My Oldest Son, Robert Augustus Alston Trotter.
By John Rhodes Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
Note: The following was written for The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Get Schooled blog. Maureen Downey wrote a touching story about a “Robert” who “marched” or “walked” but did not graduate because he couldn’t pass the mandatory End of the Year tests, etc. It is a sad tale about how many students cannot functionally read.
Maureen: My heart goes out for this Robert and the other Roberts of the public schooling process. My Robert graduated Friday night. The McIntosh stadium was packed to capacity — both sides of the football stadium. After the ceremonies, I couldn’t find Robert on the field…because of the crowd. He called me but I didn’t hear my cell phone. I caught up with him later as he had already changed into the obligatory Polo tee shirt and khaki shorts…off to another “hanging out” with friends. He mentioned to me that a few kids had “walked” but got an empty diploma. How sad. I noticed that David and Bernadette Worley‘s son, “Robert” too, finished right at the top of the class. Congrats, Robert Worley! David came within a hair of beating Newt Gingrich for U. S. Congress in 1990. David is an ole Jonesboro Cardinal and graduated from Harvard and UVA Law. I think that Bernadette is also a Harvard Crimson. She, I presume, still works for King & Spalding. I am not trying to just toot Robert Worley‘s horn, but this recent grad is blessed with two parents who obviously care a lot about education. Haven’t I always said that the motivation to learn is a social process?
My son Robert doesn’t get too excited about making As. He is capable and even told me so…if he curtailed his social calendar. And, yes, I attended one of the many, many graduation parties yesterday afternoon. The big sign in front of the nice subdivision got my attention because of the recent goings-on on the Peachtree City Council about these neighborhood signs. Up and down Peachtree Parkway, I saw big signs in front of neighborhoods, congratulating the named grads.
I met many new parents at the party. Many have known each other since the early elementary days and little league football, basketball, baseball, and, of course, in PTC, soccer! One parent told me that this was his seventh graduation party — that’s right, seven.
Since A Nation At Risk was promulgated in 1983, we have gone about “school reform” the wrong way. All of the attempts to “reform” the public schooling process has been built on erroneous theory. If the foundation is shaky from the very beginning, the superstructure will crumble. We are now seeing the effects of the crumbling superstructure of attempts to “reform” schools. Let’s face it: This “school reform” movement was not intended for the McIntosh and Walton Highs of the world; it was intended for the failing urban schools. Maureen, the Robert in your story just shows us how greatly this “school reform” movement has failed.
Happy Memorial Day! My Dad‘s very best friend, Private John A. Rhodes, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in January of 1945. “Johnny” (as he was called by all) was a real character! Of “The Five” (as my father and his best friends were called and even written about in The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer), Johnny was the only one not to return. Initially, Johnny did not pass the physical exam to enter into the U. S. Army. He first had to have a hernia operation. Johnny was raised in East Highland by his grandparents. My father also lived in East Highland, and his father, Alston Trotter, was a local “druggist,” as they were called back then. My Dad and Johnny Rhodes were inseparable since they were little kids.
Johnny stayed in trouble. My father, who, to this day at 86, has a quick wit and is very funny, knew where to draw the line about getting in trouble. His nickname among “The Five” was “Killjoy.” Ha! But, he was the only one who had a car, and they all piled up in his Model A (I believe) and traversed The Fountain City. Daddy, Johnny, and the other “Jordan Boys” would “slum” over at Columbus High School (where my mother was attending, and my father’s sister and brother attended; in fact, Jane Trotter was a personal friend of Carson McCullers, for you Southern literary buffs) to meet the girls. Jordan has always been known as the “rougher” of the two rivals, Jordan and Columbus. (By the way, the Jordan-Columbus rivalry is the oldest, continuous high school rivalry in Georgia…since 1905.) By the way, Jordan is pronounced “Jerdan.” The school was named after Columbus industrialist and philanthropist G. Gunby Jordan who donated the land for the new location for Columbus Industrial High School.
