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Short Notes: David Foster Wallace On Hip-Hop?

by Jose Vilson on August 18, 2013

in Short Notes

Dwight Schrute on My Facebook Page

Dwight Schrute on My Facebook Page

A few notes:

Quotable:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that … imitation is suicide … that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but though his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which residents in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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via Village Voice

“… Wait, he said what?”

I pulled out my fingers to count how many kids that meant for one classroom.

“OK, so dude, you know that means I’m gonna have half my kids in the hallway while I teach, right?”

I started doing seating arrangements in my mind.

“Are you going to invest in carpets and place mats for every student who has to receive instruction from me and the now halved instructional staff in my building? Are some of the students going to have to take turns standing while receiving? Will you give me a reprieve from any sort of accountability for the next three years as I try to figure out how I can service a class with a double size roster? Will you abandon any discussion on differentiation or personalization, and will you go visit schools that were already struggling to begin with when they fall exponentially from having to service already struggling students in much tighter quarters?”

I scribble some lightning on the side of my scratchpad.

“You mean, you intend on shaking things up for the sake of shaking them? Was Naomi Klein writing about you implicitly? And if so, why didn’t you write a quality review on her book? I don’t even want to ask you how you would run the education system for your kids, because you wouldn’t dare mess with that. Frankly, no one knows or asks what’s happening in those schools besides bake sales and iPads. Meanwhile, your public service workers continue to drown and suffer under your fight against municipal workers. While you continue to pull the rug from under the proletariat, you have just enough dissonance amongst so-called middle class people in this city to continue your flippant, smug attitude towards teachers.”

I draw a vulture getting struck by that previous lightning drawing.

“It must be nice sitting atop your branch. In the meantime, I have kids who have truancy issues because their parents can’t get stable jobs, kids whose malnutrition and lack of sleep creates rings around their eyes and nooses around their brains, kids who come to school to stabilize them and get attention, kids who look so unplugged we have to check their pulse regularly, kids who think they’ll make it past 25 … and you’re wasting them all the same. It doesn’t take a full education to work less than minimum wage or do the jobs you’d never consider for anyone in your circles.”

I sit silently for a little while, and take a deep breath.

“I get that you’re OK with all of this, but I’m not.”

Shit. I’m never going to get this lesson plan done.

“If we treated doctors the way we treated teachers … scratch that. They almost did. And when they used value-added models for saying who was best, they let those who were at higher risk of dying go because they wouldn’t touch them. Only the bravest, and most caring doctors took the patients that needed the most help. When they dumped the model, doctors didn’t stop doing their jobs. They’re still doctors, and their practice is considered professional opinion. But if anything ever happened to you, you wouldn’t have to worry because you’re in the percentage of people who can afford the people who ought to provide for everyone.”

I rub my chin.

“If you really want to have 60 students in a classroom and only the best teachers teaching, just keep talking like you’re doing. Only the most dedicated will stay in the classroom, the people who need to retire will after a few years, and no one will want to teach in NYC with the rent, food, entertainment, electricity, transportation, and other living expenses so damn high. Sounds like a plan, Hizzoner. Whether choosing the right doctor or teaching in a school system where they feel unappreciated, humans are naturally risk averse, so when you bring those things up … oh, I see what you did there.”

“Never mind. Maybe all the people will catch exactly what you’re trying to do.”

Mr. Vilson, who asks “What’s an EduBlog Award to a dude like me, would you please remind me?”

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New York's City Hall

Amazing that, in the midst of getting ready for school, I had enough time to get in an important policy panel today. Before it started, there was already lots of controversy, primarily with the preliminary list lacking teachers of any variety. Eventually, rumor had it that education professor Diane Ravitch declined her invitation to the panel because of the lack of teacher voice. After including Leo Casey and Stephen Lazar, there was further discussion about Educators for Excellence’s Sydney Morris’ presence, drawing attention to what many of us feel is a right-of-center lean for Gotham Schools. Others saw the panel as a way for City Hall News to put themselves at the center of the debate for NYC education. As for me, I came in hoping not to say a word, as I’ve probably said far too much this summer and didn’t get to listen enough.

