When Students Stay Up All Night Playing Fortnite and You’ve got to Teach Them in the Morning



There is something monstrously unfair about our teacher evaluation systems.


If your students fail because they were up all night playing video games, it’s your fault.




When students fail at academic tasks, there is no responsibility attributed to the students, no responsibility attributed to the parents and certainly no responsibility given to society.


It’s all just thrown on the teacher because, hey, someone’s got to be responsible. And it might as well be them.


I’ve written scores of articles about how standardized tests forced on students by the federal government are unfair.


They are developmentally inappropriate, culturally biased, and subject to a deep conflict of interest because the people making the tests get more money if test takers fail.


The tests drive the curriculum instead of the other way around. The scores needed to pass change from year-to-year invalidating annual comparisons. And many lawmakers pushing for these assessments are funded by the school privatization industry that uses failing test scores to sell its own fly-by-night brand of education.


These are real problems our education system faces every day.


But we mustn’t forget an even more fundamental one: we’re all responsible for student success or failure.


Not just teachers. EVERYONE.


Society, lawmakers, business people, parents – but those most responsible are the students, themselves.


Case and Point—


Over the last few months a word has entered my students’ vocabulary that hadn’t been there before: Fortnite.


It’s not that they’re so interested in an antiquated term for a two-week period. It’s the name of a popular multiplayer on-line shoot-em-up video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Players build forts with teammates to defend against other players or enemies.


Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.


It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”


And then it started to manifest physically.


Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.


It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.


Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.


When I noticed it, I cleared as much of my schedule as I could to call parents. It’s hard because administration decided not to fill positions in my department for teachers who retired last year – so all our classes are larger. And they gave me a new class I haven’t taught in years so the planning load is more cumbersome.


Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.


And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.


Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.


However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.


But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.


However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.


I’m not blaming them. Most of my students live below the poverty line. That means their folks are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or they’re grandparents raising their sons’ or daughters’ kids. Or they’re foster parents with a full house.


They’re doing the best they can. But it doesn’t end up stopping the addiction.


And – let’s be honest – it is an addiction.


For the first time in 2018, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as a real thing. Not every video game. Not every time someone sits down to play a video game. But video games can lead to addictive behavior.


That’s what I’m seeing in my students.


So after talking with as many parents as I could, I came to a mostly dead end.


My next step was to try to use student interests to influence instruction.


We were in the middle of a poetry writing unit. So I allowed students to write their poems about Fortnite.


That perked up a few heads.


Here’s a cinquain about Fortnite. Here’s an acrostic, a narrative, a concrete poem in the shape of a soldier or his gun.


To be honest, none of them were masterpieces.


They were just the normal trash talk and braggadocio written down in verse.


So I got an idea. Use the heightened competitive urge to push artistry.


We came to limericks – a difficult but fun type of poetry with five lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter.


We read funny examples, we sang the rhythm together in chorus – da Dum da da Dum da da Dum – and then I set them the task of writing their own limericks.


With one twist. Whoever wrote the best limerick would get a homework pass.


That got them going like a shot.


All of my Fortniters perked up.


They wrote like I’d never seen.


Each wanted to one-up the others. And no one wrote about the game.


By the end of class, we had some pretty good poems. I wouldn’t say they are the best ever written, but they were miles better than where we were before.


So what does it all mean?


When we talk about video games these days, the conversation usually strays toward violence.


Pundits caution that video games will desensitize children and make them more prone to aggression and acting out. It might even contribute to the creation of school shooters.




In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.


Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.


However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.


Some corporations want to try to harness this addiction to push learning. Hence the move to personalized or competency based education. That’s pure rubbish.


It’s a way to monetize education without paying attention to what’s best for kids. The same with gamification – using game theory to drive instruction.


And don’t think I’ve lost sight of my own use of competition in class. I haven’t.


Games and competition can be used to positive ends in moderation.


You can motivate reluctant kids to do things they wouldn’t normally do with competition. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work all the time.


It needs to be a novelty. Any tool can be overused.


Even video games aren’t bad in moderation. I used to be a gamer, myself.


The problem is when it becomes an addiction.


Our social structures can’t handle it.


