“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. ”
John F. Kennedy


Growing up, I was blessed to have a dear friend who was a scorched earth fighter. What I mean by that is, every time a conflict arose between the two of us, they were going to spare no effort in order to win that fight. So when you entered a fight, you better have your argument together, and it better be strong enough to stand up to a whithering argument, or you were going to take a beating.

Furthermore, if you were fortunate enough to win the argument. you could be sure that the victory would come with consequences. Somewhere, somehow, my friend would extract a hefty price for the victory. You couldn’t always predict what the cost would be, but you could be secure in the expectation that it was coming.

You might have noticed that I cited this friendship as a blessing. Many people wouldn’t find it as such, but I always have. In some ways, it was a perfect pain in the ass. But it was very much a blessing.

First of all, my friend was one of the kindest and most loyal people you’ll ever meet. The kind of person that you could call in the middle of the night and they’d come bail you out of jail without an ounce of recrimination. Their first question after springing you would most certainly be, “You all right?”

Secondly, my friend was one of the smartest people you’d ever meet. Mind sharp as a tack, and willing to share, The number of things I learned from them is immeasurable.

Thirdly, they taught me the value of self-reflection before entering a conflict. Self-evaluation that began with, is this fight worth having? Then moved on to, what is the cost of winning this fight and is that cost worth bearing? You’d be amazed at the number of daily conflicts that fail to meet the threshold of those questions.

I learned that when a conflict couldn’t be justified by those questions, to either let it go or find an alternative means of influencing my friend’s position. in many cases, direct conflict might have been the easy answer, but not the one that offered the best solution.

Lastly, I learned the value of always leaving an opponent a way to exit gracefully. The more successful you were at that, the more likely the cost of the conflict could be mitigated.

Like I said, the friendship was a blessing and the lessons garnered have served me well over the last several decades.

In that light, let me cite Amanda Ripley, a journalist and New York Times bestselling author whose latest book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped—and How We Get Out came out in April. She formalizes some of the tenets that I am talking about in a recent piece for EducationWeek. She warns us about the growing threat of what she identified as “high conflict”.

This is not a normal conflict; it’s a special category of conflict known as “high conflict.” High conflict happens when conflict escalates to a point where it becomes self-perpetuating and all-consuming. Having studied high-conflict elections, divorces, gangs, and even civil wars, I can say that the behavior is chillingly predictable. People become very certain of their own moral righteousness, and they make a lot of mistakes. In time, everyone ends up worse off to varying degrees, always and especially kids.

I think it’s safe to say, that the events this week that unfolded between Governor Lee and Tennessee’s two largest school districts provide a textbook example of high conflict. A conflict that ain’t going to end well for anyone.

MNPS, and Shelby County schools have both enacted mask mandates requiring that all students, teachers, and visitors, wear masks while in the building or on busses. While the majority of stakeholders view this as a prudent action in the wake of rising infections from the Delta variation of the Coronavirus, there are those that are in opposition. Adding fuel to the ire of those in opposition is the fact that Memphis and Nashville schools were the last two to return to in-person instruction last year. Arguably having the largest negative impact on the students they are charged with educating. They did this in direct conflict with the demands of the Governor and the General Assembly.

Something I doubt few Republican legislators have forgotten. Memphis and Nashville are deep blue oases in a state that is overwhelmingly red. The history of conflict between the urban centers and the rest of the state is long, convoluted, and deep. With even deeper resentments on both sides.

Most recently, the two cities mounted a legal challenge of Governor Lee’s Education Savings Accounts school vouchers program, which is awaiting a final ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court. A ruling that is likely to favor the plaintiffs and sure to add to the resentment.

When both Nashville and Memphis recently announced that school would begin with a requirement for all students, teachers, to wear masks, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton responded by calling for a special legislative session aimed at reigning in local authorities ability to issue such public health mandates, including school masking policies. Here’s where things get even more interesting.

The call for the special session was not without risk to Governor Lee, but with an election on the looming horizon, who could he refuse the request signed by every member of the State House?

