It’s too easy to get my conscience on my case

FYI, folks, I got this from Randy Page over at SCRG, in response to this earlier post:

Appreciate your selective use of tweets from the SCRG account….

Ouch. I hate it that Randy feels put upon — I think he’s a nice guy and I want him to think I’m a nice guy, too, and all that — but it wasn’t all that selective. I mean, go look at the timeline. You be the judge.

I said the Onion thing reminded me of SOME of SCRG’s Tweets, and I showed you some of  the ones I was talking about. And I didn’t have to look hard. (And the ONE Tweet I found saying something positive about schools — “Schools’ Report Cards Improve” — hardly disproves my thesis, since in the same span of time I easily found seven negative ones. Since my post, SCRG has had two new Tweets. Neither was complimentary toward public schools, and one said “South Carolina’s Worst Elementary and Middle Schools.” I’m not holding my breath waiting for that companion Tweet about the BEST schools…)

I don’t see that I did a single wrong thing there. I definitely didn’t misrepresent the overwhelmingly predominate thrust of SCRG’s Tweets. But I still feel bad about it. As Mark Twain wrote (in the voice of Huck Finn):

But that’s always the way; it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow. Tom Sawyer he says the same.

Uh-oh. Now I’m going to get in trouble with animal lovers. Hey, it was Huck Finn who said it, not me… There’s goes my danged conscience again…

54 thoughts on “It’s too easy to get my conscience on my case

  1. Elliott

    I’m puzzled. You reprint the SCRG’s tweets, and the author writes to complain that you hurt him. Maybe he is hurting himself.

  2. KP

    Um…Don’t beat yourself up too much over suggesting that Randy Page spends most of his time bashing public schools. Because, well, he spends most of his time bashing public schools.

  3. Tom Fillinger

    The issue is not “talking nice” about the Public School System in SC. The issue is the application of a Substantive Real World metric that measures real education, not test scores. Further, it is very disingenuis and tragic to constantly trumpet “progress” in the system when the number of drop outs continues to escalate.

    SC continues to be more concerned with preserving the system of Public Education than they are about truly and effectively educating the public ie the young people of our state.

    The system is tragic, incompetent and in need of major remedial modification. That will not happen until we focus on EDUCATION and NOT preserving the SYSTEM.

    Identifying a few isolated tweets on various web sites is merely a smoke screen that enables denial of the real issue – – we pump out thousands of unprepared and ill-equipped young people every year. They enter a marketplace that demands significant skills and they lack even the discipline to show up on time to flip burgers.

    The System perpetually fears true competition which will expose the egregious and complicit support of government in perpetuating a process that has been demonstrated to be a wretched failure in preparing young people for a life of other-centered contribution to the world in which they live.

  4. Mark Stewart

    Surprisingly, I found myself in agreement with Tom (well, except for the “tragic, incompetent and in need of major remedial modification” part) until I got to his last paragraph.

    Then I choked.

    Of course public education needs to be improved – as does everything in life. Nothing is static and we can never rest.

    I am for leadership to reach for improvement – not for criticism aimed at destruction of one of the key pillars of our society.

  5. Kathryn "Blue" Fenner

    @ Mark — Your finger is on the pulse of the Zeitgeist–today’s paper said the same thing, essentially.

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

  6. Barry

    In addition, I like how the link “South Carolina’s Worst Elementary and Middle Schools”
    actually lists 2 high schools in the group.

    Sounds like someone flunked proofreading at the SCRG.

  7. Mark Stewart


    I got lucky, I guess – because I tend to check out this blog before reading the paper. Sadly, it’s a diminishing return thing to read it (and I don’t just mean The State).

  8. Phillip

    @Tom: I, too, admire those who lead a “life of other-centered contribution to the world in which they live.” Like a guy I don’t know personally, but who came out of the top schools with stellar grades and could have gone straight into a field where he’d make a ton of money (like many of his classmates) but decided instead to work with underserved communities in an inner city. You know, what do they call somebody who does that? Oh yeah, a community organizer.

