About a week ago I heard about a video showing a white teacher at Success Academy berating a black child. Success and its leader, Eva Moskowitz, are the constant target for selective outrage by people who think her high test scores with low income students is proving too much of a threat for the traditional public schools.
Another day, another attack on that school.
Then I saw the video. I won’t tell you what I think about it, I’ll tell you what I feel. Politely put: bitter, epic, biblical enmity.
Please watch it (courtesy of Kate Taylor and the New York Times) for yourself, and come to your own conclusions.
Without fuss the girl complies. She ends up sitting away from her peers. Separated. Humiliated. Hurt.
“There is nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” Dial barks.
She then demands the other students help her discover the answers that the girl should have known, basically soliciting their participation in the girl’s shaming.
As a parent I can tell you if this video surfaced with one of my kids being the one sitting in the “calm down chair” there would be many varieties of hell to pay.
This video has sparked a volcano of oxidizing bad blood in Moskowitz’ Twitter feed. Much of it comes from people who share my reaction.
At the same time, some of the backlash is suspect.
Success has ceased in being just a school and has become a political landmine in New York’s education wars. They are arguably the most accomplished school district in the United States when it comes to educating marginalized kids. That draws adoration from school reformers eager to prove children from all backgrounds can achieve academically if schools are engineered to make it so.
It also draws bitter contempt from people deeply invested in traditional schools where kids are not thriving.
Given the messy debate I look to parents for guidance. In the video below a group of parents talk about their schools, and the issue with Charlotte Dial.
One of them is a veteran with the Department of Education, and the son of a retired New York City school teacher. He says he has seen teacher frustration like Dial’s play out daily in many schools, but it isn’t characteristic of his school.
“Our teachers are extremely loving and supportive and caring, and I’ve been in dozens, if not hundreds, of schools…and no other school I’ve been in, public or private, is there as much warmth and nurturing and engagement with the students as there is here,” he says.
That assessment couldn’t be more different from the growing narrative of Success as an overly strict testing mill that debases black children. The phrase “child abuse” is making an appearance in social media even among people living on school reform money. Privately there are murmurs about a “culture” problem, and whispers that Moskowitz is too smug when addressing high profile attacks on her schools.
It’s difficult to reconcile those critiques with the fact that Success schools are incredibly popular with parents of different stripes (so much so that they received over 14,000 applications for less than 3,000 seats).
It’s hard to ignore the fact that thousands of parents disagree with the what they see as attacks on their schools. They appreciate the order, culture, and results Success provides their children.
Are they wrong? Are they ignorant and in need of saving?
Be careful how you answer those questions. The insinuation that they are willingly signing their children up for child abuse has implications, especially when made by outsiders who don’t have their lived experience or local context.
You can’t be for parent power only when parents agree with you and make the choices you think are best for them.
People like Shea Reeder demand respect. She is not only a Success principal in the Bronx, but also a Success parent, entrusting her own child to the schools that employ her.
Like the other parents she doesn’t condone Dial’s behavior, but she says “I feel confident each and every day when I send my two children to school that they are going to an environment where they are respected by all adults, they are safe, the are loved by every single person they come into contact with.”
Another parent, Latasha Shannon, agrees. She says “as a parent, I do not condone what was shown on the video, but that’s not the Success Academy I send my daughters to everyday.”
“I’m not some poor uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what’s available in New York city schools. I chose Success. I made that choice because it’s the best choice for my daughters.”
When it comes to the disciplined culture of Success, Shannon is resolute.
“People who don’t like it, they don’t have to send their children there.”