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Failure Strategies and Teachers of the Disadvantaged


by Sheila Schwartz - 1967

The author has steeped herself in the atmosphere of depressed schools so fully that she is able to report authoritatively on some of the strategies teachers use to bring about the failures they not only predict but seem to need. Her report, though appalling, may make us more sharply aware of what is too frequently done to children in the schools—and what must be done to effect change.

Dr. Schwartz Js an Associate Professor of English Education. She has steeped herself in the atmosphere of depressed schools so fully that she is able to report authoritatively on some of the strategies teachers use to bring about the failures they not only predict but seem to need. Her report, though appalling, may make us more sharply aware of what is too frequently done to children in the schools---and what MUST be done to effect change.


A recent New York Times report on the interaction between young male dope addicts and their mothers emphasized certain recurring neurotic patterns. Basically, the mothers of these boys do not want them to be cured. They want them to remain addicted, immature, and dependent, because this gives the mother ego gratification and a raison d'etre. A symbiosis is created, and mother and son find themselves locked in a destructive relationship which neither wants consciously but which both need subconsciously.


The same unconscious need often exists between a teacher and his disadvantaged students. The slum teacher in many cases needs failure, and through various strategies guides his students to achieve this destructive goal.


Of course, this pattern does not exist only in slum schools nor with disadvantaged students. Jersild describes a young teacher who encouraged her students to be dependent on her and derived great satisfaction from their tears when they left her on the last day of school. After she was encouraged to examine her motivations, her behavior began to change. She was able to ask herself if she was "perhaps encouraging dependence to gratify her own need for power or her need to be assured of her own adequacy. She decided that her reasons for fostering dependence had been devious and she also came to think that she really did not need this kind of assurance."1


Negative patterns do not exist only in slum schools. Teachers who would prefer to destroy rather than to create can be found anywhere. However, it is far easier to get away with student failure in slum schools. For one thing, the parents, failures themselves, are less likely to protest. Any teacher in an upper-class suburban school who produced 100% non-readers year after year would soon find himself out of a job.

MODES OF EGO GRATIFICATION


The subject of this paper is not the cruelty often practiced by teachers against students or the tendency of the stronger to exploit the weaker. The misuse of teacher power has been well documented. For example, George Orwell, James Joyce, Piet Bakker, and Charles Dickens have written about the ability of certain teachers to terrify their charges. The subject of this paper is not personality or temperament, but ways in which teachers obtain ego gratification. Whether the temperament is sweet or bad-tempered is irrelevant.


Let us hypothesize for the present the following: most teachers would prefer to achieve ego gratification from seeing their students clearly evidence growth in self-control, content-control, peer-relationships, and adult relationships. Most teachers would prefer to achieve ego gratification from viewing themselves as kind, sensitive people who are so skilled in content and human relations that they have few learning or discipline problems in their classrooms.


Let us further hypothesize that teachers who are unable to achieve ego gratification in the above ways, and who stay in teaching, are forced to find other sources of satisfaction. It is this writer's contention that these are often negative ways and that the lack of parental power in slum schools enables teachers to get away with much more of this than they could in schools with the natural checks and balances provided by parent involvement.

THE SLUM SCHOOL TEACHER


Who are the teachers who go to slum schools? Green has described a. not unusual situation in which a prospective teacher with a mediocre student teaching and undergraduate record was being considered for a position in a large urban community. After her credentials were carefully evaluated she was offered a "probationary position in a school which had the highest Negro population, the highest dropout rate, and whose members ranked high in family disorganization, physical illness, and residential mobility."2 She was told that if she performed well in this school during the probationary period, "she would be promoted to a higher prestige school within the system."


Ravitz reiterates this idea by describing depressed areas as "Siberias" to which teachers were sent as punishment. . . "without any real concern for these children and with the common stereotype of them as children of low ability. As a result ... the children were not encouraged to learn very much; the teacher expended little energy on anything but maintaining order and bemoaning her lot, the children fulfilled the low expectation, which in turn reinforced the original assumption to prove that the teacher was right."3


It is highly probable that the beginning teacher described by Green has had no specific training to equip him for what he finds in depressed areas. "Unfortunately, we have been training our teachers for essentially a middle-class world of white students, and many of them do not grow up to work in such a world." Those beginning teachers who do go to work in depressed schools anticipate with fear the large classes, discipline problems, unattractive school surroundings, and a frightening and unfamiliar social milieu. "An absence of status, recognition, and esteem, complete the dreary outlook."4 The possibilities that this beginning teacher will receive in-service guidance and support are indeed doubtful. He is more likely to encounter overcrowded classes, shortages of books and supplies, and administrators who are themselves so threatened that they resent teachers who need help.

