Have you noticed that it’s the same five or six people protesting Cathie Black’s appointment as Chancellor of Schools the past couple of weeks? No? That’s probably because her opposition has been hyped to seem like it’s made of far more people than it is.
Yes, sites like Gotham Schools imply that there’s a major wave of opposition out there. But if you actually click through to many of the stories the educational aggregator is linking to, you’ll see it’s the same handful of usual suspects who’ve been opposed to Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein over the last eight years who are now opposing Black.
How is this news? And why does such a small number of people, so often quoted by the press, speak for 1.1 million school children?
If you actually go to any education events in person, as we routinely have over the past year, you’ll see that it’s the same small group complaining about Black that always complains about everything. The name of the focus of their ire has changed, but not much else has.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at last night’s meeting of the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), the de facto school board under mayoral control.
Most present in the largely empty auditorium held up signs that said “Klein, Don’t Leave Me Behind,” next to a face of a pouting child. It was an oddly mixed message. Those holding the signs often hissed, booed or yelled every time Klein’s name was mentioned. They are presumably among the masses that have screamed at him for years and thinks he’s ruined education during his tenure.
And yet, they were begging him to stay, and telling him they felt abandoned.
Klein knocked them off their guard by starting off with an equally odd gesture of his own. Having read the blog of Norm Scott (who is no great fan of the Chancellor) where Scott divulged the two are twins separated at birth and that he wanted to give Klein a hug, the Chancellor accepted. Klein stepped off the
stage and hugged Scott before any business even started. (Scott was booed by some of his friends for literally embracing the Chancellor, and later wrote “People shunned me — saying they won’t come near me until I showered. They’re all just haters.”)
But the people hissing the hug and Cathie Black’s nomination were the same people who are always at these events. And when you read stories about the supposed wave of Black opposition, they’re chock full of the usual subjects: the UFT’s Julie Cavanagh and Mike Mulgrew; State Senator (and pro-UFT, anti-charter) Bill Perkins; City Councilman Robert Jackson; Civil Rights attorney Norman Siegel, and the “local gadfly” Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.
Many of them were present last night or at the protest at Tweed Courthouse on Sunday.
These people oppose Bloomberg on everything educational, and have for years. True, they are very loud, and often quoted, and it’s nearly impossible to open up an education story in the New York Times without reading Leonie Haimson’s aggrieved take on the subject.
But how is this news? Yes, some 9,000 people have signed a petition against the Black appointment, but that’s out of the parents of a million kids. Of those opposed, only about a dozen bothered to show up last night to speak out against her.
Among the most cringe-worthy moments of the evening was when a group calling themselves the Real Reformer, dressed in red capes, began to rap:
As one observer noted, “No all white group of parents should get up and rap” to represent school kids.
This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate questions to be raised about Black, a woman who has apparently never even attended a public school let alone worked in one. But there are two hard truths. One is that under mayoral control, Bloomberg pretty much gets to pick who he wants. The other is that far from facing a huge opposition, Black faces a vast majority of New York parents don’t care who heads the school system. They’re more concerned about issues much closer to them, like their kids and their individual schools.