What Happens When Nobody Answers the Call to Service?

“Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.”
Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails


This has been another one of those weeks where we grapple with humanity. The fallout from the tragic events in Memphis has left us a little more jaded, and a lot less optimistic. We struggle to understand how those dedicated to protecting and serving can do the opposite. Where do we go from here?

The death of Tyre Nichols should never have happened. But the path forward in preventing another such incident from happening is not as clear as we would desire. In moving forward, we have to consider the unintended consequence of our very public conversation. A conversation that is not dissimilar from that currently taking place in education policy circles.

Growing up, being a police officer was an honorable profession. As was being a nurse, a priest, or a teacher. Families took pride in producing generations of offspring who pursued the profession as their life’s work. It was with a sense of pride that a young person proclaimed themselves third-generation police or a 4th generation teacher. Unfortunately, not everyone who donned the blue, or entered the classroom brought honor to the profession.

There is an old saying in the press that if it bleeds it leads. Over the years, the misdeeds of those who brought dishonor to the profession moved to the forefront, while the vast majority of those who honored their vows of service fell to the back row. It needs to be said repeatedly, that those who bring shame to the profession are the aberrations, not the standard. Those who perform these dishonorable deeds are not representatives of their profession, but rather they are criminals. And in some cases, sociopaths.

An argument could be made that the profession has the propensity to attract those with sociopathic tendencies. Maybe, but that is a supposition because I am unaware of statistics that track the number of roofers, plumbers, hedge fund managers, or insurance salesmen who behave in an abhorrent manner. It seems that only in the service professions are the bad actors deemed representative of the entire profession.

As a result, we spend 90% of our time talking about the behavior of 10% of those who take up the challenge of serving humanity. In doing so, we either intentionally or unintentionally, communicate how much value we place on the profession.

I promise you this, peruse the lists of the wealthiest members in a community and you won’t find many cops, teachers, or first responders on it. Over the past decade, there has been an attempt to draw attention to salaries, and efforts have been made to increase them. But you’ll never see those salaries raise to a level on par with those in non-service-driven professions. As long as salaries are derived from public monies, there will never be enough money to pay them what they are worth.

People entering the profession have always known that, but felt drawn by a sense of duty and tradition, but something has shifted. Long considered pillars of the community, we now view them as people who couldn’t make it in the private sector, or in even more unflattering terms. In today’s environment, why would anybody, but a martyr, pursue police, teaching, or other similar jobs as a life calling?

I seriously don’t know the answer. But luckily, there are those who still do. But there are just as many leaving as there are coming. That’s a problem.

Whether it be policing, or teaching, experience is a valuable commodity. A commodity that is becoming rarer and rarer every year, to society’s detriment. Look at the experience levels of the police involved in the murder of Tyre Nichols. Per The Tennessean:

While a full roster of the unit has not been released, the five officers charged with killing Nichols all had less than six years on the job. Two of them had been police officers for less than two and a half years.

That’s troubling, and yet it’s an all too common thread. Equally disturbing is the lack of adequate staffing. The city of Memphis reportedly is 500 officers short of its goal of 2,500 officers. Think about that for a minute. You have a depleted workforce, populated by the inexperienced, stretched to capacity in an effort to meet an untenable goal. It’s a recipe for disaster, one to which teachers can surely relate.

In a predictable fashion, a major component in the proposed reformation of policing is the idea of turning more responsibilities over to mental health professionals, and not pursuing enforcement of certain crimes that are considered low-level offenses.

Ask teachers how that concept of not policing low-level offenses has worked out? Discipline issues in schools are certainly not on a downward trend, and as a result, even more, experienced teachers are leaving the profession. The challenge of staffing tutors is every bit like that of staffing teachers.

As far as shifting police responsibilities go, where are these supposed mental health exerts going to come from? We can’t offer necessary services to those who currently need them, let alone contend with extending responsibilities. Try finding a mental expert that is currently taking patients, I dare you.

Your company may offer a mental health hotline that you can call when you need help, but good luck getting through. What makes us believe that finding mental health specialists willing to respond to domestic violence and assorted other events, willing to accept sub-par pay, is going to be any easier than attracting quality applicants to the police academy?

Whether we like it or not, whether it’s a mental health expert or the police, the threat of violence is still present. Talk to any EMT and let them tell you how often they are threatened with violence.

We like to pretend that man has evolved to a state where violence is always a last resort and only employed by those suffering from trauma or a lack of opportunity to make better decisions. Maybe, but even so, the outcomes are the same and the needs of the perpetrator shouldn’t come at the expense of those who routinely follow laws and don’t employ violence as a solution.

Yet we do it in the classroom all the time. We demand that students who fail to follow discipline policies even at the expense of the other students in the classrooms. Students who come from equally impoverished homes, and face equal learning challenges to the perpetrator.

The way we portray all police officers has served to rob the profession of respect. Every potential interaction with a police officer is now viewed through the lens of a potential conflict. Officers are on edge. Citizens are on edge. One small match serves to ignite a powder keg of tragedy. It should be scary to all of us.

I grew up blasting NWA’s Fuck the Police, little did I realize that my little act of rebellion would someday become a prevalent theme of society.

Here’s a controversial one for you. I don’t think there should be fewer police in schools, I think there needs to be more. Now I don’t think they need to be packing, but a uniformed officer in schools interacting with students in a routine manner serves to humanize both the officers and the people they will be serving. Despite its proven success. the age of the beat cop, who knows everybody in the neighborhood, and can avert actions before they happen, has become a relic of the past. It needs to be revisited.