THE SUPPORTING PRINCIPAL


A recent New Yorker Profile about Elliot Shapiro, an outstanding Harlem Principal, makes the point that Shapiro is outstanding because he "cares". One of his teachers, describing his supportive function says: "In some schools, if you have a child in trouble, it's like your fault. The principal doesn't want to have anything to do with it."5


Despite the fact that in Dr. Shapiro's school there exist many of the same problems found in other schools, his teachers have been able to get ego gratification from the positive accomplishments of their pupils. Perhaps this is due, in part, to Dr. Shapiro's training in clinical psychology.


Dr. Shapiro is in constant interaction with his teachers and the children. One teacher, jubilantly reporting to Dr. Shapiro that thirteen of her students had just finished a reader, said, "That's when we get the rewards. You feel you're up against a blank wall, and suddenly one day light dawns, and the child unfolds. No wonder a teacher feels like shouting when that happens."


Positive ego gratification for teachers is also described in relation to the acceptance of one student from this school at Hunter College's Junior High School. Dr. Shapiro, recounting the bringing of the good news by a secretary, said: "Her hands were shaking and she could hardly talk. Then my hands began to shake. A wave of exultant hysteria spread among the teachers. They laughed and cried all at once. Even now, when I talk about it, I'm moved all over again."

SELF-DEFENSIVE ABUSE


Few teachers in depressed schools have the good fortune to be encouraged to do their best. A teacher in a suburban school in the New York City area, which is 85% Negro, told me: "You go downhill in a job like this. After a while you get to hate the kids because of their problems. Guidance is a joke. All they do is sit in their offices and make telephone calls to truants. Most of the teachers here are rejects from the other schools in the system, and the principal wants a quiet school. Everybody gets suspicious if you try to do anything unusual, like take a trip. Most of the teachers here are first generation college graduates. Their parents are butchers and truck drivers. They all have inferiority feelings. The only people they feel superior to are their Negro students and their parents."


His remarks may seem extreme, but the problems with colleagues faced by teachers who want to break the failure pattern have been documented elsewhere. Kornberg states that the teacher with commitment faces "the ridicule and cynicism of many colleagues. How can he be so brash as to really try to teach these children, and do what these other teachers have given up trying to do? Many of us have seen this withering, self-defensive abuse of the new teacher. . . ."6


This contrasts sharply with the following statement of a junior high school teacher in a wealthy Westchester community.


"I enjoy the children," he said.


He had taught at a fashionable prep school before going to Westchester, but in his present school he found even more intellectual challenge and stimulation than before.


"You get the feeling that you're involved in something really important here," he said. "Everything is going for you."


His salary was high, getting the job was in itself an achievement, he had more materials and supplies than he could use, and he was encouraged to recommend additional materials for purchasing.7


When this teacher attended conferences of national organizations (to which he was urged to go and for which his expenses were paid by the system), he felt a sense of pride when he mentioned his school system. It had received nationwide publicity, important visitors frequently went through his classes, and administrative personnel regularly rose to high educational positions in the state and in Washington, D. C. This teacher did not feel isolated from the mainstream of contemporary life.


The intellectual level of his students was challenging and he learned from their experiences. Conveniences such as a telephone in each classroom and a large well-furnished teacher's room in which he could quietly read and study, strengthened his self-image as a professional worker.


This teacher had no need to obtain ego gratification from feeling superior to his students. On the contrary, the fact that he was considered equal to the task by the school and wealthy, highly educated parent body, gave him a strong feeling of self-worth and accomplishment.


It is evident that teachers in depressed schools, holding conferences across radiators, who have received the same kind of training as the Westchester teacher, are destined to ultimate bitterness, disillusion, and warping.


The average teacher probably anticipates some discipline problems during his beginning years, and perhaps at the beginning of each school year, but the very fact that he enters teaching implies his belief that each school year will be easier than the preceding one because he will grow in ability to handle content, methods, and discipline. He expects satisfactions from his students as they demonstrate cognitive achievement, ability to develop self-control, improved peer-relationships, and ability to reinforce his own self-image.

