Folks in Alabama are generally good people. But we can be particular. And certainly clannish and distrustful of outsiders. No doubt a lot of this goes back to our Scots-Irish ancestors who liked to be as far away from others as possible, put tremendous emphasis on family and would fight just to pass the time of day.
State school superintendent Mike Sentance would be wise to spend some time studying Alabama history and trying to absorb some of the culture he’s flung himself into. He may think his folks won the war, but some in Alabama don’t think it has even ended.
Nine times out of ten when someone in Alabama meets a stranger the first question is, “Where you from?” Or maybe, “Where didya grow up?” Or perhaps, “Which school did you go to?” This is even before we ask, “How’s yamama n em?”
And the one of the things we will not abide is someone being “uppity.” Especially someone who ain’t from around here.
This all came to mind after I read the comments written by Troy Turner, editor of the Opelka-Auburn News, after Sentance recently spoke to the Opelika chamber of commerce.
Here’s some of what he said:
“There were a few things about Sentance’s talk that prompted a few hmmms.
Early in my column-writing career, a wise editor in her late 70s taught me: Be careful not to overuse the word “I” and avoid beginning a column or letter with it. Be personal, but not self-centered, she said.
Sentance would have flunked her challenge. It was uncomfortable for me to hear how often he said “I will” do this and “I have done” that and “I can” make the needed changes.
Ask any veteran teacher just how well their class behaves for a new substitute teacher or just how far they can explore creative ideas without a supportive principal or just how little they can decorate a room and keep it in one piece without parent help. Meaning, it takes a team.
Sentance may have a lot of brass on his lapel from his Massachusetts days, but as we say down here, that don’t mean diddly, or at least not until we see signs of progress here in Alabama.
Slang, yes, but intentionally used here to make the point that our new state superintendent of education, no matter how smart he is, will have to connect with Alabama before he can teach it. He won’t overcome the outsider resentment appearing as a fix-it-myself crusader instead of a leader who cares with a personal interest in others.
“I don’t think you’re going to be as good as you can be unless I hire great teachers,” Sentance told the Opelika crowd.”
No, we aren’t Massachusetts, and we never will be. We don’t have professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams. We don’t have Harvard or Yale or MIT. We have Hank Williams and Harper Lee and “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide” and corn bread and sweet tea.
After only a few months on the job few educators who give Mike Sentance high marks–if any. We know the search process that brought him here was suspect to say the least. Of the eight elected members now on the state school board, only three of them voted to hire him. We know he is not communicating well with the state board. We know he talks about cutting programs that have been vital to small school systems. We know he never spent time in a classroom as a teacher, in a school as a principal or in a central office as a superintendent.
Given all of this, he would be wise to check his ego at the door and bear in mind that “You ain’t from around here are you?”