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The T.M. Landry Fraud

Mike Landry, educational flim-flam man, was a media darling (Today Show screengrab)

This is a real blow. Not long ago, I saw a story on CBS News, or somewhere, about T.M. Landry, a college prep school in Cajun country that managed to send a lot of black students from impoverished backgrounds to good colleges. The narrative was that black kids from broken families and poverty could make it to top American colleges if only they had the kind of discipline that the school, founded and run by Michael Landry and his wife, a black couple, provided them.

This video of a T.M. Landry student receiving his Harvard acceptance letter went viral:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fbFV47wO9w]

The Landrys have become a national sensation:

Landry success stories have been splashed in the past two years on the “Today” show, “Ellen” and the “CBS This Morning.” Education professionals extol T.M. Landry and its 100 or so kindergarten-through-12th-grade students as an example for other Louisiana schools. Wealthy supporters have pushed the Landrys, who have little educational training, to expand to other cities. Small donors, heartened by the web videos, send in a steady stream of cash.

It turns out that it was too good to be true. The New York Times tells the ugly truth:

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.

Some of the Landry kids who got into top-rank colleges have succeeded in spite of the deception.

For yet other Landry students, particularly those who spent multiple years at the school, the results after graduation have been disappointing. Some have withdrawn from college, or transferred to less rigorous programs.

Asja Jackson, whose Wesleyan University acceptance video also went viral, decided to leave this month after she said she fell into a depression over her first-semester struggles. She said she “froze and failed” her first chemistry tests and walked out of a biology exam. Her papers, she said, were “childish,” and she was too embarrassed to attend a writing workshop.

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.”


Mr. Landry used to tout the school as created for “black troublemakers.” As it became more prominent, it started to appeal to local doctors, paralegals and small-business owners. Some white and Asian families also enrolled their children.

Black families thought that the Landrys were fighting to give their children a fair shot in a world that often believed they were only capable of being sports stars. Mr. Landry’s mantra: “Why play for a team when you can own the team?”

“The fact that he was black, I was like, ‘Man, he’s going to uplift these kids,’” said Doresa Barton, whose three children were enrolled at Landry until this year.

“He got us on the unity,” said Letarchia Lewis,a parent, and he capitalized on “a disadvantage that you know we are all a part of.”

… Ms. Thomas, the grandmother, said she felt like the Landrys preyed on their own community. “We expect that of other people, but we had an African-American who was one of us and seemed to be doing right by us, and it was a sham,” she said.


Read the whole thing — especially the ending, which is out of a freaking cult video. When confronted by reporters, Mike Landry plays the race card like a Vegas master, and compares himself to the crucified Jesus.

I’m so grateful to the Times for writing this story, even though it breaks my heart to read the truth about T.M. Landry. Those poor kids and families. It’s hard to express to people who don’t live here in south Louisiana how poorly the public schools in rural areas perform (my hometown school, one of the state’s best, is a notable exception). These black parents were desperate for something better for their kids. Before you judge these parents too harshly, you should know what they were up against.

The Landry story was irresistible to the media, too, because it confirmed what it wanted to believe. And, to be honest, it confirmed what people like I want to believe about education and discipline. But it was a lie.

My wife teaches in a private, classical Christian school, and believe me, nothing makes her and her colleagues angrier than fraudulent schools like T.M. Landry. Though it wasn’t a classical or a Christian school, Landry held itself out as an educational alternative that didn’t follow the standard script. My wife says that fake schools and like T.M. Landry — and there are more than a few — hurt all alternative schools, because these fraudulent schools (and educational programs) validate the biases of those who resent them.

UPDATE: Matt in VA comments. Note: I know Matt’s real name, and he does indeed work for a state school:

I work in university admissions, though for a state school, not a place like Harvard.

The truth is that “making up student accomplishments” and “mining up-from-hardship tales” are what upper-middle-class status-hungry strivers and their families, prep schools, guidance counselors, and college admissions coaches are already doing all over the place. The fraudulence is *everywhere.*

The Landrys got caught because when push came to shove they were too obvious and canned about it, and because they didn’t teach their students not to try to major in or take classes in the hard sciences, engineering, or math. The rich kids and upper-middle strivers *know* when they first set foot on campus not to do that. Leave those courses mostly to the diligent immigrants and first-generation American children of immigrants. There are majors at even the most selective schools where you can’t flunk out as long as you show up to class and turn in the assignments.

(An aside — when professors or TAs in the liberal arts at these schools do try to flunk a student out, it’s quite common that the administration steps in. You will be told that you have to warn a student who plagiarizes, and that you *must* give him permission to drop the course (even if it’s the end of the semester, even if he has violated in the most flagrant manner the spirit of your discipline and been dishonest and dishonorable in the most grotesque manner). The punishment will be taken out of your hands and given over to some kind of “honor court” run by administrators who exist to make sure certain students don’t get punished in a way that hurts, say, the football team.)

And as for falsifying transcripts, we are at a point where the average GPAs at some public high schools in upper-middle-class striver zip codes are something like 4.54 (because they offer so many watered-down “Advanced Placement” courses for which students can get a kind of A-plus-plus, and grade inflation is so bad). It is VERY common these days to see kids whose GPAs appear to be so high as to be mathematically impossible, combined with standardized test scores that are mediocre. This is a way of falsifying transcripts that has become nearly universal in the most status-conscious kinds of schools. If I’m not mistaken, the Broward County high school where the gunman killed a number of students and those media darlings like David Hogg were already throwing themselves in front of cameras before the bodies had hit the floor was one of these schools with an average GPA like this, higher than what you would expect the valedictorian out to have.

Note well that many schools don’t require standardized test scores at all — Wesleyan, the college mentioned in this article where the student flunked out, no longer requires them of applicants. And many schools will take students whose standardized test scores are quite poor if they really want the student for “diversity” reasons. Remember that Harvard rejects large numbers of students who score a perfect score on the SAT — they can afford to admit some students who fared poorly on the test, it’s not going to hurt their overall average too much, they have more than enough high-scoring applicants to balance things out.

There is no level of fraudulence, falsity, and charlatanism that our elites will not eat up on the subject of “education,” because the subject itself is empty of content (hey-hey-ho-ho Western-Civ-has-got-to-go led to the most appalling vacuum) and thus all of the grifters, shakedown artists, hucksters, frauds, and the like have come flooding in to fill the void.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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