"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, September 26, 2016

Retired Teacher's Thoughts on Union Misleadership

Denis Ian served for 34 years as a high school teacher. 

by Denis Ian

Teacher unions are being destroyed from within and without. And it’s been happening for a long while.

The same “reform" forces that wormed their way into the the curriculum discussions and redesigns also used their wealth to purchase political influ
ence. And their worming was not confined only to state elected officials, but extended to national union leaders and major inner city unions as well. Think Weingarten and Garcia.

If these union leaders could be captured by funding temptations and empty promises of continued influence, well, then the take over of public education would get a whole lot easier. And that is precisely what has happened from without.

The AFT and the NEA leadership are hand-maidens to the reformists. Of course, they peacock their independence for their membership, all the while acquiescing on issues that will alter the lives of the teachers they represent … high stakes testing, teacher evaluations, and curriculum design. Think Weingarten and Garcia.

The leadership of large, inner city unions seem especially easy to seduce. Michael Mulgrew, the NYC UFT union boss, has embraced the Common Core … and all of the attending slop that rode in with that lousy reform. And he did it for Judas money. For small, temporary gains that, in the end, will only rot out the lives of his rank and file, but seal the deal for decades to come. Short term gain, long term pain.

Of course, these union leaders have been seduced by powerful temptations. How else to explain the quick and early endorsement of a pro-reformist like Clinton … when Bernie Sanders seemed to be the overwhelming great fit for unions across the nation? Well, because … because there are expected rewards for those leaders should Clinton win. And, of course, that was always a more likely outcome. 

These leaders make the case that they are important and influential “players” … and that is a necessary role to play in order to stay on the inside of the issues.

But it is now clear that they have become quite comfortable on the inside … and they have lost touch with those who looked to them for leadership. To the rank and file, the they have become a disconnected elite. “Animal Farm” swine. A union upper-crust with a broken stethoscope … unable to listen to the heartbeat of those who brought them to office.

This divide and conquer strategy would make Caesar grin.
But there’s more.

Teacher unity is also being fractured from within.

For some reason, the outside threat posed by these never-ending reforms … reforms we all see as profession-wrecking … does not seem quite lethal enough to some.

There are more than a few who do believe the future belongs to the reformers … and they’d prefer to be rewarded for their early cooperation. So they have hopped on the charter school band-wagon … sermonizing us all how wonderful these new situations are for disadvantaged kids … when in reality that are advantaging themselves.

They are slurping up what they can in this moment of union and educational chaos. They’re educational junk-yard dogs … surviving and prospering under hallelujah rants of curing sick students of long-term educational maladies … just like traveling evangelical charlatans under canvas tents. Think Weingarten and Garcia.

These reluctant tacit approvers of charter schools rationalize their system-wrecking decision to go the charter route because … because they are “social justice” champions. As if no other teachers have ever been champions for disadvantaged students in the past.

I think this “social justice” crusade is a cover … a ruse … so that themselves don’t come under fire for super-screwing … along with the reformers … the classroom teachers left behind in now even more poorly underfunded classrooms.

Lots of teachers have no allegiance to some ideology that seeks to resegregate kids in our schools. Thousands of teachers see their mission as educators … teachers of knowledge … and not as social Gandhi’s. They do not see the classroom as a bully-pulpit or as a town square. They see their involvement with children as mentors and wizards of learning and nurturers of curiosity. They do not see themselves as coaxers of would-be social activists. They do not see students as tools for a personal agenda.

Teaching has become a cover activity for feel-good identifications for youngsters … a how-to manual for challenging “the system” rather than a construct for improving the intellectual skills that will enhance their lives more than becoming crafty rally professionals.

If we separate ourselves over social ideologies, well, then our profession is doomed. It’s why these “pop up” charter schools … run by social activists get a “pass” when other charter schools get the severe scrutiny they deserve. They are bad stuff.

Every charter school is a siphon that slurps up funding from regular public schools … the schools that have served us so well for so long. 

Those charter dollars should be used to repair our most needy schools. Instead … we are resegregating ourselves back in time all the while insisting we are moving the social clock forward. We are lying to ourselves.

This is how we have lost our union ethos. Our solidarity identity. And our political clout.

And this is why there are knives sticking out of our backs.

Denis Ian

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