Game corporations only care if it makes money. Parents are often stressed to the limit just to provide the basics.


The only group we require to be responsible is teachers.


And that’s just not going to work.


Video game addiction is another area where it becomes painfully clear how much work we all need to do to help our children succeed.


Arming Already Stressed Out Teachers Will Only Increase the Chance of School Shootings



It happened in Georgia yesterday.


A beloved social studies teacher locked himself in his classroom while his students stood outside the door.


When the principal came with the key, the teacher fired a handgun through an exterior window.


Students ran, one even twisting her ankle in the escape.


Thankfully, no one else appears to have been injured.


However, the incident brings into focus a vital component of the gun debate.


Teachers are already under tremendous stress.


Arming them won’t stop gun violence. All it does is add another potential shooter.


It’s only been about two weeks since a shooting at Stonemason Douglas High School in Florida left 17 dead.


That’s at least 19 school shootings so far in 2018 – and it’s only the beginning of March!


In that time, the national media and the Trump administration have focused on one specific solution to stopping such violence from happening again: giving teachers guns.


The latest incident in Georgia underlines why this is such a terrible idea.


Teachers are not super heroes.


Take it from me. I’m an almost 15 year veteran of the middle school classroom in western Pennsylvania.


We’re just human beings.


My colleagues and I have all the same human failings and weaknesses as everybody else.


We get tired and overworked and put upon and stressed and sometimes…


…Sometimes we don’t handle it well.


I know some people don’t want to hear it.


Society has piled all kinds of responsibilities and unreasonable expectations on our shoulders.


We’re no longer allowed to be just educators.


We’re parents, counselors, disciplinarians, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, nutritionists…. The list goes on-and-on.


And now politicians actually want us to add law enforcement to the job description?


We’re already under colossal pressure, and some folks want to add a gun to that situation?


That’s lighting a fuse.


But don’t just take my word for it.


Back in 2015, tens of thousands of educators filled out the Quality of Worklife Survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association.


After responses from 91,000 school employees and 31,000 who completed the entire 80-question survey, a picture of the emotional landscape became clear.


A total 73% of respondents said they often feel stressed at work.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.48.15 PM

The reasons? Adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development (71%), negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media (55%), uncertain job expectations (47%) and salary (46%) were the most common responses.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.48.58 PM

The survey identified the following as most common everyday stressors in the workplace – time pressures, disciplinary issues and even a lack of opportunity to use the bathroom.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.49.11 PM

Focusing just on the classroom, top stressors were mandated curriculum, large class sizes and standardized testing.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.49.35 PM

Many teachers claimed to be the victims of violence at school.


A total 18% of all respondents said they had been threatened with physical violence – though the percentage jumped to 27% when looking solely at special education teachers.


A total of 9% of all respondents claimed to have been physically assaulted at school. Again the percentage jumped to 18% of all special education teachers.


But it’s not just physical assault.


A total of 30% claim to have been bullied by administrators (58%), co-workers (38%), students (34%) and student’s parents (30%).

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 1.03.57 PM

This is the situation where policymakers want to throw firearms.


Most gun violence doesn’t involve a shooter doing harm to others. The great majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted.


Even without adding guns to the mix, several high profile teachers and administrators already have committed suicide.


In October of 2010, for example, a California elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. took his own life after the Los Angeles Times published a report labeling him a “less effective teacher.” Despite the fact that students and parents praised Ruelas, who taught in one of poorest schools in his district and who also was born, raised and continued to live in area where his school was located, the Times targeted him among other so-called “less effective” teachers as part of a major propaganda campaign.


And this isn’t an isolated incident. In July of 2015, a New York City principal under investigation for altering Common Core test scores, killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car.


Adding guns to this situation will just mean more teachers taking their own lives with a bullet.


That may have been the intent of the Georgia teacher in yesterday’s shooting.


Local police said they didn’t think he was trying to injure anyone else. When he shot his gun out of the window, he appeared to be trying to get others to leave him alone.


Arming teachers is a terrible solution to school violence. It’s taking an already stifling room and turning up the heat.


We need sensible gun regulations to reduce the pressure, not increase it.


We need sensible school policies that treat teachers and students like human beings and not just cogs in the system.


