A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Rosenfeld’s Law

Forty years or so working in education led me to the formulation of Rosenfeld’s Law, Never discount stupidity as the cause of a problem you are facing. I had occasion to see some of the leaders of my local union the other day. It wasn’t long after meeting them that I found myself and listening to them talk about an issue they are confronting that I had the opportunity to say to them, “Remember, never discount stupidity as the cause of your problem.”

Their problem at the moment is our school district’s decision to change our heretofore common understanding of the clause in our contract covering staff development. From out of the blue they have decided that there is no longer any make up for missed”mandatory” staff development. Even though the word mandatory appears nowhere in the contract clause in question, and even though there is a whole paragraph that describes how missed staff development is to be made up, district leadership has advanced the following stupidity: The district owns all twelve of the staff development hours. Mandatory staff development sessions are so important that they cannot be missed, and if missed, they can’t be made up. Those who fail to attend these sessions are threatened with discipline.

The district believes it has vital information to pass on to teachers in these mandatory staff development session, but if for some reason a teacher can’t make a session, like having to pick up a child from school, feeling ill at the end of the work day etc., they won’t work with her to see to it that she gets this vital knowledge. Instead, teacher will be punished. In some unexplained way, management clearly believes this approach will benefit students.

While I’m now in a position to laugh at this latest example of Rosenfeld’s Law, the fact is it is not a laughing matter to the teachers involved. The issue is especially galling in that in the last round of contract negotiations our union presented a detailed plan for the incorporation of staff development into the regular work day where it belongs. Had our plan been agreed to it would have obviated most staff development issues and ended once and for all the perception of most teachers that staff development is tantamount to detention and in its present iteration serves a very limited purpose at best.

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Our Own Inequality Issue

Labor unions are notoriously poor at dealing with their own employees, employees who are usually organized into union bargaining units. This has certainly been true of the national and state affiliates of the AFT and NEA. While our organizations have railed against the growing economic inequality in our nation, they have conspicuously failed to observe the same phenomenon in their own organizations where many elected officers and staff make salaries many times those of the average members they represent. Their pension and welfare benefits also tend to significantly outpace those of the members they serve. In my experience, they come to look and sound more like our adversaries than they do the members. The first time I walked into the headquarters of NYSUT, my state organization, I was struck by the corporate feel of the place. I would come to feel the same way about much of the staff. They neither look nor talk like union people by and large. At the risk of sounding naïve, too many of them are just working jobs. Too many are without any noticeable visceral commitment to the labor movement.

Our state and national union need an approach to the remuneration of staff and officers that ties salaries and benefits in some meaningful and transparent way to the compensation of the people they represent. When I was on the board of directors of NEA/New York, I argued for paying our president at the rate of the highest paid teacher we represented, adjusting for the fact that the job was for twelve months, not ten. I was met with a very sincere, albeit ignorant, response from the overwhelming majority of our board. All I was suggesting was that everyone rise with the ranks, not have officers and staff rise above the membership. One fellow, whom I genuinely liked and respected, said, “I want my CEO paid like a CEO,” obtuse to the irony of referring to the head of a labor union as a CEO.

There is about to be an officer election in my state organization. In nothing that I have seen is there any serious plan for how to go about addressing this issue. I don’t mean to suggest that this is an easy task. Years of growing the bureaucracy have yielded it more power in many ways than the elected officers and board of directors. Speaking of the board of directors, perhaps step one would be to end the substantial stipends members receive. I came to call those stipends hush money, in that to my perception fear of losing them determined how many of the directors voted on controversial issues. A board of members who are there because they wish to renew our movement would be a significant improvement. Candidates with an agenda to address the misallocation of members’ dues to salaries and benefits would take a significant step towards our waning solidarity.

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Infectious Ignorance

Freed from the tyranny of work schedules, Judi and I start most days with some exercise at our local gym. To the extent that either of us engages in social exchanges with the other patrons, we talk about trips, the weather and such. We are careful to avoid the subject of politics lest we accidentally engage a Trump supporter and thus completely negate any cardiovascular benefit to come from our workouts.

On Saturday, I was at my regular elliptical machine earnestly trying to work off 700 calories when I notice Judi in what seems an animated discussion with a woman on the treadmill beside her. My earphones on and listening to Tina Turner, I had no idea what they were talking about except that Judi’s body language suggested that something was amiss.

