2003-01-18 / Columnists

The Schoolroom View

By Ron Isaac

By Ron Issac

Our public school system has been murdered by fabulously gifted and highly qualified assassins.  These educational leaders are drawn from all walks of life.   Many were once teachers who bailed out of the classroom at the first chance.  They have assumed fresh titles and the trappings of authority.  They have impressive diplomas and a professional-sounding vocabulary of jargon and euphemisms to create the illusion of substance.  They are orators of psychobabble and slaves to political correctness.  These bureaucrats are like human asbestos insulating the corridors of power.  But they hurl the flame of their cynical policies into the battlefield of every classroom.  Yet they have taken heroic care to not get burned themselves.  And with skilled networking and a bit of kismet, what bonuses may be lurking for them?  As they pursue a tainted self-interest, they keep parents and their innocent kids from getting restless by smoking them with the ruse of "empowerment".  By the time this hoax is discovered, the Department of Education's fat cats have been pensioned off to the Gold Coast.  They will have made a clean escape from the sacred responsibility of service to children.  And the kids they left behind will be so snared by their own ignorance that will have forgotten how to cry over their lost futures.

The human barnacles who have attached themselves to the permanent internal government of the Department of Education are largely retired administrators put out to pasture at the Department in the guise of "consultants".  Some may be mismanaging with the best of intentions.  There is no independent way of confirming that they are masters of deceit.  Some may be guilty of merely playing the only game in town.  But they are experts at stoking their bellies and passionately padding their ambitions.  I am not alleging illegality.  At least not the statutory kind.   But it is a moral pity. I will scrap my outrage when they quit their folly.

The new chancellor, Joe Klein, like his predecessors, has not personally confronted the bitter reality of being a front-line teacher.  That doesn't make him a bad person.  Chancellors have been sucked from the banking rackets, the cottage industry of university philosophers, or the legal hubbubs.  Mercifully, Mr. Klein seems an honorable and sagacious man.  But even his revolutionary fiats will fizzle unless they are antidotes to some poisonous truths within the system.  Redemption of the school system will demand actions that would be quickly fatal to the tenure of any chancellor.  The public relations undertow would pull asunder any courageous leader.  He must be prepared to make the supreme sacrifice.

Does the public know that it is now forbidden to meaningfully punish serious student violators?  Roving bands of predators can terrorize the halls at their pleasure.  They have mastered better than their ABCs the fact that if a staff member collars them, that member can lose his livelihood for mere suggestion of physical contact with a student. All the offender risks is a couple of days in an "Alternate Learning Site" on campus. No expulsions.  No traditional "suspensions". Not even a notation on the child's "permanent record".  All the focus groups, research projects, ad hoc committees, blue-ribbon panels, acronyms for highfalutin innovations, and gurus from Bank Street will have no positive effect until there are decent standards of discipline that are enforced universally without fear or favor.

All schools are mandated to have a "leadership team". By law, parents must outnumber teachers on this committee charged with identifying instructional needs, conceiving and implementing programs and determining budgetary priorities.  Most parents are eager to make a helpful contribution.  A few may be demagogues masquerading as child advocates.  But they need no professional knowledge to serve.  Imagine the chief of brain surgery at Columbia Presbyterian having less input into whether there should be a gamma knife in the operating room than has the community resident who runs the hot-dog stand down the road!  The role of these teams will expand upon the overdue demise of the school boards in June.

The abolition of the school boards is indeed post-mature.  Its members can be pillars of society, but there is no literacy or legal residency requirement.  Some boards have been fountainheads of patronage, nepotism and influence peddling.  They have been legendary hives of cronyism.  For more than a generation they have pulled the strings of community superintendents.  Each of these forty-odd superintendents draws a salary roughly equal to that of the FBI Director.   Now they will be marionettes to the chancellor.  That may be a dangerous but imperative investment of trust.

This column aims to be hard-hitting.  But it is not the kids who deserve to be hit hard. It is the system.

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