Rarely am I impressed at any institution that plies me with food and alcohol.
This Tuesday, however, was a rare exception.
It may have been the salmon wraps…the booze…the gentle rolls of the floorboards (more on that later)…or a combination of the three. In any case, the new and improved South Street Seaport Museum is definitely worth a visit—both by your class and on your own.
“New and Improved?” you may ask. “But Mr. D, didn’t you toot SSSM’s horn way back when covering places for field trips?”
Well, things have changed since our last jaunt down to the waterfront.
Built in 1967 in an early 19th century building with musty smells and buckling floorboards (the floors alone gave you seasickness), the South Street Seaport Museum has been, at least in museum terms, something of a Mom-and-Pop operation. It focused mainly on maritime history and New York’s seaport life, and its one dank floor of exhibits brought mostly seafaring enthusiasts and wandering tourists enjoying a summer day at the corner of Fulton and South Streets.
Like the proverbial working girl on the docks, this museum has had a hard life. Apart from the odd school field trip, SSSM’s fairly seasonal clientele could not sustain the place financially. By last year, the museum was in so much debt that a third of the board resigned and half the staff were let go. When the New York Times uses the word “beleaguered” multiple times in describing its status, it can’t be good.
Enter the Museum of the City of New York.
MCNY has risen in recent decades to become one of the preeminent cultural institutions in New York. In my mind, no other museum connects with historians, educators, students, tourists and casual observers quite like it. So it made perfect sense that MCNY took over operations at South Street in the fall of 2011.
The folks uptown gave SSSM the royal treatment, taking charge of the building as well as the fleet of aging schooners, tugboats and barques sitting in the East River. Upon arrival on Tuesday for an Educator Open House (the free food and booze sealed the deal), I was floored at the finished product.
A one-floor dankhole has been expanded to three floors chock-full of exhibits and classroom space. Sixteen galleries now highlight different aspects of the city and the waterfront through a combination of artifacts, photographs, video and multimedia exhibits.
(By the way, the floorboards still buckle—it is an 1812 building after all.)
Some highlights include old Seaport favorites like model ships, old tools and seafaring paraphernalia that survived the overhaul. Other additions include an impressive photo exhibit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, exhibits covering products made in New York, and the highlights of MCNY’s Manahatta exhibit (it’s great that the light-up interactive map of Manhattan made its way downtown).
For school groups, MCNY installed two spacious classroom spaces, with plenty of primary artifacts, text sources and activities that connect students to New York’s maritime past. Furthermore, a number of school programs are available, including a New Amsterdam Walking Tour that used to be offered up at MCNY—guess it just makes more sense to base it here.
Finally, never fear…the Pioneer is still there! I had the pleasure of sailing on this 1885 schooner around New York harbor and even help hoist one of the sails (it inadvertently got me into a short sailing craze which future Mrs. D regrets). The old rust bucket is still there, and still available for tours of the harbor, focusing on history, ecology, commerce and navigation.
Yet all is not well on Schermerhorn Row.
The MCNY experiment is brief, and there is a real danger that the South Street Seaport Museum may not survive once its on its own again. They really need membership (there’s those financial problems again) and a steady stream of visitors to keep the place afloat.
Like it or not, New York’s history is tied intrinsically to the waterfront. We’re blessed not only to have a historic district like South Street, but also a museum that showcases New York’s deep connection to the sea. As commercial and crass as it is, the South Street Seaport offers the only glimpse of what New York looked like before the age of skyscrapers and subways, and the South Street Seaport Museum provides an important educational service in connecting New York’s past and present.
Make sure you give South Street a look, and not just during good weather. Bundle up and get your butt over to Fulton Street—either on your own, or with your class. If you can contribute to becoming a member, great…but come down even if you can’t.
And as always, since we crave attention as much as the aforementioned harbor chick, do tell them the Neighborhood sent you.
South Street Seaport Museum (phone # 212-748-8600) is located at 12 Fulton St., between Water St. and South St.
Take the 2,3, 4, 5, A, C, J,M or Z to Fulton Street Station, then walk down Fulton Street until you see the tall ships. It’s the marine-colored entrance on the right-hand side.
The Education War – Who is winning?
The word “quagmire” gets thrown around pretty casually these days.
Civil unrest. “Nation building.” Revolutions. Economic crisis. Natural disasters. The Q-word has been used repeatedly for so many of the dangerous, sticky situations we find ourselves as a society.
Yet does the education war—the clash of “reformers” that has stretched over a decade—deserve the dreaded label?
It depends on what you hear.
Many news outlets, in print and online, picture the education reform movement as clearly on the defensive. Attacks on charter schools have increased as never before, viewed as undemocratic, tyrannical and ultimately ineffective. The latest report on how Eva Moskowitz’ Success Academy charter schools were caught on record attempting to push out a special-needs student is particularly galling.