On our way out, Judi explained that this woman, a working professional, was chatting about their mutual interest in dogs when they both looked up at the TV in front of them in response to seeing President Trump. Seeing Trump, Judi, who would prefer to clean up cat vomit to seeing or hearing Donald Trump, found herself talking about the President’s boastful ignorance and his seeming disinterest in learning. Her abandonment of her political reticence was countered by the woman with, “Well the other candidate is crazy, and I don’t want to wind up wearing a burka.” Judi was shocked back to reticence.

If I see this woman again, I will be sorely tempted to ask her how it came to be that she perceived Hillary as determined to usher in Sharia Law if she were elected. How does it come to be that a professional person, living in an upper middle class community, one in which Democrats hold a significant lead in party registrations, how does it happen that such a person comes to believe such a blatant absurdity? With what other disinformation has she been infected? How much has she passed on to her children? We once though facts were the antidote, but people like her seem to have become immune to them.

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Growing Opt-Out

The New York State math and English assessments for grades 3 through 8 will soon be upon us again. While there have been some changes in the exams around the margins, they remain an insidious inhibitor of quality education in our state. Educators with the best of intentions and a deep appreciation of what children should be taught are nevertheless teaching to these tests, they being judged, like the children they teach, on the basis of their students’ scores.

To a generation of political leaders who can only understand learning by measuring it, a generation that has reified accountability thereby reducing it to a number, talk of authentic assessment not only has no meaning but is too often seen as seeking to evade accountability. It doesn’t seem to matter to worshipers of math and English scores that over a decade of test score driven accountability has yielded no significant improvements. Some educators like me believe that it has reduced some of our best schools to shadows of their former selves. In my home district, while district leaders utter pious platitudes about test driven accountability, leadership still makes programmatic decision based on essentially useless scores.

The only option open to people who are serious about ending the tyranny of these tests is for parents to opt their children out of taking them. Each of the past few years has seen the opt-out rate in New York grow. This trend must continue to the point where it becomes absurd to spend huge sums of money on assessments that almost no one is taking. Only then can we expect to have a serious conversation about what a sane accountability system would look like.

Teachers have a duel role in accelerating opt-outs. They need to set an example in their home districts by opting their own children out of the assessments and demanding that meaningful educational experiences be offered in their stead. Through their unions, they must also encourage the parents of their students to follow their lead and opt their children out. There are thousands of public school teachers here on Long Island. Imagine if each of them convinced one new parent to opt her children out.

One of the few good things to happen in the realm of public education in New York has been the advent of the opt-out movement that has grown from a small group of dedicated parents, many of whom like Jeanette Deutermann exerted enviable leadership, to a coalition of parents, educators and citizens determined to save quality public education in our state and nation. We must grow this movement.

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Sucking the Meaning Out of Freedom

The independent Congressional Budget Office has told us what we already knew, that the Donald trump/Paul Ryan Republican healthcare plan is a massive tax break for those who have everything at the expense of the poor, middleclass and our pre-Medicare population. Supporters of the proposed legislation falsely claim we should not be interested in the number of people insured under the Affordable Care Act as many of the people who have purchased insurance through the exchanges set up by the act have a useless certificate of insurance that doesn’t get them actual care because of high deductibles and physicians who do not accept Medicaid coverage. Their plan they claim gives people the right to buy the coverage they want or to go without health insurance. Their plan is about freedom.

It infuriates me to hear them sucking the meaning out of the word freedom in this way. What does their concept of freedom mean to a person whose health is deteriorating from a curable or controllable illness? Is the homeless person who hasn’t eaten all day free in any meaningful sense of the word?

We were once a nation whose leaders called us to expand our understanding of freedom. I’m reminded of Franklin Roosevelt’s famous speech given in 1944, an address to the American people that looked forward to military victories in Europe and Asia and the opportunities that victory would bring to advance the quality of life in America. Watch an obviously weary President Roosevelt as he talks about expanding the rights of all Americans, rights that many still do not enjoy. Contrast his call to that of Donald trump and Paul Ryan and consider what we have to do if we wish to make America an even greater nation than it has been.

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What’s the Plan?

