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Rush to Judgment About Teacher Anger

The release of a surreptiously recorded video showing a first-grade teacher at a Success Academy charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y. berating a child for not correctly solving a math problem triggered 2,762 responses at last count ("At Success Academy School, a Stumble in Math and a Teacher's Anger on Video," The New York Times, Feb. 12). The comments overwhelmingly attacked Charlotte Dial for her behavior. I certainly understand their reactions.  But I think it's important to put this incident in proper context.

I don't know any teacher who has not said something to someone at some time in class that was hurtful.  Yes, all teachers later on regretted their remark, but the damage was already done. In this case, the age of the child in question made the teacher's words all the more painful.  But before jumping to conclusions whether the teacher should be fired, I think it's fair to ask if this was an aberration. Teachers are not alone in having a bad day.  On the other hand, if Dial's harsh treatment is how she routinely conducts her classes, then she has no business being in front of a roomful of children.  

What is most disturbing, however, is whether this type of behavior is characteristic of the Success Academy network overall.  It is referred to as fear-based schooling. If it is, then I wonder why parents would enroll their children there ("The Power of Thinking Like a Preschooler," The Atlantic, Feb. 11).  I realize that there are different philosophies about educating the young, but I draw a line when verbal abuse is involved. 

The opposite extreme was Summerhill School in Suffolk, England.  In the 1960s, its progressive philosophy was enthusiastically embraced by many parents here as a model for schools.  Its head, A.S. Neill, eliminated the authority of teachers as well as most school rules. Even then, however, other parents were appalled.  They preferred a more structured educational environment.

The same thing applies to Success Academy and how it operates. It has strict rules, which are rigidly enforced.  It's certainly not for everyone.  Yet there are parents who praise its approach because they believe that without discipline students tend to run wild, and little learning follows.  Others believe that strict discipline robs classrooms of warmth.  I urge readers to take these factors in mind before drawing final conclusions.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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