2011-12-23 / Columnists

School Scope

Jumping From Kiwi-Land Into Shadow Of The Valley Of The Panel For Educational
Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott I’ve been back a week after spending two weeks in New Zealand where summer is just beginning, so I’m not sure what is up and what is down or whether it is yesterday, today or tomorrow. But I do have beautiful photos of roses in bloom in December. Internet access was difficult – meaning the hotels charged way too much and with an active tour guide getting us up early and delivering us late there was little time to spend online anyway. But I did try to keep up through my Blackberry, which was burning up with news from the education front lines. I did manage to get over to Occupy Auckland, where I videotaped what turned out to be an important General Assembly and they were going to use my tape as part of their court effort to remain in the park they were occupying.

What is interesting is that New Zealand is a nation with fully socialized mdical care, a very successful system indeed. More on some of the wonderful stuff we learned about that nation of four million people in future columns.

But, apparently, New Zealand, even with a top-notch education system, is not immune to attempts to push an education deform privatization agenda, with the just-elected conservative government springing the charter school option of school choice out of a hat. Boy, these corporate reformers are coming out from under rocks everywhere in the world.

I was contacted by an NZ principal who had heard of our filmed response (“The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman”) to the supreme ed deform film “Waiting for Superman” – he was prepared to take a 2-hour car trip to meet up with me in Wellington (the capital and home to Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson who has his studios there) to get a copy. Apparently, our film is viewed as one of the most effective ways to counter the ed deform free market corporate agenda.

How thrilling that word of our movie has gone out to the far corners of the world (all 50 states and 6 continents) with letters pouring in from people making and distributing dozens of copies. I’m guessing that we have gone over 8000 DVDs distributed with people setting up screenings all over the nation at colleges, unions and school boards. I was even invited up to SUNY Courtland (all expenses paid) to be on a panel discussing both films. (Of course, our own UFT leadership here in NYC has been boycotting the film because, while defending teacher unions is a major portion of the film, we did have a few criticisms of the weakness of the UFT organizing efforts.)

We had lost an entire day travelling but got it back on our return on December 12. We left on a Monday, travelled 24 hours and came back on a Monday.

Imagine travelling that way on your birthday – you’ll never get older.

Two days later, while still jet-lagged, I was ready for action at the December 14 Panel for Educational Policy meeting being held in central Queens at Newtown HS. The meeting, which was focused on handing over more schools to Eva Moskowitz’ Success Charter Network in Brooklyn, had been moved to Queens (even though there wasn’t one item on the agenda related to a Queens school) to make it difficult for the overwhelming number of parents and teachers, especially in gentrifying Cobble Hill, who used their two minutes at the mic to oppose the giveaway of school buildings to private interests, especially when there are a number of high quality and popular schools in the area. But under Bloomberg, it is all about political connections and not education.

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(Did you hear this line from David Letterman commenting on the death of Kim Il Jong: “The only tiny tyrant left is Mayor Bloomberg.”)

As expected despite an overwhelming majority of people using their 2 minutes to speak against the Moskowitz invasion, the Panel dominated by Bloomberg appointees voted in favor of the Success co-location with only one vote against, the always-reliable Manhattan Borough Rep Patrick Sullivan. Many people showed up with puppets to mock the Bloomberg crew. But clearly, even most of the borough reps, appointed by the borough presidents, are also puppets. Brooklyn’s Marty Markowitz’ rep voted YES (Marty you are a puppet AND a buffoon) and our own Queens rep supposedly (I was long gone by then to catch up on the 18 hour time difference) abstained – say it ain’t so Dmytro Fedkowskyj.

Is he a pathetic puppet, too? I can say this: Helen Marshall is a Bloomberg shill and puppet. And Dmytro does what Helen wants. I wonder what guys like him get out of doing this sleazy suck-up job. I hope Dmytro isn’t fooling himself into believing he is doing a public service.

One of the notable events of the evening was the use of “mic check” before the meeting began by a branch of the Occupy movement calling itself Occupy the DOE.

For the unfamiliar, “mic check” is a powerful tool that allows one to speak to a large crowd by making short statements that are repeated by the crowd, thus avoiding the need for amplification.

After years of having the Bloomberg appointees control the mic and shut it off after 2 minutes, “mic check” gives the crowd a powerful weapon to take control of a meeting – as long as there is enough of a crowd to accomplish this.

Now the pro-Bloomberg press and some people who have not had their voices shut down and ignored for years charge that using “mic check” can be viewed as rude and counterproductive, which would be true if these public meetings really were about providing community input.

But gone are the days of people passively using two minutes to describe decades of neglect or outright sabotage of their school communities while PEP members bemusedly sit back ignoring them, knowing full well they will vote as they are told no matter how deep the emotion asking them to keep schools open or to keep a politically connected charter schools from eating up space in public school buildings like Pac Man.

So, at the PEP meeting, ODOE, consisting mostly of NYC teachers, parents and some students, intermittently used “mic check” to make their points without totally disrupting the meeting.

After a few hours, they walked out en masse and held a brief meeting outside the school before heading home.

ODOE is continuing to meet weekly to decide on actions at the upcoming January and February PEP meetings where closing schools will be voted on and is reaching out to these closing schools to offer support.

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