Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More Abuse in PS 333--What's in a Name?

I'm a cancer survivor. It was one of the toughest things I've ever faced, and I've taught teenagers for over three decades. That's a tough job. Half of the people who start it drop out after the first five years. Nonetheless, cancer makes it seem like a walk in the park.

I wear scars from it, figurative and literal. I won't bore you with details, but I will tell you most people I worked with were very understanding. I took a sabbatical for restoration of health. The first day I went back to work, I told a supervisor I was really happy to be there.

"Here?" she said. "You happy to be here?"

She didn't know. 

"If you were where I was," I told her, "you'd be happy to be anywhere."

Sometimes people ask me why I'm no longer scared of things that once bothered me, of things that trouble my colleagues. Once you look at cancer, there's not a whole lot at work to scare you. Why is this about PS 333?

Because I've spoken to a lot of parents from there. They don't want anything that will identify them on this page. Is the principal as scary as cancer? Maybe, maybe not, but we're talking about their children here. No one wants reprisals against their children, and every parent with whom I've spoke thinks Claire Lowenstein is absolutely capable of it. Why on earth is she still there?

There is a great story about this abusive principal. It's got humor. It's got pathos. It's got incredible irony. It's been shut down on other forums for various reasons, and I've been asked not to post it here either. Sorry. (If you're reading this, Mr. Chancellor, let me know and I'll send it to you.)

Instead I'm gonna talk about names. At PS 333, everyone is on a first name basis. The teachers, the students and the principal all use first names. I could live with that. I worked at the English Language Institute at Queens College for 20 years and we used first names. The problem arises when you mandate a first name system, but the leader is, say, a space monster, a Leadership Academy Graduate, or a self-centered Boy Wonder. (And yes, of course there are Girl Wonders too.)

When I was in a system that used first names, teachers, admin and students treated one another with respect. That's what the whole first name thing represents. It can work, but there has to be an underlying understanding to make it successful. Clearly this is not carried off well at all in PS 333. The practices presupposes a trust that simply doesn't exist there.

Let's imagine you're a teacher at PS 333. We'll call you Frodo. A student gets up in the middle of your class.

"Frodo, I'm going to see Claire right now."

"You know, this is not the best time. Please return to your seat."

"Well, Claire said I could come to her office whenever I want, and I'll tell Claire that you just tried to stop me from going there, and she'll get you fired for that, bro."

Imagine having to deal with that on a daily basis. That's not the fault of first name usage. It's the fault of an irresponsible administrator who fails to set boundaries, who uses children as secret police, who grants them freedom and presumptions they most certainly ought not to have. The first name basis thing just makes it worse. If you abuse authority like that, you don't deserve to have it.

Principal Claire Lowenstein needs to go back to kindergarten and learn how to get along with people. That may not be possible, as there are contractual demands and due process likely precludes it. I don't oppose due process. Nonetheless, I've seen teachers accused of far less than Lowenstein reassigned pretty quickly.

It blows my mind that the city will tolerate so much more from principals than teachers. By the simple nature of their positions, they have the ability to do so much more damage to so many more people than teachers. I haven't got a clue as to why the city sees fit to tolerate this. Principals can damage entire communities. Common sense dictates they need to meet a higher standard, as opposed to a lower one, or more likely, no standard whatsoever.
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