It's not the Superbowl. It's the dime defense of the UFT.

It’s not the Superbowl. It’s the dime defense of the UFT.

MORE’s recent post about the origins of this new teacher evaluation system is a good primer for those who are unaware of how our union has failed to protect either us or the students we educate.

The most interesting parts of the post are the responses it has been getting. Many Unity supporters are coming out of the woodwork to defend Mulgrew tooth-and-nail. Their responses shed a great deal of light on the type of thinking that prevails among our union leadership.

I post the following comments from the MORE blog as a way to draw out some of the underlying assumptions of many Unity supporters. This is in no way a personal attack on them. In fact, I thank them for expressing their points of view. I will be sure to address only the points made below without resorting to ad hominems. Anyone who happens to see their comments posted below are free to respond on this site.

Taken together, we can see that there are 7 main defenses of UFT leadership.

DEFENSE #1: The “Be Thankful For What They Didn’t Do” Defense

Comment from “Dolores”:

No one has fought more for TEACHER and STUDENT environment than President Mulgrew. What you fail to point out is the fact that the evaluation proposal included major improvement on teacher working conditions. Mulgrew realizes that teacher needs are important and directly related to student performance. OTHERWISE, HE WOULD HAVE ACCEPTED THE DOE PROPOSED EVALUATION. BUT HE DID NOT!!!

Keep in mind that Dolores is responding to an article that is crammed with facts. The lack of facts in this post makes it a relatively weak defense of Unity, in my opinion.

The last sentence here is telling. We will see that this is common to many impassioned defenses of Unity. It is the old “but he could have accepted something much worse” defense. This is what I call a non-defense, since it gives credit to Mulgrew for something he did not do. We are all in trouble if the only thing that could be said in Mulgrew’s favor is “hey, he could have done worse.”

Defense #2: The “Stop Dividing The Union” Defense

Comment comes from “Gloria”:

Instead of impugning Mulgrew, who is working so diligently on our behalf we should be working together. Name calling isn’t helpful to anyone and it is disappointing how easily we turn on each other.
I did not hear a “championing of arbitration” at the DA. What I heard is that negotiations are/will continue and that arbitration would only be in Sept. should we fail in the intervening seven months,
Vigorous debate is good. Honest disagreements exist. Let us respectfully agree to disagree where we can and work TOGETHER at this critical and difficult time.
I am sure those whose true agenda is the dismantling of public education, unions, and all community endeavors that we have,( in favor of privatization) are happy to read all this vitriol and hostile negativity from teachers about their own Union leadership.
Let us agree to disagree and express ourselves to each other with respect, and solidarity. We ARE in this together

Many of the comments refer to “name-calling”, supposedly done on the part of MORE. If you read the article in question at no point was Mulgrew ever called a name. Was he criticized? Sure. Criticism is not the same as name-calling.

One thing that concerns me is the insistence of Unity supporters to call an SED-imposed evaluation system “arbitration”. The MORE piece contended that calling state education policy “arbitration” might set a dangerous precedent, especially because the issue they intend to arbitrate affects our contract.

The issue here is not so much Mulgrew throwing up his hands and allowing SED to save the day. It is the fact that he so eagerly signaled his willingness to acquiesce in whatever the SED hands down. If Mulgrew is still negotiating with the city, fine. Why does he have to comment at all about what the SED might do? I mean, that part is so far in the future, right? Just because a reporter asks him about the possibility of an SED-imposed evaluation does not mean he has to comment on it, let alone enthusiastically support such a move. It is just plain not smart from a political standpoint.

Another thing common to many of these defenses of Mulgrew is the insinuation that MORE is some sort of traitor group. On the one hand, Gloria wants “vigorous debate”. On the other hand, she doesn’t like divisiveness in the union. My contention is that MORE is trying to have that vigorous debate and Unity is trying to beat them back into toeing the party line by calling them divisive. How can you have a vigorous debate when one side can’t speak up without being accused of being divisive?

Defense #3: The Straw Man Defense

This defense of Unity is an extremely long comment from Woodruffw1980. Rather than quote the entire thing, I will merely address what I see are the representative points:

The stance of MORE to refuse to negotiate at the table no matter the situation, is kind of like on the play grounds at any of our schools when a young child says “If you don’t play my way I am taking the ball and going home.” If the child does not make good on their threats they loose credibility with their peers. If they take their ball and go home they loose out because the other kids just find something else to do to enjoy their time.

