2006-09-01 / Columnists

School Scope

By Norman Scott

In movie scripts the direction POV - point of view - is used to denote the camera angle that reflects the perspective of a character. And just about every piece of fiction is written from one or more characters' points of view. Should we be surprised that the non-fiction we read or hear reported in the media also reflects the POV of the reporters or, more likely, the owners of the particular media? Event can be described from the POV of the people involved with widely varying reports.

It is an ancient philosophical question: Does reality exist solely as perceived through the eyes of the beholder? Or is there a more universal "truth"? Some would answer the latter boils down to that old Dragnet line, "the facts, ma'am, just the facts." But even simple facts can have fuzzy answers. Can you just say it is or is not raining without getting into a "drizzle" or "downpour" controversy?

While overwhelmingly supported opinions on some issues might appear to be a slam-dunk, there is always another POV. When John Wilkes Booth committed one of the most horrific acts in history, there were possibly millions of people in a devastated South who cheered. POV!

POV plays a role in marriages that break up - the old irreconcilable differences - where two people reach a point of no compromise. Due to emotions, some marriages are probably harder to repair than the Middle East, where, if a degree of self-interest can be found for each side, there might be some common ground for a settlement. But emotions in both marriage and politics can lead to an irrationality that makes compromise impossible. And there's no place like the Middle East where emotions run rampant. Self-interest be damned!

Recent events have only confirmed that the POV's, (packed full of emotional baggage) of the two sides (and if we scratch a bit we will find more than two positions - like the report that Al-Qaeda is jealous of the notoriety Hezbollah has received) are so disparate that there seems to be no hope of a solution. Only when the self-interest of both sides overcomes the emotional component will there be a chance for a settlement. If not, as things escalate and become more irrational, it is not inconceivable that at some point someone will use a nuclear device.

This past weekend's "Vows" column in the Style section of the NY Times had a report of a marriage between an American Jewish woman and a Moroccan Muslim man. Maybe that's the answer. While this may be shocking to most, it beats seeing mushrooms blooming in the sky over the Middle East.

They say all politics is local. Recent debates in the Wave over the war in Iraq, the Middle East conflict, the Bush presidency, the DOE, rezoning in Rockaway, the traffic lanes on Shore Front Parkway, etc. - all reflect POV.

Read two differing accounts in Aug. 25 edition of The Wave of the Rockaway Park Homeowners/ Residents meeting on August 22.

Beverly Baxter ("On the Beach") wrote a glowing report - "A note of profound thanks to...President Edward Re for arranging this informative session."

Miriam Rosenberg ("Rock Park Homeowners Meeting Leaves Attendees Still In Dark") saw the meeting differently - "Re and his guest were more concerned about telling people how they can make suggestions to a plan they know nothing about...than give out the information about the proposed changes." If I were at the meeting, I might have written a completely differing account.

These radically differing POV's illuminate an important lesson. To get to the core of the story we would have to examine Baxter's and Rosenberg's relationships with the participants, their background knowledge, etc. Some would ask, "What is the truth here?"

I would respond there is no absolute "truth" here. POV! It would be an interesting exercise for The Wave to follow up this story from the perspective of the two points of view.

When it comes to most things you read or see in TV, there is no objective reality unless you were there yourself - and even then, it would be your personal objective reality, your POV. And if you had a dual personality, oy vey!

I've been plugged into many emailing lists that present what some would call alternative views that get no mainstream press and I've gotten to see where some people are coming from even if I don't always agree with them. We should be open to looking at many differing POV's on every issue before we come up with a balanced POV of our own. My problem? I tend to agree with the last person I spoke to.

The Intention is NOT retention - or burn 'em and turn 'em (over)

Well, I avoided it for as long as I could, but it is time to go back to school (in August yet) and more follies from the NYC Department of Education. Did you know that this year's calendar has a record 190 days?

I stopped by my old elementary school on Tuesday. There were at least 10 teachers still there in the building at 3 p.m.

We heard the argument during the contract negotiations "we're in school anyway, why not get paid?" We pointed out that in elementary schools where setting up a room (crucial to many teachers before the kids arrive on the day after Labor Day for the first time) will not be what they are doing on Thurs & Fri before and they would end up coming in even earlier. And so they did.

I know, even BloomKlein have their own POV and feel they are doing an amazing job saving the little kiddies from the evildoers - teachers, older experienced teachers especially.

Chancellor Joel Klein laid out his philosophy in a recent speech: "...if we are to truly change outcomes for New York City public school students, I believe we cannot just change the rules and the standards. We must fundamentally evolve, from a culture of excuses to a culture of accountability, from a culture of compliance to a culture of performance, and from a culture of uniformity to a culture of differentiation (based on talent and organizational need)."

The Klein POV is that the problem in education stems from a culture of failure and excuse making. Got 40 kids with enormous problems functioning in schools in a class while a neighboring wealthy suburb has 20 in a class - too bad.

Ignore that and suck it up.

Klein could morph Al Davis' "Just win, baby!" line into "Just teach, baby!" Except Al doesn't care how you win while Klein and his minions want to micro-manage every aspect of teaching.

In Kleinspeak, experience doesn't count and can easily be replaced by constant professional development, often by high-priced private firms. Sort of like letting the medical supply salesman do surgery.

While Klein supposedly laments the fact that so many teachers leave the NYC system by the 5th year, the retention problem is not of concern in the Klein philosophy. The Klein manta works like this:

+ Change the culture by driving out senior, higher-salaried teachers many of whom actually believe in a culture that includes a union contract (what is left of it) and with a culture that says you can actually go home when the school day ends - people who get dirty looks in the Klein culture.

+ Replace them with new teachers, many young and without union consciousness, added to the mix of older career changers, often from the business world and therefore also often anti-union.

+ Overwhelm them with professional development while micromanaging the teaching process to an extent that every teacher becomes a mere cog that can easily be replaced.

+ Use guilt, threats, whatever is necessary to squeeze every once out of them even if it leads to burnout.

+ As teachers are getting to their fifth year, completing their Masters degree and reaching a higher salary while at the same time coming to a realization they may be exploited, need a union and thus become more active in resisting the Klein "culture," start the cycle all over again.

You never have to pay a pension and you can raise the top salary after 22 years as high as you want since few will ever reach it. A win-win. (Next time we'll tell you how this is also a win-win for the UFT.)

The interesting thing is that "No excuses Klein" so often uses the excuse that he is prevented from making real improvements because of the union contract.

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