A Teachable Moment

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


For years, I’ve counseled against using union war stories to attempt to acculturate new members to the union cause. Yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing on Saturday. Along with my friend Ken Ulric, a former union president too, I met with three groups of Long Island union representatives to talk about the early days of teacher unionism on Long Island. These representatives had spent their morning listening to and questioning presenters on the problems related to an impending decision in the Janus Case, an expected Supreme Court decision that will abridge public sector unions’ right to collect agency fees and potentially requiring them to re-sign members up each year.

Ken and I had a very good time recalling the birth of our movement. Comments from the audience seemed to suggest that they found our remembrances of things past interesting. Yet in the end, I find myself depressed by the experience and left wondering how it is that a movement that was birthed by such creative spirit and energy could have decayed to the point where the threat of the loss of agency fee is seen to pose an existential threat to our organizations.

Clear to me from talking to some of the workshop participants is that union militancy today is wearing a tee shirt with a union message on it, turning out to a meeting of a board of education or filing a grievance. The idea of asserting our collective power to advance our union agenda appears to be unthinkable. I’m not even sure we have an agenda beyond organizational survival. When I expressed the belief that school principals serve at the pleasure of the staff in the building, workshop participants looked at me as though I were joking. When I went on to explain that I had organized numbers of successful campaigns to rid our district of administrators who treated us badly, I had the distinct impression that many in the audience thought I was fabricating a union tale. No wonder we have contracts that remain unsettled six, eight even ten years. No wonder that signing members up each year is seen as a herculean task, one doomed to significant failure.

I hope I’m wrong about the state of our movement. I hope the Janus Case will serve as a challenge to a new generation of public sector unionists who will meet the challenge head on and emerge from it with a renewed sense of their power to shape their work-life. I hope we can go from a talking union to one of direct action, one in which members are willing to struggle and fight not only to preserve what we have won but to reclaim their right to participate in determining the quality of their time at work.

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They Want to Wire the Students Now

The search for the magic bullet that will enable all students regardless of their genes, socio-economic background, parenting and physical and mental health to achieve equally is rapidly reaching the creepily absurd. News that the Edsurge Company is in talks with a Long Island school district to collect the brain waves of students in the hope of improving their education is but the latest attempt by the corporate to exploit public education. First they convinced us to wire our schools. Now they want to wire the children too.

I’d love to know which 21st century educator superintendent agreed to talk to Edsurge. If any of my readers know, please contact me at mrosenfeld@pobct.org.

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Undue Influence of the Rich

Rich people automatically seem to assume that their economic success is evidence that they possess superior knowledge on all subjects. A significant portion of the public unfortunately seems to agree. It’s the modern iteration of Calvinist elect theology in which God’s grace is evidenced by human success. Perhaps one of the few good things to come from the Trump presidency will be a broad appreciation that rich people can be complete idiots.

I’m prompted to think about the undue influence of the rich in affairs about which they know nothing after reading about Bill Gates’ keynote address to the Council of Great City Schools. After spending billions on one ill-informed so-called education reform after another, after these reforms seriously demoralized a generation of public school educators, after supporting endless propaganda convincing many parents that their children’s schools are failing, after all this unnecessary chaos, here’s what Bill Gates learned. ““Giving schools and districts more flexibility is more likely to lead to solutions that fit the needs of local communities and are potentially replicable elsewhere… If there is one thing I have learned, it is that no matter how enthusiastic we might be about one approach or another, the decision to go from pilot to wide-scale usage is ultimately and always something that has to be decided by you and others the field.”

Schmuck! We could have told you that when your launched your first reform.

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Union Communications

Last weekend, I answered a tweet by AFT President Randi Weingarten in which she expressed relief that Bill Gates was not abandoning his public education philanthropy. My response was to observe that Gates has had a profoundly pernicious influence on public education. In a tweet of my own, I further observed that the leadership of the NEA and AFT just don’t understand the negative impact Gates has had on the lives of teachers and students as they attempted to accommodate to a series of ill-fated reforms birth by his billions.

