Monday, January 17, 2011

Black Humor

It would be hard to imagine that Mike Bloomberg, in selecting a schools chancellor, could find someone more out of touch with the folks than even he himself is-but in Cathie Black he may just have found that special someone.
As the NY Daily News reports, the chancellor's improv comedy isn't going over well wiith the commoners: "Schools Chancellor Cathie Black joked that there's a simple solution to overcrowding in lower Manhattan - birth control. "Could we just have some birth control for a while?" Black said Thursday night. "It would really help us." Black earned chuckles for the joke at an overcrowding task force meeting, but downtown parents say the growing population of youngsters is no laughing matter. "I always cringe when I hear that (joke)," said Public School 234 parent Tricia Joyce. "I understand the temptation to joke about it. But our situation isn't funny any more."
Yes indeed, that's what we need-jokes about eugenics that remind us of some of the racist underpinnings of the work of Margaret Sanger. As one commentator points out: "Margaret Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood, the leading organization advocating abortion in the United States today. Darwinism had a profound influence on her thinking, including her conversion to, and active support of, eugenics. She was specifically concerned with reducing the population of the ‘less fit’, including ‘inferior races’ such as ‘Negroes.'"
The NY Post also weighs in on the controversy: "Now that's Black humor. Less than two weeks into her new gig, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black has riled parents and public officials by jokingly suggesting that "birth control" was the solution to school overcrowding. The off-color quip came in response to concerns by public-school dad Eric Greenleaf, who said at a meeting of parents and officials at state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's downtown office that there will be "huge shortages" of classroom space in lower Manhattan in coming years. "Could we just have some birth control for a while?" Black cracked. "It could really help us all out a lot."

Black went on to compound her foot in mouth disease: "Joyce was also upset that Black compared weighing the needs of different schools to the movie "
Sophie's Choice." "As we all know, one child dies (in the movie). This isn't optional," Joyce added. "We have a right to a public school seat."
Of course, as a number of elected officials and community leaders have pointed out, the problem of school overcrowding may not devolve from the fecundity of the lower orders. As the Post tells us:"Some who were at the meeting said Black's levity was especially inappropriate given that she was addressing a community whose complaints about the scarcity of public-school seats has for years seemed to fall on deaf ears. They said they came to hear solutions, not stand-up comedy. "Those kinds of comments show a lack of understanding of what parents are going through," said Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1. "The parents I spoke with after the meeting were very concerned about the comments she made because we're grappling with real issues."
And what may those, "real issues," be? Well, for starters, the failure of the current school governance regime to adequately address the overcrowding issue-allowing developers to build more housing with no provision for schools. You might remember that the underlying community issue in the Bronx, when the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory was being debated early on, was the need for class room space. Instead the community got malled-or, at least malling was attempted.
As the News points out: "The problem, parents and advocates charge, is that the city offered incentives to developers to build without also increasing school seats." And the News' Michael Daley agrees-and sees Black as an absolute disaster: "We are instead left with a chancellor in the oldest sense, a title rooted in the Latin "cancellarius," originally a doorkeeper or porter. That, in turn, derives from "cancellus," the latticework over a window or entryway." Ouch!
The Post grasps just how damaging the Black faux pas really are-with its, "Put a lid on it Cathie," editorial: "Now, we don't think that the chancellor finds her students a burden, or thinks there are too many forgotten urchins in her schools. But the circumstances of her ascension to the chancellorship were such that she has zero margin for error. It's inexcusable for her to make jokes where birth rates -- always a sensitive issue among minority parents -- are the underlying punch line. And if Black wants to compare overcrowded city schools to packed-in Nazi cattle cars, she may very well be in the wrong line of work."
As many of us have said. The Post goes on to say that Black is giving aid and comfort to her enemies: "Certainly she needs to come to terms with the stark fact that, ex officio, she acquired many, many enemies when she became chancellor. They want her to fail, and they will do everything in their power to harm her and, by extension, her principal -- Mayor Bloomberg. Black has just given them much aid and comfort, unnecessarily so. The chancellor truly needs to watch her words in the future."
Her words, however, bespeak of a particular mindset-one of a woman who is ill suited for the role that the mayor chose for her. It's hard to see this situation getting any better.