Transcript

538:

Is This Working?
Transcript

Originally aired 10.17.2014

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, you're a middle school teacher. Here's a situation that apparently happens all the time. A kid walks into your classroom wearing a hat. There's a rule-- hats are not allowed in school. You tell him to take it off. He does.

Ten minutes later, you're teaching, you look at the kid, he's wearing the hat again. Again, you tell him to take it off. This time, he doesn't. And then he escalates the situation. He curses to himself. What do you do?

Serena Nickle

Right then and there, I'd say, "That response was not acceptable, and I won't tolerate that. Take off your hat, and put it into your bookbag."

Ira Glass

Serena Nickle in Connecticut says that usually works. You demand compliance. Though one of our producers, Chana Joffe-Walt, asked over a dozen middle school teachers. Jose Vilson in New York would have a very different response.

Jose Vilson

"Let's have a conversation."

Chana Joffe-Walt

So like, you're in the middle of teaching, and you would say, "John, let's have a conversation about your hat?"

Jose Vilson

Yeah. Absolutely.

Ira Glass

Jeff Reamer says that the key is no conversation, no stopping instruction at all, as he gives the kid a demerit on the kid's weekly behavior report.

Jeff Reamer

If I'm saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, today, we are going to talk about three different styles of argumentation-- John, right now, you're choosing to earn a major deduction, because you put the hat back on. Please take it off. We're choosing to learn about the three different types of argumentative styles-- ethos, logos, and pathos." It'd be like that.

Ira Glass

Smooth, right? Jamien Jacobs in Maine would not use any words at all. She'd give the kid a look. She'd do the whole thing in a look.

Jamien Jacobs

If he doesn't take off the hat, one of my techniques is I take my shoe off, and I chuck it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What?

Jamien Jacobs

[LAUGHS].

Chana Joffe-Walt

You take your-- wait. You take your shoe off?

Jamien Jacobs

Yeah. Like if I'm wearing clogs, I'd take off my shoe, and I'd put it in my hand, and I'd say, "OK, take off the hat, or I'm going to chuck it."

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like, "I'm going to chuck it at you?"

Jamien Jacobs

Well, they never know. But I've thrown plenty of shoes, and kids love that, too.

Ira Glass

All across the country, across different schools in different states, when it comes to disciplining young people, teachers are winging it. In 19 states, you're still allowed to hit kids if they think that'll work. And lots do. Chana asked the teachers what they learned about controlling their classrooms in their teacher training programs. Most of them said, not much.

There's this great book that's out now by a reporter named Elizabeth Green, about teacher training. It says, "Incredibly, at some education schools, disciplining kids, managing your class, it's not even a subject on the curriculum." When you ask teachers, OK, so really, how did you learn to do that thing that you do with your voice, your face, your shoe, they often answer with a name, a kid's name-- that kid taught me so much.

Male Teacher 1

I had this one student, Alex, who-- I'd tried everything.

Female Teacher 1

His name was Jeff.

Male Teacher 2

I'll call her Z.

Male Teacher 3

I'll give her the name J. Yeah, J.

Female Teacher 2

We'll call him Johnny. We'll call him Johnny.

Ira Glass

Johnny and Z and Jeff and Alex are our nation's education school. These are the kids who were so hard to discipline that teachers just had to figure out what to do. So each teacher finds an approach that works for them.

Does it work for the kids? Who knows? There's no clear answer. There's no best practice that educators agree on.

Which is weird, since this is where kids should be learning to control themselves and how to live with others in the world. It's so essential. This is so basic. And there are lots of educators out there who are convinced that the way that we do discipline isn't just ineffective. They think it's actively messing kids up.

So today, we're going to talk about schools, but not about curriculum or testing or standards or any of the other stuff that people usually talk about on the radio and in the media when they talk about schools. Today, we're going to talk about discipline, because, you know, you kind of have to nail discipline before you can do anything else in a classroom.

Chana Joffe-Walt has been looking into this for months. She has learned things are not going so great with discipline. And lots of educators and parents are asking, is this working? Is this the best we can do? From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Time Out.

Ira Glass

Act One, "Time Out."

OK, so let's start this show about discipline in schools at the very beginning of a kid's school experience, in preschool, with kids so young that you would think it would be pretty straightforward how to handle behavioral problems when they act up. Like, how bad can these kids be? And at this young age, this is where the question first emerges of whether the wrong kind of discipline in school will screw up a kid, maybe for years to come. Here's Chana.

Chana Joffe-Walt

JJ's conversational style is to tell you things he knows for sure. He's no fan of ambiguity, sticks with the facts. He's five. He does not like salad. His new house is OK, but it does not have a pantry.

He can spell the word "loss." His mom has a belly, because there's a baby in there. The baby will have brown skin. And he knows this because his mom said it is for sure, for sure. He does not like salad.

Jj

I do like the onions in it. I eat them a lot. But I do not eat the salad. I just eat the chicken, 'cause the chicken goes with the salad. And I don't eat the salad.

Chana Joffe-Walt

JJ just started kindergarten. I ask him what preschool was like before kindergarten. He tells me, "I was in green room with Miss Bethany and I-don't-remember-her-name lady. There were three racecars." More blocks than a number he knows.

Later, I talk to JJ's mom, Tunette Powell. And she told me a very different story about JJ's time in preschool. She says, last January, she was in the car on the way to a meeting.

Tunette Powell

They called my husband, and my husband called me. And my husband said, "We need to pick up JJ." And I said, "Pick him up?" And he said, "Yeah. They said he threw a chair and he needs to go home."

And I'm like, are you kidding? That he threw a chair? I'm not saying that he can't do anything, but he is the little guy who I worry about, because, even if him and his brother, who's two years younger than him, if his brother hits him, he will cry. Very, very sensitive and not very aggressive at all.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Still, as she exited the highway, she did a special form of mental gymnastics I believe is familiar to parents everywhere.

Tunette Powell

You know, automatically, then you're thinking, wow, I failed as a parent. It was difficult.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You went right there? You went to, I failed as a parent?

Tunette Powell

I did. That's immediately where I went.

Chana Joffe-Walt

When Tunette got to the school, the woman at the front desk gave her a form that said JJ threw a chair. She asked Tunette to sign it. So she did.