But this requires us to break out of a dangerous pattern in how we deal with social problems.


When we see a problem, we generally just shrug and leave it up to public schools and teachers to solve.


Inadequate resources – leave it to teachers to buy school supplies out of pocket.


Inequitable funding – increase class size and leave it to teachers to somehow make up the difference.


We can’t do the same with gun violence. We can’t just toss teachers a gun and tell them to sort it out.


Teachers can’t solve all of society’s problems alone.


That’s going to take all of us.


And we’ll need more than disingenuous proposals like answering gun violence with more guns.

White Kids Need Black History, Too



It’s Black History Month.


That means your local public school is pulling out all the stops.


We’re making murals of artists from the Harlem Renaissance. We’re jamming to jazz, blues, R&B and hip hop. We’re reading excerpts from the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” We’re writing journals about what it means to be the people we are and to come from wherever we come from.


In short, we’re having a lot of fun.


But each child responds differently to the siren call of Black History – especially when the person making the call is a white teacher, like me.


Today I asked my classes of 7th grade students – most of whom are impoverished and/or minorities – “Would you like to talk about some Black History?”


And the responses I got were all over the place.


Some of the children enthusiastically took to their feet with a robust “Yeah!”


Others nodded. Some were merely quiet as if they didn’t think I were asking a real question. And some honestly ventured “No.”


In one class, a white student got so upset at the suggestion we spend valuable class time on Black History that he fell to the floor and almost hide under the table.


I’ll admit I was somewhat shocked by that.


What was he so reticent about? I mean I know the kid. He loves black culture. We all do. What does he have against learning about black people?


He’s a big heavy metal fan. What’s heavy metal without Jimi Hendrix?


He loves standup comedy. What’s standup comedy without Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy or – heck – even Steve Harvey?


And didn’t I see him the other day watching the preview to Marvel’s “Black Panther” with baited breath?


“What’s wrong?” I asked him on the floor.


“Mr. Singer, I really don’t want to learn about Black History.”


And it was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t say it – “Dude, if anyone needs to learn Black History, it’s you.”


I patted him on the back and told him he’d survive. But I let him stay on the floor.


Then we moved on.


We watched the video for the song “Glory” by Common and John Legend just to set the mood.


The kids were almost hypnotized. I’m not sure if it was the images from the movie “Selma,” the gorgeous singing and piano playing or the unexpected joy of hearing someone rapping in class.


When it was over, most of them couldn’t wait to talk about a few well-chosen people of color.


We started with the black power fist from the 1968 Olympics, talked about Tommie Smith and John Carlos, why they did what they did and even how it related to modern day protests like those initiated by Colin Kaepernick.


This got kids asking all kinds of questions. We talked about the origin of the slave trade, the science behind melanin and skin color, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and (in one class) we even took a deep dive into the lyrics of the National Anthem to discover why some people find it to be racist.


In short, it would be difficult to find a more productive 20-30 minutes. Kids were engaged and thoughtful, many looking up further details on their iPads as the bell rang and they left the room.


All except the white child on the floor.


He had participated in the discussion – reluctantly. But he hadn’t moved from his cave.


“Can I talk to you, Mr. Singer?” he said.


I told him, “Sure.” And he went on to tell me the kinds of things his grandparents say about black people.


He told me about their virulent opposition to Kaepernick, how they though black people were just whining about nothing and that racism had been over for fifty years.


It’s a hard position to be put in by a student.


You don’t want to contradict their folks, but you can’t let untruths pass by either.


I asked him what he thought about it. He wasn’t so sure.


So I told him just to think about what we had said. I asked him to keep an open mind.


For instance, I said, if Kaepernick shouldn’t take a knee during the National Anthem, when should he protest?


“How about with a sign in the street?” he said.


To which I responded that black people have done that and been told that was just as unacceptable.


By this time another student came back into the room and walked up to us. She was a white girl who’s usually very quiet.


“Mr. Singer, thank you for talking with us about all that stuff today,” she said.


I told her she was welcome and asked her what she thought about it.


“I just wish all this stuff wasn’t happening,” she said.


I asked her to elaborate.


“I mean that black power fist thing you showed us, that was like a hundred years ago.”


