Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Obama comes to Brooklyn. Warns students, 'the Chinese, Indians, Russians... are coming.'

Obama arrives at JFK on route to Brooklyn
S.T.E.M. schools are the flavor of the month and President Obama took the opportunity, while stumping for Bill de Blasio (not that de Blasio needs it), to make a speech at his favorite, Brooklyn's P-Tech. 

P-Tech bills itself as "the first school in the nation that connects high school, college, and the world of work through college and industry partnerships." The school has students from grades 9-11 and then offers them a program at CUNY leading to an A.A. degree (I have one of those from L.A. City College in the 60's but no one has ever asked to see it).

The school is run under a partnership between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York and IBM, and is being hailed by corporate execs and the President himself as the new model for schools everywhere. However, I'm not really sure what those outside partnerships mean to the school, since both CUNY and IBM have big problems of their own.
“This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one,” the president said, calling the school, known as P-Tech, a ticket into the middle class. 
I didn't know you needed a "ticket" to get into the middle class. But given the current devastation and disintegration of the middle class, you might wonder why anyone would want in. I certainly doubt that going to a S.T.E.M. high school is the pathway out of poverty for most New Yorkers, and it's certainly unfair to put that kind of pressure of a false promise on schools alone. It was de Blasio who said "the city’s middle class isn’t just shrinking, it's in danger of disappearing.”

What Obama failed to say was that P-Tech and schools like it weren't meant to accommodate all kids. I'll give it to P-Tech, a good small school where at least they don't select on the basis of test scores. But there is still a rigorous application process which requires engaged and active parents who are aware enough and who live in the right neighborhoods to apply.

Obama and de Blasio at Junior's Deli
I also don't have a problem with math/science-focused schools. But I do have a problem with them being privileged over all others and sucking up so much of the shrinking resources available to city schools. It's reminiscent of the 1950s, when the Soviet launch of Sputnik sparked a similar Cold War demagogy and national paranoia along with a shift to specialization in math, science, and engineering and away from the liberal arts and small-d democratic education.

I'm actually glad to see the President out there in the middle of Brooklyn, speaking to and encouraging inner-city kids to get their education. However, I'm disgusted by the demagogic and chauvinistic "Chinese and Indians are coming" rationale he presents.
“Now, you’ve got billions of people from Beijing to Bangalore to Moscow, all of whom are competing with you directly. And they’re — those countries are working every day, to out-educate and out-compete us.” 
While IBM supposedly will offer P-Tech grads an "inside track" to jobs at the corporation, someone should have pointed out to the students that IBM is one of 10 U.S. companies cutting the most jobs and that nearly 10,000 IBM workers have been laid off. They might also have pointed out that those workers were all highly educated.

Students protest tuition hikes at CUNY
As for partner CUNY, as state funding has decreased, the CUNY system has relied more and more on tuition, which provides over 40% of its operating budget. Tuition at the school is rising at a rate that is making a real degree program much too costly for the P-Tech grads to complete.

 The N.Y. Times reports, "After his speech, Mr. Obama stopped at a Junior’s restaurant, on Flatbush Avenue, entering with Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor, and shaking hands with employees and patrons."

I wonder if Obama had a chance sit and discuss educational priorities and charter expansion with the next mayor of New York. The President could learn a thing or to about schooling and about the city's widening economic inequality and large areas of concentrated poverty -- something de Blasio talks about in every stump speech while Obama rarely mentions it.

Robert Reich has a good Tweet in response to the Obama visit to Brooklyn:
"O must connect the dots: need for better schools financed by higher taxes on rich, because of widening inequality." 
de Blasio Tweets:
 NYC has a booming market for luxury condos, and enough people who sleep in homeless shelters to fill Yankee stadium. #TaleofTwoCities

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