While the special session was being called primarily as a means to address mask mandates, behind the scenes there was much more going on.

A growing number of Republican legislators are becoming concerned about Bill Lee’s efforts to grow the executive powers, and how he is wielding those powers. I’ve heard reports that one legislator is asking to review all 760 of the no-bid contracts – totaling an estimated $1 billion – entered into by the Tennessee DOE from March 2020 through May 2021.  I doubt that ends up being a positive experience.

Any called special session opens doors to a conversation around Lee’s assumed executive powers. A conversation Lee isn’t keen to engage in.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally recognized the risk and was, therefore, voiced opposition to the House’s requested special session. Choosing to reaffirm conservative’s core tenet of local control and reaffirming the state’s school boards’ right to set policy for their individual districts.

The governor’s use of executive power wasn’t the only thing legislators have on their minds.

The recently completed ELA textbook adoption continues to be a thorn in the administration’s side. At a recent meeting of the Tennessee Commission on Education Recovery and Innovation, State Senator Brian Kelsy informed members of the commission that the number one current school-related issue he’s hearing about is around the recently adopted curriculum. Most of that conversation is negative and specifically is directed at Great Mind’s Wit and Wisdom. Seeing as Wit and Wisdom has been promoted and endorsed by Commissioner Schwinn, conversations around curriculum are not desirable to  Mr. Lee.

Then there is the subject of the distribution of ESSER money by the TNDOE. Ms. Schwinn has dragged her feet while trying to exert control over how funds are utilized by individual districts. Seeing as the money is essential to LESs, some legislators might want to have deeper talks around that subject. Yep, another conversation the Governor doesn’t want to have.

So here’s the conundrum, all of the House Republicans want a special session. As previously stated, the governor doesn’t want to open that door, but he can’t just ignore the House Republicans with an election year fast approaching.

That’s where we were when on Monday afternoon at three o’clock when Governor Lee announced Executive Order 84, allowing exemptions to any mask mandates enacted by local school districts. Democrat legislators instantly condemned the executive order, pointing out that it works to put kids at risk.

Publically Republicans praised the move as a prudent compromise, but privately many seethed. They’d been very specific in their request to the governor, and he’d unceremoniously dismissed their desires. Not for the first time.

Over in Memphis, Director of Schools Joris Ray wasted little time in telling Mr. Lee what he could do with his executive order. Basically telling him, thanks for the thoughts, but we’ll continue mandating masks. We’ll call if we need any more opinions.

As he’s done all so often since taking the reigns of SCS, sticking a finger in the eye of the Governor. Something that has earned him, and by proxy, the Shelby County School System a special level of ire from Republican lawmakers.

Nashville took a couple hours longer to respond, but when they did, it was in a similar manner. Maybe slightly more diplomatic, but still a clear rejection of the governor’s executive order.

All sense of diplomacy went out the window when Board Chair Christianne Buggs posted the district’s response to the Governor on social media and added the tag line, “Masks will continue to be required in all Metro schools. Your play, Mr. Governor…”. A populist, but perhaps not prudent move.

Whatever the Governor’s play, I’m 99,9% positive that it won’t be one Ms. Buggs likes, and it will likely affect the district’s kids and families a lot more than it does her personally. It’s always nice to play the roulette table with other people’s money.

While the district’s position is inarguably the right decision – I would like to see more conversation around long-term effects to kids’ social development and development of immunities based on prolonged mask usage – more care should have been given in delivering the district’s response,

According to reports from Main Street Nashville, “Sexton spokesperson Doug Kufner says the speaker’s legal team anticipates litigation over the matter. Over the past 24 hours, we have watched as various questions have been raised concerning Executive Order No. 84. We are closely monitoring the situation with our legal team as it appears headed toward potential litigation,” Kufner told Main Street Nashville. “We are hopeful for a speedy judicial outcome in the coming weeks.”