I spent some time this morning looking at the webpages of each of the slates running to lead New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), our state union, affiliated with both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Both the Unity and Stronger Together slates are clear on what they oppose. Both are also clear on wanting a stronger, more united, more effective and democratic union. Both are abysmally short on how they propose to accomplish these noble aims. Unity does have a plan to more precisely define the responsibilities of each of NYSUT’s officers which it claims will bring greater efficiency. They way they talk about it, the president will be in charge of representing us with the governor and legislature, while the other vice-presidents will each take responsibility for other aspects of the operation. If they really intend to operate in the way they describe, I suspect we will have a compounding of a problem that has existed for a long time – officer turf battles that are not resolved because the president lacks the political clout to be the final arbiter. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that at least part of Karen Magee’s downfall came from trying to have too much of a say about NYSUT’s political operation, Executive Vice-President Andy Pallotta’s turf. It certainly was part of Dick Iannuzzi’s fall.

Neither slate offers any detailed plan for what should be the central concerns of anyone looking to lead NYSUT – the ever increasing irrelevancy of the organization to the rank and file members it exists to serve and the failure of the NYSUT service model to build power from the ground up. Stronger Together knows this, but they have yet to offer anything but platitudes about more democracy, educating the membership and organizing. Frankly, some of their positions are hopelessly naive. They appear to believe that we can build an organization in which New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (about 200,000, members) and the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress (700 members) can have the same clout in NYSUT because power should come from ideas not membership numbers. Good luck with that.

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Where’s the Strategy?

There is within our state union, NYSUT, a desire for change, change that would allow teachers to come out from under the largely false chare of the corporate reform movement that our public schools are failing. Three years ago, some of us voted for Karen Magee hoping that she embodied a new direction from the policies of her predecessor who took a more accommodationist approach to the reformers. While I believe that any fair assessment would conclude that under her leadership NYSUT has done better for the state’s teachers, a membership that continues to feel themselves denigrated and debased doesn’t see things that way. Mike Lillis, a candidate for NYSUT president from the Stronger Together Caucus is a manifestation of that yearning for dignity and respect teachers see as their due. He gives expression to that in this interview. Unfortunately, he is essentially silent about a strategy to bring about the desire for change he represents. He even allows the interviewer to get him to admit that he is probably going to lose. Where are the new teacher union leaders who have a credible, coherent strategy to halt the downward spiral of in the respect for teacher and public education in our state and nation?

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Demonstrating Weakness

This past Saturday saw planned demonstrations for education justice in communities throughout New York State. Judging from the very sparse coverage of the one in New York City and the one I attended in Wyandanch, Long Island, and these demonstrations were an exercise in how not to plan and mount demonstrations. In the City, one thousand teachers and parents showed up. In Wyandanch about 100 braved the extreme cold.

Effective demonstrations get under the skin of your political opponents. No one is going to be perturbed by the demonstration in Wyandanch. In fact, but for the very brief coverage in our Long Island excuse for a newspaper, I doubt that as many Long Island residents saw the assemblage of teachers and parents as the scant one hundred demonstrators that showed up. I suspect the foes of public education were amused by our pathetic turnout.

The cardinal rule for demonstrations is to never call for one unless you can be sure of mass participation. To do otherwise is to demonstrate your weakness. I fear that‘s what supporters of public education showed on Saturday. I think there are about 60,000 NYSUT members on Long Island. No serious effort was made to turn them out. Sad to say, I didn’t see too many local union leaders there either. Feeling lonely, Judi and I endured the cold for about twenty minutes and left.

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Political Turmoil in NYSUT

After only one term, Karen Magee is “stepping down” as President of NYSUT. We are to believe that she has been lured from the presidency of the largest state teachers union by the offer of a post with the AFT/New York State AFL-CIO. If you believe that, you believe that the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Russian intelligence officers. Quite simply, Magee has been pushed out, largely by the efforts of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City NYSUT affiliate and the largest local by far in the state union.

It’s no secret that Magee has had her problems working with the current slate of officers. She took over a divided union and, from where I sit, made almost no attempt to heal that divide but instead alienated herself from the people who put her in office. The elevation of Andy Pallotta to the head of the Unity Caucus slate to replace Magee suggests that Michael Mulgrew, President of the UFT and a local leader long frustrated with the management of NYSUT, has had enough and has boldly decided to try and install his own person as NYSUT president. Working with AFT President Randi Weingarten, the union allies were able to use their influence with the state AFL/CIO to create a soft landing for Magee.

