but the name Billy Joe Shaver was mentioned. Shaver is a family friend. “I was lucky,” Duty, who served two tours of duty in Iraq in the Marine Corps said “When I returned home, I could go to work in my father’s restaurant – Poppa Rollo’s Pizza in Waco. My concerns are for the guy who doesn’t have a family, who doesn’t have a place to go work, who can’t get his questions answered.” Duty was fortunate enough to find his way to his local Veterans from Foreign Wars and American Legion. “My generation does not go to a VFW or AL posts,” Duty said. “But I got so much help there in the transition back to civilian life. I want younger vets to be aware of the help they can get there, so they can avoid the heartache and troubles veterans go through. If we can make VFW posts and American Legion posts more enticing to younger people, they might actually go, they might actually see and speak to Vietnam veterans and get the advice and help that they didn’t get whenever they got out.” “We need to keep our promise to our young people,” Duty’s mother, president of the Heart of Texas Blue Star Mothers of America, said. “They need our support, because when they come back from war, it is not over. Sometimes it’s only just begun.” Duty wishes to include other activities during the May 25-26 event, like a barbecue cookoff, a horse-shoe competition, a volleyball tournament and classic car show. He also expects to attract vendors. Tickets for the May 25-26 event will be around $15 per day. The next step in the organizational process is finding sponsorships to cover the band fees and other costs. Duty has already worked six months preparing the event. Proceeds from the event will benefit a residential therapy program for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder at the Waco Veterans Affairs.