208. It's Not Your Money: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org
It's Not Your Money
Though it was twenty years and more ago, I remember well that day in 1979 when I loaded my old Ford station wagon with broken tape recorders, broken movie projectors, broken record players, broken tripods, broken typewriters, broken editing machines, etc., some nearly new and still under warranty, and withoutnotifying anyone trucked it all over to the repair facility on Court Street in Brooklyn because the Bureau of Audio- Visual Instruction had failed to respond to three official requests for help from the school.
This was an errand of mercy for a new principal, a fine North Carolina lady serving her probationary period, a woman for whom I had high regard because she broke rules to do the things that mattered. 3 The executive on duty at BAVI had once been a "Coordinator" at the school I was coming from. Apart from his job title he was a likeable sort who reminded me of Arnold Stang on the old Captain Video show.
But when he saw my load of wreckage he exploded. "What are you trying to pull?" he said. "We don't have time to repair these things!" Official ladders of referral did in fact assign the repair function to BAVI; if not them, then who? Because I was there, the equipment was accepted, but shortly afterwards I heard on the grapevine it had been thrown out and my principal upbraided for her lack of decorum in trying to have it repaired. Broken machinery is a signal to buy new and may be reckoned among the lifeblood factors of school's partnership with the larger economy.
As long as I'm reminiscing, I remember also an earlier time when a different principal wanted to "make space" in the audio-visual vault. Some years earlier a one-time foundation windfall had been expended on thirty-nine overhead projectors even though the school already had ten, and nobody but administrators and gym teachers used them anyway because they bored the life out of kids. "Could you help me out, John, and pitch those things somewhere after school when nobody is around to see? I'll owe you one." The reason I was asked, I think, besides the fact I always drove an old station wagon and had no reluctance about using it for school matters, was that I always insisted on talking as an equal to school people whatever their title or status. I saw them as colleagues, engaged in the same joint enterprise I was enrolled in myself.
This disrespect for the chain of command sometimes bred a kind of easy familiarity with administrators, denied more conventional teachers with an "us" and "them" outlook. In any case, I drove some of the junk to the dumpster at the entrance to the trail to Lake Rutherford in High Point State Park, in New Jersey, the rest to a dump near my farm in Norwich, New York, where $10,000 or so in equipment was duly buried by the bulldozer. Incidentally, I recall being expressly forbidden to give these projectors away, because they might be "traced" back to Community School District 3.
Community School District 3, Manhattan, is the source of most of my school memories, the spot where I spent much of my adult working life. I remember a summer program there in 1971 where the administrator in charge ran frantically from room to room in the last week of the term asking that teachers "help him out" by spending some large amount of money ($30,000 is the figure that comes to mind) that he had squirreled away on the books. When we protested the school term was over, he explained he was fearful of being evaluated poorly on money management and that might cost him a chance to become a principal. Getting rid of money at the end of the term so it didn't have to be returned was a major recurring theme during my years in District 3.
Another District 3 story I'll not soon forget is the time the school board approved funds for the purchase of five thousand Harbrace College Handbooks at $1 1 each after it had been brought to their attention by my wife that the identical book was being remaindered in job lots at Barnes & Noble 's main store on 1 7 th Street for $1 a copy. Not on the list of approved vendors, I might have been told, though it's too long ago to recall.
Why do these things happen? Any reasonable person might ask that question. And the answer is at one and the same time easy and not so easy to give. When we talk about politics in schooling we draw together as one what in reality are two quite different matters. It will clarify the discussion to divide school politics into a macro and a micro component. The macropolitics dictate that holes in floors cannot be fixed, or machinery repaired, or independent texts secured at the fair market rate. The macropolitics of schooling are deadly serious. They deal with policy issues unknown to the public, largely out of reach of elected representatives — senators and presidents included — and are almost impervious to public outrage and public morality. Hence the windfall for teachers and administrators at public colleges over the past decade and a half.
On the other hand, the micropolitics of schooling deal with the customary venality of little fish in their dealings with even littler fish. I speak of the invisible market in petty favors that school administrators run in virtually every public school in the land, a market that trades in after-school jobs, partial teaching programs, desirable rooms, desirable classes, schedules that enable certain teachers, but not others, to beat the Friday rush hour traffic to Long Island, all the contemptible non-cash currency without which the management of schooling would become very difficult. The micro-politics of schooling are degrading, disgusting, and demoralizing, but it pales in importance before macropolitical decisions about time, sequencing, curriculum, personnel, ties of schooling to the economy, and matters of that magnitude, for which the opinions of school people are never significant.
What follows in this chapter is mostly a consideration of the macro world, but if I had to sum up in one image how otherwise decent people conspire through schooling against hardworking ordinary people to waste their money, I would tell my auditors of the time I tried energetically to save a Social Studies chairman a substantial amount of money in purchasing supplies even though I wasn't in his department. I happened to know where he could buy what he wanted at about 50 percent less than he was prepared to pay. After tolerating my presentation and dismissing it, he became irritated when I pressed the case: "What are you getting so agitated for, John? It's not your moneyl"
3. She was denied tenure a few years later for failing to play ball with the district office and the teachers who mattered in the building. Although a New York Times editorial came to her defense (!), the superintendent was unrelenting. A year later he was expelled for crossing the local city councilwoman.