Judging the Judgers

By now, most of us have probably seen the video of dean Stephan Hudson in a physical altercation with high school freshmen Kristoff John at George Westinghouse Technical Education High School in Brooklyn. If not, here is the clip that has been shown on the television airwaves here in New York City.

The very first thing that you see, and something that is easily missed, is the student taking a swing at Mr. Hudson.  Mr. Hudson then basically grabs the student by the arm and manhandles him. The mother of Kristoff John is suing the city for $5.5 million. With that kind of lopsided number, I regret not swinging on any of my teachers when I was in high school.

The video looks bad. As a dean of many years, not to mention a man of height and girth, I know that Mr. Hudson was in a nightmare position. A kid swinging on a dean is not the same as a kid swinging on a teacher. Deans are the disciplinarians of the school. They are the ones teachers call on if they are ever assaulted by a student. Once that swing was launched by Kristoff John, Stephan Hudson was in a lose-lose situation. If he lets it slide, he is a wimp. His authority in the eyes of the students, and even the staff, gets taken down a few pegs. That would make his job as dean much more difficult for years to come. There would always be whispers in the hallways of the day Mr. Hudson got “snuffed” by a student and he did not do anything about it. In a school like Westinghouse, it might not be long until another student tries to snuff him again.

His size would make things worse. He would be seen as a big wimp. Why is such a big man so afraid of such a small kid?

On the other hand, if he does retaliate, you get the situation he is in now. The media cries foul. The public only sees a large man roughing up a small kid. What kind of monsters work in  schools these days? Fire him. Did you see the size of him? This teacher is a bully. The current vogue of that word ensures Mr. Hudson will continue to be vilified as such until this situation is resolved.

As usual, things are not as simple as people are making them, including Ben Chapman of the Daily News, who has never been known to be very thorough or fair in his reporting. This is what he wrote for his June 28th article:

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was “disturbed” by video of a hulking teacher pummeling a scrawny student at a Brooklyn school and will seek the teacher’s firing, a spokeswoman said.

Chapman uses words like “pummeling”, “beating” and “thumping” throughout his piece. One wonders if he knows what these words mean, especially when used in concert. If Mr. Hudson had balled up his fists and repeatedly punched Kristoff John, then those words would certainly be warranted. But Mr. Hudson was not beating or pummeling the scrawny kid. He certainly was manhandling and grabbing him.

My question is what would Chapman, Walcott and the rest of the outraged public want Mr. Hudson to do instead? Should he have taken the punch, given the kid a pat on the back, and sent him off to class? Should he have not defended himself at all and called school safety to put the kid in cuffs? How many more times would he have been punched by the time school safety got there?

The fact is, owing to the size difference between the two of them, Mr. Hudson doing anything physical in retaliation could only end in him being vilified. I know this not only from my days as a dean, but from my days as a city kid in the schoolyard. If a kid half my size punched me in the face and I did not do anything, I am a wimp (or “herb” as they used to call it). If I had pummeled him with my fists and feet, I would be a bully. All the girls in the schoolyard would have ran over to hold the poor kid’s head as he laid looking up at the sky.

It is a lose-lose situation. With chancellors like Walcott and reporters like Chapman, the “lose” for Mr. Hudson would surely be his career.

The job of a dean is 99.9 percent mental and .1 percent physical. Most of the time, looking scary, being assertive and having a loud mouth is enough to get respect as an authority figure. I added humor to the mix when I was a dean, so thankfully I never had a kid who wanted to punch me in the face. Yet, if you are a dean long enough in a school like Westinghouse, it will just be a matter of time before that .1% of the job calls. Maybe a student pushes you or swings at you. In my case, it was students swinging on school safety, teachers or other deans that necessitated me getting physical to subdue a student. It is not a good position to be in. If the kid gets bruised or hurt, you can have a lawsuit and investigation on your hands.

