Thursday, January 21, 2016

NYC liberal encounters NYC blacks

Even after documenting a total breakdown of order and discipline, he cannot bring himself to say that what is needed is the re-establishment of high-discipline schools for difficult  pupils

IN 2008, Ed Boland, a well-off New Yorker who had spent 20 years as an executive at a non-profit, had a midlife epiphany: He should leave his white-glove world, the galas at the Waldorf and drinks at the Yale Club, and go work with the city’s neediest children.

The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School is Boland’s memoir of his brief, harrowing tenure as a public-schoolteacher, and it’s riveting.

There’s nothing dry or academic here. It’s tragedy and farce, an economic and societal indictment of a system that seems broken beyond repair.

The book is certain to be controversial. There’s something dilettante-ish, if not cynical, about a well-off, middle-aged white man stepping ever so briefly into this maelstrom of poverty, abuse, homelessness and violence and emerging with a book deal.

What Boland has to share, however, makes his motives irrelevant.

Names and identifying details have been changed, but the school Boland calls Union Street is, according to clues and public records, the Henry Street School of International Studies on the Lower East Side.

Boland opens the book with a typical morning in freshman history class.

A teenage girl named Chantay sits on top of her desk, thong peeking out of her pants, leading a ringside gossip session. Work sheets have been distributed and ignored.

“Chantay, sit in your seat and get to work — now!” Boland says.

A calculator goes flying across the room, smashing into the blackboard. Two boys begin physically fighting over a computer. Two girls share an iPod, singing along. Another girl is immersed in a book called Thug Life 2.

Chantay is the one that aggravates Boland the most. If he can get control of her, he thinks, he can get control of the class.

“Chantay,” he says, louder, “sit down immediately, or there will be serious consequences.”

The classroom freezes. Then, as Boland writes, “she laughed and cocked her head up at the ceiling. Then she slid her hand down the outside of her jeans to her upper thigh, formed a long cylinder between her thumb and forefinger, and shook it. She looked me right in the eye and screamed, ‘SUCK MY F***IN’ D***, MISTER.’”

It was Boland’s first week.

At the time, Boland’s new school was considered a bold experiment — not a charter but an “autonomous” one, given freedom in both management and curriculum. It was endowed in part by the Gates Foundation, and the principal hired only teachers who had once lived abroad.

Boland had taught English in China. This was his favoured school — advertised as the last, best hope for kids who had fallen far behind — and he was thrilled to be hired. He went home to his then-boyfriend (now husband) and celebrated over takeout pad Thai and an expensive bottle of red wine.

“I was ready to change lives as a teacher,” he writes.  How wrong he was.

There were 30 kids in his ninth-grade class, some as old as 17. One student, Jamal, was living in a homeless shelter with his mother; most of the other students lived in public housing. There was one white kid in the whole school.

“It was as if Brown v Board of Education or desegregation had never occurred,” Boland writes.

He had rounded up his students into a semicircle and checked for forbidden items: phones, electronics, sunglasses, clothing in gang colours.

Then someone kicked in the door. And there, Boland writes, “stood one Kameron Shields in pure renegade glory, a one-man violation of every possible rule. Above the neck alone, he was flaunting four violations: He wore sunglasses and a baseball cap over a red bandanna over iPod headphones. A silver flip phone was clipped to his baggy jeans. Everything he wore was cherry red — the hallmark colour of the Bloods.

“He turned his grinning face to the ceiling and howled, ‘WASS ... UP ... N***AS?’”

Boland was outmatched. He was petrified. He ran out the clock and asked his fellow teachers who this kid was.

“Oh, yeah, he’s brutal,” one colleague said. Turned out Kameron had thrown a heavy electric sharpener at a teacher’s head the year before, but the principal — whom the teachers sarcastically called their “fearless leader” — refused to expel any student for any reason.

Two weeks in and Boland was crying in the bathroom. Kids were tossing $110 textbooks out the window. They overturned desks and stormed out of classrooms. There were seventh-grade girls with tattoos and T-shirts that read, “I’m Not Easy But We Can Negotiate.” Their self-care toggled in the extreme, from girls who gave themselves pedicures in class to kids who went days without showering.

Kameron was in a league of his own. “I was genuinely afraid of him from the minute I set eyes on him,” Boland writes. After threatening to blow up the school, Kameron was suspended for a few months, and not long after his return, a hammer and a double switchblade fell out of his pockets.

The principal gave up. Kameron was expelled.

“Oh, they getting real tough around here now,” one student said. “Three hundred strikes, you out.”

