By KATHERINE BURGESS, The Jackson (Tennessee) Sun
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) _ Morris Merriweather considers himself on a mission _ a mission to address an education system that he says is failing America’s children.
After 30 years with the Jackson-Madison County School System and 13 years working with juvenile court, Merriweather has published a book, “Enough Is Enough: Public Education Has Spiraled out of Control.”
In the book, Merriweather outlines the problems he sees with public education.
“The only way I knew to give back was to work in the trenches with the people who were preparing our future leaders,” Merriweather said of his time in the school system. “But as I watched them prepare, I found out they were unprepared. They had the wrong people doing the wrong thing in the wrong time and in the wrong way.”
One of the largest issues Merriweather sees is the birth of private and charter schools. These schools have resulted in the “abandonment” of public education and the students of lower-income families who cannot afford private school, Merriweather said.
“If we don’t bring along all the children at the same time, then we lose a segment of the population,” Merriweather said. “… Public schools are about the same wherever you go. It’s a forgotten land of kids not getting what they need.”
Merriweather said by focusing money and effort on private and charter schools, the brightest students and most effective teachers are separated from public schools. This leaves the lower-income students, particularly many African Americans, realizing the system “doesn’t care” about them, Merriweather said.
Merriweather said unless there is a change, the education system is moving to a crisis where lower-income students will leave school without the ability to find jobs, forcing them to turn to crime.
Although Dr. Verna Ruffin, superintendent of Jackson-Madison County Schools, has not read Merriweather’s book, she said she strongly disagreed with the idea that private and charter schools have taken away the “best” of public schools.
“We have wonderful teachers,” Ruffin said. “We have amazing students. Do I believe that it is a competitive market out there? Absolutely. But I do not believe under any circumstances that we have lost our best. … In spite of challenges that we may be facing, I still believe that we are in a great position to get people on board that believe and that want to do everything on behalf of children.”
In his book, Merriweather criticizes the hiring process for administrators, superintendents, principals and teachers, saying many are chosen because of connections rather than their abilities.
Ruffin called that view of the hiring process “absolutely false.”
Merriweather also pointed to the positions left empty in the Jackson-Madison County School System only days before classes started.
The federal government must have laws made by people on the ground in education, while parents need to attend school meetings and conferences, and read to their children at home, Merriweather said.
“I just couldn’t go to my grave not letting America know that we’re in trouble,” Merriweather said.
Merriweather’s book can be purchased online at Amazon.com or Booksamillion.com. It also can be purchased at his website, www.morrismerriweather.com