Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
I went to a meeting sponsored by the Achievement School District last night to educate parents about a proposed take over and if this isn’t a description of what look place then I’m at a loss as to what it was. The ASD for those not familiar is a state created entity charged with taking the bottom 5% of schools and converting them to the top 25%. They kind of ignore the fact that there will always be a bottom 5% and if they keep turning schools over to charters eventually there won’t be anymore public schools, or perhaps they don’t ignore that and its all part of the plan. Let’s all sing “Gaslight” to the tune of George Clinton.
I’ve been in a fair amount of schools that are described as failing schools over the last several years. The thing that always baffles me is that they never feel like places of failure. When you describe failing to me, I expect to find hallways littered with debris and broken lockers. I expect to find sullen students and teachers that aren’t engaging. You expect to walk in and its like walking into a old coal town where dreams have gone to die.
This description doesn’t fit any of the schools I’ve been in. In each of them I’ve been hit by an overwhelming wave of community. Last night teachers from the school were introduced at the beginning of the meeting and they were greeted like they were the Rolling Stones taking the stage. So wait a minute, you mean the community loves the very people that are robbing their children of their future? How is that possible? In fact the crowd was so anti-ASD that if I was them I would have packed my stuff and gone home, but I don’t have a savior complex.
It was interesting that when the opposition spoke there was an energy in the room, but when the ASD representative spoke the room felt heavier, the shuffling louder, and the sound of side conversations increased. Looking around I see a well kept school. Examples of student work litter the halls. Teachers move about interacting with students and their families. They obviously have formed strong bonds. Trust me, I know failing and this didn’t look like it.
Next up the gentleman from the ASD makes an impassioned declaration about how ASD schools remain part of the community. Though wait, only fourth grade parents who’s kids attend the school were invited to the meeting. When a woman asks, “Why didn’t you invite all elementary parents. They’ll be impacted by this.” The ASD responds, “That’s a good idea. We didn’t think of that.” Hey wait! I thought you were all about community. Which community were you talking about? Either they were making things up or they just don’t understand community. Either way is not good and now my head is starting to hurt.
Next comes a big effort to make sure that all the English Learner parents are sitting with translators. A big deal is made of making sure all are near a translator. However, once State Rep. Bill Beck and School Board Member Amy Frogge speak out against the ASD, the translators fail to translate their statements. I believe that trend would have continued all night had several people not drawn attention to it. That one is pretty bold, but hey I’ve grown accustomed to the ASD going big.
Amy Frogge spoke to the crowd and pointed out that the data the ASD was presenting was, to put lightly, misleading. She pointed out that actually the ASD has had negative growth over the last couple years and that this school was actually trending in the right direction. This earned an angry rebuke by the ASD rep and the dispatching of a you data master to correct Ms Frogge. Unfortunately it was the data master who got corrected. Below is the referenced data. You can read it and draw your own inferences.
While the data master was attempting to school Ms Frogge, I took the opportunity to share the recruitment tactics of Lead Academy in South Nashville. How they go into apartment complex’s populated by refugees and scare them into enrolling in LEAD, telling them how bad the neighborhood schools are. Promising Ipads and such if their children enroll in LEAD. She said she could only engage in facts and pointed to her data. I replied these are facts and have been documented, would you like me to send you the testimony’s? She again pointed to her computer and reiterated, “she can only deal in the facts”. Only problem, her facts weren’t so factual.
Just down the road, about 10 miles according to my iPhone, a similar scene was playing out simutaneously. This one hosted by the head of the ASD, Chris Barbic. Barbic didn’t attempt to hide his disdain for elected school board officials. He’s a big fan of appointments. When Ms. Speering confronted the ASD about their same fallacies he was downright disrespectful to her. The council woman for the district later pointed out that that’s not how we do things in Nashville. His response? Well she gave out my phone number, acting like a petulant child. Barbic once told me that he answered to elected state officials. Recently he’s stated that he could take all of the schools in the lower 5% if he desired and no one could stop him. Seems like he doesn’t feel as if he has answer to anyone anymore. Perhaps his state bosses need to look closer at that statement in the spring. Hubris brought down his comer boss, its important to remember Ibsen. The sins of the father often follow the son
This leads me to the most disturbing revelation of the evening. The so-called reformers, and the members of the ASD have so set the tone of the conversation and the language, that the conversation is centered about the size of the numbers and whether they are big enough or not. We are arguing over the scores as if they are just points on a map. Lost is the fact that these numbers are actually living breathing children reduced to a single data point. Why in god’s name, if you say you truly care for a child, would you want them summed up by a simple number based on a single test. My child is much more complex then that and I would argue that yours is as well.
I thought about this on the way home. It really struck me how immoral it all was. I thought about the parents that showed up. I thought about the children in attendance that interacted with teachers that sacrificed time with their own families to support this institution. I thought about community members impassioned enough to take time out of their schedule and show up even though they may not have kids enrolled in public school. I thought about the heartfelt stories told by alumni and what the school meant to them. All of that is wiped from the equation and is reduced to a single data point that translates into a passing or failing school. That’s criminal.
When Chris Barbic as head of the ASD says “I’m just here to make a bad school better” and chooses to ignore all the factors that go into that school, that’s immoral. When teachers tell me that the ASD representatives who toured the school were more interested in the property then the actual students, that’s immoral. When you refuse to provide adequate translators to parents who are going to be affected by your actions, that’s immoral. I also believe, when you stand and preach about how every dollar goes to the child yet you draw a salary of 200k from working with kids that live in poverty, that’s immoral. The whole process is predatory and immoral.
I’ll be honest with you. I consider quitting this fight on a daily basis. It makes me nuts. It impacts my home life. It takes time away that I could be spending with my family and truth be known, we have other options. Then on a day like today, when I go read to my child’s class at a school that because of demographics could be labeled a failing school, it becomes crystal clear again. When I look out at all those kids who are all facing their own individual challenges that reformers expect them to overcome alone or they’ll label failures, I remember. Going to this school is going to make my children better people and their presence is going to make those children better people. I owe it to my children to give them that chance.
A former head of TFA Nashville once said to me that its important to remember that children of color are not in a classroom to be my child’s sociology experiment. I bought into that at first and then as I thought about it, I realized, that’s hogwash. That kid is certainly there to be my child’s sociology experience and my child is there to be their sociology project because that’s how the world looks and children need to learn to navigate it together. They need to learn to read and write, add and subtract, negotiate and compromise together. There is more to being career and college ready then the measurable and that’s what reformers fail to acknowledge about our challenged schools. So Achievement School District keep on trying to gaslight, because this Dad, he made a promise to his kids and every kid. As the spouse of a teacher I also made a promise to fight for her right to utilize the skills thats she’s worked so hard to develop to help all children reach their full potential. I plan on keeping those promises.