Archive for the ‘Editorial Comments’ Category

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.


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: 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.

Board of Contributors

Sunday December 25, 2011     
Turn back the clock to Nov. 29: The Blue Star Mothers’ local chapter and VFW Post 6008 needed about $4,000 to mail off care packages, cards and notes that we had collected for our troops abroad. Neither group had the funds.

Something had to be done and done quickly.

That’s when countless Central Texans stepped up. Magical things happened.

The next day, a news crew from KWTX-TV visited my classroom at Tennyson Middle School to talk with students. As it is written, sometimes it is that little children lead the way. The kids on the evening news that night talked of the importance to our troops of gifts and messages from home. The Tribune Herald ran an editorial the next day summoning help. And KXXV-TV kept the story going. The message was clear: Troops would not get Christmas packages without the community’s help.

At about 10:30 that first night, I got a Facebook message from a fellow teacher who is part of a VFW motorcycle group from Gatesville. Riders there pledged $1,000.  The next day, a sweet couple from Speegleville drove into town and dropped off a substantial check. A man who donated the first $20 during our 2006 effort to send care packages came by this time with a big hug and a bigger check.

For the next three days, people of every stripe and color came by VFW Post 6008 and Poppa Rollo’s Pizza and gave what they could so our troops would not be left out come Christmas morning.

A friend of mine recently laid off from her job came up to me and handed me money. Through my tears, I looked at her hard. I asked her if she was sure. Her voice broke a little as she told me that she wished she had more. In that moment she redefined generosity and selfless giving. Countless others who left no name gave from that place deep in the heart.

In two days, Tennyson students organized a fundraiser, garnering $323. Students at China Spring ISD collected money. They brought a huge bag of change and bills totalling over $200. Woody’s Wrecker Service gave a significant donation.

The second day, Claude Ervin of Waco Scottish Rite Bodies called and made a proposal. He said that if we could raise the first half needed, his organization would match it. By Thursday, less than 48 hours after the news got out, we counted what we had. I called Mr. Ervin. Thanks to the Scottish Rite and the kind folks of Central Texas, we knew the troops would have their Christmas after all.

We are now busy writing thank-you notes for all those who gave checks or left names. But so many of you left cash; we’ll never know who you are. We hope that you read this and know how important your donation was, no matter how large or small. From the little kid with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to the grand men of the Scottish Rite, and everyone in between, the thanks of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines go out to you.

One thing is sure. Something very special happened in Central Texas those three days in early December. In a time of deep economic recession and tremendous anxiety, people who we will never know stepped up to help people they will probably never meet.

Some of you may have been that lonely soldier at Christmas long ago. Some of you may have had an empty place at the table on Christmas morning. Whoever you are, allow me to convey the thanks of many a tired and lonely service person who will spend this holiday ever vigilant, watching and waiting, making sure that the world we wake up in is safe and secure. Take a moment and remember all those serving. Say a prayer for their families and loved ones back home. Join us in a prayer for peace this Christmas Day.

Mary Duty, chairwoman of the humanities department 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.


Military mothers never surrender

MARY DUTY Guest column

Saturday February 27, 2010

The average deployment of a U.S. Marine is seven months. Gestation for a human baby is nine months. The Blue Star Mothers have been working on a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive for nearly eight months.

Our blood drive set for this weekend was cancelled a week ago by Robertson Blood Center officials at Fort Hood. Their site visit, normally done early in the approval process, was not done till eight days before the event. Posters had been sent out, radio interviews had been done.

We have done a blood drive for the military before. We know the rules. We were told the blood drive had to be on military or federal property. A couple of years ago we could have used our VFW or American Legion Halls, but current policy no longer allows that. We asked our local military reserve units and the VA Regional Office to help, but they had no space, and post-9/11 security concerns made some properties off limits.

Thanks to the efforts of Baylor professor Janet Bagby, a Marine Mom, we worked with Baylor University as a possible site. We learned any school with an ROTC program can be a site for a blood drive. So Baylor’s Law School, we finally and joyfully decided, was our site — until officials then suddenly ruled it too small to hold the drive. Dashed again!

The Wounded Warrior Blood Program administered by the Robertson Blood Center at Fort Hood provides blood for our troops. That’s why the Blue Star Mothers planned a drive in Central Texas. We only do it once or twice a year because we recognize the vital nature of blood donation and know that our own communities need constant blood supplies for accident victims and surgeries.

Getting blood to our troops is too important to allow miscommunication and missed inspection deadlines to get in the way. Robertson Blood Center and Blue Star Mothers of America have a joint mission of providing life-saving blood to our soldiers.

Bullets are flying as I write this. The need for blood is now.

It’s been said of the war on terror that the military went to war and the country went to the mall. The Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is one way to show tangible support for our troops. We are persistent. We may look harmless, but each of us raised a Marine, an airman, a soldier, a sailor.

We have high hopes we can finally get some site approved, that we can do what we set out to do so many months ago — provide life-saving blood to those who chose to serve us far from home.

Just in Case…..

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Editorial Comments


This was written in 2007, when I really wanted to write something else, and John Young encouraged me to write about this experience.  I have never regretted putting this to paper.


Mary Duty, guest column: Just in case it’s goodbye

Friday, September 14, 2007

I tell people that having a child deploy to a war zone is like childbirth.

The first time you read all of the books and talk to people who have been there. The second time, knowing exactly what is coming, you find yourself fighting fear, anxiety and pure dread.

Our son Caleb is a Marine and about to redeploy to Iraq.

