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Tony Danza's New Book on Philadelphia: Lessons Learned

From what we've read, Tony Danza's new book based on his year spent teaching at Northeast High School zips along surprisingly well. As many Philly skeptics learned while he was here teaching a couple English classes for the reality show Teach, Danza was actually pretty committed to teaching and to kids, and didn't think of this as a craven career move. In fact, he fought to do the show at a public school—though that wasn't exactly what A&E producers had in mind.

His argument, he writes, went like this:

"Let's be honest. Many of us think that inner-city kids are somebody else' problem. Your kids and mine go to private schools and are doing just fine. But America's public school kids are our kids, too, and these kids are going to grow up to be the majority of America's adults." By "inner city," Danza meant what many people do when they use the phrase: poor and urban (as opposed to suburban or rural). It seems Philly didn't have enough disadvantaged youth, so the team petitioned other school boards across the country, including New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., L.A., Pittsburgh and Newark "just to name a few," he writes. They all said no.

Then he got call from Philadelphia; it was the Greater Philadelphia Film Office's Sharon Pinkenson, "a dead ringer for Meg Ryan and an incredible booster for her city." Pinkenson asked A&E to consider Philadelphia's chaotic public school system as a potential location for the TV show. She impressed Danza:

She has a direct line to Mayor Michael Nutter, and the mayor always has time for the kids of his city. So when Ms. Pinkenson told the mayor that our television show, if done right, could help the schools of Philadelphia, he was interested. ? We still had to win over District Superintendent Dr. Arelene Ackerman and her superiors on the School Reform Commission. This process took months, and inevitably the press latched on to us. None of the coverage was very good, and some was below low. One reporter actually wrote, "Tony Danza is pimping Philadelphia's kids to kick-start his faded and stalled career." Jeez, I thought, "faded and stalled"? And "pimping"?

Actually, that wasn't exactly what the reporter, the Daily News' Ronnie Polaneczky wrote. Her exact words were:

ONE OF THE discussion items on the School Reform Commission's meeting agenda tomorrow is whether to allow Tony Danza to shoot a reality-TV series in which he'll co-teach at a Philadelphia public high school. Or - to be more candid - whether to pimp our kids' education to an unemployed sit-com actor who wants to kick-start his stalled career on the backs of students who'll be distracted by cameras and microphones.

But did Polaneczky imply faded? Indeed she did.

As it turned out, all kinds of safeguards were put in place to make sure Danza didn't screw things up in the classes, and reading his account, it sounds like he actually did some good. Did he damage the children? We don't know. At least it'll make for some good college admissions essays: "My Year Being Pimped By a Stalled (Read: Faded) Sitcom Actor."

· I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High [Random House]
· Ronnie Polaneczky: Memo to Tony Danza: Go teach for real [Daily News]