It will clearly be some time before the political dust from the recent NYSUT elections settles. Some people are finding it hard not to reflexively respond to statements and events in campaign mode. My favorite campaign leftover is the charge that our new leaders have failed to find a candidate to run against Governor Cuomo, as though it is easy to find a Democrat or moderate Republican with name recognition to challenge an incumbent governor with 33 million dollars in his war chest and an army of Wall Street types ready and willing to raise even more if necessary – and in less than one week in office. We’re divided some of my brother and sisters continue to say. But does the fact that 61 percent of the membership wanted a change in the leadership of our state really mean we are divided in some fundamental way, or are some people just still disappointed that the leaders they supported were defeated? There’s a real difference between the two.
Let’s look at the issues of the day. Just about all of us are still determined opponents of the scourge of high stakes testing, its linkage to teacher evaluation and its devastating narrowing of the curriculum across the grades. We understand it to be destroying meaningful education and robbing our membership of the ability to practice their craft with any degree of autonomy and dignity.
Supporters of either slate of NYSUT candidates oppose the way in which the Common Core State Standards were shoved down our throats with a dose of federal money. We are outraged at the fact that we had no real say either in the creation of the standards or their implementation. Daily, we witness examples of children being forced to struggle with concepts they are developmentally not ready to cope with.
Most of the supporters of either Dick Iannuzzi or Karen Magee believe that there is a well- orchestrated, well financed attempt by segments of the corporate world to discredit the work of teachers and public schools with the ultimate goal of privatizing education in the United States (See this piece on the birth of Common Core). We know it is a bold-faced lie to say that America’s schools are failing and that here in New York we have some of the very best schools in the country. We generally agree, too, that the single most potent force militating against the success of all children is the fact that almost a quarter of our nation’s children live in poverty, poverty that debilitates them in body in spirit.
Most NYSUT members, whether they were for Stronger NYSUT or Revive NYSUT, believe that Governor Cuomo has aligned himself with the bankers and real estate interests, those interested in public school privatization and the expansion of charter schools. We passionately desire to deliver his comeuppance; we long for a candidate we could support to oppose him in November. I don’t know a teacher who will vote for Cuomo under any circumstances.
Unanimously, the 25000 delegates to our recent NYSUT convention voted a motion of no confidence in John King, New York’s Commissioner of Education. That same motion demanded his immediate ouster. While it was not included in our motion, I believe if Chancellor Tisch’s name had been added to it, the vote would have been unchanged. We know the Regents need to be changed.
I could go on pointing out broad issues where if there are differences between us, they can be measured in microns. Where we do have differences is in strategy and tactics to achieve our common goals. In fact, in many ways our recent election was about competing strategies to advance an essentially consensus agenda. That’s not to minimize their importance, but they are a much lesser order of difference than if some of us believed in collective bargaining, but many of us didn’t, or if we were divided over the issue of support for teacher tenure.
There’s one other thing I need to say to those who focus on our differences. There has been a whole lot of bashing of the United Federation of Teachers during this campaign. The UFT has more clout in NYSUT than any other local. What a surprise in that it makes up about a third of NYSUT’s membership. When my local was in NEA/New York, Buffalo was our largest local, and what do you know – Buffalo wielded more political clout in that organization than any other. In fact, but for Buffalo’s opposition to my candidacy, I would have been president of NEA/New York. Angered by defeat, it never dawned on me to think our union would have been better off without them or that we were fundamentally divided. Like many, I would prefer if the UFT’s agenda focused on the suburban schools where I work. But a moment’s reflection renders that desire absurd. That reflection also reminds one of how much dues money UFT contributes to the financing of NYSUT and how on core issues there is usually little daylight between us. Their political work with the New York City legislative delegation redounds to all of our benefit much more often than it conflicts with the agendas of smaller locals. Funny, when the UFT voted to make Dick Iannuzzi NYSUT President upon Tom Hobart’s retirement, no one talked about them hijacking the organization.
Just a little quiet reflection suggests that on matters that really count, there is little division among us. We have differences in how to go about achieving our agenda, but we’ve always had those. The representatives of over 600,000 of us have democratically decided to change direction. The very important work of saving public education and our profession is before us. That challenge demands that we remind ourselves of why we built this coalition called NYSUT, that we rally around our leaders, even though we may not have voted for them, and that we give them a decent interval to show what they can do, always reserving the right to change direction again when we believe it is called for.
I’m taking off for the spring school break. Look for me again on April 23.