T.M. Landry College Preparatory School Accused Of Abuse And Altering Applications With “Poverty Porn”

December 1, 2018  |  

t.m. landry college preparatory school accused of abuse

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They were the feel-good viral videos of 2017. Young black students dressed in the college colors of the universities of their choice including Harvard, Tulane and NYU gathered around a computer with their classmates, fingers crossed silently praying to see one word: Accepted. Almost every single time, their prayers were answered before they all erupted in dancing, shouting, hi-fives and hugs celebrating the hard work and preparation that went into this single moment. A seat in the freshman class of their selected prestigious universities meant a chance at a successful future and a chance to escape the cycles of poverty many of them were accustomed to. But a piece in the New York Times has recently shed light of the shadowy backgrounds of these bright futures and reveals that many of these journeys haven’t met the happy ending we probably all anticipated.

You’re probably most familiar with the video featuring Ayrton Little. I even admitted the video of the Opelousas, Louisiana native dressed in his Harvard hoodie erupting in joy with his fellow classmates after opening his acceptance letter had me “all in the feels”. His older brother, also a student of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana T.M. Landry College Preparatory School, was accepted to ivy league university Stanford only weeks before. As the video gained popularity, the Littles’ story was featured on a number of news and entertainment outlets including NBC News and The Ellen Degeneres Show as America fell even more in love with the tale after learning the brothers had beaten the odds being raised by a single mother who often would skip paying bills when necessary if it meant financing her sons’ education. But the problem with this story and many others is that they may be works of fiction that in reality have some not-so-happy endings.

An investigative piece published in the New York Times yesterday attempts to expose the school for exploiting students and altering their college applications with stories of poverty and disadvantages with the hopes that if their grades and hard work wouldn’t suffice for their acceptance, maybe these schools need for diversity and higher academia’s hidden obsession with “poverty porn” and savior syndrome (particularly with disadvantaged students of color from underprivileged neighborhoods) would. The story also reveals T.M. Landry, run by Michael Landry, a former teacher and salesman and his wife Tracey Landry, a nurse, may in fact be guilty of fostering an abusive culture pushing students to produce high test scores:

“In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.”

“The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.”

The authors of the piece interviewed 46 people with ties to the school including parents of former Landry students, current and former students, former teachers and law enforcement agents. Students shared that the Landrys forced them exaggerate the absence of their fathers on college applications and that Mr. Landry ran the school as a drill sergeant often yelling and even hitting the students and pitting black and white students against one another to prepare them for the “real world”. Landry has admitted to hitting the students in the past and says he “yells a lot” but no longer behaves that way.

In what may be the most disappointing finding of the whole exposé, is that while the whole world may have kept scrolling believing that these students were destined for success after being accepted to some of the country’s finest schools, the reality was a little more complicated. Many students felt overwhelmed by their studies as well as navigating the culture shock that can come with leaving their familiar surroundings for college campuses far away from their childhood homes. Many students withdrew or transferred to less rigorous programs. Asja Jackson speaks of falling into depression after she “froze and failed” chemistry tests and biology exams during her first semester at Wesleyan University:

“She studied and worked through the night, like she had done at T.M. Landry since eighth grade, but she just was not ‘catching it,’ she said. She said she eventually stopped eating, talking to her friends, leaving her room or going to class.”

“’I didn’t understand why people around me were doing well, and I wasn’t,’ said Ms. Jackson, who took the advice of her dean and started medical leave. ‘I couldn’t tell my friends because they would say, ‘How did you get into the school then?’ There were too many questions that I couldn’t answer.’”

At this time T.M. Landry remains and unaccredited private school that takes no government funding placing it in a select category of schools the state does not regulate or approve. The school however did see over $250,000 in donations since the viral videos. Despite the Landrys’ intentions or questionable practices, we can’t forget that parents sent their children to this school with the best of intentions, despite how much their circumstances may have been exploited. We also can’t dismiss the fact that these students did the work and produced results, even while enduring techniques and teaching styles that may in actuality have done them a huge disservice. What remains true is that these students worked hard and believed in themselves and that counts for so much more than donations and Instagram likes, even if some would rather choose to focus on where they come from more than where they’re going.

You can read the story in its entirety here.

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