One particular moment on the program caught my attention (transcript available at MSNBC.com):
(Videotape, July 1, 2004)
MR. COSBY: Hey, man, let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day. It’s cursing and it’s calling each other n*****s as they walk up and down the street. They think they’re hip. They can’t read; they can’t write. Fifty percent of them. They, they, they take it into the candy store. They, they put it—they put themselves on the train and on the buses, and they don’t even care what color or what age somebody else is. It’s about them, and they're cursing and grabbing each other and laughing and giggling and going nowhere. And the book bags are very, very thin because there’s no books in them.
MR. RUSSERT: The audience seemed to be responsive.
MR. COSBY: Yes, because the people know exactly what I’m saying. See, a great deal of, of the negative is about people not wanting so much attention in that area, but it has to come out. If it is what it is and that is a horrible, horrible problem, then we must direct ourselves to it. I keep thinking about a parent who’s called in to, to the principal’s office because the child is misbehaving, and so many teachers have, have said, “And the parent comes in yelling at us, that their child would never do that, and why are they called, and all of a sudden it’s, it’s no longer about ‘We’re, we’re here to talk about making corrective behavioral changes in your child,’ but about the parent who is using all kinds of language and threatening people.” It’s something that goes into the person.
What Mr. Cosby is talking about here is the ubiquitous my-child-can-do-no-wrong attitude which today's parents bring with them into school whenever they are displeased with the child's academic evaluation, a disciplinary outcome, or any other determination made by a school official. "How dare you tell my child she's not fabulous!" The outright hostility with which parents view any less-than-stellar assessment of their child's performance and behavior is comparable only to the degree to which they are usually proven wrong.
Last year, I had a student not show up to class on the day of a final essay. Since this was the first essay of the term, any student who did not show up that day received a zero and thus failed the first marking period. (Of course, those with legitimate absences were afforded an opportunity to submit the essay the next day, but it is the student's responsibility to do so.) Over the course of the day, I took careful note of every absent student, typing a list of names and adding to it each period, and ultimately distributing it to my Assistant Principal and the 10th grade Guidance Counselor. I made special note of that day's absence on my weekly conduct and attendance charts, and sent a form letter to the parent/guardian of each absent child to inform them that the child was absent and would receive the aforementioned zero.
The student subsequently asked if she could submit the essay later but she never did, nor did she ever dispute that she was absent that day. That is, until Open School Night. When she came into my classroom with her mother, I informed the mother that she had been absent from class that day and had not made up the essay. Stunningly, and for the first time, the student now claimed that she was in class that day after all (a bald-faced lie), and that I must have lost her essay. I showed the mother a copy of the list of absentees I had sent to the AP and Guidance, with this child's name unmistakably printed on it. I showed the mother a copy of my attendance bubble sheet for that week, as well as the handwritten weekly conduct chart for that week. I showed the mother all of the essays I had received from that class section (I still had them, as I prefer to hold onto them until the next writing project when they will be of some use in the classroom, as well as to show the parents on Open School), and there was no essay with her name on it.
In short, I showed the mother four separate items of proof (the Guidance list, attendance form, conduct chart, and missing essay) which were all in agreement, and would lead any reasonable person to conclude that the child must have been absent on the date in question. The response? What else would you expect? "If my daughter says she was here, then she was here."
Let me reiterate this, so there is no misunderstanding. Presented with four separate items of objective evidence on one side, and the unsubstantiated word of a 15-year-old girl on the other, this woman took the latter as the truth. And her solution was to go immediately to the assistant principal and demand that the child be taken out of my class and placed with another teacher.
It's perfectly understandable (albeit irrational) for adolescents to harbor a certain degree of paranoia about their teachers. Especially since they view academic failure as punitive action instead of a denotation of their own performance (as I've discussed at length in previous posts), students always think their teachers are out to "get them," as if we have some sort of special incentive to see to it that they all fail. Whenever my students have written fiction about school, the teachers and other adults are always portrayed as over-the-top, arbitrarily-evil cartoon villains (hence my adoption of the "Dr. Evil" persona at school to mock this ridiculous caricature). As absurd as it is, we accept it because that's how teenagers think.
Adults, on the other hand, should know better. Which is more reasonable, more likely, more believable: that a teacher would lie to make sure a student fails, or that a student would lie to make sure she doesn't? Could even the most hardened cynic answer the former?Again, I ask: Is it any wonder our children are not learning?