“Fifty years,” I corrected and she repeated me.


“And it’s still happening,” she said. “I just don’t understand why. Why can’t we all just live in peace?”


I smiled at her and the boy who had been quietly listening.


We spoke a bit further and they walked off together in deep conversation.


There are many great reasons to talk about Black History.


For children of color, it shows them that this nation wasn’t built entirely by white people, that they too are a part of America, that they have much to be proud of and to aspire to.


But that’s not the only reason to teach it.


Black History is important for white kids, too.


It teaches them that the world isn’t just about them, that we’re stronger together, that our differences aren’t something to be ashamed of but something to be celebrated.


But especially white children need to learn about their responsibilities as white people.


They didn’t start racism. Neither did I. But it has been practiced in our names and we have benefited from it.


If we don’t want to be a part of it, we need to recognize that and take a stand against it.


I acknowledge that’s an uncomfortable truth for middle school students. And it’s something I can’t simply sit my kids down and discursively tell them.


But in generating these conversations between children of different backgrounds, ethnicities and upbringings, I think it provides the chance for them to come to their own conclusions.


It’s a dangerous place to be.


Allowing kids to think for themselves means allowing them to come to conclusions you might not agree with.


The boy from my class might come in next week further convinced of his grandparents’ prejudice. Or he might not. But I suspect he will have thought about it some.


That’s all I can do.


As a group, white people could use more of that honest reflection. As adults, we become fixed in our thinking and rarely have the bravery of giving something a second thought.


But children’s characters are still being formed.


Conversations like this one give me hope for the future.


Black History is not just about the past. It’s about where we’ll go in the future.


Moreover, it’s not just important for black people. White people need exposure to it, too.


I know I do.

Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools



The teacher begins class by taking out her Glock.


She casually walks to the front of the room and shoots a misbehaving student in the head.


All the others immediately begin working on their assignment.


It sounds like something from a horror movie. But it’s actually not all that far away from what real researchers at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University are suggesting we do.


Sarah Cohodes has written a new report called “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” that praises “No Excuses” discipline policies at urban charter schools and suggests they be more widely implemented at traditional public schools serving the poor and students of color.


I wish I were kidding.


Let’s return to the hyperbolic situation with which I began this article.


The noise of a gunshot brings the principal racing to the classroom.


She notices the slumped bleeding body of the shot child and walks up to the teacher ready to physically disarm and arrest her. But then she notices all the rows of neatly placed desks and the children diligently doing their work.


She glances down at a paper here and there and notices that the children are getting most of their work correct.


So she turns to the teacher and says, “Carry on, Ms. C. You seem to have everything under control here.”


That’s perhaps the most immediate concern brought by Cohodes research – it proposes to evaluate a discipline model based solely on its academic results and completely ignores other aspects of the student experience. For instance, how does the model affect students’ social and emotional development? Is it harmful to students’ curiosity, self-motivation and psychological well-being?


Pardon me, but these are important issues.


I don’t care if my fictional teacher’s shoot first discipline policy gets students to do exceptional classwork. My daughter will not be enrolled in that class – nor do I expect anyone would want their child to learn in such an environment regardless of how well it maximized test scores.


Let me be clear. This is hyperbole, but with a point.


“No Excuses” discipline policies don’t result in any gunshot wounds or deaths (to my knowledge), but they do create environments that are not conducive to the flourishing of children.



For instance, at a New Orleans charter school, students were punished for not standing straight, not sitting up straight, for putting their heads down, for closing their eyes for too long, for not tracking speakers correctly with their eyes! Between classes students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape. And they had strict dress codes.


This is not school. It is prison.


And it’s unsurprising that these sorts of discipline policies are found at urban charter schools like the KIPP network serving mostly poor and minority students.


Cohodes champions them because – in her view – they get results.


I say that she is missing the point.


Her view of what is important in school is far too narrow.


Moreover, it’s based on a misconception of what constitutes academic success.


Cohodes concludes “No Excuses” policies work solely because schools with such policies tend to have students who get higher test scores.


This is to make a few assumptions.


