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May 18 2017

A Failing High School and What We Can't Say

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

“I moved heaven and earth to make sure my child had a chance,” one voluble mother of a 12-year-old pleaded. “I could have lived in a wonderful house in Philly. No way I’m sending my girl to those schools. I’d rather live in a box and let my kid get a good education.”

--"Unsayable Truths about a Failing High School," by Kay Hymowitz

The mother quoted above in Kay Hymowitz's report on her old high school, Cheltenham High in suburban Philly, is African American. She has obviously knew the importance of a good education and acted accordingly, including making significant sacrifices. But the once highly desirable school now has serious problems.

Kay traveled to Pennsylvania to attend a meeting at Chelteham after an outbreak of violence at the school went viral. The police took four students into custody, including an eighteen-year-old who has been charged as an adult. The students were female and African American.

Hymowitz writes:

It became clear almost immediately that the brawl was no one-off. “Really we have experienced [this kind of fight] our entire high school career,” said the student council president, the first speaker lined up at the audience mikes. “We complained. We never got any response. We were told all disputes were personal and the school was safe. Why now?” she asked tearfully. “Because a video of it was leaked to the media?”

Students described rape threats, stalking, kids sent back to classrooms after menacing teachers or classmates, teachers walking past fighting kids, security guards looking the other way. The problems, students insisted, weren’t limited to the high school; they remembered thuggery in middle and even elementary school, too.

There was no way to chalk up these complaints to adolescent theatrics. A February survey of CHS teachers had already revealed a school that resembled Lord of the Flies. Cursing, yelling students roamed the halls, pushing, shoving, ramming each other into walls, sometimes “accidentally” colliding with teachers.

Thirty-six out of 79 teachers surveyed believed that they were unsafe in the hallways, and those who didn’t acknowledged either being big enough to stare down students or practiced at minding their own business. “What are you going to do about it? You can’t do anything,” “F--k off, crazy old motherf--ker,” were some of the choice rejoinders they told of hearing.

“If I feel uncomfortable by the language and noise level a student displays,” one teacher wrote, “I can 1) address it and open myself up to insubordination and/or a verbal retaliation for which no consequences will be delivered or I can 2) choose to ignore it which I struggle with ethically because then I feel complicit. It’s a complete ‘no-win,’ and I battle this every day.” 

Once home to first generation Jewish Americans, the school district is now majority black. And that relates to what is unsayable: many of the families that send kids to Cheltenham are single-parent households presided over by a struggling African American mother. Hymowitz writes:

Forty-five percent of the black children in Cheltenham are born to unmarried mothers; it’s jolting to realize that “illegitimacy,” as it was once called, was almost unheard of at the time my peers were piling into school bleachers to cheer [Cheltenham alum] Reggie Jackson. Poverty rates for these kids are well below the national average, but almost 30 percent of single-parent households in Cheltenham are nevertheless in the ranks of the poor or near-poor.

If those households are like the struggling single-parent homes studied by social scientists, then the children are experiencing radically different domestic lives than their middle-class black and white classmates—with few routines, disappearing fathers and stepfathers, and little adult interest in homework, teachers, and discipline.

Researchers have repeatedly found that boys growing up in single-mother households are especially prone to “externalizing” behavior like fighting, impulsiveness, rudeness—in other words, precisely the sort of behavior that the community meeting was demanding the administration do something about. . . .

But you can't talk about the heart of the matter:

This class and family divide, intertwined as it is with race, is off-limits to polite discussion, leading conversations like the one at the community meeting into a verbal traffic jam of contradictions and dodges. The student council president shed tears over the mayhem in one breath and in the next demanded an end to the black-white achievement gap and adoption of “data-driven solutions” like “restorative justice.” (Unsurprisingly, this popular education fad has yet to be subject to careful study.) The audience retreated to the familiar litany of policy fixes with a long history of uneven or meager results: more black teachers! More counselors! More mentors!

A proposed solution is special schools in which there is no stigma attached to coming from a single-parent household and not having married parents. This is an ironic solution: there is no stigma. Furthermore, the Obama administration adopted school disciplinary policies that punish a disproportionate number of minority students, even if those students are creating an atmosphere in which other minority students are unable to get an education because of the unsafe conditios that inevitably result.

It is a bitter irony, Hymowitz writes, African American families suffer most from the Obama administration guidelines. Let's hope this concern is addressed before the mother quoted in the beginning of this item sees her sacrifices go for nought.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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