Principal: Case of Red Menace or Red Herring?

Aug 7, 2017 by

Just when the Department of Education seemed over its head in challenges and yanked in every direction trying to balance the perennial mandate of damage control with the compulsory provision of quality education, an investigation of an antiquated type, that was either unwarranted in the first place or should have been called off a long time ago, has set the DOE’s frantic and frivolous gears in motion and given it something to do.

Is the principal of Park Slope Collegiate School a red menace?  She she a Communist Party organizer? If so, is she doing this on company time, thereby siphoning precious moments when she could otherwise be engaged in more profitable authorized activities, such as counting the staples on teachers’ weekly bulletin board displays.

My gut is that the whole matter is a red herring.

But there’s no doubt that educators are generally far more likely now to wear their political ideology on their sleeves than they were in the past. When I was a student in a “Problems of American Democracy” class in the late 60s, there was robust, rip-roaring clashes of views about the Vietnam war that was raging at the time, but nobody could tell which side the teacher leading the class was on.

But current events and uninhibited airing of one’s interpretation of them have wormed their way into academic contexts where they don’t belong.  No principal or other staff member has any business insinuating, or making discernible to students their own political orientation and affiliation, whether they be Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian or Communist.

It makes staff and students uneasy, stifles independent thought and puts pressure on them to conform to expectations of others. Students are still too immature to know better than to unselectively look up to principals as role models. Teachers will be wary to depart from the principal’s set of biases, because those school “leaders” are their rating officers.

But the argument is not so clear-cut. Many educators believe that it is inherent in their responsibility to expose students to certain concepts, some touching on values of right and wrong, to to feel free to openly discuss them. They feel that it is relevant as much to sciences as humanities and they also feel that it is desirable, necessary and inevitable to relate these values to various intellectual systems, including governance.

That may pave the way to capitalism and communism and others. Educators ( which includes some principals) may insist that certain ideals and ideas, such as social justice, climate change and income-equality should be embedded in all instruction and that instruction is not limited to the classroom. Identification of particular  movements, cults, faiths and “isms” is just a matter of taste.

Maybe that’s what happened in Park Slope.

Still, if the principal is advocating or proselytizing, directly or by subtle yet unmistakable means, what is in effect a religion, she should be asked to stop. Can’t be such a big deal.

But the investigation has been dragging out for an eternity, which means the DOE is taking its usual shortcuts. Perhaps there are more facts than appeared in the recent Daily News blurb.

The principal is defending herself by going on the attack. The New York Civil Liberties Union is demanding that the DOE butt out, but the indefatigable Agency replied that it is “duty-bound” to persist because the principal’s alleged actions violate departmental policy.

The whole affair is ridiculous. But if it awakens in the DOE a sense of duty, howsoever misplaced and misapplied, then indeed something that nobody imagined to be possible has happened.

Ron Isaac

 

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