That experience reminded me that I had not looked at the webpages of either national education union in a long time. I monitor them from time to time hoping to find some evidence that either organization understands what is happening to the teaching profession. One would think that in an environment in which U.S. teachers are severely underpaid in so many areas that there would be some evidence of a campaign to improve those miserable salaries. One would think that national unions would be talking about the staggering workloads too many teachers bear. One would expect national teacher labor unions to be hammering away at the data driven teacher evaluation schemes that cheapen the work of teaching and rob students of a meaningful education. One would hope to find a consistent, focused critique of the poisonous effect testing is having on public education.

I could go on and on about the kind of content that might appeal to teachers. I can’t imagine that too many find anything of interest in the current offerings. It’s hard to imagine a young high school teacher, carrying a student load of 150 students, working two extra jobs to support his family finding any hope in these union communications for a brighter future. There is no discernible connection between the communications of our national unions and their leaders and what is happening day to day in the classrooms of America’s public schools.

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A Remnant of a Labor Movement

The President of the AFL/CIO used to be a presence in American households. When I was a kid, I knew who George Meany was from his frequent appearances on TV and frequent stories about his thoughts on world and domestic affairs in the newspapers. I strongly suspect that were we to ask today’s k-12 public school students who Richard Trumka is, few would have any idea who he is. Neither would most know anything about the AFL/CIO. How many Americans realize that Mr.Trumka was re-elected on Sunday to another four year term as President of the AFT/CIO. Judging from the very sparse news coverage, it no longer seems to matter to Americans who heads the remnant of the American labor movement.

This unhappy state of irrelevance is the result of the catastrophic failure of America’s unions to respond to the transformation of the American economy from one centered on manufacturing to one increasingly service oriented. When I was young, 35% of the American workforce was unionized. It is no exaggeration to suggest that what we think of as the middle class today was union made. Today, something like 5 or 6% of the private sector workforce is unionized. Public sector unions that were growing have come under right-wing assault. Should the Janus case before the Supreme Court wind up with the loss by public sector unions of agency fee, the best guess is that 30% of public sector union membership will be gone.

Surely part of the solution to the wage stagnation American workers have been suffering is the expansion of worker bargaining power. For that to happen will require the election of political leaders who understand the connection between the expansion of worker rights to organize and bargain collectively and closing the inequality gap in this country. Unfortunately, too many of our Democratic leaders are reluctant to challenge the corporate interests hell-bent on destroying our remnant of unionism. We have arrived at a point in our history at which many workers saw Donald Trump and an ultra-right-wing Republican Party as greater defenders of working people than the party of Franklin Roosevelt. Unless and until that changes, until there is a political movement in this country on behalf of all working people, a movement that seeks to balance the power between workers and the one percent who own almost everything, I fear the union movement will continue to sink into increasing irrelevance.

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A Lesson From Italy

I’ve been on somewhat of a crusade for the past ten years or so to try to awaken American education decision makers to the emergency need to weave instruction on media literacy throughout the k-12 curriculum. In my own school district, I almost got it done, when the assistant superintendent for instruction who was working with me on the project left to take another position, leaving behind her a series of successive school leaders too lost in the world of educationist mumbo-jumbo to appreciate the need to fill a widening real hole in the education of our youth.

The mounting evidence that the Russians were able to manipulate our media with stories contrived to sew division in our ranks and support the candidacy of Donald Trump has awakened some to the need to not only bring our government regulation in line with modern digital media, but also has sparked international interest in the need to educate citizens who to distinguish fact from fiction in the world of virtual reality. I was fascinated to read this morning that Italy has changed its high school curriculum to provide students with instruction in how to spot fake news from the real thing. Such changes are even more necessary in our own country where we now have a president who is hell-bent on delegitimizing responsible media that deign to publish criticism of him.