Classic straw man argument that assumes MORE’s position is to “refuse to negotiate at the table no matter what the situation.” Nowhere in the article does it say or even hint at such a stance. Again, this is another classic Unity defense. They would like MORE to ask them “why should we play ball at all?” This assumes that the only two options are playing ball and not playing ball. The fact that there are infinite options in between these two points seems to be lost on them.

Defense #4: The “It Could Be Worse” Defense

This helps explain the rest of Woodruffw1980’s post where he both argues against the straw man he has set up and gives us the well-worn explanation of why the UFT has to “play ball” with the education deformers:

Education laws are not passed with union rhetoric. They are passed by traveling to Albany and working with legislators to get your point across. This is something that the militancy and hard lined ideology that MORE seems to embrace leaves out completely. Michael Mulgrew and the UFT leadership had an obligation to be front and center at that negotiating table along with our brothers and sister from across the state. If they had refused to talk, or to participate in the plans then surely what would be imposed on us would be very much worse as Bloomberg, Student’s First, the large privatization companies and ALEC as well as their allies would have received everything they wanted. They would have gotten MORE testing, less job security, and eroded public education even MORE. I applaud Mulgrew and the UFT leadership for not sitting back but going to Albany and working to negotiate instead of just whining that things didn’t go their way. By doing that they did what was expected of them.

I call your attention, once again, to the classic “it could have been worse” defense. Indeed, if the UFT didn’t play ball according to Woodruffw1980 we would have been stuck with “MORE testing, less job security, and eroded public education even MORE.” The great thing about this argument is that it does not have to be proven. It excuses the person saying it from doing the messy work of factual analysis and synthesis.

In Woodruffw1980’s mind, it is either play ball or be railroaded by the wave of education deform. Better to hitch our wagons to the star of education deform since that it where the political winds are blowing.

Here is my problem with this argument: it totally ignores the role nay, the duty, of the union to shape those political winds. This is just like when reformers and even educators say we should make our classrooms technological because it is “the future”. We should just accept it. No use of spitting into the wind.

Whether we want to accept it or not, all of us have a hand in shaping that future. All of us have a hand in the direction of the political wind. It is an abdication of our responsibility to assume that the winds blow independently of us and that the future is something that happens to us.. The future happens because of us. Does my stance on this make me a militant as well? 

The even more astounding part of Woodrufw1980’s defense is that he is defending our union leaders. He is saying our union leaders are powerless to shape the political winds. He is justifying an impotent, lead-from-behind strategy that has defined the UFT for decades.

Does the fact that I would like my union leaders to try to be out front make me a militant? Does the fact that I recognize our leaders have a duty to, well, lead make me some intractable, bomb-throwing radical? It is a sad day when defenders of our union are defending their strategy of non-leadership.

Defense #5: The “Everything Is Fine” Defense

In a separate comment Woodruffw1980 also has this to say about his dealings with UFT leadership:

I also am a bit confused. MORE claims to want people like myself to speak up about our opinions. They claim that they are open to the ideas of “the rank and file” and that the leadership does not listen. Yet when I have spoken to any one of the leaders currently in place at the UFT they have treated me with respect, and respected my opinion, even when I have disagreed with them. Yet you call me names and accuse me of double dipping into pension.

It is great that his district rep treats him with respect. Was he expecting something less than basic human decency?

Just like Woodruffw1980, I am a chapter leader. My dealings with my district rep and other union brass have been, for the most part, cordial. Heck, my district rep and Leo Casey helped me out last year, something for which I am always giving them credit.

Yet, on a daily basis, I am embarrassed to have to tell members of my chapter that there is “nothing I can do”. There is nothing I can do because there are barely any more rights for me to defend, any more contractual weapons for me to wield. Furthermore, I know that my concerns about the direction of my union and public education in general are of no concern to my higher-ups in the union. To them my concerns are an annoyance, an inconvenience and maybe even a threat. They might be cordial and responsive on inconsequential matters. However, when it truly counts, I know I am on my own.

Defense #6: The “Reformers Are Correct” Defense

This next defense of Mulgrew comes from Dr. John Marvul:

Dr. John,

There was no agreement for a new Teacher Evaluation System because of our Mayor’s insistence on no Sunset Clause ( which helps in altering/modifying the proposed system), and his hatred for teacher ” Due Process.” Any teacher wants to see his/her students grow both academically and socially; otherwise, why would they be in this profession? A pre-test in a discipline at the start of a school year and a post-test in that subject should be what an educator covets. Did my student learn from me? That is what Mulgrew wants. Currently, “U” rated teachers win almost no appeals, but the new system would change that. What are all of you afraid of? Do you want to teach and help kids, or is it just yourself that you are worried about?

Dr. John seems to really believe that this new evaluation system will honestly help teachers and students improve. He believes that testing is a fair measure of a teacher’s worth. There is nothing for me to discuss with Dr. John because we simply do not agree on this. To act as if testing is the only or the best form of assessment for either students or teachers flies in the face of what we know about testing. It is the reason why countries like Finland don’t cram tests down their children’s throats. If the good doctor is such a fan of testing then he really is no better than an education reformer.

What am I afraid of? I am afraid of public school children being subjected to an endless battery of testing that narrows the curriculum while those who have the money send their children to schools with no tests; schools with a broad, rich curriculum. With his question, the doctor is implying that we are crappy teachers afraid of being evaluated.

Contrary to what the doctor thinks, this new system promises to be no more “objective” or “fair” than the one in place now. You want to know why? Because teaching is an art and learning is subjective. It does not matter how sciency your evaluation is or how many numbers, equations, “effect sizes” and checklists in which you dress it. The teaching and learning process is subjective and the information being put into those equations are subjective as well.

The doctor’s comments reveal something very scary about Unity, something that I used to refuse to believe for my sanity: they really agree with the “deformers” more than they disagree with them. Read the doctor’s comment again. It could have easily been written by Michelle Rhee.

Defense #7: The “C’mon, Let’s Have An ‘Honest’ Discussion” Defense

I am going to skip the next few comments since they traverse ground we have already covered. The final comment comes from Khiera:

Members who question MORE’s intentions are no more traitors than those who criticize Mulgrew. What’s scary is that the deformers would have a field day reading the comments section of this blog where there is a proud display of union member in-fighting. Why can’t we put caucus affiliations aside and have honest dialogue about what we can do to improve this dysfunctional school system?

Again, any criticism of Unity is divisive. Here is my question: what about this dialogue is not honest?

Yes Khiera, I am sure MORE is not being serious in their critique. They are organizing, blogging, getting signatures, raising money and reaching out to teachers because they are pulling an elaborate prank to waste everyone’s time.

Here is another question: what makes you say the school system is “dysfunctional”?

There you go: the 7 ways to defend the UFT. With defenses like this, it is tough not be offended.


  1. Pingback: Remainders: For Bloomberg, 12 ways of talking about the UFT | GothamSchools


  3. You present a well-written rebuttal based on debate logic. My approach is scientific thinking and I see the argument as the difference between an open and closed system (not the political or bureaucratic type). It is erroneous to predict the outcome of the actions you propose without considering the environment of those actions. This position has always been the privilege of the non-incumbent candidate.
    The performance of the UFT and NYSUT have been focused on the goals of protecting due process for members, maintaining collective bargaining rights, promoting sound educational practices, providing and protecting member benefits and expanding the labor movement.
    Their successes and failures should be evaluated in the context of the political, social and economic climate surrounding their actions. New York City, in particular, has been under attack of an organized, well-funded, anti-labor movement.
    It is no wonder that attack has focused public attention on the UFT, the largest and strongest union, while other municipal labor organizations in the city and state have been forced to acquiesce to benefit reductions, working conditions and job protections that we have maintained.
    In my opinion, both Mulgrew and Ianuzzi have taken a strong position on the issues we all agree are important to our profession. They have backed their agenda with action and achieved many successes where other unions regionally and nationally have failed. They have intelligently and effectively used legislative allies, broad community support and judicial actions to confront and publicize the true motives of so-called education reformers.

    • Thank you for your response. While you are correct to point out that the incumbent’s weakness is having a public record that can be criticized, the incumbent’s strength in this case is to explain away that record as a result of the anti-teacher political winds.

      All of the things that you mentioned as Mulgrew’s priorities, I just don’t see it. Junk science and testing is not sound educational practice. Enthusiastic support for non-union charter schools does not expand the labor movement. The fact that 3020a decisions are being overturned by the courts as never before does not speak well for our due process. Plus, if the UFT has marshaled such broad-based community support, as you say, then why are the political winds blowing in our faces, as you also say?

      At the end of the day, what scares me the most is how much in agreement Mulgrew seems to be with the same billionaire reformer who want to destroy us. Mulgrew is not stupid and the UFT has some shrewd, seasoned negotiators. The consistent erosion of our working conditions cannot merely be explained away through the “political winds” theory. There is something else there and that something else, I think, is the ideological agreement Mulgrew has with much of the reform movement. That is my biggest issue and my biggest reason for not supporting the Unity caucus anymore.

Assail me some more by leaving a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s