Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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Is it just me, or does Slate hire writers solely based on their work on topics they know nothing about? Richard Ford has written an article about why Ladies’ Nights are discriminating against men as an argument as to where Civil Rights can go wrong.

Justice Bird’s admonishment notwithstanding, legal prohibition must depend on judgments about which practices are important or harmful. Not every distinction—even if based on race or sex—is invidious.

He’s just as wrong as the people in the examples he gives:

In 2006 Stephen Horner sued a Denver nightclub over its ladies’ night policy. Horner explained his opposition to the unfair advantages women enjoy in American society: “Women are growing up these days feeling they’re entitled to favors. I believe this entitlement mentality is counterproductive to the social goals of a[n] egalitarian society.” He then added, apparently without irony: “I’m going to ask for every dollar I’m owed to the letter of the law, which is $500.”

Have these people never gone to clubs? They waive fees for women so that, when their club fills up with women, men show up. The entire practice is done to entice men to that club. Horner was wrong because, far from being discriminatory against men, it’s actually a service for men. Hell, by using those women as window dressing, arguably the whole thing is sexist against women! Ford – and the judge in that hearing – is wrong for allowing people like Horner to frame the debate. It’s not a Civil Rights case any more than senior discounts at the movie theater is a discrimination case, despite what a bunch of rather creepy blowhards say when they have to pay the cover.

But then, the article’s just one in a series of essays Ford is writing that attempt to make the argument that Civil Rights can go too far, and the second is worse:

Under IDEA, schools that fail to effectively educate disabled children can be made to pay for private school tuition. But the public schools—especially those in large cities like New York—are failing to educate many of their students who aren’t disabled, too. In 2004, more than 3 percent of all students served by the District of Columbia schools were in private placements, at a cost of 15 percent of the district’s entire budget. Yet D.C. schools “struggle to provide an adequate education to any of their students,” write two researchers at the Manhattan Institute. “Disabled students are entitled … to demand an adequate education,” they note, while nondisabled students “lack the same mechanism for exiting failing schools.”

Ford’s argument is that, because the public school systems in a lot of cities are failing, they are discriminating against people who are not offered options to escape the public school system. Indeed, Ford concedes this point: “The solution is obvious: better services for everyone. But IDEA doesn’t make the public schools better.”

It’s not meant to. Because a system is broken to the point that anybody with a means to escape it immediately does so – and I know the NYC Department of Education is well aware of just how unrepresentative its public schools are compared to the general youth, as they’re filled with those who couldn’t finagle their way into magnet schools, private schools or charter schools – doesn’t mean that the program itself should be scrapped, and least of all things be nixed as discriminatory.

Yes, the public school system propagates a Separate But Unequal situation. But IDEA is not the cause of that, despite certain parents’ abuse of the program to get the feds to pay for private school education, and to argue that Civil Rights legislation is somehow wrong because of IDEA’s inability to rectify our broken schools is, at best, mistaken, and at worst deliberately misleading.


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So I’ve been bossed around by the parent coordinator some more these past few weeks: He’s dictating my hours, telling me what projects to work on – most of them outside my job specifications – and because he knows jack shit about computers the stuff that actually needs being done is laying fallow and he, having volunteered the task of rearranging all the classrooms against the wishes of the teachers, is breaking most of what I did over the summer. He’s been designated by the principal to give me marching orders.

That my principal would have the power to designate a peer – one who has no experience or aptitude in managing people, and further has no technical knowledge – as my direct supervisor couldn’t possibly be kosher. There has to be a rule against this, and if there isn’t then it’s at least breaking any number of ethical guidelines.

So I called the union. DC37 local 2627, technology workers.

The union rep told me that there was absolutely nothing they could do because I was a provisional employee, which means I could be fired at will: I have no rights. I’ve been paying union dues since 2007, I said. Yes, they said, as a Computer Service Technician. And now I’m a Computer Service Technician Specialist, which has only been a position with any union representation – which is to say they had all of one meeting about it with the city – as of two and a half weeks ago, and protection doesn’t kick in until two years’ service under that title… provided, that is, DC37 gets a contract with the city.

So my two years’ work as a Computer Service Technician don’t qualify me for protection?

No, you’re working under a different title now, he said.

But I’m doing the same job.

Not on paper, you’re not.

