Jonathan Martin and the Soft, White, Private School Question

The New York Times

By RON LIEBER
A report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.Bill Feig/Associated PressA report for the N.F.L. detailed harassment of Jonathan Martin, third from left, by Richie Incognito, second from left.

N.F.L. lineman Jonathan Martin encountered a Miami Dolphins team culture that was sick at its core. But was his private-school upbringing partly responsible for his inability to cope with the locker-room bullying he encountered there?

“I figured out a major source of my anxiety,” he wrote to his mother during his ordeal, according to the 140-page report on his ordeal that an outside law firm released on Feb. 14. “I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to …”

Then, in a message to his father a week later: “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.”

These comments press all sorts of buttons for private school parents, who worry that by trying to buy their way up to what seems like a better education, they’re robbing their child of the hard knocks every kid ought to experience. By invoking race, Mr. Martin, who is African-American, seems to suggest that private-school culture stands for training or retraining students of color to be meek young adults who don’t speak up or fight back.

But what sort of softness was he talking about? And how exactly does “white private school conditioning” manifest itself?

Mr. Martin, who is 24 years old, and his parents declined to expand further on his words in the report. He attended the private John Thomas Dye School in Los Angeles for fifth and sixth grade. Ray Michaud, the headmaster there, also declined to respond to Mr. Martin’s comments, citing a school policy on talking about alumni and things they do or say after they leave.

Harvard-Westlake, which has produced many Hollywood stars and a handful of other professional athletes, was Mr. Martin’s next stop. “Harvard-Westlake simply offers our strong support for Jonathan Martin and his family during this difficult time,” its president and chief executive, Rick Commons, wrote by email. When I asked him whether his response was the very sort of other-cheek-turning that Mr. Martin described, he said that it was an “interesting follow-up” but did not comment further.

Both schools were willing to disclose some numbers in an effort to address the demographic charge specifically. At Harvard-Westlake, 19 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid and 43 percent of students are not white. That compares favorably with national numbers that the National Association of Independent Schools tracks: Students of color make up 28 percent of the population at all private schools nationwide; 23 percent of students at member schools received need-based aid. John Thomas Dye is less diverse than average, with students of color making up 23 percent of its student body. Just 8 percent of them receive financial aid.

“Our schools are not the sort of impervious bastions of WASP culture and privilege that they were at the inception of independent schools,” said Caroline Blackwell, the vice president for equity and justice for the National Association of Independent Schools. “And so for a lot of people, they continue to have this idea that doesn’t really match the reality.”

These institutions like to be called independent schools nowadays, in part because “private” raises the question of just who they’re excluding. Independence speaks to their strengths, as they stand apart from the educational culture of test-taking and rigidity and, at their best, build close-knit communities centered around character as much as academic achievement.

Perhaps Mr. Martin was using “soft” as an antonym for “real,” as in the real world that private-school students might not encounter enough. But what would it mean for private schools to feel more real? Ms. Blackwell wondered about this, too. She is African-American and a product of private schools herself. She’s also made her career in them, working in the past as a counselor, admissions officer and multicultural affairs director, including 17 years at theUniversity School in Nashville. She ran the local human relations commission there before going to work for the independent schools association.

Ms. Blackwell wondered, as many private school parents might have when they read Mr. Martin’s words in newspaper accounts of the league’s report, whether he was calling out the sort of deliberately constructed communities that many private schools specialize in creating — built on intense attention to children’s feelings and the imprinting of values that support a commitment to civility.

Schools like that are not much like the world that many parents live and work in, where people are disposable, loyalty no longer matters much and every person is scratching away for themselves. But those mothers and fathers don’t necessarily want their 9-year-olds going to school in it. “My experience of independent schools is one where a premium is placed on problem solving in civil ways — dealing with conflict in ways that prefer conversation and discussion as opposed to fighting and aggression,” Ms. Blackwell said. “We would teach students to be assertive without necessarily being aggressive.” If she’s right, that’s hardly turning the other cheek.

