Then Get Out Of The Kitchen

Recently, New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King scheduled numerous public forums throughout the state to discuss the new Common Core standards of education and to answer questions, which I know there are many, regarding this new methodology of education.

Apparently he was met with a rather fired up audience during his first meeting, an audience which he implied was a “special interest” audience and apparently was rather aggressive in its questioning, and Dr. King was taken aback by the audience’s behavior. His comments afterward may have insinuated that he felt the audience was very rude, so after that first forum, he canceled his other scheduled meetings which included one in the Western New York area.

He has since reversed that decision and rescheduled meetings and also hinted that he may have been wrong in the amount of testing and the “too much, too fast” implementation of Common Core.

I’m glad he changed that decision to cancel because I was wondering what this supposedly educated man, who supposedly knows education, who was supposedly trying to sell his, or someone’s, product, expected to encounter when he sat with an audience who didn’t know the components of this “new education,” and encountered frustrations on the parts of students, teachers, administrators, and parents (to name a few) who were trying to find their way through the mounds of Xerox papers which seems to be so much a part of this new way to educate.

Harry Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Questions from all of the groups attending the forum, (who by the way, certainly are special interest groups in this case, as they all have their own special reasons for asking those questions and who all have special people and principals they are trying to protect) were going to be asked and probably heatedly at times, and were going to be direct, and were going to be asked with passion, as well they should have been. I don’t believe there should’ve been name calling or disrespect on the part of anyone asking the questions, but someone in the position of Mr. King had to know that with Common Core, not being as popular as apple pie right now, questions were probably going to be asked rather aggressively. For Dr. King to cancel the remainder of the scheduled meetings might have indicated a lack of backbone on his part, and maybe shown rather thin skin possessed by him.

Being a teacher for more than a third of a century, and a coach for many of those years as well, I was under the impression that with both of those situations, I was going to have to field and answer questions, sometimes by somewhat irate questioners, sometimes to the point of being yelled at, cursed at, disagreed with, and even having my family insulted, and I understood that going into the jobs and throughout my tenure in both arenas. I was prepared for it. I didn’t like it, but accepted it as part of the job. That’s not saying that all meetings with parents of students and players were that way and under those circumstances. I had many wonderful, productive meetings and forums with many parents and others involved with things we did in the classroom and on the baseball, football, and softball fields. There were some meetings and parent conferences, though, where I just had to listen to a concerned/angry parent, and try to understand that they were there protecting their child, and negotiating for one of the most important persons in their life. That didn’t mean I enjoyed being the target of their anger, and I will admit that one (and only one) time in my career, I did lose my cool right back, but the distinct possibility of the meeting being one-sided, as far as questioning and disagreeing might have gone, came with the job and I knew that.

As I’ve observed with “the new education,” communication with parents is vital and an increase in that area seems to be a big part of it. Without reversing his decision on canceling these forums, Dr. King might have sent a message of “Do as I say, not as I do,” by severing the ties of communicating this new ideology to people with questions and concerns.

If you put Dr. King’s original act of canceling meetings to avoid possible confrontations with some who may question or disagree in perspective, and if he serves as the example of state educators today since he oversees education in our state, then teachers and administrators also should have been given carte blanche to cancel meetings with parents, or parent/teacher conferences, anytime during the school year if they felt the meetings might result in a confrontation, or become aggressive, but that’s educationally unsound, however if that’s the example set by the commissioner, then the same tactic should trickle down and be acceptable for teachers/coaches, and administrators to do the same.

It seems to me that if you’re standing before an audience, with many who oppose, or don’t understand your plan, the thing to do is to try and explain it to the best of your ability and at least try to get people to understand concepts and philosophy of the program. They still may not like, or agree with it, but they might at least understand what you’re trying to do/accomplish. That might alleviate some confrontation, but just cancelling any chance to try to explain the program might only, in my mind, create more anger and possibly more animosity toward the commissioner and his programs.

The heat comes with the job the confrontation, disagreements, arguing, all that accompanies the job. It comes with many jobs, but especially with the Commissioner of education in the midst of drastic changes in how many people have done things for so many years. The commissioner had to expect exactly what happened at his first public forum regarding the new plan for education. Had he not rescinded his canceling of future meetings and forums, I might have echoed former President Truman’s statement and addressed it to Commissioner King, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” Either that, or stand like a man, and face the questions, comments, and disagreements. If the program is that good, and I know there are some components of it that are, then stand and open mindedly fight for it? Running away would have set a bad precedent. Good move throwing it in reverse, Dr. King!