Political Correctness And Let My People Learn
HENRY J. STERN
For some time, we have been concerned with what appears to be a lack of interest in the education of our city’s academically advanced students. When special needs are provided for, the gifted often appear to be the last to be helped.
The so-called “progressive education” philosophy of, say, Carmen Farina, retiring Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, is that all children are gifted in one way or another and that it is inequitable to single out one particular group for special treatment. Under this view of education, which is shared by many, protracted bilingual and special education are desirable, but to do anything much for the intellectually gifted smacks of elitism and favoritism, with a whiff of racism.
We take a particular interest in this subject in the way that people tend to fight a certain disease because a member of the family suffered from it, or support a cause because someone close to them was killed, with a gun or by a drunken driver. When I was very young (5), the authorities at PS 152M, believed I was gifted. What they did had a significant impact on little me and later on big me.
It is embarrassing to write about that. If I said that I had a serious illness or was physically handicapped (now challenged), people would say how splendid it was that I overcame the disability. But to say I was precocious sounds vain and inappropriate. Mensa, a high-IQ group which I never joined, is viewed with some condescension (geeks, nerds, dweebs, etc.).
The ambivalent attitude toward the gifted may be the final frontier of acceptable discrimination. It is certainly reflected in the educational establishment, many of whose members give lip service to gifted education because of the demands of parents, but in their hearts they view it as unsettling, an unpleasant obstacle to the democratization of education.
SENIOR COUNSELOR TO THE CHANCELLOR
I have been quoted rather skeptically with regard to the selection of Brian Ellner as Senior Counselor to the Chancellor, at a salary of $165,000. Although he will have to prove himself on the job, his selection can be justified, at least on paper. He went to Bronx Science, Dartmouth College and was Harvard Law School ’92. He was president of a local school board in Manhattan, which indicates prior interest in the field.
Inquiring about Ellner, one hears mixed comments; ranging from “shallow” and “a hack” to “honest and straightforward.” It is clear that people differ on the man, which is often the case with regard to political figures.
His involvement, after his primary defeat for Manhattan Borough President, in the mayor’s campaign in 2005 should neither qualify nor disqualify him. He did say unkind things about the mayor whilst he was seeking the Beep Democratic nomination (he came in fourth out of nine, a respectable showing for an unknown). Negative words are part of the fog of politics. People often change their hearts and minds when they are playing for a new team.
What bothers us about Ellner is the expensive television campaign he waged, which put emphasis on his sexual orientation. We contrast that with Christine Quinn’s successful campaign for City Council Speaker, in which she did not make her lifestyle an issue. We should go beyond the stage where people boast either that they are gay or that they are straight, depending on the neighborhood.
Chancellor Klein has the right to choose his staff, and Ellner should ultimately be judged by the results he achieves, rather than by his political efforts or his sexual orientation. One must wonder, however, whether, out of all New Yorkers, this new Senior Counselor is the person who will have the broadest community outreach. Indeed, how broad was the outreach undertaken which found Mr. Ellner?
My view is somewhat more nuanced than the quote suggests. We know that in politics you can speak to a reporter for a half-hour, and he/she will extract the single most provocative remark you make. That is entirely legitimate.
It is also one reason players are reluctant to speak to the press or resort to double-talk. Another cause for silence is that people may be forbidden to speak by their owners (employers).
The relative lack of free and open comment on matters of substance by public officials probably contributes to popular disillusionment with politics. However, intellectual dishonesty, financial chicanery and subservience to lobbyists remain the principal reasons that our federal and state executives are held in low regard.
We note that, at the same time, the current city administration receives wide approval in polls. This disparity in popularity indicates that one should neither underestimate the common sense of the people, nor their ability to distinguish between politicians.