It’s not clear whether that sort of teaching went on at Harvard-Westlake or John Thomas Dye, since nobody there wanted to talk about it. But Ms. Blackwell doesn’t think it’s fair to ask the product of any school to serve as proof of its educators’ success or failure if the test is to withstand what Mr. Martin did. “Preparing kids for the vitriol and hostility of a locker room, that’s not our intention,” she said. “Nor is it the intention of public schools or other types of schools, regardless of where they are, to simulate the worst sort of cultural experience to see if the kids can endure.”

If you’re a product of a private school or a parent at one, what do Mr. Martin’s words mean to you?


 

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times. He’s currently on leave to write “The Opposite of Spoiled,” a book about parenting, money, values and raising the kinds of children all parents want to push out into the world, no matter how much money they have. He hosts regular conversations about these topics on his Facebook page and welcomes comments here or privately, via his Web site.

 

Admitted, but Left Out

Here’s an interesting and concerning article about diversity in independent schools.  The article gives us much to consider as we know the importance of creating a safe school environment where all are accepted, heard and appreciated.

 

Admitted, but Left Out

Left, Collection of Idris Brewster; right, Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Ayinde Alleyne, left, graduated from the Trinity School in 2011. He attends the University of Pennsylvania.
By
Published: October 19, 2012

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.

In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.

He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.

“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”

It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.

There is no doubt that New York City’s most prestigious private schools have made great strides in diversifying their student bodies. In classrooms where, years ago, there might have been one or two brown faces, today close to one-third of the students are of a minority. During the 2011-12 school year, 29.8 percent of children at the city’s private schools were minority students, including African-American, Hispanic and Asian children, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, up from 21.4 percent a decade ago. (Nationally, the figure was 26.6 percent for the same period, up from 18.5 percent 10 years before.)

But schools’ efforts to attract minority students haven’t always been matched by efforts to truly make their experience one of inclusion, students and school administrators say. Pervading their experience, the students say, is the gulf between those with seemingly endless wealth and resources and those whose families are struggling, a divide often reflected by race.

Schools have aggressively recruited minority families that pay all costs in full, to break the perception that they are always the ones receiving financial aid. But a connection persists. At the Calhoun School, also on the Upper West Side, 32 percent of the student body is made up of minority children, and 70 percent of them receive some form of financial aid (a figure that has decreased markedly in recent years). Spending on financial aid at the school grew to $3.6 million last year from $1.7 million a decade ago. (It now represents 14.8 percent of total expenses, up from 14.1 percent over that same period.)

At Trinity, where 37 percent of students are from a minority group, financial aid spending ran to $5.7 million last year, up from $2.7 million 10 years ago (13 percent of expenses, up from 11 percent). Minority students represent 38 percent of the student body at the Dalton School, on the Upper East Side, where financial aid totaled $7.8 million last year, up from $3.9 million a decade earlier (13 percent of expenses, up from 12 percent).

David Addams, the executive director of the Oliver Scholars Program, which recruits low- and middle-income African-American and Latino students and helps guide them through private schools, says the report card is mixed. “These schools have gotten better at providing opportunities for X number of kids, but once there, how well does the school community embrace them and support them in succeeding as well as any other member of the community?” he asked.

The schools point to efforts to hire diversity directors, create forums for discussion about race and privilege, and design mentoring programs to help students find connections. But several new film projects at some of these schools cast a bright light on the sometimes fraught intersection of race and class, and how the two play out in some New York City independent schools.

The film projects at Dalton, Calhoun and Trinity are independent of one another and are at different stages of completion. The Trinity film, “Allowed to Attend,” in which Mr. Alleyne appears, was made by Kevin D. Ramsey, the school’s director of communications, and has been shown at the school. At Dalton, the filmmaker parents of an African-American student tracked their son and a friend through their years at the school and are preparing their documentary for broadcast on public television next year. Calhoun is just embarking on its project. But footage from the films and interviews with students and administrators involved with them reveal that initiatives to diversify some of the most elite schools have proved more challenging than glossy brochures and perfectly balanced multiracial imagery on Web sites might indicate.

Students report feeling estranged, studying among peers who often lack any awareness about their socioeconomic status and the differences it entails. They describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation. Albert, an Asian-American boy in “Allowed to Attend,” says: “You can do a lot of psychological damage to people by ignoring them for an extended period of time. For, like, four years.”

