Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More Stossel Angst

Over at Edwize, one of the sharpest critics anywhere of the goofy stuff that goes on within public education, the UFT's Leo Casey calls "preposterous" the notion advanced here yesterday that the union would give a prestigious award to 20/20 television journalist John Stossel. Indeed, many UFT members, unionists, and progressive educators elsewhere found it equally preposterous when the union awarded its coveted John Dewey award to Diane Ravitch last year. Ravitch, who has inspired a generation of activists and reformers with her writing, has done more to question the aftermath of Dewey's work and ideas than just about anyone.

Stossel, if you remember, caused an uproar last Friday night on 20/20 (ABC) when he gave tests to rich suburban New Jersey kids and found they got their clocks cleaned by their counterparts overseas. To the chagrin of many dues-paying teachers nationwide, Stossel suggested in his report that the teachers unions and the public education monopoly were a huge part of the problem.

How do these Internet rumors get started? One reader notes it appears they started with Stossel himself, in this email to viewers. Stossel writes:

My videos are so popular in schools that last summer the
New York City teachers union said it wanted to give me its "highest award." Past
honorees include Mario Cuomo, Shirley Chisolm, Charles Schumer … The union also
asked me to speak at its February conference. I wonder what the union will think
about that after it sees what Friday's special says about its union rules. I
assume it wouldn't be so small-minded as to withdraw its invitation to me.

Casey is known for writing excruciatingly long (but often passionate and well-informed) diatribes on the union's blog, so it isn't clear why he didn't choose to label as "preposterous" the notion that the UFT wanted to have Stossel come and fire up its rank-and-file at a conference next month. It is certainly possible that Stossel is lying about his past conversations with UFT officials, but it could also be a case where some UFT honcho had a bit too much pinot grigio at some Manhattan function or other and started gushing to Stossel about how sexy his 1977 mustache is, and how it would be great if they could do more "collaborating" together for the good of Gotham's children.

The Chalkboard (who if asked by his children whether hallucinogens were a part of his past will deny, deny, deny) agrees with Casey on many of the points he makes in the Edwize post, particularly what happens when you park a camera outside a city high school and invite kids to cut loose. It doesn't make what the kids are saying wrong, but it certainly creates a circus-like atmosphere that doesn't always help the parents understand what is going on. The Chalkboard already noted some of the shortcomings in the 20/20 style of reporting here.

Read Casey's post here, along with the comments from union members attached to it, some of which are quite interesting, as is usually the case.

UPDATE: The Chalkboard happens to be a huge fan of Ravitch and never found her award to be as preposterous as some who actually prime the UFT's pump with their dues. (See this 2000 review I wrote of her book, Left Back.) And for those who wish to find out more information about how the UFT selects its John Dewey Award than even Mrs. Dewey would care to know, check back to the update on EdWize.

UPDATEII: Thanks to the folks at EdWize for noticing that Stossel has since taken his email referenced above down from the site. They suggest, and The Chalkboard agrees, that it is worth checking a Google cache (I'm currently pretending I even know what that means, just click on the colored part folks!) to see his actual UFT email.

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