ATLANTA - When I was a little girl, I just knew people would "know better" once they grew up. I thought that grownups would magically know how to behave better, so I longed for the days when I would become an adult. People would know by then how to "love your neighbor as yourself" and "do unto others as you would have done unto you." After all, those were lessons I was taught by my Sunday school teachers every single Sunday for years.
When I was a little girl, I used to get beat up a lot, for various reasons. Sometimes I brought it on myself and sometimes I was a victim of someone not being a grownup.
I went to private school and sometimes people in my neighborhood picked on me because they thought that I thought I was better than them.
My father, who was a pastor, would make the beatdown worse by inviting the ruffian over to our front porch to have a chat with the both of us. In his Jamaican accent -which also caused many of the kids to pick on me - he lectured us about how to be a "peacemaker" while I rolled my eyes and tried to look menacing, knowing that if something went down there, my father had my back. (I hoped. His peacemaker talks probably meant he wasn't a fighter.)
In the fourth grade, the lone elementary year I was allowed to go to public school, I was suspended from school for a few days because I taunted a boy, who was much bigger than the rest of us because he had been kept back a few times. He socked me in the jaw and knocked me down after I said his mother probably "got with" Willie B. - a famous gorilla at Zoo Atlanta - because his ears were so big. You can't talk about somebody's mama without starting a fight.
I got in my last fight in middle school, then I thought that the days of fighting were behind me. After all, I would be a full-fledged adult in a few years. So imagine my surprise when I started reporting on Clayton County Board of Education meetings for a daily newspaper some years ago.
Clayton County is just south of Atlanta. The county school system is well on the way to losing its accreditation for the second time in five years, due to the school board's constant bickering and inability to put the welfare of children above their own. One board member was kicked off the board recently because authorities found that he hadn't lived in the district for years.
A school board attorney has recommended that the entire board resign, if the county stands a chance of holding on to its accreditation. The National Accreditation Commission board recently voted to yank the accreditation if the county does not meet standards by Sept. 1. If it happens, Clayton County would be the second school system in the nation to lose its accreditation since 1969.
I'm not surprised. I saw the seeds for this showdown sprouting seven years ago. I reported in one article that a "three-ring circus" had been held, rather than a school board meeting. That meeting erupted when two board members accused the chairman of the board of lying about the numbers used to draw maps for redistricting.
One member said, "You all have lied, these are not the Jim Crow days."
When the chairman tried to move on to other agenda items, two members suddenly called for the resignation of the school superintendent, telling him to his face that he was "incompetent."
Finally, the chairman said to me, "I never expected that kind of behavior from people who are supposed to be professionals. In all my years on the board that was as bad as I've ever seen it. We've disagreed in the past, but up until this point, they've always respected the process."
All these officials are off the board now, but the fighting continues. And there you have it. Some people never become a grownups. They just become bigger children.
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