Wednesday, February 17, 2016

“[T]he feeling that you don't believe that black and brown kids can be successful" -- why culture and rhetoric of the reform movement make civil discussion so difficult

More on the fall-out from the latest Success Academy revelation.

Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academies have a long history of putting together what might be categorized as Astroturf events with students, parents and teachers in order to apply political pressure or counter bad publicity. Last Friday's news conference appears to be an example.

Abby Jackson writing for Business Insider.
For many parents at the news conference, last week's article seemed to aggravate a perception of The Times as lecturing minority parents in a paternalistic way. Success Academy has 11,000 students in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Its website indicates that 93% of its students are children of color, and 76% are from low-income households.

Last year, The New York Times also wrote a piece that was critical of SA. The report included interviews claiming students in the third grade and above were wetting themselves in classrooms because they felt so stressed out and didn't want to lose time during standardized tests. The same article described the public shaming of students for poor grades.

"I'm keeping it civilized, because when I read this thing this morning and was home alone, you don't want to hear what I was saying," Senhaji added before arguing that The Times was overstepping its bounds by suggesting that parents were unaware of what was going on their kids' schools.

Natasha Shannon, a mother with three daughters at Success Academy, echoed this sentiment.

"I don't understand why The New York Times thinks it has to educate me as a parent about the school that I choose to send my children to," she said.

"I'm not some poor, uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what's available in New York City schools," she added. "I chose Success. I made that choice because it's the best choice for my daughters."

The news conference was punctuated by raucous applause and shouts of "that's right" and "say it again" when the teachers and parents agreed with what one of the speakers had to say about their schools.

"We can't get a fair shake from the so-called paper of record," Moskowitz said at Friday's event.

One of the most boisterous rounds of applause came after Success Academy teacher Candice Seagrave spoke.

"The most heartbreaking part of all of this is the feeling that you [based on the context (see below), referring to the NYT -- MP]  don't believe that black and brown kids can be successful," she said.

While Moskowitz and her staff and advisers have been fairly transparent about using attacks to deflect criticism, I strongly suspect that Seagrave is being sincere, which makes the quote all the more disturbing. The recent stories in the New York Times have questioned the appropriateness and effectiveness of the schools' methods. They did not in any way suggest that the students at the schools were somehow less academically or intellectually capable. On that level, Seagrave's comment would seem to be a total non sequitur.

But I don't think she was making that argument. I've been on this beat for a long time now and I've seen enough similar responses to have a pretty good feel for these discussions and my take is that she was reacting to the criticism on a very general level. To make negative statements about Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academies network was to imply that poor, minority kids were beyond help.

Watching the video below, it is easy to sympathize for the first minute or two, but by the last thirty seconds or so, it is troublingly clear that if you disapprove of Moskowitz's approach or even if you just feel something else is better, there is virtually no common ground.

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