Here among the kids who couldn’t name continents or oceans, who scrawled, “Mr Boland is a f****t” on chalkboards, who listed porn among their hobbies, were a few who had a shot.

There was Nee-cole, who wore thick glasses and pigtails. She was quiet, smart, much more childlike than her peers, and Boland felt for her. He was also intrigued by a tough girl named Yvette, who showed flashes of insight and intelligence yet did all she could to hide it. “PLEASE DON’T TELL ANYONE I WROTE THIS,” she scrawled on one report.

He asked his fellow teachers about the enigma that was Yvette. “One day in class, I intercepted a note,” said a colleague, Tasneen. “It said, ‘Yvette b***s old guys for a dollar under the Manhattan Bridge.’ We punished the girl who wrote it for spreading lies.”

Soon after, the school heard from Child Protective Services. The prostitution rumour was true. Yvette was removed from her home. “She’s not doing it anymore,” Tasneen said, “but she’ll never outrun that story.”

The bookish Nee-cole was also a target, but things were tolerable — until parent-teacher night. Nee-cole’s mother showed up wheeling a suitcase down the hall, listening to Donna Summer on a Discman. She wore off-brand jeans, rainbow leg warmers, a ratty orange vest, dreads festooned with ribbons and shells, and a face tattoo of pin curls where hair should be.

Boland was flummoxed. He closed the classroom door.

She introduced herself as Charlotte and explained Nee-cole’s history: Her daughter had been enrolled in Harlem, but when her mother saw the school was on the city’s list of underperformers, she pulled Nee-cole out and homeschooled her.

“But we didn’t have a home, so I made do and taught her where I could, mostly on the subway, for the year.”

She went on to explain that she had to put Nee-cole in foster care. “I love my child beyond words and am still very involved with her life,” Charlotte said. “Her education is my priority.”

After that meeting, Nee-cole’s life at school was never the same.

“Nee-cole’s mother is a HOBO,” the other kids would say. “Did you get a look at her? Mama look like a homeless clown.”

Boland came to actively loathe most of the student body. He resented “their poverty, their ignorance, their arrogance. Everything I was hoping, at first, to change.”

His colleagues gave him pep talks, reminded him to contextualise this behaviour: These kids had no parents, or abusive, neglectful ones. Most lived in extreme poverty. School was all they had, and it was their only hope.

A lifelong liberal, Boland began to feel uncomfortable with his thinking. “We can’t just explain away someone’s horrible behaviour because they have had a tough ­upbringing,” he argued back. “It doesn’t do them — or us — any good.”

Then there was Jesús Alvarez, boyfriend of Chantay and, as Boland writes, “a perfect s***.” Jesús would stroll by Boland’s classroom and shout, “Bolan’, who you ball in’? It ain’t no chick.”

Boland called in the father, even though he was warned it would do no good. The three sat down, and Boland was surprised.

“Jesús, this is a good school,” the father said. He warned Jesús that it was either school or the street, and Jesús wasn’t tough enough for the street. “You get yourself right, get an education, and show this man some respect.”

It was the one thing that had gone well so far. “I left that meeting brimming with confidence,” Boland writes. “Involving parents was key.”

Next, he turned his attention to Valentina, a transfer student who joined his class in February. She wore tight jeans over what Boland calls “an epic derrière,” and as she walked to her seat, the kids oinked and mooed.

“Step down, all y’all n***as, or I’ll stab you in your neck,” Valentina said. “Don’t get me tight, b****es.”

Boland soon learned Valentina was what the Department of Education calls “a safety transfer” — meaning she was such a threat to her fellow students that she was pulled out of school.

Now here she was, Boland’s newest charge. He was quickly impressed with her observational skills — a bar he had set extremely low, now the victim of some inner-city form of Stockholm syndrome.

Asked to write about an ancient sculpture of two royals, Valentina wrote, “Well, isn’t it obvious that they are a couple? His hand is on her t***y. The way they sit is regal.”

It was the use of the word “regal” that blew Boland away. He pulled her aside after class. “You can’t fool me,” he told her. “I can tell from just that one sheet of paper that you have a very fine mind.”

For that, he received an official complaint of sexual harassment, filed by one Valentina. She claimed Boland said, “You are mighty fine, you turn me on, and I can tell you like fooling around.”

The entire administration knew Boland was gay, yet they still had to follow procedure. He was never to be alone with Valentina again.

By the time he invited a highly decorated Iraq War veteran to speak to class and Valentina greeted him with, “Hey, mister, give me a dollar,” Boland thoroughly despised her.

