Here are some stories from a Leftist schoolteacher, writing on Wesley Yang’s Substack site, telling us that in a “Blue city in a Blue State”, wokeness had gotten to the point where it’s damaging the very people that the Woke profess to be helping. This is just one person’s tale, of course—and the person is unnamed—but Yang says he checked the correspondence to and from this teacher and has no doubt that the narrative is true. As Yang says in the introduction,
There is something poignant about the dilemma he describes, about being unable to communicate to his fellow leftist peers the awful magnitude of the moral abdication to which he is witness and party precisely because it is so extreme that all will dismiss it as right-wing propaganda. It is a dilemma widely shared across a range of liberal institutions in which conscientious actors see destructive practices being entrenched and immunized against critique by the same dynamics which they find powerless to resist because the specter of right-wing reaction makes any self-criticism impossible.
Click on the screenshot to read.
Halfway through the article the teacher gives his liberal creds: he’s an anticapitalist leftist, supports abortion and demand, and “unironically use[s] phrases like ‘systems of oppression’ and ‘the dominant culture’.” As he says, he can’t be dismissed as a “conservative crank.”
The anonymous teacher reports that he was teaching eleven students enrolled in a public summer school course that recruited students between ages six and twelve. He was teaching at one grade level, and although the ethnicity of the students isn’t specified, the program apparently had a mix of both black and white students.
Eventually of the eleven students in his class, eight remained enrolled but didn’t show, and he wound up teaching just one. One kid in the class! Amazingly, there was no penalty for non-attendance.
You’d think that the missing students could be kicked out and replaced with other students, including minorities, sitting on the waitlist, but you’d think wrong. Here’s the story/ What the teacher wrote for Yang is indented and the bolding is his (he’s identified as a man):
Early on, an administrator confessed that this sort of setup could lead to “attendance issues,” which I took to mean some kids showing up late or even skipping class once in a while. Nine of the eleven students in my grade level were absent the first day. The next day, it was ten. By the end of the week, I had one student consistently attending and a few who had been officially withdrawn by their parents – but there were still eight children on my roster who were technically enrolled while having never once shown up.
At this point, I took a look at the waitlist to see if there were any students I could bring in to replace them; the games and activities I’d planned needed more kids anyway, and I knew the waitlist was where families who actually wanted their children to attend usually ended up (students who were just referred by teachers had priority placement). On my lunch break, I walked into the administrator’s office and asked them when I could expect the half-dozen or so children on my grade’s waitlist to be let in.
Immediately, I was informed of something truly absurd: The district is not allowed to remove any student from the program on the basis of non-attendance. A child remains enrolled in my classes until a parent explicitly states they’d like them removed, even if they have never once actually shown up.
Now, when I say the district is “not allowed” to do so, I don’t mean they’re forbidden by some state law or local ordinance. Rather, the district actively embraced this policy as part of their larger equity and racial justice overhaul, and even bragged about doing so in public-facing materials. Their explicit position is that requiring attendance for any district program unfairly victimizes children of color, as does factoring in attendance to any student’s grades during the regular school year. The administrator I spoke to seemed baffled that I would even ask. “I’ll let you know if any parents pull their kids out,” he told me, “but otherwise, your class is technically full.”
How patronizing can you get than “requiring attendance unfairly victimizes children of color”. That is, of course, the soft bigotry of low expectations.
But it gets worse. The teacher had the good idea of dismissing the no-shows, who were clearly never going to come to class, and replace them with kids on the long waitlist, kids who (see above) presumably had a greater motivation to go to class. The effort failed on both counts:
As an extra dose of insanity, we can’t even request that the parents of a non-attending student remove their child from the program; doing so, I was told, could “make them feel disrespected” and “communicate to them that their children are not welcome.” We just have to wait and hope they make that decision on their own, risking the occasional hint on a daily absence call that most don’t even pick up.
Over the past week or so, some of the chronically absent have finally been unenrolled. But as the program reaches its halfway point, the number of students who have never once attended but remain on the roster is still larger than the number of students on the waitlist. Today, as I write this, more than a dozen children whose families have actively sought out our help are still sitting at home, unable to attend “full classrooms” of four or five students – who are themselves struggling without peers to work with!
To most people, this sort of policy is absolutely inexplicable. How could it possibly benefit racial justice or equity to keep classrooms half-empty, excluding students who want to attend in deference to those who don’t? The whole thing sounds like the sort of outrageous Kafkaesque fantasy a conservative would invent to satirize the ultra-woke and their bigotry of low expectations. But that’s precisely the problem. After all, what options do you have when so many of the people in charge of our schools have priorities so disordered that merely describing them, no matter how dispassionately, will earn you accusations of strawmanning?