  9. Doug Ross


    Can we improve education if incompetent teachers are not removed? Or do you believe there are none? (Like the teacher my son has who spends the majority of his class time on Facebook and managing his fantasy football team while giving the kids open book tests). He’s been there for five years.

  10. Tom Fillinger

    Mark, I said major remeidal modificaiton, not destruction. You may be among those that I referenced who fear real competition and an objective metric standard that measures real education.

    Also, ‘the state’ is not and cannot be the primary watchman of the education process. That is the responsibility of PARENTS. Correct the dysfunction in families and the system will suddenly become much more effective. To date there are none with the will power to address the real issues. The solutions to date have been fiscal, throw more money at the problem.

    I am FOR the children of SC and live with HOPE that they will soon be served with a much better and superior process.

  11. Mark Stewart


    I get what you’re saying, but I don’t see the connection that says schools should be dismantled because poor parenting is a bigger problem. If parents are the problem, then work to address that massive issue in this state. And while your at it, please solve the lingering malaise of poverty, underemployment and under education that keeps so many parents from doing a better job with their most important responsibility in life. I’m not being a wise guy; these are truly troubling problems in South Carolina.

    Otherwise, I still maintain that focusing our state’s resources on children is the only possible way to rationally grow out of several centuries of problems.

  12. Randy Page

    Don’t worry about your conscience, Brad.

    The main point that I was trying to make – and obviously failed to do in a short TWITTER direct message – was that most of the tweets featured on the SCRG TWITTER feed are headlines from other sources and not original material.

    The story on grade inflation – that was from The State and The Greenville News.

    The story on the “national catastrophe” of education for black males – that came from Education Week

    Many of the posts point to success of school choice across the country – and of course, I’m going to repost those.

    And the post about the joy of reading, that came from the Post and Courier and praised the Charleston County School

    Are there posts that are critical? Yes – I’m not denying that.

    And yes, Brad, I still think you’re a nice guy.

  13. Brad

    Thanks, Randy!

    See, y’all, I was feeling bad about nothing.

    It’s like Huck and I said — a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense nohow. And Tom Sawyer, he says the same.

  14. Nick Nielsen

    @Barry, the list actually contains four high schools, five if you count the M. L. Dinkins Higher Learning Center (which more resembles the central school I went to in grade structure).

    For some contrast, this story ran Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Poll: N.J. voters say not enough state money spent on education

  15. Barry

    My wife teaches at a private school.

    I am all for kids going to private schools but I don’t want my tax money paying for it.

    if private schools can accept vouchers (under any form) then I want specific guidelines in place to monitor those schools.

    Of course my wife tells me their school is full and they aren’t interested in adding any more students.

  16. bud

    You may be among those that I referenced who fear real competition and an objective metric standard that measures real education.

    Two points:

    1. Real competition in the schools is impossible because any private school that is subsidized will still have the option of rejecting students it deems disruptive.

    2. There is no such thing as “an objective metric standard”. Anything you devise will be subjective on some level.

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    Are there incompetent teachers–sure, but it isn’t hard to get rid of them here–we don’t have tenure or a union.

    Do you believe everything your kids tell you about what goes int he classroom, though, Doug? You don’t suppose they might be exaggerating? If not, why aren’t you all over it? When I was in high school, parents were all over a biology teacher, who in retrospect, wasn’t all that bad–just nowhere near as good as the math and physics teachers.

  18. Doug Ross


    I’d love to hear of actual cases where teachers were fired for incompetence. I’ve never heard of one except when there is some type of crime committed.

    Ask a teacher to name the worst teacher in his/her school. You won’t get an answer.

  19. Mark Stewart


    How many people have been fired for incompetence at your company? How often do you hear about it, even internally, unless you have close contact with the situation?

    Would you name the worst employee at your company if asked by an outsider?

    Come on, none of those are fair. I am sure – or at least I hope – that unfit teachers are let go in one way or another. I am not surprised when I don’t hear about this; neither the teacher nor the school district has any incentive to advertise failure. I don’t blame them for that. As long as they cull the weakest performers without undo delay. I’m prepared to trust them on this; and if they fail, I would hope that the parent’s would be all over the school about it.