Nor could he escape the kids outside of school. One winter day, Boland was mounting his bicycle, on his way home, when he saw a gang fight break out in a parking lot. He saw Jesús in the crowd, and an older man egging the kids on. “That’s it, Nelson, show that punk-ass b**** who’s boss. Whale his ass.”

It was Jesús’ father.

Angry and humiliated, Boland relayed this latest heartbreak to a veteran teacher. “As crazy as it sounds,” the teacher said, “that father may be trying to teach his son how to survive in a hostile environment the only way he knows how.”

Boland didn’t know what to believe anymore. At the end of the school year, he quit.

Boland ends his book with familiar suggestions for reform: Invest more money, recruit better teachers, retool the unions, end poverty. But there’s no public policy for fixing a broken kid from a broken home, or turning fear into resilience, or saving kids who can’t, or won’t, be saved.

Toward the end of his tenure, Boland asks his sister Nora, a longtime teacher, for help. What is he doing wrong? What could he be doing right? Why can’t he break through to these kids, even the ones who seem to care? How can society absorb such a massive ­human toll?

“I’ve been teaching for a long time now,” Nora tells him. “And my only answer is that there are no easy answers.”


Selective government-funded British school is outgunning private schools to win places at Oxbridge

Taking pupils solely on proven ability is a huge head start for any school.  Few private schools can afford to be so selective

A sixth form college in a deprived part of east London has outdone some of the country’s top public schools by winning eight offers of places at Oxford and Cambridge.

Every one of the pupils bound for Oxbridge at the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford is from an immigrant background, with several having unemployed parents or living in council homes.

Meanwhile, only a single pupil at £30,000-a-year Scottish public school Gordonstoun, attended by Prince Charles, has received an Oxbridge offer this year according to reports.

Just five from Sherborne public school in Dorset have been accepted, along with a mere three at Bedales in Hampshire – both of which charge boarders around £33,000 a year.

The London Academy of Excellence – nicknamed the Eton of the East End – is a selective free school for pupils aged 16 to 18, which opened three years ago.

It is a few minutes from the Olympic Park built for the 2012 games, and receives as many as 2,500 applicants for 200 places.

But it seems middle-class pupils from further afield are not taking over – as is the case with some top state schools – as around half the intake is made up of locals from the London Borough of Newham, one of the most deprived areas in England.

Four-fifths of the pupils are from families in which no one has attended university, while a quarter are on free school meals.

Some 70 per cent are from ethnic minorities. Applicants must have at least five GCSE A grades, while the focus is on traditional A-level subjects rather than modern options seen as less rigorous.

Teenagers are expected to wear suits to lessons and remain in school until 5pm.

Headmaster John Weeks said ‘high aspirations’ were a key factor behind the eight Oxbridge offers this year – which are conditional on the pupils achieving their expected A-level results.

Mr Weeks, previously deputy head at the independent Brighton College, said: ‘Their parents have worked really hard in often difficult and low-paid jobs.

'They have seen what their parents have had to go through and they are very highly motivated.’

He claims the school’s secret is ‘expert teachers who love their subject and sixth-formers with the mindset to succeed’.

It is partnered with six fee-paying schools across south-east England – Eton, Brighton College, Highgate School, Caterham School, Forest School and University College School.

Free schools, introduced by the Coalition, are state-funded but not controlled by local councils. They can be set up by parents, organisations or faith groups.


University of CA Destroys Liberty to Fight Sexual Assault

The assault on due process continues in the “liberal” bastions known as higher education. The University of California recently revamped how it investigates sexual assault. The school, like many schools across the country, faces pressure from Barack Obama’s Department of Education to root out the sexual assault epidemic that is (supposedly) plaguing the modern college campus, an epidemic discovered when cobbling together some scientifically dubious studies.

Cal has instituted mandatory minimums on any male student they accuse of sexual assault and they find guilty. And what happens when said student tries to defend himself? The Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow, who has been following the issue, writes that the University of California has policies that turn sex between two college students into a legal event that really should be monitored by two lawyers.

“The only way to prove one followed such a policy is to videotape the encounter, but now, California colleges are making such recordings a violation of school policy,” Schow explains. Found recording a personal sexual encounter as proof that everyone followed policy? That’s sexual assault.

“Men looking to attend school in California should take note,” she wrote. Meanwhile, it should be noted that this is a problem of the Left’s own making. So-called liberals were the ones advocating for free love in the ‘60s. And when they didn’t like the result, the broken relationships, the societal problems, they responded as they always do: More control, more monitoring.


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