Over the last twenty-five years or so, media studies has become a respected academic discipline. We have numbers of scholars in this country who are more than able to design a strand of study for our public school children that begins in kindergarten to teach them the tools they need to survive in the media ecology we have developed. So many school leaders talk glibly about 21st century education without meaning anything more than teaching kids how to use the latest digital devices. A real 21st century education prepares students to cope with changes these digital tools have wrought.

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Appealing to Reflexive Republicans

Here on Long Island we have lots of registered Republicans who when you talk to them about politics appear to reject most of what today’s Republican party stands for. Their attachment to their party is more a matter of habit or reflex than ideological affinity. I’ve met many over the years who very openly expressed the view that since Republicans have historically dominated the politics of the Island, self-interest suggested supporting the party that might be helpful getting a summer job for one’s child or a variance for some construction project on one’s property. I’ve met Democrats who are more economically and socially conservative than many Long Island registered Republicans. To be sure, Republican like this can be found everywhere in the United States.

We need to develop a moral and ethical appeal to these Republicans. We need to connect voting for Republican candidates at whatever level of government with the economically, socially ethically regressive agenda of the national Republican Party and its leaders in the House, Senate and Whitehouse. Such a campaign can have two possible positive outcomes. Some can be won over to the Democratic Party, perhaps pausing at independent first. Some can be motivated to push back against the nihilist nuts who have taken control of today’s Republican Party. Many Republicans believe that healthcare is a human right. Many support reproductive freedom and economic equality for women. Many oppose granting huge tax cuts to the ultra-rich. Many know that successfully integrating wave after wave of immigrants is what has made the United States special. Many are passionate about protecting the environment. Many are believers in science and know that our response to climate change will determine our future as a nation and maybe even as a species. Many are not frightened by the fact that white people will soon be a minority in this country and are open to being citizens of a country that treats religion as a personal matter having nothing whatsoever to do with government. Many are good union members and understand the need to expand the rights of working people to join together in common cause.

Supporting the candidates of today’s Republican Party violates all of these beliefs

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Educating with Screens

My God! I just read a Jay Mathews column that didn’t elevate my blood pressure to life-threatening heights. Mathews is the guy who has probably done more to advance the spread of AP classes to high school classrooms than anyone else. Viewing the AP program as essentially an academic scam, I risk reading Mathews from time to time simply to see what mischief he is stirring up for public school educators. But I guess to show me that the possibilities of human redemption are infinite, his October 8 column had me open to the possibility that Mathews just might be able to do teachers some good.

Reviewing the book Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber, by veteran Virginia teachers Joe Clement and Mat Miles, Mathews credits their argument that often the engagement of teachers and students is the best way of teaching, providing not only for the transmission of information but, even more importantly, an exchange of ideas and feelings necessary for the socialization of young people into responsible citizens. As someone who has come to see the infusion of technology into the public schools as one of corporate America’s great swindles and a threat to the very existence of public education, I’m looking forward to reading this book and to the next column Mathews has promised on what its authors propose. I dare to hope that people are beginning to catch on to the fact that education is essentially a social process that is not well mediated by technological means. I dare to hope that savvy parents will rebel against having their kids who spend endless hours at home staring at screens going to school to isolate themselves in various technological cocoons.

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The Fault is Ours

While our elected national leaders debate tax breaks for the rich, New York State data released yesterday indicates that 10% of New York City’s public school students were homeless at some point during last year. The figure for the entire state was 5%. Think about it! 148,000 kids in the state were expected to meet a set of academic standards when they lacked a place of their own to live. Homeless kids miss significant days of school, are often malnourished, lack proper medical and dental care and are motivated by more basic concerns than their grades on the English language arts assessment. Their lives are often a daily struggle, a struggle filled with the anxieties about meeting basic human needs. How can it be that in the richest nation in the world, in a nation that supposedly concerned for the welfare of children, how can it be that we tolerate this abuse of so many? How can it be that we continue to believe the stupid idea that the lack of academic achievement of these kids is attributable to a failing public school system? When do we face the fact that the real failure is ours as a society?

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Voting Republican

I can’t stop thinking about two stories on the front page of today’s New York Times. The first talks about the Trump administration attempting to kill the Obama administration’s clean energy standards – standards that were designed to move the United States away from fossil fuels and towards a world effort to curtail the man-made causes of climate change. In a speech in Kentucky the other day, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt announced that the war on coal is over. The other article concerns China’s clear determination to be a leader in clean energy technologies, particularly in the manufacture of electric cars.

Where Republicans were once leaders in the protection of the environment, we now have a party owned and operated by the most rapacious business leaderships. It was Richard Nixon, after all, who created the EPA by executive order in 1970. There was a bi-partisan consensus then that our environment was threatened by the excesses of a capitalist economy which had put profit ahead of the purity of our air and water and the health of our citizens. Today the Vice-President of the United States is a creationist, the President a climate change denier their party committed to an energy policy that runs the very significant risk of severely reducing the economic clout of the United States in the not too distant future.

Most American don’t want this to happen, but they nevertheless continue to support Republicans for elected office at all levels of government, and in so doing support policies inimical to their welfare and their children’s future. Somehow we must convince reflexive Republicans that when they vote Republican at any level, they are supporting the degradation of the environment, the suppression of voting rights, the war on reproductive freedom, healthcare only as good as one can afford, the unfettered ownership of guns, the privatization of public schools, religion over science, white supremacy over democratic diversity and an America isolated from most of the democratic world.

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Staggering Ignorance

My partner Judi went to our local Korean greengrocer the other day to pick up some vegetables for dinner. She came home with much more – beautiful vegetables and an almost unbelievable story of the staggering ignorance that too many American adults suffer from.

While waiting to check out, Judi couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between an adult customer and the store’s proprietor. “Are eggs dairy?” the customer asked. “I mean are they made with milk?”

Think about this conversation for a minute. Think about how it is possible for an adult American to not know what an egg is. It’s good I wasn’t there, because I would have butted in, telling the woman of course eggs contain milk, it being impossible for cows to make them with out imparting some milk to them. I have to suspect that she would have accepted my explanation. I’m sure she would have thanked me for the information.

I find myself wondering what this woman thinks about the Russians tampering with our election. She probably thinks it’s a hoax perpetrated by Hillary Clinton.

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Bits and Pieces

Handmaidens of High Tech

Leaders of teacher organizations are often heard to say, “Ask teachers to organize a firing squad, and they form a circle.” I couldn’t help but notice the tweets from some of the administrators in my home school district. Almost every one has pictures of kids staring
at computer screens. Nowhere is a teacher to be seen. The message is clear to anyone who cares to think about it. Teachers are at best tangential to the education of children. How almost effortlessly the tech companies are getting teachers to become the means of their own destruction. How subtly they are defining education in their own business interest.


Yesterday, I spoke to a group of retirees from my home district, urging them to oppose the constitutional convention that is up for a vote in New York this November. It was heartening to see their understanding of the threats to public education and public employees from such a convention. As I spoke, many were taking notes, obviously getting ready for what they knew would be my final point – that they can have an important impact on the defeat of the referendum if each member sets a goal to motivate family and friends to vote NO in November.

Kids and Guns

Long term the way to dial down the passion for gun ownership in this country is the educate generations of children to the fact that their safety and the safety of their families is imperiled by the indiscriminate way in which the United States permits gun ownership. The gun lobby has been winning the propaganda war for decades in the absence of any serious and sustained countervailing argument. Public schools played a significant role in teaching children the dangers of smoking. The can and must do the same job on gun violence.

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Guns, Guns and More Guns

As I write this, fifty concert goers in Las Vegas are dead. Hundreds more are wounded. Thousands are traumatized. And absolutely nothing will be done even try to bring the epidemic of gun violence in our country under control. It’s more than likely that gun sales will be up today and in the weeks ahead.

