Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fusing the Human Atom

Trying to both report on ed events in NYC and being part of them as an organizer surely gets confusing. I don't operate on any high-minded principals or with much of a plan, which is a good insight into the disorganized nature of my life. Instinct and the inability to say "NO" seem to be the driving force. I'm just as happy to sit in the backyard and read. Or make videos of just about anything that moves. Or doesn't move. (How about still life videos as an art form?)

I guess the one operative principal has been in the belief in releasing the latent energy inherent in not the splitting, but the uniting of the human atom. People fusion.

I was thinking about the enormous energy released when the atom is split and the analogy to the energy generated when masses of people become politically active. I have always believed if a mass movement of politically conscious teachers became active in alliances with parent and community groups and took this alliance beyond education into other unions (many parents are union members too, or would like to be) the energy released would be enormous, creating a sort of atomic social movement by bringing people together. Would the BloomKlein education deformers have gotten away with all their crap if such a movement existed?

A true union would be doing this but with the UFT AWOL, the only way for this to happen is to do it ourselves. This is where I part ways with some of my colleagues in ICE and other critical voices within the UFT. I think they spend too much time addressing the structures set up by the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership, time that would be better spend organizing in their own schools and beyond. But I seem to be in the minority. And there is a point to be made to use the union structures to pressure the leadership. My issue is I have no faith in the leadership to do anything but mislead.

This leads me to the "Save Public Education" conference we helped organize this past Saturday and the building of a coalition to fight back against the education deformers. We looked at it as a beginning of building a grass roots movement, not as a one-time event. The break-out sessions worked on future strategies and we're holding an organizing meeting (see side panel) tomorrow to follow up.

About 80 people came out on a rainy Saturday, mostly teachers, but some parents and representatives of community groups, like Time Out From Testing and students like Global Kids (two of them spoke and were extremely impressive.) Pretty interesting. Just as interesting was the organizing efforts behind it.

My experience as a teacher/activist certainly worked for me. In the 1970's I was part of a group that met almost every week and we were enormously active. While teaching was tiring, I walked out of these meetings energized for both my job and the other activities. So many teachers feel isolated in their schools, the boost they get from meeting with like-minded people has a positive effect on them on the job and in dealing with the political mind field school politics can so often turn out to be.

Now I know that things are very different today, as the DOE has turned schools into sweat shops and teachers are exhausted. But I've also seen the way teachers we've been meeting with feel as a result of these meetings. And it seems to be a good thing.

Over the long term, the number of people involved in active organizing, call it a core, is the key to creating change. I realized the importance of an active core after the last UFT general election in 2007 and was resolved not to do that again unless a core of committed activists emerged. it doesn't have to consist of an enormous number of people because the energy released in the human fusion process is enormous. But countering the massive Unity machine requires such a core. Thus, after that election, my attention shifted towards working to build a core. I knew we wouldn't get anywhere without tapping into the new teacher social activist group and trying to bring the older, union conscious people together with them.

With Teachers Unite aiming at reaching the newer teacher crowd and creating a higher level of union consciousness along with a social justice viewpoint (register for the 4 week course at the TU website) and the increasing interest of some members of NYCoRE in the union, there was a natural affinity to merge some of the work we were doing in ICE and Education Notes. Thus, for the first time, various scattered forces began to come together, like circling rocks in a pre-planet stage beginning to coalesce in a very loose manner. I would say it's still in the Saturn ring stage, but the conference was a sign that some rocks are sticking.

That the March 28 conference was well-organized and actually worked like we planned is somewhat astounding. I generally expect things to go wrong all the time, sort of like sitting on a cliff waiting to be pushed off. But having people like Angel Gonzalez and Sam Coleman pulling things together taught me a great deal about how to get things done. You know, that old dog thing was operating here.

I won't get into all the details of the conference at this time. I spoke on ATRs and seniority and being forced to organize my thoughts coherently into a 6 minute presentation was very valuable. I will post something soon. Sam did a great job on the high stakes testing issue and Michael Fiorillo nailed the grand unification theory of the attack on public ed in his usual brilliant way – hey Michael, how about a written account? TAGNYC and some rubber room people were also involved as well as other independents. (Read Pissed Off Teacher's report on the conference.)

As interesting as the event itself was the process behind it. Process over product is way more important I believe. Think of the way the ed deformers take the opposite, bottom line approach which is so ruinous to education. So let's look at the process.

We started with an ICE ATR committee in January focused on just that issue. I remember John Lawhead taking it beyond that at an ICE meeting, fusing the concept of high stakes testing and the emerging closing schools issue. John's points unlocked the narrow view I held and allowed a broadening concept to emerge. This group started to meet regularly and put out a few leaflets and we made contacts with people at closing schools, along with people active in the Ad-hoc ATR group that did such a good job organizing the November ATR rally (see the part 1 and 2 of the video I did showing the UFT selling out the rally The Video the UFT Doesn't Want You To See: The ATR Rally).

At the same time, we've been involved with the Justice Not Just Tests subgroup of NYCoRE and we've been passing around a petition to stop the use of teacher data reports and the misuse of tests. We've also been doing work on the merit pay issue. We got 200 signatures at the March UFT Delegate Assembly (see pics in the previous post to this), with even some Unity Caucus people signing it.

It seemed a natural step to merge the work of the ICE ATR committee, which renamed itself ASC-ICE (ATR/School Closing) and we started holding joint meetings.

Concurrently, Angel Gonzalez and I took a labor study course given through NYCoRE and we worked closely with the organizers of the study group, giving a presentation on the union at the culminating event a few weeks ago to a group of mostly young teachers. Since this was on a Friday night, a bunch of us went out to a bar afterwards, where fusion really works over a few beers. (I was over 2 times older than most of them, so I was pretty well fused.)

Some of the work of that group became incorporated into the committee planning the conference. A few teachers connected to ISO and TJC also became involved in the planning committee.

Beside being able to pull off a successful event, it is just as important for the core to keep coalescing and there's no better place to let gravity work than in a bar.

Thus, after a long day of conferencing, ten of us retired to a local bar Saturday to do some coalescing. That this is not a pre-planned group but anyone who felt like going makes things very open ended. No matter how many meetings you attend together, the socializing after is often more important in building bonds and trust. Unfortunately, this bar charged $7 a beer and food was expensive, so we did some quick bonding and trust building and headed off for the rest of the weekend, only to gather again tomorrow afternoon at CUNY to plan the next steps. Ahhh, there's nothing like some good old Core knowledge.

The only thing that bummed us out was that a bunch of our compadres in NYQueer held another conference the same day, which went pretty well I hear. (Organizing to Create Safer Schools for LGBTQ Youth)

Next time we will double check our calendars. So much organizing to do, so few troops.

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