Tunette Powell

We're not people who just say, oh, blame the school or blame the teacher or, oh, it's somebody else's problem. I mean, we immediately looked at what do we need to do to right the ship. This is not OK. I mean, we told him, you're going to go to your room. And I talked to him about everything.

And we thought, OK, he seems like he understood. And so I thought, OK, this is a one-time thing, never happen again. And then, in the same week, JJ was at school for about 30 minutes. And they called me.

They said that he had been crying at the breakfast table. And they didn't know why he was crying. That they kept asking him why he was crying, and he would not tell them why he was crying.

And then he pushed a chair again. And neither of the times, he didn't hit anybody. But of course, he could have.

Chana Joffe-Walt

JJ was sent to his room again. No cartoons, no fruit snacks. A couple weeks after that, JJ spit on another kid. He got sent home again.

Tunette asked for more information this time. And there was a long back-and-forth about the definition of "spit on." It was not projectile; more like dribble.

And at home, they did the same routine-- you're going to go to your room, no treats. But Tunette worried JJ didn't seem to understand that, when he was bad at school, being sent home was a punishment. Tunette didn't think he got that connection.

Tunette Powell

I don't. I think he almost saw it as a good thing, where, yes, it was sad, because Mommy wasn't happy with me. But at the same time, when I pick them up at school, they're not running away from me; they're running to me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Do you know what a suspension is?

Jj

I don't know.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Have you heard that word before?

Jj

Yes.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And what does it mean?

Jj

I forgot. But I do have Captain Damerica. He's the guy with the shield.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Captain what?

Jj

Captain Damerica.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So yeah, I don't think he got it. And of course he didn't. He was four years old at the time. To me, it sounds crazy to suspend a four-year-old. Like, there has got to be a better way to get your message across.

It didn't seem like it was messing him up or anything. JJ didn't seem traumatized. It just didn't look like it was working.

Then, after the third time he was suspended, Tunette started to feel like there was only one explanation for why it wasn't working. And it wasn't her parenting or the school. It wasn't JJ.

It was her. She was a problem student when she was a kid. And she felt like, somehow, she passed that on to her son. She disrupted class a lot, got in fights.

Tunette Powell

I got in trouble all the time as a kid. I was suspended frequently. So when my kids started getting suspended, it's like--

Chana Joffe-Walt

But you weren't suspended in preschool.

Tunette Powell

Yes. Yes. I was suspended and expelled from preschool. Mm-hm.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like three, four years old?

Tunette Powell

Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And so when I see my own kids getting suspended from school, you know, my kids are me. So I got in trouble a lot when I was little.

My kids are me. Doesn't matter if the situation's different. It doesn't even matter. They're just me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

It had mattered greatly to Tunette that the situation would be different for her kids. She spent the last decade taking one enormous step after another away from her childhood. Her dad was in prison when she was a kid. Her children have a father. Her mom never had enough money.

She and her husband moved to Omaha so Tunette's husband could be in the Air Force. They have a steady income, four bedrooms, and a lawn. Tunette went into kindergarten knowing she was a bad kid. And she lived up to that reputation all the way through school.

Tunette Powell

But my kids seem so different. They seem like-- my kids are so good. They're so happy. They're so full of life. They just seemed a lot different than I did at three or four.

And they're so well-behaved at home and in public, when we go to restaurants and any of these places like that. Anywhere we take them, to the mall, anywhere, people are just always stopping us and saying, how are your kids so well behaved? So the fact that that was not very consistent at school just broke my heart.

Chana Joffe-Walt

A few weeks after JJ was first suspended, Tunette took him to a birthday party.

Tunette Powell

And this is where, at this point, remember, I'm feeling really low on myself, I guess my parenting skills. And so I go to this birthday party. And it's for his friend, one of his little friends.

And all the parents are kind of talking, all the women parents. And we're talking about the preschool. And some of them are saying things that they like and don't like and all these different things. And then I said, well, JJ's been suspended. And they were like, suspended? And I'm like, yeah.

And they said, they suspend kids? They were shocked. And I said, absolutely. I said, he's been suspended, and I started telling them all the things that he had done.

And then one parent's like, I wonder why my kid hasn't been suspended. And I'm like, hm? What? So then she says, well, my son, he hit this kid on purpose, and they had to rush that kid to the hospital, and all I got was a phone call. And I was like, hm. And one after another, they kept telling me different stuff-- my kid did this, my kid did that, my kid bit somebody, my kid-- all these things.

And my kids, they're all the same age, all the same class. And only JJ had been sent home. So I was like, what is going on? That's when I thought to myself, something is not right.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The other parents were white at this birthday party?

Tunette Powell

The other parents were white. It was three other parents and myself. And they were white. And where we live, the majority of the kids are white.

And I'm not a person who does that, oh, everything's against black people, or I don't wake up and look for situations where there's discrimination or racism or any of that. So I wasn't-- oh, they're just doing this because my kids are black. I had no reason to believe that. After that birthday party, it forced me to consider it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

After the birthday party, Tunette's younger son, Joah, got suspended. Joah was three, though just barely three. He'd just had his birthday that week.

Tunette writes for a local Omaha parenting blog called Momaha. She wrote a post with the headline, "Is My Black Preschooler Just Another Statistic?"

I reached out to the preschool. And they did not want to comment or even allow me to talk to the director of the school. But Tunette's post got picked up by the Washington Post. And she started getting dozens of messages, especially from black parents, all over the country.

Tunette Powell

In every part, every little sector, just saying that this has happened to me, and I thought I was by myself.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Tunette was very much not by herself. This is not a new conversation for lots of black and Latino parents noticing that their kids seem to be punished more harshly than white kids. That's not new.

What is new is that some academics and activists have been taking these stories and attaching them to a new, provocative term-- "the school-to-prison pipeline." The idea is that what's happening to Tunette's son is happening to lots of kids of color all over the country. And once those kids are old enough, the excessive punishment in school really messes them up and makes them much more likely to wind up in prison.

Michael Thompson

Yeah, you'd hear stories from advocates who would talk about a school-to-prison pipeline.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Michael Thompson is the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. It's a nonpartisan think-tanky type place. And Thompson kept hearing that term, "school-to-prison pipeline."

