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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fearlessly calling a spade a spade

I live in Memphis Tennessee. It's sometimes called The river-city, sometimes The bluff-city. It's the undisputed home of the Blues, and also the home of Elvis Presley. It was the site of the largest inland naval battle in U.S. History and afterwards a major Union headquarters during the Civil War, and many years later it was the infamous site of the Martin Luther King assassination. We've got Beale street and probably the best Bar-B-Que in the world. We've got one other claim to fame. Memphis is the 2nd most dangerous city in the nation.

There's something going on here in Memphis Tennessee that is kind of like a microcosm of what is happening all around the entire nation. The Memphis City School board voted to surrender their charter. This decision was controversial. They took this decision to the people of Memphis and asked yes or no. The people of Memphis said yes, surrender the charter, better the devil we don't know than the shameful broken debacle that our kids currently suffer through.
47,812 voted yes for the surrender, while 23,612 voted no. Officials at the Shelby County Election Commission said 17 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, a low turnout considering the heated discussion surrounding the schools merger issue.
The same problems we face here, are faced to some degree everywhere. People seldom agree on the causes of the problems and will variously point to lack of funding, or racism, poverty, crime, ignorance, and even ironically the inability to agree on anything. The problems seem manifold, overwhelming, as countless as stars in the sky, but if I could pick out just one problem and point to it and say fix this problem and the rest of it will fall into place, that one problem is fear.

The decision to abandon the Memphis City School Charter was reached because in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal state and local money pumped into these failed schools we have continued to be ranked in the bottom of all schools nationwide. As a result, good parents upon discovering where their child will go to kindergarten and lacking the money for private schooling, promptly decide to move. Memphis City schools mirror the dangerousness of the city itself. 2nd most dangerous city to live in, 2nd most dangerous school system. I have no facts to back that up but I do know that the high-schools all have metal-detector portals, resident police forces, and canine units. Draw your own conclusions. Memphis voted to surrender their charter. I think that sums it up.

If the people of Memphis thought that surrendering our charter would somehow solve our problems, well they were sadly mistaken. In fact I would say that in contrast, it only magnified the unspoken—thou shalt not mention—problems that we face around the country today. A motley crowd of morons and ignoramuses—many of whom can't make a single decision without viewing it through the bitter lens of aggrievement politics—have somehow cake-walked their way through our halls of higher learning and now they are in charge, and every decision they make is a misguided one.

Unfortunately, every time a man wants to speak up and say what he really thinks, he has to stop and think. Well I can't say it this way or they'll think I'm a racist, and I can't say it that way because they'll call it a dog-whistle—whatever that means. I'll get fired whatever I say so I guess I'll just shut up.

There are facts I need to tell our elected officials; these are things that they need to be told. These are the problems we face, but I can't mention them because, for one thing I'm a nobody with no power and no influence, and for another even if I did have any power or influence I'd instantly lose that power upon daring to speak these unmentionable facts.

Well, I'll doubtless make some people very angry with what I'm writing today. You want the truth? You can look at the worst cities with the worst records in education, the highest crime rates, and poverty rates, and poor outcomes and they all have one thing in common. It's the elephant in the room that we just don't want to talk about, what we feel like we aren't allowed to talk about; face it we're all so very afraid to talk about this.

So, instead of dealing with the underlying problems we just sit there making excuses. Oh no no no, these standardized tests are just too hard. They're not designed to showcase such valuable interpersonal skills and strengths as teamwork, leadership, charisma, sense of humor, athletic ability, or even artistic ability. They don't measure ability to handle responsibility, and on and on, ad infinitum.

If that's the road we're taking, the road of excuses and low-expectations down to failure town, then why don't we just come out and admit it? The no-child-left-behind act has failed. If the intent was to make sure every student achieves a minimum level of proficiency in math and English, then I guess it's time to lower our expectations yet one more time. Lower the bar ladies and gentlemen, teachers, school administrators, parents, society. You refuse to admit that some students just can't, and worse you refuse to believe that so many of your kids simply won't. These kids refuse to try because either it's too hard or it's too boring. What other excuses will you offer that I will never accept?

At some point the child leaves schooling behind. The main life lesson that too many of them learned is that it doesn't matter whether they learned anything, all that matters is that they passed. They spent their school years looking left and right instead of straight ahead. The teacher kept curving the grade because nobody did well, so she thought her test must be too hard. Maybe they asked for extra credit assignments? Play-Doh sculptures? What other silly tricks did they perform for the misguided passing grade?

They carried this concept with them to their first job. The result is the terrible feeling of dissatisfaction felt by their employers and felt by every customer that they interact with every day. They're still looking left and right instead of straight ahead. They're making sure they don't work any faster than anybody else, racing to see who can finish dead last—with a public sector retirement package society can't afford.

How do you graduate from High school and not know about subject verb agreement, possessive case, yes sir, no ma'am, please, and thank-you. Does anyone honestly think the same stupid excuses you gave your teacher will work with your boss?

But it's worse than that. It's in fact as bad as it can possibly get, because we've got college graduates who can't spell either. They can't conjugate the verb "to be." In fact they don't know what conjugation even means. We've got plenty of so-called Ph.Ds with the same problem. They were passed on and passed on and the only thing they ever learned was how to work the system, and now they're got the absolute worst job they could possibly have—they're the ones in charge of teaching our kids.

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