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.