In 1979, Mr. O’Hearn’s room in Birchland Park Junior High School was the home of a reign of terror. Our English teacher mocked us. He rolled his eyes. He told us our brains were diseased. If I said something he really couldn’t stomach, he would draw forth his most vicious weapon: the blow gun.
Rolling his hands into fists and forming them into a tube shape in front of his face, he would feign blowing a poisoned dart at me, then wave his hands. “Sleep!” he would command. Humiliation rocked my soul.
He was, I need hardly add, my finest teacher and one of the greatest men I’ve ever encountered. Without the days of paralyzing anxiety and the evenings of forced-march homework, I would not have achieved total mastery of English grammar and usage at age 13. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that had I not encountered Mr. O’Hearn and his Sgt. Hulka ways, today I might have to work for a living.
Tough teaching is not for everyone. Some students would prefer to be told “at least you tried” and waved through the toll gates of life en route to their final destination behind the counter at Arby’s. What if you want your child to be pushed to excel, though?
Then you might consider Success Academy, the network of New York City charter schools (publicly funded, privately managed) that uses a variety of innovative teaching methods including intensive drilling and lots of nudges and incentives to get its students to achieve amazing test scores. As The New York Times reported last April, “Though it serves primarily poor, mostly black and Hispanic students, Success is a testing dynamo, outscoring schools in many wealthy suburbs . . . In New York City last year, 29% of public-school students passed the state reading tests and 35% passed the math tests. At Success schools, the corresponding percentages were 64% and 94%.”
Success proves liberals are wrong when they say black and Hispanic children will continue to fail until we find a cure for poverty (which, conveniently, can never be cured).
The Times can’t allow Success’s feats to stand unchallenged. But the Pravda of progressivism can’t prove Success is cheating, because it isn’t. So it hopes its readers will continue to do what they’ve been doing for decades, with the paper’s strong encouragement: mistaking anecdotes for data.
When the Times can’t prove something bad is happening — say, Christian theocracy — it pieces together a story based on either a handful of meaningless anecdotes or even one especially juicy one. (Remember how many columns, and column-inches of “news,” the Times generated from John Ashcroft’s throwing a sheet over the naked statue in the Department of Justice? Surely that was proof that the Inquisition was upon us!)
Today the Times has gone full-Drudge siren over one action by one Success Academy teacher. The teacher (caught on a surreptitiously filmed video for extra juiciness) ripped up a student’s incorrect answer and yelled at the kid.
Success replied that it looked into the incident. It reprimanded, suspended and re-trained the teacher in question. It said the incident wasn’t characteristic of the school’s overall approach.
We know this to be true because if it wasn’t, the Times would be plastering its news pages with every Success misstep it could find. Instead, it’s run a half-dozen follow-up stories to this one video, trying to incite outrage through repetition.
Just ask Alexander Perry, who was caught on audiotape assaulting a 10-year-old autistic boy at PS 118 in Queens.
“[The Times] hopes its readers will continue to do what they’ve been doing for decades, with the paper’s strong encouragement: mistaking anecdotes for data.”
Lose your temper in the ordinary Department of Education-run schools, though, and you run little risk of attracting breathless Kent Brockman treatment from the Times.
The Times didn’t cover it.
Or Omil Carrasquillo, a science teacher at Brooklyn’s PS 249, who was hit with 22 felony counts for allegedly inappropriately touching nine elementary school girls. (Carrasquillo has pleaded not guilty.)
The Times took a pass on the story.
When Jesus Lorenzo, an assistant teacher at IS 318, was arrested and charged with groping a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome near the Brooklyn school, the Times sent a half-dozen reporters and several star columnists wondered if there was something rotten in the DOE schools.
Just kidding. The Times did zilch.
The Times could fill its pages with similar stories about DOE nightmares and failures. It never will, but the next time any Success staffer issues an exasperated sigh, the Times will cover it like the Kennedy assassination.
If the Times continues to dig up one infraction by a Success teacher every year or so (there are 11,000 students in the 34 Success schools), it figures it will have sufficiently muddied Success’s reputation with opinion leaders that the school will be stopped in its tracks. Then the project to destroy Success can begin in earnest.
Sure, all those black and Hispanic children will then have to be returned to their dropout-factory schools in Harlem or Bed-Stuy. But then the Times’ liberal readers will no longer have to stay up nights suffering the cognitive dissonance of knowing that an education system opposed by their beloved Democratic politicians is showing outstanding, data-proven results, because that system will be wiped out. Problem solved!
I know the Times’ never-ending quest to tarnish Success is pure nonsense because my kid is a student there. She’s had several teachers, and she loves them all. She’s never reported anything that sounded remotely scary or abusive. Other kids and parents I know adore the school also.
Success puts a premium on discipline. Kids’ attention is not allowed to wander. Standards are high. Homework is required. Maybe Success isn’t for everyone, but then again no one has to go there.
It gives New York City parents something most of them don’t have enough of: choice.
As for the results: Let’s just say my daughter’s science homework is so advanced that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to help her with it much longer.
She’s in third grade.