Why Aren’t We Talking About This?

When I was twenty-five, I interviewed at a charter school in Brooklyn.

Before I sat down to talk to the dean, I observed a kindergarten class that looked nothing like any kindergarten class I had ever seen: just shy of thirty children sitting in rows on a carpet, each with legs crossed and hands folded, all completely and utterly silent.

In my interview, the dean asked me what I noticed about the class.

“They were very well behaved,” I said.

“Yes, they were. But they sure don’t come in like that,” he answered.  With icy pride in his voice, he said: “It’s only because of the hard work of our staff that they act like that.”

I took the job – foolishly – and soon found out what this “hard work” meant: scholars, as we called them, were expected to be 100% compliant at all times. Every part of the nine-hour school day was structured to prevent any opportunity for deviance; even recess, ten-minutes long and only indoors, consisted of one game chosen for the week on Monday.

We were overseers, really.  Our lessons were scripted according to the needs of the upcoming state test, and so we spent our days “catching” scholars when they misbehaved, marking their misdeeds (talking, laughing, wiggling) on charts, and sending them to the dean when they acted their age too many times in one day.

There weren’t any white children at the school, but there I was – a white teacher, snapping at a room full of black children to get them to respond, in unison, to my demands.

Everyone in the nation is talking about our racist history, but do people know what type of racism is happening today, beneath our noses, under the banner of education reform?

With useless, commercial junk-tests as justification, we have been told, for years now, that we must serve up our low-income schools – those schools filled mostly with children of color – to profiteers, who are then free to experiment on children in whatever ways they see fit.

Have you ever seen this video?  Watch as the parents – parents who love and value their school – are told that they need a charter network to rescue them:

 

“Why come here and discombobulate our home?” one parent asks.

They are discombobulating homes everywhere, of course, but communities of color are almost always hit first – and hardest.

But who, aside from a few bloggers and academics, are talking about this?

Why aren’t more people demanding that these racist institutions and policies be taken down?

Things are about to get much worse, as profiteers are now turning their attention to the measurement and manipulation of the non-academic parts of schooling – how much “grit” a child has, or how compliant he or she is – with computers taking the place of teachers to conduct remediation.

 

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It’s modern eugenics: the molding of children’s personalities, starting from preschool, to suit the needs of our Wall Street masters.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, it’s because it isn’t happening yet in your community. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it never will.

You can be sure, however, that it is happening to other people’s children.

When will we demand that this stops too?

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Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

56 thoughts on “Why Aren’t We Talking About This?”

  1. How sad and scary that this is happening and that parents aren’t seeing it or are just accepting it. How sad that we no longer value play as the best way for children to learn, play that they can do naturally, without scripts. How sad that parents just roll with reform and don’t step up and say, “hey, these are our children and this is not right!” When will we wake up? I’m afraid only when it’s too late.

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      1. Agreed so did the children so poorly planned I wouldn’t go to party for free if they asked me haha bad planning in that schools part

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    1. What makes you think that the parents are just accepting it? In Brooklyn, as charter schools were being FORCED on neighborhoods, many concerned parents and communities vehemently opposed them. Other parents, convinced by smooth-talking advocates of semi- to full privatization of public education (among other things) that their children were better off in charter schools using essentially the same anti-government argument that has allowed private industry/enterprise to siphon billions in tax dollars to take over once publicly/government-run services. The lie that private companies will be more efficient in any way has been the legacy of so-called “trickle down economics,” the late capitalist scheme that is devastating the country, the globe (wherein the rich get richer and the rest of us die — this is not an exaggeration). So, parents rarely have a choice and, if they do, it’s based on most often false promises by people interested in profit rather than in providing ALL children with a quality education. What makes you blame parents rather than being suspicious of the machinations of elected and appointed officials who have no interest in the greater good themselves? Have you also bought the privatization hype? Is your assumption that the parents *aren’t* doing anything based on actual knowledge you have? Do you understand how institutional racism functions? Why aren’t *you* doing anything?

