Cathie Black, publishing maven turned Chancellor of New York City’s public schools, is still just a rookie, explains pal and boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was referring to her latest in a series of gaffes. It was of the triple-dog-cringe variety: at a sit-and-chat a few days ago, Ms. Black bemoaned the overcrowding situation at some local schools, and sniffed “Could we just have some birth control down there? (Lower Manhattan). It would really help us”.
At the same meeting, she anguished over the “Sophie’s Choice” she must face in taking from one school to give to another, apparently neither knowing nor caring that the Sophie heroine in the William Styron novel had to choose which child would die in a concentration camp. The city’s tabloids, the Post and the News, screamed "scandal" from their front pages, The NY Times posted a short blog in the City Desk section with her remarks memorialized via Youtube via the Tribeca Tribune, who scooped all of them.
Less offensive, but still gauche, was her cancellation of a trip to a Staten Island school because of a snowstorm. (Note: She and Bloomberg had decided it was okay for students and teachers to schlep to school in the foot-deep snow that day). But apparently, Black's helicopter was grounded due to poor visibility. And no doubt the chauffeur forgot to put the snow tires on the limo. That is presumably the same limo the NY Times photographed her entering last year, after she’d boasted about taking cabs everywhere.
Black and Bloomberg later issued one of those “sorry if you were offended” apologies. Apparently, she felt comfortable making her clever little remarks because her meeting happened to be with white, middle class Manhattan parents, who she assumed would be comfortable with a little harmless social class dissing. After the brouhaha that erupted when Bloomberg nominated her for the chancellor’s spot last fall, Ms. Black was given a waiver by the NY State Board of Regents as long as she got a minion to do her actual job for her. Sounds like she needs a fulltime PR minder as well. Not only had she no prior professional education experience, she had sent her own children to private schools, from K to 12. She is a private school product herself. If she took any classes in etiquette or tact, she was probably marked "present." They don't flunk you in those kinds of schools.
The whole nomenclature of New York state’s school administration is archaic and off-putting. Regents run things – just like they run things in monarchies. The royal/commoner dichotomy is engraved in institutional stone, separating the elite of the New York public secondary schools from the less academically endowed: high school graduates who take and pass a quota of college prep classes earn “Regents’ Diplomas.” The non-college bound are tossed plain old scraps of paper, known as "local" diplomas. It doesn't matter if they earned straight A's in their trade or technical classes. Someone scraping by with a C average in English lit or a foreign language is deemed better than a shop class genius. To add insult to injury, Regents grads' names are marked with shiny asterisks in commencement programs and the graduation announcements sent to newspapers. Class distinction starts early in the Empire State.
City Schools Chancellors are unilaterally selected by the Mayor. No national search, no promotion from within the ranks. Lord High Chancellor, Lord High Executioner, His Honor of the Forbes Top Ten, late retired Chancellor-cum- education propaganda chief Joel Klein at Fox News. Do you sense the same pattern as I do? Do you smell something rotten in Gotham? They are small circle of elites cushioned in a well-fortified enclave, surrounded by slums, crumbling schools and gang bangers.
Remember: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can do neither, administer.” (Collet Calverley).