By David Tulis
The interests of Christians and family members in the Brainerd area collided Thursday with the financial interests of school administrators who are seeking a federal cash infusion into the county government-run system.
Brainerd High School was described in a lengthy Times Free Press story April 1 in such a way as to make the role of its principal, Charles Joynes, a heroic one at the “inner city” school. Brainerd has suffered from gangsterism, broken families, pregnancy, boredom, a high dropout rate and other ills that bubble up at the confluence of cultural despair and free government-run programs.
The removal of Mr. Joynes is not occasioned by any fault of his. He told me he is surprised at the news, and that his ejection from his office (and transfer to another school) comes just as his work of organization, encouragement and new streams of support is bearing fruit. Media reports indicate he is being removed as a condition of the school system’s receipt of F$500,000. The money, routed initially to Nashville, contains a stipulation from Washington, the source of all liquidity, that it can be spent only in a troubled public school where the principal has held his job for two years or less.
The hubbub over Mr. Joynes comes as Christians gathered Wednesday at the Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist church to take notice of a visitor from California, a public school teacher and activist whose work to make public education more personal, intimate and caring has boosted test scores in several schools.
In 2003 Fluke Fluker launched a reform-seeking mentor group, Village Nation, which for several days has been talked up in Chattanooga as a possible solution — if only a partial one — to the ills of the local government school.
It wants to make schools more trustworthy to students and to parents, to motivate students through love and discipline, for its staffers to be viewed as approachable among black youths, and to create an atmosphere of positive peer pressure. Its theme is the familiar rubric Hillary Clinton brought into the marketplace of ideas, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
In the post below, Mr. Fluker gives us an important hint as to whether he is “thinking outside the box” with his personalized, relationship-oriented mentoring. A close reading of the chat and a consideration of Mr. Joynes’ predicament as a beloved and odds-defying administrator should suggest only the direst conclusion: The dysfunctions of compulsory government factory schools are irreparable. Only a shift in paradigm will suffice to end the American experiment with the 12-year sentence, the school servitude.
If Brainerd were privately governed and funded, its overseers would have spared no expense to keep Mr. Joynes, and done everything in their power to assist and enable him to encourage his charges and administer the institution serving 600 people. But an impersonal financial operation — entirely reasonable in its own bureaucratic and administrative rationale — has booted a qualified man who has a personal connection to that place, and the families connected to it by dint of zoning regulations.
BUT FIRST, TO MR. FLUKER’S ARGUMENTS. To his 200 listeners he insists education is important for them and for the student bodies of Brainerd and elsewhere. He urges racial pride and a custom of mind that elevates as models black heroes such as Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass. “Getting an education is absolutely the blackest thing you can ever do,” he says. His listeners go wild with applause and excited uproar. Saving a child from drug usage, gang crimes, abuse, lethal gunfire and other evils is worth a personal effort by every person. Such mercies could be giving time to children, asking them questions, taking them fishing, turning off TVs, turning off students’ wireless phones and computers, going to church. “When looking for faults,” he warns, “use a mirror and not a telescope.” Youths need mentors. “It’s easier to raise a child than fix a broken man,” he says, attributing the remark to another.
Perhaps the most helpful idea Mr. Fluker imparts is a reference to “the new plantation,” the “prison-industrial complex” in which a very high percentage of denizens are black. He cites statistics as to how many men of his race will be imprisoned and perhaps shanghaied into a captive labor force. Major prison-based capitalists include Federal Prison Industries, or Unicor, which profits as a government company from federal inmates, many of whom are locked up from Uncle’s long-failed but bitterly enduring war on drugs.
IN THE MILLING CROWD afterward Mr. Fluker and I chatted. I came into the event with ideas, which formed themselves into questions. Might schools, by virtue of their being a form of government welfare, be a means of enslaving people, particularly his race? How far will the paradigm, the intellectual framework, of public schools be made to stretch before the system implodes into utter boredom? Is there another framework in which to deliver educational services to families in Brainerd? Is it possible for there to be the breath of liberation, liberty, freedom — and God’s grace? Mr. Fluker entertained some of these ideas in my few questions.
I don’t know how far-reaching Mr. Fluker’s reforms by mentoring might be. And I don’t want any of the clergymen I chatted with afterwards, such as Rev. Dr. Timmy Lundale Sykes of Pilgrim Rock Missionary Baptist Church, to think that I am not appreciative of Mr. Fluker’s work nor his desire for change.
But let me list several points that might be worth noting from the interview:
➤ “[T]he failing school system as it exists feeds the prison-industrial system, and feeds it very well.” If the system is broken in its fundamentals, will politicking, lobbying and community organizing bring fundamental improvement in the lives of its inmates? Changing the color of the lock doesn’t unclasp the lock and let swing open the door. Do influential blacks have such an investment in the system they don’t yearn to be freed from it?
➤ Mr. Fluker is confident that his ideas are outside the system, outside the conceptual framework of monopoly economics. Does his confidence in larger scale reform have merit? Is there anything he said that casts doubt on the baronies of Nashville and Washington? Even if inadvertently?
➤ I ask if schools have enslaved his people. No, he says. Ignorance has. Question: Why are people ignorant if they are in school? Aren’t schools supposed to inform, educate and teach? Are these duties not being done?
IT STRIKES ME ONLY AS I AM DRIVING HOME where the day’s story lies. Mr. Joynes, the hero whom everyone loves, is being fired because he is a cypher in a machine, not a human being who has invested tireless energy, hope, circumspection and Christian care upon his charges. He’s not being “transferred” because he failed, is a lousy employee with low professional ratings. It really doesn’t matter what the reasons are. Schools operate on a giant scale, like corporations, businesses, with their own mechanisms and regulatory protocols. In them, no one acts in persona propria, in his legal proper person, but as an agent. And so Mr. Joynes is disposed of, rerouted.
The second story is that of Mr. Fluker’s useful reminder of the prison industry, and his concession that there exists an educational-industrial complex. Mr. Fluker’s work seeks to bring into the disjointed, impossible world of schooling the personal touch, the human-scale commitment, the mentor tie. This service is very much within the purview of Christianity, which delights in a totally personal God and creator, a self-sacrificing Savior who loves his enemies and died for rebels. Do Chattanoogans lay new rails, as Mr. Fluker suggest in our chat? Or contradictorily, do they agree with him that the track is fixed and that only conductors change? Is that how things work? The face of the agent collecting the ticket may change, and his identity matters nothing. For the destination is fixed.
To the system and its tie-and-jacket lords, swapping out Mr. Joynes is simply changing the conductor, because it really DOESN’T MATTER whose face the clientele sees. From their perspective, Mr. Joynes is irrelevant, because their machine must chug ahead. The forms must be filled out, the consultant’s advice must be obeyed and free money must be obtained. Nothin’ personal.
The free money is everything. It’s F$500,000 from Uncle. It’s supposed to help struggling public schools.
I wonder which is better worth having: Mr. Joynes’ roaming the halls of Brainerd High School, or a hiccup of cash, that F$500,000 with a little snatch of fishing line attached. I’ll let Mr. Fluker have the final word: “Strings attached have never been good for black folks.”
Sources: Chattanoogan.com, The ChattanoogaTimes Free Press