Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Thoughts on Friedrichs

I am not going to explain all the nuances in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, because frankly, I don't know them all myself. What I do know is that a group of ten teachers in California is arguing before the Supreme Court that they should not have to pay any union dues at all, even though they benefit from collective bargaining. Their rationale is that because public unions negotiate with the government, they are inherently political organizations, and therefore impinge on the free speech of members who don't agree with them.

I'm not a lawyer, because if I was I'd have a better car, but I see a lot of flaws in this argument. For example, one would have to say that political campaigns are inherently political, as well, yet this same Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that it was perfectly OK for billionaires to spend as much as they want to elect officials who will do their bidding. This effectively drowns out the free speech of people like myself, who don't have the funds to compete with the Koch brothers. So it appears that the Roberts' court believes the First Amendment is absolute, as long as you have lots and lots of cash, or you are a puppet of those who do, like the teachers in the Friedrichs case.

The teachers in Friedrichs are arguing that since the union is political and represents them, they shouldn't have to pay anything because they disagree with their union's politics. This seems like a perfect argument as to why the Supreme Court should strike down the income tax. Obviously, everything the government does is inherently political. I pay plenty of taxes to reap the benefits of this society, but I totally disagree with a lot of the things that the government does. Why should I pay for the illegal wars of the Bush family, or for a ridiculously large military when I am a pacifist? Taxes are the price I pay to be a part of this greater Union of the United States, but if Friedrichs prevails, why should anyone pay?

You might argue that I am free to leave the country, or to vote in new leaders who better represent my views. But that's exactly what the teachers in the Friedrichs case could do, as well. If you don't want to teach in a unionized school, don't do it. Leave. Go teach in a private or parochial school. Half the states are "right to work" states where there are no unions (and lower pay and fewer benefits). And as for voting, union members can vote in new leaders who better represent their own views if they choose to. None of their rights will be abridged.

Now to some practical matters. What happens when teachers are allowed to opt out of union dues? Exactly what contract will they be bound by? Will they be entitled to the same pay and benefits of those of us who pay our dues? By what authority? And what happens when their contractual rights are violated? Will the union be forced to defend people who aren't supporting the union?

Will non-members be allowed to "buy-in" to the union when they need it--like when a rogue principal or AP goes after them? That would be akin to allowing someone to buy health care after they get sick, while the rest of us pay in sickness and in health.

I've been a pretty harsh critic of the UFT at times, but I know that without them, I would likely be unemployed rather than retired in relative comfort. I was targeted by one the worst, and frankly stupidest, principals I have ever met because of my union activities. I testified against him at a fellow teacher's 3020a hearing. Had it not been for my union, I'd have been fired on the spot. Now that I am collecting my pension, my dues seem like a pretty good investment.

Of course, the teachers in the Friedrichs case think they are the best teachers ever, so nothing like that could ever happen to them. They are so wonderful that they don't need a union. They will just burst into the DOE, and by virtue of their glowing excellence, demand better pay and working conditions than the union could ever get them. And the DOE will give them what they want, because they are such outstandingly wonderful educators that one day they will vanish in flash of light and end up teaching Danielson high atop a mountain in the Himalayas.

If Friedrichs prevails, I am hoping that every teacher gives the ruling a big middle finger and continues to pay dues. But what of those who decide they'd rather keep the ten Bennies a year rather then support their fellows?

If it were me, I would not even talk to such a person. They are the moral equivalent of scabs, and should be treated as such. If they leave us to pay dues while they take a free ride, why should we help them out in the least? I wouldn't share a lesson plan, a crumbling piece of chalk, or even a glance with such a person.

That should be the UFT's position should Friedrichs come to pass. You're either a dues payer, or you aren't. If you are, you're entitled to everything the union has to offer. If not, you're on your own.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Les Miserables---On Going Back to Work

Nothing for me to say here. Just watch. (if you can't stand the blather, skip to the 1:20 mark).

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Worst Person on the Planet

Arne Duncan was the first to say it. He said that Hurricane Katrina was the "best thing that happened" to education in New Orleans. So what, he seemed to be implying, if a bunch of people died? They were mostly poor black people, and it's important to implement your charter school wet dreams no matter what. If some minorities have to drown, well, that's the price ol' Arne was willing to pay.

You'd think everyone would have learned that it isn't a good idea to root for death and destruction in order to implement your "reform" plans. And you'd really think that no one would be stupid enough to echo Arne Duncan's idiocy on the tenth anniversary of Katrina.

