It was a terrible battle between Mr. Boland and Chantay Martin.
He was a freshly minted idealistic white teacher, a gay man who left non-profit leadership to pursue his dream of teaching in one of New York’s tough high schools.
She was a “belligerent” gum-smacking “teenage black girl from the projects of Bed-Stuy” who wore a bedazzled t-shirt so short that it exposed her “baby blue thong.”
When Mr. Boland attempted to get her attention she yelled “suck my f***kin d**k Mister!”
That vignette opens “The Battle for Room 314,” written by Ed Boland it is a “memoir” of one white man’s failed attempt to teach Negroes in the new millennium. His experience was so jarring it warranted documenting. Maybe you’re thinking about how few of us ever fail at a job so spectacularly that it warrants writing a book. I doubt many of us ever see our choice of occupation as some benevolent giving of our majestic gifts to lower life forms.
Our jobs are not marks of our amazing grace or professional humanitarianism. We are mortals.
I haven’t read Boland’s book, and I don’t intend to read it. Yes, that may be unfair because I certainly intend to drag him in the following sentences, but with some mercy.
What else shall we do when a failed teacher re-ups his privilege by turning a personal failure into personal dirt? What are we supposed to do when Boland amplifies his view of our students, calling them “monsters” so many times NPR’s reviewer, Nicole Dixon, says she lost count?
And, what is there to say about lines like this: “I began to loathe my students, resenting everything about them that was their lot — their poverty, their ignorance, their arrogance.”
Reading that I begin to loathe privileged people with platinum self-confidence and their glass egos. In this case, though, I stop myself because Boland isn’t really the problem. He got into the classroom, got out of it, told his story, and is no longer in position to damage the young beautiful black diamonds we give to public schools so they can return them to us dulled and diminished as prison material.
He did the best thing: he left.
John Warner, an experienced teacher, is less generous about Boland in his piece called “Education Tourists Can’t Save Anything or Anyone” for Inside Higher Ed. If the word “tourist” is familiar to you, then congrats, you’re paying attention to the language “veteran” teachers use to bolster their professional claim on our schools. Warner’s problem with Boland isn’t his unendurable cultural chauvinism as much as how his mindset seems to mirror one contestable brand of school reform.
Those of us who teach know that control of the authoritarian variety is actually antithetical to genuine learning. This is why the recent video of a Success Academy teacher ripping up a 1st grader’s work and sending her to the “calm-down” chair filled so many of us with horror. This is a 1st grader being cowed to the authority of a teacher for the sin of making a mistake.
Of course, control is the ethos of Success Academy and other “no excuses” charter schools. They need to start in 1st grade so the students are properly conditioned when they are older and more inclined to test the boundaries of their power and influence.
Ed Boland is just another of those who come to “make a difference” in education, but don’t appear to bother to learn anything about education before jumping in.
In one pass this takes aim at charter schools, school-wide discipline systems, and, indirectly, Teach For America. All of these things are products of people, assumed to be rich and white, who at best have misguided designs for education, and at worst, racist and greed-driven intentions. They are the ugly Americans haggling with poor villagers over price, the “tourists.”
I could join with Warner in his criticisms of Boland, especially when he says “[p]erhaps if he’d put himself in his students’ shoes, he might’ve lasted more than a year.” But Warner misses the point when he says “[p]eople like Ed Boland and these other reformers are not saviors. They are education tourists.” That displacement of blame turns into critiques of Eva Moskowitz, Bill Gates, and the “charter school movement” with all the predictable talking points (their outsiders who are addicted to “control”).
He leaves the traditional education establishment untouched, as if it were a good thing.
Forget for a minute the “tourists” and consider another group, the one that Warner represents. I’ll call them the settlers.
By any possible measure the American educator workforce is wrongly suited for what is emerging as the new dominant student body – kids of color, increasingly poor. If you were to reset public education so it would be right for modern times, you would never pick this – mostly white, middle-class, culturally isolated – occupational class drawn from a below average collegiate pool and embalmed with a scandalous lifetime job entitlement to lift our kids from debilitating ignorance into prosperous intelligence.
Need I remind you, again, that a never-ending stream of research tells us that everyday 8 million black students enter a public education system where their teachers – whether veterans like Warner, or “tourists” like Boland – hold all the wrong ideas about their humanity. Our kids get the worst performing teachers, the least rich curriculum, hideous learning conditions, the harshest discipline, and the lowest expectations for their academic success.
If our public education problems were limited to “education tourists” the solutions might be more manageable. But the real problem is several orders larger than a transient educational class.
It’s not those people who seek to reform education or bring new ideas to the table, and sometimes fail doing so. I’m more worried about those who won’t leave, those who have come to see their job as plantation management for an oppressive system of education that produces more strife than success.
Maybe we need neither tourists, nor settlers, but, instead, pioneers.