This is insane. It’s considered “disrespectful” to boot a child who never shows up to class? What kind of world is this? And, of course, as the teacher points out, the net result is that minority students in the school district get a poorer education than they would have otherwise. The tacit policy is that “avoiding disrespect” is more important than “giving kids a leg up in their education.”
It is things like these that apparently prompted the teacher to speak out. He recounts two other episodes that he considers equally “crazy”. I’ll give just one:
I once attended another meeting – lots of meetings when you’re a teacher! – where we were working to approve a new weekly schedule for students. When I said I was concerned that it would require leaving some sections of the curriculum untaught, a colleague said that might actually be a good thing, because most of our students are white and their test scores dropping slightly would help shrink the racial achievement gap in our state. Again, to clarify: I don’t mean my colleague had a a more nuanced approach to testing that a dishonest interlocutor could twist to sound like that. I mean my colleague literally spoke those words. (To be fair, one other teacher did speak up and challenge them this time, albeit very politely.)
And this is the problem with Woke initiatives that lower academic standards—for giving students credit for a course they don’t attend is just one way to lower standard. Other ways are eliminating AP (advanced placement) courses, eliminating standardized tests, using “holistic admissions” that includes “personality scores” (the way Harvard kept out Asian students); the methods, both in practice and on tap, go on forever.
“But,” you might say, “These tactics increases the representation of minority students in schools.” Well, it can (though it didn’t in this case), but it also while lowers academic standards at the same time.
This, then, is a dilemma if you want both minority representation and standards that will provide a good education. I constantly ponder this dilemma, trying to think of forms of affirmative action that keep academic and professional standards high—ways to increase equity while retaining meritocracy. The ultimate solution, of course, is what I call “equality of opportunity for everyone”, but that starts in youth, and by the time kids are in school, they’ve already missed it, for it depends on socioeconomic and cultural factors, as well as government policy. Solving this will take tons of will, money, and research, and there’s no quick fix. (There seems to be no will, either.) Even John McWhorter’s three-part solution (teach kids phonics, don’t assume that everyone has to go to college, and end the “war on drugs”) will work only very slowly.
It’s a tough problem and as I think through it I may post here from time to time. But this much I know: what the teacher describes above helps neither equity nor academic quality. And that is all this kind of performative effort does. Its main accomplishment is to make a bunch of “elite” people feel better about themselves while actually ignoring the goals they profess to care about.
37 thoughts on “A Leftist schoolteacher tells us that things are at least as bad as we’ve heard”
The problem seems to be, at all levels from elhi to higher ed, that administrators think the goal is advancement and graduation, not actual learning, under the mistaken concept that a degree by itself has value, not the learning it represents. So keep lowering the standards in order to ease the path, under the mistaken belief that that is helping disadvantaged students. The priorities have been inverted.
Some administrators may actually think the goal is advancement, but I suspect more just act that way because that’s how their incentives have been structured. Which still sucks, but signifies a bigger, more wide-ranging problem.
I have a different take on it, but I certainly don’t know the whole picture. The lack of attendance could be for a variety of reasons. It could be that there isn’t a reliable way to transport the kid to school, since for example they don’t have access to a car. Or they were now living with a grandparent. Or the kid is just playing hooky and the adults don’t know about it. The super sensitive ‘0 expectations’ approach of course does not make sense, and doing nothing could position the school into abetting child endangerment as there are actual safety concerns. A child should be in school, so shouldn’t someone check on where they are??
A standard tool exists which is to use a safety liaison to do a wellness check.
Your response to lack of attendance is a thoughtful, and in contrast with the school’s policy- a rational and actually caring one. Call all the families. Why are the children not showing up? Is everthing OK? Are there obstacles that the school could help overcome? Then open up the spots to other children. To ignore absences so the administration doesn’t risk hurting parents feelings (?) is actually an insensitive, unfeeling response.
And even if the Admin. remains frozen in place, it may be possible to simply raise the enrollment cap on the class to let the wait-listed students in.
Yes, overbook like the airlines do. Then if they all show up, offer a free basketball to each kid who’s willing to give up his seat.
And to Emily, the teacher said that “we” (teacher or admin?) called the parents to report absences which were rarely picked up.
I did see that. Leaving a message on a smart phone isn’t sufficient. I also wonder why it is legal for children not to show up, and the school admin not to follow up. That’s truancy. But I don’t want to go off topic too much!
My bad. I think I’m just not as surprised as I ought to be to see truancy not regarded as a legal issue requiring more than a voice mail. Sad. I’m presuming that the school can be told “AMIGAS” only so many times before enthusiasm fails.
One of my wife’s friends has similar stories from Toronto during the regular school year. Kids just don’t show up.
I read that some schools have an automated system that leaves a recorded voice mail on a parent’s phone when their child is absent. Attendance is loaded on a computer and the auto message goes out. I wonder if that is a way to maintain the school’s legal minimum requirements for truancy?
Yes, this sort of system is almost ubiquitous in the UK. Whenever my daughter is ill, or goes to the dentist etc., the school sends a text to all parents/ carers etc, advising she has not attended, enquires whether everything is OK, provides any relevant information/advice, tells you what number to call and who to speak to at school. It’s so efficient and useful, it benefits everyone involved, and it’s fully automated.
If I were the teacher, I’d do exactly that, and feign ignorance or mistake in the unlikely event that someone called me on it. Unless I was living paycheck to paycheck – that would make me more risk-averse. Still, it sounds like this teacher really wants to teach, so something’s gotta give, or teaching is not gonna happen.
Yes, that’s a good point. But the main fault seems to lie with the administration, both for making the rules and, apparently, for not contacting the parents (in this system, the teacher would probably have to contact the principal to see what to do if a kid doesn’t show up. If the principal says “don’t contact them, then the teacher has done what he could I’ll try to post on deBoer’s website and find out what’s going on. Still, if a kid plays hooky, can you really say that the kid has no blame? I’ll let people know if I find out anything.
I tried to leave a comment on Yang’s website, but you have to be a paid subscriber to comment (I’m not for one for Yang’s site). If anyone here is, it would be great to post’s Mark’s comment or something similar and see if we can get Yang or the teacher to respond.
I just posted it………
As the parent of a kid just past this age – this is, in my opinion, a parent-teacher communication issue. I was in frequent contact with kiddo’s teachers (heck I still am) regarding his work, progress, etc. This teacher could be communicating with the parents, figuring out what is going on and maybe even ensuring the kid shows up. Kids at this age are at the mercy and whim of the adults in their lives and should not be punished for having crummy guardians.
One solution I believe in is early childhood education and intervention. Head Start, for example, has been shown to be a successful program. It would be beneficial for all children to have access to healthful meals, socialization with other children, and education from the beginning of their lives in programs like this. Americans at many economic levels need help juggling jobs and child care. Improved funding for early childhood programs could be one part of an overall program supporting families and children.
To a small extent. E.g. (link)
“In 2005, the first report about the Head Start Impact Study found that one year of Head Start improved cognitive skills, but the size of the effects was small. While this first report affirmed Head Start’s impact on school readiness, the final HHS report published in 2010 showed that by the end of first grade, the effects mostly faded out. According to the 2012 HHS report on third grade follow-up, by the end of primary school there was no longer a discernible impact of Head Start.”
For decades, people have looked to improving schools (and pre-school) as the means to sort out inequalities. But all the evidence is that school quality makes little difference (that is, the difference between a “good” school and a “poor” school isn’t that great).
This is (to most people) rather counter-intutive, but a lot of results in this area are counter-intuitive — perhaps the biggest being the repeated finding from twin studies that “shared environment” (that is, environment that would be shared by siblings living in the same home) has little effect on outcomes.
I read this article and did not come to the same conclusions you did.
“Decades-spanning longitudinal studies of experimental preschool programs like HighScope/Perry Preschool and Abecedarian find those who participated in these early childhood educational interventions persist in education, have higher earnings and commit fewer crimes than the control group. New research on the intergenerational effect of Perry Preschool by Nobel laureate James Heckman and Ganesh Karapakula finds that participants were more stably married, that their children were less likely to be suspended from school, and more likely to graduate from high school and be employed.”
So these programs are very effective, as I stated. I do not mean to promote Head Start in particular- though it too, has been found to be effective. Perhaps Head Start can learn from these other successful programs.
Most of the article goes on to challenge the study you reference. Following the methodological challenges to the study, the authors state:
“…the effect of Head Start extends to noncognitive skills and persists into how participants parent their children: overall and particularly among African American participants, we find that Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development that becomes evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem, and positive parenting practices.”
That participants and their children are more likely to complete a HS diploma, avoid teen pregnancy and criminal behavior says such programs are of great value, and we should continue to invest in them.
Thank you for that, Emily. I probably wouldn’t have read the link had you not demurred about the findings. Not all children randomized to get Head Start actually enrolled, and the parents of some children randomized to control actually were able to advocate their kids into Head Start anyway. These were presumably the motivated, internal-locus-of-control moms, bless their hearts. And there was some gaming by program staff to thwart randomizing, too.
These issues crop up in all randomized trials involving human subjects and can damage the internal validity and external generalizability of the results. Corruption of randomizing by study staffers is usually fatal in biomedical research, especially when effect sizes are small. Motivation to join a trial is always an interesting question.
