Monday, January 31, 2011

GothamSchools--Civil or Biased?

Yesterday I got an email suggesting GothamSchools' call for civility in its comments was motivated by criticism of its main community section writer--a member of a Gates-funded group openly dedicated to eradicating basic union rights. (Like all other such groups, it does so in the name of helping the children whose schools Gates money aims to close.)

I wrote back it was a coincidence, and that the move was possibly long overdue. After all, I'd just seen a commenter imply someone was paranoid over concern revised Gotham policies might cause his ID to be leaked to the DOE. The DOE has sent teachers to the rubber room for bringing plants to school, for using school fax machines, and for who knows what else. I think there's plenty of reason for wariness. The same commenter said to Mr. A. Talk:

You sound just a bit overly paranoid. What evidence is there that the “regime,” as you delicately term it, gives a hoot about bloggers posting their professional perspectives here? 

In fact, the DOE has been specifically known to monitor blogs. Joel Klein seemed acutely aware of Education Notes Online when he saw fit to embrace Norm Scott at a PEP meeting.

In any case, my correspondent emailed me back, saying look carefully at the picture they chose. It's their resident Gates front group member, (the one they feature without regard to taste, accuracy, or quality), and the guy who calls people paranoid (for fearing a Department that is right now proposing to fire 25% of NY City teachers). I was pretty surprised. Is that what Gotham considers a model?

Couple that with the fact that GothamSchools and the New York Post have been closely following the Gates union-busters (though the Post has yet to give a group member a regular column), and you have to stop and think. I don't expect much from Murdoch publications, but I hope for better from Gotham.

In fact, Gotham prints bits of Gates-funded PR unedited and unchallenged. I noticed, as did Michael Fiorillo, the absurd assertion that the group was “Founded with the goal of injecting teacher’s voices into citywide education policy debates.” It's preposterous on its face to say that about a group whose main purpose is eradication of union seniority rights for teachers, but that's what the group publicly states, and that's what GothamSchools presented, sans a single modifier, like "the group maintains" this. In fact, the people running this particular anti-union group are not even teachers anymore, somehow managing to work one day a week.  Perhaps they make up for this with the largesse of Gates and who knows who else. I don't know and I haven't seen much in the way of investigation from Gotham.

Fiorillo writes:

In paragraph three, you write that opponents of the group criticize it “for failing to understand the importance of protecting senior teachers.” This shows a lack of understanding of what seniority is; it is not about protecting senior teachers, but protecting  all employees from arbitrariness when layoffs occur (and in many other instances, as well). That arbitrariness affects senior workers is a fact of life, but it is far from limited to that. Seniority also protects workers from vindictive administrators.

New teachers who intend to make  teaching a career - which clearly does not include the founders of this group, as with so many ed deformers - are also protected by seniority, since if they are laid off it guarantees their right of return when hiring begins again. Your phrasing narrows the scope of the issue, and subtly reinforces E4E’s agenda, which is to pit teachers against each other.

I expected better from Gotham and thought I should let them know. Their civility piece suggests the following:

If you have a correction or a criticism of our coverage, the fastest way to reach us is by email. We do read the comment threads (though often not immediately) and will occasionally respond, but commenting isn’t the most efficient way to get our attention.

I did so. (In fact I regularly email journalists, with comments both positive and negative.) In this case, I received a response that, at best, "dodged" the issue--precisely what the reporter accused UFT President Michael Mulgrew of having done.

It's remarkable that Gotham devotes such energy to people who shill for billionaires while utterly ignoring the hearty group that rallied outside City Hall, braving the miserable snow day to protest school closings. This was organized by GEM, a real grassroots group as opposed to an obvious corporate front. Not only that, but it was supported by many other groups including, but not limited to, Class Size Matters and the UFT.

Gotham is of course free to cover and feature what it chooses.  If it wishes to portray itself as unbiased, however, it needs to examine those choices more carefully.
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