His job is to advise lawmakers on crime policy. So he was getting asked a lot, is this a real thing? Are black and Latino kids really punished more in school and ending up in prison because of it? It seemed a little far-fetched to Michael Thompson.

Michael Thompson

Um, you know, I think everything's more complicated than that.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Thompson likes numbers. He enjoys being in close proximity to Microsoft Excel. And this is exactly the kind of assignment he does not like, because there are not consistent numbers on discipline in schools. Every school is different, every district, every state.

And then, Michael Thompson learned about Texas. Texas, somewhat miraculously, had followed every single public school student from seventh grade through graduation-- the seventh graders of 2000, 2001, 2002. And they had documented everything-- report cards, if the kid was poor, Asian, switched schools, gotten in trouble, followed them all the way through graduation.

So Thomson could ask the researchers in College Station at Texas A&M, how many white kids were suspended? For what? How many times? Which schools?

Michael Thompson

I was just-- all these numbers. The image I have is these guys in Texas A&M with white lab coats. We would joke that all the lights would dim in College Station each time they would run an analysis of this thing, because it was such a massive data set.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The lab coats peered down at a million students' lives-- the schools they attended, how they did, when they got in trouble. And they determined that African American and Hispanic students were twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than their white peers for their first offense. When they looked at African American boys in Texas, 83% were suspended at least once. And usually, they were suspended a lot more than once. That includes anything a school calls suspension.

But still, take 10 black boys, two of them made it through middle and high school without being suspended. And what kind of infractions were they getting suspended for? Most of the time, these were not for big things, like hitting a teacher or bringing a weapon to school. They were for things like disrespect, insubordination, willful defiance, the kind of incident that often begins when an angry kid won't take his hat off.

OK, and one more striking thing you can see in the Texas numbers-- kids who were suspended were much more likely to be arrested outside of school, three times as likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

Michael Thompson

To be honest, it was a little bit of a spine-tingling moment, because I kept thinking about how city advocates had been saying this is such a common event. And my instant reaction was, this is going to give a whole lot more credibility to this conversation than we've ever had before.

Chana Joffe-Walt

They're right. I mean, what you're saying is you've just found that they're right.

Michael Thompson

Yeah. At that point, that's right.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The idea of suspending a young person for bad behavior-- what is that? A kid who's disrespectful or insubordinate does not want to be in class. So you suspend them? Just saying that out loud, that sounds weird, right?

A couple years ago, the state of Maryland wrote a law-- state legislator sat down and wrote this law-- that says you cannot suspend students for being truant. If a kid skips school, you can't punish him by telling him, you can't come to school. They needed a law to make that clear.

I talked to a sociologist named Pedro Noguera who told me that, over the last few decades, suspensions have become the go-to move in response to disruptive behavior, for everyone, actually, but especially black and Hispanic kids.

Pedro Noguera

Denying them learning time, which is, I think, the most ridiculous part of it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And because of the Texas numbers, we now know that those same kids are at a much higher risk of being arrested. So is there a connection here? One way to look at this is just that our society gives tougher punishments to black and Hispanic kids when they are JJ's age, when they're in preschool, and when they're in high school, and when they're old enough to go to prison. The issue is not school. It's just racism.

But Noguera says school is an important part of this picture. And here's the theory he laid out for me. You suspend a kid, he misses school, he finds it hard to catch up, he feels frustrated, falls behind. And maybe just as important, he learns he is bad. Because he feels bad when he's in school, he acts bad.

Pedro Noguera

There's this assumption that, if we get rid of the bad people, that the good people will be able to learn, the good people will be safe. What we continue to ignore is that we are producing the bad people. We're producing in school the bad behavior.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Producing it through the system of punishment that convinces some kids that they're bad.

In May, 2011, Michael Thompson got a meeting with the Attorney General of the United States. And he showed him the Texas numbers. And two months later, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education were standing together at a press conference about discipline in schools. They started gathering their own numbers from schools, all over the country this time. And those numbers were worse, even in preschool.

In March this year, the Department of Education issued a report that said black children make up 18% of preschoolers, but they make up 48% of preschool children suspended more than once.

Tunette Powell

When I found that, it was the same month as the birthday party. And I saw the story and the way it just said that black children are suspended at much higher rates. So I'm thinking to myself, in the same few months that my kids were being suspended, I go to this birthday party, and then I see this report.

Chana Joffe-Walt

I asked Tunette what the report meant to her. And she found it hard to summarize so many things.

Tunette Powell

First, when I saw the report, it made me feel like my kids were a target. It just felt like they were a target. I felt like my kids-- is this something that I have to worry about forever? Is this not something that I could just say was this one-time little thing? It's like something that I'll always have to be aware of and always have to think about and always have to be more involved than the next parent in my kids' lives at school because of these studies.

And then, second, the report just kind of made me feel like maybe I wasn't as bad.

Chana Joffe-Walt

She's talking about herself there, as a kid. Remember, Tunette was a problem student herself, preschool through high school graduation.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Maybe I could have been-- maybe, since there's such this overwhelming number, maybe that meant that the teachers weren't always doing the right thing.

Even as she's saying that, Tunette isn't quite sure she believes it. She remembers being bad. She flipped over a desk in class one time. That happened. But she also remembers that, after getting suspended in preschool, she walked into kindergarten fully convinced the teacher was the enemy. And that never went away.

All those times she was suspended, she didn't come back less angry, ready to obediently follow directions. It was the opposite. Tunette says, "I went into kindergarten knowing I was bad. I went into first grade knowing I was terrible. And it just went up from there."

Ira Glass

Chana Joffe-Walt. Coming up, two ambitious, totally interesting, and completely opposite attempts to do discipline differently in schools. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two. The Guinea Pig Becomes the Scientist.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, discipline in schools-- is it working? Is it messing kids up? One of our producers, Chana Joffe-Walt, has been looking into that for months.

And in this half of our program, we look at two approaches to discipline that teachers are trying in schools in poor, urban neighborhoods. There's a pattern that teachers see in a lot of these schools. The pattern is this-- the kids walk in on day one, they're already stressed out by the environments they come from, and they act out. So they get punished.

