Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Parent "Gets" the UFT But Doesn't "Get" the Membership

...if the union isn't WITH you, it is effectively against you. From where I sit, it looks like they are in the latter category. Unless YOU do something about that, you're screwed in a big, far-reaching, long-term way. I'd really like to know how it has come to be that the people that make up the union seem to be the last ones with any say at all in what it does "for" them.

The way I see it is this: the union leadership is working with the legislature and Governor 1% to basically redistribute YOUR wealth to themselves, their cronies and their districts. No teacher I've ever spoken to thinks a) the union works FOR the teachers (it's the other way around where they work for the union), b) that they have any power to effect any changes within that structure, and c) that it is inevitable they will be screwed by the system so why bother?

I believe that the union power structure making these far-reaching decisions that are counter to the best interests of the membership, makes those decisions based on the "lack of objection equaling consent" principle, and that the rank and file membership remains docile and takes what they get handed to them without any unified protest - as long as the union delivers good benefits and (dwindling) job security.
I watched "The Train" last week with Bert Lancaster. What a story of the French Resistance. If you look at history with the odds stacked and how some people respond it is thrilling. I understand the reality for many people but that is pretty much true throughout history -- until some plug gets pulled for enough people to begin to make a difference. We can never tell when that time comes. The Middle East a little over a year ago? All I know is that the arrogance of power, whether a dictator or a mayor or an Eva or a UFT leadership, at some point makes enough people say, "Ive has enough.  

This was posted to the Dump Duncan group on Facebook on Feb. 23 by a NYC public school parent. He just about says the UFT is Vichy without actually using the term.
I have a question...

I'm father of two kids in the NY public school system, in 3rd and 5th grades. I see the stark difference between the kind of schooling I received as a child of the '70s and what millenials are subjected to by what the system has become. Beyond dismaying, it makes me very angry to see my kids' creativity and their love of imaginative learning stifled by the requirements of rote indoctrination into a system the discourages individuality and creative thinking, while inuring them to mindless repetitive tasks. The test prep regime strikes me as little more than training them to be factory workers, content with their lot as they purposelessly screw endless nuts onto endless bolts. Equally dismaying is the response of teachers and especially the teachers' union.

As a reader of Dump Duncan, it is also quite clear to me that the anger and dismay I feel as a parent is shared by the teachers in classrooms across America. And while I admire an initiative like Dump Duncan (and I signed it!), I don't see it gaining any kind of meaningful traction in the general population for a few key reasons:

1) the transformation of the school system has proceeded gradually, so the metaphorical frogs have no idea how hot the water has become,
2) the media's cooperation in the demonizing of teachers has caused the public to become *skeptical of educators' claims* that the problems are structural rather than holistic, and
3) there's big money to be taken from the teacher's unions (in the forms of compensation and pensions) that private - and public - interests would like very much to get their hands on.

Once the traditional vehicles of profit stalled - real estate, credit and derivatives markets, to name a few - and all the wealth to be easily had had been extracted from traditional public sources like industry subsidies, defense contracts, Social Security, medicare/drug contracts and mineral rights markets, it became imperative to find new ways to extract public money from non-traditional sources.

Unfortunately for all of us, America's schools and pension annuities are a ripe fruit waiting to be juiced.

The truism holds: be very leary whenever government tries to "help".

I'm not going to go into a history of the "Testing-Industrial Complex" - if you're not familiar with it, there are a multitude of easily-found sources that cover it completely.

The purpose of this post is to ask why *nothing meaningful* is being done to counteract the stunningly aggressive, rapacious takeover of our educational heritage by the corporate parasites who care about nothing but maximizing their "share" of the public loot.

Again, I appreciate Dump Duncan, but how on earth do you expect parents to know or care about Arne Duncan? How can you expect someone like me to know that my kids' teachers are as appalled by the shift in the educational paradigm as I am - especially when criticizing the regime could end a career?

