Friday, February 12, 2016

Suffer Little Children

Today brought an article in the Times about the educational tactics used in Success Academy charter schools.  Here's a brief glimpse:
"Indeed, several of the current and former staff members interviewed said that the network’s culture encouraged teachers to make students fear them in order to motivate them. Carly Ginsberg, 22, who taught for about six months last year at Success Academy Prospect Heights, said teachers ripped up the papers of children as young as kindergarten as the principal or assistant principal watched. She once witnessed a girl’s humiliation as the principal mocked her low test score to another adult in front of the child.
In one instance, the lead kindergarten teacher in her classroom made a girl who had stumbled reciting a math problem cry so hard that she vomited. Ms. Ginsberg resigned in December because she was so uncomfortable with the school’s approach. “It felt like I was witnessing child abuse,” she said, adding, “If this were my kindergarten experience, I would be traumatized.” She is now teaching in Los Angeles."
This article made me so very glad that I teach in a progressive school where students are treated with respect and humanity.  At the same time it brought back some very bad memories, memories that are lodged so deep in my brain that I will never forget them.

I did in fact did have a traumatizing kindergarten experience myself.  For my first two years of schooling I went to a Catholic elementary school in my Nebraska hometown before my parents pulled me out and put me in a public school in second grade.  My first grade year wasn't that bad, but kindergarten was a nightmare. Later I learned that it was supposed to be a time of exploration and happiness, of nap time and play.  My kindergarten was a misery.

My teacher was evidently brand new, and considering the protocols of small town Nebraska Catholic schools, I doubt she had much in the way of training or education.  You would think that a teacher of kindergarteners would love little children, but she seemed to despise us.  For some reason she had a special dislike of me.  I was constantly getting yelled at, usually for the crime of daydreaming, hardly.  We had to bring athletic socks in for some kind of activity one day, and while I was looking out of the window (most likely because I had been able to do the day's schoolwork with little fuss), she yelled at me and made me sit in a chair in the hallway outside of class.  While doing so, she threatened to shove my socks down my throat.  (And I hadn't even said anything!)  At least my mom called the school and demanded to talk to the teacher.

Our days were an unending train of wretched rote learning.  I remember distinctly for our school's Christmas pageant the entire class had to memorize an extremely long nativity story.  We spent hour after hour, day after day, repeating it over and over and over again, getting barked at when we made a mistake.  It's a miracle that my love of learning survived that year.

Of all the rotten things I experienced that year, two were worse than being threatened with physical violence by my teacher for the crime of looking out of the window.  One day I was pulled out of class.  I was taken to the cafeteria, which was empty, and two strangers asked me to do things and took notes.  I had no clue at the time what was going on.  I later found out fifteen years later that I was being tested for developmental disabilities.  My teacher, who never bothered to understand me, assumed that there was something wrong with me.  At the time I didn't know the reason I was made to jump up and down on one foot in the cafeteria, but it felt pretty ominous, nonetheless.

The worst thing didn't happen to me, but to another student.  We were tasked with being able to tie our shoelaces.  One day we were to come in and demonstrate our ability.  One little girl did not seem able to do it.  The teacher, in a fit of rage, shoved her out of the way.  The girl, flung to the side by the shove, struck a desk right on the bridge of her nose, which started bleeding out a gusher of blood.  I have yet to see another bloody nose so scary in its fearsomeness.  The blood covered the front of her white puffy Catholic school blouse.  The teacher sent her off to the nurse's office for help, but without a single shred of compassion or remorse in her voice.  The vision of that bloody blouse has been burned into my mind like a hot branding iron.

My mom swears that my experience in kindergarten had an extremely negative effect on my social abilities.  I was already anxious before all of this, but afterwards the anxiety and lack of confidence I felt became crippling.  This makes me think about those children being taught this very day in the Success Academy, and how many of them are losing heart when it comes to learning.  I wonder how many them will have their belief in themselves permanently shredded.  All the while Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy's leader, will keep amassing power and influence amidst the Success Academy's systematic mental abuse of children.  Like I did, they will grow up, too.  I can only hope that they are able to recover from trauma, as I have been lucky enough to do.

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