FAILURE PATTERNS


When teachers are denied all of these satisfactions they are forced, for their own self-preservation, to join the self-fulfilling prophecy chorus. They are able to escape from the guilt of their own lack of achievement in the belief that nobody could teach such pupils. This is why, as was mentioned above, the teacher who attempts to use unusual facilitating methods meets with group ostracism in many situations. He is interfering with the existing status quo.


Teachers caught in this failure pattern produce it throughout the year as the only means of saving face. "Some teachers establish low expectations, anticipate failure, and, true to the Mertonian self-fulfilling prophecy, find an increasing rate of failure."8


The self-fulfilling prophecy is the insidious base on which failure predictions are based. It served as the essential rationale for teaching, which is not only non-facilitating but is more often boring, confusing, non-sequential and non-essential.


Clark views the prophecy, along with IQ scores, class prejudice, and racial prejudice as essentially an "alibi for educational neglect, and in no way . . . a reflection of the educational process."9 Assumptions about the above, whether "well-intentioned . . . (or) . . . the obvious reflection of prejudice and ignorance, contribute to the perpetuation of inferior education for lower-status children, whether their lower status is socio-economic or racial."

DEPRAVITY AND DETERMINISM


Glatt relates the self-fulfilling prophecy to "a religious concept called depravity"10 and adds that "those who held this view believed that man was afflicted with a tendency toward sin and evil rather than righteousness. . . ." Although this concept had a strong influence on Americans for many decades, "in recent decades the doctrine of inherent depravity has been questioned; now we are not sure whether people are depraved or deprived." Nevertheless, if we act as if either depravity or deprivation are inevitable, we find ourselves in the grip of the self-fulfilling prophecy. In twentieth century life it appears that the only area in which belief in determinism is still entrenched is in the education of slum children.


Acceptance of the self-fulfilling prophecy "leads to negation not only of the essential responsibility of the school but also of the actual and potential strengths of the children. Most important, it indicates an elaborate rationale for the further alienation of teachers from their primary function, teaching."11


Teachers perpetuate patterns of failure with many specific strategies of which they may or may not be aware. Among these is the language strategy. The obvious misuse of language in yelling and sarcasm is a familiar pattern; but the strategy involves even more subtle misuses of language.

LOWERING THE LANGUAGE LEVEL


Teachers in depressed schools often use obscenity and crude phrases which they would not use with middle-class children or with ther colleagues. Instead of attempting to speak with clarity on a standard level, they sink to the slum level in the mistaken belief that this is the only way they can communicate, because this is what the students have previously known. It is a truism that speaking down to a person implies contempt. The Nazis, masters of degradation strategies, were well aware of the role language could play:


Degradation was accentuated by the entire absence of civilized manners, as manifested in the language. Thus, in addressing the prisoners, the pronoun "du" (the familiar form of address) was always used, whereas it was compulsory for the prisoners to use "Sie" (the polite form) when they spoke to the SS. The sense of degradation was fostered by the show of respectfulness that prisoners were expected to observe toward the SS.12


It is not until children are spoken to in this way in school that they become aware of the role of language as a status determiner. Although this may have been the same language level to which they were previously exposed in their homes and in the streets, this was the language used by all and for all. The teacher's subtle shifts of usage to fit the listener make the students suddenly aware of an inferiority implicit in the way they are addressed.


Visitors to depressed schools have heard teachers speak of rape, pregnancy, dope addiction, prostitution, etc., in an open way they would fear to use with middle-class youngsters. Their speech and language imply an assumption that the children have been exposed to so much degradation there is no longer any need to protect them from conversation about these things.

STRATEGIES IN USE


The following incident occurred in a 85% Negro junior high school near New York Qty, where I had a student teacher. At the end of one day I was conferring with the cooperating teacher when three boys, of approximately seventeen, entered. Apparently they were on friendly terms with the teacher who was affable and fairly intelligent.


They asked him if he could "drop them at the high school for track practice," and he expained that he could not because he had a meeting that afternoon at his school. At this point I volunteered to drop them since I would be passing the school.


At this, the teacher quipped, "I couldn't leave you alone with these three. They might rape you or take your purse. You know what these kids are like."


In all fairness it must be noted that this particular teacher is far kinder to 385 his students than are most of the teachers in the school. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that a teacher could employ such images with middle-class students, even in jest.


