When Mark Ossenheimer founded New York City’s Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, he ran a tight ship. The Dean, Hector Diaz, took a stern position on discipline, and the students took him seriously. And the school thrived.
But fashions change, particularly in education where movements based on Utopian theories of behavior come into favor. And UA Wildlife was not immune.
New York was in the vanguard of a nationwide movement, spurred largely through federal coercion, to undo traditional discipline in favor of a progressive or “restorative” approach.
At UA Wildlife, meaningful consequences for misbehavior were eliminated, alternative approaches failed, and the administration responded to a rising tide of disorder and violence by sweeping evidence of it under the rug.
The restorative approach was that instead of punishing students for bad behavior, students were rewarded for good behavior. The theorists delighted in riding unicorns on rainbows. The students, for some odd reason, remained stuck in the real world.
But by the 2016-17 school year, most of the old faculty had fled. Only 19 percent of teachers said order was maintained, and only 55 percent of students said they felt safe. Rumors of weapons were omnipresent, and fights were a matter of weekly, if not daily, routine.
The new, untenured Dean, was constrained to live with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s progressive ideals. And the students quickly realized they were in control.
The kids quickly realized their teachers could get in trouble for getting them in trouble. Vasquez shared a video he took of his classroom. Two girls are standing in front of the class, talking loudly. When Vasquez asks them to return to their seats, one yells, “I’m gonna stand right here! You not tellin’ me nothing! Mr. Primus not tellin’ me nothing! None of them teachers tellin’ me nothing! So I’m gonna stand right there!” The other girl chimes in, “I’ll take you to court!”
In some circles, this reflects strong students standing up for their right to assert their entitlement. In others, this means the inmates ran the asylum. But for student Matthew McCree, it meant death.
At UA Wildlife, the “restorative” approach accelerated the school’s disintegration. “Instead of suspending the kids, they made this group called the Warriors,” says one teacher. “It was all the kids that needed discipline, and they did this social justice program, and it kind of backfired on them.”
Abel Cedeno started bringing a knife to school. He was bisexual. He was also armed. His mother called the school to warn them to no avail. He was just another “warrior” until one day a fight broke out in class.
“So [Cedeno] was going to leave the room and they threw a paper ball in his direction. I guess to go in the garbage, and it almost hit him or it hit him. And he turned around and he was like, ‘Who the f- -k threw that?’ Right? So, Alex says, ‘I did it.’ But then Matthew stands up and he’s like, ‘I did it.’ Right? And [Abel] goes, ‘All of y’all in the back are pussies.’
“So Matthew starts coming around. Mr. Jacoby tries to push him back, he’s like, ‘No, you don’t have to do . . .’ Then, Matthew like just literally passes right by Mr. Jacoby and starts going toward him. That was when Abel pulls out the black switchblade and he was like, ‘Pull up, run up, run up.’ Right?
“Then Matthew. I don’t know if he saw it or not. But as soon as everybody saw it in the front, they started backing up. And we were, like, screaming, ‘Matthew, don’t do it!’ And he still kept going. He landed mad hits on him. And then that was when he got stabbed.
And like that, Abel Cedeno killed Matthew McCree. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen on the Happy Island. And so a narrative was swiftly born that, well, it didn’t.
Vasquez connected me with eight of Matthew’s teachers and six of Matthew’s friends. They say he was not a bully but a very “respectful kid” and “wicked smart.”
A bully? That’s what the narrative demanded, and so the dead kid, the respectful and “wicked smart” kid, became a bully. But it wasn’t just because it’s trendy these days to believe that bullies deserve to be killed. There was a kicker.
On Sept. 27, 2017, Abel Cedeno, an 18-year-old sophomore who had been bullied for his sexuality, snapped. Cedeno says he was being mocked by two boys; he pulled a black switchblade out of his backpack and stabbed them, killing Matthew McCree, 15.
Remember, Abel Cedeno was bisexual, and so the social justice narrative, like its “restorative” educational approach that gave rise to a school without any control over the worst impulses of its most undisciplined students, seized control.
A bullied bisexual student who “snapped” and murdered the student who bullied him is the sort of story that brings tears to so many eyes. It’s the sort of story that raises calls that something must be done to protect these poor students, that harsh and terrible consequences must befall the bullies who torment them. That it’s a lie changes nothing. Once the narrative is out there and the tears and passion flow, there can be no solution other than adoring the preferred identity and condemning his bully.
Matthew McCree had a right to live, even if his sexuality didn’t match that favored by the unduly passionate. Abel Cedeno may be bisexual, but that doesn’t entitle him to a fictional narrative and a free pass on murder. And had UA Wildlife not indulged in an experiment in social justice insanity and, instead, maintained some control, some discipline over its students. Abel might not have been able to carry his switchblade into school and Matthew would still be alive.