February 10, 2008

Union leadership, euphemistically speaking

If a leader follows the hearts of the people, then yes, he really is their leader. If, on the other hand, he wilfully choose NOT to read their hearts, then he disqualifies himself de facto. Which is, of course, what’s happened at the UFT.

Apart from salary, the things that really mean something to teachers have not been on this “leadership’s” top-10 list for a long time.

Smaller classes, autonomony in the classroom, mini- instruction on ed methodology and technical equipment as needed (not staff development, because people with an MA and tenure have already been developed enough for a lifetime, and they’re no less capable than other professionals of finding refresher courses on anything they like if and when they think they need them), proper alternative environments for resistant and angry students who destroy learning for dozens of others in each class, a workday at school that really takes into account the amount of stuff that has to be done at home when you do the job properly, a full summer vacation, a way to fight back against lies and injustices without going to the crap-shoot of arbitration, and the kinds of things that put the art of teaching back into the hands of teachers. Yikes, I didn’t think the list was that long.

I’m swearing off the term "leadership" from now on. These people have proven time and time again that their sole mission is damage control, and I don’t call that leadership.

But, please do not go to the people to tell them whom you’re going to back in an election and expect them to follow you, like when you know you’re on your own political quest (see the posting "Hillary calling", which has the audacity to imply the senator’s phonecall at the DA was not pre-planned). Do not go to the people artificially, like when you set up the public governance meetings being held this month (announced here) on whether to support mayoral control when it runs out in 2009: that’s four months after you already held task force meetings on this subject in the early fall to pretty much figure out your position, no? Do not pretend that protests were formulated in your own offices, like the candlelight vigil in late November, which you first rejected, then jumped on board with
when it suited your purposes (back story in Ednotes here and here). Do not go to the people after another caucus proposed a resolution and try to pass it off as your own, like ICE’s resolution on letters in the file, which you co-opted at the last DA.

The UFT is not being run by a leadership. They're merely controllers:

Controller: “One who, or that which, controls or restrains; one who has power or authority to regulate or control; one who governs."

Put in this light, we can’t depend on any of our current union “leaders” to keep our interests at heart, just like you wouldn’t expect anything from a principal. Maybe we should stick with the old term for these kind of people, the union “boss,” with all its negative connotations:

The thing about Weingarten — apart from the slimy, covert things she does (which is of course no small thing) — is that she also has no gravitas. When she’s standing in front of an audience and pretends she’s clarifying things for us, she’s actually just sandbagging. We follow her words, sort of, but they don't seem to ring true. When she thinks she’s scoring rhetorical points, her voice rises to squawking-pitch, her hands fly about, and it all seems like a con job, conceived in self-promotion and poorly executed. It is uncomfortable to watch, and it is just no good for building union.

Leadership should not only be dignified, it should mean something more than damage control.
Leaders have a real idea of whom and what they represent. They feel the pain from the inside, and they build a machine to take on all comers.

To stand up to this chancellor and all the rest of corporate America who want the public to shut up and just go away, a leader has to know how to read the winds at his back, then run with them. More importantly, he has to really want to.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Randi and gang are more interested in their political future than what is important to the classroom teacher.

    If the union really cared the "rubber rooms" would not be overflowing and ATR's would be few not many.

    Talk is cheap but action is wanting.