Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Assessing Joel Klein: What Influenced Him in the Late 60's? What If He Had Remained a Teacher?

Randi and Klein operating on the school system, neither qualified
Randi and Klein "fixing" the schools. I should have included this cartoon yesterday a teacher did for me for the Spring 2003 edition of Ed Notes. Very apt in line with the Black story. Click on it to enlarge.


I'm writing this as a follow-up to my piece yesterday (Separated at Birth: Joel and Norm - I Miss Him Already) on some of the similarities in my background with Joel Klein.

I wondered what would have happened if Klein had not left teaching after only 6 months. And also about how the climate of the times and how his brief experience as a teacher may have shaped his views, particularly about the union. I want to point out right up front that I have not had the time to do any research on anything Klein may have said about those years and the political influences on him, so all this is just speculation. But I find it interesting that he seems to have said so little or anything at all.

First let's think about the climate of the times in the late 60's. Just to give you a flavor, I extracted this fragment from Democracy Now's 40 year retrospective of 1968.
May 14, 2008: 1968, 40 Years Later: Student, Worker Protests Sweep France, Leaving Indelible Mark on the Country and the World
May 1968 was a watershed month for France, when a wave of student and worker protests swept the country and changed French society forever. We speak to George Katsiaficas, author of numerous books, including The Imagination of the New Left: The Global Analysis of 1968.

April 25, 2008: Forty Years After Historic Columbia Strike, Four Leaders of 1968 Student Uprising Reflect
Forty years ago this week, hundreds of students at Columbia University started a revolt on campus. Students went on strike. They occupied five buildings, including the president’s office in Low
Klein graduated from Columbia in 1967 and I assume was at Harvard Law School in April '68, so he missed the action. (I had completed one year as a full-time grad student in June 1967 and with the threat of grad student deferments ending I went into teaching in Sept. '67. Ironically, I was in the Columbia library on that day even though I was a grad student at Brooklyn College - anyone could just walk in. It was my first year of teaching and I took the day off because I was doing a heavy duty research paper and the resource I needed was only available up there.)

What was Klein's reactions to the events at his alma mater in the spring of '68?

Just a few months later in the fall of 1968 the UFT went on the most contentious strike in history, splitting apart the historic connection between civil rights and unionism, with many liberals and radicals lining up against the UFT. What is not commonly known is that the UFT had all the teachers in the demonstration district in Ocean Hill- Brownsville go on strike in May 1968, some of the aspects of which may have been drowned out in the incredible events of those months along with the assassinations of King and Kennedy, the elections, the war, etc. Really the most incredible time. Assume Klein was busy with law school and maybe didn't follow these events in the NYC schools.

Where did Joel Klein stand on the events going on in the NYC schools? Assuming he was a liberal, was the strike a basis of his anti-unionism, or at least his antagonism to the UFT? (Remember the Woody Allen line in Sleeper about Al Shanker blowing up the world.)

I was basically unconscious at that time and joined the '68 strike because teaching still scared me and I would take any opportunity not to go into school.

Later on when I became an activist, most of the people I met were very pro-union and very pro-community - faced with the choice they broke the strike. I always maintained that they were wrong- they should have joined the strike and fought things out within the union.

The earliest opposition caucus to Unity was Teachers Action Caucus - almost everyone in TAC broke the '68 strike. (Ironically, TAC merged with another caucus in 1990 to become the current New Action and many Unity stalwarts were still outraged over the '68 strike issue when Randi brought them into the fold in 2003.)

I remember the teacher whose class I took over on Feb. 1, 1969 was a law student at Columbia (he told me he got a good draft lottery number). He had broken the '68 strike- he told me because he was afraid that by striking and breaking the law he feared it would affect his law career - I just remembered his name - I think - Clifford Aron. In retrospect, he sort of reminds me of what Klein may have been like at that time.

Klein teaches
Now jump ahead a short time. As I pointed out, with deferments being challenged, Klein may have -  as I did - jumped into the Intensive Teacher Training Program (ITTP) a little known precursor to Teach for America, where people who had no education degree were given a 6 week summer training program and sent into the schools. I got 10 NYU credits followed by 2 more in the fall of 1967 at a follow-up support course. I parlayed those free NYU credits (imagine, $75 a credit while Brooklyn College was still free) into a Reading MA a few years later.

Klein could have done the middle school math program or elementary program at NYU in the summer of 1969 - his bio states he studied education at NYU - a slight exaggeration as it was probably that same 2 credit course I took 2 years before. But it was thrown into his bio to give him some ed creds. He spent 6 months teaching 6th grade math in Queens - I'm not sure if it was middle school or elementary- and I'm not sure if it was in the spring or fall '69.

So, he came into the system a year after the strike, but the aftermath was still intense. What experiences did he have in those 6 months? I have never heard anything. Did he see teachers who he felt were incompetent and shouldn't be there? If so, did he form a permanent view of NYC teachers? Did anyone help him? What kind of administration? What about the UFT in the school? The chapter leader? A standard Unity hack? Was the union strong in the school?

[I raise this because I entered the school system with a severe anti-ed major prejudice- disdain for people who would study education - no content I figured. But while I struggled, I saw how amazing so many of these people were as teachers - they used me as an ATR- sub in one school for a year and a half so I got to see everyone teach. The guys running from the draft were the worst, I among them. But I emerged with a tremendous respect for teachers before I even decided to stay- and maybe that respect had an impact on my choice to remain.]

All these issues may have shaped a world view in just a few months (he must have gotten a good draft number and must have left in either June 1969 or Feb. 1970.)

So what if Klein never left teaching?
Would he have become active in the union? With his leadership skills, he would have been expected to become a chapter leader at some point. Maybe join Unity? Drink the Kool-aid and become a hack? We certainly know he can drink Kool-aid. Maybe rise in the union hierarchy? Maybe even become President instead of Randi? Can you imagine Klein and Randi contending for power?

Or was he outraged at the '68 strike and would he ignore the union? Maybe aim right away to become a supervisor?

Or maybe join the opposition to Unity, so dominated by the left? In other words, could Joel Klein and I have ended up in the same opposition groups in the early 70's? Nahhhh. That is as far-fetched as a media queen to replacing him as chancellor.

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