Mr. A and I were listening tothis in the car on Saturday. I say listening; Mr. A was listening.I was looking for something to put my fist through:
It is a very odd chapter, all about Poizner’s first days teaching a class at Mt. Pleasant. There’s scene after scene where he’s floundering, standing in front of the class asking big, abstract questions – “would you want to live in a country where the leader didn’t want to lead? If the money issued by the government wasn’t any good, or people were treated unfairly?” None of the students respond. He’s a rookie teacher; he doesn’t know how to engage them yet. Nothing unusual there.
But here was the strange thing: the conclusion Poizner comes to – again and again during these scenes – isn’t that he’s doing anything wrong or has anything to learn as a teacher. Instead, he blames the kids. They’re tough, they’re unmotivated, they lack ambition, they’re wired differently. The students, meanwhile, in every scene in the book (I read the whole book), seem utterly lovely. Polite, they don’t interrupt, they don’t talk back, they just seem a little bored. His very worst student is a graduating senior who’s hoping to go into the Marines.
Checking school records I learned that Poizner’s unmotivated, unambitious class included one of the school valedictorians, Charles Rudy, who graduated and went to college.
First of all: Poizner in the interview comes across as a very smug guy who went into this school looking for evidence to support his conclusions which are, of course, that we don’t need public education, we need charter schools.He then goes and runs for office based on those conclusions, using the kids as a resumé-booster.
Following his time on the National Security Council, Steve spent a year “in the trenches” as a volunteer teacher at Mount Pleasant High School in East San Jose, where he taught 12th grade American government. After seeing the crisis conditions facing public schools in California, Steve demonstrated his passion for local control of schools by co-founding EdVoice and the California Charter Schools Association – the state’s leading charter school organization. Since his involvement in the charter school movement began, the number of charter schools in California has doubled.
In the trenches. Because that’s what the “inner city” is to people like this. The trenches. Not a place people live, or work, or play, or love, or die. The trenches. Some faraway land where wars are fought, by brave brave men like Poizner. “Other” places, full of “others” and the weird customs they have and the strange lives they live, so different from “ours.”
Unsurprisingly, a majority of Poizner’s book seems to be complete and total bullshit:
In his book, Poizner also talks about how dangerous the high school and the neighborhood around it are. On page 39, he writes:
The school’s neighborhood is rough, even when seen through the eyes of someone who’s not wealthy and white. Drive-by shootings happen. Kids learn to avoid bumping into strangers at the local convenience stores. Recently, the San Jose Police Department received nearly fifteen times more calls for suspicious vehicles around Mount Pleasant High than in a more affluent San Jose neighborhood. More specifically, in a year’s time, police stopped one thousand vehicles in the area. Over that same time frame, the neighborhood generated nearly 850 calls to SJPD dispatchers for disturbances, and 15 for violation by registered sex offenders.
San Jose Police Department spokesman Officer Jose Garcia told us that calls for service were not an indicator of higher crime. He said the number of vehicles stopped had more to do with whether a neighborhood is close to a highway or shopping mall than with criminal activity.
Garcia said, “the area surrounding Mt. Pleasant High School is not an area that stands out in terms of crime, compared to other parts of the city.” San Jose might have a reputation in the richer suburbs around it for being unsafe, and it was more dangerous in the 1970s and ‘80s than it is today. But the view of the city as ridden with crime is outdated. In fact, the city is one of the safest of its size in the country.
On crime, the appearance of the neighborhood, dropout rates, gang affiliation … Ira Glass pretty thoroughly defenestrates the thing. The neighborhood seems to have been seen by Poizner as dangerous because it contains black and brown people, which is not an unusual conclusion for white people to draw. A car with a flat tire is seen as a sign of degeneration, as is a barking dog. By those standards, whose ‘hood COULD pass muster? Not mine. Probably not yours.
So what kind of fact-checking was done here? What kind of verification of any of the stats Poizner spins was done by his publisher? Hey, Portfolio Hardcover, you’re the ones that have some explaining to do, once we’re done with the author. This book was printed on paper, which I’m told gives it a somewhat higher authority ranking in the D&D world of media credibility, so how can it be so wrong? Doesn’t print have standards?
But let’s get back to Poizner. From the transcript of the show:
Yvette Rodriguez: Like a lot of things he said is something that you would expect someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood to think of us. He was just like really quick to judge. He didn’t grow up here, and he says it in his book, like where he grew up they don’t have any of this, so how is he… I’m not going to go judge him and say, you know, “he’s a rich white guy, and doesn’t know,” because I don’t know him. But yet he’s over here judging us. That’s stereotyping. I think he needs to come out and apologize I think, at least, because a lot of us felt really offended by it.
Ira Glass: When I visited the school, I went to Mr. Richard’s class and I asked the students if they had questions for you or anything that they would like me to say to you, and they had one request. One senior girl said she’d like you to admit you got things wrong. She’d like you to apologize.What do you want to say to her?
Steve Poizner: Well, no. I mean, I appreciate her feedback, and I appreciate their passion.
“I appreciate your passion” is one of those coded phrases for me, because what it really means is “you’re hysterical and emotional and shut up, because caring about stuff is rude and makes your statements suspect, whereas I’m above such uncouthcaring, so I’m automatically more right than you.” He then goes on to say this:
So here I sell my last company for a lot of money and I’m pretty financially well off, and I decide to go into Mt. Pleasant High School, and then after I teach at the school for an extended period of time, I then go back to the school every year to do guest teaching. And then my wife and I, you know, get all kinds of requests from teachers and students about certain projects and we end up donating over $80,000 to the school over a period of many years.
I gave them money, so I should get to call them lazy thugs without them complaining! What a charmer.
For what it’s worth, I have zero problem with people who leave their comfort zones and explore a life different from what they’ve always known. I have zero problem with rich people teaching in poor(er) schools or working in poor(er) areas or generally doing things to make the world a better place. What I can’t stomach are those who come out of those experiences declaring themselves completely unchanged, unaffected, secure in their superiority and sure of their beneficence, because seriously? You went through all that and that’s what you learned?
You spent a year (or a semester, in Poizner’s case, see the full evisceration for details on THAT one) in a public high school and what you came away with was that public education is hopeless? Boy, I’m sure glad you have first-hand knowledge to back that up because it in no way would be a conclusion you’d have reached sitting in your “nice” neighborhood. The one without any flat tires or barking dogs.