What a week this has been!
I received a phone call late last Monday afternoon (Oct. 29) from an editor at the New York Post, offering me a “heads up.” He said, “Just wanted to let you know that there will be a personal attack on you in tomorrow’s paper, on the opinion page.” That was a bit unsettling, to say the least. A few hours later, I received an email from a journalist friend that contained the actual article, with the byline of Kathryn Wylde, the CEO of the New York City Partnership, the organization that represents major corporations in the city. Somehow the article was in circulation before it was published, and the last email—transmitting the article to the Post—was written by Howard Rubenstein, who owns a major public relations firm that is very active in New York politics. So, it was clear that the article came to the Post from a PR firm, and it was not clear who wrote it.
The next day, the article appeared, with a headline calling me a "Hypocritical Critic.” The trigger for the blast at me evidently was an article I had written the previous week, in which I pointed out that the teachers’ union had outsmarted the Mayor and the Chancellor in their recent negotiation over performance pay. Although the Mayor and Chancellor claimed that they had won “merit pay,” what they got instead was a schoolwide bonus plan whose distribution would be decided at every individual school and which might or might not include non-teachers such as secretaries who belong to the union.
But instead of debating the issues, the article was a personal slam at me, attempting to destroy my reputation and credibility because I was not supporting every move of the Klein regime.
The very next day, as I was pondering whether to respond, an article appeared in the New York Sun documenting the fact that Wylde’s attack had been written in concert with operatives at the New York City Department of Education. The Sun reporter, Elizabeth Green, wrote that the DOE had been keeping a file on me, comparing my statements past and present, and this dossier was the basis of the Wylde attack on me.
The next day, the New York Post printed my response to Wylde’s article.
Two points from my article deserve reiteration here. First, I have a right to change my mind, based on observation and experience. As I wrote, I used to think that nothing could be worse than the old Board of Education. But I was wrong. Having watched the Klein team in action for five chaotic years of reorganization and disorganization, having observed their mandates and micromanagement, having seen their disrespect for educators, having seen that they have no educational strategy, only a program of testing and accountability and paying students, teachers, and principals for test scores, the old Board begins to look better and better every day.
The second point is that what they did to me is scary. The fact that they compiled a dossier on me and then turned it over to someone to write an attack is a frightening misuse of government power. They think they did nothing wrong. They think that if journalists and academics can compile files on people, so can they. They forget that they are not journalists or academics: They are government. Wouldn’t you think they have enough to do managing 1,500 schools without having time to pursue those who dare to question their policies?
I forgot to mention one more thing. I discovered last spring that someone from the Department of Education press office was taping my public lectures. The first time I thought it was amusing. The second time I thought it was weird. The third time I thought it was scary. Now I realize that I was under surveillance.
I believe that all of this—the taping, the dossier, the attack by a surrogate—was a blatant effort to silence me. And as I said in my response, if they could silence me, I would serve as an example to anyone else who criticized them.
If any good came of this brouhaha, it was the response of the blogs. From the National Review to the Daily Kos, the condemnation of the DOE’s tactics was swift and strong. And take a look at this spectacular photomontage. I have never been so grateful for the democracy of the blogosphere as I was this past week.
What does this say about the state of education and democracy?