We live in a country in which a person can walk into a resort hotel with ten – ten weapons in his luggage, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and it’s all perfectly legal. It’s all perfectly legal. How crazy is that? How can anyone think that’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted our constitution? One would have to take them for fools to believe that. But clearly we are governed by fools.

The airways and cyberspace are filled with condolences for the victims of what is not the biggest mass shooting in our history. I just saw the President telling Americans that the shootings were and act of pure evil and how he and Melania are praying for everyone involved. Many people will credit Trump for being presidential. Yet prayers are too often a substitute for action. If there is any action here it will probably be to make it easier for people – even crazy people, to purchase weapons of mass destruction. Before the Congress is a Republican bill to make gun silencers legal. I guess they want to make killing more discrete.

It’s been clear for some time that a majority of gun owners favor reasonable limitations on the right to own guns. Nevertheless, we continue to allow the gun lobby to jeopardize the safety of the American people. Isn’t it obvious that we need to balance the right to own guns with the responsibility of the government to protect the people? Isn’t it more than time to get weapons designed for war out of the hands of citizens? Isn’t it more than time that we hold our elected representatives who have sold out to the gun lobby responsible for their unwillingness to balance our right to safety with the right to gun ownership?

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The Janus Case

As expected, the United States Supreme Court has taken the Janus case, a case testing whether the court’s conservative, anti-labor majority, will strike down a previous court’s precedent Affirming public sector unions’ right to collect from non-members the costs associated with bargaining and maintaining their labor contracts – the so-called agency fee. This case, like others, is part of a well-financed movement to destroy what is left of the American labor movement and making the United States a right-to-work country.

While the threat posed by the previous Friedrichs case prompted some fear motivated attention to membership organizing, I’m sorry to say that a loss in the Janus case will have catastrophic consequences for most of the education unions in the country. I have come to the view that agency fee was one of the worst things for our movement. Ironically, we put a great deal of political and bargaining effort into achieving it only to have it weaken us. With dues automatically pouring in, the pressure to engage membership grew weaker and weaker. More and more of our unions’ energy was focused on political work and hardly any effort was consistently made to build the capacity of local memberships to fend for themselves.

While I’m glad to see our unions recognizing the need for internal organizing, the fact it that it is a painstakingly slow process. It can’t simply be turned on when we need it. It’s built day to day and maintained day to day. It builds from daily reminders of the common fate of the members. It develops from the little day to day workplace victories that build confidence and pride in the growing sense of power of members. It’s magnified when management is forced to yield to a demand. It was our union’s birthright which we foolishly abandoned.

Janus is the name of the Roman god of beginnings and endings. What an ironic name for a case that may well determine the future of our labor movement.

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Upsetting the Status Quo

I’ve participated in protest demonstrations since my student days in the 60s. I led many others over my forty years of union work. Rarely was there initial broad public support for our cause, whether it was opposition to the war in Viet Nam or a demand for a fair contract for our teachers and clerical union members. I’ve never been surprised to find the majority against me. If they weren’t, there probably would be no reason to stage our protest. Protests are inherently upsetting to the status quo. Effective protests find a riveting way to focus the attention of people who are unaware or ill-informed about an issue. They seek to discomfort people in order to move them to support resolution of a problem. Watching the non-violent civil rights protestors in the South have the police turn dogs and fire-hoses on them ultimately pricked the consciences of enough Americans and our political leaders to pass laws ending Jim Crow and empowering Blacks to vote.

The African American football players who have been taking a knee in increasing numbers have clearly upset many people, including the President of the United States. Their protest exemplifies that which is best in our society, the seeking of an ever more perfect union with greater liberty and justice for all. Their protest will have been successful when and if we finally take the next steps in ensuring color-blind justice in our country. To be sure we have made progress in overcoming our original sin of slavery, but we need to be reminded that there is much more to be done to end the scourge of racism and the toll it takes on all of us.

