Tag Archives: New

A Turn of Fortune

In the last post, I explained how Save Our Schools put the kibosh on showing the film about Mary Thorson because of the accusations made against the filmmaker, Myra Richardson, some 10 years ago. By allowing an unsubstantiated accusation to determine how they treat a fellow teacher, I explained that that SOS was feeding into the culture of teacher bullying for which Mary died.

God sometimes works small miracles because SOS did allow the film to be shown at the opening day of their conference yesterday. The catch was that I would present the film. It was also shown at the very end of the day, after the keynote address and after many people had spent the day traveling long distances to get to the conference here in Washington, D.C. Needless to say that the turnout was not great and there were many sleepy eyes in the audience of those that remained.

Hopefully, the movie had an impact on those that saw it and they will go out and screen the film for their colleagues back home. This is the only way any important idea or film is promulgated among he national teaching force.

Here is the text of the speech. Hopefully, it had an impact on those who were there that night:

Presentation Speech – The Killing of Mary Thorson (8/3/12)

Thank you for having me here tonight. My name is xxxxxxx from New York City. I am 33 years old and have been teaching history in the city’s public high schools for the past 12 years. Public schools have been a major part of my life from the age of 5. Every single year since then, I have had a first day of school and always feel the trepidation that comes with i

Whether as a kindergartener, a high-schooler or a teacher, my trepidation stems from the same anxious question, which is: will I be accepted? We want to be accepted because we know the ramifications if we are not, which could be isolation, harassment or bullying. We do not want to be judged unfairly by others and have that erroneous judgment follow us for the rest of the school year.

We know if that happens, that judgment becomes a label. There are going to be people that know of us exclusively through that label. When they see us they will not say “Hey, there is Dave” or “Hiya Susan!” They will merely say there is that weird person or stupid person or ugly person. Labels objectify us, turn us into memes and dehumanize.

Dehumanizing leads to harm like teasing and violence. This is the anatomy of “bullying” that has become such a popular watchword in recent months. While the anti-bullying campaign certainly has an admirable goal, and those who have participated in it certainly are genuine in their efforts to combat bullying, I wonder if all of this new-found vigilance against schoolyard bullying is being used as a subterfuge by certain interests to downplay another type of bullying no less epidemic in our country today: the bullying of teachers. To contrast it with the schoolyard bullying that our children face, I’d like to refer to the bullying of teachers as schoolhouse bullying for two reasons: one, the worst of it takes place within the confines of the schoolhouse and, two, the word house connotes opacity, since the bullying of teachers is a secret from the public.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2011, a 32-year-old middle school physical education teacher from Illinois named Mary Eve Thorson put herself in the path of an oncoming semi on an Indiana interstate. In her suicide note, she referred to her students as her “babies”. Her babies were suffering from a school climate that repressed teachers through abuse and harassment. Towards the end of her note she asked a question that more and more teachers are asking: why isn’t anyone stopping this?

The origins of Mary’s nightmare can be traced back to the familiar culprits: No Child Left Behind, the high-stakes testing regime, the rise of convoluted education data, Race to the Top…. the bludgeons of the ed reform movement. Teachers like Mary Thorson, teachers like us, are required to comply with the conversion of their children into numbers no more valid than the numbers Wall Street dealt in before and after the financial meltdown of 2008.

Teachers have a front row seat to this corporate education show. There is a chance that a good many of us are horrified by the dehumanizing of our students as numbers. It is imperative that teachers keep that horror to themselves. To ensure this, the teachers who have civil service job protections, mistakenly dubbed “tenure”, have been the targets of a nasty media campaign to garner public support for tenure’s erosion. The media dutifully does the bidding of local leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. They run stories daily about teachers accused of horrible things, or how teachers are to blame for sub-par test scores, and how tough it is to fire “bad” teachers.

They have used the very word “teacher” as an insult. It connotes an old, burned out mossback who reads the paper all day while eager young minds cry out for an education. The United States is losing ground to other countries, countries producing the next generation of nuclear scientists. Furthermore, bloated teacher pensions are bankrupting state governments during this time of economic recession. Condoleeza Rice and Joel Klein inferred that teachers were threatening national security, so teachers joined the ranks of Alger Hiss and Osama Bin Laden.

These labels and judgments create the environment that supports the bullying of teachers. The public does not know us as Dr. Ravitch or Mr. Kozol anymore. They know as those lazy hacks, union bums and public enemies. This gives local politicians, beholden to the billionaire boys’ club, the popular mandate to railroad unions in contract negotiations, which has led to the denuding of workplace conditions and job protections for teachers.

