My visit with, and award from, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers

My visit with, and award from, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers

Yesterday the Louisiana Federation of Teachers tried to “off” me.

Not intentionally of course. They were actually being quite thoughtful, presenting me with a journalism award for my blog. There was one catch though. I would have to drive a few hundred miles to Alexandria and back though a freezing rain storm to retrieve it. (I think it would have been hard to find a more miserable day to hold a conference in Louisiana, nevertheless quite a few folks from all over the state made it a point to be there.)

I’ve only received one other award before, a Big Buddy Promise Award for a second/third grade child I was mentoring back in 2004/2005 who is soon going to graduate from high school. (My little buddy is now bigger than me so now I just call him whatever he tells me to call him.) I highly recommend getting involved in the Big Buddy Program , which is affiliated with United Way, as a mentor or in some other capacity if you live in Baton Rouge and have the time and spirit to donate to a child. (If you do decide to call them up tell Mrs. Gay I said “Hi!” She’s awesome.)

So this was a big deal to me, until I saw who my other co-nominee was, Tom Aswell of Louisiana Voice. (I heard Newman’s voice from Seinfeld in my head when I wrote that.) I had wondered who the other nominees for the School Bell award would be, but I didn’t ask, figuring it could be a surprise. I don’t mean to say I was disappointed it was Tom, per se, or that him being nominated took anything away from the prestige of the award (if anything it added to it in my mind) just that I was prepared for a more mainstream media type who I could play off of like I had at the last conference I recently attended in Atlanta. This meant trouble for me personally. Tom was a blogger too, but a better one, more widely known, and one with a big personality. I’d planned on using my speech as a guideline for what I would say or adlib, but most of the contrasts in my head were between what I do and what traditional media tries to do – with varying degrees of success.

Still, I had a few slim hopes left. . . that I would go first and stake out my own territory, or that Tom would come off as dry, nervous, or preachy so I could play up my humor schtick. Unfortunately, for me, Tom went first and had the room rolling with laughter at his stories from the word go. . . but I could have sworn I’d heard before. Tom’s stories sounded like some of the more humorous e-mail forwards that people send around, and no one there seemed to have heard or read those pieces before. Tom delivered his tongue-twisting vignettes like a well-practiced pro and my stomach sank to somewhere around my ankles. . . which were just starting to dry out from the swimming I had to do to get into the Conference center from the parking lot.

When Tom sat down LFT president Steve Monaghan, who was sitting on my left, locked knowing eyes with me and whispered “good luck, tough act to follow. Eh?” I nodded, “uh, yeah.” A few minutes earlier I noticed John Bel Edwards, our Democratic candidate for Governor sneak in the back of the room a few moments earlier, so no pressure, right?

So my last acceptance speech for my Big Buddy award resulted in me rambling on aimlessly for an indeterminate amount of time, saying nothing in particular, turning bright red (and I think I might have had a stroke because the rest of the luncheon was a blur.) That experience is painfully scorched in my memory along with the pitying look from local newscaster Jay Grimes as I was waiting in the hallway afterwards. While I was waiting for my future wife to stop talking to other people in the room so I could slink behind a rock in the parking lot, Jodi Carson from the Murphy Sam and Jodi in the morning show came up to give me some “helpful” advice. She told me to just picture everyone as being naked next time. That’s what she does, she confided to me. (A little clichéd I thought . . . and not at all comforting. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like conversing with naked people. If you come up to me in a locker room after just getting out of the shower, please put a towel on before you start vigorously discussing and gesticulating about international trade agreements or anything of global geopolitical significance if you want me to look in your direction or acknowledge you. More pointing is going on than you realize. Later I wondered how that naked thing would work for a radio show exactly . . . .?)

Anyways, at that moment I decided to redefine success. (John White does it all the time with his SPS scores, but no one was going to be giving me bonus points.) My objective was now to not completely embarrass myself or to get advice on how to give speeches from random audience members. This was a mark I felt I could hit. J

So this is the speech I delivered, after LFT media director Les Landon introduced me and also got in a jibe about Tom being a tough act to follow:

First I would like to thank the Louisiana Federation of Teachers for honoring me today and recognizing my meager contributions to the education conversation we are having as a state. These are conversations we’ve needed to have for a long time, and I’m glad to do my part to bring ideas and folks to the table to discuss how we educate our children and craft our future.

I would also like to thank my elementary and secondary teachers which prepared me both for my current career in the tech industry first as a programmer and then as a technical writer, and also for my blogging avocation I’m enjoying so much.  While my college degree from LSU is in accounting, the skills I use today to put food on the table are primarily the ones I mastered as one Louisiana’s public High School students.

