Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to the New Year - I Think

Happy New Year to all. I hope y'all are rested and ready for the battles ahead.

With today being Cathie Black's first day on the job, I can't help thinking what would have happened if the blizzard were postponed by exactly one week and began yesterday - which was one of the 2 days where we didn't have an official chancellor (Klein's departure was on Dec. 31). For how many days would Black have decided to close the schools?

I had lots of phone outages. My Blackberry died just as the blizzard hit - must have been chilled. Then my home phone system went out too on Monday. Verizon gave us an appointment - on Jan. 17. "Go outside, open up the phone box and plug in a phone to see if the problem is ours or inside your house" were the instructions. I'm out the door with a screwdriver and a phone when my wife says, "One more thing. Don't do it if it's wet." Oh, I'm thinking as I climb a 6 foot snow bank and start unscrewing the cover. I finally find the plug and the phone does work outside - hey I can just stand in the snow bank and answer the phone. Well we unplug everything inside and the phone comes back. Next day it goes out again. And comes back. And out.

I did go to a long meeting on Thursday which I could only get to by taking the S train from Rockaway Park to Broad Channel for the A to Jay St. for the F down to Park Slope. I should have left the day before. It felt like Mao's Long March - which is really known as the Long Schlep. And the only phone we had (Fed-ex overnight becomes 3 days in a snowstorm) was my wife's chintzy little cell phone - after using a smart phone this felt like going back to the Dark Ages- I couldn't figure out how to get to the contacts and actually had to dial a number when I wanted to call home - which I did numerous times with no answer - yes the phones at home went out again. And a whole day without checking email every 10 seconds. Man, back in the ancient times of the 20th century.

From the perspective of this trip it was hard to believe they could have opened schools at all for the entire week. But Black probably would have and the chaos that would have reigned would have made for an interesting start.

The meeting lasted for 5 hours - but there was food so I could have gone on forever. And I bought a dozen donuts to munch on.

Don't get me wrong - many of these meetings are not just meetings for the sake of meetings - they are action oriented towards organizing an effective response to the attack on public education and the inaction of the UFT.

That a dedicated group of working teachers gave up an entire day of their vacation to do this ed/pol stuff is very impressive. One question that I raised - how many teachers are there who are willing to do this? Yet finding a group of people who are ready to take action will be crucial. But first, an effective organization, run in a democratic manner, must be built. And as the length of the meeting attests, democracy takes time - everyone wants to speak and all attempts are made to reach consensus. It is possible - but what do you do if you get a hundred people together? Thus some structures must be in place - someone called them "gears" so people who are out there and ready to act have a place to go that they feel comfortable working within.

This is not easy task as we have been finding out. I've been thinking a lot about questions of leadership and how a strong leader interacts with members? Or do you make sure not to have too strong a leader? But that can weaken a group? I have no answers but watching the UFT over the years provides a lot of clues as what not to do to build a democratic org. Of course, if all you are interested in is taking power forever then the UFT/Unity Caucus is the model you follow.

Well, later today is another meeting with another group of people. And another on Wednesday. When I get a chance I will post the schedule for the next 6 weeks of three PEP meetings dealing with school closings and charter co-locations - and all those hearings in the schools that go with it. I get tired just looking at it. I guess the vacation really is over.

I had a tough slog blogging last week during the vacation. "What vacation," people ask? "Retirees are on permanent vacation." Very true. But it is hard to get out of the school-based rhythm you've been in since the age of 5. I started a few blogs but it was more fun activating my new Blackberry Bold and my wife's first smart phone.  And shoveling out my driveway every few hours after the snow plow blocked it again and again. I need to move to the other side of the street.

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