A Lot To Learn

September 1st, 2011

Many of us have teachers we remember for what we learned, for the positive difference made in our lives.

Annie Laurie Peeler was a teacher like that for me.

Lately, I’m thinking Memphis and Shelby County may well have a teacher like that in Hardy Mays, and we’re going to remember what we learn over the next couple of years for a very long time.

As published in The Daily News, September 2, 2011, and in The Memphis News, September 3-9, 2011



There were cliques.

Kids with more money and better clothes vs. kids with more need and better street cred. Kids with chips on their shoulders and bullies who like to fight. Smarter kids and smart-ass kids. Kids who always raise their hands and kids who always raise hell. Cool kids and those in their shade. Phonies and their toadies.

Without a strong adult in the room, nobody stays seated, nobody’s stuff is safe, those with the least lose the most and those that have it take more of it. Nobody listens because there’s nothing to hear but noise. Nobody learns because there’s nothing new offered.

Thank God for Annie Laurie Peeler, my sixth grade teacher at Training School, and Judge Hardy Mays, the adult in the room who can make the children behave.

Without even raising her voice and sometimes with nothing but a glare, Mrs. Peeler set you straight and pointed out the right and wrong paths with the apple in her hand – I swear, she actually had an apple in her hand. There were rules, you knew them, and if you broke them, you knew the consequences. There was a rose garden beside her classroom, and if you misbehaved you had to work in the garden. I learned a lot about thorns and blooms from Mrs. Peeler, and I learned how to learn.

Without a fistfight in the hall or behind the school, without any board members – city or county – having to get out of their seats, Judge Mays has laid down the law with an even hand and given us all an opportunity to make something better of ourselves.

Rules are set, discipline is applied, order is restored, and systems are in place. For now.

Mrs. Peeler and Judge Mays know these children bear watching. Given the chance, Germantown, Collierville and Bartlett will set up their own tables in the lunchroom and won’t let anybody else sit there. Curry Todd still wants to beat up anybody from Memphis, and Kenneth Whalum wants to start the fight. Mark Norris wants to be named Most Popular, Martavius Jones wants to be voted Most Likely To Succeed, and David Pickler wants – really, really wants – to be Class President. And all the kids have lawyers.

There are hopeful signs. When the city board said, “We can give up our charter,” and the county board said, “Prove it,” they did. When the city said, “Give us representation,” and the county said, “Make me,” they did. The judge got Pickler to sit down and be quiet – nobody’s done that – and when the state couldn’t play by the new rules, they were sent home.

But nobody did anything until they were made to, and it took the maturity and wisdom of a strong authority figure – and $2 million of our money – to get our classrooms back under control.

We know what’s at stake, and the lesson learned is to watch the children very closely.

I’m a Memphian, and we’ve got a ton of homework.


Denny Woody: Dan, A friend that I carpool to DeSoto County with, who lives in Bartlett, said to me yesterday, "We're on different pages on the consolidation issue. I think it's going to be a bust and you think it will improve education in all of Shelby County." To that I responded, "I didn't say it was going to be the panacea. I said I hope (emphasis on "hope") that cooler heads will prevail and education in Memphis will have a chance to stop the freefall." Let's all hope for this.

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