They get the message that they're bad. They come to hate school. They act out some more.

Katie Furr

I had a kid throw a bathroom stall door out the window from the third floor. And I got in trouble, because I let him go to the bathroom.

Ira Glass

Katie Furr first taught at a middle school in New York City in Washington Heights with tons of kids who acted out. There were fights.

Katie Furr

It didn't really feel like anybody was in charge, except this one eighth grader. He actually yelled down the hall one day, "I run this mother." And I realized he did.

Ira Glass

Often, she would just lose control of her class because of this kid named Christopher, a curly-haired 14-year-old with braces who gave her more trouble than anybody else in the class. Like one day, Christopher left class to go to the bathroom. And Ms. Furr took his coat. And she locked it in a closet with all the other kids' coats. There was a school policy in that school to lock up coats like that to make it harder for the kids to leave school in the middle of the day.

Katie Furr

He came back in, and he was like, where's my coat? And one of the other kids was like, Ms. Furr locked it in the closet. And he was like, you steal my stuff, I'm going to steal your stuff.

He walked over to my desk. He's taking staplers, he's throwing papers. He's like, throwing stuff around the room. He's putting stuff in his backpack, in his pockets.

And the security guard came in, and he didn't really know what to do. And I mean, Christopher's running circles around the security guard, my Post-Its falling out of his pants pocket. It was just ridiculous.

Ira Glass

In reaction to the kind of chaotic public school where learning is interrupted a lot and so kids fall further behind, two decades ago, some teachers launched one of the biggest recent experiments in American education, a whole movement of charter schools designed for poor minority kids. The idea is that the classrooms are rigorous, high standards, long school days. When it comes to discipline, they are strict, they're orderly, they are hyper-vigilant. There's a slogan they use-- they sweat the small stuff, so things never get to the point they did in Ms. Furr's class.

These kinds of charter schools have now been around long enough that the first generation of students who went through them are grown. And some of those students now look back on their time in those schools. And they think about, did it work? What worked? What didn't work?

In this act, Act Two-- we're calling this act "The Guinea Pig Becomes the Scientist"-- Chana talked with one of those students who grew up and decided to become a teacher himself.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Being a human subject is a thing that ranks pretty high on Rousseau Mieze's "who I am" list. He grew up in Roxbury, Mass. His parents are Haitian immigrants. And at age 10 years old, Rousseau became a human test subject when his mom signed him up to be part of the first sixth-grade class at the Academy of the Pacific Rim.

Rousseau Mieze

I like to think of it as first generation charter school. Students are silent. Students are sitting up straight. There's just no room in a classroom for students not following directions or following the rules or doing what they are asked to do. And version 1.0 of that was, like, my second day of school, I got suspended, sent home, because I celebrated-- because I got 100 on a math quiz, one of those Math Minutes.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You got suspended for celebrating a math--

Rousseau Mieze

For talking, talking out of turn.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Wait. What'd you say?

Rousseau Mieze

"Yes! Yes! I got 100 on my Math Minutes." But I said it out loud.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Suspension?

Rousseau Mieze

Yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Rousseau's teachers had spent years coming up with the theories that created that first week of school. They wanted to close the achievement gap with long school days and high expectations. They have lots of slogans-- no excuses, zero tolerance for misbehavior. And Rousseau's teachers believed this approach would motivate the kids to behave. Which it did, for some kids. And for some kids, it did not.

Rousseau Mieze

I was definitely one of the-- how to put this? I got in trouble a lot, like, a lot. And so--

Chana Joffe-Walt

What kinds of things were you doing?

Rousseau Mieze

Impulse control. Talking. Talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. Yeah, that was most of it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

A few of Rousseau's childhood teachers went on to start their own schools, went on to scale up their vision of rigorous, no-excuses schools for America's poor and minority students. Rousseau's former teachers now write books and talk about the mistakes they made early on and all the important lessons they took from those mistakes, things like, don't shame students by making them stand with their nose to the chalkboard for the rest of the class. Don't make them bark like a dog. It is not best practice to throw chairs in order to get kids to see you're serious. And when a kid is late, do not do what a teacher did to Rousseau.

Rousseau Mieze

He's like, where were you? [MIMICKING YELLING] And I'm like, sorry. I didn't realize-- and then he's like, get out He yells at me and screams at me to leave the classroom.

And then I get up, and I'm walking. And he goes, walk faster! And screams at me to walk faster. I was so distraught, breathing heavy, crying, just uncontrollable anger and rage at that time. It felt like that.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You're still mad about it.

Rousseau Mieze

I'm really angry about it, like really angry about it. To this day, I can't say this guy's name. I can't even-- yeah. It's really bad.

Chana Joffe-Walt

For Rousseau, there was a big upside to his charter school experience. He got into college. He doesn't think that would have happened otherwise. And it gave him the life he has today.

But there were downsides, too. For one, lots of kids couldn't hack it, left the school. Less than half of Rousseau's sixth grade class stayed till graduation. And some of the charter movement's leaders say too many of those who did make it to college ended up dropping out. One reason for that-- after all the strict control in high school, they floundered when they had no structure in college.

When Rousseau aged out of being a human test subject, he pretty much immediately moved over to the other side and became a teacher. He got his first gig when he was still in college, a sort of teaching internship at a charter school in Rochester. He was 21 years old. And he finally had the distance to see things from the outside. He chaperoned his first field trip to DC, and it kind of freaked him out.

Rousseau Mieze

And it was just so intense. Kids were single-file lines out of buses, single-file lines lined up in front of a bathroom at a rest stop. Monitors had to go into the bathrooms. Kids had to silently use the bathrooms, wash their hands.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And Rousseau noticed that the kids were getting noticed. Grownups around them were smiling, pointing them out.

Rousseau Mieze

I think that there's some of it that's just like, kids and teenagers? Wow, I've never seen a group of teenagers silently walk into a bathroom, because who sees that? But also, I think there's a race thing that plays in there, too, where you're like, wow, look at a group of minority children in a rest stop, sort of, like, behaving.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Rousseau was good with kids, especially the problem kids. When he graduated from college, he got a job through his charter connections. And Rousseau proceeded to be maybe the only rookie teacher in America who did not struggle with classroom management. Seriously, he was a genius at controlling the kids. The thing Rousseau struggled with was letting go of control.

