Cathie Black, in the truest and worst sense of the word, is a chancellor
It would really help us if Schools Chancellor Cathie Black would abstain from making insensitive jokes.
She did get some titters when she jested, "Could we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us."
But the parents at that downtown Manhattan meeting were overwhelmingly white and well-off, which may have been why she felt she could make the joke in the first place.
She knows that those folks are not going to think she is really telling them to stop breeding.
The rich white lady from Manhattan might have received a very different reaction had she attempted that humor in a poor neighborhood where hope lives in the children and the realization of that hope resides in education.
The poor have historically been told by people of Black's station to stop breeding and being such a burden.
Black blithely described overcrowding in schools as "it is many Sophie's choices."
Only somebody who has never had to make a Sophie's choice, as described in the Holocaust novel and movie, and faces none in her foreseeable future, could speak so casually of them.
Mayor Bloomberg said when he appointed Black that her main qualification was as a manager. So, maybe we could just change her title to schools manager and lower our expectations.
We cannot help but expect someone with the grand-sounding title of chancellor to be more of our champion.
But everybody has been at a store with a complaint and asked to speak to the manager and had someone appear who says there is nothing much that can be done, that it just is what it is.
Imagine if you were in a shop and asked to speak to the chancellor.
Then again, Black's title does seem more appropriate if you consult the dictionary. The first definition in Merriam-Webster is "secretary to a nobleman, prince or king."
That would sure fit working for Bloomberg.
He calls a press conference in a snowstorm and, like any good secretary to a king, Black drops everything to attend.
She does not tell him that she is already committed to visit a Staten Island high school, that she can hardly cancel when she has just declared that the city schools will remain open and more than a million kids are even then struggling to attend.
A chancellor in the modern sense might have advised her liege, I mean his honor, that it might help convince the city he had been right to appoint her if he announced she could not attend the press conference because she was making her own effort to get to a school.
We are instead left with a chancellor in the oldest sense, a title rooted in the Latin "cancellarius," originally a doorkeeper or porter. That, in turn, derives from "cancellus," the latticework over a window or entryway.
In the third century, the Emperor Carinus created a stir not unlike Bloomberg's appointment of Black to chancellor when he promoted a cancellarius to become praefectus urbi, or urban prefect.
How about we return chancellor to its roots and call Black the cancellarius or palace doorkeeper, Bloomberg's cancellus, or screen?
Then there would be no doubt at all that she was just doing the mayor's bidding when she brought the dispassionate message that we just have to face reality.
Ever notice that the people who send that message invariably have very nice realities?
In imparting it to those downtown parents, Black was addressing the most unlikely of groups: well-to-do whites with an actual grievance.
After 9/11, the city encouraged people to move downtown, and they did in droves.
What the city did not do was build new schools, and these folks averaged the same number of kids that Black has, though hers have placed no burden on the school.
At least she did not say, "Can we just go to boarding school?"