I came to the view a long time ago that NYSUT, like much of the American 7 labor bureaucracy, is organized to accomplish little or nothing. It has offered its constituent locasl a model of service unionism that has too many members looking to Albany for the solution to all problems rather than promoting local capacity and militancy as the way to build a truly powerful organization.To try to meet the demand for services, it has hired staff upon staff, providing them with salary and benefits beyond the wildest dreams of the average member paying the freight.

Now would be a good time for a slate of candidates who had a thought-out an organizing model to reform NYSUT to come to the fore. The Stronger Together Caucus will make the claim that they are that slate. But, reading their materials thus far, one is hardly encouraged. Their candidates offer educating the membership as their approach to governance. Thus far, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they have a clue how to devolve much of the Albany NYSUT operation to the local level where the real potential power lies. There hasn’t been a word that I can find about how they would deal with the scary structural deficit threatening NYSUT. Neither am I aware of any plan they have for how to manage the very real threat of the loss of agency shop.

I’m sorry about Magee’s departure. When she ran for office, my local supported her, hoping that she would rebuild NYSUT into a membership powered organization. Having served with her on the NYSUT board, she certainly had some good ideas for doing that. What was unknown was did she know how to get those idea circulating through the sclerotic bureaucracy. It’s clear now that she didn’t, much to the misfortune of the state’s school personnel.

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Deer in the Headlights

There is a real sense in which the success of unions in gaining agency fee and dues check-off has served to weaken them. In New York, where we have an agency fee law, there are probably thousands of public workers who are not union members and who are rarely contacted, if ever, about joining the union. Clever local unions structure their dues in such a way that they are equal or almost equal to member dues. With non-member money in hand, it doesn’t seem that important to try to win the non-members to our cause. In fact, with members’ money coming in through payroll deduction, union officials in the workplace are often unmotivated to be in constant organizing mode.

The result is that while we are now threatened by national right to work legislation, most unions are thoroughly unprepared to cope with the loss of agency fee and perhaps dues check-off. How many locals have their members signed up for next year to insulate themselves from the dire possibilities posed by the Trump administration? How many could if they had to hand collect member dues after each payday? How many have prepared themselves to take the credit cards of members who increasingly live in a cashless society? Beyond any doubt, few are prepared, having been lulled into laziness by years of receiving their income automatically.

Following a strike, my local lost the dues check-off for 18 months, leaving us to hand collect the dues. While it was a herculean effort, I would argue that our solidarity was never stronger, in the end getting the money from every member and even getting some of the very few agency fee payers to pony up their fair share.

I know I keep sounding the alarm about our unpreparedness should we get bad legislation or more likely a bad Supreme Court decision, but I simply don’t see a concerted effort to prepare for the very likely assault on our unions. We know what’s coming but appear to be frozen like deer in the headlights.

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A Couple of Things

The Trumpernicks seem to have at least one coherent theory of governance – states’ rights. In their view states have the right to discriminate, foul the environment and provide widely disparate rights to their citizens. The latest example of this is the withdrawal of the guidance on the treatment of transgender children. The Obama administration acting on it reading of Title IX said that transgendered people must be free to use the public facilities of the sex with which they identify rather than the sex indicated on their birth certificates. Any reasonable reading of Title IX leads to that conclusion. Not to the Trunberkicks, however. Screw what Title IX says. Leave it to the states to decide.

The issue is before the Supreme Court. Unless the justices decide to ignore the words of Tltle IX, an increasing possibility with this court, the Trumbernicks will get a well deserve defeat. Their complete insensitivity to the rights of LGBT children and adults is well documented. Insensitivity is actually not a strong enough word to capture how these individuals are viewed by the social conservative wing of today’s Republican Party. Contempt is what they feel for the LGBT. To many they are seen as people who choose to live an evil life style that they can and must be converted from. No less a figure than the Vive-President is on record as supporting conversion therapy to win LGBT people from their evil ways. I guess this is just one of the many ways in which they strive to make America great again.

