Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Erasing History: A Key Feature of the Bloomberg/Klein Regime in the New York City Public Schools.

Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University

One of the characteristic of all dictatorial regimes is the rewriting of history to enhance the regime's claim to leadership. This was done by European colonialists, by Soviet Communists, by third world dictators like Rafael Trujillo and Idi Amin, and, for a very long time, by white supremacists in the US who systematically erased all achievements by blacks, whether in the US or Africa, from the historical record.

The same thing has been done by the Bloomberg Klein team in charge of the New York City school system, who has made it seem that everything that took place before them in New York City public schools was scandalously flawed and injurious to New York City school children. Racially charged rhetoric has been one of the major weapons in the campaign of intimidation the Klein DOE has used to impose a rigid test driven regime upon teachers and principals. One CUNY administrator allied with them, in a conversation with me, called the New York City schools pre Klein/Bloomberg, a “criminal conspiracy against black and latino children.”

If you have not spent much time in New York City public schools, or had little personal contact with longtime teachers and administrators, you might find this analysis believable. But as someone brought up by two parents who were lifelong teachers( at Jamaica HS and Eli Whitney Vocational HS), and revered by their students and colleagues, and who is married to a principal who is a legend in her school and neighborhood, I was predisposed to be skeptical of Bloomberg Klein portrait of what went on in New York City schools before they were put in charge.

But really brought home the absurdity and injustice of their campaign was the experience I have had bringing the research of the Bronx African American History Project into Bronx schools. Over the past seven years, I have spent time in more than 30 bronx elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, giving lectures and tours, doing teacher training, speaking at graduation ceremonies, and sponsoring school wide oral history festivals and my experience with teachers in those schools totally contradicted the image of a pre Klein educational wasteland that the DOE has been promulgating.

First of all, the vast majority of teachers and principals who brought me into the schools to help incorporate community history into the classroom have been longtime veterans of the NYC public school system. From Phil Panaritis, the head of Social Studies at a Bronx District who first brought me in to present our research to teachers in his district, to Julia Swann, the network leader who had me do oral history training in the 13 schools in her charge; to Gary Israel, the brilliant teacher and robotics coach who brought me in to help create a Museum in Morris High School, to Paul Cannon, the visionary principal who had our research team help him organize his entire school culture around community history,; the most impressive people I have encountered in Bronx schools have been longtime veterans of the New York City public school system, not hotshot young teachers brought in by alternative certification programs.

All of these individuals, who are passionately committed to educational equity, were working to inspire and empower students long before the Bloomberg Klein team took charge of the schools, Many were products of the New York City public schools themselves.

And they are not alone. During the course the lectures and workshops and tours that I give in Bronx schools, which I do on the average of two per month, I have met hundreds of veteran teachers who are intellectually curious, invested in their students well being, and determined to try anything that will instill a love of learning in the children they work with.

These people were all in the New York City school system long before Michael Bloomberg became Mayor

Devaluing their accomplishments, and erasing them from history not only does violence to the real history of the New York City school system, it gives the leaders of the DOE license to implement policies which take power away from teachers and imposes a regime of rote learning and test preparation which is more likely to harm students than help them