David Mandler

Thoughts, feelings, reactions on Hungarian, American, Israeli, Jewish issues

Month: March, 2015

The True Lessons Of Governor Cuomo’s Teacher Evaluation Reform

As an elementary and junior high school student, I struggled with understanding math and chemistry and even (gasp!) failed many physics tests. In 10th grade, I began to do better. In my college sophomore year, I aced core Physics.

For far too long following graduation, I had remained in the dark as to the true cause of my early failures. In that depressing and most horrible period of my life, I began to blame myself for these failures. (I would be remiss if I concealed the fact that, at the time, I mostly flipped out at how “stupid” those tests were). Be it as it may, years later, during said dark moments, I told myself that I should not have watched T.V. for three hours and played video games for two hours every day, and, instead, should have spent some of that time on preparing for those stupid tests. At other times, I even blamed myself for not listening to what the teachers were saying because my stomach demanded lunch at 11:00 am during physics class. Clearly, not asking clarifying questions from either my classmates or my teachers when they said something I did not understand was also something for which I had actually blamed myself. In the last wave of self-accusatory contemplation, I even went so far as to bemoan the fact that I copied the great majority of homework assignments before class from various people sitting either in front of or behind me who somehow managed to have the right answers instead of trying to figure them out myself (but then I would have missed those awesome reruns of “Friends” and I would not have been able to play paddle ball for an hour every day in the park with my friends).

It took Governor Cuomo’s brilliant teacher evaluation plan he announced in January to make me realize just how deeply I had erred in all my suppositions.

Now I know that I had nothing to do with my failures.

It was Mr. Spock, Mrs. Gilligan, Ms. Schwartz, and Mr. Dillard, my teachers in these subjects to blame! (I’ve long forgotten the names of my other teachers although one of the names I have just listed may not have been my teacher, but that name has stuck in my mind).

Yes, now I know that my classmates who did well on the tests would have done well even if the teacher had been a robot. True, I did well in music and English classes, but, thanks to governor Cuomo, now I know why: because I always had wonderful teachers.

So, when I could not run three blocks around the school, or do twenty pushups in ninth grade, now I know it was because Mr. Stephens, the overly strict physical education teacher, was a bad teacher. Two years later, when I could easily do forty pushups and run around the school four times, I now know it was because I no longer had Mr. Stephens but rather Ms. Fox who inspired me to use the muscles I had gained while I was trying to do those damn pushups in Mr. Stephens’ class who frequently yelled inspirational obscenities at the ceiling.

Therefore, I fully support Governor Cuomo’s plan to put the blame on the shoulders where blame belongs: teachers. After all, I had some really bad once (see second paragraph) even though they were blessed with such model students as yours truly in their classes.

I support the brilliant idea of assessing the 9th grade art teacher, the physical education teacher, and the music teacher on how well their students do on tests in their English Regents examination in 11th grade. The correlation is too obvious for me to detail here.

I also support having 35% of the overall teacher effectiveness grade based on a knowledgeable bureaucrat’s insightful and far-reaching observation of a teacher conducting a single lesson. After all, you don’t need more to see how a teacher does on all other days to know if he or she is good. One lesson is enough.

The other 50% of the grade, needless to add very wisely, the governor proposes to tie to how much students improve on tests for a select few subject areas a few years apart. Clearly, the improvements on a New York State examination in Math or English from, say, 7th to 11th grade, or lack thereof, can be attributed to none other than the 9th grade music, art or physical education teacher of those students.

Again, the correlation is far too obvious. Anyone who argues otherwise is, in the immortal characterization of our esteemed governor, spreading a bunch of “baloney.”

Since the time Governor Cuomo’s proposed teacher evaluation caused my sudden epiphany, I have been awaiting April first with bated breath. Lately, I have developed a curious case of anxiety: I have been having a vivid and frequently recurring nightmare that always unfolds the same way. In it, I see the governor ascend the podium at the State Legislature with an exaggerated clownish grin. He begins to laugh hysterically. Then he lifts high above his head the proposed teacher evaluation plan in a binder only to bang on the podium stand with it a moment later while shouting to the petrified lawmakers the words: “April Fools’ Day, I got you all! Aprils’ Fools Day, I got you all.”

Please take action to put an end to this sad joke by sending a message to the governor and other responsible officials by following this link. It’s quick, easy and painless.




