Columns » John Brummett

We're sorry, world

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Today's column begins with a memorandum I presume to send to the world in behalf of Arkansas.

Dear World:

You need to understand that we in Arkansas remain mostly a sparsely populated rural culture. While there are lifestyle advantages to that, we also confront certain stagnant pressures that are matters of politics and heritage. One result is that we maintain too many school districts of small size.

This situation dissipates our already limited talent pool of people to run for and get elected to all these little local school boards.

But be assured that we have a court ruling that says the education of our children is ultimately the state government's responsibility.

So, speaking as the state, we are sorry about those ghastly and evil ravings of that person who tragically sat on the board of one of our small rural districts. But please understand three things:

(1) He got duly elected by the local patrons, which means the rest of us in the state had nothing to do with that.

(2) He did not actually run anything and was but one vote on that little local board.

(3) But if you get right down to it, he was, and is, the entire state's responsibility and problem, and we want you to know that, as a state, we do not hate homosexual children, nor do we want homosexual children dead, and we will do what it takes to make sure that these unspeakably ignorant and hate-filled pronouncements are forever condemned, isolated and discredited.

Sincerely in our regret, Arkansas

Surely you have heard. The story went worldwide.

We have a problem in this country with the ugly bullying of schoolchildren who are gay or are suspected of gayness. Gay children recently have committed suicide.

Some people came up with the idea for school officials and children to wear purple to honor these young lives lost and show solidarity for those living with these pressures.

So there is this 31-year-old man named Clint McCance. He lives in Pleasant Plains and he sat on the school board of the Midland School District, which is made up of consolidated districts and spans the rural southern section of Independence County, not far from Batesville. It serves about 600 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

McCance took to his Facebook page to declare, by his own identity and for all the world to see, that he would not be wearing any purple to honor "five queers" who killed "thereselves" unless all gay kids — "fags," he also called them — committed suicide. He amplified to say he was glad that gay people got AIDs. For good measure, he mentioned that he would disown his own children if they were homosexual.

Somebody saw this ghastly series of posts and distributed it. Then its dissemination became exponential.

The next thing you knew the state Education Department was getting calls or e-mails from Canada to Australia from people wanting to know how Arkansas could be such a dreadful place as to let a man like that be a "school official" overseeing the education and safety of children.

Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state education commissioner, consulted with Gov. Mike Beebe's office and put out a statement strongly condemning this hate and explaining that he could not easily see how McCance could possibly continue to serve effectively on the board. That was as close as the state could come to firing an elected local school board member.

With our courts declaring that education is state government's responsibility, it is arguable that a locally elected school board member actually serves only by delegation of state authority.

If one behaves as subhumanly as did McCance — and we can hope and surely expect that it will never happen again — the state ought to be able to vacate the school board seat and let the governor put someone human in that seat until the next election.

As it happened, McCance went on CNN on Thursday evening to do what he practically had to do. That was tell Anderson Cooper that he would resign and that he was sorry for what he had said.

Maybe something better will come of this. It might turn out to be beneficial that an international spotlight came for 36 or so hours to this little place not quite big enough to keep its school board filled at all times with a full complement of thinking and nonmonstrous people.

It might be that the kids in the school will begin to see a disconnect between the way the world views them and the example one of their local role models set. It might be that some child who is different will be spared some pain.

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