I don't believe you can expect either. At the same time, I don't blame teachers for remaining silent on these issues, though, paradoxically, your silence will ultimately be your undoing.

And far more importantly, I have to wonder why the teachers' unions have done nothing to educate parents.

I'm going to insert a comment I made on Mark Naison's "Dark Day for New York" blog post yesterday - that went unanswered.

If it were MY union, I'd be harassing my rep, calling and writing the union management and generally raising hell. YOU are the ONLY ones with the ability to do so, as the union derives its power from YOU, not the other way around.

Tell me why the union - the only entity ostensibly on the side of the teachers, and the only entity with the skillset and capabilities - has not printed 1/2 page flyers giving an executive overview of the points of this debate and handed them to parents at the elementary schools as they go to get their kids?

I mean something like: "your kids' education is being transformed into a drastic testing regimen that SOUNDS good but has not been proven effective by ANY studies; that removes everything but test prep from the curriculum so that teachers can be "evaluated" and fired in order to help take pressure off of the state and banks that squandered the money that you've paid toward your schools and we've contributed toward our retirements (that they now blame US for!).

Add a couple action bullet points for parents along the lines of "call your community board/school board members who are Ms. X at (xxx) xxx-xxxx and Mr. Y at (xxx) xxx-xxxx, your state rep Ms. Z at (xxx) xxx-xxxx, state senator Mr. A at (xxx) xxx-xxxx, as well as your congressperson at (xxx) xxx-xxxx and Senators Schumer at (xxx)xxx-xxxx and Gillibrand at (xxx) xxx-xxxx and tell them to stop punishing the schools as though they are the cause of the problems the state has. And include a link to the Dump Duncan petition.

Why isn't this being done? A few interns at Union HQ could compile all that data and make the flyers in an afternoon.

Like I said earlier - if the union isn't WITH you, it is effectively against you. From where I sit, it looks like they are in the latter category. Unless YOU do something about that, you're screwed in a big, far-reaching, long-term way.

You bemoan lack of parental awareness and involvement, but that's like asking why the doctor didn't magically know you were sick and come over to your house to heal you. The only information we get comes from the papers, and the papers definitely aren't working to make you look good. If parents were really aware of the big picture surrounding what their kids - AND YOU - are being subjected to, you'd have more parental involvement than you knew what to do with. But the parents DON'T KNOW the deal, nor do they know that there's anything they can do. The educators need to EDUCATE them and ALIGN with them to work together against that hegemony. Or just give up and pray there's still a pension fund when you're ready to retire.


  1. Beautiful post. Some of us have made these same points to Vichy Unity/UFT. Nothing. The UFT does not want the rank and file nor parents to become authentically engaged in a struggle because they recognize the potential liberating awareness that comes with struggle. Put simply, they'd rather trot out Leo Casey on a blog most UFTers do no even visit in order to explain their actions than to actively engage ideas and questions in various public forums. Moreover, in order for Vichy/Unity/UFT to educate, mobilize and establish a genuine struggle, it would mean having to adopt a platform of some sort related to public education and vision. VUU has no vision. Without a vision of K-12 education how can they do anything relevant except play the compromising collaborator status they currently enjoy? They will not touch all of the subtleties of education in the US, including the system that creates so many of the inequalities that compromise teaching and learning in our country.

    But all of this will pass. VUU will brought to it's knees for crimes against their members and the children and parents of NYC.

  2. Mike Mulgrew is the bargaining agent for UFT members. This has to be changed, in order to prevent him from doing what happened here, a negotiated "settlement" on teacher data that allows necessary rights to be taken away from the rank and file members of the UFT to benefit the non-Union administration, not the members.

  3. The Unity Caucus gang has taken away the right of the membership to vote on anything even contract changes though manipulation and distortion. But complaining us useless until there is a strong counter force to battle the propaganda machine in every single school. The State of the Union Part 2 is coming March 10.


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