Archive for February, 2014

NBC News: How Can You Trust A News Agency To Get its Facts Straight When It Can’t Even Get Your Name Straight?

February 28, 2014


Granted, at this point in time anyone who gets their nightly news from television is a damned fool and deserves whatever slop is dished out to them. And you can rest assured, whatever the subject, it will be slop. Still, one expects a modicum of something that somewhat resembles real journalism, even from NBC, producer of the risible weeklong billionaire backed infomercial for public school privatization called “Education Nation, ” featuring Goldie Hawn.

This afternoon, following in the wake of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s welcome announcement that NYC charter schools would no longer automatically receive whatever they asked for, as was the case under the endless reign of Mike Bloomberg, I was asked by my union to speak to the press, in this case, NBC News. This I did, trying to articulate as best I could the miserable and degrading experience of “co-locating “ in a building with Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy. Indeed, my school has the unfortunate distinction of being the host in which Success Academy first began to metastasize. Soon, of course, Eva’s chain was spreading all over the city even as it slowly devoured our building, taking at first a few rooms here and there and then swallowing up an entire floor. In this painful process we lost our music room and with our music program. (It’s impossible to gauge such a loss in the life of a child but know it is immense. ) Gone soon was our computor room. Occupational therapy and physical therapy were now delivered in hallways, stairways or rooms formerly known as closets. Whatever. Storage rooms were suddenly designated classrooms. I know. I had one. Lunch schedules were reconfigured so kids were forced to eat lunch soon after they arrived. Without a word to the parents and community of our school, the school yard was rendered largely useless by the imposition of a strange, completely impractical astroturf section.

An entire school and community was distorted and contorted almost beyond recognition to satisfy Eva’s rapacious hunger for ever more space as well as Mike Bloomberg’s mad delight in delivering it, whatever the cost to the dignity of the students of our school. The atmosphere was instantly poisonous and, despite the good will and good intentions of a couple of Harlem Success business managers (who seem to run the show) , remains so. From the beginning, we were treated like unwelcome guests if not out right intruders in our own building, an attitude that was not lost on the children of either camp.

This did not come of thin air but from the top.

Year after year there was more and more encroachment; more and more often would the students of Harlem Success Academy be eerily marched by the children of my school without as much as looking at them, as if the act of making eye contact with such riff raff would somehow contaminate the charter school “scholars.” (Note: Eva ignorantly insists her teachers address their students as “scholars”, apparently not realizing that the two words mean very different things. ) Far more often than not, the refusal to recognize the common humanity of another was also shared by Eva’s ever-transient teaching brigade. It is unnerving, I assure you, to be treated as if you are invisible.
And soon enough began the annual ritual of receiving those students who Harlem Success Academy deemed not up to snuff. Out their door they went, in our door they came.
As a truly public school laboring under the ethical obligation of educating every student, regardless of how difficult, troubled or torn, such is our duty.
Not so charter schools which have the luxury of bouncing whom they will when they.

And bounce they do.

One can go on and on but I trust you get the point.

None of this would you have any chance of knowing from NBC’s report/ad for Harlem Success Academy which portrays the chain, not as the spoiled child that can afford to pay Moskowitz almost half a million dollars a year in salary, or spend more than a million dollars a year on super slick recruitment propaganda, but as a suddenly “homeless” orphan punished by a thoughtless and cruel mayor, bent on punishing them for their success. Note: Like thousands and thousands of New York parents, my daughter received in the mail a slick, professionally produced glossy postcard enticing her to enter into a brand new Success Academy that was to open in my downtown neighborhood. (It didn’t.) My daughter was five years old at the time. The Department of Education thought it a fine idea to give her address and the addresses of thousands of children out to help build Ms. Moskowitz’s burgeoning empire.

Anything for Eva.

From the beginning, a public relations campaign plowed on in several fronts, one slicker than the next. There was the full-length documentary, The Lottery. Then there was the egregious book Class Warfare in which author Steven Brill, pitting one school against another, praised Harlem Success Academy to the heavens as the same time he disgraced himself by writing of a teacher no teacher in my school had ever known. No problem!

But O, those tests scores, you may say! Do they not make up for everything ? Of that consider this timely piece.

