Drew Mississippi and Drew School District: A Long Way from the Days of Archie “Who” Manning: Education and Culture in the Abyss

Drew Mississippi and Drew School District:

A Long Way from the Days of Archie “Who” Manning:

Education and Culture in the Abyss

By Huckleberry Ed

The final straw in the Drew School District: A feminine napkin found taped under the desk of a student with either blood on it or red magic marker--Poor William didn’t care to evaluate too closely. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

The final straw in the Drew School District: A feminine napkin found taped under the desk of a student with either blood on it or red magic marker--Poor William didn’t care to evaluate too closely. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Huckleberry Ed remembers his first trip to Drew as a youngster. It was for Archie Manning Day in 1971; the legendary baseball great, Dizzy Dean, who married a Bond, Mississippi girl, was in attendance.

I went with my father, Roundman, a legendary, avid Ole Miss fan, who skyrocketed in his son’s estimation when he played a round of golf at the Clarksdale Country Club with Archie.

This same Archie whose moniker became “Archie Who,” after Steve “Hee-Haw Kiner, from Tennessee smarted-off his big, fat mouth prior to the 1969 Ole Miss Tennessee game that ended with Ole Miss beating Tennessee’s ass 38-0. Sorry readers, an Ole Miss fan digresses.

I had always been in awe of Drew, simply because Archie Manning hailed from this tiny, once prosperous burg in the Mississippi Delta. It is prosperous no more; in fact, it is a general disgrace, which does not mean that all folks living there are disgraceful, shameful, or not doing all they can do with the little bit that is left to bolster. It is socio-economically and culturally as depressed as any area one could imagine outside a veritable third-world country.

I wrote an article for the Delta Bohemian in December 2010 called “Chaos in the Classroom.” Please follow the link (CLICK HERE) if interested in Huckleberry Ed’s take on how confusion and chaos play a major role in the nigh-on insurmountable hurdles teachers face in the classroom in the Mississippi Delta.

After moving back to the Mississippi Delta in 2007, I taught at Sherard Elementary School in the Coahoma County School District. Sherard is one of the few bright stars left in the educational systems in the Delta, but even it has some serious familial and student apathy obstacles to deal with, as do all Delta Schools.

After two years at Sherard, I decided to transfer to a school with an older student population. I did not want to teach in the local school system on a middle-school or high-school level for the same reasons I no longer teach–student and parent apathy, complete and utter chaos in the classroom, and administrations who either do not back the teachers as well as they could have/should have or administrations and boards who frankly are overwhelmed with the tasks before them or who seem more intent on protecting their reputations and turf instead of focusing on the “real needs” in the classroom. Teachers are easy to blame, but at what point do students, parents, administrators and boards have to pony up with some responsibility? Just asking?

I contracted for a position in the Drew School system to teach language arts and reading to 7th and 8th graders. I had met the principal in doctoral classes at Delta State and had hoped the move would be a good one, though I knew it would be tough; I just did not know how tough. I thought it would be all right; it wasn’t! I thought I could make a difference; I couldn’t.

My resume included teaching from Elementary age to college age students. I taught tough-ass “gangbangers” in alternative schools and the prison system, along with special education students in an array of settings. None of that prepared me for Drew.

The first few days of induction and “professional development” training conducted by board members and administrators set the pace and understanding of what was to come. The training imparted very little local-school-cultural knowledge of the system nor was much relevant information disseminated. Most of the meetings and initial and subsequent meetings at the school during the early part of the school year were gloried “church services.”

I am a Christian and believe strongly in the power of prayer, particularly when working with children with so many needs and opportunities. I really came to believe in prayer when I would get physically sick on my 30-minute drive to Drew every morning, in anticipation of the reigning chaos before me.

But, the administration and board members seemed to believe if they “preached and praised” enough then that would be good enough. It wasn’t! Almost every speaker during the training and at the schools seemed to think by invoking God’s name ad finitum that results would be produced. They weren’t.

There were some teachers who did the best they could with what was set before them–utter chaos, bedlam, and a community-killing malaise. My classrooms were overloaded with kids who didn’t give a damn about school, about each other, about their own property and surely not about anybody else’s belongings.

When I would find something to praise a student about, usually something as mundane as putting their name on an assignment, most of the other students would boo, grumble, or do the “Delta Stink-Eye Roll, where they roll their eyes, make a smacking sound with their mouth, and pout like a three-year old who didn’t get all his friends candy in addition to his.

I was supposed to teach reading on the computer. There were five computers in classrooms housing 20-26 behaviorally and academically challenged students, and they did not even get set up until two days before I said goodbye. I could not even imagine having a class filled with that many students with up to five on the computer at any one time and the others “acting a fool” the rest of the time. I could find no more than two students in any one class I taught who would even read the material I assigned in the interim.

The stories of nepotism and favoritism were legion and legendary. I will not even attempt to mention them here. I did witness with my own eyes a teacher with strong central administration connections call a child a Mother-F***** in front of an entire assembly. The comment was heard by students and teachers alike. Of course, there were no ramifications.

I called a kid a “punk” for daily behavior I would not have tolerated from gangbangers with the ability to “jack me up,” and I almost was run out of town. I think the final straw for me was when one of my better students (I only had a couple who would even try to do the work or even try to not be disruptive the entire class period) taped a feminine napkin under her desk with either blood on it or red magic marker–I didn’t care to evaluate too closely.

The parents I dealt with seemed to want to blame their children’s problems and behavior on me. Many of the children, even if they were constantly disruptive, seemed to enjoy having a white teacher, but others resented it and a few made it evident that my presence was not welcomed by those who were raising them. What a shame.

I worked one football game, in which the same undisciplined students who wouldn’t work in the classroom also wouldn’t work hard or take instruction even from a coach. Naturally, they got slaughtered due to their poor-ass attitudes and lack of discipline.

Many of their parents and relatives tried to sneak over, under, and through the fence to watch the afternoon spanking instead of paying the $1 to $2 admission fee. Most, but not all, either complained, grumbled, or lied to get into the game free. Many spoke of their entitlement to attend the games free. It was the most disgusting sporting event I have ever attended in my life.

Given the attitude of many of the adults and most of the children, it is almost a metaphysical certitude that the children will be no better prepared to be productive, real “God-fearing,” societal contributors.

Since the school district still had not provided me a contract six weeks plus into the school year, I decided to give notice. I was done. Though a sad state of affairs, it is in the best interests of society and Drew for the state to have taken over the Drew School District. The big question remaining is, “Who is going to take over the town of Drew?”

Over forty percent of Drew’s population is below the poverty line. About four years ago, the mayor reportedly called Archie to see if he would help set up Girls and Boys Clubs in Drew. Archie said he would. According to the mayor, “They tried to get things set up, but none of the parents would help chaperone the kids and eventually they shut it down because the kids were too rowdy.”

How does one fix problems created by adults and students who don’t give a damn about anything but their own miserable selves? Poverty creates unique challenges and the need for compassion and different approaches to meeting those needs, but the disenfranchised must bring something to the proverbial table.

Archie “Who” where are you? You are missed, and Drew is in a sad state of affairs.

Passed on from one of Huckleberry Ed's good friends who is a classroom teacher

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Comments

  1. so sad. it’s like throwing the money, time and effort of all trying to help into a chasm.
    my son wants to teach. he says he wants to help the kids. how do you help those that don’t want to learn? bless you huckleberry ed. i hope you can find a place to pass along your knowledge and may it rekindle your spirit to teach.

    jimbo.

    • Thanks for the comments Jimbo! I am jaded, but I am so thankful for all the teachers who haven’t given up the ghost and who still deal with it daily; they are providing some societal moderation and it does help, I think! Appreciate ya! PW

  2. Huck! As you well know. This is where the now obsolete, good, ole, Ass Whippin comes in. The first “New Home” my parents purchased in Clarksdale was in 1965. The home was on West Haven Circle (later moved to Shelby Drive and corner of Maple).A three bedroom, two & 1/2 brick home. Cost? $9,500.00. The reason for this purchase? My Dad was just getting starting in his Auto Parts Business in Tutwiler and he did not have much money to spend on the private St. George’s Day School. Which was right accross the street from our house .However, the almost new Kirkpatrick elementary school was also just accross the street . This is precisely why my parents purchased this home. I could simply walk accross the street and step onto school property. Then walk home after school to be cared for by Mom’s maid and my mentor,Jessie. Mom was Dr.Whit Johnson’s scrub nurse and therefore had some un- predictable working hours. Jessis would cook lunch for Mom and Dad and later in the day Dinner for everyone. She helped me with my homework and loved me like one of her own. The feeling was mutual. My intire family attended her funeral.The only White Folk there.

