The Detroit school board chief is practically illiterate.
The president of the Detroit school board, Otis Mathis, is waging a legal battle to steer the academic future of 90,000 children, in the nation's lowest-achieving big city district.
He also acknowledges he has difficulty composing a coherent English sentence. Here's a sample from an e-mail he sent to friends and supporters on Sunday night, uncorrected for errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage. It begins:
If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.
The rest of the e-mail, and others that Mathis has written, demonstrate what one of his school board colleagues describes, carefully, as "his communication issues." But if these deficits have limited Mathis, as he admits they have, they have not stopped him from graduating from high school and college. In January, his peers elected him president by a 10-1 vote over Tyrone Winfrey, a University of Michigan academic officer...
In another city, these revelations might be grounds for disqualification. But Mathis is liked and defended by many of his peers, who cite his collegiality, lack of defensiveness and leadership as more important than his writing skills. Even Winfrey, his defeated rival for the presidency, declined to criticize his qualifications.
I'll bet that it's not politically smart for blacks to go after one another over issues like this. After all, how many members of the black middle class have themselves had some requirement waived somewhere or been insecure about their own test taking abilities?
So just how did Mr. Mathis graduate from college?
He graduated from Southwestern High School in 1973 with what he says was a 1.8 grade-point average but was previously reported as a .98 average. After serving in the Navy, Wayne State placed him in a special program to help academically unqualified students move forward, on the G.I. Bill.
He stayed at Wayne for 15 years, as a student and a counselor, becoming a virtual "prisoner of Wayne," as he jokes, unable to graduate.
Mathis and another student unsuccessfully challenged the use of an English proficiency test as a requirement for graduation. In 1992, when the case went to trial, the lawsuit gained national attention. Mathis said then his failure to pass the test "made me feel stupid." The requirement was eventually dropped in 2007, and Mathis applied to get his degree the next year, after his election.
So he waited around for fifteen years "as a student and a counselor" until the school finally dropped the required the English proficiency test.
Mathis doesn't seem ashamed of his "difficulties."
"I know he's a terrible writer. Oh wow, I've seen his e-mails," says Ida Byrd-Hill, a parent and activist who runs a nonprofit and is a member of Mensa, the high-IQ group.
"His job, though, is to represent the community. His lack of writing skills is prevalent in the community. If anybody does, he understands the struggles of what it's like to go through an institution and not be properly prepared."
Mathis and some of his supporters say his story is about someone who manages his limitations, just as others manage physical disabilities.
"Instead of telling them that they can't write and won't be anything, I show that cannot stop you," Mathis says. "If Detroit Public Schools can allow kids to dream, with whatever weakness they have, that's something. ...It's not about what you don't have. It's what you can do."
Because of his struggles and perseverance, Mathis describes himself as a role model.
Notice that even the black woman who is supposedly in Mensa (I wonder if they race norm, or she isn't just lying) thinks that not being able to write makes the school board chief a great representative of his community. Now I don't blame this man for being unable to tell the difference between making it in the private sector and making it as a government bureaucrat in an affirmative action system. If he had the brainpower for that, he would've graduated from college within his first ten years or so. But all whites with hopes of ever seriously engaging the black community in America need to know the intellectual and personal qualities that they're likely to come across among the African-American leadership.