Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Party Time!

I went to the Gotham Schools party night before last.  There were some really interesting people there.  I got to speak to several prominent charter school enthusiasts and not one threw a chair at me.  In that spirit, I didn't throw chairs at them either.  I saw Norm Scott there, who'd actually hugged Joel Klein  the previous evening (the things we go through to get people to read blogs).  Several teacher acquaintances of mine advised him to get in the shower and wash his whole body with Brillo pads, but he declined.

Jose Vilson, writer of The Jose Vilson, did not show up.  Nor did Diane Ravitch.  Doug Lemov was there, though, and regaled us with tales of model teaching from his book.  He had video of a teacher showing kids how to pass out papers, and explained that passing out papers this way took only one minute.  He claimed it usually took five (Really?), and that this method saved four minutes a day, 20 a week, 80 a month, and 800 a year, or something like that, providing over a full day of extra instructional time.  I save even more time by not passing out papers every day.  I make booklets of two-sided copies well in advance and have kids bring them daily.  But I'm just a public school teacher, so what could I possibly know?

Lemov then showed us a classroom in which a young woman had a routine to move her kids from one section of her classroom, where they had desks, to another, where they sat on the floor.  The students chanted an educational song as they moved, and got very efficiently from one side to the other.  Personally, I was amazed they had all that space, as I have never, ever had two places to teach.  (I count myself lucky when I have one.)  Lemov proudly explained that there was no fighting or pushing. Clearly, when you eliminate all that bothersome social interaction, that is one result.  It was certainly a step up from Michelle Rhee's innovative practice of taping kids' mouths shut.  Still, I'm glad my kid wasn't in a class like that. 

The surprise guest, AFT President Randi Weingarten, then got up and asked why we couldn't all just get along.  Everyone was always vilifying everyone else and it wasn't nice, and wouldn't the world be better if everyone were nicer?  Public schools, charter schools, union teachers, non-union teachers--why can't we be one big happy family?  Doubtless Guggenheim would never have made the union-bashing propaganda film, and the hedge fund zillionaires would never have funded it if Ms. Weingarten had only confronted them with such stark and irrefutable logic beforehand.

It wasn't quite the fireworks of last year, with Diane Ravitch speaking after Joel Klein.  But I love going to places like the Gotham party, and being surrounded by people as focused on education as I am.  I love talking with smart people, even if I don't agree with them at all. Speakers notwithstanding, the guests made it a great party and each and every person reading this should have been there. 

Next year I hope they bring back Diane Ravitch.   They can always find someone to say whatever Klein would have said.  Perhaps by then Chancellor what's-her-name will be allowed out unescorted.  Maybe she can explain how putting "Children First" entails firing thousands of their teachers, even as Tweed has consistently failed to deal with rampant overcrowding or outrageous class sizes.  Perhaps when she's up to speed, she can explain what Mayor Bloomberg did with the billion dollars he took to deal with that issue.
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