Back to NBC News. With a few annual exceptions or in emergencies, it has been many years since I have watched “the news” on TV on a regular basis. Still, I am very aware of its effects, mostly horrific, on many of my fellow citizens. We are, after, the nation that twice elected Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (kind of) and Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, a feat of political imbecility unimaginable without the influence of TV.) Because of its insidious Education Nation, NBC seems especially contemptible to me.
Still, tonight’s “reporting” on De blasio’s decision — “The War on Charter Schools “ — was so preposterously lopsided as to be absurd, even by the absurd standards of the corporate media’s reportage on corporate education reform campaigns. The only word for it is “propaganda.” Here is my always-prescient friend and colleague NYC Educator’s take on the “report. ”

My twenty second cameo under a name not mine was meant to serve, apparently, as proof of giving both sides of the co-location story, regardless of the fact that the charter school advocates were given many, more times the time I or any other public school advocate was given.

What it really serves to prove, however, is the utter shoddiness of NBC News. Consider this: My name is Patrick Walsh, a name I clearly stated and even spelled out for the NBC reporter. In the report I am called Patrick Murphy, a fine name, to be sure, but one that does not belong to me nor I to it.
My question: how is it possible to trust a news agency to get their facts right when they not only produce slick, poisonous garbage like Education Nation, but when they can’t even get someone’s name straight ?

Resentful Moskowitz Whines About a Lack of Transparency

February 23, 2014
Eva and Joel in happier times.

Eva and Joel in happier times.

File this under black comedy.

Eva Moskowitz, whose emails between herself and former NYC Education Chancellor Joel Klein required a FOIL to be made public, is complaining of a “lack of transparency” in the NYC Board of Education concerning charter schools, in particular her chain of charter schools. This is rich considering the fact that for years Moskowitz used her cozy relationships with Klein and Mike Bloomberg to make back room deals in which vast parcels of public school space was handed over to her Success Academy chain via Bloomberg’s shills on his repugnant Panel for Education Policy (PEP). But it is also indicative of Moskowitz’s post-Bloomberg fall from extreme privilege as well as a movement in the right direction by Chancellor Farina and Mayor De Blasio.

Compare these two articles, one that came out yesterday, the other from four years ago.

Things appear to be moving in the right direction. May they continue to do so. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that Moskowitz and her billionaire backers are plotting the downfall of both Farina and de Blasio and anyone else in their way night and day.

More on the Common Core: Does “College and Career Readiness” Mean Being Educated ?

February 21, 2014

ccss a

I suppose I have heard the phrase “college and career ready” a couple of thousand times in the last year or so. Outside of a national uprising that would send the deceitfully named Common Core State Standards back to whence they came,
I’m quite certain that, along with “rigor” and “critical thinking,” I will hear some variation of these words a few thousands times more in the next year or two. Making American students “college and career ready”, you understand, is what the Common Core State Standards are all about. (Well, that and making billions of dollars for Common Core curriculum writing companies, Common Core aligned textbook companies, Common Core aligned test making companies and Common Core computer software companies to grade the Common Core tests.)

As a goal at any rate, who can argue with making American students “career and college ready?”
“Not I”, said the Grey Goose.

And what’s more, according to its devotees, the CCSS can somehow tell if a student is on tract for “college and career readiness” as early as kindergarten! (Psssssssst. A word to the wise: most kindergarteners are not on track for “college and career”, almost certainly due to a “bad teacher” who must be removed post haste. )

Again, as a goal, who could argue with that?

Not I said the Red Hen!

(And, yes, they do seem to actually believe this madness.)

Putting aside for the moment the fact that the knowledge and skills required to have “a career” ( a career in what you may ask ? Plumbing? Carpentry? Sales? Pizza delivery person? Nurse ? ) and those needed for the demands of college are very, different things, indeed. But somehow, in some way that has yet to be explained, the magical Common Core can be applied to both.

Quite the trick.

Having never seen anything remotely approximating a definition, I myself am not really sure what it means to be “college and career ready.” I suspect being college ready has everything to do reducing or eliminating the need of inner city freshman college students for remedial courses in English and math; a need that “reformers”, as is their habit with dealing with inner city problems, have falsely insinuated is a nation-wide crisis. Still, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how the “rigor” and “critical thinking” induced by the CCSS can possibly be measured by standardized tests which are marked by computers, which is yet another corporate windfall created by the Common Core.

Oh well, life is teeming with mysteries and there are millions of things I’m not sure about but what can you do?

