On Friday there were two stories in two different “national” newspapers that describe two women’s lives and, read side by side, form a very disturbing picture of contemporary American life, showing large underlying problems. The first story was in the NYTimes and concerned Cathleen Black, Mayor Bloomberg’s surprise nomination to become New York City’s School Chancellor. [Here] The second piece was in the Washington Post [Here] and detailed the life of one woman, Chrissanda Walker, a single parent in Fort Myers, Florida, who has been forced into poverty from a comfortable middle class life because she lost her well-paying job as an executive in a nursing home a year and a half ago for no credible reason.
Cathleen Black is a media executive with absolutely no professional or personal experience with the city’s public school system or any public school, for that matter. She has no personal understanding of what it is like to teach a class of 25 hungry, wiggling second graders or what it is like even to be one of those hungry, wiggling second graders. The Times gives us an account of her phoning and contracting the power players in the city--ex-mayors, City Council members, politicos of all stripes--who might have clout and press access. I guess this is how things get done today in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. It’s a heartless, technocratic view of the world and it makes my blood run cold.
We are left to wonder what her opinion is about charter schools and indirectly whether she would fight to maintain public education against those corporationists who wish to replace public schools with privatized, chartered schools. She obviously approves of charter schools because this summer she joined an advisory board of the Harlem Village Academies, a cluster of 2 middle and one high school that has earned a national reputation for student achievement. [Here]
Beyond that issue, we also do not know her opinion about a long list of other critically important issues, such as holding teachers accountable for the test results of their students or the centrality of standardized testing itself.
While we attempt to find out the answers to some of these questions, the NYTimes has treated us to a blizzard of information about Cathleen Black’s professional and private life, her achievements in the magazine business, her luxury apartment, and even pictures of her summer homes. [Here]
In contrast to Cathleen Black’s soaring success story, the Washington Post’s article “One family’s plunge from middle class into poverty” presents us with an opposite reality that too many Americans are facing now across the country. [Here] Chrissanda Walker of Fort Myers, Florida was fired from her job as a well-paid ($100,000 per year) nursing home executive over a year and a half ago. Since then, she has been unable to find a job although she has been constantly searching and applying for work. She and her daughter, a high schooler, have been living on about $11,000 a year from her unemployment payments and selling her home-cooked meals for $10.00 apiece. (Her unemployment benefits are scheduled to end in the beginning of December.)
The Post quotes federal statistics [Here] that indicate that the national poverty rate has risen to 14.3%, “the highest level in more than 50 years.” In Chrissanda’s Florida, the state’s poverty level has risen to 2.7 million people. Furthermore, the diminishing income of black families has been almost 3 times that of white households.
Chrissanda is no stranger to work. She has worked at various jobs since she was 12 years old. She has followed the American dream and still believes in it, but she can find no work today, even though she has a college degree and an exemplary resumé. Obviously, her employer, the privately-owned nursing home, wished to downsize and they began with Chrissanda’s position.
This is the story of two women, both intelligent and both hard-working, but with such different realities. They both tell us something of contemporary America: one woman’s future career will probably give her immense power and recognition but the other woman’s future looks grim, perhaps even tragic. Both in their own way present each of us with fundamental questions about America’s future...