Roy Exum: This Ain’t Gonna’ Work

Monday, April 22, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When Governor Bill Lee talks about education, or the lack of it, I’ll listen. He’s the guy who, when he found his newly-hired employees were wanting, his thriving Lee Company in Nashville started its own vocational school and paid them to learn. The investment was brilliant and the outcome obvious.

But now comes the bigger gamble, vouchers for some and, for others, charter schools instead of dooming our poverty children to a morass of generational damnation at the same old address. We all know it’s there. You can look at the number of federally-funded breakfasts a school feeds and predict with unflinching success the same school’s test results year after year.

Governor Lee is on the verge of stocking an “educational savings account” with $125 million and, to be real candid, it ain’t gonna work, not at all. Look at the charter schools in Memphis, where nothing has worked for years. Vouchers? Take a kid who cannot read at School ‘A’ and put him at School ‘B’ and you got a kid who not only still cannot read but whose parents and politicians await some mystical epiphany that ain’t ever happened yet.

The other day there appeared a story in the Washington Post that came closer to identifying the No. 1 problem with education in America than anything else I have read. A dazzling article focused on South Carolina, one of the worst states for public education until you are reminded Tennessee is so bad (No. 44) we are lucky if the Easter Bunny still stops.

During 2017-18, over 7,000 South Carolina teachers quit. Each adored teaching children but, in the words of one, it was two jobs: teaching was the fun one and the accompanying tasks not only took more time but made juggling the two absolutely brutal. From the story came this undeniable finding: “The unrealistic demands and all-consuming nature of the profession are not sustainable,” and, yes, it is that simple.

One, a female who taught third graders, outlined her typical day down to the only chance she had to use the restroom all day, and the result is Exhibit A in the mound of evidence why America is failing our children. The way teaching works is when somebody who has knowledge imparts it to someone who does not. Seriously, be it a wheel that makes things roll or a piece of flint that makes fire – this is how it really works all the way up to brain surgery.

Just as the “false news” mavens blame everything on President Trump, I tend to fault our “liberal elites” for America’s stinkin’ thinkin’ and the art of education is as flea-infested with idiots as a dromedary camel. The great curse of public education is that we take our worst classroom teachers and make them our administrators. You know that’s the truth.

The goofs’ newest word is “diversity,” which means that once you shuck the flim-flam away, rich people are “diverse” and that makes the inability of those in the inner city to read the fault of those “diverse.” Thus guilt-driven but bankrupt in common sense, we send millions into our “priority schools” and wonder why those children can’t grow a radish after all the money goes Houdini.

Don’t you see? This is hardly a stunner: We are willing to look at any reason, the more preposterous the easier to sell at the legislature, where we continue to ignore the teacher. My view of education recognizes only two movable parts: the teacher and the pupil. The teacher is the only one charged with delivering the goods, the end product, yet time after time the zanies among us overlook what is our biggest responsibility to any child and also our most aching need in today’s demanding society.

If Tennessee would invest $125 million where it is most needed, we wouldn’t gloat over 10 or 15 success stories but entire classes of children, and I’m talking statewide. Really, we show more empathy to our custodians in our quest for “viable results” but if we invested in our teachers instead of a voucher plan that takes the dirt from one flower bed to the next, our little boy Johnny would have a far better chance and that is easy to guarantee.

Yes, all of us will agree the teacher is the pivot point but today there are greater demands that cheat 90 percent of the kids in every classroom. The other day a trendy gourmet sandwich shop infuriated a neighborhood when they banned any unescorted middle-schooler from entering. Apparently Tom’s was near a middle school that got out at 3:30 p.m.

All of the sixth-through-eight graders then descended on Tom’s to “act like children,” albeit totally unsupervised, until their parents picked them up after 5. The havoc darned near wrecked Tom’s business. Whereas he hired an off-duty cop and got a ‘prohibited’ sign, the middle school hasn’t the luxury. This is the gospel: “discipline” is now a league-leader in the defeat of education. It’s why every principal’s “hands are tied,” why parents will not answer the phone, and – hello? – why some teacher would rather face the Taliban in a foreign country. Seriously – you can shoot the Taliban but the punks show up ever bolder day-after-day.

As it ever-so-slowly dawns on America our School Resource Officers play a far greater role in the operations of our schools than they ever will against terrorist attacks, a jaw-dropping report out of New Orleans illuminates the overwhelming need that even our elementary school children are in gasping need of emotional support. We have hundreds of children battling depression, hunger, homelessness, and a myriad of adult symptoms who aren’t even teenagers yet.

You want a bigger hurt: nobody does anything about this epidemic anguish except for one miniscule group – our teachers.

Jim Hammond, our sheriff, has told me repeatedly that adequate counselors in a school can do far more for a child’s betterment than any ride to Juvenile Court, and he goes as far as to prescribe today’s mental solutions as tomorrow’s major behavior deterrents. “Our children are a mirror of our world as we know it today. If we could properly handle some glaring problems in elementary school, they would never become bigger problems in high school … or a lot worse.”

Of course, he’s right but wishes ain’t horses. Today “deportment” is totally on the teacher and I say Governor Lee should use part of the $125 million to issue our teacher a voucher -- Lord Above knows they would like to get away from the riff raff that today has no escape. Laugh, but if it weren’t so obvious the truth is easy to see.

