First grade teacher suspended for calling her pupils “future criminals” in a Facebook post

Her seven year old charges are violent and dangerous. Out of frustration she spoke the simple truth about them, away from her job, and now she faces losing her job. Based on the description of the children’s behavior, as well as the fact that this happened in Paterson, New Jersey, we can safely assume that the children in question are black. Based on the teacher’s name, we can assume she is white. In fact, the story indirectly tells us that she is white and the pupils black and Hispanic.

But it’s so ironic that she is being called a racist for what she said. Has everyone forgotten the great Joe Clark, the Paterson high school principal who spoke in the strongest terms about the “thugs” and “reprobates” under his charge, whom he used intimidating measures to quell? Clark was considered a hero for bringing order and discipline to a black high school. Now a white teacher calls the same student population (who are probably much more disorderly and frightening than the Paterson students of 25 years ago when Clark was principal) “future criminals,” milder language than that which Clark was famous for, and she’s called a racist. It’s Auster’s First Law in action: the worse becomes the behavior of designated minorities, the more forbidden it becomes is to speak the truth about it. has the story:

The Paterson teacher who ignited a firestorm by calling her first-grade students “future criminals” in a Facebook post defended herself Wednesday in a Newark hearing on whether she should lose her job.

Jennifer O’Brien told an administrative law judge that she wrote the post in exasperation because six or seven unruly students kept disrupting her lessons, distracting children who wanted to learn.

One boy had recently hit her, another had struck another child, and she had given the principal several disciplinary reports on students during her three months in charge of a class of 23. She said they also stole a box of stickers she hid in a closet to use as prizes.

“I was speaking out of frustration to their behavior, just that build up of ‘I don’t know what else to do,’ and I’m actually scared for their futures, for some of them,” O’Brien said. “If you’re hitting your teacher at 6 or 7 years old, that’s not a good path.”

O’Brien, of Elmwood Park, posted her Facebook remark to 333 friends on March 28. Immediately it was forwarded outside her circle. It ripped through the district and within days brought an onslaught of national media attention, with network news trucks camped outside School 21. Critics called her comment racist and painful for a community already ravaged by violence, drugs and low expectations for its young; others sympathized with an overwhelmed teacher who made a dumb mistake in writing that was amplified by the lightning speed of the Internet.

The post, written after she got home from work, read “i’m not a teacher—i’m a warden for future criminals.”

It was followed by a second post six hours later saying “they had a scared straight program in school—why couldn’t i bring 1st graders?” Earlier that day, O’Brien had watched sixth-graders talk to prison inmates through a program aimed at showing teenagers up-close the harsh consequences of crime.

In her first public comments on the incident, O’Brien told Judge Ellen Bass that she was surprised her posts were so misinterpreted. She said she deleted them as soon as she realized they were causing offense and immediately apologized to her principal. She said some parents also had trouble handling the kids in her class.

“I had quite a few parents that came to me saying ‘I don’t know what to do with them at home … give me some strategies,’” she said.

After the uproar, the Paterson school district suspended O’Brien without pay and filed charges to revoke her tenure for unprofessional conduct. District officials said they hoped to wrap up the case quickly; by law, she goes back on the payroll Sept. 4, after 120 days of suspension. O’Brien joined the district in 1998 and makes $60,513.

After taking briefs from both sides on Oct. 10, the judge has 45 days to make recommendations to the education commissioner, who can accept, reject or modify them.

O’Brien’s testimony followed two days of hearings that gave a window into a beleaguered district as school officials tried to calm furious parents and local pastors sought to defuse tensions in their congregations. Two days after the posting, a small group of parents and activists protested outside the school.

The district called as a witness the Rev. Kenneth Clayton, president of the Paterson branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. According to the hearing transcript, he said at first he thought the post was a “sick joke.”

“I couldn’t believe anybody would be that stupid to post something like that on Facebook,” he said. Then he started getting calls from a “vast” number of people in the city. “I think people were just overwhelmed with a sense of anger which we were just trying to make sure that we were able to calm … because we didn’t want it to turn into some type of angry demonstration.”