Unfortunately, that is the hell in which Mr. Hudson currently finds himself. I cannot judge his actions because I do not know what I would have done if I were in his shoes. I wish him the best in navigating the mine field to come.

On the other hand, I find it quite easy to judge those who choose to judge Mr. Hudson. For Ben Chapman, it is business as usual. It is misleading language meant to embellish, all in the service of bashing teachers. The article he put his name on months ago about “perv” teachers bordered on pure smut, making the National Enquirer look like the New Yorker. Careful and accurate language in reporting mean nothing when the goal is to bash teachers and sell copy. It is not like the job of reporters is to investigate and report the truth or anything.

For Dennis Walcott, it is the same Puritanical schoolmarm act that has defined his entire tenure as chancellor. Just as always, he tightens his lips, furrows his brow and speaks in severe and unforgiving language about firing teachers for transgressions against the bounds of decency, real or imagined. In this, of course, he is merely doing the bidding of Pharaoh Bloomberg, the man he unquestioningly serves.

For the mother of Kristoff John, it is the “oh, my poor baby” act. On the one hand, I start to sympathize with what goes through her mind when she sees her son being manhandled by a burly man. Then, I remember that her son had taken a healthy swing right at that burly man’s head. The sympathy quickly fades. As a man, I would have told my son not to start fights he could not finish. As a human being, I would have taught my son to respect all human beings, whether they are in authority or not, whether he likes them or not. Maybe Kristoff John’s mother has tried to teach her son these lessons, but they are obviously not getting through. The lesson she is teaching him now is that it is ok to swing on people as long as there is a big pot of gold on the other side of that swing.

And for the general public, easily lobotomized by the misleading and fluffy writing of Ben Chapman or the knee-jerk television reports about a large man manhandling a scrawny teenager, one healthy reminder might be in order: this took place in a New York City public high school. While most of them are not hellholes, a very slim minority are actually non-violent and easy-going. The fact is, there is a lot of violence and tempers and jealousy and emotions from the classrooms all the way up to the principal’s office. And, yes, teachers get hit, pushed, spit on, harassed and more on a daily basis. Most schools do not have police officers. The only disciplinarians on site are the school safety agents and deans, who are normally overwhelmed. In a school like Westinghouse, there are only a handful of these disciplinarians for nearly 1,000 students. These factors should be considered before people judge the actions of Stephan Hudson.

Unfortunately, this is where we are in 2012. A student assaults a teacher and stands to make a payday out of it. The teacher stands to get fired. These pieces should not fit together, yet they make perfect sense given the state of teaching in the United States today.

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17 responses to “Judging the Judgers

  1. It’s a strange society here in the US. There’s this dean, who just disciplines a student as the situation warrants, and uses the least amount of force to ward of a violent attack at himself, and on the other hand there’s that Zimmerman guy who – with no provokation at all – follows a harmless teenager walking through his neighbourhood, comes up to him, and then shoots him claiming self-defense – and that is deemed legal by many people.

  2. What’s worse than being a teacher in New York City? Being a male teacher or a dean in New York City. Mr. Hudson and his story is probably very close to the Principe case. It saddens me, that people who have been chosen to protect and serve the school as authority figures, are the very same people-who when they do it…are crucified for it. I guarantee…if this was a principal-Chancellor Walcott would say…his usual mantra- ” I stand by the principals actions”. I have seen this video…several times…a pummeling it is not! Looks like a little shove match. My whole take on the NYCDOE is they try to solve microscopic problems in the media’s eyes, so that the public never finds out the catastrophe brewing at HEADQUARTERS.

