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.