The Notebook responds to Chalk and Talk article




by Christopher Paslay


On March 3rd, I posted an article here on Chalk and Talk headlined Do Phila. teachers really view minority children as criminals?  In the article I criticized the Philadelphia Public School Notebook for running an objectionable editorial (Changing the odds) that suggested Philadelphia public school teachers were racist and afraid of the communities they serve.


Two days later I received an email from Paul Socolar, editor of the Notebook, requesting that we open a dialogue in order to address some of the issues I had with his newspaper.  Paul also asked me to reread my March 3rd article, and to pay careful attention to its tone, which Paul felt had degenerated into name calling; he took particular offense to the fact that I called the Notebook “irresponsible”. 


I reread the post, and although I didn’t feel I had called anyone names, I did agree that it had an edge to it.  I explained that this was a reaction to the accusations contained in the Notebook’s Winter 2008 edition, Focus on Changing the Odds, where the newspaper more than once alluded to the fact that teachers were racist. 


Paul admitted that I wasn’t the only teacher who felt this way.  However, he suggested that I focus on the actual points of disagreement, rather than throwing around so many labels.  In order for both of us to tone down our rhetoric, he wanted to know what other editions of the Notebook may have offended me. 


As I went through the Notebook’s archives, I realized that these articles were not so much offensive to teachers as they were unfriendly.  Here were the gripes I had:            


Lack of Parental Involvement:  The Notebook fails to scrutinize parents and explore all the ways mothers and fathers are failing their children.  They suggest parental involvement is low because schools aren’t “welcoming”; teachers are “intimidating”; announcements aren’t made early and often enough; literature isn’t translated into other languages; etc.     


The achievement gap: The Notebook fails to explore the societal root of the problem, and refuses to acknowledge that many black children are plagued by serious social ills.  They place much of the blame on racist teachers.    


Safety issues:  The Notebook fails to admit Philadelphia neighborhoods are sometimes dangerous and that violent crime exists.  They chastise teachers for not wanting to teach in the poorest schools because they harbor unfounded prejudices and are “afraid of the communities they serve”.  


Inappropriate student behavior: The Notebook fails to acknowledge the violent and unruly actions of too many children (many of them minorities).  They often explain these behaviors away and blame them on the teacher’s unconscious racial prejudice or the counselor’s wrongful diagnosis. 


English language learners:  The Notebook fails to recommend ways immigrant families can shoulder some of the language burden.  Instead, they call under-resourced and overwhelmed schools and teachers “unwelcoming” and demand better services.


The Voice of Teachers:  The Notebook rarely incorporates into their articles publications that represent the voice of classroom teachers.  Instead, they consistently quote studies and statistics from civil rights organizations that tend to paint schools and teachers in an unflattering light.    


Philadelphia Student Union: The Notebook fails to emphasize the fact that the Philadelphia Student Union must strive to hold its peers accountable for contributing to the chaotic nature of schools.  Instead, they consistently harp on the fact that parents and students “feel disrespected by teachers”.           


Writers and Bloggers:  The Notebook does not have a single writer or blogger that is a current Philadelphia public school teacher.


After reading my concerns, Paul admitted that teachers do need a stronger voice in his newspaper, and he insisted that he is working on this situation.  He also explained that the Notebook’s mission is to make schools better, and that their focus isn’t necessarily on the other parts of the education equation—parents, communities, or the students themselves; Paul did admit however that the problems schools face cannot be solved in isolation.


In addition, Paul stated that he wouldn’t mind having a public discussion on the Notebook’s blog about most of the issues I listed above.  I may take him up on this offer.  For now, I’m posting these concerns here on Chalk and Talk, and I’m asking people on all sides of the argument for constructive feedback. 


One final note: I’d like to thank Paul Socolar for engaging in our email dialogue, and for taking my concerns to heart.  And I’d also like to reiterate my pledge to watch the tone of my posts, as long as the Notebook strives to be more teacher-friendly.     


5 thoughts on “The Notebook responds to Chalk and Talk article

  1. I’m quite surprised to have my private email conversation with Chris become fodder for his blogging.

    But since it has, I’ll try to clarify one of several misrepresentations of my side of the offline conversation that took place.

