PARALLEL LINES

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Let’s get strapped in. We’ve got a lot to unpack today and a limited amount of time. Before we get to anything else though, I want to stop. Pause and reflect. Recognize and mourn. Nashville has lost another 3 children to violence this week. Two to the cemetery and one to the penitentiary.  Beside the two youths in West Nashville, another one died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot in Madison. All other issues should be secondary. We need to really ask ourselves two questions – how many and how long?

Somewhere right now a high school teacher is recognizing that their homeroom is two students short. Somewhere an elementary teacher is reading the names in the paper and reflecting on a child that was once in their classroom, full of potential. Or they are shaking their head because long ago they realized how stacked against the deck the odds were for that child. And somewhere today many of us are just brushing over the news because it’s a story that has become all too familiar to us, and so we consider it almost mundane.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what we are doing now doesn’t seem to be working. Recently, Metro Nashville Government released figures showing that homicides in Nashville were down. What seemed to be missing from the story was the rates of violent crimes committed by or to juveniles. It may just be anecdotal, but it feels like the number of incidents is growing. Or maybe it’s just that I find one, too many. Whatever the case, I don’t think anybody would disagree, we aren’t doing enough. We have to do more.

SCHOOL BOARD TIME

On Wednesday, my intention was to unpack all that transpired and share my analysis. But as I re-watched the meeting, and talked to people, I came to the realization that – pardon my French – the level of shit that went on at that meeting made it impossible to analyze it in a rational manner. So here’s the best I got for what it’s worth.

Christiane Buggs was on Channel 5 New’s follow-up report talking about her speech on the board floor drawing parallels between fellow board member Jill Speering and the Klan,

“Nashville isn’t used to talking about race, they’re uncomfortable. If I need to be dubbed the race baiter to talk about my truth and the displeasure it caused me, so I’ll be that,” Buggs told NewsChannel 5. “I don’t regret it, I have reflected on it more and I don’t intend to hurt my colleague’s feelings but we need to keep each other accountable.”

Does she really suffer from the delusion that her words will fuel a deeper conversation on race? Her speech may contain “her truths”, but it doesn’t represent true leadership. A leader picks and chooses their battles and their words.  They are ever vigilant on how their fights and words impact the overarching goals. A leader continually looks for their fights and words to push those they represent closer to those shared goals.

I used to work with a woman who to this day I recognize as one of the smartest people I ever worked with. Her one flaw was that when she fought, she only knew one way to fight, scorched earth. In engaging in a dispute with her it was essential to evaluate what I was fighting for and what would be the consequences of winning. Sometimes the consequence of winning would mean a disruption to the pursuit of the stated goals and that wasn’t worth fighting at that minute.

Every time we disagreed I would have to evaluate if this was a fight worth pursuing and if the cost of winning was acceptable. Can I tie this disagreement into another that can be addressed further down the road? Am I fighting this fight in a manner that will not only allow me to win this fight but also win the peace? Because eventually, peace has to be restored. It is never productive to engage in continuous contention.

I am not suggesting that Buggs was choosing the wrong fight or even the wrong time, but perhaps the wrong strategy. Her fight is borne from a history of neglect and disservice by the school system to many of her constituents. It is my contention that you can not evaluate anything that transpired over the last week without considering the history of Nashville’s school district and the city’s black citizens.

Personally I don’t believe that anybody should be allowed to make policy for MNPS until they’ve read Ansley T. Erickson’s book Making The Unequal Metropolis. It’s not all ancient history either. In 2008 MNPS engaged in a rezoning plan that opened a lot of old wounds and smacked of re-segregation. The re-zoning plan resulted in the NAACP filing a lawsuit against MNPS. A lawsuit that eventually cleared MNPS of deliberate re-segregation, but left a lot of people with deeper scars and resentments.

It is further indisputable that under former Director of Schools, Jesse Register, there was a lack of diversity at the central office. As CM Ed Kindall pointed out to me in a recent conversation, there was only one African-American in a position of leadership outside of athletics. However, Jay Steele would point out that as the district number 2 guy, hired more AA women in principal and district roles than any other gender or ethnicity. He also hired the two Hispanic women to leadership positions, where previously there were none. Still few would argue that minorities had sufficient representation.

These are truths. They are not Christiane’s truths and they are not my truths. They are just truths. Truth’s that rightfully play a role in every conversation we have about education in this city.

I had lunch at Prince’s Fried Chicken yesterday with a black man who has been involved in government and school work for several decades. He explained things to me thus.

I’m paraphrasing here, but basically, black people have been told for years how to think and what they should do by people in leadership that didn’t look like them. This was done in the name of a system that they would argue is designed to ensure that they don’t reach full potential. Now there is a guy in charge that looks like them and who doesn’t act how everybody else tells him how to act. He’s doing  what he thinks is right and critics be damned. Finally, black people have someone who appears to be fighting for them. He may not be perfect, but they will defend him until the end.

