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Otis Mathis



Mr. Otis Mathis is the president of the Detroit school board, the nation's lowest achieving big city district of 90,000 school children. And like some of these children, Mathis struggles with writing and composing a coherent sentence.


Mathis readily admits that he's a "horrible writer," and that he struggled to get through school. Here is a sample of an e-mail he sent recently:


"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."


And another dated August 11, 2009:


"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?"



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. (How scary is that?)

His difficulties with language were spotted as early as fourth grade, when he was placed in special education classes. His college degree was held up for more than a decade, because he repeatedly failed an English proficiency exam that was required for graduation at Wayne State University.


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.


Of course, I always give people leeway when it comes to e-mails (his e-mails are the only evidence given for his lack of writing skills) many of which are sent via Blackberry, Sidekicks, or generally on the run.


I don't consider e-mails formal communication, but the issue here doesn't have anything to do with typos, shorthand or anything that would be excusable for someone in charge of leading students -- many of whom are failing miserably.


The issue here is simple common sense. If you know you're a poor writer and you're leading a failing school system, wouldn't you have someone proofread your e-mails or minimally conduct a spell check yourself?


I teach writing courses at a local college and am often appalled at the writing skills (or lack thereof) of college students. But I also understand that many students struggle for a variety of reasons, from dyslexia to a host of other legitimate learning disabilities.


More often, though, I find their lack of writing skills are attributable to an increasingly alliterate society-people who can read, but don't. I find students who turn in papers with shorthand they would use in text messages: poor punctuation, grammar, Ebonics, you name it. I find it harder to be understanding in the Internet age with spell check, grammar check and various resources at one's disposal.


When I was growing up and we were unsure of how to spell a word, the direction you got back then was, "Look it up in the dictionary!" (Of course, if you didn't know how to spell it, where do you begin to look it up? But no one dared ask that question).


A columnist in the Detroit News asked:


"Is Mathis a success story? A man who beat the odds to win political success and career opportunities on the strength of his personality and judgment? Someone who struggled through school, but never gave up and graduated from college? Or is he an example of the system's worst failings -- a disinterested student who always found ways to graduate, even when he didn't meet the requirements -- likely to perpetuate lax academic standards? I would venture to say the latter-and a dangerous leader to a society that increasingly believes charisma is more important than intellect."



Open link for news video:


http://www.bvblackspin.com/201...te-a-coherent-sente/
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More often, though, I find their lack of writing skills are attributable to an increasingly alliterate society-people who can read, but don't. I find students who turn in papers with shorthand they would use in text messages: poor punctuation, grammar, Ebonics, you name it. I find it harder to be understanding in the Internet age with spell check, grammar check and various resources at one's disposal.
I normally wouldn't nit-pick, but given the subject matter of Mr. Mathis' post, I should point out that the word is "aliterate," not "alliterate."  "Alliterate" is a verb that means "to use alliteration." 

I'm still digesting the article, though.  I can see both sides here, and I'm not sure where I come down yet.

I am also a graduate of Wayne State University (92). You would not believe the amount of people who don't get their degrees because of not passing their EP exam. English has always been my worst subject and I feared taking that exam because so many people failed it their first time. I took it in my junior year and passed the first time. My writing skills are bad to this day.....but I spend zero time trying to improve it.


I think symbolically it looks bad but how would the students have ever known if not for this hitting the media. I sorry, I just don’t think students are motivated by good penmanship. If this is something he loves to do and has a great passion about, that is more important than his writing skills. We need leaders who can manage and motivate. What if someone writes well but is terrible at math or writes well but has no people skills or write well with no managerial skills? In short, as a person who does not have good writing skills, it does not mean that you don’t have other skills that over shadows it. When I graduated High school I had about a 1.2 GPA. My last two years of college I got nearly all A’s. My average IQ score is 140, if I remember correctly. I did not do well in writing because I did not apply myself to it. However, I excelled at things that I found an interest in. Maybe that is true for this gentlemen as well.

Good googly-moogly!! 

I don't even know what to say about this story!  This is dumbfounding!  I mean, my jaw actually dropped while reading this! 

I will say this, though ... that the article itself (and the journalist who wrote it) spotlights the problem with why Mr. Mathis is like he is!  In this day and age, too many times excuses and shortcuts and rationalizations are given for poor performance.  And instead of enforcing correction of these problems, these people are given acceptance of the bad behavior!!

This right here ....

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Of course, I always give people leeway when it comes to e-mails (his e-mails are the only evidence given for his lack of writing skills) many of which are sent via Blackberry, Sidekicks, or generally on the run.

I don't consider e-mails formal communication ....
 
.... is a BIG part of the problem!

This person "doesn't count emails as formal communication" and gives "leeway" when it comes to people's writing skills in certain forms! 

Writing and communication is writing and communication!  Whether it's a grocery list or a term paper .... it should ALWAYS be correctly written and spelled!!  This shortcut/shorthand method of writing in the 21st Century should not be given a pass as 'acceptable communication' in lieu of knowing the proper way to spell and write!!

But in today's world, just about anything can be found to be acceptable or excused away ... even stuff that's harmful or detrimental by a careless, carefree attitude of "whatever!"  with no distinction given between what's really important to a person's (or a community's) betterment and well-being and what's not.  If it's not killing anybody (or hell, even if it is!) ... it's OK!  No biggie!  No need to do anything about it!  Just live and let live!

This lack of accountability and responsibility for trying to be the best a person can be is destroying us ... from the inside out.  I don't care if this man is (as nice as) Santa Claus .... if he's illiterate and improperly educated, he has no business being in charge of educating our children!

And trying to make excuses for why he should continue in this capacity is ridiculous, absurd, mind-boggling ..and in some ways even insulting to what should be the intelligent mind.

If we can't do any better than this ... there's no wonder why we are in the kind of trouble we are in today.
Last edited by EbonyRose
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Good googly-moogly!! I don't even know what to say about this story! This is dumbfounding! I mean, my jaw actually dropped while reading this!

That is exactly what I was thinking when I first read the article.  But, after thinking about it, it may be exaggeration, but I don't know.  However, I don't think that there a many required qualifications to be elected to a school board in the public school system.
I sorry, I just don’t think students are motivated by good penmanship. If this is something he loves to do and has a great passion about, that is more important than his writing skills. We need leaders who can manage and motivate. What if someone writes well but is terrible at math or writes well but has no people skills or write well with no managerial skills? In short, as a person who does not have good writing skills, it does not mean that you don’t have other skills that over shadows it. When I graduated High school I had about a 1.2 GPA. My last two years of college I got nearly all A’s. My average IQ score is 140, if I remember correctly. I did not do well in writing because I did not apply myself to it. However, I excelled at things that I found an interest in. Maybe that is true for this gentlemen as well.---Noah the African

WHAT????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There is absolutely no excuse for that sub-par communication skill...in the person selected to lead the organization that is to educate our children.

NONE.

That is exactly what I was thinking when I first read the article.  But, after thinking about it, it may be exaggeration, but I don't know.  However, I don't think that there a many required qualifications to be elected to a school board in the public school system.---sunnubian

C'mon.

How do you exaggerate a direct quote.

Good leadership includes example.

Those who voted for that man knew he had lousy communication skills when they voted for him....OR

Like I implied...they voted for someone who was a reflection of their own standards, or attributes.

And, therefore, did not...could not...recognize his deficiency.

PEACE

JIm Chester

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