Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘education’

Thoughts on Mayor Adrian Fenty

June 19, 2007 · Leave a Comment


DC’s 6th Mayor, Adrian Fenty

Let me preface this post by admitting the following: I am (relatively) willfully ignorant when it comes to local DC politics. I embody the transient white yuppy who drives up rental prices in gentrified…er… transitioning neighborhoods, doesn’t attend neighborhood meetings, and doesn’t vote (although I foolishly registered after renewing my license and immediately received jury summons… rookie mistake!)

I don’t read the Examiner, and I certainly don’t read the Currant or whatever the crappy Dupont paper is called. I’ll read the City Paper (which is really well done) while eating at Subway, and will even read the Washington Blade (for sheer amusement) while at Health Bar… which only propagates the “is Jon gay?” speculation.

My two saving graces are the Washington Post and DCist. Without them I wouldn’t have the requisite basic information to be entitled to any sort of opinion on how this city is run. And yes, I am a strong believer that one must first be informed to be entitled to an opinion.

Now, the Post has been very measured in its reporting on Fenty up until this week. He came into office with youth, energy and boundless ambition. Much was made of his self-styling after Bloomberg, and his intention to take executive control over the school district a la Villaragosa. WaPo, from my perspective, seemed perfectly comfortable admiring his command-and-control style and reporting on his high-visibility, without delving too deeply into any hard criticisms. (Note: Links not provided due to laziness)

Last week the gloves came off when Fenty officially took control of the schools and named a government outsider (Michelle Rhee) as Chancellor of the system. From all accounts, Rhee is an all-star in the non-profit sector. But, 1) she has virtually no experience in government administration 2) she’s not Black and 3) she was selected by Fenty in relative secrecy.

For me, 1) is probably a good thing; 2) could be a stumbling block in this city (see: Gallaudet University) and 3) is a who cares, especially if you’re making concessions to executive authority (he’s “the decision maker… he makes the decisions.”) Ha.

Now, the former editor-in-chief of DCist seemed skeptical of Fenty’s philosophy of reform, as embodied by his recent appointments in positions of leadership. He writes:

The revitalization and reform work is, of course, in addition to Fenty’s normal responsibilities, his barnstorming schedule of public appearances, and other important initiatives like crime reduction and the work to get a voting rights bill through Congress. Clearly it’s more than one man can handle, which means that the Mayor must rely on his staff to pick up much of the load and to see through many of the ambitious changes he seeks.

Certainly, Fenty is smart to focus talent where it’s needed most, but the strategy of finding administrators with a “sense of urgency,” as Dan Tangherlini puts it, quickly runs into difficulty. On the one hand, supremely talented men and women are unlikely to stay around long. Lew, and Rhee, and Tangherlini (and Fenty for that matter) will almost assuredly hold their posts for under a decade, and probably less than that. If reforms are dependent upon the individuals who hold leadership posts, then reform will be fleeting.

As I read this, I couldn’t decide if this was a valid assumption or not. Can’t reformers be tornadoes that sweep through an organization and rip out its systemic flaws?

For instance: Isn’t there something to be said about establishing a precedent of strong leadership? Don’t business organizations hire outside consultants all of the time to analyze and restructure their hierarchies and procedures?

Some of the other points I found salient, such as reforming the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs instead of hiring someone who is familiar with how to grease the wheels. But for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel, as well reported as the piece was, that it was needless griping. Strong organizational reform always occurs from the top-down, and that’s what Fenty is trying to accomplish. I applaud him for it.

PS

My step-mom asked me to dispel the myth that civil servants “can’t be fired.” Yes, they can be fired, it just takes a long and intensive process of documenting incompetence. She says that the best managers within bureaucracies take the time to do this (instead of just shuffling people from department to department), and that it’s this shuffling around at the low- and mid-levels that you should be concerned about (not at the top, where there is the most visibility and transparency). So there.

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What’s the Matter With Boys?

June 3, 2007 · Leave a Comment


Oh my god he’s wearing a pirate shirt. Damn you Captain Jack Sparrow!

One of the media trends I’ve noticed working in education is the perceived “crisis” amongst boys in today’s society. We have a landmark piece of legislation called “No Child Left Behind” which puts greater attention on those children who are at risk of being “left behind” in the classroom. And the media has collectively decided that group of greatest concern is “boys.”

I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me first say, while the Nietzsche/Ayn Rand side of me chafes at the impulse to achieve universal mediocrity at the expense of excellence, I am more closely aligned with the idea of a government providing a safety net for all its people, even if it means a myopic and obsessive focus on the lowest common denominator.

Unfortunately, it is the scare tactics of “A Nation at Risk” that speaks to policymakers and encourages them to properly address and fund any program, especially when you’re talking about education at the federal level. “A Nation at Risk” (Reagan’s term) pitted US students (implicitly, the future US workforce) in a cold-war context against Russian students. Comparative math and science scores scare (or as I like to contextualize it, “introduce a knowledge gap in the minds of”) policymakers, who then take appropriate measures in the name of “competition.” This changed curriculum, but not necessarily pedagogy, and today you still see a huge distribution and gaps amongst demographic groups in terms of educational outcomes.

President Bush makes a similar case, although his approach is slightly more nuanced. He feeds off of Freidman’s The World is Flat to make our competitive enemy the entire Asian continent. Nothing like the nebulous term “globalization” to get a Republican’s pulse ticking.

Mr. Bush has also made a play at the guilty liberal conscience with what he calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Meaning, if you accept the status quo, you are a “soft” bigot. Who’s going to argue with that? Whoever came up with that phrase deserves a medal. Because, despite Bush’s record low approval ratings, NCLB continues to be his diamond in the rough in the domestic realm.

Now, back to the “boy crisis”: it’s been reported on ad naseum by the major weeklies. Boys exhibit behavioral problems in the classroom; boys’ preferred methods to learn and socialize are being actively ignored; ADD and learning disabilities are over-diagnosed; the formative importance of recess is being neglected; boys are pursuing and attaining higher-education at a much lower rate than girls; and boys are failing and dropping out at a much higher rate than girls.

Reading between the lines, the “boy crisis,” as positioned in these articles, is implicitly to blame on the feminist movement. According to this argument, the over-abundance of females in the education profession actively encourages female achievement. The lack of male role models in this environment is therefore damaging to boys.

This attitude of reverse discrimination has permeated our greater understanding of gender roles in contemporary society. Yesterday the Washington Post ran a story “What Does It Mean to Be Manly?”:

…while catching up with or surpassing men at school and at their first jobs, young women have dumped much of the feminine to embrace the masculine traits that they think represent success.

This has left some young men wondering what it means these days to be a guy. Should they, can they, explore their softer sides in a country that places less value on the feminine than ever before?

(…)

“In trying to empower the girls,” Sandborn says, “we implicitly sent a message that the guys were not as good. Women succeeded in creating positive new roles for themselves. What we haven’t come up with is what a positive image of a man would be.”

Is this really a necessity? I’m no expert on identity, but it seems the less discriminated you are for your outward appearance and characteristics, the less concerned you are with shaping and defining yourself by them. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?

If “the masculine traits that represent success” can no longer be gender defined as masculine or feminine, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that moving toward MLK’s “content of your character” ideal? Why is this perceived as a crisis?

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