Again, perhaps a legal fight is what Dr. Battle and the MNPS School Board are looking for, but legal fights are expensive and the money comes out of funds that could be dedicated to students.

To be fair, MNPS may win a legal challenge. They may find a court of law agrees with them and executive order No. 84 is indeed an overreach by the Governor. The court then slaps him on the wrist and upholds MNPS’s mask mandate. Do you think Governor Lee just shrugs and says, “ok”?

Anybody who has watched the General Assembly of late can attest that this is a particularly vindictive bunch. They do not play with those they feel have crossed them. I’d be hesitant to say that aloud, but I think they take it as a point of pride.

Need an example? Look at the broom closet that Knoxville House Rep has been assigned as an office for this past session. Or better yet look at Republican House Rep Bruce Griffy.

Griffy ran afoul of party leadership last Spring and Sexton wasted no time in removing him from all committee assignments.

“There are certain expectations that must be met by members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. These include maintaining decorum and professionalism, as well as respect for others, and perhaps most importantly, respect for our longstanding committee process,” Sexton said in a statement. “If any or all of these expectations become an issue, appropriate actions will be taken – including removing a member from his or her committee assignments.”

Yea, if you think any victory is coming sans cost, you can put that out of your head. Something made even more clear by Lt. Governor McNally in his response to MNPS’s statement,

“The Governor and the General Assembly cannot and will not allow lawful orders to be defied,” McNally said in a statement. “If these systems persist in resisting the order, we will have no choice but to exercise other remedial options.” 

The once reticent official is now fully engaged.

So what might those other options be? Well, they would start with new voucher legislation and only get worse. Don’t forget that this is a year where district lines get redrawn and former Speaker of the House Beth Harwell is owed a debt of gratitude. For some legislators, the sound of Congresswoman Harwell has a better ring to it than that of Congressman Cooper.

Rumors have abounded for years about the possibility of the state taking over parts of MNPS – rumors I largely dismissed – but of late, the din has gotten louder. At this juncture, as the rhetoric escalates, I don’t think that the noise can be dismissed.

Adding to the dilemma is the likelihood of Governor Lee winning re-election next summer. Though his troubles with his own party shouldn’t be dismissed. Listening to 99.7 this morning, I was a little surprised to listen to the level of criticism directed by the conservative outlet toward Mr. Lee. It was, to say the least, unprecedented in my experience. Clear was, that whatever the intent, the executive order was not having the desired effect on the base.

There are those that would argue, that Lee not winning re-election could be an even worse outcome, as the Democrats don’t have any viable candidates and any Republican who defeats him would more closely resemble the citizens of the overwhelmingly Red state. Some going as far as arguing that the Democrats already have a sympathetic candidate in Lee. An argument not without merit, despite his recently earning the endorsement of former President Trump.

We can expend a ton of ink in exploring all the other possible ramifications if current events are allowed to escalate. The bottom line is that an argument that was supposed to be centered around keeping kids and teachers safe has become about everything but keeping kids and teachers safe. Everybody needs to take a deep breath and step back, though I doubt that will happen.

We also need to realize that once again, we are making the jobs of principals and teachers more difficult. They are the ones left to navigate the field while legislators and district officials wage war from the comfort of their individual offices, far removed from the public. The success of our school’s professional educators hinges on strong relationships with families, pitting schools against parents is not conducive to forming those relationships. As a result, achieving successful student outcomes becomes even more difficult in an extremely difficult time.

It’s time for the conversation to retreat from being centered on scoring points against the opposition and instead put the focus back on where it belongs, improving outcomes for students and ensuring their safety. We need to simultaneously focus on short-term goals while recognizing long-term implications. It’s a challenge that I’m not sure we are ready to face, but that we can not fail at.

Former President John F Kennedy once pointed out, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” Those words are especially applicable today.

August is the month in which I engage in my annual fundraising pitch. While undertaking this blog was my choice, it’s grown past expectations. It takes a lot of work and resources in order to keep up with it. That’s where I need your help.

