#WalterScott: A Reader

“The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.”
“A Report from Occupied Territory,” James Baldwin (The Nation, July 11, 1966)

Black Death Has Become a Cultural Spectacle: Why the Walter Scott Tragedy Won’t Change White America’s Mind, Brittney Cooper

Cooper bad applesThe Myth of Police Reform, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates Scott flee

When Cops Cry Wolf, Frank Serpico

Serpico testi-lyingWalter Scott Is Not on Trial, Charles Blow

Blow on Walter Scott

Walter Scott, just another ‘isolated incident’?, Leonard Pitts Jr.

Pitts Walter ScottAt Walter Scott’s Funeral, An Unexpected Conversation, Chenjerai Kumanyika

Clemson N Chas

“A Report from Occupied Territory,” James Baldwin

Baldwin bad niggerBolton: Don’t forget Walter Scott while protesting North Charleston shooting

Bolton: ‘You run, you die’ isn’t effective policing

White Denial

Police Officers and Teachers: Confronting Corrupt Cultures, Avoiding “Bad Police/Teacher” Narratives

Police Officers and Teachers: Confronting Corrupt Cultures, Avoiding “Bad Police/Teacher” Narratives

Officer Michael Slager shooting and killing Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina—with a video discrediting Slager’s version of the events (and exposing what Frank Serpico calls “testi-lying”)—has cast another dark cloud over justice in the U.S.

More recent revelations of Slager laughing after the shooting add, if possible, even more incredible to an already horrifying series of events. The context of that laughter, however, must not be ignored:

In the recording, a man the paper identified as Slager can be heard asking an unnamed senior officer what would happen next.

“They’re gonna tell you you’re gonna be out for a couple of days and we’ll come back and interview you then,” the senior officer is heard saying in the clip. “They’re not going to ask you any kind of questions right now. They’ll take your weapon and we’ll go from there. That’s pretty much it.”

The senior officer also urged Slager to write down his recollections of the incident.

“The last one we had, they waited a couple of days to interview officially, like, sit down and tell what happened. By the time you get home, it would probably be a good idea to kind of jot down your thoughts on what happened,” he advised. “You know, once the adrenaline quits pumping.”

“It’s pumping,” Slager said, laughing as he spoke.

This exchange appears to be a specific example of yet another norm of policing in the U.S.—one different but related to the inequity of criminal justice for black males—in that using deadly force requires officers simply to wait a few days until it all passes over. Deadly force seems all too common place, and essentially poses almost no consequences for the officer, who nervous, pumped up, and deeply calloused by his work, simply laughs.

I think we will make a terrible mistake if we simply conclude Slager is either a “bad apple” or inherently (although isolated) soulless. Dehumanizing police officer will not address the great failure of policing that dehumanizes black males.

Instead, we should be asking, what could possibly have led to Slager’s shooting, dishonesty, and laughter? Just as we should be asking, why would so many Atlanta teachers change test answers?

My wife and I combined have over 50 years as educators, and her father was a highway patrolman in SC. So is our nephew. I have several close friends who are police officers.

In other words, I am deeply sympathetic to the difficulties of serving as either a teacher or a police officer. But I am simultaneously, because of my intimate knowledge of both fields, highly protective of the necessity for teachers and police officers to serve and protect—not breech the dignity of those they serve.

I have the highest standards for teachers and police officers, and I fear the U.S. is increasingly moving to a careless demonizing of both professions.

The “bad” teacher myth had already begun when the spectacle of police officer shootings of black men reached a critical mass in the media, demanding the U.S. pay attention (despite racial inequity in the justice system being a historical reality in this country).

The current intense focus, then, on police officers and teachers requires careful consideration.

First, we must admit that all professions have a range of quality among the members of any profession; as well, we must admit that some professions have necessarily less tolerance for low quality within the profession—such as airline pilots, surgeons, pharmacists, and I would argue, teachers and police officers.

Next, even within those professions requiring high standards for members and low tolerance for weak members, we cannot discount how the working environment and norms of the profession are reflected in professionals’ behavior.

A pharmacist required to fill prescriptions at too high a rate is more likely to make mistakes. A pilot required to fly too many hours in a short span of time is more likely to make life-threatening errors.

Policing and teaching as service fields are certainly not exempt from those realities. Policing and teaching, in fact, share the consequence of both professions being much harder under the weight of impoverished communities, especially in urban settings, that are disproportionately racially majority minority.

As many have noted, the teacher cheating scandal in Atlanta may reflect more significantly the corrupt culture of high-stakes accountability than the individual faults of those teachers convicted.

