Friday, December 11, 2009

One Happy Fela and Parteeee at Gotham

Wednesday was an interesting day and evening. We got home late Tuesday night from a week in Florida at Singer Island near West Palm Beach - starting with 5 cloudy/rainy days and ending with 2 beautiful days.

I had promised to help a teacher who needed a chaperon for a school trip to see the new Broadway musical Fela about Fela Kuti, an African singer and political rebel. The NY Times gave the show one of the better reviews I've seen. So I headed over to the high school on Wednesday. The class was an interesting mix. It seemed mostly white and Asian, with a few black and Hispanic kids and a few Muslim girls wearing head scarves. My co-chaperon is an activist who is about to become a teacher and though we never met, is connected to ISO and knows all the players. We had a great review of the state of ed activism on the way to the city as we reviewed all the activist groups - and they are growing by leaps and bounds. Then we all crammed into McDonald's for a quick meal before the show.

I'm leaving the school and teacher out of this because who know what evil lurks in the hearts of school and DOE administrators. There is cursing in the show - HORRORS! And sexual innuendo – YIKES! The show is based on the idea that this was Fela's final performance in his theater and he treats the audience as he would a real audience for his show. The entire audience was filled with kids and Fela is loud and stimulating, so there was noise. Lots of it. But the performers want noise. They encourage it. And the kids loved it.

After the show, the actors, including Sahr Ngaujah who alternates in the Fela role with Kevin Mambo, came out to answer questions and talk to the kids. That was after almost 3 hours of performing - and Fela is on stage for almost the entire performance. There must have been a thousand kids or more and this was so orderly as to be scary. Imagine - a class size of a thousand. Take that Leonie! I better not give BloomKlein any ideas.

Speaking of Klein, my next stop was to head downtown to the Gotham Schools blowout open invite party on Lafayette Street. But first I had to meet a visiting cousin from Oakland for a drink over on Lexington and 47th St. He is a businessman/CEO and is convinced Obama is a socialist. But his business is drilling for oil, so what do you expect? His stepdaughter recently moved to Israel and married a Hassidic Jew who is not born Jewish but converted. She was born Jewish but was not religious until fairly recently. Now my cousin and his wife, who were at the upper levels of Werner Erhard's EST lifestyle movement in the 70's - my cousin was running the organization for a while, are becoming observant Jews.

That has been one strange trip and getting the latest details of this journey made me over an hour late for the Gotham Party. I was not the only one. I came up in the elevator with City Councilman Robert Jackson and Jan Atwell of the NYC Council. I mentioned how his complaint at a recent overcrowded PEP meeting at Tweed that it was a farce for them to hold meetings for the public in so limited a space has given Tweed an excuse to move the meetings to Outer Mongolia. I hope he complains about that and gets them to move the important Jan. 26 meeting where school closings will be voted on out of Staten Island, which has no schools being closed, and into a central location that can be reached from all boroughs. Like a large high school in Manhattan near good transportation. (Maybe Jackson can also be our spokesperson to the UFT which moved the Delegate Assemblies years ago from Fashion Industries HS which held everyone comfortably to the UFT building where they hold a meeting with a potential 3000 attendees in a space that holds 850. Way too often you have to think that Tweed and 52 Broadway were separated at birth.)

Anyway, we missed Joel Klein's speech. And also missed Diane Ravitch reading from her upcoming blockbuster book - to be released in March. I'm glad I got there in time to see her before she left. A few Tweedies seemed pleased that Diane was pretty nice to them.