Kenneth Clark reports this same language strategy in the case of Mrs. X. who told a visitor "in front of the class, that the parents of these children are not professionals and therefore do not have much background or interest in going ahead to college . . . She discussed each child openly in front of the entire class and myself . . . She spoke about the children in a belittling manner."13


The language strategy to put students down and perpetuate failure is also extended to their parents. I observed an interesting Role Playing session14 in which teachers improvised conversations with parents of Negro and white students. These were taped, and it was a shock for the teachers involved to hear themselves talking down to the Negro parents in quite a different way from their customary mode with white parents. In one episode, for example, a white teacher refused to believe that a Negro parent's explanation of why her child would not be permitted to go on a class trip, was not a lie.


The language strategy is used negatively in cognitive as well as in affective situations. For example, directions are given too rapidly, too slowly, out of sequence, tangentially, and often inaudibly. Confusion is compounded when teachers refuse to repeat instructions in the mistaken belief that failure will induce better listening in the future.


Essentially, language is used throughout the day, not as the most astonishing creation of men, but as a weapon to keep people in their places. Perhaps the best way of eliminating the language strategy is to have teachers consistently tape and listen to their teaching under the guidance of trained personnel, capable of pointing out the ultimate results of this misuse of language.

THE FRAGMENTATION STRATEGY


The more deprived a student is, the more he needs guidance for fitting separate bits and pieces of knowledge and experience into a framework which makes sense. Good teachers effect connections from past learnings to present and future ones, help students to transfer ways of thinking, observing, and reporting, and de-emphasize instantaneous recall of non-concatenated facts.


The fragmentation strategy induces failure by establishing situation after situation in which students are frustrated by unrelated facts and are not guided to make future or past connections. Teachers who use this strategy do not point out relationships, do not help students ro recall similar situations, and do not give students increasing opportunities for making choices based ,on related experiences.


Below are listed some of the questions from the weekly examinations given to the lowest achieving class on the eighth grade level in the above mentioned 85% Negro junior high school. The teacher told me that he had found that students at this level couldn't learn anything but facts. But he was concerned because they were even doing badly on these factual examinations. I have-listed some of the questions below in the teacher's sequence to illustrate the fragmentation strategy:


11. Who is the head of the AFL-CIO?

12. Why was it necessary for the Clayton Anti-Trust Act to be passed?

13. Give the meaning of "Open Range."

14. Name the act which attempted to stop unfair labor union practices.

15. Define "arbitration."

16. What helped to make cattle raising boom in the West?

17. How did an act of 1924 help Indians?

18. Why did workers begin to leave the Knights of Labor?

19. Explain the meaning of "Monopoly."

20. Describe the type of workers who joined the CIO.


Perhaps the best way to overcome the use of this strategy is to expose teachers to programed learning and to logic.

THE DISRESPECT STRATEGY


This is closely related to the language strategy but it has a separate category here because it is generally more blatant than the language strategy.


In one class I heard a teacher say to a student while the class listened uneasily: "I just got a new dog and it looks like you. That's why I'm going to call it Blaekie." Shocking as this episode is, what is even more disturbing is the fact that the presence of a visitor in no way constrained or inhibited the teacher. Although only one child was addressed, the rest of the class tittered slightly and then waited to respond further, unsure about what they were supposed to do or feel. Each child was aware that if bells toll often enough, sooner or later it may be for them.


Once again, the ultimate result is that failure is perpetuated. "One may assume that if a child is not treated with the respect which is due him as a human being, and if those who are charged with the responsibility of teaching him believe that he cannot learn, then his motivation and ability to learn may become impaired."15

THE DISHONEST PRAISE STRATEGY


Dishonest praise does nothing to promote success. Even the slowest students can see through phoniness. If the teacher praises a student for something nonsensical, he is indicating his surprise that the student can achieve even these heights. I have heard teachers go into raptures about a big husky boy's ability to get the shades even, or about a class's ability to stand in a straight line. A child who is learning to read or to figure something out for himself feels an inner glow of accomplishment and does not need extrinsic praise.


A few years ago I supervised a student teacher of English on the twelfth grade level in an all-girl high school in New York City. The class was all Negro, and at the lowest achievement level. Carol, the student teacher, was an exceptional person; and the girls, almost as old as she, loved her. She never patronized them, wasted time, or gave them dishonest praise. Her every effort was devoted to teaching. She almost willed understanding with her body. She was totally involved in the task of teaching.


"You can do this," she would say over and over; and by the time she finished explaining, showing, and willing understanding, the students could indeed do what she had predicted. After a while, experienced teachers started to drift in to watch.


