I recently heard from a teacher who taught in a charter middle school in Detroit. He is a certified social studies teacher, who has taught in both public and charter schools. The school he describes here is one of Michigan’s many for-profit schools (80% of charters in Michigan are run for profit). I asked him if he could write about his experience, and he sent the following:
“You are there to produce results, specifically test results; you are there to provide structure; you are not there to think; you are there to obey; you shall follow the curriculum; you shall train students for future careers and colleges; you need to enforce the rules and procedures; if students do not follow the rules and procedures, they need to go.
“White men in suits will watch your classes and nitpick your every move; every mistake and negative outcome is your fault. There is no excuse- there are never any excuses. Arrive earlier, stay later, care more, think less; others will go, maybe you will go; students will go; others will take your places. More structure- more discipline- take away recess- make the students sit in classrooms silently at lunch. Force students to march on the blue line all through the school- they need to obey. But don’t ask why all of this happens- never ask.
“Math and reading; reading and math; reading and more math” is what a student told me when I asked him what he worked on during summer school. These are taught because they are tested. Your job and the school’s charter depend on test score results. So, you teach math and reading test questions, even in classes named “Leadership,” “Workshop,” and “Computer Science.” History is the subject that doesn’t matter, science is the subject that doesn’t matter but gets computers. Gym, recess, art, and music are frivolous- there’s no time for that. Drill students more on test questions. Use the internet more- don’t reinvent the wheel- let your dean and principal do the thinking.
Stop the students from talking, from talking to one another; don’t let them talk using that hood talk, that’s not correct; they are not living correctly. You need to correct them, so put them in front of the computer and let the computer teach. Let the student’s mind go- they need to pass the test- THEY NEED TO PASS THE STANDARDIZED TEST OR ELSE WE FAIL.
“Let the curriculum do the thinking- your thoughts aren’t valued here. Your values aren’t valued here- that’s for JC Huizinga and Clark Durant (look them up). That’s for rich white men who didn’t go to charter schools or urban schools, who never taught in charter schools, who have no training in how to educate young minds. These are the same men who skim a buck off of broken down buildings and communities and who make $300k per year as figureheads but want to tell YOU how to uplift the poor and vulnerable on an at-will contract and a $40k/year salary.
“Let’s do something” Durant and Huizinga and the others must have said; they cared; they really did. But they asked the wrong questions; they didn’t learn their history. They created their own history; they want to take a giant eraser and erase the painful moments for those who are in pain; but you can’t erase pain. Pain and suffering and exclusion caused by systemic racism and lead poisoning and drug addiction and unstable home lives cannot be simply erased with business practices, more structure, and fancy gimmicks. These gimmicks, procedures, and pressures will not bring the jobs back to Detroit nor will it erase the poverty that causes shame and despair for the Black people that remain in the ashes. The charter schools rob the already crumbling public schools of money and students, rob the community from knowing what’s really going on, and pin full responsibility for uplifting students out of poverty on teachers.
“The true solutions require messy answers, holistic and complex answers, and they require the rich white men to give back some of their money, not just using their money to tell other people how to live- people that they don’t know, black faces in black spaces, places that these men would themselves never step foot in.
“So if you want to know what it’s like to teach in a charter middle school in Detroit, it devalues your life as a teacher, takes away your power and values just like it takes away the students’ power and values, substitutes them with gimmicks and buzzwords, and tells you that it’s your sole responsibility to uplift students out of poverty.”