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      1. I’m not blaming the parents at all! I am applauding them… did you watch the video?? I AM blaming the policies, the elected officials, etc. I know there are parents fighting… by “why aren’t we talking about this,” I meant media outlets… the nightly news, papers, etc. my apologies for making you think I was laying the blame at the feet of the fighters. As for what I’m doing, I’m trying to write and share and stir up dialogue as much as I can…

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    2. Literally just spoke with someone who’s child now attends P. Diddy’s charter school in Manhattan. The child was 5 minutes late for school her punishment was to eat her lunch standing for the entire lunch period. 😱 Her Mother seemed unbothered by it and my jaw was left wide open.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. How sad that after hundreds of years Europeans and their descendants continue to carry out their malicious intent against poor and non-whites.

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  2. We aren’t talking about this because nobody wants to believe Gates is a racist and that we believe the PR slogan that these reforms are all about “Equity!”(TM) in the classroom.

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  3. The video is utterly horrifying in its blindness and deafness to this community. Also, that the charter school’s audacity in thinking they know what is best for the children is disgusting. I love the comment from the parent asking about this Mastery program is so good, why is it not in the affluent neighborhoods?

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    1. Why isn’t it happening in the private schools that the vulture capitalists’ children attend?! It ‘s the complete opposite at the progressive private schools! Amy, thank you for speaking out and I hope you take your story to a national paper – maybe Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post?

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  4. We aren’t talking about this because nobody wants to believe Gates is a racist and that we believe the PR slogan that these reforms are all about “Equity!”(TM) in the classroom.

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  5. Denver is the poster child for this. Public education isn’t about educating our students. It is simply about job training, saying yes to “masters,” and not questioning authority. Well behaved but at what a terrifying price.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Parents ARE fighting against the charterization of schools in Camden and elsewhere. They are usually defeated by their school boards who believe that charters and computers and scripted lessons can increase test scores while lowering the cost of education. This happens in districts like my own, where the school board is elected and also in places like Camden where the school board is state appointed.
    Parents aren’t oblivious, and they certainly care, they simply have no power.

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    1. There is no reason to lower the cost of education We cannot stand for this There is nit a lot that is more so precious or reforming as a good education -::

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  7. Emily, I salute you, your training, your dedication to good public education for all children, and your objections to the disciplinary indoctrination and suppression of children of color in charter schools. I agree with you that it’s not good for these children, 100%, but calling it (and the people who promote it) racist is both oversimplification and far from helpful to these children, or the communities from which they come. There are good reasons why parents avail themselves of charter school options.

    Student discipline and instructional practices in lower income neighborhood’s schools of color are horrible too. Parents want to protect their children from other children’s misbehavior, aggressiveness, lack of focus on learning and low levels of achievement that are very real problems in these communities and in the schools that serve them. Too many neighborhood school principals simply follow district direction to avoid attention. Instead of seeking to recruit and retain every neighborhood family, they seek to avoid problems with parents or students, and take the kids that come without caring much about those families who seek other options.

    Charter schools wouldn’t exist if each local neighborhood school staff treated all members of the community they serve as valued resources for the betterment of the community’s children and the betterment of the community itself. The neighborhood school is the best place to bring the community together to uplift the community and all who reside in it. There are respectful virtually cost free solutions to the student behavior problems that are experienced in neighborhood schools, including low achievement and interpersonal conflict. School staff, starting with the principal need to look for those solutions and need to believe in their students and their students’ parents and guardians rather than looking upon them as people who need to be fixed.

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  8. Watching the children training to work in cubicles (photo) rather than be children is heart breaking. I fear the USA soon comes to a point, where unemployed adults home schooling with sincerity and warmth can do a way better job preparing children for their society than these racist drilling institutes. Test scores are lying as well. Who will score love, collaboration skills, creativity, street wisdom, critical thinking, finding and dealing with conflicting info in the media and on the internet? Testing is training in compliance to bosses, more than anything else. Rebels, artists, aliveness, freethinkers, however intelligent, are pushed out.
    Actually a government that doesn’t seek to bring out the best in everyone is stealing from it’s society and making it poorer as a whole because of it. Sadly that hits the poor first, but with Trump and Betsy deVos we see it damaging everything.
    View story at Medium.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with everything you said. However, race may or may not be a factor. What is clear is that they want to control people across racial lines. They just want compliant obedient employees and citizens that don’t buck the status quo. It’s not about race. It’s about the elites and the rest of us who are not elites.

