Rhode Island

Tone Deaf and Insulting to Providence Parents or Just Having Some Fun?

Last weekend I sat and listened to over four hours of testimony, mostly from Providence parents, about their frustration and even panic over the Johns Hopkins report on the Providence Schools. There was anger. Anguish. Pain. And a common refrain that the very same schools that had failed them as students were now failing their children. It was the 8th community forum of its kind, hosted by Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and Mayor Jorge Elorza.

So I admittedly found it jarring and remarkably tone-deaf to see a state senator, who represents Providence, gleefully share on Twitter —just days before a state takeover of the city’s school system—that she was creating a list of ice cream places by Senate district.

It turned into a whole thread which I won’t include here but the link above will take you there if you want to read about soft-serve in the Ocean State. I reacted.

Some, including a couple folks I deeply respect, think I’m reaching and showing that I lack a sense of humor and need to lighten up. It’s been so hot, of course it’s funny and harmless for a Providence senator to tweet about ice cream places in each Senate district.

Even Linda Borg, the education reporter for the Providence Journal told me, via Twitter, to “lighten.

Is she right? I don’t think so but I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

Providence parents have consistently said they don’t believe their children are safe in school. And teachers report that they too feel unsafe at their place of work. Parents complain that the union protects the worst teachers. Many teachers agree. Some parents shared stories of being ignored by office staff and school officials. Others wondered how on earth it is that their children have been passed on to the next grade unable to read or multiply? There were tears. And pleas for the commissioner to take over the city’s schools.

So far, I can’t find anyone telling me to lighten up who is a) poor or b) zoned to a chronically underperforming school.

The waitlist for Achievement First, a high performing charter school in Providence, is in the thousands and was slated for an expansion but alas, Goldin and others opposed the expansion. Now don’t get me wrong: Senator Goldin supports school choice for her own family —they chose to pay over $30,000 a year for their children to attend the best school for them. Goldin does not support school choice for poor families.

Goldin is a self-described progressive. So are most of the people upset with me about my reaction to the ice-cream list.

I am admittedly emotional and angry about what has been allowed to happen in Providence Schools. The distrust and desperation I see and hear in the voices of Providence parents in both public and private is seared on my heart. The Wall Street Journal called what has been allowed to happen in Providence a “Horror Show” and I find it impossible to quibble with that characterization. Maybe that’s why I struggle to “lighten up” as some have advised.

Even though Gayle Goldin is a state senator who represents Providence, many (if not most) of her constituents live on the East Side, the posh side of the city that is home to Brown University and parents who pay top dollar for private schools. And I think that is precisely why the tweets bother me so much.

It’s not about how it makes me feel. It’s about the tone-deafness of an elected official in Providence, with the means to escape the horror show for her own family, tweeting about ice-cream shops around the state just days before the board of education votes to allow the state to take over the Providence school system after generations of failure.

Maybe I’m too sensitive. Lord knows I tweet about funny stuff all the time and rely on humor just to get through the day. But when I pause and ask myself if I, as a sitting senator in Providence, would be tweeting a list of ice cream shops at precisely the same time the city is literally on its knees, my answer is “no.” Perhaps it’s an example of my inability to compartmentalize. On the other hand, decades of compartmentalization is exactly how Providence got to this place of pain and shame.

I trust my readers to weigh in and tell me that I’m way off the mark, that they kind of get where I’m coming from, or that they agree wholeheartedly. It’s so easy for people of means, virtually untouched by broken systems and failing schools, to treat Providence Schools as an afterthought.

I’d rather a list of the reading and math proficiency of all the schools in her district before an ice cream list. But maybe that’s just me.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Tone Deaf and Insulting to Providence Parents or Just Having Some Fun?

  1. Support your comments 1000% This house is ON FIRE, it’s a TOTAL emergency. Providence politicians and educators should feel like we all did on 9/12 after the JH report publication. It’s a total disaster and life-as-usual, or “lightening up” isn’t an option. Until the schools improve, middle class families, the ones who can’t afford private schools, won’t come to PVD, and neither will the businesses that employ them.
    Rhode Island’s #1 problem.

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