By this point, the strict charters had pulled back some on the extreme discipline model. The slogans were still "zero tolerance," "no excuses." But Rousseau also heard a new one-- "power versus purpose." Make sure, when you are exerting your power, there's a reason for it.

Is there a reason kids need to walk quietly into a rest stop on a field trip? Is there a reason you need that kid to unpack his bookbag silently? There might be. But you know, ask the question. Rousseau said school felt so different than he remembered.

Rousseau Mieze

I saw kids laugh and have fun in school. I saw kids learn about commas through-- like one of my coworkers, Angar, he came in as Barack O-comma. And I saw that. I experienced students learn and did really well on the Rhode Island state test, killed the state. But they were having such a good time.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And was that the first time that you had seen that?

Rousseau Mieze

Yeah. Yeah, it was.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And you were like, oh, my god, school can be this way.

Rousseau Mieze

It can be fun. And it was crazy to me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Rousseau and I talked in a small workroom at a school. And he had to interrupt our interview, because he said he needed to help with a transition. I didn't know what that meant, but I followed him into the hallway. And about 30 kids walked single-file line, completely silently, out of their classroom, down the hall, down three flights of stairs, to lunch. This is what that sounds like.

[CLAP]

30 or so 11- and 12-year-old children are streaming past me, down the stairs, single-file. No arms are flapping, no mouths are open, no one is tripping or falling, all the way to the cafeteria.

Chana Joffe-Walt

That was a pretty silent line.

Rousseau Mieze

Yeah, well, somebody earned a demerit for talking in that line.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Somebody earned a demerit just now?

Rousseau Mieze

From me, yeah. For talking.

Chana Joffe-Walt

I did not hear any talking.

I listened back to try to find the infraction. And I think it must be this.

Rousseau Mieze

[INAUDIBLE] demerit for talking.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Yeah. That creepy feeling Rousseau had watching the kids at the rest stop, I had that feeling. And it was super confusing, because Rousseau had just spent an hour telling me about these eye-opening experiences he'd had seeing kids laugh and Barack O-comma and how he could never stay quiet as a kid.

So we talked about this for a while. And he says he's ambivalent about how controlling his school was, about all the ways his school today is a lot like the school he attended as a kid. But the longer he teaches, he says, the better he understands a thing that he did not get as a kid about why his teachers were so harsh. And that is that they were scared.

They were scared of losing control of the class. He knew that. That part was obvious to him even when he was a teenager. But what he didn't realize at the time was they were also scared for him. He knows this now, because he is a teacher of mostly poor, mostly black students, like he was. And he feels this for his students.

He's afraid for their well-being. He's afraid of the odds they will not graduate. He's afraid they won't get to college, afraid they'll get suspended or arrested for horsing around or being rowdy at the wrong place at the wrong time. So Rousseau finds himself saying things teachers said to him. And it's like when you're a parent and you hear your mother's voice coming out of your mouth, and you know what you are saying is such a worthless thing to say to a child, but you say it anyway.

Rousseau Mieze

Do you not get why I'm on this level? Let me get you on the level that I'm on. This is why I'm freaking out right now. I'm so worried, because I look at them, and I see myself, or I see my friends. You know, some of those people are in prison right now.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Rousseau wants to be able to loosen his grip some as a teacher, allow kids more freedom. He's trying to do that. He takes tiny steps. But he says his fear gets in the way.

Act Three. The Talking Cure.

Ira Glass

Act Three, "The Talking Cure." So after the Texas numbers came out, and then more studies and punishments in schools, lots of educators and policymakers became convinced that a lot of the discipline that schools administer is not working, especially suspensions. So if you don't want to suspend kids, what do you do instead?

Well, one alternative that's talked about a lot, that the Obama administration and others are pushing for schools, is something called restorative justice. Now, the model for this comes from the criminal justice system, where offenders and victims will sit down in a mediation, and they basically try to talk it out and find a way to restore the harm done by the crime. That's why it's restorative.

So if this is the answer for schools, we wanted to see what it looks like when you try that in a school setting. Chana spent last spring semester at a public school called Lyons Community School in Brooklyn. It's a small middle and high school founded nearly eight years ago to attempt this approach with kids.

Just a quick note, the kids in this story are minors, and some of the names have been changed. Also, if you're listening to this on the internet or on podcast, there is cursing that we have not beeped in what you're about to hear. If you prefer a beeped version of our program, you can get it at our website, thisamericanlife.org. OK, here's Chana.

Chana Joffe-Walt

I was popular at Lyons. It was a problem. Kids would see me walking around with my microphone, international symbol that someone is about to be made famous. And there'd be a scramble.

Male Student 1

Is this an interview?

Chana Joffe-Walt

Some very quick process of natural selection would take place, a dozen kids would get pushed aside, and I'd be left standing with the champions.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So you guys are both what grade at Lyons?

Students 1 And 2

Ninth.

Chana Joffe-Walt

How do you like it?

Students 1 And 2

It's good.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Are you going to say everything at the same time?

Students 1 And 2

No. Stop!

Chana Joffe-Walt

You guys both started this year?

Students 1 And 2

Yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Having to move a conversation like this into an interview about restorative justice was a little bit of a bummer. Kids at Lyons don't necessarily know that term, nor do they want to talk about it. But when you ask them what their school is like, they have a lot to say about that, mostly what it feels like here. The teachers listen to you. And we have a voice.

Student 1

In my old middle school, they would just suspend us and whatever, call it a day. But at Lyons, we talk about the problem and stuff like that.

Student 2

I had one little altercation, but me and the girl are friends now.

Student 1

Because we all talked about the situation. It was stupid. After the fight, we all got in a circle, and we just talked about the situation.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Circles. That's a big thing here. They sit in circles after a fight. Circles are where conflict is resolved, consequences are discussed, feelings are shared. The kids at Lyons get the message that talking is how you are successful.

A beefy ninth grader named Alex, with an Afro and dimples, walked me through, in detail, how he calms himself down when he gets frustrated in class. And then he told me, "Lyons is what made me." I ask him what he means by that.

Alex

I wouldn't think I would talk to you now how I'm talking to you.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What do you mean, the way that you're talking to me now?

Alex

Like so friendly, like I could keep on talking and talking. If I would have never been at Lyons, I probably would have never been comfortable talking to you.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You wouldn't even be sitting here with me.

Alex

No.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You just would have walked away when I asked to talk to you.

Alex

I probably would have, yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Later, Alex told me, "I wouldn't have walked away nicely, either." His teachers confirmed this.

All this talking at Lyons can just look like total chaos. There are kids in the hallway at Lyons all the time, there are fights, there's random screaming in between classes. Rousseau's charter school had zero tolerance. Lyons has a tolerance for disruption that rivals a paintball arena.

One day, I found a teacher and dean trying to game out how to approach a student who told a female teacher to suck his dick. The kid said this in class and then walked out.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Were you mad? Like mad at him?

Female Teacher 3

I just feel so bad for him, that he can't control himself. Why is he yelling at me? I've only ever been on his side. What is up with that? It just makes me so sad. I don't really have it in me to get mad at him about it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Even though he's telling you, "Suck my dick?"

Female Teacher 3

Well, that was just like a performance. I really didn't take it personally. I mean, it was really just kind of like--

Male Teacher 4

Like out of the probably about 100 times somebody's told me to suck their dick, I don't think they ever meant it personally toward me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

That's happened to you 100 times?

Male Teacher 4

Probably.

Chana Joffe-Walt

These two teachers talk about what it means that the student said those words for an hour. They then speak with the student for another hour, the student and his mom, the student and other students, the student one-on-one again. It is a thorough investigation into the meaning and effect of the words "Suck my dick" on the kid, on the teacher, and on the class.

But that's kind of the idea, that kids are a long-term project, and over time, angry, hard kids become people who can explain themselves. At Lyons, they call this transformation "being Lyonized." The assistant principal was telling me about this, about how kids get Lyonized.

And a ninth grader named Nelson happened to be just sitting with us. So she said, "Like Nelson. In sixth grade--"

Female Assistant Principal

He was constantly talking, constantly throwing things, constantly getting kicked out of class, constantly.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Nelson is not squirming or grimacing listening to this. The feeling is more of a loving parent teasing a grown child about what an awful teenager he was. But of course, what's so remarkable is Nelson is still a teenager. And this is not his parent. It's his principal.

Female Assistant Principal

You didn't make it through a class, rarely, even when I had you in small group in sixth grade. It was rough.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Is that true?

Nelson

Some of it.

Female Assistant Principal

You remember. It's not like you don't remember.

Nelson

Not in that small group. The small group, I wasn't bad.

Female Assistant Principal

That's not true. That's not true. You have selective memory. It's not true.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Nelson tells me, "Just ask Espy what I was like in sixth grade." Espy is Dan Espinoza, a dean at the school.

Dan Espinoza

Oh, god. As a sixth grader, he was a very, very angry kid. And even through most of his middle school, he'd be a kid that would just wander the halls for hours on end. No one could talk to him. No one could stop him-- don't touch me, get off me. He would be like, "These f-in' deans. He would always say that.

Chana Joffe-Walt

One day, a girl said something nasty to Nelson, and he started screaming at her and then chasing her out of the classroom.

Dan Espinoza

Espy stood by the door so Nelson couldn't run after her. And he looked at me, and he was like, "Dan, I swear to god, I'm about to punch you in the groin right now"-- he said that to me-- "if you don't let go of the door." So I put my foot in the door so that he couldn't open it. And he knew it, and he stopped it at my foot, and then he just pulled harder. And I was--

Chana Joffe-Walt

What happened?

Dan Espinoza

It hit me right in the face.

Chana Joffe-Walt

When I asked him how hard, Espy said, "It didn't break my jaw or anything." So that was sixth grade. Nelson is in ninth grade now, Lyonized.

Dan Espinoza

I mean, I could tell Nelson, "Nelson, I love you." He'll be like, "I love you, too." And it's just a very good--

Chana Joffe-Walt

Oh, really?

Dan Espinoza

Yeah. It's a very positive relationship at this point. I really don't worry about Nelson. I don't worry. I think he's going to be OK.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Schools, like any institution, I guess, tend to attract believers, some more fervent than others. But Lyons is a building of believers. This is the way to do things, and it's the right way.

Which is why I want to tell you about what happened on May 7 last spring, something that threatened to reverse years of progress with Nelson and had lots of teachers in the school questioning what they're doing here. On May 7, two teachers named Chelsea and Jesse took a group of ninth graders on a field trip. It was an art class. They were going to Manhattan to look at public art. And even on the walk to the train, kids were noticing public artwork.

Jesse

It was a beautiful day. We got on the train. Everything was pleasant and calm. Chelsea's at one door. I'm at the other. Kids are standing in the aisle. Most of the seats were taken when we got on.

Chelsea

I remember standing with a group of kids around me. And we were all just kind of chatting, who they're dating or just talking about life. Everything seemed so calm. I think we're on the train for two stops, and the train doors open. And someone comes from behind Nelson. So Nelson is standing at the middle pole of the train. And someone pushes past him, kind of shoulders him out of the way, and steps off the train.

And Nelson responds by saying, "Say excuse me." And the man now, who's outside of the train, turns around and starts cursing at Nelson. I don't remember exactly what he said, something like, who the fuck are you, or, shut the fuck up, or something very aggressive, very unnecessary.

Nelson didn't say it in a nice way. He was just like, "Say excuse me." Definitely not within his place to be speaking to an older man that way, but still, not horrible. Chelsea says the man was big, big enough that she wouldn't have messed with him and big enough that, Nelson says, when he bumped into him, it was a real shove.

Nelson

It's rude people on the train. They'll just bump into you without saying excuse me or sorry. I told him, "Say excuse me. You could have said excuse me."

Chana Joffe-Walt

And then he said something right back?

Nelson

Said, "Fuck you." I said, "Fuck you, too."

Chana Joffe-Walt

There are a lot of versions of what happened next. Some students say the guy reached to grab Nelson, to hit him. Some of them say the guy just stepped forward. Teachers and students, everyone, says, at that point, the kids, a large group of them, moved in on the man.