      They’d love for us to fight along racial lines and miss the bigger picture.

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    2. As for economic lines, I do believe it likely does hit the poor first, but it’s really, again, the elite masterminds vs everyone else. In the end, even the middle class and some of the upper class won’t be safe either.

      So let’s not get sidetracked on the issue of whether or not it hurts the poor and miss the bigger picture.

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  9. I find this interesting. Camden’s schools are amonsgst the worst in the country…..have been for generations. And people are fighting against change??

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  10. My life as an urban educator… working in a public “failing” school that is housed in the same building as a corporate charter (much like the one you describe). The difference between the two is shocking; yet parents are easily wooed by how well their child behaves or how new their computers are or how they have working water fountains (and we don’t; true story). Like you I have chosen not to drink the Kool-Aid, despite offers of bigger salaries, better working conditions, etc. because it’s simply JUST NOT RIGHT. These corporations (operating under the guise of non-profit public charters) are more concerned with robiticizing black and brown children into compliance than teaching them how to self-regulate and function like “normal” human beings. Things like forcing students to sit on the floor until they “earn a chair” are a disgrace to their ancestors who fought for these babies to have a place at the (education) table. Sadly, this isn’t spoken about enough or with the right people and thus it’s still allowed to happen…

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  11. I understand the perspective and concern however, the author has used a school where parents are happy with outcome as a comparison. To make for a more balanced argument, what about interviewing parents who’s children attend a failing public school?

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  12. Besides training working-class and poor kids to be obedient servants, there is another purpose to charter schools, perhaps even more useful to the capitalist class: the busting of the teachers unions.

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    1. True it isn’t a good thing to think that behavior is all about siting still while our bodies are old and grey we will wish we misbehaved -/:

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  13. In the suburbs (Westchester) parents in our neighborhoods (mainly middle class and up) don’t know about charters, and haven’t heard the term “no excuses.” They do know about the test scores. I spend so much time trying to explain that the test scores are a function of a destructive process, and that those scores don’t necessarily mean that these kids are successful in other areas. High scores in Scarsdale on the grades 3-8 tests also mean high regents scores, high ACT and SAT scores …. but not true in these no excuses charters. When I explain the discipline and silence and taking away of a child’s initiative in these charters, I get “but they get good scores.” And my friends’ recent college grad kids go into TFA, or work at charters, rationalizing away the cruel tactics.

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    1. The charters say that they are public and that they take all children. What those parents also don’t know about is the attrition rates. Families of children with “problems” are harassed out and end up back in public schools. The high scorers get to stay.

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  14. Those wishing to develop an understanding of school discipline in charter schools beyond the particular charter school system that Emily alludes to would do well to watch both of these videos.

    “Re-Thinking Discipline: What Schools Are Trying and Learning”

    That session, moderated by fomer HS expellee (and also US Sec’y of Education) John King, is an interesting follow-on to last year’s discussion:

    School Discipline: It’s Complicated

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  15. I do understand the issues raised here. I would like to know what the author proposes as a healthy alternative. I have worked in public schools for 7 years. By schools I mean going to a different school almost daily, so I’ve seen many, many NYC public schools. A typical 45 min period consists of the teacher reprimanding kids for probably a total of 30 mins with perhaps 15 mins total of teaching. A motivated, well-behaved kid who actually wants to learn is hindered by others’ lack of motivation. Could be due to their maturity level, a disability, lack of support at home – who knows. But when comparing such public schools, of which there are too many, to the charter network to which you a referring, how do you determine what serves underprivileged kids in the long run? What are some real solutions to both scenarios? Private schools are usually not an option.

