Letters

Reality Avoidance
Does being an alternative weekly excuse your reporters from simple things like providing attribution? The account of the paddling incident involving Classical School principal Alvin Jackson ["The Boom Boom Method," by Lisa Gray, April 24] is provided without attribution, so as readers we do not know whose version we are reading. Though the account of the events leading up to the incident provides scant attribution, most of it comes from the child and his mother. As far as the paddling incident itself -- nothing resembling attribution is evident. I can only assume the account came from the mother. If this is true, the story is not balanced, and should have been held until additional research and reporting could have been completed.

Another problem with the story is the writer's reliance on the newspaper date to establish the date of the photograph of the bruised buttocks. I have old papers, and if I wanted to take a photograph establishing an earlier date than the actual date the photograph was taken, I would use one of the old papers. Your article does not specify whether pictures of the bruising were provided to Children's Protective Services the following day. If so, the date could not have been faked, and the writer's reliance on the photo would make sense.

Lisa Gray's article, to its credit, does avoid some of the smugness that routinely exists within Press articles -- a smugness also found throughout the paper (including the replies to letters critical of the Press's work). It is a smugness so irritating that I only occasionally read your paper these days.

However, Ms. Gray's biases are not totally hidden, as the above noted journalistic errors establish. As far as the Classical School is concerned, perhaps the Press could come up with an alternative idea to solve the emergency problems afflicting minority education these days. Perhaps the Press could use a bit more racial diversity on its writing staff to provide diverse perspectives on issues such as this. Perhaps a bit more racial diversity would be useful so that the biases, of which this article is only one example, would occur less often.

Your turn.
Craig L. Jackson
Houston

Lisa Gray replies: In reconstructing the paddling incident, I relied chiefly on a report from Children's Protective Services in which Erik Vidor, Alvin Jackson and two of the school's teachers described the episode. I also directly interviewed Erik and another eyewitness about the event. (As stated in the story, Jackson referred all questions to his lawyer.) The accounts meshed remarkably well, and I do not believe that the facts, as I stated them, are in dispute.

I also checked Alvin Jackson's charge that the photo of Erik's bruises was faked, but found no reason to believe that. Independent observers confirm that Erik was, in fact, bruised: Both a CPS investigator and a pediatrician directly examined the boy soon after the spanking and found the bruises consistent with Erik's account of the paddling. Likewise, the Houston Police Department photographed Erik's bruises days after the incident; a police department spokesman confirms that HPD's photo shows the same pattern of bruising as the photo published in the Press.

Pedagogical Use of the Wooden Board
I wish to congratulate the Press for "The Boom Boom Method" and to commend Lisa Gray for her superb investigative skills and insight. This article proves that the corporal punishment issue does not need to be debated: It needs only to be exposed. Show what's really being done to children -- you did that -- and argument becomes redundant.

I know there are some parents who rush to defend violent, incompetent teachers. They convene on cue and make a lot of self-righteous noise. That's to be expected. In defending the bad behaviors of others, they are defending their own. This helps them relieve the guilt. They reason: "Since everybody is doing it, including professional educators, I'm really not so bad after all."

A large part of the problem lies in the reluctance of people who know better to speak out; keeping their own careers running smoothly on track comes first. Child abuse is somebody else's business. Ask almost any department head working in any accredited teachers' college in any paddling state: "What do you tell your teaching-credential candidates about the pedagogical uses of battering children in the pelvic area with a wooden board?" You'll get a blank stare. Maybe a sly smile. Not much in writing, of course. If you can find someone willing to talk, it will be "strictly off the record."

Ask your state government education office about this practice, and you'll be told to take the matter up with your county or local school board. And the school board will encourage you to consult with your school principal who, in turn, will happily set up a private consultation between you and the person who's been terrorizing your child. Abusive teachers understandably interpret the silence from above as a clear sign of official approval for their activities.

This pervasive climate of buck-passing provides the perfect setting for charlatans and incompetents to infiltrate the education field, where they entrench themselves for life and do untold damage. Nobody's willing to call them to task until they do something so outrageous that it gets them arrested.

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