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Educating for Democracy: What Cathie Black Would Say if She Were an Educator

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Although she has not yet even taken her post as Chancellor of the NYC school system, Cathie Black has already managed to make several public statements that position her as an antagonist rather than leader of the 80,000 employees that she is going to manage. Her statement about tenure as if it were "a lifetime guarantee position" when what it actually means is "due process" is very disturbing. Her snub of the head of the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, wasn't an encouraging sign either.

If Ms. Black had had any knowledge of the NYC school system, the difficulties faced by many students, teachers and parents, she might have said the following:

"Dear students, parents and teachers: I know you may have doubts about my qualifications for this challenging position, and I realize that I have a great deal to learn, not only about this complex school system, but of the culture and traditions of those who are most significant in the education of any child: the parents, community, and peers of children as well as their teachers. But I want you to know that I am more than willing to educate myself and be educated by you in order to provide the needed leadership and gain your confidence in making the difficult decisions I will have to make in the future.

"Although I have my concerns about such issues of considerable significance to the teachers as tenure and methods of evaluating their effectiveness, I am open to discussion from all stake holders in order to find a way to be fair to both teachers and the interests of their students in order to promote the best ways for the classroom to be a true place of learning, not just one of preparing for tests.

"To the public school children of New York City, I pledge that I will do my best to give you the education that not only will equip you for higher education and the world of work, but give you an opportunity to enjoy that fuller life which includes the arts, the sciences, and the fundamental understanding of the workings of our government in order for you to become active and informed citizens.

"To the parents of these children, I pledge that their interests will be foremost in any decisions I need to make regarding changes in school size, structure, and governance. Any of these decisions will be based upon the best advice I can receive both from my able deputy, Mr. Polikow-Saranski, and the numerous educators, teachers and yes, you, the parents whom I will call on whenever I am about to consider any necessary changes to be made for the ultimate benefit of all the students in our great city.

"Last, but certainly not least, I pledge to the teachers who will look to me for leadership, that any of these major decisions that I will be making will be informed decisions, based on consultation with your union leader, Mr. Mulgrew, and an advisory board of the best educators in the country. I am aware that although there may be some of you who are simply not doing your job, the overwhelming majority of you are conscientious, hardworking and dedicated to your very difficult work. I am both humbled and proud that I will be leading the public school system that has produced more Nobel Prize Winners, literary and artistic figures, outstanding civic and political leaders than any other not only in this country, but in the world. And I am confident that despite the many future challenges we face, that we will be able to do so with mutual respect, consideration and understanding in order to give the children of this city an education that we will all be proud of."

I believe that such a presentation would be a more appropriate approach, embracing all of her constituents, if she is to gain the respect and confidence of employees in order to be not only an effective leader, but create the environment in which she could earn the most precious thing any administrator can hope for from those they lead: their loyalty.