Chelsea

It was kind of like slow motion. And I could see a volcano erupting. And I just immediately put my arms across the door, because he was outside, and they were inside. And I wanted to keep them inside, and I wanted to keep him outside.

The doors were going to close soon. They're just yelling. They can yell, and then we'll move on.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And Chelsea put her arms across the doors to keep the kids behind her inside the train. But for some reason, the doors did not close. The train did not move.

Chelsea

It definitely escalated very quickly. They were trying to hit him over me. They threw a bottle. Somebody spit. I mean, it was really gross.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Jesse, meanwhile, the other teacher, was at the other end of the train car. So he couldn't see what was going on. But he stepped out onto the platform, and he sees this man there, screaming.

Jesse

And Chelsea is between him and the students. It appeared that he was reaching over, trying to grab a student. And he's saying something like, I want this fucking kid, or, give me this fucking kid, something like that.

So I was really concerned that he was mentally unstable. And so I ran. I actually sort of-- so I slipped myself between him and Chelsea.

Chelsea

I was facing him. And so I actually saw him reach into his pocket. And I got really-- I was like, oh, my god. Does this guy have some sort of weapon?

Jesse

I actually put my hands on his chest to push him away. And right when I did that, we locked eyes, and he said, "I'm a cop. I'm a cop. I'm a cop."

Chana Joffe-Walt

When I asked the kids about this moment later, a bunch of them told me the whole thing was so confusing until right then. The whole time, they were wondering, what's this random guy doing starting with us? And then, when they found out he's a cop, it was like, oh, that's why he's acting like that.

But Jesse and Chelsea both said this is where they got confused. The man made more sense to them as a crazy guy than as an officer, a plainclothes officer, who was now standing on a subway platform with his badge saying he got hit, and he wanted everyone off the train.

Jesse

Yeah, he's like, give me this kid, I want that one, give me the tall one, the short one, who were huddled on the platform. He's picking-- he had one student and was asking for more.

Chelsea

He was very, very, very angry. You know when someone's so angry that spit is coming out of their mouth? Yeah. When he was talking to us and talking to the kids, he was filled with fury.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Jesse says the cop pulled aside Nelson, Alex-- that kid who told me Lyons made him capable of talking to me-- and a boy named Kamani. Jesse tried to stay close to the group.

Jesse

I'm saying, "Wait, why do you want them?" And at some point in there, I made it clear. I said, "I'm their teacher. They're with me on a class trip. We need to talk about this."

And he's saying, "I'm going to get six more officers here in a second." And he really did. He called, and there were a bunch more plainclothes officers there really quickly.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Jesse pressed on. And the more he recounted this to me, I realized, oh, he's trying to do restorative justice with the guy. He was in teacher mode. He's got 25 of his students standing before him. So without thinking, he does what he knows how to do.

Jesse

You know, let's talk about this. There must be a way we can work this out. You don't have to arrest them. I have a whole class here.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And you thought, I just need to explain to him what's going on.

Jesse

Yeah, if I could explain to him, we're on a class trip, and whatever happened must have been some big misunderstanding. Maybe he didn't know you were a cop. Maybe you shouldn't have cursed at him right away. Maybe he shouldn't have said, "Say excuse me," with that particular tone. And if I can help you two see that right now, then everything can be OK. And he wasn't trying to hear any of that.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What was he saying?

Jesse

He actually then threatened me and said that, if I don't get away, that he was going to arrest me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Restorative justice, meet plain old criminal justice. The cop was not about to sit in a circle. He was going to make some arrests.

And the kids geared into action. They shot video, started calling mothers and aunts and girlfriends. Someone made sure to get their backpacks.

Nelson's classmate Brianna got Nelson's phone out of his pocket while he was handcuffed. I asked Brianna how she knew to do that when someone was arrested. She was quiet for a couple seconds, like she was trying to figure out what exactly I meant by that question. And then her face cleared up, and she said, oh, I live here. I live in Brooklyn.

Jesse

I immediately got the sense that seeing their friends in handcuffs was nothing new to them at all. And that's a really scary thought. And it's something that I know, but to see it in that moment where it's so clear no one is shocked.

Chana Joffe-Walt

About what's happening right there.

Jesse

Yeah. People are angry, but no one is surprised. And seeing how normal it is for some kids is, yeah, that's scary.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The cop arrested Nelson and Kamani. The rest of the kids watched. Nelson was charged with disorderly conduct. Kamani was charged with a felony for assaulting an officer.

The NYPD declined multiple requests for an interview or any kind of response. And the officer-- his name is Guillermo Lozano-- would not talk to me. He also didn't show up for Nelson's court dates. He did provide the courts with a written statement that says, after a heated verbal exchange with Nelson, the officer identified himself. Kamani, the statement says, then punched him in the right eye and yelled, "Fuck that."

Kamani denies this. But in court, he took a plea deal. All of the witnesses I spoke with say the cop did not identify himself until after the scuffle. Two people said, at that point, he did appear to have a mark on his face. Nelson and Kamani were booked and spent the night in jail. They were both 16.

Nelson

Everybody's in there for different stuff. So at that point, you just feel like you've just got to watch over yourself, because there's dangerous people in there. You've just got to be cool.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Was this other kids or grownups?

Nelson

Grownups. To me, they was a little crazy, because they're just doing random shit and crazy stuff.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like what?

Nelson

Crazy stuff, like grown people getting caught with guns and stuff. It's just weird, because you're just looking at them like, damn. I didn't sleep.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Yeah, it seems like it'd be hard to sleep.

Nelson

I was up the whole night.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Did you just sit up the whole night?

Nelson

I had my hoodie over my head, just thinking.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Were you scared?

Nelson

Not really. I kind of was, but I wasn't.

Chana Joffe-Walt

I asked Nelson what he was thinking about all night.

Nelson

If he was a cop, why'd he tell me fuck you? Because he could have said something else if he's that smart enough to be a cop.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like what?

Nelson

I don't know. Like, sorry, my fault. It just made no sense. He's a grown-ass man, and I'm a little kid. He should have just kept going.

Chana Joffe-Walt

When Nelson got out the next morning, he came straight to school. He said he wanted to let his teachers know he was OK.

