Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some Thoughts about "The Lottery"

So, I just finished watching "The Lottery" (streamed on Netflix). For those who haven't heard of it, it's a documentary (though not a balanced one) that follows several families as they apply to get into a charter school called the Harlem Success Academy.

I have mixed feelings about the movie, and charter schools in general. On the one hand, I increasingly feel that parents should have choices about where to school their children, and everyone should be able to vote with their feet, as I did. Surely one of the worst ideas in education is that one size fits all.

I don't criticize the parents who applied to the Lottery in hopes of getting into a charter school. The zoned public schools where they live are terrible, and a decent charter would be a big step up. The parents in the movie are dedicated to their kids and want to give them a chance to succeed in adult life.

On the other hand, the Harlem Success Academy, like KIPP, runs schools that I would never willingly send my kids to. Now, as a white, upper-middle-class, left-of-liberal type, I'm not their intended audience. But I wonder, if someone opened a Montessori charter in the inner city, what kind of results could they get? Would parents be interested, or do they prefer the authoritarian model?

There's an interesting article about Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Harlem Success Academies, here. Here's an excerpt which convinced me that my kids would never attend such a school:

New students are initiated at “kindergarten boot camp,” where they get drilled for two weeks on how to behave in the “zero noise” corridors (straight lines, mouths shut, arms at one’s sides) and the art of active listening (legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker). Life at Harlem Success, the teacher says, is “very, very structured,” even the twenty-minute recess. Lunches are rushed and hushed, leaving little downtime to build social skills. Many children appear fried by two o’clock, particularly in weeks with heavy testing. “We test constantly, all grades,” the teacher says. During the TerraNova, a mini-SAT bubble test over four consecutive mornings, three students threw up. “I just don’t feel that kids have a chance to be kids,” she laments.

Noguera, too, has reservations about the “punitive” approach at Harlem Success and other high-performing charter networks. He thinks it grooms conformists, and that middle-class parents would find it anathema. “What concerns me are the race/class assumptions built into this,” he says. “If you’re serious about preparing kids to be leaders, you have to realize that leaders have to think for themselves.”

Also, the sight of classrooms full of dark-skinned children being taught and supervised by lily-white teachers and administrators is troubling. How about training some of the parents to become teachers in the school?


  1. I don't see how this "authoritarian" (which is a bit of an exaggeration) approach is any different than most private schools. A lot of (rich, lily white) parents do choose this environment. How much structure is involved seems like a "personal taste" question.

  2. Anonymous, you've said a mouthful. I've responded in the next post.

  3. Train parents to become teachers? As if my teacher education can be summed up in a two week training course ? Or like tfa, a summer , then you can be a teacher?

  4. I teach kindergarten and most of my parents are harder on their kids than I am (screaming at them in front of me, threatening to "whoop" or belt, etc). Several have expressed gratitude for the order in my classroom. I don't think a montessori school would survive in my hood. In this test taking society, unfortunately these kids do need the grades to make it out of their neighborhoods, make it to high school, make it to college.