Wisdom of Willie T. Ford
By Mickey Dunaway
Since 2002, a vast school district near me has employed and fired eight superintendents. That averages out to 2.5 years per superintendent. Makes me contemplate the smarts of Mark Twain regarding Boards of Education when he wrote: “In the first place, God created idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”
The latest fiasco of this—over-sized, poorly managed, even more poorly led, failure-prone, “my feces don’t stink”—school district convinced me to add another essay to my ever-growing stack. However, I also am adding a simple solution that will work if the district leadership has the will to implement it faithfully and to stick to it religiously when people complain. You will see why they might complain below.
I grew up on a sandy dirt road near the little country town of Wilmer in west Mobile County. The town thrived at one point in its history as a lumber town with a railroad running through it. But the Wilmer I knew consisted of a Southern Baptist Church, a United Methodist Church, a Post Office, a feed mill, a small country store, a garage, a hardware store, a cemetery, a K-9 all-white Wilmer Elementary School, and an all-black school that my school bus passed every on the way to my elementary school.
IMPORTANT REFLECTION BEFORE MOVING ON: I have tried diligently to research the name of that school. It is unforgivable that the name of that school is not easily found on Google or on the Mobile County Public School’s webpage. Although I cannot reference even the name of that school, I am sure that its teachers and graduates were much like those from Wilmer Elementary. Even so, its image is still as fresh in my memory as the days I rode the school bus, and I will continue to search for its name and post it when I find it.
Wilmer Elementary was a school that would hold its own today in the quality of its teachers and its graduates’ achievements and lifetime accomplishments.
I had the same hardass/take-no-prisoners English teacher at that country school in the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Mrs. Willie T. Ford–God Bless her grammar-loving soul–frequently reminded us of her favorite Abe Lincoln, “God must love the common man — he made so many of them.” And then she paraphrased it a little by saying, “God must love the ‘C’ — he made so many of them.” She was not denigrating the ‘C’ student, far from it. She told us that a ‘C’ grade was a very acceptable grade in her class.
I was reminded of Mrs. Ford’s tough learning stance when I recently learned that Martin Luther King made a “C” in Speech and a “C” in preaching! In today’s public education sphere, he would have been labeled a failure … as would have John F. Kennedy.
Please pass it along to every educator, legislator, and parent if you agree with this essay. Today, a “C” is equivalent to an “F” from the Willie Ford days. Don’t ask me what today’s “F” equals. I don’t have a clue. But I do know that if the “C” equals an “old-style F,” it is only because expectations as educators for that “C” are so low. Here is what a “C” would equal in Mickey Dunaway’s school district:
C=On-Grade Level Performance
C=Meets Academic Expectations for Course and Grade
C=You Worked Your Butt Off and Are Proud of That “C”
A sad corollary of this phenomenon is that an “A” is often meaningless as that “C” because it is
achieved – nope, not achieved – acquired through extra credit by students who should really be getting a “B.” So, if an “A” doesn’t really equal an “A,” then the “B” is also meaningless. Who wants a “B” if they can do a little extra credit and raise it to an “A?” Not me.
Come on, Teachers, Principals, and Professors. Come on, Legislators. Come on, School Boards. Come on, Parents. Fix this problem, and the senseless testing that students must endure, and means so little, will go away because once again, the Willie T. Fords of the world will come back to the classrooms and teach better than anyone thought possible. Likewise, the kids will learn more and more deeply than they thought possible! And as a result, they will be ready for whatever the world lays at their feet.
So, “Thank You, Dr. King.” You showed us the proper way before when time when our nation was totally off-track. Please show us again. The crisis is great, and we need your voice.