Merely two weeks into her tenure, un-credentialed NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black has put her foot in her mouth twice at the same event.
During a meeting with parents residing in lower Manhattan and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,’s Taskforce on School Overcrowding, Ms. Black joked that birth control might be a solution to school overcrowding.
Ms. Black’s ‘joke’ was prompted by data presented from NYU professor Eric Greenleaf, who has a child attending school in TriBeCa. Greenleaf cited demographic projections that there will be a shortage of 1,000 classroom seats by 2015 in the area. Lower Manhattan has seen a population increase due to incentives for people to move there after the Sept. 11 attacks. The city administration is blamed for not adequately planning more schools for the growing middle-class population.
“These are kids who are already born,” Mr. Greenleaf told Ms. Black, referring to the number of Downtown children who may not get a seat in their neighborhood school when they reach kindergarten age.
“Couldn’t we just have some birth control for a while?” Ms. Black asked. “It would really help us.”
Referring to tough decisions she will have to make while facing financial constraints and current overcrowding, Ms. Black said, “I don’t mean this in any flip way. It is many Sophie’s choices.”
The Chancellor’s ‘Sophie’s choice’ reference recalled a novel made into a movie in which a Polish woman found herself in a WW11 German death camp when a Nazi soldier forced her to which of her children would live, and which would die. Sophie ultimately chose life for her son, who was sent to a death camp. Her daughter would die. Sophie never found out the fate of her son.
Through a DOE spokesperson, Ms. Black issued an apology: “Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously, which is why she was engaged in a discussion with Lower Manhattan parents on the subject. She regrets if she left a different impression by making an off-handed joke in the course of that conversation.”
Councilman Charles Barron immediately pounced on the issue. Against the backdrop of parents chanting “Cathie Black must go!”, Barron said, “We are outraged. Insulted. For her to say to SOHO parents in downtown Manhattan a joke about birth control being the answer to overcrowded classrooms is outrageously ignorant and racist. Those kinds of remarks are not laughable. We heard the same thing from William Shockley, a racist scientist in the 1960’s, who said that blacks should be paid to voluntarily sterilize themselves so that they can bring their population down. We hope and pray Cathie Black is not a fan of William Shockley.”
Barron said, “We are calling for her resignation. We don’t believe she should have been selected in the first place. She doesn’t meet any of the qualifications, and this proves it. This proves she is clueless on how to deal with the system of education in NYC. This is no joke. Playing with our children’s education is unacceptable to us, and unconscionable. With 80% of the children in the schools black and Latino, and you joke about birth control as a solution to overcrowded classrooms, that’s racist.”
Councilwoman Letitia James offered a reasoned response to Ms. Black’s comments on school overcrowding. “Apparently, within a week of Cathie Black taking over forormer Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, she has already shown her lack of experience in the field. Students have a right to a public school education, and overcrowding is not a funny subject. One of the School Chancellor’s job duties is to devise a plan for creating more seats in the growing population of young
people living in the City, as well as to exhibit understanding and compassion for parents.”
James said, “It is simply irresponsible for Chancellor Black to have made this comment at all. It is even more important not to make jokes about the education of children during a public school overcrowding task force meeting, because it seems as if she is placing the blame on parents and the community. Overcrowding in schools has been an ongoing problem in the public school system, and is a serious problem that the DOE has not prioritized well enough.”
District Leader Chris Owens, who was part of a coalition to fight Black’s appointment said, ” I think Ms. Black is showing she is totally green as a manager in the public sector. What you do in the private sector is not what you do in the public sector. She is not a good manager for the public sector. This has been our argument from the beginning. She is not experienced in dealing with what we have to deal with in the public sector. We have to deal with her in the public sector. If she was number two, that would be almost acceptable. But, she is the number one. Everything she does is under the spotlight. She gets held accountable, just like any manager would. We can hold a chancellor accountable who is insensitive to the race and class of the population she is supposed to serve.”
“This is a policy issue started before her and will outlast her – the issue of where people live and building an appropriate amount of school space for the population in a given area,” Mr. Owens said. “I think Ms. Black is going to find the challenges she faces are quite daunting. I wish her luck, but the bottom line is she shouldn’t have been in the position.”