David Paterson returned some learning — with interest — to a convention hall full of educators Friday.
Quoting Plutarch, the new governor said, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited."
Looking over the sea of delegates, the product of Hempstead public schools tried to recall when he learned that quote. "Seventh or eighth grade. I can't remember."
That drew laughs, as did a number of Paterson lines.
Paterson brings to the job "experience, intelligence, expertise and a special talent for simple humor as a means to an end," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi in introducing the Harlem native to the RA.
Whether quoting Plutarch and Al Shanker or drawing examples from education funding levels in a newly enacted state budget, Gov. Paterson, whose mother was a teacher in PS
116 in Jamaica, Queens, addressed an enthusiastic audience.
"Thank you for the way you have conducted yourselves in the classroom," he said. "Thank you for all you have done for students ...Thank you for all the time you contribute to education off the clock."
Then the governor recited the names of his teachers, grade by grade, with a nod also to the support staff, cafeteria workers and bus drivers who contributed to his education.
In the budget, Paterson noted, there were agency cuts across the board, yet the state was able to make a record increase of 8.9 percent in education funding.
Next year, Paterson vowed, "We have to extend the same priority to higher ed." The state should work to de-couple the higher ed funding system from state agency budgets, which took across-the-board cuts this year, Paterson said. Higher ed should have its own endowment fund so money will be there even in lean revenue years.
Education funding takes priority, Paterson argued, because of the need to fulfill potential. He used as an example a Puerto Rican girl who may today be living in the South Bronx. Maybe, said Paterson, the cure for cancer is "stuck in her brain," and it's up to public schools to "give her the skills and training to go out and change the world."
The governor took note of the political discourse about accountability in recent weeks. Paterson opposed the tenure changes proposed by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein "because of its restrictiveness … it doesn't recognize what is really the inheritance of a teacher when they come to a classroom" — the backgrounds of the students.
"Children cannot be standardized," he said. "Teachers cannot be homogenized. A system that has accountability has to take into account the individual duty that each one performs."