Principal Kills Student Morale By Calling Black Kids 'Less Smart' Than Others

FailureThere’s trouble a-brewin’ in Memphis after Dr. Ted Horrell, principal of Germantown High School, kept it just a smidge too real when he addressed the student body about the status of its state report card. Parents are rightfully irked, as far as I’m concerned.
Picture it: you send your teenager to school, entrusting the educators who’ve been hired to not only teach the kids, but encourage and empower them to do their best. But when you get home, your child tells you that, in front of er’ybody, the principal threw some statistical napalm into the assembly: Black students are “less smart than others.” Oh, and students from wealthier homes are smarter than those from poorer homes.

So I guess if you’re Black and poor, you might as well chalk it up and submit your application to be the doody scraper at the local petting zoo. Because clearly, there’s no hope for you. 


Though they’re posted online for public view, the results hadn’t been thrown up in students’ faces — until Horrell blamed the black and poor students in the school for the drop in state report card scores. Hearing that, of course, gave other kids ammo to tease their “less smart” peers when the assembly was done. After school, his comments riled plenty of disgruntled moms and dads into verbal retaliation, sending Horrell into an Olympics-quality backpeddle, as is the habit in these kinds of cases, particularly when the media gets a hold of a story.

He didn’t mean it that way. That wasn’t what he really intended. Blah, blah, blah. You know the drill. But he had plenty to say when he was talking to the kids. Unedited, uncut, and unapologetic.

I’m not going to fire him up too tough or call his actions out as racist because I honestly don’t believe his purpose was to wave the flag of hierarchy over his students. But that being said, he sure was insensitive. I guess he called himself giving them a pep talk of sorts and maybe a tongue lashing of another. But his form of straight talk boiled down to being ignorant. Not the kind where you do something because you just don’t know any better. The kind where you know better and but you just can’t stop yourself from doing/saying/thinking it anyhow.

How is it that I, a piddly little writer with only a fleeting experience as a substitute teacher, know that black and poor students habitually score lower on standardized tests than others — and he, a high school principal, isn’t hip to that? What he hoped to achieve by calling them out, particularly in front of other students, is unclear. But it would’ve been more constructive to encourage the students to make use of the new programs in place at the school rather than belittle them for circumstances beyond their control.

If kids have a mound of obstacles to climb, the last thing they need is someone in a position of authority — who is ultimately at the head of their educational experience, might I add — barking at them about their failure to meet standards. Particularly when those standards are skewed by the color of their skin and how much money their parents bring home.

I’ll let you off the hook this time, Dr. Horrell. But do better.

I don’t even know how to frame the question, so I’m just going to ask: was this OK? Would you have been offended: black, poor, or otherwise?  

Image via milesopie/Flickr

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