    In a way I sometimes wonder what would happen if we could live in a Goldman Sachs-kind of world where the bottom 10% of employees are let go each year just because. But then would you want to live in a world that operates on that model?

  20. Tom Fillinger


    If we apply Bud’s logic (there is no such thing as an “objective standard” – – then we slide into the LOWEST common denominator.

    Seems to me we are nearly there already so the journey won’t be long.

    Would Churchill have adopted such logic in defending Englad during the war? Did Bonehoeffer apply this in his struggle against the Reich?

    I agree there is no PERFECT and Totally OBJECTIVE standard but I am not prepared to abandon the effort.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    Look, I was the only person interviewed, of many who complained a lot louder than I, about the McMaster rental properties who was willing to go on the record.

    People are wienies. They don’t like conflict. They don’t like to stand up and be counted–how many commentators on this very blog are not using their full, real names?

  22. Doug Ross


    My company regularly gets rid of people who are unproductive and then rehires more to replace them. The names of the people who are let go aren’t broadcast to the world but we all know who got hit when it happens. And it’s a very rare occasion when the response is “Gee, that was a shock” That’s how you end up with the leading company in the world in the industry we are in. It happens all the time. Geez, I would imagine even McDonalds fires people who don’t do their jobs well.

    I would not hesitate for a moment if asked by my management for the names of employees I have worked with who I consider incompetent. And I make it my duty every day to make sure I don’t end up on someone else’s list.

    But teachers are different. It’s sort of like Fight Club. You don’t talk about other teachers if you are a teacher. There are bad teachers who have held onto their jobs for years. Everyone knows it.

  23. Brad

    I went to a lot of schools — something like 14 (depends on how you count my having finished the 4th grade with a tutor) — but I only attended one that was like Fight Club. That was in Woodbury, NJ. Sort of a rough neighborhood… Fighting was just sort of a social thing that we did. I lost a tooth once fighting with a friend when we couldn’t think of anything else to do. There were only two of us, so kickball was out…

  24. Brad

    Oh, and when you speak of firing people… I just spent 35 years in a line of work in which (at least in the later years) we never got around to firing people for poor performance, we were too busy firing them just to cut expenses.

    And we didn’t fire “the bottom 10% of employees” the way Mark suggests. We fired, over time, 50 percent and more (my department went from 9 people to 2), with no reference to performance. In fact, there was a distinct bias toward firing TOP people because they (we) made the most money.

    Anyway, that’s my experience in the vaunted public sector.

  25. Susan

    At my son’s elementary school, every teacher he’s had contact with has been excellent, but the district did fire a principal while I was there, after having been at the school two years. (In Richland I).
    Just an example of a school administrator being fired. (For not improving the test scores enough, I believe).

  26. Doug Ross


    Wait til your kids get to middle school and high school. They’ll have 4-5 teachers per year. So between about 5th and 12th grade, a student will have about 30+ different teachers.

  27. KP

    Actually, I have to agree with Doug on this one. I don’t know about Richland 2 (where you have lots of money), but in my school, bad teachers are almost never let go. Of course, there are reasons for that, which I’m not hearing Doug give a solution for.

    One of the main reasons is that there’s no one to replace them. There’s a teacher shortage statewide to start with, and the good teachers that are available aren’t clamoring to come to a small town in the Pee Dee. People from my mother’s generation, who were teachers because it was expected of them, have retired, people from my generation have lots of other options, and young people who want to be teachers have no reason to come here — even if we could match the pay of larger cities, which we can’t.

    The other reason bad teachers remain IS the school’s fault: some bad teachers could be good, but the school lets them be bad by not insisting that they get better.

    I’ve been dealing with this issue A LOT over the past two years, with a teacher who does a fine job with students who are inclined to do well in her subject, but can’t do a thing (and doesn’t really feel responsible for doing it) with students who struggle. The parents know it, the administrators know it, and no one does a thing about it.

