Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Fix is In

The New York papers are reporting that the 17 member MTA board will accept the New York Jets bid over Cablevision's bid for the railyards over the Far West Side of Manhattan and the Jets will get their stadium.

The Jets bid will cost taxpayers lots of money. The Jets offered $280 million for the site, but want taxpayers to spend $600 million for a platform to be built over the West Side railyards and $150 million more for pedestrian walkways. That would be a net loss of $470 million for taxpayers.

The Cablevision bid would not cost taxpayers money. The MTA would receive $400 million as soon as the deal was signed and Cablevision would spend $360 million to build the platform. That would be a net gain of $400 million for taxpayers.

JETS: - $470 million
CABLEVISION: + $400 million.

The MTA says the Jets offer is better. A lot better, according to a few anonymous MTA board members who talked to the NY tabloids yesterday, because potential tax revenues will be so much higher if the stadium is built.

Who are they kidding? How stupid do they think people are? It is not difficult to see that Mayor Bloomberg (who owns 4 MTA board members) and Governor Pataki (who owns 6) rigged the bidding process for the Far West Side. They "discouraged" other bidders by insisting there would be no rezoning of the land surrounding the railyards, then they agreed to rezone that land for real estate developers willing to add $440 million to the Jets deal. Apparently, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff put that part of the deal together himself about a week and a half ago, (and Deputy Dan stands to make millions himself off this stadium deal with his interest in some of the surrounding property).

So the Mayor and the Governor try to railroad the stadium deal through, agree to a bidding process when they are embarrassed by a subsequent Cablevision bid for the site, and then rig the process and rubberstamp the Jets deal anyway. Utterly shameless. But I guess I knew this was going to happen. As Mike Lupica wrote in today's Daily News, "one of the most shameful politicical processes in the history of this city will have played out now to its logical conclusion."

It is logical, though also criminal, that the MTA board would reject the better Cablevision bid when their bosses desperately want the Jets bid to be accepted. Thankfully the stadium deal still needs to be approved by two State boards. While that process goes on, we can embarrass the Mayor and the Governor with the shamelessness of the rigged process and show New Yorkers that the Cablevision bid (which would actually make the Far West Side into a a very nice place to live) is the better deal. With any luck, Sheldon Silver will veto the deal at the end anyway.

And then we throw the bums out. Mike "Mayor Moneybags" Bloomberg in '05. And Pataki in '06.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


New York State owes the New York City public school system billions of dollars.

Governor Pataki says the state doesn't have it. The Assembly and the State Senate are completing the latest budget without adding the school funds to it. Mayor Bloomberg wants the billions owed to the school system, but only if the city doesn't have to pay any of it.

In the meantime, the Mayor and the Governor are ready to spend $2 billion dollars for the new Jets stadium on the West Side of Manhattan.

$2 billion dollars! That price tag will make the Jets stadium the most expensive sports arena in the world. But I guess $2 billion dollars is a small cost to pay for 8 home football games a year, one home playoff loss every three years or so, and the opportunity to bribe members of the International Olympic Committee, not to mention enrich Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff with millions in real estate profits.

So what if NYC schoolkids have to attend overcrowded schools that hold classes in bathrooms and gymnasiums; so what if Advanced Placement classes are canceled for lack of funding; so what if many of the textbooks kids use are from the 50's. This is the Jets we're talking about!

I guess if New York City school kids could field a mediocre football that goes 36 years without winning a championship but finds some painful ways to lose playoff games, then they might finally see the money owed to them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Maiden Voyage

I read a lot of different newspapers and blogs online during the day. I usually start my morning with The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, and The Daily News. I don't read everything obviously, since I have a full-time job as an English teacher, but I do glance at the headlines, peruse the op-ed pages and read as many interesting items as I can in the amount of time I have before heading off to work.

I've noticed that I rarely see an article or op-ed piece about teachers in the papers that doesn't start off with one of the following headlines:









Just last week, I saw two headline stories in The New York Daily News: one about the arrest of a former TEACHER OF THE YEAR winner for allegedly groping a student, the other about a teacher who allegedly hired a mentally-handicapped man to take a certification exam for him. In both stories, the Daily News reporters had liberal quotes from parents, the Chancellor, and other administrators saying that these teachers were awful people who never should have been allowed near children and should be thrown in jail before they blah blah blah and why can't the Mayor or the Chancellor fire these criminals on the spot before they blah blah blah.

Now of course a teacher who gropes a student should be arrested, punished, and fired. And of course a teacher who hires someone to take a certification exam should be fired. This goes without saying. Teachers are supposed to model ethical behavior as well as teach subjects.

But these were alleged incidents. Isn't the United States a country of laws where men and women are assumed incident until proven guilty in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion as influenced by Rupert Murdoch or Mort Zuckerman? And yet the underlying message of these articles is that the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the principals should have the power to fire these bad apples immediately before they harm "our kids" (a laugh in itself, since Daily News reporters and editors send their kids to private schools!). There is rarely (at least in the tabloids) the idea floated that perhaps these alleged incidents are not facts but allegations made by people (students, parents, administrators or other teachers) who might lie or make false allegations for their own reasons.

