In his commentary of May 12, Professor Jonathan Zimmerman asserts that politics have become a minefield in many American schools. We concur. However, Professor Zimmerman’s characterization of the events at Park Slope Collegiate is based on gross inaccuracies and further politicizes the issues at hand.
Through our work in New York City schools, we have direct knowledge of the issues facing Park Slope Collegiate, a public school that serves primarily low-income children of color. Contrary to Zimmerman’s claims, the school’s principal, Jill Bloomberg, has not organized rallies against any charter schools. (In fact, she would have no reason to do so, since there is no charter school located on her campus.) And court documents report that their school assemblies centered on historical events such as the Civil Rights Movement, not police brutality, as Zimmerman contends. The details of these events and the charges against Principal Bloomberg are easily and publicly available (here and here).
Principal Bloomberg’s efforts to advocate for the children at her school have a “sharp political edge” (Zimmerman, 2017, para. 10) and certainly may have contributed to the attacks against her. However, there is no evidence that she has imposed her beliefs on her students. Moreover, Zimmerman is completely off base in equating Bloomberg’s advocacy for more equitable funding and greater racial integration among New York City schools with the polarized debates over the Trump presidency.
At the end of his commentary Zimmerman asks, “Did Jill Bloomberg breach the line between education and propaganda?” (2017, para. 15). Unfortunately, his writing did not help readers to answer this question. In fact, it may have added to the unfair allegations again Principal Bloomberg. Sadly, such distortions are increasingly common in debates over the direction of American education; especially in discussions of schools serving low-income children of color. These misrepresentations have real consequences. Since the allegations have been made about Park Slope Collegiate, school staff now spend time fielding calls from neo-Nazis, time that they could be using to support their students.
Professor Zimmerman might claim that he had no way of knowing what happened at Park Slope Collegiate because he has never visited the school and did not research the details of the case. That is precisely our point. As a historian, Professor Zimmerman surely knows the importance of looking to multiple primary sources before drawing conclusions about an event. Scholars have the privilege of studying educational issues from the sidelines. From this vantage point, it is critical that we be as objective and accurate as possible in illuminating the issues that are most important. Professor Zimmerman has failed to do so.