Barring such recourse, let’s fund any conceivable method to not only whip Bad Little Freddie into a drill sergeant’s line but to assure our pretty girl Lucie a conducive learning experience that will enable her to soar as high as medical school before she is tasked to perform Freddie’s frontal lobotomy.

I’m hardly a scholar nor an expert but I strongly suspect Governor Lee is guilty of listening to some of those administrators who were lousy teachers. The reason I suspect Governor Lee is listening to fools is because only our state legislature would fall for such a smoke-and-mirrors waste of $125 million.

Governor Lee raises beef cattle and if I told him moving part of his herd from one pasture to another across the road would increase his yield, he’d look at me like I was crazy. An equal fallacy is charter schools – keep a wary eye on any clowns who seek a profit from teaching your public school children.

No, the only answer to education is found in the two movable pieces of the game, one who teaches and the other who learns. Until the State of Tennessee realizes that all else is all differing colors of hogwash, every child has a diminished chance of an education.

As one last point to barter, I am going to share the resignation letter of the teacher in South Carolina whose plight fully opened my eyes to the universal failings of education in our nation. Read it, and I hope you, too, will be able to see past the foolishness and the folly our liberal elites are causing in our country this time:

* * *


(NOTE: This is the content of a letter that was written to Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait of the Charleston County (Suth Carolina) School District on Nov. 5, 2018.)

Dear Dr. Postlewait,

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation from public education effective immediately.

Please understand that this has nothing to do with my children, Ms. Wallace, or the rest of the faculty and staff at Murray-LaSaine. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect fit for my class, administrator, and school. I thought I had found my forever school. In fact, the only things keeping me from resigning until now were the love I have for my students, the love I have for the act of teaching, and the heavy guilt I feel for my children being negatively impacted by this in any way: emotionally or academically.

However, I cannot set myself on fire to keep someone else warm.

The systemic abuse and neglect of educators and other public service workers in the state of South Carolina should have its citizens so enraged. The unrealistic demands and all-consuming nature of the profession are not sustainable. I am still a human being. There was no time to be a functioning human being and give this job all the attention and love it deserves.

This career with its never-ending list of “extra duties and responsibilities” that we are not given the resources for completing. I cannot let a career dictate and demand all of me for another minute, and I will not be bullied into continuing to do so out of misguided guilt for possibly neglecting the children. It is unrealistic to expect this much from people. We’re teachers, but we’re still people.

I have compared the systematic expectations of the profession to the list of signs of abuse provided by the Domestic Abuse Hotline. If you replace “he” with “public education,” it would almost match perfectly with what we are all going through across America. If I were to say that my partner is putting me through all of this abuse and mistreatment, people would be putting me in a shelter and insisting that I leave him.

But because this is my calling and I must sacrifice myself for the sake of the children, then it’s really not that big of a deal. Because If I really love my job and I really love the kids, then I should be willing to do whatever it takes and make whatever sacrifices I need to in order to give them everything they need.

Do more with less time, funding, and resources. Take more of the blame, guilt, and responsibility. Be ready to sacrifice your personal life, mental health, and physical safety. Don’t be a complainer. After all, if you only work 7-3 for 180 days of the year, then what could there possibly be to complain about? If only it were that easy.

In the hardest act of selfishness I have ever been faced with, I must put myself over the demands of helping raise other people’s children. I won’t be in an abusive relationship with public education any longer. I will model to my current and past students what self-respect, setting hard boundaries, and standing your ground for what’s right looks like in action.

Through this whole situation, I have fiercely defended how much I love my children and how much I love the act of teaching. I won’t let anyone try to put that blame there. It is because I love teaching that I will not tolerate what the state is doing to the educators and children under its care.

Unfortunately, these issues will not be resolved until the perception of public education and other state social services change. Then people will band together for the common goal of elevating these necessary resources to the status of respect they deserve.

The public has to demand that they receive the time, funding, and resources they require. We need to prioritize education, not just offer it lip-service. Until enough people decide that this is worth making a fuss over, those that are in power have no reason to listen to our hurt, pleas, and fears to make any changes. This will keep happening. It will not get better like this.

I understand that you and the Board of Trustees must now contact the State Department of Education. I understand that my teaching certification may be suspended or revoked for a time period not to exceed one year. While the very idea breaks my heart, I know you have to do what you have to do. It is a heavy price to pay, but one I have to accept.

I hope in time you can find forgiveness for me and the decision I had to make. I hope that if you have anger or frustration or sadness over this, that you are able to take it to the avenues responsible for this systemic problem. I had to put my family and my health over my career.

The profession existed before me and will continue to exist without me. My children had teachers before me and they will have many after me. But my family only has one of me. I only have one chance to live a life that fulfills all of me, not just my career goals. I have to prioritize my values.

Words cannot express the guilt, shame, and sadness I feel that my sweet children and lovely school have been or may continue to be negatively impacted by this in any way. I truly hope you can forgive me and extend me grace in time.

With so much love,

(Name redacted)

* * *

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH -- The dromedary camel has one hump, and the bactrian has two, as we boys who once relished a pack of non-filtered “humps’ to smoke will never forget. I used to try to teach the boys the way to remember is to imagine the first letter of those names capitalized and lying on their flat end. A capital "D" - a capital "B" - one hump or two! Not exactly by coincidence, the gestation time for a baby camel to be born is 13 months, which is how long I hear it takes a kid with third-grade reading level in a poverty school to achieve a third-grade reading level in a private school.


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