Saturday, December 1, 2007

Democracy or demogoguery, that is the question

There’s a disclaimer on one of the local education blogs that recently caught me up short:
[This blog is] a place where members, public education advocates and others can express opinions in an effort to establish an agora of informed commentary on public education and labor issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the UFT .....
If you haven't identified the source, it’s posted on, the official blog of Unity cau—, oops, the United Federation of Teachers.

I’m not really sorry for confusing the two, because they want you to confuse the two.

It’s an interesting word they’ve used in the first sentence of this disclaimer: “agora,” which of course means marketplace. So, I guess in one sense the blog is being fairly honest about what it’s setting out to do, which is to “sell” the Unity line. That makes it a lot easier for the leadership to go about selling off pieces of the contract.

While some of those “others” they talk about will indeed be allowed to express their opinions, a whole bunch of other “others” might just as well go out bowling, at least when they try to post a comment about Unity’s role in the demise of the profession.

A couple of us in the cyberworld have already noted that our more critical comments to various Edwize posts have been taken down pretty quickly. In fact, I suspect the whole purpose of the column on the right, the one that gives snippets of the most recent comments, is to make excision even more efficient. It only takes a nanosecond to spot a comment critical of Weingarten, Leo Casey, Zahler, et al., and a few seconds more to remove it, and I mean entirely, because unlike a lot of monitored blogs that actually tell you when something’s been removed, in Edwize it’s just gone. Poof! Didn’t happen. No one disagreed with us. Yeah, democracy!

Maybe I'm wrong. After all, here's Leo Casey in August 05:
Our friends at EDUWONK express some astonishment that the UFT would produce a blog with a comments sections, allowing readers to express disagreement, as well as agreement, with the UFT and its policies. They chuckle that we will regret such a choice. Maybe that’s because they still haven’t figured out that teacher unions are democratic institutions, and that we consider dissent a necessary component of democratic conversation. There are no guarantees, of course, that a particular dissenting voice will be thoughtful or constructive, but space for the expression of dissent is necessary so that those voices which fit this description can be heard. . .

Our advice to EDUWONK: Democracy — Try It. You might like it.

Democracy or demagogery, that is the question.

If the leadership cared enough about BOE discrimination against members belonging to employee organizations to protect them contractually (Article 2, Fair Practices), why should we get something less from the union itself?

I realize there are two different kinds of discrimination here, one relating to an adversarial relationship between boss/employee and the other to treatment at the hands of supposed ally whom we are paying with our dues.

But, that’s just the point. The UFT is not much of an ally anymore. They’ve gone down too many wrong paths with their compounded givebacks, charter schools, merit bonus schemes, etc., and their mistakes actually hurt us and decimate the ranks. When we post harsh criticisms of their positions, they remove them and pretend nobody really feels this way.

One could make a case that Edwize is accessible to the blogosphere and members shouldn't be airing their differences in public. (Keep up a strong front, that sort of thing.) But, one could also take the position that people outside the union don’t have to be given access to the site at all, so that we could confront the leadership on political, tactical, controversial and strategic issues in private. Unity obviously doesn't want that, it’s not really in their interest, to which I’d have to respond: then call it a Unity blog and stop with all this democracy blather.

As for the column of links on the left of Edwize, glaringly missing are the sites and blogs of non-Unity caucuses (like ICE, ICEblog, ICE listserv, TJC), as well as the ones of individuals associated with them (like EdnotesOnline, Norm’s Notes, this one), teacher advocacy groups (like TAG and NYCoRE's listserv), and critical individuals (like Round Deux). That list should be pretty comprehensive, if this were a democratic union. That it is not speaks volumes.

Unity feeds on our willingness to tolerate its unilateral presence, and the censoring of critical remarks on Edwize reinforces that imagery. But no matter how many times Weingarten brandishes the mantra “Because we are a democratic union” (how that woman doesn’t choke on her own words is beyond me), it doesn't make it true. Manipulated, outnumbered, cowed, kept in the dark on a regular basis, and virtually powerless, yes, but not democratic.

