SERVING UP DISTRACTIONS

“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship, you don’t have to waste your time voting”
Bukowski C.

Back in the halcyon days when I began writing this blog, I oft fretted about whether or not I could find enough fodder to write about weekly. Little should I have worried, because, over the better part of the last decade, I have been easily able to fill multiple posts a week and often find myself wishing my initial fears had born out.

While that is good for me, it’s not exactly a boon to teachers and students across the state who are caught up in the endless swirl of education policy, and the politics attached.

The latest round of stupidity, I mean activity,  unfolded at the end of this past week, but has its roots set in the last session of Tennessee’s General Assembly.

The idea of districts electing their directors had inexplicably risen to the top of lawmakers’ agenda. Several top legislators weren’t so hot on the idea, so they came up with the idea of making school board elections partisan affairs. How the two are connected, is anyone’s guess, but the choice was floated out, and the latter was chosen.

In a contest of bad ideas, partisan school board races won out, but some caveats were added perhaps in an effort to mute the inanity.

Initially proposed as being mandated, the legislation was amended to make the decision a local one. Local parties were given the option to create primaries, or not, at their discretion. Memphis, to their credit, decided it would pass on the idea of holding partisan elections.

After a week eaten up by a weird game of chicken, that included a letter from the predominately democrat MNPS school board opposing partisan elections, it was announced that both parties would be holding primaries for this year’s Nashville school board elections. What the end game here is anybody’s guess.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify something. Neither party has held the golden ticket when it comes to education policy over the last several decades.

Sure, the Republicans are the ones garnering headlines these days with talk around CRT, parent rights, and choice. But let’s not forget, in Tennessee, nearly every challenge currently faced by schools was ushered in under the Race to the Top legislation, a Democrat initiative.

Critics will point to the Republicans for crippling the teaching profession through the eradication of collective bargaining, but it was the Democrats who endorsed TVAAS to rate teachers. The bottom line is, there is plenty of shame to go around for everyone.

I’ve heard it argued that both parties have decided to hold primaries in order to increase the number of elected offices held by members. Okay…but party affiliation was never a secret, to begin with. I don’t think anybody would be shocked to discover the party affiliation of their local school board member. So why do we need it in writing?

Now I do find it a bit ironic that we are asking school board candidates to declare party affiliation while it’s debatable which party Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn pledge allegiance to. Both may claim to be Republicans, but their actions bear little resemblance to traditional party values.

In their letter to local party officials, MNPS board members voiced concerns that “Partisan school board elections will discourage everyday people who simply want better schools from being involved in or running for school board.” That’s rich.

As an everyday person who ran for school board, and is planning another run, I can testify that the game is already tilted towards the politically connected. “Everyday people” have no idea how to raise money, craft palm cards, schedule Robo-calls, procure yard signs, or cut walk sheets – some of you might have read that last sentence and thought it was written in a foreign language. The politically connected understood it perfectly, and have resources to guide them through it all.

Here are my favorite quotes from the board’s letter,

“If candidates are forced to focus on a party line, fewer regular parents and members of the community will run. School board seats will attract polarizing candidates with the desire to use the position for political purposes or as a stepping-stone to something else.”

Has anybody been paying attention over the last decade? The last Nashville school board race was fairly benign, but that was an outlier based on a conscious decision made by all candidates and unlikely to be repeated this year. Past elections have been extremely polarized, rife with political agendas, and expensive. This year promises more of the same, with or without party affiliations.

I do find myself chuckling a bit over the idea of the parties holding primaries. Hell, you can barely find enough candidates to fill a general election, let alone participate in a primary. Each of the last two cycles has seen an incumbent without a challenger. There is no reason to believe this year would be any different.

The bottom line is, that once again, instead of focusing on what schools need – staffing, resources, capital improvements – we are left arguing over things that really don’t matter. I defy anyone to define the Republican education platform to me. The same goes for the Democrats.

Ultimately both promise a doubling down on the bad practices of the past – testing, increased accountability for teachers coupled with less for bureaucrats, and more public money to private operators.

Someday, someway, we need to figure out how to focus on things that matter and not be consumed by the distractions.

OF STATUES AND NAMING RIGHTS

A friend called the other day and asked me, “Hey, did you see that they took down the Nathan Bedford Forest statue that was along the interstate? What do you think?”

