Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Peter Principle Principal

We had a great time for the Shavuoth holiday with our friends upstate.  Now, back to the race against time to get stuff done before we depart.  I shouldn't really be blogging, but anyone who maintains a blog will surely understand why I still blog.

I do not generally dwell upon the extensive bullying I received when I was a child.  I like to think that, after all these years, I have managed to succeed in spite of it all; in any event I do not consider it to be a valid justification for failure.  If full disclosure be made, however, there were a number of instances in which I succumbed to the appeal of the gang mentality, and participated in the bullying process as a purveyor.  [I also hasten to note that distancing myself from the bullying wolf packs, a process simplified and facilitated by my family's relocation when I was in junior high school, significantly boosted my self-esteem and not only put my bullying behind me, but contributed greatly to my subsequent success in school and in life.].

On one occasion in elementary school, when the wolf pack to which I had become attached was summoned to the principal's office, the principal ("Dr. L") gave us a strong admonition that the objects of our bullying, through no fault of their own, came from a family whose assets and wherewithal were not conducive to their wearing shoes any better than the ones on their feet, which the wolf pack had come to make mock of.  Whereupon the alpha wolf of the pack asked Dr. L what business he, as an educator, had in the schoolyard interactions between students when it was all during recess and not in the classroom.

In one of only two instances where I ever saw Dr. L's face flush out in red anger, he vehemently responded that his primary job was to ensure that the students learn, and if the students feel insecure while attending school then they will have difficulty learning.  After regaining his composure, Dr. L sent us back to our classrooms, with the very credible warning that if we were ever again to make fun of any student's family economic status, he would personally consider it an affront to himself and respond accordingly.  Years later I learned that Dr. L's own upbringing had been below the poverty line.

Of all the school principals I had during my public school career, Dr. L certainly was head and shoulders above all the rest (and, in his retirement, continued to participate in the educational process in various capacities as a consultant, lobbyist, and college professor).  In all fairness to the other principals I personally had, though some of them made a few notable blunders, I do not consider any of them to have been incompetent.  I also note that at least three of the teachers I had would subsequently advance to become accomplished and esteemed school principals in their own right.

And then, there is Joan Monroe, Principal of P.S. 120 in Flushing, Queens, New York.  I am in no danger of conflating her with any of the school principals I ever had.  Seems that PS 120 held a successful fundraiser carnival, on school time.  But only those students whose parents paid the $10 fee could go to the carnival; the other students, more than 100 of them, were forced to sit in a darkened auditorium and watch videos while their classmates went out to the schoolyard to play.  Many of those students come from families that really cannot afford such an expenditure for such a frill.  And Ms. Monroe was the Nazi heavy in the deal.

Okay, okay, the carnival organizers have some very valid points.  Parents do need to take a hands-on attitude to their kids' education.  And education, like every other enterprise, does need cash flow if not financial solvency.  And there is much to be said against the concept of free public education (especially where the children of illegal aliens are involved).  And don't get me started with the flaws in the New York City Department of Education!

But Ms. Monroe seems to forget that PS stands for Public School.  Love them or hate them, they exist in New York by dint of Section 1 of Article XI of the New York State Constitution [Section 3 of Article XI being the New York version of the Blaine Amendment].  And while they do exist, they should not be perverted to the detriment of the children they seek to educate.

Be the school public or private, the students need to learn, which, as Dr. L recognized a half-century ago, means that they need to feel secure when they are in the school.  Ms. Monroe's handling of the situation was the antithesis of security for the children involved.  What kind of lesson is it teaching them?

In the great cosmic scheme of things, the initial L to Dr. L's surname may well be no coincidence at all, for L also stands for Leadership.  School principals need to be leaders and need to practice leadership, both of teachers and of students.   Those who successfully do so are long remembered by their constituencies.  Dr. L was a leader.  The other school principals I had were leaders.

Ms. Monroe's performance may, perhaps, arguably be called competent administratorship.  The one thing it was not is leadership.

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