New tests based on the Common Core Learning Standards showed massive drops in scores, giving a giant raspberry to all earlier reform attempts. Companies cashing in on the testing craze—Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc.—are under the microscope for botched questions and poor scoring in state after state. The Common Core itself is under attack, as state after state elects to opt out of the supposedly nationwide initiative—regardless of the DOE carrot-and-stick policy about Common Core adoption.
Even reform stalwarts like Teach for America, Michelle Rhee and the Gates Foundation find themselves under siege as critics wail on their status and perceived impact on public education.
Yet if you look at actual policy, it paints a very different picture.
Education reformers, backed bipartisanly, have pushed standardized testing into almost every classroom in America. Teacher evaluation systems across the country are aligning teacher effectiveness with student scores on state tests, with unions knuckling under in the process. The Common Core, though embattled, is now the rule in reform strongholds like New York, California and Massachusetts. Governors from both parties are backing more draconian measures to shut down failing schools.
Even worse, the media machine of education reform has recently launched a counter-offensive. Long criticized for not developing effective veteran teachers, TFA and other reform movements are now saying it is BETTER to have short-term teachers who won’t become veterans because their enthusiasm, their innate intelligence and God’s good graces are enough to provide a quality education for children.
This conflict looks like it qualifies as a quagmire… and part of fault lies with the opposition.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of standardized tests, TFA, charters, etc. Most readers here already know that. However, I am a very big fan of improving teacher selection and preparation, which is high on the education reform agenda. I don’t like that it’s relatively easy access into our profession, and it hurts our reputation in the process.
I have feet in two very different parts of the swamp. They shouldn’t be. Both sides should be having real, meaningful policymaking sessions by now. Why aren’t they?
The education reform movement does not take the opposition seriously.
This is a similar problem with the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was a grassroots movement, to be sure, but there was no definition of victory: no goals, no leadership, no direction. It “started a dialogue”, and you know how much J.P. Morgan and the like shake in their wingtips over that.
Occupy Wall Street failed because Wall Street itself never saw them as a threat. They didn’t become an electoral force, backing candidates allied to them for Congress and Senate. They didn’t become a fundraising power, soliciting funds so that candidates from both parties kowtow to them in alternating order. They didn’t become a lobby, oiling and adjusting the rusty gears of the filthy gearbox called legislative politics.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, though still disorganized nationally, managed to become a force because it knew how to monopolize the conversation and the ballot box. It wasn’t just Koch Brothers money that put the Tea Party boot on the throat of the Republican Party. The Tea Party quickly moved from “starting a dialogue” to “kicking the shit out of anyone in their way.” Moderate republicans fell like dominoes. Their candidates, whether they won or lost, made sure the Tea Party was firmly at the big boys table in the RNC.
The Tea Party became a threat. They became feared. Occupy Wall Street didn’t…and the education reform opposition isn’t much of a fear either.
As much as the opposition boasts numerous media outlets, a lightning-rod leader in Diane Ravitch, and numerous movements like Save Our Schools, etc., there is little to show for their efforts other than scathing editorials, page after page of incendiary blogs, reams of online petitions and packed comments on Facebook pages.
Victory is not “opening a dialogue.” It is when the policies of the state and nation are changed. That does not happen with a spirited debate.
If the opposition wants a seat at the education table, rightly placed across from the reformers, it has to fight for it.
Like Wall Street, the only thing many of these reformers will listen to is their wallet and the ballot box. The opposition needs to attack both, ferociously and brutally.
It must out-Koch the Koch brothers and out-Gates the Gates Foundation. It must attain its own billionaire allies to fund PACs, lobbies, and candidates to state and national office. It must push their agenda by any means necessary.
It has to turn the media conversation forcefully, repeatedly and effectively to counter the sound-bites of the reformers. The phrase “for the children”, co-opted by both sides, is both tired and unrealistic. It ceased to be about children a long time ago, unfortunately. This fight is about the adults, and hopefully the policies will serve children best. But to say that each side is exclusively serving the children is to be in an extreme state of delusion.
More than anything, however, the opposition needs to get its hands dirty with the business of politics. I know many in the opposition, and they are smart, savvy, earnest people who genuinely want to make a difference. They want to “maintain the moral high ground” and not stoop to the level of the Broads, Kochs, Gates and the rest. Their methods, frankly, will do nothing but create coffee-house chatter.
To change policy is a filthy, brutal, demoralizing and demeaning business. Only by beating the reformers at their own game can the opposition sit with them and negotiate as rivals to pound out the policies that best serve everyone.
As for maintaining the moral high ground…that only works when your opponent has morals to maintain.
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Tagged as Civil Rights, Commentary, Education, education reform, Educational leadership, Koch, Koch family, McGraw-Hill, Occupy Wall Street, Opinion, Tea Party, Teach For America, Teachers, Teaching, United States, Wall Street