April 19, 2008

Moving on

A couple of emails I've received in the past few days have been so upsetting that I will be suspending this blog for the time being.

I don't recognize this country anymore.

The first email I got was about the descent of America into fascism under this president. The 14 Characteristics of Fascism outlined by Lawrence Britt in 2003 is illustrated in a short
video, but here this is his breakdown:
  • Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

  • Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

  • Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

  • Supremacy of the Military Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

  • Rampant Sexism The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

  • Controlled Mass Media Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

  • Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

  • Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

  • Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

  • Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .

  • Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

  • Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

  • Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

  • Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

  • Copyright © 2003 Free Inquiry magazine

    The second email alerted me to Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, an event sponsored by the Iraq Veterans against the War. It consists of testimony from vets and civilians about what's going on over there under our name. You can see bits of live testimony on their website and read some of the testimony in The Progressive and elsewhere. It's as chilling as it is humbling.

    The last email I got was about a new twist in the presidential campaign, and this I knew nothing about. CNN apparently mounted a Faith Forum this past Wednesday, where the candidates could elaborate their positions on religion. I heard on an Air American broadcast this afternoon that atheists, agnostics and seculars of all kinds were not permitted entry. So, not only is religion being used to vet candidates for a secular office in a country whose citizens are protected by the First Amendment, people who are not religious were barred from the event altogether. This article by Michael Hess outlines the essentials:

    CNN's "Faith Forum" an Outright Religious Test for Public Office

    Wednesday, April 16 2008

    Religious freedom organization objects to using religious faith as a litmus test for politicians seeking election

    Nearly a year ago, when CNN broadcast a presidential faith forum last June, the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a statement condemning the imposition of a religious test for public office.

    CNN has jettisoned any pretense of objectivity and professionalism by continuing to make candidates genuflect before religious leaders, parrot piety, and pledge allegiance to religion.

    The founders of our nation felt so strongly that there should be no religious test for public office that they prohibited it (see U.S. Constitution, Art. VI). That constitutional bar is meaningless in today's political climate, if politicians, in order to be electable, must not only sing in the choir, but sing from the same hymnbook. When did "faith" become a qualification, much less a prerequisite, for public office?

    Sunday's so-called CNN Faith and Politicis Compassion Forum, bizarrely taking place at the obscure Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., involved such questions from CNN's hosts as:

    "You have actually felt the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. Share some of those occasions with us."

    "Do you have a favorite bible story?"

    "So you believe God wants you to be president?"

    "Do you believe that God intervenes in hisory and rewards or punishes people or nations in real time for their behavior?"

    "Senator, if one of your daughters asked you--and maybe they already have--'Daddy, did God really create the world in six days?' What would you say?"

    "Can you tell us how he [your pastor] helped bring you closer to God?"

    This is a journalistic embarrassment, not bona fide campaign questions. CNN and hosts Campbell Brown and Jon Meacham of Newsweek should be ashamed. The event had no secular representative, but boasted as audience questioners a Catholic, a rabbi, the head of the Southern Baptists, a Muslim. Only one question (from the Muslim) mentioned nonbelievers in passing. Not all the questions were on religious topics (thankfully). But the ugly assumption of the compassion forum was that religion has a monopoly on virtue, and that nonreligious people cannot be part of a debate on compassion. CNN ought to show some compassion . . . to its thinking audience!

    While the GOP candidate, who has freely courted the religious right, felt free to skip this forum, the Democratic contenders have been so brainwashed that they fear above all being labeled irreligious if they boycott such "events." What a dismaying development. It's a no-win situation for the candidates, for (bored) viewers, and above all, for the Constitution.

    Who needs a religious-right lobby when we have the media taking over the religious agenda?

    It is no less true now than it was 5 years ago that the BoE of this great city is being run by an arrogant and venal chancellor. What he does no longer surprises me, because every decision he's made has been unsound and inexplicable. It will take a decade or more to undo the destruction — shades of Naomi Klein and her shock doctrine.

    Weingarten and Co. have disappointed and will no doubt continue to disappoint. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ed activists who will keep deconstructing her statements and strategies, and these people are very good at what they do.

    There's a lot of work to do in America, and it's time to roll up my sleeves.

