Sybil Baker

I subscribe to The Writer’s Chronicle and the first article I read this month was written by Sybil Baker and entitled, “Lost Generations: The American Expatriate Writer.” As I have always been a fan of most of the writers she mentions and whose work she analyzes, I found the article extremely interesting. Ms. Baker is somewhat an expatriate writer herself, having traveled extensively and teaching English now in Korea at Yonsei University. She has a great website too. You can take a look here: After reading the article, scanning her bio and website, I decided I would definitely place her fiction on my reading list.

Some of the expatriate writers she analyzes are Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bowles–all of whom have influenced me greatly. She also discusses the new expatriates and their work. This is the kind of writing I like to discover–thoughtful, well documented, and original.

Adults Who Hurt Kids

Right when I start to feel optimism about the good we can do with our students, some adult comes along and hurts the kids and our work in public education again. I teach gifted English at Bastrop High School in Morehouse Parish in Northeast Louisiana. Well, it seems our football team has to forfeit its State Championship because of ineligible players. Evidently there was an accusation against our school about some of our players (hurricane victims) . I want to say more, but I must have patience and wait for the results of our appeal. As of yet, we don’t know who our accusers are, or even for sure what the charges were specifically. LHSAA (There’s an interesting Acronym. A friend told me it stood for . . .No, I said I would wait before commenting.)

And I will wait. I’m too angry to write objectively on this. All I know for sure is, in the football year after Katrina, our community helped some boys who happened to be good football players, but according to LHSAA, we did it wrong. (I wonder how many hurricane victim kids LHSAA directly helped. No, don’t get me started.) So what do the pompous idiots do? After a savage witch hunt, they punish everyone they can–including the kids. It’s sad, but I’m sure the LHSAA officials feel self-righteous and proud of their achievements.

The students were hurricane victims remember. Yes, our school and community helped them–along with many others who did not play football. Once again I am dissillusioned with the bureacrats who run our state and especially those who have anything to do with public education.

I know the sports success of BHS has created enemies–after all, how can a rural, rather underfunded, black-majority high school defeat all the other teams they faced? (Bastrop was winning before the new players arrived. Also, many other schools received football playing students from the Katrina Diaspora.) It is easy to pass judgment on a school with football rules a year after the hurricane, when everyone has forgotten how bad the situation was, how that storm changed everything for us in Louisiana in those first few months afterwards. All kinds of exceptions to state laws and rules were made. When people need to be helped, only the most anal legalist will obsess about trivial interpretation of legalities. I guess we could have left the kids in the shelter.

One lesson: Never underestimate how mean, petty, and jealous people can be. Here’s another lesson for LHSAA and for the jealous people or school lodging complaints against BHS: People will never forget or forgive you for hurting kids. Even if kids did make a mistake, it’s you, the adult, that should know better. A real man doesn’t have to prove his power by beating up on kids. If adults committed a wrong, punish the adults. If it is misinterpretation of a “rule” or even a mistake, correct the individuals involved, but be civil and treat people with respect instead of acting like they’re your inferiors. If this is “sour grapes” or a vendetta, then someone needs to grow up and stop acting like a whining kid who can’t be on first string.

I can imagine the LHSAA leaders talking about how important this current witch hunt is. They would probably say, “It’s all about the kids.”

Yeah, sure.

Jed Marum’s Cross Over the River: A Review

In January of 2000, Jed Marum began his year by leaving a lucrative career so he could devote himself to his music. His first year as a fulltime musician earned exactly one tenth of what he had earned the year before. To his credit, he hasn’t looked back, and has built a solid career and reputation as one of America’s premier Scots-Irish musicians and is often a headliner at festivals. His schedule is a busy one, with over 150 shows a year—and the number of shows seems to be steadily growing.

In addition to his intense love for and commitment to Scots-Irish music, Marum has another passion—The Civil War. In our interview, I asked Marum how his interest in the War Between the States began. He said, “Once, I was being interviewed by Sunny Meriwether and she introduced me to her audience as an Irish singer who specializes in writing Civil War songs. I started to object saying that the Civil War was just a passing interest, when I realized that it had been passing for 10 years! That’s when I realized I really wasn’t just dabbling at the Civil War stuff, anymore. It had moved to a higher level.”

The fruit of Marum’s passion for this period of American history is his newest CD, Cross Over the River, a twelve-song collection of Irish and Confederate songs released August 4 of this year. This CD presents some of Marum’s finest guitar picking and original lyrics.

