Tag Archives: Work

MAYBE THIS GUY SHOULD RUN OUR UNION

They just don't make 'em like Big Bill Haywood anymore.

They just don’t make ’em like Big Bill Haywood anymore.

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, slammed Democratic politicians who have turned their backs on unions. Specifically, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn were the targets of these barbs from Saunders:

I am sick and tired of the fair-weather Democrats. They date us, take us to the prom, marry us, and then divorce us right after the honeymoon. I am sick and tired of the so-called friends who commend us when they’re running for election, but condemn us after they’ve won. I am sick and tired of the politicians who stand with us behind closed doors, but kick us to the curb in front of the cameras. I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

Many of you know some of the people I’m talking about. Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia. Governor Pat Quinn in Illinois. We’ve come to expect union-busting, anti-worker tactics from ultra-conservatives like Scott Walker and John Kasich. But now, everybody’s on the bandwagon.

Look at Nutter. AFSCME members in Philadelphia haven’t had a contract in four years, and Sister Baylor knows it. What does the mayor do? He goes to the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court to get a legal decision that would let him shove his contract down our throats. He’s no different from Governor Snyder in Michigan, who went to his state’s Supreme Court to get legal cover for cutting school employees’ pay. Different political parties, same political games.

Look at Governor Quinn. He has waged a relentless war on state employees – slashing pensions, driving down incomes and wiping out jobs. Last year he took the unprecedented step of terminating our contract. He is the first and only Illinois governor, Republican or Democrat, to take such a blatantly aggressive action.

The sad truth is that, due to the disappearance of the unionized workforce over the past 40 years, Democrats no longer have much to fear from pissing off unions. Campaign contributions of organized labor have been steadily declining. President Obama didn’t even bother to show up to last year’s American Federation of Teachers convention. We got Joe Biden instead, which is a major step down and a sign of organized labor’s waning influence.

But Saunders points to something important in his criticism: Democrats are more dangerous than Republicans can ever be to the future of the American worker. We know Republicans hate workers and would reduce us all to peonage if given the chance. On the other hand, Democratic politicians use their party’s reputation as the protector of the American worker as cover to bust unions as ruthlessly as any Republican.

Obama’s Race to the Top initiative is being touted as a break from the No Child Left Behind policy of his Republican predecessor. Yet, it is little more than NCLB on steroids. Tying teacher evaluations and more charter schools to federal funding is more anti-union than anything Bush ever passed through Congress.

Obama’s buddy Rahm Emanuel in Chicago antagonized the teachers there to the point of causing a strike.

Newark mayor Corey Booker appointed a reformy school chancellor and has spewed the same “accountability” stuff as Michelle Rhee.

These New Democrats (and we can put Cuomo into that category) have adopted Republican anti-union policies without adopting their rhetoric.

It would be nice if the leaders of our teachers’ unions were as blunt as Lee Saunders. Instead, we see them sharing the stage with these New Democrats. We see our UFT President Michael Mulgrew say he is fine with Cuomo forcing a new evaluation system on New York City. We see Randi Weingarten supporting ridiculous schemes for a teacher bar exam. Every step of the way, at every level, we see our union leader collaborating with people who would rather be rid of us.

A Unity supporter asked me a few days ago if I donate to COPE. Hell no. Why would I? So they can keep pumping money and support into the New Democrats?

The AFSCME is up against the same enemies as teachers. At least their leader acknowledges it and calls these New Democrats out on it.

Why do we tolerate leadership in our union who cavort with the devil?

Just once, I would like to hear Randi or Michael call “bullshit” on the New Democrats. What do you think the chances are of that happening?

Advertisements

AIN’T NOTHIN’ LIKE THE REAL THING

c39e9a2288b5d53824f983f455f55102

This blog started two years ago as a labor of ignorance. Certain things were going on around the country and in my career that I felt needed exposure. Little did I know that there was an entire universe of teacher bloggers who were so eloquently describing many of the things I was thinking, feeling and experiencing. I am thankful to have come across them. Writing this blog has opened up more doors and introduced me to more fantastic people, both online and in person, than I ever thought possible.