Also being recognized is that police shootings of black men are equally powerful reflections of a racially inequitable criminal justice culture that also seems in the U.S. to have too low a bar for the use of deadly force—at least for some (black and male) suspects.

In the U.S., I believe, we do not know if we have a police officer and teacher quality problem because the cultures within which both work are so corrupted that police officer and teacher behavior can be misread as “bad apples” (or an “isolated incident”) instead of agents or consequences of the “burden of the impossible.”

If we care about teacher quality, we must significantly change the culture of teaching and learning by ending high-stakes accountability and competition within our schools.

If we care about police officer quality, we must significantly change the culture of deadly force (which many other countries have accomplished) and racially biased criminal justice.

Our schools and criminal justice system are too often ugly reflections of the worst aspects of our society—despite political and popular claims that both public institutions are designed to support and even build the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness we claim to embrace for everyone.

As such, we must start by avoiding the urge to blame “bad” police and “bad” teachers and instead by confronting how the norms of policing and teaching too often produce police and teacher behavior that is harmful to our entire way of living, especially for the impoverished and racial minorities who most need public institutions to serve and protect them.

Bicycling and Education: More on the Burden of the Impossible

I have been both a serious educator and cyclist for around 30 years, and I am often struck how competitive group cycling offers us important lessons about how we tend to fail the promise of universal public education.

Competitive cycling—many people probably do not realize—is a team sport, and even recreational cyclists (as my friends and I are) often ride within the same principles of team competitive cycling.

As well, professional cycling (which has several layers similar to Major League baseball in the U.S.) has a long history of corruption—doping (performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs).

Both the principles of group cycling and the culture of doping help explain some of the failures of how we do schooling in the U.S.

Collaboration Trumps Competition

I have been cycling in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of Upstate South Carolina for three decades—as a part of a very organized cycling community (we post group rides 6-days a week throughout the entire year) and several different bicycle clubs and teams (currently globalbike Spartanburg).

Over those years, we have maintained a nucleus of cyclists and a revolving door of new riders, often runners and other elite athletes looking for a different challenge.

One of the recurring problems of integrating new riders into cycling is the complex culture of the sport (road cycling is tradition-rich, and also a bit insular) as well as the principles guiding riding in an organized pack, specifically participating in a paceline:

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 participate in a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 form a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

A group of organized cyclists (a paceline or eschelon) can ride faster and longer than a cyclist on her/his own. The key to that group advantage is that the principles governing a paceline are built on cooperation and not competition.

Cyclists in a paceline work in ways that consider the impact of the wind, the abilities of the cyclists (strong riders taking longer pulls with weaker riders sitting on, or not participating in the pulls), and the advantages/disadvantages of drafting.

For example, a paceline is constructed of two lines of riders, one driving the pace forward and another receding (to allow riders to rest and to block sidewind from the advancing riders who are pulling). If there is sidewind, the receding line should be on the side that blocks that sidewind from the advancing line, but always, the advancing line must create a pace that is consistent (riders must not surge when pulling through, and as well, after taking a pull, the rider pulling through to the receding line must ease off the pace slightly):

A paceline with a group of committed riders is an amazing thing to watch. A paceline with riders trying to disrupt the group (attacking or flicking [purposefully creating gaps for weaker riders in order to drop her/him from the group]) or without any regard for the principles of cooperation is a nightmare.

And that is the central problem with education and education reform in the U.S. over the last thirty years—a culture of competition instead of cooperation.

Demanding that each group of students surpass the group of students coming before is the same sort of disruption, the same sort of failure to understand key principles that we witness as cyclists when “that guy” surges through each time he rotates to the front in a paceline.

Group cycling is beautiful, efficient, and effective when everyone works collaboratively, but falls apart even when one or two riders decide to compete, choose to ignore the common good of the group. The best cyclists are always aware of both their own cycling as well as the entire pack of cyclists—a supple balance of the individual and the community.

Each fall, a group of 15 or so of my cycling community does a 220-240-mile ride in one day (11-12 hours of cycling and a 14+-hour day) from the Upstate of SC to the coast. This ride seems impossible for regular people who have jobs and ride bicycles for a hobby, but it is a testament to collaboration since the riders have a wide range of ability and fitness, but our goal is always having everyone arrive safely and together.

We all ride with both our own success and the success of the entire group guiding how we ride.