There’s something in this CD that stirs the spirit, and just as I was about to suggest the collection would be great music for movies of this period, I found out that Marum has agreed to license two new songs to Lone Chimney Productions for use in their upcoming film, Bloody Dawn. The film is being made for the PBS and History Channel markets and is planned for a 2006 release. The movie focuses on the border wars between Kansas and Missouri surrounding the days of the US Civil War.

The music is acoustic, with Marum on guitar, banjo, and banjola. Musicians performing with him are Jaime Marum on mandolin, Kathleen Jackson on upright bass, Mimi Rogers on fiddle and Ken Fleming on button accordion. Travis Ener and Kathleen Jackson are also featured in background vocals.

The collection’s songs are rich lyrically and musically, and several especially deserve comment. “Monaghan’s Lament,” is a song of an Irish born New Orleans resident, Col. William Monaghan of the 6th Louisiana. The song expresses a soldier’s emotions as he regards a fallen admired leader of one of the South’s most famous fighting units, “The Fighting Tigers.” “One Bloody Friday” is a haunting song, so effectively constructed that it makes the listener feel as if he were riding with Quantrell. “Cross Over the River,” is based on the last words of Stonewall Jackson. With this song, Marum takes us into the soul of a dying hero of the South. In other songs, Marum takes traditional melodies and masterfully creates moving interpretations. For example, I believe Marum’s rendition of the well-known “Shenandoah” to be unique and the best version I’ve heard.

I predict this CD will have strong appeal with Civil War aficionados, reenactors, performers, and anyone who loves good ballads. Just reading the CD’s insert and the background of the songs is an education and it reveals the extent of Marum’s research. Cross Over the River has a large targeted audience and has all the potential for becoming a cult classic. For the musician, Marum has also generously published a songbook containing lyrics and chords for both Cross Over the River and his earlier Civil War CD, Fighting Tigers of Ireland.

Cross Over the River is a collection of original and period music with lyrics that capture the heart of the many Irish who fought for the South. The CD is a reminder that there are many stories buried in history we have not yet heard, and there are emotions connected to that war that we haven’t yet considered. As a writer, Marum is not only skilled—he is honest. He knows that one’s culture and heritage can be lost, and he is determined to give life to long-silent voices. When those of the past fade from our memory and art, then they are truly dead to us. As long as there are writers like Marum who aren’t afraid to tell the stories, the dead will live on and our heritage will not be lost. The Scots-Irish majority who comprised the Confederate Army deserve the tribute of this CD.

You can purchase Cross Over the River here: Read Marum’s bio, hear samples of his music, and keep up with news about him by checking out his website or from his blog

Celtic Festival

I am in a Scots-Irish band. We call ourselves Angus Dubhghall. We took the names of two ancient Scottish chieftans, men who were heroes, yet were feared. We’ve been playing locally (that would be Northeast Louisiana) for a while, but this year we will be performing at the Northeast Louisiana Celtic Festival. You can see a photo of our band on this link (go to performers). I would be the one with the Confederate cap on and playing guitar. Tom McCandlish plays the bodhran and is the lead singer, and his beautiful wife Mary plays the fiddle. We’ve really built quite a song list, and I’ve written a couple of originals. I hope to expand that list of originals. In addition to Scots-Irish music, we can also do a Confederate Civil War music show. Write me if you’d like more information about the band.

We Are the Gifted

Sometimes I think my gifted students need a boost. Like other kids their age, they struggle with image at times. I wrote this nonsense poem as a performance piece to try to cheer them up. It worked! They laughed and had a grand time over it. Yet, as you know, there’s always some truth in humor. Next entry will be on my reading and signing I had at the Ouachita Library last night.

The few, the ignored, the under-funded,
The neglected, the ones administrators know
Will pass the standardized tests,
We are the gifted.
Someday, we nerds will rule the world
We’ll have the last laugh,
We’ll receive the accolades, the money,
We’ll be the employers who will chuckle
When the underachievers of today
struggle to read their employment form.
Yes, we are the gifted, the brightest,
The best of the best!
Don’t you dare lump with the rest.
We’re the creators, the problem solvers,
The scientists who find the cure,
The geniuses who win jeopardy,
The tricksters who you should fear
Because we’re smart enough to not get caught.
We are the gifted.

