The school reform debate reaches its peak of vitriol when it turns to teachers unions and “corporate reformers,” writes Steven Hodas on The Lens. This reflects a culture clash, he argues, citing his experience in New York City.
Urban school systems — like other municipal departments — “drew employees largely from blue-collar urban ethnic populations seeking entry into the middle class,” he writes. The work culture valued apprenticeship in the craft, “personal relationships gained through immersion and tenure in the workplace, and an acute awareness of chain of command and workplace rules.”
The techniques of day-to-day practice (on a job site, at a fire, in the classroom) were largely unwritten . . . The centers of gravity and legitimacy were situated with the front-line workers themselves, and only those managers who had risen through the ranks of successive apprenticeship had legitimized authority.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein brought in a “white-collar, managerially focused culture” that sees seniority and experience as suspect. “Personal loyalties and obligations . . . are not assets but liabilities to org chart-style managers.” Klein created new career routes “that explicitly sought to route around the traditional pathways of apprenticeship,” writes Hodas.
For the first time, significant numbers of teachers, principals, and district personnel were recruited from elite institutions, not for lifelong careers but for stints of indeterminate duration. Now, principals need not to have spent long periods in the classroom or serving apprenticeships as assistant principals. Central office administrators increasingly drew from the ranks of those who had (or could have had) lucrative professional careers elsewhere and would never before have considered service within one of the nation’s most notorious bureaucracies.
The two cultures — blue-collar and white-collar — mistrusted and misunderstood each other, writes Hodas. “White-collar managers saw themselves as missionary and insurgent, their nominal authority threatened and undermined at every turn by aboriginal cultures of practice. Where they found strongholds they dismantled them, most significantly in the community school districts and in the central Division of Teaching and Learning (headed at the time by Carmen Farina, now de Blasio’s Chancellor and settling scores). “