by Joe Kirkpatrick
I learned recently the Tennessee State Department of Education is threatening to take over poorly performing schools in Memphis and Nashville. When I heard this, I thought back to several years ago when they sent a letter to Dr. Jesse Register stating the same intentions. Dr. Register, who is now superintendent of the Nashville school system, was then the head of the Chattanooga system. Instead of begging for more time or possible leniency, as legend has it, Dr. Register simply mailed them back a reply that stated, "what address do you want the keys mailed to?" As far as I know, the Chattanooga system continued to have failing inter-city schools, but the state never took control. As far as I know, they never even threatened to take control of them again.
If you are a regular reader of my column, you know by now my favorite subject is education. It is so clear to me, an outsider, to look inside and see what is wrong. The problem is, no one on the inside seems to have that ability.
Let's take a look at the schools in Nashville and Memphis which are now under threat, as well as those in Chattanooga that were previously threatened. All of these schools are in very poor inner city areas, with African-American populations and high gang involvement. Almost 100% of the students come from a one parent household, with that one parent living with the aid of public assistance. Many of the female students in the middle and upper grades in these schools already have children of their own. I am not being racist, but am simply stating something that is factual.
A state legislator recently tried to introduce a pro corporal punishment bill that would allow paddling back into Tennessee schools. He stated, "It's a war zone inside our Memphis schools."
Now, my question to the State of Tennessee Department of Education is, "If you have the magic solution to take care of this mess, WHY haven't you already taken these schools over long ago?"
Of course, they have no magic solution, and are only making these threats because federally directed mandates require them to do so. In reality, they don't really want to take over these schools. They know taking them over will be like catching a tiger by the tail.
What do I think will work? I don't think anything will. Sure, we can pour millions of dollars into these schools and get a few successful exceptions, but we are probably already getting some of those now. Children from a poor one parent household in a crime ridden gang controlled neighborhood have virtually no chance of succeeding beyond the environment in which they were raised.
As it stands, when raised in these neighborhoods, African-American girls have babies, and the boys are either killed by other gang members or end up in prison. In Tennessee, African-Americans make up 16% of the state's population. However, in our state prison system, African-Americans make up 53% of the prison's population.
Cruel? It is, but sadly, also a fact.
How did it get to this point? The federal government which is now mandating school improvement is basically asking the state to clean up the feds mistake. The federal government under the Johnson administration created the welfare system. I'll readily admit members of the African-American community suffered for years under a white supremacy rule, but the welfare system has destroyed them, and taken their dignity away as well. What incentive does a child have to succeed in school when they grow up seeing a mama that lives in government furnished housing, eating government furnished food, and rewarding them with a bigger check every time another baby is born?
How do you convince three generations of this legacy the federal government has given to them to give it up?