I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why I'm Anonymous

I've been called out on the Twitter machine for being anonymous. OK, fair enough - here's my reasoning. You can take it or leave it, but at least you'll know I've thought about it a fair bit.

The first reason I'm anonymous is the most obvious reason: I don't want the hassle for my family. I have school-aged kids and I don't want anything I say to redound to them while they're still in school. My wife has a life outside our home and, unfortunately, we live in a world where some folks still can't separate a person from the views of their spouse (look at the nonsense Michelle Obama has had to endure lately).

I once wrote a letter to the editor when I lived in Florida; a week later, I got an anonymous envelope with a bunch of "You're a moron!" statements written on little scraps of paper. This was right after the anthrax scares. I took it down to a friend who worked in the sheriff's office; he didn't find it very funny, and neither did I. Although he said I probably wasn't in any danger, I should still be checking my mail for the same handwriting, and I shouldn't open up anything suspicious. That wasn't a fun time. I really don't need more of the same.

The second reason I'm anonymous is best summarized by this:
Patti Gallante, a teacher now retired from the Elizabeth public school system, said only one thing about her job ever scared her: the school board.
Through e-mails and political mailings to her home, Gallante said she would constantly get solicitations from members of the city's board of education, asking for money. There were dinners, cocktail events, testimonials and tables of tickets to be bought and sold. It was a nonstop stream of beseechings.
To Gallante — worried, as many teachers were, about promotions and prime school assignments — the implied threat was clear. "You buy the $125 ticket because you are scared," she said.
The Elizabeth Board of Education, with more than 23,000 students and a $402 million budget largely subsidized by Trenton and another $20.5 million in federal aid, is one of the New Jersey's largest and, to some, a top urban school district.
But a four-month investigation by The Star-Ledger, drawing on interviews, lawsuits and internal documents, shows it can also be a relentless political machine fueled by nepotism, patronage, money and favors, using its nearly 4,000 employees as a ready-made fundraising base.
Internal documents show friends and relatives of board members scattered through the payroll.
Teachers and other employees, who kick in tens of thousands of dollars in donations, say they feel pressured by supervisors and board members to buy tickets to fundraisers. They say they are reminded that attending campaign events is in their best career interest.
This is, of course, why we need tenure, except that tenure is on the chopping block right now. I have a mortgage and kids getting ready to go to college. I'm not about to put those at risk; at least, not right now. If you want to judge me a coward, I guess that's your right. I'd only ask you to consider what you've put at risk solely on principle lately.

I have one more reason I remain anonymous, and it's, to me, the most important one: I am, first and foremost, a teacher. And I can't do my job effectively unless I keep clear lines of communication open between myself and my parents, my bosses, my colleagues, and, especially, my students.

We live in a hyper-politicized world. I'll take some blame for that; I can engage in invective with the best of them. But I only started this blog because a powerful governor of a populous state started running around calling me and my colleagues greedy. He is blaming us for problems that we didn't create; in fact, we've dedicated our lives to doing what we can to fix them.

He is being aided and abetted by a media that parrots his premises without challenge, and continues to mock and deride what we teachers do at every turn. Calling up talk shows only to be cut off when challenging the host isn't going to be enough to fight back. Posting comments in newspaper websites isn't going to be enough to fight back. Letters to the editor aren't enough to fight back.

New media is the best place for us to launch a counterattack of ideas. This blog is a small part of that counterattack. But I have to put my students first. And, because our dialog has become so vitriolic, I have to consider that the strong statements I make may close down some of the communication I need to engage in to be a successful teacher.

I teach small children, so it's really the political views of the parents that are at issue. And a parent who is a supporter of Chris Christie may feel reluctant to have an open dialog about their child if they know how strongly I hold an opposite view. I have been very, very careful in my career to leave politics at the doorway to my classroom for this very reason.

But I have a constitutionally protected right to engage in political speech, and I feel I have an obligation to speak out at this time about how I believe the political right is destroying this country. Staying anonymous is my compromise.

Now, you can buy into all this or not. As I said, all I care is that you understand that I've given this some thought. If you choose not to engage my ideas because you think I'm full of it on this, or you think I'm a snarky bastard, or you can't stand writers who constantly end sentences with a preposition (guilty), or because you think my Twitter picture is disrespectful... well, so be it.

But I'm content with how things are right now. Anonymity is part of our American political tradition dating back to the Federalist Papers; I have no problem being part of that tradition. That may change, but for now:

I remain Jersey Jazzman.


commutingteacher said...

I have never doubted your integrity and all of those like you understand. This also explains my Commuting Teacher title, I do not wish to have my employment or even my graduate work marred by these hotly contested issues. I have seen retaliation up close, I do not want to be their next target.

@TeacherReality said...

Great post! I remain anonymous because I am fearful of retaliation at work. I don't want to be harassed at work for speaking out on Twitter and through my blog. This is why we don't see enough teachers speaking out...they are afraid of retaliation or of losing their jobs. That's the kind of environment we work in...fear filled. It's sad, but it is the life of many public school teachers. Hopefully, my speaking out anonymously will eventually make a difference so that teachers in the future will no longer feel so oppressed. Who woulda thunk that teachers would feel intimidated and fearful to speak out in America...but they do, and it is my reality along with millions (yes, millions) of other teachers.


Aegletes said...

Well said! There are so many reasons each of us has for guarding our identity, and privacy, carefully: job security, identity theft, family, etc.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, we all know that your real name is Simon Templar.

commutingteacher said...

Ha! Love it, Anon!

Unknown said...

Excellent rational for anonymity and so very true for educators in public schools and public universities.

How sad that in the US- the bastion and defender of free speech around the world- fosters a political/corporate climate of intimidation and fear; the purpose of which is to suppress speech from dissidents.

Duke said...

Anon: the Roger Moore version or Val Kilmer? ;-)

Lisa said...

Duke, every word you wrote is EXACTLY why I have been constraining myself to relatively anonymous blog comments. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to write letters to editors, but I won't use my name. My concerns for my family and my job keep me anonymous, despite my deeply held belief in and appreciation for freedom of speech. I live and teach in the same town; I'm even concerned about using my first name. I would write more and in more places if I could be secure in my anonymity, and if I thought I'd be taken seriously while protecting my identity and family.

Anonymous said...

Who is Val Kilmer, Joyce's brother?