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Time That I've Been Silenced

Sasha De La Cruz's picture

I decided to write about the first situation that came to mind when the prompt was given to us. During my senior year of high school, the superintendent, Dr. Carol R. Johnson, and the rest of the Boston Public School (BPS) committee “proposed” that the best way to deal with “underperforming schools” was to simply close them down; my high school being one of the seventeen on their list. Their reasoning behind this decision or proposal was based on our MCAS scores (Massachusetts standardized tests). The main problem (and reason why I put the phrase underperforming schools in quotations) with their reasoning was that not only were the scores of a lot of these schools increasing every year, but that most, if not all, of these schools on the list were lacking the resources to even prepare their students for these tests. A lot of these schools were overpopulated and economically struggling.

The contract maximum of students per teacher in BPS is thirty-one to one, taking my school for example; we had more that thirty-one students in a classroom and still receiving more transfer students even after they announced the potential closing down of the school – outrageous isn’t it? Not only were the classrooms overpopulated, but also we were way behind with technology and materials. The time I was in school, we were still using something that looked like the 1998 iMac G3 and some of the 2002 iMac G4; and this was considered the fancy computer lab, lets not even touch base on the computers in the library. However, we did receive a set of fifteen to twenty “new” 2008 white MacBook’s for a class of thirty-plus students, no need to state the inconvenience. Not only were behind in technology, we were not provided with adequate materials either. Most of textbooks were missing pages, front covers, outdated and we never had a sufficient amount for the whole class. Another aspect of many BPS that I think is important to mention is that because of the Zero Tolerance policy, we had law enforcement present in our school. These were used to deal with any misbehavior or if the teachers convenience. I believe this important to note because law enforcement are already strict outside of school, inside of school you did not have the chance to explain yourself, you would immediately be taken care of by the police. Completely disregarding all these factors that did not help us exceed in school, the superintendent proceeded with her proposal.

Once we were notified of their plan, we immediately began organizing and protesting about the situation (by we I am referring to students from these schools and community organizers). By making noise, I am referring to having rallies, walkouts and even marching into one of their budget meeting. As a giant group, we decided to attend every single committee meeting to make sure they understood we were not taking their potential decision lightly.

The way these meetings are set up is that the committee will meet about a certain subject; they do the voting and discussion amongst themselves. As a side note, but vital to mention, we have a student representative but he or she is not allowed to vote – a way of silencing the students already. While this takes place, the audience simply watches and listens. When you first arrive, you have the option to sign up to speak for three minutes. Right before the end of the meeting those who signed up are asked to go to the mic in the order in which they signed up. As mention earlier they only have three minutes to speak. During the given time, the speaker is allowed to touch upon any subject – they can ask questions, express concerns, or to even appreciate something they did or something about their school. Although you are allowed to address your questions and concerns towards the committee, they do not and will not respond in any way, shape or form.

We decided to take advantage of this system by having a number of people from our group sign up to speak one after the other in all the meetings. Those who spoke took the time to express their feelings, concerns, emotions and explain why these schools should not be closed down. We decided to do this because we wanted to make sure that not labeled as rebels by just marching in and making noise, but we are also being respectful and going by their rules and trying to convey our message. There were instances where the committee had law enforcers to try to stop us from getting into the meeting. Our fight against the closing of our schools lasted about three to four months.

 During this time, the committee made visits to our schools to “hear us out”. I believe there is a difference between hearing and listening, or actively listening. I believe when you hear something/someone, you are simply acknowledging that there is something/someone making some type of sound; when you listen or actively listen to something/someone, you are recognizing and paying close attention what it is that you hear. Throughout those four months, I felt the committee was simply hearing us, but not trying to listen to our concerns. Although they told us four months before making the final decision, it was clear they had already decided these schools were going to be closed.

The reason why I chose the picture jsalas put up; I used it to represent all the students who yelled, screamed and fought for their school they were not listened to and they ended up misplaced. One of our main concerns is where all these students going to go. The way students are assigned to their school depends on where they live according to the assignment zones. My school served to three neighborhoods, now that it is gone those students from those neighborhoods have a longer trip to make to get to school. Despite all the visits, rallies, tears, demonstrations, marches, and walkouts – the committee voted to close our schools down in less than half an hour – therefore silencing the students’ voices. 



Anne Dalke's picture

Listening vs. hearing

Whoa! How different this image of silence is from the one you first chose, that of the galaxy; although you didn't explain your reason for selecting that initial photograph, what I see in your shift in focus is a move from a faraway look @ great (overwhelmingly great) silent spaces, to a close-up look @ a young girl who has been silenced (or who perhaps is silencing herself?). Be sure to check out (if you haven't already) the stories posted by Uninhibited, ishin, sara.gladwin and Sharaai, which also all take off from this very powerful image, and which are intriguingly like-and-different from your own.

Your mentioning the  Zero Tolerance policy puts me in mind of a great senior thesis you'll be reading (part of) in Jody's class; it's written by Cara Tratner, the daughter of a colleague of mine in the English Department, and is called "Domination to Liberation: Blurring the Lines between Prisons and Schools." Cara's second chapter discusses how the shift to a culture of punitive social control prompted the rise of “zero tolerance” education policy, blurring the line between education and incarceration as impoverished urban public schools grew to resemble prisons themselves. It details the entrance of the criminal justice system into the classroom, both physically, with the increasing use of security officers and police surveillance and ideologically, with the law-and-order mentality being introduced into classroom management. And it discusses how this rise in punitive discipline coincided with test-driven education reform to push underachieving low-income students of color out of schools and into prisons, creating the “school-to-prison pipeline,” further marginalizing the students who already face the most serious social, economic and academic disadvantages.

In other words, it gets @ some of the hardest issues we'll be facing in this cluster, and you are directing us there now.

Several other things strike me in your paper. The first, and by far most encouraging, is the strategy of "having a number of people from your group sign up to speak one after the other in all the meetings." What a great example of the power of collaboration, of joining your voices in protest! The second is a question about the appropriateness of the image you choose to illustrate your story: is it really accurate? This young girl seems to be silencing herself; the story you tell is of students speaking up, and not being listened to--the image that arises for me is that of another hand coming across her mouth, or of a deaf ear, not hearing.

Speaking of which, I was also quite struck by your nice distinction between "hearing" and "listening." You reverse the meanings of the words from what Delpit says ("you listen to the radio, but you hear your mother"!), but the implication is the same: we can hear w/out listening, we can listen w/out hearing. In neither case is the transaction complete.