Friday, November 19, 2010

Reevaluating Rubber Rooms

(Rubber Rooms: where New York City's teachers go when they “misbehave.” A sort of “paid detention.”)

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching the performance of a play written by one of our fellow American Studies majors, Ariadne Blayde. A double major in playwriting, Blayde was inspired to write her play “The Rubber Room” after reading an intriguing New Yorker article which exposed the inner-workings of New York City’s “Temporary Re-Assignment Centers” for public school teachers.

(Satirical cartoon on New York Rubber Rooms)

"Rubber Rooms", which were thankfully shut down in September, were places where “At a cost of more than $30 million a year, teachers and 90 other school employees sit for weeks, months or even years in the centers - reading newspapers, playing games or napping - while waiting for their cases to wind through the disciplinary system.” The scene described is the product of an unsatisfying compromise between the Teachers Union and the Department of Education. The Teachers Union wants to protect teachers and their jobs, while the Department of Education has an obligation to protect school children and keep accused teachers out of the classroom. Violations worthy for accusation range anywhere from “incompetence to sexual misconduct.” The absurd (yet real) situation possessed what Blayde calls great “dramatic potential” for a play.

“The Rubber Room”, which premiered in the White Box Theatre at Fordham Lincoln Center, is a witty and insightful play that delves into the personal stories of five teachers held inside a New York City "rubber room." Ariadne wanted to attribute a human aspect to the "rubber room" debates, and thus focused on the perspective of the teachers who suffer the consequences, she explains, “Some are innocent and some deserve to be there, it’s about people and their stories.” As each teacher’s story unfolds, one can see that that there is no easy solution to this predicament, if there is even a solution at all.

The New York City public school system is the largest school system in the nation and thus inevitably prone to complexities and complications. Eight-year leader of this system, Joel Klein was quoted in the New Yorker as saying “You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it” But Klien won’t have to “appreciate” the system any more, seeing as of about a week ago Mayor Bloomberg appointed magazine mogul Cathie Black to replace him.

(Sensationalized cover of The Daily News, reporting Black's appointment)

But many are questioning “Huh?” to Bloomberg’s decision, as some point out that Black has no technical credentials for the job, let alone shown any outward desire to work in education. However, the choice should come as no surprise, since Klein himself also had a seemingly ‘unsuited’ resume for a job in education (he was the assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice and chairman at Bertelsmann, a massive media corporation.) Bloomberg’s reasoning for appointing business honchos is that their management savvy is just what’s needed in the school system. Which in that case, Black seems a good fit: while spearheading Hearst (publishers of magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping), ad pages increased 12%, a percentage that “outpaced” the currently stagnant magazine industry. Whether Black can equally salvage New York City public schools is yet to be seen.

So what needs to change? Blayde says “We need a better way of evaluating students and teachers, not all students are the same. More importantly, we need to protect children’s welfare.”

Hopefully, with the dismantling of "rubber rooms" and a new chancellor in place, we can see some more of Blayde’s advice being put into action.

1 comment:

Professor Glenn Hendler said...

Congratulations to Ariadne on the performance of her play! I'm sorry I didn't make it.....