Eye on The Notebook: Do Phila. teachers really view minority children as criminals?




by Christopher Paslay              


In their recent editorial, “Changing the odds,” the Notebook discusses ways the Philadelphia School District can close the achievement gap between white and minority students.  In addition to having engaging teaching staffs and building strong bonds between schools and surrounding communities, the Notebook talks about overcoming racism.


Perhaps the hardest barriers to overcome are the fears and prejudices that run through our racially divided society, the Notebook writes. Black and Latino children – boys in particular – are so often viewed as dangerous or even criminal. Schools cannot uphold high expectations and successfully serve communities of color when the school staff is afraid of the communities they serve.


The curious part of this editorial is that while the Notebook warns against the dangers of stereotyping, they are in effect stereotyping themselves.  The majority of Philadelphia public school teachers do not view Black and Latino boys as dangerous and criminal (I don’t know of a single teacher that does), nor are they afraid of the communities they serve. 


To make such a sweeping generalization is both hypocritical and irresponsible.   


I’m not the only teacher who was put-off by the editorial.  A woman named Jamie Roberts recently commented on the newspaper’s website about the offensive nature of this article. 


She wrote, As a Philadelphia teacher working on her second Master’s degree, I’ve always considered my reading comprehension pretty high, but I found myself re-reading your editorial repeatedly, convinced I had to be misinterpreting it.


Are you actually suggesting the struggles of Latino and African-American boys in our schools are because of white racist teachers? And if so, are you serious?


I have spent most of my teaching career in predominantly African-American and Latino schools and in every case, the staff – which is always multicultural – has tried to create an aura of respect and safety within the school building. Never have I heard a colleague express fear of any student – although often we express concern on behalf of students, who step out of the schoolyard every afternoon and into an environment that is often quite dangerous. It is that environment that creates the circumstances that cause boys to struggle . . .


Notebook Editor Paul Socolar rebutted this comment by stating Roberts “missed the point”.  Socolar went on to say, Somehow, once the phenomenon of racism is named, we notice that something short-circuits, everything else we said is forgotten, and some readers respond that the Notebook thinks the whole problem is white racist teachers . . . 


In effect, the Notebook neither apologized for misrepresenting teachers nor did they admit to oversimplifying the problem.  They held to their position by stating that racism against minority students undoubtedly exists, and that “to acknowledge its existence is not a condemnation of all teachers.”


It’s not surprising that the Notebook is unable (or unwilling) to recognize the stereotypical nature of their editorial.  The writers and staff of this publication are too wrapped-up in the politics of race to see the forest through the trees.  They state that they regularly talk to Philadelphia parents and students about racism (and in effect get one side of the story), but this hardly qualifies them as an authority on the day-to-day challenges facing teachers inside overcrowded, and often times under-resourced, classrooms.


A second look at Editor Paul Socolar’s rebuttal to Philadelphia school teacher Jamie Roberts’ comments furthers this point. 


There is a vast amount of literature from all different political perspectives about how many urban students (not just in Philly) experience a lack of respect and low expectations from many of their teachers, Socolar wrote.  Even George W. Bush spoke about this problem.   


Although reading books on urban education might provide some background understanding of the issue, it’s not the same as standing in front of 33 urban teenagers and teaching them on a daily basis.  And quite frankly, I don’t believe that many minority students experience a lack of respect and high expectations from “many” of their teachers.  Do Black and Latino children ever feel disrespected?  Certainly.  But not on the scale the Notebook and other political publications would lead us to believe; it might be wise for the Notebook to stop using “political” perspectives to draw their conclusions. 


And since when is George W. an expert on teaching in the inner-city?


While we’re focused on stereotypes, let’s examine the issue of safety in Philadelphia.  Is it wrong for teachers to be concerned about their well-being in high crime neighborhoods?  Are the 350 annual homicides committed in the city simply fantasies conjured in the imaginations of bigoted educators?  Most certainly not.  Just ask the mother of Faheem Thomas-Childs, the 10-year-old third grader who was killed by a drug-dealer’s bullet outside Peirce Elementary in February of 2004.


