Can the Hysteria 

We need reason and facts on the potential school merger, not hype.

Does anyone know where to get Valium in aerosol cans? We could use such a device to calm unruly groups of people who panic first and use their brains later.

If there were such a thing, I would buy a case and saturate the rooms where suburban mayors and citizens meet regularly to hone their anti-Memphis rhetoric in order to spring into hysterical (over)reaction to merging the city and county school systems. Perhaps then, reason and facts could become part of the discussion.

Outside of a measure of savings produced by combining the bureaucracies — and only through attrition over a decade or two — here is what will happen if the two systems become one: nothing. Absolutely nothing. The county schools will not decline, and the city schools will not improve. Merely merging the urban and suburban systems will have a net zero effect on test scores of individual schools within any combined enterprise, however it is constructed.

Why? Because the reason city schools perform less well than county schools is that a majority of city parents are less prosperous and less educated. This is no criticism of those parents. Nor is it a compliment to most county parents. The reason that county schools produce higher test scores is because the majority of those parents have more resources to give their children.

It is indisputable that a child of means will almost always outscore a child whose resources are meager.

This explains the supposed superiority of the employees of the county system, whose arms ought to be really tired by now, being that they have been in a near permanent position of back-patting for the higher achievement measures with which they are credited. Here is a fact: What the county system does merely supports the good effects parents are creating at home; it does not make them from scratch.

A reality check for suburban parents is in order, too, as the resources they provide are not comprised of Herculean tasks against overwhelming obstacles. Yes, they are to be respected for providing a safe, stable, and prosperous environment in which to rear their children. But middle-class families beget middle-class families, and if you did not grow up in poverty, chances are good that you will never experience poverty.

So, can we dial back the arrogance and the hysteria? Both sentiments preclude sensible solutions and obscure the reasons why there are two systems in more than strictly territorial terms.

As for the city schools' insistence that they control part of the unified system, they should just throw in the towel and let the county schools take over. Not because county personnel have some magic fairy dust to sprinkle over classrooms, but since the county claims that they know better how to educate children, the city ought to make them prove it. Let's see how easy the county thinks it is to manage a system when a large number of disadvantaged kids are part of it. Of course, that would explain the vehement opposition of county administrators to the merger. They might actually have to back up some of their self-serving bombast.

Until there is a way to erect a force field that starts near Kirby Parkway and Poplar and extends north, south, and east of the county's own Eden, the city's problems will continue to be the county's problems. Every poorly educated child has a negative effect on the entire community, and if there were such a thing as a force field protecting suburban Shelby County, sooner or later one of its citizens would have to leave its confines to go to the airport or an Orpheum show or to take in a basketball game.

That impoverished child whose very existence in a county-run system so terrifies some of you is still out there, hoping for a better life but likely to be a drain on regional resources. A separate system cannot separate you from that reality.

So, suburban Shelby County: Take a breath, get a clue, and climb down from your high dudgeon. Unless you want me to pull out the aerosol.

Ruth Ogles Johnson is a frequent Flyer contributor.

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