Friday, April 25

It Ain't The School, It's The Principal Of The Thing

SO my Poor Wife took me out to eat last night, which is a rarity for us, because...oh, wait, I'm sorry, but that just reminded me of last night's News. At some point after the local hairdos decided the godawful US economy was actual news--in their defense they were awfully busy fluffing Tax Protesting Wealthy People most of last year--and presentable news at that (they're not the same thing), we started getting...wait, I forgot that they actually did cover bad economic news last year, viz., the rising cost of the petrol they needed for their suburban Panzers, just as the current round has been sparked by what has or may yet happen to their mortgages. We like to be fair. Anyway, since the point where it has become permissible for people making something between Above Average and Exorbitant salaries for reading at a High School Level While Telegenic to knowingly nod their coifs at the plight of the Typical Working Man we've gotten all sorts of Focus stories, and, frankly, even though I find these more acceptable politically, and epistemologically, than the anti-tax crap, and lots more than the nightly celebrity and electronic gizmo parade, it quickly reduces to the same flavorless gruel. So last night they're talking about the toll a slumping economy is having on local restaurants. And boy was I ever glad my recent surgery wasn't abdominal as David Barris led off with, "Indianapolis is a city known for its great restaurants."

And if you know anything about Indianapolis you didn't get from the New York Times you are no doubt cursing me right now for not warning you about drinking anything before you read that. That is the single most dishonest comment I have ever heard broadcast, and that includes all defenses of George W. Bush's intellect.   And it's only the relative size of the market here that prevents it from bringing down the entire legal edifice surrounding the First Amendment. Indianapolis is absolutely, without question, empirically demonstrably the worst restaurant town of any city with potable water. Honestly, the Chamber of Commerce would have blushed to say that.

And then, as if to prove the point, we discussed the effect of Our Newly Rotten Economy with the manager of The Old Spaghetti Factory™  (Now Offering Pastabilities!).  Which is just one of the many great Indianapolis restaurants that envious other cities have copied.

And the guy says that his business is down, yes, but it'll survive. But he has friends who work in other concepts which have closed down. Other Fucking Concepts! This is why I've spent my life avoiding business people.

What was I going on about? Oh, so we're having a semi-pleasant evening dining on Chinese concepts, and my Poor Wife says she's forgotten to tell me the story about her Principal.

This will dovetail nicely with Roy's discussion of this George Eff Will shite (caution: George Eff Will shite). In comments mere mortal dispenses with the column, and Jay B. dispenses with Will.

Now, my Poor Wife has worked for so many principals in her career that we've lost count, but you can count the good ones on the left hand of a punch-press operator. The current one is not one of them. And she tells me that he's been transferred to another high school for next year, and he's already spending all of his time over there. Not that anyone particularly misses him, or would, unless they're in the habit of checking the office where he spends all his time. This sort of shuffling is common (and indicative of one really big problem with the public schools, one which is caused by George Eff Will, the meddlesomeness of anti-public school rightists and their business model solution for everything.  Or, rather, everything except failing banks.); this will be the third-straight principal of her school with a three-year tenure, and, like the other two, he'll leave a damp chair and the occasional unintentionally humorous email.

What he's taking to the new place is the modern disorder which insists that such people are not administrators, managers, or facilitators, but entrepreneurs. And, as you know, an entrepreneur is a guy who shows he earns his disproportionate recompense by firing some of the people who do the real work and leaving the rest to pick up the slack. And this is, reportedly, exactly what he's done, having already gathered together the staff and told them they'll each need to reapply for the jobs they currently hold, as he's rumored to be about to do with the faculty.

Which, of course, would violate any number of union rules, which is not exactly a new practice for the current administration of Indianapolis Public Schools (which imagined, just last year, that it could simply order teachers in two elementary schools to work all year, without even addressing pay or vacation issues), and which we'll get to in a moment. But first, who is it among the rabidly anti-unionists out there who imagines this is a good idea? It can't be anyone who's ever actually worked for a living, unless you want to count Jack Welch. It's a conceit of the idly wealthy, the inherited money operator of a string of dry-cleaning establishments, or the sinecured Washington Post comic-intellectual. Do things sometimes need a good shaking, a well-considered streamling, a sad reduction? Frequently. Does indiscriminately terrorizing every last employee accomplish good things? What does common sense say? I'm not sure where the idea that people work better when they're afraid of termination every hour of the day comes from, but I suggest it comes from people who want them to volunteer to work overtime without pay, or else the trainers of fighting dogs. Ditto the idea that the world is chockablock with better qualified people just waiting to take the jobs of anyone displaying insufficient obeisance. It's curious that in a society so enamored of its own militarism that this point should be lost. Grant didn't fire half the Army of the Potomac, or make every artillerist reapply for his job; he did what he was supposed to do and put their skills to better use. No doubt there are leaders out there who can beat your'n with his'n and hisn' with your'n. No doubt there are people out there with the individual teaching talent to improve a classroom or a schoolhouse worth of test scores. And no doubt they are exceedingly rare.   When did we exempt leaders from getting the most out of their charges?  (I believe the answer is "when Reagan took office".)

As for the unions--I'm not conversant with the contents of the IPS collective bargaining agreement, which the World's Third Worst State Legislature™ gelded a few years back (and only IPS's, by the way; that's America, toots), and at this point it remains a rumor (but from a knowledgeable source) that teachers are next on the list--there is certainly some amount of protection accorded by seniority, though it's not absolute. But even if there were none, who's stepping into that newly-cleared-of-deadwood verge? And who decides? Some bozo who can't be found in his own school half the time, but who knows how to play politics? That sounds like a solution, I suppose, if you don't know the first thing about it. Or if you're the sort who imagines wearing self-consciously anachronistic neckwear is a contribution to American letters.


heydave said...

It's just a good thing that we're living in the era of self-proclaimed responsible government.

Kathy said...

Its a pity "NCLB" didn't go after the Administrator's as severely as they did the students & children.

Kathy said...

Pshaw! I meant the students & teachers.

Mark Smeraldi said...

When will we start running investment banking like a business?

R. Porrofatto said...

Excellent as usual.
This sort of shuffling is common (and indicative of one really big problem with the public schools...

As you probably know, Dr. Laurence Peter, in his eponymous Principle, called this the lateral arabesque. It's no surprise that Dr. Peter's familiarity with Education hierarchies is what inspired him to write about incompetence in the first place.