Although Most Of The Sailors On His Ship Were Killed By A Japanese Kamikaze Attack, My Father Survived And Married My Mom While On The Mandatory Furlough After The Attack. They Married In My Mom’s House On Lawyer’s Lane In Columbus, Georgia In February of 1945. I Just Talked To Them Today. They’ve Been Married Over 66 Years, And Mom Says That She’s Going To Probably Stick With Dad! Ha!
Johnny used to go by my mother’s house and visit my grandmother Frazier…while he was supposed to be stationed at Fort Benning at the time. He would show up at the Frazier home on Lawyer’s Lane (near today’s AFLAC Headquarters) for breakfast. He called my grandmother “Lill.” She was crazy about “Johnny Rhodes,” as all were. He was a little “crazy.” He stayed in trouble. My parents tell me that he rode a motorcycle down the main hall of Jordan Vocational High School. When my father returned to his alma mater to teach, coach, and eventually become Assistant Principal there in the 1950s, he says that Miss Green (who taught Johnny Rhodes there in the early 1940s and was still there when I attended Jordan in the early 1970s) almost never forgave my father for naming me after Johnny Rhodes. Miss Green taught Johnny Freshman English over and over. Ha! (My Mom says that Johnny never got out of Freshman English!) She would take him outside into the hall because of his behavior (just entertaining the class), but when he walked back into the classroom after her, he would be dusting off his hands, as if to say, “I took care of her.” My Mom tells me that the girls loved Johnny Rhodes.
Johnny Rhodes Above My Hand (U. S. Army Shot) And Directly Above Norreese Haynes’s Head (High School Shot) — Col./Rep. Robert A. Alston (Above The Lampshade And Below His Grandfather, Col. Robert West Alston, Personal Friend Of President Andrew Jackson, Despite The Fact That Jackson Was Not A Whig).
Johnny was AWOL from Ft. Benning quite a lot. He stayed in the brig. My father says that one of their mutual friends told him that he saw Johnny Rhodes get off the ship in Belgium in handcuffs! Ha! True story. But, he fought and died for his country, presumably under the command of General George Patton whose Third Army heroically kept the Bulge from breaking. The Rhodes family gave me the flag draped over Johnny‘s casket, his stamp collection, his beautiful insignia ring, and his Holy Bible. I still cherish the keepsakes. I wear the name “John Rhodes” proudly. He is interred in the Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus. Mom laughs when she tells me that Johnny used to tell her: “Jo, ole Trotter‘s gonna go over there and get killed, and I’m gonna come home and marry you!” He was red-headed like me (when I had some hair). We have his very old framed photo of Johnny Rhodes in his Army uniform next to my father’s portrait in the Daniel D. Trotter, Sr., Conference Room at the MACE Office. I am proud of the “Alston” name as well. We also have a photo of Robert A. Alston, my father’s great grandfather next to Dad‘s portrait. He was in about one hundred battles and skirmishes in the Civil War, serving as General John Morgan‘s Chief of Staff (Acting Adjutant General) at a very young age with Morgan’s Raiders. He truly became a “Reconstructed Rebel,” and was murdered in the Georgia Capitol in the process of trying to outlaw the horrendous Convict Labor System, a source of the wealth of many a “blue-blooded” family in Atlanta. I won’t call any names. What is in the past should stay in the past. Alston‘s murder was carried extensively in the newspapers of the day, including the Old Gray Lady (aka The New York Times). In fact, the way that Google and others have made it possible, the New York Times‘s articles about Alston pop right up. Here is an example of one of the New York Times‘s articles…
I am proud of my Robert Augustus Alston Trotter who graduated this past Friday and is off to Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. He will be playing football, and I pray that he does not get hurt. I think that this is a parent’s biggest fear. Please pray for my Robert...as well as for all other kids in the world. So many, like the Robert in Maureen‘s story, have had to start the 100 Yard Dash about 50 yards behind the starting blocks. When I call for discipline and order in the schools, it’s not because I am trying to be “rough” on the kids; it’s because I know that only a very structured environment will enable these kids who have started many yards behind the starting blocks to be able to catch up. Story after story and testimony after testimony from these “at risk” kids have shown that it was the structured and disciplined environment (often in the military and often unpleasant at the time) that made a difference in their lives. But, our educrats just don’t seem to understand this reality.