Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Background on the Gag Order - and Why I Cannot Comply

On Saturday, May 2, I got a phone call from Mrs. LaBoy, the parent coordinator at PS15; she explained that Ms. Wyns-Madison (the principal) had gotten phone calls from Spencer Robertson and the Department of Education requesting that I stop posting material to my blog, at least until after the meeting on Wednesday May 7. Initially I agreed to stop posting for a few days until after the meeting.

I've given this careful consideration for the past few days, and I can't in good faith NOT continue to keep the blog going. I'm sincerely sorry if this puts Ms. Wyns-Madison in an awkward position.

I'll be blunt: I'm annoyed with the DOE and with Mr. Robertson; approaching the principal about this, when it should be abundantly clear that she is not affiliated with this blog, is an underhanded maneuver. It's also a spineless, cowardly tactic to use. The only reason I've gone along with it up to this point is because I respect Ms. Wyns-Madison as a true professional, and didn't want to make a difficult situation worse for her. She's been placed in the middle of a situation by a bureaucracy whose sense of entitlement is grossly inflated, and it's also interesting to note that the DOE apparently listens more to the charter school camp than they do the public schools. I hope that this isn't an indication of what sharing space and negotiating with Mr. Robertson (and the DOE) will be like in the future should the PAVE Academy be co-sited in PS15.

I don't know about you, but in my case, blood's thicker than water; one of the most important reasons I started the blog in the first place is because my son attends PS15, and I'm trying to protect his interests - along with the interests of his classmates and their families. I'm taking this issue very personally because it's an attack on my child's school.

I find it somewhat ironic that I'm being told to suppress a public forum after spending more than a decade promoting freedom of expression in Brooklyn through hosting a series of literary readings that on occasion presented somewhat controversial political material. I also initiated and coordinated the Brooklyn Alternative Small Press Fair, which for five successive years promoted independent publishing in Brooklyn - and which incorporated many participants who presented political material that larger presses wouldn't deal with (see www.geocities.com/emilybrooklyn/smallpressfair for more information on that).

What really rubs me the wrong way about this is an issue of standards and integrity: when I was applying for grants to cover expenses for the Small Press Fairs, I had to be completely accountable in my grant proposals for certain key issues including the location of the event (I had to provide a letter of agreement with the directors of the venues I used stating that the event would be held on their premises on specific dates) and all financial information (receipts had to be provided for every expenditure), and I had to explain in detail exactly how my event would serve the community - and I got funded each year I requested grant monies because I presented totally feasible proposals and budgets, and I stuck to them. I was also responsible for providing detailed interim and final reports regarding the events to my funders. Why aren't Charter Schools held to the same level of accountability and integrity? Without knocking the relevance of the humanities programs I've been responsible for, it seems to me that educating children is a higher priority - there's far more at stake - so why aren't the agencies responsible for educating and helping shape our children held to the same or a higher standard?

I'll be posting more shortly - but I just wanted to let everyone know why the blog was so quiet for several days. Meanwhile, as of Monday, the number of viewers was well over 900, and I'm hoping that by Wednesday, we'll have passed the 1000 mark.


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