Further complicating things is the power of symbolism. For the first time in Nashville, black and brown children can see evidence that someone who looks like them, can hold a position of power. That is something that cannot be overvalued.

I get that, but as I thought about it, I couldn’t shake the familiar ring. Where had I heard this before? Then it dawned on me, this argument is no different than the one I hear put forth by President Trump supporters. He’s not perfect. He says what’s on his mind and people just want you to be politically correct. He’s fighting for us. The media are trying to tear him down. So much of the argument in support of the behavior of Joseph is reminiscent of the defense of the behavior of Trump.

Also upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the policies of either are not protecting the interests of those that defend them.

We’ve seen how this plays out on a national stage, what makes us think it’s going to be any prettier locally. When I brought this up to my friend, he responded that he was good with the rise of Trump because at least now people felt comfortable with the thoughts that they had previously held inside. It was clear now what the intentions people held for him and his family, and at least things were out in the open, instead of him having to wonder. I countered that Trump supporters would probably put forth the same argument. They would say, you always thought we were deplorable at least now you’re not pretending that you didn’t find us as such.

When confronted on the behaviors of either Trump or Joseph, their supporters quickly point to past office holder’s behavior as a defense. A defense that fails to hold water. If behavior was bad in the past, just because it wasn’t caught at the time, doesn’t mean it’s okay to repeat in the future. “Hilary did it”, is no more a viable defense than, “But Register…” Leaders should be judged on their own merits, not a sliding scale based on the failings of their predecessors.

At the root of the problem for both contingencies is the belief that the system has failed them. A belief that is not without merit. However, the answer is not to retreat into our own individual sub-cultures but rather to work together to create a culture that is representative of all of us. In order to do that we need to find a modicum of trust. An ingredient that is in scarce supply these days.

There is a recent quote by Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” Apparently, that not longer stands true, as we now speak to our own truths. We need to get back to speaking just plain truth. For example, one of the success stories from the handout presented at the board meeting was that Dr. Joseph had “Ensured all elementary and middle schools have access to gifted and talented services by creating the Advanced Academic Resource Teacher position and ensuring all schools have at least a part-time person serving students.”

I’m not going to call anybody out by name, but I challenge you to go back to your school and ask who your schools AART is. I pretty sure some of you won’t like the answer you get. That’s the truth. The policy exists, but the practice doesn’t. You can’t claim success for merely creating the policy. Doing so erodes trust.

Some think that Jill Speering needs to apologize for her texts. I don’t. No more than I think that Christiane Buggs needs to apologize for her comments. The old adage of don’t apologize because your friends don’t need it and your critics won’t accept it rings true to me. Besides an apology doesn’t automatically make it right or even all better.

Yesterday in the car my children and I had a conversation about the power of words.

“When your mother and I fight, do you ever hear us call each other names?” I asked them

“No.” They replied.

“It’s because we both accept the power of words and their ability to do permanent damage. Somethings you can never take back. Just because someone forgives, doesn’t mean they forget. That is why you always need to exercise prudence in your use of words. In AA we have a saying about playing the movie forward. it means looking ahead to try to predict possible outcomes from your actions.”

Buggs proposes the board undergo mediation. That’s a ludicrous idea. When she chose to “speak her truth” she made a willful decision to not only voice her hurt, but also to hurt someone else in the process. What she chose to do is no different then if she’s chosen to walk across the floor and punch Speering in the nose. Both have the same desired effect. Decisions have consequences and now we all live with hers, as well as Speerings. We can all argue whether Speering knew the consequences of her actions or not. That argument doesn’t come into play with Buggs.

For now, her relationship is fractured with some of her other board members. How that plays out going forth depends on how she and those board members chose to proceed. Unfortunately, she didn’t act as just a citizen, she acted as a community leader. As a result, all of us bear the consequences of her decision. Leaders must always remember that they do not bear alone the consequences of their decisions. They must always take into account the impact on their constituents.

Speering and Buggs aren’t the only leaders who dropped the ball in this manner.

Dr. Joseph sent out a memo today acknowledging the dysfunction of the last board meeting. In his memo he speaks once again to the masks, yet never speaks out about one board member linking another board member to the Klan. Sometimes communication is as much what you don’t say, as is it is what you say. Apparently, it took several tries to get the email right but it’s content still misses the mark. (I know it’s a cheap shot and probably hypocritical, but sometimes I can’t help myself.)