Carol did not have to invent praise because her every movement was constructive. It was not really anything she did. Her teaching techniques and background were shaky, and none of her college courses had given her specific procedures for a class like this one. Her secret weapon was the way she felt about people.


No teacher really has to put into words the way he feels about students. Praise cannot cover a rough hand, a pursed mouth, badly concealed impatience, or an instinctive gesture of disgust. All of these communicate far better than words can.


Carol felt no revulsion for her students. They would crowd around her at the end of a period, touch her, wait for her smile, or put an arm across her shoulders. Her movements of approval and acceptance gave them the praise they so desperately needed.


When she left, one student speaking for the class, said: "Other teachers say, 'We're not gonna waste time teaching you. You'll all end up scrubbing floors anyway.' But you're different."

THE INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT STRATEGY


The inappropriateness of much of the reading materials used for disadvantaged children has finally led to the publishing of books such as the Chandler and Holt, Rinehart series. But when the teacher closes the door of her room, regardless of which materials are available, the choice of which to use and how to use them is up to the individual teacher.


Twenty years ago there was no material available for teachers to use for Negro History Week, and so the New York City Teachers Union published a four-page information sheet in which many teachers for the first time came across names like Sojourner Truth and Crispus Attucks. Dedicated Teachers Union members went out of their way to obtain materials which would help them to work with minority groups.


In contrast, teachers willing to accept failure use materials which will achieve negative results. The teacher may be totally unaware of the meaning of her choices.


The Desegregation Institutes mentioned above, in many cases, had Practicums, in which experienced and specially selected teachers taught mixed groups of Negro and white students so that the teachers attending the Institutes could observe methods of working with mixed groups.


In one Practicum, on the sixth grade level, the teacher based her lesson on the poem, "America for Me," by Henry Van Dyke. The poem is reprinted in its entirety:


'Tis fine to see the old world, and travel up and down

Among the famous places and cities of renown,

To admire the crumbly castles and statues of the kings—

But now I think I’ve had enough of antiquated things.


So it's home again, and home again, America for me!

My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,

In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,

Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.


Oh, London is a marts town, there's power in the air,

And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;

And its sweet to dream in Venice, and its great to study Rome,

But when it comes to living, there is no place like home.


Oh, its home again, and home again, America for me!

I want a ship that’s westward bound to plow the rolling sea,

To the blessed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,

Where the air is full of sunlight, and the flag is full of stars.


When the teacher of this Practicum distributed this poem on dittoed sheets, I thought possibly it was to be used as a jumping off place for the exploration of ideas of American freedom, etc. in a way that would point up the discrepancy for many people, but would nevertheless leave them with something to work for.


Although the choice of the poem did not seem to be the best, conceivably it could have been used to develop the ideas used by Langston Hughes in the poem, "Let America Be America Again", the first stanza of which says:


Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.


(America never was America to me).


Instead, the poem was related to the song "Home, Sweet Home," and the idea was developed that although America is not perfect it is still the best place in the world and travellers feel homesick if they stay away long enough.


It is significant that none of the Negro students participated in this discussion. What is even more significant is the fact that the teacher was Negro. This is how insidious failure strategies can become. Watching this lesson I was reminded of my childhood in an all-Jewish elementary school in Brooklyn in which the teachers were primarily Irish. Every Christmas, the school was decorated with mangers, trees, stockings etc. and all of the little Jewish children felt vaguely inferior because they did not celebrate in their homes what seemed to be so tremendously important in the school. In the same way, the content of this lesson was likely to reinforce feelings of failure because the real and the ideal for the Negro students were so far apart. The students might well wonder why America is not "the land of youth and freedom" for them, and might, like the little Jewish children, feel that this lack was somehow their own fault.

THE PETTINESS AND GUILT STRATEGIES


The pettiness strategy is so frustrating that it can achieve failure even when many other strategies fail. It is one of the best ways for a teacher to totally avoid confrontation with teaching. The teacher who practices this is skilled at making obfuscating mountains out of specks of dust.


Big scenes can be caused by dozens of "crimes" such as chewing gum, sitting incorrectly, wearing long hair, wearing short skirts, losing or forgetting books or papers, failing to speak in complete sentences, failing to address the teacher properly, failing to use the proper forms of courtesy, answering without teacher recognition of a waved hand, laughing at a joke the teacher doesn't share, relating to other students instead of exclusively to the teacher, seeming to be enjoying oneself, asking a tangential question for which the teacher isn't prepared, initiating a question or subject area, asking questions for purposes of clarification, or failing to guess instantly what the teacher wants.


