OOn May 3, Brooklyn Technical High School offered a âSocial and Emotional Learning Day,â an opportunity for students and teachers to share quirky lessons.
A chemistry teacher offered a Zoom on “Classical Comedy” class.
Development? Bill Cosby.
Some parents of teenagers who have registered for the 45-minute remote session offered by Daniel Harkavy in high school selective public were furious after finding out about the lesson a few hours later.
Cosby is “a convicted sex offender,” a parent wrote on the Brooklyn Tech Parents Facebook group. âMy son says it wasn’t mentioned at all. Head exploding.
‘But what did you have in mind?’
Janessa Wilson, whose daughter attends Fort Greene school but did not enroll in the elective class, was so upset that she alerted the assistant principal to parent and student engagement.
âI am the parent of an outgoing senior and I am more than appalled by your idea of ââ’social and emotional learning’,â Wilson wrote. Kelly nottingham May 3.
“But what did you have in mind?” she asked. “What will be done precisely to remedy this astonishing abdication of any moral responsibility on the part of the administration?”
Nottingham rejected his questions and suggested that he contact Harkavy directly.
“I’m sorry but who are you talking to?” Nottingham responded, according to emails obtained by THE CITY. “I don’t talk to anyone that way and I don’t accept it from anyone.”
She added, “Feel free to ask clarifying questions when you’re ready or ask the teacher who chose the session.”
On May 5, Education Department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon told THE TOWN that the lesson – titled “Classic Comedy: Bill Cosby” – was an “obvious error in judgment” and “would not have never had to be offered â.
She noted that the class, touting the comedy of a once-beloved artist now serving a sentence of three to 10 years for sexually assaulting a woman in her home, was an optional virtual session.
The principal will meet with Harkavy and this incident will be recorded in the teacher’s file, she added.
Harkavy, who taught at the school for 18 years, defended the class, noting that they volunteered. He said he hadn’t heard from any supervisor.
âI mentioned at the start of the session that he was a bad man, but his work was funny and clean,â Harkavy said, adding 34 students enrolled in the class.
âThe man might be mean, but his comedy isn’t,â he said.
Art and artist
The Social and Emotional Learning Day is normally a way for teachers to highlight generally lighter and non-academic subjects.
Another Brooklyn Tech teacher hosted a Zoom session on “The Office” in which kids watched “appropriate” scenes to “light up our day,” according to the schedule posted to students.
As for the Cosby class, one scholar noted that it can be difficult to separate art – in this case comedy – from artist.
âI don’t think there is an answer,â said Erica Chito Childs, president and professor of sociology at Hunter College.
“There will always be a debate on this subject,” she added. “Can we appreciate someone’s art?”
In Cosby’s case, it’s important to think about the anger her sexual assault victims would feel about the class, she said.
In April 2018, Cosby was convicted by a jury for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman who came to his home. The 83-year-old creator of the Brooklyn “Cosby Show” has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women.
An education scholar saw the opportunity as a “teachable moment.”
âWhen we look back at an art, it now becomes strained,â said David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and politics at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
“We ask ourselves all the time now: can we look at art without it being tainted by the personal life of the artist?”
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