Let us trace an honest teacher, you for example, through some of the new opportunities of school reform. You must make a series of choices. You make $35,334 yearly, the national average. [NEA Today, 9/93.] You've taught for 10 years in an urban school. You became an educator to make things a little better, but classes grow dull. You work from a (new) basal textbook. Your performance is largely untraced and unappreciated other than your kids' test scores and the level of noise that rarely spills into the hallway. You can make $38,000 if you take three more kids in your class of 30. Agreed? You can get away from the classroom for an hour or so if you join a "quality team" that lets you spend some time discussing the direction of your school with other school workers. You can receive a bonus for the "quality" work. Interested? You can attend meetings in pleasant surroundings with important local officials. They will provide you with input and the chance to make more choices. You only need to agree that you're all professionals in the same boat. Why not? You can evaluate other teachers, many of whom you've privately heard are not up to snuff, and be put in a position to give pedagogical and curricular advice to them and their principals. For this, there is free training--away from your school. You can instruct colleagues on how to get kids through tests which they'll have to pass anyway if they're to get on in life. You will be important. And you will be paid more still. You can make contacts for a greater career, perhaps become an official in your professional association. You'll be able to dress more professionally, move up a ladder of certification, pay and recognition and you'll be recognized by influential people as a leader. You may be able to work with powerful politicians to devise new tax systems to fund school reform. All you have to do is help stratify your kids a little more--something the budget and tests really do anyway, press the idea of common goals and unity of everyone involved in schools, accept a few changes in your union contract--perhaps the right to grieve caps on class size, and urge on the solidarity of all the people of our nation. For this, you'll take criticism from some dissidents who, you're told, are simply selfish, greedy, and probably unprofessional--out of step with the newest trends in professional unionism.
Absent an analysis of the past and a vision of the future, you may make choices driven by the prevailing wind, choices overwhelmed by a context you might never see. Marjorie Murphy's, Blackboard Unions, the AFT and the NEA, 1900-1980, and Charles Kerchner's and Julia Koppich's, A Union of Professionals, offer support for one option: just say yes.
Kerchner and Koppich, in an edited volume about school reform in a dozen mostly urban districts, are clear on the imperative direction of teacher unions. In this review of school reform, Koppich says the future "professional unionism is anchored in three mutually reinforcing tenets: joint custody of reform, union-management collaboration, and concern for the public interest." [ Kerchner, Charles T., and Koppich, Julia E., A Union of Professionals , (1993). Teachers College Press. In this review, "K" followed by a page number will reference this book.] (K-194).
Koppich's invitation is somewhat buttressed by an analysisof the past in Blackboard Unions where Murphy suggests that the explanatory issues of teacher organization are professionalism and centralization, two wedges she believes help explain the underpinnings of the past and, hence, what lies ahead for school associations.
But an examination of the history and project inside the forecasting of Kerchner-Koppich, and a more insightful analysis of the context of schools, the NEA and AFT, might give education workers a better idea of which way the wind has blown--and what it means to drift along.
Margaret Haley, a teacher activist in the early 1900's, taught against the wind.(M-281) Her work differed dramatically from the recommendations in Professional Unionism and stands well outside the current mainstream of educator organizing. Yet her strengths and weaknesses could be instructive for teachers today. Haley organized rank and file educators, not for cooperation but struggle. She built a base among teachers and parents in her Chicago community. She fought sexist pay differentials and for more pay in general, not via an increase of taxes on poor and working people, but by taxing businesses and their profits--and exposing the corrupt relationships of businesses and the schools. She battled for democracy in her union, and succeeded in ensuring a prominent role for women. Murphy quotes a dying Haley as saying, "Class consciousness is what we missed in our organizing work" [ Murphy, Marjorie, (1989). Blackboard Unions, the AFT and NEA, 1900-1980 , Cornell University Press. In this review, an "M" followed by a page number will reference this book.] (M-155). What we have, then, are fundamentally different proposals for the direction of teacher organizing, two competing beacons. Which one was raised by the pirates? That can only be answered with an understanding of the social context of school.
Consider the breadth of school. There are 15,274 public school districts in the United States. In those schools are 41,838,871 students, 2,431,008 teachers. In addition there are about 1,400,000 non-teaching school employees such as bus drivers, cafeteria assistants, aides, mechanics and skilled trades people. Private schools house another 5,193,213 students and 354,638 teachers. [National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 1992; quoted in "Education Week", 2-5-92.] No other institution in American society, not the IRS, welfare, post office, or even the military, so influences people as schools.
