For What It’s Worth

A roundup in Colorado

Three riders rode through Steamboat Springs, CO, Tuesday, making stops at several bars, a Starbucks and a Safeway grocery—all on horseback.

Neigh, I lie not. It really happened.

These were no Ghost Riders in the Sky, just three riders who, for reasons not known, decided to ride through town and make some purchases on horseback. But they were corralled by the police and herded on their way.

One was arrested, after being tasered while still in the saddle. He is facing charges of suspicion of harassment, disorderly conduct, obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest. He was the only one arrested. Apparently, the others knew how to rein in their fun and follow orders, even if they weren’t face to face with Marshal Dillon. Of course, they weren’t; they were in Steamboat Springs, not Dodge City.

At Safeway, they rode through the aisles scaring shoppers and clerks and at least one of the riders bought a bag of chips. At the register, he leaned down from the saddle to pay the clerk, but the video gave no evidence that he tipped his hat. Maybe modern cowboys don’t tip their hats to ladies.

“Howdy, partner!” apparently wasn’t the greeting for them at Starbucks. Here’s what a Starbucks employee was quoted as saying:

“I came out and saw three huge horses standing in front of our Starbucks counter, and one of the riders was trying to buy a bag of chips. These were three huge horses, not small horses. (You don’t suppose standing in a Starbucks made those horses seem exponentially bigger, do you?) I looked at the riders and I told them, ‘You have got to go. This violates every policy we have.’”

I seem to detect a touch of panic there. Maybe it was time to calm down and have a cappuccino or, if he needed to cool down, a Frapuccino might have worked. A mocha or straight Starbucks coffee might have worked for the horses.

If you are ever in the Steamboat Springs Starbucks, you might not want to step up to the counter and ask, “Haven’t seen my horse come in yet, have you?”

According to the local newspaper, the riders began their ride atop Emerald Mountain several hours before galloping into town. The rider who was arrested and jailed briefly before being released on bond said, “I had a great ride right up until the very end.” Doesn’t sound like he was singing Happy Trails to You at the end of the day.

That wasn’t exactly the last roundup in Steamboat Springs, but it did give a new meaning to the expression, horsing around.


Could a dose of common sense have saved this situation?

Sometimes, a seemingly small act of PC can produce a tsunami-like reaction that leaves an unnecessary path of destruction when an equally small act of common sense could have prevented the destruction.

Such was the case this past week when a 9-year-old, fourth grade boy in Gastonia, NC, was talking to a classmate friend and used the word “cute” in describing his teacher. The repercussion was a path of destruction that resulted in the boy being suspended from school for sexual harassment, a principal being forced to resign, a letter of apology from the school system and a determination that no sexual harassment had occurred, and an unhappy parent considering legal action.

The situation began when a substitute teacher overheard the boy’s remark to his friend and reported the youth. Subsequently, the principal suspended the boy and the boy’s mother protested the action. Her action included granting an interview to a TV reporter in which she shared the contents of a letter from the principal informing her of her son’s suspension.

The review of the situation and the reaction to it included a letter of apology to the parent along with an acknowledgement that no sexual harassment had occurred, that the suspension would be erased from the boy’s record, and that provisions would be made for him to make up work missed.

However, the reaction also included the superintendent becoming involved. The principal resigned and stated that he had been given one hour by the superintended to either resign or be fired. Thus ended the principal’s 44 years in education, the last 35 in administration and much of it at the elementary school where the events took place.

Couldn’t a little common sense have been used in one or more of the steps in this process and stopped it without so much damage occurring? Probably, but common sense long ago lost the battle to PC. A relative who retired several years ago as a teacher but still has a hand in student teacher evaluation says simply, “Common sense has been lost in education.”

In last week’s scenario, the use of common sense could have started with the substitute teacher who overheard (listened in on?) the 9-year-old talking to his friend. The news story do not detail her action other than noting that she reported the boy as a violator of the school policy against sexual harassment. Did she first try to determine if the boy was simply expressing adoration for his teacher or was he viewing her as a sex object? Did she discuss it with the teacher and perhaps the two of them, or at least one, talk to the boy to determine if he had a concept of what the substitute teacher thought he was guilty of?

If not with the substitute teacher or the boy’s fourth grade teacher, application of common sense could have started with the principal. Apparently, it did not. No evidence was given in the news stories to indicate that the principal had any contact with the mother to inform her of the matter and to get input from her before calling on the phone and informing her of her son’s suspension. Could he had shoved aside the pressures of being PC long enough to have talked with the parties involved and obtained all viewpoints before making a decision? Perhaps he would have if the accusation had been anything other than sexual harassment. But that topic sets off a cacophony of alarm bells.

The lack of common sense prevailed up through the superintendent and district levels with the end result of black marks for the school, the principal, the superintendent, and the district, not to mention the effects on the student and his mother. And it may not be over since the possibility remains that a lawsuit will be filed.

I understand times have changed, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking back the 60-plus years to when I was the age of that boy. It was in third grade, not fourth, that I had a teacher I really liked. Her name was Mrs. Ludy. She was a blonde, German lady. She is the only elementary or junior high teacher whose name I recall. I’m not sure that in talking to a classmate about her I would have referred to her as being cute, but I’m confident I would have use some term of fondness. Would whatever term I used, if overheard and reported, have been deemed to be sexual harassment?

I doubt it. If it had been, I would have had zero idea what the teacher or principal was talking about when telling me I was being punished for using the word. So, the thought occurred to me when reading the news stories last week: Did the 9-year-old know and understand what he was being accused of? Did his world really include a true understanding of sexual harassment? Or, was he just expressing adoration for his teacher? Or, was he being held accountable for an innocent child reaction in an adult world with a different view and perspective on life?

I wonder. Do we sometimes allow PC sensitivities to run amuck over common sense?

