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?