DJ BANTON had never fit in at her neighborhood school in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Children there called her an Oreo — black on the outside, white on the inside — because of the way she talked, and because she got good grades. So when she was accepted at Trinity for the seventh grade through the Prep for Prep program, she hoped she would find children like herself, students who liked to study and listen to Top 40 songs and watch anime. She craved new friendships and deep connections, perhaps the only surefire inoculation against the perpetual loneliness of adolescence.

Those hopes didn’t pan out, at least not for many years. “I left one school where I felt I didn’t belong and went to one where I thought I would belong, and realized I didn’t belong in ways I couldn’t surmount,” Ms. Banton, who appears in “Allowed to Attend,” said in an interview. In elementary school, she said, she could pretend to be “blacker” — change the way she talked, pretend to like music that she didn’t. But at Trinity, “the differences were in money and in the way I was raised,” she said. “I had never been to camp, and I couldn’t change or control that.”

Many of the themes explored are common to any adolescence: where to sit in the cafeteria, dating, parties, homework, tutors. But these issues also intersect with race, wealth and privilege. Minority students talk about feeling overwhelmed by the resources they are suddenly confronted with, and many feel forced to pick between their personal roots and the golden promise of a new peer group with greater wealth. They struggle to bridge the two worlds, and some grapple with guilt if they pull away from neighborhood friends. They describe feeling like a guest at someone’s house: you can stay and look, but you don’t belong.

“The only people who could relate to what I was feeling were minorities, or they were poor,” Ms. Banton, now studying at the University of Southern California, said. “It became linked in my mind — rich, white; minority, poor.”

The emotions are raw, even years later. When Katherine Tineo, who is Afro-Dominican, was accepted at Brown University, she remembers her classmates at Calhoun telling her that it was a result of affirmative action. She stood up in a school town hall meeting and explained, through tears, that she believed that she had been admitted on the merits of her application — her good grades and her efforts to create awareness about multiculturalism at Calhoun.

Recounting the experience seven years later, Ms. Tineo, now 25, broke down again. “To say I got into a school because of my color and not because of my efforts?” she asked, her voice cracking. “I didn’t come from similar places from them, so they thought I didn’t amount to the same thing.”

The project at Trinity was inspired by an earlier film, “The Prep School Negro,” a documentary completed in 2008 and re-edited in 2012 by André Robert Lee, which explores what it means to be poor and black in a wealthy, mostly white school. The film examines his experience at Germantown Friends, an elite day school in Philadelphia, and his attempts as an adult to understand his education and socialization. As a student, he received a “life-changing” education, he said, discovered new worlds and even found a white, upper-class “adoptive” family.

But as he gravitated to his new world, he slowly divorced himself from his poor, urban past, which included his mother, sister and friends. “I lost a major connection with my family, and I lost an understanding of what true intimacy and connection with people is,” he said.

Mr. Lee has spoken at more than 200 schools, and at a screening of the film at Trinity, Ms. Banton asked him to elaborate on how he had bridged the gap between old and new friends. She was struggling with the same issue; her best friend, one she used to play with nearly every day in Flatbush, now seemed distant and angry. “You wonder, ‘Is it my fault for changing or her fault for not?’ ” Ms. Banton said.

Conversations with Ms. Banton about “The Prep School Negro” prompted Mr. Ramsey to make “Allowed to Attend,” which was filmed during the last three weeks of school in 2011 and includes four other minority students, their families and friends. (The entire senior class was given the chance to participate in the film.) The administration gave Mr. Ramsey permission to produce the film, and the students in it approved the final version; Ms. Banton also made a copy available to The New York Times.

Trinity’s upper-school head, Jessica Bagby, said she cried when she watched the film. “They were so brave in telling their story; they were so courageous,” she said. “But I was heartbroken that their experience was what it was.”

That experience included the different places where students congregated, with the white, popular students hanging out in the “swamp,” or student lounge, and the minority children taking over the red staircase. It involved a divide between those with weekend houses and limitless lunch budgets and students like DJ, who could not afford to spend $8 a day at the diner. And it included a teacher mixing up black girls who look nothing alike. One young woman, Cece, explains in the film that she could not feel pretty when the standard of beauty — white, skinny, tall — was something she could never be.

