Michelle Rhee popped up in The Washington Post this month glorifying the same standardized tests from which so many parents seek to shelter their children. It is so strange to me, in this day and age, that one who started her career with a glaring example of child abuse could come so far and exercise so much influence upon our public-school system. I would like to briefly revisit that incident, including her more recent attempts to rewrite her own history.
In an online Financial Times article entitled, "Lunch with the FT: Controversial Schools Reformer Michelle Rhee," October 4, 2013, Edward Luce quotes Rhee, "I think when I took the job in DC, I was not particularly savvy about the media. People asked me for interviews, I answered the questions and because I was so honest about my thoughts, it gave them the material. I can’t blame anyone other than myself for that. I was stupid.”
Luce asked her, among other things, about her incident taping students' lips at Harlem Park in Baltimore. Rhee explained that she had asked her rowdy class to put their fingers to their lips as they passed other classrooms on the way to lunch: "One of the boys asked for a strip of Scotch tape instead and suddenly everyone wanted the same thing,” she says. “And when I removed the strips, one of the boy’s dry lips bled a little. That’s all that happened. Now it’s turned into, ‘Michelle Rhee duct tapes children!’ But the only reason anyone knows the story in the first place is because I told it.”
Yes, the weapon of choice was masking tape, not duct tape, but it was a far from a harmless incident. Rhee originally explained this incident (as well as another field-trip incident also objectionable on different levels) in a presentation to an audience at the Columbia Heights Education Campus in DC. She had not been pressured by any interviewer to make these statements. The audio from her speech is here. I have transcribed it below. No student asked for tape. Everyone's lips were bleeding. All the children were crying. She and the audience seemed to take sadistic delight in hearing of the children's humiliation and suffering. Merry laughter rang through the hall.
Rhee's Original Recounting of the Lip-Taping Incident:
"For me it was 18 years ago that I first graduated from college and I got my first teaching job, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. I mean I have these vivid memories in my head. So, I'm going to tell you a little bit about some of them. I can remember like it was yesterday the day that I was in the classroom and I didn't have very good classroom management in my first year of teaching. And so I was trying every single management technique that I could. Some of them really not so good, but I remember the day that we were particularly rowdy and we had to head down for lunch. And my class was very well known in the school because you could hear them travelling everywhere because they were so out of control. And, so I thought, OK, they're particularly amped up today so I got to do something about it. So, I decided, OK, kids, we are going to do something special today. I lined everybody up and I was like Sshh, gotta be really quiet on our way down to the cafeteria. And then, I took little pieces of masking tape and put them on everybody's lips [laughter begin]. And I was like you can't break the seal. Don't move your lips. So, all the kids were OK. I put them on all the lips and we're going down the hallway. I was like my gosh this works so well. And we get down to the, you know, to the cafeteria. And they're all lined up outside the cafeteria. I was like tape the tape off. And I realized that I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand. So, and like the skin is coming off their lips [big laughs] and they're bleeding. And so I had class of 35 kids who are crying [more big laughs] and other teachers are walking by and like what are you doing."
It is sad to think, but, perhaps, if she had been brought up on charges then for her mistreatment of children instead of being promoted, protected and overfunded, I and my students might be suffering far less in our classroom today. And she has the temerity to call her organization StudentsFirst!