EducationPedagogyPrimary Education

#StopBashingTeachers, a charter school’s equivalent to #PoliceLivesMatter

There’s a video of a New York charter school doing its rounds at the moment in which you can see a teacher verbally and emotionally abuse a first grade student. If you love kids, if you’ve been abused as a child yourself, that video makes you want to cry, puke and scream. At least that was my reaction.

In the video a girl stumbles with a maths problem. The teacher then rips up the girl’s paper and sends her to the “calm down chair”. Why does the girl have to calm down? She’s not loud, not disruptive, she’s simply having difficulties with the task set for her.

The teacher then goes on to abuse the girl some more, telling her that “there’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper” and later “You’re confusing everybody. I’m very upset and very disappointed.”

There’s so much to unpack here. First of all, there’s the complete absence of the student as a learner. A classroom needs to be a safe space, a space where you can make mistakes, where you are allowed to struggle and get help. A positive learning environment is one of the most important factors for actual success in school (See Hattie, Visible Learning).

This teacher doesn’t provide the child actual space for learning. This teacher demands correct answers. The girl didn’t give the correct answer and the two things this person focusses on are how she’s impacting other students* and most importantly, how she makes her, the teacher, feel. This is plain and simple emotional child abuse. To get love, to get respect, to be seen as a person, nothing short of being perfect is enough. Children, especially small children want to please the adults in their lives. They want to hear “You have done well, I’m proud of you”. They want to be loved. They need the safety of being loved even when they are wrong. Especially when they are wrong. This teacher is showing none of this. She is using her emotional power over a very small child. What did she achieve? Does the child now know how to solve the problem? Surely not. How would she be able to follow the lesson after having been abused like that, made responsible for the teacher’s negative feelings and blamed for her classmates’ lack of progress? I hope we can all agree that the behaviour displayed by this teacher is absolutely unacceptable.

So, what is the response from the school?

Eva Moskovitz, the head of the Success Academy Charter Schools to which this institution belongs takes it to Twitter, defending her employee and school, accusing the media of “profiting from the controversy” (where have I heard this recently?), creating the hashtag #StopBashingTeachers:

Charlotte made a mistake. I don’t condone what was in the video. Charlotte doesn’t condone what was in that video. #StopBashingTeachers

If you’ve watched the video you can see what’s wrong with this narrative. This teacher didn’t just make a mistake. I get making mistakes. I get losing your cool. This teacher wasn’t actually upset and losing control. This teacher was very focussed. It was not a one time mistake, because look at the kids. If their wonderful beloved teacher had just exploded because her puppy died and her coffee cup broke and this girl’s mistake was the straw that broke the camel’s back, they’d be shocked. They’d be upset, they’d be visibly scared. They are not. They continue as if nothing really happened because for them nothing unusual happened. And there is of course the fact that an assistant teacher felt it necessary to record this class in the first place. Why would they do that if this teacher was usually the fairy godmother in person? The assistant recorded the class because they knew this kind of thing happens in that classroom.

Complaints about charter schools in general and this one in particular are frequent. As you can see from the NY Times article, this incident is just the tip of the iceberg, others include children wetting themselves as they are not allowed or afraid to go to the bathroom. So when Eva Moscovitz appeals to teacher solidarity with #StopBashingTeachers, she creates, in my opinion, the equivalent of “Police lives matter”. In response to her teacher abusing a child she portrays her school and her teacher as victims of a culture that hates teachers and schools. And the worst thing is, there is a lot of negative bias against schools and teachers. But when criticism of plain child abuse is called “teacher bashing” it just makes matters worse for teachers who actually care and who struggle to give their students a good education in difficult situations. Calling out abuse of children, especially black children at the hands of teachers is no more “teacher bashing” than BLM and Beyoncé are an attack on Police lives. Thankfully, there’s a lot of teachers pushing back against that notion.

*Actually, nothing can be as educative as a good mistake. Working through a good mistake and consolidate knowledge and  initiate further thought processes.

