Katharine Birbalsingh runs one of Britain’s top-ranked schools, free to attend and catering almost entirely to underserved low-income, minority kids. So why do progressives dislike her so much?
This was fantastic and inspiring. The simple fact that she sets high expectations of her students is half the battle - and that’s high expectations on all fronts behavioral as well as academic - and radical in todays insane, progressive world. The notion that poor and minority kids shouldn’t be held to such high standards is the definition of racism and elitism, no matter how we dress it up. Somehow we’ve decided that virtue lies in treating those less fortunate as if they’re too stupid and morally incompetent to compete so give them an inferior system. The irony is thick.
Here in the US, there’s been another great casualty of our failed education system. With globalization, which the elite have most benefited from, industrial towns have emptied out. There are no jobs or livelihoods to sustain them. Unfortunately the education system failed to teach those left behind how to learn or retrain and that’s resulted in a massive social and economic crisis, INCLUDING the opioid crisis and simmering unrest. The appeal of populist demagoguery to such populations can’t be overstated, and we wonder what happened to our wonderful liberal promise?!! It’s amazing how much can be traced back to our failed education experiment!
Brilliant! First heard of this woman and her school on an interview on the Brendan O’Neill podcast. She’s inspiring and just an amazing figure. This article was wonderful to read and I actually got tears in my eyes reading about the students quoting the Kipling poem.￼
She gets it. Self discipline and obedience to proper authority aren’t racist tools of the patriarchy; they’re how you harness untamed young minds to do the serious work a successful future requires. And that’s why the woke orthodoxy will have to destroy her utterly. Can’t have evidence of their fraud go unchallenged.
The problem is… that the system they talk about is not progressive. It’s the elitist and moralist system imposed upon us by the Industrial age and nurtured by capitalist neoliberal ideas. It isn’t the discipline that’s working in her school. It’s the belonging and school culture. If she had the middle class whites there everything who fall apart. And yes, I did it, I teached the disadvantaged kids in urban areas, and kids in the justice system.
This sounds like a game… change the name and story of a few bad ideas on education, blame them on the other party, and mix in some eccentricity and popularity, so that people get confused.
We know, for a long time, that a specific school culture (whatever it is) and a sense of belonging, can create a very nice learning environment. The problem is that the curriculum is a sham and the mobility is a lie, because the meritocracy is rigged. No amount of discipline will defeat the elitist and racist values the conservatives in England still promote. That’s the hard truth.
She is instilling work ethic and resilience - two desperately needed skill sets in the world today.
We have too many snowflake children being raised by helicopter/lawnmower parents who are inculcating a generation with the green light that it is ok to be offended by absolutely everything.
With some discipline wrapped in love and support, with high standards implicit in all teaching, with a no-tolerance approach to any sign of disrespect to others, with a commitment to raising a generation of competent and gracious adults that are well-rounded and empowered to face the inevitable challenges in the world........ She is my new hero. If only, we had her in Australia.
This is what school should be.
I love how nuanced and complicated this is, thank you so much for sharing.
I would love to understand how much funding and support Michaela/Birbal-Singh is getting. Is it the same as other schools in poor and diverse neighbourhoods? Is it the sheer force of her vision that is creating this success, or is it that the school has someone incredibly strong at the helm *and* a deep well of resources?
I’d also love to know how the kids feel about the school, how graduates from Michaela feel about it now. Are there students that have been expelled, for not measuring up or not being able to get their shit together? What happens to the problem kids? Are there no problem kids?
I am not sure this is an issue if left VS right or part of the culture wars. I don’t see why it has to be. All kids deserve pride, and dedication, and to be pushed and encouraged. All kids deserve a well-resourced education.
I definitely dislike the idea of success being ‘act like the rich white white white private schools, learn how to succeed in their world’. That is uncomfortable. But it’s damn practical.
I had a visceral reaction to the Kipling anecdote. It’s interesting that I actually adore that poem and it moves me deeply, almost to the point of being my personal manifesto. But I’m a white liberal and I feel embarrassed about loving « If ». Apologetic, even. Do I have an issue with white propaganda being spoon-fed to black and brown kids? I really hope not. I think it’s more a hope that these children don’t go on to admire and emulate the excesses of the culture that bred and moulded Kipling (a profoundly traumatised and abused child). The last couple of paragraphs get close to articulating my difficulties with it.
Great article and well written!
I like the techniques that were utilized to encourage open discussion at lunch, the instructional evaluation technique (heads down) and the focus on learning.
I like her ideas and how she runs her school. I have no problems with her system. American schools have lost the plot. The Charter schools where I live in Florida are nothing like what you describe here. Many are religious and teach "western" based ideology. A lot of these charter schools are pushing Christianity and right wing ethos in the US. Something that bothers me tremendously.
This teacher is brilliant.
She should be Global Woman of the Year!
i am trying to decide how i feel about this. while this works for her, one teacher with an abusive nature can ruin the whole concept.
The idea that it is racist to teach children with “black and brown bodies” how to exercise self-control over those bodies is mind boggling. The *actually* racist thought is that they inherently cannot be taught to do so.
The *actually* racist action is the condemn those black and brown children to a low quality education, just to avoid imposing any semblance of discipline.
I became a teacher at age 50 with the help of a special program in our state. It was such a rigorous program that I felt prepared! I got into the classroom and saw my training was woefully inadequate. The training did not match what we were doing in the classroom. We new teachers were not made aware of what kids nowadays were really like. They were undisciplined, disrespectful, behind on reading and math, and did not care about their situations. As the teacher, I was supposed to somehow encourage them, bring their scores up, and turn them into model students. My plan was to be strict and set my standards high. Do you think any of that worked? Nope! (One of the constants at my last school was almost every student asking for a pencil every day. When I mentioned this to the principal, he said they probably just didn’t want to carry one on their bus ride daily.) Another friend of mine experienced the same thing. We were trying to prepare students for the real world but were knocked down at every turn. What a waste of two good, caring teachers. He finally quit and I retired early. I couldn’t take the bulls**t any longer. (Please excuse my language- there’s just no better way to say it.)
She’s one of my new heroines. So badass and the perfect choice of dress. Looking forward to more educators who think like her , in the U.S.
Fascinating but definitely chilling. That wasp episode made me angry.
That said, your final sentence is deeply important.