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  16. My son who is now a senior in Wesleyan university in Connecticut, went to a charter starting in 6th great, i tell you charters schools are great, they teach the children discipline, which our children now need very much, they get out children thinking about college since middle school, to me charter schools are like a free private school, that of course my family being a minority cannot afford, from there that same charter school got him a full scholarship to a private high school, now he is in his senior year, never in my wildest dreams did i think he would go this far. He is a very smart boy but we had no money for college,charter schools really put emphasis on these young children , now even as young as pre k, all the rest of my younger 3 children are also in charter schools, surpassing public schools in curriculum and test scores, and if its a choice they cant force you to put your child in a charter school, these people on the video should be thankfull that the school is trying to make a change for the better, the buildings are clean , safe and most of the kids are very well educated, where i live the charter school teachers dont make much, but for such they are in it to help the children succeed and i believe that, i thank good i had a choice to send my kids to charter schools instead of the ghetto, public schools around were i live

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  17. I am a K/1 Special Education public school teacher and author. Unfortunately, this article couldn’t be closer to exposing the truth. A friend of mine worked at a Bronx charter school and shared an IDENTICAL story with me. Everything is scripted based on a test written by men and women who have never taught in a classroom before. There is no room for individuality, creativity, or exploration at all–this goes for both staff and students. The charter school environment is reminiscent of YA dystopian novel, where the human is sacrificed for society’s “greater good.”
    What’s even worse is that many middle class, mostly white, Americans hear nothing but wonderful stories about these institutions (I choose to use this word for multiple reasons) and erroneously believe that because they produce high test scores, they’re successful at what they do.
    Scores don’t necessitate success, and this is a myth we need to somehow overcome. There is more to an individual, and this is coming from someone who scored consistently well on standardized tests throughout her life! I learned more through life experience and exploration of my talents than any question that required me to bubble in a letter on a scantron (I suppose now it’s gravitated towards computerized testing, which is arguably worse).
    Thank you for sharing this insightful post!

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  18. The truth us in the data. Studies show that in low income neighborhoods, high demand, high support schools have stronger academic results. I don’t understand how people can criticize high performing charter schools that are opening doors for children and providing poor black and Latino children with the opportunity to attend college. Name a district school in a poor black neighborhood that has the literacy rates of high performing charter schools, you probably can’t. It’s unacceptable that you and everyone else out there feels it’s ok to criticize a parent for choosing a charter school when the only other option is the zoned school that has 10 percent of their children reading on grade level. The NYC Dept of Education is perpetuating a system of oppression and people need to be talking about THAT.

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    1. You may want to ask some of the thousands of people of color who shared this post why it resonated with them.

      I am not critizing parents. I am critizing the no excuses system and the white savior complex that allows it to happen.

      Also, since you seem to be a member of the cult of data, I challenge you to find data that shows that children who attend these oppressive “no excuses” charter schools go on to live happier, healthier lives than their peers.

      Higher reading and math scores on tests that are narrow and rigged are not proof of anything other than higher reading and math scores on tests that are narrow and rigged.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with everything you said except the “white savior” part. We don’t need to resort to race baiting. The enemy is doing enough of that in schools and society already. We’re on the same side after all, at least in this, against Common Core and the educational industrial complex.

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  19. Check out this profiteering pig from hell…Vahan Gureghian. He runs for profit charters in the poorest areas such as Chester, Pa. Once you have looked at his schools, google his house and see what he has done with the funds which should have been directed to his students. Chester Community Charter pays its teachers on average $23k a year and has a huge turnover…the kids suffer the most…

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  20. Whether charter schools are good or bad when compared to public schools is mostly irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. They are tied to loads of Common Core groups and still have to follow the Common Core stuff imposed on them from on high.

    In the only way that really matters, charter schools are WORSE in that they don’t have a locally elected school board, meaning that the parts have even less representation in them than the pitiful amount they get in the public school system.

    Both models (public and charter) need to be scrapped and return to local control where most of the decisions are done locally (like in the town rather than the state capital, from DC, or from some UN bureaucracy) and where the parents have the final say, something that is increasingly not the case in either public schools or charter schools.

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  21. “Things are about to get much worse, as profiteers are now turning their attention to the measurement and manipulation of the non-academic parts of schooling – how much “grit” a child has, or how compliant he or she is – with computers taking the place of teachers to conduct remediation.”

    All of these things are happening in public schools too. It’s not just charter schools. It’s coming down from the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, etc, and also being pushed via the Every Student Succeeds Act, among others, upon us by, among others, the Robber Barons in Sillycon Valley so they can get rich off of their technology and testing software, etc and can best decide where to place us.

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