On a completely different note, while not an admirer of Bill Gates or much of the work of his family foundation, he has taken to espousing an idea that has significant potential. Gates appears to believe, as I do, that work as we know it will increasingly disappear as more and more blue and white collar work succumbs to automation. What we do with workers displaced by automation is an issue of growing importance. Gates appears to have adopted an idea that’s been around for some time that suggests that when workers are made redundant by robots or other automated devices, the employer should pay a tax to replace the taxes that the laid-off was paying to the various levels of government. This tax money would be dedicated to dealing with the myriad issues of the unemployed – for me partial funding of a guaranteed minimum income.

Gates has sold the world a whole lot of bunk. It would be interesting to see him put his marketing skills to the solutions of the problems of people for whom there is or will be no work as we have known i

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The Buffoon In Charge

I can’t think about education today, or labor for that matter. My country is threatened from within by a clearly incompetent, mentally unbalanced president. Anyone who watched his news conference the other day should be able to see that our common self-interest lies in getting this man out of office with all deliberate speed.

No matter what I’ve done this morning, I’ve come back to my astonishment at reading the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. There writers from the left and right describe an administration not only gone amuck but being played the fool by dangerous foreign powers. I don’t ever recall reading an Op-Ed page like this one – Paul Krugman and David Brooks literally on the same page. Yes, Nixon tried to subvert our democracy and surely had his personality quirks, but he knew what he was doing and even accomplished some good things. Even more frightening is neither Brooks and Krugman nor I know where the Republic leadership is going to come from to rescue our nation from the very dangerous buffoon in charge. Where are the Howard Bakers in today’s Republican Party?

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Victory and Defeat

Labor circles are ecstatic at the withdrawal of Andrew Puzder from consideration to be the next secretary of labor. To the best of my knowledge, he is the most anti-labor person ever to be nominated to a cabinet position that was created to see to the welfare of working people. While his company has repeatedly been found to be in violation of various labor laws, from failure to pay overtime to wage theft, it doesn’t seem to me that the Republicans who turned against him were motivated by this. Neither does it seem that his having employed an illegal alien did him in. Much more powerful was the release of the Oprah interview with his former wife in which she describes his battery of her for no reason of which she was aware. Take it to the bank, the Republicans who turned against the Putz factored into their response an energized female electorate that is organizing to defend their hard-won economic and social gains. The Women’s March was just the beginning, and at least some of the Republican sense that.

While we celebrate the defeat of this Trump nominated scumbag, let’s not lose sight of a significant loss for labor yesterday. Almost three quarters of those eligible to vote in the election at the Boeing plant in South Carolina voted against joining the Machinist and Aerospace Workers. The Boeing Company’s move to South Carolina to escape union wages and working conditions in Washington State seems to have clearly paid off. Organized labor remains unable to break into the South. Added to that problem is the fact that many organized workers in the construction trades back the President out of a belief that they will see more work as he unfolds his infrastructure proposals. Our labor movement, if that’s a proper term anymore, is as fractured as the politics of our country to the detriment of working people, both organized and unorganized.

What’s needed is an imaginative agenda and new leadership to sell it. That agenda needs to embrace proposals to concretely deal with the effects of automation on employment, the right of all Americans to a defined benefit pension, workers’ stake in climate change, truly universal medical care, a guaranteed minimum family income and other steps forward on the arc of taming the exploitative nature of a capitalist economy. In our teacher education circles, people are fond of quoting Al Shanker that,” You can’t fight something with nothing.” Today’s labor movement is attempting to do just that. It is a very significant factor in its lack of success.

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The Public Good

I have to believe that at least a few of the Republicans who voted for Billionaire Betsy DeVos know that she has about as much knowledge to be Secretary of Education as I have to teach nuclear physics. That said, how is it that party politics completely trumped the public good. This is a question that should be asked of every senator who voted for at every public forum they hold. It’s one thing to select agency heads who conform to the President’s political philosophy. It’s quite another to put a complete incompetent in charge of programs vital to the welfare of America’s children.

To my teacher readers, ask you Trump supporting colleagues how tbey feel about what happened today

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Berkeley, 2017

Say Berkeley to an educated person of my generation, and he will reliably think of the free speech movement on that campus during the Viet Nam War, a sustained movement that helped to energize campuses throughout the nation. How sad then to read that today’s protest on that campus is to shut down free speech.

