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.