But what is not so mysterious is the not –so- subtle reduction of all schools, save those of the children of the elite, to what are essentially job training programs as opposed to, say, educational institutions. And this reduction is also at work, at an ever escalating and disturbing rate, in colleges and universities: in all but the elite colleges and universities, departments of philosophy, theology, art, language, theatre, and science have all been radically reduced or eliminated altogether. Everything, that is, that has deepened and widened the human imagination and allowed civilization to make its slow, circuitous, often bloody emergence from the pit of “the war of one man against all men ” to a dignified life worth living.

This is not at all to diminish the practical aspects of education. Every parent wishes, at the very least, to see their child prepared to go to work in a decent job for decent money. With work comes dignity and a place in the world. A world without work, even temporarily, can be utterly demoralizing, that much more in America where we work longer and harder than any industrialized nation. I know. I have been unemployed – thankfully for short periods — and it is brutal.

That said, allow me to also say that there is something morally criminal in reducing the idea of education, for all but the children of the elite, to job training. If you think I exaggerate, ponder the following remarkable sentiment from non-teacher and educational entrepreneur David Coleman, considered the architect of the Common Core, at a formal presentation of the New York State Department of Education in April 2011:
“As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think”.

In the other countries in which I’ve lived it was simply understood that an educated person would know at least something of the subjects above and their vital importance in making life worth living. I’d bet ten to one that any child educated in Ireland will not merely know math and science but, for example, can recite poems by Yeats in their entirety and know why they are important. Ten to one that any child educated in Spain will know who Miguel de Unamuno was and what he brought into the world. Ten to one every child in Greece knows who Sappho was. What’s more, no teacher in his or her right mind believes that the study of the work of such people will help students find jobs. But that’s not the point. And that’s not the purpose of education. At any rate, it is not the only purpose and in a world where work is vanishing due to some of the same forces that are driving “education reform” — globalization and the technological takeover of everything that can be taken over — it could be argued that it is not even one that is possible.

Which leads me to my central question: Does being “college and career ready” and being educated mean the same thing? Are they even the same goals?

I think not. And not merely because I have never heard the Common Core cheerleaders once use the word “educated.” I think not because I have read the Common Core State Standards and, even putting aside the entire monstrous package deal that goes with them, I find them largely appalling. I understand completely why they are so relentlessly endorsed by the Business Round Table and the like. I understand completely that they are completely the product of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Certain questions, it seems to me, are eternally open. The question of what it means to be educated is one of them. I humbly submit a few of my thoughts on this question and invite you to add your own.

An educated person would understand that job training and education are radically different endeavors.
An educated person would have the ability to not merely choose between Coke and Pepsi but the ability to critique a system that produces such a “choice. ”

An educated person understands that technology is not science and data is information and not knowledge and that knowledge is not wisdom.

An educated person understands that technology is never value free.

An educated person would understand, on some level, the meaning of the statement “All philosophy is commentary on Plato. ” They would also know how such a statement could apply to all of the other arts and sciences.
An educated person would have at least some rudimentary knowledge of the great narratives, both secular and religious, that have shaped our world, institutions and consciousness.

An educated person would know the definitions of the words “sublime” and “transcendent “ and, even at the age of 10, be capable of articulating examples of both.

An educated person would not confuse data with reality.

An educated person would know that participation is vital in the establishment and maintenance of a functioning democracy. They would know too that when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance, “ he was not talking about external enemies.

Above all, an educated person would have an understanding of what is happening to him or her, why it is happening and who and what are making it happen and be able to articulate a response to what they see.

I invite you to send your own ideas on the same.

When Rigor Collides With Wonder

February 12, 2014

As in all campaigns in which fear and brainwashing are essential components, corporate education reform is highly dependent on and makes great use of repetition. As such, teachers across America have been forced to read, listen to, and at times regurgitate the same language — never our own — endlessly to please the current education overlords who, being non educators, are radically different from those who came before them.

I assure you the current overlords are not easily pleased.

Consider Commissioner John King or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — not to mention those like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, from whom people like King and Duncan receive their orders.

One of the more disturbing and disturbingly repeated words one hears in school these days is “rigor.” Teachers need to demand and model rigor. Students must display rigor. Lessons must be built on rigor. There need be rigor all over the place. Just as the experimental Common Core State Standards are suddenly absolutely essential for our kids to be “college and career ready”, so too must teachers and students approach the sacred Core with ceaseless rigor. If not, the mantra goes, how in the world will they ever compete for jobs in the super savage new global economy?

