NYS Gov. Cuomo ask the Gates Foundation for help in ‘Revolutionizing’ Public Education…Let’s explore this idea.

All of the things that have gone wrong in my life can be traced to a single lesson I failed to effectively learn. This lesson was first presented to me by a Brooklyn Caribbean-American mother trying desperately to see her young son survive and thrive into adulthood. Over the years I would hear the same message from many of the wonderful elders that guarded and guided my upbringing. That message simply in many different versions was: “Everyone who presents themselves as a friend is not a friend!” Simply being anti-billionaire does not automatically make you my friend (or a friend to Black people generally).

There are some politically-woke-folks who ‘knee-jerkedly’ reject any idea or initiative that is associated with “billionaires”. But the 40+% consistent support/endorsement for the bigot-in-chief Trump (and I actually think that the 40%+ number is an undercount) could not numerically consist of a majority of “billionaires”. And even in ‘liberal and enlightened’ NYC, we are witnessing a dramatically different police response to those in violation of the social-distancing statues, blatantly taking place under the leadership of an anti-billionaire Democratic ‘Progressive’ Mayor. Thank-you, but I think I will trust no one completely, thus protect and pursue my own survival interest; and so, I need to see more of the details of the Cuomo/Gates Foundation education plan before I summarily reject it.

As a principal I set up one of the first Distance-Learning-Labs in NYC in cooperation with Columbia’s Teacher’s College (I did the same at DC-PHELPS ACE to facilitate school partnerships between CISCO, the Peoples Republic of China, and South Africa). I also pushed as both a principal and superintendent the introduction of web-based Applied Technology Labs; and at Phelps created a team (Cyberforensics) that competed completely online as we also had the CISCO certification course taught (by CISCO engineers) completely online. Schools must, where appropriate embrace the good pedagogical uses of technology as we work hard to close our national technology access/education opportunity gaps.

One of the problems in public education is that you could go back in time (science-fictionally speaking) and transport one of my 1950’s elementary school teachers, and place them in any modern elementary school classroom and the ‘architecture’ and structural format of the classroom would look extremely similar and familiar; we need to change that. Covid-19 or no Covid-19, it is clear that public education in its present format is not working for the majority of our nation’s Black and Latino children (unless ‘working’ means going to prison).

One of the lessons I took away from my observations of the PHELPS-ACE online CISCO certification courses was that neither the students nor the instructors could see each other. This I noticed meant that the instructors had high standards and expectations for the Black and Latino students they were instructing and could not see; there were no assumptions about the student’s capabilities, families, or the neighborhoods where they lived. The students were graded and evaluated based on the quality of their work-product only. Distance (“blind”) Technology could be one way (since our school systems will not do it) to eliminate the prejudice and bias institutionalized culture of low expectations.

This nicely leads me to my next point. A former colleague-mentor (now deceased) from my 1990’s Brooklyn High School principal days once offered this statement. “I ask every white teacher I interview, if they like Black kids, and then I probe their response!” Shocked I blurted out: “But you can’t do that, it’s illegal!” He responded: “You can’t do it but I (white) can, and I will because I don’t want any teacher in this building who does not like and care about Black kids!” For those who reject the governor’s idea, simply because they don’t like his proposal partner, or perhaps because they fear modernity and change; my comment is simply this: Let’s not pretend that the present or pre-COVID-19 configuration and organization of public education is working for (forget all) most children; it’s not.