“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back

“The mark of mediocrity is to look for precedent.”
Norman Mailer

It must have been third or, maybe 4th grade. There was a group of boys that didn’t like me very much – I know hard to believe. The four of them would taunt me daily, sometimes the abuse would rise to the physical level. They’d try to trip me, or knock books out of my hand; typical elementary school boy kinds of things.

After about a week of this, it was becoming clear that I would have to take some action. Telling the teacher hadn’t worked – actually made things worse. Asking them to stop hadn’t worked. I began to realize that I would have to make a stand or this treatment would just continue to go on. It wasn’t an idea I relished.

As a kid, I wasn’t a fighter. I weighed 65 pounds until I was 12, and then I weighed 75 until age 15.  Getting punched was something that scared me to death and I knew that winning a fight against one kid was doubtful, taking on 4 meant that I was probably in for a real beating. But things had gotten to a point that I really had no other option.

So Wednesday afternoon, as we were departing the bus, the boys started up their normal abuse and I launched my response. I turned and swung for the nose of the boy closest to me and connected firmly. That would be the only punch I landed. The four were immediately upon me and blows began to rain down.

Suddenly out of nowhere another young man entered the fray. Jeremy Middleton was a kid I knew from school. We were friends but not close friends. He was a little bigger than me, but not bt much. He came wading in throwing punches, many of which connected.

I’d like to say that Jeremy arrived and the tide was turned and the two of us combined were able to beat back the forces of darkness. But that’s not what happened. The numbers were too stacked against us and in the end, we both took a beating.

I remember sitting on the curb with a rapidly swelling eye, and he with a bloody split lip, and asking him, “Why?”

“Why did you jump into a fight where the odds were clearly against you to help a kid you barely knew. You didn’t think we’d win, did you?”

He cracked a half-smile and responded., “I watched them screw with you for months. When I saw you finally take a stand, I knew I couldn’t let you go it alone. I didn’t know if we’d win or lose, but I did know that if I didn’t help you…you didn’t stand a chance.”

From that moment on Jeremy and I were tight. There is something about knowing that someone always has your back. That they are not sitting back and calculating the odds of winning before throwing their support behind you. Over the years, Jeremy and I won a lot of fights – some physical, some moral – but we lost a few as well. The thing is, we never lost sight of our support for each other and so, in the end, we always won.

As for the bullies, from them, we’d earned a bit of begrudging respect. One of them told us they never expected us to fight back, figured I was easy picking and that nobody would ever jump in to help me. We all had a good laugh at that one and cracked up over how crazy Jeremy was. We never all became friends, but we found peace.

After watching last night’s board meeting my thoughts turned again to Jeremy. The room was packed with teachers wearing red to show their commitment to fully funding public education. But on the dais, board members were talking about the need to be “reasonable” and “good partners”, talking about “creating long-term plans” and “effectively advocating”.

As I listened, I thought about what would have happened if Jeremy had started pontificating instead of punching. Jeremy would not have gotten his lip split but then again the bullying probably wouldn’t have stopped either.

The same is true with MNPS teacher’s current situation. They have been patient for years. They’ve participated in focus groups, listen-and-learns, surveys, and whatnot, without ever seeing results. The reality is they’ve been good partners for decades and what has it gotten them?

Now they are taking a stand. They are showing up at board meetings in red to show unity. They are emailing board members and council members. They are doing everything but going on strike. But they need help.

A recently departed board member opined that it was cruel to teachers to give hope of an unrealistic raise. I’ve had trouble reconciling that in my head. Are teachers idiots that do not realize the difficulty of obtaining a substantial raise? Or does he liken them to children whom when you promise lollypop they become inconsolable when you don’t deliver?

Teachers are very aware of what it takes to secure funding, they’ve been living with that awareness for decades. But much like me and those kids in school, they’ve reached a point where they are ready to fight. They are ready to enter the battle and take the beating that may ensue. They may not be looking for a Jeremy but they could sure use one.

It never ceases to amaze me about how much as adults we preach to kids about “expectations” and “daring to dream” yet when it comes to putting out tropes into action we hedge our bets. I listen to board members tell teachers, “Don’t ask for 10% because you’ll be lucky to get 3.” Imagine if a teacher told a student, “Don’t aim for an A, because you’ll be lucky to get a C.”

