"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

New York Times Fails to Acknowledge Its Own Noteworthy Education News

Susan Ohanian
A few days ago I received an e-mail alert from the  the  New York Times which highlighted the noteworthy education items published in their pages. Here is what was on the list:
  •  Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? 
  •  Treasury Auctions Set for the Week of Jan. 25 
  •  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Clash on Issues and Vie for Votes of Iowa Women
  •  'Downton Abbey' Season 6, Episode 4: The Engine Purrs 
  •  Convicted of Corruption, but Still Getting a Pension 
  •  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Battle for Party’s Future
There was no mention of a  story by David Gonzalez, the best ed story  appearing in the paper since Michael Winerip transferred out. Note: Mr. Gonzalez isn't the paper's education reporter. He covers a different beat, but he sure does know a lot about the teacher under discussion and the community in which he taught for so long. I was especially delighted that Gonzalez managed to get in a hot link to a New York Post account of the principal issuing toilet plungers to students.

I was so outraged by Gonzalez's account of teacher abuse that I immediately  e-mailed the Times letters department--and  1 1/2 hours later they told me they were publishing it:

To the Editor:
Re "A Teacher, Beloved but Disillusioned, Decides to Walk Away" (Side Street column, Jan. 25):

As a longtime teacher, I thank David Gonzalez for giving voice to the bizarre and capricious assaults on teacher professionalism that infect the many schools enforcing the dictum "Common Core or die."

Tom Porton, a Bronx teacher, clearly offered unique gifts to students, but he is not alone in finding that the work he so loved for decades has turned to torture.
Charlotte, Vt.

 Here's the story:

By David Gonzalez

Tom Porton is used to drama: Since arriving at James Monroe High School as an English teacher 45 years ago, he has taught and staged plays. Outside, in the Bronx River neighborhood where the school is, there was plenty of drama in the 1980s, when AIDS and crack ravaged the area. His response then was to establish a group of peer educators who worked with Montefiore Medical Center to teach teenagers about H.I.V. prevention. His efforts earned him awards, including recognition from the City Council and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and led to his induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Now he is at the center of drama: Last month he clashed with Brendan Lyons, the school's principal, who disapproved of his distributing H.I.V./AIDS  education fliers that listed nonsexual ways of "Making Love Without Doin' It" (including advice to “read a book together”).

This month, he said the principal eliminated his early-morning civic leadership class, which engaged students in activities such as feeding the homeless, saying it was not part of the Common Core curriculum. Mr. Porton was already skeptical of that curriculum, saying it shortchanged students by focusing on chapters of novels and nonfiction essays rather than entire works of literature.

So, next month Mr. Porton -- a 67-year-old educator whom students praised as a lifesaver and life-changer -- is walking away from teaching. He handed in his retirement papers on Friday.

"My career has always been based on the emotional and social well-being of the child," he said, inside an office whose walls were decorated with awards, proclamations and photos of him alongside several school chancellors; Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor at the time; and the rapper DMC. "Now, I don't know where teaching is headed. I just know I can't anymore. I find it torture. I'd rather separate myself from the classroom doing something that is distasteful and try to spend my days doing things that are important."

Mr. Porton has been teaching and coordinating student activities long enough to see Monroe go from a large urban high school to one housing several smaller schools, including his, the Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design. Mr. Lyons -- who repeatedly replied "no comment" to questions during a telephone conversation -- arrived at the school at the start of the academic year. A previous tenure at a Manhattan high school was marked by his  replacing paper hall passes with toilet plungers, which students used to wreak havoc on property and one another.

In December, on World AIDS Day, Mr. Porton handed out his flier, as he had for almost 25 years. Mr. Lyons sent him an email saying the flier was "inappropriate," and asked that he collect those already distributed. Though Mr. Lyons said he would discuss the matter later with him, Mr. Porton said that conversation never took place.

H.I.V. and AIDS may have faded from the public mind, but they remain a danger in places like the South Bronx, especially among young blacks and Latinos. Mr. Porton said the school has failed to meet Department of Education mandates to educate students about the diseases, making his work all the more necessary.

Mr. Lyons, who would not say if the school met the mandates, never explained his objections to Mr. Porton. At the start of this semester, Mr. Porton said, the principal eliminated the 40-student leadership class because he said it was not part of the standard curriculum, even though the class met before the formal start of the school day. Because of that, combined with Mr. Porton's disappointment over the standardized test frenzy that rules in many schools, he chose to leave.

"School is not pleasant, the way it was when I started," he said. "They pay lip service to the social and emotional well-being of the child. My generation of teachers had a mind-set about how to teach a child. Today, many young teachers see teaching as a way to kill time on the way to something else."

Reaction among students and former students, many of whom learned of Mr. Porton's retirement on Facebook, was immediate and full of outrage.

"How can anyone think what he does is inappropriate?" said Janelle Roundtree, a former peer educator who graduated from Monroe in 1995 and went on to Howard University. "He changed Monroe. He was in the forefront of so many things. The school is losing out on this one."

David Gonzalez (no relation to this writer), a musician, poet and performer who graduated in 1973, was so grateful to Mr. Porton that he nominated him for the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, which he received in 2011.

"Tom has been the consistent heart of that building since I was at Monroe in the '70s," said Mr. Gonzalez, who still wonders how the teacher managed to get tickets to Broadway shows. "He was always looking for the heart and soul of the individual. I would never have had the confidence to do what I do without him. He changed my life forever."

And now, Mr. Porton will change his own life.

"It was bittersweet," he said after filing for retirement. "I'm sort of resigned to making the change. But there's still a part of me that feels I'll have to figure out where I'm going to go each day. Hopefully, somebody's going to ask for my expertise somewhere. Let's put it this way: I'm looking for a job."

1 comment:

  1. When will education take its proper place in the mainstream news? It seems like never. The reporters are so far behind this story, yet it is the biggest one going. Probably too many people with their hands in the cookie jar who don't want to see this deck of cards come crashing down. It' the Big Short but instead of Wall Street taking down the economy, the corporations and paid for Congress and state legislatures are taking down childhood.

    Meanwhile, there's no talk of ed issues on the campaign trail. Too bad because education is a winning issue for any candidate on the side of equitable public school funding and an end to test and punish, i.e., torture. It's like the toxic lead in the pipes of Flint, Michigan or the sulfur poisoning communities in Southern California damaging the brains or the next generation. High stakes standardized tests have become a toxic poison.

    The grassroots Republicans are against Common Core and testing too, hence, the demise of Jeb Bush. But they are also 100 percent behind vouchers and private for profit education, yes, the free market. Then there are the religious zealots who would like to live in a world where homosexuals are persecuted and Planned Parenthood is defunded, where sex education consists of abstinence only and social studies is a distant memory.

    The teachers, educators and intellectuals better figure out a way to get education onto the agenda in November 2016. I'm tired of wasting my time and money while seeing things get worse and worse.
    There's too much at stake to just sit around blogging or flying around the country to talk to each other.

    As Tyack and Cuban said, "Sometime, It's what's not on the agenda that is most important."

    Snow is melting
    Feel the Bern!