This year I began sharing posts via email through Substack. It has been a new foray for me and has helped to increase coverage. I offer both free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Still a work in progress.

If you don’t wish to subscribe but would like to join the rank of donors, you can head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.  Not begging, just saying.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.


Categories: Education

9 replies

  1. “The bottom line is that an argument that was supposed to be centered around keeping kids and teachers safe has become about everything but keeping kids and teachers safe.”

    Disagree with that part. For many parents and teachers, it’s still clearly about keeping schools safe. For the highly partisan and sensationalist media, it’s indeed a continuation of a chess game that started long before COVID. Time to stay on point and save the vilification for another battle.

  2. “The bottom line is that an argument that was supposed to be centered around keeping kids and teachers safe has become about everything but keeping kids and teachers safe.”
    Couldn’t agree more. Don’t forget the official MNPS policy a few short weeks ago was mask optional. Yes, there’s a surge right now causing more mitigations to be in place, but they agreed parents could choose before so shouldn’t be opposed to it happening again. Buggs said it best when she said, “You’re play.” It’s a game to them and the losers are students and teachers in MNPS

    • “ Yes, there’s a surge right now causing more mitigations to be in place, BUT…”

      Way to prove his point.

      • She acknowledges spread and mitigation has changed since MNPS said “masks optional”. Then starting with the word “but” she dismisses those safety concerns and turns it into a “but you promised!!!” argument.

        About safety: “ Yes, there’s a surge right now causing more mitigations to be in place,”

        Not about safety: “ but they agreed parents could choose before so shouldn’t be opposed to it happening again.”

        Like this logic:

        Kid who wants to swim: Mama, a week ago the weatherman said it would be sunny. I know it’s lightning now and it’s unsafe to swim in a thunderstorm, but you promised I could swim!!!

        Mama: You’re right sweetie. Mama’s promise is more important than your safety. Jump in!

  3. Two things about masks: One Science is your friend. This is from UCSF explaining the science behind the masks,,,

    Or there is this from the Cleveland Clinic:

    Now let’s just discuss masks being worn prior to Covid. Did your Dentist, your Doctor wear masks and gloves when shoving their hands in your teeth or up.. well you know where you can put them? They didn’t? What filth!!

    Let’s talk about drinking pasteurized milk? Well that did not come from Louis who was more interested in what French drink, wine. And with that Cheers! It was a WOMAN who applied the science (oh that word again) to milk.–1918-65126

    Do you drink clean water? How about Cholera had a case of that lately?

    Funny that the same people screaming personal freedom are the ones that say to women, no its not your body or choice… okay then.

    And then we have the last and most important thing that truly matters in the buckle of that belt there.. Religion.

    Here are two nice verses about this same subject, loving yourself as you would someone else. Basic Christianity…

    1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV /

    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    James 2:14-17 ESV
    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    Matthew 22:39 ESV /
    And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    So you have heard the numerous stories about individuals after contracting Covid begging for vaccines and the like and while disbelieving its existence and advocating prayer suddenly going to a hospital and begging for whatever modern science (oh that dirty word again!) to keep them from dying.

    So we have nothing CURATIVE but we have this PREVENTATIVE and while it is not 100% effective it is still an improvement from having a tube SHOVED down your throat and dying alone in a crappy hospital in some isolation tent.

    We have had vaccines that PREVENT all kinds of serious illness. We have all kinds of treatments to food and water that have allowed us to live without disease. Take a hard look at a place like Haiti, you will all go nuts doing drives and sending help but you will do little to nothing to help those to the immediate right and left of you that is way easier, cheaper and practical. While I appreciate the generosity of Americans under a crisis well guess what we ARE IN ONE! So a box of masks that you can wash or toss like you do socks and costs little does better than nothing. So do nothing or do something.

    Man I don’t miss Nashville… you everyday confirm my reasoning for leaving. And yet I still respect people like TC who stays and fights the fight. I don’t have that kind of patience or strength. But I have survived a pandemic and that says something.

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