2007-05-18 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But…(School Edition)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

...I am all in favor of our public schools teaching Arabic as a language, just as the schools now teach French, Spanish and a number of other languages. Having said that, I do not believe that a school dedicated to "Arabic Culture" is the way to go, even if it is open to all-comers. Talk about the proverbial "slippery slope." If an Arabic Culture school, why not a Jewish Culture school that teachers Hebrew or a Greek Culture School that teaches Greek and focuses on the ancient empire? Such schools violate the very purpose of public schools, which is to teach the ideals, culture, traditions and values as well as the knowledge and skills that they need to live and work productively in America. In addition, the schools were set up to integrate newcomers to our nation into the mainstream, not segregate students by ethnic or religious beliefs. Such as school is, in fact, anathema to what public schools should be. You don't need a school centering on Arabic studies to teach Arabic. Diane Ravitch, a noted educator, who is usually too liberal for my taste, said it best in an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News last week. "In my view," she said, "there should be no public school based on only one non-English culture or language. A few such schools were created at a time when advocates of ethnic studies thought that public schools should raise children's self-esteem by teaching them to have pride in their cultural heritage. These schools naturally tend to celebrate the culture in which the entire school is focused. There is nothing wrong with preserving one's cultural heritage. But this is not the appropriate role for public schools. If the parents want their children to attend schools that teach their children to take pride in their race, their ethnicity, their religion and their ancestral culture, they should enroll them in private schools or private after-school programs." Well said!

...For many years, teachers who were injured breaking up classroom fights were denied "line of duty injury" status. They were told by the Department of Education that breaking up fights in a physical manner is not the job of the teacher, but of the school security agents. Teachers were taught to try and stop the fight verbally, but not to get involved in the tangle. I was never able to obey that stricture when I taught emotionally handicapped teens. If a fight broke out, as it did nearly every day, I believed that it was my job to break up the fight, to keep the kids from harming each other. I did expect, however, that the Board of Education would back me up. That turned out to be illusionary. When another teacher at the school was injured breaking up a fight and needed hospitalization and then rehab, the board turned down that teacher's request for line of duty injury status. All that did was to insure that teachers would not break up fights in their classroom. Now, a teacher who tried verbally to stop an assault and then stood by as it continued, has been suspended and everybody thinks that he is a terrible person who deserves to be fired. The DOE can't have it both ways. Teachers should be required to break up fights if they have the physical presence to do so, but they should be supported to the fullest should they get hurt doing so.

... More and more, we hear about people who lie about crimes that they said were committed against them. The Duke University case is only the most famous, but there have been many others. Just this week, two black "victims" who said that they were assaulted in Staten Island and that the police did not respond to their needs told FBI investigators that they had lied about much of their story. Remember the school janitor who was accused of sexual assault and then investigators found that the kid had made the whole thing up? You can probably think of many others, but they all remind me of those who remain in the school system's "Rubber Rooms" for years until they just quit or retire. I do believe that the vast majority of them are guilty of no more than angering their principals for one reason or another. I recently heard a case where a teacher signed a letter saying that a child was innocent of something for which she had been charged. For supporting the child over the principal, the teacher was banned to the rubber room under some trumped-up charge of insubordination. The principal, an "empowerment" principal, has nobody over his shoulder, watching what he does, and he can therefore do whatever he likes. What a world!

...Sol Stern is an ex-school superintendent who is now a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute for Police Research, a conservative think tank. Stern recently spoke to a reporter for the New York Teacher, the UFT newspaper. Stern said, "In his January, 2003 speech announcing the Children First reforms, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a new structure for the schools that called for 'one unified, structured, focused and streamlined chain of command' and he also said that the chancellor's office would dictate the curriculum and pedagogical methods. The mayor was as good as his word. For the next three years, teachers suffered the Tweed pedagogical dictatorship in the classrooms. Then, last year, the mayor and the chancellor did a 180-degree turn. Dictatorship was out and school 'empowerment' and 'autonomy' were in. There has never been a plausible explanation coming from Tweed for this flip-flop. After all, the DOE was claiming that the dictatorship model was producing 'historic' test score gains. What this does suggest is that the mayor didn't believe his own press releases, or that he just likes to grab headlines announcing new and revolutionary changes. My guess is that Tweed is flying by the seat of its pants." Enough said.

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