A new kind of victim-blaming

One frequently hears arguments that redirect blame from failing schools (and their teachers and principals) to ubiquitous social monsters that are bigger and hairier (poverty, broken families, crime) but also impossible to hold accountable.?? I get this. There are undeniable correlations between student achievement and socioeconomic status. When I taught in Camden, New Jersey (then the second poorest city in the US) I could empathize when my colleagues said--in so many words--that a student's failure simply wasn't their fault. Having been schooled in Teach For America's no excuses curriculum, this abdication of blame was foreign to me. But seeing up close the level of poverty that ravaged our school's neighborhood, and the kinds of unspeakable problems that come with that, I couldn't help but make peace (if not always agreeing) with the tendency for educators in persistently failing schools to point to the outside social forces that make their work so difficult.

This comment by Metro Association of Classroom Educators chairman John Trotter (affiliated with Atlanta Public Schools), however, is a new way to redirect blame, and one that I can't make peace with.

Duncan apparently thinks that you can just demand and command improvement...He wants to replace everyone...except the ones who matter, the children.

They are unmotivated and lazy. Yes, there are many incompetent and idiotic and mean administrators who need to go. There are even some bad teachers, but these are really rare. The problem starts with the students. What is Duncan going to do with some so-called students who act like miscreants each day?

The problem starts with the students? When Duncan called on the nation to turn around 5,000 of its worst schools, it wasn't part of some insidious plot to put principals and teachers out of work. Reforms such as school closure or reconstitution are drastic and painful, yes, and maybe I'll even concede to Trotter that many students in the worst schools are indeed difficult. But before blaming them, remember that these youngsters who are trapped in our nation's worst schools have been systematically denied the education they deserve, and they know it. Many of them are not only victims of neglectful families and neighborhoods, but neglectful schools and teachers who year in and year out have little faith in their ability to learn. Trotter: before laying out your expectations of your students, how about examining your expectations for them??? For starters, don't call them lazy and unmotivated. Victim-blaming is just unacceptable.

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