First Week of School: A Rant

The first week of school—you think you’re ready for it, but you never are. At least in my district, Morehouse Parish in Northeast Louisiana. This year the disorganization seems worse than usual—not enough desks, student schedule problems, room needs (like Internet hookup and enough electric plugs and air conditioner not working). My students have, to their credit, been well behaved, but 4 of my 6 classes are large, and the other two are my gifted students. Administrators, looking only at numbers, have once again cheated the brightest kids in our school by combining ENG I and II in one class, and ENFG III and IV in another. This amounts in teacher lingo to 6 different preps for lesson plans. Administrators must assume that any class below 20 is an easy class.

As you probably know, Gifted kids have IEP’s, thus each student is to be worked with individually, but with such an arrangement, it is very difficult to do so. I am gifted and AP certified, but even with my massive brain and problem solving tendencies, I’m going to have serious difficulties serving the gifted kids like I should and want to. I don’t know what they were thinking by such an arrangement. It’s like teaching summer school—for a whole year. If I sound frustrated, you are quite right. I must do some research on this topic. Why can’t academics receive the attention that football gets in our district? Don’t they want/see how important the gifted kids are and will be?

Probably not. But I do.

Too Many Jails

From the sources I’ve looked at, America has the largest reported prison population in the world. These sources argue that we have become a punitive nation. According to the Department of Justice (see, as of June 2005, we have 2,186,230 prisoners in Federal or State prisons or in local jails. (I’m not sure if this number includes the “secret” CIA places and military prisons, etc.) I couldn’t find the number of prison facilities in the U.S., but I do know it is a growing number. Seems to be on its way to becoming big business. I hear people say, “America is the freest nation on earth,” but when I look at prison statistics, something doesn’t make sense. It’s too easy to go to prison here. And since 9/11, it seems to have gotten easier. We’ve replaced morality with “law.” Even the media sometimes talks like a Puritan official. Anyway, here is an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” I believe Wilde knew something about prison, and this quote certainly gives us something to think about.

“The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
Bloom well in Prison air.
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there.
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair.”

A Song about Point Lookout Prison

Here are the lyrics to a song I wrote based on a true account of a prisoner in Point Lookout. I sing it in the key of D.
The song is called, “Cry, Little Artillery Man.” I recorded a speech I made about Jane Perkins at the Louisiana State Convention of the Daughters of the Confederacy. This song is recorded on that CD. You can order the CD from me at

“Cry, Little Arterllery Man”


Lincoln built a prison
He called it Point Lookout
To the barren sands of Maryland,
He sent soldiers of the South.

They fenced us in with water,
And unmarked deadlines,
50,000 came here,
14,000 died.

There’s a thousand ways to break a man,
And the Yankees know them all,
They kept us cold and hungry,
And tried to make us crawl.

They shot us out of meanness,
And starved us out of spite,
We buried our dead in the sand,
And prayed for them at night.


I’m here at Point Lookout
With all these men in gray,
In frostbit feet and ragged clothes,
With the South so far away.

Abandon hope, ye who enter here,
This place that God has cursed,
In this cold hell at Chesapeake Bay
Lincoln’s devils drive the hearse.

On a hot July morning,
I heard a baby cry,
A crowd of soldiers stood and cheered,
A few men even cried.

We called him Little Artillery Man
Though there were no cannon there,
We named him for his mama,
Like us, imprisoned there.

Her name was Jane Perkins,
A proud Irish girl
She taught school in Virginia
Till Rebel flags unfurled,

When war came in 61,
Her world changed overnight
She cut her hair, dressed like a man
And signed up for the fight.


So cry, Little Artillery Man,
Wake the men in blue,
Let the Yankees hear your voice,
Make them hear the truth,
Cry, Little Artillery Man,
They’ve taken your mama from you,
Here at Point Lookout,
Babies are prisoners too.


She fought with Lee for three long years,
With the Danville Artillery,
Till the Yankees took her prisoner,
And sent her here with me.

When you were born, they took her away,
And shackled her in chains.
In Washington, tortured, abused,
She learned there’s many kinds of pain.

When the Yankees were through with her,
Your mama was set free,
She walked back to Virginia,
To the Danville Artillery.

They say she died at Petersburg
Before the war was done.
She fought for the South, and she fought for you,
For you, her only son.


So cry, Little Artillery Man,
Wake the men in blue,
Let the Yankees hear your voice,
Make them hear the truth,
Cry, Little Artillery Man,
They’ve taken your mama from you,
Here at Point Lookout,
Babies are prisoners too.

(End slowly)
Lincoln built a prison
He called it Point Lookout

Dangerous Minds Author

Traditionally, Morehouse Parish gathers all their teachers together on the first or second day teachers report to work. That was today, and we had the best speaker I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been at Bastrop High School—LouAnne Johnson, author of My Posse Don’t Do Homework that was made into the movie, Dangerous Minds (1995) and starred Michelle Pfeiffer. As a speaker, it was obvious she was nervous, but her presentation moved us like no other speaker has. She is sincere, passionate, and savvy on political and social issues. She loves kids, she is witty, she is talented, and she was well prepared. She definitely has the heart of a teacher and she won our hearts today. If you check her website, you can see that she is one very busy woman.

Johnson is a committed writer as well as a committed teacher. In addition to Dangerous Minds, she has written, Vigilante Grandmas, What Happened to the Man I Married, Making Waves: a woman in this man’s navy, Teaching Outside the Box, and The Queen of Education. (These last two books are a “must read” for teachers). My life is richer for having heard her speech. From her words, I could see into her heart, and it made me want to be a better teacher.

First Day of School

I teach gifted English at Bastrop High School in Morehouse Parish. Teachers are to report tomorrow (August 10) for their first day, which will I’m sure be filled with meetings of all sorts, introductions of new teachers (no, I won’t send them notes warning them about anything. I haven’t even considered the idea!) and if we’re lucky some time to work on our room. Our school just built a new library, and the old library was carved up into two new classrooms and an upstairs teachers lounge. I received one of the new rooms—the only problem is that the contractor has not finished his construction, so my room is a wreck. No construction workers were there today. I don’t know why. Yet, with a new teacher wanting to get into my room, I had to move five years of materials (Have I really been at BHS that long?) from room 205 across the hall into 202, the room that looks like a tomb recently attacked by grave robbers. Although to be honest, Room 205 that I left is not in much better shape. It needed painting when I moved in five years ago, and despite my requests for painting, etc. nothing was done.

The good thing about my new room is that it is bigger and I will have LOTS of bookshelves! No more piles of papers and books on the floor! Gifted kids need and usually desire access to lots of books, and through the years I’ve formed several class sets for them. I just inherited some more boxes of classics from a teacher who will retire soon. I hope to get some more for them. The room should make research and group project work a little easier for them and for me. I have a decent library of a few thousand volumes at home, so as a fellow bibliophile, I understand their love for books.

Anyway, Friday, we are to have the big District meeting of all the teachers. Insurance companies and other sutlers will assemble tables in a giant flea market along the school’s halls, calling out like carnival hawkers to have teachers register for free drawings of giveaways (mostly junk, which I’ve never won) and try to set up appointments to take away some more of the little money teachers in Louisiana receive. I think the district gets some kind of commission from these sales, though I’m not sure. The good thing about Friday is we will be treated to a MacDonald’s breakfast, and after the other schoolteachers leave the high school, treated to a luncheon. Kind of a last meal before the savages (I don’t know what’s getting into me—I mean students!) arrive. When the administrators pass out materials in these first meetings of the school year, I’m always curious regarding what new duties we will have, what form of moving rocks will be added to our schedule, and what new rules will be placed on us. But, it’s all about the kids, right?


The kids will show up Monday. In spite of my working my rear off to get my gifted certification and AP certification, it seems my schedule will be the same as last year. I really am a believer in public education, but many times I don’t think those in charge have it together. Often I feel like Steiner in Willi Heinrich’s Cross of Iron. Steiner was a German corporal on the Eastern Front and he was a good and loyal soldier, but he knew Germany was losing the war. He blamed much of his troubles on the officers. If you like historical fiction, this is a must read. In our case, accountability has passed from the student to the teachers who receive the blame for low scores, failures, etc. If you want some REAL insight into the world and dynamics of teaching, read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, in which he reflects on his thirty years of teaching in New York City.

There’s a lot of bad press on teachers these days. I’m glad I’m at a school where the administrators are reasonable and understanding. Many of my peers are not that lucky, constantly getting chewed out over violation or interpretation of rules and policies. Yes, administrators often blame teachers for many problems with the students in this apathetic age. But we teachers know where the real problem is. We know.