I sent a package to a friend of mine yesterday. He's heading into his first year of teaching and I want to give him all of the support I can. It wasn't until I jumped online and read a column from the paper back home that I realized the package I sent was intellectually racy.
Inside, it held a copy of The Essential 55 by and Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. Both are books that saw me through my first years of teaching and to which I continue to turn. According to the column, though, one of the leaders of my district worries that The Essential 55 could be taken as condescending. Ron Clark is white, his students when he taught in Harlem were mainly African American and Latino.
Apparently, Clark was on the shortlist of keynote speakers at our back-to-school meeting. Last year's speaker was Willard Daggett and the year before that was Erin Gruwell.
According to the column, and I'm not taking any of it as gospel, the district administrator had reservations about Clark speaking because he thought it could be taken as condescending to listen to stories of how Clark took his students from Harlem on horizon-expanding field trips. Clark's efforts to teach etiquette in preparation for a trip to a formal restaurant reportedly found a particular sticking place in the administrator's craw. Lyons implies the administrator believes Clark's speech is condescending because he is a white teacher who was working mainly with students who didn't look like him. I'm not sure what to make of it or how those beliefs would reflect on my own teaching.
Two things are happening here that have me frustrated.
One, I'm none-too-impressed with Lyons' reporting. The column could have been held for next week in order to include the asst. superintendent's side of the story. As it reads now, the column is another in a growing collection of pieces that makes teachers and the school district feel as though they are at odds with the press.
The other element of contention is with the idea that the central office wasn't immediately forthcoming with the details.
Again, all we have to go on is what Lyons saw fit to print, but the idea that the district's spokesman tried to sidestep the issue at fist blush isn't exactly going to make any inroads toward a strong relationship between the district and the press. This is to say nothing of the fact that the column was going to run with or without the administrator's quote, so it makes more sense to be open on the front end than to have to clean up after the parade has passed by.
From both sides, we (community members and district employees) need sincerity over spin.