Friday, June 13, 2008

The Story of A and E

A story to illustrate why the simplistic "close the achievement gap and all will be well" zombies out there make longtime teachers froth at the mouth. I was inspired to tell this story after my meeting with the Teach for America alum from the previous post.

My memory is a bit hazy, but I think it was in the mid 80's. I picked up the phone and heard shrieking. "Mr. Scott, E is dead. E is dead." It was A, one of my all-time favorite students. Both A & E were in my top performing 6th grade class in 1975. We had kept in touch over the years.

E, her boyfriend and another woman were found shot to death execution style with bullets in their heads in the Bronx. She was around 20 at the time. "Drugs," the papers said. I raced over to the funeral home. Young friends of E were milling about crying (not the only time I got to witness such scenes). E's mom,who I had known for so many years, was catatonic.

A had gone to one of the 3 competitive special high schools and then on to a top university and eventually turned to teaching and even subbed at my school a few times.

Coming from a poor family with a single parent, A was a star from the day she entered school. No achievement gap here. None of the 8 teachers she had at our school from pre-k through me in the 6th grade would think of taking credit for her achievements. (Think of the merit pay she would have brought us.)

Her amazing mom was the key. Tall, thin, supremely dignified and proud, her voice with hints of her southern roots, she was a school lunchroom worker raising two daughters in the midst of a neighborhood that lost so many kids. Talk about accountability. I wouldn't have dared think about not being accountable to her. If they're giving out merit pay, it should go to people like her.

E wasn't quite as successful a student, but was certainly not behind in math and reading. There were 3 kids in the family. In 1975, the family was whole, with a father present who seemed dedicated to the family. To an outsider, this seemed like one happy family. But not soon after E graduated from my school, things went bad. The dad walked out. That seemed to lead to a downward spiral all around. Mom didn't do too well. One brother served some serious time in prison. The other had problems in school.

I don't know to what extent E's "achievement" was affected. I assume she finished high school and probably just fell in with the wrong guy.

Postscript: A few years later my wife and I attended A's beautiful wedding when she married her high school sweetheart. I thought about E that day and what her wedding would have been like.

A's mom was there, standing tall and proud.


  1. Nice but sad story. Next time you do something like this, maybe you should assign names instead of calling them A and E. Somehow, it makes them sound too much like a root beer.

  2. How true. It really starts with the parents but of course DOE can't see this. The people at Treed don't know what the classroom is about.

  3. This is really inspired writing. I'm sorry for your - and our world's - loss. You painted it well.


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