The reason for this, he said, was because after a Long Island school realized it could fire all the provisional employees without trouble, Bloomberg realized he could do the same and laid off some 900 employees, including myself – as this was when I was laid off October before last. When I was rehired, it was into a new position the NYCDoE invented so as to avoid all the hassle of seniority or protection and, while it was automatically under DC37’s jurisdiction, there was no contract for it and there still isn’t. This is to say that the union was handily out-maneuvered, and it took them a full year to react. As such, this is why I’m being laid off again.

So I ask, how do I get to a permanent position? Take a civil service exam, he said, and be called to work somewhere. I already took one, I said. Not in our records, he replied, and besides, you won’t be permanent for a long while – next round is in 2014, and then you need to be appointed and work for a year past that to be protected. Not that it matters, because positions like yours were invented by the system to circumvent all that.

Why would anybody work in this stupid position?

For the benefits, said he. Health, dental, etc.

What do you suggest I do?

Keep your mouth shut.

I hung up. I thought I was paying for a union, not an HMO.

Summer School


Out of the 400 students in my school, 250 need summer school. Nobody in my school seems to be surprised by this fact. So, when in Rome, be as cynical as the Romans are.

Come to find out, however, the school’s summer session is ten days long. Ten. Days. Long. Not six weeks: Ten days. And each student can take up to three classes. An hour and a half each class, three classes a day, four days a week for two and a half weeks.

They get credit for three classes. Four months’ work condensed into ten days.

If that wasn’t insane enough, they’re not even showing up. Fully 150 students cut most of the first week. In this, the second week, an average of 75 students aren’t showing up. I’ve even spoken with one boy who cut school because they’d confiscate his cell phone if he entered the building and he “needed it for work.”

To add lethargy to laziness, the students that do show up mosey in up to half an hour late. We’re practically giving them free credits, and they’re not even accepting them. This is a New York City public high school; one of Bloomberg’s babies.

How? Just, how?

On a separate note, the principal today handed me nine boys for tutoring and instructed me, in front of them, not to correct her when she gave her spiel about my being a “middling student.” On top of that, she added that she was surprised that I did not ask her for assistance after the previous day’s tutoring session. In front of the students.

This is personal.

Professional Courtesy


I’ve been commissioned to tutor students in math – mostly geometry – for the summer school session.

The principal introduced me to four boys, stating that I, like them, was “middling” in my mathematical ability in high school. The principal does not know my record. I don’t know whether she was attempting to seek a way to bring the students and myself into a sense of rapport via mutual experience or merely finding a manner in which to denigrate me in front of people I’m supposed to hold authority over, but I was not amused.

In this school, geometry is not as far as students go: It’s as far as classes offer. Science is just as bad – chemistry and physics were dropped due to high failing rates, and replaced with a regents-less astronomy course and the bullshit earth science and ‘life science’ courses, which are essentially science without formulas or analysis. The standards are fantastically low, and the students react accordingly: Given four years to do one year’s worth of math and science is laughable.

I took algebra and geometry in middle school. In high school I took trigonometry and calculus. I took AP physics after taking biology, chemistry and regents physics and, in college, took engineering calculus and physics. I work in a math-related field: Computers and IT. I know math. I see no particular reason to lie to the students – because all students in the public school system have highly honed bullshit detectors – and if I did I would not trump up the so-called difficulty of the subject by implying that I had trouble with it.

Moreover, if I were in a management position, I would not undermine the authority of my charges for what can most generously be called a bad joke, especially if only to reinforce the utter contempt and lack of expectations of the students themselves. They are better than that. I am better than that.

They picked up the information quickly enough: A mere lack of attention was the culprit for their being in summer school, and being forced to concentrate on the task at hand alleviated that in short order. I was and can only be shocked at how simple it was to deal with the problem. Tech support problems take longer to diagnose. And if all it took was to set their noses to the grindstones after proving to them how easy it was, why did it take so long? It’s as if they’ve been told math was hard for the sake of being hard.

I certainly know more than a few English teachers – masters degrees and all – who think that of math. Alas.

Again You

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And I’ve been laid off again. Budget cuts once again made my position redundant, which means that as the only tech in a building of six schools, soon nobody will be running the equipment. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming; we’ll see how deep it cuts this time.

65 Court St

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As I mentioned, I was laid off two years ago. I spent eleven months collecting unemployment before being hired back into the school system at the start of a new school year. However, they could not pay me until they re-entered me into the system, which meant a trip to 65 Court St in downtown Brooklyn. Read the rest of this entry »

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