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The Right to Healthcare

Absent from the heat of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the fact that a consensus has emerged among Americans that quality, affordable healthcare is a right. That consensus developed in response to the threat to abolish the benefits of the ACA that brought coverage to over 20 million Americans who were without insurance. If the overwhelming number of us recognize healthcare as a right, the public debate must shift to how best to provide every American with that right.

If we are to have a serious discussion about how to provide universal access to quality medical care, we need to recognize some inherent consequences that flow from understanding healthcare as a right.

Universal healthcare has to be universal. It sounds absurd to remind people of this, but, if the conversations I have been having are indicative, many of the people do not understand this. In order to achieve the objective everyone has to be in the system. On one hand, we can’t have people deciding when and if they are going to be insured. On the other hand, any system that doesn’t have universal participation will repeatedly be subject to attack from the people who don’t belong but who are paying some of the freight for others. Part of the almost universal appreciation of Social Security has been that everyone belongs, even people who don’t need the benefits. We simply have to get over the hump of recognizing that we have to have automobile insurance to drive a car but somehow need to be protected from a government mandate to require participation in our health insurance system.

If healthcare is a right, then we have to accept that the cost of it cannot be allowed to be determined by the whims of the market. We have to be able to negotiate with Big Pharma to obtain the kind of prices that other western democracies are able to achieve. We can no longer allow them to charge us extortionate prices while they use some of their obscene profits to literally buy our elected representatives. More difficult to talk about and even harder to achieve is changing the way we pay physicians. Medicine has been essentially a small business for many years. There appears to be a trend to a more corporate model with managed practices becoming more and more popular. The corporate approach sees volume as its driving force. Just the other day, I was riding on the Long Island Railroad when I looked up at an advertisement featuring my ENT physician. It may say more about me than him, but seeing him in that ad made me think less of him.

I don’t see why we can’t pay doctors like we pay police, teachers and other public servants. Being a good union guy, it should be possible for us to negotiate a fair price for their services. If we are to be fair with them, part of those negotiations will have to include dealing with the debt that many beginning physicians find themselves having accrued. Many are hundreds of thousands in debt before they begin to earn a decent income. Going forward, we need to make medical education free, thereby recognizing that it is in the interest of our society to have well-trained doctors who are not motivated by the debts they have incurred on the way to becoming physicians but rather by an interest in medicine and a concern for the people they serve.

We will also need to recognize that not all treatments are equally efficacious. It’s pretty clear that we now pay for treatments and procedures of questionable value. It can’t continue to be the case that every hang-nail requires a MRI. If agreeing to pay only for treatments with proven efficacy is rationing, then we must ration, recognizing that we ration medical care now on the basis of the kind of insurance a person has and/or the amount of money he has. How much fairer and better would be a system that took the ability to pay out of treatment decisions.

I realize that none of this discussion is about to take place in our country. We are currently governed by a Republican majority that clearly is more concerned with paying off their donors with giant tax breaks than they are with the health of the American people. Believing as I do that there is “more day to dawn” for America, I’m confident that the opportunity to have this conversation will come. I’m equally sure that progressives must be prepared to build on the consensus about the right to healthcare with ideas for a medical care system that is just and equitable to all Americans.

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Network for Public Education

In many ways the person best giving voice to the problems of public school teachers is Diane Ravitch. I have little doubt that if she were on a ballot for president of either of our two national unions to be voted on by all of the members, she would win hands down. Her efforts to push back against the corporate privatizing agenda for our public schools has been more clear, consistent and cogent than any of the work of our union leaders.

On Sunday, the Network for Public Education, an organization she founded, launched the first in a series of videos alerting the public to the dangers posed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to public education. For the first time in the history of the office, we have a secretary who does not believe in public education yet whose job is to oversee our nation’s public schools. As I write this, the video has been viewed 350,000 times, the result of skillful organizing of supporters of the Network to share the video on their social media sites, blogs and what have you. This blog post is part of my commitment to share these videos as they are published and thus promote information to arouse the public of the threat to the vital institution of public education in our country. I urge my readers to sign up to lend their support to this important effort.