We repeatedly argue that we want the best and brightest to be police and teachers, yet we continually portray the professions as housing anything but the best and brightest.

Police work needs reformation, but it also needs preservation. Unintended consequences deserve equal consideration to the intended consequences.

Those who choose to become policemen, firemen, clergy, first responders, teachers, and other assorted caregivers, serve a vital function to our societal health. Any conversation needs to start with recognition of that fact.

There is a quote by James Baldwin that gives us guidance, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced”

Facing an issue means applying rigorous honesty. We didn’t get here alone, and we won’t get out of here alone.

Still Missing 

Nobody was a bigger cheerleader for Tennessee’s new public school funding formula – TISA – than Commissioner Penny Schwinn. If you watched her throughout last year’s legislative session, you’d have thought she was bringing tablets down from the mountain – yes, that’s a biblical reference. So naturally, you’d think she’d be at the Joint Government Operations meeting where the rules that would govern the new formula would be approved. Not so fast shawty.

Instead of Schwinn, or even her fellow Chief for Change Eve Carney, the presentation duties were designated to short-timer Charlie Bufalino. Apparently, the one-time media darling has suddenly turned modern-day Greta Garbo, and she is rarely seen in public these days.

Sure Schwinn popped up with an equally publicity-shy husband Paul at Governor Lee’s inauguration, but not long enough to pose with the man who made her queen. Usually. the good Governor loves to pose with her.

She’s kept up with her social media PR shots. But in areas of substance, she remains mysteriously MIA.

On a side note, no word as of late on who employs her husband Paul. I only bring this up because in the past he’s shown a propensity to work for employers who are overseen by his wife’s employer. Previously holding positions at a Nashville Charter School and TNTP.

If he’s still looking, perhaps former state rep Bill Dunn needs an assistant in his advisory role to the TDOE, or maybe former HR dude David Donaldson could use him over at his newly crafted education non-profit dedicated to growing Grow Your Own programs. I would think Paul would be a perfect candidate for either.

Equally interesting, was that the TDOE Chief Academic Officer, Lisa Coons, did get to go to the Government Ops meeting. She didn’t get to sit at the big kid’s table with Charlie, and nobody gave her an opportunity to talk, but she was there. It’s almost like somebody tossed her a bone because Chiefs for Change chose Carney over her.

A Gathering of Secret Squirrels 

You might have heard that U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten came to town last week. Much was made of her visit to McMurray MS to tour their Peace Center. She was also here to visit Valor Academy.

During her visit to Valor, there was a secret squirrel meeting. How do I know it was a secret squirrel meeting? Because attendees were instructed from the podium not to publicly talk about what was discussed. Of course, once they said that…I received three phone calls.

Among the secret squirrels were former Tennessee commissioners of education Kevin Huffman and Candice McQueen. There was Chris Barbic and Tess Stoval. TEA was in the house, as were representatives of SCORE and EduTrust. The Gates Foundation, Charter School Resource Center, and the rest of the alphabet soup were attendees. There were representatives of the State Board of Education as well.  Even newly minted Future Chief Sonia Stewart made it up from Chattanooga, where she serves as Hamilton County’s Deputy Commissioner, to attend.

Do you know who wasn’t in attendance? The current State Superintendent of Education Penny Schwinn or anybody else from the TDOE. Very curious. I guess they are not included in efforts to Raise the Bar in education.

It’s been put forth that the USDOE probably met beforehand with the TDOE, but that still doesn’t explain why there wasn’t a representative at the event pressing the flesh with the other secret squirrels.

Per the USDOE press release, the primary focus of the Valor visit was to “learn about Valor’s “Compass” model, which focuses on comprehensive human development to support academics and improve learning conditions, and “Circle,” a core part of the Compass model. “Circle” is a weekly practice that brings students and educators together to advance personal growth to allow students to thrive in their academics and lives. Valor also will share learnings from its newer wraparound services model, “Compass Care,” which is supported, in part, by the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. The program is designed to combat chronic absenteeism and mental and emotional health challenges.”

That seems like a prime opportunity for the Commissioner to soak up some undeserved credit like she has with Tennessee’s Grow Your Own Initiative. But alas it wasn’t to be.

Maybe she’ll put in an appearance with the General Assembly once the discussion on amendments to the third-grade retention law begins. Reportedly the TDOE is taking a position of opposition to any proposed amendments.

Quick Hits

Nobody likes a field trip like Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). This June, they’ve got one planned for principals. They are heading to Louisville. Billed by district officials as “an opportunity for tier-based and cluster-based planning and professional learning that also allows for peer bonding.”  According to MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted “Principals with Academies programs will stay two nights, and one night for remaining principals.” He noted, “Group transportation will be provided by the district, and we are anticipating approximately 180 staff altogether. Transportation and meals are provided for MNPS personnel, but spouses are allowed to join and stay in the hotel if they so choose.”

Things in Nashville are about to get really interesting, now that Mayor Cooper has announced that he is not pursuing re-election. Virtually everybody is considering throwing their hat in the ring. The Nashville Scene takes a look at where the current crop of candidates is drawing their funding,

State House Member Scott Cepicky along with State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson made an appearance on 99.7 WTN this week. It is worth taking a listen to in order to better understand what to expect in this legislative session.

– – –

A new year doesn’t equate to greater financial stability. Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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 sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier, but equally informative.


Categories: Education

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