This means that those above the teachers in the education bureaucracy: principals, superintendents, chancellors and mayors, are given ever widening latitude over our careers. The bureaucracy now rewards those administrators who are the most effective at entrenching the worship of data in public school buildings. A good administrator is one whose data looks good. The easiest and most surefire way to get the data to look good is to pressure teachers to make it look good through dishonest means like scrubbing. Those teachers who refuse to do so have no protection from any harassment the administration might unleash. This is where the next step of the bullying process, direct harm, comes into play. Any teacher with a conscience and a sense of ownership of their profession is a target.

The system rewards good data. Children are the numbers they attain on high-stakes exams. Teachers are the numbers their students attain on high-stakes exams. A new generation of educators, both teachers and administrators, are being trained in this philosophy. The idea of humanistic education is becoming foreign, in favor of a worship of numbers that dehumanizes the entire learning process. Inhuman systems breed inhuman behaviors. Teachers who don’t play ball in the new regime risk facing fake and embellished charges from their administrators. Pushing a teacher out of their career, depriving them of their livelihood through harassment and intimidation, is easy in a system where humans are numbers. It is classic bullying: first dehumanize, then harm.

And so, in 2010, Rigoberto Ruelas jumped off a bridge when the Los Angeles Times published data portraying him as a bad teacher. In 2011, Mary Thorson stepped into the path of an oncoming semi. As a union leader, I have worked with many harassed teachers whose only crime was questioning the worship of data and speaking up in defense of their students. They faced termination because of it, faced living on the streets and being stripped of their identities as teachers, unable to provide for themselves or their families. I have sat with too many teachers who have cried and talked of suicide. Every time I do, I have to stop myself from crying.

Why isn’t anyone stopping this? That’s Mary Thorson’s question. Her suicide note is a primal scream of frustration over what it means to be a teacher today. The things that worried her about the profession are the same ones that worry us. Not once in her note did she mention her own horror story of bullying. Instead, she was gravely concerned for her babies and her colleagues. She was concerned that tremendous harm was being done to them and nobody cared. She was locked in an educational fiefdom where harassment and extortion from above were the norms. Why isn’t anyone stopping this? Does anybody care?

As you will see in this film, Mary did what she did for us. She wanted to draw attention to the anonymous suffering that goes on in our schools by sacrificing her very existence, which was the only thing she had left after being methodically and systematically bullied for so long.By making this film, Myra Richardson has taken the first step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. With nothing but a simple camera and a laptop, she interviewed those closest to Mary Thorson and the bullying she faced. The film is a series of in-depth interviews, each of which peel back the onion of Mary Thorson’s story.

By showing this film, Save Our Schools is taking the next step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. This is the first time SOS is showing a film. By being here right now, all of us share in a very important moment for the teaching profession in the United States. I thank Myra Richardson, Save Our Schools and all of you for being here for this moment. It is my honor to introduce to you Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, Educators Who Bully

 

The DOE’s Long War on Christine Rubino

Casualty of war: the arbitrator’s first decision

When we last saw Christine Rubino, the New York State Supreme Court vacated the Department of Education’s penalty for comments she made on her private Facebook page.

The penalty was termination. The arbitrator who came up with the penalty, Randi Lowitt, knew that this was the outcome the DOE wanted. She was probably the only arbitrator ever to have the head of the DOE’s Administrative Trials Unit, Theresa Europe, stare daggers at her throughout the hearing to ensure she came to the right decision.

As we have seen, in June of 2010, Christine wrote on her private Facebook wall that it was a perfect day to take her students to the beach. This was a day after a NYC student drowned off the coast of Long Island.

Christine was one of the first, if not the first, teacher in NYC to be brought up on charges for something she wrote on Facebook. This was before the DOE’s social media policy. This was also at a time when working people nationwide were being fired for things they said on the internet, especially teachers. The case of Christine Rubino was the morning star of a movement aimed at depriving working people of their freedom of speech.

This movement found many well wishers in the media and the general public. Newspaper articles made Christine out to be some sort of loose cannon. Readers who left comments on the NY and Huffington Post were quick to call for her termination, to exclaim that she was unfit to be around children and to say that this warranted her being deprived of her livelihood.

