School Climate & Safety Opinion

The Vicious Cycle: When ‘Control and Compliance’ Means Teachers Too

By Christina Torres — January 10, 2018 2 min read
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The first thing that gets me is how calm the teacher was.

Nothing seemed particularly audacious or inflammatory as Deyshia Hargrave walked out the Vermilion Parish School Board meeting on Monday, January 8. The mood is tense, yes, but as you watch the video, Hargrave is, for all objective purposes, calm. Her hands are at her sides as she walks out; her voice isn’t raised. While “angry” and “aggressive” can be relative concepts, there’s little here that makes her seem like much of a threat as she complies with the officer’s request and walks out of the boardroom.

That’s what makes her anguished cry, high-pitched and confused as she’s handcuffed on the ground, all the more jarring and upsetting.

This is how it starts, I thought to myself as I watched. This is how they start to silence us.

It wasn’t because I hadn’t seen an arrest in my life or because there aren’t other videos like this (some of which, more heartbreakingly, attacking students). It was because my first gut reaction after watching the video was fear. What if that happened to me? What if I, or one of my colleagues, were treated like that if we voiced our displeasure at a meeting? As the school board doubles down on their tactics and defends the actions of the officer, it forces the teachers watching—myself included—to question our gut reaction. Is this what we can expect if we speak truth to power?

What’s all the more troubling is how school board president, Anthony Fontana, attempted to justify the action in a statement to KATC:

If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can't control, out of the classroom to the principal's office, under our policy we have the same rules," Fontana said. He added that the officer "did exactly what he was hired to do. He followed the procedures completely. She's the one who made the choices that got her arrested."

That‘s how it starts—the vicious cycle of control, compliance, and silence. It’s not just about making teachers feel powerless—it’s about insidiously normalizing these tactics as a means to educational “success.” Teachers are taught to “control” students and silence them when they question our authority, then the same concepts are used on us to scare us into believing we also should not question power.

The thing is, the real purpose of education is not about making any us comfortable, compliant, or silent. Educators must not be “cogs in the wheel,” as John Dewey once said. If administrators and policymakers want educators to teach “critical thinking skills” to our students, shouldn’t we, as teachers, also be able to critically think and question the system as well?

As we are in a world where, because of the internet, questions and voices are perhaps more democratized than ever, we must begin asking how we will tear down the belief that only a select few have the right to question and challenge the status quo. The hegemony wants to perpetuate the generations-old belief that only some are allowed to push against the idea that “this is how it is because I say so.”

So, as I watch this video, I am (mildly) soothed by the public outcry that has occurred in the aftermath, hopefully making it clear that we cannot be scared into silence. I also make sure I ask myself two important questions:

How can I stand alongside my colleagues to challenge and change what the system has deemed is best for students?

and, even more importantly,

How can I make sure my students never feel too scared to speak truth to power—including when “power” means me?

Screencap courtesy of NPR.

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.