In the court of the New York City tabloid (and often on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, and the supposedly "liberal" Washington Post), teachers are villified as lazy, unprofessional, clock-watching, benefits-addicted children who work as teachers because they have failed at everything else in life. The Woody Allen joke from Annie Hall is appropos to the media view of the teaching profession: "Those who can't do, teach; and those who can't teach, teach gym." Most of the newspaper writers, editors, commentators, politicians, and businesspeople who hold these attitudes of teachers usually have no education experience other than their own time spent in classrooms as children. They have no practical classroom experience, they have not done the day to day job of educating children in often adverse conditions, so all they can do is spout theory and spew stereotypes when talking or writing about teachers.

Thus, when an allegation is made against a teacher, the tabloids treat the accusation as truth because their underlying attitudes is that teachers, as union members and public employees, cannot be trusted. The unstated assumption in these articles is that a student would never make a false accusation against a teacher, an administrator would never try to fire one for spurious or political reasons, and a parent would never try to pressure a teacher to raise grades or threaten a teacher who refuses to do so. The fault, then, must lie with the tacher

And yet kids lie about teachers every day in schools across the country. Administrators attempt to fire teachers for political reasons all of the time. And how many stories do you hear about suburban parents going over the heads of teachers to get their kid's grades raised? Anyone who has spent any time at all in schools knows that these things happen with such frequency as to not be news. And yet the news media nearly always scapegoats teachers when these kinds of allegations arise.

Many teachers working today think of the current public and political attitudes about educators as a "Blame the Teacher" culture where only the teacher is wrong because politicans cannot place any blame on parents or kids and hope to win votes, while parents cannot look at themselves or their children honestly and try to analyze ways they have failed to hold up their end of the education bargain. So they blame the teachers for everything that is wrong with the school systems.

Think about it for a minute: how many of you wake up in the morning, turn on the radio news and hear the Mayor bad mouth you for the all of the problems in the public schools? How many of you pick up the paper and read about how you are "hurting our children" because your union is insisting upon collective bargaining a new contract, therefore the politicians must forcefully take the legality of the collective bargaining process away from you because, you know, you are "hurting our children" (as one op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal recently did)? How many of you only see or read negative press about your profession?

Very rarely do I see media coverage of teachers that truly grasps the day to day experiences of educators. Because many teachers deal with the following issues on a daily basis:

1. Constant worry that they will be assaulted that day at work and be blamed for the assault (as often happens; kids hurt teachers, then sue the teacher in civil court).
2. Know that they will be judged by test statistics over which they have very little control.
3. Work in dirty, moldy, over-heated or freezing buildings with rats and roaches and mice and asbestos and crumbling, unsafe infrastructure.
4. Use professional materials that date back to the 1950's while schoolboards demand teachers educate children for the highly technological 21st Century.

And these are just a few of the problems that teachers deal with during any typical work day. I wish a lot of the newspaper writers, editors, politicians, commentators, etc. would come look at a cross-section of public schools for longer than it takes to develop the negatives for a photo-op before they shoot their mouths off about solutions to the proverbial "problem of public education". Because it is so easy to blame the teachers for the problems when you don't teach five classes a day in conditions that are trying at best and gruesome and down-right dangerous at worst.

This is not to say that there aren't teachers who are part of the problem. There certainly are. I work with some. There are some lazy, unprofesional clock-watchers (or just crazy people) who would (and should) be fired if they were working in the private sector. This is also not to say that the unions aren't also part of the problem. They are. The United Federation of Teachers works for its own self-perpetuation and to praise the greater glory of Union President Randi Weingarten in her bid for whatever political office she plans to run for in the future. While I have had mostly good experiences with the UFT rank-and-file, many of my dealings with the union leaders have been awful, humiliating experiences. I am no friend of the UFT as it is currently run.

Nonetheless, the Mayor, the Chancellor, the parents, society at large, and finally, yes, the students themselves must also share in the blame for the demise of public education.
Detractors will say, "Ah, just another teacher passing the buck and saving his own lazy, unprofessional ass" (as I have often read on Eduwonk, one of the "progressive blogs"). But have you ever known a situation so complex as public education where the problem is perpetuated by only one entity? Could the problem with public education really just be teacher's professional standards or the power of the teacher's unions?

