Work of Art - Is New Mexico missing again?

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By Art Trujillo

A popular, long-lived feature in New Mexico Magazine is called “One of Our 50 is Missing.”

It’s a collection of anecdotes submitted by readers whose state got short-changed by some non-New Mexican.

In this “Missing” column, you’ll read, for example, about a flatland tourister visiting this state and expecting to pay in pesos rather than dollars, or of some phone rep, trapped in a cube somewhere, who tells the New Mexico caller that the company doesn’t ship to foreign countries.

You get the picture.

My time in the Midwest invariably was spent explaining that “Mexico City is farther away from my hometown in New Mexico than we are, right here in Aurora, Ill.” And people often wanted to see my driver’s license, to test their Spanish-reading ability. Otherwise, they’d simply refuse to believe there was such a state with such a name.

Someone ought to hurry and send one of the latest New Mexico omissions to our state magazine. In this case, the University of New Mexico Lobos — yes, those guys who play great basketball — got slighted in an Associated Press poll. You probably realize by now that the Lobos, winners of their conference, are currently ranked 14th in the U.S.

However, the Lobos still fail to get respect in this wide country. Indiana leads the poll, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan, and a slew of powerhouses. And who’s in 14th place? UNM? No. It’s apparently some team from Mexico. Nothing New at all. That’s the way they’re listed.

And all this time we thought the NCAA members, including the 25 and 4 Lobos, winners of the Mountain West Conference, were all United States teams.

When the Lobos enter the Big Dance, in just a few weeks, there’ll probably be a number of fans showing up out of curiosity, to see how our serape-draped, sombrero-wearing players handle the round pelota.

• • •

I can’t seem to leave this topic alone. I’ve already given my opinion on Gov. Susana Martinez’s insistence on retaining third-graders who can’t read at grade level.

Millions of words have been written on this topic, with a liberal sprinkling of “social promotion” included in the discussion. And we hear about “intervention,” to help the poor reader along. The first dictionary definition of “intervention” relates to interference, usually among countries. The second, more relevant definition regards attempts to improve a condition. That’s the goal of public education.

But in the debates on whether to retain kids in third grade, nobody appears to be able to explain what the intervention will consist of. Does jettisoning social promotion require those affected to repeat the entire school year in third grade? Whatever happened to summer school? Why can’t the school districts’ best teachers sign a summer contract in order to bring the slower readers up to speed?

My quite distant memories of two boys who repeated an elementary grade at Immaculate Conception School include having both boys repeating the entire curriculum, and that included sitting through arithmetic, catechism, social studies, geography, and — yes — reading. They’d already passed most of the courses.

As for morale, self-esteem and self-confidence, I can’t know what the boys must have felt, but I’m sure that the fact that they were a year older than their new classmates meant that they didn’t tolerate too much ridicule from others.

• • •

How many times have you heard politicians refer to themselves as “public servants”? Lots of times. But doesn’t it follow logically that servants are supposed to clean up the mess, not create one?

Let me explain:

It was a simple case of bullying at an Albuquerque school. The bully, a senior wrestling champ, at Rio Grande High School, was observed taking a billfold from a smaller schoolmate, removing $15 and punctuating his actions with a slap to the smaller kid’s face.

Of course, some parse the action as mere boys-will-be-boys horseplay, even when witnessed by a deputy sheriff. School officials did not. The slapper, Nicolas Chavez, got suspended from school, and with that, he lost his ability to compete in the state wresting tournament the next day.

Not to worry. We’ll get help. The star wrestler’s parents got involved and enlisted the assistance of a county commissioner, Art de la Cruz, a state senator, Michael Padilla, and a school board member, Analee Maestas.

Subtle pressure? A district judge, Clay Campbell, granted a temporary restraining order, which let Chavez compete a mere 24 hours later. He won in his weight class. Now all of this had nothing to do with the pressure of the politicians. They contacted the Albuquerque Public Schools administrators merely to remind them that they be fair in their handling of the matter.

Yeah right!

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks must have gotten up that morning focused on just one mission: I plan to be unfair to our star wrestler, Nick Chavez.

Of course, that’s the tack de la Cruz, Padilla and Maestas used: let’s make sure the school officials handle the thing fairly, but don’t construe our involvement as pressure, even if we all know there’s a chance the student will get a scholarship if he wins tomorrow.

The Albuquerque Journal ran a page full of letters to the editor the following day, most of which deplored the actions of the judge, who gave the kid a pass, and of the three politicos who urged that the issue “be fair.”

All this takes place at a time when we’re trying so hard to eliminate bullying. Thank you, public servants, for setting things back.

Way back.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 234, art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.