Kids are the focus of school. But those who are always there, the school work force, are uniquely positioned to impel the course of school activity--and our society. School workers are among the last people in many communities who have steady jobs. They are the most highly unionized people in the U.S. More than 2.9 million of them belong to unions. The top leaders of the two unions (the National Education Association, NEA, and the American Federation of Teachers, AFT) that represent the overwhelming majority of school workers have worked quietly for more than five years to instigate a merger of the organizations, a shift nearly of proportion to the merger of the AFL and CIO.
Schools are huge markets, warehouses for children, and the centers which create a sense of hope for the future. The main value schools create, hope, is ephemeral. But it is reasonable to say that those whose stake is greatest, whose need for hope ismost desperate, are working class parents and children, especially parents and children of color.
School workers create value collectively. No one educator is the source of learning. Empowerment is necessarily rooted in gaining control of what one creates. Hence, school worker power must be founded in collective control of the construction of ideology and action, especially centered on people whose hope should be greatest, poor and working class parents and kids. The source of school worker power should be is a central issue for the historian Murphy and for Kerchner-Koppich, and for educators wanting to make coherent choices about what to do next.
Schools are propelled by money. While schools influence economies, they don't produce material goods or profits. Schools are funded by surplus value, that money left over when the workers are paid (less than the value of the product they make), the investments paid off, and machinery rebuilt. Much of that value is taken again from workers in the form of inequitable tax systems.
School funding, like the tail of a weather-vane, pushes the arrowhead in the most probable direction. In this case it points toward both material and ideological changes. With economic shifts, the ideas about why schools are there, who should learn what, who should be placed where, change--along with funding for construction, supplies, and school worker pay. The war in Vietnam was a pivotal point for the U.S. economy. It was then that North America moved from a creditor to a debtor nation.
Under Lyndon Johnson, federal school spending hit $16.2 billion. It grew to $28.5 billion under Nixon (remember, these were years of inflation following the U.S. debacle in Vietnam) and $32.3 billion under Carter. Reagan gutted federal spending on schools to $27.8 billion. In l990, Bush's appropriation was $28.5 billion. He continued a strategy designed to force the U.S.S.R. to match the U.S. dollar for dollar in the arms race and thus bankrupt the Soviets, a plan of mutual destructiveness that worked but blew back in the form of today's American economic and social collapse. Federal spending on all domestic programs , "at the end of the 1980's was 30 % lower than at the beginning of the decade...a decline of sixteen per cent in federal funds for education. [Barnet, Richard, (1-20-92). "The Disorders of Peace", New Yorker] These cuts represent the declining amount of available surplus value in the U.S. and form the basis of increasing inequality.
The federal cuts force more reliance on state and local governments and drive school systems to beg in the private sector. The immediate effect of the funding cuts, tied to the intensified political needs of powerful elites, is to widen inequality in the schools. Schools in rich neighborhoods get more. Bake sales in Beverly Hills do better than those in Watts. Schools in poor neighborhoods get less. To whatever extent schools were once integrated, school funding cuts motivate resegregation by class and race. Despite calls for professional empowerment, the realities of increased standardized testing linked to accountability, swollen class counts connected toshrinking budgets, mean children and teachers are more and more split along class lines and race--with pre-determined pasts, presents and futures. Whether through privatization or budget cuts, children and teachers are more and more bracketed; each class of child facing a pedagogy increasingly designed to create a specific status of worker--or warrior. Clearly, there are now some children we have nothing at all to offer. The ordered importance of class, race, and sex should be a sharp signal from the material world to those who are now unable to distinguish which lynch-pin of reality can explain the others. [Kozol, Jonathon, (1990) Savage Inequalities]
The eighties also witnessed an industrial collapse. Rather than reinvest in machinery and plants, entrepreneurs took profits and moved the U.S. industrial base elsewhere--usually behind a veil of patriotism that decried the loss of American jobs. The era might be best explained in the words of the former president of now-defunct U.S. Steel, who after receiving millions of dollars of concessions in wage and benefit cuts from his work force, took the money and bought a Canadian liquor company. When called to task, he said, "Look, I'm not here to make steel. I'm here to make profits."
Deindustrialization began to invert social realities. Unemployment, once almost entirely color-coded, hit double digits and, in inner cities among youth of color easily topped 50%. Mass constant unemployment became the norm for the first world. The forty hour week shattered. It became necessary for two parents to work. Overtime replaced full-time employees and some workers took multiple jobs--at less pay. Families disintegrated. Most children learned the meaning of latch-key. [Schor, Juliet (1991). The Overworked American , Basic Books, N.Y.]
