Ignorance is Bliss: Detroit’s Acceptance of Being Dumb…

Fat, Drunk, & Stupid is No Way To Go Through Life…

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

— Derek Bok, Harvard University President 1971-1990

DETROIT — Detroit is a place that on the surface wants you to strive to be successful. That is, until you actually achieve success. Once that happens, all bets are off. One of the keys to being a success, as I have always been told, is to get a good education and continue to learn even after you get the degree. My mother taught in the Detroit Public Schools for 38 years (1966-2004) and saw some of the most talented people of multiple generations pass through her classrooms. Succeeding in spite of the numerous deficiencies of DPS should be considered a badge of honor. Detroit’s schools, like many other things in this area, are the worst in the United States. Whether it’s the stunning 22% graduation rate, a mind-blowing 77% of 8th graders scoring “below basic” on standardized math test scores, or the widespread and rampant graft and corruption of the school system itself, Detroit isn’t exactly a bastion of higher learning. So when I read in the Detroit News this morning that the current president of the Detroit School Board, Otis Mathis, is essentially a functioning illiterate, I found it equal parts ironic, maddening, and insulting. Let’s Go.

As always in the name of full disclosure, I attended two Detroit Public Schools: Chrysler Elementary School (1986-1988) and Renaissance High School (1993-1997). I graduated from RHS and went on to Michigan State University where I got my Bachelor’s Degree in 2003. I’m currently a Graduate Student at Wayne State University in Detroit, pursuing my Master’s Degree in Journalism. I’m not saying this to brag at all, as I feel that this should be a goal that most people should strive for. I went to high school with some of the most talented and intelligent people ever crammed into one building. Detroit has churned out some of the most intelligent people on the planet. However, there are also a lot of dummies here. Not just dumb in an educational sense, but dumb as in ignorant. There’s almost a pride taken in not knowing things here. It’s a smaller version of the anti-intellectualism that is spreading across this country like a pandemic virus. People who are educated are mocked, insulted, and treated as outsiders. The few who do graduate HS, and eventually college, leave because their intelligence and talent is not respected, appreciated, or acknowledged here. When I looked at this morning’s Detroit News and saw this story, it actually made my head hurt.

There’s something about this city and “Underdog” stories that these simpletons here cling to.  That’s not to say I don’t like a great underdog/comeback story, but Otis Mathis is no one to be proud of. Pulling from Laura Berman’s column, this entire story originates with this horrific e-mail that Mathis sent to the media in response to Robert Bobb (the man who has nearly single-handedly cleaned up the corruption in DPS):

“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…”

What The Hell? Now I understand that occasionally you may miss a period or a comma when typing an e-mail. Everyone has fired off an e-mail or tweet with a couple of brutal typos in it. Considering some of the gibberish I see on Twitter and Facebook, this e-mail looks like The Art of War by comparison. But this isn’t the only example of e-mail and writing #fail by this man. Exhibit B from August of last year:

“Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row’s, and who is the watch dog?”

C’mon, Son! Really!? The fuck are you talking about!? The fact that it has long been known that this dude is a train wreck when writing or reading anything is an indictment of both the educational system in this city and the people who continue to enable his dumb ass. As one parent said when they found out about this “If this is the leader, what does it say about the followers?” Mathis was elected President of the School Board not by the city of Detroit, but by members of the board…by a 10-1 Margin! The man he defeated, Tyrone Winfrey, is the Associate Director at the University of Michigan Office of Undergraduate Admissions as well as Director of the University of Michigan Detroit Admissions Office. Not exactly a dummy. Meanwhile, it was revealed, by his own admission, that Mathis graduated from Southwestern High School (the same school my dad graduated from) with a startling 1.8 GPA. One-Point-Freaking-Eight! That number is actually disputed because it was originally reported as an eye-popping 0.98 o_O!? I didn’t think that was possible! The worst semester I ever had in any form of schooling was the 2.0 I posted in the first semester of my freshman year at RHS (I followed that up with a 2.8, then a 3.7 and a 3.5). I’m not saying the man should be a Harvard Law grad with a 4.0 GPA (although, that certainly wouldn’t hurt), but is it too much to ask that the man who is the PRESIDENT of the School Board post a GPA that’s over the Academic Mendoza Line!?

Ok, so he completely tanked in high school, he went to the Military, came back to Detroit and went to college at Wayne State (ugh…) where he got in thanks to the G.I. Bill and a program that allowed unqualified people such as himself to get a college education. It took this dude 15 years to get his degree! That is no exaggeration. He was there so long he somehow managed to become a Counselor at Wayne State and acted as a substitute teacher in DPS. That’s right, a dude who wouldn’t be able to pass an English test was a substitute teacher. But like the case of most dumb people who get pushed through life instead of having their issues addressed, the bigger issue is in the people who enable the behavior and make excuses for it.

“We picked him (to be president) because we thought he has the intelligence for it and the tolerance for disruptive behavior. He has that type of calm.”

—Board member David Murray

He has the “intelligence” for it? Word? If that’s the most intelligent man for the job, what kind of grades were you posting!? How about this gem, again from a Detroiter:

“I know he’s a terrible writer. Oh wow, I’ve seen his e-mails. 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.”

— Ida Byrd-Hill, a Detroit parent and activist who runs a nonprofit and is a member of Mensa.

That is the typical answer in Detroit. We know we’re a city laden with dumb-asses, so let’s make sure we’re adequately (or inadequately in this case) represented. This type of enabling make me sick, and very fearful for the next generation and future generation of Detroiters. The message is that it’s ok to be substandard. Just as long as you do your best, everything will be A-OK. That’s bullshit! This guy had to be begged to go to school once a week, and they gave his ass an undeserved diploma even though he could barely read.

Furthermore, this line of thinking is insulting to people who were even more developmentally limited than this clown is. There are people who have gone from illiterate to greatness because they worked hard. He is not one of those men. He’s gotten over his whole life and never had the impetus to self-improve. That’s the textbook definition of skating. Wayne State used to have an English proficiency exam as a requirement needed to graduate. This would be the proverbial breakaway with an empty net situation for 99.9% of the people who have reached that point of their education. For Otis Mathis, this might as well had been splitting the atom. He challenged the usage of this test in court. The challenge, like many of his e-mails and test scores, was a failure. He didn’t get his degree until 2007 when the requirement was dropped…and AFTER he was elected to the school board. He claimed the test “made (him) feel stupid.” Well, if the shoe fits…

The fact that people don’t see the painful irony in the president of the Detroit School Board being 2 steps away from being illiterate as a MAJOR problem is just one more sign that this city and this community happily accepts ignorance and cares little for education. The Detroit School Board has further shown itself to be a bigger joke than the Detroit Lions. The fact that people excuse his stupidity by saying that he’s a “great leader” is laughable. They said the same thing about George W. Bush. I dunno about you, but I wouldn’t let a dumb MFer lead me across the street, let alone lead the legislative governing body over the school system of the country’s 10th largest city.

I’m not going to apologize for being smarter than you. I stopped doing that years ago. I have spent the better part of the last 27 years of my life trying to get smarter and learn something new everyday. Don’t expect me to feel sorry for this man. I shed no tears for willfully ignorant people. In this city, it’s an unspoken rule that you don’t dare brag about being smart. You’ll be seen as arrogant and would be offending those who didn’t do well in school. F–k You and your dumb ass. Work harder! I have maintained for years that Detroit sees educated people as a threat, and thus tries to undermine their authority or simply chase them away. Ask Dennis Archer about that. The only way this city will ever get its swagger back is by changing its collective attitude toward education and start developing higher standards for itself. Not everyone deserves a chance. I don’t care how much of a charismatic leader or great public speaker you are. If you can’t write a three sentence e-mail without sounding like Buckwheat, I’m not gonna take you seriously. I busted my ass to get where I am intellectually. If you are gonna be the head of an educational body, or even a member of the school board, I’m gonna need you to actually show me something more tangible than a sob story about how tough your life was growing up. We’re from Detroit. No one’s life was easy coming up here!

We’ve got to want better here in Detroit, because we flipping deserve it. Robert Bobb, God Bless You Frat (ΦΒΣ, Ξ (Xi) Chapter)! You not only have to clean up the financial mess in DPS, you have to clean up this horseshit mentality of the lazy students, under-equipped teachers, and enabling parents in this city. Anywhere else, you against Otis Mathis would be akin to Mathis bringing a knife to a gunfight, but in a city that is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to many unqualified people, you have a tough fight ahead of you sir. God Willing you can help change the direction of DPS and eventually make the Detroit Public Schools respectable and not a national joke. I will close this blog with two sayings that my mom, who celebrates her 67th birthday tomorrow, has always told me:

“A Black Man with an Education is far more dangerous than a Black Man with a Gun.”


“The Day You Stop Learning is the Day You Stop Living.”

Hey Detroit: Let’s Start Living.

Until Next Time, That’s The Way It Is. Thursday, March 4, 2010.

The 103rd day since the Detroit Lions’ Last Victory

Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare to Be Different, and G.O.M.A.B. Σ

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Jay Scott Smith

What’s Happening! The name’s Jason…but for the sake of this blog, you can call me Jay or Jay Scott. I am a 37-year-old Journalist, Detroit Native, Man of Sigma, and Charismatic Enigma…That About Covers it for me! lol You wanna get in contact w/me, well, here you go! G.O.M.A.B. to my Blu Family! (ΦΒΣ/ΖΦΒ)

8 thoughts on “Ignorance is Bliss: Detroit’s Acceptance of Being Dumb…”

  1. I understand exactly where your coming from. i passed the high school proficencey test at my school recently and the dumb asses who didn’t pass were ready to come at me with insults.


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