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Time for Chuck Schumer to Stand Up for Working People

Are you wondering why New York’s Chuck Schumer, the Minority Leader of the United State Senate, hasn’t gotten behind Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation? Here a bit of insight. Long the darling of our state teachers union, Schumer has taken huge amounts of political contributions from sectors of our economy whose interests are inimical to those of working people. According to OpenSecrets.org, Schumer has taken the following amounts since 1989 from businesses with much to lose from taking profits out of our medical system.

Securities and Investments – $12,823,522
Lawyers and Law Firms – $8,188,027
Real Estate – $6,059,229
Insurance – $2,098,920
Health Professionals – $1,383,810

If like me you expect progressive Democrats to support health care as a right; if like me you can’t understand why most of the industrialized world grants this right to its citizens at much lower cost; if like me you can’t understand why we have a system of private insurance with huge administrative cost when Medicare operates with about a 3% administrative cost; If like me you can’t understand how a leader like Chuck Schumer from a progressive state like New York can fail to support Medicare for All, then take a few minutes and email Chuck Schumer demanding that he get behind Bernie’s bill. We all know it will be a long road before we accomplish the task of providing truly universal coverage to Americans. Good leadership can shorten that road, however.

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DACA Protest

Judi and I were pleased to march in Hicksville on Saturday with some five hundred others to protest the decision by the Trump administration to end the DACA program, the executive order by President Obama that provided a mechanism for children brought to this country illegally by their parents to live, go to school and work in our country. It was heartening to see so many people willing to give up a precious Saturday morning to express their outrage at the anti-immigrant policies of the current administration.

Hicksville is a very appropriate place to have held this march. Increasingly, it is an immigrant community. As we marched from the Hicksville Long Island Railroad station to the Governor’s office on Old Country Road, immigrants working in various shops and buildings along the route came out to applaud us, obviously moved by the support of the marchers for the cause of justice for immigrants. Their response reminded me of just how unwelcoming our country must seem to all immigrants these days.

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What the Public Doesn’t Know About Teaching

Lay people have an image of public school teaching as an easy way to earn a living. You’ve heard the comments about all of the holidays teachers get; how they are done working by early afternoon; and, of course, the ten weeks of summer vacation that infuriate who have to spend most of their summer working.

As I watched the postings on Facebook of teacher friends this week as the school year began in my area, I was reminded of just how ignorant the public is of what it means to teach in our schools. Over the Labor Day weekend, teachers were commenting on their inability to sleep, the anxiety of the coming school year causing them to toss and turn. On returning to school, the comments turned to how fatigued people were feeling, their bodies reminding them of just how much energy gets sapped from a day of standing on one’s feet and finding imaginative ways to engage the minds of children whose natural inclination is to want to be elsewhere. How many members of the public know what it takes out of a person to speak publically for five or six hours a day – how physically and intellectually draining that is. That, of course, says nothing about the time taken to prepare to fill those five or six hours.

Teachers, like many in the helping professions, have a high rate of problematic children of their own. Early on in my public school teaching career, one of my students, the child of a teacher, gave me an insight that I found useful throughout my teaching days. I no longer remember what I said to her to elicit this response, but her words were a teachable moment in my career. “My fucking mother has time for everybody else’s children but no time for me.” Having something left for one’s own family after teaching all day is a struggle every teacher with a family knows.

Incidentally, teacher union leaders often wonder why it’s so hard to get people to do union work after school. Their knee-jerk answer often is that members are apathetic. Sure some are, but as surely many can’t imagine finding the energy to teach their classes, take care of their own families and in many cases go to graduate school several nights a week and volunteer to do union work on top of everything else..

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