Full disclosure: Stephen Lazar himself invited me as his guest to the panel yesterday.

These were some of my big takeaways from the panel. I didn’t put them in any particular time order. That’s why I blog and not “report.”:

1. Every time I think I know enough of the “important” people in education, I see a whole new set of people I didn’t consider in this conversation. Out of the 60-80 people who went, I probably knew eight on some level besides the panelists. NYC has its own set of politics that isolates New York from the rest of the state and the country in ways they’re probably aware of.

2. Only one of the panelists (former Comptroller / President of NYC Board of Education and probable mayoral candidate Bill Thompson) was of color. No Asians, Latinos, or indigenous people were included in the panel otherwise. To wit, when Thompson walked into the building at the same time I did, they either didn’t know who he was or thought I was part of his entourage. Was it that I was well dressed? -ahem-

3. Despite the balanced panel of divergent thinkers on education, the audience appreciated UFT VP of Academic High Schools Leo Casey (who got the first round of applause), teacher Stephen Lazar (who got the second round of applause), and chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents Merryl Tisch (who got the third round of applause). Leo’s round of applause came from acknowledging and proffering that teaching is itself a difficult job, so we need to respect that. Stephen got his from saying that teachers don’t get that trust and respect as professionals when some of the state oversights indicate that they can’t re-check state tests, for example. Merryl Tisch said, in response to Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky, that just because students are graduating at higher rates doesn’t make them readier for college. They’re more in need of remediation, and going to two-year colleges to finally get ready for college. Speaking of which …

4. A couple of people commented to me in private that some of these politicians were really liberals at heart, to which I responded that it’s important to look at their actions. Merryl Tisch, for instance, said some really awesome things today about concentrating on core curricula as the center for the classroom and not an assessment. Yet, the teacher evaluation model the Board of Regents has proposed (and was eventually struck down by the courts yesterday) indicated a lack of continuity on that ideal. How do we bridge that gap between ideals and action?

5. I believe Sydney Morris got one question directed to her throughout the panel, and she probably participated four times in the panel, much fewer than Stephen, and far less than everyone else. The panel was politics driven, with Bill and Shael debating and Merryl commenting passionately as well.

6. CEO of Success Charter Network Eva Moskowitz mentioned that the politics in education is formidable, and she thought that she left politics to get into education. I questioned under my breath whether she realizes that her skills as a politician enabled her to move her agenda in a neighborhood like Harlem. She also clumsily walked away from Leo Casey’s argument that privatization is ruining public education as a public good. She had one good thing to say today around making principals into instructional leaders in her schools. I just wonder what might come of some of the coverage around teacher and principal attrition at her schools. Then again, she left before people could ask questions of her, indicative of what people see as an aloofness on her part.

7. Shael Suransky assured the moderators about the oversights that NYC has for its tests, and went through an extensive list of procedures. Bill Thompson discussed the extensive audit his office did during his time as comptroller and agreed in general with Shael’s assessment. He also added that NYC needs to be careful that, in times of high stakes testing like now, there still are some gaps in these procedures. To that end, he said, NYC can’t have enough assurances to make sure that what happened in other major cities doesn’t happen here.

8. The sitting professor on the panel, Hunter College public policy professor Joseph Viteritti, did a great job of bringing context around mayoral control. He essentially said that those checks that intended to democratize mayoral control haven’t worked. “It remains to be seen” whether mayoral control has actually worked as a whole. He also questioned the extensive use of non-educators to run the largest school system in the nation. He dropped the Cathleen Black bomb (thank you), and then said, “By the time Dennis Walcott became chancellor, it was fortuitous that, while he wasn’t an educator, he had already been in the education business long enough to know the business.” Insightful.