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Giliell

Giliell

Giliell is still a student and has been since shortly after the dinosaurs died out. She's also a parent of one pre school kid and one primary school kid. On top of that she teaches language classes.
Feminist, crafter and Social Justice Rogue. Lover of cupcakes and all things baked.

7 Comments

  1. February 12, 2016 at 4:25 pm —

    The parent of this child should put them back in public school. If they don’t like the public school, then they might have to move to another school district. If they can’t move, then consider home schooling, or else get elected to their local school board.

    • February 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm —

      Really? That is your reply to this huge problem of charter schools, child abuse and racism? An individual solution to a social problem? Not to mention that every single one of your proposals requires resources. Move to another school district? How many k does that cost? Homeschool and lose a full income? Getting elected as, say, a poor black single mum?

      Really, your reply is frankly tone deaf, privilege blinded and not helpful at all. This might sound harsh, but you really should think more about your implicit assumptions when you say such things.

      • February 12, 2016 at 7:58 pm —

        I don’t support ewcollins’ simplistic approach, but I hardly think that money is even remotely a problem there. The class size is tiny (about 20 pupils), the room is colossal and everyone is dressed better than my boss’ boss’ boss.

        This isn’t an example of destitute children abused by the system, but of the other end of the stick – upper-middle class adults creating an abusive system to breed the evil necessary for their upper-middle class children to flourish at the top echelons of society. It’s the same reason why Oxbridge education was more abusive than in other schools and why the abusive teacher kept her job and why the parent of the girl didn’t want to cooperate with the reporters; because they and the public know what their children will soon learn…

        It’s all intentional, and everybody is satisfied except for the children. Though in twenty years time those children will be just as satisfied with this arrangement as their parents and teachers. Perhaps even more so.

    • February 12, 2016 at 7:30 pm —

      Charter schools are public schools, albeit public schools that have been exempted from any district oversight. That is probably a factor here, as high test scores will generally allow charter schools to get away with just about anything.

  2. February 12, 2016 at 4:51 pm —

    I think, A contributing factor to this kind of behavior (both the teacher’s and the administration’s) is the focus on grades.  The impetus put on teachers (at least, here in the U.S.) is to show good scores on tests, not to actually teach the subject.

    • February 12, 2016 at 7:44 pm —

      I agree and I don’t see any possible solution. It’s hard enough to push for good education reform in countries with a functional government, but in a country with a political sphere as intentionally dysfunctional as the US I don’t see how anything can be done at all.

  3. February 13, 2016 at 5:56 am —

    Alexander

    I’ll wrap everything up into a new response so it remains tidy

    First, as Dan has already mentioned, Charter Schools are public schools” as in they are free and everybody can apply for them, but private in their organisation and without the strict public oversight of a regular school. There’s a lot of criticism. One point is that charter schools are actively working against regular public schools. They often pick the promising students*, thereby bleeding the public schools dry of them, they heavily focus on performance and then they turn around and act as if this means that they are actually better schools than regular schools which have to teach all kids, the slow ones, the complicated ones, the special needs ones. In this they’re very similar to German charter schools. Parents choose them because they seem to offer an alternative to the crumbling public schools. Just look at their means.

    This makes this all the more horrible, because with that kind of infrastructure and those small classes, you should really be able to pull off some good teaching for everybody.

    One of the legitimisations  of charter schools such as Success Academy are their high scores in standardized tests. As you can see from the articles linked, those scores come at a high price. The teaching is a real “teaching to the test”, students who struggle get bullied out, there’s high pressure on the kids. With schools in the USA losing funding over low test scores (I kid you not), charter schools are actively working towards the destruction of real public schools.

    I agree that it’s hard to see a solution in the USA, but simply burdening the victims with making an individual choice to keep themselves safe is clearly not the solution

     

    *Although initial admission is often by lottery, “weeding” out happens in school.

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