Your eyes seek conclusion in all this confusion of mine
Though you and I both know it’s only the warm glow of wine
That’s got you to feeling this way
But I don’t care, I want you to stay
And hold me and tell me you’ll be here to love me today – Townes Van Zandt, Be Here To Love Me
Saturday afternoon found me at McCay’s rifling through records. I had about $20 in store credits and was hoping to find some new gems. It was cause for celebration when I found a copy of Townes Van Zandt’s Our Mother the Mountain record. It’s not often that you find a record by the iconic troubadour and so I quickly snatched it.
Sunday morning, I popped the record on the turntabled and lost myself in the literate blues of the consummate songwriter. Unfortunately, that joy was tempered when I received the news that the young man who bore his name – Justin Townes Earle – had passed at the age of 38.
Back in the early 2000s, I worked down on Elliston Square at Georges. There was a group of young ‘uns, all of them between 21 and 25, that used to regularly come in and drink pitchers of beer, play pool, and carouse. They were tattooed and greased up, the woman with hair teased or scarved but just as tatted. I christened them the rock-a-billy kids, as they almost seemed to be a throwback to another era.
It was clear they were artistically talented. Among their number were future members of Old Crow Medicine Show, the son’s of Nashville musical royalty Kevin Welch and Gary Nicholson, maybe a tattoo artist or two, and Justin Earle.
Nobody ever had any money, and so they only stuck around as long it took to down a couple of pitchers, and play a little pool. When they walked in, the energy level in the room soared, only to drop again on their departure. Watching them have fun and cut up was like watching one of those old 50’s teenage movies, they managed to exude a youthful joy with a touch of world-weariness that had somehow managed to sneak in. To say I looked forward to their visits, would be an understatement. There was something about them and their antics that perenially made for a better evening.
Over the years, I followed Justin’s career. He may have been the son of Steve, but the two’s music had nothing in common another then it’s ability to tap into the human heart. In truth, Justin’s music probably more closely mirrored his namesake than it mirrored his father’s.
Steve and Justin’s relationship was a complicated one, that ebbed and flowed. While deeply aware of his father’s influence – both genetically and musically – Earle constantly strove to strike a balance between honoring those influences and creating his own legacy.
I haven’t seen Justin for at least a decade, but I own all of his records. Every time I play them I’m reminded of that group of friends and how much they embraced life. I’d envision them still friends, still cutting up. But now it would be in each other’s back yards while watching their kids grow. Unfortunately for Justin Earle that reality is no longer a possibility. Yesterday, he passed away, another casualty to an already horrific year.
He’ll be missed by family, friends, music lovers, and assorted others. There will plenty of discussion about his darkness, and the demons he fought, but for me, that is but a small part of the story. At his core, he was always a big goofy kid with a big goofy smile that could light up a room. While the addiction is an element that can’t be ignored, those memories of his friends splitting a pitcher, shooting pool, dancing the jukebox while all the while cutting up are what will forever stay with me. Reminding me of the inherent joy in the young. Those are the memories, along with the rich library of music he leaves behind that will my remembrances of Justin Townes Earle.
WHO PROOFED THAT SPEECH?
Last Thursday, at his weekly press conference, Governor Lee evoked the ghosts of Normandy in calling for schools to re-open for in-person schooling in midst of a pandemic.
“We’ve gotta learn how to storm the beach. We can’t just sit back here until all of us die.”
What the hell is he talking about? Is even he familiar with the history of D-Day?
The storming of the beaches was eventually successful but it came with a large price tag. Over 2000 American lives were lost that day. Combined, Allied forces lost 4000. Think about that.
What the governor is signaling, is that your children’s lives are expendable. That he is willing to risk their lives in order to serve his agenda. He’s also willing to play with the lives of teachers. That’s fucking scary. Sorry for the French, but I know of no other way to put it.
Lee doubles down later when questioned by Channel 5’s Phil Williams. Claiming that it’s a “false choice” to say that there is a safe way and an unsafe way to do things. He then goes on to recite a litany list of social issues that students face when not in school – child abuse, cybersex crimes, mental health issues, hunger. All things that have been shifted on to the backs of schools, but in reality should be the responsibility of local government. If Lee is serious about tackling any of those aforementioned issues, he could easily do so without forcing kids and teachers into harm’s way.
