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.