The Two-States Solution: Sadly, a Fairy Tale in the Making

Netanyahu’s pre-election eve statement (directed at his political base) that a Palestinian state would not emerge under his watch spurred many governments around the world to voice their concerns. With Netanyahu’s seemingly contradictory post-election reassurance that he is not against the two state solution, “the world” could not help but brand Netanyahu a liar and a flip-flopper. In a deafening din of indignation, a host of fundamental issues about the viability of the two-state solution were bracketed once again. So, how consistent is Netanyahu’s pre-election statement with his post-election clarification? Let us see what a narrow and pragmatic look at the current situation in the Middle East reveals by asking two questions.

1. Would even the most dovish of Israeli primer ministers be able to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians?

The current political landscape makes such a deal impossible to reach or implement. The inconvenient fact is that Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank, despite having a unity government on paper, have nothing but contempt for one another. The unity agreement is a sad joke. (A quick google search will suffice to yield countless stories on arrests, bombings, and assassinations in Gaza and the West Bank definitively tied to this bloody conflict).

Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and is firmly entrenched with its tentacles reaching all levels of Gazan society. Hamas’s own charter speaks of liberating all of Palestine (that means, replacing the State of Israel) with a Muslim state. How could Israel ever come to an agreement with this most rabidly anti-Israel group without a radical shift in their internal composition or the jettisoning of their essential ideological foundation as codified in their charter? The answer is obvious: Israel cannot. Consequently, an agreement with Fatah (in and of itself fraught with fatal weaknesses) would be totally worthless unless it includes the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as well.

Feeding merely one head of the two-headed Palestinian body politics would leave this entity as hungry and dissatisfied as ever.

Thus, Netanyahu was right to suggest that there could be no Palestinian state under his watch as prime minister because Hamas would never accede to anything less than the disappearance of Israel in the long run, despite its shifting rhetoric on the acceptability of pre-1967 borders. And Israel could not accept Hamas in charge of the West Bank as well, for then the situation would revert to what existed before 1967: constant terrorist attacks against the State of Israel.

2. If Israel decided to withdraw unilaterally from territories captured in the third Arab-Israeli war in 1967 war (also launched against Israel by its Arab neighbors), what would the day after look like? Would freedom and democracy suddenly replace “Israeli oppression”? Would this move satisfy the so-called international community?

To answer this question, it’s enough to shift our eyes to the Gaza strip and note what followed Ariel Sharon’s decision to “disengage” that is, completely withdraw, from Gaza: Hamas violently assuming control power, periods of missile showers into Israel as well as anti-Israel voices maintaining that Israel has kept Gaza under occupation by virtue of its “siege” of Gaza. If Israel left the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Fatah would most likely be unable to maintain its grip on power for long. It does not take much to imagine how much more dangerous the situation would become on the ground for hundreds of thousands of Israelis (not to mention those Arabs in the area who do not share in the totalitarian vision based on a harsh interpretation of Islam Hamas represents). Ironically, Hamas may now be considered to be moderate in comparison to so-called radical Islamic groups such as ISIS, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram that have no compunction about murdering hundreds of people inside and outside  of mosques for political reasons. Naturally, these groups would be even less hesitant to murder (Israeli) Jews in great numbers given the opportunity. To maintain its reputation and its tight grip on Gaza, Hamas is likely to intensify both its anti-Israel rhetoric and actions of building and fortifying tunnels that reach deep into Israel for future attacks.

In both scenarios, Israel would gravely endanger itself by withdrawing from the West Bank either with a negotiated peace settlement or without it.

Therefore, Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre- and post-election declarations are consistent.

While in theory Netanyahu is not against the emergence a state of Palestine under specific conditions, he is fully aware that no matter what he believes or does as the freshly re-elected prime minister of Israel, he is not in a position to engineer a situation anytime soon in which a peaceful, unified and economically viable nation of Palestine could emerge (with Gaza and the West Bank at each other’s necks) without endangering the very lives of countless Israelis as a consequence.

That is a price the rest of world, perhaps, is all too willing to pay to satisfy a deeply flawed and misplaced meta-narrative of Israeli decolonialization of Palestine. From his pre- and post-election declarations, it is clear that that is not a price Netanyahu is willing to pay.

I just wish he had articulated this more precisely.