The fate of public education establishments serving Memphis, Shelby County, and Tennessee is already apparent in the progressive deterioration of the staffs, facilities, and graduating students — processes that will continue to degrade the systems and their products unless and until respective electorates intervene.
A former Memphis mayor and school administrator first called attention to the underlying problem when he criticized residents who were abandoning the city for the more favorable political and educational environments of DeSoto County. The migration of Shelby County residents to adjacent counties in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee continues, accompanied by deteriorating support for all of the above-cited public education systems. The latter process is remarkably similar to that which prevailed in the 1960s, when changes in Memphis and Shelby County schools spawned rapid growth in private and parochial systems.
Consider, for example, the city schools' decision to "automatically promote" students in grades one through three. What percentage of them will be able to cope successfully with the fourth grade?
The Tennessee Board of Regents, admittedly starved for resources by the General Assembly, now measures the "productivity" of the institutions it supervises by the number of students they graduate and the speed with which those students complete their curricula.
The net result has been continuing decline in high school graduates' ability to do college work and college graduates' ability to succeed in graduate schools, prompting more and more parents to seek places in private schools for their children or locate elsewhere.
The Death Penalty
I feel obligated to respond to Randy Haspel's "Rant" about the death penalty (April 26th issue). Justice Blackmun once wrote that "the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake," despite the states' efforts to comply with Furman, the Supreme Court case from 1972 that held that the death penalty must be imposed fairly or not at all.
Haspel's rant is itself fraught with caprice and mistake. He writes that we should "merely follow the court's ruling [in Furman] and narrow the criteria for the ultimate punishment." This is precisely what the states have been attempting to do for the last 40 years. Recent cases such as Troy Davis and Marcus Reymond Robinson highlight two states' failures to regulate who they sentence to death.
Regulating state-sanctioned killing is more complex than regulating something like voting. I'm going to be an attorney in 6 months, and I'm willing to bet that there is no law, state or federal, that can be written to cure the inherent defects in our "machinery of death," as Justice Blackmun described capital punishment. When it comes to human life, we should err on the side of caution. The death penalty experiment has failed, and we must concede it.
This is Teacher Appreciation Week, but teachers need to be appreciated every day. I am reminded of a bumper sticker, "If you can read this, thank a teacher." Teachers prepare us for life, teaching skills to get along in society, to be good citizens, to work hard, to create, to innovate, to reach for the stars. They are role models, mentors. Most of us can look back and credit a teacher for our success. I can think of no one more vital to our society than a teacher.
With the unemployment rate in our area hovering around 12 percent, we need to bolster our teachers and our education system more than ever. We need to attract the best and brightest teachers, encourage their creativity and passion, and give them the support and resources to do the job. Unfortunately, the anti-teacher, anti-public education, and, yes, anti-jobs laws passed by the Republican legislature last year will only force good teachers out of the system.
Public schools are the great equalizer. Every child — black, white, Asian, or Hispanic, rich or poor — has an equal opportunity to succeed in a public school. That is threatening to the privileged few who have bought and paid for this legislation. I guess the lapel button I saw last weekend is true: "Those who can, teach. Those who can't, make laws about teaching."
The Memphis Mullahs (Todd, Norris, and Kelsey) and the Tennessee Taliban (Republican-controlled state legislators) have me considering moving to Iran where it's less repressive.