Perhaps intentions good, but results too intrusive

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing changes in labor laws that would prohibit children under 16 from doing certain “dangerous” jobs on farms. Granted, the proposed changes may be well intentioned; but, as noted in the headline on a news story in this morning’s Tulsa World, “Many say new farm labor rules aren’t needed.” Count me among those.

Children of farm families are exempt from the proposed rules, but that includes only the immediate family. Matt Muller, a farmer interviewed for the newspaper article, noted that the changes would prevent other young family members, such as grandchildren and nieces and nephews, from working on the farm. Obviously, non-family members could not be hired for the designated dangerous jobs.

I must stress that I am not in favor of abusive child labor. It is certainly appropriate to have laws prohibiting forced labor by children in unsafe conditions in factories and the like, but I do question where the line is drawn between appropriate government regulation and overly intrusive government that robs children of valuable learning experiences and personal discovery of their interests and potential.

Over the years I have read too many stories about enterprising, eager youth being stymied from working by government regulations. These have ranged from shutting down lemonade stands to closing more enterprising efforts like those of a young boy who started his own bicycle repair business. The bicycle business story was several years ago, and some of the details have faded from memory. As I recall, the boy worked in the garage of his family’s home and was being successful. However, he was shut down as a law violator

Often, when I read or see news accounts of youth complaining that they are bored with nothing to do, or being picked up for loitering on the streets, or having been arrested for drug use or gang activities, I wonder: How many of them might not be in that situation if they were working part time or were busy operating their own little business enterprise?

I should point out that my strong feelings (bias?) have roots in my own youth, when I was allowed to work, both by my parents and by law. That opportunity and experience were so positive and so shaped my life that I feel many of today’s youth are being cheated of life-influencing experiences by intrusive laws and well-meaning people who conceive, pass, and promote these laws.

My experience with work began as a young child when my parents required that I do certain chores, such as help set the table or clear it, wash dishes, empty trash, clean my room. In the times my parents could afford to grant an allowance, it was minimal and came with restrictions. Specific jobs were assigned to earn the allowance and these were to be done without having to be reminded or directed to do them. Failure to do the job resulted in no allowance. In other words, no work, no pay. Fair enough. This was a valuable learning experience; it certainly was not abusive.

The summer after fifth grade I told my dad that I wanted to get a job. What I didn’t tell him was that my motives were selfish ones. I wanted to save money for a bicycle and to have money to buy soda pop and candy like some of the other kids. I wasn’t thinking of how valuable the work experience would be in terms of learning accountability, being responsible, or finding out that money doesn’t grow on trees—you have to earn it. However, those and other lessons were things I learned.

At the time, my dad was pastor of a small church and had limited income. In our conversation about a job, we agreed that the most likely opportunity for me would be mowing lawns. Our lawnmower was an old-fashioned rotary blade push mower (human power, not a gas-powered push mower). Wanting to encourage me, Dad offered me a deal. He would put me in business by buying a new, electric mower that would be mine to use with certain requirements. These included the following:  I would mow our lawn every week without being told to do so; I would go out and arrange lawns to mow and have enough to stay busy regularly, not just one or two lawns a week; I would not gripe about working or complain that it was too hot to work (summer is a hot time in North Texas); I would get to the work sites on my own; and, finally, any money I earned was mine to spend or save as I wished with one exception—I would tithe 10 percent every week

I will forever love and respect my father for that decision. I didn’t know at the time that he could not really afford the lawnmower. He went to a business owned by a member of the church and arranged to buy the mower on credit. When I learned about that later in life, it only increased my appreciation for what he had done.

I kept my end of the bargain and soon I was mowing lawns daily. I received 50 cents for most of them. Some earned only a quarter, and a few larger lawns earned me 75 cents. The biggest single payday I remember was a for a corner lot overgrown with weeds so thick and high that my little bright red mower could barely cut them. Many times the mower bogged down and the motor stopped. I had to push-pull, push-pull. Hours later (I don’t recall how many), I finished the job. It paid $5, a huge sum to me.

Some may say the landowner was abusive to me and took advantage of me. Surely, he would have paid an adult more to do the job, an adult who would have had a larger, more powerful mower that could have finished the job in less time and with less effort. All of that may be true, but I did not feel abused then, nor do I think now that I was abused. For me, it was a challenge, an opportunity to prove myself. I learned lessons about hard work and not quitting once you start something. It addition to a major payday, the job produced something else—opportunity for more lawns to mow. It enhanced my reputation for dependability and for doing quality work.

I mowed lawns for the rest of that summer and for the next two summers. And, yes, I did buy a bicycle, as well as the first new suit I ever had. I also had coins to go to the store for soda pop and a candy bar, though that turned out not to be the great thing I had thought it would be. We moved to Oklahoma after that third summer of mowing lawns, and soon after moving I had a part-time job after school washing windows and dishes at a local café. I have had a job ever since until retiring a couple of years ago.

Today, I look around and see grown men with lawn-mowing businesses, but I don’t see many youth mowing. I’m truly glad that many of the labor laws in effect today did not exist in my youth. If those laws had existed, I am convinced that I would have missed out on some of the most practical, life-enhancing experiences of my youth, experiences that were foundational for later achievements and motivations in my life.

Working as a child was not abusive; it was a great preparation for adulthood.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to For What It’s Worth

  1. Donna says:

    Common sense is too terrified of legal intrusion. A truly sad case for all involved. If education were rescued from the clutches of the government, perhaps more common sense would prevail in every aspect of it.

    Beyond the existence of restrictive labor laws, there’s the guilt of us parents. We give our kids too much…too much free time, too much entertainment, too much freedom from responsibility, and the list goes on. It’s sad for the kids and for the resulting society they’re creating as they come of age.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s