Monday, June 01, 2009

Two Columns

I stepped out of my comfort zone last week and wrote a column that is not typical for me.

On Monday last week I sent in a piece that had been carefully crafted, impatiently re-crafted, and then tweaked ad nauseum until I, at last, couldn't wait any longer and let go of it.

Wednesday morning I woke up and read the story in the newspaper about county commissioners and local ministers coming together to denounce a certain segment of society's way of life and I sat down and wrote a new column in about 10 minutes.

The writing was quick and passionate and it just felt right. I sent it in to my editor, Peggy B, and asked if I could get that one in the paper instead of the previous column. She liked it but said it would have to be approved by someone higher up because it was controversial. I'm not sure if she had to go to bat for it or not, but it got in and I thank her for jumping through the hoops for me.

I still like the column, still believe in what I said. I got quite a few e-mails and the vast majority of them were agreeing with my sentiments and thanking me for writing it. And I got the e-mails from people questioning me, lecturing me, praying for me and letting me know that they will no longer read my column. And that's all fine, too, I thank them for taking the time to read and write to me.

The next column, I hope, will be funny, there's still plenty to laugh at out there.

I'm not going to run the column from last week that was replaced because it was timely as well and that time has passed. Here it is below as I wrote it:

Downtown Memphis is a living, breathing museum where local pages of history have been turned for the world at large to learn. It’s a place where Memphians and tourists travel to see a ball game, a concert, to eat and drink and celebrate. And for six years my kids traveled there to go to school. Since the day it opened, we’ve had our children at Downtown Elementary, beginning with Calvin in kindergarten.

They learned some of that local history with field trips to the Rock-n-Soul Museum, Mud Island, Beale Street, the Orpheum and the Fire Museum. Walking to these destinations from school gave them the opportunity to become a part of the pulse of downtown, and the city, and absorb the good and bad, the neglected and reborn. The landscape became a nursery for the first seeds of civic pride to be planted.

On Madison Ave., in the shadow of the Sterick Building and a mere pop fly from AutoZone Park, our kids have learned multiplication, history, science, piano and, probably, a little bit of panhandling. But this past school year was their last year at Downtown Elementary.

Due to our move to a new neighborhood, one with well-respected schools of its own, we have elected to move the kids and say goodbye to the teachers and staff that we’ve come to think of as family.

Who other than family would you entrust your children to every day for so many years? The staff there have been as approachable and available as any sibling or cousin. So it was with a bittersweet start to the summer that my wife, Kristy, and I went to Downtown Elementary on the final day of school last Friday to say goodbye.

We didn’t get much past the front office and the principal, Mrs. Wunderlich, before the emotions poured out. This emotion continued as we made our way to Mrs. Porter, the kindergarten teacher who has taught each child we’ve sent to that school. She started them on the journey of education in such a way that they have all become good students, eager to learn.

We’ve been asked by other parents over the years what we think of Downtown Elementary and whether we’d recommend it. Even with three kids there, they’d ask if we like it. And we did, we loved it and the kids loved it and that makes it very difficult to leave. Our kids will be at Richland Elementary and White Station Middle next year where we expect them to excel due to the seeds planted Downtown in previous years.

Memphis City Schools gets a bad rap. Some of it is deserved, much of it is not, especially at the most basic, most important, level: the teacher/student relationship. The schools in this city are full of caring, competent and imaginative teachers who unfairly get lumped in with the pencil pushers and cell phone abusers at the administrative level.

With the economy tightening, more and more parents of children in private schools are looking for other options to paying tuition when the best option may be right there in their neighborhood. We made a decision to put our children in the city school system, we chose Downtown Elementary, and we couldn’t have been happier.