25 – Everything Is Equal Here

26 Jun

I watched a documentary that aired on HBO entitled, Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card Monday night, and it was like stepping back into my prior school year. The documentary chronicles a year in the life of the urban high school located in the inner city of Maryland. The school is being threatened with the potential of a state take-over due to failing test scores, poor attendance, high drop-out rates, etc.

“…The film captures the complex realities of life at Douglass, and provides a context for the national debate over the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, focusing on the brutal inequalities of American minority education, considered an American tragedy by many.”

“Brutal inequalities of American minority education…” I’m not sure how I feel about that phrase…especially after what I have experienced. I certainly will admit that there are aspects of Douglass High that lend themselves to being labeled as sub par…they perpetuate the imbalance of social and educational equity among students. However, I also believe that the failure of Douglass and other schools can not solely rely on a definition as narrow as a “brutal inequality.” The problems that educators see in schools are the same issues that students are dealing with in the streets…these kids are not leaving their personal baggage at the door before walking into the classroom because they carry too great a load.

More students experience unstable lives outside of home: teen pregnancy, drugs, alcoholism, gangs, non-traditional families where the grandparents are the parents, incarcerated parents, personal incarceration, hunger, homelessness, etc. School is a non-issue when facing the big bad of the issues I previously named.

Why read? Why do homework? Why respect teachers when no other adult has shown you any respect?

That documentary made me want to cry because I was surrounded with the memory of the despair those kids wore every morning. As one person, I could only brace myself and eventually fight to save myself…I feel like I failed them because I could not save them. And the startling aspect of my experience was the realization that many of them didn’t want saving nor did they see any reason as to WHY they should be saved. They didn’t want to function in my world…your world…our world. They perceived themselves as fully functioning beings within American society…???

That school was A LOT like my school…and believe it or not…from what was shown…those kids were better behaved! My tenth graders acted like that obnoxious boy who was always in the hall…about 75% of them acted that way. My fearless leader would NEVER make a home visit to discern the ailments of a student…he was there to collect a paycheck. I will say that ALL of our teachers were certified, save for one…and ALL of them were phenomenal people and teachers. They taught on a different frequency (kind of like incorporating a sixth sense)…the inner-city will do that to an individual.

In the documentary, there was a teacher who (after three years of teaching at Douglass) resigned in the middle of the school year. I almost left my school, too…

You know…if I were the one examining Douglass, or the inner-workings of Inner City High School USA…I would have to examine the structure of American society. Politicians say these catchy phrases to make people think that things in this world are change-able…but are they really? Were these structures set up on purpose? Are some people just meant to fail based on the unfortunate event of WHERE they were born? I mean seriously…how many thugs REALLY make it out of the ghetto?

…It’s a struggle between the powerful and the subjugated (oh…wait…that sounds a lot like Marxism)…shhhh! I really didn’t just say that because this is a democracy where everything is equal! 🙂


Posted by on June 26, 2008 in Work


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8 responses to “25 – Everything Is Equal Here

  1. Alfie

    June 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Should the government “invade” neighborhoods instead of failing schools ? The Great Society has played a big roll in giving us all the inner cities we have,the schools included. At what point do we start screaming ENOUGH ! Of course when we do finally scream will anyone listen ? I’ve visited before and I feel cynical when I leave. I guess that can be taken a couple of ways-take it as a compliment towards your writings.

  2. tom

    June 26, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I haven’t seen the documentary, only a few clips and reviews. But, from what i’ve read re “those kids were better behaved!”. Wow!

    Interestingly enough, McDermott, the teacher who left mid-year after 2 and half years, has contributed to a baltimore forum re the documentary. Very interesting points from an obviously good teacher and person. In one post he states that: “There are solutions, but they aren’t palatable to educrats and politicians and therefore have little chance of being enacted.” But he didn’t expand on it directly.