The social service safety net was dismantled a piece at a time. The weakest, state mental patients were hit first. Under the guise of a humane deinstitutionalization program initiated by Carter, the mentally ill were simply thrown on the streets.
Welfare grants, the real minimum wage, the amount employers must exceed to get people to work, were slashed step by step, until massive cuts, like the closure of 90,000 cases in one day of administrative fiat in Michigan in '93, were tolerable. In nearly every case, people of color and the unorganized were hit first. The progression of attacks on the lives of most Americans should be sufficient proof that an injury to one really does precede an injury to all--most particularly that racism is a life and death question for an entire class, not simply a matter of cultural identity.
The tax system was rearranged to charge working people more heavily for services which simply oppressed them; more police, more prisons, and a massive military. Government, in former budget director David Stockman's words, became "a Trojan Horse for the rich". [ Barlett, Donald (1992) America What Went Wrong , Andrews and McMeel, Philadelphia.]
The current situation is unique. Germany, Japan, the Russia of the ex-USSR, China, the Asian powers, are rising economic and industrial powers in search of markets, raw material and cheap labor. Yet they are mostly unarmed. The U.S. is a military and technological power with no industrial base--and debts far out ofcontrol. Like a greedy hand with no bones, the U.S. must grapple for oil, workers, and buyers; a nation able to punch mighty computers but unable to field a reliable army on the ground. As the Gulf War demonstrations showed, patriotism is a thin commodity. A nation which cannot build the steel for tanks, or count on the sacrificial willingness of its population, will not do well in a protracted ground battle.
This situation will not persist. The future does not portend an era of democracy, the end of history. More likely, this is an era of desperate struggle for productive and military capacity coupled with intense ideological campaigns to win national populations to a corporatist vision ("the working class and Exxon owners have everything in common", all Americans must act as one). The struggle for minds and production is central to school reform. In some instances, political elites are willing to pay for cooperation, a velvet glove feint that serves as a distraction for the following iron fist.
School workers will necessarily play pivotal roles in the period ahead. Education employees, working in arenas that are among the few remaining focal points outside of welfare offices where people regularly interact in an organized fashion, will take leadership, either to build a new corporate state or resist it. Only schools are so strategically placed to foster the ideological and material restructuring of American society, the resurrection of a state preparing for war through the unity of business, unions, educators and administrators.
There is nothing particularly new under this sun--except that the U.S. suffers an economic decline from which there appears to be no recovery. This is no longer a nation in ascendancy. But school workers have seen this all before. The calls for unity with administrators and corporations go back as long as school itself. It is unfortunate that the Kerchner-Koppich's predictions, and Murphy's history, do so little to forewarn and forearm; the former arguing for the corporate future, the latter offering an incomplete view of the past. But no educator makes choices outside, or avoids contributing to, the developing social reality.
Kerchner-Koppich are articulate spokes-people for a significant trend in educator organizing, the corporatist view that links school workers, line educators, administrators, and businesses. I believe the choices they promote will serve to turn students and educators into instruments of their own oppression. In the name of professionalism and empowerment, they urge teachers away from the source of value they create, and real power--away from working class parents and children. Their compilation of examples of how the plan works in school is a definitive statement. [ There is a wealth of material on cooperative work plans from other arenas. For the pro side, see The Great U-Turn by Harrison and Bluestone, 1988, Basic Books. For the opposition, Slaughter, Jane and Parker, Mike (1988), Choosing Sides, Unions and the Team Concept , South End Press. Also, for an early demonstration of labor-management cooperation, Serrin, William (1973) The Company and the Union , Knopf. ] Let's examine what actually happens.
Solidarity extends--up. Teachers are split from their communities, urged to see themselves as highly trained elites. Students and parents are seen as "clients", educators as professionals. (K-203) Rather than urged to meet with parents and kids in their homes and community centers, teachers are inveigledto posh academic centers where they can study "professional" literature and meet with business and community leaders.(K-34,93) Teachers, rather than investigate corporate tax dodges and holding the companies to their fair share (a tradition initiated by Haley in the early 1900s, M-63) are invited to join politicians and businessmen in support for state lotteries.(K-168)
School workers are empowered with decisions, but only within unspoken yet clear boundaries. Since few people are likely to break the spells that make privilege a norm, teachers are systematically provided with illusions about democracy in the work place (participation on reform committees, direct contact with administrators) when in fact Kerchner and Koppich describe a dual autocracy: the union leaders and their employers. Teachers can make the most circumscribed of choices, like which textbooks will be used, team approaches, etc., but are always distanced from real decisions about enforceable maximum class limits (K-66,73,120), the abolition of textbooks, the politics of the curriculum, or the redistribution of wages between administrators, teachers and other school workers.
