Bullshit Rides, Ten Cents
John Stossel, "I Still Want To Teach," Townhall, April 5
Last month, 500 angry schoolteachers assembled outside my office. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was furious that "Stupid in America," a "20/20" show I did on education, suggested that some union teachers were lazy. They shouted that I didn't understand how difficult teaching was, and chanted, "Shame on you!"
It's interesting that Stossel can be found, weekly, among the jetsam of American political thought that is Townhall, but if Dan Rather speaks at a Labor Day celebration it's a federal issue.
Anyhoo, notice that we can't get past the first sentence before Stossel starts having difficulties with the truth. Outside your office? It's the 22-story ABC World Headquarters. So--what?--John Stossel is in a storefront at street level? Five hundred union demonstrators (the union says 1000, take your pick) just went roaming through the corridors at ABC? What?
And if your column is just that much better by making the attack personal, why not double down and claim the uproar is over you accusing teachers of laziness? Nevermind the UFT site has a 22-page, item-by-item rebuttal (.pdf file) of that sordid show of yours; nevermind that the closest you came to accusing anybody of "laziness" was the misrepresentation of classroom hours/day in the contract, which would include everybody. not a selected few.
Randi Weingarten, head of New York City's union, took the microphone and hollered, "Just teach for a week!" She said I could select from many schools. "We got high schools, we got elementary schools, we got junior high schools!"
I accepted. I even said I'd let the union pick the school. I thought I'd learn more about how difficult teaching is. Above all, it was a chance to get our cameras into schools -- something the N.Y. bureaucracy had forbidden -- so we could show you what was really going on.
Now, here's a little bit of insider information for you--teachers can't just throw open the doors of their classrooms and let news cameras in. It's likely whoever does the real work at 20/20 clued Stossel in on this back when he was trying to set up NYC schools like he managed to do with the DC schools. The lesson here being that New York's administrators are a bit more savvy than their counterparts in the nation's capitol.
Regardless, what does getting your cameras inside have to do with teaching a class for a week? Why should that be a part of the deal?
Like most of our dealings with the union, nothing was easy. It took weeks of phone calls to make any sort of progress. I suspect this will not surprise public-school parents.
And I suspect it wouldn't surprise any teevee producers, either. That rally outside "your office" was exactly four weeks before your column. Is that an inordinate amount of time to arrange something like this? Can I drop by your house with a camera crew tomorrow at 2, Johnny?
Finally, the union picked a school: Beacon High. Unfortunately, it's not a typical public school -- it's "special." Beacon doesn't have the full incentives or flexibility of a private school: It can't go out of business, and it is burdened by bureaucratic rules and a union contract. But Beacon offers a limited form of what the union opposes: school choice. As with a private school, you don't have to go there, and they don't have to take you. Applicants must submit portfolios, and if too few chose Beacon, it wouldn't be able to remain special. To remain what it is, it must compete.
Gee, however could it have taken weeks to make progress negotiating with John Stossel? Offered a mutually-agreed-upon selection of school, he says, "No, no, you make the choice," then he bitches about the choice.
What a remarkably inept piece of legerdemain this is. Forget for a moment whether New York City schools were trying to shuttle the Mustache Express to a "special" school--they're entitled, after he sought out the worst of the city's schools for his "student in the street" interviews. Check out the libertoonian language there, and tell me the value of words which mean something different depending on who you aim them at. Let's take it from the top:
The Beacon School was founded in 1993 by two public school educators. It provides an inquiry-based curriculum focusing on technology and the arts, and says its standards exceed New York State requirements.
Now, I don't know how many "special" schools there are in New York City. It's enough so that there's at least one 256-page paperback offering to help parents choose the best public high schools. And I know that poor bureaucratic-laden, union-infested NYC was the first school district in the nation to offer these "limited choice" schools the education establishment seems to hate so much. So perhaps we can put that one to bed: teachers unions have never opposed school choice; they oppose transferring public monies to private schools.
