Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moving Ever Backward

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has very publicly promised to speak of teachers with respect, perhaps hoping to strike a contrast with his recent predecessors and the Emperor. I'm all for that. I don't believe in screaming fights, mostly because they're not altogether effective. Of course, after a never-ending decade of PEP meetings in which the public is routinely and entirely ignored, I understand how things can get.

Chancellor Walcott, after working behind the scenes all this time, understands very well. Unfortunately, it's tough to ratchet down the tone when he rolls out the same tired old nonsense we've been hearing all along. For example, as Miss Eyre ably documents, his new way of showing respect to teachers is looking for a way to fire them without just cause, make them guilty until proven innocent, and place the burden on them to show the firings are "arbitrary and capricious." Short of looking into the souls of administrators, or at least those who have them, that's a tough row to hoe.

Another sign of Walcott's newfound "respect" is that he once again pits us against the children we serve--them or us. Children should have more rights than adults, apparently, until they grow up. Then they can go to hell with the rest of us, every parent's dream.

Of course, Walcott's cordiality is nothing new. 200 years ago, when public education was just getting started in New York City, it was essentially a group of rich people deciding what the rabble needed to know. We decide, you follow. Class sizes were very large. Teachers were very poorly paid and could be fired for offenses like marriage, pregnancy, or the whim of employers. There was none of this collective bargaining nonsense, and pay was determined by employers, who granted promotions and raises when they golly goshdarn saw fit.

This is the vision of Chancellor Dennis Walcott, mirroring that of Emperor Bloomberg, mirroring that of Bill Gates, who seems to tell President Obama what to think about education. After all, the President was recently in Memphis, praising a school that miraculously raised its graduation rates. Turns out, the school dumped 25% of its lowest-performing students to accomplish that miracle. In fact, the charters that President Hopey-Changey so adores often shed their troubled students in just this fashion, dumping them into public schools that end up closed.

With a President and countless other politicians doing the bidding of billionaires rather than representing us, cutting taxes for the wealthy and declaring emergencies that entail cutting back on education and benefits for working people, we're on a rapid return to the 19th century, before the now-quaint 40-hour week and pensions for dignified old age infected the system.

The longer we wait to wake up ourselves and our country, the more uphill our battle will be.
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