Big Wigs, Small Frys, and On-Demand Answers

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:29 am
PostPost subject: Big Wigs, Small Frys, and On-Demand Answers
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Is it me? Or does Mr. Herszenhorn completely miss the point of this Moment in Education Officialdom. [See article below]

The point shouldn't be 'how hard it is to work with children'. [My God, you can't really depend on them to do anything right, can you? Even after weeks of training and months of ESL classroom time--all they can get out of their mouths was a “Meyeow, weow, eowah, eiwash, iwah."] Hell, if they had been given the correct short answer, perhaps they could have performed more like the parrots Mr. Bloomberg needed to have his request met more ably.

These 2nd graders have just finished a performance for the Mayor--the King of Education has come to visit them in their school. Can you imagine the stress on the teachers and that stress being passed on to the kids--hard enough, right?

But then Bloomberg, instead of engaging them in some kindness, or complimenting them on their beautiful voices, decides to do what many a relative has done to young people at the family dinner table: put them on the spot, expose them, push the matter beyond the comfort zone into light that will shine on them before the group. This is an act of bullying, a self-serving effort to create a trophy moment at the expense of those being asked to perform beyond the point for which they were prepared, without any consideration or empathy for where they stand in this Education Moment.

Are they being engaged fairly? Invited playfully? No, he is royalty 'kindly' demanding an extra measure of performance from children, to engage in an act of bilingual acrobatics that not even their teachers would be prepared to do. No longer a respectful member of the audience, Bloomberg is entitled to invade their psychological and emotional space to get something else from them. It is subtle, but it is a form of abuse. What was going on in the gut of the teachers as Bloomberg made his request and the children 'dutifully' met it?

This is the height of cowardice, an act of arrogance that is blind to the sanctity of individual choice, a right typically denied children in the name of education. Education implies the power of the adult to call on any child at any time as a means to test, dress them down, poke a hole in a daydream, or, as in the case, perform at the pleasure of the Big Wig, mayor, principal, superintendent.

The point isn't whether Bloomberg is acting like these kids are staff members; it is that Mr. Bloomberg thinks that he is on the moral, professional high road, a model teacher in action.

The writer seems to be shaking his head as if to say, See, even the Mayor can't get kids to behave on command. Teaching sure is hard. I say, Finding adults who respect children is even harder. And finding writers who can really write about Education from the viewpoint of those on the receiving end? That seems to be the most difficult thing of all.

On Education
How Hard Can It Be to Teach? The Challenges Go Well Beyond the Classroom

Published: July 11, 2007

One of my all-time favorite moments covering the New York City public school system occurred just before Christmas in 2003, at Public School 28 in Harlem. About 50 or 60 second graders, onstage in the school auditorium, serenaded Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein with a perfect rendition of “Feliz Navidad.”

When the singing stopped, Mr. Bloomberg applauded. “Children, that was beautiful,” he said. “Now, what I want you to do is say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year,’ first in Spanish, then in English.”

The problem was not a language barrier — nearly all of the children at P.S. 28 are bilingual — but rather the mayor’s notion that he could give four simultaneous commands to a group of 7-year-olds, as if they were his aides in the bullpen at City Hall or executives at his company, Bloomberg L.P.

Still, the students who had just finished singing so sweetly in unison dutifully tried to grant Mr. Bloomberg’s request.

“Meyeow, weow, eowah, eiwash, iwah,” they mumbled. Or something like that.

Working with children looks easy. It is not.
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