Let’s start with a simple lesson: Trending on Twitter is not an accomplishment. It is not an honor. It does not mean success.
I mean, seriously. #NationalCheeseburgerDay and #TrumpsAWhiteSupremacist were also trending in America on Monday morning.
But some adults in the nation’s capital missed that lesson.
It started when comedian Dave Chappelle took the stage before millions of Emmy viewers Sunday night and admitted that he had missed the rehearsal, so he was reading his script cold. And his D.C. public school education would be the thing to save him.
“Please forgive me. Shout-out to D.C. Public Schools. Here we go,” he said.
Awesome. And what a great way to give a shout-out to the school system that educated you.
Then the kooky John Oliver, a graduate of the Mark Rutherford School in Bedford, England, and Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge, ran with the mention.
“Like Dave Chappelle, I would like to unexpectedly thank D.C. Public Schools because I think it would be great if it started trending tonight on Twitter for no reason whatsoever. So, if you’re tweeting about the Emmys at home, please use the hashtag D.C. Public Schools,” Oliver said.
So #DCPublicSchools took off on Twitter.
And then D.C. public school officials reacted as though they were on the stage.
“What an unexpected honor!” someone tweeted from the school system’s official account.
Trending is fun, it’s silly, and sometimes it’s embarrassing. But it is not an honor.
This is basic middle-school stuff at home. Tweens are always being told to understand and learn the difference between popular and accomplished, “liked” and actually liked. Likes, retweets and followers are hardly a measure of success. Social media mastery doesn’t replace hard work, grit and heart.
The D.C. public schools have amazing alumni to be proud of, including Chappelle. And they range in field and fame from The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King to the New York Times’s Frank Rich. DCPS graduates bookend my music collection, from Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye to Meshell Ndegeocello. They are leaders in business and government.
And every day, extraordinary teachers change children’s lives. I know some teachers who had huge influences on my children.
But the school system today is also a chaotic, struggling enterprise, where a solid education in a safe environment is often guaranteed only by Zip code, where the lottery system is a frenetic annual game that decides a family’s future, where well-to-do parents in the wrong Zip codes will rent a ghost apartment in the right Zip code (because that’s still cheaper than private school) and where disparities remain enormous.
“Excellence exists in our schools today, but too many of our children never experience it,” D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson wrote in The Post this month.
It is a school district with high schools that have a 95 percent graduation rate and a 66 percent graduation rate. Want to see how different these schools are?
Three years ago, in one of the good-Zip-code schools, Avery Gagliano’s parents received robo-calls and notices of social services intervention when their middle-schooler missed class to perform at international piano competitions and prestigious festivals.
That same year, the same school system — in a different Zip code — didn’t contact anyone when Relisha Rudd, who was living in a homeless shelter for families at the time, missed school for 30 days. Relisha is still missing.
Today, the school system is also struggling with suspensions, something uncovered by a Post investigation published this summer. Schools were touting huge drops in suspension rates, even as their own officials warned principals to stop “hiding” suspensions.
“This is inappropriate, unprofessional and fraudulent,” Instructional Superintendent David Pinder wrote in an email obtained by The Post.
These stories are also ways that D.C. Public Schools made an appearance on Twitter.
Listen, as the product of public schools, I get that public school systems need all the support they can get. Teachers are still underpaid, unsupported and unappreciated for the phenomenal job they do of taming, sculpting and educating our kids.
Lord knows I can’t do the job.
But this Twitter trumpeting is not the victory to embrace. This trending is also pretending.
Pretending there isn’t huge work ahead.
Pretending it’s a healthy and equitable system.
Pretending you know what the heck you’re tweeting about, Emmy watchers.
And once the #DCPublicSchools hashtag is bumped off the trending list by a celebrity who farts in public or a cat that eats eggplant (which may have happened an hour ago), we’re still left with a system with huge flaws and huge disparities.
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