2005-02-25 / Columnists

School Scope

De-evolution
By Norman Scott


People think we have reached the limits of evolution as a species and as a society and are in fact in a state of de-evolution. Before long we will re-turn to being salamanders scurrying along riverbanks. Actually, probably not a bad life after greenhouse gases put us back into Mesozoic times. Can dinosaurs be far behind?

The attacks on the teaching of evo-lution are perfect signs of our de-evolving. I was watching a cable channel called the Angel Channel on a recent trip to St. Martin's (hey, we only had 5 channels to choose from and 3 of them were in French) and actually saw scientific proof that evolution theory is false. An actual professor-- a scientist no less- citing Stephen Hawking -- affirmed the fact that the universe had a beginning. The commentator then postulated that of course some force -- maybe even an intelligent force, wink, wink-- must have pushed the red button to begin it all. Convinced me. All the proof I need to flush my personally autographed portrait of Charles Darwin down the toilet.

I can't wait until we find intelligent life on another planet. (This may take awhile since it is so hard to find intel-ligent life on this planet.) I only hope it has 8 legs and squirts ink that for-mats itself into important documents that read like a speech by George Bush. It will be fun to watch the anti-evolutionists go after this one as they call for an attack on the creature be-cause its ink is a weapon of mass de-struction -- of the English language.

But enough of this already. Howie Schwach is counting the words and I'm already up to 285. Oops! 286.

The National Center for Science Education works to promote the understanding of evolutionary science. The organization provides support to school boards under pressure to include creationism in biology courses. http://www.ncseweb.org/.

Certainly, the NYC school system under BloomKlein control is a major sign of de-evolution. Last column we quoted teacher Lisa North's positive points about balanced literacy and the Workshop model of teaching, which has been foisted on just about every classroom in the NYC schools from pre-k to grade 12 in all subject areas. Talk to Lisa and you will get a great idea of the potential of the Workshop model if implemented cor-rectly with highly trained teachers and small class sizes. But for the DOE to force such a highly complex model of teaching down everyone's throats over a short period of time and then to sic the administrative dogs on teachers who do not adapt it quickly enough--like the math teacher at John Adams I wrote about recently whose teaching style was attack just weeks after the Workshop model was supposed to be implemented -- is a true sign of de-evolution. But now, we must turn to our own backyard of examples of caveman be-havior.

The P.S. 43 Follies

The cards and letters keep rolling in as teachers and paras at PS 43Q in Rockaway celebrate recent "School Scope" columns starring their hero, principal John Quattrocchi who, as we reported in the Dec. 31, '04 and subsequent columns, told teachers "...Every day when I drive home I curse each and every one of you out..."

Life is MUCH Better AFTER PS/MS 43 writes, "I was a teacher in PS/ MS 43 for a time and I could write a novella about that evil, evil tyrant. He made my life a living hell until I was able to escape and go onto a BETTER school where I am appreciated and not taken for granted."

Concerned staff members of P.S. 43 write: "We must express the senti-ment of the paras and teachers on the Sim Grosshandler story. Sim Grosshandler was one of the few original staff members who were at P.S. 43Q when the school opened in 1996, and still remained through 2005. (The list of the many staff members whom have left because of problems with the principal is too long to list in your column). Sim was a para at the time, and going to col-lege to become a teacher. As a para, she was a very special addition to any teacher's classroom. She was always loved by the children and teachers who were lucky enough to have her there to assist them. Her creativity was exceptional.

"About 2 years ago, after completing all of her college requirements, the staff celebrated her graduation from college, and her step up to becoming a teacher. She taught a kindergarten class at P.S. 43Q for the last 2 years, up until a few weeks ago. Because of pressure from Mr. Q., Sim transferred out of P.S. 43Q to a school on the mainland. She decided to go back to being a para.

"Well, Sim, your kids miss you, we miss you, and 43Q will never be the same. Your sense of humor and your reaching out to us has touched us all. As with the many staff members that left P.S. 43Q, you will succeed and be much happier."

