Friday, September 21, 2007

Maybe It Wasn't Shanker After All - Updated

Read the additional update below from the AFT blog with an addendum from me and brief history of the opposition in the UFT from Shanker times on.

Posted by Alexander Russo on September 20, 2007 on his edweek blog.

"One of the most interesting of the 20-something mostly irate comments on my
Huffington Post article claims that Shanker doesn't deserve credit for unionizing the teachers because David Selden was the true visionary and was replaced by Shanker in a power struggle along the lines of Stalin and Trotsky. Hmm. Guess I skipped that chapter in Kahlenberg's book."

Ahh! Now we're getting to the source of Jeff Zahler's red-baiting attack on Kit Wainer who ran against Randi Weingarten in last spring's UFT election. I am into just the 2nd chapter of Kahlenberg's book ("Tough Liberal") and there are many themes and contradictions emerging. Like Shanker's "commitment" to democracy and vehement opposition to totalitarianism, while at the same time setting up the Unity Caucus system of governing the UFT that would make your average run of the mill dictator envious. Kahlenberg's index doesn't even mention Unity Caucus. Maybe it's a figment of all our imaginations.

I won't even go into the issues of his support for all the very things that have led to the undermining of the very union structure he helped build. Reading an account of
Shanker's humiliating experience as a teacher in the 50's sounds so much like today. But then the UFT leadership would say he didn't have big, bad BloomKlein to deal with in those early years of organizing (Maybe it really was Selden). Poor babies, they have it so hard.

Not that I am new to this stuff since I was part of the opposition to
Shanker in the 70's and even attended Shanker's coronation as AFT President at the AFT convention in Toronto in 1974 where Shanker stabbed Dave Seldin in the back and turned the AFT into an agent of his foreign policy.

We'll be doing a lot more on
Shanker as I am working with Bruce Markens on a review of the Kahlenberg book for New Politics. Bruce was in this thing from the early 60's and ended up being the only elected UFT District rep that kept beating the Shanker machine (even though it was run by Feldman at the time.)

I hear old timers say that Shanker must be turning over in his grave over saw what is happening to teachers in schools today. I don't agree. He would be perfectly comfortable as it is a system inherited from him.

And in many ways, Randi Weingarten is more adept at selling this kind of stuff to the members. She's much more socially adept than Shanker (or Feldman) and much more of a politician - in the Clinton "We feel your pain" sense.

When Feldman/Shanker chose their successor, they knew exactly what they were doing. And it is in this sphere where Weingarten is far behind them - never secure enough to cultivate someone strong enough to run the UFT effectively in her absence. That may prove to be her bete noire.

Posts on Unity Caucus red-baiting can be found here, here, and here

Also check out the Century Foundation slightly biased roundtable discussion on Shanker's legacy. There are some powerful political forces behind the Shanker resurrection. And none of them bear well for teachers.

UPDATE from AFT blog:

Shanker in Our Times
September 21, 2007 12:28 PM

I am currently reading the new Shanker biography the Washington Way--I am looking up names in the index and then seeing what people said, or what is said about them, in the text. (C'mon, I work here, it's all part of the intrigue.) So, who did I start with? Bella Rosenberg. And, in the short section on NCLB, Bella says:

"Al believed in eradicating achievement gaps, group distinctions . . . But Al also knew that since the beginning of time, there had been individual variability," so a performance standard which requires 100 percent proficiency by a certain date "is just a human impossibility."

In reading over that section, I thought, gee that sounds familiar. Who was it, who was it, oh yeah, it was Amy Wilkins at Ed Trust who recently said in press release a on the Miller-McKeon bill:

"The 2013-14 deadline for proficiency is a powerful disincentive to raising standards. If we are going to ask states – and students – to climb a higher mountain, we need to give them more time to get there . . ."

So, it only took Wilkins five years and half years of NCL to realize what Shanker knew intuitively over ten years ago. He was a man ahead of his times. To read some of the reviews of his biography, click here.

Oh, and if you really want to understand what makes the AFT tick, read the sections on the Social Democrats with care. I, myself, never realized that Yetta Barsh, Shanker's assistant, was married to Max Shachtman.

Ed Notes comment:
Back in the 70's we used to talk about certain ironies in the fact that Yetta Barsh held the gateway to Shanker.

It is worth reading the Wiki about former Trotskyite Shachtman to get a picture of the underlying roots of the UFT/AFT.

Here's a piece:
Social Democracy. After Shachtman's death in 1972, many social democratic Shachtmanites rose to prominent positions in government and organized labor. Supporters of Social Democrats USA (SDUSA) in the labor movement included Albert Shanker (president of the American Federation of Teachers), as well as AFL/CIO presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland.

The Opposition in the UFT: A brief, down and dirty history

With the main opposition to Shanker coming from Teachers Action Caucus, a Communist Party dominated group, the Stalin/Trotsky wars were being fought out in the UFT beneath the surface. With the rise of the New Left in the 60's and 70's, new groups of Trotsky derivatives began to surface in the UFT. As oppositionists, they could not work with TAC and therefore became part of the opposition independent of TAC.

TAC was opposed to the '68 strike and for years were branded as strike breakers, an unfair label, as that strike had so many connotations beyond labor issues.

The group I was with (Coalition of NYC School Workers), independent left-wing but anti-left political party - by this I mean, we viewed people who joined left political parties came into a group with a priority of organizing for their party and not for the group – occupied a middle position within this milieu and anti-CP (Communist Party) leftists gravitated to us.

Ultimately (1975-6), some of the Trot party people saw they weren't going to get anywhere and split off into New Directions along with others who felt the CSW were too cerebral and not action oriented. The dichotomy in New Directions led to a split there with the Trot party people left out in the cold and they ultimately formed a group called Chalk Dust while ND was left with the more middle of the road right wing elements. Eventually, ND and TAC merged (around 1990) into what is currently New Action and some of the Chalk Dust people evolved into Teachers for a Just Contract. New Action still has the old TAC/New Direction dichotomy with the NA core people still coming from the old TAC.

Thus, the roots of why New Action and TJC would find it impossible to work together go a long way back.

ICE (Independent Community of Educators) was formed 4 years ago from the original people involved in the old CSW from the 70's and people who worked with Education Notes, which began publishing around 1996 as an alternative point of view to New Action and TJC. The word "Independent" in the name of the organization was very important, reflecting those same feelings from the 70's when the CSW was in the middle of the ideological battles between the Social Democrats, CP and Trots.

That battle still goes on, as does the red-baiting on the part of Unity Caucus.


  1. Don't forget to read Selden's book, The Teacher Rebellion. It certainly paints a portrait of Shanker that varies from what you're reading now.

  2. This book is must reading to understand the UFT.

  3. I agree. And I'm only 30 pages into it. People will get an understanding that it is not Randi but all about an underlying philosophy. We saw signs in the early 70's - like foreign policy was more important than what was happening in the schools. Shanker's support for cold warrior Henry Scoop Jackson for Prs in '76 - I even spoke against this at the DA accusing Shanker of choosing guns over butter at a time when there were drastic cuts to the schools.
    Randi seems to been more liberal than Shanker on foreign policy which drives people like Shanker original supporter Abe Levine crazy - while actually - from my point of view - being even more undemocratic than Shanker was.
    He used to let us talk and ignore us. She is much more sensitive and has to respond to every thing that is said and thus comes across as more manipulative and often overbearing.

  4. I weep over the souls of dead ocelotsSaturday, September 22, 2007 at 12:22:00 AM EDT

    I believe you (ednotes) are hitting a nerve here. You are one step ahead of the UFT in terms of how they think they are running their dictatorship. Crush them and destroy them.

  5. Of course it is all about Norm and how anyone reacts to him. I'm glad your ego is not to big. Retirement obviously gives you alot of time.

  6. Focus on Randi and the past. Forget about the present or this

    It's beyond your ego.

  7. Ahh! Another visit from a Unity hack. So nice to see you. Yes, it's all about my ego and no ideas. The usual Unity bunk.

    I guess you forget how my ego raised these testing issues repeatedly since 1997 while you ignored them.

    So I read the post on edwize and the comments. So you talked about Kozol. Wow!

    Maizie (who writes for the NY Teacher) says:

    "This law also gives minority groups, be they racial, or by language or disability, the basic tools to demand delivery of standards-based education, For the sake of those groups if for nothing else the law needs to be in place."

    That is what Klein says.

    And Jonathan responds:
    "The testing mandates are horrible. In NY, we (standardized/state) tested way too much before NCLB. And now it’s nuts.

    "I teach math. I know that our state standards in mathematics are embarrassing. (I think that at one point NY State had the best math policies/curricula in the country). So let me question your assumption: New state standards in mathematics in NY hurt mathematics instruction in this state. Why should I believe that they helped elsewhere?"

    Where is any plan on the part of the UFT and NYSUT to force changes at the state level? Not one word. Not one idea calling for the reform of the state ed dept or even the resignation of Richard Mills - who by the way gave your boy Klein the waver to become chancellor - which you didn't oppose.

    Give me a break. The usual - "look at how nice our rhetoric is while we stab teachers in the back."

    If you are using the pathetic post by Maizie to point to your "activism" on the NCLB issue, you should hide your head in shame.


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