The single greatest reform we need in public education in the U.S. is to adopt a culture of cooperation (reject merit pay; reject VAM; reject testing students to label, rank, and sort; reject labeling and ranking schools and states by test scores; reject international rankings by test scores; reject school choice—vouchers, charter schools, etc.) and not competition.

“The Burden of the Impossible” and the Inevitable Allure of Cheating

Beyond the abundant evidence that collaboration is more powerful in most ways than competition, collaboration trumps competition since competition has many negative consequences.

Few examples are more powerful for those negative consequences than professional cycling and recently the cheating scandals in education.

Human athletic achievements are plagued by the pursuit of the amazing—less often are we willing to marvel in the essential. The U.S. sporting public struggles to understand the “beautiful game,” football/soccer matches that end nil-nil, because of the lust for scoring without an appreciation for the artistry of playing the sport.

Professional cycling has suffered—and failed to address—the direct relationship between creating “the burden of the impossible” and the inevitable cheating that has followed, over and over for decades.

Spring classics—one-day races often over cobbled roads, undulating terrain, and hellish spring weather—can cover 150-180 miles, and the grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia) last three weeks, averaging 100 miles a day and including the highest mountains of Europe. In fact, professional cycling seeks conditions (cobbles, mountains) that insure natural selection will separate cyclists despite the efforts of teams to work collaboratively.

The most recent, and possibly the most publicized, example of doping in professional cycling is personified by Lance Armstrong; two aspects of the Armstrong doping scandal are underemphasized, I think.

First, Armstrong and dozens of the best cyclists of his era (1990s and through the first decade of the 2000s) all have confessed to organized doping, noting that the decision to use PEDs was strongly influenced by a culture of competition that essentially required doping.

Cyclists who chose to ride clean tended to ride in obscurity, or eventually simply quit the sport.

Next, the revelation of doping by Armstrong and most elite cyclists of his era has resulted in demonizing and punishing individual cyclists—with Armstrong the most vilified.

Hundreds of race organizers, corporations, cycling team owners and leaders, and media outlets raked in millions and millions of dollars during the peak of Armstrong’s career because of the amazing and record-breaking (and PED-fueled) exploits of Armstrong—but essentially none of them have been asked to return that money, none held culpable for the culture within which those cyclists felt compelled to dope.

Especially in the U.S., the accusatory gaze focuses on failed individuals but refuses to consider the cultural or social norms that shape individual behavior.

It takes little imagination, then, to see how the culture of doping in professional cycling informs the rise of test cheating in U.S. public education under the “burden of the impossible”—the accountability mandates of education reform.

Prosecute and imprison educators who cheated, but ask not what led these people to such extremes, consider not that humans faced with the “burden of the impossible” are being completely rational to behave in ways that would not be reasonable if the rules were fair.

Serious recreational cyclists have much different reasons for cycling than professional cyclists, and for the most part, we create and maintain a culture of collaboration and cooperation so that everyone can excel, everyone can enjoy the beauty that is cycling.

Spaces dedicated to formal education are best served by that spirit of collaboration and cooperation, but are corrupted by a culture of competition.

While professional cycling (and all huge-money professional sport) may be beyond repair, education could be otherwise.

In order to end the rise of cheating in education (among educators or students), in order to close the so-called achievement gap, in order to end the inequity of opportunity and outcomes that characterize our public schools—end competition in education in all forms and begin a new era of collaboration and cooperation.

Why Is (Some) Test Cheating Wrong, But “Miracle” School Lies Are OK?

Of course, this all began with a bombshell announcement from the Reagan administration: A Nation at Risk.

So it started with a lie.

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush, and superintendent of education, Rod Paige, the Texas “miracle” led to the presidency of the U.S. and Secretary of Education.

But it was all a lie.

While Secretary of Education following Paige, Margaret Spellings proclaimed the federal legislation, NCLB, modeled on the Texas “miracle” a success.

But that too was a lie.

As the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada was lionized as “Superman.”

But it was at best half-truth, if not a lie.

Creating a culture of fear herself, Michelle Rhee turned her role as Chancellor of DC public schools into a glorifying Time cover and story.

But it was all a lie, built on cheating no less.

Arne Duncan, credited with the Chicago “miracle”—see the Paige path above—was appointed Secretary of Education.

But, another lie.

Maybe some will find the word “lie” too harsh because most of the examples above (except for the Rhee tenure that did appear to be built on test cheating) and most of the “miracle” claims are misrepresenting data, manipulating data, or presenting partial data.

The media is eager to cover these claims, but nearly silent in covering the debunking—and there has always been debunking.

