Another Wave in the Tsunami

Rich Gibson

March 10, 2008

My colleagues on NEA staff tell me there is going to be a deluge of anti-school worker union attacks coming from a group called the Center for Union Facts. The center is going to initiate a million dollar campaign, they say, to promote pay-for-performance, high stakes exams, demand a still more regimented curricula, etc. Since they have been pretty good sources, I think what they warn about is probably true.

Not being a fully dedicated conspiracy theorist, I hesitate to note that there are two articles in the NY Times that seem to buttress the case the Center is making, a couple of days early. Here is one of them, and below is my response to the Times. I keep hacking away, but I have used up my submissions for the two months the Times allows, so it may never see print (they do put additional stuff on their web site and seem to suspend the rule for that).

I won't be among those defending the policies of the teacher unions, nor their leadership, but it is clear that the march on teacher pay/benefits and the assault on kids' minds is going to a faster beat, perhaps because of the many economic crises and failed wars that now bang on every schoolhouse door. Events are moving faster than even I, always willing to say the sky is falling, guessed. Whatever your views on the unions, there are many things you can do to counter this coming attack, including letters to editors of local papers, submitting editorials (Joe Lucido is a model for that), etc. And you can subscribe, donate to, and write for Substance News.

We need to step up the resistance. Some of us will be at the Rouge Forum Conference March 14-16 and the Chavez Conference in Fresno at the end of the month as well. We need to raise the level of the fightback now, press those opt-outs with the lead of Calcare, and more still.

We know concessions don't save jobs. The ruin of the UAW proves that. Concessions are like feeding blood to sharks. The bosses only want more.  When they say "Cutback," we need to be ready to say, "Fightback," and hand the bosses all the civil strife we can. Not one step back. No wage cuts. No layoffs. No giving up health benefits. Nothing. In fact, we want more pay, better benefits, books, supplies, lower class seize, and a just tax system: tax the rich. This is a piece in a coming Counterpunch describing why and how we can win.


Re Teaching Change by Andrew Rotherham:

Rotherham argues that teacher union contracts are roadblocks to school reform. He praises the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten for backing pay-for-performance schemes, pay for test scores and suggests similar maneuvers will re-energize unionism.  Nonsense.

Teachers, among the last people in the US with health benefits and fairly predictable pay,  are also the most unionized people in the US, about 5 million in the huge National Education Association and the smaller AFT. Both unions’ bosses embrace what they call, "New Unionism, " the unity of business, government, and labor leaders in the national interest, abolishing the reason people join unions: the contradictory interest of employees and employers. Both union’s leaders called for and backed what became the No Child Left Behind Act, betraying the interests of kids and their members.

Neither union’s leadership has done anything significant to halt the three major thrusts into schooling today: the regimentation of the curricula through one-view-fits-all standards; the oversight of the standards via high-stakes exams which measure little but class, race, and subservience; and the militarization of k12 and university life.

There is a vast gulf between the unions’ top officials and the rank and file. NEA’s president makes more than $450,000 a year and hasn’t taught for decades, demonstrating why it is he might be fully energized, live and think differently from a new teacher burdened with school debts, living and teaching in a trailer.

Pay-for-performance will divide educators, make all education more inequitable. Teachers in poor areas will be hit first, losing jobs, wages, and health benefits. That’s already happening. Teachers in wealthier areas will be next; an injury to one preceding an injury to all.

The presidents of NEA and AFT don’t need re-energizing. What is needed is the vision of solidarity unionism, new organizations that include educators, parents and kids, and direct action on the job to restore the ability to teach the things that are nearly illegal in school today: labor, the methods of rational knowledge, love and sensuality, and freedom.