Enter Kristen McQueary of the Chicago Tribune, with her knuckles dragging. She wrote an Op Ed for the Tribune that looked wistfully back at Katrina, and wished a similar fate on the residents of Chicago. Here's part of what she said:

I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops...That's what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

Nice, huh? And she tips her hand in the next paragraph (italics mine):

An underperforming public school system saw a complete makeover. A new schools chief, Paul Vallas, designed a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur. No restrictive mandates from the city or the state. No demands from teacher unions to abide. Instead, he created the nation's first free-market education system.

Yep. That's the giveaway. Katrina was fine--as long as it did away with those nasty teachers' unions and put the "free market" (i.e., hedge fund billionaires) in command.

This is why our unions should not be dealing--ever--with the proponents of "reform", like Duncan, Gates, Eva Moskowitz, or Campbell Brown. They don't give a damn what happens to people, including the kids they claim to be "saving". To them, anything goes as long as they can break the back of the unions and scoop up the lion's share of educational dollars for themselves.

Kristen McQueary offered a non-apology for her tirade, claiming that she was engaging in "metaphor and hyperbole", and basically that the great unwashed really didn't understand the point she was making or how she was making it.

No, Ms. McQueary, we know exactly what you were doing. And the reason you didn't offer an apology for your reprehensible words was that you are not sorry you said them.

That makes you the worst person in the world.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Christie Gets Booed

It appears that Chris Christie got booed as he tried to present an award to the winner of a horse race.

Apparently, the crowd was confused as to why there were two horses' asses in the winner's circle at the same time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Of Pensions and Christie

Would you buy a used pension from this man?
We just recently purchased new vehicles for my wife and daughter. We went to a total of five dealerships for those two cars. We found that two of the dealers were fair, in the sense that they did not try to hold us upside down by the ankles and shake money from our pockets like the others did.

The shadier dealers tried every trick in the book on us, including the old "Ask Three Questions to Get Them in a YES Frame of Mind" trick, which goes like this:

Salesman: Wasn't Adolph Hitler a terrible person?
Us: Yes.

Salesman: Weren't those 9/11 terrorist attacks awful?
Us: Yes.

Salesman: Wouldn't you like me to put you in this new car TODAY??
Us: We're outta here.

As awful as some of our experiences were, we ended up with two good deals, meaning they agreed to give us a car for a reasonable price and we agreed to pay them approximately forever.

Imagine now, if you will, the worst car dealer ever. He gets you to agree to purchase a very expensive car by offering you a great trade in. He takes the old car, but never delivers the new car. And he goes to court to make sure he never has to give your promised vehicle, and that you have to make the payments even though you got nothing.

Meet car dealer extraordinaire: Chris Christie. Except it isn't phantom cars he's pedaling--it's phantom pensions.

Four years ago, Chris Christie decided that he could no longer fund the state pension system, because he needed to give the taxpayers' money to the rich to buy diamond encrusted saddles for their polo ponies, and for taxpayer funded helicopter rides to his son's baseball games. So what happened was exactly what would happen to you if you stopped paying for your car. They repossessed New Jersey.

Just kidding, of course. Only the common people get things taken from them when they don't meet their obligations. What really happened was that Christie reached a deal with NJ's public employee unions, in which he agreed to make those payments if the unions agreed to pay more into the pension fund themselves.

For four years, the unions have dutifully paid their agreed portion, but Christie decided he did not have to actually do what he agreed to do. He stopped making payments. So this time around, they really did repossess New Jersey.

Just kidding again. What really happened was that Christie was taken to court and ordered to make the payments on the law he signed. End of story, right?

Well, no. He went to the NJ Supreme Court, which decided in its infinitesimal wisdom that it could not force Christie to make the 1.57 billion dollar payment he promised to make. Instead, the court said the governor and legislature--the ones who wrote the law in the first place--should figure it all out and fix the problem.

This is akin to the car dealer mentioned above. He takes what you had, gives you nothing new, and forces you to make payments for years. When it gets to court, the judge decides that the salesman and his manager should go back and figure out what to do about it.

In the mean time, public employees are keeping up their end, because they can not just stop paying in the money they agreed to like they're the governor or something.

This should be a cautionary tale for all public employee members. Never, EVER, agree to pay into the pension fund, because if you do, there is already a judicial precedent that the state does not have to hold up their end, but you do.

As things stand right now, New York is not in any serious danger of this happening, as the public employee pension systems and TRS are pretty solvent, mostly because our previous governors went to their kids' baseball games by land. But beware--now that the precedent has been set, you can bet Cuomo is working on his spiel already:

Cuomo: Aren't pensions a wonderful thing?
Unions: Yes.

