photo: Michael Appleton, New York Times

It’s not the hat, although really, that hat? I’m not going to be one of those women who disses people on the basis of their fashion choices. Besides, there are so many other reasons to diss Cathie Black; we don’t have to pay any attention to that hat.

Did you see the article about Cathie in today’s Times? It made me want to like her because of her work with Ms. magazine, back in the day, and because Oprah’s magazine was her idea, apparently. But ultimately? Reading the article was sort of like watching Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee: I wanted to like her, really I did, but I just can’t get GOOP out of my mind. Cathie Black doesn’t have anything to do with GOOP, obviously, but she also doesn’t have anything to do with public education, either.

Cathie is a woman who thinks “the common touch” means riding in taxis instead of limos.

Um, Cath? For the record? Most of us ride the bus. Or the subway. It’s the taxi that’s the splurge.

This article says that Cathie is a gal with a “suffer no fools” attitude, which is great–when you can fire the fools who piss you off. What’s she going to do with an organization that talks about the “zone of proximal development”  to describe students’ intellectual growth? Can’t fire those fools–the union won’t let you.  And the union isn’t all bad–the union makes sure that teachers don’t get fired just because the principal is pissed; the union ensures that there are limits on the grueling hours faced by classroom teachers (what’s that you say? they get the “whole summer” off? Well…teachers are off for all of July and some of August, that’s true. But let me ask you this question: would you like to deal with 28, 32, 35, 36 10 year olds for eight hours a day, five days a week, ten months a year? Wouldn’t  you need a vacation, too? And maybe a prescription for Valium?)

Does Cathie know that reality? The reality of a jammed public school on a sweaty day in late June?  Does she know the reality of a PTA frantically trying to earn a few extra thousand bucks selling wrapping paper, in order to pay for instruments for a school band?  Somehow I think that the kids at the Kent School, where Cathie’s kids went to school, have not only instruments but several lovely music rooms in which to play those instruments.

Cathie loaned her Bulgari bracelet to a Manhattan museum exhibit. Wasn’t that civic minded of her? She’s not done much else that demonstrates “community spirit,” if by community spirit you mean things that people do for the good of the community and not for the good of their own bottom line. She sits on several boards–and is paid handsomely to do so, and I’m sure she gives money to charities – and she’s occasionally donated to political candidates, mostly conservative Republicans, including Dan Burton of Indiana, who has a “zero” rating from Naral Pro-Choice America.

She perhaps met Burton because she’s friends with the Quayles, Maureen and Dan. Remember them? VEEP under Bush I?  Dan’s most memorable moment as Vice-President came when he corrected a student at a spelling bee, telling her that “potato” was spelled “potatoe.”  You may not be surprised to learn that Quayle is the product of Indiana public schools. Yep, public.

I’m sure that at the Kent School, kids get drilled on the proper spelling of various vegetables.

Cathie’s sister is quoted in the article as saying that her sister loves a challenge. Which is probably why Cathie has risen to the uppermost ranks of US business–and I don’t begrudge her that success for a minute. She can have the fancy educations, the multiple houses, the birthday parties for 75 of her best friends at a villa in Tuscany (probably my invitation was lost in the mail, don’t you think?) — that’s all great. She can be a role model to women who want to steamroll to the highest echelons of corporate culture.

But as a friend pointed out (thanks Stephanie), what to Cathie Black is just “a challenge” is for millions of New York kids, the future. She can quit, if the challenge gets to be too great, and go lick her wounds in Southampton. But what about the millions of kids left behind in New York’s public schools? Will she be taking them to Southampton too?

So no, it’s not hat she’s wearing in that picture that matters. It’s what’s under the hat that’s the problem.