In Charlotte, NC, a reporter showed up to research an unsigned letter about a culture of fear at West Mecklenburg High School—and then failed to show up when invited to attend a senior award ceremony. One teacher is resisting that sensationalist bias.
In a commentary published by the Charlotte Post, Marquitta Mitchell criticized the media for unbalanced coverage. The press emphasizes reports of disruptive behavior and “fails to report the positives,” she wrote, a trend that discourages local businesses from sponsoring their neighborhood school.
Principal Casey Jones believes the media target urban schools that have a large number of minority students, portraying those schools as dangerous environments when they are not.
The stories we tell shape how we view ourselves. When media organizations cover only—or primarily—the negative, schools and communities can build negative narratives that become self-fulfilling prophecies. Community leaders who “flip the script” are key to transforming school cultures.
It is extraordinarily hard to flip the script if the purpose of a school is measured merely by test scores or graduation rates. Schools need a grander animating mission—a story about ourselves—that can overcome failures or sensationalist media coverage.
Eastern University Professor Jeffrey Dill and Great Hearts Academy co-founder Dan Scoggin offer direction in a piece they co-authored for The Hedgehog Review. “Communities should identify areas of overlapping agreement within a particular moral ecology. This will look different in different contexts,” they write. “Private schools may draw on religious sources or a specific pedagogical philosophy (think Waldorf or Classical). Charter schools will draw on a particular vision or mission within their charter. Traditional public schools must figure out how they might address these questions in ways that accommodate their specific communities.”
Marquitta Mitchell is doing just that at West Meck. She is pressing for a vision that can galvanize the school community and provide a narrative that continues to define who they are becoming.
Sue-Ann Rosch crafted this vision for the Community School for Social Justice, a public high school in the South Bronx. As its name suggests, it has a distinct identity and ethos that guides the entire school community to who they are becoming, not the history of violence that marks many students’ lives. In this inspiring talk, Rosch provides an example that Mitchell and others can follow in resisting negative narratives from students, family, or the media.