The guilt strategy is more destructive to the students if the teacher is seemingly pleasant. If the students feel outright hatred for the teacher, the guilt strategy serves no purpose. For strategy to work effectively and produce failure, the teacher must view everything egocentrically. Poor behavior and lack of achievement are evaluated in terms of the teacher's needs. Over and over the teacher says, in effect, "I worked so hard, and despite my best efforts you have not learned."


Teachers who use this strategy prefer to think that students "won't" rather than "can't." They do not accept the idea that it is the teacher's responsibility "to put himself into contact with the intelligence of his students, wherever and whatever that may be. . . ."16


They place the burden of human contact on the shoulders of the students and berate them when they are unable to establish this contact on the teacher's level. The teacher, like a coach in extremis, exhorts the students to produce "for me," and their inability to do so becomes cause for further failure.


There are many other strategies for the destruction of people. For example: "the testing strategy" (tests are used as punishment, designed badly, etc.); "the run-on talk strategy" (teachers talk and talk, beg, cajoke, promise, scold, nag, criticize, exhort, and finally the students tune out); "the reference to wayward family members strategy," and "the personal attack strategy" (you never were any good, etc.).

GRATIFICATION FROM FAILURE


Let us go back to the original hypothesis of this paper. Teachers who cannot get ego gratification from student accomplishment, learn to get it from student failure, and therefore resort to strategies designed to perpetuate failure. It is easier for teachers to do these things where there are no checks and balances.


Part of our American mystique is the belief in the Horatio Alger hero. Of course, the Horatio Alger approach was always two-thirds wishful thinking, but even the most resourceful person would find it hard to rise above the multitude of handicaps suffered by children in depressed areas. A social worker, describing the frustrations which beset these students, said: "Some of these kids can be caught in time and given help. Even some of the ones who don't get help will live reasonably O.K. lives, except that they'll never realize anything like their full potential. And some, of course, are just plain doomed."17


The self-fulfilling prophecy is perhaps the most difficult of all the handicaps the depressed area child faces. It is particularly difficult when the children sense that their teachers want them to fail. Because people can be led to behave in ways inimical to their own best interests, they start to fail and continue to fail, in order to succeed.


They resort to learning-avoidance behavior which complements teacher failure strategies. John Holt, describing the failure strategies of children, suggests that "what hampers their thinking, what drives them into these narrow and defensive strategies, is a feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs . . ."


Students quickly learn what is expected of them. That is why they appear to be unteachable in many depressed school situations. We need only contrast teacher procedures in Mississippi's Freedom Schools to see how quickly pupils started to behave in a desired way, even though they had many deep-seated racial taboos to overcome. The students who came to the Freedom Schools were accustomed to associate schools with the total white power structure, with "the police, the White Citizens' Council, the mayor or sheriff, and the governor of the state." To overcome this traditional association teachers had to proceed as follows:


In your 'class’ your teacher sat with you in a circle, and soon you got the idea that you could say 'what you thought and that no one, least of all the teacher, 'would laugh at you or strike at you. Soon, too, you got the idea that you might disagree with your teacher, white or black, and get a respectful hearing, that your teacher was really interested in what you thought or felt. Soon you were forgetting about skin colors altogether and thinking about ideas or feelings, about people or events.18


There is no need in a situation such as the above one for students to fail in order to please or to appease the teacher. There is no need for these students to act like subject peoples who "both appease their rulers and satisfy some part of their desire for human dignity by putting on a mask, by acting much more stupid and incompetent than they really are, by denying their rulers the full use of their intelligence and ability. . . ."19

REMEDIES


What is the solution to this failure syndrome? The most obvious point is that teachers in slum schools need ego gratification which they cannot now get in constructive ways. Elliot Shapiro suggests that what teachers in depressed schools "really need are workshops in group dynamics and group therapy . . . which should last one or two years, under instructors who have had expert training in psychology."


