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 February, 2017

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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?

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

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?

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments