...will settle for anything.
That's our predicament in the UFT. Political expediency rules the day, and has for decades. No wonder we have no vision at the UFT, no proposition about what the future could look like. It's one contractual jujitsu maneuver after another. Like with merit pay; we will turn it into school bonuses. Better than direct merit pay? Yes, but still accepts the premise that we do what we do for money. That we can be bought just like the money grubbers on Wall St. That we don't stand for something greater.
The provision for no layoffs has paid off considerably. That I must concede. However, it came at a great cost: loss of seniority transfer, and grieving a letter in the file. These two provisions have made this system a living hell. Fear reigns in schools. A teacher can no longer escape a belligerent principal and find a place of mutual acceptance. They can be (and have been) pummeled with letters, of a dubious nature, in the file which can be used to U rate these teachers. Except under very limited circumstances, these letters cannot be challenged and generally must remain in the file for at three years (plenty of time to go after a teacher's license). It should have come at no surprise that the Chancellor created new budgeting rules shortly thereafter that charges schools more for experienced teachers compared to new teachers. We have painted ourselves into a corner.
I know our union leadership thinks that the members will never strike, and they are doing the best they can regarding this reality. This would be more plausible if the leadership demonstrated some level of commitment to principle, the kind that made this union. This union membership actually said "no" to former President Sandra Feldman to a contract offer, sent her back to the table. She came back with something better.
Instead we have had leadership that accommodates, or at best, does a jujitsu on the moves to dismantle the union. While I am myself a student of martial arts, I do think there's a limit to how far you can go rolling with the punches. There comes a time for direct confrontation. To do so, you need an alternative vision of the future that motivates your members to make the necessary sacrifices. Without such a vision, you have to appeal to your members' lowest motivations: their pocket books. The UFT constantly hails its (below inflation, BTW) "raises" their teachers have gotten as their success. All at the price of an increasing loss of control over their professional practice, a culture of fear and intimidation from corporate-style control over the school staff.
Take into account the crisis of democracy in the UFT that no one is talking about. Less than one third of the membership bothered to vote in the last union-wide elections. Union vice presidents are elected "at large" rather than from their direct constituencies (e.g. elementary school teachers elect the high schools vice president). District representatives are no longer elected by the school chapter leaders, for whom they serve, but are appointed. Should there be any surprise that a union, which is increasingly adopting a corporate-style bureaucracy itself, embrace such a system to govern schools?
The political machine that runs the union, Unity Caucus, has at its core a culture of secrecy and political favoritism. This explains the erosion of democracy and the selling out of the membership for politically expedient ends. If you believe only in feathering your nest, you won't make the hard choices that could put you at risk of going jail for a while why your membership goes out on strike. Loyal Unity members get first pick of paid after school positions and executive appointments. These caucus members may not speak publicly about union issues without getting clearance from the caucus. It's part of the agreement to be in the caucus. They go to the delegate assembly with their marching orders on how to vote on any given resolution. It makes the DAs a foregone conclusion.
Only leadership that can offer an alternative vision of the future for public education has any hope of survival for the union. Right now the Mayor's vision is driving the system, and it's in line with the broader, national, neo-liberal vision of a private school system, feeding at the public trough. It's a vision that sows the seeds of our destruction as a union and democratic society. The labor movement has an opportunity to fashion an alternative vision. Time is running out.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I felt this worth the repost. In shock and awe that my union leadership is stumping for reauthorization.
Originally Posted: 12/06
In NYC it has been a corporate-style takeover; with wiping the slate clean (of personnel they could fire) and starting from scratch. It was recless without regard for human relations, insitutuional memory and professional communities long in place. If you were part of the past system you had nothing to offer and needed to be expunged. This is Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klien's "Zero Year".
Chancellor Joel Klein also used public relations techniques with those he couldn’t outright dismiss. He visited our school, Murry Bergtraum High School, shortly after regime change in 2001 with a “town hall meeting”. It was run Bush-style, no questions taking by the Chancellor; one-way communications. Then they broke up the meeting into focus groups of parents and teachers. In these breakout sessions DOE underlings listened and took notes like they were interested in what we had to say. Nothing ever came of our comments; no analysis or reporting back. It’s like they took our feedback, and with our backs turned, chucked it into the garbage.
Things have been run that way ever since. Principals now look over their shoulders in fear, as managers do in the corporate world, for who is going to get the axe next. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Klein have a mechanistic and reductionist view of education. That is, you can micromanage and script teachers, whose measure of success can totally be assessed by the standardized test scores of their students. There has been mass demoralization of educators, while parental involvement in our school has plummeted.
Such management style comes from the Theory X view of human motivation you will find in the organizational theory literature. In the early 20th century a social scientist named Taylor developed a theory premised on the belief that workers were basically lazy and stupid. They responded only to external motivations- rewards or punishments. Hence we have the mayor’s “merit pay” for teachers and “accountability” for students that makes learning not fun but serious business, supporting the “feel bad” education environment. Why else would Klein recruit the likes of Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, who boasted of creating a climate of fear for his employees, to set the standard of leadership for the DOE’s principals' institute? Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated just how committed he was to an openness to ideas by creating the Panel for Educational Policy, only to fire some of them when they were going to rule against his anti-social promotion scheme. That’s the kind of bureaucracy management we used to see in the old Soviet Union and dovetails with the poisonous pedagogy of the No Child Left Behind Act. At least with the old Board of Education, there were some members you could reach and convince to advocate for your school or a special program you were involved in. They didn't view veteran teachers a pariahs but conveyers of experience and institutional memory. Now there’s an unaccountable corporate bureaucracy in the DOE, wanting to implement the Zero Year.
On the other side of the spectrum Theory Y states that people have an inherent tendency for growth and creativity. This theory came out of the humanist school of psychology. It’s the premise this teacher operates on in his class. Democracy is taught as a value in and of itself; that the exercise of freedom allows one to create meaning and engage in and shape societal change as a natural right. The primary accountability is to oneself, premised on the view of Socrates that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Only an educational system true to the ideals of democracy, where individuals take responsibility for their freedom; to learn what they will and how they will, with the guidance of a teacher who has only the student’s interest in mind, not a salary increase, can serve a free society. Such a system will put the students, teachers, parents and local administrators as equal partners in the driver’s seat with the standards of success to be determined by and for the these stakeholders.
Albert Einstein, a charter member of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “It’s the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Einstein had the audacity to consider that the motivation for learning could be intrinsic and that teachers should become expert at nudging it and creating opportunities for such joy to come alive and grow. Our educational systems must become democratic and not remain bureaucratic to nurture such joy. Corporate dictatorial bureaucracy is to joy of learning as a straight jacket is to dance. Bloomberg's experiement is a failure, it's time for something different.
UFT Chapter Leader
Murry Bergtraum High School