Thursday, October 30, 2014

As Education Commenter, Frank Bruni Is a Great Food Critic

by special guest blogger Harris Lirtzman

Time Magazine’s most recent issue offers for its readers the picture of a perfectly round, deep red apple about to be squashed to a pulp by a judge’s gavel with the warning:  “Rotten Apples: It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change all of that.”

Evidently, the article is not as terrible as the visual, though the writer couldn’t be bothered to find a single working teacher to talk to as part of her reporting.  But we all know that thousands of grocery shoppers and patients in doctor’s offices very often see only a magazine cover and magazine editors know that.  Score another for the “education reformers” in their campaign to demolish the integrity and hard work that almost every teacher I have ever known brings to his or her job every day.

The other day, the New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, recently its restaurant critic, wrote a “thought piece” called “Towards Better Teachers.”  I know that the pressure of writing two eight hundred word columns a week can bring any author to his knees so Mr. Bruni decided to offer his readers a book report instead of his usual opinion piece.  Bruni sat down with former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to puff his new book Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.  During the interview, er, transcription, of Mr. Klein’s words, Bruni offered "But they [teachers] owe us a discussion about education that fully acknowledges the existence of too many underperformers in their ranks. Klein and others who bring that up aren’t trying to insult or demonize them. They’re trying to team up with them on a project that matters more than any other: a better future for kids."

 Joel Klein has never, ever, not once during or since his Chancellorship "tried to team up with teachers to build a better future for our kids."

This is stenography. This is not reporting.  Joel Klein spoke. Bruni wrote.
Bruni feels sorry that we teachers had our feelings hurt by the recent Time article
My feelings aren't hurt that the man who was the Times restaurant critic until two years ago now takes dictation while Joel Klein pontificates about teachers. I am simply angry. I am simply tired that restaurant critics, technology entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers now make policy for public schools and for public school teachers.

But that's OK. Andrew Cuomo, our governor and likely to be our governor for the next eight years, declared early this week to the NY Daily News editorial board that public schools are "one of our only remaining public monopolies" and that he feels obligated to break that monopoly by going to war with public teacher unions in order to increase the number of almost entirely unregulated and unsupervised charter schools in the state.

Mr. Bruni opines, with help from his keepers.  Mr. Cuomo rules, with no apparent help from anyone. And though Mr. Cuomo is a fearful man there are brave teachers and parents and students who will resist his determination to turn public schools over to private oligarchs, restaurant critics and former Michael Bloomberg autocrats.

Many of you may believe that public schools need to do better and are angry that teachers have pensions and tenure. Yes, public schools need to do a better job but public schools have always played an important role in forming citizens who function in a democratic society and teachers struggle every day to teach children who speak dozens of languages, have special needs, come from dispossessed communities with limited resources and require extraordinary and skillful work to make them proficient in language and math and history and science. Taking away tenure will solve none of these problems and Joel Klein and Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee and David Boies and John King, all of whom send their children to private schools, have never once extended a hand in partnership to teachers to work together to improve public schools. They just want teachers to be humiliated and frightened enough so that they will not fight for public schools or for the preservation of their unions and well-earned but not profligate salaries and pensions.

Mr. Bruni, I hear there's a really good salad being served at Per Se and a wonderful Chateaubriand available at Eleven Madison Park. May I reserve a table for you so that you and a few of your closest hedge fund manager and Silicon Valley friends can think of a few new ways to save black and brown kids in Brownsville and Corona Park from the hands of yet another grasping dolt of a teacher?  After all, my friends who’ve been doing this work for more than twenty years “don’ know nothin’ about teachin’” public school students and eagerly await your latest prescriptions for forcing them do their jobs better by taking away their basic work-rights and job protections and destroying their union. That will, I’m sure, spur them onto great and glorious feats of teacherdom not possible without the new paradigm of private management of public schools promised by our Silicon Valley experts, restaurant critics and education-warrior of a governor.
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