“Frankenstein,” novelist Mary Shelley’s 19th Century tale of a monstrous creature created in a scientist’s laboratory, is at the center of a modern-day clash between a Brooklyn English teacher and the agency he says is the real monster: the city Department of Education.
Midwood High School Teacher Todd Friedman, 61, has been teaching in city high schools for 29 years—the last 13 of them at Midwood. He says he was just “following a decades-old practice” at the school, in which Teachers buy books for their students and pay for them out of their own pockets, “often at a loss.”
Paying a Steep Price
Because he wanted his Advanced Placement English students to be able “to write questions and comments in their books, just like they would if they were in college,” Mr. Friedman in March ordered 102 paperback copies of “Frankenstein” and paid, including shipping costs, $223.28 for them.
What the award-winning Teacher did next is what got him pulled out of his classroom on May 3, placed on “administrative duty” pending a departmental trial sometime in June, and could possibly, he believes, get him fired.
“I had 102 students. I sold 99 of the books to the students at $2 per book, and I absorbed the cost of three books and the shipping costs, so I took a loss,” Mr. Friedman explained. “Let me be clear: No kid is forced to buy a book. If any kid can’t afford to pay for a book, we provide a copy for them free of charge. This has been part of the culture here at Midwood. I’ve done it before since I’ve been here, and it’s never been a problem before.”
However, some students reportedly mentioned Mr. Friedman’s “Frankenstein” sale to Assistant Principal Suzane Thomas, who told Principal Michael McDonnell about it. Mr. McDonnell filed a formal complaint against Mr. Friedman, which led to an investigation by the DOE Office of Special Investigations.
Prohibition of Sales
The OSI ruled on March 21 that the Teacher was in violation of Chancellor’s Regulation A-610, which mandates that books and materials “supplied by the Department of Education for use in classes, shops or laboratories shall not under any circumstances be sold…to the student.”
A Department of Education spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment from The Chief. But OSI investigators noted in their March report that none of several students questioned in the probe official complained about the $2 charge, and they concluded that Mr. Friedman did, in fact, take “a financial loss” in the transaction.
The Teacher suspects there is another reason he was yanked from the classroom and banished to the school’s attendance office.
“This is something that’s been building,” said Mr. Friedman, who previously won an Intellectual Freedom Award from the New York State Library Association. “Suzane Thomas came (to Midwood High) as Assistant Principal in September 2014, and as soon as Principal McDonnell hired her he made it clear they wanted to completely overturn the English department, both in the makeup of the faculty and the curriculum.”
Mr. Friedman said Ms. Thomas “imposed a curriculum on us called ‘Engage New York,’ a state-designed curriculum that is tedious beyond belief. It spends inordinate amounts of time on minutiae and cheats the kids out of the opportunity to read more-complete works that are more challenging.”
The embattled Teacher says he “never intended to make money” from the sales, and claimed that Mr. McDonnell “came after me,” in retaliation for his criticism of Ms. Thomas’s curriculum choices.
‘UFT Helpful, Chapter Isn’t’
Asked if he was receiving any support from his union, the United Federation of Teachers, Mr. Friedman gave a two-pronged answer.
“The UFT will be providing a lawyer who will be defending me [at the administrative trial], and Janella Hinds, the union’s vice president of high schools, has reached out to let me know that she would be there for me,” Mr. Friedman said. “But the (Midwood High) chapter itself hasn’t done anything for me, and quite frankly has been a disappointment.”
He said of his superiors at the school, “Why are they trying to ruin my career and get rid of me? The answer is I have been outspoken about the Mickey Mouse curriculum that Suzane Thomas and Michael McDonnell have dictated to the English department.
“They’re looking to fire me,” he added. “I’ve been removed from the classroom for no good reason. My students have come up to me saying they miss me and appreciate the kind of teaching I did. It’s very difficult being out of the classroom, because it’s where I belong.”