While there is considerable discussion about the unity of interests of parents and reform educators, teachers are required to measure the success of their empowerment with the stick of standardized tests--the bench-mark of school reform.(K-47,63,99,125) The class. race and sex bias, alienated knowledge, that drives standardized tests is well researched. What is at issue here is whether or not "professionals" will agree that they are empowered in the use of standardized exams. If it is not children or school workers who are empowered--who is?
The unions (it is unfortunate that both texts are so heavily weighted with analysis of the AFT, the more heavy handed, least sophisticated of the two unions--yet the stress on AFT does place the question in sharper relief) are urged to proclaim the commonality of interest of line educators and management--even in contracts whose legal existence would testify otherwise. (K-103,106) Indeed, the union is often posed as an outside agitator, an interloper with interests utterly different from those of the teaching force. But this meddler image ("rump groups" K-39,107,197) is attached only to unions that reject the corporatist position. When the union leadership is with the program, it's visionary; when the union leaders demur, Kerchner-Koppich offer veiled calls to circumvent them--even through the formation of external caucuses (K-188).
While there is considerable emphasis on collegiality and the commonality of teachers and their management and union leaders; it remains that only the most undemocratic of union locals are stressed here. The average tenure of the union leaders we meet is well over fifteen years. Indeed, we are presented the thought that "professional unionism' is most solid in locals where the leadership is stable, entrenched. Consensus is applied to relationships that would appear to be contradictory, those between the work force and management, but halts within theteachers' union when salary negotiations begin. Teachers are locked out of the now-secret sessions.(K-51) Nor are we encouraged to notice, indeed we are dissuaded from seeing, the crowded doorway from teacher-leader to district "consultant" or administrator--or political appointee. (K-93.) Collegiality and careerism become indistinguishable.
While teachers are counseled to see the commonalities of their own and administrators interests, teacher wages are ever more stratified, as are their real duties. It is testimony to the impecunious nature and the drudgery of teaching to tests from textbooks, that educators can be divided so cheaply and easily. Peer evaluators, in my experience often used to evaluate minority teachers in positions too delicate for administrators to touch, get time out of classrooms and relatively modest salary rewards. The superficiality of the research here is such that this tactic was never questioned. (K-70,90,108,121,171)
In this text so driven by proclamations of common interest, we are never provided a demonstration of the commonality of salaries of teachers, union leaders, parent welfare recipients, and administrators--or the businessmen who would seek to control them. It is easy to discuss selflessness when it has no price. Nor is there a budget appraisal of a single reform minded district. We are never told just how many teachers actually reached the $70,000 top of the Rochester scale. There is no analysis of the possible corporate interests of companies that purchase public schools on their premises or philanthropists who provide dollars for education centers.
Rather than careful quantitative (no analysis of drop out rates, no analysis of the progression of test scores) or qualitative analysis, we are exposed to unintelligible feel-good anecdotes (we know a teacher who, when confronted with a classroom with no pictures on the walls, bought nails and put some up--K-168) and analyses (from people who should better know which way the wind is blowing) which take the words of elites at their face value. There is virtually no investigation of the bargained contracts which rise out of the concept of teacher-elite unity, but there are clear indications that real caps on class size were never achieved, nor real control of the curriculum, nor salary equity. There are few voices of rank and file teachers here. This would explain the absence of discussion of what it is that good reform teaching is determined to be. It remains unproblematized why frameworks of literacy like whole language and outcome based projects are so easily subsumed by the corporatist plan.(K-109) It appears that the FORM of education is not a pivotal difference--in fact some methods create more sophisticated employees able to get on without too much direction--as long as the boundaries of knowledge are intact but invisible. The cynicism here has a wide net. Some of the analysis is so crude that it identifies older teachers as the problem. (K-159)
We are encouraged though, to perceive this corporatist reform as a groundswell movement--as if it rose up from innocentline educators and unattached business executives themselves, a natural progression from infantile historical beginnings through an adolescence of collective bargaining to a more mature form of professionalism. There is no analysis of the top-down system of rewards and disincentives--extending down from government, corporations and the two school worker unions--that created this movement in the beginning. Nor is there the historical sense that there is nothing new whatsoever about this program--that it has historical roots in a period briefly following the initial day of Taylorism and, outside the U.S., in post WWI Italy--and that it trails a failed U.S. auto industry where 500,000 unemployed workers may have something to say about partnership in production. The solid hint we do have is the sign on Adam Urbanski's (long-time president of the Rochester AFT, lionized in Professional Unionism) wall supporting the "Solidarity" movement of Poland. Recent exposes about Solidarity, its roots in support from the CIA, it's worship of the Polish fascist Marshall Pilsudski, and its collapse, go unmentioned.