First, it assumes that the number of students weeded out by such discipline policies isn’t significant enough to wipe out the apparent increase in scores. The punishment for breaking the rules at these schools is often detention, suspension or expulsion. Every child who is enrolled at the beginning of the year isn’t there by testing time. How do we know that the school hasn’t lost so many students who couldn’t obey the rules that they wipe out any gains in testing?


Second, she is assuming standardized testing provide accurate assessments of knowledge and skills. This is far from an accepted premise. These tests have repeatedly been shown to be both economically and racially biased. Cohodes is assuming that since the students scoring better on the assessments are still poor and predominantly black, what they’re being tested on is fair.


Standardized tests are poor assessments. Multiple choice exams do not possess the flexibility to allow for creativity and depth of knowledge. They simply expect a “standard” student to think a certain way and reward dissimilar students for conforming to that standard.


“No Excuses” charter schools may be better at getting different children to act and think alike, but that is not necessarily an endorsement.


Cohodes concludes that these gains in test scores are ultimately beneficial because they will lead to success at college. However, numerous studies have shown that charter school students end up dropping out of college at higher rates than traditional public school students. They simply haven’t learned how to motivate themselves to learn without the rigid, military structures of the charter school environment. One can imagine similar outcomes for charter students (successful charter students) who immediately enter the workforce.


None of these considerations make it into Cohodes research.


She jumps from the brilliant standardized success of “No Excuses” charter schools to the need to include these policies in traditional public schools.


Cohodes worries that the charter school sector can never fully compete with traditional public schools, so we need to make traditional public schools more like charter schools.


However, I cannot imagine many parents would jump at the chance to have their children treated like prison inmates for the chance of higher test scores.


Unlike charter schools, public schools have school boards. They have to make their decisions in public and are accountable to voters who can come to the public meeting, protest and even run for a seat on the board themselves.


In short, this is a terrible idea.


It is somewhat staggering that a grown adult could look exclusively at the data and come to such a conclusion without considering what it means for flesh-and-blood students.


Not only that, but we’re talking about predominantly black and brown students. Is it somehow more acceptable because we’re talking about turning schools serving darker skinned students into Guantanamo Bay? Would it be as acceptable for rosy cheeked affluent white kids?


This is what happens when you let economists set public policy.


It is essential that we include parents, teachers, psychologist and even students in the processes. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get heartless number crunching offered as sincere solutions to our problems.

Crippled Puerto Rico Offered School Privatization as Quick Fix for Woes



You’re Puerto Rico’s school system.


More than five months since a devastating hurricane hit the island’s shores, some 270 schools are still without power.


Roughly 25,000 students are leaving with that number expected to swell to 54,000 in four years. And that’s after an 11-year recession already sent 78,000 students  seeking refuge elsewhere.


So what do you do to stop the flow of refugees fleeing the island? What do you do to fix your storm damaged schools? What do you do to ensure all your precious children are safe and have the opportunity to learn?


If you’re Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, you sell off your entire system of public education.


After an economic history of being pillaged and raped by corporate vultures from the mainland, Rossello is suggesting the U.S. Territory offer itself for another round of abuse.


He wants to close 300 more schools and change the majority of those remaining into charter and voucher schools.


That means no elected school boards.


That means no public meetings determining how these schools are run.


It means no transparency in terms of how the money is spent.


It means public funding can become private profit.


And it means fewer choices for children who will have to apply at schools all over the island and hope one accepts them. Unlike public schools, charter and voucher schools pick and choose whom to enroll.


Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with serving the needs of children. It is about selling off public property because it belongs to poor, brown people.


Something similar happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.


A district that served mostly black and poor children was swiped by private interests and turned almost exclusively into charter schools.


The results have been an abysmal academic record, the loss of black teachers, black neighborhoods, cultural heritage and in its place support for a status quo that just doesn’t care to provide the proper resources to students of color.


If the Governor and his wealthy backers have their way, Puerto Rico will be yet another ghettoized colony gobbled up by industry.


However, the people aren’t going to let this happen without a fight.


Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teacher’s union, released the following statement:


“Dear comrades in the diaspora, now more than ever we need your unconditional solidarity.