Cuomo: Aren't you glad you can retire at 57?
Unions: Yes.

Cuomo: Wouldn't you like to contribute a portion of your salary to make sure things stay that way?

Our answer should be a resounding NO. Even if he throws in free rustproofing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Deflategate vs. Inflategate

You might have heard, if you live on this planet, that Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was found guilty of cheating because his people deflated footballs before the AFC Championship Game with the Indianapolis Colts.

This isn't the first time the Patriots have cheated, either. There was the infamous Spygate scandal, in which the Pats filmed the defensive signals of the Jets. It's difficult to blame them, because we all know how hard it was to defeat the 2007 Jets. /sarcasm

So, we have serial cheaters here in the Pats and Tom Brady. In the latest Deflategate scandal, Brady was hit with the truly harsh penalty of having to miss a quarter of the season--four games--without pay, which he will presumably spend with his supermodel wife. After that, he will go back to being a quarterback and continue making millions. How will he ever manage to recover?

Why bring this up? I think it's noteworthy to compare it to another cheating scandal--the one in Atlanta. In 2013, 35 educators in Atlanta were accused of cheating on a high stakes test by getting together and changing student answers in order to inflate scores. Let's call it Inflategate.

There are many similarities between these cases. Brady conspired with his equipment people to violate the rules, while Atlanta teachers conspired to increase test scores. Brady refused to cooperate with investigators and claimed to be innocent, and twelve Atlanta teachers refused to accept plea deals. All of them presumably did their misdeeds in order to gain an unfair advantage.

So it's safe to assume that the Atlanta teachers got a penalty at least somewhat similar to Brady, right? A fine, and a suspension for a quarter of a school year without pay so they could spend time with their supermodel spouses?

Well, no. These are teachers. Teachers are not held in the high esteem that Tom Brady is. Teachers have the meaningless task of educating our children, while Tom Brady has the highest calling one can have--throwing pigskin with accuracy.

So the judge in the Atlanta case hit three of the educators with the harshest penalties he could. Found guilty of racketeering, he sentenced them to twenty years in prison of which they would serve seven, 2000 hours of community service, and a $25,000 fine. But never fear--the judge had a change of heart and decided that these educators would only have to serve three years in prison.

Both of these cases featured people who conspired to cheat--one with balls and one with bubbles. Yet the outcomes could not have been more different. So what lesson can we learn here?

If you're going to cheat, it helps a lot to be rich. Brady got a slap on the wrist, while the guys who did the deflating have already been put out of work, although they've not been put in jail.

The Atlanta teachers had several other strikes against them. First, they were mostly black. Second, they were predominantly female. Most damning of all, of course, is that they were teachers, and it has been open season on teachers for quite some time now.

I don't condone what the educators in Atlanta did. Not at all. But whatever monetary gain they received or job security they obtained pales in comparison to what Brady and the Cheatriots got--namely a Superbowl win and all the financial benefits that accrue from that.

Cheating pays if you're rich. Just ask Tom Brady, or Alex Rodriguez. While you're at it, ask all the bankers who benefited from bringing this country to its knees financially while the poor and middle class suffered from a recession and unemployment. How many of you teachers out there lost a bundle when Wall Street tanked the economy? You know how many of those rich bastards went to jail for selling what they knew were junk securities?

That's right. None.

If you're rich, you can conspire to deflate footballs--no problem. Ditto if you're rich and deflate the economy--they'll just take taxpayer money to bail you out.

Inflate some scores? It's a long stretch in the pokey for you.

That's the American way.

EDIT AND UPDATE: In perhaps the stupidest thing I have read in a LONG time, it seems that an apparently mentally unstable Pats fan as started a GoFundMe page to help the Pats pay that whopping $1 millon fine. This is great news, as Pats owner Robert Kraft only has an estimated fortune of 4.3 BILLION dollars. Hey, stupid Pats fan, this is why the country is going to hell in a hand basket. You're trying to bail out a man who could pay a million dollar fine EVERY DAY for the next 11.78 years before he went broke. He would likely not start a GoFundMe page to hire someone to spit on you if your hair was on fire.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

By Georges! The Truth about Teaching and the UFT

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."--George Orwell, Animal Farm

SPOILER ALERT: The above quote is the last line of Animal Farm, by George Orwell. If you haven't read it, you should. If you have not, here's the summary in SWBS form (the way many English teachers show kids how to summarize--Somebody Wanted But So). Here we go: The animals on Farmer Jones' farm were being abused, so a pig named Napoleon wanted to take over the farm and run things the right way, but once he got into power, he became just like Farmer Jones, so the animals were just as bad off as they were before.

