If you need a reminder, Nashville has a good one for you. Their superintendent, Shawn Joseph, has been the target in recent days of an attempt by one of his bosses to generate public calls for his firing.
Joseph is Nashville’s first black superintendent and it’s been rough.
Jill Speering, a board member, was outed for sending a private message to supporters asking that they show up to a board meeting and call for Joseph’s ouster.
She’s not alone. Two of her colleagues on the board have been combative with him because they say he hires cronies, failed to adequate address sexual harassment complaints that started before his tenure, and signed contracts they felt were unnecessary.
In truth, locals tell me, they oppose him mostly because he won’t step and fetch their shit.
Here is Speering’s tweet which was leaked and circulated through social media.
By all norms of board behavior it’s inappropriate for a single board member to bypass their colleagues and publicly call for attacks on the board’s one employee, the superintendent. But Speering’s call for teachers to wear masks (which breaks board policy) was next-level and left jaws gaping for its cultural cluelessness.
An editorial from The Tennessean denounced it saying “in the context of living in a flagship Southern city, it evokes an era of hooded white racists menacing black citizens.”
“Even if the intention was not racially motivated, the optics are terrible….it was a bad idea and she needs to be accountable for her irresponsible divisiveness.”
Metro School Board Vice Chair Christiane Buggs concurred: “I’m not sure if Ms. Speering internally made the connection between the masked protest she encouraged today and those of yesteryear’s held by the KKK but I did.”
So, what happened?
People showed up to the board meeting just as Speering asked, but they weren’t all her people. Joseph’s fraternity brothers, the NAACP, and parent activists came to counteract her the attack on the superintendent.
From a distance, I can’t be sure about Joseph’s performance. Maybe criticism on some fronts is warranted, but he’s faced unusual scrutiny from early on, including an investigation by a television reporter who hay with hidden video showing Joseph being driven by district employees in a $55,000 Chevy Tahoe.
Social Mothering and the maintenance of racial structure
There is a name for what white women like Speering and those answering her call to oust Joseph are doing.
Researcher Joseph Jewell at Texas A&M University calls it “social mothering” and defines it as “women’s carework in the public sphere…[that] played an important role in whites’ responses to racial minorities’ claims to middle-class mobility and identity in the late nineteenth century.
Jewell’s focus is on the role 19th century white female principals played in responding to concerns in their communities that upwardly mobile nonwhites were endangering racial hierarchy.
While that’s not the same thing as today’s partnership between white mothers, teachers, their unions, and their favored elected officials, these dynamics playing out could be seen as a evolution of yesterday’s social mothering intended to prevent nonwhites from threatening the absolutism of white whims and desires.
Change a gifted program, defund a popular vanity project, or a reprimand the wrong teacher or principal, and the phone trees go live and black leaders find themselves hanging from one publicly.
Before Christmas, that’s what appears to have happened when a dozen teachers, friends and children came to the board meeting with signs saying “Impeach Joseph.”
“Ho, ho, Joe must go” they chanted.
One parent in the group said “I want him to go back to Maryland, or anywhere else somebody else will hire him, I want him gone.”
I’ll be fair here and say some of this hubbub may be general dysfunction at the board level and not racial at all. One of Joseph’s detractors is a union-supported black school board member who has joined her white colleagues in excoriating him.
There’s also the fact that sabotaging the superintendent as Speering does isn’t race-based, it’s become tradition affecting superintendents black and white alike.
Finally, on a national level, black superintendents or school leaders that are compliant with the hidden rules of the education establishment, the first two being “thou shalt not upset the union” and “thou shalt no land white helicopter parents,” enjoy greater tenure.
That said, race-based or not there’s a problem in Nashville that at least includes racially problematic interactions. I myself had an online exchange with one of Speering’s collegues, Amy Frogge, which resulted in her calling me “paid whore” because I worked for an education nonprofit funded by all the targets Diane Ravitch’s drones love to hate (read: wealthy people).
Imagine an elected black male official calling a private citizen a “paid whore.” It’s been nice knowing you son.
Frogge has since denied it when asked by her supporters, and she deleted her tweet, but here it is.
Finally, realize all of this drama and theater takes place in a city distinct in that it was accused by a 2016 report of having an achievement gap larger than 75% of major cities.
Maybe all of the drama and grandstanding in Nashville is a farce to district attention for the fact that it’s a city either incapable or unwilling to educate children who fail to be white.