As educators, one of our defining beliefs is the principle that we do not use the students entrusted in our care as a vehicle for promoting and accomplishing our political agendas. We hold to this core value even when the political agendas we are pursuing involves causes that will better the lives of those young people, such as full funding for day care centers and schools. When communities and families send their young to us to be educated, they trust that we will exercise the authority given to us as teachers responsibly: we do not manipulate young people into political action they do not fully understand, but educate them into the skills and knowledge of democratic citizenship, in order that one day they will be prepared to make and act on their own informed choices of political action.
So when Eva Moskowitz and her Harlem Success Academies turned out students and parents to support the closing of district schools at the February meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy, many of us present were shocked at the way in which 5 year old and 6 year old children were sent to the microphones to speak words they clearly did not understand, put into their mouths by adults who called themselves educators, even as they ignored our most fundamental professional ethics. But if we were paying attention, we would have seen that this crass political exploitation of children is actually a consistent behavior of Moskowitz and Harlem Success.
Consider the way in which Moskowitz and Harlem Success organize the lottery for their schools as a public exhibition of ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ maximizing and then displaying for political effect the emotional pain of small children who are passed over and denied. There is nothing in the charter law’s requirement that admissions be done through a lottery that requires that it be done as a public spectacle; a lottery can easily be done — and with much less work — at a small gathering with a small number of community representatives present as validators of the fairness of the process. But while such an arrangement would be much more considerate of the feelings of children, it would not have produced the heart tugging event filmed for Waiting for Superman.
In their latest exercise in the political exploitation of children, Moskowitz and Harlem Success closed down their schools for part of last Thursday to get parents and children to attend a demonstration against the lawsuit of the NAACP and the UFT which would force the NYC Department of Education to follow the law, to provide support and resources to struggling schools and to end the discriminatory treatment of district schools co-located with Harlem Success academies. For Moskowitz, guaranteeing a modest turnout for their demonstration trumps providing a full day’s instruction for students.
Can you imagine the outcry from the editorial pages of the Post and the Daily News if New York City public schools were closed for a portion of the day to force parents and children to attend a political demonstration? But here? Silence. Deafening silence.