July 15, 2008

When deception is gross

Talking about integrity (and how Weingarten doesn't have much), I wanted to say a few things about the DoE website and how it sells its stuff.

This picture caught my eye a few weeks ago on its teacher recruitment page:

It's arguably the least representative image of public education in the city of New York that I know of, and I am a music teacher. It certainly sets new parameters for the word chicanery.

For one thing, music is not really high on the list of subjects Joel Klein cares about. In his first year as chancellor, he told the middle schools to make more room for literacy and math and cut anything that would get in the way, like the arts, foreign languages, sports, library and guidance (see the NY Times on this). A couple of months ago he slashed funding for the arts (as reported in the Daily News), and The Sun reported recently just how few middle school and HS kids took classes in this group of subjects this past year. There's a consistency in this, albeit of the negative kind.

Then there is the inscrutable choice of focusing on violins, given that string ensembles are fairly arcane and pretty much a thing of the past. If inner city kids are to be given any kind of musical instruments to practice on at home, fragile wooden ones that are constantly in need of tuning are not an ideal choice. That’s why there are way more bands than orchestras these days. So, I can’t figure out what this picture is actually trying to “push.” Esotericism? Elitism? Excellence?

The other thing that puzzles me is why they’ve used a music class, of all things, on a site for teacher recruitment. I’ve applied for 22 music positions in the past year, and if I stood up on a chair and yelled through a megaphone the size of a Chinese gong, no one would ask me to come in for an interview. In a few cases I can document, neither the position or the school itself even existed.

In fact, putting up this picture of student violinists on its recruitment site is a tragic reminder of what the DoE is specifically NOT doing to further arts education in NYC public schools. It also demonstrates how content the department is to portray itself more through artifice than actuality.

The DoE enlisted two outside agencies, Appleseed and the Ad Council, to help with teacher recruitment, and two of the products of the campaign were lay-outs for full-page ads in the NY Times (June 29th and July 6th), their own website (here and here), and public placements such as the one on the left.

I’m not crazy about either one of them. The first ad claims that “The classrooms of New York City are wonderfully diverse.” In aggregate perhaps, but so many are not. An African-American girl is represented primarily by her right arm and the back of her head.

In the ad at the right, the lower-case “t” is very cool, but now is hardly the time to be cute with our language. There was half of an African-American boy in the ad when it appeared in the Times, but he’s been cropped right out of the image on the website, as you can see for yourself.

As for the message in the logo:

it says to me that “New York’s brightest” recruits are bound to be attracted by pictures of super-engaged white and Asian kids, so let’s not make too much of the African-American element in the student population. Or the Indian one. Or even the Latino one.

Even if you don’t have the same take as I do, very few schools in this city look like these ads.

The Ad Council claims it’s been “raising awareness, inspiring action and saving lives for more than 65 years.” It certainly raised my awareness on what passes for truth at the DoE, and inspired me to write something about it on this blog.

In spite of the fact that they say they drum up pro bono volunteers to motivate action, I must say I get that same creepy feeling whenever I read propaganda like this:
The Ad Council relies largely on donations from corporations, foundations, and individuals to provide the funds that allow us to deliver our important campaign messages to millions of Americans.
I’m being sold a corporate line.

The DoE is listed as one of the Ad Council’s sponsors, and I have to assume that sponsorship includes payments. Unfortunately, neither its site, Appleseed’s, or the DoE site itself mentions anything about the cost of this campaign.

“Klein has the most extensive — and expensive — PR staff in city government, short of the Mayor,” says Leonie Haimson on the parents blog. Some of it must be housed at the Office of Communications & Media Relations, but it’s all a big secret because that page on the DoE website doesn’t actually say anything about it.

In short, I’m not against recruitment campaigns, I’m against subtle appeals to our prejudices.

I’m not against paying to get the job done, I’m against using the public purse for unspecified payments and no-bid contracts.

I’m not against governmental bureaucracy, I’m against non-transparent bureaucracy, which means it’s anyone’s guess who’s executing the corporate agendas that are reconfiguring public education in New York City.


Pissed Off said...

It's all smoke screens. This must have been learned from the Nazi concentration camp Terezin which was created to show the world how wonderful the Jews were being treated.

avoiceinthewilderness said...

Pissed off: What a powerful observation.
I think it's time for some Naomi Wolfe:

loonyhiker said...

I think reasons like this are why we are losing so many new teachers within the first five years. We are selling them a bill of goods and then act surprised when they don't want it anymore. Maybe the FCC should be involved with false advertising. Thanks for sharing this.

Woodlass said...

I never thought of that, to alert the FCC. Let me think about that. It's no good mentioning it to the union: they're proven collaborators.