2013-09-20 / Columnists

School Scope

Reign Of Error: What’s Wrong With Preaching To The Choir?
Commentary By Norman Scott
By Norm Scott

When it comes to the education wars I’m often accused of preaching to the choir – that my rhetoric will convince no one who doesn’t already agree with me. I’m fine with that. No matter what I say I won’t convince the other side and people in the middle will come to their own conclusions when the flames of education deform touch them personally. Many teachers in NYC have not been touched yet but are about to with a new teacher evaluation system hitting schools this year. So I expect the choir to grow. My goal is to activate the choir and share information they can find useful.

I’m reading the just released book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” by educational historian Diane Ravitch who has also been accused of preaching to the choir. Ravitch covers a lot of ground, using lots of charts and graphs to show how the claims by education deformers (Ravitch refers to them as “corporate reformers”) that our nation’s schools are in crisis and are failing and declining compared to other nations is not only not true but part of a design by people tied into the educational-industrial complex to get their mitts on a large chunk of the billions spent on education in this country.

At the heart of the education wars between deformers and real reformers is the role poverty plays in the education equation. Deformers claim we can fix poverty by changing the schools. Real reformers claim we must do both: attack poverty and fix schools that are deemed not to be working, not by merely closing them, which is the key mantra of deformers. Ravitch shows the debilitating effects of poverty on children and how the education deform agenda of closing schools, blaming teachers, pushing a narrow test-driven curriculum down their throats, opening charters as competition – I can go on but will spare you – actually undermines one of the few areas of stability so many of these kids have – local neighborhood school, often packed with teachers who spend many years there. I know all about that, having spent 27 years teaching in one school in a high poverty area of Brooklyn. We may not have been the best school all the time for every child but my colleagues and I were there year after year, often teaching the children of our students (and I once taught the grandchild – scary “getting old feeling” indeed.)

After spending over 200 pages savaging the deformers, she goes on to offer ideas for real reforms, most of which are not cheap, including investing in early childhood education and reducing class size. Maybe some of the money saved from not bombing Syria can go into implementing some of these real reforms. I’ll be doing a series of followup posts on the Ravitch book on my blog. See her Sept. 11 appearance at Judson Memorial Church: https://vimeo.com/74638155.

Diane Ravitch endorsed Bill de Blasio due to his having the most real reformlike program of all the mayoral candidates. I had lots of angst over whether to vote for Big Bill – I don’t really trust him to be as progressive as he is claiming to be. As I walked to the polling booth I got a text message from The Wave: vote for Sal Albanese. My nascent Rockaway chauvinism, very heightened since Sandy, took over and I did it – with pride. The Wave made a strong case for casting a vote for someone who couldn’t win but to send a message. I don’t think that worked this time. I would hate to see The Wave sit this one out because de Blasio didn’t come to Rockaway – but I bet he will now.

Little Bill (Thompson) pulled out before all the votes were counted. The vaunted support of the UFT, which spent almost $3 million supporting Thompson – over $15 a vote –, did not work out. Michael Mulgrew is being mocked for saying, “We’re not about picking a mayor. We’re about making a mayor, making the winner. And that’s what we’re gonna do.” Oy! Cringe time. Even as a critic of the UFT leadership and the manner in which it went about its endorsement (lacking, as usual, the democratic process), I still give the UFT credit for dragging Thompson, a notoriously poor campaigner, into second place over Christine Quinn. I have no doubt Quinn would have finished second if not for the UFT support for Thompson. But in the long run it all means nothing as Big Bill seems to have pulled off the impossible by getting 40 percent and avoiding a run-off in the midst of a very crowded field.

Now it’s on to the race with Joe Lhota, a throwback to the Rudolph Giuliani era who has to convince the public he is and is not a Bloomberg/Giuliani clone. He totally supports Bloomberg’s educational deform policies which have so divided the city. And he is calling de Blasio divisive for his “tale of two cities” theme. I personally don’t mind seeing the 99% divided from the 1% – a fitting note on the 2nd anniversary of the Occupy movement.

Norm blogs at ednotesonline.com

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