If U cn rd ths, U cn b schl brd pres

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for a public “hear-this” announcement.

Debra’s essay “Double Identity” appears on page 203 of the April issue of Good Housekeeping. On your newsstands now! Many thanks to the wonderful folks at GH for sharing my work with their loyal readers once again. (If you missed the first time around it was May 2009.)

At a time when so many print magazines are bidding farewell, GH is celebrating its 125th Anniversary. If you’re a subscriber, you know why they’ve lasted. If you’re not familiar with the magazine, give a look. Of all the magazines I read, this one hasn’t lost its heft — symbolic of advertisers’ own seal of approval. So check it out and thanks again to the GH staff for including my work in their pages.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled post.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Otis Mathis, as was recently reported in the  Detroit News, “acknowledges that he has difficulty composing a coherent English sentence.” Mathis is the president of the Detroit school board and his difficulties with reading and writing are seen as qualifications for leading the nation’s lowest achieving school district. In her article, reporter Laura Berman quoted a parent who said, “His lack of writing skills is prevalent in the community. If anybody does, he understands the struggles of what it’s like to go through an institution and not be properly prepared.”

Mathis was placed in special education classes in fourth grade because of his difficulties mastering the basics of written English. His college degree was held up for over a decade because he could not complete the English proficiency exam required by Wayne State University at the time. Not until the requirement was dropped in 2007 did Mathis apply for his degree, after his election to the school board. 

I could summon a slew of fitting adjectives to describe this bizarre situation  — ironic, outrageous, pitiful, unbelievable.  Tragic fits, too.  So does heartbreaking. And , in a through-the-looking-glass kind of way, so does understandable. Mathis is shaking things up. People admire him for reasons I won’t challenge, no matter how upended their logic. 

Otis Mathis envisions himself a role model to Detroit’s public school children. “It’s not about what you don’t have,” he said, (meaning, I assume, the ability to write coherently.) “It’s about what you can do.” Mathis has proved he can do a lot. But instead of letting DPS kids off easy,  I hope he can create a parent and school partnership so fourth graders with learning disabilities don’t fall through the cracks. I hope he can transform a school system into graduating students who are proficient in written English and properly prepared in all subjects. Because if Mathis can do that, just think of what DPS students could do then.

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6 thoughts on “If U cn rd ths, U cn b schl brd pres

  1. Lisa Hollis

    Bravo, Debra! Another exquisite piece! Congratulations and may there be many more to come for many people to enjoy. I read your blog at work today as I ate my lunch and searched in vain all over the GH site for a peek. When I arrived home this evening, I nearly tore the door off the mailbox to see if my GH issue had come, and there it was, like a wonderful surprise just waiting for me! (Our post-Katrina mail delivery is still a little off.) Without gushing too much, let me just say that everything that I have read of yours is so carefully crafted, so beautifully written! Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

    Now, as for Mr. Mathis, he is typical of my community college students, and it gives me no joy to say that. So many children are growing up today in homes without books, with a parent or parents who do not read to them or read anything for that matter, and this is why we have a literacy crisis. It is very sad, but as educators we can do our very best in the classroom, yet without parental and community support, we’re just spinning our wheels. If reading was valued as much as video games, our children would have a much greater chance at a good education and a good life.

    Sigh . . .

    1. Laya Crust

      Hi Debra,
      Yes- literacy. Throughout the world literacy is down due to computer games and two working parents who leave computers to do the babysitting. Outside of this we need teachers who are trained to recognize and help with learning disabilities. L.D. occurs in a huge percenatge of students and teachers have little to no education in that area. A little recognition and help would go a long way.

  2. Jan Hastings Krafka

    Hi “Debbi,”
    As I was flipping through some magazines in the hair salon today, I came across your high school picture in the Good Housekeeping article! What a nice surprise! I enjoyed reading your article. Weren’t we in Mrs. Benedict’s English class together at NF? She would be so proud of you!
    I would love to hear from you. Do you keep in touch with any other folks from high school? Congratulations on your article!

  3. Debra

    Jan! Wonderful to hear from you and yes, we were in Mrs. Benedict’s English class together. the minute I saw your name i knew just how was writing.

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