  3. Ben Chapman here, the journalist behind the pieces on Hudson.
    Once again, Assailed, you’re using your blog to anonymously bash me and my work, without even asking me for comment first.
    Unfortunately it seems like you’d rather slam journalists than act like one yourself – and actually do some reporting. I urge you to change your ways. Drop me a line.
    My email is bchapman@nydailynews.com – I’d appreciate it if you would reach out to me next time. You never have before, but I’m an optimist.
    And, for the record, your latest rant here is totally off-base, as usual.
    Thanks,
    Ben

    • Two points, Mr. Chapman, of only a few on which you’re totally wrong:
      (1) You seem to utterly misunderstand the purpose of a blog: it’s not a journalistic piece of reporting, like yours, in which, saddeningly, you failed to act like a true journalist, viz. reporting the truth, but instead of it, under the guise of reporting, published a biased piece of writing contorting the facts. A blog is a piece of opinion, thus having more leeway.
      But in spite if this, this blog entry did indeed present facts and pointed out, based on judging the facts versus what you “reported” that your writing was not true to journalistic standards. And then it went on, based on what the author knew about similar pieces you wrote, to enlarge upon his opinion of your journalistic work. That’s his right, isn’t it? Or would you deny him what you claim for yourself?
      (2) Why, by all means, should he contact you before writing his opinion in his blog? Did you contact dean Hudson before you misrepresented his actions?
      But I trust that someone who doesn’t even know the meaning of “anonymous” [writing under a pen name is NOT writing anonymously] will also not know the difference between “report” and “opinion”, something even my high-school students over in Germany knew … and respected.
      Best regards,
      Pit Vins
      P.S.: Trust me, I have taught and done myself enough text analysis to know that the points as to your “report” made in this blog entry are absolutely valid.

    • Hey Ben, thanks for checking in. I did not realize I had to ask you for comment before I made an observation about your reporting. To me, you have made a very good living off of bashing teachers, embellishing stories and unfairly trying educators in the court of public opinion. Unlike your comment above, I provided reasons as to why your reporting was off-base. On the other hand, you say I am off base without the courtesy of explaining why you think that. I do not have the luxury of putting my first and last name on an article and getting paid for it like you do. This is a labor of love, and one that is dangerous to my actual career, since I have been critical of the education reform movement and its handmaidens in mainstream media.

      However, if you are so filled with the spirit of collaboration and communication, I invite you to lunch with me so you can look into my anonymous face. We can discuss why you think I am off-base here and elsewhere and I can explain why I feel you unfairly bash teachers in the Daily News. Maybe we can come to some type of consensus. Let me know. My email is theassailedteacher@gmail.com. Look forward to hearing from you.

      • Er… Let’s (NOT) do lunch!

        I’d think twice about joining Ben for lunch. I have no way of evaluating him other than by what he writes (alas, no readers’ test scores fed into faulty data crunching machines to evaluate reporters, as now is done with students’ test scores for evaluating teachers, something Ben is probably all for). And what he writes makes him appear anti teacher and something of a snake.

        Since that is the only way of assessing him, and thus predicting what he will do in future, I would wait until such time as he proves in future reportage that he is turning over a new leaf (or shedding his skin), ie, changing for the better when it comes to a more balanced, less jaundiced view of teachers.

  4. Was so waiting for Ben Chapman to pipe in…LMFAO! Quack…quack.. We know it’s the editors who make you write your skewed accounts of teacher bashing story.

  5. Assailed teacher

    I do believe the dean did go overboard from the video and unfortunately for him the A-420 regs cover excessive force issue. As for Ben Chapman? You hit the nail on the head about his sloppy reporting.

    • Yes, perhaps he did go overboard. Although the regs might be in place, I think things have to be taken case-by-case. In light of Mr. Hudson’s many years of service, plus the fact that he was assaulted, I do not think he should lose his career. The constant manhandling and dragging him about was a little much, although we do not know how much the kid was struggling and resisting,

      • I agree with this comment. I also agree with you in your piece (points about being a dean, the reporter’s bias against teachers, etc.)

        I saw the reporter, Ben Chapman, as a guest, when this was shown on HLN, the first time I heard of the incident or saw the video, which they played over and over. At least the show, “Jane Velez Mitchell” (with guest host that day, Jim Moret) had the decency to put a question mark on the title: “School Beating Caught on Tape?” But the whole segment was one of Moret and guests, including Mr Chapman, rushing to slant everything against the teacher and downplaying what the kid, Kristoff John, had done to Hudson, after getting caught breaking the rules… rules imposed for the safety of kids like John.

