Monday, March 21, 2011

Pre-order The Cross Gardener paperback and get The James Miracle e-book for free

It's the #1 question I hear at events, book clubs, in emails or while shopping at my local Wal-Mart: "Where can I buy The James Miracle?"

TJM was my very first book, a short little novella written for my wife in 2003. It's been out-of-print for a few years and won't likely be re-released until at least 2012.

So how can you read it right now? Pre-order the gorgeous new The Cross Gardener paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million and I'll send you The James Miracle as an e-book (PDF) for free. Pre-order by April 5th and I'll also mail you an autographed bookplate.

To get your free e-book and bookplate, simply forward your Amazon, BN or BAM confirmation email to Your email should include the name and mailing address of the person receiving the autographed bookplate.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wright Words: Why you could be wrong about public schools

Not many topics ignite water cooler debates quite like the state of public schools in America. It seems every day I overhear folks debating public versus private versus home schooling, teacher pay or the recent, highly publicized standoff in Wisconsin. If you numbered all the opinions in your own community, you might have more than the number of students actually enrolled in the school district.

The debates — when civil — are healthy to the process. They serve as a reminder of what’s great about our country and how intelligent, well-meaning minds can passionately defend hot positions and share a cool frozen yogurt, all at the same time.

It’s understandable that the rhetoric on the state of public schools becomes heated. We love our children. We root for their success, understanding that most of our youngsters spend more time in their classrooms every day than at home. Teachers, administrators and the systems they choose to use have significant influence over our youths.

You’ve heard the complaints, whether you’re a parent of a public school student or not. Teachers shouldn’t whine about pay when they work nine months a year. Teachers and administrators everywhere are having inappropriate physical relationships with students. Your children are suffering because liberal philosophies and political talking points are being drilled into students’ rapidly developing world views.

My schools are falling apart. My children’s teachers are too old. My taxes are too high for such mediocre results in education. Does this sound like you? A friend? A neighbor?

I have been tremendously blessed since 2005, but particularly during this current school year, to visit schools across the country and to speak to tens of thousands of students from grades K-12. I’ve spoken in schools in urban areas where Caucasians are a minority, and I’ve met with students in schools with so little diversity they make a loaf of Wonder Bread look multinational.

I’ve met a handful of tired teachers who count the days to retirement. I chatted with a male teacher who makes a habit of flirting with high school girls. Front office staffers have treated me like a nuisance, and lunchroom ladies have barked at children for giggling at me and saying hello. My ears have heard teachers yell and tell inappropriate jokes. My eyes have seen ceilings crumbing and plastic buckets catching the drip-drip beneath.

That’s not news, is it? For many of us, these anecdotes simply reinforce our belief that the public school system is a dying dinosaur; a diseased creature that shouldn’t be treated, it should be killed.

But here’s why you could be wrong about public schools. For every alarming three-minute story on the 6 o’clock news that makes you consider for the ninth time this week whether you should home-school, countless hours of good are performed by the overwhelming majority of educators in the overwhelming majority of public schools.

In the past six months, I’ve personally observed that when budgets are tight and when they truly believe in the message, teachers will often spend their own funds on books for students.

I’ve listened as teachers tearfully shared their own "Christmas Jar" miracles. Many teachers who could have used the money themselves have chosen to anonymously give away a small fortune to some student’s struggling family.

I’ve spoken at evening fundraisers in dimly lit cafeterias. At these events, the only money changing hands is what we raise for the Red Cross, a teacher with cancer or a family recovering from funeral expenses and lost income while they took the time to bury their son. Those rooms are always full of teachers, and I promise that none of them are whining about their paychecks.

In my own hometown of Woodstock, Va., with the organization and encouragement of their dedicated teachers, students at W.W. Robinson Elementary School surprised me by collecting nearly $1,000 in change for the Seventeen Second Miracle Scholarship Fund, a program to benefit high school seniors with more dreams in their hearts than money in their pockets.

Teachers weep when their students weep, and they cheer when their students succeed. They build bridges and raise expectations. They lose sleep over students who chronically fail and pray for those who hide bruises under scarves and long-sleeved shirts.

Before you fill my in-box with studies, graphs, frightening anecdotes or videos of teachers-gone-wild, please note that I strongly believe there are important issues that can and should be addressed in our public schools. Without question we need less of the bureaucracy, more local control, less pressure to “teach to the test” and more, much more, of the divine.

Also note how proud I am that my children attend public school. I am enormously grateful for the hours their teachers labor each and every day on their behalf. They’re not perfect, but neither are my children.

Many of my friends choose to home-school their children. I honor their decision. Other friends pay for private schooling, and I respect their decisions, too. What I don’t respect are people forming coast-to-coast opinions about public schools and throwing teachers into a single, deep and dysfunctional pool.