The role of the school board was never designed with them being a “good partner” to the metro council. It was designed to oversee and provide for children the best possible education system the city could produce and meeting that challenge is impossible if the board does not advocate for the needed resources.

Furthermore, it is not the charge of the school board to dictate how the metro council purvey the needed resource. If the council feels that it can’t meet the needs of the school board without raising property taxes that is at their discretion. If the school board feels that the council is not adequately funding the system, there is an option for them to propose increased property taxes, but only after petitioning the council for needed resources.

Think about your kid coming to you for an increased allowance. If he just comes to you claiming he doesn’t have enough money and needs $50 more, you’re not likely to just hand it over. But if he comes with a detailed plan about why he needs $50 a week the odds of you giving it increase. Now imagine if your kid starts telling you what you can cut from your budget, and how you should get a part-time job…that ain’t going to go over well. The same dynamic is in play with MNPS and the metro council.

We need to design a budget that reflects the needs of the district and then we need to fight for it like lives depended on it, because they do. And we need to remember that we don’t know the outcome of the fight if we enter it, but we do know what’ll happen if we don’t. Let’s stand with our teachers.


Several people have reported to me that they left Tuesday’s school board meeting mad, frustrated, and concerned. For the record, it was both black people and white people. The source of those feelings springs from the increasing racial divide growing in our city.

Since his arrival Dr. Joseph has been happy to stoke the flames of racial discord as a means of defense against critics. Now that he’s leaving he’s willing to allow those flames to break out into a full-on conflagration. Unfortunately, he’s being assisted by some of Nashville’s most respected voices and one of its most toxic.

Former school board member, and current council member, Ed Kindall has long been at the forefront of the civil right movement and a voice for equity. He sees Joseph’s imminent departure as a racial issue. Yesterday he convened the council’s minority caucus to publicly make the charge that the potential firing of director of schools Shawn Joseph is racial motivated. During the press conference, District 28 Council Member Tanaka Vercher lamented also the resignation of former board member Will Pinkston,

“Today is a shameful day for this city. It’s not for us to rejoice over a school board member’s resignation. It’s not for us to rejoice in emasculating the first African American Director of Schools for this city. We have to be clear. Education is the equalizer.”

For the record, I am rejoicing at the resignation of Will Pinkston. He has been a source of toxicity since his election and for the caucus to allow him to use them as a vehicle to reinvent himself undercuts their message. I’m not surprised that he has attempted to attach himself to the civil rights movement nor that they have welcomed him. He is a skilled political operator who uses those skills to play into our moral failings. He is defended as long as his tactics benefit his supporters. Unfortunately, Pinkston’s only loyalty is to himself.

Cm Kindall wrote an editorial for the Tennessean. In it, he decries the need for equity to all, well except maybe to woman. He writes,

It is easy to make grandstand statements such as, “We must put kids first,” but it is a real challenge to actually do it. I constantly hear one board member talk about how she successfully raised five boys, and I congratulate her. But how does this relate to our schools?  

It would appear she has a great message for a PTA or PTO group, but not in a board meeting focused on all of Metro’s students with many and varied social, emotional and academic needs.  

Well hell, there is no code language here. He straight out tells Bush that the board isn’t for her and she should run along back to the PTA. There is more than a small strain of misogyny that runs through that statement. Lost is the irony that we argue a black male shouldn’t be disrespected but the disrespect of a black woman has been perfectly fine since the day Fran Bush was elected to the board.

Yes, I said elected. She ran a campaign and won it handily. She just didn’t wander into the school board room and try to take a seat. She came with the backing of her constituents. But to some that don’t seem to matter.

Will Pinkston regularly and publicly questioned her mental capacity. Board Chair Gentry has been openly hostile to her and Council Members Vercher and Dowell have questioned her capabilities since the day she arrived. They do this all the while chastising critics for merely questioning Shawn Joseph. The blatant hypocrisy is appalling to me. Equity means everyone, not just the males, or the black people, or the white people…everyone.

Recently, board chair Gentry blasted critics for looking at Joseph as a possible criminal. But it was revealed yesterday that Joseph’s former district, Prince George County Schools, is not following state law or its own policies when it comes to awarding millions of dollars in contracts, according to a state audit on the school system’s financial management. Ooops…wait that sounds familiar. Ah…just coincidence.