During the course of the week, it came to my attention that Mayor Briley had possession of the text messages before leaders of the African American community possessed them. If that’s true, why he chose to engage with these leaders over the text message before calling Jill Speering, in order to get clarification and context, I’ll never understand. He can’t say he didn’t have her number, it was right there on the text. Much of this circus could have been avoided with a simple phone call. Though I suspect based on recent comments, he’s making a strategic move based on politics. Per today’s Tennessean,

“When we have a school board that isn’t functioning properly, no leader can succeed,” Briley said in a statement. “We must have a body that governs with purpose and vision and puts the needs of our children above politics and individual agendas.”

David Plaza, who spends a great deal of time using his platform at the Tennessean to preach to us about civility, chose not to practice any when he wrote a scathing editorial about Speering’s text message. With a headline that accused Speering of desiring a circus, Plaza turned in a classic “When did you stop beating your wife” piece. In it he makes unsupported suppositions that are unmoored from reality.

She also asked that her text not be shared on social media, which is exactly what happened when it was posted to Twitter.

Why? Is the request spurred by an elected official’s cowardly avoidance of taking public responsibility. Was it a clever tactic to actually get it shared by hundreds of people?

Really!?! Jill Speering as a coward or a social media manipulator? How about another possibility. Someone took Speering’s Text and posted it to social media in an effort to humiliate and embarrass her. You want civility, you have to practice civility.

What about MNEA leadership? As a professional educator with MNPS for over 3 decades, Speering maintained membership in MNEA. As a retired teacher, she is a member of TEA. Has MNEA uttered one word in her defense? Her record as it pertains to teacher issues is unmatched, yet not a word of support from MNEA president Eric Huth. Who by the way stood close enough to me outside the meeting hall that I could have kissed him on the cheek, wish I had, yet couldn’t even offer a greeting. I guess he forgot I was MNEA’s endorsed candidate in the last election. If board member Will Pinkston is to be believed, Huth is probably too busy telling board members that there are no problems within the district to exchange pleasantries. 

Pinkston said a single complaint over sexual harassment is one too many, but he doesn’t believe from his conversations with several stakeholders, including the teachers’ union, the service employees’ union and the legal department, that there is a pervasive problem in the district.

Council Member Bob Mendez jumped into the fray by posting a series of tweets that just added fuel to the fire that all criticisms of Joseph are racially biased. He made these observations while admitting that he really didn’t know too much about what was going on. I talked to Mendez right after his Tweet and I truly believe he’s trying to get a handle on the issues. I was impressed by his commitment to get to the bottom of things and I believe he’ll do his due diligence. That is good news because the truth is the truth and the more people looking at the situation the more people will understand where we are failing.

How do we move forward? That’s a good question. I don’t think anybody has that answer. All I can say with certainty is that Tuesday’s board meeting was a loss for everybody and somebody better pick up the leadership mantle and find the way out of this, or the future is going to look very bleak.

When former president Obama was on Letterman’s Netflix show he told how Michelle had gotten it before him. She was quicker to realize that the role of president was about more than just making policy. It was about setting a tone. I reflect on those words often. Are we currently setting the right tone at Metro Nashville Public Schools?

QUICK HITS 

Word is that another valuable player has left MNPS. Words fail to convey the value that Shannon Black brought to the district. She started the New Teacher orientation a number of years ago and she fought for teachers at every opportunity presented. She’s now decided to seek other employees opportunities and while we are happy for her, she will be greatly missed. this is one not easily replaced.

The rumor mill is working over time this week. Word on the street is that a new officer is taking over the human resources department and it’s not Colonel Mustard, nor Lt Dan. Let’s see how this one plays out. Remember at the last board meeting Dr. Gentry took the opportunity to break client/attorney privilege in order to praise the quality of HR’s current leadership.

In the endless smoke department, it now appears that Dr. Joseph’s educator license is on hold with the state pending review by the state board of education. At least this one is without precedent, as the law was revised this summer.

The Nashville Scene is reporting that State legislators are starting to take notice of MNPS. I guess everybody wants to get under the big top.

The good news is that no matter how many sins you commit, you can still lead the TN State House Education Committee. You can’t make this stuff up.

At Tuesdays board meeting Gentry ruminated why we where so “stuck” certain issues. Luckily Channel 5’s Phil Williams heard her plea and leaped to her assistance with a series of tweets. Hopefully, Gentry now has a better understanding.

There’s still time to help win a grant to support safe streets and crosswalks around their school. Retweet this video and encourage your communities to do the same before Jan. 13. The finalist with the most retweets wins!

Congratulations to art teacher, Rachel Motta Towne, for being named Tennessee Art Educator of the Year by ! Towne was recognized Tuesday night at the MNPS Board Meeting.

Let’s cheer on the school’s bowling team as they travel to Smyrna, TN to compete in regionals! The tournament will be held at the Smyrna Bowling Center Jan 9-10. Let’s go Raiders!