        Mr. Chapman’s bias was fully on display. Throughout the segment, he had no problem glibly articulating all things negative about Hudson. However, he appeared downright tongue tied when he was finally asked if the student had played any part in provoking the teacher’s reaction. (I guess there are no editors at the Daily News who ever challenge Chapman to examine and report all relevant aspects of a situation before rushing to judgment, and then to print.}

        Here, he dissembled, misled, hemmed and hawed around the inconvenient fact (right there on the video) that the kid had struck out at the teacher FIRST. And the teacher/DEAN, while he did push the boy into the table afterward (more about what else the kid did, further down), he in no way “beat” Kristoff John. He never hit, certainly never “pummeled” him.

        Take a look at how Chapman answered that one difficult question about the kid’s behavior:

        http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1207/02/ijvm.01.html

        MORET: And Ben Chapman, from “New York Daily News,” we only have 30 seconds before the first break. But, was there an indication whatsoever that the student did anything to provoke the teacher`s action?

        CHAPMAN: Well, nothing other than what you see in the video. There is a moment in the video kind of where he`s throwing Hudson`s arm off of him. So, I mean, some folks who have watched the video say it looks like he`s, you know, angering [striking, Ben, "striking" - Fed Up] Hudson by doing that. But, you know, certainly nothing to — you know, you would think would warrant the kind of treatment that he received.

        Yeah, “you know… ”

        I know that Mr Chapman tones down his yellow journalistic tendencies when on TV, which he unleashes full blast in print. I read his articles after watching the show, where, from the word go, the text assaults the reader with extreme prejudice. First, there’s “Brute Teacher” in the title. From there we quickly move to “pummeling” of a “scrawny” teen by a “hulking teacher” who is also a “thuggish bully.” These chunks of red meat (for the anti teacher crowd) are found in the first paragraph of his consecutive pieces, June 28th and 29th. Chapman comes off as downright cheerful to have the opportunity to trash this teacher’s reputation and destroy his very livelihood.

        Nothing was mentioned about the challenges of being a dean (all discipline issues get dumped on you) in very challenging setting – a vocational high school in Brooklyn.

        I have a few questions, like how many “brute” acts are committed by kids that are never splashed on YouTube? How many times, days, months has Mr Hudson/Mr Chapman had to deal with: de-escalate, control, extinguish violence by teens? How often has Mr Hudson/Mr Chapman had to save these same “scrawny” kids like Kristoff John from “hulking” kids who attempt to give them a truly “severe beating?” How many times has Mr Hudson/Mr Chapman had to keep “thuggish kids” in line? How often does Mr Hudson/Chapman have to be responsible for the safety of hundreds of students and staff?

        Here’s my educated guess:

        Mr Hudson: way too many
        Mr Chapman: zero

        The kid did strike out at Mr Hudson first. And if you look at the video you can see that other adults, including a safety officer, have a hard time getting the kid to wind down. At one point, it looks like there are 3 of them trying to control him. He actually drags a safety officer across the floor as she tries to hold onto him.

        I think firing this man is way over the top. Cruel and unusual. The DOE is playing right into the hands of those who will be motivated by Chapman’s grand “expose,” which serves, it seems to me, not to reach a just outcome here, but to encourage others to manipulate a confrontation with teachers (as if they dont already have enough on their plates!) in order to sue and win a multi-million dollar jackpot. Or just make life miserable for a teacher who makes them miserable – by insisting they follow the rules.

        Ive actually read where several kids have commented, stuck up for Mr Hudson, said he was never a bully as their teacher. The DOE actually wants seasoned, strong deans in charge, so they can proudly point to fewer incidents of violence in their schools. But now, they forget all that, until the this incident can be swept into the dustbin, along with Mr Hudson’s career. He must be the fall guy. Especially since reporters like Ben Chapman are so eager to make sure guys like him fall down.