I get the need to take mitigated risks and that they’ll never be a time when everything is 100% safe, but to take such a cavalier approach is inexcusable. If god forbid, children, die because we are storming the beaches, will Lee meet with those families and justify his decision. It is one thing to declare teachers essential employees, its an entirely another thing to enlist them in the army for your personal war.
I would ask the follow-up, what is the governor’s calculated acceptable losses? Are 100 kids acceptable? 50? 10? What about teachers?
Every military operation has a calculated amount of acceptable casualties, I think if the governor is going to use a military example to rally the troops. he needs to adhere to the military method of planning and give us his accepted losses.
Also in this press conference, both Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Schwinn repeatedly talk about the literacy foundational materials they are supplying for districts to use. Let’s be clear what they are talking about here. In an unprecedented move, the Tennessee Department of Education has created curriculum and is now marketing it to the local school districts in spite of clear legislation that states local districts shall adopt their own materials devoid of influence from the Tennessee Department of Education.
In other words, the governor and his education commissioner are standing at the podium thumbing their noses at Tennessee legislators who helped craft legislation based on input from Tennessee citiens. The message they are sanding is one of blatant disregard for the positions of anyone but themselves. They have set themselves up as the sole arbitrators of what and how Tennessee schools will teach its students.
Commissioner Schwinn in extolling the virtues of the foundational ELA material made the claim that the curriculum comes at “no cost to the state of Tennessee.” Really?
So the Core Knowledge Foundation, E.D. Hirsch, and the Linens, all out of state residents, are just being altruistic towards the wonderful state of Tennessee? They’ve managed the reach their current level of nationak prominence by just giving their time away?
The reality is that they’ve been working with the commissioner for over 18 months in an effort to get their preferred products, including the CKLA curriculum, into Tennessee schools. There may be no direct payments involved, but trust me somebody is getting paid someday.
A look at Commissioner Schwinn’s history shows ample evidence of friends always getting paid. Whether it’s charter schools in Sacramento, her husband in Delaware, or a friend with a private company providing special education services in Texas, where ever she goes, you can count on robust friends and family plan being put in place.
It’s worth noting that the Tennessee Department of Education under Candace McQueen employed 423 staff members, with 13 people in leadership roles. Under Schwinn, staffing numbers have shrunk to 390 members, but the leadership roles have grown to as many as 23. Currently, there are 18 due to the departures of Felicia Emerson-Tuggle, Amity Schuyler, and Brian Stockton. Katie Poulos was fired and Katie Houghtlin was demoted. The average annual salary for the 18 who remain – $138.5k.
The attrition rate of TNDOE employees between Schwinn arrival on January 13th, 2019, and August 18th, 2020 – roughly 18 months – is 35%. 27 of the people hired by Schwinn herself have already departed, with even more rumored to be planning their escape. If Governor Lee is intent on doing “wellness checks” on Tennesseans, I suggest he start down the hall with employees of the state department of education.
Can’t wait to see what new nonsense emerges from the Schwinn administration this week.
TENNESSEE EDUCATION RUMOR MILL
Let me share one last rumor in regard to Schwinn. Currently making the rounds on the water cooler circuit is that future MNPS School Board Chair Gini Pupo-Walker and Commissioner Schwinn have been seen frequenting a West End eatery together as of late. Now nobody is quite sure why the two are keeping company, but speculation runs that the commissioner is looking to use the organization led by former US Secretary of Education John King – Education Trust – which is local run by Pupo-Walker as a landing spot once her time with the governor expires. A move that could prove beneficial for both.
If you’ll remember, Schwinn recently testified before Congress about school reopening plans. It is generally believed that these testimonies were conceived as a means of possibly getting her a DC gig. Unfortunately for Tennessee, nothing was forthcoming, but one of those speaking engagements was with Mr. King. It’s probably no stretch to assume the two got to talking.
Education Trust has only had an office in Tennessee since the beginning of the year when they appointed Gini Pupo-Walker as their in-state point person. I’ve long maintained that Ms. Walker assuming this role is a clear conflict of interest. Her being on the school board at the same time as she leads an education advocacy group is not dissimilar from a situation where say, TEA’s Jim Wrye was elected as a state representative while retaining his chief lobbyist position for TEA. Or winning an election and then taking a lobbyist position with TSBA. I’m pretty sure neither of those scenarios would sit well with most, but apparently, there are no issues with Walker serving as both a board member and an advocate. But I digress.
