The political maelstrom and doldrums that we are experiencing today at all three levels of government threaten to alienate voters of all persuasions – and young voters, in particular. The challenge facing candidates from the President to the City Council is to tap into critical issues and develop solutions that people perceive as self-empowering.
One of those issues is education and this piece is the first of several I will publish on this topic. Everyone has an opinion about education; everyone has an “answer.” Here in New York City, the opinionmakers led a charge to establish “Mayoral control” of the largest public school system in the nation. The Giuliani machine and the mainstream media masterfully demonized Chancellors, their bureaucracy, and School Board members, creating the bulldozer that swept up weak and frustrated State Legislators in a “mayoral control” frenzy. Mayor Bloomberg was not Giuliani, so everyone wanted to give Bloomberg time to get it right.
But he didn't. We now see that the top-down approach to education “reform” has become a corporate-driven, metric-manipulated, cheating-corrupted, non-child-centric force supported by our President (most unfortunately), our Governor, and a lame-duck but all-powerful Mayor. These truths apply to education: “One size will never fit all” – particularly in New York City! Attacking teachers in the media and through a ridiculous reliance upon high-stakes tests will NOT improve education. Cramming charter schools into district school buildings will NOT improve education for ALL children.
Engaging children today, more than ever, requires a diverse “portfolio” of effective options. In most New York City public schools, music and art classes are not a daily occurrence for every child. Neither are drama classes or physical education – or even computer lab time. You cannot substitute for the tactile, fulfilling experience of arts education, for example, with a video lesson. If we want to build a worldly nation, we need stimulated children whose desire for “more” knowledge is insatiable. And we have them! But their nourishment comes from electronic gadgets and games, and interaction with the Internet.
A child is not on a Nintendo DS if s/he is playing a guitar or violin – and critical areas of the brain are being developed, as well as an understanding of endurance and teamwork. A child is not on the Internet if s/he is memorizing and practicing a speech by Frederick Douglass, preparing for a debate, or working out to excel in a sport. To provide these opportunities in an effective manner, you need the budget and the space.
We all have to mobilize and fight politicians for the budget. In many schools, however, we do have space – space that is now being swallowed up by charter schools who don’t “pay rent” (the City asks for $1 per year) but who have the money to print eight by ten, four-color, glossy pictures with circles and arrows and everything. And let’s not forget the executive compensation some of these schools throw around.
I am not an opponent of charter schools, but they cannot be used to undermine district schools. I sit on the Board of Trustees of a charter school in East New York, of which I am quite proud, and my youngest son attends another incubating in the Tweed building (which was an unexpected development in our family). Both schools have leased their own space. Somehow these entities are educating children and also paying for construction and maintenance costs. So, clearly, when it comes to co-located charter schools, we need some fairness and common sense ... particularly since Mayor Bloomberg wants to approve a whole bunch more before he leaves office.
NEXT: Putting children first means checks and balances on the Mayor and on charter schools.