So I am now baffled about a truly important question: Why is (some) cheating wrong (for example, Atlanta), but “miracle” school lies (and SOE misrepresentations) are OK? No only OK, but those lies appear to be very lucrative for the liars (all of the people identified above have continued to prosper—not suffering significantly or legally for their false claims).

Anyone have a credible answer?

“Miracle”School and Data Distortions: A Reader

Stop Counting on Education ‘Miracles,’ Elaine Weiss

Education at Risk: Fallout from a Flawed Report, Tamim Ansary

We’re a Nation At Risk (Happy April Fool’s Day), Gerald Bracey

A Nation at Risk Revisited, Gerald Holton

From Spellings to Duncan: Using NAEP as Policy Propaganda

The “Texas Miracle,” Rebecca Leung

The Myth of the Texas Miracle in Education, Walt Haney

miracleschools wiki

Just How Gullible Is David Brooks?, Aaron Pallas

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s legacy as Chicago schools chief questioned, Nick Anderson

No Child Left Behind fails to work ‘miracles,’ spurs cheating

From “Bad” Teachers to Teachers as Cheaters: The Burden of the Impossible

Taking the Fall in Atlanta, Richard Rothstein

Lessons from SC 4K Program

An editorial in The State (South Carolina), offers two lessons from a study on 4K programs in SC:

Early intervention programs such as 4-year-old kindergarten can be life-altering, but they have to [be] done properly. Done properly means providing actual teachers who put together smart lesson plans to stimulate the growing brain, rather than simply providing glorified baby sitters whose main job is to provide a place to keep the kids for several hours a day.

And while poverty alone is a strong predictor of poor school results, living and going to school surrounded by lots of other poor children — in what are called concentrations of poverty — is a separate risk factor above and beyond that.

We should applaud the recognition of these lessons, along with the nuance and the important and unqualified confronting of the double and even triple weight of poverty on children’s lives and learning.

But the third lesson not noted here is that 4K or any in-school program alone will remain insufficient without broader social reform that addresses directly childhood and family poverty—health care, food security, work security, living wages.

The incessant refusal to couple social and educational reform—as well as the bankrupt rhetoric of posing poverty as only an excuse—will always insure that even the best education reform efforts will appear ineffective, inadequate.

Teaching, learning, and the lives of children are all very complex; our efforts at reform must be equally complex and wide-reaching.

See Also

Report: Poor children lag behind despite 4K

Report on the South Carolina Child Early Reading Development and Education Program (2015)

SC and Education Reform: A Reader

CQ Researcher: Does Common Core help students learn critical thinking? No.

The April 2015 issue of CQ Researcher includes a question on Common Core: Does Common Core help students learn critical thinking?

My answer is: No, and I argue in part:

Accountability and standards intended to drive higher expectations of students — expectations labeled today as “critical thinking” or “higher-order thinking skills” — always come down to this: What is tested is what is taught. Because all states implementing Common Core have also adopted high- stakes testing, students will not be asked to think critically. They will be prepared to take tests.

In the context of standardized testing, higher-order thinking skills are not critical but are discrete skills that lend themselves to efficient teaching and testing formats. True critical thinking involves investigating a text — moving beyond decoding and comprehension to challenging claims and agendas and examining historical influences. Thus, it is difficult to test in multiple-choice formats….

Ironically, a critical reading of Common Core standards exposes a commitment to more of the same failed approach that masks yet more test prep as critical thinking.

While CQ Researcher is subscription-only, if you are university-based, you are likely to have access.

See Teaching Critical Thinking, and then Pro/Con.

Related

New Criticism, Close Reading, and Failing Critical Literacy Again

Research-based Options for Education Policymaking: Common Core State Standards, William Mathis

White Denial

[Atypical of my blog posts, please note that words often deemed offensive are included below.]

During the controversy over former LA Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling expressing racist comments on a recording by a companion, I highlighted Ta-Nehisi Coates confronting “oafish racists” as a public and political target to express token outrage but ignore systemic and lingering racism.

In many ways, businesses placing “No Blacks” signs in their windows were easier to refute than the less overt racism found when blacks and whites with the same education from elite universities receive inequitable opportunities for work, skewed in favor of whites. Or the blunt racism and sexism exposed by data:

access to good jobs race gender

That context serves well to understand how a young college student-athlete whispering “nigga” with a live mic nearby and a police shooting and killing of an unarmed black man in North Charleston, SC again speak to how white denial of racism perpetuates racism, especially when that denial is subtle.

