For eight years now, two Texas middle school teachers, Tim Couch and Stephanie Garner, have been distributing “Ghetto Awards” to special education students. And in all that time, their actions have gone on without notice or reprimand by fellow teachers, supervisors, and the school district.
A 14 year old Sulphur Springs Middle School student recently brought home a “Ghetto Classroom” certificate for a “huh?” award, for expressing so much confusion in class.
Statement from Sulphur Springs ISD regarding controversial "ghetto" award given to 8th graders pic.twitter.com/fA1IkWdxFO— Zahid Arab (@ZahidArabFox4) June 5, 2015
There’s so much wrong here.
The boy's grandmother, Debra Jose, says the certificate reminds her of her experience growing up under Jim Crow laws:
“Back in the day, when I was growing up, they segregated us. They put us in a part where they said we were ‘ghetto.’ If [the teacher] knew what ghetto meant, she would have never approached that, because, being an African-American, we were always thrown that.”
“Ghetto” is arguably inextricable from its racist connotations. It also suggests marginalization—which special ed students do face. That’s not something to joke about.
What’s more, students are supposed to ask questions! To have such little patience, such little compassion, for any student, least of all a student who needs a little extra help, would be wrong of anyone. Teachers doubly so, as they hold so much responsibility for the wellbeing of their charges.
And lastly, what a deep perversion of a system that has been long used by teachers to recognize student effort and achievement, to bolster morale.
The boy’s mother, Jerrika Wilkins, shared how inferior this dubious recognition made the young teen feel.
“You know, he wants to succeed. [The “ghetto” award] just kind of hurt his feelings.”
Her social media post about the incident caught the eye of superintendent Michael Lamb, who denounced the offense:
“Shocked. Shocked. Truly, it goes in layers. You kind of ask yourself, had anything else been used, the ‘teacher’s name’ award, would it start to seem more acceptable. The ‘huh?’ award just begs questions. And then the 8th annual brings questions too. It’s my understanding the same award was given last year to up to 60 kids.”
The school district has launched an investigation into the teachers’ actions. Let's hope some real change comes of this.