The party was loaded with some of the influential ed people in NYC on all sides. Leonie Haimson and Jennifer Jennings (Eduwonkette), her former mentor and co-blogger as Skoolboy, Aaron Pallas (with an interesting anecdote about the party), Alexander Russo, who I met formally for the first time, Arthur Goldstein. I saw testing analyst Fred Smith and Jose Vilson, who wrote about the party (and the wonderful ed blogging community we are all part of). I had met Jose at a bloggers gathering hosted by Gotham's Philissa Cramer and Kelly Vaughan when Gotham first began. Kelly was there Wednesday. She left Gotham a year ago and is back teaching- in a charter school and seems to be having a great time. For those who do not know, Kelly blogged as one of the major ed blogs that was world famous for many years. Philissa was there taking pictures and reporters Anna Philips and Maura Walz, who I formally met for the first time. And of course, Elizabeth Green was the hostess with the mostest.

Gotham financial backer Ken Hirsch was there beaming, all suited up. You can disagree with Ken 100% and still have great conversations with him even though Ken also backs Harlem Success schools.

I got to hang out a bit with some of my favorite Tweedies in the PR department. The entire cast of thousands didn't attend - the party would have had to be held in Madison Square Garden to hold them all. The leader of the gang, David Cantor, who makes enemies when he posts to listserves but makes lots of friends in person, suggested I write a memoir. Sure, David, distract me so I get off BloomKlein's back. No wonder he gets the big bucks. When I left the party he was huddled with Eduwonkette, maybe making amends for the attacks Tweed made on her when she was anonymous. David is one party guy. Andy Jacob, former Tweed spokesperson, who I also met at one of Kelly Vaughan's parties, is now working for Tim Daly at The New Teachers Project. It was noisy, but I think Andy said that Daly reads Ed Notes (search this blog to see the nice things we said about him). Clearly a masochist.

Leo Casey was there for the UFT. I am more comfortable talking to Tweedies than to Casey (who I don't talk to). At least Tweedies show you the knife when they stick it in. I got more than a few questions from people asking my opinion of Mulgrew. Some Tweedies wanted to know how Eterno will do in the election. "He's pretty busy as chapter leader trying to fight to keep Jamaica HS open," I said. "Isn't it a done deal," she said? "It's never over 'til it's over," I answered. "Does Eterno have something up his sleeve," she asked? I smiled, not wanting to give away the big secret that the staff and parents and students at Jamaica are installing secret devices to blast out anti BloomKlein slogans in perpetuity when the new schools take over.

A couple of charter school people came over to chat. They say they are mom and pop charters and wanted to know what GEM and Ed Notes and ICE are so anti-charter when they claim they are countering the awful BloomKlein bureaucracy. They say they would love to talk to GEM about this issue and bring some unity. They seem to be really bothered by the actions of GEM and CAPE. We had a lot of good back and forth and will continue the conversation.

And then there was the charter school operator of all time. The one and only Evil Moskowitz. Talking to Leonie Haimson, no less. I was watching this scene with Francis Lewis HS chapter leader Arthur Goldstein waiting for fisticuffs to break out. "Let's throw a bucket of water on Eva and see if she melts," Arthur said.

Help elect Arthur to the UFT exec board on the ICE/TJC slate and you'll get laughs like these all the time.

See links to all of Arthur's pieces at Gotham on the ed notes sidebar.

Thanks to David Bellel for the photoshopping

Postscript: congratulations to the crew at Gotham for pulling off an event that brought so many people with varying views into one space. This was not a cheap thing to do and they are asking for financial support. I am kicking in a few to make sure they keep doing the great work they do. Head on over and do the same to help keep some vestige of independent education press alive.


Anonymous said...

when not in her witch's garb there's an interesting resemblance between
Eva Moskowitz and Elizabeth Green.

Anonymous said...

You must be smokin' something because Green is smoking and Moskowitz is yech.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to agree with the above comment. I only wish I had the nerve to post my name while doing it.

Kelly said...

Great review, Norm.

Lots of interesting people and diverging viewpoints at that party... and really, who wants to hang out only with people with whom you already agree?! I met one or two folks in person whom I'd previously only "met" online... hi Jennifer & Arthur!

I hope there will be many more events that allow us to get to know each other, share ideas, argue good-naturedly.

Alexander Russo said...

great to meet you in person, norm -- and thanks for the helpful post.

/ alexander