Monday, December 01, 2014

Saint Bill of Students First

It's not been the best of months for funnyman Bill Cosby. He's accused of drugging and raping a whole lot of women, and that doesn't particularly jibe with the whole Dr. Huxtable thing. But he hasn't been convicted of anything, and in this country you are presumed innocent.

Unless, of course, legal expert Campbell Brown and her hedge-fund gang are on the case. This is because the whole innocent until proven guilty thing doesn't apply to unionized teachers. Yet I haven't heard word one from Brown about Cosby, even though the things of which he's accused make all the nonsense she blabbers about teachers pale in comparison.

In this case, Cosby works with Students First, like Brown's husband Dan Senor, and that makes everything okay. I mean, you don't hear legal expert Brown complaining about Students First founder Michelle Rhee, who tapes kids' mouths shut to keep them quiet. And I'm not making a discredited accusation here--Rhee boasted about it to a receptive group she was addressing. They found it hilarious. Here in Fun City a teacher who sought such amusement would be subject to Chancellor's Regulation A-420, which prohibits corporal punishment. 

You might think Cosby might be a target of Campbell Brown because he's associated with education, having advertised his degree at the end of every Cosby show, but that's not the same thing as being some lowly teacher. Cosby holds a doctorate in education, at least somewhat earned via alternate means, like appearing on Sesame Street. Sounds less bothersome than all that sitting in a classroom stuff, but I wonder whether the NYC DOE would consider it rigorous enough to grant you or me a sabbatical.  Frankly, given his ready affiliation with Students First, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to question his expertise on public education.

There are differences, though, between Bill Cosby and embattled public school teachers. The most obvious, of course, is that Cosby is independently wealthy. Sure, he lost his new series at NBC and maybe a few live shows got canceled. But he won't be driving a taxi anytime soon. He won't be selling any of his homes to make ends meet.

It's different for lifelong teachers, smeared by allegations that the DOE couldn't even get past an arbitrator. Letters in their files, dismissed by arbitrators as baseless, are rehashed in tabloid news stories. They're exiled to the Absent Teacher Reserve with scarlet letters on their files, warning principals not to hire them. Celebrities who don't know a classroom from a green room condemn them on national TV. They say the most reprehensible and stereotypical things, like the bad ones spoil it for the good ones, and suggest we strip the "bad" ones (Who decides who they are, by the way?) of due process, so they can be fired for no reason.

Worst of all is when our union leadership accepts such standards, as they did when they wrote a second-tier due process for ATR teachers into the most recent contract. Mulgrew says it will make no difference, but also says ATR teachers can face 3020a for two incidents of shouting in the hall. In my overcrowded school, it's virtually impossible to communicate during passing without shouting in the hall. I know teachers who've lost their jobs for no reason at all, and I worry about them a whole lot more than I worry about Cosby. Their struggles are a whole lot worse than wondering whether or not they'll be able to get another sitcom.

Is Cosby guilty? Not yet, not in the United States. But it's remarkable to watch Whoopi Goldberg defend him while excoriating unionized teachers. She's clearly got a different standard for teachers than she does for comedians. Can you imagine what she, not to mention Campbell Brown, would be saying about a public school teacher accused of serial date rape?

Of course there should be standards for teachers. Of course no one who harms children belongs in a classroom. I fail to see, though, why we should be stripped of our jobs based on innuendo, while we're chided for even discussing allegations against wealthy entertainers who presume to be education experts and role models.
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