I recently had the opportunity to speak on one of my favorite subjects school choice at Harvard University Law School. Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Harvard also has the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States. It was a great honor to be there where seven former presidents have studied, as well as many other famous American's. My timing was apparently right because the audience was into the subject I was speaking about and I was into the audience.
Despite the obvious liberal bent by Harvard, I must confess I enjoyed the openness and dialogue the university provided. That is one reason why I have continued writing my column for the last several years for the People News from home and abroad. Pete Edwards and The People News provide me an opportunity to say things that I feel need to be said in a community I dearly love.
Since Boston claims to be the ideological birthplace of the American experiment (Philadelphia gets relegated to second, Virginia is bumped to a distant third I suppose). It seems appropriate from the land of the "Son's of Liberty" that I write on the issue of fear from government.
In particular, many employees fear their school system. This problem is not as rampant in other states. In Florida, School Board members are paid extremely well and it is often a desired position. In Texas, teachers can serve on the school board so they can take matters into their own hands. Perhaps there is a conflict of interest issue at stake, but it beats seeing those with the most knowledge of an issue kept from the debate.
In fact, both local school systems Bradley County and Cleveland City seem rampant with fear. I have made comments about both systems over the years, some good and some bad. I have not stooped to the level of personal attacks, like calling Bob Taylor a water boy for Walter Presswood or seeking the removal of Rick Denning. (He's not and I didn't). But you sure do not hear any honest discourse about the performance of these individuals in light of the performance of their school systems. Many reporters lack the knowledge and backbone to challenge school systems. I have suggested to Mr. Edwards, since the People News is now an online publication, that he conduct a survey and see what citizens really think. We do not live in a direct democracy, but as Jack Nicholson stated, "this is as good as it gets."
It should be pointed out: there was an anonymous email criticizing Mr. Taylor sent to several people, including me. If I write it---I put my name on it. I know there are a couple of current Bradley County employees, perhaps even administrators, who have negative feelings about their boss. I know they are afraid to speak out because they believe they will be persecuted. But teachers do not forfeit their rights when they become an employee. That is a message the leadership of both systems need to articulate. Obviously, I am not a big teachers union fan. But I can see now why they persist. FEAR.
So, if people are really afraid, and the local media will not report anything more than the latest press release, how can you accurately gauge public opinion toward the local Directors of School or the system? How can we measure effectiveness?
That is why I think elected Superintendents/Directors are one way to handle the issue. If, a man or woman is elected to a position, whether citizens agree with them or not, they can claim a mandate. I think that is one mistake David Holloway failed to understand when he served as Superintendent of Schools. He had a mandate, at least initially. The Neville Chamberlain approach with the school board merely made his supporters angry and his enemies strong. David Holloway is a very good man, but the School Board consisted of skilled politicians. So citizens lost their vote in the long run.
Another way is to look at how the schools or systems do in comparison to other schools and systems. Demographics should be considered, but the focus is whether a school or system is moving forward or not. Is that system producing graduates who will succeed in an increasingly difficult competitive global market? You can check out test scores at the Tennessee Department of Education Website.
School Boards, and I have written about them before, are supposed to be the leverage point between taxpayers and the schools. The check and balance. Face facts, school systems will take as much money as taxpayers will allow them to have. In comparison to Cleveland City, the Bradley County crew is a contentious lot. I will give Bob Taylor recognition here, he courageously has his email address on the Bradley County Schools website, whereas Rick Denning's email is conspicuously absent.
If a group of men can help spark a Revolution by tossing tea overboard a ship in the Boston Harbor or Iraqi citizens can topple a statue of a ruthless dictator, teachers must be encouraged to stand up on their own. If they feel like the leadership is taking them down a path detrimental to the welfare of their students or fellow citizens they need to speak out. Should Bradley County get another new school? Can they refurbish what they already have? Should there be forced attendance zones? Was there a blatant attempt to make Bradley Central High School a second-rate school? I do not know. Likewise, has the Dr. Denning saga run its course? Does he bully administrators and teachers, and runoff quality people from the Cleveland system? The number of teachers migrating to Georgia just might be the run-off from local politics! But, I would like to hear from teachers and know their opinions.
Speaking of leaders or dictators, here is a shameless tie in, and conclusion to my column. Any media that take the latest press release as gospel, rather than really looking into an issue is very dangerous, consider for a moment the expertise of the former Information Minister of Iraq Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf. Apparently when we witnessed the jubilation of Iraqi citizens tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein we were fooled. The statutes were actually those of the many doubles used by the dictator. Thus it was impossible for citizens or invaders to know which ones to topple when the evil regime came to an end. In his last known words: "I now inform you that you are too far from reality." Maybe "Baghdad Bob" could be a spokesman for a school system in Tennessee. He needs a job, and obviously he is qualified for the task. Veritas!
J. C. Bowman, Director of School Choice for the State of Florida. E-mail:
Editor's note: JC Bowman's suggestion that The People News run a survey on it's website dedicated to City and County school issues is an excellent idea but unfortunately there was insufficient time before going to press to set up the website to handle the tabulation of a multi-question survey. Because education is one of the major challenges facing the community we will make multi-part surveys a priority in the future development of the website. Visitors to www.thepeoplenews.com will find a single part survey on the home page with the question:
The Bradley County School Board have requested in excess of $23 million for a bare bones renovation of Bradley Central High School plus money for repairs to other schools in the system.
Would you support an increase in property tax to fund these projects?