“It’s hard for me to get a guy to pay attention to me in a predominantly white school, because I’m black, and that’s miserable,” Cece says. “From September to June, there’s not a day that I feel pretty.”

The Dalton film, “American Promise,” is a 12-year project undertaken by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, two Brooklyn filmmakers, whose son, Idris Brewster, started at Dalton in kindergarten along with his best friend, Oluwaseun Summers, who goes by the name Seun. Idris graduated in June and now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles; Seun left after eighth grade, after years of academic and social struggle. He graduated from Benjamin Banneker Academy, a predominantly African-American high school in Brooklyn, and attends the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Idris Brewster has fond memories of Dalton. He hated middle school, but enjoyed high school. He made wonderful friends, and said Dalton’s mentoring program helped him connect to other African-American boys at the school. The school provided him the support he needed and the opportunity to branch out. “I met different kinds of people than I would have met at a public school, or in my neighborhood,” he said, equating his education to living in a different culture for 12 years.

But his close friends were all African-American, and racial divides were pervasive. “We’re excluded from the whites,” he said, describing the cafeteria as “whites on one side and blacks on the other.” He did not assign blame to Dalton, and said that much of the issue was simply economic. Most of the black students were not wealthy, he said, so “they have less in common with the whites, who are extremely rich.”

Seun’s mother, Stacey Summers, recalls feeling elated when he got into Dalton. She was happy to take part in the film. “I wanted to chronicle his journey because it would be filled with success, and it would be rosy, rosy, rosy,” she said. “I was naïve.”

“You are thinking going in that all the children are bright and capable,” she added. “The longer you are in the system, you realize what children and parents have to endure to keep up with that level.” Many families paid for expensive private tutors, and other support for their children that she could not afford.

Seun struggled academically and socially. Play dates were difficult. Parents could not, or would not, come to their Brooklyn neighborhood. Some who declined to visit the borough offered to have Seun to their homes, but his mother felt she was imposing. “He never had a friend come to Brooklyn,” she said. She felt like an outsider.

Ms. Stephenson and Mr. Brewster had to get permission every year from Dalton’s board to film in the school, according to a former trustee. They hope that “American Promise,” scheduled to be broadcast on public television in 2013, and the book that accompanies it will be constructive in addressing the issue they say is paramount: the achievement gap between African-American boys and their white counterparts.

“This is not about what Dalton didn’t do for us, or what white people didn’t do for us; it’s about what are the needs of these boys and how can we provide it,” Mr. Brewster said. The conversations in the documentaries, and interviews with the participants, suggest that talk of a postracial society is just that. “As soon as someone says ‘postracial,’ I say, ‘Who was at the last dinner party and who came to the wedding?’ That one friend doesn’t count,” Mr. Lee, the “Prep School Negro” filmmaker, said.

STEVEN J. NELSON, the head of Calhoun, said that there were certain inevitable realities for minority families at the school: At some point, one parent will be mistaken for a nanny or a service worker. African-American boys will be frisked by the police, or followed inside a store.

“Students, and these are nice kids, too easily assume ‘I’m a white kid in this nice Upper West Side school, and that kid is a brown kid in this nice Upper West Side school; my understanding of us can stop there,’ ” he said. Conversations have to move beyond the surface, he said.

To help that process along, Calhoun recently won $243,063 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to produce a film and develop a curriculum and a Web site. The film will be created by Point Made Films, which produced “The Prep School Negro.”

Clayton Wortmann, a former Trinity student who participated in that school’s documentary, agreed it was important to start a conversation. “The level of silence is astounding,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is too nice to talk about it.”

He said the film reminded him of the essay “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace. “Do you think about these things? Do you think about how little you think about these things?” he said, paraphrasing the essay, which is about the cruelty of killing and eating the crustaceans. “That’s what the film will do. It will get people to think about how little they think about it.”