The protest aimed to stop an address by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart News of Steve Bannon fame. Mr. Yiannopoulos is known to be a provocateur, some maintaining that that he peddles hate speech. I suspect that I would be nauseated by what he had to say at Berkeley, but I am more appalled that the administration called off the speech. I understand that the criminal mischief engaged in by some of the demonstrators. I also understand the concerns for safety. But I care more about students at one of our great universities having the opportunity to hear whomever they wish to hear. Yiannopoulos was invited by the Berkeley Republican Club.

An education should be about challenging the ideas one holds before embarking on his studies. What are today’s Berkeley demonstrators [protecting their classmates from? Do they cling so precariously to their political beliefs that they fear conversion by an alt-right huckster? Those whose constitutions are too delicate to hear people like Yiannopoulos were not obliged to attend. Those student had a right to hear him even though I wish they had invited someone else.

Ultimately, it seems to me the protesters fail to understand the threat posed by stifling speech, no matter how obnoxious. When our brightest young people fail to understand that threat, it suggests that freedom is dangerously undervalued by them.

As it happens, I will be in Berkeley toward the end of next week. I’m looking forward to roaming the campus, seeking conversations.

While I always mean to write my blog when I’m on vacation, I often fail to do so. Don’t think I’ve gone away forever. I’ll be back in two weeks.

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Since We Last Spoke

I’ve been off-line for the past few days, a power outage having blown up my Fios service, something that system is prone to, this being my second such occurrence. Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about with the extra time I’ve had during my digital media blackout.

I learned that the superintendent in my home district sent an email to the staff ordering them not to talk about the Trump inauguration. I hope most of the teachers ignored her command, but it irks me no end to see an educational institution bar its doors to discussion of contemporary events, no matter how controversial. How different from the beginning of my career when we routinely had high school presentations on the war in Viet Nam, the issue of the late 60s and early 70s. When a Viet Nam War moratorium demonstration was planned for Bryant Park in Manhattan, a number of our faculty wrote to the superintendent informing him that we are taking a personal day to attend, fully expecting that he wouldn’t grant us the day and would dock us our salaries for the absence. To our surprise, the day was granted. Can anyone imaging that happening today? Our schools then, fostered an open exchange of ideas. Faculty members at my high school often debated each other at assembly programs before students who were fascinated to listen to their teachers battle over an issue. I vividly recall one such contest between two colleagues, one a born again Christian who debated an inveterate atheist. Try to put that program on in most of today’s high schools. In so many ways, the culture of our schools has been debased by waves of ill-educated, gutless administrators whose fear of controversy is matched only by their predatory pedantry.

On the union front, we learned that our state organization, NYSUT, is to again have contested officer elections. While I will have much to say about this upcoming election in future posts, for now a few comments will suffice.

One of the candidates for NYSUT President is Andy Pallotta, currently the Executive Vice-President in charge of the organization’s political operation. Pallotta comes from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), our New York City affiliate, representing approximately one third of NYSUT’s membership. The size of the UFT gave it the power from the organization’s inception to decide who would be its president. It very wisely chose to exert its power through other means. Pallotta’s candidacy is an abrupt break with that tradition. It will further inflame those from suburban districts who have long resented the UFT’s power in NYSUT.

As I write this morning, Billionaire Betsy DeVos is but one Republican vote away from seeing her nomination to be Secretary of Education go up in smoke. Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski deserve our admiration for bucking their newly elected president and voting their consciences. It’s interesting that the two Republican no votes thus far are from women senators. Could it be that women are more attuned to the damage posed by an incompetent twit like DeVos?

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Building the Resistance

Saturday’s marches were a great beginning to the resistance to the Trump/Republican agenda, but we will obviously need to do more. Local teacher union here on Long Island are uniquely positioned to undertake an ongoing activity to attempt to separate Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin from the clear intent of the Republicans of all stripes to roll back the New Deal social safety net. There are thousands of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) members in both these congressional districts. Imagine what we could accomplish if every time the President or other Republic leader advances some regressive economic or social measure we were able to organize the following:
1 – At least half of our members in each congressman’s district to make a phone call seeking to know if the congressman supports cutting Social security, defunding Planned Parenthood, enabling the government to bargain with the drug companies etc.
2 – At least half of our members post on whatever social media they engage a call to their friends to make a phone call too.
3 – Each local teacher union president uses the local’s social media accounts to do the same, carefully explaining why the issue in question should be important to the parents and grand parent of school age children.
4 – Repeat steps 2 and 3 once the position of the congressman is known to publicize it, calling on people to take some specific action to either attack or defend the congressman.

