Today in Humiliating Children to Improve Them


Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.

Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”

“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”

Well, YEAH. I think that was kind of the point.

We forget how serious kids are, how much they take in and how much they remember. We assume, I think, that they’re not people just because occasionally they throw tantrums over stupid shit. And plenty of so-called adults, I think, conveniently forget what it was like being that age, when everything is out of your control and nothing makes any damn sense at all.

Let’s assume the intent truly was to motivate. Not everyone is motivated by the same tactics. One kid might get good and pissed off and be determined to make it to the top of that wall. Another will want to crawl in a hole and die. I can tell you, having been an elementary school kid once upon a time, I’d have been the latter, and I was pretty good at school. There would have been a lot of convenient stomachaches and “fevers.”

However, it’s hard to give administrators even that much of the benefit of the doubt when they act like total assholes upon being called on their crap:

In Holyoke, teachers and parents flooded a school committee meeting (the equivalent of a school board) on February 3 to protest the use of the walls. Paula Burke, the parent of a third-grader at Donahue, called them “public humiliation” for children. But the teachers in attendance were surprised to hear Superintendent Sergio Paez, whom they say directed them to start using the walls, blame teachers for putting the names up. Arguing that he never intended the boards to be public, Paez said during the meeting, “I’m asking teachers to do hundreds of things, but I’m not asking them to humiliate kids… It’s not whatsoever a directive from this administration to do this.”

In response to his comments, the teachers released copies of a PowerPoint presentation given to teachers and paraprofessionals for kindergarten (yes, kindergarten) through third grade at Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke on October 11, 2013—at which Superintendent Paez delivered the welcoming remarks. The slides, provided to In These Times by teacher activists, clearly shows sample data walls with students’ first names and in some cases, last initials.

Whoops. Never put it in writing if you intend to lie about it later, morons.

Via Molly.


6 thoughts on “Today in Humiliating Children to Improve Them

  1. I was listening to a heartbreaking NPR piece today about the rise of stress related suicides among teens. The chief reasons given were the unyielding pressure on kids to be perfect in everything–school, athletics, appearance–and the continual demands placed on them not to “settle” for anything. One of the doctors interviewed said that ONE IN FIVE teenagers either tried to kill themselves or had a concrete plan for killing themselves last year. Here in our area there have been a rash of horrendous teen suicides. During the show a woman called in to tell the interviewers that her teenage daughter had “gotten up from her biology homework, gone downstairs, and tried to kill herself” just three days ago and was still in the hospital having seizures from the medicine she used to OD on.
    The idea that kids need more competition and more humiliation to function in school in a way that is satisfactory to teachers/parents/administrators is just crazy. Kids are under so much internal and external pressure, they live with so much fear about fucking up, being average, being ugly, being stupid.
    The world is a huge, scary, and unforgiving place for kids and for young adults. But we can’t fix this problem by trying to force our kids to live up to an unattainable ideal of perfection. Its killing them.

  2. Right on, aimai.
    I hope that lying weasel of a superintendent gets shouted right out of a job by teachers and parents.
    It’s one thing to make a stupid mistake; it’s another to blame underlings for that mistake. I’m sure the weasel has a bright future ahead of him as a CEO.

  3. One of the discussions in my “teaching a diverse classroom” course centered on international students from China, and how they will actively seek out this sort of rank information, because it helps them to sustain the culture that they’re used to, of a merit-based hierarchy of students in their classes. The idea of critiquing a text is troubling, and actually finding something wrong with it is completely inconceivable, because the person who wrote it is above them in that hierarchy and therefore should not be questioned.
    The Chinese students all agreed that was absolutely how they viewed the mechanics of educational life. The Americans laugh at the absurdity of it — until we realize they’re trying to explicitly force the same culture into our elementary schools.

  4. Someone with experience in FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) should advise the school. This is horrible.

  5. This sounds a lot like what the business world likes to call Excellence in Operation Management. Places like call centers post the stats on the workers from the day before to show who had the most calls, or did the most tasks, or blah, blah, blah. That way they can see who’s doing the most or least and than can beat up on each other. Yay for stupid MBA crap on motivating workers and using metrics and analytics to do it.
    As someone involved in this crap now, I hope at some point I never have to hear those words again. Metrics and analytics. Bullshit.

  6. FERPA applies to this situation, for precisely this reason. Even in colege scores cannot be posted with any identifying information. Where I teach we use Canvas, which is an education portal that can control score access.

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