There was clearly an interaction between what parents wanted for their children in the first place and the Head Start program itself. The authors claim to be able to control for these deficiencies to tease out the impacts of the program, at least on children of motivated mothers. Lacking content expertise I will take them at their word. I do appreciate your calling closer attention to it.
I wonder if he grades on a curve: the one who attends gets an A and the rest gets Bs.
I too must admit to lefty leanings; however, I’ve learned that freedom is not free, especially academic freedom. In the Spring of 2018, I engaged my Psychology 210 classes in developing a survey of the campus community’s perceptions and judgments about academic freedom and hostile academic environments.
Comment edited because commenter comes here not to comment but to air his story–Jerry
Wish you well, Dave.
Thank you; unfortunately, mine is just one of hundreds of similar cases where administrations disregard their commitments to ensuring academic freedom.
Holy mackerel!! This would make a good article as well for The Chronicle for Higher Education, which far as I know is pretty centrist on things. Jeez, I am sorry to hear of all that.
My efforts to publish my story in the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd received polite rejections. Here are a couple of other publications and a podcast that were more receptive:
A brief synopsis of our study of academic freedom and hostile environments is available here (on pages 36 –
Comment truncated because commenter comes here not to comment but to air his story–Jerry
Here are stats from San Francisco public schools that just dropped…..Take a look at absentee rates and the rest. (I have not gone back to check the numbers against SFOE.)
“Astounding numbers just dropped from the San Francisco Board of Education.
See “ready for high school” vs “chronically absent” and graduation rate.”
‘It’s considered “disrespectful” to boot a child who never shows up to class?’
Are they saying that skipping class is a cultural thing and, therefore, we have to let it go? I can’t think of any other reason behind such thinking. Am I missing something here?
I believe they are (obliquely) suggesting it’s cultural. From what I have read elsewhere, insistence on punctuality and attendance are signs of white supremacy culture. Same goes for objectivity, sense of urgency and perfectionism!
Class attendance, meeting deadlines, striving for excellence, and marking / grading. In all seriousness, many educators believe all these traits relate to culture (white supremacist of course), mark you out as a bigot.
It’s not possible to believe this nonsense without impacting your expectations of non-white students. The real bigots are actually the educators who make this stuff up.
This reflects a significant division on the “hard” or “far” left, as well as a difference between the left and squishy center left. I entirely understand and sympathize with this teacher’s experience and the sense of shock and bewilderment as you see people ostensibly on the left taking absurd positions.
Many of us who identify as liberals or progressive do not support extremist, post modernist, neo-socialist assertions or solutions. Unfortunately, many of us lack the knowledge, skills, or courage to express the caveats and concerns that would inevitably make us targets of our own former comrades…
It doesn’t matter. I know a gay leftist professor that exhaustively researched (for years) how to do multiculturalism and “anti-oppression” stuff in the least harmful way. He pretty much did a series of extraordinary intellectual backflips and systematically and carefully drew the line between “pathological” postmodern values and useful, “healthy” ones.
He is the last white-male professor in the humanties department at his (small, private, vocational, urban) college, everyone else quit or retired early because of blatant, open, toxic, hostile statements by admin that they need to get rid of all the “white males”.
He got a referral to a labor lawyer via F.I.R.E.
What will happen when these new rules are put into practice. Will my doctor really have gone to medical school or was he a no-show? When the code blue alarm blares, will people rush to my mother’s aid or will that sense of urgency be seen as white supremacist? Will the pilot of my airplane know how to land the plane? Will my next congressional representative really be able to read? Can I trust my pharmacist to put the right pills in the bottle? If all the attributes that have been traditionally associated with competence are manifestations of white supremacy, where will be end up?
More likely than filling the employment rolls with incompetents, adopting the new rules will create a new underclass of people who think they’re ready for the job market but who are not. Yet that’s what these policies are designed to prevent!
The left is doing the job of the far right in destroying public education. People who can afford it will send their kids to private schools, while the people who cannot will be left with nothing.
Yes, yes, I come from a privileged position, but I seriously wonder:
Do the members of the various groups being vigorously “advocated for” via lowered standards and expectations by (I guess?) well-meaning “progressives” ever worry at the way they are portrayed? I mean, if I were a member of a group that is constantly portrayed in the media as needing special exceptions for everything and is the *reason* for lowered standards, I’d be embarrassed as hell.
It’s hard for me to believe anyone would want that.
When I was a kid, there was such a thing as a School Attendance Officer. If you didn’t show he would knock on your door. Ultimately, parents would end up in court for not ensuring their children attended their free public education.
Have you heard about Obama’s school discipline guideline?