A teacher at an Upper West Side high school was fired for creating a curriculum with lessons about the Central Park Five that administrators feared would “rile up” black students, according to a new federal lawsuit.
English teacher Jeena Lee-Walker said her bosses at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry urged her in November 2013 to be more “balanced” in her approach to the racially charged Central Park jogger case that ended with five black and Latino teens being exonerated after spending several years in prison for the attack.
They told her the lessons could create little “riots,” according to court papers.
Although Lee-Walker, 37, agreed to soften her approach, she argued “that students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up.”
“I kind of wanted to hook them in, engage them, win them over,” she said. “I thought that this material was not only engaging but important.”
After several tense exchanges with supervisors, Lee-Walker received a series of bad performance reviews over the next 18 months that ultimately led to her dismissal, the suit said.
Lee-Walker said she was accused of insubordination and given poor evaluations not just because of the material, but because she pushed back.
She was fired in May, roughly two years after joining the High School for the Arts and six years after she began teaching in city public schools.
“I felt abandoned and mistreated,” Lee-Walker said of the ordeal. “I think a lot of teachers in the system feel the same way.”
There's still all this talk in the media and from politicians about the need to fire "bad" teachers and close "failing" schools.
The environment for education is toxic and poisoned these days by all the compliance mandates we have that are supposed to handle the firing of "bad" teachers and the closing of "failing" schools.
Danielson drive-bys, where administrators come into your room with the Danielson rubric and ensure that you're jumping through every hoop on the rubric, are meant to control and contain teachers.
They're also meant to give dismissal tools to administrators who want to get rid of teachers they don't want - regardless of whether they're "bad" or not.
There's nothing "objective" about the Danielson rubric - administrators can ignore all the great stuff a teacher does, focus on one or two supposed "flaws" in a lesson and give enough developings and ineffectives in an evaluation to get the teacher either put on a PIP or sent packing.
You can see how this worked with Lee-Walker - they wanted her to tone down her lessons, she agreed, but the "softening" wasn't enough for administrators at the school and she was targeted for dismissal and successfully canned after a period of so-called "objective documentation."
The message for teachers in the DOE - obey or else! - is also the message for students when they see what happens to their teachers who try and step out of the uniform and give something of themselves in the classroom.
That message is underscored by the EngageNY curriculum and Regents exams, which punish any thoughts that do not come "from the text" and so teach students that they are not to think for themselves, only learn what their betters think and figure out how to parrot that back in the endless "text-based argumentative essays" they have to write across classes.
Lee-Walker's lawyer puts this all into perspective for us:
“Ms. Lee-Walker is the type of teacher we want in a classroom,” her lawyer, Ambrose Wotorson, told The News.
“We’re not looking to turn our students into automatons. We’re looking to turn out independent thinkers — and she got fired for that, and that's just wrong,” Wotorson said.
Actually it's quite the opposite.
What education reformers want are compliant teachers who obey the rules, teach only what is supposed to be taught in the way the system wants it taught and students who learn to be automatons who are just smart enough to be able to figure out what their betters want but not smart enough to know how badly they're getting screwed by the system.
21st Century public education is all about compliance - from the system as a whole right down to the individual classrooms and the teachers and students in each one.