It’s one thing to be an investigative journalist, it’s another to have the outcome already decided.
We often highlight what good schools look like and understand all of our efforts should be behind every single one of our students to be at those high-quality schools. It is also important to acknowledge there are challenges in public schools, and as educators, we understand these challenges firsthand and are committed to addressing them. When one can paint the picture of the opposite happening, though, without being a school’s community member, without having any deep knowledge or compassion, one can dominate the narrative and take away from the beauty of our schools. Most recently, this rhetoric showed its ugly head in a coverage of our district’s middle school, Aptos. This constant attack by outsiders is shameful, and students and teachers have since come out in agreement.
Beginning with the headline in Heather Knight’s recent article, ‘Lord of the Flies’: Fights, bullying, chaos upend San Francisco middle school, there is a clear, cleverly one-sided depiction of Aptos Middle School being engulfed in a reign of terror. The language throughout this documentation is no different, referring to students in unacceptable terms; to state the obvious, there is absolutely no excuse to describe children as warmongers, regardless of one’s stance on an issue. The fact that the wealthy neighborhood where this school resides continues to be described alongside housing the “poorer students being bussed in from lower-income neighborhoods” shows the insistence of separating students which Knight does subtlety.
A white woman coming into a community with no intention of supporting all students’ needs but instead using any examples of malice, twisting them to justify racist fear tactics, is the very reason why San Francisco’s public schools continue to be stereotyped as unsafe and not good enough for families with the means to pay for segregated private schools. Knight’s reporting and commentary display no connection to the children, nor to their stories, yet describe their experiences at length under the guise of empathizing with their trauma.
Knight’s racially biased stance on our school district is clearly demonstrated in the breadth of her writing, dating back 15 years. Whether one defines themselves as a reporter or a columnist, it is completely unnecessary to have any explanation of children through the obscenity and depiction that she has helped to create. Again, Knight employs the same type of fear tactic that is riddled in communities that are already conceptually against the idea of racially diverse schools and looking for any reason to attack and drive students out.
There must be an understanding of how the framing of a story can dig deeper in damage than in resolution with phrasing that is so often used, and in this case, the one that Knight took to sell a story. Reporters, columnists, whomever, especially when describing children, should be more responsible with their words because as journalists they should know that language is power.
Mark Sánchez and Gabriela López are both teachers and are President and Vice President of the San Francisco Board of Education. Gabriela Alemán is an illustrator, visual artist, writer and organizer born and raised in San Francisco.