School Scope Comment: Dear John, I bet there are just a few people involved in the PS 43 community who curse YOU out every day on their drive home. But, you are in fact the poster boy principal for the BloomKlein administration, which wants people to rule by fear and loathing. The cards and letters coming in indicate you have not quite managed the fear part of the equa-tion, but you've certainly accom-plished the loathing end of the stick. Hey! One out of two ain't bad. (Apologies to the late Hunter Thompson for stealing his "fear and loathing" phrase. Honest! This was written days before he shot himself to death.)

Younger teachers si, older nyet

Continuing with our theme of de-evolution, anecdotal reports keep sur-facing from experienced female teach-ers at a bunch of Rockaway schools that some male principals are trying to replace "older, heavier female teachers with younger, thinner ones, often with blond hair." The actual truth might be that this is part of the overall strategy of pushing older teachers out and, since women mostly staff elementary schools, it would be natural that younger women would be replacing older women. As for the weight and hair color issue, we will take a pass. (Check out Maureen Dowd's op-ed piece in last Sunday's Times for examples from Jose Con-seco's book on "slump busting" by baseball players for more de-evolution.)

Centralizing schools is not a new thing: I just started reading "Blackboard Unions, The AFT & The NEA 1900-1980," a book by Marjorie Murphy and just a few pages into it was struck by the similarities between political movements in education in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries and today. There was a big push in the large cities, particularly New York and Chicago, to create a centralized school system with a "professional" teaching staff. The pressure came from the recently minted corporate world, which was demanding a more educated work force. Standards to become a teacher were raised and control was removed from local communities and concentrated in a centralized structure. Murphy writes, "Centralization and profressionalization were essentially two halves of the same walnut. Proponents of centralization wished to exert managerial control over the largest expense in the education budget, the teaching force."

In the more things change, the more they stay the same category, Murphy talks about a teacher and community supported student strike in 1902. The strike was precipitated when the Chicago schools Superintendent Edwin Cooley (Joel Klein) demanded that children learn following a centralized citywide schedule. Teachers were compelled "to follow rigidly a set course of excellence or fail any student who fell short of the standard. A teacher had insisted that children hand in perfect math papers or fail. The students argued hat no one was perfect" but the principal insisted teachers follow the rigid proce-dures. The students threatened a general strike and walked out of the classroom and were supported by the parents. The local Superintendent (an ancient LIS?) William Bodine punished the local community by rounding up 200 rowdy students who were truant and placed them in the Andrew Jackson School. When teacher Janie McKeon "booted one of Bodine's foul-mouthed truants out of her fifty-five-member classroom for using abusive language against another student" the principal sent the student back to her room and McKeon was suspended for thirty days without pay. (She couldn't be fired until the end of the school year unless a hearing was held. She probably had more rights than teachers today even without a union.) On the day of her suspension, two hundred students marched to the home of the local alderman and a few days later four hundred students marched around the school. They harassed the principal "as he was marched under police protection to his car and made his escape from the neighborhood." We can only hope the teachers; parents and students at PS 43 do not use this example as a model.

Welcome back, Mike

It is good to see Michael Winerip back writing his education column for the NY Times after a leave of ab-sence. One of the few educational reporters to consistently address important issues such as class size and the insanities of the impact of the small schools movement, he will share the regular Wednesday column with Samuel Freedman.

Susan Ohanian runs a fabulous web site

I met Susan Ohanian two years ago in Birmingham, AL. at the organizing conference of ACT Now, a group dedicated to fighting the insanity of high stakes testing. (I'll tell you more about the conference and some of the amazing people I met there in future columns.) Susan runs a great web site, http://susanohanian.org, that addresses many of the issues concerning education. She has writ-ten a number of books, the latest being co-author of "Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?"

An education reporter for a major newspaper is looking to hang out with teachers at the places they retreat to after school to get an informal idea of what they really think of what is happening in the schools. Anonymity guaranteed. Contact me with your favorite bar and when people are there at norscot@aol.com and I will pass the info on.

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