During Caleb’s first tour, he was involved in community policing and relationship- building in a small town in the al-Anbar province. It was rough going at first. His batallion lost 15 fine young men to IEDs, suicide bombers and snipers.  However, Caleb met many wonderful, hardworking Iraqis who were anxious to get their lives back together, and their kids back in school. His unit was good at its job. After several months there, when the bad guys planted IEDs in the road that they used to drive into town, the locals turned the bad guys in and made them dig up the explosives. 

His stateside time is almost over, with a last weekend with family that was an extraordinary experience. Caleb told us all goodbye. We got a chance to tell him goodbye, too.  He gave us no choice but to embrace the moment that could be our last together. Just in case.

The night was dark. The bonfire was roaring. The music was playing loud from one of the pickup trucks parked on the edge of the clearing. Friends mingled.  Some have been buddies since kindergarten.  Boy Scout friends were there.  Some were fellow Marines. Even Patches, Caleb’s dog, made it.

As the time came for Caleb to leave, he went to his truck and punched in a song.

The soft, sweet melody of a fiddle filled the night air. Then the country rhythms of Tracy Lawrence’s “If I Don’t Make it Back” hit us all like a runaway freight train.

As we started listening, one sister begged him to change the song.  But Caleb wanted us to hear it.  He went around the party, shaking hands and hugging. We were all trapped in this experience hearing words we did not want to hear, saying things that we did not want to say. But we had to, just in case.

At one point, we all gathered in a circle. Shoulder to shoulder, like in a football huddle, Caleb, his brothers and sisters and I gathered.  Silently we stood, drinking in the moment. Each prayed for Caleb in his or her own way.  I know that I asked for angels to watch over him and his comrades. And I prayed for God’s peace for Caleb and his brothers and sisters. Just in case. 

When our hearts were full, Caleb put his hand in the huddle, and one by one we laid our hands over and under his. Trapped in our embrace, he led us in shouting, “1-2-3 Duty!”

We broke the huddle, wiped our tears and finished saying our goodbyes.

At the tender age of 20, Caleb taught us all a lesson many never learn. The first time you go to war it is done with flags and banners and blind optimism. The second time you know that there is a chance that you might not be coming back. You live each day like you mean it.

Thank you, Son, for helping us say goodbye like we mean it.  Just in case. 

May God keep you until we see each other again.

Mary Duty is a Waco school teacher and co-owner of Poppa Rollos Pizza.

Wounded Warrior Blood Drives

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Editorial Comments
This piece was written about a year and a half ago.  We had had a real problem with scheduling a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive, and our congressman, Chet Edwards helped us get things rolling with the VA hospital in Waco.  The photo below is a drive held at the National Guard Armory.

Organizers of the Wounded Warrior BLood Drive 2010

Dear Editors:

The average deployment of a United States Marine is 7 months.  The gestation period for a human baby is 9 months.  We found that It sometimes takes 8 or more months to plan a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive. 

The Wounded Warrior Blood Program helps provide blood for our troops because a lot of troops can’t donate because of going overseas.  We call on civilians, families, and others want to help by rolling up their sleeves.  We only do it once or twice a year because we recognize the vital nature of blood donation and know that our own communities need constant blood supplies for accident victims, surgeries, etc.

It’s been said of the War on Teror that the military went to war and the country went to the mall.  The Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is one way to really show support and to help connect the public to the efforts of our young men and women.

Our blood drive that was 8 months in the making was cancelled last Friday by the Robertson Blood Center officials at Ft. Hood.   The site visit that normally happens early in the date approval process was not done until 8 days before the event.  Posters had been generated and sent out, radio interviews had been done.  When we got the word last Friday, we had no choice but to get the word out that we would not be having the Wounded Warrior Blood Drive after all.   Our journey started over 7 months ago.  We originally had our first blood drive for the troops at the Texas National Guard building.  Because the hall that we used was not climate controlled, it was suggested that we go to another climate controlled facility.   We were told that the blood drive had to be in a military or federal property.  A couple of years ago, we could have used our VFW and American Legion Halls, but current policy does not allow use those places.  We asked our local military reserve units and the VA Regional Offices but they had very little space, and post 911 security concerns made them unable to help us.   In mid December we started working with Baylor University as a possible site for a blood drive.  Any school that has an JROTC program can be a potential site for a blood drive.  That process took us to the events of last Friday.

We are working with the officials at the Robertson Blood Center to find out what went wrong so that this sort of thing does not happen again.  Getting much needed blood to our troops is too important to have rules and procedures get in the way of the Blue Star Mothers mission of organizing a community wide Wounded Warrior Blood Drive.

A Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is a very special event.  Groups like the Blue Star Mothers and other sponsors from our community hold these drives once or twice a year to collect blood to be used by our wounded troops that are recuperating here at home, and sent to our field hospitals in the war zone.  These blood drives serve two purposes.  One is to collect life saving blood that helps our precious wounded troops.  The other purpose is to provide an opportunity for all of our citizens to give.  There is no more selfless a gift than the gift of life that blood brings to a wounded soldier.  It gives our organization a chance to remind folks that we are at war and that there is something we can all do to connect with our servicemen and women.

We are a persistent bunch.  Mothers of men and women in the military tend to be.  We may look harmless, but we raised a Marine….an Airman….a soldier…..a Sailor.  Our commitment to them is timeless. 

We have an appointment March 5 to visit with the acting Adminstrator at the VA Regional Hospital.  We have high hopes that this meeting will provide a location so that we can do what we set out to do so many months ago.