    MS Caffey: Our principal was a Graceful Southern Lady and excellent administrator. Know why? Because every where Ms Caffey went, she carried a white paddle. This paddle had a number of lines drawn on both sides. If you screwed up, cut up, or broke any rule, your homeroom teacher would paddle your ass first and then take you to Ms Caffey’s office for another whippin. After a whippin from Ms Caffey, you had to sign your name on one of the lines drawn on her paddle. If you were whipped by her three times in one semester/six weeks then you got a office slip to take home for one of your parents to sign. Well, you know what happened then. Another ass whippin from Daddy.

    I garon-tee, you bring back this method of teaching and the Kids will eventually start to actually learn something, or not come at all. Which would be O.K. with me also. The key word to this is ‘Daddy”. At home to whip ass. Few Daddy’s around these days

    I left Kirkpatrick and Ms Caffey for P.D.S. in fifth grade and Private School until Graduation Day at Lee Academy.

    This Was “The Good Ole Days”.

    • Man, I didn’t even think I was a “bad” kid–bad adult maybe–and between Daddy and the football coaches, my ass stayed blistered! Hurts just remembering! HA! 🙂

      • Jojo Beans says:

        I heard one of the reasons why capital punishment fell out of fashion in southern schools is because parents of one racial group didn’t want teachers from another racial group to spank their kids – it seemed to be a mutual feeling among Whites and Blacks, so that meant goodbye corporal punishment

  3. P.W. I can’t tell how many times I have looked back on Nick’s practices during times of great difficulty and stress and commemted to myself “This isn’t Shit compared to football practice under Nick”. The only friendly thing he ever did for us was the annual watermelon eating after Two-A-Days. My Dad, Mooneyhan and Lancaster had to provided those.

    Wish I could say in this forum what I really think of Nick Clark.

  4. Sugar Loafer says:

    How you survived even six weeks of that boggles my mind. And I don’t see how it’s going to get any better, but I’m hopeful that it will.

  5. ‘Never Will” “Ever”.

  6. Jojo Beans says:

    Of your students, how many lived on Parchman (Mississippi State Penitentiary)? Did they behave better than the kids from Drew or Rome?

  7. I graduated from Drew in 1976. I could see the academic standards dropping even then. Foreign languages, higher level math and physics were offered when my brother finished in 1971 but were gone before I got to the ninth grade.
    It’s so sad that a school that routinely graduated National Merit Finalists has sunk to the point of being taken over by the state.

  8. Just this year they enacted a school uniform policy: http://www.drew.k12.ms.us/HTML/uniform.htm

    But they don’t have any info on who the teachers are or what courses are offered.

  9. Jerry38732 says:

    I also graduated at Drew, 1970. Everyone , that went to school there, remembers Mrs. Burkhalter. She knew her stuff and tried to make us know our stuff. I think she taught school there when they built it. I also had American Government with Archie. Not many knew it but Archie was also a dang good basketball player.
    Yes, the school system has changed mainly because the parents didn’t want their babies whipped. I wouldn’t blame any teacher if they quit, no control at all. I think all parents and kids should have to live at least 6 months in a third world country. Maybe then they would appreciate what they could have.
    I was told that the students are now going to Ruleville.

    • Jerry, we appreciate your comment! I did hear that the Drew and Ruleville schools had some type of merger and that some students were going from Drew to Ruleville! I need to look into that! Where do you live now? Billy Howell

  10. I graduated from Drew High School in ’71. I also have retired on 2011 from teaching public schools fro 35 years. My first year of teaching was in ’76-’77 at Eastside High School in Cleveland, MS. They needed a teacher so bad that the principal came to my house to interview me; unluckily I was not at home. If I had been, I probably would not have taken the job. I had no support from that principal at all. I could smell pot smoking openly in the halls between classes. I taught high school English/French. By the end of September, I had decided that I would give up teaching if I had to stay one more year at that school. Fortunately, I got a job At E.E. Bass Jr. High in Greenville for next 4 years. The principal made all the difference. This black principal was so supportive that my child’s initial’s are the same as this principal. He had my back many a time. I moved to Louisiana teaching in a small k12 school for the next 30 years. I know exactly how you felt; when the parents don’t care, the kids are not to care.

  11. I was recently told the following: “The Drew High School merged into Ruleville’s. Drew students still go to Drew schools for K-8.
    The Drew School District no longer exists. It’s all consolidated into Sunflower County.”

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