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Veteran Journalist to NYT: Stop Irresponsible Journalism
W. Edward Wood – February 26, 2016
This letter was written by the grandfather of a Success Academy Cobble Hill scholar to the executive editor of The New York Times.
Dear Mr. Baquet:
OK, we get it. The New York Times has some problem with Success Academy, or maybe with the political emphasis on testing which has infected our country. But how long is this going to go on? And how completely do you want to destroy the life of one young teacher because she happens to be what you must consider the smoking gun to prove the policy and political points you have been trying to make over the past year in a succession of stories?
As a former journalist, I have tried to figure out why the Times would spend so much time and space on this one apparently very successful educational alternative, Success Academy, compared to the number of stories I have read about other systems or educational policies. I guess it must have something to do with the combination of questions about the testing emphasis, which I agree with, the political tussle between the founder of the school and the mayor, and a general concern about charter schools which you have decided to focus on Success Academy. Fair enough. But I think the use you have made of this video clip of a few seconds in the life of a teacher who the vast majority of parents and students have adored in her short career, is journalistically irresponsible.
Every day in New York schools, there must be dozens, if not hundreds, of teachers who lose their cool and do something stupid, which they regret. I do not think that merely because you have received a video clip, which you can twist into supporting the thesis you have been presenting in a series of stories, it is responsible journalism to cause the opprobrium, ridicule, and shame you have loosed on this young woman. There must be some more humane way to continue your campaign against Success Academy and the policies it represents without sacrificing a single young teacher.
There must be some more humane way to continue your campaign against Success Academy and the policies it represents without sacrificing a single young teacher.
My grandson attends Success Academy Cobble Hill. He attended a district school kindergarten before transferring. He hated kindergarten and didn’t want to go to school. Every week, we heard about some incident that rivaled the video you have been featuring for the last two weeks. His parents met with the principal, who agreed that my grandson and the teacher were not a good fit. But she said her hands were tied. She vowed if they would leave him in the school, she would ensure that he got a more appropriate teacher for first grade. Instead, they transferred to Success Academy, and for the past three years he has cried on the last day of school because he had to leave behind teachers he loved. If we had been smarter, we would have sent him to kindergarten with a cellphone and told him to video one of his teacher’s frequent outbursts. Would we then have been able to get the Times to do a series of stories about the incident? Unlikely, because it wouldn’t have fit into some preconceived notion you had about this school and its policies, but would represent only an unfortunate single incident in a single classroom. But that pretty much is what the Success Academy video is, too.
With one important difference. In our view, it seemed that my grandson earned the ire of this teacher because he was ahead of the class and he had a personality conflict with a teacher whom even the principal admitted was substandard. The outbursts were tied to putting him in his place, not advancing his education. In the Success Academy video, as wrong as the behavior was, it was at least aimed at trying to improve the student’s educational success and not the result of anger at some behavior lapse, or other non-education-related incident.
The most nonsensical element of your coverage, in my view, was the responses from eight experts who — surprise — all said the same thing that had already been said by the teacher in question, the principal of the school, the parents who your reporter listened to, and Eva Moskowitz. The teacher made a mistake; what she did was wrong. But why devote all this space to experts to mimic what had already been said by everyone involved? The only reason can be to try to keep the story alive and give you an opportunity to flog the video another time. And, unfortunately, increase yet again the incredible pressure on a single teacher — a pawn in your apparent efforts to discredit charter schools in general and Success Academy in particular.
I hope you will find some other way to continue your campaign against whatever it is that is bothering you so much about Success Academy and stop repeatedly harping on this brief video. It saddens me that a great newspaper has become so captive to the power of a secretly recorded video and promoted it in much the same way that so-called “shaming videos” are infecting our daily discourse. Those videos are posted by unthinking individuals who don’t seem able to comprehend the effect they have on the individuals they target. One of the world’s great newspapers should know better.
A year ago, the Times magazine ran a remarkably thoughtful article by Jon Ronson, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew up Justine Sacco’s Life.” You, the editors who have been handling the Success Academy stories, and Kate Taylor should go back and read it, for The New York Times itself is responsible for using “one stupid moment in a teacher’s career” to blow up her life.
Please, put a stop to it.
W. Edward Wood
Hope Valley, RI