How ironic is it that a publication that bills itself as “an independent voice for parents, educators, students, and friends of Philadelphia public schools” doesn’t even have a single Philadelphia public school teacher contributing to the newspaper?  Sure, the Notebook’s writers and bloggers include an education lawyer, a doctoral student, an educational policy maker, a principal, a member of a parent group, and an education beat-reporter, but no teacher.  Imagine that.


If the Notebook truly wants to comprehend and solve the District’s problems, they must bring a more balanced approach to their paper.  They must also stop insulting educators with their biting innuendo, and treat Philadelphia public school teachers with more professionalism and respect.


15 thoughts on “Eye on The Notebook: Do Phila. teachers really view minority children as criminals?

  1. Let me make this statement loud and clear… black teachers for black students… period. I do not doubt that there are good teachers out there of all races but the lack of commitment, respect, understanding and concern in the black race prohibits many of you other teachers from effectively doing a satisfactory job and the ones that perform at an acceptable level do so only to try to convert our youth into this mutli-cultural, misguided person unaware of the truth and true position of the black woman and black man. Stop it now and retire into some other type of business. I know that the end is near. We are not fooled with the election of Obama because we see how he treated and how limited he is as president. Bow down and let the true rulers of the earth step forward and claim their crown… king jay

  2. While I may not agree with the generalizations made in the original post, I do understand The Notebook’s contention that minority students are disrespected and are often subjected to low expectations of achievement.

    This disrespect, while on occasion can be directed at specific teachers or principals, is more a systemic problem and manifests itself in the form of overrepresentation in special ed, underrepresentation in gifted & talented, and greater suspension/expulsion rates for like offenses w/ compared to white students.

    I wouldn’t have written the piece as The Notebook did, but I certainly understand the underlying premise.
    Chapel Hill, NC

  3. Someone show me a scientific study that can link someone’s skin color to the likelihood of committing a crime. Crime rates are higher in poverty stricken areas. If you are scared of your students because you think they might committ a crime against you, get out of the district. WE who are trying to level the gaps between the haves and have-nots don’t need you! Go teach pre school somewhere!

  4. I am a classroom teacher. If observed, I would probably be considered mediocre, at best. But I pour my heart into what I do. I love my students. My students know that I love them (ask them, please). I work with other teachers that equal and exceed my love and devotion. I also work with teachers that have been jaded by the overwhelming difficulties of the job, and no longer feel any love toward the students. I work under an administration, from school level to district headquarters, filled with individuals seeking power. Power to tell teachers what to do. Power to tell teachers what they are doing wrong. I see others seeking recognition for their scholarly insights into the problems of the urban educational system, again directed at failure in the classroom on the part of the teacher. But tomorrow, I and my colleagues will be in our classrooms, surrounded by memos from administration and foul insults from angry children. And we will love them.

  5. I was in a meeting where an african-american vice-principal basically told the staff that they didn’t know how to teach african-american students.


    I always thought all students should be treated equally and fairly. I was always told that all children are basically the same and want to be educated. I thought that their success was dependent on the ability of their teachers to teach and inspire.

    You’ll notice that race is not mentioned in that particular equation.

    It’s funny how the rules of race change when it’s convenient for the ignorant few to spew their venom.

    Some people are truly ignorant.

  6. Still teaching in the school district after 37 plus years, I find the thought that we are afraid of our students to be rather absurd. I have taught at University City High, Southern High, Fels High, and now at Central. I have found that regardless of school, I was always respected by the students as a result of the respect I always showed toward them. Regarless of background, students want to learn and appreciate the help teachers offer. Perhaps the author confuses fear with frustration. Many times we are frustrated at not being able to motivate all of our students. While some teachers might give up on the hope that all students can achieve, those teachers are the ones who move on to other employment. Teachers in all of the schools where I have taught come to school ready to face the challenges of poorly skilled, immature, intrinsically unmotivated students, despite these setbacks. Fear is not one of those setbacks.

  7. I completely agree with the BlackTeachers for Black Students movement. I’d even go so far as to propose that all pupils deserves instructors whose life experiences mirror their own in every way. When I look back on my own career as a student, it was always the heavy-set Italian teacher from South Philadelphia whose classroom provided the most robust learning environment. For once and for all, let’s put an end to the myth that birds of a feather fail together.
    Il Primo Piasano,
    Anthony Nannetti

  8. I am thinking, and thinking and thinking.
    I don’t know about race that well, Because where I come from. But for me, I will like to have someone that like to teaching to teach me.

