All The Noise: Cathie Is The New Black

It’s been about three weeks since my last entry. That makes this little hiatus the longest one by far since I started Dewey21C in July 2009.

Let there be no doubt that a lack of entries severely depresses the number of visitors to a blog site, not that I am counting mind you!

So, what exactly has been going on, some of you may wonder? Some of you may not care. For those in the latter category, come back next entry.

My little break has been partly due to workload and partly due an unanticipated period of reflection. There is just to so much to reflect upon, from the economy, to school reform, to politics, and the many, many reasons why people are nervous about the future.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been to three conferences, for all of which I have had the great good fortune to be a presenter. The three include Grantmakers in the Arts, Grantmakers for Education, and The Council of Supervisors and Administrators. In addition, we had a lovely event at CAE called “Presenting The Superheroes,” where two exemplary New York City public school principals spoke about what principals need to know and be able to do to lead the arts, particularly in light of arts education negative policies that appear from just about every quarter. It was a swell event, the debut of a new series that CAE is hosting for supporters and friends.

And of course, there was my old friend, my regular workload, which increases proportionately as staffing shrinks. Many of you understand this all too well. It’s why some say either your’re overworked or out of work.

So, somehow my usual desire to share thoughts and news with you, something that has grown to be a sort of self determined responsibility taken very seriously, fell victim to workload and the desire to reflect a bit before getting back on my blogging horse.

There’s a lot that I want to share with you about the three conferences I attended, and I promise, I will get to that. But I hope you won’t mind if I wax a bit on my deep felt dismay over the state of our democracy.

Ultimately, a democratic process will include a significant amount of compromise. There used to be the art of the deal, and LBJ, with the help of The Happy Warrior, Hubert Humphrey, was very likely its great master. Even the conservative icon, Ronald Reagan (whom my college roommates used to refer to as President Ray Gun), practiced the art of the deal. Essentially, compromise was an essential tool when it came to getting good work done.

Today, government seems to be an all or nothing battle that is more about ad hominem style attacks than a desire to roll up sleeves while hammering out a better deal for America. I have to believe that winning at all costs is surely a losing strategy in the long run. What is more, it appears that winning at all costs is a goal more important than long held political and legislative goals. Winning at all costs has become both strategy and goal.

On the local scene, this can be best observed through the highly scrutinized selection of Cathie Black as the next chancellor of the New York City public schools.

Cathie Is The New Black

Rapidly, this particular issue has devolved into class warfare and a heck of a lot of noise. The fight card is Mayor Michael Bloomberg and corporate honchos versus teachers, parents, and “average joe citizens” (did I just offer a Palinism?). It looks to many like it’s those who run the city versus those whose kids attend the public schools and work in the public schools.

The inestimable PR machine of the Bloomberg has been unleashed to brush back opposition to Black’s selection. In the middle of all of this is Education Commissioner David Steiner, who will ultimately have to decide whether or not Cathie Black receives a waiver of the education credentials required by New York State in order to lead school districts.

Those who oppose Black’s appointment are labeled as being against “reform.” It’s hard to know exactly what that means except that they are against the will of Bloomberg.

Those who are for Black, including a list of Bloomberg and Black’s peers from the corporate world, support her based upon her great work in the field of publishing.

So, is there a middle ground?

Was there any room for compromise, ever?

This all exposes a central conflict between that of a democratic government and a private corporation. A friend of mine who is senior leader in a major American corporation said to me, basically, that government and its need to cut deals, while being a central part of the democratic process, is an anathema to business leaders. Those deals are a compromise which makes little sense when it comes to developing a new product, restructuring a company, hiring, etc.

The big problem for a business leader is that compromise with what they believe is a great idea is likely to lead to mediocrity. Great businesses embrace great ideas and then have the ability to implement on a high level. And furthermore, why should someone from the outside have any say over a private company.

I am sure that the automobile industry felt this very strongly while they fought the government intrusion of requiring seat belts, air bags, shoulder harnesses, and more. But, somehow, when GM and Chrysler went underwater, they didn’t mind so much being taken over, fixed, and now, in the case of GM, returned to the market in a shape that is improving steadily.

The hitch here is that schools are not quite a yet a private corporation, no matter how hard people are working to corporatize them. So, while Michael Bloomberg believes that his choice is the right one for chancellor, and since he has been given near absolute control of the schools, it is fairly easy to see why he might bristle just a wee bit when those who do not “control” the schools express dissatisfaction.

One could imagine that the School Governance law gives him the latitude to ask: is it really anyone else’s business?

Did it all have to be this way? Was there a middle ground? I would imagine that Bloomberg would have received criticism no matter whom he selected. Fair enough.

That being said, someone with just a bit more relevant education background, combined with the Bloomberg required corporate credentials could have avoided much of what is happening at this very moment.

A number of people have asked: “why did Bloomberg do this?” I have heard a frequent answer: “because he could.”

Did the mayor really want that to be the central message, “because he could,” while at the same time energizing a battle along class lines?

It’s hard to imagine that was the goal here, even if the mayor believes Cathie Black is the best candidate for the job.

Was the juice really worth the squeeze in this instance?

But, you see what I mean? If Bloomberg believes Black is the candidate, any compromise would surely lead to a less than optimal chancellor, which would be an intrusion into the type of corporate decision-making that has made Bloomberg rich and famous.

Ultimately the Cathie Black battle is just more noise. The type of noise that continues to sour citizens on government and democracy.

We need less noise, and more music. And, a restoration of the essential tool of compromise for a healthy democracy.

Don’t you think?

Of course, all this, including the departure of Joel Klein, raises questions as to what exactly to do with this one-of-a kind Joel Klein bobble head doll? Will a new one have to be fashioned  for Cathie Black? Maybe the Joel Klein bobble head can be sold at auction?

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4 responses to “All The Noise: Cathie Is The New Black”

  1. Richard, so glad to hear your voice after such a long silence…my own excuse has been that the latest DOE/mayor move has been so breathtakingly arrogant that my “campaign” for the arts as education seems puny compared to the current fracas.(Which is the danger of a self-appointed monarchy)
    One thought to add to your very interesting post: America, young as it is, tends to repeat itself. Here we are again, with the Robber Barons of an earlier century. Our barons (and baronesses) are corporate billionaires (whom you’ve nicely described above and whom Diane Ravitch calls a “boys club” in her latest book (see Chapter 10). They have different names, but they operate the same way today as before: rise from either poverty, obscurity — the American Dream — or silver spoon feeding, then make a killing and use their money and station for “charity” and influence in the social and political streams of American capitalism.
    The big question has always been, “can you have democratic capitalism? Can you take care of all the people or just the wealthy at the top of the influential pile? Current events again demonstrate what happens when democracy comes face to face with unimaginable wealth and the power to influence both law and order.