    I’m a squeaky wheel, and I’m fairly relentless, but our district is like many — they like to placate angry parents without really changing anything. This teacher needs to be let go, and if she can’t be let go (because then there’d be no teacher), then she needs guidance. That’s where my school falls short. And it’s probably not the only one.

  28. Brad

    Well, of course I agree with Doug on that point. Frankly, I was surprised to see Kathryn say of bad teachers, “it isn’t hard to get rid of them here.” I thought the difficulties in firing were pretty much commonly accepted.

    That’s why one of the reforms I’ve called for for years (along with school district consolidation, and real merit pay) is to make it easier for principals to fire incompetents.

    But we never get around to having serious debates about such measures to actually improve public schools, because we’ve wasted the last few years debating whether to give up on them. THAT’S the problem with SCRG, our governor, and their allies. They have succeeded in moving the conversation to a completely nonconstructive place.

    We sort of have to agree that public schools are worth having before we can muster support for some really difficult-to-implement (because of the political odds) reforms that would make them better.

  29. Mark Stewart

    I was going to argue Doug’s point that schools are some kind cop-silence places that systematically ignore poor teacher performance. However, I reconsider after reading KP’s comment.

    I thought that we had something of a teacher surplus, but I realize that I’ve looked at the situation from the perspective I see in Lexington 1. So if someone tells me that poor performers are not let go in this district, then I’ll be fully on board with Doug’s contention.

    To KP’s point, it does seem that lot’s of people in SC want to live in rural areas; though maybe they aren’t necessarily the same kind of people who want to be teachers (in this generation as KP said) – or a working spouse of a teacher maybe even more to the point?

    There are a lot of reasons why urbanization is a positive thing for our society; maybe this is just one more example of why that is so.

  30. KP

    How, exactly, would making it easier to fire incompetents solve the teaching situation in poor rural schools?

  31. Tom Fillinger


    THANK YOU! I am not often popular but I am quite prepared to stand by what I write/speak.

    Our name is a premier issue and we should be willing to add the integrity of honest and transparent identification with the issues we champion. If your conviction is so shallow that you won’t attach your identity, is it really a conviction?

  32. Burl Burlingame

    What do you do with someone who might be an excellent teacher, but who preaches (not teaches) creationism in science class? What about teachers who indoctrinate students with political leanings of either persuasion? Would you get rid of a dull, boring teacher who knows the subject inside-out in favor of a fresh sparkplug who doesn’t know squat?
    History education is a good example. Conservatives scream because Paul Revere isn’t mentioned as much any more, but teachers know that Paul Revere is much more likely to surface in popular culture than others, so kids will know who he is….
    “Bad” teachers come in all stripes. Because you might disagree with a teacher doesn’t make him a “bad” teacher.
    Parents are a huge part of the problem these days, because some think of the school as free day-care, and others are convinced they know how to teach better than the trained educators.

  33. Shannon aka Scout

    Yea, it is hard to fire teachers – it’s not a union thing though. From what I have gathered, it is a combination of a very long drawn out paperwork and documentation process combined with the complication that there may be few people to replace them, like KP mentioned. That’s just my sidelines view/guess. I’m not in administration so I don’t know the details. I do know that it is the principals that would have to do this paperwork, and few principals seem to want to deal with the hassle. Yes, Doug I am aware of less than stellar teachers in my school – but not in great numbers – they are fewer than you suggest, at least in my school. And there is effort to work with them, at least in my school.

    In my experience, Principals can be as much of the problem. In my particular case, I have not yet had a principal that truly understands what my job is so the thought of such a person having ultimate control over what they don’t understand gives me pause. I am not a teacher. I am a speech language pathologist.

  34. Barry

    I work for a fairly large company and people are very rarely fired.

    There is a very long process for firing someone (improvement plans, repeated counseling, written warnings, etc). The process takes a very long time and it’s very cumbersome.

    So I think it’s more complicated than just “firing” teachers.

