The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true. “I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” Mr. Sassau said.
I read this statement in in the New York Times when a colleague sent it to me and I literally gasped out loud. How could anyone do this to their students? Deplorable! You see, Mr. Sassau was a student of the affluent and famous Landry School in Louisiana. According to reports, the school was a sham where administrators not only falsified documents to get their students into some of the most highly rated universities and colleges in the nation, but engaged in corporal punishment to do so. From the Times:
In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.
Who does this? One of our own. And that’s the part that has me messed up.
I’m always such a proponent of Black administrators and Black teachers as role models for Black students and so what happened to these students in this case disturbs me on many levels. Mostly, I’m upset because poor Black children are preyed upon by all kinds of “initiatives” and “protocols” that on paper are suppose to help close the achievement gap and bring equity into fruition for them. Really though, if I’m being completely transparent, I struggled significantly in my writing of this piece because, on a whole other level and as a Black teacher and mom, I feel as if our dirty laundry has been aired and we will all pay for the sick and twisted actions of the Landrys.
That’s one of the harsh realities of Black people in America: When one wins, we all win; however, when one falls — especially publicly – especially under the microscope of White eyes — we all take a loss. All it takes is for one report about corruption in a Black school at the hands of Black administrators for my non-stop pleas for the hiring of more Black teachers to be dismissed.
It’s horrible when the enemy is an outsider. When he or she is an insider, there is a level of internal disruption and reverberations are deeply felt. You know who will pay for this? Black students who really did put in the work to graduate high school to get into top colleges! Their accomplishments will be questioned in the minds of their professors about whether or not they authored that “A” paper that they just read and whether or not they belong in the Ivy League hallways historically only trodden by their White-privileged counterparts. I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for us, the Black teachers who advocate day and night for our students that look like us, only to be criticized about culturally-relevant work we are teaching.
I feel sorry for us as a people that we see the manifestation of the hatred we received at the hands of slave traders and masters perpetuated now, by us, one Black person to another.
I asked myself, as I’m sure many of you are asking, “What happened to these students’ parents?” Surely parents could not have been aware of what was going on and sat idly by? Wrong. Think again. Here’s their response: “He got us on the unity,” said Letarchia Lewis, a parent, and he capitalized on “a disadvantage that you know we are all a part of.” How many other parasitical paradigms do we know in education that capitalize on the have-nots?
What happened at the Landry school is not an isolated incident. Lie-filled promises run rampant in many of the programs geared towards students at or below the poverty line. Parents from such communities are more inclined to listen to what the school says and go along with it for a myriad of reasons. Many times, the parents are not familiar with the educational lingo and feel comfortable leaving their children in the hands of the experts. This must stop.
I feel like in this post I am having a conversation that should only be had in the Black community, not in a public space. I want to have answers but I don’t.
I just ask that all Black students and all Black schools and all Black administrators not be punished for the actions of The Landrys, these negligent, abusive, pseudo-school leaders. Being Black in America is such a heavy cross to bear without this sort of malfeasance. Nationally published cases of corruption at the hands of Black folks makes the work that my colleagues and I do to highlight the inequities in education for Black students and to advocate for the need for more Black teachers and administrators that much harder — as if it wasn’t already hard enough. Just please don’t judge all by the actions of two. There’s so much more I could say, but I’m going to stop here. Thank you for reading.