Likeable, collegial President of Detroit School Board can barely read or write - Issue or not?

Per this article the President of the Detroit School Board barely has a grade school command of English grammar and syntax. Otherwise he seems like a reasonably intelligent and likeable fellow, praised for his people skills and consensus building abilities. Should his inability to write coherently make him ineligible for the presidency of the school board or not?

Can he do his job?

Are you serious? A near-illiterate running a school board? You actually have to ASK? He’s a horrible example if nothing else: “Isn’t it great to know how far you can get without knowing how to write?” He should be fired immediately, along with the people who hired him and let him stay.

The entire city of Detroit is a basket case. This is just one more indication of that.

As the saying goes you don’t have to be smart to run a successful business, so long as you’re smart enough to hire people who actually ARE smart

As school board president, he isn’t hired, he’s elected.

I say if he’s doing his job otherwise, the writing thing might be embarrassing, but it’s not a dealbreaker. If nothing else, he should run all of his written correspondence by a proofreader. I know lawyers, and even reporters who can’t write very well; they have people around them (editors, in the case of the reporters) who clean up their shit. This guy’s biggest sin was knowing he couldn’t write, but still sending out mass emails without any sort of editing or proofing.

If lack of writing skills are going to be a dealbreaker for school board trustees, where do we draw the line? Test on their ability to do algebra? U.S. History? Twelfth-grade econ?

The guy’s not teaching a high school composition class, he’s working on big picture stuff, budgets, policy, etc. I’m not going to comment on whether he’s or not he’s doing all of that affectively, but rotten writing ability shouldn’t be a deal breaker unless you’re a writer.

Sad to say, he’s better than most of the kids I tutor at my old high school (same county as Detroit.) They can’t even go as far as to string together an original, coherent sentence and remember it well enough to put down on paper. :frowning:

Well, from that sample he’s clearly not illiterate. He just can’t punctuate, can’t construct subordinate clauses, uses apostrophes wrong, spells poorly, and may be a tad dyslexic.

He sure as hell shouldn’t be an English teacher. But there are lots of people with similarly poor commands of written language who have risen to the top of their profession. I have no idea if he is a competent schools administrator or not, but I wouldn’t dismiss him out-of-hand just for having terrible writing skills.

I once worked for a guy who wrote embarrassingly incompetent emails similar to the one in the OP. He was a superb verbal communicator, though, and an excellent manager, with an instinctual skill for eliminating waste, making business processes more efficient, and hiring talented subordinates. In a year he transformed a loser division into one of the most profitable in the company. He also knew his weaknesses, and didn’t communicate with outsiders via email (or had somebody else write it if necessary.) Should he have been dismissed just because he had one significant weakness, which didn’t actually interfere with his job?

Does not compute.

What doesn’t compute? Some people are terrible writers, and excellent communicators in person. Why is that hard to grasp?

Most people tend to write as they speak and speak as they write. If he was an extremely poor writer being an extremely good speaker on technical issues related to business efficiency would generally be an unusual scenario.

Huh? This is exactly the opposite of my experience, and I’ve never heard this idea anywhere else. Where do you get this idea from?

You gave an example of poor verbal skill and then immediately said that this person was a superb verbal communicator.

Writing and speaking are both verbal communication. “Verbal” means “using words,” in whatever form.

I’m not talking about emotional warmth and personal confidence and magnetism, but the words people use to express themselves. In my experience people who tend to write well also tend to speak in a fairly coherent manner, and people who write poorly have fairly ungrammatical speech. It’s a lot easier to get away with slack speech vs slack writing, but I’ve rarely seen the case where poor writers were great speakers on complex technical subjects and vice versa.

I should have said “oral communicator” instead of “verbal.” Of course, you knew exactly what I meant, but decided to be a nitpicky pedant, anyway.

Those who cannot do, teach. those who cannot teach become Detroit School Board Presidents.

I agree. How can you not be able to form a simple relative clause on paper (like in the OP’s example), but be able to form it verbally? Or does he just avoid relative clauses in spoken communication? I don’t get it either.

I’d like to note that according to the article, the subject denies that he can only “barely read.”

Devil’s advocate on the “people speak as they write”: have you ever heard anyone speak the way the worst writers write? If so, how often? (If it’s true, there must be millions of people who can’t speak coherently.) What about teenagers who use extensive IM writing? How do they speak?

I always attributed bad IMing to laziness, ‘coolness’ and/or expediency, I guess.

In the article, his colleagues praise him for his intelligence, his speaking and listening skills. His persistence and dedication to a goal seem not to be open to question. He has been a counselor to students, been a substitute teacher, served in the Navy in peacetime, run a nonprofit, and been on the Country Commission.

Every candidate for every position has something wrong with them. As shortcomings go, this one seems manageable considering that he acknowledges it and works to limit its impact.

You know, I feel for the guy. He’s apparently an unusually effective, hard-working and well liked person with an excellent work ethic and who seems to do a very good job in what he’s supposed to do.

But at the same time he’s in a field where people are supposed to be educated. What kind of example does he set to motivate kids to work hard and learn how to read, speak and write? He doesn’t. They’ll think hell, why bust my ass, this guy can’t string together a coherent sentence and look where he got. Trouble is most of them won’t be so lucky and when they get out into the real world and have to try to earn a living they’re going to be screwed big time, plus they probably won’t have the advantage of his work ethic to help them out because they gave up trying long ago and never developed the internal toughness, drive and desire to achieve that leads to a good work ethic.

People in leadership positions need to be, if not inspirational, at least good examples of having achieved a certain level of success in their chosen field. And clearly a guy who cannot spell, write or construct intelligible sentences is not a good example of someone who’s acheived success in having become educated himself.

Much as I hate to say it, I think he needs to find another line of work where he can put his admittedly considerable talents to use and where his verbal shortcomings don’t serve as an advertisement for educational underachievement.