That history is the offering we might expect from Ms Murphy in Blackboard Unions, the AFT and NEA, 1900-1980. Murphy's history uses the dual wedges of centralization and professionalism to wrench entry into understanding the process of schools and change. It would have been more useful to use sharper tools. Elitism and concentration are secondary issues, symptoms. The weight given to analyzing the AFT (never 1/3 the size of the NEA) and an aversion to thoroughly deconstructing the role of school in the capitalist state damage the possibilities for extensive examination. There is no serious analysis of the craft-union nature of AFT and NEA, or its contradictions--NEA is recruiting an ever-growing number of uncertified school personnel while AFT has branched out to organize well outside schools, in state employment for example. Some of the history here is factually ("teaching is far better integrated, in race as well as gender, than other professions"--M-265) flawed. Even so, embedded in Murphy's history are sufficient tips to give perceptive educators a basis for sound decisions. These clues make Blackboard Unions worth the effort.
The crux of school worker activity is more rightly summarized by the old union adage, "Which Side Are You On?" than whether or not teachers have pink or blue collars--or work for a huge or a tiny district. Teachers alliances with poor and working class people, and educators' frequent failure to build a base in communities of color, are the issues that can consistently explain the struggles of teacher unions. Murphy too briefly notes that the NEA lived through a long period of cooperation between teachers, administrators and corporations. As Upton Sinclair described in the Goosestep and the Goslings, the once-company union was dominated by superintendents, publishing companies and other businesses. [ Sinclair, Upton (1924), The Goslings , published by Sinclair; and The Goosestep (1923) also published by Sinclair.] It took about 100 years and the challenge of the AFT to change that.
The process of that change was set in motion by teacher-activists, many of them feminists like Margaret Haley, who foughtto reform the organizations that guide the profession. Haley's deathbed call for class consciousness was taken up by others, treated summarily by Murphy but sufficiently present to require attention. Murphy notes that the Communist Party, in 1935, initiated the Harlem Committee for Better Schools which won, "two new schools built in Harlem in 1938, a remarkable achievement," and succeeded in building an integrated movement around class size, an end to permanent substitutes and an anti-racist curriculum. (M-157,158) Interestingly, Celia Zitron, an activist in that period stressed "inter-culturalism", the unity of working class cultures--not bad advice for multi-culturalists who invert the dialectical relationship of likeness and difference. [ Zitron, Celia (1968) The New York City Teachers Union , Humanities Press, New York.]
What is made clear in Murphy is that there is a history within the school worker movement of organizing around issues of class, race, and sex which can serve as a channel marker for teachers who are serious about the choices they will confront in the period ahead. Unfortunately, Murphy misses plenty.
For example, there is some history here that is so wrong that it threatens the book. Her analysis of the Florida Teachers Strike of 1968, a bell that is still ringing in the south, is mistaken from end to end. The strike was led by Phil Constans and Dexter Hagman, Her lead actor, Braulio Alonzo had virtually nothing to do with it. The massive strike meeting was in Orlando, not Tampa. Some unedited writing ("A month later the governor agreed to special legislation but stalled by announcing a month later that he would have to wait for a special commission report" M-229) hurts the flow. Rather than a plot afoot, the national office of NEA wanted nothing to do with the strike. The essence of the Florida strike was that it was a massive outpouring of rank and file concern about the collapsing Florida education infrastructure. It focused on line educator efforts to increase taxes--on businesses and wealth. Contrary to Murphy, there was no NEA scheme to combine national lobbying and strike actions. That the strike failed was not buried by the murder of Martin Luther King. It remains a vivid memory for teachers, many of whom blame a now-prominent reformer, Miami's Pat Tornillo (memorialized in Kerchner-Ko