Clayton said the comment “helps us realize again that racism has not been erased from our country … I know that children can be testy and tedious and all those things, but to say in first grade there that you’re a warden for them, that’s reprehensible … if a teacher or any adult leader could look at children like that in the first grade and think that, then the children are doomed.”

O’Brien’s lawyer, Nancy Oxfeld, said in an interview the post was a mistake but not racist. “If you make a comment that is not a racist comment but you’re a white person and it’s made about students who happen to be black and Hispanic, there’s a presumption that it’s racist,” Oxfeld said. She noted in court there was no record that any parent complained about O’Brien before the incident or that she spoke inappropriately to students.

Principal Frank Puglise testified on a previous day that he saw no evidence in school that O’Brien had a low opinion of her first graders, but that she did need help with classroom management so he sent a coach to assist her.

School 21, with about 700 children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, sits in one of Paterson’s most troubled areas. About half the students are black, half Hispanic, and 80 percent qualify for free lunch. Capt. James Smith, executive director of security for Paterson schools, testified that in the neighborhood, police got 9,000 calls for service in the past school year, including 41 for fights with weapons, 29 for robberies, and hundreds for gang activity, drugs and other “quality-of-life issues.”

Robert Murray, lawyer for the Paterson schools, said the teacher’s comment was especially damaging there. “To say that all the children who are 6 years old are future criminals is more painful in School 21 because of this environment,” he said. “A child in School 21 knows the sound in the night is a gunshot, not a sound on the television set like a suburban child.”

Oxfeld argued the number of crimes in the area was irrelevant, but the judge said context was important. “I do understand,” the judge said, “that it stings more” to be called a criminal “when a child lives in a neighborhood where what they hear at night is a gunshot.”

- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

The article notes: “Critics called her comment racist and painful for a community already ravaged by violence, drugs and low expectations for its young.”

The passive voice, what would liberals do without it? They would have to write something like this: “Critics called her comment racist and painful for a community whose members are violent, use illegal drugs, and don’t look after their children.”

Rev. Kenneth Clayton, president of the Paterson branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, is quoted as saying, “I couldn’t believe anybody would be that stupid to post something like that on Facebook.”

I agree with Clayton. Expressing an honest opinion about the behavior of blacks on a public forum with your name attached is career suicide.

LA replies:

Is this not the informal means by which liberal society weeds out “the unfit,” liberally speaking? Liberal society places white people, such as police officers and teachers, in positions of responsibility over an incurably disorderly, hostile, and violent black population. The unbearable psychological pressures of trying to keep order among incurably disorderly people are such that any white person in that situation who lack True (Liberal) Grit will let out his frustrations and speak the truth about the horror he is dealing with. And because the worse the behavior of blacks is, the more racist it is to speak the truth about it, such imperfect liberals are instantly expelled from their jobs and from respectable liberal society. <> This is the “Reign of Fear” of which VFR reader Irv P. has spoken.

JC writes:

It is sometimes difficult to remember that the definition of “racism” in contemporary America is any statement, of any kind, any action, of any kind, any proposition, of any kind, which in any way is, or is construed to be, critical of or detrimental to minority (non-white) persons. Facts mean nothing. Intent means nothing. Context means nothing. The test is whether any listener believes the act or statement to be a negative assertion about nonwhite people. If so, then it’s racism.

Richard O. writes:

It’s the full pile on for the teacher, Jennifer O’Brien.

She submitted “several disciplinary reports” to the principal but she still had six or seven unruly, disruptive “students” in her class as of press time. The principal thus did not do his job and left the non-disruptive students under his charge to suffer. He did determine that O’Brien needed help with classroom management (not including discipline of the unruly or their removal to a special school for thugs) and sent in a “coach” to assist her with her competency problem. Reporting student outrages is definitely not good for one’s fitness evaluation.

I have no idea why the NAACP guy was brought in unless it was to testify to “black community outrage at having someone actually mention outrageous conduct by members of the black community.” He could bring himself to say that (minority) kids can be “testy and tedious and all those things” but he left out “violent.” Fancy that, and let’s not go there, even when a teacher’s livelihood is at stake. Who could get hurt if we fudge the facts a bit?

