Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Define "Educator"

When I do a workshop or keynote for parents, I usually begin by asking those present to raise a hand if they are parents. They look at me dumbfounded, and everyone raises a hand. Then I ask them to raise a hand if they also happen to be teachers. A few people raise their hands. Then, I look dumbfounded. "Wait a minute. Let me try that again. Raise your hand if you are a parent?" All the hands go up. "OK. Now raise your hand if you are a teacher?" The penny drops and all hands go up for a third time.

Cathleen P. Black, the Chancellor-in-waiting for the New York City public school system, and the mayor who tapped her for the job, have come under a lot of criticism because she is not an educator. Many are thumbing their nose at the idea that someone can hold the reins of one of the largest school districts having never had to file a lesson plan, correct a test, or run a faculty meeting. That's because Ms. Black's career has been in the field of publishing, much of that as a high-powered, ground-breaking executive. She also happens to be the mother of two adopted children.

I have already alluded that her being a parent qualifies her as a teacher. And I am sure that as a publishing executive she has had to assess a few manuscripts, teach a few lessons, and create an agenda--the end result in each case being the informing, if not the educating, of thousands of people. Ms. Black has had more than her hand in Ms., New York, and USA Today.

I guess the issue I have is how the criticism implies those in the business of schooling have a closed grip on education. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not among those who think that if only business people ran our schools, all would be well. Ms. Black will have much to grasp about schools on the job. And I applaud the waiver that required Ms. Black, in order to accept the position, to appoint a Chief Academic Officer (nice title) who once had to clean mimeograph fluid off his fingers. But to deny that someone of Ms. Black's experience and skills can't steer the Ship of Schools because she has never had to brush chalk dust off her blazer is, hands down, too narrow-minded for me.

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