Animal Farm was originally intended to satirize Stalinism, but it applies as much to teaching and the UFT today. The UFT was organized to stop the abuse of teachers, and for a while, it did. As the union gained power, however, they stopped giving a shit about teachers and only worried about keeping themselves in power.

Can you deny this sentence: "The teachers looked from Mulgrew to Cuomo, and from Cuomo to Mulgrew, and from Mulgrew to Cuomo again, but already it was impossible to say which was which"?

Cuomo and Mulgrew both support Common Core, the teacher evaluation system, Race to the Top, and charter schools (the UFT ran two).

In the last gubernatorial race, Mulgrew could have chosen to endorse Zephyr Teachout, who was relentlessly pro-teacher and against the testing craze that is sweeping our state and destroying our profession. Instead, Mulgrew stayed neutral, refusing to throw his support behind the one candidate who would have supported public schools.

So why didn't he support Teachout? Because the very last thing the UFT wants is a thoughtful, activist base of members who understand the issues and are willing to fight for themselves. If teachers actually protested things, they might just take in into their heads to protest against a union that sells of huge chunks of our rights in exchange for keeping the membership stupid and inactive.

Hearkening back to Animal Farm, Mulgrew looks at every teacher as Boxer. The workhorse of the farm, with little brainpower, Boxer's solution to every problem was to say "I will work harder" and to claim the Napoleon was always right. Of course, Boxer was worked nearly to death and his retirement gift was a trip to the slaughterhouse.

So, how are YOU like Boxer? Every year, you are asked to work harder and harder. If you just keep working harder and doing what Napoleon...err...Mulgrew says, you'll get that sweet retirement. But maybe you won't. Under Mulgrew's "leadership", you can work your ass off and if you get rated ineffective you can be, in effect, summarily fired. And what are we up to now...Tier 27? How many of you will actually get to retirement, and how many will be discarded after years of hard work?

Some of you no doubt will stand up for Mulgrew--especially those of you who are chapter leaders who've taken a loyalty oath, or those of you who stay informed through the union newspaper. But what has he done to get the membership out there? Virtually nothing, other than ask you to tweet your displeasure at the governor with clever hashtags.

Many of you will spend 6 days in the next two weeks administering and proctoring tests that will determine whether you'll have a job. Fifty percent of your evaluation will be based on how well your kids do on these tests--or 100% if you are rated ineffective on test scores.

What could Mulgrew have done? He could have latched on to the growing displeasure among parents with non-stop testing. He could have asked teachers to give up 10 minutes a week to leaflet parents after school, informing them of their right to opt their kids out of testing. Remember, parents and voters mostly approve of the job teachers are doing, and overwhelmingly disapprove of the job legislators are doing. We could have brought Pearson to its knees and made the evaluation system a joke.

But we did nothing, other than tweet #allkidsneed and #inviteCuomo. You can see what an impact that has made as you check your kids for #2pencils.

Mulgrew did nothing because he wants nothing to change. He wants you to be a big, stupid workhorse like Boxer who will do what he is told and quietly go to slaughter. When you are finished, there will be someone new from whom to collect those sweet union dues that will keep paying for Mulgrew's chauffeur and those wonderful conventions and soirees.

And now for the harshest truth of all: Most of you deserve this. You had it in your power to throw Mulgrew out in the last election, but 80% of you were too apathetic to vote, and of those of you who did vote, an overwhelming majority chose to give Mulgrew your support. And, I'm sorry to say, the same thing will most likely happen again in the next election. Most of you will vote the Unity slate like good little soldiers, provided you vote at all. Have fun on your trip to the slaughterhouse!

You may think there's little you can do, but you're wrong. Many, if not most, of the people in my school voted for MORE in the last election, mainly because I did a LOT of talking to people who otherwise would have not voted or voted for Unity. You can be that person in your school. If every school had just one person speaking out and speaking the truth about what's happening, it could make a world of difference.

You should be able to look at your union leader and a neo-liberal, anti-union governor like Cuomo and see the difference.

Apropos of the title of this blog post, I leave you with the words of another George--one named Carlin. These are his words as he described corporate America. I have made a few changes, in bold, so you can see how it applies to teachers today. (NSFW):

The union doesn't want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That's against their interests.
That's right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the teacher's lounge and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!
You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to teach the kids and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits,...and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it....They’ll get it all from you sooner or later cause they own this fucking place! Its a big club, and you ain’t in it!  You, and I, are not in the big club...
...The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cock suckers who don’t give a fuck about you….they don’t give a fuck about you… they don’t give a FUCK about you.