Catholic school teacher throws chairs to change lives

Some teachers do a game of ice breakers to start class. Mark Carty throws a chair.

The 31-year-old La Salle Academy high school sociology teacher, arrested multiple times for protesting in Miami, Philadelphia and New York, is illustrating post-modern theory.

“Whenever possible, I try to throw in different approaches and ideologies,” said Carty, who will earn a master’s degree in education this summer at St. Mary’s College of California where he studies in the months when he is not teaching. “My teaching is [about] constantly removing students from their comfort zones in terms of how they think about problems.”

High school students read and explicate the Communist Manifesto, watch “The Shawshank Redemption” and Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” and conduct research for their 25-page term papers in his sociology course, which includes a visit to the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute.

“It is one of those things that really radically transforms the way kids think about corrections in general [and] provides a humanizing existence to how our state deals with corrections in a legal standpoint,” he said of the field trip.

Still, the Irishman’s students mostly rave about the classroom environment he provides and his personality.

“Every class was very interesting,” said 21-year-old waitress Meghan Pinksaw, who sat in Carty’s class as a high school senior in 2008. “He was down to earth and did not take disrespect in his class room [but] also knew how to teach [the] more difficult students that most teachers would get sick of and send somewhere else.”

With glasses and a tough crimson beard, Carty rolls his button-down shirt sleeves up to his elbows before stirring intense political debate during classes at his high school alma mater in Providence, R.I.

“Heated conversation between students [was] when Mark was at his best because he would just step back [and] let us (students) discover what the class was about,” said 19-year-old photographer and former student Nicole Capobianco, who emphasized his ability to “spark dialogue between students” was unparalleled.

“Mr. Carty’s class gives [students] a channel to voice their opinions, share ideas with other young adults and learn more about the why the world is the way it is,” high school history teacher Brian Ciccone said. “Students must be aware of the world around them to really succeed in his class.”

Through a discussion-centered course, Carty strives to instill an appreciation for different perspectives.

“I hope that they’ll get to appreciate the perspective of others [because] if students can learn how to appreciate where someone is coming from, they can make fair and accurate judgments about how they should navigate and move forward,” the Temple University graduate said.

Teaching honors and advanced college preparatory classes, Carty makes a conscious effort not to disclose his political affiliation with students as a way of encouraging them to form their own opinions.

“You didn’t know what he thought, but he could invoke your thoughts and get you to speak about what you thought and why you thought that way,” continued Capobianco, a photography major at the Pratt Institute. “He has so much respect for his students that he wants to send them on a path of finding things out for themselves, not to ever tell them what to think, but to show them there are so many different ways of thinking.”

Carty is described as the “most passionate, prepared and intense teacher [who] goes the extra mile for his students and challenges them to always improve,” according to a comment on the Rate My Teachers website.

Colleagues note the writing-intensive workload that includes weekly assignments, essay-based exams and a lengthy term paper is a challenge posed to students by their highly-respected teacher, Mr. Carty.

 “He pushes his students to be stronger writers as well as stronger communicators,” Ciccone added. “He doesn’t baby them [and] because his expectations are high his students generally rise to meet his challenges.”

By asking students to think critically, the former political science major challenges students to improve more than their arguments, enriching the class through service and social change projects, he maintains, are imperative in education.

“If education isn’t about the promotion of justice then, in my mind, it’s kind of an idle waste of time,” he said.

Carty introduced “Challenge 20/20,” a program that examined poverty using an inter-disciplinary approach, bringing sociology students together with architecture, psychology and world literature students to create local academic solutions to the worldwide epidemic, according to the La Salle Academy website.

Bridging formal education and social justice, “Challenge 20/20” featured teleconferences with students in Kenya, guest speakers with experience in combating poverty and direct service opportunities in the Providence community.

Humanizing the conditions allows for people to make more informed decisions about how to solve problems, whether it is creating a free society or trying to help victims of poverty and difficult circumstance improve their lives, Carty said.

A sociology class that does not differentiate the formal academy from advocacy impacts students beyond academia and the four walls of Carty’s second-floor classroom.

“It was more of me realizing things about myself in the context of this larger society that we were studying for sociology [to] send me spinning on this path of self-empowering knowledge,” Capobianco said. “He inspired me to be a revolutionary person because that’s how Mark conducts not only his teaching, but his life.” 

A long arrest sheet at anti-globalization demonstrations is not the only feature that makes Carty revolutionary.

As a teacher, he has helped organize an event to raise awareness of homelessness, initiated a winter symposium on Cuba after living in the country to study its education system and rebuilt homes in New Mexico and New Orleans with students on mission trips, according to high school’s website.

“Mr. Carty didn’t just teach, but made a connection with his students,” Pinksaw said.

“If I had never met [Carty], I would not be the same person,” Capobianco concluded. “It’s a class that changed my life.”

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