Monday, March 12, 2012

I Have Difficulty Even Imagining This (Low) Level of Professionalism

If the facts are as stated here, then yes, tar and feathers are appropriate:
Mr. Vargas is fortunate enough to have in his charge one Jada Williams, a 13-year-old eighth grader who voluntarily took on some difficult extra work: reading Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life and writing an essay on the subject. Frederick Douglass is dangerous reading, truly radical stuff. Miss Williams, like most of the students in her dysfunctional school, is black. Most of the people being paid to go through the motions of teaching them are white. Coming across the famous passage in which Douglass quotes the slavemaster Auld, Miss Williams was startled by the words: “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” The situation seemed to her familiar, and her essay was a blistering indictment of the failures of the largely white faculty of her school: “When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself.”

Her teacher was so offended by the essay that she circulated copies of it to the rest of the faculty and to the principal. Miss Williams, an A student, suddenly began to receive Ds. According to accounts, her mother received harassing telephone calls from teachers who suggested that she was in some way disturbed rather than merely observant. She was forced eventually to withdraw from the school and enroll in an even worse one. (The Blaze has more.)

The best Mr. Vargas could say was this: “We could have responded better. This is a situation that was definitely not handled the best way.” To say the least: Teachers refused to show Miss Williams’s mother the schoolwork she had allegedly performed poorly on, and they refused to answer many of her questions about her daughter’s performance and alleged behavioral problems.
Is it possible the child's mistaken, that learning actually is occurring at her school? If she's correct, why might the teachers not be teaching? I can come up with several possible answers, and in very few of them does the fault lie either entirely with the teachers or entirely with the students.

But none of that excuses the targeting of a student who says in an essay something teachers don't like.

Update, 3/13/12: Colossus of Rhodey has what I consider to be a reasonable take on that story, concluding thusly:
But my gut instinct tells me that a lot on the right are jumping on this incident merely as a means to go after public schooling, teachers unions and Democrats in general, though this is short-sighted in many respects. The latter, of course, does hold a disproportionate amount of influence over the former two. But if such was written by a student in another arena -- one not controlled by liberals/Democrats -- would the Right be so vociferous in this student's defense? I tend to doubt it. Most of the time the Right [usually correctly] criticizes the quick use of the racism card when it comes to such matters. But if, say, Ms. Williams attended an affluent suburban school and used Douglass' essay to lament the lack of teaching African-American history as a component of an overall US history course? Would the Right then be as quick to take up her cause?

Again, since the Left does control so much of [inner-city] public schooling, they do share a disporportionate amount of blame for the state of these schools. But I wouldn't be so hasty to blame teachers for "not teaching" these children; I would place more blame on [liberal] administrators, politicians and like-minded teachers who believe the rights of chronically disruptive children are just as important as those of children like Ms Williams. That's the real problem with such schools -- teaching cannot occur if classrooms are too frequently zones of chaos. Teachers are told by administrators not to send kids out of class, and administrators want to keep school discipline figures down. So, it becomes a vicious circle whereby the misfits get away with [everything short of] murder. Young Ms. Williams, bless her, is very probably blissfully unaware about what really transpires in the school hierarchy ... and how "the game is played." Thus, she blames the only thing she deals with everyday: her teachers.


Bill Beeman said...

I doubt that the young lady is mistaken about the lack of learning taking place; I was fortunate to go to a reasonably good public high school over 50 years ago, when the standards were far higher. Yet, we did have some teachers who were incompetent and just going through the motions, and everyone in the school knew who they were.

maxutils said...

The worst part of this, is that the teacher passed the essay to people other than the intended reader, without the student's permission. Personally, I would have tried to secure that permission, and attempted to affect change . . . were I to work at a horrible school, someone like this would be the ray of sunshine in my day. In my economics classes, I encourage those who disagree to argue with me. They're always wrong, of course, but it makes for a much more enjoyable class.

maxutils said...

Colossus does a nice job, but fails to mention the largest component: parents who didn't teach their children to value learning, and who don't demand accountability from them.