As is won’t his style, national blogger Peter Greene puts a perfect point on the recently reignited reading wars, Why The Reading Wars Will Never End. Greene points out that the primary problem with measuring reading skill is that we don’t know what we are looking for,

We get stuck because we don’t know what Being A Good Reader really means. Chris can read a book about dinosaurs and tell you every important fact, idea, and theme after just one reading, but ten times through a book about sewing and Chris can’t tell you the difference between a needle and a bobbin. Pat reads the sewing book and can’t pass a test about it, but can operate a sewing machine far better than before reading the book. Sam can read short passages and answer comprehension questions, and so aces tests like the PARCC– but Sam can’t read an entire book and come away with anything except the broadest idea of what it included. Gnip and Gnop (I’m running out of gender neutral names) can both read the same article, but when they’re done, Gnip understands exactly in detail what the article says, but doesn’t realize it’s bunk, while Gnop only about half gets what the author says, but can explain why it’s all baloney. Blorgenthal reads car magazines daily, voraciously, with great understanding, but can’t get through a single paragraph of their history textbook. I know a woman who keeps devouring books about Jewish theology and building a deeper and deeper understanding, but who could not finish a work of fiction if you paid her. And lots of folks can’t make any sense out of poetry (including the vast number of people who misread “The Road Not Taken”)

I urge you to read the whole thing.

Give Zak Barnes latest Tip Sheet a spin as well. He makes some salient points.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lot’s of a teacher of year announcements. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

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7 thoughts

  1. >my truth

    Oprah did the country a disservice when she popularized the term ‘my truth’.

    truth is no subjective. something is either true or it isn’t.

    just because you think something is ‘your truth’, doesn’t mean it is THE truth.

  2. The comparison is spot on, the parallel to how the wagons have circled in support of Shawn Joseph, and the blind unconscionable devotion of Trump supporters to their guy. I was thinking the exact same thing this week. That, apparently, we have no standard at all to which sJoseph can be held accountable, because his defenders will accuse racism to any and all criticism, legitimate or not. It’s a crying shame because he’s scamming Nashville taxpayers, students, teachers, and sGentry et al don’t care. One would think sGentry+ would care, because this shitstorm is theirs to own, and it’s not as if there are no men and women lacking in integrity who could fill the Director’s slot. Sharon Gentry could rein it all in yet she chooses to give @MNPSDirector a pass plus all the fuel he needs to carry on.

  3. The lack of intellectual honesty from Mrs. Gentry is the most troubling thing when she dismisses the sexual harassment charges. As a woman of color, she knows that her demographic is one of the most vulnerable in our country to sexual violence. 60% of black women experience some form of sexual violence before they turn 18. For every 1 black woman that comes forward with her experience, it is estimated 15 more remain silent. Mrs. Gentry’s remarks about the harassment lawsuits, filed by people of color, as baseless should offend people just as much as the insensitivity of the masks text. There will be other women of color who refrain to come forward now because this person in a position of power has told them their experience, their “truth” will be tossed on the trash heap.

  4. Shannon Black’s departure is an enormous loss for the system. Thank you, TC, as always, for continuing to blog with such integrity through such a difficult time for MNPS.
    -Suzanne Myers

  5. >He may not be perfect, but they will defend him until the end.

    kind if the root of the situation isn’t it? defending someone because of their race is not different than attacking them because of it. his failings have nothing to do with his race, they have to do with the fact he is not a good nor a trustworthy leader.

    we will never move past race if it is a factor in everything and constantly brought up. the same folks who say we need to not consider race, out of one side of their mouth, state you need to consider it out of the other side.

  6. I read this today and while I don’t agree with him entirely as he is from a right wing think tank (which means perfect for Tennessee) he has some salient points such as this:

    Finally, and most obviously, we throw endless unpleasantness into the paths of teachers, starting with policies that make it impossible for them to discipline (or evict) the malefactors in their classrooms. Inconveniences such as no classroom (or desk or computer terminal or parking space) of one’s own. Parents who don’t do their part—and complain when the teacher is too strict or doesn’t give enough A’s. Politicians who meddle with curriculum. And administrators (and policymakers) whose overemphasis on test scores in reading and math squeezes out other content, even as they promote into one’s class kids who are far below grade level.

    Who in their right mind would want to stick with such a job?

    https://www.educationnext.org/why-are-teachers-leaving-their-jobs-turnover/

    And again don’t volunteer in a classroom, sign up as a sub and travel the district see what I see and then comment about the state of the schools. There is a massive shortage and you can see which schools lost the most staff over break. Largely middle schools and many cover those with Admins hiring friends or other retired staff to not have to list the gigs. Good luck with all that.

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