Deutsch, while pointing out that the teacher cannot be the scapegoat in a generally poor scheme of things, suggests that the educator be helped to:


develop a comprehensive consciousness of the psychological, as well as the learning difficulties of the disadvantage*} child; the real potential for change; the specifics involved in training children, for example, to ask questions or to become aware of syntactical regularities, or to use auto-instructional materials; and the imperative need to maintain as high as possible the level of stimulation and relevancy in the classroom.20


Clark points out that "the day when teachers should be permitted, like psychiatrists, to alibi their results without any standards of judgment of their personal effectiveness, must come to an end."21


Haubrich suggests that beginning teachers "begin their professional careers in schools serving depressed areas, after doing their student teaching in these same schools ... (so that) . . . prospective teachers . . . (are) . . . specifically prepared in schools where they will eventually teach."22 Clark further suggests that problems which should be considered in the curricula of teacher training institutions should include:


the meaning of intelligence and problems related to the IQ and its interpretation; the contemporary interpretation of racial and nationality differences in intelligence and academic achievement; the role of motivation, self-confidence and the self-image in the level of academic achievement; and general problems of the modifiability and resilience of the human being.23


This is a monumental problem and there are no easy answers. One simple idea which I would like to suggest is that fundamental changes will take place when societal expectations begin to change. For example, suppose we said, as do the Israelis, that it is a disgrace for any American child not to read, whether he be black or white. Suppose those teachers who achieved this goal were praised and feted and regarded as state heroes. We can see the differences in attitude and achievement even in Dr. Shapiro's school because of his desire for his students' success.


If there is ever to be any help for the deprived child, steps must be taken so that, as Kenneth Clark puts it, "teachers can no longer be permitted to get away with crude or sophisticated alibis for their failure to teach children, who like all normal beings, are capable of learning."


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1 Jersild, Arthur T., "Behold the Beginner," unpublished paper read at New York Conference, National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards, June 23, 1965.

2 Green, Robert Lee. "After School Integration-What? Problems in Social Learning," Personnel and Guidance Journal, March, 1966, p. 706.

3 Ravitz, Mel. "The Role of the School in the Urban Setting," in A. Harry Passow, Ed., Education in Depressed Areas. New York: Teachers College, 1963.

4 Strom, Robert D., Teaching in the Slum School. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc., 1965.

5 Hentoff, Nat. 'The Principal," The New Yorker, May 7, 1966, p. 76. (Later published as Our Children Are Dying. New York: The Viking Press, 1966.)

6 Kornberg, Leonard. "Meaningful Teachers for Alienated Children," in A. H. Passow, Ed., Education in Depressed Areas

7 In each room in an elementary school of this system I found the following equipment (K-3): terrarium, aquarium, slide projector, individual filmstrip previewers, film-strip projector, listening station with six individual earphones, two sinks, paints, papers, bathroom, television, motion picture projector, tape recorder. The Parents Association, running out of ideas, had just given each class an electric ice-cream maker.

8 Deutsch, Martin. "Some Psychological Aspects of Learning in the Disadvantaged, Integrated Education, Issue 15, June-July, 1965, III, 3, p. 53.

9 Clark, Kenneth B., "Clash of Cultures in the Classroom," Learning Together. Chicago: Integrated Education Associates, 1964.

10 Glatt, Charles A., "Children in the Inner City." Paper read to New York State Association for Student Teaching Annual Conference, Buffalo, May, 1966.

11 Deutsch, Martin. Op. cit.

12 Cohen, Elie A., Human Behavior in the Concentration Camp. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1953.

13 Clark, Kenneth B., "Educational Stimulation of Racially Disadvantaged Children," A. H. Passow, Ed., op cit.

14 This Role Playing session was observed at one of the Desegregation Institutes which were evaluated by the writer during the summer of 1965. These Institutes were set up on college campuses under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to help teachers and supervisors in newly desegregated educational situations.

15 Clark, K. B., op. cit.

16 Holt, John. How Children Fail. New York: Pitman Publishing Company, 1964.

17 Hentoff, Nat. Op. cit., p. 119.

18 Howe, Florence. "Mississippi's Freedom Schools: The Politics of Education, Harvard Educational Review, Spring, 1965, XXXV, 2, p. 144.

19 Holt, John. Op. cit.

20 Deutsch, M., Op. cit., p. 55.

21 Clark, K. B., "Clash of Cultures in the Classroom," Op. cit.

22 Haubrich, Vernon F., "Teachers for Big City Schools," in A. H. Passow, Ed., Op.

23 Clark, K. B., "Educational Stimulation of Racially Disadvantaged Children, Op. cit.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 68 Number 5, 1967, p. 380-393
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2177, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 10:49:01 AM

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