Friday, December 10, 2010


You might have read the news about a riot in a high school:

The story seems to be that after a fight, the principal announced all bathrooms would be closed. In reaction, "hundreds of students began running through the fourth floor hallways at top speed, screaming and shouting."

First, of course the decision to close all the bathrooms is not at all an appropriate one. I don't think anyone will argue with that. The principal will need to think about how to step up consequences for the student body in a logical manner.

Second, I can't see ANY logical reason to 'riot' or join hundreds of your peers running screaming through the halls. That's just mob mentality and it's dangerous.

Third, I experienced something like this quite often at my school last year. Not hundreds, but an entire class (or two) of middle school students consistently ran screaming through our hallway. Like, on an everyday basis. Was anything EVER done about this? No. Occasionally I would attempt to go out there and blow a whistle (sometimes loud noises will stop a group of kids from doing something crazy.)(Several times at lunch, the middle school would start a food fight, and teachers either weren't there or wouldn't do much, so I'd run over and blow my whistle like crazy. It was usually enough to at least get the kids to stop throwing and screaming.), but they would either ignore me, make a rude comment, or nearly run me over.

I hated that my younger kids had to hear that all the time. Whenever it happened, I would try to show my exasperation at that and tell the kids, this is the WRONG way to be--you better not do that! You know better! I had some crazy ass moments with my class, but it was NEVER like that.

Fourth, there are over two hundred comments on the site, mostly from students or teachers in the school. It is ALARMING to read them.

The second comment (not from a student) says, "Another managing fiasco with Leadership Academy fingerprints all over it. Bloomberg’s New York."

STOP IT. That's just ridiculous and I'm tired of people doing this. Anything goes wrong with one person at one school and they just say it's the chancellor's or mayor's fault. It's LAZY. The mayor made sure to hire principals who wanted kids to riot? The chancellor visited the school and encouraged the students to fight for their rights by actually fighting? COME ON.

I'm neither for or against the chancellor or mayor, but I do have the critical thinking skills to assign responsibility to the appropriate person or people. In this case, the school's principal, safety officers, and the students.

Anyway, back to the comments: the majority of them are by kids. For one, some students were just saying that the principal was wrong, but many of them eemed delighted with the disruptance, saying the principal deserved it, and crowed about 'wildin' and promising more riots tomorrow. Just one example: "Lml this skool is live….teachers nd da damn principal is wildin for shutting da bathroom I hope therez a riot every day -_-"

Additionally, there are actual threats: "Yup dam sure we rioted, she has the nerve to say no bathroom because of one fight, she should be dam sure we ain’t kick down her door & throw a bottle at her head"

Also, many of the comments said things like, "you don't know what you're talking about because you weren't there; shut the fuck up." Except spelled worse and more disrespectful.

For two, the spelling (I'd say at least 95% spelled 'principal' wrong, but it went oh so much further than that), grammar, and frequent lack of punctuation is just beyond atrocious. Quite scary, actually.

Look, I taught ten/eleven year olds. They wrote like that. One might say they don't know any better at their age. I did everything I could to help them write coherently, use proper punctuation, and not use abbreviations. But also, they're still kids. They're still learning and I always told them that now is the time to learn those silly mistakes, so that you don't have to make them when you're older.

But high school students still writing like that? I have a problem with that. You really don't know how to spell 'principal'? You really think it's okay to replace all letter Gs with Qs? (By the way what the hell is that about?? This seems to be a new thing--I see it on Facebook too with former students [who are still younger than high school]) You really think you can just omit punctuation altogether, or even worse, just separate all your phrases with ellipses?

This is far beyond being a "grammar nazi" or whatever. I know they're kids and they're not writing in a formal setting, blahblahblah. They're posting in a PUBLIC forum and they show ZERO notice of what they're writing. Completely careless. I can't believe that at their age they don't know any better, or that they're incapable of writing appropriately. They should know better!

Speaking of appropriate, maybe I sound like a cranky old lady, but when CHILDREN are THREATENING their school leaders and promising future violence ON THE INTERNET, there is a PROBLEM somewhere.

It's kind of making my eyes cross, there is so much wrong with it. I can't even articulate everything in my head right now.

I don't know how something like this gets resolved; it sounds like the school was a zoo that day, and after reading the article and knowing how things can escalate with angry kids, I imagine it wasn't much better today. I hope I'm wrong.

I can't help thinking of the future of these kids. How on earth will they fare if they get to college?

"An educator, Denise Pope, a lecturer at Stanford, says that the University of California requires remedial courses of half its students, even though their high school grades were stellar." That's referring to high-achieving students really motivated to get into college. What the hell happens to urban kids who aren't so privileged, whose schools are filled with this kind of ignorance and violence? "Recently released data from ACT shows that only 24 percent of high school seniors knew enough in four subjects — math, reading, science and English — to do college-level work." If that's an average, I'm scared to know how little some kids have to know to pull it down that far. Based on the existing achievement gap, we know that the kids who perform at a low level are much more likely to be kids in a high-needs school or population. It's just sickening that this is still happening. Do kids in privileged suburbs have riots in the hallways and promise to beat up their principal? Do rich kids know how or when to write any better? I don't know.

