2009-01-23 / School News

School Scope

Does Experience Count?
By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Well, you saw it. A massive plane landed on the Hudson River. A miracle? Or supreme skills of an experienced pilot? Imagine the information Captain Sullenberger had to have absorbed over many years of flying to make so many correct decisions in an incredibly short time.

A friend wrote, "When I saw the photo of the pilot and noted the gray hair, I thought that if Joel Klein ran American Airways the pilot's 40 years of experience would have landed him in the pilot's equivalent of the teachers' rubber room - not safely on the Hudson. How lucky those 154 people were to be in the hands of experienced people."

There were lots of points made about how the experience of the rest of the crew was a crucial factor in the evacuation. Most pilots and crews are unionized. They have work rules. And seniority. Where were the union and seniority bashers in the press who are so quick to buy Joel Klein's attacks on teachers? Will we see six week Teach for America-type training programs for pilots before throwing them into the air to fly complex planes?

Does seniority count for presidents? Looking at presidential elections since 1992, one would think not, as relatively young men won the elections over their elders. My sense is that Obama, with his unique political skills, seems as ready as George Bush was not. Let's not get crazy and try to compare positions at the top with a mass group like 70,000 teachers in the NYC school system.

On inauguration day, I was riveted to the screen all day. I received a Move-on invitation to an inauguration party in Arverne-By-The-Sea that evening, but I didn't want to miss the chance to channel hop (not that the cold and snow weren't factors). Now I'm sort of sorry I didn't get into the spirit of the Obama call for community action. I wonder how he'll feel if the activation of the American public leads to real protests over giving away the country to the wealthy? I certainly don't have much hope for effective change in education based on Obama's choice of Chicago school superintendent Arnie Duncan as Education Secretary. (More on this in future columns.)

I generally don't pay much attention to inaugurations. John Kennedy's inauguration in 1961 was unforgettable for a 16-year-old. He had galvanized young people just as Obama has today. I was a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson HS in East New York. It may have been regent week and there wasn't a full program at school or schools were closed due to a snowstorm, but we were home that day. After a morning of carousing in the snow, my friends and I gathered in front of the TV to watch the speech. I vividly remember feeling embarrassed when Robert Frost's poem blew away. We listened intently to Kennedy's galvanizing words, still somewhat surprised we were actually interested in politics after the boring Eisenhower.

I'm still haunted by visions of that day connected to the stunning events less than three years later and the horrible years that followed. Despite the excitement of this past Tuesday's events, that gnawing knot just never goes away. When the Obamas got out of the car, I couldn't sit still. These feelings will never go away, as I bet they won't for most people of my generation.

The only inauguration I attended was Richard Nixon's second inaugural in 1973. We were not there to cheer. A large group of protesters went down to line the parade route to boo Nixon as he passed. I took the train with Lew Friedman. Lew was the guy who introduced me to left politics after I started working with Another View, an organization of educators based at IS 318 in District

14 (Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.) Another View is in many ways the antecedent of today's Independent Community of Educators, with some of the same people involved. It was a cold day in DC and we stood on the parade route for hours, freezing our butts off. There were

an estimated 60 - 75,000 people in DC protesting that day, a number not topped until Bush's first inaugural in 2001. We ducked into a coffee shop to grab a cup of cocoa. Just as we were paying, we heard a roar and a massive chorus of boos. We raced out and caught the tail of Nixon's car disappearing down Pennsylvania Ave. I got in a weak, hoarse boo. Even that brief moment gave us a high and the train ride home was a party.

This was all new to me, as I had missed the protests of the 60s. My first demonstration had been with Another View on May 1, 1971 at UFT HQ where we protested UFT President Al Shanker's support for the Vietnam War. In less than two years I had made up a lot of protesting time.

PS 225

My last column focused on the closing of PS 225 and I have been in touch with some of the teachers. I am working with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) towards creating a group of rank and file teachers to pressure the UFT to take a strong stand and use all its powers to stop the policy of closing schools. PS 225 has an interesting history, which will be the subject of a future column. If you have any insights, contact me.

Norm blogs daily at http://ednotesonline. blogspot.com/ Email him at: normsco@gmail.com

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You talk about schools and how they are not teaching children now. I think that started back when you were in school. Mrs. Schapp at PS-225 (2nd grade) once taught us that it is better to say nothing then it is to Boo someone. You were propably absent that day. The Booing and chanting (hey-hey-goodby) to President Bush shows that there is no respect being taught in schools, now or when you were there. A little respect will go a long way. Maybe a little less protesting and a little more attention and respect would suit you better.

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