A viral video of Baltimore teacher screaming the n-word at her students is provoking a well-deserved backlash, but the backlash is skipping over one key fact: the teacher’s massive meltdown was in response to much deeper problems that aren’t going away.
The video, which received more than 6 million views on the Facebook page of Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, shows a white science teacher in at Harlem Park Elementary School screaming at her rowdy class, asking whether they want to grow up to be “punk-ass niggers [who are] going to be shot.”
The teacher’s conduct was clearly unacceptable for a public school classroom, and she was unsurprisingly fired. But the swift condemnation of the teacher misses a deeper problem that won’t go away simply by firing her: she had every right to despair for her students’ futures, because Harlem Park is a terrible school.
The unnamed teacher wasn’t randomly melting down at her students over trivialities. While it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on in the video, she was apparently upset because at least some of her rowdy students were simply refusing to do work.
“You are getting zeros for doing nothing!” she cries. “I gave you the work!”
If they didn’t bother doing any work, her tirade warned, they’d end up falling into crime and potentially be killed. And that warning is a very real one; because, in addition to having a terrible school, Harlem Park is also a neighborhood wracked by crime and other dysfunction.
Maryland maintains a database of each school’s performance on its PARCC standardized tests, which have been in place for two years. This makes it easy to look up Harlem Park’s overall academic performance, and the statistics are utterly devastating. Among Harlem Park eighth graders, not a single student met or exceeded expectations in math, and 63.6 percent finished in the lowest category of, “did not meet expectations.” Reading was only marginally better, with just 54.5 percent of students in the lowest score category, but once again, zero students registering in the top two categories. Numbers are similarly dismal at all other grade levels. The school also grapples with a high rate of chronic absenteeism by students.
The stats suggest that Harlem Park is sending out students totally unprepared for high school, which in turn makes them less likely to graduate (only 25 percent of area adults have a diploma) and are far less likely to successfully complete a college degree. And that’s devastating, because it means they’ll likely remain trapped in Harlem Park, a neighborhood where:
- Nearly a third of households are in poverty, and a third are headed by single mothers.
- The murder rate is double Baltimore’s average and far above the national norm.
- The incarceration rate is the highest of any neighborhood in the entire state.
Unsurprisingly, Harlem Park and the surrounding area were a key inspiration for “The Wire,” HBO’s classic television series about crime and urban decay in Baltimore. It makes the teacher’s meltdown far more stark. She wasn’t lashing out at middle-class students about the potential dangers of not studying. She was telling students at a failing school about the dangerous path they were already on.
And unfortunately, firing the teacher won’t make that dangerous path disappear.
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