2008-06-27 / Columnists

School Scope

Odds And Ends
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Battle over school cuts still raging

The fur is still flying over school budget cuts with almost daily demos at Tweed. But the PEP (the quasi Board of Ed) still voted 8-1 to support the budget, with new Queens rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj going along with the majority. But he did read a statement. As usual, the Manhattan rep Patrick Sullivan was the lone dissenter. Details in a separate piece I'm writing that will appear either this or next week. Civil Rights for Suburbs, Mayoral Dictatorship for Cities

Those great civil rights activists Joel Klein and Al Sharpton who recently joined in an alliance (they have a weekly web cast radio program together) believe in a dual education system. White suburbs get to run their schools. Black and Hispanics in urban areas get no say in schools run by dictatorial mayors who put in chancellors with no experience in education (think it shows?).

The very idea of Joel Klein as Superintendent in towns like Scarsdale and Great Neck would create howls of laughter. George Carlin on Dumbing Down America.

In honor of the great George Carlin, I posted a link to his take on education in America on my blog.

Hysterical. And true.

The attack on teacher unions is broad-based and international

A World Bank report declared that teachers and their unions are the biggest threat to world prosperity. We won't go into the details of their rationale now, but the attacks in NYC are going on in many parts of this nation and around the world.

Teachers are the point people all over the world in bringing information to the masses of people and are viewed as potentially dangerous unless they can be controlled through fear and intimidation. Thus, the Taliban assassinate teachers, especially those working with girls. Teachers in Mexico have been murdered. This is echoed all over the world where teachers are amongst the leaders of progressive movements - except in this country - witness prime suspect, the UFT.

Thus, the real reason for the attack on tenure and senior teachers, people who are the most capable and knowledgeable in terms of resisting the idiot education ideas being fostered on them.

The goal: when teachers are told it's noon when it's really midnight, they're expected to respond, "Where are my sunglasses?"

Albert Shanker: Ruthless Neocon

People are surprised when I tell them that the venerated Al Shanker played an instrumental role in promoting the ideology that has led to "blame the teacher for the failures of schools." My co-writer Vera Pavone and I wrote a review of Richard Kahlenberg's adoring bio, Albert Shanker: Tough Liberal, for the journal New Politics, A Journal of Socialist Thought. Needless to say, we had another view of the role Shanker played. We called our review, Albert Shanker: Ruthless Neocon. If interested you can download a pdf from my blog. Or email me. Hebrew language charter school proposed in Brooklyn

For the record, we are now opposed to the concept of all charter schools, no matter how well intentioned, because they are part of the fabric of the undermining of public education. Fix what's wrong with the public schools without the bogus distractions of setting up phony competitive models. That the UFT chooses to join the chorus is beyond the pale.

Remember the attacks on Debbie Almontaser who tried to start the Khalil Gibran school which was branded a Madrassa and a Jihad school by the NY Sun and the NY Post and by groups like Militant Islam Monitor? Remember how the UFT's Randi Weingarten dropped Debbie like a hot potato after Debbie was ambushed by the Post?

Brooklyn Chapter Leader Steve Quester wrote at the time, "I write as a White, Jewish anti-racist educator who is heartsick over the role his union played in this sordid affair." (Steve's letter is posted on my blog.)

How will the Sun and the Post cover the proposed Brooklyn Hebrew language charter school which will teach Hebrew and the Israeli culture to which it is tied and will cost the NYCDOE $200,000 in start-up costs and will be filled with what could be the best guess (no matter the disclaimers), a slightly homogeneous population?

It reminds me of the bi-lingual Yiddish schools in Williamsburg that were set up by the District 14 school board as a sop to the Hassidic community, which held three out of nine seats and the balance of power.

Brooklyn's District 22 is an area running from central Flatbush south to Sheepshead Bay. The central/south end of the district is generally white with the north-end and parts of Sheepshead Bay black. There's a high number of Orthodox Jews in the area who do not use the public schools. But there are also a number of secular Jews of Russian and Israeli background. The organizers of the school claim that they hope to attract all ethnic backgrounds, just as the organizers of the Khalil Gibran school did. Do you think there will be just a slight difference in the way an Arab language and Hebrew language school will be covered by the mainstream press?

The Jewish press did do some interesting articles.

"Is a religion-free Hebrew-language school possible," Jewish Week asks?

The Forward says, "In a sense, Hebrew charter schools reflect a very old model of religious groups educating their own... [They] have emerged as a new potential strategy for building Jewish identity, as they are both cheaper and less parochial than day schools. But some have argued that this strategy is, if not illegal, then at least inappropriate."

Neither the Forward (run by the same people who run The NY Sun) nor the Jewish Week article mentioned the controversy over the Arab language school.

Will the Sun and the Post look for the same nefarious and hidden agendas in Hebrew schools as they did with an Arabic language school?

Here is a report from a District 22 parent:

I attended the public hearing on the proposed Hebrew language charter school in district 22 tonight. It was an interesting experience. Although this has been in the works for months now, the district only recently learned of its plans via Internet and started asking questions. Although the turnout wasn't particularly good, considering this is the middle of graduations and many parents have too much going on, the people that were there did ask some very valid questions

Aside from my personal opinion that any type of school that insulates a group rather than causing them to become part of the diverse population and part of the "melting pot" that is America is the wrong way to go this in particular smacked of an attempt to create religious oriented schools albeit within the confines of the law with tax payer dollars. If I did not believe that to start with, the two attached websites with interviews with the sponsors of this school as much as come out and say that.

However, our biggest objection is that the charter mandate is to go in and try to help at risk students that cannot obtain a proper education via their public schools. However, District 22 is one of the highest performing districts in the city and the at risk students we do have, would most likely not embrace a Hebrew language school. Therefore, why place this school in D-22 at all and how does the DOE accept that they are fulfilling their charter mandate? Also the startup costs for this school even with the private funding would cost over $200,000 from the DOE based on the actual paperwork the DOE gave out at the meeting and this at a time when other schools in the district are being forced to cut art/music, after school, etc. How can they justify this expense right now?

Links to these articles are accessible on my blog or Google them. Jewish week: Steinhardt Seeks Hebrew Charter School Here; The Forward: Charter School Effort Opens Rift on Civic Values

By the time you read this, the school year will be over, as will another year of writing School Scope, which I inherited from Wave Managing Editor Howard Schwach five years ago. As a teacher, I read the column because Schwach brought a unique teacherbased perspective to the table, something you rarely see in publications on a regular basis.

I have tried to continue presenting the teacher point of view. Though, retired, I am also still an activist in education matters along with a growing corps of teachers, parents, and members of various communities around the city. While Schwach focused more on the local school scene, I have tried to make connections to some of the larger issues facing educators: the UFT, Tweed, NCLB, and the national and international battles that are taking place.

Teachers in the NYC school system have seen first hand in the six years under BloomKlein how attempts to turn schools into competitive corporate models have affected them.

I will write a column in mid-summer to fill people in on events and will do some news stories as they come up. The battle continues and I will continue to write daily updates on the ednotes online blog. Have a great summer.

Norm writes more of this drivel every day at: http://ednotesonline. blogspot.com/ Email: norscot@aol.com, normsco@gmail.com

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