The principal of Lyons, Taeko Onishi, sends out a weekly email to staff. And that week, it described the arrests and said, "There's an impending court case, so I won't get into too much detail. But it was one of those cases of a cop undercover, responding completely inappropriately to our students, our students then responding inappropriately back. Clearly, the cop was in the wrong. But equally clearly, many of our students really struggle to make the best of choices when faced with an emotionally charged situation."

Of course, Lyons staff discussed the incident exhaustively.

Jesse

I was sick. It's like your worst nightmare. Assaulting an officer sounds so bad.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Espy, the dean who tells Nelson he loves him, could not stop imagining Nelson in jail. He imagined Nelson getting his prints taken, standing before a judge, seeing himself as a criminal. And Espy played out the alternate future he could now see for Nelson. Basically, he had the same moment Tunette had with JJ, seeing a path laid out before him, seeing him targeted by strangers who don't see him for who he is. It made Espy furious.

But other teachers at Lyons took the news of the arrests differently. Kamani's English teacher, Cindy Black, said she kept thinking about all the times Kamani acted out in her class, blew up, threw books on the floor. And she kept wondering, is what we're doing working for the kids?

Cindy Black

And so when I first heard about what had happened, my immediate reaction was, oh, no. It's our fault. We've allowed him to get away with too much. We should have been suspending him more.

We should have been more black and white. We shouldn't have turned away when he did these outrageous things. We should have held him more accountable.

And we didn't do any of that stuff. And so it's our fault he's done something now. He spent the night in jail. It's because of us. It's because of me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Here's Chelsea.

Chelsea

Because maybe if we were a different kind of school, they would not have acted that way on a trip. I don't know if kids would have felt the freedom to act that way.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Freedom to say "excuse me" to a stranger in a rude tone, to throw stuff, and to talk back. It seemed like the cop saw them as rowdy or threatening. What if they'd been more like Rousseau's students, quiet and in uniforms, doing homework? Maybe this whole thing could've been avoided.

But Espy reminded everyone, wait, the cop said, "Fuck you." Kamani only got involved when the cop started with Nelson. We're going to tell them he should have held back?

Jesse

Are you kidding me? When his friend is getting pulled by a plainclothed guy? How do you-- I just don't-- because I know, if I was there, I would be arrested, because if someone's grabbing Nelson and it's just a guy, I'm going to-- so I would have been arrested.

And this guy clearly had a-- everybody around said Nelson said, "You could say excuse me." That's the first thing Nelson said, when the first thing the guy says is, "Fuck you." And this is a kid who we're trying to teach, be patient, don't confront somebody. And I thought he did a pretty good job. But once you say, "Fuck you," to Nelson, the restorative justice doesn't work beyond that point.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Still, restorative justice is what the school does. So after Jesse and Chelsea got the rest of the class back to school, they set them down in a circle. Here's Alex.

Alex

Just talking about what happened at that day and what we could have did to stop it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What could you guys have done to stop it?

Alex

I don't know. We can't stop something like that. The police officer just took them for no reason. We can't stop-- we can't change his mind as Jesse tried to change his mind. He didn't want to change his mind.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So your circle was about what you could do to stop it, but you felt like there was nothing that you could do to stop it?

Alex

Yeah. I didn't really feel like telling nobody. So I didn't really feel like talking about it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

In other words, nothing that we could do, nothing you teachers can do, would have stopped that. I heard this from a lot of kids, the feeling that your funky little system is cool when we're in school and all, but don't try and take it and apply it to our world. You're in over your head.

If talking in circles are not the way the world does things, then Lyons is failing to prepare kids for the world they live in. And if they're not preparing kids for the world they live in, they're not doing their job, right? Isn't that their job? Is that their job?

This is the question I keep coming back to, thinking about all these stories. It's the same question Rousseau, at his no-excuses charter school, is asking.

What is the point of punishment in school? Is it to teach self-control? To get kids to be quiet so learning can happen? To prepare children to function as grownups in the world? To teach them how to avoid being arrested? If you want to know, is this working for the kids, you have to know what you're going for, right?

Every year, teachers have 30 or 100 students. A lot of those kids will be disciplined. And getting it wrong, even once, can be haunting. For example, remember Christopher, the kid who ran around the classroom with his teacher's stapler and Post-It notes coming out of his pockets everywhere? I tried to track Christopher down. I thought it might be interesting to hear what he remembered of the stapler, if he remembered his teacher.

And I found him, just last month in a Manhattan courthouse. He was being sentenced to six months at Rikers Island for burglary. Christopher's seventh-grade teacher did not cause that. But when I told Ms. Furr, she got really quiet, ended our call kind of abruptly, and then wrote me this.

"I was so heartbroken to hear the news about Christopher's recent trouble. All the times I talked about behavior with him, I wish I would have talked about how quick that he was at math and how much I liked to hear him read out loud. If you do speak to him, please tell him I'm glad to help in any way possible."

Katie Furr has no idea if those things would have made any difference, and I don't either. And I wasn't able to reach the one person who might have something to say about that, because he has been removed from the community, something he's gone through many times before, starting at least as early as seventh grade.

Ira Glass

Chana Joffe-Walt is one of the producers of our show.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program today was produced by Nancy Updike with help from Ben Calhoun, Sean Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, and Alissa Shipp. Our senior producer's Julie Snyder. Editing help today from Paul Tough, production help from JP Dukes.

Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our office manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Research help today from Christopher Swetala and Michelle Harris. Music help from Damien Graef. Special thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joel Lovell, Rebecca Decola, Robert Murphey, Nava EtShalom, Judge Elijah Williams, Jamaal Bowman, Liz Fletcher, Judith Kafka, Ronald Butchart, Kelly King, Kathy Brody, Lamar Shambley, Kathy Cohen, James Settle, Tom Ryder, Matt Lunt, Janet Bass at the American Federation of Teachers, Amanda Pinto at the Achievement First Network, and the entire staff of Lyons Community School.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, every day he spent as general manager of WBEZ included that very special and memorable moment when he would stand in the hallway and yell--

Katie Furr

I run this mother.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. For the internet version of this episode, we did not bleep curse words. Those words remain intact in this transcript.