Toward a more perfect union


I’ve always loved the elegant, aspirational phrase “toward a more perfect union,” found in the opening sentence of our Constitution. It was our Founding Fathers’ first priority, ahead of establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

I think it’s time to do more to honor those who in their daily lives attempt to move us “toward a more perfect union.” To that end, and only slightly with tongue in cheek, I suggest we create an award — call it the TAMPU Prize — acknowledging those who are attempting to push the envelope forward. 

While someone else works out the rules and timing, I am jumping the gun and awarding the TAMPU Prize to three remarkable people who are on my mind this week. Please read on, and please add your own names.

The first TAMPU recipient is from the world of education, Peter Greene. 

Greene, whom I do not know, spent 39 years teaching English, and now devotes his time to turning over rocks to expose wrongdoing in public education, to celebrate accomplishments, and to make us think. You can find a lot of his well-researched columns in Forbes magazine, but he also blogs regularly at Curmudgucation, a word I assume he made up. 

Here’s how Greene describes himself: “I started out life in New Hampshire and finished growing up in Northwest Pennsylvania. I attended a nontraditional education program that no longer exists at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college, student-taught in Cleveland Heights, and landed my first job in Lorain, Ohio. The year started with a strike and ended with a large workforce layoff, so I came back home, bought a mobile home, and lived in a trailer court while I subbed in three districts.

“After a year, I started landing yearlong sub jobs with the same school district I had graduated from in the mid-Seventies. It was not the plan, but there was a woman … After 30-some years in that district, I’ve taught pretty much every brand of English we have here, 7-12. But high school is my home; middle schoolers are, as I said back when I taught them, the emotional equivalent of having someone scream in your ears all day. God bless, MS teachers. And now, after 39 total years in the classroom, I’ve retired.”

My second recipient is Jessica Craven, a veritable Energizer Bunny who’s working to help our democracy survive extremism of all sorts, but particularly MAGA. She blogs almost every day, with a newsletter she calls Chop Wood, Carry Water, a title that carries a message: This is what you do when the chips are down — get to work!

Here’s how she introduces herself and her newsletter: “What goes on here? Well, this newsletter is dedicated to saving democracy, addressing the climate crisis, preserving our freedoms, electing better lawmakers, and, in general, creating a better country — one simple action at a time. As the author, I’m essentially a bundler. Not of donations, but of easy things each of us can do to make a difference. I do these things, too — because I want my kid to grow up in a democracy AND because doing them makes me feel less anxious. My motto? Hope is an action.”

I have no idea where Craven lives with her husband, child, cat, and dog. Craven publishes at least six times a week, and always tells readers how to get involved. She makes activism easy — no small feat. Chop Wood, Carry Water is free, but I hope you will do as I do, and subscribe ($60 per year). 

My final TAMPU recipient (this time around) is National Book Award recipient Jonathan Kozol, whose new book, “An End to Inequality,” is the 12th in his illustrious career. Now 87, Jonathan burst on the scene in 1967 with “Death at an Early Age,” which I can remember devouring. 

His new book — which he says will be his last — is a passionate call for racial justice in education and the larger society. Never one to call for compromise, he rejects all forms of tokenism. 

“There is no such thing as perfectible apartheid. It’s all a grand delusion,” he writes. “Apartheid education isn’t something you can ‘fix.’ It needs to be dismantled.” 

(Digression: I’ve known Jonathan for a long time, and he kindly wrote a glowing preface to a book of mine, “Choosing Excellence,” back in 2001. Unfortunately, my (inept) publisher misspelled his first name. Jonathon! When they sent me an advance copy, I saw the error and immediately called the publisher. “Sorry,” they said, “But the initial printing is only 5,000 copies. We will correct it on the next printing.” 

I explained very calmly that I would sue their asses if they released that printing, and I suggested that they shred those 5,000 copies and reprint it. Instead, they hired people to paste over the error with a small sticker that spelled his name correctly. Somewhere I have the uncorrected version and a pasted-over version, as well as a clean copy from the second printing.)

So those three, Jessica Craven, Peter Greene, and Jonathan Kozol, are pushing and pulling us Toward a More Perfect Union. Who else deserves our attention? 


John Merrow, a two-time recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, actually does live in Edgartown.