I see faith in your eyes, never you hear the discouraging lies. I hear faith in your cries. Broken is the promise, betrayal.
When the young mom told me she wanted to talk to me about “that mess with the school system,” I tried to direct her to Herald education reporter Terry Lewis.
“He’s the one you want to talk with,” I said.
But she persisted.
“You’re close with a friend of mine,” she told me. “He suggested I talk to you.”
After listening to her sometimes tearful comments — which, in retrospect, must have come from some need she felt to unburden herself, to have someone actually listen to her without judgment — I had a better understanding of how deeply the school system’s CRCT cheating scandal is impacting this community.
“I’ve been afraid to say a whole lot about this in my neighborhood,” she said. “There are other parents who are outraged like I am, but there are some who have questioned my ‘loyalty’ when I have complained.”
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised — I have lived here long enough, after all — but I’ll admit to being stunned and even angered when she told me some people have tried to turn the scandal into a black-white issue.
“I had a lady yell at me when I said the whole mess was shameful and a disgrace, and she said, ‘You’re doing just what the white folks want you to do’, got right up in my face as she said it,” the mom said. “I told her what was going on wasn’t about race but was about my baby, but she said all the uproar was an attempt to ‘bring down all the black leaders in the school system.’
“When I told this woman I thought she was wrong, I really thought she was going to hit me. She had the nerve to tell me ‘people like you are what’s really wrong with the school system.’ ”
The mom told me a little about her son, about how he doesn’t quite know how to deal with the things he’s hearing about the scandal. Although the bright-eyed youngster was timid about talking with me, he did say one thing that stuck with me.
“People are saying (here, the youngster mentioned the name of one of his teachers) did wrong, that she cheated,” he said in a voice that was halting and quiet. “My mama always told me that cheating is wrong, but I don’t want (teacher) to get in trouble. She just wanted us to do good on our tests.”
Her son’s comments brought tears to the young mom’s eyes.
“I think that’s the worst thing about all this,” she said. “The people whose names are in the newspaper and on the television, the people who we trusted to educate our children, they took a shortcut to try and make themselves look better. They were willing to do what they knew was wrong just so they could meet some quota.
“They didn’t think about the little children like my son who idolize them and look to them for guidance. I know it’s not their job to raise my child, but it is their job to reinforce what I’ve tried to teach him. And one of those main things I’ve tried to teach is what’s right and what’s wrong.”
I offered no meaningful response to the woman’s comments. Clearly, she wanted to vent. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say.
I’ve said for years that No Child Left Behind, while good-intentioned, is a flawed standard by which school systems are judged. Among its unintended byproducts is a tendency of teachers to “teach tests” and, apparently, of educators to seek shortcuts to meet what most agree are all but unattainable standards.
But blaming this piece of legislation for unethical and illegal behavior is an example of one of America’s favorite cop-outs and one of its people’s biggest failings: finding a way to point a finger at others for our own shortcomings.
The CRCT scandal has a face for me now. When I listen to some bureaucrat use mumbo-jumbo to try and explain away the action of people who should have known better, I’ll think of this mother and her son, innocents who are left to pay a steep price for others’ betrayal. And I’ll also think, sadly, about the words of a friend who teaches in the school system: They’re only beginning to scratch the surface.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.