Pope Francis 1, John King, Merryl Tisch and Olive Branches: Will the Commisioner Learn from the Pope?

The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.
Albert Camus

Pope Francis 1, in an historic interview with a Jesuit newspaper offered an olive branch to lapsed Catholics. Pope after pope has decried social issues anathema to church doctrine: abortion, homosexuality, contraception, ordination of females, and the scandalous abnegation of responsibility for protection of sexual abusing priests.

For the first time in centuries a pope hinted that maybe, just maybe, the church was moving from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently …

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

Churches are empty and the new generation sees the church as an archaic institution.

Pope Francis is reaching across the aisle to lapsed Catholics; consider coming back to a church that is looking beyond the Inquisition.

Slate Magazine, perhaps overreaching, sees the pope as liberal, what does the interview tell us? It tells us the pope is a liberal. He’ll pull the church to the left, not just on sexuality, but on every issue that pits tradition against freedom or progress.

Just as Catholics are alienated from the church parents, teachers and principals have lost confidence in the leaders of education in New York State.

An incredibly dense principal-teacher evaluation plan that the folks in schools view as both punitive and random. State tests without curriculum seemingly purposely graded to assure low student grades, personal student data given to third party providers, without parental consent, to do with who knows what.

John Flanagan, the powerful chair of the Senate Education Committee is holding hearings around the state asking for input on the state education department initiatives, “The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing Our Progress.'”

The first of the four hearings, held on Long Island was sharply critical of the state agenda,

State Sen. John Flanagan, R-Long Island, chairman of the committee, said it was the first opportunity for the public to comment on the reforms. A few hundred people filled a small auditorium at Suffolk County Community College, cheering loudly as parents, teachers, senators and others questioned and ridiculed the state Education Department’s agenda … seven senators in attendance.

Many speakers questioned the results of the new state tests in English and math given in April. The state found that majorities of students across New York in grades 3 to 8 were not proficient in their subject matter.

“You should rethink your methodology,” state Sen. Jack Martins, R-Long Island, told Ken Wagner, associate state education commissioner. “I question statistics that say that 50 percent of our kids aren’t college-ready.”

Legislation to prevent the release of student data has been introduced into both houses of the state legislature.

A petition questioning the efficacy of the state principal-teacher evaluation law garnered over a thousand signatures from principals across the state.

The claim that the Common Core Learning Standards will change the core of teaching and learning is simply a claim, standards in the past have faded, the state tests keyed to the standards have been rejected by both professionals in schools and parents, the recent plan to tie teacher education programs to the performance of classroom teachers based on pupil test scores is looked upon with deep suspicion by the field.

Ignoring the practice of discharging poor performing or students with discipline problems from charter schools will result in the introduction of legislation to prevent the practice.

The initiatives of the Commissioner have become dogma, akin to Papal Infallibility, defined as,

… a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, … the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church”.

The seventeen members of the Board of Regents hire the commissioner and set education policy for the state, P-12 public schools as well as colleges, universities and the professions. The members of the Board are elected by a joint meeting of the state legislature, in the real world, elected by the democrats in the Assembly, which means the democratic leadership of the Assembly. In the last few years the republicans have boycotted the election of members of the Regents.

As the policies of the commissioner, the dogma, moves further and further away from the views of the public these policies become increasingly political, increasingly members of the legislature are responding to the dissatisfaction of the public.

The Flanagan hearings may result in the introduction of legislation; other legislators, seizing on public anger may introduce legislation. In the past the bills either died or passed only one house. It appears far more likely, especially in an election year that bills will pass both houses.

Will the governor, with an ear to the ground, continue to support the commissioner, or respond to an increasing bubbling anger? Perhaps he should look towards Governor Jerry Brown in California who is expected to sign a bill that tolls the clock on state tests for a year.

… a bill passed last week by the Legislature, and expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, to suspend most standardized tests … for a year … under this bill, nearly all students would take a field test of the new assessments … providing essential feedback to test developers trying to come up with a final version to be given starting in 2015.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold some funding if California proceeds … To us, though, the lack of tests and scores next year seems a reasonable trade-off for educators to have desperately needed time to prepare for Common Core and to give more students exposure to the new tests, which won’t be scored in 2014.