Governor Roselló just announced his plan to shut down 307 schools, implement charter schools and vouchers. Disaster capitalism at its best. Added to the announcement of the privatization of PREPA. [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority]


The way to victory is already paved, organized and militant resistance, concrete proposals to improve the public goods that we have, unity and organization. Be our voice in the states and let the world know that corporate reformers want to make PR the next New Orleans as they did after Katrina.


The hurricane has been the perfect storm and excuse for them to advance their plans. Today the so called “educational reform” will be sent to the legislature.


We will give the hardest fight of our lives, and we will triumph. Send letters and videos of support with our struggle. Teachers United, will never be defeated!


Lucha sí”


I don’t know about you, but I stand with these brave teachers, parents and their students.


I may live in Pennsylvania, my skin may be white, but I do not support the theft of Puerto Rico’s schools.


These children have just as much right as mine to a free and appropriate education. Their parents deserve the right to control their districts. They deserve transparency and self-rule.


They deserve the choice to guide their own destinies.


Teachers’ opposition to the move comes even though the Governor is proposing a $1,500 raise for all educators. Martinez says it could come to a general strike.


Their cause has hope on its side – especially in blocking the proposed school vouchers.


The Governor’s voucher proposal wouldn’t go into effect until the 2019-20 school year. However, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down a similar program in 1994 when the current governor’s father, Pedro Rossello – himself a former governor – tried to push it through. The court ruled the island’s constitution forbids public money being used to fund privately run schools.


From this day forward, let us always remember what they did to New Orleans. Let us remember what they are trying to do to Puerto Rico.


Corporate school reform is not about making better schools. If it was, you would see plans like this being proposed in Beverly Hills and rich white neighborhoods across the country.


But somehow that never happens.


These schemes only show up in poor communities populated predominantly by people of color.


While the rest of our public schools are celebrating Black History Month, the children of Puerto Rico are reliving the struggle for their civil rights.


They are still the victims of colonization and brutality.


But they are not alone.


I stand with the people of Puerto Rico.


Will you stand, too?


Will you speak out for Puerto Rico?

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


When You Mistreat Teachers, Beware the Unintended Lessons for Students



We’ve all seen the shocking video from Vermillion Parish in Louisiana this week where a teacher is tackled to the ground and arrested because she asked a question to the school board.




It’s a gross abuse of power that brings up many issues:


  • Public servants responding to the public with violence.


  • Elected representatives refusing to hear from their constituents and – in fact – taking action to silence them.


  • Leaders who are supposed to oversee children’s educations unconcerned with the lesson local kids will be taking home from the actions of adults who are supposed to set a better example.


The case is simple.


The eight-member board had been deadlocked 4-4 on whether or not to give Superintendent Jerome Puyau a raise. Then one of the members died. Instead of his wife filling in until a new election could be held, board president Anthony Fontana , who was in favor of the raise, appointed a like-minded replacement and tried to force a vote.


So Deyshia Hargrave, a district teacher and parent, asked why the superintendent should get a raise while the teachers haven’t had one in several years.


It was a reasonable question, asked at the proper time, in a respectful tone, when comments were directed specifically at her.


However, Reggie Hilts, the Abbeville city marshal who also serves as a school resource officer, told her she was being disruptive and asked her to leave – which she did. When she got out in the hall, he forced her to the ground, put her in handcuffs and pushed her out of the building.


It was completely unjustified, a horrific violation of Hargrave’s rights and goes counter to the very purpose of public school.


Local control is the great strength of our education system.


It is the idea that district wide decisions about our children’s learning should be made by duly-elected members of the community in the full light of day. Except where doing so would violate an individual’s personal rights, all school documents are public. They are voted on in public. And they are subject to question and comment by the public.


If the taxpayers – the people who foot the bill for the majority of the district costs – don’t approve of what their representatives are doing, they can take steps to replace them.


These are the very foundation of public schooling and one of the major reasons the public school system is superior to charter or voucher schools, which typically do not have them. Even when privatized systems retain the vestiges of democratic rule, they are optional and can be stripped away at the whim of the businesses and/or corporations that run them.


Vermillion Parish School Board would do well to remember this.


The actions taken by City Marshall Hilts were either done at the behest of the board or certainly without any public dissent among the members.


