I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mythbusting Chris Cerf at @NJEA: Prelude

Chris Cerf, New Jersey's Commissioner of Education, gave a remarkable speech today at the NJEA convention in Atlantic City. I'll get to the content soon enough, including some busting of the "myths" Cerf tried to sell us today.

But before we get to that: let's deal with the elephant in the room, shall we?
CHRIS CERF (11/8/13): Look, I think it's important to have a spirited, public debate about complex public policy issues, especially education. I recognize that passions are high and that it can be bruising and loud and sometimes very personal in the discourse. I personally have had billboards of me that I see on 95 going up. 
I'll tell you my one pet peeve - I don't know whether your leadership feels this way - is I think anonymous bloggers probably is the lowest form of life. [sic] People who don't have the courage to... you can say whatever you want, but meet me in a public forum. Tell me who's backing you, who's funding you, and tell me... let's have an opportunity to engage on that. So anyway, our discourse has become I think unfortunately characterized by too much of that.  [transcript mine]
 Golly, whomever could the Commissioner mean?

Jersey Jazzman
(Chris Cerf's conception)

First of all, the Commissioner started his talk by reminding the audience that he used to be a history teacher (he neglected to add that he taught in a private school). I understand that it's been a while since the man has been in front of the kids, but has he already forgotten that there is a long, proud history of political writing under pseudonyms? Did he forget Publius and the Federalist Papers? As a lawyer, I would have thought Cerf would remember that the Supreme Court itself upheld the importance of anonymous speech in 1995:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
Considering Cerf holds a quasi-judicial position, it's puzzling that he doesn't recognize this fundamental American right.

Second: writing under a pseudonym doesn't mean I'm wrong, any more than writing under my given name means that I'm right. Worrying about anonymity is a convenient dodge for those who would rather not deal with the content of the writing.

What have I written about you that's incorrect, Commissioner? What haven't I backed up with copious links to standard sources? Tell me, and I'll fix it - I've done it before. I happen to think I'm a pretty decent citizen journalist, but if you've got a beef, leave a comment or send an email and let me know.

Third: I'll admit that I've been tough on you. But I don't think I've ever said anything about you that comes close to the invective of calling someone "the lowest form of human life."

I once implied Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger didn't really care about education; I apologized. I once said Derrell Bradford was a clown; I almost apologized, but then he started acting like one. I think the worst I've ever said about you, Commissioner, was that you were a liar, but that was only because you lied (and you still owe Bruce Baker an apology).

But "the lowest form of human life"? I'm not sure I've even said anything like that about Chris Christie, even after he called us teachers "greedy" and compared us to drug dealers. You called for a civil discourse today, Commissioner: maybe you could start to set that tone.

Finally: I've blogged about this before, but let's go around one more time. I am not anonymous; I blog under a pseudonym. And, yes, there is a difference.

If you had come up to me today in Room 202, Commissioner, and asked, "Are you Jersey Jazzman?" I wouldn't have lied. People ask me if I'm JJ in person all the time; I never lie about it. That's not anonymity.

Three years ago, when I started this blog that no one was reading, I chose to write under a pseudonym for one big reason: I wanted to draw a clear, bright line between my work as a teacher - the most important thing in my life aside from my family - and my constitutionally protected right to free expression.

I work with young children every day, Commissioner, which means I also work with their parents. I want to keep the lines of communication open between myself and those parents, which is why I don't express my political views to them or my students. When I started blogging, I thought writing under a pseudonym would be a way to try to remove my personal political beliefs from my classroom. I thought it would be good for my students and their parents not to have whatever I say here cloud our relationship. I can't be sure, but I assume at least some are fans of Chris Christie; I don't want my feelings about the man to come between me and the parents of the children I serve.

I can't say for sure this plan of mine is working. But I would have thought, Commissioner - with you being a former teacher and all - that you'd have some understanding of the problem I face. I would have thought you'd at least acknowledge there might be a reason other than "courage" for a teacher to write under a pen name.

Guess I was wrong.

Granted, I've gone back and forth on this. There are some great teacher-bloggers out there who write under their given names. I have enormous respect for them; many respect my choices back. I listen to their arguments. I consider the options. Maybe I'll change my mind; maybe I won't.

But here's what I won't damn well do: I won't change the way I run this blog just because a guy like Chris Cerf says I should.

Now let's get to it; stand by for some mythbusting...



Unknown said...
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NYC Educator said...

On the other hand, when bereft of logic, ad hominem for whatever reason always makes it appear you have something to say. This is particularly convenient when you do not.

Giuseppe said...

I think that JJ has made a wise choice to post under his pseudonym or pen name because some school board members and administrators can be quite petty and vindictive when it comes to a teacher expressing his/her political and/or philosophical views. Not to mention some crazed parents who might call for JJ's head on a platter. JJ is an employee while Cerf is the czar of education in NJ and has the power to impose charter schools on unsuspecting school districts whether the parents want them or not. I think it's smart to draw a line between his blogging life and his teaching and classroom life.

Anonymous said...

I guess Cerf doesn't read Politico:

Mrs. King's music students said...

Accept his invitation Jazzman. He's invited you to debate him in a public forum. Accept on condition that the forum is public and open to teachers. And let us know in advance please. I would definitly attend a forum in which both sides are allowed to speak about the issues. This was a courageous invitation on his part - given what happened to the last ed. commish that 'dialogued' w/teachers.

Duke said...

Thx all. G, I'm not really worried abt my job, but I suspect other outspoken teachers might have reason to feel this way.

MKMS, I appreciate the vote of confidence - but it's not really my thing. I have a forum, and it's good enough for now.

I'd like to see him debate Bruce Baker.

Mrs. King's music students said...
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Mrs. King's music students said...

I think Mr Cerf is attempting to insure rogue bloggers don't gain momentum as Christie gears up for DC. To accomplish this he'll co-opt your ideas if possible and discredit the rest by claiming you're a shill for the NJEA.

I suspect this is the extent of his debating skills regardless of his opponent. sigh....