The Washington Post

‘Reform Me’ — a poem by a superintendent

John Kuhn is not your ordinary school district superintendent. Kuhn is the head of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, and he is a very public critic of modern school reform.

Earlier this year, I published a letter he sent to Texas legislators about plans by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to cut billions of dollars from public schools. The letter was modeled on the famous letter that William Barret Travis sent from the Alamo right before it fell in 1836.

Here is one of Kuhn’s latest literary efforts, a poem about school reform.

“Reform Me”

What honor we have known, all we who teach.

Our neighbors send their kids; entrust to us

Each pigtailed girl, each cowlicked orn’ry cuss

Whom they call son. They send them, and beseech

Without a word, with just a dampened eye:

“Please take my child.” I’ll bet they’d like to growl,

“You let no harm befall, no spot befoul

My child, and teach her well.” But then, “Good-bye”

Is all they say. A gentle, lingering squeeze;

The child is ours then. “Change her,” is the charge.

A fearsome task; a burden, grave and large,

That bends our backs and takes us to our knees.

No lack she knows, no scars of past abuse,

Nor dearth of words or health or family name

Shall steer us from our single sacred aim

And if we fail, we’ll bandy no excuse.

Her parents poured the slab, and it has set.

We frame the walls, and though it leans, drive nails

And say a prayer. We know this sometimes fails

And tumbles in a pile. We know the threat.

But still we raise this roof and clad these walls

With congressmen and mayors looking on.

They score us from a spot so far withdrawn.

Alone we’ll take the blame if this child falls.

Let parents fail and congress underspend;

Let neighborhoods decline to offer aught

That grows a child, and let her simply rot

And pray the school will save her in the end.

Then let them tear my school down stone by stone

And cast me on the pile if I should fail.

But weigh me fairly; use an honest scale

That measures what it claims. Let me be known

Completely, all I am, and if it’s earned

I’ll take the scarlet brand without a tear.

But your brand on your own skin should appear.

No party to this task should leave unburned.


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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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