Friday, April 4, 2008

Randi and Al

Update: Some audio and video of a Kahlenberg "Tough Liberal" appearance at NYU on April 1 is posted at David Bellel's blog.

Education Notes has been exploring some of the roots of the alliance of the business community and the teacher unions. It did not begin with mayoral control in Chicago or New York. It began in the early 1980's and the leading advocate of much of what we are seeing today was AFT/UFT president Albert Shanker. The monster has grown in a way that has undermined the very teacher union movement in which he played a major role.

It is no accident that Richard Kahlenberg's hagiography of Shanker, Tough Liberal, was released in this climate as a way to justify Shanker's leadership of the educational reform movement that has so devastated teacher unionism at the basic level and reversed so much of what was won. (See NYC Educator on the NY Times article on Weingarten for a superb summary of these losses.) This weekend we will begin publishing excerpts from the book as a way to examine some of the deeper connections between teacher unions and the "reform" movement and to demonstrate that the ball started rolling down the alley long before Weingarten came into power.

"What would Al do today?" This is a refrain we often hear, with the hint that we wouldn't be in this pickle if he were around. I don't buy it. I have been a critic of Weingarten, but was also a critic of Shanker for many of the same reasons. One difference between them is that Shanker dismissed critics like they were fleas, whereas Weingarten often takes things personally. After one particularly acid email exchange with her in which she practically accused me of abusing her, I responded with "It's politics, not personal. Al always understood that. You don't."

Weingarten's attitude towards criticism and her consequent attempts to make it appear she is appeasing everyone is one of her major flaws. "Like water rolling off the back" is not a phrase that is part of her vocabulary. Some say, "She just wants to be loved by everyone." Maybe. But it runs deeper than that. Shanker was not only a political animal, he was also a severe ideologue. Weingarten has a very broad, flexible ideology that always seems up for grabs. For instance, she has changed from support of the Iraq war to opposition. Shanker would still be out there. But then, the AFT/UFT is so tied to the Clintons, a relationship that was started by Shanker in the 80's when Clinton was governor, maybe Shanker would have modified his position in relation to Hillary's campaign. I somehow doubt it. (He believed the US should never have withdrawn from Vietnam.)

At the AFT, Weingarten will stay within the broad guidelines Shanker laid down and continue to cooperate with the very people looking to destroy teacher unionism at the ground level. By this, I mean in the schools. The institution of teacher unions controlled by massive bureaucracies is only being attacked by the right wing. The UFTs' partners are Democratic party people and they understand the need for the union structure to be there to help sell "the plan" and control the rank and file membership.

The AFT is in many ways is a lighter job than being president of the UFT. Doing both is a challenge. A major danger Weingarten faces is that water that just won't roll off her back.

Quack! Quack!


Ed Note: Come to hear Lois Weiner explain a lot of this background and put things into context at the Teachers Unite forum at Julia Richman HS complex (67th and 2nd Ave) on April 15 at 5 PM.

7 comments:

  1. You know, I've always had this nagging feeling about Shanker and his ideologies. I grew up hearing that he was a "savior" of city education, yet something seemed off to me. I definitely need to read and research more about him.

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  2. Start with a critical reading of Kahlenberg. I'm also reading Podairs' The Strike that Changed NY a more balanced approach.

    We've done a lot of work in ICE on Shanker stuff and even held a symposium Xmas week and will do more. It is important to understand the context of how and why Randi is operating. The stuff in Kahlenberg on Shanker and ed reform will make your hair stand up.

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  3. Check out http://detentionslip.org for all the latest headlines in education. It's one of the leading sources for breaking crazy news stories in our public schools.

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  4. It's hard to fathom why you would criticize Weingarten for her role in education reform, especially when you consider that the union remains the single biggest barrier to true reform. If the union went away tomorrow, kids in NYC would be better off.

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  5. And what's the biggest barrier to reform in Florida and other right to work states where there are barely any teacher union members and the results are amongst the worst in the nation?

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  6. PS I never said we don't need a union. I said we need a sensible union that protects the good teachers, not the terrible ones.

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