Gov. Chris Christie’s pick of an inexperienced 32-year-old Wall Streeter for Camden schools superintendent is not just a dumb move. Dumb moves are a Christie specialty and he is rewarded for them. The selection is contemptuous mockery of two groups–all professional educators who actually believe experience counts for something and the citizens of Camden who clearly have no say in how their schools are run.
It means Christie believes anyone with a pulse can run a school system because school systems are not important. It means the residents of Camden—most of whom are poor and minority—are not valued except as potential customers for the corporatized schools he and his pal George Norcross are planning for them.
Education is not the only profession that is demeaned by a sense that experience and judgment don’t matter. Journalism is another one, and one with which I am familiar. I watched for years while colleagues with extraordinary talent and skills were all but forced out of their positions and replaced by those willing to make less because of their own lack of experience. I know what it’s like to feel expendable.
The state school board’s likely rubber-stamping of Paymon Rouhanifard—oh, yes, and I remember when state school board members were actually independent, thinking men and women—is the inevitable next step in the destruction of public education, a goal of business-oriented politicians like Christie and Cory Booker for decades.
Public schooling is a democratizing, provocative institution that once had the potential for creating imaginative people who knew there was more to civic life than consuming mindless entertainment and the products made elsewhere and marketed here. When it was protected by independent courts—remember them?—the institution and the people who served it were free to teach and free to demand equitable and adequate funding.
By advocating for the state takeover of failing school districts, I inadvertently supported the process that ends with the destruction of public education, at least in the cities. My motivation was this: The state Constitution gave the responsibility to the state through the Legislature.
I had assumed—mistakenly—that state officials, who swear to uphold the New Jersey and national constitutions, would do whatever was needed to ensure the children of Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden and other cities had the resources necessary to overcome the legacy of poverty and racism that created one of the most badly segregated and inequitably funded school systems in the nation.
How could the state escape? It was the last resort. The state had to do the job. It had to face up to the knowledge that inequality created failing schools and extraordinary efforts over the long haul were necessary to repair them.
Was I ever naïve. I did not count on the election of a man willing to promise support for public education when he ran for governor and then pull a bait and switch when he was elected. I did not count on an electorate who could support a bully who referred to teachers as “drug mules” because they supported increased funding for public schools.
I did not count on the cynicism of Democrats like Steve Sweeney, Joe DiVincenzo, Cory Booker, and others who roll over because Christie could help them. I did not count on the assault on the courts, aided from within by one justice who should never have participated in key rulings on the state Supreme Court.
I did not count on the weakness and timidity of organizations like teacher unions that would accept unconscionable contracts—like that in Newark—or abet the privatization of public education in places like Camden.
It’s obvious the first victims of the corporatization of public education will be the cities because power does not rest in the cities. Soon, however, it will be the suburbs as well.
Because that’s where the money is.
There are some voices left, but not many. Don’t expect the main-stream press—a victim itself of flagrant amateurization—to get what’s happening. The chase after the novel and the gee-whiz and the entertaining and the graphic does not allow for thoughtful contemplation of what privatized schools and vouchers will do to the fabric of the nation. It’s difficult to find a splash photograph to mark the beginning of the end of civic life. The false pursuit of balance allows the outrageous to stand so long as some high-paid publicist can spout nonsense in defense of the indefensible.
On Monday morning, an obedient state school board will kick dirt in the faces of public school employees who cherished educational leadership as a profession. The tools of the rich will once again be used against the poor.
So who cares?
Powerful and accurate. Thank you for this.
Once again, Bob Braun gets it right. Thank you!
Outstanding! But with this caveat:
No one was a bigger critic of the Newark teachers contract than me: I spilled a lot of html picking apart what a disaster it was (and now it is nearly guaranteed to become a part of the negotiations in Camden next year – oy).
But even I wouldn’t say that the NTU has gone down in Newark without any fight. Joe Del Grosso issued a blistering attack against Cami Anderson’s administration this past spring, for which I gave him much credit (and for which I caught some grief from some of my readers – fair enough, it’s all part of the gig). And the NEWCaucus represents a new emerging leadership within the NTU similar to Karen Lewis’s CORE in Chicago, or the MORE caucus in NYC. It’s not fair to say the union in Newark has simply rolled over and played dead, even if the merit pay capitulation was a big blunder.
Likewise: in Jersey City, Ronnie Greco has shown a renewed vigor in fighting the creeping reforminess that has infiltrated that city. The Montclair teachers union and its president, Gayl Shepard, have been working with parents to push back against “reforms” imposed by Penny MacCormack, who was recruited by Cerf and went straight from NJDOE to Montclair. Peter Tirri and his local up in Paterson have been resisting merit pay under intense pressure.
And there are many other good people in the locals and at the state level in the NJEA and AFT-NJ who are well aware of these issues and have been fighting against them. They are my hope that a new unionism – again, patterned after Karen Lewis’s CTU – is emerging.
Again, great piece.
You have always been a champion of public education and, thankfully, you have not been silenced. Unfortunately, I fear the only ones who will listen are those of us who believe in the value of public schools.
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Christie chose someone in corporate America for the same reason he chose Cerf. To gut NJ’s educational system like a fish. His cronyies will get all the choice pieces and our children will be left holding fish guts.
Money is in the Suburbs and the Cities…
“Middle Class” suburbs are definitely being targeted..
The States Administration of SFRA has decreased State aid to many Middle Class Districts…Added to this is the additional strain placed on School Districts due to “unfunded mandates ” like the Administrative Costs of the new Tenure Law ,New Student Testing Procedures,and newer State Methods of Evaluating Individual School themselves(that replace NCLB)
Student scores on the new rating systems tests will decrease,and The State will be able to exercise more control over Local Tax Dollars as a result of mandated inefficiencies
Maybe some day, a Dr. Rouhanifard will move on become Superintendent of all Schools in Camden County …
Bob: Thank you for writing the good fight. As a former (working) journalis, I salute you. Sadly, too, you are correct in your reference to the “flagrant amateurization” of our profession…Stay well and in touch.
Bottom line is we have to vote him out this November before he does any more damage. Sad part most of the folks who believe in him are the ones whose children go to private schools or are just not a part of the public educational system. Those who need to vote to stop him probably will not…smh! It’s a Vicious cycle!
[…] [N]ot just a dumb move. Dumb moves are a Christie specialty and he is rewarded for them. The selecti…. […]
Point after point, you speak the truth. I so wish others would embrace the rage we all should feel.
I have been an ardent critic and stood in staunch opposition to the charter, corporate school for profit scheme. I am not prescient and it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out where all this is heading. but alas, I when I ran for the state senate in 2011, both the leadership of the NJEA and the CEA (Camden Education association) supported Donald Norcross. This year I am again running for the 5th district senate seat and this time the NJEA has openly endorsed Donald Norcross. Donald Norcross, remember him? He’s the sponsor of the, so called, Hope Act, written to directly benefit his brother, George Norcross. Even when I confronted George Norcross directly in April of 2013, the democrat legislative team and some of Camden’s school administrators were aghast that I dared confront their “Fuehrer”.
Perhaps we can help ourselves by evaluating political aspirants not by their party label, but rather by a more cerebral standard, weighing their commitment, courage and character. Yes, I am a Republican, but I do not kowtow and the oath I took as an officer in the Marine Corps to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution and the people of these United States is one I hold sacred. I am committed to the right of the American people to determine their own political destiny regardless of their race, gender or economic status. Further, I believe the actions by the legislature are a violation of the Constitutional Rights of Camden’s residents. But, I can’t effectively fight the forces of corruption without the support of the people. If I as a republican can stand up against policies that I believe are not good for the people of the district I seek to represent, but which are advanced by a republican governor, the people must be equally willing to cast away their undying commitment to a political party whose operatives do not have the peoples best interest at heart.
Keith A. Walker
Senate Candidate, Fifth District
Hey, who cares? We have a President with absolutely no experience and YOU voted for him ….TWICE? Who is the stupid one here?
If my children were not already in HS I would simply bail out of NJ. There does not seem to be a way out of the clutches of these business thugs. The people of NJ are the only ones who can vote them out but unless they educate themselves about the NJ politics we don’t stand a chance. George Norcross holds no political office yet has so much power over southern NJ. Does anyone know why? Does anyone care?
It is sad that Corey Booker let him look good. I will vote for Booker, yet am disappointed with his ethics! Christie is like the loud obnoxious bully in high school that people let do what he wanted just to deal with him! Very sad.
I won’t vote for a Republican and Cory Booker is a Republican.
There was a time when you voiced strong opinions against Newark teachers. I have read your book and almost all of your columns over the years. Seeing you at an NTU dinner and reading your current articles gives me hope that someone out there is (forgive me) “stronger than the storm” #ss%ole of a governor that is bullying NJ. How about turning to your great investigative skills and find something in Christie’s past that will bring him down? Nobody in NJ politics is that clean!
You are right. I have changed many of my opinions about teacher unionism and about public education generally. The primary reason was the irrational, bullying and just plain stupid attacks of Chris Christie on teachers and public education. I realized this had gone too far and that way lie just plain nuttiness. Let me quickly add, however, that I consider New Jersey teacher unions to be verging on cowardly in their fear of the inarticulate
bully who works at the Statehouse. Public schools are in danger and, while unions struck in the past for salaries and security, they hide in the basement now when the very future of the enterprise is at stake. Whether it’s a political party or a teacher union, the primary motive of any organization’s leaders is survival and self-perpetuation. Too bad. Thanks for your note.
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