Governor Mario Cuomo was no saint but he was and remains a decent, eloquent and principled man. In fact, it was Cuomo’s steadfast adherence to one of those principles –his belief that the death penalty is not only racist but outright barbaric – that was largely responsible for his defeat in 1994 by George Pataki, who wore his pro-death penalty politics like a solid gold crucifix.
For this reason and more it is, therefore, jarring and even repulsive to hear his son, Governor Andrew
Cuomo, make declarations such as, “There is going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools.”
It would be a mistake to dismiss this savage statement as simply indicating a generational shift in politics between a father and a son who both happen to have been elected governor of what historically has been one of the most progressive states in the union. (By the way, could you imagine Governor Al Smith or Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt or, in fact, anyone other than Andrew Cuomo employing such a sadistic metaphor for anything, never mind a vital public trust like a school?)
It would also be a mistake to dismiss it as a mere slip of the tongue or a mere metaphor, not to be taken literally or given more weight than it deserves. What Cuomo is doing is displaying the language of power, specifically that of the state to exercise power of the most brutal kind: the power to kill something that lives. Knowingly. Consciously. Legally.
That such language, coming out of the mouth of the highest official in NY State while speaking on the subject of education, is considered acceptable is an indication of how savage we have become as a people. Or, maybe truer still, how savage our leaders have become and how passive many of us have become under their leadership — even when it comes to education. Indeed, perhaps especially when it comes to education.
Bear Cuomo’s remarkable statement in mind along side equally brutal statements by other majors figures in New York educational politics.
Consider NYC Chancellor of Education Dennis Walcott’s cavalier statement that, in terms of education it is “time to rip off the band-aide. ”
Note: If I as a teacher ripped off the band aide of a student, I could easily be cited for corporal punishment.
Or NYS Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch’s reckless statement that, whether they can swim or not, it is time for students to “ jump into the deep end of the pool.”
Note: If I as a teacher advised a student to jump into the deep end of the pool without first insuring that said student could, in fact, swim, I would likely and deservingly be fired.
Ponder New York State Commissioner John King’s insane metaphor of “building an airplane in the air “ to describe how New York state was improving education.
Note: If a as I teacher were instructing my students to build an airplane in the air I would likely be removed for psychological counseling and deservingly so.
And now here’s Cuomo, the highest official of the state, calling for nothing less than a “death penalty” for “failing schools.”
Hard to square all this sadistic verbiage with all the same speakers’ constant emoting about “putting kids first” and all of that stuff.
Indeed, it is hard to square such sadistic verbiage with anything that is healthy and sane regarding children.
What to make of people who make such statements?
While it is a mistake to take metaphors literally — think of fundamentalists of any religion – it is also a mistake to dismiss them as nothing more than meaningless images meant to make a point.
Metaphors have meaning.
Metaphors, wrote Giambattista Vico, are myths is miniature. And myths are very, very powerful.
We are our language. It is what separates us from the animal. To use phrases like ripping off Band-Aids, or jumping into deep ends of pools, or building airplanes in the air, or needing a death penalty for schools is revealing of many things, none of them healthy.
At best, such language shows a fundamental disconnection between the speakers of such language and the parents and children of the schools such speakers are busy transforming. But I would say that it shows something more: I say such language reveals the savage mentality of people who are psychologically unfit to be anywhere near kids, never mind running vast school systems.
I don’t know about you but I don’t want my kid anywhere near people who speak and thus think this way.
Addendum: For those who can stand it, here’s a video of Governor Cuomo performing an aria on falling schools, teacher evaluations, taxes and death penalties. Enjoy!