Lead by example: If you teach children to disrespect teachers, they will do so

Michael Cummins:

aybe kids are disrespecting their teachers because adults have taught them to. If, as Muldrow asserted during her campaign, the “theme” in Madison education is “how do we blame black children, how do we hurt black children, how do we get rid of black children, how do we not listen to black children,” then it makes perfect sense for black children to behave disrespectfully. You don’t sit and politely listen to someone who wants to hurt you because of your race.
Thing is, sitting and listening is an important part of learning. And far from being the enemy, MMSD teachers are essential to the long-term success of Madison’s children of color. While we can’t see into the minds of individual teachers, equity efforts occupy a prominent place in the district’s latest Strategic Framework, and are amply supported by plans, programs and money. And, unlike their students, MMSD teachers are subject to zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, especially when it comes to anything touching on race.
Verbalizing a racial slur, for instance, will get a teacher yanked from the classroom immediately, regardless of the context. To believe that MMSD tolerates racism in its classrooms, let alone promotes it, requires a narrow set of blinders.

Those who do believe that racism runs riot in MMSD have every right to share that viewpoint with the school board. If you have attended or seen video of a school board meeting lately, you know that that viewpoint is often expressed during public comment. It’s also expressed at inappropriate times, in the form of over-the-top, chaotic theatrics that intimidate those who disagree into silence. Lately, kids have been helping to throw meetings into chaos, having learned that intimidation is a legitimate means to an end.
All this serves to keep MMSD teachers and staff walking on eggshells. And if you think that a timid faculty is good for black students, think again. At a March 2018 board meeting, MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham discussed a 2012 study on the “failure to warn.” The study’s authors found that white teachers are sometimes reluctant to constructively criticize black students when academic or behavioral problems first emerge, for fear of being labeled racist. This cheats black students out of the opportunity to correct problems before they rise to punishable levels.

Of course grown-ups should encourage kids, through their words and deeds, to stand against injustice. But the style that many Madison equity activists have adopted is causing more injustice than it’s preventing. If we allow our teachers to be disempowered, and their classrooms thrown into chaos, then we have broken our promise to offer every child a sound basic education.

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