    Chris suggested to me amidst a long list of its failings (edited above for popular consumption) that the Notebook should do more to “explore all the ways mothers and fathers are failing their children.” Another issue he thought we should say more about was absent Black fathers. My response was that our news organization has chosen to put its primary focus on schools – not in isolation, but as one important arena we can try to understand and do better.

    As frustrating as having our private conversation published without warning is Chris’s repeated and erroneous claim that the Notebook in its winter edition “more than once alluded to the fact that teachers were racist.” With charges like that flying, it’s going to be hard to get constructive feedback here about a sensitive issue we were trying to raise. Our editorial suggested that in a society polarized along race and class lines, we do have to talk about attitudes: Exploring the perceptions, beliefs, and fears of school staff needs to be one component of a broader strategy for addressing the racial disparities we see in Philadelphia schools. It’s emotional, but we’ve been managing to have some mostly constructive discussion of that editorial on our web site,

  2. Paul,

    If neither of us has anything to hide (and we both want to find solutions to the problems within the school district), I don’t see why we can’t explore some of the issues mentioned in our recent correspondence. You yourself stated that my points were a pretty good summary list of points of dispute, and that you wouldn’t mind having some public discussion of most of those points.

    Just as the Notebook brings attention to topics they feel are in need of discussion, so am I blogging about things that are in need of change. If you feel I’ve misrepresented you, by all means, set the record straight.

    In a January Inquirer article you were quoted as saying that the Notebook’s coverage of public education in Philadelphia “is not neutral or distant”. In other words, you are an unabashed advocate for change in the district.

    Well, I have an equal passion for solving the district’s problems. Only my viewpoints differ from those of the Notebook’s. I look at public education in a HOLISTIC manner, and don’t limit my criticisms to schools and teachers. I expand my analysis to parents; community; the students themselves. I hold professors and politicians accountable for the educational policy they write and lobby to implement.

    I also hold the media accountable for the stories they publish, and the correspondences they send that pertain to the free exchange of ideas and issues relevant to education and the city’s hard working public school teachers.

    Again, if you believe you’ve been misrepresented, feel free to correct any of my inaccuracies.

    –Chris Paslay

  3. Hi – I’ve tried to participate in this forum, despite a lot of misstatements by Chris about the Notebook and a lot of excessive rhetoric.

    I’m sorry, but after having Chris’s version of our private conversation posted on the blog, I’ve concluded that this is not a responsible forum for productive conversation. I’m bowing out after this post.

    The Notebook is very willing to engage in discussions of these issues, and welcomes different points of view, including Chris’s on our blog at … so long as people follow some very basic groundrules of civility.

  4. Apparently, the “basic groundrules of civility” at the Notebook are that you must agree with everything they say. If you challenge their point of view, you are “mistreating” them. It has also become clear that philosophies opposite the Notebook’s are not “productive,” and arguments counter to their politics are not “constructive”.

    I’m sorry that my observations and attempts to engage in meaningful discussion on this blog are seen as nothing more than “excessive rhetoric”.

    –Chris Paslay

  5. Skilled in the art of argumentum ad nauseum, Paul Socolar’s adolescent ranting reminds me of a diversionary tactic employed by many high school students when confronted with a disciplinary issue. Having exhausted his supply of illogical arguments and implausible excuses, a teen may attempt to disarm his accuser by shouting, “Calm down!” Of course, this has the immediate effect of putting the adults (teachers, NTAs, disciplinarians, etc.) in the position of explaining that they are, in fact, calm and needn’t be told how to behave by the student whose behavior is in question. Usually the student continues to implore the adult to calm down, in an attempt to divert attention away from the reprimand and to put the adult on the defensive.

    That kind of manipulation is expected from a child, but hardly appropriate for an editor of a publication that purportedly seeks to engage its readers in purposeful, intellectual feedback. Neither is it appropriate to cry foul when commentary runs contrary to the publication’s view. Too bad this forum won’t be treated to future participation from Socolar because he has picked up all his marbles and is refusing to play.

    It should surprise no one that there isn’t a single bona fide public school teacher contributing to the Notebook. Anyone who actually does the job couldn’t possibly have the same opinions as the critics on the sidelines. No thinking person could abide this double standard.

    Paul Socolar’s attempts at stifling legitimate debate by repeatedly whining about a perceived violation of his privacy (what exactly does he have to hide?) and an exaggerated disregard for his basic ground rules of civility, fortunately haven’t had a deleterious effect on Mr. Paslay’s cool objectivity.

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