Personally, I am appalled by the use of such a word in schools, no less now, in fact, then when I first encountered it at least 1000 usages ago. Consider its various meanings:

a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) : severity of life : austerity
b : an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
2: a tremor caused by a chill
3: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
4: strict precision : exactness
5a obsolete : rigidity, stiffness
b : rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
c : rigor mortis

Such a word could only have found its way into education by someone who has no experience whatsoever in education and no understanding of it. I have been told by many that the demand that this particular word be used and used and used comes from non other than monopolist Bill Gates, which makes perfect sense, given the way this man conducts his life as well as his fierce desire to conduct the life of everyone else on the planet.

I had an encounter with the word this morning. Or rather, I had an encounter with the success of the incessant propaganda that has been rammed into my head for the past two years concerning this thing called “rigor.” It was a disturbing revelation that repetition works, and works without you hardly being aware of it.

At first.

What happened was this: as my lesson ended and I and my students prepared to leave my room, one of my charges had wandered over to the window of my classroom and stood there looking at the window, motionless. I called to him by name once, twice, three times, but he moved not a muscle. I could feel anger welling up within me as I walked to the window to confront him on his disrespect and for screwing up my rigorous schedule and theirs. We had to move. Now. No time for dilly-dallying.

When I got to the window and looked at him looking out the window I was instantly disarmed: I encountered a face in something like rapture. I encountered a child in wonder.
“Look! “ he said to me, never moving his head and pointing. “Look! How beautiful! The snow! It’s everywhere!” He pointed here and there on the snow covered playground which a fourth floor window afforded an angle he’d not seen before.

The other children heard the elation in his voice and rushed over to where we stood. They began to peer out the window, ooing and ahhing. Suddenly, where there was one child there was a crowd of kids, big eyed and smiling, being children, happy.

It was an extremely humbling and revealing moment. And it was deeply moving. And it was beautiful.

It made me feel shame for the impatience I had felt for this child only a moment before. And it made me loathe that much the more the damned fools that have hijacked our school system and rammed their sadistic, ignorant notions down our throats and into our heads so that we, in turn, ram them down the throats and into the heads of innocent children.
And it made me that much more determined to expose and expel them.

Corporate Education Reform and the Simpsons

February 5, 2014


All too often during the dreadful and endless Bloomberg years, the cartoon-like reality of the richest guy in New York actually running New York made me feel as if I went to sleep in my city and woke up in an episode of the Simpsons. An episode of the Simpson’s, that is, with the show’s grasp of the absurdity of American life but without its brilliant, cutting wit and customary happy ending. Given the antics of our various non-educator Chancellors of education — Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott — all doing their best to please the union busting, teacher-hating Bloomberg, this sense was especially keen when it came to anything to do with education.

I am reminded of that sensation this morning by a post by Diane Ravitch, only this time I arises out of a proposal in North Carolina. To wit:

In North Carolina, the top 25% of teachers are eligible to give up due process rights in return for an extra $500 a year.

Can you imagine the level of abject contempt in the person or persons that came up with this?

$500 a year in exchange for due process rights?

And, like the phony exclusivity one is meant to feel at the presense of a velvet rope at some swank club, the offer to surrender the modicum of job security provided by due process is given only to the to 25% of teachers. I’ll give 100 to 1 odds such ranking is based largely if not exclusively on test scores.

“But that’s not all,” as the shill selling ginsu knives or Vegomatic in cheap late night TV commercials used to bellow, “if you call before midnight….”

However, there is a catch, this reader says: “It is $500 a year for 4 years and then back to where you were in 2013-14. You don’t stay at the plus $2,000 in year 5. Also since only the first year is funded local funds will have to be found for years 2, 3 and 4. It’s just the cheese in the trap.”

Cheese in the trap indeed.

Perhaps the authors of the offer were inspired by the creators of Race To the Top( and that would mean the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), insofar as those states who surrendered all manner of rights in an attempt to “win” a relatively paltry amount of life blood cash from the Obama administration’s competition, soon discovered that what they surrendered stayed surrendered whether they “won” the grant or not.

Now that’s what I call a two headed nickel!

Reading these words I recall an episode in the Simpsons where Homer and his work mates try to start a union at the power plant where they work. Evil Mr. Burns, the owner of the power plant (and the Bloomberg figure of the series) provides kegs and kegs of beer for the meeting of the men, hoping to derail them by getting them drunk. Waiting till the men are good and plastered, Burns orchestrates the raising of the question to be decided immediately by a show of hands: what do the men want, health care or another keg of beer?

There is something of that in this insulting and contemptuous “offer.” In fact, lots of it. I trust the good teachers of North Carolina will tell its sponsors where to put it.