Thursday, May 8, 2008

Response to a Comment on a recent post

A cyber-philosopher going by the moniker Socrates recently left a new comment on the post "May 7th Public Hearing":

So you would prefer that schools don't teach students to be good people? You
would prefer that they are soul-less institutions of purely academic
orientation? How sad.
Hmmm. With everything else that I brought up in that particular post, this is the one thing this clever person picked up on. He/she/it completely missed the point that what I - and several other community members had an issue with was the way the issue was raised (patronizingly, smugly, and out of context in a public hearing) leaving teachers, parents and others with a really bad taste in their mouths, and then dealt with afterwards. Tim Burke may have been trying to make a positive point about the PAVE Academy's curriculum, but he presented it so poorly that it came across as an insult to at least part of a roomful of people, and then, instead of apologizing, became confrontational.

I think "Socrates" is probably an armchair philosopher who wants to engage in an epistemological, ontological debate (there's a couple of $10 words fer ya, Socrates - see? I went to college too) about whether it's a good idea to teach values in school. Values get taught in school intentionally and unintentionally, directly and indirectly all the time - by teachers, guidance counselors, other kids, etc. It's part of the socialization process. It's also part of the disciplinary process when kids act up in school.

But I'm going to answer your question with some other questions.

  • How do you define a "good" person? Your definition might be different from mine, and it would be interesting to see where the overlaps are AND where the differences are.
  • "Socrates", if you have a child, who would you prefer to have teaching him or her about values and character in school? Would you prefer your child learn from people who treat him fairly, who encourage him to develop intellectual curiosity and fair play in dealing with people he interacts with, whether they're peers or authority figures? Would you prefer he learn about character from people who negotiate well and look for common ground and real consensus in their solutions to conflict, or from people who are routinely patronizing, rude, and whose primary interests appear to be to get what they want whatever the cost, by any means necessary?

As a parent, I can tell you right away that I have no issue whatsoever with having the PS15 staff help build the character of my son, because over the past 5 years, they've done a wonderful job with him - he's curious, he scores well on tests, he's learned a huge amount about working out differences with other students fairly, he's empathetic and sympathetic, and because he's treated well there, he also makes an effort to reciprocally do the right thing and treat others well. I'm looking at the big picture, which is that they've participated in helping develop a boy with good character. On the other hand, I've watched the DOE and the PAVE Academy people work in tandem to ensure that the PAVE Academy gets exactly what it wants - which is a rent-free location for their school, with no fiscal or other accountability to the public whose taxes support education - through underhanded tactics. They've demonstrated very poor character in my book because they've misrepresented information to the public (I'm being kind here: others would call this LYING); in other cases, they've restricted or hidden information. They've also proceeded with their plans independently of the very people most affected by the long range impact of these plans, and they seem to feel that if they repeat certain meaningless key phrases often enough, their opposition will give up and roll over. This is arrogant and patronizing, and not to be tolerated from anyone.

Read through the earlier posts to this blog and connect the dots yourself (including Spencer Robertson's emails to me, which I've posted here) if you need to see the many other reasons I don't think the PAVE Academy people are equipped to appropriately help children build good character, and shouldn't be preaching about it to anyone until they can demonstrate some good character traits themselves.

I certainly wouldn't want MY son learning about character from people or organizations whose values are corrupt. That's part of why I don't want the PAVE Academy anywhere near my son's public school. Let them do their business elsewhere.

Emily Brown


Anonymous said...

Quite honestly, I am disturbed by much of the material posted on this blog that is supposedly intended to allow us to "form our own conclusions." Of course, you are entitled to your opinions of the nature of charter schools. But I would expect that to be a two-way street.
The purpose of a blog is to engage in meaningful discourse. Sadly, you are resorting to vicious personal attacks towards anyone who happens to disagree with you. I was absolutely shocked to see your recent rant/reply to "Socrates" who merely pointed out that schools who do not emphasize character development (as PAVE will) are ignoring critical components of children's social and emotional development.
Not most social or political issues can be approached in such a black/white, close-minded way. Yes, many traditional public schools are flourishing. But do they work for every single child? We need greater choice and experimentation in the education system to solve these larger issues.

moderator said...

I'm sorry you're disturbed by my response to this person, but quite honestly, the comment did not add any factual or relevant information to the material presented in the blog, nor did the comment stick to the main points made in the post.

Nobody's forcing you to read this blog, are they? I set the blog up so that people could comment freely on what they've read here, but comments like the one Socrates posted don't really add much to the whole discussion.

By the way, one focus of the blog is set out clearly in both the title of the blog and the description that appears at the top. I'm opposed to having charter schools co-sited in not only my son's "regular" public school, but any public school, and the reasons why are manifestly clear in the material I've selected to post. There are many, many more blogs and websites out there that support the charter school movement. Perhaps you'd be happier reading those instead?

I'm not moderating this blog to win a popularity contest. I'm doing it to protest what I see as a direct attack on public education in this country in the most democratic sense of the term - all children are entitled to receive a public education, not just the select few who manage to get a seat through a lottery, or those who meet the criteria of a quota system.

By the way, I can speak from personal experience that not every traditional public school works for every children. My son had the frustrating experience of starting pre-K at PS295 in Park Slope 5 years ago, and we transferred him out of that school because the class he was placed in didn't even have a permanent teacher assigned to it for the first month or six weeks. It was chaotic and mismanaged, and although a lot of people seem to like PS295 a great deal, I found it to be remarkably lacking. He spent the rest of the fall term at PS58 in Cobble Hill, which was also a joke. By the time the holidays rolled around, I was seriously considering pulling him out of pre-K altogether and just starting him over fresh in kindergarten. But then we found a seat for him at PS15, and it was a completely different story - a perfect fit. He's been at PS15 ever since, and he's scoring high on his tests and getting great report cards. And I've found out since that PS15's reading scores are higher than PS58's. There's a huge difference between public schools in NYC, and I was quite surprised to find that one of the better elementary schools was located NOT in Park Slope, where I'd automatically (and ignorantly, I might add) expected a higher standard, but in Red Hook of all places. Go figure. This happens to be one of the reasons I am adamantly opposed to having PS15 interfered with by a charter school. PS15 is an excellent school that serves its community well, and I refuse to believe that conditions there would improve if they have to give up rooms to another school that will expand over time and quite possibly take over. And I'm not concerned about this over the next two years while my son finishes his education - I'm concerned over the long term, because Red Hook in general has not been served well by the city - it's traditionally gotten the short end of the stick in terms of services, resources, etc., and the residents have had to pull together and fight for every single good thing that's there. Now the neighborhood is going through the beginning stages of gentrification, and I hope that this doesn't interfere with the long-term residents the way gentrification in the southern end of Park Slope has for the past several years.