If you ever need a reminder that the men and women teaching your children are good, decent and caring people, turn off the news and spend a day in the classroom. You might find you’ve been wrong about public schools.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wright Words: Stay classy, San Diego State

Has there ever been a better time to be a Brigham Young University basketball fan? Currently BYU stands at No. 3 in the polls and looks poised for a rare run into the NCAA Tournament’s second week.

You can’t turn on ESPN these days without seeing a clip of BYU All-American Jimmer Fredette launching a 30-foot 3-pointer, or a live interview with “The Jimmer” or a hoops guru breaking down game film. Even more likely, you’ve seen all of the above. If Jimmer were a stock, he’d be Google at $610 a share with room to grow.

Indeed, it’s been quite a season. I only wish I’d seen more of it. Living in the East has not afforded as many opportunities to watch games as my friends in the West. Just imagine how thrilled I was that BYU’s game with then-No. 6 ranked San Diego State University last Saturday would be televised coast-to-coast on CBS. It was only the second game all year I watched from tip-off to final buzzer.

Thankfully, the game was nearly everything we’d been promised. It featured physical play from both teams, timely offense and good coaching from two of the best. It was entertaining and competitive until roughly the 10-minute mark of the second half. For the rest of the matchup, BYU answered every SDSU mini-run with huge shots from plenty of players not named Jimmer.

As the clock ticked down, the only real suspense was whether or not SDSU fans, desperate for a win over their much-hated league rival, would stay classy or repeat their embarrassing behavior from previous meetings.

SDSU coach Steve Fisher sent an e-mail earlier in the week asking all fans, especially those in SDSU’s famed student section dubbed “The Show,” to behave appropriately.

Among other things, Fisher wrote, “We cannot cross the line into topics that are out of bounds and distasteful, particularly making fun of one's religion."

Maybe some SDSU fans have junk filters blocking Coach Fisher’s e-mails.

It’s obvious that if you’re watching premium cable and your children walk in the room, you better be prepared to explain the profanity, innuendo, etc. To a slightly lesser degree, the same is true if your little ones wander in while watching any number of primetime sitcoms on NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX. But should that be the case if you’re watching a college basketball game on national television?

During the final minutes of the SDSU-BYU game, my daughter popped in to check on the score and enjoy a quick one-on-one chat with Dad. I was explaining a foul against SDSU when the crowd, obviously disagreeing with the call, began to chant a popular two-word phrase connoting disbelief. “Dad, are they chanting what I think they’re chanting?”

“Yes, dear, they are.”

“Can’t they get in trouble for that?” she asked.

“Apparently not.”

Basketball is a sport that encourages fan involvement. We sit close to the court and have easy access to players. We’re often referred to as the “sixth-man” and, perhaps more than in any sport, we can feed a team’s momentum.

Everyone wants to win the big game, right? That’s why we buy tickets and that’s why we scramble around on a busy Saturday morning to be in a position to devote two hours to a basketball game. It’s not a crime to want your team to perform well and to beat your rival. But when is too much too much?

Perhaps it was poor taste that hundreds of SDSU students dressed as missionaries in white shirts, ties and fake nametags, but most would argue it was harmless. I thought the efforts to distract BYU players at the free-throw line with giant heads of pop culture figures was quite clever. I saw Woody from Toy Story, Marilyn Monroe and Donald Trump. Nothing offensive there.

But what about the sign that read, "Wives-for-Rent"? Or the signs that carried vile slurs aimed at Jimmer’s girlfriend? What about the fans who threw candy on the court? I’d call it elementary school stuff, but that’s not fair to little kids who actually know better.

If you were the athletic director at BYU or any other school that endures religious taunts, dangerous playing conditions or any other behavior that crosses the line of good sportsmanship, wouldn’t you find other places to play? After all, there are 344 other Division I basketball teams in the country.

It’s certainly acceptable and encouraged to cheer and chant and to hope with all your heart your team wins. In the proper spirit, sports can bring people together and bridge differences in cultures, wealth and religion. What’s happening at “The Show” at SDSU shouldn’t be encouraged and is completely unacceptable.

To be certain, this inappropriate, childish behavior happens on other college campuses around the country and BYU has its own share of fans that have probably crossed the line. If BYU treats Notre Dame or anyone else this way during a visit to Provo, I’ll gladly reboot this column and let the Cougars have it.

Rivalries are wonderful and good-natured ribbing and passionate competition is part of sports. Chanting obscenities, mocking religion and denigrating players and their families is not. No one should ever have to apologize to a child for a sport’s broadcast.

I anticipate many SDSU fans will call me prudish, self-righteous and other derogatory names. I just wish they could follow Ron Burgundy’s advice to “Stay classy, San Diego.”