BOB CONFER: Cuomo reimagines education badly

Bob Confer

Back in 2016, I had the honor of being commencement speaker for my alma mater, Royalton-Hartland High School. My speech was mostly on point, celebrating our school and community and the great students that came from them.

But, I’m a newspaper columnist, I peddle opinions. So, I briefly went off message and threw a shot at Common Core, the monster of scholastic control that was forced upon educators by non-educators.

I’ll never forget the cheers and vast sea of fist pumps, nodding heads and smiles when I said, “Common Core is rotten to the core.” That universal acknowledgement by the crowd of hundreds spoke to the frustration that teachers, parents and students harbor towards mandates in the classroom.

It didn’t begin and it certainly won’t end with Common Core. The laundry list of educational failures from higher bodies is endless. Think No Child Left Behind and Regents exams.

Such programs haven’t worked and will never work as well as powerbrokers would hope, because the people who best know — the subjects and students (the teachers) who have their finger on the pulse of the community (the administrators and school boards) and understand what’s best for their kids (the parents) — are all left out of the equation. Under the rules from above, they must do as they are told and cannot do as they should. Elected officials and powerful agencies in the state capital and Washington, D.C., — and profiteers on Wall Street — dictate what must be taught and how it should be taught. Education has been standardized by individuals who truly don’t know how to work with children.

That tragic situation is about to get worse in New York if Governor Cuomo has his way.

The governor’s daily COVID-19 press conferences are a study in political foreplay. He attempts to warm you to ideas gradually. It’s like reading the tea leaves — he’ll throw some hints your way. then days later he hits you with what he wanted to say all along.

In recent weeks, Cuomo seemed fond of saying that the distance learning that has been an outcome of New York’s shutdown has been great. I kept wondering why he would say that. It was the furthest thing from the truth. I don't know a single teacher, parent or student who believes that remote learning has been a winner. It’s been frustrating and heartbreaking for everyone. Sure, we’re all trying, and we all have to under the circumstances, but nothing beats the classroom and the magical abilities of our teachers in the presence of children.

So, why did he keep championing distance learning?

It was his attempt to make an easy sell out of last week’s announcement — a sale that blew up in his face, by the way, when you gauge the responses by New York’s teachers, principals and superintendents on social media — that the state will be working with the Gates Foundation to “re-imagine” education in the Empire State with a focus on non-classroom learning.

It just so happens the Gates Foundation was the driving force behind Common Core.

We don’t need Common Core 2.0. The first version is bad enough. An impersonal one would be worse.

But, that’s what Cuomo is trying to sell.

Re-imagining wouldn’t be a bandage to cover the wounds of COVID-19 temporarily as our nation heals. Instead, it would be the scar that’s left once the bandage is removed.

There was an air of permanency in Cuomo’s slideshow and talking points and, given Gates’ investment, you’d expect as much. As Cuomo said, "… the old model of our education system where everyone sits in a classroom is not going to work in the new normal. When we do reopen our schools let's reimagine them for the future.”

The future.

This is, undoubtedly, one of those “never let a good crisis go to waste” moments that politicians crave. Cuomo said as much with less controversial phrasing: "We have a moment in history where we can incorporate and advance ideas. I think this is one of those moments. Let's think about revolutionizing education."

A revolution.

As would be expected from someone totally removed from education, the governor’s revolution is all about technology and using it to replace, not necessarily augment, the classroom experience.

Nary was a mention given to people.

I don’t care if you have a high-tech classroom or a factory with the very best machinery: Your greatest assets are your people. The folks in the trenches are what get the job done.

The state and federal government have lost sight of that through the years. They think they, statistics and computers — not teachers — are better suited for managing how our kids learn, what they should learn, and what they can become.

We have to stop that immediately. We can’t go further down this path. We have to make sure Cuomo doesn’t open the gates to the Gates again.

You want to re-imagine education?

Let’s imagine it the way it used to be, when the loving souls who actually know education were allowed to educate.

If we go back to that, then we are guaranteed success for our schools, students and society.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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