Lethargy and Leftism:  Inside the Newton Public Schools As Teachers’ Strike Drags On

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2024/01/28/lethargy-and-leftism-inside-the-newton-public-schools-as-teachers-strike-drags-on/

Newton students have now missed six consecutive school days due to a teachers’ strike led by the Newton Teachers Association, the teachers union for the city’s public schools.

While the union sings “We Shall Overcome” at their rallies, as if their situation is at all similar to those faced by the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, kids in Newton are missing school. After an extensive COVID virtual period that stretched deep into the 2020-21 school year, largely due to the union refusing to even negotiate about a return to the classroom, Newton kids are facing another period of learning loss.

As someone who spent 13 of my formative years in the Newton Public Schools, I have seen enough. It’s time to call the union out for its selfishness and neglect of Newton’s children.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the United States still has not reckoned with the learning loss brought on by the pandemic, and teachers unions are masking the problem through grade inflation and lowered standards.

Additionally, we know learning loss has a disproportionate impact on poor children who have access to fewer academic resources at home, and may even face unsafe home situations. Periods of being out of school also contribute to chronic absenteeism, which has exploded since the pandemic. It’s unlikely the teachers’ strike will lead to anywhere near as much missed classroom time as COVID-19, but it is clear that the strike becomes more damaging with each passing day, and there is not even virtual school to give kids some form of academic engagement.

Given all of these facts, it is clear that the striking teachers are prioritizing their incomes over student outcomes. If teachers want a better compensation package, they should be negotiating while returning kids to the classroom. Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, a Democrat, has already called for such a solution.

Additionally, with how much time Newton teachers spend talking about equity, one would think they would not pursue a course that will hit Newton’s poorest families hardest. But they have so little self-awareness that they instead see themselves as the heroes of this story. In reality, they are undermining the kids who most need support from their teachers.

There are also problems when school is in session. Newton has also opted for a literacy curriculum the state has rated “low quality,” and about two-thirds of low-income students between grades 3 and 8 did not meet expectations on the Language Arts MCAS test. (MCAS, which stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, is the standards-based assessment program that tests public school students to see how they and their school’s systems are performing.)

While the literacy curriculum may be low quality, Newton’s schools have plenty of time for left-wing identity politics. For example, in December 2021, grades-6-through-8 Bigelow Middle School provided racially segregated safe spaces to discuss the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. This is divisive, wrong, and regressive. It undoes the hard work this country has done to move toward a place of color-blind equality, much of which was done by the people who originally sang “We Shall Overcome” justifiably and honorably.

Additionally, some Newton teachers make a point of not tolerating dissenting views. After the 2016 election, Newton North High School history teacher David Bedar, referring to Trump supporters, wrote in an email message:  “Personally, I’m finding it really difficult in the current climate to teach kids to appreciate other perspectives … I don’t feel good about protecting student’s right to a so‐called ‘political’ view.” The email messages became public in 2018, but it’s unclear Bedar faced consequences for them. Less than a year later, he was the faculty speaker at my high school graduation. It was hard to fathom that the figure chosen at what should have been a ceremony that promotes unity and shared experiences was someone who I knew not only hated my core values but also didn’t think I should be able to express them in class.

That said, when I was there, Newton North still had academic rigor. It was biased to the left, but I had some great teachers and read some of the great texts of the Western canon. In my sophomore English class, we read Oedipus Rex, Macbeth, Frankenstein, among other great books, and we had serious discussions about political power and scientific ethics.

Today, Newton North does not offer normal sophomore English; instead, it offers only “Voices in Literature” and “Action Through Literature.” Macbeth, which used to be read in all classes, has now been relegated to a book that one may read in one of the classes, and Frankenstein is nowhere to be found.

No books are listed as required in either class, but the only one listed as a potential option on both reading lists is The Hate U Give, which features a protagonist who seeks racial justice, but not with Martin Luther King as her hero. She prefers to quote Malcolm X’s line “by any means necessary” (page 210). 

And of course, like any woke school district, Newton has drag shows, which both of the city’s public high schools have put on during the past calendar year.

Unsurprisingly, these failures start at the top, at least at Newton North. Principal Henry Turner is also a racial equity consultant and has written a book about how to promote an anti-racist culture in school. Turner has praised The New York Times’s dubious 1619 Project. His consulting course includes left-wing buzzwords like “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and “cultural appropriation.” Meanwhile, Newton’s poorest kids are struggling to read, and the number of students getting a 3 or better passing score on Advanced Placement tests is down since 2015.

Turner took over as principal in 2016.

It is clear that the Newton Public Schools spend far too much time talking about politics (and at that only from one perspective) and not enough time learning academic skills. Particularly when dealing with younger children, this is dangerous. It’s also not a teacher’s place.

Newton’s schools are failing its children. Despite massive amounts of resources in this well-to-do city, student achievement is stagnant and left-wing propaganda is rampant. Hopefully, like COVID, the teachers’ strike can serve as a wake-up call for parents, offering an in-your-face opportunity to see how self-absorbed the teachers’ union has become.

Newton schools ought to get back in the classroom and back to the basics.

 

Matthew Malec, who grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, is a Research Assistant at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington D.C..

 

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