I also want to thank all of my sources and contributors that have risked their careers, livelihoods and sanity to provide me the details and crude artwork I use in my blog.  While I chose to leave the Louisiana Department of Education to expose the corporate and politically chained beast that LDOE and BESE has largely become, many of my colleagues chose to stay behind to work as best they could from the inside to protect the rights of disabled children, poor children, all of our children and teachers, for as long as they could.  Their stories and sacrifices are largely unsung and unseen by all but a few like me, but we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the risks they take to bring these political scandals and abuses of power and to light.

I would also like to thank all the people that read my blog, refer my blog, comment on my blog and use what I write to inform their fellow parents, teachers and citizens.  A blog is only as good as the people who follow, endorse and contribute to it.  If I’ve done well, it’s only because we’ve done well together.

However I would be remiss if I did not also thank the two of the most inspiration figures in my blogging life. . .  John White, and Bobby Jindal.  I can honestly say if it were not for them promoting their profit driven, destructive and asinine education policies and agendas I would not be standing before you here today.  So I owe my thanks to them, for providing me with a never-ending supply of ridiculous and tragic material to blog about.

Now for those of you who have no idea who I am, allow me to take this time to introduce myself and my work.  My name is Jason France and I run a Louisiana education and politics blog called Crazycrawfish.  If you type that silly sounding name in Google you will locate me.  I’ve become quite prolific in the 18 or so months since I left the Louisiana Department of Education and started blogging about my take on what I saw, and what I see happening to education in our state, and across the nation.

Blogging has been a learning process for me, and not one I came to naturally.  Before I started my blog I used to think bloggers were egotistic, self-important pontificators driven by internal forces to share their “vast wisdom” with the world.

Now that I am one, I understand that this is more or less true . . . but not as easy a task as you might think.  Most bloggers have day jobs and families but the news cycle never sleeps and very often neither do we.  Now that I am more or less established, I find that I always have more stories to tell than I will probably ever be able tell, and this weighs heavy on my head and heart.  But what weighs me down is also, paradoxically, what keeps me going.  I may not be able to tell every story as quickly or completely as I’d like, but I know that quite likely without me these are stories and articles that would never get told at all.

Thank you all for sharing your stories with me, and for reading the stories I have to tell.

During the ceremony I learned there were two other recipients that were unable to be there, Bob Mann and Kari Harden, so I think it’s safe to say I was a bit humbled by and appreciative of my selection.

After the award ceremony I chatted with Tom and complimented him on his delivery. He then confided in me that he had done stand-up comedy for 10 years. Bastard! J It was then that I knew where I had heard some of his material, at the Funny Bone in Baton Rouge! Tom confirmed that he used to MC there, and I recalled the slideshow he used to do and his stories about Livingston Parish. Lol. So no chance I’ll be beating Tom in the delivery department, but I have pictures on my blog, and you don’t Tom, so there!

At the luncheon I had the interesting experience of sitting with a freshly minted US Congressman. Vance McAllister stopped by to give his first speech/introduction as the Representative of Louisiana’s 5th district. I chatted with him briefly and he seemed very nice and down to earth, although even more obsessed with his smartphone than me. J When he walked in he was greeted by the sound of duck calls. (Apparently these were “coincidentally?” part of a gift box given to numerous LFT friendly legislators in attendance.) McAllister relayed, somewhat sheepishly, that being heralded by duck calls wherever he goes is now a common phenomenon since he was endorsed by the Duck Dynasty family and defeated the Jindal anointed Neil Riser by 20 percentage point.

One other thing many of my readers will find interesting is that McAllister volunteered, without any prompting, his stance on Common Core. He stated he and many parents he’d talked to didn’t understand the rollout, he didn’t understand how we could suddenly spring this on so many kids we’d been educating one way, then telling them everything they learned was now wrong and they needed to learn this whole new curriculum. He stated he didn’t like Common Core, didn’t like the federal government getting involved, but if this was the way we were going it should have been introduced in the early grades first, not all at once on all kids.

I am totally in agreement and I’m sure many of you are too. When Vance sat back down I told him so and gave him my card. He asked me if I was one of his constituents and I told him no, but I serve some of them since I address statewide issues. I mentioned if he wanted to talk about it, or to be put in contact with other groups opposed to Common Core I could arrange it. However, if you are one of those groups and have your own ways of reaching out to congressman McAllister. . . well I think he’s already in your court on this battle.