While the pope is not relinquishing his apostolic authority he does realize that the church has lost its constituency. The commissioner seems to believe that his views have the power of supreme apostolic authority, to oppose the dogma is viewed as heresy. No olive branches, edict after edict that is questioned by the populace.

The members of the Regents, the equivalent of a College of Cardinals, selected the commissioner and for the last few years, with pushback by a few members, has supported doctrine after doctrine in spite of the increasing unease among parents, teachers and principals.

In the upcoming session of the legislature it is likely that the anger of the proletariat will empower the electeds to rein in the commissioner.

Sadly, the goals of the commissioner are shared by the wider public; the anger is more about the lack of olive branches, in fact, the use of branches as switches to flail children, parents and the teaching community, instead of creating true partnerships.

There is a vast literature on personal and organizational change, change cannot be imposed, cannot be embedded without the acceptance of the implementers of the process. It took the church centuries to understand that the public is fluid, attitudes evolve, and when an encyclical is rejected the populace drifts away. The pope may be acknowledging that the church must move towards its members, that it must evolve. If the Regents and the commissioner simply go through the motions and pass encyclical after encyclical, excuse me, regulation after regulation, that are poorly understood, and rejected by the field, the legislative process will respond to the public and reverse the initiatives.

It would be tragic, to quote Camus, “ … good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

4 responses to “Pope Francis 1, John King, Merryl Tisch and Olive Branches: Will the Commisioner Learn from the Pope?

  1. The Tea Party has given all of us a lesson in participatory democracy. The citizens banded together to elect politicians who reflect their views and beliefs. I totally reject their agenda and their tactics but I applaud their energy and process. We as citizens, parents, and professional will get exactly what you described so beautifully because WE elected them. However the real losers will be our real and lasting constitueancy- our students.


  2. The Tea Party was co-opted by Koch money and turned into a vehicle for their agenda and not a populist movement. I suspect that similar things will happen as legislation moves forward on the educational issues. Money and the interests it represents (see Bloomberg, Klein, Booker, Christy, Duncan, etc. who are defending their tarnished policies and reputations) will trump the real needs of students and the voice of teachers.

    We need to have a real debate about what it means to be college ready before we can draw any conclusions about what test results (from tests which were not designed to measure college-readiness) are telling us. As I remember college, in order to be ready you had to be able to read large volumes of material, know how to get take notes (get to class regularly and on time),be able to write literately in a variety of narrative forms both on demand (blue books) and for projects over time, and be able to manage one’s time without constant reminders from teachers or parents.

    I don’t know of any test that measures these skills which may be why college’s value recommendations over SAT scores when deciding who to admit. More importantly in terms of preparing our students, a curriculum that focuses on producing test scores which is what we now have and the new evaluation system reifies,.prevents teachers from taking the time with their students to help them develop this range of skills. .

    Klein liked the sound-bite “children first,” but the policies he brought in put test scores first at the expense of educating the “whole child.” Only children who are whole will be ready for college and tests don’t make them whole.


  3. Here is just the beginning of comments made by Anne Cronin, a teacher acknowledged by her peers. See the balance of her remarks on the Ravitch blog. Please buy a copy of “Reign of Error” that Diane just published.

    “Connecticut Teacher: Standards Should Be Written by Excellent Teachers
    by dianerav
    Ann Policelli Cronin, an experienced teacher in Connecticut, says that the Common Core should be considered a first draft. Here are her comments:

    The Common Core State Standards: A First Draft

    Much of what is written about the Common Care State Standards is based on a faulty premise about their quality. For example, on August 18, 2013 in The New York Times, Bill Keller wrote that the Common Core State Standards are “ the most serious educational reform of our lifetime and will raise public school standards nationwide”. Three days later, Charles Blow wrote that the Common Core State Standards will teach students “ to think critically and problem solve” and will “bolster” good teaching.

    Not so. The Common Core Stare Standards will diminish student learning in high school English classes and will inhibit good teaching.

    The CCSS harken back to the past and contradict the research of the past 70 years in the field of English language arts”…


  4. Well said, Peter. It is time that we implemented the spirit of Common Core rather than the dogma.


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