If you considered yourself well-informed but have not heard of “Camp Philos,” the education reform retreat in the Lake Placid which is opening today, don’t worry. Its organizers really are not interested in you, but they have wrapped themselves in some very intellectual and romantic imagery. Billing itself as a “philosopher’s retreat” modeled after the 19th century meetings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Russell Lowell, with Horatio Woodman, the website claims that the nation’s “thought leaders in education reform” will convene for “fun, fellowship and strategy.” Governor Andrew Cuomo is the honorary chair of the event where he will be joined by Joe Williams of “Education Reform Now,” a “reform” group mostly dedicated to the spread of charter schools and test based teacher evaluations and with a board populated by hedge fund managers.
For an entry price of $1000 to $2500 dollars, participants have the advertised opportunity to speak with Louisiana Senator Mary Ladrieu, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. Other reports mentioned that film director turned education “thought leader” M. Night Shyamalan would be present as well. A registered guest list is not available as far as I can determine.
However, the schedule of events is available. A session such as “Living to Tell the Tale: Changing Third-Rail Teacher Policies,” given the known participants, is likely to focus on taking away tenure protections and subjecting teachers to test based evaluations. Governor Cuomo can certainly address his take on “Adequacy, Fairness and Equity: School Finance in the Age of Austerity” given how his administration has systematically strangled school aid.
While my geeky side is offended by tomorrow morning’s session entitled “Rocketships, Klingons and Tribbles: Charters’ Course to Where No Schools Have Gone Before” (somehow I think Gene Roddenberry would disapprove of being associated with this), I wish I had the money or the connections to be present at “The Next Big Thing: Groundbreaking Approaches to Teacher Preparation”. This is a subject directly connected to my own work and current livelihood. So surely, if the “thought leaders” of the country are present to discuss teacher preparation, that must mean the list of invited panelists and discussants will include some lofty names, right? They must have sought out Sharon Feiman-Nemser. It would make little sense to host this session of “thought leaders” without the input of Linda Darling-Hammond, obviously. It would be an appalling oversight for such an event to overlook inviting John I. Goodlad. The nation’s “thought leaders” in education reform in a self-style philosopher’s retreat talking about teacher preparation without the input of our leading experts on what it takes to learn to teach? That could never happen.
Even if I had the money to attend, there is a good question if I would even be allowed in. Diane Ravitch of NYU reported on her blog that three public school teachers and parents from New York tried to sign up for the event and initially were told that there were some openings available. That changed almost immediately. One of them, Bianca Tanis of NYS Allies for Public Education, spoke to a retired teacher who reported that she had successfully registered for the event — only to have her registration refunded without explanation. I am having great doubts that Ralph Waldo Emerson would appreciate having his status utilized for a gathering that has shaped up to be as unpromising as this one.
NYSUT will be present today — on the outside, of course, but at least there will be actual teachers with them.