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.