They stomped on Hargrave’s First Amendment rights and ignored their responsibility to the community they serve.


If my description of how a public school is supposed to work sounds like a lecture, that’s intentional. These representatives could do with a lesson in how democracy works.


Our actions have consequences and those consequences only become more consequential when we become public servants. The board, the superintendent and certainly Hilts may very well have opened themselves up to legal action.


But beyond putting themselves in danger from having to pay punitive damages to Hargrave – that I hope they pay out of the superintendent’s bloated salary – they have betrayed a dangerous attitude toward the very concept of self-rule.


Whether they meant to or not, they have given the children of Vermillion Parish a lesson in government and community values.


Make no mistake. The children are watching. They get the TV news and status updates on Facebook and Twitter. They have access to YouTube. Doubtless, they have seen this video countless times. They have probably played it over and over again.


They saw their teacher brutally manhandled by a supposed law enforcement officer. And they heard the deafening silence from the school board about it.


They know now that this kind of behavior is deemed acceptable in Vermillion Parish. Beware the kind of behavior adults can expect from children who are given such a disgraceful example!


Moreover, these children are well aware of the matter in dispute.


The board is fighting to give the superintendent a $38,000 raise. Yet they refuse to give another penny to teachers – all while class sizes have jumped from 21 to 29 students, according to Hargrave.


That is not what leaders do who care about the well-being of students. It is a result of backroom deals and the good ol’ boys network.



The lesson is that hard work doesn’t matter. The only thing you should worry about is making a deal no matter whom it hurts. Just look out for numero uno.


After all, the board could give the teachers something – some token of appreciation to show that they value their continued commitment to the children of the community. But they don’t. Yet they fight tooth and nail to do so for one individual who has in no way proven himself indispensable.


It is the teachers who come in every day and give their all to help students learn. Not a superintendent who demands they jump through an increasingly complex set of irrelevant hoops.


But there’s always money for the person at the top. Never anything for the people who do the real work.


Critics complain that teachers don’t deserve a raise because they already earn more money than the majority of the people who live in the community. (An argument which – by the way – would also apply to the superintendent.)


But even beyond basic logic, it’s a bogus line of reasoning!


Doctors attend patients in poor communities. They still earn high salaries – maybe not as high as they would serving the wealthy, but they have to be able to survive, to pay back the loans they took out to go through medical school, etc. So do lawyers, accountants and specialists of all kinds. That’s just capitalism. If you want someone to provide a good or service, you have to pay them a competitive wage. Otherwise, they’ll move on to greener pastures.


The kids see you pinching pennies. They know what that means – you don’t think they’re worth the investment.


The lessons of Vermillion Parish go far beyond Louisiana.


Anytime people mistreat teachers, they’re really mistreating the children those educators serve.


An attack on teachers is an attack on students.


When Hilt wrestled a woman half his size to the ground and placed her under arrest for the crime of exercising her rights, he put the entire community in jail.


When the board directed him to act – or at very least neglected to stop him – they made themselves culpable in the crime.


It is something we have been guilty of in nearly every state of the union. We have neglected our children, abused our teachers and injured the democratic principles on which our country was founded.


Class dismissed.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


Funny How School Closings Are Merely Accidental Racism. Never Intentional.

Students Protest School Closings At Chicago Public Schools Headquarters


It’s funny. When you close schools serving minority students, they tend to move away.


That’s what’s happening in Chicago.


In the last seven years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 49 schools serving mostly students of color. And from 2015 to 2016, alone, the city lost 12,000 black residents.




Who would have ever thought that cutting funding to services for minorities might make them get up and leave?


But God forbid you suggest this is intentional!


These are just disparate facts. There is no conceivable causal link between making life intolerable for people and their leaving.


When has that ever happened before?


The Great Migration (1919-1950) when hundreds of thousands of blacks moved from the deep south to the shores of Lake Michigan looking for better opportunities?


Well, sure, but when else has that ever happened?


You can’t connect one dot to another.


That would just be rude.


Yet that’s just what Chris Kennedy, a candidate vying to run against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on the Democratic ticket, did this week.


He said that Emanuel is running a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of the city.


“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said at a press conference.