In his speech last night before the board Joseph evoked an image of himself as a mixture between MLK and Jesus and quoted Tupac in closing, “I ain’t mad at cha.”

Well, that’s nice but somebody needs to remind him that I ain’t the one whose license the state is threatening to take away. I’m not the one who gave myself a “2” for student achievement on my self-evaluation. I’m not the one who spent 1million dollars on a contract for services that were never utilized. I’m not the one who is fueling a spike in teacher attrition. So, Dr. Joseph, you might not be mad at me, but I may be kinda getting a little irritated with you.

Joseph’s failing also represents a failing by Nashville elites. Those in the trenches have been telling the elites this wasn’t working for a couple of years now, but they convincingly turned a deaf ear and tried to prop up Joseph and quiet the noise. When talking elites, I’m talking Mayors Briley and Barry, the Scarlett Foundation, the Chamber and Vanderbilt University’s college of education and certain members of the council. Your lack of support and commitment to your own agendas at the expense of MNPS teachers and families, means you own part of this mess. Luckily, you have constituents that kept pushing for the truth.

I have to chuckle at the Tennessean’s Keel Hunt’s op-ed piece today calling for the whole board to resign. Of course, in writing the piece he fails to mention that his daughter Shannon Hunt played an integral role in bringing Joseph to town and as such is deeply vested in his success. ,

It would help for all current board members to resign en masse immediately and ask the mayor to appoint a new slate. Otherwise, the first step may be to invoke the recall provision in the Metro Charter, which the founders of Metropolitan Government wisely put in place.

Nonsensical and someone needs to check his medication to ensure he’s still in touch with reality. Keel’s main message seems to be damn you, we spend a lot of money on elections telling you what you to think and if you can’t get it right, we need to take that right away. Real democratic.

What Keel and others who never go anywhere near a public school, unless it’s a photo-op, fail to recognize is that our schools are in good hands. Our teachers will be doing what they always are doing, teaching kids and our school-based administrators will be doing what they always do, supporting them.

Our charge right now is to get the leadership picture right so that we can truly give the supports they need to soar. We also need to make sure we get teachers the money they need to allow them to focus on educating our children. Now that we are finally having a conversation that should have been held 2 years ago, I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time.

Nashville has race issues that we need to continue to work to solve, that is unquestionable. The employment of Shawn Joseph is not one of those issues. That is a performance issue and needs to be addressed as such. Local educator and blogger Vesia Hawkins writes today about a community in pieces.

Our community is bloated with racial discord. Black people are angry and white people (and some black) don’t get it. They call him a bad actor, that he moved the system backwards, and that he was a crook. Meanwhile, thousands of black families and community leaders pinned decades of hope on the man from Prince George’s County. They (we) saw somebody who would unequivocally have our kids’ backs. That a district plagued with five decades of inequity disproportionately hurting black children finally had someone at the helm with a vested interest in leveling the learning field. Further, these supporters know that being black in Nashville comes with a price if you play by different rules or fall short of a Barack Obama-like tenure. Even with Dr. Joseph’s performance problems, thousands of Nashvillians believed it would work it out, if only he was afforded more time.

She’s not wrong. She also paints the path forward. In my opinion, the focus needs to shift away from what Dr. Joseph’s departure looks like and towards what the future looks like. Dr. Joseph will soon depart but the rest of us will still be here trying to find a way to work together. In trying to ease Dr. Joseph’s departure we need to ensure that we don’t make that future work more difficult. There is a lot riding on that future.

A closing pledge for you, I’m going to work on ignoring former school member and current blogger Will Pinkston going forward. He’s simply no longer relevant and frankly not that interesting, but I have to share some irony first.

Earlier today the Governor’s ESA bill passed out of the education committee by a vote of 14-9. This is not a good thing.

In his constant need to work his private agenda, Pinkston tweeted out this news and tried to pin in on his detractors and their weekend tweets. Unfortunately, I was present this morning when the bill passed, and it passed after sponsor Bill Dunn from Knoxville quoted Will Pinkston’s tweets from the weekend. Dunn said he too would not send his child to JT Moore. Well played Mr. Pinkston, well played.




Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Such an excellent and level-headed post. Thank you.

    -Suzanne Myers

Leave a Reply to Suzanne Demmas Myers Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: