Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Where is Al Shanker when we need him most?"


I have just finished reading Kahlenberg's book (Tough Liberal) and will be co-writing a review for New Politics and Shanker could have written whole chunks (he probably did) of NCLB. Like, he believed schools not performing on high stakes tests should be closed. And he would have endorsed the merit pay deal made this week.

I will be writing a lot more about Shanker and the roots of the standardization movement which has resulted in the reversal of so many teacher gains made under the first incarnation of Shanker in the early 60's. The deskilling of teachers, as TJC has been phrasing it, and the almost total loss of teachers' power to take control of their classrooms along with attacks on so many teachers by administrators, has placed teachers in the most precarious situation they have faced since the days Shanker actually taught in the mid-50's. (Of course the UFT Delegate Assembly rejected TJC's attempt to address this issue this past Wed. Read their resolution and my commentary here.)

Add that public education faces its biggest threat ever while Kahelnberg talks about how the major thrust of Shanker's policies were in defense of public education and you have an immense contradiction around the man who started one movement (teacher unionism), followed by another (standards, charter schools, etc) that has almost destroyed the original movement. Oy, do I have a lot to write.

This column appeared in The Wave on October 5. Here are some excerpts:

Where is Al Shanker when we need him most?
by Norman Scott

This was the question posed by Wave editor Howard Schwach recently.

“He would have never let the UFT get away with some of its more recent activities and acquiescence to Department of Education foolishness had he still been alive.”

Schwach points to Shanker’s core beliefs: “He believed in educating students to become citizens. He did not believe in educating students on how to take a test.”

In writing a review of Richard Kahlenberg’s new book on Shanker, Tough Liberal, I am immersed in “All Shanker, All the time” as I wade through this fascinating pro-Shanker tome.

Shanker was the founder of the standards/let’s test all the time movement in the early 80’s when he embraced the Nation at Risk report. Shanker was also the originator of the idea of Charter schools, a concept that is so Balkanizing the nation’s schools. Ironically, Shanker used the same word to criticize community control in the late 60’s and early 70’s. (Dealing with issues related to the 1967 and 1968 strikes, my first two years in the system, would take 5 columns. I’ll leave it alone for now.)

Shanker was in favor of total centralized control and would have been very comfortable with mayoral control, which Randi Weingarten also supports. Close examination of both of Shanker and Weingarten would show the leaf has not strayed too far from the tree – other than in terms of style. Oh yes, and foreign policy - maybe. But more on that later.

Howie is making the same error so many people make about the current union leadership or the current BloomKlein administration: they listen to what they say, not watch what they do. Looking at Shanker’s career, there are enormous contradictions between his stated core beliefs and his actions.

The very unionism Shanker helped build in the 50’s and 60’s that finally gave teachers some protection from authoritarian principals has to a great extent been undermined by the very policies Shanker pushed in the name of educational reform.

Oh, and I don’t have time to go into what is one of Shanker’s greatest contradictions. The supposed believer in democracy and the fighter against Communist (only) totalitarian governments (Chile’s Pinochet was ok) established one of the most totalitarian union regimes in the labor movement with his Unity Caucus’ total control of every instrument of power within the UFT.

Read the entire column in The Wave archive here.


Anonymous said...

How do we reverse this horror show?

Anonymous said...

so let's get behind John Edwards for President and KILL the AFT/UFT endorsement of Hillary. why bother with the small fry when we could get behind a potential great leader of this country? who wants to start?

Anonymous said...

"I was part of the opposition . . . from the time I became involved in union politics in 1970". Ponit well made. Whatever it is, you ARE against it.