From my first week of teaching in a high-needs school, I felt consumed by the urge to write about my experience: the multiple outrages–which going forward, would increase every year–simply blew me away. Though clearly the powers that be were aware, yet undisturbed, I knew the public remained ignorant of the truth on the inside. In fact, even as the situation deserved no less than an Upton Sinclair takedown, no investigation of this education Jungle had ever made its way into broad public consciousness. The few mainstream accounts from teachers–though depictions of poverty–had typically been glossed with a feelgood patina, the Hollywood imperative less the truth than the commercial impetus of a happy ending.
Of course, an authentic high-needs teaching experience is lightyears from Gidget Goes Ghetto. The neighborhood deprivation–sufficiently tragic on its own–is doubled down in the shockingly disadvantaged educational institution bizarrely tasked with remedying that very affliction. But the school’s starved infrastructure and pittance of even the most basic resources are merely the wounds which leap out at you first; it doesn’t take long before you notice the blatant stupidity and corruption of the entrenched system, made further destructive in the last decade by the perverse dog and pony show of No Child Left Behind, and now, the Common Core. An indescribably brutal job–given the students’ issues, the suffocating mandates and the despotic principals gleefully enforcing them–today’s schools offer an equal opportunity hell for all, teachers and kids alike. What’s more, the system’s an unabashed cheat: teachers who don’t teach, and students who don’t learn, have been cheated alike. Ultimately this travesty–made possible only by cheating naive taxpayers–will cheat our nation out of a future. Feel violated? You should.
When I could muster the energy to tell friends a few details, their jaws dropped, a response which only fired up my conviction to write. But exhaustion during the school year prevented me, while summer vacations–rejuvenation necessary to return the next September–became sacrosanct interludes of sanity, as well as the novel experience of having a life. But in the nine years it took to get me to the page, the tyranny of corporate involvement in education crescendoed, along with its teacher-bashing media presence. When frankly evil, profit-driven, noneducators began parking the ills of the dysfunctional education system at the door of heroic, terrorized and demoralized teachers–most, paragons of sacrifice committed wholeheartedly to the kids–the impulse which had stalked me finally found expression. Sheer fury inspired this memoir, as well as fueled my keyboard. Caution when reading DAVONTE’S INFERNO: TEN YEARS IN THE NEW YORK PUBLIC SCHOOL GULAG: not just indignation, but smoke, may well rise from the pages.