I'm always amused by the easy libertarian notion of "bureaucracy". Anyone who's ever worked for a large corporation or shopped at a department store knows that bureaucracy is not the sole province of governments; the libertarian position merely voices a preference for jumping through hoops held in private hands. But the really curious thing about the above is how at the beginning of the paragraph Beacon School "doesn't have to compete", while at the end it must compete or go out of business.
So what, exactly, could be the problem with taking up the offer of Beacon? Stossel hand-selected the private academies he touted as success stories.
Recently classes of Beacon students took field trips to France, South Africa, and tellingly, Venezuela and Cuba.
Tellingly, Venezuela and Cuba. Sorry, the free marketplace of ideas has closed.
Beacon has rooms filled with computers, students learn to do PowerPoint demonstrations, and a class I watched had two teachers (one a student-teacher) for 24 students. Ninety percent of Beacon's students graduate, while the average graduation rate for New York City public schools is only 53 percent.
This is a funny objection from the guy who claims that dollars spent and class sizes didn't matter. And yes, Beacon, as a college-prep specialty retailer, has a higher than average graduation rate. So do private schools which, unlike their public "competitors", simply reject students who aren't gonna make the grade.
I guess they didn't want me to look at a normal public school.
And my guess is they don't want anything whatsoever to do with your lyin' ass, and the challenge for you to teach a class, any class mutually chosen, was to show your ass up. Which it did.
I prepped for my history classes. We had more meetings. The school principal had me sit in on a class with a "superstar" teacher. It was supposed to be a history class, but he seemed to teach "victimhood in racist America." On the class door he posted a New York Times column denouncing the president for spending too much money on war. Can we say "left-wing"?
Can we say, "so fucking what?" Maybe you should have paid attention during the lecture on racism; you might have learned something about US history our "educational bureaucracy" keeps from probably 85% of public school students because the truth is "controversial". As for the president and his war spending, that's currently denounced by 2/3 of your fellow citizens, Mr. Reporter. And his general spending practices have been roundly denounced by the right wing that enacted them in the first place.
Then there were more meetings. Finally, four days before what was supposed to be my first day of class, they canceled. Officially, "they" were the public school administrators who said it might be "disruptive" and that it might "set a precedent" that would open their doors to other reporters.
But, unofficially, "they" were union officials who were afraid you'd show them up? Right.
Too bad. Letting cameras into schools would be a good thing. Taxpayers might finally get to see how more than $200,000 per classroom of their money was being spent.
This, by the way, is either an example of how freely Stossel spreads his corporate apologist fertilizer or an example of the dire straits our math education is in. He's made this claim on a national basis--$10,000 per pupil times an imaginary class of 20 equals a $200,000 classroom. But that twenty is purely arbitrary, and $10,000 is high even for New York City, which spends $9300 per pupil in general education; the average per pupil is $11,172 because the average per special education pupil is $32,924. (In case this post engenders another visit from the Stosselians, the link is here.)
Most private schools bear none of the costs of educating students with disabilites. Religious schools are legally exempt from the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many private schools which do accept some special education students rely on the public schools for specialized instruction. Public schools, of course, must spend whatever it takes to educate every student presented to them. I await the explanation of how private schools, with their track record of rejecting anyone who presents a problem, will not only deal with these students but do so at less cost to taxpayers. By using unqualified, non-union instructors, perhaps?
There really are no words for the hubris of a mediocre teevee talent willing to trash public education for ratings points, for the mustachioed defender of the Poor Forlorn Taxpayer who thinks the cost of Bush's wars is out of bounds. But at a time when the ceiling is about to fall on those who've refused to see the stupidity of the anti-public education agenda of the last five years, I hope one can be forgiven for a brief fantasy of the 20/20 set crashing down on an investigative reporter, one who'll never know that the minimum wage, non-union stagehands hired to cut costs forgot to anchor the thing to the stage.