July 18, 2001
A Different Drummer/Toogood Reports
New York Post reporters Carl Campanile and Stefan Friedman just got this year's New-York-City-illiterate-teacher "scoop." Such stories are a staple of New York journalism, one that a smart education reporter not working for the New York Times -- where they are unofficially banned -- will return to annually.
This year's exhibit comes from an angry Brooklyn high school teacher, Sunny Liang, who wrote to the Post to complain of its portrayal of city public school teachers. Liang, who immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1985, is presently teaching kids who failed last year's academic work, in summer school.
"Sunny Liang, a 10-year veteran of Fort Hamilton HS, has sent three letters to The Post, complaining about low teacher salaries, poor student attendance and lack of parental involvement.
"But there's one major problem with his arguments: They were all written incoherently.
"Some lowlights from the letters:
"'Only if our society realize that there are so many factors contributing to a student's test score, then teachers will be willing to take the blam game. Who is to blam when students don't do homeworks? who is to blam when pareants don't care to come to the teacher pareant conference?"
"In one letter, Liang even misspelled the course he teaches: 'socail studies.'
"The remarkable thing about Liang is that he passed the state licensing exams that thousands of other teachers fail. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has said the tests are not difficult.
The certification tests, in fact, are deliberately written on a simpler level than the SAT I that high school kids take as part of their college application process. Excepting, that is, high school kids applying to the City University of New York (CUNY) system, which requires only a New York City high school diploma for admission. And every year, the already dumbed-down New York State certification test is dumbed down further by a "cultural bias" committee, which removes questions that black and Hispanic testees too often answer incorrectly.
A few years ago, the city Board of Education announced that it was going to fire thousands of teachers who had flunked the certification exam three times or more. One "educator" had flunked 24 times. However, the failures were virtually all black and Hispanic. Race activists, screaming racism, demanded that the incompetents all be retained. And so they were.
If there is one iron law of education, it is that you cannot teach material that you have not yourself mastered.
For over thirty years, the New York City schools have been gripped in a vicious cycle of escalating racism and cognitive decline. Black and Hispanic activists demand that the schools be cleansed of white teachers; the additional illiterate, black and Hispanic "teachers" cause academic declines, leading to renewed calls for more incompetent blacks and Hispanics. The new hires portray themselves as "role models" for "students of color," and terrorize white teachers. The new system was known as "community control."
Beginning in the 1970s, white parents who removed their children from public schools, or fled the city altogether in the face of a belligerent, black racism that school authorities either yielded to or actively supported, were damned as racists, through the new term, "white flight."
The City University of New York (CUNY), was also destroyed. Once the nation's most rigorous system of higher education, CUNY's Harlem City College campus, had been from circa 1915-1964, tougher to gain admittance to and to graduate from than Harvard. CUNY provided the city with the nation's most brilliant corps of public school teachers.
(Many city public school teachers were intellectually superior to most college professors. The teachers had pursued academic careers, but as Howard M. Sachar writes in A History of the Jews in America, most were until circa 1950 barred from professorships, by the then reigning anti-Semitism.)
In the spring of 1969, the first group of affirmative action admits to City College demanded that all academic standards be jettisoned. And so they were.
In 1970, CUNY began routinely admitting functional illiterates, who were provided with "remedial" education and increasingly dumbed-down, "college-level" courses. CUNY's new system was known as "open admissions."
Many of the illiterates saw life as a package of entitlements: graduation from high school, admission to, and graduation from CUNY, and then lifetime positions as city teachers. They saw themselves as the owners of the city's black and Hispanic children.
According to the United Federation of Teachers, over eighty percent of the city's public school teachers are CUNY graduates. And yet, the State of New York has threatened, since the late-1990s, to shut down all of CUNY's teacher education programs. At the time, many of the programs' graduates had passing rates on the New York State teacher certification examination of under 40 percent. (The programs have since somehow boosted their graduation rates to a whopping 50 percent.) By contrast, graduates of teacher ed programs at State University of New York (SUNY) campuses, have long had 95 percent passing rates on state teacher certification exams.
Instead of being embarrassed by CUNY's failure, CUNY apartheidists, like "civil rights attorney," Ronald McGuire, whose screeds are distributed in CUNY department offices, have damned SUNY for its success, because its students are predominantly white.
For the past thirty-odd years, New York City schools have also continually dumbed down their curricula. Part of this has been the result of hiring people who cannot teach grade-level curricula. Adding insult to injury, educators have inflicted on students "self-esteem" pedagogy, dumbed-down instructional materials, and in the case of Hispanic students, "bilingual education" taught often by teachers who know no English. The terms "ebonics" and "Spanglish" refer to the fruits of this anti-pedagogy.
Once bright, even brilliant graduates of the city's public college campuses filled poor and working-class children of all races with wonder, as they taught them physics, history, poetry, chemistry ... Some of the best of those students followed in their teachers' footsteps.
For the past thirty-odd years, the incompetents who have taken over the city's public schools have filled their charges' heads with the notion that "caucasians" are responsible for all of their problems.
A couple of years ago, The Wave, the local paper for the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, published a "poem" -- really just a list of rhetorical questions, written by a black second or third-grader. The poem was submitted by the boy's teacher in predominantly-black Far Rockaway, one of the nation's most violent, racist, slums. One question asked, "Why do Americans hate Black Americans?"
In 1990, while working as a foster-care worker with abused and neglected children, I was taking one of my kids, Latoya, "home" to her East New York, Brooklyn, foster home. Spying her third-grade teacher in our subway car, Latoya sought to introduce us. Silently glaring at me, the woman ignored the introduction.
A few weeks later, at her foster home, I found a spelling bee in Latoya's book bag. The teacher -- the woman from the train -- had given her an "A," for spelling 19 out of 20 words correctly. Except that Latoya had only spelled 13 words correctly, and thus deserved only a "D." How was she ever going to improve, if her teacher lied to her about her progress, or was too incompetent to measure it?
Black racism is so pervasive in today's New York, that most black civilians feel the same as black "educators." Fairly typical, I believe, are the sentiments expressed by Brooklynite Yahli Eady, a successful, Manhattan advertising sales manager.
Eady, a CUNY graduate in her late 40s says, "You have to have open admissions" for the "opportunities" it provides, even though she is clearly bright enough to have attended CUNY without open admissions. Eady, who has sent her children to Afrocentric and Catholic private schools, also insists, "You have to have community control." At the same time, citing the lack of certified teachers in predominantly black schools, she refuses to send her children to public schools. But she will not acknowledge the connection between community control and failing schools. Indeed, during our last conversation, she acted as though I were somehow personally at fault for the lack of quality public schools: "You tell me, why I pay taxes, but I can't send my kids to the public schools!"
Maybe Yahli Eady is right; maybe I'm the problem. I caused New York City's public schools to fail.
Meanwhile, Sunny Liang insists, "It's just my personality. Sometimes, I just get overexcited, don't read over my work, and my shortcomings come out. But as far as my own flaws go, my own writing doesn't reflect how I teach in the classroom."
Progressive pedagogues have long complained that facility in spelling is the result of unimaginative, "rote memorization." They have even gone so far as to suggest that an inability to spell correctly, or do well on tests, is a sign of wisdom and creativity.
If you think this story is unique to New York, think again.
[The writer is a graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center.]