The drums of hypocritical American Puritanism beat heavy and constant in the case of Christine Rubino. The general public wants to bully teachers, call them names, blame them for low test scores and poverty, say we are underworked and overpaid and are drawn from the meanest part of the intellectual bell curve. Yet, at the same time, they want us underworked, overpaid idiots to be held to a moral system that Oliver Cromwell himself could not follow. They want us to smile at the grocery store, wave hello to them every morning and, if we use Facebook, to do nothing but post pictures of us grading exams and write thoughts about how every child is special like a snowflake.

We are to act like Mr. Rogers and be treated like Mr. Gotti.

Yet, Christine did something that these reporters and jurors in the court of public opinion have rarely done in their own lives: she took responsibility for what she did. Three days after she posted her comments, she erased them from her wall. This was before any investigation or inkling she would be in trouble. She took down her comments because she realized they were wrong. She did not need the specter of public controversy to all of the sudden force her to acknowledge she had made a mistake. Instead, she tried to rectify the mistake on her own accord.

Unfortunately, as we saw previously, a coworker of hers had already printed up her words and had designs to show it to the principal. This is a teacher that has since been removed from his classroom to await 3020a charges of his own; charges that could land him a lengthy jail sentence. Schools always have their resident snitches, the ones who inform on their colleagues because they are unable to let their professional work speak for itself. It is often the case that these snitches have dark skeletons of their own to hide. Finding ways to get their colleagues in trouble is a way to throw the scent off of their own often hideous wrongdoing. So it was in this case.

If it was not for this snitch, Christine’s comments would have dissolved into the ether. No reporters or private hypocrites would have had the opportunity to establish themselves as her judge.

Throughout her entire hearing, Christine was remorseful about what she had said. At no point did she stand by her words or try to defend them. She owned up to her actions for what they were: a mistake, a lapse of judgment, a regrettable action. This was not enough for the DOE or Randi Lowitt or the media or the lynch mob of public opinion. Terminate her, ensure her children starve and never allow her around children again. Meanwhile, the accused child molester who ratted her out gets to work another year in a public school building. Way to go, all of you.

The bright side is that, one, Christine Rubino did not give up the fight to salvage her career and her good name; and, two, the New York State Supreme Court under Barbara Jaffe is wiser than the DOE, Randi Lowitt, the media and the hypocrites. She vacated Lowitt’s decision and ordered her to come up with a less draconian punishment.

That punishment has turned out to be two years suspension without pay. That means that Randi Lowitt thinks it is fitting for Christine to face another year of being unable to support her children. Perhaps this is the “children first” policy the DOE speaks so much about.

Randi Lowitt’s new decision reads like something written by a woman scorned, an arbitrator who had her ridiculous ruling overturned, a primal scream of vindictive pettiness. She makes very little mention of Christine’s Facebook comment and, instead, bases her two-year suspension on the fact that one of Christine’s friends lied during the investigation.

What happened was that, in an attempt to save Christine, a friend of hers lied to investigators and said she was the one who logged into Christine’s account and wrote the incriminating things. In the world of Randi Lowitt, this means that Christine put her up to the lie. What evidence does Randi Lowitt have to substantiate this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That does not matter. In the world of 3020a, a teacher is guilty no matter what the evidence, or lack thereof, says. Randi Lowitt, understanding that the jig was up as far as the Facebook comment is concerned, instead based her two-year suspension on the fact that Christine Rubino’s friend lied to investigators.

This is how the equation works in Lowitt’s head: Christine’s friend lied, which means that Christine was behind the lie. Yet, every time I ask Christine about her lie, she insists she did not lie. What a liar! Not only that, she never apologized for putting her friend up to the lie. Why does she just not take responsibility for the lie she never told? This is unacceptable! Looks like her and her children need another year of starvation.

She should have lied and said she put her friend up to the lie, then she would not be such a liar! Instead of giving her a two-year suspension for being a liar, I would have given her a two-year suspension for being a liar.

Thankfully, Christine is fighting this most recent round of viciousness on the part of the DOE. Her story teaches us a lot about how teachers in similar situations can find some measure of justice.

First, everyone associated with the 3020a process knows it is a joke. The investigators are retired detectives from the NYPD. When they get a case, they know whether or not the principal or the board wants that teacher out. Their job is not to find the truth as much as it is to use the truth in a manner conducive to punishing a teacher. For example, at a recent 3020a hearing about which I will write more in the future, one of these investigators found that a comment a teacher made on Facebook was a total joke. Case closed, right? Wrong. According to the investigator, he has children and he would not want his children’s teacher joking around in this manner. Therefore, he believes the teacher should be terminated.

This investigation takes about 6 months to a year. In the meantime, the teacher is reassigned and usually does not know why they are being investigated. They are in the dark and they wait. It is here where the DOE hopes that the teacher will save everyone the trouble and quit. If the teacher is sufficiently scared, they might go the way of Mary Thorson. To the DOE and the investigators, it is all the same.

If the teacher sticks around this long, they finally get to the 3020a process. First, they meet with the lawyer who is paid with the teacher’s union dues. Most of the time, the lawyer will encourage the teacher to resign or settle for some ridiculous punishment all out of proportion to what the teacher is accused of. Part of this is laziness. The other part is that these lawyers know that the hearing itself is a joke and they would rather save themselves the embarrassment.

By this point, a great many teachers opt out of the game. They will either resign or drop dead during the investigation, or get railroaded out by their union lawyer. For those hearty souls that decide to go through with a hearing, their union lawyer will tell them the hearing is private. Nobody from the outside will be allowed to witness it. If the teacher wants to make it a public hearing, count on the lawyer throwing a hissy fit. They will make a million and one excuses as to why everything should be done in secret. This is because they want to take the 10 or so cases on which they are working, sit down with the arbitrator and DOE lawyer, and go down the list to tick off the names of which teachers get fired and which do not. It does not matter the merits of each individual case. They would prefer to sit there and divide the spoils, so to speak.

If you get your public hearing, be prepared for one of the saddest jokes this side of the Mississippi. The DOE lawyers will introduce the charges, then they will introduce more charges that they never showed you or your lawyer beforehand. They will then ask the arbitrator, and receive from the arbitrator, permission to add more charges, evidence and witnesses as the hearing progresses. They literally make it up as they go along. Many of these DOE lawyers would be selling apples in the subway if this 3020a process did not exist. They call themselves lawyers, but they are more like law school dropouts and graduates of online JD courses, where all one needs for a degree is a printer and mouse that clicks.

And why not? The DOE does not need good lawyers when the process is so skewed in its favor.

The arbitrators sit there and take notes, allowing the DOE lawyers do whatever it is they want to do. In their mind, it is not a matter of a teacher being guilty or not guilty. It is a matter of what they will find the teacher guilty of and what will the penalty be. Teachers that get to keep their job are so thankful that they have made it through this process that they will take their punishment and move on. Those that get terminated are so demoralized and beaten down by the process that they just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and find some form of employment.

That is exactly the way the DOE wants the process to work. They understand that 3020a is a joke, that the process is a sham, arbitrators are in their pockets and the lawyers are court jesters. They know that the rulings that come out of that building on Chambers Street bear little resemblance to truth or justice. The DOE gets it. This process is designed to get teachers to go away on their own. Most teachers do just that.

Not Christine Rubino. She is the worst nightmare of the DOE and arbitrators like Randi Lowitt. She will not roll over and die while these hucksters make off with her career. She makes the DOE fight for every inch they get. She is now out to appeal the two-year suspension. This explains why Randi Lowitt’s decision reads like the ramblings of a hurt 10-year-old and not a venerable figure of justice. It explains why the DOE releases information to Sue Edelman of the NY Post so she can do one of her trademark hatchet jobs.

A teacher who tries to fight the DOE in its own court is a fool. Everyone, including the union lawyer, is in the DOE’s back pocket. The real fight is in the press, on the blogs and in real courts of law where the DOE’s filth is exposed to the light of day.

All the same, the toll is heavy on people like Christine Rubino. Yes, she fights, but that means the DOE spends more time judging her and her character. That means more hatchet jobs in the press, more assassinations on her character by rank-and-file morons and more opportunities to live and relive this walking nightmare.

Most importantly, this means that Christine Rubino is still without the means to support herself or her two children. It means that poverty and desperation define the lives of her and her kids. How the likes of Randi Lowitt, Theresa Europe, Dennis Walcott, Michael Mulgrew, Sue Edelman and the base fools who leave anonymous comments about her character can still live with themselves is beyond me.

A Paypal account has been established to help Christine and her family make it through this rough time to come. You would think the union would help her, but she does them no good because she cannot pay them dues anymore. Please, give whatever you can. She is fighting not just for herself, but for every teacher who has been, or will be, the target of the DOE and the handmaidens of education reform.

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