9. One of the moderators posed the question about getting a new contract for teachers. Shael thought there would be a chance under Bloomberg so long as all parties came to the table with the same understandings. He also wondered how much anyone could really ask for in these times of economic crisis. Bill thought there’d be no chance because of Bloomberg’s attitude towards municipal workers as a whole. Plus, Bill points out the elephant in the room: union leaders feel with Bloomberg that they’d rather wait for the “next guy.” As Shael and Bill debated, Bill retorted that the current administration’s stance has taken on a flavor of “us vs. them” that wouldn’t allow for mutual respect between parties in good faith to negotiate contract. Merryl shifted the question towards finance, essentially saying that, for all the raises that have happened in teacher salaries, student achievement hasn’t changed much.

10. Overall, the panel felt informative and nuanced. I’m sure WNET, Gotham Schools, and City Hall News will have more on this. I appreciated being there if only to see the perspectives of elected officials and powerful individuals talk about their vision for education. I ignored the first icebreaker question (“What is the purpose of public education?”) because of the generic answers there.

11. While other outlets will certainly pick apart the arguments made by Thompson, Suransky, Tisch, and Moskowitz for stories, I must say I enjoyed Leo Casey’s voice. He sounded confident, calm, and on message. He tailored the message to people who didn’t get why so many of us are angry, and that’s what we needed.

12. Overall, I also must give props to the guy who invited me, Stephen Lazar. Not only did he prove that teacher voice mattered, he probably got some of the biggest reactions from the audience and the panel, an otherwise respectful and still set of individuals. When asked about retaining the best and brightest teachers, Stephen Lazar said that he would never say he doesn’t want more money, but the best way to reward the best and brightest teachers is by giving them autonomy and respect. If he can prove, for instance, that he can get students to go well on the social studies Regents exam for five consecutive years, then they should release him from the chains of those Regents so he can actually get his students to think. Some on the panel crossed their legs harder, a couple winced, and Bill Thompson’s eyes jumped out of his head with excitement.

That’s why, before this panel, I contended that it didn’t matter if we had an exact counter to Sydney Morris, because Stephen couching his arguments in policy as practice would be enough to give him leverage on the panel. I don’t know Sydney personally, but, other than the 3,000 teachers she says helped propose policy for NYC, she didn’t have much to contribute. I constantly advocate for more voices to get out there besides mine. On the other hand, panelists consistently prompted Stephen where they could. I appreciate all the panels I’ve been invited to, but I don’t always have to speak on behalf of teachers. Further, I don’t always think of the same two or three people when I consider who should speak on behalf of teachers. Even some of our activist-type groups still get stuck in the same structures we’re fighting against.

I’ve already gone way over my word count, though. Giving others equal voice matters.

Jose, who keeps it honest even with his compatriots …

p.s. – I started the hashtag #GSonED on Twitter, and others commented under that. In case you missed it, here were the tweets in real time.

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Peace In The Middle East (2009 Edition)

January 5, 2009 Jose
Peace in the Middle East

Back in the early 90s, when A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul were rap de jour for the people who actually went to high school (at least from what I could remember), the prominent “P.E.A.C.E.”, first popularized by Rakim, turned into “Peace in the Middle East,” a homage to those suffering as casualties […]

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Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

October 23, 2008 Jose
juliuscaesarstatue

Remember how in the Time Out NY Mag, I called Mayor Bloomberg out for being on every damn list I’ve read. From TONY’s 41 to Esquire’s 75. No problem. For better or worse, he’s New York City’s mayor and I harbor no hate for his hustle. However, I’m really not feeling his policies. I completely […]

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Do Your F*ck!n Job

September 17, 2007

Mayor Bloomberg’s latest ideas on creating incentives for people doing what they’re supposed to do annoys the shit out of me. I hate to curse in a forum of this nature, as my professionalism hinges on my lack of cursory language, but give me a break. I’m already hearing the murmurs of people jumping for […]

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