Outrage Grows Over Viral NYT Video Showing Charter School Teacher Yelling at, Berating First-Graders

Episode is part of a long line of harsh tactics from the powerful charter school network.

A report in the New York Times Friday showing a Success Academy teacher in Brooklyn berating students has gone viral, sparking outrage from parents, anti-reform activists and education experts. The teacher, Charlotte Dial, who is white, is seen in the minute-and-a-half clip dressing down a room full of first-graders, most of whom are black and Hispanic.

The video was recorded by an assistant teacher at Success Academy who feared Dial’s tactics had gone too far. Upon being shown the video in November of last year by the Times, Success Academy quickly suspended Dial, though she was reinstated a week and a half later.

Success Academy CEO Eva S. Moskowitz, a powerful, well-connected charter school advocate in her own right, insisted to the Times that the incident was “an anomaly.”  

The response has been a mixture of tepid defense and outrage. Letters to the editor flooded in, and the Times dedicated an entire article to the public’s reaction. Noel Scott Anderson, a clinical professor and director of educational leadership at New York University, told the Times that, “teaching a young person through fear and intimidation never works. A young person may comply but they will never truly learn.” Carmen S. Brown, assistant professor of early childhood education at Hunter College, said, “Creating an atmosphere that develops a love of learning in a positive, nurturing and supportive environment optimizes learning opportunities for children. Teaching through fear and intimidation can diminish the enthusiasm, motivation and eagerness that is fundamental and foundational to learning.”

One high school English teacher wrote in, “It is possible to hold students to a high standard without being abusive.”

What’s at stake is whether the “results-driven” teach-to-the-test approach favored by corporate education advocates like Eva Moskowitz is conducive to actual learning, to say nothing of the emotional well-being of young children. At Slate, Michelle Goldberg makes an overlooked point: this type of harsh approach is advocated by billionaire charter school backers for other children, namely poor children, though not their own: "That Brutal Charter School Video Shows That Rich People Love No-Excuses Discipline ... for Other People’s Kids."

Perhaps my horror at Success Academy’s methods might strike these parents as a form of elitism. Still, one thing seems to be undeniable:The schools in my neighborhood teach some children to challenge authority, and others to submit to it.

The class and racial angle was largely glossed over in the New York Times’ otherwise exceedingly fair reporting. Charter schools may be boosted by billionaires and their pro-corporate education confederates, but rarely do they subject their own children to this type of martial learning environment.

The Times has been something of a thorn in Success Academy’s side, publishing multiple stories documenting its severe teaching tactics, including notably a scathing expose in April 2015 showing years of “polarizing tactics,” including humiliating students and 11-hour teacher work days.

According to the Times' latest piece, one teacher, who came out of Teach for America, the non-union teaching organization with ties to privatization groups, was so upset by what she saw it brought her to tears. “I would cry almost every night thinking about the way I was treating these kids,”Jasmine Araujo told the Times, “and thinking that that’s not the kind of teacher I wanted to be.”

Other reactions have been more defensive. “I’d like to see all of you filmed at your worst, weakest moment and put on the cover of The New York Times with no context, and see how all of you would fare," one reader wrote, while a Brooklyn attorney wrote, “This pales in comparison to what the nuns did to us in the 1960s. And we all came out fine. Stop the nonsense."

CEO Eva Moskowitz has gone on the offensive, framing the Times story as a war against teachers, rather than Success Academy’s tactics and the broader culture of teaching to the test. She tweeted, “Charlotte made a mistake. I don't condone what was in the video. Charlotte doesn't condone what was in that video. #StopBashingTeachers."

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.