By Barney Blakeney
I was washing a leftover grits pot at my church Sunday morning (we do a monthly community breakfast each second Saturday –all are welcome to Charleston’s best home-cooked breakfast specially prepared by the loving hands of the women and men of Wesley UMC/Charleston) when my church brother walked into the kitchen asking what was it I had done to rile up so many people. He was talking about a report I made of an interview with Charleston County Consolidated School Board member Todd Garett about the academic outcome for students at Charleston’s iconic Burke High School published in the July 10 edition of The Charleston Chronicle.
I laughed. My brother said, “Man some people want your head on a platter! I’ve gotten calls from Atlanta Ga., Columbia and several other cities from people who’ve read the article. Some wanted to know where you live!” I didn’t find the information funny. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
I’ve been doing this work long enough to know every story will tick somebody off. Anyone without a thick skin should find another line of work. Can’t say the criticism, sometimes extreme, doesn’t get to me. It does. But you learn to take it constructively, laugh it off and move on to the next story. But I will tell you, without reservation, anyone who comes to my home unwelcomed will get what they meet. And you can take that to the bank!
I started getting phone calls critical of the story even before it was written, an indication of the irrationality that’s followed. Some people had started criticizing the story even before it was presented. How do you criticize something that doesn’t exist? So despite my experience and wisdom, I’ve been stressed by the response to this story. But perhaps more than anything, I’m saddened by the response.
The focus of Garrett’s interview was his concern that 2019 marked another Burke graduating whose test scores put them at a disadvantage in the adult world they now are joining. About two/thirds of the 60-member graduating class don’t have scores that meet state standards as career or college ready. One guy, a school improvement council officer, called to haggle over the numbers. He asked some stupid question about fact checking. Yes I checked the numbers. But never mind the numbers. If only one kid is graduated unprepared to enter this Era of Trump, we’ve got a serious problem – two/thirds unprepared! Guy, are you serious?
I looked at the 2017-1018 S.C. Education Department School Report Card for Burke High. What I found is heartbreaking. I’m not going into the numbers in the 2017-1018 report card here. Those interested can find that information if they want it. Obviously those critical of the story aren’t interested in facts. They’re interested in saving face and their egos at the expense of our children.
A lot of people derive substantial benefits from what’s happening at Burke – financial and otherwise. And unfortunately, there’s an enormous amount of pride involved. I’m a proud Panther, C.A. Brown High graduate. But Burke is our mother school. Burke gave birth to C.A. Brown. Its former teachers and administrators nurtured us into adulthood. They gave us a quality education comparable to any on planet earth! Without Burke – and thank God for Joseph A. “Pop” Moore and so many others – I wouldn’t be writing news stories. I too am Bulldog proud.
But the Burke that we knew no longer exists. To start with only some 300 students are enrolled at Burke. Heck Burke had graduating classes numbering over 300! We’ve got an almost brand new state of the art facility on President Street where many Black parents won’t send their kids. Not that Burke doesn’t produce great students. My cousin’s kid graduated from Burke a few years ago, topped out among the academic leaders in his class and now is doing a heck of a job as a Constituent District 20 teacher. Burke still produces great students. But too many parents won’t shoot craps with their children’s future. They’re unwilling to take the chance that their kid will be among the two/third graduates who don’t get what they need.
Before going to my grits pot, I heard Dr. Charles Stanley say in his message “Feelings have nothing to do with it. It’s about reality.” During service after I was done with the pot, our lay speaker asked if we are ‘legacy people’. She noted that ‘legacy people’ are proactive people of action. They don’t react to stuff. They make stuff happen! What are the critics doing, besides making money, soothing their egos and running their mouths to change the reality at Burke?
Burke has been designated by S.C Dept. of Ed an “at-risk” school more than 20 years! What if all those critics reacting to the Todd Garrett story had directed that energy to consistent and persistent demands for a quality learning environment at Burke over the past 25 years? How can anyone justify the perpetuation of what now exists at Burke over the past 25 years? Feelings have nothing to do with it. It’s about reality!
I wrote the Garrett interview hoping my people would get two things – that our children continue to be the victims of a discriminatory public school system and that while we’re making money stroking our own egos and living a delusional past, other folks are planning Burke’s future. In all the criticism I’ve heard, I haven’t heard any of the critics outline a path to more progressive outcomes for students.
That’s what’s been bothering me the past few days. All this outrage and insult, but no one is putting anything on the table that moves our kids toward a better place. People are making good money to keep Burke where it is – at least until it’s ready for takeover. And it will be taken over! Changing racial demographics on the peninsula and the $20 billion/20-year West Edge Project guarantee that.
I once heard a friend lamenting her unappreciated hard work say, “I ain’t gettin’’ paid and I ain’t getting’ laid.” Sounds like my ordeal with the Garrett story. Maybe I should stick to washing pots.