I don’t for a moment minimize the difficulty of getting this program organized. Many of our union members are reluctant to engage in politics online. The threat to working people, especially union people, posed by this administration and its Republican majority in congress is so great that many of our reluctant political warriors can be motivated to act in their self interest.

No one action will completely blunt the anti-worker forces arrayed against us. I invite my union colleagues to add to this list as I will as this adventure unfolds.

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Saturday’s Marches

Saturday’s marches were so good for souls depressed since the election. Millions marched in cities and towns across the nation. Though principally branded a woman’s march to protect hard won rights, the New York march I participated in had men, women and children there to protest a broad range of proposed Trump policies on subjects from universal healthcare to climate change. At a time when progressive spirits desperately needed a lift, Saturday’s marches exceeded all expectations and will hopefully be the harbinger of a growing resistance movement to protect the gains America has made since the New Deal from the Big New Swindle that came to Washington on Friday.

I was dismayed and interested at some of the responses I observed in my Facebook and Twitter feeds on Sunday. Numbers of women, some young union members, took offence with the marchers, thinking it unfair to criticize the new president before he did anything. Another memorable posting said that those women didn’t speak for her, that she was perfectly free and capable of making her own choices in life. Absent from these comments was any understanding of the long, difficult struggle of women to achieve the rights they enjoy or the threats to them. No sympathy for the fact that Saturday’s marchers are a point on the arc of history that goes back to those who fought for the right of women to own property, to vote, to obtain and practice birth control, to earn what men do for comparable work and in so many ways not to be subservient to the whims of the male in their lives. Some of comments I saw suggest that there is still more to do to improve the education of women, to teach them the history of their struggle for equal rights. Women’s History Week is simply not enough.

For me the most interesting reaction to the march came from several males who while they praised the marching women for standing up for their rights couldn’t resist a dig, wishing that they showed as much interest in the rights of Arab women as they did in the rights of Americans. The subtext of those comments appears to be that there are so many women in the world who have it worse than Americans that their protest signified their lack of appropriate gratefulness for the rights that they enjoy. I wouldn’t cont on these men to aid the marchers’ cause.

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Billionaire Betsy

I can’t imagine what possessed me, but I spent over three hours yesterday watching Betsy DeVos’ hearing on her nomination to become our new Secretary of Education. What I learned in those three hours can be reduced to a deep belief that there would be much less harm to public education if we left the office vacant. While I recall cabinet nominees in the past with whom I had great differences, I do not recall one so obviously unprepared by both knowledge and belief to assume a high public office. While I’m not know as a great fan of most boards of education, we would be much better off compiling a list of school board members of all the nation’s school districts and blindly pointing to one name to be our next leader of the U.S. department of Education. My God, this woman thinks that we ought to leave it to the states to decide how to provide for the education of special education students. Leave it to blunt Bernie Sanders to have asked the question that accounts for her nomination. Bernie inquired as to whether Billionaire Betsy would be sitting in from of him if she and her family had not given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party?

I didn’t expect much from DeVos, having read about he privatizing exploits in Michigan. However, low though my expectations were, she managed to prove that I had over-estimated her. Could we possibly find ourselves longing for Arnie Duncan?

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Teaching Adults to Talk to Each Other

One on the loudest laments I hear from elementary teachers concerning the ever increasing academic burden we have been placing on young children is the lack of time to do many of the activities that were once very consciously aimed at socializing our children. Teachers are deeply concerned that in the test centered would in which they work, children are missing opportunities to hone the social skills that come from activities requiring interaction with other students and adults, not the least important of which is play. In a world in which their time after school is increasingly spent being engaging digital media, where is it that we expect children to learn the skills that lubricate the interactions between people.

This subject has been on my mind since I hear an NPR piece last week about a police training program in Spokane Washington aimed at millennial officers who are seen by their superiors to generally lacking important social skills necessary to engage strangers. In a era in which community policing is the favored approach to public safety (except, of course for Donald Trump), Spokane is undertaking training of its young officers in how to talk to and read the citizens they are expected to police.

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