Ms. O’Brien statement is undoubtedly 100 percent accurate with respect to the disruptive students in her class but the reason why it’s accurate do not get addressed in this little Morality Play. Instead of (supposed) anger at the teacher for the overbreadth of her statement, why isn’t there community anger at a school system where six or seven unruly students—in one class, mind you—are unpunished and allowed to interfere with the education of compliant students? The teacher makes a frank, unguarded, mostly true statement and it’s network trucks at the school door. But as for the majority of the class losing the entire benefit of their attendance in every class in which those thugs hold forth for the entire year, well, fugedaboudid. That is a matter of absolute indifference. It’s the discovery of the seething racism lurking in every white person that makes this such a tantalizing tale. It’s dopamine for the hungry waving receptors.

We can see which way the administrative law judge will rule, given her comment that “it stings more” to be called a criminal “when a child lives in a neighborhood where what they hear at night is a gunshot.” It “stings” to be called a criminal wherever you live, I’m guessing, but the logic of why it would sting more if there were other actual criminals outside discharging firearms escapes me. Maybe the gun shooters were shooting in self-defense or assisting the police in apprehending real criminals.

Moreover, leaving aside the First Amendment issue (of which there is no mention in the article) and the arguably private nature of the Ms. O’Brien’s communication, I see it’s presumed that the non-disruptive students don’t have a brain in their head and that they are helpless to conclude other than that their teacher—whose difficulties with specific students (known to all the students present) for conduct that is egregious beyond a shadow of a doubt even by Yale Normal School standards—was referring to the whole class. Her 13-year reputation and routine attitudes and conduct toward the non-disruptive students just would be ignored by these students. Not surprising with hysterical adults rending their garments out in the parking lot.

These students are also ignorant of the realities of their neighborhoods, have no idea about the rampant criminality visible and audible there every day, and are incapable of comparing personality types they see in class with types they see in gang members. Apparently, gangs can be found only in some other neighborhood from the one in which the students live and criminals are only 18 years old or older who do not spring from the neighborhoods but have to be imported. The idea of schools actually being a source of actual or future criminals is a thought that does not and never could enter their heads.

These situations are like quantum leaps of electrons from a lower to a higher orbit around the nucleus of an atom. It’s an instantaneous leap with no intermediate higher and higher orbits. Once minority “feelings” are at issue, the full force of official America flies from normal dysfunction orbit to the “white racism!” higher orbit in an instant.

A. Patterson writes:

As a two-T Patterson myself, I must pedantically point out that the city of Paterson, N.J. is the one-T kind. You’ve been spelling it with two Ts, although the N.J. website you quote spells the name of the town correctly with only one T.

So, although the two surnames are obviously just variations on the same idea, I’m glad to say that the disaster-area known as “Paterson, NJ” is no relation to me at all.

LA replies:

Thanks for the correction, I’ve changed the spelling.

The error is not readily excusable on my part, since I used to live in and afterwards frequently visited South Orange, where my parents lived for many years, just a couple of towns over from Paterson, and visited Paterson a few times with my sister, who lived in upper Montclair, right next to Paterson, to tour the historic industrial district and once to see the amazing flooding that had taken place in the suburban part of the town along the Passaic River.

August 26

A. Patterson writes:

Thanks for that Wikipedia link. That Beaux Arts City Hall is really, well, beau! Too bad it’s now located in a ghetto.

The Paterson-vs-Patterson controversy is apparently a division between Highland and Lowland Scots—though I forget which is which and don’t spend much time thinking about it. But the debate comes up briefly in the Robert Redford movie, A River Runs Through It. I can’t recall offhand whether the family in the film spells their name one-T or two, but in any case they receive a letter addressed to them with the incorrect number of T’s. The Pat(t)ersonian patriarch is disturbed by this, complaining “Now the postman is going to think we’re Lowland Scots!”

Ah, the good old days, when the biggest worry on an American’s mind was being thought to be from the “wrong” part of Scotland.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 25, 2011 08:52 AM | Send

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