“My response was, “Great, can they take Musica down at the same time?”

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Musica is a statue that adorns a roundabout in downtown Nashville. People have accused me of not liking it because I have issues with nudity, but that’s not the truth.

I love me some nudity.

I hate some bad art.

And that’s what both the Nathan Forest statue and Musica have in common, both are hideous.

True confession, never once did I drive by the Nathan Bedford statue and think, “Hey that’s the guy that founded the Klu Klux Klan, sure am glad they erected that glorious statue to him.”

Rather it was always, “Whose that hideous man on a horse on the side of the road.”

I can’t help but wonder how many people actually knew who the statue was honoring and if they did, how much of his history they knew. I’m willing to bet the prevalent thought was more along the lines of, “God that things ugly”, and virtually nobody said,m”I’m going to find out who that guy is, emulate his ideals, and get a statue of me that looks like that erected.”

If I was a descendant of Forrest, I’d be first in line encouraging people to remove the statue.  For aesthetic reasons alone I wouldn’t want anybody to be linking that statue to my family.

Though arguably, the statue is an adept replication of the man’s soul, so perhaps in that light, there is some value to it.

I bring this up because recently there has been an uproar over the naming rights to a new local high school. After several proposed names were rejected, the district settled on naming it James Lawson High School, after a local civil rights activist.

For the record,

Lawson, 93, is a civil rights activist and advocate of nonviolent protest. After being urged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while in graduate school to come to Nashville, Lawson mentored Vanderbilt and Fisk university students in nonviolent protest techniques in the late 1950s, training such civil rights leaders as Diane Nash and John Lewis. He was expelled from Vanderbilt University in 1960 after being arrested for participating in lunch counter desegregation sit-ins. He later helped develop strategies for the Freedom Riders.

Lawson is certainly worthy of having a school named for him, and I think it’s important that we are recognizing his achievements by doing so. But there is a tendency to attach way too much meaning to what we name schools. Simply naming the school after an exemplary individual does not guarantee that the school will suddenly embody the quality of the individual, nor that their story will be acknowledged by all who attend.

Kids who go to Einstein Elementary are not inherently smarter than those that go to Alfred E Newman Elementary. Those who go to Tom Brady MS are not necessarily more athletic than those who attend John Candy MS. And how many who attend J.T.Moore MS school know the full history of John Trotter Moore as opposed to the full list of quality offerings provided by the school?

My kids go to William Henry Oliver Middle School. You could take me to the basement and waterboard me and I couldn’t tell you who William Henry Oliver is, or what he did to warrant the recognition. I couldn’t even identify the decades lived in. The truth is, I’m much more consumed by who the principal is now, who the teachers are, and the offerings that the school currently provides. None of which is influenced by William Henry Oliver. Though I’m sure he was a fine fellow.

You could name a school Blackbeard Elementary and I promise those students would have no more propensity toward looting and robbing than the students who attend JFK Elementary have towards chasing Hollywood starlets and late-night drinking parties. Yet we’ll act as if the naming of a school has a primary impact on the quality of the education provided to the students and serves to attract more families.

I promise you this conversation takes place in zero homes across the district, “We are sending our kids to Gandhi High School even though Jesse James High School offers more programs, has better teachers, and is closer to home.” In that scenario, Jesse James wins every time.

I was shocked to hear how many threatening letters a local school board member got over the latest naming rights battle. What the hell?

When was the last time someone sent a threatening letter over a school being understaffed? Or underresourced? I know there have been huge letter-writing campaigns in order to add programming, but it happens way too infrequently.

Yes, I’m glad the statue came down, and yes I think it’s a wonderful honor to bestow on Mr. Lawson, but the sad truth is, most of us are too consumed by our present circumstances and challenges to fully understand or appreciate the story behind these monuments.

Do you want to truly tear down the legacy represented by the Forrest statue?? Treat all people in a manner that refutes the central tenets of the Klan.

If today you treat another human as a lessor being due to the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, that statue stays erect even though it has been physically destroyed. It’s up to each of us whether that memorial exists or not.

I’m sure that Mr. Lawson would concur that while the naming of a school after him is among the highest honors afforded an individual, it would be a higher honor if we all strived to emulate the ideals that he championed and modeled throughout his life.

If we all did that, I promise you we’d have a lot more time to focus on what truly makes the world a better place.

