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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hard Truths For Teachers & Unions

A lot of you are not going to want to hear this, but Susan Ohanian has some hard questions for teachers and their unions:
We all know that Superman isn't going to rescue public schoolchildren. But let's face it: Neither is Action Hero Matt Damon. At his educator mom's request, Damon traveled from a movie set in Vancouver, British Columbia to speak out for public schools at the SOS march in Washington, D. C. on July 30. Inexplicably, most of the D. C. area teachers stayed home. 

Longtime educator Gary Stager, who red-eyed from California, asked an important question : "Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?" A subway ride away and they couldn't make it? 

Please don't say these hundreds of thousands of teachers were scared. What should scare them is the reality of their profession being systematically destroyed. 

I'm naive enough to have been stunned by the low turnout at the SOS march, but I think I've figured it out. Both the NEA and the AFT made a show of donating $25,000 for necessary basics like lots of water, a medical station, and so on. But union leaders didn't come and they didn't bother to mobilize teachers to show up. A dozen or so people worked the crowd handing out souvenir fans (compliments of WTU/AFT Local No. 6 AFL-CIO) but there was no mobilization of DC teachers. 
The SOS folks did an amazing job for their first rally. It was really grass-roots stuff and they should be proud of how well it went. But Susan's right: where were the busloads of teachers from NYC, VA, NJ, PA, DE, MD and DC? Why didn't the NEA and AFT state affiliates buy into SOS? Because it wasn't "theirs"?

I can understand, to an extent, holding back on the first year to see what this was going to be about. But there's no excuse for next year: all hands on deck. We need a lot more teachers on the Ellipse next July (or whenever) if we're ever going to make our case heard.

Ohanian continues:
Maybe this is way over-the-top, but why did Obama get a pass at SOS? Ask the NEA. Ask the AFT. Ask the SOS speakers.

Maybe it's to be expected at an event underwritten by a union that has already endorsed Barack Obama for a second term that the only visible criticism of Obama at SOS was provided by someone in the crowd from LaRouche who showed up with a poster depicting the President with a Hitler mustache. 
Which is, of course, despicable. But the question stands: if the corporate reform movement is so bad, why is Obama getting a free pass? I heard a few chants against Arne Duncan, but that's missing the target, isn't it?

The debt ceiling debacle, unfortunately, tells us something about our president: he kowtows to insanity far too easily. The fact that we can't even discuss a Keynesian solution to our current mess is proof that he has allowed the country's conversation to drift dangerously to the right.

So it is with education. Like every other politician, he talks about how important schools and teachers are, but it's clear Obama hasn't thought things through enough to have an truly informed stance - witness his statements about high-stakes testing, which stand in direct opposition to his actual policies like Race To The Top.

No, it appears our president is willing to accommodate people who have nutty views about education "reform" in the same way he accommodates those who would drive our economy off of a cliff. The unions have an obligation to drag him back to the center by staking out positions clearly opposite to those of the Gates/Rhee/Broad/whomever cabal.

Instead, they dance around using VAM on standardized tests to evaluate teachers when they should really come out forcefully and say "no way, no how." And they give away their endorsement far too easily.

Again: I've found that teachers, in general, do not like politics. We are trained to diffuse conflict and reach consensus. Unfortunately, that is not called for here and now. We need to fight, and we need to win. Enough pussyfooting around.

All Hands On Deck.


Lisa said...

Duke, unfortunately, had the NJEA, AFT, NEA, etc. showed up, mobilized the membership, or done anything other than provide token financial support, the SOS rally and its grassroots nature would have been completely undermined, dubbed "a Union rally", and lost credibility. For once, I believe they played the political card correctly.

I believe we need to do two things:

1.Hire professionals. As I told my union reps and up-line, I want my dues and/or PAC contributions used to hire a professional Public Relations firm to properly frame our points and conversation (WTF was "Keep the Promise" anyway, but a PR debacle that sounded like a bratty, self-interested whine?). As you said, teachers aren't political beings, nor are we public relation pros. We're teachers, we educate. We do not know how to navigate the contentious, entrenched, and changing political mine field, and we are not public relations pros. We need to do what we do well and love, and hire professionals to represent our interests. As the saying goes, the lawyer who represents herself has a fool for a client.

2. Have the pros we hire reframe the debate and reclaim the lexicon. And we need to shout it louder. We need to proclaim our stake and reclaim our voice as the experts in education, and make viral the empirical evidence that shows that businessmen are not. We need to expose that education does not need reform; it needs Consistency, Targeted Improvement (exposed the truth and don't "fix" what isn't broken), Partnership (family, social, and business), and to Advance and Evolve to our changing needs.

We are not pols or PR pros, and we lose when we try to be. We need to hire professionals and form superpacs to represent and fund our interests. And we need to reclaim our place at the head of the table as the experts with the evidence in a very loud voice--like you, Deciminyan, Blue Jersey, SOS, Diane Ravitch, et al.

The "Ed Reformers" need to be eclipsed by the Ed Informers.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who cares about real learning & education and public education hopefully by now will be honest enough with themselves to admit that Obama needs to go. Now I've heard people say "Yah, but the Repubs aren't offering anything better, so...." That kind of logic won't cut it. It's not a binary choice: If you can't bring yourself to vote for Obama's eventual opponent, that is not the same as having to vote to reelect George W. Obama -- withhold your vote. (Disclosure: I did vote for Obama in 2008, and that is why I am posting this anonymously!)

Anonymous said...

Lisa, you took the words right out of my mouth (which is somewhat unhygienic).

Actually you put it perfectly--let's go with the pros--so we can focus on doing our job in the classroom.


I am Anonymous (Yellow)

Anonymous said...

Where were all the teachers? Working our third job to put food on the table! Wanted to be there, but feeding my family has never been more important since I'll be making less this year than last year!