N E W ! E X P A N D . Y O U R . K N O W L E D G E
on all things Leo and censorship.

See great posts on same at LeoGate (EdnotesOnline), which includes an analysis of what passes for Unity elections and also refers you over to another Leo story at NYCEducator (where censorship is mentioned in the comments section).



Leo said...

I can't believe you conspiracy guys still think there is censorship on Edwize. I've posted a number of comments and haven't been censored yet.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Woodlass, what you've written is absolutely true!

But your article merely serves to send me into further despair: if your are right and it is so easy to "lead" the membership in the way the current UFT leadership is doing, what use or hope is there of changing what really needs to be changed?

Personally, I've speculated that these horrible problems arose because from its very beginning the leadership did not know how to effectively and efficiently deal with an incredible diversity of opinion. Instead to maintain control of its power an arrogant policy of censorship was implemented that continues to this day. (Isn’t in interesting that the DOE currently has the very same problem?)

However, we do have every indication that the union leadership does pretty much know what people really think but for some reason they have been unable to figure out how to effectively manage that diversity and instead continues a policy that presents the face of, ahem, unity.

I would imagine that, in the end given the numbers, almost any leadership would need to use some kind of statisticalyl based tactical management e.g. using formal and informal surveys and polls to understand what the membership wants and then some kind of spin machine to convince enough members so that whatever the largest acceptable minority opinion is becomes the party line.

Nevertheless, for the life of me I can't really understand why this union leadership isn't adamantly pro-member and anti-administration: particularly anti this administration. (Or is this also the consequence of statistical, tactical management? What a chilling thought!!)

Woodlass, what do you propose we do to change this?

Personally I think to change this union “we” need to change the attitude and thought processes of the membership, and this is not an easy task, but is, in the end THE task.

Woodlass said...

To Leo: A comment of mine was removed twice this past month.

Who ever talked about a "conspiracy"? Manipulative, she sure is. Breaks Roberts Rules, all the time. Two-faced and secretive? For sure.

Like how did she come up so fast with that collaborative "Thank a Teacher" campaign with Klein somewhere between the Candlelight Vigil (Nov.26) and the day she mentioned it in her letter to the NY Observer (Nov.30)? That's DEEPLY suspect right there. She didn't mention at the ATR meeting a week earlier, nor at the rubber room meeting the week or two before that.

You can't mount a city-wide UFT/DOE campaign in 3 or 4 days. You have to have thought about, laid it out, and calculated the costs over a much longer period of time, which means she was two-facing us all along. She announced it her convenience, which certainly wasn't ours, who had been badgering her about teacher abuse for years (ICE, TJC, etc.) and heavily this summer (way more than just these).

By the way, that plan helps Klein way more than us. It's actually worth diddley-squat to the rank and file.

Woodlass said...

Darn it, I took that first Leo post seriously – not Casey, just another Leo.
Now I see it's a joke. Oops.
Gotcha on me.

NYC Educator said...

Actually, Eduwonk recently added a comment section. He's yet to delete any of my comments. Edwize has deleted a bunch of them. I don't think you're allowed to mention Unity anymore, as that's politics. However, Leo Casey bashing Jeff Kaufman and ICE on the front page is just fine.

yomister said...

I'm so confused at the moment. I went to edwize to comment on another special education teacher's research methodology. It was to piggy-back off of another comment earlier in the week which was in no way overtly critical of the original post. Poof! That comment had disappeared.

Gosh. We can't even discuss and share research methodology? Isn't action research an important (if not critical) component to teacher development (for those that choose and have an interest in such)?

But I guess being "professionals" precludes us from discussing and critiquing pedagogical research conducted by our peers.

Edwize? Eddumb.

Joel said...

Hey, I linked to you over at So You Want To Teach? in the 148th Carnival of Education but it didn't trackback correctly. Sorry about that.