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Joel I. Klein: Educator (right!)

05/27/2009 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In an irony typical of the New York Times' tin ear for democracy, a recent article (May 22) on New York Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein carried the headline "Big Thinking and Radical Dreaming." In a puff piece passing as news, Susan Dominus gave us this choice in thinking about the diktat-obsessed, top-down lawyer-bureaucrat who helped impose Mayor Bloomberg's iron will on the New York school system: Klein must either be a "passionate reformer" or a "driven zealot".

How about an imperial ignoramus? A grandstanding bureaucrat? A union-busting bully? Klein advocates "reforms" like compelling kids before they finish fifth grade to visit colleges (you know, so they will understand the joys of higher ed and be motivated to succeed!); like preventing parents from sending their kids to neighborhood primary schools (there's a great way to keep the middle class in the public school system); like empowering principals at the expense of teachers; and like making "remote" education via the web a surrogate for live teachers in the classroom (hey, you can reduce the teacher corps by 30%, Klein boasts, and increase the size of classes at the same time).

In this last bureaucrat-speak idea he is aping the social science wisdom of Terry Moe and John Chubb (Chubb runs that wondrous for-profit outfit called Edison Learning). Moe envisions a world in which "kids can work it out on their own" while schools become a "place where they go and have clubs and sports activities and drama," doing all their course work online.

I've done remote teaching and it is a far cry (remote indeed) from real teaching. But coincidentally it is a whole lot cheaper since one virtual teacher can instruct hundreds while the rest of the real teachers can join the fast food service industry.

Susan Dominus acknowledges in her piece that Klein "can be hard on the people who educate the city's children," but thinks we should give him "credit for holding his tongue most of the time."

Truth is, Klein is a perfect clone of a Mayor who seized control of the schools and vowed to put his stamp on them (just as he overturned the two term limit standing in the way of his running again for Mayor later this year). His "big thinking" means bureaucrats and their business-inspired management schemes come first, principals with tough top down controls come second, while teachers and parents come last. Children, the pupils, they don't rate at all, except as the subjects for Klein's "radical dreaming" - which is inspired neither by reformist pedagogy nor democratic inclusion but by the corporate management nightmare of totally controlling the "customers" it pretends to serve.

(By the way, I am not sniping from the sanctuary of private school privilege: my daughter graduates next month from a New York public high school and has spent her entire K-12 education in public school).