First, a Kentucky basketball player trash talking off the court—when he should have been better aware of his surroundings—appears (and in many ways is) less significant than the shooting and killing of an(other) unarmed black male by a white police officer who also, as the video reveals, went to extraordinary and disturbing lengths to create a lie about his inexcusable actions.

However, the reactions to these separate events are very much equally illustrative of white denial of racism as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

As a life-long Southerner and 30-plus-year educator, I have witnessed both the most vile use of “nigger” as a dehumanizing racial slur and a common response to blacks using “nigger”/”nigga”: Why can blacks say that to other blacks but whites can’t say it?

This is a common-sense mask for racism.

The common sense mistake in this claim is placing the offensive power within the word itself, instead of the context of its use and the agents involved, who uses the word and toward whom.

As listed below [1], marginalized and oppressed groups have often reappropriated slurs as an act of empowerment. Thus, the use of “nigger”/”nigga” between equals and the intent of that use are profoundly different than a white person (as an agent of white privilege) using that term to “put in her/his place” a black person (a target of oppression).

Since “nigger” is a volatile word (one I do not use and prefer that others do not use), let me offer another example.

I have also witnessed the use of “boy” as a way to demean others, both as a racist slur and as an attack on manhood—particularly in the South. In almost all ways, “boy” is a harmless word, but when an adult white male uses “boy” toward an adult black male, the word carries a level of offense nearing “nigger”; in fact, as the direct racial slur has become more publicly taboo, words such as “boy” and “thug” have gained weight as offensive words that seem covert to the users.

And yet, I hear no one claiming that “boy” should be banished from use by everyone.

Further, the evidence of the use of “nigger”/”nigga” in non-offensive ways within a racial minority comes from the slurred/marginalized people themselves. To reject or discount that claim is itself an act of marginalization, a denunciation of the value of a people’s voice—and thus, racism.

Next, the shooting and killing of Walter Scott by a police officer has entered the seemingly endless narrative of the U.S. that itself reveals the country is not post-racial. Shootings of black males by police are stunningly common, often controversial, and nearly always coupled with equivocation by the white/privileged majority.

That Scott’s killing is documented by a video that also exposes the officer’s horrifying dishonesty, one would expect the equivocations to be nearly silent; however, the subtle racism following Scott’s shooting is the “rogue cop” argument, the concession that all professions have some “bad apples” (that phrasing particularly tone deaf and offensive since a 50-year-old, unarmed man was shot 8 times in the back and killed by an officer sworn to protect and serve). Or as Leonard Pitts Jr. confronts, discounting each shooting as an “isolated incident.”

Reducing Scott’s shooting to “one bad apple” is denying systemic racism in the U.S. judicial system. It is turning a blind eye to the reality than many countries have police forces that rarely, almost never, use deadly force. It is embracing a culture of violence that remains unpunished among the ordained, glorified in popular media and entertainment, and swiftly punished among the marginalized.

The “one bad apple” denial keeps the gaze superficial, in order to deny systemic racism, and fails to witness when even black police officers are agents of a racist system (in ways replicated all throughout history and society when individuals from an oppressed group are themselves drawn into the bigotry codified by policy, law, or tradition).

To remain unable to listen to the context of a racial slur while also waving off the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer as a regrettable outlier—these are acts of subtle racism that perpetuate systemic racism.

And here, once again, we must return to Coates, and we must listen—especially whites in denial:

Elegant racism is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism. Grace is the singular marker of elegant racism. One should never underestimate the touch needed to, say, injure the voting rights of black people without ever saying their names. Elegant racism lives at the border of white shame. Elegant racism was the poll tax. Elegant racism is voter-ID laws….

A racism that invites the bipartisan condemnation of Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell must necessarily be minor. A racism that invites the condemnation of Sean Hannity can’t be much of a threat. But a racism, condemnable by all civilized people, must make itself manifest now and again so that we may celebrate how far we have come. Meanwhile racism, elegant, lovely, monstrous, carries on.

[1] See on language/slur reappropriation:

The Reappropriation of Stigmatizing Labels: Implications for Social Identity, Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg, Carla Groom and Galen Bodenhausen

The semantics of slurs: A refutation of pure expressivism, Adam M. Croom

Appropriating a Slur: Semantic Looping in the African-American Usage of Nigga, Andrew T. Jacobs

Matt Barnes, the N-Word and Reappropriation, Jonah Hall

Cunt’ Should Not Be a Bad Word, Katie J.M. Baker

Laurie Penny: In defence of the “C” word

Reclaiming “Cunt,” “Bitch,” “Slut,” and more

The feminist mistake, Zoe Williams