Tag Archives: Dennis Walcott

Dennis Walcott, Ruthless Puritan

There is something a little too neat about Dennis Walcott.

The City of New York has learned a great deal about Dennis Walcott over the past few weeks. We learned that Walcott wants to ban teachers from friending students on Facebook, and probably wants to ban teachers from using Facebook altogether. Now, we learn that Walcott’s Department of Education wants test makers to avoid 50 topics that might cause students mental duress.

Dinosaurs made the list, since they imply evolution and cause an existential crisis with creationists. Halloween might cause students to worship statues. Junk food might make students think they are unhealthy. Homelessness and poverty might remind students that they might be homeless and poor, especially if they are homeless and poor.

To say most of the topics on this list are absurd would be an understatement. It reminds me of Diane Ravitch’s book The Language Police, where she describes how textbook and testing companies bend over backwards to mollify every special interest group that might have the clout to sue them.

Banning these topics from standardized exams has far-reaching implications.

Teachers in New York know that a good part of their evaluations will rely upon standardized exam scores. This means that a great deal of class time will be spent on test prep. That means that a great deal of class time will not be spent covering any of these topics. While banning these words do not directly impact the curriculum, it is obvious that they will impact it nonetheless.

The most unfortunate, yet not surprising, proscription is the one against poverty. So many NYC public school students are poor that banning any mention of poverty is tantamount to educational malpractice. If education does not help a student take stock of the world in which they live, as well as their place in that world, then it is worse than useless. There can be no better way to discount a child’s feelings than to make completely invisible the conditions that shape their life.

 As I have said before, if students are not encouraged to think and take stock of their conditions, then they surely will not have the ability to overturn them.

Although this list of banned topics was probably not the sole product of Dennis Walcott, he has defended them nonetheless. Coming on the heels of his stance on teachers on Facebook, it paints a picture of Walcott’s character.

Dennis Walcott has the values of a Puritanical schoolmarm straight out of the Victorian Era. He has constantly exhorted teachers to hold themselves to an impossible moral standard. His words are spoken with tightened lips and his proscriptions are as severe as Oliver Cromwell himself. The Panel of Educational Policy meetings over which he regularly presides considers no dissenting viewpoints. If teachers, parents and students conduct a people’s mic check, he merely stands there stone-faced with folded arms. If the people are too loud, he merely moves the meeting to a private room or adjourns until a time when most people are asleep.

Walcott is a man thoroughly convinced of his own righteousness. He is the worst type of human being: the type that has ascended the ranks of power with a clear conscience. He takes his position as proof of the righteousness of his cause.

Someone with this type of rigid, crusading mentality is not the type of person you want running an education system, let alone the largest education system in the country. While he is not as slimy as Joel Klein or as embarrassing as Cathie Black, he is every bit as repressive as either of them. While true learning is a vast messy field of contradiction, Walcott’s world is one of small, neat dogmas. He suffers no debate, entertains no doubts and presses forward as inexorable and unreflective as Torquemada during the Inquisition.

This is exactly the type of person the corporate reformers want running school systems. He has thoroughly tyrannized himself into following a neat authoritarian mindset. He sets the example, as well as the policies, that promise to tyrannize the generations of tomorrow.

The cold wind that blows through the soul of Dennis Walcott is the cold wind of a bleak future for all of us.

Walcott Cracks Down On Facebook Teachers

Everyone on Facebook is your friend.

Dennis Walcott is set to put his foot down about teachers who friend students on Facebook and other social media sites. His reasoning?

“They don’t want to be put in a situation that could compromise them or be misinterpreted.”

And how does cracking down on friending students on social media prevent this?

Teachers will always be misinterpreted, misjudged and compromised whether or not we have a Facebook, whether or not there are students on our Facebook if we do.

I have a Facebook that I rarely use. There are no current students on it, although I have many graduates listed as “friends”. It does not mean they are my “friends”. The same goes for everyone listed as a “friend” on my Facebook page. Like most people, I have very few real friends and a whole slew of casual associates. I do not talk to anybody on Facebook and I cannot remember the last time I was interested enough to look through someone else’s profile.

Here is my suggestion to Dennis Walcott, as well as anyone else who thinks teachers should live like monks: get over yourself.

A teacher can be misinterpreted for something they say on Facebook whether or not there are students listed as their friends. The upcoming 3020a hearing that I have been advertising is one such incident. Whether or not this teacher had current students on her page is irrelevant to the frivolous charges she is facing.

What Dennis Walcott should be saying is: “teachers should stay off Facebook, period.”

As a matter of fact, teachers should stay off the streets, the supermarkets, the bars, the churches and every other public place, since anything they do out there can be misinterpreted as well. Teachers should not make any jokes while in class, the teacher’s lounge or the administrator’s office.

There should be an official social media policy issued by the Department of Education. The grey area that exists now gives administrators too much latitude to screw around with teachers’ careers.

Teachers are human beings. They get angry, sad, depressed, sarcastic, happy, frustrated, etc. just like everyone else. As time goes on, I get the sense that people expect teachers to be more and more superhuman. While parents are perfectly free to curse, drink, hit, spit, fight and keep Facebook pages with whomever they see fit, teachers are expected to be “role models” 24 hours a day, with all of the responsibility and financial poverty that entails.

As a country, our Puritanical hypocrisy masks a not-so-subtle depravity. A teacher has students listed as “friends” on Facebook? It must mean they are immature and really think those students are their “friends”. Take a look at your own Facebook and ask yourself how many people listed are really your friends. Maybe it is just a compilation of people you know, sort of know, may have known or never even met in your entire life. While I do not have students on my Facebook page, I do not begrudge teachers who do.

The word “inappropriate” flies around school buildings a lot. I would venture to bet it is one of the most verbalized school building words. Teachers and administrators say it to students and each other. It covers something as mundane as when a teacher leaves the copy machine without paper, as well as something as serious as a student cursing at a teacher. Things that are regular human interaction in everyday life get labeled as “inappropriate” with ease in a school.

While children need to be protected and teachers need to be adults, we have never found a way to do it without creating a climate of fear and repression in school buildings. Teachers literally find themselves walking on eggshells every minute of the day. What are the impacts of a repressed teacher on the quality of education children receive? Knowledge, wisdom, culture and learning are supposed to be natural and free, yet we are contorting our teaching force into plastic and inhumane “authority figures”.

These restrictions will get worse and worse as education reform continues its forward march. We do not want teachers. We want test prep trainers and authority figures that will babysit children 7 hours a day. We do not want teaching. We want barking out the correct bubble-in choice on the next decontextualized knowledge question. We want teachers to model this behavior of rigid discipline and fear for the next generation of low-wage workers.