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Radical Education By: Sol Stern
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 17, 2006


Parents in Harlem have the unique distinction of being able to enroll their children in a New York City elementary school named after Don Pedro Albizu Campos, a Puerto Rican terrorist. The school’s official website explains that Albizu Campos “struggled and consumed his life for the independence of Puerto Rico,” but neglects to mention that in November, 1950 he dispatched two of his followers to assassinate President Harry Truman. The mission ended in a shootout on the steps of Blair House within yards of the President. One policeman and one of the assassins died in the exchange of bullets. Senor Albizu Campos spent most of the rest of his life in prison.

In the same Harlem neighborhood a discerning parent can also find the Powell Middle School. No, it’s not our ex Secretary of State that this city school is named after.  It is Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the late congressman from Harlem, whose “heritage” is inspiring the school’s “Law and Social Justice” curriculum. But Powell was, of course, found guilty by the U.S. Congress of misappropriation of funds and other ethical lapses and ended his career on the Island of Bimini successfully evading exactly that law and justice is falsely said by the school to have inspired.

 

Yet another school in Harlem is named after Congressman Vito Marcantonio, the candidate in the 1940s and 50s of the pro Soviet and fellow traveling American Labor Party. And in the borough of the Bronx there is a brand new high school called the Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, named after the Chilean poet who was a lifelong Communist and recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize. Another Stalin Peace Prize winner, Paul Robeson, has two schools named after him in Brooklyn. There’s also a school named after Norman Thomas, presidential candidate of the Socialist Party.

 

Admittedly many other city schools are named after mainstream political leaders, including most of this century’s Democratic presidents and several former Democratic governors and senators from New York. (There are three John F. Kennedy schools, three Robert F. Kennedy schools and two Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis schools.) But there is no school named after Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower. Nor is there a school named after Republican Governor Thomas Dewey, or New York’s longtime Republican Senator Jacob Javits.

 

What’s in a name, you might ask. Isn’t the content of what is taught in the classroom the only thing that really matters in education? True enough. Unfortunately, many of New York City’s new small high schools have been launched with the assistance of left wing community groups, including ACORN, the most radical mass organization in the country. And these schools are not only taking politically correct names, but openly infusing the themes of “social justice” and “peace and diversity” throughout the curriculum. The harm is then compounded by the progressive classroom pedagogy imposed on most of the city’s schools and teachers by the city’s centralized education administration, under the leadership of our billionaire Mayor, Mike Bloomberg. One city instructional guides for teachers, for instance, is dominated by the ideas of a radical education guru from Australia named Brian Cambourne, who believes that all teachers ought to strive to inculcate in their students a “literacy for social equity and social justice.”

 

It’s sad enough that citizens of the city and state, despite being burdened with the highest taxes in the country, are willing to put up with this widespread politicization of the classroom to the tune over $17 billion, or about $15,000 per pupil. What’s even more astonishing is that some of the nation’s leading businessmen and capitalist entrepreneurs are contributing their own hard earned money to support Mayor Bloomberg’s progressive (in both senses of the word) education revolution. Over $300 million in private funds have been raised for the city’s monopolistic school system, thus “turning public education into a darling cause of the corporate-philanthropic-society set,” according to the New York Times.

 

Through his foundation, Microsoft’s Bill Gates has contributed more than $50 million dollars to help launch over 100 new city high schools -- many of the likes of the Pablo Neruda and ACORN schools. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad has donated millions more, including underwriting the Bloomberg administration’s task force that came up with the brilliant idea that the works of progressive education fanatic Brian Cambourne should inspire the city’s classroom teachers. The New York City Partnership, the lobbying arm of the Big Apple’s business and financial community, has not only contributed millions to the schools but has abandoned its traditional watchdog role on the operations of the education system. Instead the Partnership is now an out and out cheerleader for the Mayor’s progressive education regime, willfully ignoring the fact that this has brought no significant academic gains for the children.

 

In the meantime most of the city’s philanthropists have turned a blind eye to the city’s truly needy Catholic schools, which don’t do “social justice” curricula and don’t accept the rancid progressive education idea that disadvantaged children can discover knowledge on their own. With their traditional classroom methods and values, and while spending about 1/3 to ½ of what the public schools spend per pupil, the Catholic schools still manage to outperform public schools with similar student demographics on standardized tests and graduation rates. But the Catholic schools are now under extreme financial distress. Many are closing. Anyone who cares about the education of disadvantaged children must know that $300 million would do a great deal more good in the Catholic schools than in the $17 billion public school monopoly. It’s a question of hunger versus appetite.

For those capitalists who don’t see it that way I have a modest proposal. Send your own children or grandchildren to the public schools where you’re sending your money. And, after a few months (I guarantee it won’t take that long), if you become convinced that the schools and their “social justice” curricula aren’t good enough for your own children, please tell Mayor Bloomberg that they aren’t good enough for any of the city’s children.

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Sol Stern is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.


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