Kids these days. What are we going to do?


NCavillones said...

A few things on my mind:
1. I did my student teaching at Murray Bergtraum! Not that it's relevant or anything but just saying... LOL.

2. Like I said on FB, when I linked to this article, when a school becomes a prison state, kids will act like (unhappy) prisoners. Was this riot an appropriate or mature response? Absolutely not. Can I understand it? Yes, I absolutely can. My guess is that this is not the first time this principal has made a decision that so disrespected the rights of students at that school. I think so many of our kids are sick and tired of being lumped together into one big group because of the behavior of a few. The metal detectors are an excellent example of this. Those metal detectors make kids feel bad, and are demoralizing. I had to keep reminding my kids that those detectors are there because of ONE idiot who decided to do something stupid like bring a gun or a knife to school, not because THEY were bad people. I think we have to think about how environment engenders certain types of negative behavior in our kids. It's hard to maintain a positive, supportive atmosphere when kids are treated like prisoners the minute they walk in the door, when they are herded like cows through overcrowded hallways into overcrowded classrooms with bars on the windows.

3. On the grammar tip, OMG. SMH. Ha ha. I really do think that this misguided, narrow focus on testing has led to a real decline in higher order thinking skill, as well as basic writing and reading skills. Call me an old fogey but our generation seemed to be way better at this school thing. And it's rich kids, too... trust me.

Louise said...

These are 9th graders or older who got a 1 or 2 on their English or math tests in 8th grade. Some are overage at that! So given the text messaging they do, and homework, a mandated 10% of their grade, by the principal, is it at all surprising? Also, today a senior said, "...with all our senior events cancelled or postponed, this was our senior celebration" with a sad smile.

Schoolgal said...

Bottom line--the principal handled this situation badly. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt. This school is extremely overcrowded (and that is the fault of this mayor). From what I understand this principal was hand-picked by Klein. And I do not know if she is from Leadership or not, but her actions prove to me she is not fit to run such a large school. I also read comments that she was not a good manager at Acorn either. Good teachers and good principals have one thing in common--and that's common sense. I think all schools need to revisit their Safety Plans. And I just hope this doesn't become a trend in other schools.

KarenS said...

Very good post. Your comments about the principal, the mayor, and the Leadership Academy are probably on point, but that same rule certainly applies to the MB teachers and administrators.I'm sure that they did not go into teaching or into their school saying,"Let me find ways to encourage students to be rowdy, violent, and vulgar," or "Formal written English is dead;long live profanity, misspellings, and instant messaging!" Yet, I'm sure that this entire incident just adds evidence to the Mayor's ploy that this is a "failing" school full of "failing" teachers, and that we must close it down to protect students from further educational abuse. I've been teaching for 32 years, the last 18 in the same Bronx high school which is also on the chopping block,and for years I have been dismayed by the apathy and closed-mindedness of so many students. They come to school with an attitude of "Okay, I'm here. Now leave me alone." I spend hours designing and teaching lively and relevant lessons, and many more hours grading and correcting papers, writing personalized encouraging comments, and holding individual conferences.Furthermore, I am constantly urging (demanding, begging)them to see that their writing, their speech patterns, and their demeanor will help lay the groundwork for future success, and that school is the proper place to develop these skills. Some of them take it to heart, but too many others have the pat answer "Yo, miss, I'm from the ghetto. This is the way I am and I ain't changin' for nobody." If these were freshmen or sophomores, I might chalk it up to immaturity or lack of foresight, but these are seniors who will soon be going out into the world.

jd2718 said...

I can picture the situation you saw last year - and I am assuming that that is an everyday situation at MBHS - it certainly was at the Bronx HS I taught at 10 years ago (same as Karen's). A riot is something far different.

The academically weakest kids in our system - the ones that never have received the support they need - some get concentrated in a few large buildings, and some get scattered in invisible mini-schools.

We don't remediate in New York City high schools.

I don't need to continue. Think about that. We don't remediate.

The big schools with significant numbers of academically weak kids are powder kegs, just waiting to go off.

The small schools? With a wink and a nod they hand these kids credits without educating them. Better for the mayor, disastrous for the kids' futures.

But jump back, powder keg. Kids concentrated in one place, denied what they need. And scanned, yelled at, ordered around, and then locked down.

All passive voice. Who set this up?

And now look at Columbus, where the weakest kids make up the vast majority of the student body, where they have created programs to help, where they have figured out ways to sneak in remediation (under the table, of course), where a good number of kids really graduate, having passed real courses -- and the same people who create powder kegs in large schools shut Columbus down.

Columbus was supposed to be a powder keg, and the adults in the building figured out how to turn it into a school. And for that crime they are being shut.

So, yeah, let's talk about the educational issues, and the "education" mayor who created the mess at Murray Bergtraum.