  9. As a teacher in the Philadelphia school system for the past 25 years and some change, I do believe all young people are looking for the same thing that is someone to believe in them. Let us not fear them, maybe become frustrated at times but we must continue to believe that we/YOU can make a difference.

  10. In response to the opening comment, it scares me to think what the converse of this statement would be. There is no room in the Philadelphia School District for racism and hatemongering. Let me make this statement loud and clear…All teachers supporting all students… period. The opening statement, suggest the Supreme Court should over turn Brown vs. the Board of education. This is clearly not the direction public education should be going. If we truly care about education, all teachers will work together to make sure all students have an opportunity to receive a quality education. And all students should know that all teachers are there for them regardless of their heritage. If a teacher is only there for children of their own race or ethnic group, then they should retire to another occupation.

  11. Actually every black child in Philadelphia already has at least one, if not two, black teachers to learn from . . . we call them PARENTS ! Maybe the black segregationists should turn their focus on the parents for a change? Scapegoating white teachers is nothing more than acceptable bigotry and that is an oxymoron.

  12. “Black teachers for black students…” Does that mean that the inverse is equally desirable? Okay, then – I want my kids to have only white teachers. Of course, that means they’ll be in one place and their black friends in another, but that’s all right. Oh, wait! I think there’s a word for that… oh, yeah – SEGREGATION! Maybe Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Beals just wasted their time back there in Little Rock…

  13. I believe that we make too much out of race and color. As a black man I believe that students respond to those that they feel comfortable with.
    In the Autobiography of Malcolm X he was advised to not become a lawyer but a carpenter by his teacher. At that time in his life he felt it was racism but when Malcolm became a man he told his children that this teacher was well meaning and only had his best interest in mind.

    So teachers please keep teaching regardless of the color of the student and don’t be afraid or frustrated because in the end they will one day remember that you cared just like Malcolm X did when he became a man.

    PS. if the teachers stop teaching who will train our youth?

    • I want to thank Mr. Lavelle for his comments. You are absolutely correct and express wisdom that other sometime forget. For a dedicated teacher, in the class room there is no black or white. There are just children; children that we have the opportunity to offer part of ourselves to hopefully make their life a little better; children that we can provide a safe comfortable place to learn and grow. I look back on some of my own teachers, and remember advice that they offered, but mostly I remember that they cared. For many of the students that pass through my class room, I get the impression, that the presence of caring adult is something that they long for, and seek out at school. Hopefully our time together I will give them the opportunity to learn and grow and that I will impart some knowledge that will help them live a better life. But my underlying desire is that I will be able to inspire social skills that will stay with them for life and will serve them in what ever path they choose, academic or otherwise. I am a teacher of students first; I am a teacher of mathematics second.

  14. I am not into taking online verbal jabs at any one. I have heart and courage and I will let any man know of my intentions or feelings to their face and not behind their cowardly backs! With that being said, you say race is not important or it is not the source of problem that exists in all major and minor school districts across the country? Well, do the research and the truth shall be revealed. I speak and write with passion and conviction but my words are firmly sound in truth. First, the U.S. is in the bottom third of the top 30 countries when it comes to education. African American children have the lowest test scores and graduation rates of all the children that attend public schools in the United States. Black children have higher suspension rates and arrest rates than any other racial group in this so-called unified country. And of course, most of the teachers that teach Black children are not Black at all! There are teachers who recognize what these children need and I am one who is not afraid to say it! Black teachers for Black students. That does not mean that Black teachers can not teach white children or even the opposite. It is a statement meant to say that Black children need more Black teachers in the classroom since all of the programs, institutions, and money can not fix the dilemma of the struggling Black child. African Americans have had the most success in public schools from the period of Reconstruction to the Brown v. Board decision. We went from have literacy rates of a negligible amount during slavery to over 80% (even close to 90%) during the 1950’s. And guess who primarily taught these Black children… Black teachers! America the united, do your research and wake up to the truth. Stop hurting these Black children and allow them to blossom like we have done in the past!!! -el hefe

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