After almost 300 posts into my blogging career I can say that I have no intention of stopping. Being banned by the Department of Education really showed me that I was onto something. As far as I know I am still banned on DOE servers because, 9 times out of 10, I cannot access this website from work during lunch. I get the feeling that this website, combined with my foray into education activism, has made me a marked man. Without totally giving away why I think this way let’s just say that I can pick up on non-verbal cues very well.

I have a big mouth both online and in person. The lengthy pontifications you read here are just polished written versions of ramblings to which my coworkers and students have been subjected. They also take a great deal of effort on my part and have seriously cut into my sleep time. The posts that go up here at 6 in the morning were usually completed just 4 hours prior, this one being no exception.

To mitigate some of the damage this is doing to me, and since I cannot be trusted to shut up of my own accord, I have been harassing a few choice people to act as regular guest bloggers here. I targeted these people because I envisioned each of them bringing something new and unique to this site. “Target” is the correct word here since it is no easy task to convince people with their own lives and responsibilities to commit to writing for no reward, no recognition and no tangible benefit. On top of that, they have to deal with an arrogant egomaniac like myself who will be constantly on their case.

Yet, I have managed to get assurances from them that they can be somewhat regular contributors to this site. I will introduce each of them with a separate post.

So I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the first of the guest bloggers who will be coming around these parts from time to time. We’ll call her Ms. Ortiz.

I first met Ms. Ortiz 7 years ago at the high school in which I currently teach. She was an incoming freshmen starting a new school and I was a younger (less old) teacher getting a fresh start in a new work environment. That first day of school is still clear in my memory. I was sitting in my classroom a half-hour before the first period of the school year was scheduled to start. In walks this freshman wanting to know if the room she just entered was where she was scheduled to be. After I answered in the affirmative she took a seat in the front row and we spent the next half hour in awkward silence. She was the first of my new students that I met in my new school and we were off to a heck of a start!

Little did I know that this was an adumbration of the rest of the school year for Ms. Ortiz. I should have known that a freshmen who shows up a half-hour early on the first day of school and sits in the front row voluntarily was going to be trouble. Over the course of the school year she would prove to be an incredible student. She was always raising her hand, asking questions, handing in 3-page homework assignments and generally spoiling me as to the type of student I could expect in my new school. I thought “who are these strange creatures who do all of their work and are genuinely interested in the topic”?

But this was nothing compared to the research paper she turned in. The assignment called for a 3-page biography on a historical figure pre-1600. What Ms. Ortiz handed in was a learned tome on the life and career of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Until this day she swears it was only 6 pages but I distinctly remember flipping through at least 14, not including cover page and bibliography. There was no way I could have given her anything less than an “A” despite the fact it was a classic case of overkill.

After her freshmen year with me Ms. Ortiz went on to have a bright future in history. She went into the Global Honor’s class, then AP U.S. History and, finally, AP European History.

This is why I was surprised when, after she graduated, she said she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Something did not seem right about that. She was a brilliant person with an expansive mind who loved history. I could not imagine her  finding fulfillment in either a k-6 education major or a career in teaching rudimentary skills to young children. She would barely be able to use the history she loved so much.

So I lobbied vigorously to try to get her to change her mind before it came time for her to declare a major. Why not be a history teacher? I don’t know if it was a result of my harassment or not but she eventually did decide to go with her love of history. She is now in the latter part of her junior year and coming by the school to observe classes. Next year I will mentor her for her student-teaching internship.

While I am proud that Ms. Ortiz is taking this path I am also concerned. The last student-teacher I mentored was never able to find a job and ended up going into law instead. Even if she does land a job, how long will it be before Ms. Ortiz gets her first taste of harassment? Will she work her fingers to the bone in the first three years of her career only to have some maniacal, incompetent principal deny her tenure? At every step of the way I second guess the advice I gave her to go into teaching at all.

The good thing is that Ms. Ortiz knows what is happening to the education system. She will not be one of these reformy Tweed drones who mindlessly accept every policy and directive handed down to them. Not only is she too smart for that, she has a conscience. If the DOE ever starts hiring again, we would all be well served for them to take on new teachers as tuned in as she is.

Ms. Ortiz will be coming around from time to time to share her experiences on what it means to metamorphosize from a student into a teacher in this age of madness. How does a young teacher adapt to this ridiculous system? How does a young teacher view her prospects for the future? What lessons are there to be learned as a young person trying to break into our thoroughly “reformed” public schools? What lessons can we learn from her?

We hear so much from people who want to break into teaching because they want to “save” the world, “save” the little poor kids from the inner cities and, above all, “save” themselves. The internet is awash in the sanctimonious musings of arrogant, privileged brats who think the most important career to which you can dedicate your life is some sort of charity work. They swoop in like marauding Vikings, plunder all that they can and leave the students they claim to want to “save” still stuck in the inner cities while they go off to make six figures in their “real” careers. But, hey, at least they get lots of pictures for their tumbler account so they can prove to all of their privileged friends that they were “there”.

Finally, with Ms. Ortiz, we can hear an authentic voice. We can finally know the “journey” of a person who wants to teach because they love their subject and loves the idea of getting other people to love it too. We can hear from someone who is not in a rush to show everyone back home that they were “there”, since “there” is home for Ms. Ortiz

I will not tell you exactly when Ms. Ortiz will post her first piece. I will just let you come to this site one day in the near future to be pleasantly surprised to find it here.

Please welcome Ms. Ortiz to the Assailed Teacher blog, an authentic voice for the next generation of authentic educators.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN OBJECTIVE RUBRIC

Thanks to Danielson, we can all judge for ourselves as to whether or not we are good teachers. Those who discover that they are not should turn in their resignations post haste.

Thanks to Danielson, we can all judge for ourselves whether or not we are good teachers. Those who discover that they are not should turn in their resignations post haste.

Shortly after I started my teaching career a word I had never learned in college or heard in high school came into vogue: rubric.

I think I first heard the term at one of those professional development meetings that we teachers love attending. At this particular meeting it was our “assessment” skills that were being developed.

The point the developer was making was that we should articulate clearly, preferably in writing, what we as teachers were looking for in our students’ written assessments. This person was really big on the idea of handing out a checklist of requirements to our students before the assessment so they know exactly what would be required of them. This checklist was called a “rubric”.

I had never heard the term before, which is not saying much since I was never the brightest bulb in the batch. Admittedly, the idea that students should know in no uncertain terms what is expected of them is sound teaching advice. As far as professional developments go, this meeting on “rubrics” turned out to be pretty useful for me.

This was around 12 years ago, well before the high tide of education “reform” had broken over the system. Back then it was assumed that us teachers were knowledgeable enough to craft our own rubrics and assess our students accordingly.

I was used to these professional development buzz words fading away just as quickly as they had appeared. After all, we had been trained in “accountable talk”, “backwards planning”, “inquiry-based learning”, “balanced literacy” and a litany of other education fads with no staying power. Yet, the term “rubric” just would not go away. As the years went on it was clear that educational rubrics were here to stay.

Once accepted as conventional pedagogical wisdom, however, it is rare for a particular practice or idea to remain static. Other people come along and add to the idea, reinterpret it and apply it in different ways. So it happened with the simple idea of a rubric. Over the years it has taken on a life of its own.

Somewhere along the way we reached a point where the concept of the rubric went from a simple checklist of expectations to an objective measure of quality. The rise of standardized testing certainly had something to do with this. Indeed, the word “standardized” implies something objective, cold, logical and equally applicable to all students at all times. Teachers who grade these tests have to be trained in how to apply a supposedly objective measure of what quality student work looks like and judge each individual piece of work by that standard.

But the rubric really started running amok when it was applied to teachers. Thanks to the so-called “accountability” movement, it was assumed that there was an objective standard by which all teachers could be measured.

Here in NYC, some defenders of our union have said that the new evaluation system will be good for teachers because it will be “objective”. Principals will no longer give “Us” or “Ss” as they see fit, using some arbitrary standard of whether or not they like your smile and the way you dress. Instead, principals will have to follow the “Danielson” rubric. The assumption, if not the faith, on the part of Danielson’s defenders is that it cannot be gamed by principals.

Unfortunately, it is my view that Danielson and any other teacher rubric can certainly be gamed. Here are some of the standards by which Danielson measures teachers: Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy, Establishing a Culture for Learning, Reflecting on Teaching and Engaging Students in Learning. To say that these things are objective is to suggest that they look the same to all principals at all times. I mean, come on, we all “know” when students are engaged in learning when we see it, right?

My response is: come on, we all “know” what an “S” or a “U” teacher looks like, right?

There is a danger in calling Danielson, or any other teacher rubric, “objective”. Principals are human beings who can and will interpret every single point in this rubric in their own way. Their judgement will be a subjective one, yet the fact that it is neatly checked off on a list gives it an air of objectivity. When I hear defenders of our current union leadership say that Danielson is “objective”, I cringe. It is no more objective than the current U/S system that can easily be wielded to destroy a teacher’s career. The only difference is that Danielson affords the administrator the privilege of hiding behind objectivity.

No matter how many reformers, educrats and educationists try to dress the act of teaching up in the language of science, it will always remain an art form. Attempting to pound an art into the flat, logical arrows of science will serve no other purpose than to contort the teaching profession itself. Teachers will be forced to contort their styles, their methods and what they know to be good teaching in a mad dash to be rated “effective” by this “objective” rubric.

One of the reasons why this movement we call “education reform” is doomed to fail is because it fights against the true nature of what teaching is. It is like taking a coiled spring and trying to stretch it into a straight pipe cleaner. Sure, as long as your hands are able to grasp the ends and stretch it out, the spring will be straight. But once you let it go, it will snap back into place.

And so it is with teaching. As long as the Billionaire Boys’ Club calls the shots in our education system, they can stretch the teaching profession into an unnatural state. But there will be a time when, either out of satisfaction or frustration, they will lose interest in the education cause. Either they will be satisfied that they have sufficiently reformed our schools or they will throw up their hands at the intractability of doing so.

When they finally let go, the teaching profession will be allowed to snap back into its original form. Our only hope can be that they haven’t held it long enough to do permanent damage to its shape.

WHAT IS BINDING ARBITRATION? SOMEONE ENLIGHTEN ME.

10c_Collective_Bargaining

The last post highlighted the exchange between me and UFT Vice President, Leo Casey. Leo Casey explained that Cuomo’s proposed evaluation system would be a form of binding arbitration. To buttress his point, he cited a recent decision where the UFT won payment for hours some of our members worked from binding arbitration.

He also explained, or at least intimated, that MORE and myself either do not know what collective bargaining is or are purposefully misrepresenting the facts. There is a lively discussion on the MORE blog where many Mulgrew supporters are saying the same thing as Leo Casey.

Maybe he is right that I don’t know what collective bargaining is. The case Leo Casey sites was an example of an independent arbitrator’s decision. I have read in detail about other examples of binding and non-binding arbitration before. All of those examples were from independent arbitrators.

Cuomo and the State Education Department and the state legislature are not independent. In fact, they are our bosses. They are bosses under a great deal of political pressure from groups like Students First to hollow out all of our rights as teachers and the education of our children.

My question is: how common is it to have management play the role of “independent arbitrator”? Is the UFT under Unity leadership really upholding our collective bargaining rights by allowing management to act as independent arbitrators?

Someone with a fair view of the matter please enlighten me. This is not a loaded question, I really would like to know.

UFT members: do you feel comfortable with trusting Cuomo with the fate of your school system? Unity’s stance is “trust Cuomo”. Is that appropriate?

A DEFENSE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM

rawr

Social justice unionism, from what I understand, is a philosophy which holds that bread-and-butter union issues are inseparable from wider issues of equality for all people. The union and the society are symbiotic. A setback in the union’s working conditions is a setback for equality everywhere. Increasing inequality somewhere else is a setback for the union’s working conditions.

My understanding of what social justice unionism means could be off but this is how I have understood it up until now. Something like this, I believe, is what MORE means when they claim to be the social justice caucus of the UFT. Again, feel free to correct me if I am mistaken.

Recently, some fellow bloggers I respect have raised questions about MORE’s strategy of social justice unionism. One of them has been Chaz of Chaz’s School Daze. I respect Chaz. We are blogroll partners and always will be. In fact, I encourage everyone to visit and follow his blog.

At one point, Chaz made the following prediction for the 2013 UFT elections:

Union Election: Look for Michael Mulgrew and Unity to easily win the election.  Their only competition will be the newly formed caucus MORE.  However, MORE seems to be drifting more and more to the left, no pun intended.  More’s emphasis seems to be “social justice”and not teacher based issues which will cause many teachers who have been disenfranchised by “Unity” to think twice about voting for MORE. Personalty, I would never vote for TJC because of their emphasis on the “social justice” issues.  However, as ICE and TJC have now merged, the “social justice” issues of TJC appears to have won out over the more teacher-centered ICE as the main platform for MORE. I predict that many teachers will probably sit out the election and result in another landslide victory for “Unity” and that is too bad. It will be interesting to see if those “fifth columnists” E4E actually runs in the elections.  It will be even more interesting to see how many real supporters they have?

To start from the end, I totally agree that the misleadingly named “Educators4Excellence” caucus is a “5th column”. They are the resident astroturf group funded by Democrats for Education Reform who, if they had their way, would immediately hand over the school system to the privatizers. Considering their agenda involves inundating our children with high-stakes tests and a revolving door of inexperienced teachers, there is nothing excellent about the way they wish to “educate”. Most E4E people are rookies themselves. One of them should put their money where their mouth is and show the world how “excellent” they are at teaching.  Why not have a teach-off competition with yours truly? I would put my veteran, professional, “sage on the stage” teaching style up against any E4E rookie.

Chaz is also right to assume that E4E will barely register a blip on the radar in the upcoming elections. Unfortunately for E4E, dollar bills cannot cast ballots. Despite their material advantages their message consistently fails to resonate with the rank-and-file. This makes E4E little more than a rump group of social climbers scattered sporadically throughout our sprawling education system. Their inevitable flaccid showing in the upcoming election will be their death knell. If they don’t make headway this year, then when will they ever do so?

So that means the biggest players in this election will be the establishment juggernaut Unity caucus and the plucky upstart MORE caucus. Chaz believes, with some justification, that Unity will dominate. Why wouldn’t he? Unity always dominates. These elections have traditionally acted as rubber stamps for Unity’s stranglehold on power.

Yet, I believe Chaz underestimates the social justice unionism for which MORE stands. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Chaz is correct about MORE’s social justice platform outweighing their concern for the bread-and-butter  issues of teacher rights and working conditions. Even if this was the case (which I don’t think it is), MORE still has a stiffer pro-teacher platform than Unity can ever hope to have. For example, MORE has consistently opposed the Race to the Top evaluation framework to which Unity agreed in negotiations at this time last year. This framework, as I think Chaz would agree, was designed to effectively short-circuit tenure with its “two years in a row of ineffective ratings and you’re out” policy. On top of this, MORE was fundamentally opposed to the un-democratic manner in which Unity handled this whole teacher evaluation fiasco. Not only did they not seek out the input of the rank-and-file, they explicitly stated that the rank-and-file’s input was not welcome.

I think MORE beats Unity hands-down when it comes to standing up for our working conditions and professionalism.

However, I disagree with Chaz’s contention that the social justice unionism aspect of MORE is eclipsing their bread-and-butter stances. Like I said at the start of this piece, social justice unionism is also bread-and-butter unionism. From my perspective, the two work symbiotically and not against each other.

For example, MORE is adamantly against charter school co-locations. In fact, MORE is against the opening of any new charter schools whatsoever. Not only do charter schools drain resources from the public schools with whom they share buildings (taking up classrooms, gym space, auditoriums, offices, etc.), charter school teachers are at-will employees with absolutely zero union protection. A stance against charters entails both a stance against taking resources away from the neediest children and a stance against turning the teaching force into low-skill, low-wage employees. Contrast this to Unity’s support for charter schools, their refusal to fight against co-locations and their inability to unionize even a fraction of the charter school teaching force.

The same types of things can be said for most of the rest of MORE’s platform. As urban teachers, Chaz and myself both see how poverty hamstrings many of our children’s efforts to learn. Both Chaz and myself understand that ameliorating poverty would greatly improve the ability of our children to learn. Therefore, MORE’s stance against the specter of childhood poverty in general would also improve our working conditions as teachers. We would not have to compensate as much for the basic materials, skills and knowledge our children lack due to poverty.

Again, not to continually put words in Chaz’s mouth, but I think he would agree with most of what I said here. It seems as if Chaz’s criticism is that MORE has gone so far “left” that they have lost sight of the importance of protecting our rights as teachers. On the other hand, I say that the best way to improve our rights and conditions as teachers is to go in that so-called leftward direction, although I do not subscribe to the notion that MORE is a leftist group.

Finally, there are two other reasons why it might be wise for us as teachers to hitch our wagons to the star of social justice unionism.

First, as a practical matter, MORE’s social justice stance allows them to say that they are truly putting students first. Michelle Rhee and other so-called reformers in control of school systems around the country have been able to gain traction with the public by clothing their reforms in the rhetoric of putting “students first”. Yet, any real insight into the matter reveals that “students first” is just that: rhetoric. The explosion of a billion-dollar edu industry over the past 10 years, manifested in the form of firms like Pearson and Wireless Generation, demonstrates exactly who has benefited from the age of Rhee-esque school reform. Children mired in poverty still struggle in school as badly as they ever did while edu-biz has ballooned exponentially.

So, if “students first” has worked for Michelle Rhee, why can it not work for MORE? MORE has the added advantage of actually meaning it when they say “students first”.

Second, I think teaching is a social justice act by nature. Teachers play a vital role in a complex socioeconomic system. Their influence can either help children accept the world as it is (including the inequalities by which those same children are victimized) or it can give children the foundation necessary to question the world as it is and the audacity to envision something better. In short, teachers who refuse to see their role as part of a larger, unjust system merely end up perpetuating that system by transferring its assumptions to the next generations. As teachers, we all have a duty to defend social justice.

This does not mean that I believe Chaz is unaware of any of this. Quite the opposite, it is obvious Chaz is keenly sensitive to his role as a teacher and cares deeply about the well-being of his students. Honestly, I think the issue here is one of semantics. It is understandable that some teachers might be put off by the language of “social justice”. It conjures up imagery of angry young idealists breathing fire against “the system” or mohawked anarchists shattering windows in a fit of childish “rage against the machine”. Who wants their union run by people like this? Not me and not Chaz.

However, social justice unionism is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is a rational, reasonable, sensitive, pragmatic and just approach to unionism. Just like Chaz, it understands that the lives of teachers and the lives of students are inextricably linked. It understands the realities of poverty being the number one determinant in scholastic achievement.

While I understand that many of my union brothers and sisters might be put off by some of the language of social justice unionism, I think many of them have far more in common with the cause of social justice than they want to admit.

And what is the alternative? The same conciliatory, top-down, corporate unionism that has seen our rights, our working conditions and our schools deteriorate over the past decade? Not only have the corporate unionists who have wielded power for so long seen this happen, they have helped make this happen.

I readily admit that our union has gained for us many rights over the past few decades for which we should be thankful. The bulk of those rights were won during the 1960s and 1970s, when the political consciousness of the nation was more awakened. There would be no way the union could act corporate and get away with it. But now it is 2013, the dystopian future of urban wastelands and dumbed-down electorates that was predicted in many a 1960s novel. The union no longer has to fear the wrath of a shrewd people. They have taken advantage of this situation by enriching themselves and selling us out in this modern age of reform. In order for the union to make a comeback, to gain the kind of traction it had when it won all of those rights for us, it must help awaken the population again, even just a little bit.

If yesterday’s rally at UFT headquarters was any indication, that awakening is happening. This is why I support social justice unionism

 

The Death and Birth of Teacher Unions

USA Today claims that the nation’s largest teacher’s union, the National Education Association, has lost nearly 100,000 members since 2010. That is a decrease of 16%.

The blogosphere is awash with postmortems of the NEA. The explosion of online learning, the rise of non-unionized charter schools, the passage of right-to-work laws in many NEA states, the general disregard for the rights of collective bargaining and the transience of many newcomers to the teaching profession have all been proffered as reasons for the decline of the NEA.

And if the NEA is undergoing such bloodletting, one can only infer that something similar is happening to the other major union: Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers.

Fewer members means less dues collected, which means less money for PACS, which means a decline in their political power. This year, instead of President Obama showing up to the annual NEA convention in order to court their votes, Joe Biden went in his place. Many people interpret this a result of their waning influence.

The destruction of teacher unions has been a major goal of education reform. It now seems that goal is coming true.

The most perplexing question I have about this situation was prompted by the statement Randi Weingarten made recently about instituting a sort of bar exam for teachers. At every turn, Randi has shown herself to be utterly beholden to the education reformers, the people whose goal is the destruction of the union she represents. The same thing goes for UFT president Michael Mulgrew, who sits on the board of New Visions, an organization that seeks to destroy public schools and build charters upon their carcasses.

Why are our union leaders collaborating with the people who are out to destroy our union?

It is an old question for sure. The strategy of our union leaders has been to collaborate on many points of education reform in order to prevent the image of a stodgy, mossback outfit with no interest in educational innovation from sticking. Yet, despite these efforts (their efforts at collaboration, that is), the image still sticks.

In 2005, when Randi was still the president of the UFT, she agreed to a contract with Pharaoh Bloomberg that gave most of our rights away. Her defenders said that this was the best deal that could have been worked out at the time. The winds were blowing in the direction of ed reform and Randi was shrewd to co-opt some of that wind in order to get something for the teachers she represented. After all, it was better to sway with the wind than to stand against it and get blown over.

And yes, even I subscribed to this notion when that contract was first negotiated.

Seven years later and the statistics have made it apparent: teachers unions are literally dying.

Why did the unions do all of this collaborating if, in the end, they were going to die anyway? The whole point of swaying with the wind was to prevent getting blown over by those winds. Yet, we swayed and got blown over anyway.

It does not make any sense to me. Many say that Randi collaborated because she has her eye on public office. The UFT and AFT positions were merely stepping stones to a cabinet post or some sort of national position. Her decisions were self-serving in that she was totally willing to throw her members under the bus for the advancement of her own career. This might be true, but the historian in me says that Randi has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any sort of national office. Despite her efforts, she is still perceived as a shrill union hack. The fact that the union she represents is dying (and I am assuming that the statistics about the NEA’s dwindling membership is analogous to what is happening to the AFT) certainly does not recommend her in any way as a competent public administrator. All of this collaboration just so her union and her career can die in the end anyway.

It is maddening. And the question in my mind still stands as to why.

In my mind, it seems we live in a very non-confrontational age. Unions were forged in the crucible of confrontation, oftentimes violent confrontation, which helped win its members some rights. In order to preserve those rights, the threat of confrontation must always exist. For unions, confrontation usually takes the form of protest or a work stoppage. While a good union need not resort to these things the vast majority of the time, the only thing that gives a union real traction is the threat of confrontation.

However, with legislation like New York’s Taylor Law, with Albert Shanker’s refusal to support a teacher strike in the 1970s, with Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the PATCO workers in the 1980s and the general rise of corporatocracy throughout the 1990s and the new millennium, the threat of union confrontation has become non-existent. The street march, the picket line and the work stoppage have become unthinkable for most workers in the United States, whether they are union or not. (Kudos to the MORE Caucus for picketing with the Con Edison workers yesterday.)

Our union leaders were perfectly happy to acquiesce in this state of affairs. We were assured that our collective union dues garnered enough financial muscle to make politicians consider our demands. It was not through confrontation that we would secure our rights, but through lobbying.

And yet, when the millennium changed, the politicians and the reformers attacked us anyway, despite our mighty union dues. So now it is 2012 and the big bad teacher unions that people vilify as corrupt political behemoths are dying.

The brass of both the NEA and AFT will one day have to answer as to why they believed being Quislings was going to help anyone in the end, themselves included. They may not answer to us, the rank-and-file who they have sold out, but they will have to answer to history, and they will not be able to hem and haw like they do with us. The long eye of history will give them no quarter.

The thing is that our union leaders have always coasted by on the excuse that they had to travel in the direction in which the winds of change were blowing. It is a course of action that most groups, most leaders and, I would even say, most Americans have lived by in our day and age. As a civilization, the last 35 years has been defined by an ethos of being ahead of the curve, of getting in at the ground floor of things. We value the skill of setting our course after testing the breeze. After all, it was always the 80s or the 90s or the new millennium or the digital age or the era of globalization. There was a constant demand on us to not only keep up, but to adapt, to constantly discard and take on new values and ways of doing things because that is what society demanded of us. It was always fly with the wind or get blown over.

Therefore, what the teacher unions have been doing is reflecting the value of the times.

This constant imperative to keep up, to be in tune with the future before it happens, has something of authoritarianism within it. Whether it has been changing our fashion sense, or getting on board with the latest technology, or adapting to a new type of job market or, in our case, bringing education into the 21st century, we are constantly being exhorted to use things and ideas not of our own creation. Our choices have already been made for us, usually by a wealthy organization with the media savvy to market its wares as the latest in sleek efficiency. Something is the future because someone else says it is. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to follow and obey.

The public life of Randi Weingarten reflects this state of constant reorientation. She has no values aside from how far she can ride the current tide. The result for her will be nothing but an underwhelming and sad legacy in American labor history. The result for the rest of us can be seen in the moribund state of our national teacher unions.

For those who wish to save public education, there is no easy fix. Education is about transmitting values between generations. Educators have a duty to transmit these values in a critical way, meaning one that demonstrates to the pupil the underpinnings of those values, their elegance and contradictions. The end goal is not to transmit, but to challenge the next generation to improve upon those values. It is the work of cultural evolution. A teacher union that passively accepts the self-interested values of those in power in hopes of some sort of gain is a teacher union that sells out its mission as teachers, not to mention as union leaders.

Instead of trying to be ahead of the curve, of getting in at the ground floor, of constantly testing the winds, of allowing the rich and powerful to set the terms of education discourse, teacher unions need to be both teachers and unions. We need to teach in that we formulate our own values based upon what we know to be beneficial for the students we teach and the civilization that charges us with doing that teaching. Those values need to be communicated, refined, discussed and debated publicly as a means to educate. It is a not a matter of testing the winds. It is a matter of helping determine where those winds blow from the start.

And we will only be successful in this if we act as a union. Unions were forged in the crucible of activism and confrontation. They must be forged again in the same manner. Only now our society is too authoritarian and atomized to sustain a union strictly of workers. For teachers, our activism must involve not only the teaching work force, but the entire teaching community, which entails parents and students. It means not a union, but a movement. Only a movement can shape the course of the winds, much like labor started as a movement in the late 1800s.

Education reform in its current incarnation is a movement brought about by money, wealth and propaganda. We strive for a movement brought about by community, dialogue and social justice.

This is exactly what the Caucus of Rank and File Educators have started to do in Chicago. It is exactly what the Movement of Rank and File Educators are starting to do here in New York City. These are the eyes of the storm of the next education movement. Around them have been coalescing all of the seething opposition to corporate education reform, and to corporatism in general. It means not only a reclamation of the teaching profession, but a redemption of the entire education system.

Michael Mulgrew sits on the board of New Visions because the winds now say there is profit to be had in education. Yet, the next movement will totally reject the notion of private profit in education.

Randi Weingarten wants bar exams for teachers because the winds now say that teachers need to be held to higher standards. Yet, the next movement will question those who think they are qualified to determine those standards.

Standardized testing is in vogue because it is a boon to testing companies and chimerically measures “learning”. The next movement cares not for testing companies and asserts that learning is a dynamic state of the human mind, not a pile of data.

Online schooling is popular because it is cheap. The next movement cares not for educating on the cheap, because you usually get what you pay for.

Teach for America is powerful because their alumni come from prestigious universities. The next movement believes that the college or suburb from which you came has nothing to do with being a good teacher. Instead, it is where your passion for teaching comes from and how likely it is to sustain you for a lifetime.

Education reformers claim that poverty, community and family life are not factors in the learning process. The next movement will assert far and wide that this is the stuff of the learning process. We will not allow the suffering of millions of children and female-headed households to remain invisible any longer.

It is not about educating for the 21st century. It is about making the 21st century better for all humankind. The future does not happen to us, we happen to the future. The winds of change only blow to where we determine as a people, not to where the rich and powerful tell us it blows.

The next teacher union will be equal parts teacher and union. In that, it will be the next great movement.

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

I will have to slow down on the posting for the next few days. As of now, I am buried under a pile of rough drafts and exams that need to be handed back to the students by Friday. That way, I can head into next week’s vacation with a clearer mind and schedule.

There will still be activity here, but I am not sure I will have the reserve for a full length article for another day or two. Will this show up in my value-added rating? Do I get merit pay for this?

While I am on the complaint wagon, I stupidly broke my flash drive today which had a semester’s-worth of lessons and materials. The back-up files are scattered on different computers and it will take me a while to centralize them all again. This will eat up more of my time and effort.

Maybe I should just put a smile on my face?

On the other hand:

See you on the other side of the rabbit hole.