Beneath Cathy Black’s Quips: The Real Scandal

January 24, 2011

Ever since I heard of the grotesques remarks of glossy magazine publisher/ Chancellor of Education Cathy Black to a group  of parents and politicians at a public meeting downtown    — the now infamous quips about birth control and Sophie’s Choice — something about the reportage of the incident gnawed at me.    Like everyone I spoke to, I too was stunned and disgusted by the words of this woman who, through the breathtaking hubris and ruthless machinations of a single man, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, has been recklessly elevated to a place she is daily demonstrating she has no business being anywhere near.

But there she is.

The foolishness of Bloomberg’s choice and the cluelessness of Black, even when she’s been scripted, becomes more and more obvious by the day. Here’s what Black  had to say recently in an “ exclusive interview” on New York One concerning the prospect of laying off teachers due exclusively to Wall Street malfeasance on a staggering  scale.   ” We know,” says Black, ”  study after study shows the most effective people in front of our students, are the best teachers possible.” (–schools-chancellor-backs-proposal-to-overhaul-teacher-layoffs)

I think I know what Black is getting at with this nonsensical sentence — but that’s only because I know she’s parroting Bloomberg’s union busting sentiments calling for unilateral destruction of seniority rights for teachers. All for the good of the kiddies, of course, for Mr Bloomberg,  unlike his weak and cowardly predecessors at City Hall  is always  and always putting the children first.

The rational for Black’s  sentiment is  the commendable idea  that children should have good teachers. The goal is to undermine the teachers union.  The short term strategy , however, is to set one generation of teachers against another generation of teachers, the better to divide and conquer.  The long term idea seems to be to  reduce teachers  to part of a disposable, interchangeable work force,  not unlike, say,  fast food chain employees.

Think of all the money the city can save on pensions.

Of course, what “study after study” Black is referring to,  if indeed such “studies” exist at all, remain conveniently unidentified.  At any rate, I do not think it unfair to ask why the Chancellor of Education of the City of New York, she who is in charge of the edification of  over one million children, seems so often to struggle  to  express herself  in coherent sentences or with appropriate images.

According to the New York Times Black, who has no educational background whatsoever and has never been known to express the faintest interest  in a  field that is suddenly the obsession of   obscenely  rich America,  was selected by Bloomberg without so much as a job interview.

Think about that.

Previously a CEO in the age of their apotheosis,  Black  doubtless is used to being surrounded by sycophants and saying any damn thing that pops into her head without consequences of any kind. Hence her casual quips about birth control and her horrific reference to “ Sophie’s Choice.”

To her (kind of) credit, Black has apologized for her comments  — but only after they created a media storm that would not go away and that not even Bloomberg’s   minions or the man himself could   minimize.  But not for lack of trying.  Here’s Bloomberg   commenting on Black’s comments while pinch hitting for Cathy at a press conference and, incidentally, displaying the same verbal clarity as his charge: “When you go from the business world to the public world, it’s a very different world. People tend to take things out of context and maybe, I think, a little bit too seriously,” he ( Bloomberg) said. (

Let us ignore Bloomberg’s first nonsensical sentence.  The fact that nothing Black said was taken out of context and that making references to birth control followed by an analogy to Auschwitz while speaking to a group of   parents angry because there are no seats for their school age children are, by any civilized measure, at the very least serious faux pas.

But this does not  seem to faze Mr. Bloomberg in the least.

Lighten up, he seems to be saying, she was only kidding.

No doubt she was.  At least about the birth control.  (And little doubt Bloomberg is beginning to fear that Cathy Black may well be on her way to playing the same role for him that former NYPD Commissioner/ convicted felon Bernard Kerick played for his predecessor Rudy Giuliani: the one  who calls his judgment into serious question.   And well she should. )

But back to the gnawing.

What disturbs me about the media coverage of the birth control incident is not  so much Black’s indefensible vulgarity and insensitivity , but the media’s complete lack of  interest in the horrific reality that was the genesis of her statement: To wit:  the enormous shortage of seats in schools for children of a  downtown neighborhood.

A little history: In the aftermath of 9/11 in an ostensible and heavily advertised effort to rebuild the devastated downtown area and reestablish it, after a long exodus  as a residential area, the city of New York granted permits for close to 14,000 apartments and gave developers enormous tax breaks to build them. Build them they did, and due to the tax breaks they did  so to a large extent on the public  dime.   The city’s pitch was to families.  The lure was the building of new communities.  The understandable understanding of these families was that new  communities, by definition,  would need and include schools.

And there’s the rub.  For all their ceaseless and deceptive self congratulatory blather about opening hundreds of new schools, what the DOE never says is that the Bloomberg administration, by design, has failed to build a single new school building.   Question: how is it that you open hundreds of “new” schools and at the same time invite charter schools   to take over existing district schools without only causing massive dislocation but also, in areas where the city population is growing exponentially, without a massive shortage of desperately needed and legally guaranteed seats?

Answer:  You can’t.

All you can do is set community against community, neighborhood against neighborhood, family against family in a demoralizing  battle for what is rightfully theirs.

Or you can send them packing.

Blogger Tricia Joyce, one of those who was lured downtown by the city’s promise of a new community, estimates that 37% of her neighborhood will have to leave if Bloomberg’s DOE cannot provide the schools and infrastructure that is needed and within the rights of residents.   There is no evidence  that the DOE has given the  matter five seconds of thought.  And therein, obscured by Black’s vulgarity, lies the real scandal: the spectacular mismanagement of the DOE under managerial divinity Michael R. Bloomberg.

Or not.

Like his barely concealed lust for the presidency,  our mayor may have larger things in mind: namely that under his control New York City’s public schools would be the  first in the USA to be totally given over to his beloved  private sector.   Given the relentless if insidious effort to privatize public education in NYC and across the land, Bloomberg’s failure to build a single school building may just as well be a stroke of tactical if diabolical genius, designed to help allow the system to collapse; designed  be one more spoke in the wheel slowly and steadily turning our public school system into a corporate gravy train; yet another example of the increasingly common corporate tactic  of using state power to crush all opposition  for private gain.

Who could put anything past this man ?

Think of the billions to be made on text books, test prep, testing making, private consultants, any number of coming teacher surveillance systems and so and so on.  And not a dime to rent or  real estate.

Time will tell.

Black’s words, no matter how you slice them and dice them, were indefensibly vulgar and thoughtless. But they pail in light of a school that is  needed and is not there.  This is the real scandal and this is exactly what no media outlet that I’m aware of even mentioned in any report on the incident.

Why ?

Black’s words will soon be forgotten, replaced I  expect, by equally foolish remarks.  Meanwhile, yet another example of the DOE’s transparent failure to meet the basic needs and grant the basic rights to an entire community of New Yorkers goes essentially unreported by a media more interested in faux pas than in the rights of parents and children.

Or in laying that failure squarely where it belongs:  at the feet of the Honorable Michael R.  Bloomberg.

2 Responses to “Beneath Cathy Black’s Quips: The Real Scandal”

  1. David Haitkin Says:

    I like what you said, but is there any way to counter the successful misinformation that the mayor is transmitting to the conservative people who believe him about teacher tenure? Shouldn’t we be working on it?

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Hello David,
      yes, we should be working on countering the distortions of this person and his pals and I’m trying to do it with the only means I have at the moment. But if you have any good ideas, I’m all ears.

      All the best,


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