“And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”



The establishment immediately pushed back against him.


The Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t find any fault with Kennedy’s facts, but they called his interpretation “irresponsible.”


Emanuel’s office likewise issued a press release likening Kennedy’s claims with those of Republicans like Rauner and President Donald Trump, even though both of those individuals would be more likely to champion a plan to kick blacks out of Chicago than criticize it.


Kennedy’s remarks simply echo what black Chicagoans have been saying for years.


FACT: Since 2001, 72 Chicago schools have been closed or phased out. Ninety percent of the students affected are black.


And now Emanuel is suggesting closing four additional schools – all from the predominantly African American Englewood community.


Sure, eventually they’ll be replaced by one new school, but only after at least a year without any high school in the area.


When the new school finally opens, the neighborhood will be less black and better suited to what? Gentrification!


Jitu Brown, National Director for a broad based collective of civil rights organizations called Journey 4 Justice, estimates that more than 30,000 people of color have fled Chicago since Emanuel took office.


Brown led a group of community members to sit in at the Chicago Board of Education today to protest the proposed closings.


“Rahm wants to close successful black grammar school to make room for upper income families! We have proof! That’s why we sit-in,” he tweeted.


Back in 2013, Brown broke down his argument at a hearing before the US Department of Education:


“To deny us the right to improve our schools as community institutions is a violation of our human rights. To destabilize schools in our community is a violation of our human rights. To have communities with no neighborhood schools is a violation of our human rights.  . . . We are America’s mirror. Do you have the courage to accept what you see?”


Kennedy really isn’t saying anything different. He’s just echoing the concerns of the community he wants to represent.


“I don’t know what you can say when the strategic plan for Chicago Public Schools suggest that the entire community of Englewood can go an entire year without access to a high school,” Kennedy said this week.


“What are you saying to the people there? No one’s going to move there who’s got a high school kid. And anybody with a high school kid has to think about what they’re going to do. It’s just a device to empty out the community.”


The problem is not limited to Chicago. It’s emblematic of public school policy nationwide.


From 2003-2012, in New York City, 117 schools were closed. Sixty-three percent of the students affected were black.


In 2008, 23 schools were closed in Washington, DC. Ninety-nine percent of the students affected were black, Latino or Hispanic.


Since 2005, in Detroit, 130 schools have been closed. Ninety-three percent of the students affected were children of color.


And one and on.


We intentionally segregate students based on race and class, then allocate funds accordingly. Richer whiter students get all the resources they need. Poorer blacker students get crumbling schools, narrowed curriculum until their schools are shuttered and they’re forced to either move away or put up with fly by night charter schools.


Look at what happened in New Orleans.


After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 107 of the city’s then-128 public schools, removing them from local control of the residents. The majority of these schools were turned into charters, closed or simply never reopened – a move affecting 90 percent of black students and only 1 percent of white students.


Karran Harper-Royal, a New Orleans parent and cofounder of the national group Parents Across America, argued at the same hearing in 2013 before the US Department of Education that the result was racist.


They call it school choice, but parents don’t have choice when 80 percent attend charter schools – some of which run a lottery enrollment process, she said. As a result, parents are forced to apply to multiple charter schools to ensure their children have somewhere to go to learn.


Your choice is between charter schools – 79 percent of which are rated “D” or “F” – and 15 state run public schools that are all rated “D” or “F,” she said.


“African-American students are more likely than their white counterparts to experience schools that are at risk of being closed down, phased-out, turned around or co-located,” Harper-Royal said. “To guarantee me a seat in a failing school system is not ‘choice.’ It’s racist is what it is.”


This is the reality for poor and minority students across the country.


It’s refreshing to hear a Democrat brave enough to actually speak the truth about it – especially since Democrats have been as apt to preside over these corporate education reform policies as Republicans.


Closing black schools and keeping white ones open is not an accident.


Neither is continuing school segregation, the proliferation of charter and voucher schools and the continued insistence that the only way to hold educators accountable for actually educating is high stakes standardized testing.


These are all choices that result in winners and losers.


It’s time we recognized that. If we really want to champion civil rights and equity for all, we need to stop promoting racism as school policy and pretending to be surprised at the results.