Original article

Cultivating a Lifelong Learner: The Private-School Advantage

By Douglas J. Lyons, Ed.D., Executive Director, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools
 
  Flashback to 1980: A mother takes her 10-year-old daughter Melissa to a pediatric group practice for a check-up. She is disap­pointed to learn that the exam will be conducted by the 35-year-old junior partner. She was hoping that Melissa would be seen by the 65-year-old senior physician, whom she believes has more medical knowledge and vast experience.Flash forward to 2012:42-year-old Melissa takes her young son Jack to a pediatric group. She is disappointed to learn that the 62-year-old senior physician will be examining Jack. She was hoping that he would be seen by the 33-year-old partner, whom she believes has skill and medical knowledge that is more current and innovative.

In 1968, the scholar Marshall McLuhan made a prediction that has proved to be clairvoyant: “The future will not be about earn­ing a living, it will be about learning a living.” McLuhan issued the prophesy at a time when most students graduating from law, medical, dental, engineering and other professional schools had reasonable expectations that they were prepared for a long career in their respective professions. That assurance is not even an il­lusion today. Technology and the proliferation of knowledge guar­antee that all workers will be retraining throughout their careers.

A generation ago, a student who graduated from high school with a neutral or negative disposition toward learning new things, collaborating with others and seeking intellectual challenges would be at a competitive disadvantage. In the 21st-century work­place, that same disposition will no longer be a mere disadvan­tage. It will be an career disability.

Dispositions, unlike temperaments (which are genetic), are learned behaviors. All children are born curious; they become more or less curious depending on the home and school envi­ronments in which they develop. Curiosity, resourcefulness, in­dependence and charitability are all dispositions. They define a person’s characteristic way of responding to the world, especially to challenges.

Since much of adult behavior is the result of early experience, our dispositions exert a powerful unconscious influence on how we think, feel and work.

Twenty years ago, I relinquished a tenured (lifetime) position as Superintendent of Schools in one of America’s most affluent and high-performing public school systems to accept the Head of School position in an independent school. This was not an easy decision; public education had been my life’s ministry. I left be­cause I became convinced that the definition of success in public education was increasingly at odds with my hopes and dreams for both my own children and for the children in my professional care. The pivotal moment in my decision-making occurred when a kindergarten teacher confided to me: “In my class, we don’t sing, we don’t dance, we don’t play . . . we prepare.”

The teacher was referring to the practice of designing school tasks and student experiences with a singular focus on elevating scores on standardized (machine-scored) tests.

Twenty years later, public education continues to ask talented and dedicated teachers to dismiss much of what they believe to be true about the optimal environment for student engagement and motivation. Since test scores now repre­sent the primary measure of public school quality, the stakes are high.

To date, the research on standardized tests suggests that, while they accurately predict future success in similar school-based tasks, they are of questionable value in predicting achievement outside of a scholastic environment. These assess­ments do not measure 21st-century skills (analytical thinking, creativity, communi­cation and collaboration).

Most troubling is the high incidence of “the hollow victory:” the achievement of high test scores at the cost of diminishing students’ dispositions toward viewing read­ing and learning as pleasurable activities.

Schooling is not simply preparation for life; it is life, to be lived each day joyfully, creatively and in an evironment that dis­plays a knowledge of and an appreciation for the uniqueness of every child. A child not well known is a child not well taught. When I became head of an independent school, I experienced the power and the purpose of learning communities that are mission-driven, locally designed and that answer to market-based accountability.

Unencumbered by the curricular de­mands of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, independent-school facul­ties have the freedom to create programs that teach foundation skills and complex ideas simultaneously. Connecticut’s inde­pendent-school leaders believe (and are supported by research) that higher-level activities, projects and learning tasks that many public schools reserve for students in “gifted” classes are appropriate for all students and can be adapted for students with differing abilities.

Independent schools in Connecticut have become models of 21st-century skills development. The results are impressive.

Studies of independent-school gradu­ates in college reveal the broader effects of growing up in an independent-school com­munity. These alumni lead the nation in college graduation rates, graduate-school matriculation, career satisfaction, personal health and fitness, civic involvement and community service.

I have spent the last 22 years of my career serving in the independent school community. My grandchildren are now en­tering independent schools. I am writing tuition checks—again. Happily.

There are few things in life that we can give our children that will last forever. An education that creates a lifelong learner is most certainly one of them.

Original article