Monday, February 8, 2010

The Mis-Education of This Generation

The Mis-Education of This Generation

In New York City, visiting someone on Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in the country, affords you the exact same experience as walking into Jane Adams High School in the South Bronx.

The stone faced guards, the metal detectors, the stare downs, the pat downs, the walkie talkies screaming orders to anyone within ears reach and more importantly the anxiety of being treated like a criminal.

It leaves the burning question in your mind… Is this a school or a penitentiary?

It’s as if many of our youth, the students, are being preconditioned on a daily basis for
a lifetime of degradation and humiliation… all before 7:00 AM.

And the school system, much like prison also has its very own warden. Mr. Michael Bloomberg, who I’m sure will give me one of his little orange tickets and fine me $350.00 for failing to call him Mayor.

However, the best I can do is address him correctly, by calling him a dictator, since he changed the law to be elected mayor for a third term using his vast amounts of wealth and nothing else.

How the people of this city allowed one man to become the overseer of the entire education system is beyond me. But he continues to dictate his will to principals across the city by forcing them to grade and fire teachers based on one criterion… test scores.

News flash Mr. Bloomberg… I hated taking tests in school and I failed a lot of them miserably. It didn’t mean my teachers were failing me, it just meant my testing anxiety got the best of me more times than I care to recall. And it’s a problem that stayed with me right up until I completed my Bachelors Degree.

If I was in school back when Mr. Bloomberg implemented his reform, there would’ve been a lot of great teachers out of work.

These new reforms have caused the best teachers to flee the urban schools and head out to suburban areas, where the better fed, better sheltered, youth show up to school
without first dealing with the obstacles inner-city youth deal with on a daily basis.

I’m talking about obstacles such as children nine and ten-years-old feeding, bathing and clothing their siblings, because fathers are missing from the homes and mothers are sometimes lacking in the motherly department.

I believe the system calls these children, latchkey kids, because at nine-years-old, they have keys to their apartment and they’re already locking up the home trying to get their younger siblings off to school on time.

I see them walking across the streets in the South Bronx every day, and I have to pay special attention because they never look both ways before they cross… How could they? Their parents haven’t even taught them this basic principle of life in the city.

I wonder if Mr. Bloomberg takes any of these kids into consideration when he dictates his policy, a policy which is completely out of touch with the reality many of our youth face.

Why would any teacher want to teach at a school where they’re already at a disadvantage to teach children who
are hungry or sleepy from the night before because of what goes on in the home?

The answer is simple… they wouldn’t.

What these reforms do instead is lead to principals changing grades in order to graduate more students. Such is the case at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, in which the principal cooked the books, much like the NYPD does with crime statistics, to graduate more than the 47% of students due to graduate last year.

It’s a complete systematic failure that then leads to Bloomberg announcing the closing of schools all over New York City, 91 schools since 2002 to be exact.

It’s not like it’s the law or anything to offer equal education opportunities to all regardless of race, color, sex or national origin. Or wait a minute isn’t that the Equal Education Opportunities Act?

Another law Bloomberg ignores or simply doesn’t believe applies to billionaires.

At Columbus High School in the Bronx where I’ve gone to offer students hope through my story of survival, principal Lisa Fuentes believes her schools been marked for closure simply because the city wants her space for smaller charter schools.

And at Jane Adams High School where the teachers can no longer teach of their own accord, Sue O’Rourke decides to purchase copies of my book out of her own pocket due to her realization that my story offers insight into surviving the streets of the Bronx.

I’m sure Bloomberg would fire her on the spot and throw her out of the trailer she teaches in behind the school – you know – where the bad kids are kept from the good kids.

Unfortunately under Bloomberg’s regime, there is no room for creative teaching, for thinking outside the box or for trying to speak to the students in a language they might actually understand and relate to.

Nope, in this regime… you fail a test… you’re school gets an
F… and you’ve failed yourself right out of a job, right out of a school.

Under Bloomberg’s regime it’s not about educating the teens at Jane Adams or Columbus… It’s about teaching them how to take orders and be future convicts, because after all, that’s what the metal detectors and guards are there for right… to keep order…

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.


  1. I once heard a teacher tell me that there is no money in the budget to teach grammar in NYC public schools. I felt like slapping her! But I retained my composure and told her that's why so many of our minority do so poorly on the SAT's -- and based on these poor writing skills, also get rejected during the college application process.

    So as a result of the ill-funded curriculae, more and more of our minority adolescents are not completing the average bachelor's degree each year.

    sad situation : (

  2. As an educator I am blown away by this article. Ivan, I would like to personally thank you. You have spoken for so many teachers that are afraid of voicing their opinion.

    There are so many obstacles that we face on a day to day basis. Obstacles that Klein, Bloomberg and all of the overly paid Board of Education trustees don't even know let alone care about. I have students that have bed bugs crawling on them. Students who have to nap in my room because the shelter was too noisy the night before and they couldn't get a full nights rest. Students who bribe their fellow classmates for their lunches because mom couldn't or didn't choose to give them dinner/breakfast. How on God's good earth are we suppose to TEACH to these children?
    We do have ALL the chips stacked against us. Our level of achievement is based on the productivity of these children. Children who have more "baggage" than me: a 33 year old mother of two.

    I would love for Klein, Bloomberg or any of the Board of Trustees to spend one day...just one day in my shoes. What a reality check that would be?

    I am a firm believer that the programs, guidelines, restrictions, that we teachers are faced with day in and day out are all there for a reason. You may ask what is that reason ...well they're there so that our middle and lower class students remain right where they are...THE BOTTOM!...

    Come in Bloomberg and Klein!! Teach my second graders who are forced to be 25 year old men and women at home. Who come in sleepy, dirty, hungry, depressed and wishing that God would grant them one day of sunshine in East New York. Come in and be me for one day! Me who wishes she can erase the violence they see, the lack of parental support they get, and the negativity they witness in the community they call "home."

    Let's start pointing the fingers at the real criminals...uncooperative and lazy parents who expect us to teach their children while also showing them morals. Lazy teachers who look at kids as a "pay-check" and those individuals who choose the failing programs for our failing students.


  3. @ Sugey & Anabel - I want to thank you both for taking the time to read my ramblings (blog) and for taking the time to actually comment your feelings about what's going on in the education system in NY... Yes, Anabel, I do have ideas to write a blog about the missing-in-action parents coming soon... Not sure how we've become so far removed from good parenting... But things are a mess... I look forward to your future comments!

  4. It's interesting how now the NY Times is running a piece about the failure of the education system... and one of it's strongest opponents has changed her direction on the success of "No Child Left behind..."

    Interesting article at: