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Bastille Day lessons

I know I've been on an international jag of late, what with World Cup postings and frequent references to F1 auto racing. But I've got one more global blog for you and then I promise to settle down to more U.S. of A. specific items.

Today is Bastille Day, France's national holiday that always falls in the middle of the Tour de France bicycle race. The hubby and I are watching the Tour again this year, even though fellow Austinite Lance Armstrong is not there.


A "flock" of yellow flamingos at a local Austin nursery salutes Lance's seventh record-setting Tour victory. Photo courtesy of The Hubby

We do miss the waving of Texas flags along the route. Our state's starred red, white and blue banner is a nice complement to the host country's bleu, blanc et rouge standard. (We also miss that goober in the longhorn outfit that embarrassed himself on worldwide TV, but that's a whole 'nother topic.)

But the race itself is still exciting. American and former Lance teammate Floyd Landis has the overall lead and a rider for the U.S. entry, Team Discovery, won today's stage, dashing French hopes that one of theirs would be victorious on their holiday. C'est la competition.

Now we mainly watch the Tour because it's a fabulous travelogue. The ancient cities, pastoral landscapes, magnificent mountains, all dotted with the brilliant hues of the various bike teams speeding past. Incredible images!

I particularly enjoy the messages painted on the roads. They variously Kilroy_was_here_small_gray encourage specific riders, make political or cultural statements that either the hubby or I can sort of decipher or, as is the case in many of the asphalt scribblings, are simply the French (or Spanish or Belgian, depending on the day's route) equivalents of "Kilroy was here."

The street graffiti reminds me of my high school days in West Texas. No, we didn't have French classes, only Mr. King trying to teach us to habla espanol. And the only croissants I knew growing up were Pillsbury refrigerated crescent rolls.

But we did have a street that was completely and continually painted with the names of students. Drive along the stretch in front of the high school and you'd see "Jane, class of '72" or "Go 'Jackets!" or "KHS forever!" That last proclamation, we joked, was painted by those guys who kept repeating their junior years over and over and over.

Khs_street_painting_3 The tradition continues, as shown in this photo I snapped last July when I joined my mother and her three sisters for a consolidated class reunion. (Ironic note: Our town is so small, there's no place large enough to host the multi-class get-together, so it was held in another, larger town about 45 miles away.)

The street painting is officially sanctioned vandalism. In the wee hours of the weekends, slumber party crews head out with the leftover paint from parents' garages and make their marks in front of the high school.

Many years ago when I was in class there, each senior girl selected a "little sister" from the freshman class. In essence, the frosh were at the beck and call of the nearly-graduated for a year, and one of the first duties to fulfill related to the road painting. As soon as the senior's name and other important message was laid down in latex, her designated freshman would stretch out on the street beside it to prevent any cars from driving over it until it was dry.

Sure, it sounds dangerous, but this was a tiny town and the only people out at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning were the senior girls' boyfriends, who parked in the adjacent lot and then walked over for early morning, one-on-one flirting, and the occasional city police officer, who also was usually one of the younger patrolmen and who did a little flirting himself.

I'm sure the city occasionally resurfaced the road as part of its routine maintenance; municipal tax dollars at work, you know. But to be honest, I can't remember that happening during the four years that I and my friends used pieces of the block as personal canvases.

I'm willing to bet, though, that as soon as that new asphalt is laid, aspiring young street artists line up to get first crack at the prime roadway gallery spot.

School district tax dilemmas: Even if you account for nostalgic glossing over, my school days in a small West Texas town were pretty darn good.

On the financial front, we never had to resort to second jobs as door-to-door sales people like kids nowadays. (Ouch! It hurt to write those last two, pre-parenthetical words! Seriously sounding geezerly.) One of the advantages of growing up in an oil patch town when the industry was booming was that there was enough money for the school district to pay for our extracurricular programs.

My parents may have had to pony up some extra dollars, but I don't remember them talking about it. And I definitely know I never had to sell candy bars or magazine subscriptions to pay for numerous band trips or the journey we made to Austin present our one-act play in state competition.

Now, with costs of everything rising, school district taxes go up, too, and still there's not enough money to cover the kids' classrooms, much less their actual educations.

Battles over tax rates are waged nationwide. In Texas alone, we've have a drawn-out court case and a string of special legislative sessions before lawmakers raised business taxes so that school districts could lower their levies. Still, parents and childless alike complain about taxes and vote against school bond measures, while simultaneously bemoaning the troubled state of public education.

Do I have an answer? Yes, quit giving lip service to things "for the children" and pay up for quality public education.

I admit I'm biased. My grandmother was a career elementary school teacher and I have an aunt who worked many years in public schools until her recent retirement. And I've never felt disadvantaged because my education came via 12 years in a small-town public school and four more at a state university.

The growing move toward private and home schooling disturbs me. Too often, kids in these educational cocoons spend time having what they've already been told reinforced. That's not learning. That's indoctrination.

Public schools provide kids of one of the most important educational components: interaction with many other youngsters who have different ideas, upbringings and backgrounds. For our much ballyhooed future leaders, such exposure is just as important as a strong basic curriculum and it deserves to be supported by all taxpayers.


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