Saturday, November 13, 2010

We don't need no educators

I can't wait to taste the couscous Somerby will make of today's NYT column by Joe Nocera on departing NYC Schools chancellor Joel Klein. Bob has, of course, been chronicling the ongoing novel of "school reform" and the War on Teachers for years now -- with plenty of attention (e.g., this past Wednesday) to the Times' role in writing it. While the catastrophe in Iraq served to discredit the Paper of Record's resident novelist of Islamofascism, Judith Miller, it seems that no infusion of facts can shake the Grey Lady's dedication to our educational picaresque, America's own Dumb Quixote.

While we await Somerby's rant, a few choice bits from Nocera:
"Mr. Klein transformed both himself and New York’s $23 billion school system. He will leave his post with a reputation as the country’s pre-eminent education reformer."
This despite the well-publicized fact that the city's rise in test scores has proved to be bogus. An ordinary, headline-browsing resident of said city would have been permitted to conclude that Klein was skedaddling out of town with his C.V. between his legs -- received by the welcoming arms of Rupert Murdoch, no less -- as everything he claimed to have accomplished over the past eight years goes up in smoke. But the Times' love for the dominant educational novel of our times is so strong that it scurries to chant the magic phrases of "reform" and "accountability" on its front pages over and over again, drowning out the inconvenient truths.
On choosing Klein in the first place: "'Joel had all the qualifications,' the mayor told me a few days ago, adding: 'He knows how to attract good people, motivate them and make them accountable. You can always find someone to do the technical stuff.' The fact that Mr. Klein did not have preset ideas about how to fix public education was, in the mayor’s view, a plus."
Just let Mayor Mike's quote roll around in your mind. "You can always find someone to do the technical stuff." Don't mistake this for the view of a typical CEO. It isn't. No CEO of any company based on expertise thinks like that. "The technical stuff" is the core stuff, the bread and butter, the meal ticket. Whether you're running a media company or a movie studio or an IT innovator or a pharma -- or a university -- the experts, the talent, are what puts bread on your table, what differentiates you in the market. You recruit them, coddle them, nurture them. You pay obsessive attention to what they know, how they learn it, how they use it and how to leverage and spread it. You may not be able to open a picture or decode a genome or write a Pulitzer Prize article yourself, but you damn well build everything in your company around those who can. "You can always find someone to do the technical stuff." Right.

This is not the view of a typical CEO. It's the view, first of all, of somebody whose business succeeded not because of its journalists, but because of its desktop terminal, its platform. The Bloomberg terminal got in early in the game of digitizing and speeding up financial data, and he built an empire on that. Second, he's not just a CEO, he's a founder. Founders get to do whatever the fuck they want. Ordinary CEOs have fiduciary responsibilities. Boards of directors, even lax boards, can't let them run wild -- at least, not indefinitely. What Bloomberg brought to Gracie Mansion wasn't unique business savvy, it was the mindset and skills of a suave, socially liberal dictator. Sometimes, those impulses have been salutary -- e.g., his campaigns against smoking and trans-fats. But in his signature effort to transform an actual, complex, fraught system -- education -- that leadership model has been flunko.
Quoting the ever-quotable Steve Brill, a loud voice in the anti-teacher chorus: "'At Bloomberg, nobody has a contract,' said Mr. Brill, who is writing a book about school reform. 'He built a multibillion media empire in part on the idea that you can quit and he can fire you.'"
Huh? Bloomberg's empire was built on employment-at-will? It's astonishing that the once-rigorous founder (N.B.) of American Lawyer and CourtTV -- legendary for his excoriating marginal notes to writers on their copy -- could say this. To claim that Bloomberg Inc. is founded on such a generic fact of business is like saying that the Roman Empire was based on the fact that humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

But what this quote does reveal, again, is the founder mentality. In this narcissistic mindset, an enterprise or institution isn't just Emerson's "lengthened shadow of a single man," it's nothing more than he.

Anyway, enough Howler-channeling. Let me just close by raising the question of why the Times is so dedicatedly pimping this novel, over many years and in the face of massive contrary evidence. It suggests that they're laying the pipe for a third-party run by Mike for President, no? The Precious has proven to be a flop, and the GOP crazies are abroad in the land, and what are we Manhattanites to do?

NYC's educational reform revealed as horseshit? Quick, sweetie, get me rewrite.

No comments: