A Teachable Moment

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

Archive for January, 2017

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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?

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Obama’s Farewell

I’m going to download a YouTube of President Obama’s farewell address last night. I’m going to play it from time to time to remind myself of what a President of the United States should sound like. I will send to people who come to see Donald Trump as normal and his policies as sensible.

I’ve been disappointed by some of Obama’s policies, especially education. Though completely wrong-headed, I believe he felt a responsibility as our first African American president to through education improve the lives of minority youth. I think he missed the fact that the plight of the poor in America is not remediable through some education magic bullet but must be addressed more broadly through panoply of programs to address the social pathologies our society has produces.

But though I’ve had important disagreements with him, I’m not blind to his very significant accomplishments, from the Affordable Care Act, to the progress on climate change and the shift to renewable energy to this engineering of a way out of the financial crisis. Despite dealing with an opposition party dedicated to his failure, he not only moved our country forward but did so with the honesty, dignity and integrity too long absent from our highest office. I strongly suspect that many who have reviled him will be forced to reevaluate their position in light of the big swindle to come.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

An Underwhelming Speech

AFT President Randi Weingarten gave a major address today to the National Press Club, a venue where speakers of note lay out what they consider to be important positions. Her theme was we can either continue down the path of the ESSA legislation to hopefully see to it that every neighborhood has a great public school, or we can follow Trump and Betsy Devos who are heading to dismantle public schools in favor of a privatized model of education.

Read the speech for yourself. It’s worth doing. Most of my readers won’t find much too vehemently disagree with. But ask yourself when you are finished, is this the speech we want from the leader of one of our two great education unions when teachers and educational support personnel are bracing for attack from every branch of our federal government. Are we to survive the existential threat to our unions and the work we do with clichéd rhetoric about building teacher capacity? Does Weingarten seriously believe that we can educate Billionaire Betsy by inviting her into the classrooms of our public schools? Might it not have been wiser to use the opportunity of a speech that will receive national attention to map out a course of resistance to the war that is about to be declared on us? Read the speech. See what you think. I couldn’t help comparing it to Meryl Streep’s.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Social Justice Unionism and the Battles Ahead

The talk in progressive circles these days is how to get up off the floor and confront the Trump administration as it attempts to roll-back much of the social progress since the New Deal – all in the name of making America great again. A Day of Action is being planned for January 21st, with protesters gathering in Washington DC and major cities to convey that there is a not so silent majority that doesn’t believe that Trump and the Republicans have any mandate to burn America’s all too limited social safety net. This morning’s op-ed page of the New York Times has a piece by three former Democratic congressional staffers calling for Dems to adopt the Tea Party tactics and pressure federal representatives continually in their local office to reject the Trump agenda. That’s all good stuff, but what should we as unionists be doing? What are we perhaps uniquely equipped to contribute to the cause not only to build a firewall against the incendiary economic and social policies of the incoming administration and Congress but to also lay a predicate for advancing a progressive economic and social agenda in the future?

For some years now, our two national education unions have realized that they had to broaden their perspective, go beyond bread and butter issues and the negotiation of work rules to engage in what has come to be known as social justice unionism. On one level the call to engage in activism aimed at making our country and world more just is a higher calling than narrowly focusing on improving the lot of our members. It’s important to recognize, however, that there is enlightened self-interest in the endeavor as well. Public education unions disinterested in the economic and social conditions of the communities they serve will inevitably find those communities indifferent to their members’ needs.

So unionism that seeks to benefit workers everywhere, members or not, makes sense. Yet, too often our unions have lacked a real commitment to it. Sure, we support a boycott of a struck company here, encourage our members to purchase fair trade coffee and other agricultural products, issue press releases and lobby for progressive legislation , but we don’t routinely engage our members or the communities in which we work on issues that could unite working people.

Across this country, teacher unions are fighting and often losing battles to preserve their defined benefit pensions. How do we successfully continue to have pensions that allow us to retire in dignity if most of the citizens who fund these pensions don’t have them, and, even more importantly, don’t believe it is remotely possible for them to have a pension? We need to champion the right of all working people to a defined benefit pension. We even need to do this with our own members who often fail to understand that when other workers are treated unjustly, their conditions are threatened.

Why aren’t we advocating for the right of all citizens to affordable housing. Our brothers and sisters in San Francisco have been doing some amazing work in this regard that could serve as a model for others. Through all communication vehicles available to them, they are highlighting how the housing market in their community has made it almost impossible for San Francisco’s teachers to live in San Francisco.

The Republicans are mounting an assault on Social Security, their ultimate aim to privatize it thereby exposing the retirement security of millions of seniors to the vagaries of the marketplace. Our members need to be engaged with the seniors in their communities in fighting to defend both Social security and Medicare. I’ve met too many young members who don’t believe Social Security will be there for them when they wish to retire. They are amazed to hear that all it would take to guarantee it will be there for them is to lift the earnings cap.

We need not search far for issues of injustice that plague our communities and which we need to be leaders in addressing. What can we say to the men and women who have been displaced from the economy by technology? How do we deal with an economy that will require fewer and fewer people to make more and more stuff? As one wag put it, pretty soon all a factory will need is one man and a dog, with the dog necessary to keep the man from touching the machine. How do we make a place for redundant workers? How do we stop the social chaos that comes to economically marginalized families? We need to be in the vanguard of the search and fight for economic and social justice.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments