Friday, August 19, 2011

The End of Free Speech? The Destructive Consequence of Creating a

The End of Free Speech? The Destructive Consequence of Creating a
“Surveillance State” in the New York Public Schools

Mark Naison

Last spring, a former Bronx teacher named Janet Mayer published a
wonderful book about her experiences called As Bad As They Say: Three
Decades of Teaching in Bronx Schools. Most of the book was a tribute
to the heroic students she had taught at Grace Dodge High School in the
Bronx, who overcame incredible obstacles to achieve their goals; the
last chapter was a devastating critique of “No Child Left Behind”,
“Race to the Top” and Mayoral Control of Schools in New York City.

Teachers at Grace Dodge High School, whose unsung labors were
honored, along with Dodge students, in Mayer’s book, tried to organize
a book party for As Bad as They Say. . Their efforts were vetoed by the
principal, who was afraid that she and the school, would face
retaliation from DOE officials if the Dodge community gave public
recognition to a book which was critical of DOE policies

Such is the state of Free Speech in the era of Mayor Control of New
York’s public schools.

But wait as minute you say. Isn’t the principal a member of a union?
Aren’t the teachers? Won’t their unions support them if they hold a
public event which takes a position critical of DOE policies,
especially if it is done in a way that allow for expression of
conflicting opinions?

The answer, unfortunately is “No!”

In the last six years, an atmosphere of intimidation has been created
in the New York City public schools, as the Department of Education, in
the name of “accountability,” has created what amounts to a
Surveillance State, if not an actual Police State, in which every
teacher, school and principal, are being rated, and evaluated on the
basis of student test scores.

Instead of spies and informers, the DOE has spent hundreds of millions
of dollars on information systems and consultants, which track student
performance on the growing number of standardized tests the schools are
being deluged with.

And these evaluations are not just informational, Based on the
information accumulated, scores of schools have been closed,
principals removed, and thousands of teachers reassigned, often against
the protests of students, parents and community members in the schools
targeted for such action.

These actions, and the arrogant, dictatorial spirit with which they
have been enforced, have placed teachers and administrators under
incredible stress, especially those working in schools which serve
immigrants and children of the poor. With the threat of school
closings and reassignment-- if not actual loss of employment-- hanging
over their head, and with Big Brother Style Data systems quantifying
every minute variation on every test they administer, few teachers or
principals dare to question the overall policies which have swept
creativity, initiative, and critical thinking out of their classrooms.
The result is that the Department of Education, having smothered all
internal opposition, has had carte blanche to spend expend
extraordinary sums of money on consultants, data systems, and hiring of
new administrators, that could have been used to reduce class size
throughout the system

Now, after six years of Mayoral Control, the public is finally
waking up to how democracy has been smothered in the nation’s largest
public school system, and how favored groups ( charter school
administrators, test companies, information system providers) have been
allowed to cash in during the creation of the DOE’s Surveillance State.

The gloves are off. All important stakeholders- teachers,
students, parents, community leaders- must fight to insure that the
free exchange of ideas, inside the classroom and out, is encouraged in
the New York City public schools, and that a Police State atmosphere
imposed in the name of “accountability” is an unacceptable violation of
our liberties, and a terrible example to provide to our youth

Mark Naison
August 18, 2011

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