Tag Archives: educational reform act

Diary of a Traveling Basketball Coach

For 5 months of the school year I wear my hat as the coach of the boys’ basketball team. It has been the most pleasant surprise of my career. Most of my time is spent learning: about the game, about my boys and about winning and losing. I also get to learn a little bit about many other schools. We have to play every game on the road, traveling to over a dozen schools during the season. The schools are mostly in Manhattan, although we have the odd out-of-borough game from time to time. Although we are only at each school for a few hours, the little bits and pieces I have seen of each one says a whole lot about the Bloomberg system and education deform in general.

Many of the schools we visit are typical Bloomberg. They are large buildings that used to house large high schools. These high schools were institutions within their communities. When I was growing up, kids could identify themselves with the large high schools they attended. We were either Seward or Brandeis or Erasmus or Tech kids. Telling someone what high school you went to was a shorthand way of identifying your community, your lifestyle and your friends all at once. It was one of the ways New York City youth communicated with each other, part of the urban dialect that nobody but us understood.

So imagine the sadness I feel when we visit one of these schools from my youth, only to see that it has been chopped up into 5 small schools. We aren’t visiting great institutions as I knew them growing up. We are visiting husks of great institutions. Schools used to be named for great statesmen and American heroes. Now each of the five schools in these big buildings have names like “Academy of Social Peace” or “Young Women’s Writing Academy” (These are not real names. The real ones are a lot more ridiculous). They have traded in using school names to celebrate our heritage for using school names as way to market each school. The funny thing is that the “Academy of Social Peace” does not have to offer any programs on “social peace”, and it damn sure isn’t an “academy”. None of that matters in Bloomberg’s system. It is all about using the business strategy of marketing in what should be a public institution.

Then there is the way we are greeted. In the few large schools that have not been chopped up, me and the team check in with the School Safety agents who then direct us to the gym. I meet the opposing coach and he shows the boys where to change and what bench we will use during the game. The coaches in these schools tend to be veteran teachers, excellent coaches and consummate professionals. These are the rare types of schools. I can count the number of them we have visited on one hand.

The much more common type of school is the Bloomberg 5-in-1 monstrosity. We are not so much greeted in these schools as much as we are herded, questioned and interrogated. “What school are you from?” or “How many are you?” and “No spectators!” or “Wait here for an escort to the gym.” Sometimes there is the metal detector to deal with. Someone from one of the schools in the building (we never know which school or what title this person holds) might take a head count of my team and try to match it up to our roster of players to ensure the numbers match. You never know, a random hooligan might have slipped into our ranks without me noticing. On one hand, I understand that school buildings have a duty to monitor who comes and goes. On the other hand, I feel as if whatever administrator made the policy (and it could only have been an administrator) mistrusts my ability to monitor the group of boys I am with. I feel the Bloomberg hate for teachers and students in the way we are treated, not to mention the hate that many administrators have for us.

One of these buildings I am particularly familiar with. I used to teach in the neighborhood and I have coached many games there. It is a Bloomberg monster school with one of these ridiculous visitor policies. The teachers at the school are generally very young, most likely TFA “grads” with one foot out of the door. The coach of their team is one of my least favorite people. He is extremely young, wears horn-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, tight sweaters, Chuck Taylors and spiked hair. He is a model of the hipster gentrification overtaking the neighborhood in which his school is located. Unlike the more professional opposing coaches, he does not shake my hand or look me in the eye or do anything beyond gruffly unlock the locker room for my boys. During the game he yells, screams, jumps onto the court and loses his bearings to such a degree that he ends up at our bench when it puts him in closer proximity to the action of the game. He is unsportsman-like and unprofessional, in both dress and demeanor. I had been running an imaginary office pool in my head where everyone takes bets on when he will quit teaching. Recently, to my surprise, I discovered that this man was not a teacher at all, but an Assistant Principal. There is no way that he can have more than 3 years in the classroom. The fact that such an un-educator-like person can make it to AP says everything you need to know about the Bloomberg system.

The last time I was in this school, a staff member there struck up a conversation with me. He was an older gentleman who definitely had the air of someone who has earned his stripes in New York City public schools. Almost as if he knew his audience, he immediately launched into a tirade against the young, petty and incompetent administrators in the building. “They aren’t educators” he said, “they have no business running a school.” If these are the same administrators that came up with the Draconian entrance policy, then he is right. The best barometer of their incompetence is my team. Whenever we are treated like criminals, my boys get this sheepish look on their faces as if they really have done something wrong. They are all good kids and fortunately do not receive this type of treatment back at our school. They bear their treatment patiently. I could not help but wonder what it is like to be a student at one of these schools who receive this type of harassment every day. You walk into the building and immediately you are searched, questioned and barked at. If my boys could be made to feel guilty for a moment, what must a kid feel like who is treated like this as a matter of policy?   

“Academies” may sound nice but they are not welcoming communities for kids. Rather, they all reflect Bloomberg’s callous disregard for inner-city youth and their teachers.

Governor Cuomo and New Democrats

Andrew Cuomo set to catch a big wad of Wall Street money.

I met Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York State, a few weeks ago. Sidling up to him at a cash register in a Wall Street lunch hour joint, I said, “we miss you and we need you back.” He smiled and said, “they always find a way to get you, don’t they?” Spitzer became New York’s Governor after cultivating the image of a granite-jawed Attorney General who prosecuted Wall Street crimes. He was destroyed early in his Governorship after it was found that he frequently sought the services of prostitutes. The “they” to which he was referring was “Wall Street”, that amorphous shadow of financiers who own our politicians. Governor Spitzer was a threat to “them”, so he had to be destroyed. I usually don’t approach famous people but Eliot Spitzer, in my mind, symbolized a whole lot. Spitzer was what could have been. His story was the start of a long free fall of New York State politics that landed squarely in the lap of the horror show we now have for governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Andrew Cuomo ended 2011 one of the most popular governors in the country. His approval ratings are through the roof. Since becoming governor, he has successfully distanced himself from all of the flotsam and jetsam that usually defines New York State politics. He has kept his distance from the hopelessly dysfunctional New York State legislature, always seen as a den of corruption. He has publicly battled with New York City’s increasingly unpopular Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He has a last name that inspires confidence and nostalgia in New Yorkers. The Cuomo name is refreshing to New Yorkers after years of the bumbling leadership of David Patterson, who only became governor as a result of Spitzer’s disgrace. No doubt Andrew is getting pointers in political maneuvering from his father, who always tested which way the wind was blowing before spitting. More than anything else, Cuomo has benefitted from having the right name at the right time. He promised hope in a hopeless era of New York politics. Cuomo is New York State’s very own Obama.

Just like Obama, Andrew ran for executive office at a point when the sitting executive was none-too-popular. Obama promised hope and change through words. Andrew promised it with his last name. Both men ran as Democrats, leading Democratic voters to think that “change” meant fighting Democratic battles lying dormant for decades. Obama did this through fiery speeches vague on specifics. Andrew did this by reminding New York of his father, who used to fight some of those battles. Yet, both men have proven that their brand of change is more of the same. Rather than turning back the conservative gains of the past few decades, both executives have solidified and extended those gains. Obama’s work in this field is legendary: more undeclared wars, more surveillance and more handouts to corporations (including Obamacare). They have a Democratic face but, at the core, are identical to Republican policies that benefit corporations. It is the New Democratic Party, same as the Old but totally different from the Original.

And now Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, to be given this Wednesday, will be a Roman Triumph for the way of the New Democratic Party. In this speech, he will bring refreshing change by reciting a 20-year-old cant accusing schools and teachers of being unaccountable. Of course, he is talking about New York City’s failure to strike a deal with the teachers’ union (UFT) on evaluating teachers. He will appoint a commission (most likely with zero teachers) to come up with a proper evaluation process for teachers. Nothing will stop Andrew from Obama’s Race to the Top money. Here is the New Democratic Party, declaring war on public workers and public schooling in favor of pro-corporate reform. It is just like the Old and the same as the Republicans.

Andrew will also speak about a “foreclosure relief unit” which, according to the Daily News article, “will serve as an advocate to struggling homeowners.” It will “provide counseling and mediation services designed to help resolve mortgage issues and keep people in their homes.” Translation: instead of going after the corrupt foreclosure system that is stacked in favor of the banks to the point where they can intentionally lie and fudge paperwork to foreclose on people, we will make people feel better about being made homeless by pretending to be their advocate throughout the sham process.

Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech this Wednesday will be a paean to the New Democratic way. He is a fresh governor with great popularity and the right pedigree. There is no doubt that he has designs on the White House. Andrew is striking out on a new road in American politics that he believes will get him to the Presidency, the office that always eluded his father. It is the Obama juke move, one fake left and then a zip to the right. It represents the acceptance of corporate power and the reduction of all workers to peons.

I wonder if Eliot Spitzer was juking as well. Until the day I met him I imagined him as an imposing man with a Bill Cowher chin. But standing next to him I saw that he was much shorter and more frail-looking than he looked on television. He had a five o’clock shadow of grayish hair that obscured the famous jaw, making him look less steely and vigorous. Perhaps this represents the values of the Democratic Party as well. At one time it loomed large and just. Then Wall Street got its hands on it and it became a husk. I still miss Eliot Spitzer and he may have a future in politics yet. If so, it remains to be seen if he learned his lesson that only pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate politicians remain successful.