Blue Highways Journey – Episode 32 – Integrity

For Vicki James, this would be her first solo blue highways journey. Like her boss, Vicki was a hands-on get-the-job-done person. She was also a planner so she did a lot of background study on the part of the country she would be visiting. She was saddened to see the school test scores for the counties on her journey, especially Crockett County. She decided to focus on the educational systems as she did her blue highways journey.

When she got to Crockett County, she was able to meet with the Superintendent of Schools, Harry Babson. The conversation was going peacefully until Vicki asked about the test scores. Harry didn’t hold back: “Excuse my language, but my thoughts on those tests match what John Nance Garner said about being Vice President of the United States – they are “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”

Vicki was shocked, not by his language, but by his strong comments. “Could you tell me more?” she asked.

“Have you ever seen one of those tests? “he asked. Vicki hadn’t. “Let me tell you what these don’t test for. There is nothing about life skills. You can’t test for the essentials of what it means to be a good person with a grounded life’s purpose with a question that has four possible answers.”

For Vicki, this was preaching to the choir. “But aren’t you hurt by not getting the funding you need from the state?”

“To hell with the state funding formula. Let me tell you something that is rarely mentioned. Our county supports us because they believe in what we are doing. But our real source of funds comes from our alumni. Our school system has produced an incredible number of doctors, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and creative artists. They have pledged a percentage of their income to our school system as a tribute to the education they received. Honestly many of them may not have made it through school if we had focused on test scores rather than essential knowledge to be a success.”

For other students, we give them a skill that they can use to get a well-paying job. The state may want to take over our school, but no one can challenge our results in preparing students for life rather than a test.”

Vicki couldn’t wait to share this experience with her colleagues. As she thought about Harry Babson, one word came to mind: integrity. How many school superintendents have the basic integrity to challenge what they see as bureaucratic mandates far removed from what is really needed in the classroom. Integrity requires courage and an unwillingness to go against your values and beliefs.

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“Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.”
– M.H. McKee (author)

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