No. Politicians, the parents, the kids, and society as a whole must share some of the blame for the problems. Here's why:

The Mayor (with no previous education experience) has decided that education should run like a business. But are kids just another cog in the corporate machine? Should every part of the education experience, indeed every minute of the classroom experience, be so regulated by the Mayor and his eduwonks that there is no time or room in the curriculum for individual responses to students' needs as is currently the case in many New York City schools under the Chancellor's mandated curriculum? Shouldn't teachers have the option to individualize instruction and tailor it to their students' particular educational needs? Currently teachers cannot individualize instruction because people with little or no practical classroom experience in New York City schools have created and implemented a uniform curriculum that allows for no deviations from the carefully "blocked" minutes in the lessons. Now this highly regulated atmosphere might be fine for a business meeting, but shouldn't children (especially younger children) be treated differently than corporate employees? One teacher I talked to last weekend said that the younger children are no longer given the opportunity for playtime because the DOE has so emphasized test scores and the regulated curriculum that teachers dare not take time to allow children to play and socialize. This teacher, a veteran of 30 years, decried the emphasis on test scores for children so young, saying "Aren't we supposed to be teaching children how to think and create and use their imaginations and interact with others and develop into good, knowledgeable citizens?"

Indeed. Unfortunately when you run an education system like a corporate business, the only thing that matters is the bottom line. And between the Chancellor's mandates and the regulations implemented as part of the No Child Left Behind law, the bottom line means higher and higher test scores. Even when emphasizing these higher test scores means that children are losing out on other parts of their educations.

Mayor Bloomberg, President Bush, and the rest of the politicians making policy are not the only problems with public education today. The parents in many New York City public schools are entirely absent from the education conversation despite the newly-minted position of "Parent Coordinator". In New York City, this is often because parents are working two or more jobs to make ends meet, so they cannot spend much time with their children or their children's teachers. Also it is true that many parents (especially immigrants) are themselves under-educated and feel intimidated by the system, the teachers, the administrators, etc.

Yet it is also true that many parents are simply absent as parents. Many parents have allowed the television to raise their children and have failed to read or encourage their children in learning. Many parents are too busy for time with their children, yet they fully expect schools and teachers to take their places. This is not possible. Parents must involve themselves with their children's education right from the time their children leave the womb, and not just show up when Junior gets a "bad" grade on the report card or to plead Junior's case in a disciplinary instance.

And as for students, guess what? Sometimes kids don't want to work. Sometimes kids fail tests because they didn't study for them. Sometimes kids are at fault for their own failures. Teachers can set a professional classroom atmosphere, encourage students to study and work hard, create and facilitate creative learning experiences, and provide educational guidance. But teachers cannot make children learn.

Ultimately, it is the child's responsibility to be mentally engaged in the challenges of education. I often say to my students during standardized test preparation classes that I will walk alongside them as they prepare for the ELA Regents exam and I will help them with the work in any way I can, but I will not drag them across the finish line. Indeed, I cannot drag them across the finish line. The success/failure rate of students is obviously a complex issue with many contributing factors, but one of the largest is the engagement of the student herself or himself, and some of those factors are out of my control as a teacher. If kids don't like to read and study, and parents do not encourage them to read or study, how is it my fault that the kids can't pass the tests or graduate on time?

Finally, society as a whole must share some of the blame for the failures of public education. Capitalist society, specifically American culture, is not educating children to be engaged, thinking citizens. Capitalist society is raising kids to be loyal consumers with few critical thinking skills of their own to keep them from submitting to the prevalent corporate consumerism that has overtaken American culture. Just look at the crap that is on American television, watch the dumbed-down versions of what passes for television news these days, look at the hottest selling video games, cds, movies (and the values transferred through them) and you tell me that kids aren't being brainwashed to be walking wallets ready to"buy, buy, buy" the latest styles and gadgets. So why are teachers solely responsible for the fact that American kids can't read, write, add, think, or reason when it is in the interest of the powers that be (namely Disney, Philip Morris, Walmart, Viacom, General Electric, MBNA, Citibank, Chase, etc.) to have an under-educated populace of gullible consumers.

And surely, to bring the argument full circle, it is also in the interest of the politicians who front for these corporations to have people who can't think or reason their way out of a bag. Elections are sold just the way cars and beer are sold, so why would you want a consumer who is savvy enough to see through the horsehockey you are slinging them?

No, I believe it is in the interests of both politicians and corporations to have a dumbed-down populace. So when honest, concerned people suddenly look at the public education issue and see problems, the politicians and the eduwonks throw up the smoke-screen that the problem is not with the current state of American culture, bu the problem is with the education system, with the teacher 's unions, and with teachers themselves.

And so, to end this circuitous "maiden" post, I hope to make this blog a place where I can explain the problems teachers face today in New York City public schools and cut through the expedient spin of the UFT, the DOE, the Education Department, the voucher people, the charter school movement, and the self-righteous politicians and businesspeople with little or no education experience who are radically changing how public education is conducted in the United States today. I hope to show that most New York City public school teachers are hard-working, honest, caring, educated professionals who do this job because they want to affect change on a daily basis and help students to thrive in the future. Most of all, I hope to show people that the headlines they see in The Daily News or The New York Post are often distorted, misleading pieces of propaganda devised to sell papers (and ultimately the cars and real estate advertised in those papers) and not tell the true story of the state of public education today.

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