In the 8 months that they’ve been here, Education Trust has struggled to get a foothold. In a state already rife with advocacy organizations, they are having difficulty establishing their relevancy and discerning how they are different than other organizations in Tennessee who have already been doing the work. Landing a former commissioner, albeit a damaged one, might instill some credibility in some quarters.
It is also worth noting that John King Jr is married to Melissa Steel King, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners. Bellwether works with a lengthy list of ed reformers, including one known as the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). So who, knows what the school board chair in-waiting and the commissioner on a short leash were discussing, but the real question is, will it be something beneficial for Tennessee families. I have my doubts.
In all fairness, Pupo-Walker maintains she and the Commissioner have a professional relationship and some times see each other at meetings, but that the two haven’t had lunch, dinner, coffee, or drinks together outside of those meetings. They have had two meetings in person, both at the Commissioners office. Not surprising since they have common interests in EL Services and translation services.
It’s all very curious, because the stories are out there from disparate locations. Per usual, when it comes to the Commissioner things are always a little … how should we put it…opaque.
The Atlantic has an article about the battle waging in the New York school system with lines being drawn around anti-racist policy. At the heart of the battle is the question over whether the existing screening process should continue to be used in determining who goes to what city middle school. As a by-product of that discussion, more is being revealed about what we perceive as racist behavior and how much work needs to be done in order for us to reach a common denominator. It’s a fascinating read and I encourage you to check it out, Anti-racist Arguments Are Tearing People Apart.
Anybody who has even read this blog once is aware of my shortcomings when it comes to grasping common English grammar principles. Education writer Peter Green writes an illuminating article on why that might not be the worst thing in the world, Grammar Police Go Home.
Life is filled with ironies and sometimes all you can do is chuckle. Four years ago, Thom Druffel ran against Amy Frogge for her school board seat. He was resoundingly beaten. Druffel ran as part of a cadre of candidates that were rightfully or not, placed under the ed reformer banner. After the election, there was much celebrating of the vanquishing of the privateers. While I celebrated, I also offered a warning. Here we are 4 years later. Druffel may have lost a school board race, but last year he won a council seat. This weekend he was appointed to head of Metro Council’s Education Committee. Ah…the sweet irony.
We received over 110 responses to each of this weekend’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at your answers. The first question asked whether you thought Nashville’s principals should start their own union or not. Not surprisingly, 25% of you had never thought about it. After that, it was pretty evenly split between whether they should or not, with the ayes getting 23% of the vote. Here are the write-in votes,
- It would help resolve teacher administrator disputes more quickly
- Really? They’re the only ones with any security and fat salaries.
- Before a union, exercise high-level leadership
- Hell yes. They need protection from on high.
Question 2 asks for your rating at this juncture on the Florida Virtual School. The number one answer here with 325 of the vote is that you wish you had more time to prep with it. The number 2 vote-getter is that you haven’t had enough exposure to make a decision. Here are those write-ins,
- Often the text is not on grade level for independent work
- not being used correctly
- Not having texts for ELA is a major flaw
- Where’s the ability to modify?
- Petty and Williams remain awful
- Too inconsistent & slapped together. Math is almost non-exitstent
Question 3, asked, what’s the one area that desperately needs attention when it comes to distance learning? The number one answer, with 30% of the responses, was the technology itself. Number 2 was expectations on how long things take, with 16% of votes. Here are those write-ins,
- Students are not showing up nor turning in work. It’s a joke.
- Aligning platforms within schools
- all of the above
- Magnet school teacher here: students need to SHOW UP TO CLASS
- Too many rules. Record this. Grade like in person No breakouts
- More help for parent calls about technology glitches
- Ease of use for elementary students
- Better software for meetings, plagiarism checkers, better attendance systems
- Compensation for now working 60 plus hours a week. WORN OUT
- Better communication between departments
- Parents NEED more assurance with technology. In all languages
- Keep it simple
- GIVE TEACHER NEW AND BETTER COMPUTERS!!!
- Teachers actually follow the directions given to them.
That’s it for now. See you again by the end of the week.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to deliver is always welcome.
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