  3. msfriendly

    June 26, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Alfie…Thanks for visiting and pondering! That’s how it begins…that’s the basis of anything…THOUGHT! I am not so sure that the government should “invade” anymore than they already have. What I would like to see is a little meet-me-in-the middle-ism…Regardless of how crappity and crapified things may seem in America…there’s better living here than in many other places. I would like for the powerless and subjugated to meet America in the middle so we can really put politicians to the test. Right now, the powerless are remaining powerless…where’s the fight? Where’s the effort? FREE education is being offered. Yes, we do have crappified NCLB, but how about DOing something to challenge that instead of receiving a check!!!!

    I’m angry with both sides here…I want the powerless to fight and gain the power that is hanging only within an inch of them…

    And I want to see what the government will REALLY do when the powerless began to empower themselves…but that can’t happen the way things are going now…

    I guess I want to know at what point will the people who have lived powerless lives begin to scream ENOUGH! You can do it…I can do it…but will it mean the same?

  4. msfriendly

    June 26, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Tom…thanks for that link to that teacher. I’m going to go check it out.

  5. Christopha!

    June 27, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Enlightening as usual, Ms. Friendly.

    Of all the things that started off with the best of intentions, the NCLB Act is one of the greats. Tying pay to performance probably seemed like a great answer to the problem of poor student performance. But anytime new metrics are introduced to a problem, the people working to solve the problem find a way, even if the solution was not the intended result. You know, “smarter the mouse, smarter the mousetrap, smarter the mouse.”

    I really think the bottom line is, success with students is contingent upon parenting; you can’t do it alone. NCLB laid the entire load upon the school system. That’s not fair. As long as teens pay hero-worship to murderous thugs, chase fast money, and participate in high speed breeding, the problem will continue.

    Teaching where you are needed may not be as life-enriching as teaching where you are WANTED.

  6. Shari

    June 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I found your blog via the link Tom mentions above, which I found by searching for reactions to the movie. Sounds like the movie touched a lot of people! (GOOD!)

    I’m enjoying your thoughts on inner city teaching. I teach freshman English at an inner city school in Las Vegas. (In other words, I teach the kids who are there by court order until they can drop out. And, despite my passion and skills, “teach” is probably too optimistic a verb.)

    I’m telling everyone I know to watch this documentary so they can see what my days are like. Hopefully soon I’ll stop thinking about it. June is supposed to be a carefree time of regeneration. Instead, I’m getting to where I can’t get the dread of August out of my head.

    I’d transfer, but this is the devil I know. (And no one ever leaves the “good” schools in our district.) But hey, I’ll have Honors kids for half the day next year. At our school, they’re almost as success-oriented as regular kids were back in the day. Almost.

    Anyway – good blog – looking forward to reading more!

  7. msfriendly

    June 29, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Christopha! – Thank you for that reminder about teaching where I am wanted! I have an interview, on the 7th of July, at a school where I believe my services are wanted. I am not quite ready to give up on teaching public school, however, this school is considered suburban…we shall see…due to the closing of one our city’s most prominent project housing communities by 2009, I believe that many suburban schools will no longer be just that!

    I am going to give it one more year.

    I totally agree with you in regards to the parenting thing…the ENTIRE load can not be placed on the school system! There must be reinforcement at home, telling our young people that all of the media images that bombard them on a daily basis, are for show!

    I like your wording: “As long as teens pay hero-worship to murderous thugs, chase fast money, and participate in high speed breeding, the problem will continue.” I could not have said it better myself!

  8. msfriendly

    June 29, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Shari…Thank you for dropping by! I am always eager to hear from fellow teachers. It’s a shame that you must remain in such an environment with no reprieve. The documentary has done a good job of broaching the topic to America…but I believe that many things were done for show. I feel like SOME of the teachers were expressing their true feelings, while the principal was contrived. I wonder if she REALLY made home visits on a regular basis or took the time to sooth students who looked “overwhelmed.” Is your principal like that? …A Fake McFakester?

    I hope that you are able to calm your nerves before the new school year begins begin you deserve it…and you’re going to NEED it! I always tell people that teachers NEED the summer break to prevent us from committing any of the major “-cides”…Homo- Sui- or Gene-

    Hope you drop by more often!


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