  35. Doug Ross

    Today’s news on Richland 2 schools:

    One more elementary and one more middle school opening in 2011. Followed by:

    “The district expects to build a new high school in time for the 2013-14 academic year, followed by two elementary schools in 2014-15. Between 2016 and 2018, two more elementaries, a middle school and a high school are also on the drawing board.”

    Seriously – where do you think we will find quality teachers to fill all those positions? When Blythewood H.S. opened up, the scarcity of science teachers forced them to import teachers from outside the U.S. – several of whom had difficulty speaking English.

  36. Tom Fillinger


    You make my case. You are apparently endeavoring to define a “good” or “bad” teacher. Without an OBJECTIVE METRIC (which Bud says is not possible), we cannot ever determine the quality of, in this discussion, a good or bad teacher.

    By the way Burl, Science says nothing, Scientist do. It takes far more ‘faith’ (sic) to believe in evolution than it does to believe that In The beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).

  37. Brad

    I’m more radical than any of y’all.

    Personally, I don’t believe an “objective metric” can be devised to measure whether a teacher is doing a good job or not. What happens when you try to devise one is that we have tremendous battles over the measurement device, and we get nowhere. (Think “PACT Test,” which was devised to measure whether schools and districts were getting the job done.)

    But bottom line, trying to devise one would misrepresent the nature of what you’re trying to judge. Whether someone is a good or bad teacher is a function of all sorts of highly complex interpersonal dynamics. It’s about people and how they interact with, communicate with, inspire, direct, discipline, raise, instruct — and all sorts of other verbs — other people.

    And a true assessment of a teacher’s worth is going to be highly subject. It will involve gestalten impression of thousands and thousands of variables. You won’t be able to represent it on a a spreadsheet so that everyone can agree with your assessment. It’s going to take that most elusive of qualities, JUDGMENT.

    Judgment is what is missing. Judgment is what we all fear, because it’s so subjective. It requires trust, and that is is very short supply. In fact, we tend to run society upon the assumption that no one trusts anyone else, and THAT is what is wrong with so many of our systems and procedures and institutions.

    To me, the best way to do it is to hire good principals, and trust them completely to hire the best teachers and fire the worst.

    It would be imperfect — one person’s good principal would not be another’s — but it’s the only way to get the job done. You’d have to ACCEPT that people are different, and you’re not always going to agree with the principal’s judgments. But it’s the way to get things done.

  38. Doug Ross

    @shannon / @brad

    My kids had a principal for a couple years in elementary school who was on the TERI program and basically just sat there trying to get through every day doing as little as possible. She still didn’t know the names of all her teachers and staff (including my wife) after two years.

    So on top of not being fired, she was getting the TERI bonus as well.

    The limited accountability in the public school system is one of the barriers to excellent performance.

    The news yesterday mentioned the former Superintendent of Richland 1 was arrested for embezzling $500,000 from his current district and Richland 1. The athletic director at White Knoll was arrested in August for stealing $100k. The husband of a school board member is in jail for stealing $5 million from the government. Another one was forced to resign for embezzling money from a cafeteria service a few years ago.

    It’s not just bad old Wall Street, folks.

  39. Burl Burlingame

    Also, about building schools — it’s a dynamic process, tied in to population fluctuations. Maybe all schools should be held in portable classrooms, clustered together and ready to move like gypsy camps.

  40. Brad

    You know, I never minded portables when I was a student. My favorite classes at Radford were in portables.

    There were drawbacks, though. For instance… remember how they were simple frame structures with wooden floors and big, empty, open crawl spaces beneath (whenever I hear Van Morrison sing, “making love behind the stadium with you,” I always think, “those spaces under the portables at Radford would be a better spot.”)

    Anyway, one day Mrs. Burchard was out, and we had a sub. The sub told us to read quietly, which we did. One of my classmates had bought a couple of bottles of wine — cheap, awful stuff like Ripple — that he and I and a couple of others planned to enjoy later. He had them in a canvas bag leaning against his seat. At one point during the silence, he bumped the bag and caused it to fall over to the floor, which had the acoustic qualities of a huge drumhead. The sound of those glass bottles clanking and rolling against each other on that hollow wooden floor was ENORMOUS, the loudest thing I’d ever heard. My classmate froze, turned to stone. There was nothing that a high school student would legitimately have with him that would make a noise like that.