  6. Hey all,
    Pit Vins- assailed is entitled to his opinion. I’m just sticking up for myself. I do think that he should contact me before writing about me even if this is just a blog and therefore not journalism.
    I contacted hudson before I wrote about him. half-dozen times probably.
    Emailed assailed for lunch, looking forward to it.

    • Ben,

      You really think Mr Hudson is going to speak with you when you are about to unleash a hit piece on how the hulking teacher ‘attacked’ the scrawny kid? Gee, how ever did he pass up that opportunity to grab a lead-filled life preserver? So his understandable silence justifies you drowning him in yellow journalism, which paints him as guilty as sin? (Exhibit A: “City’s push to fire brute teach in kid beat” ) Classy!

      Mr Hudson has probably saved many kids from a real beating, given his very difficult job of keeping discipline in a vocational high school in NYC. He has probably shown considerable restraint on many occasions. Surely he’s had the unpleasant task of having to deal with the ugly side of kids, large, medium and small in stature. (Like “scrawny” Kristoff who swipes at the teacher first, and is only subdued after quite a few unsuccessful attempts by a bunch of adults, after defying the ID rules… that are there for his safety) You need not condone how Hudson responded but neither do you have to condemn him to a pink slip and misery in his every waking moment. Yes, you accomplished that.

      No doubt, the hundreds of times he has had to keep the peace among these ‘frisky’ kids is matched up against your… zero. But man, but you are definitely one tough dude when it comes to handling your keyboard! Look how you took down that “hulking, thuggish brute,” with just a few strokes of your fingers!

      Zero is also the number of times you included any context of the difficulties of a dean’s job, the sorts of behaviors Hudson likely has to deal with. Nor did you include any comments from students or teachers who support him, etc. But then, I imagine people are scared out of their minds to talk to you, given your penchant for twisting a story. Have you considered that Hudson may have declined your invitation to speak with you because he is familiar with your work? (Familiarity breeds… )

      I am curious as to how the high profile lawyer (seeking $5 million+ in ‘damages’ for Kristoff John) got in touch with the boy’s mother. Was it after he saw your piece of thoughtful journalism? Or did Mom get a gentle nudge? The lawyer a phone call?

  7. I have seen 6 different copies of video and I did not see the kid swing first in any of them. The way in which that Dean grabbed that child’s arm set the stage for disaster. It’s the Deans responsibility. I think the 300lb. Dean was not going to let a student just walk away from him. He wanted to bully the young man. The Dean was keeping it real->real ignorant. He knew who that student was… There was no danger of a stranger. I honestly hope that I have not seen the complete video… If the kid drew first, no questions. I cannot understand people taking up for this person. If that was my boy, I would push that 300lb bully down… tomorrow and take away his lunch money(approx 45 dollars) lol! I honestly believe that the ignorance of some comments are stranger than fiction on this site. Supporters of Tubman probably think OJ is still Not guilty.

    I hope that Mom sues the crap out of the State… It will help protect other school kids… How all you OJ suppoters inquire. By sending a loud message to all the ignorant, insecure, bully teachers in America… That they will be prosecuted for unwarranted acts against the kids they are suppose to protect.

  8. Let me clarify… The way in which that teacher Grabbed That Childs Arm initially was abusive… Abuse! In other words uncalled for and illegal… Yeah the kid might have swung a fist first… After He Was Assaulted by The Dean. The dean did not just barely touch his arm… It was excessive. Hello???? God help this world… Most of the people on here make my stomach turn. Tomorrow, May a 300lb fatman grab your arm equally as hard… Very soon… Then when you try to relieve your pain by pulling away… I hope that jerk throws you into something very hard to knock some common sense in you empty statements. Bless your hearts.

  9. Waiting to see which one of you guys, throws the first punch. Way to take away from the story.

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