Focusing on what goes on inside of the walls of a school, as opposed to what goes on them,  produces better results for all.

Now can we talk about that Musica statue?

QUICK HITS

This past weekend my eldest, a 7th grader, auditioned for the Mid-State band. While alas she did not make the cut, the experience was extremely memorable and invaluable for her. In our family, we preach that it is not the accomplishment, nor the shortcoming, that defines you, but rather what comes next. In that light, I suspect she’ll be back next year. But a tip of the hat to those from Oliver Middle who did make the cut.

  • Abby Guzman, Clarinet – Gold Band
  • Felicity Kidder, Clarinet – Silver Band
  • Shaunaz Mohammed, Clarinet – Silver Band
  • Colten Bourque, Alto Sax – Gold Band
  • Max Beckerman, Trumpet – Gold Band
  • Madeline DuBois, Horn – Gold Band
  • Maddie Rankin, Horn Gold Band
  • Diana Holden, Tuba – Gold Band
  • Marcos Dedman, Percussion – Gold Band
  • Isaac Brush, Percussion – Gold Band
  • Sophia Phelps, Alto Sax – alternate

Well done and the school is well represented.

The Nashville Public Education Foundation has announced the candidates for their inaugural season of Sharktank for Educators, or as they call it, Teacherpenuer. The program bears more than a passing resemblance to the efforts of the established Educators co-op, but with an added financial incentive provided by Amazon. While innovation is always welcome, it’s important to remember that Amazon isn’t led by necessarily benevolent individuals free of personal agendas. I just want to point out, when you let the fox into the henhouse, a few chickens are bound to get eaten.

If you haven’t watched the Beatles “Get Back” documentary, do yourself a favor and rectify that. While it can be slow at times, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the creative process. At the beginning of the movie the Beatles enter the soundstage with virtually no songs, a mere 3 weeks later they emerge with classics like “Let it Be”.”Across the Universe”, and Get Back”. “Get Back” gives you a front-row seat to the birth of those classics.

Looks like SCORE has SCORE has released Funding For Learning: An Analysis Of K-12 Education Finance In Tennessee, which offers four student-focused principles to guide changes in our education funding formula to meet modern expectations and student needs. I haven’t read it yet, but since SCORE serves as the bagman for the Gates Foundation, I’ll check it out this week. Though I will give them credit for pointing out that among neighboring states, only teachers in Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas make less annually than Tennessee teachers. And that Tennessee teachers earn about $15K below the national average.

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 share is always welcome.

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 are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still 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.

 



Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Fyi: 1. I had always been told there was a policy that schools had to be named after someone who has passed away. James Lawson is still living.

    2. William Henry Oliver was a former director of schools. He shepherded the district through the first stages of desegregation and resigned when we became Metro Schools. My guess is that he, too, and his family received death threats.

    3. Glad to hear you are planning to run for school board again.

    Beth O’Shea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I must respectfully disagree with your comments about the naming of the new Bellevue high school in this post and in your 11-26-2021 post.

    You are correct that the name of a school isn’t as big a deal as some people make it out to be, however … the uproar over the naming of the new Bellevue high school is based on the same misrepresentation that you have been writing about concerning Governor Lee’s public participation in the BEP restructuring project: the public participation was a sham and the decision had already been made.

    Apparently several surveys were taken about what the new school should be named, and the winner was Bellevue High School, after the community. You know, like the two newest high schools in MNPS, Antioch and Cane Ridge, were named after their communities. Also, there are indications that Mr. Lawson and his family were contacted before the surveys were complete, and the excuse given by board members is that once he was contacted they felt they couldn’t back down from naming the school after him.

    As far as naming the school for a civil rights leader, why wasn’t Diane Nash, the female civil rights activist in the “holy trinity” of John Lewis, James Lawson, and Diane Nash, considered? Or, since we already have a school named after a civil rights leader – Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet School – why didn’t the board choose to recognize the recent centennial of women’s right to vote and acknowledge Nashville’s major role in that event by naming the school after Anne Dallas Dudley? After all, Mr. Lawson’s group (black males) won the right to vote before my group (white females) did. Gender discrimination has existed since long before racial discrimination AND has existed across all races!

    Kind of interesting that it didn’t seem to occur to a school board that is mostly women to consider naming a high school after a woman.

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