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 December, 2017

Unions and Harassment

I’ve long been uneasy a with the word harassment. God, how many phone calls did I answer over the years from members accusing some administrator of having harassed them? How many claimed harassment by another member. Too often, what was angrily described to me as harassment turned out upon investigation to be a rebuke of some kind by an administrator for some perceived shortcoming like not getting to work on time or the failure to complete assigned work. Member complaints were frequently instances in which a member or members tried to get the caller to follow a union action that we had voted to do. “Morty, tell the building reps to stop harassing me. I don’t pay dues to be harassed.”

Imposing what I call democratic discipline is problematical for union leaders in the best of times. In the current environment in which we talk about things like micro-aggressions, a time when we appear to be unable to distinguish between the boorish behavior of Senator Fraken and the deviancy of a Roy Moore, the job of union leaders to maintain cohesion around union policies and actions is infinitely more difficult and fraught with increased possibility of those loosely bonded to the union perceiving attempts to bring them in line as harassment.

When I tongue-lashed a member who didn’t show up for picket duty during a strike, was I harassing them? When our union called for a demonstration and I told the members we would be taking attendance, was I harassing them? Did I help to create a hostile work environment by refusing to talk to teachers who scabbed during one of our strikes?

Good unions make decisions democratically and implement them in an organized, disciplined manner, sometimes reminding those who would prefer to go their own way of their obligation to the group, in some cases shaming them into doing the right thing. I fear that today the democratic demand for discipline will be perceived as harassment.

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Due Process and Proportionality

In my December 8th post, I expressed my discomfort at the inability of Democrats to distinguish between the misdeeds of Al Franken and Roy Moore. Zephyr Teachout has a piece in this morning’s New York Times that expresses the same concerns and which sketches out a mechanism for due process and proportional responses to inappropriate sexual conduct. She, too may not have all of the answers, she is attempting to lead Democrats to firmer ethical and political ground than our Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Teachout continues to be a sane political voice. It’s a pity she can’t seem to get elected to high public office. 2018 could be her year.

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Democrats’ Miscalculation

In their rush to gain the high moral ground, congressional Democrats appear to be staking out a zero tolerance policy for any sexual misbehavior. They, like too many of the TV talking heads do not seem to be capable of discriminating between the misdeeds of Al Franken and a Roy Moore. This calculated political move carries with it a huge political risk that does not seem to have informed their calculation. It is also a perversion of any meaningful concept of justice and proportional punishment.

For a long time, Democrats have had a very hard time with male voters. I fear that if the current stampede to purge all of our elected male officials perceived to have to have acted inappropriately with women continues, the potential gain of women voters will be more than balanced by the further loss of men who will increasingly see these events as a war on males. Such an outcome will neither permit the evolution of new standards of male behavior nor will it widen the possibilities of legal improvements in the status of women in our society. In the end, there is a real risk that it will simply bring about the elections of more people who are as angry about women’s drive for equality as they are about other planks of the progressive agenda. It also runs the real potential to stall the advance of women in the workplace.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers to the problem of male sexual aggression in the workplace and society. It has been my observation that these aggressive tendencies are distributed on a spectrum, that is, with men displaying various degrees of flirtatious aggressiveness. We ought to be able as a society to reasonably draw lines between the annoying, the threatening and degrading and the criminal manifestations of these tendencies. We ought to also be able to find ways to teach all of our children that no job is worth the sacrifice of one’s self-respect. Above all, we need to find ways to advance our society’s norms of sexual behavior without sacrificing our notions of due process and justice.

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Political Depravity

Political Depravity! Supporting someone credibly charged with molesting children to be a Unites States Senator is as depraved a political act as I can remember. There appears to be no end to what Republicans are willing to do to hold on to power. Yesterday, I wrote of how our expressed concern for children falls very short of our actual treatment of them. Now our governing party has publically supported Roy Moore for the Senate, a man banned from his local shopping mall for stalking young girls, a man who appears to have used a public office to exploit children. What’s left for Republicans to disqualify a person for public office? Is Mitt Romney the only national Republican leaders whose conscience remains intact? “Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”

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The Tax Giveaway

I’ve always been struck by the cruel discrepancy between Americans’ stated reverence for children and the way we actually treat them. Throughout my life I’ve listened to pious platitudes from the left and right of the political spectrum about our obligation to care for our nation’s children, at their most extreme including those in utero. This sanctimony has cloaked the grim reality that almost a quarter of America’s children live in poverty and have very limited opportunities for escape. Add to this reality the fact that many of these children bear the additional burden of belonging to a racial minority and concern for the welfare of children is revealed as one of the lies we tell ourselves about our exceptionalism.

Senate passage of the tax giveaway to the rich has reminded me of our indifference to the welfare of our nation’s children. Forgetting for a moment that over 60 percent of the tax reductions will go to the top 1 percent of incomes, this bill has been designed to gradually financially cripple our government’s ability to provide for the neediest among us. For some of its supporters, the goal is to shrink the size of government by starving it. For most, however, the aim is to destroy America’s frayed social safety net to satisfy a deeply held belief that recipients of these programs are not worthy of receiving their benefits. We saw glimpses of the Republican plan during the debate on the Senate tax bill. Take Senator Grassley’s comments, for example, who asked to justify cutting the estate tax for the super rich found himself blurting out that the rich know what to do with the extra money whereas working people will only spend the money “…on booze, women and movies.” Or Senator Hatch’s exchange with Sherrod Brown, in which fatigue having weakened his internal censor, he talked about how liberals have taught many people to expect the government to take care of them and won’t do anything to help themselves.

Beyond doubt, while this giveaway to the rich will have profoundly negative effects on our country for years to come, potentially inflicting permanent damage to our society, its effects will fall disproportionately on neediest children who will have an even lesser chance at a better life than their parents than they have today.

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