Part of my job working as a teacher on an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents in a psychiatric hospital in Chicago, is that I have to go through my students’ work and pull out any staples from their folders. (Staples are one of the many contraband items at my work. For safety reasons, patients may not have paper clips, pencils, belts, sweatpants with a draw string, or any other object that could theoretically be used for self-harm or harm of others.) The other day, I was going through a new patient’s school folder and I happened across a disturbing assignment.
This student attends one of Chicago’s many charter schools. Apparently, this girl’s teacher had been teaching the movie “Waiting for Superman” in class. The student had a copy of the first chapters of the accompanying book. I had never read the book before so I skimmed some of the first pages. The book itself was pretty much the way I’d expect it to be, but what really shocked me was the notes written by my new student in the margins. She had written things like "The main idea is that the public school system is bad but people like Guggenheim don't stop trying to make things better."
I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was absolutely sickened by how this school was trying to indoctrinate its students. I guess I’d always understood the charter propaganda directed at corporate donors, politicians, and the parents sold on the idea of “choice”, but I had given little thought to the idea of indoctrinating the kids themselves.
This incident seemed even more striking considering that just last weekend, I had spoken to a teacher who had been chastised for teaching her pre-schoolers the book Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type. It is a story about a group of barnyard cows who organize and go on strike in order to get Farmer Brown to give them electric blankets. According to Fox News, this teacher and the “thousands” of teachers like her are indoctrinating children with “their own liberal, political agenda”: http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/eags-kyle-olson-exposes-kindergarten-teachers-use-of-click-clack-moo-cows-that-type-to-indoctrinate-students/ And see here for more on that one teacher from Chicago: http://dropfox.com/blog/201111290013)
As many in the blogosphere correctly noted, it’s interesting that it’s only considered “indoctrination” when the teachers are liberal. I doubt the indoctrination I saw happening in the charter schools would’ve made it to Fox and Friends.
Still, I can’t help but notice how the charter school’s version of indoctrination causes students to act and think in a way that disempowers their communities and own voice in the education process, whereas the pre-school teacher’s instruction around the words “negotiation” and “collect bargaining” GIVES voice to the disempowered and disenfranchised. A charter school parent must pray that their child gets picked in some lottery, that the charter operator actually knows what they are doing, that their child’s teacher has ever taught in a school or has even been adequately prepared to teach, that if their child needs special education services that the school will provide it, and that their child is being treated like a human being rather than a prisoner in a “zero tolerance” setting. Praying is all that parent can do, because they have no say in the actual happenings of the school. If they are unhappy for any reason, their only “voice” is the “choice” to take their child out of the school.
Thankfully, not all of my students are ignorant about the scam that charter schools have become. Many of my students, especially those with a history of behavior problems, know first-hand how charters will kick them to the curb at the first sign of trouble. I have met students from across the city of Chicago who have been kicked out of the “miraculous” charter schools Arne Duncan, Mayor Emanuel, and even President Obama so love to toot.
Just recently, I spoke with a young man from a very famous, often cited by corporate reformers charter school who reported “They kick kids out for behavior problems ALL THE TIME, and I am next.” I have met countless students (although I intend to start recording their stories to share with all of you) who have been told to leave their “brand new” turnaround school. So even after all the extra money that gets dumped into the new school, they still don’t bother to educate the harder to educate kids? Meanwhile, the local neighborhood school has even less money than before (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-cps-buildings-20111215,0,1218801.story) with a greater concentration of kids with disabilities, English-Language Learners, and students with behavior problems. Talk about setting a school up to fail.
No more I say. We need to find a way to speak the truth over the roar of the charter school/turnaround school lies. And we need to start with the kids themselves. Give students a chance to question the practices around them, and the kids will see through the BS. My students certainly do, and they do it all on their own. I do not even need to try to “indoctrinate” because these kids ‘experiences speak for themselves. Now the only question is how do we get them onto the TVs and into the newspapers to be finally be heard…