    The sub, probably acting on the principle of avoiding hassles, ignored it. I don’t think he WANTED to know what it was.

    And after about five minutes, we all started breathing again…

  41. Kathryn Fenner

    Look–it shouldn’t be easy to fire somebody–one’s livelihood is so critical, especially with our poor safety net. You don’t want personal vendettas or even prejudices to play into it.
    That said, so many people won’t even start the process. When I was a young lawyer at a Big Law firm, they said there were only two performance reviews: “You’re great” and “you’re fired.” Give people meaningful feedback, solid criteria upon which to measure improvement, and then terminate them if they fail to meet it.

    We need to weed out bad employees everywhere. If there aren’t enough better ones in the hopper, we need to ensure that there are some. This costs money…Cindi wrote another great piece in today’s paper about how crucial adequate funding of core functions is, and how we just don’t have it. It’s pure waste to just limp along without funds to achieve anything significant!

  42. Mark Stewart

    Two comments:

    1) There should never be a Principal in the Teri program – ever. (There should not be a Teri program, but that’s a different issue). Doug’s example is exactly why. A Principal needs to be looking to the future, which will keep them focused on the needs of the present. A retiree just doesn’t have that world view.

    2) There are no “objective” measurement systems to analyze complex human interactions. Never will be. And yet people know what is right and good in a person; if they can ever put aside their social blinders to acknowledge this. Did anyone see Kathleen Parker interview her high school English teacher on CNN last evening? James Gasque obviously taught her something that she felt was profoundly important in her life. Yet how would his performance as an instructor look in a standardized review process? I don’t know; but I do know that that kind of personal relevance will never be captured by a system. On the other hand, systems can have a role in weeding out the weakest performers. So there is a limited role for them to play, but only a limited role.

  43. Tom Fillinger


    Your Worldview/Philosophy (Pragmatism)shines through in these comments – – “It’s the way to get things done.”

    There is a higher order of things than simply “does it work”, or, “we got it done”. Nancy Pelosi
    “got it done” and what a reprehensible mess it is.

    Principle over pragmatism every time.

  44. Kathryn Fenner

    Okay–you can, or at least I can, analyze what is lacking in a person’s performance–attendance, preparation, attentiveness, persistence…there is some reason why an employee is found lacking, and it can be articulated, must be articulated….and steps can be laid out to improve–milestones/benchmarks, etc.

    If you can’t articulate with reasonable specificity why an employee is falling so far short that firing is contemplated, you should not be in a supervisory position!

  45. Mark Stewart

    Kathryn, I didn’t mean a person couldn’t articulate another’s performance; I meant an analytical review cannot identify who are the best and why. Their student’s may score no higher than another teacher’s, but their influence will be much more profound. People can see that. Systems cannot.

  46. Kathryn Fenner

    Absolutely–you can’t easily objectively judge who is the best teacher–perhaps if you controlled for factors like pre-existing student advantages, or measured improvement…

    but if you are going to fire someone as “incompetent”–surely you can quantify that somehow?

  47. Burl Burlingame

    Imagine if the citizenry second-guessed all government services the way they do education. Rabid conservatives have a deep mistrust of knowledge, just as they do the media, and their efforts to scramble the education system pays off in an ignorant, narrow-minded electorate. Their peeps!

  48. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Burl– I’m quite active in city affairs, and actually, a lot of people second guess everything from zoning enforcement to garbage pickup!

  49. Barry

    @ Mark- yes, I saw Kathleen Parker talking to her former English teacher. That was a good interview. The teacher was nervous. He wasn’t sure really what he ever taught his students. He couldn’t put it into even simple words. But Kathleen Parker was inspired by him and it lit a fire in her that still burns even now as she is a national commentator and on CNN every night.

    I am very proud of every teacher my two boys have had. They’ve all impressed me. Some were tough. Some have been easier than others. But they’ve all impressed me with their attitude and passion.

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