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Sometimes the good guys win

by GWEN FORD FAULKENBERRY | May 28, 2023 at 2:00 a.m.

I was out of town on a recent Tuesday, keeping up with the Conway School Board election results via Twitter. I said goodnight to my family at the normal time without mentioning it; they can only bear so much of my obsession with politics. I had only vaguely discussed the months-long dumpster fire as it burned in Conway with my husband, and didn't expect him to remember.

It's a matter of bandwidth. Stone was so on board with our educator coalition to fight the passage of LEARNS that he lived and breathed it with me, to the point of taking personal days to speak at the Capitol. And he still cares and keeps up and fights. We will definitely be gathering signatures for the ballot referendum to repeal LEARNS alongside the superheroes in CAPES.

However, as he had an athletic banquet that week and is smack in the middle of end-of-the-semester chaos like all K-12 teachers--and took full responsibility for our kids while I was away--I figured it wasn't on his radar.

As I sat in my Airbnb celebrating by myself once the results came in, I noted to a friend on Twitter how weird it was. I never would have imagined I could be so hyper-aware of, much less ecstatic over, the school board election results in another town. The funny thing is that when my family sat around the dinner table at home the next night and I explained all this, my husband laughed. He already knew about it. And was happy as a clam.

We have a dear friend who lives in Conway, a guy with whom Stone played football on the national championship team at UCA. A gentle giant. He was in our wedding almost 30 years ago. We have stayed in touch, not seeing each other enough, but keeping up. To try to characterize him further is hard. Maybe I'll just say he has taught me a lot about life in another color of skin--not by indoctrination, but by invitation, simply allowing us into proximity.

He and Stone have these talks I wish more men could observe and replicate. They will call every so often and just pick up where they left off. I don't exactly eavesdrop, but when Stone tells me about the conversations I see vulnerability, intimacy, empathy. It is amazing if you know them as the tough, elite athletes they were at UCA. But the truth is it was forged back then, when they were in a Bible study together with some other players.

Stone told me the last time they talked this guy was pretty down; discouraged, feeling isolated, carrying the weight that the politics of resentment and ugliness attaches to us all like a ball and chain. But he called Stone the night of the school board election with good news to report.

Sheila Franklin, his only child's godmother, had won, and so had another good person. Against the odds, against two incumbents endorsed by the governor of Arkansas, moderation and decency prevailed. Our friend felt hopeful again.

I think that's what my party of one, connected to others only by an exploding phone, was about as well. We have been up against this machine for so long that it felt like it was eating our best efforts alive. My story is just one of many folks who love Arkansas and want to see our people thrive.

But when I ran for office in 2020, no one wanted to talk about public education. They were all afraid of some imaginary radical leftist agenda that would kill their babies and take their guns. Only a few believed me when I told them there was a real agenda coming--and it would take their schools.

I lost that race and a few months later went to testify to a House Ed Committee full of elected officials who turned their backs to me as soon as I said I was a teacher. This was about a tiny voucher bill. They berated Superintendent Jared Cleveland--Arkansas Superintendent of the Year--as he tried to speak reason and sanity. Legislators didn't want to hear it.

Looking back now, I think we were trying to stop a leak while the dam had already broken. In one legislative session, Arkansas would go from narrowly defeating that little bill to the passage of an omnibus package that includes a universal voucher system.

And yet.

In Conway, where a guy named Bill Milburn spouts Sarah Sanders' talking points, campaigning on "I believe a teacher should teach their subject and avoid trying to indoctrinate their students," along came a roofer and father of three named Trey Geier. Geier's response was not to match right-wing nuttiness with a radical left agenda, but instead to inject some common sense: "They have taken their eye off the ball to push their political agenda. We shouldn't be worried about where kids go to use the bathroom. It was already happening the way that they legislated it. However, when they legislated it, they ostracized the kids."

Mrs. Franklin, our friend's child's godmother, was up against Jennifer Cunningham, the incumbent board vice president whose stance echoes Milburn's (and Sanders' and DeSantis', "As a mother, I know how important it is to ensure that our children receive a quality education without the influence of woke indoctrination."

But voters chose the grandmother with experience as a Head Start teacher who spent 28 years working as a juvenile probation and intake officer, also the mother of a teacher. She said, "I have a passion for educators, and it hurts my heart to hear leaders talking about how our teachers are indoctrinating our students. They are educating our students, and it's an insult and slap in these professionals' faces to speak anything different."

These things hurt my heart too. But the fact that independent-minded, decent Arkansans got out and voted--regardless of what our governor told them to do--for what is reasonable and right makes my heart happy. And it is my hope and prayer--and belief--that there is more to come.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry is an English teacher. Email her at

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