A heartbreaking year at CCSD
This is the week of the year when we journalists look back and give a summary of what we’ve been writing about or reporting on. This is my summary:
It was chaos. Utter chaos.
That’s pretty much it. Thanks for reading, folks!
I’ve been writing about CCSD, of course. Specifically the Board of Trustees. I started out, pre-pandemic, wanting to report on education funding. But then, watching the board, I couldn’t help but see the racism and – especially – sexism being wielded by members against each other.
What I saw was a fundamental difference in the value of norms, and thus, a fundamental difference in the perceived value of people.
And that pissed me off.
Let me stop here for a second, because there are people who are going to say, “Journalists should never be pissed off. They should be unbiased, objective, look at the world with calm, cool, distance.”
Journalism is about holding truth to power. At it’s best, it’s about Edward R. Murrow taking on Joe McCarthy. It’s about Megan Twohey and Jodi Cantor and Ronan Farrow starting an entire movement that put sexual harassment front and center. It’s about two Washington Post journalists following the money till a U.S. president resigned.
Power, as we have defined it in the last century or so, is about graft and greed, money and retaliation.
Those are good things to watch over, to expose and root out. But the two most powerful forces in our society are racism and sexism. And there is a not a surfeit of journalists holding truth to that.
Think about it. The idea of objectivity didn’t really coalesce till the mid-20th century. The 1930s-50s. When Jim Crow was the law in about a third of the country. When white women were expected to stay at home, docilely creating a nuclear family. When Black women often worked more than one job, many of them intertwined with white society, and we still didn’t see them.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the whitest spaces I have ever been in are newsrooms. Even recently. And it was not at all surprising when half the men who lost their jobs and reputations over #MeToo were journalists.
Honestly, it was more surprising how many men didn’t lose their jobs.
In 2020 – three years after #MeToo – one of the most highly regarded reporters at WAMU and another at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were accused of long time, ongoing sexual harassment. One was harassing women he was reporting on, as well as women he was working with. Another was protected by his bosses and his union.
Please somebody tell me that attitudes towards women, from everybody involved, didn’t influence what these journalists covered and how they covered it.
So, I wrote about sexism amongst the CCSD Board of Trustees. And I will continue to do so.
Let’s get back to that “fundamental difference in the perceived value of people.” Because I am beginning to see that as the heart of what is ailing CCSD. They don’t value people. Students. Parents. Teachers. People.
About a year and a half ago, someone who used to be in Jara’s cabinet… don’t worry, there have been about 40 people filling the 16 positions in Jara’s cabinet since June of 2018, so I’m not outing this person. Anyway, a person who used to be in Jara’s cabinet asked me why I wrote about Jara the way I do.
My answer was quick and simple: I hate tyrants.
I despise tyrants.
I want to expose all of the tyrants.
After I answered, the person sighed and said, “Well, that’s true. He is a tyrant.”
I just looked at the person. I really wanted to say, “Why aren’t you screaming that from the rooftops?! You’re in education. Don’t you care about equity? Don’t you care about teachers? Students? Why are you being silent?”
I’ve honestly spent the whole year wondering why people are being silent. I get that people are afraid. But I guarantee you that if 50 principals had shown up and told their stories of retaliation and how students have been harmed the night Jara was terminated, he wouldn’t have been reinstated.
I’ve been talking to a lot of teachers lately. Teachers who have left CCSD. Teachers who are thinking of leaving CCSD. Teachers who are staying but are fed up, and for the first time are wondering when they might reach their breaking point.
There are a number of reasons people give. Money. How people move up the pay scale. Or not. Insurance. Teachers Health Trust is a big one. Almost every teacher I have talked to thus far has noted that they are paying out of pocket for their therapist. Which has me wondering if I should start writing about the lives of overworked therapists.
But even with the virtual collapse of their insurance, even with doctors dropping THT all over the county, teachers tell me their number one issue right now is that they are not respected. They are not treated like professionals, but as cattle to be prodded to this school or that, memorizing pre-fabricated curriculum rather than responding to their students’ needs.
I have started keeping track of the amount of times a teacher I am interviewing has used some variation of the word heartbroken.
I think Alexis Salt said it best, about both teachers and students. “Schools are kind of miserable places right now. There’s not a lot of joy, and when there’s no joy, there’s no curiosity.”
Her students, she says, look at her and say, “The world is on fire. Shakespeare is pointless.”
I don’t agree with them. But I understand where they’re coming from.
In the next few weeks, and much of the next year, I will be focusing on teachers – their fears, their frustrations, their joy, if any still have it.
We live in a world in which the bad guys win and the good guys get painted with the slur, “Teacher.” I don’t buy that.
As Salt pointed out, students are acting up partly because they’ve been through trauma in the last year and a half that no one is addressing, and also because they see that their teachers are seen as not valuable by the people and the systems that employ them. If Jara doesn’t respect teachers… if principals and assistant principals talk to teachers with disdain… why should the students treat them any better?
I will still cover the Board of Trustees, and the issue that was brought up at the last state board meeting about a possible takeover of CCSD. That’s intriguing. But at this point, it’s just talk.
But I’m going to stay focused on holding truth to power, on standing up for the people who don’t have voices. Because we need to show something to Salt’s students. Stories matter. Let’s tell them.
Oh, and, dare I say, Happy 2022?
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