    April 16, 2008

    Sheep meadow: going green at the DA

    It was a quick response our girl made this afternoon, when a member posed a question about all that paper at the Delegate Assembly that just gets thrown away and really needs to be recycled. Couldn’t bins be provided to collect it in?

    “That’s a wonderful idea,” said Weingarten, or words to that effect. “I wish I had thought of it myself.”

    Wait a minute, hold on. The papers that were giving the delegate so much grief in their un-recycled state were the handouts quite a few people go to a lot of trouble to print up. I’m not just speaking about the literature produced by ICE, TJC and the other opposition caucuses. There’s a whole range of stuff out in the lobby that people should be reading: revised agendas, minutes of the last DA, notices of union events, copies of newspaper clippings, articles, Unity materials, and other kinds of documentation.

    The delegates coming down to 52 Broadway once a month should be collecting whatever’s being distributed before the meeting and bringing it back to their schools. They should be posting it on UFT bulletin boards or in teacher cafeterias. That’s part of their job. The last thing one would expect is that a delegate to this assembly reads a handout, considers it garbage, and throws it away on the spot.

    And the last thing one would expect from the president of the union is to say: Yes, throw it away before you leave the building. Great idea. I wish I had thought of it.

    The correct answer should have been: “No way! You have to take that stuff back to your school. This information isn’t just for you, it’s for as many members as you can get it to. Are you nuts?”

    The thing that really bugs me about Weingarten’s cavalier attitude to this informative, political, and absolutely essential reading material is that she doesn’t recognize two of the most important functions of the delegates: to collect information and disseminate it downwards.

    She jumped so quickly on the recycling idea because doing anything to foster an intellectual, activist, and democratic membership is not her goal. Controlling the membership is, and in that scenario it’s of no interest to her whether we read these handouts or use them to wrap fish parts in when we get home. Apart from the minutes and the agenda, which are probably legally required, the paperwork Unity supplies is there for show, and the paperwork produced by the other caucuses is something she has to put up with to pretend Unity is playing fair.

    To Weingarten we’re all just sheep — there to believe everything she tells us in her reports, there to rubber stamp everything on her agenda, and there to use as little of our brains as possible. Baaa, baaa, baaa.

    The fact that ANY delegate or chapter leader in this union would even consider throwing these handouts out before people at their schools could read them shows you how much the sheep in this union have been cowed.

    April 13, 2008

    Tom Chapin gets it

    A masterful video on the stupidity of
    teaching to the test:

    Not On The Test
    by John Forster & Tom Chapin 

    © 2006 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co (ASCAP)

    Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
    The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
    It's reading and math, forget all the rest.
    You don't need to know what is not on the test.

    Each box that you mark on each test that you take, 

    Remember your teachers, their jobs are at stake.
    Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
    They'd never teach anything not on the test.

    The School Board is faced with no child left behind
    With rules but no funding, they’re caught in a bind.
    So music and art and the things you love best
    Are not in your school ‘cause they’re not on the test.

    Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
    You’ll learn there’s a lot that is not on the test.

    Debate is a skill that is useful to know, 

    Unless you’re in Congress or talk radio, 

    Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
    'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

    Thinking's important. It's good to know how
    And someday you'll learn to but someday's not now.
    Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
    Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.

    April 12, 2008

    Serving at the principal's pleasure

    It was a little over a year ago that we started hearing that phrase a lot, “To serve at the pleasure of the President.” Alberto Gonzales said it, Republicans used it to defend the firing of all those US Attorneys, and William Safire etymologized it in the Times, from whence this:
    It seems to me that the pleasure principle could use some updating in our political discourse. . . . The political meaning of pleasure is far from “delight” and even further, one hopes, from sexual gratification. It means “control,” which will always be shifting and disputable in a flexible, balance-of-power system. In future commissions and laws, we should strike pleasure and insert “sole authority.” Archaisms are fine reminders of the lexical past . . . but not when they undermine semantic reality.

    There's nothing in any contract ever signed by the BoE and the UFT that accepts the premise that educators serve “at the pleasure” of their principals. Yet they are doing just that, worse than ever. It's just another dirty little secret in BloomKlein’s war against veteran teachers.

    No one's talking about all the legitimate reasons for letting someone go, like poor attendance, being without lesson plans, or even criminal behavior. A contract is a contract, as are the other laws and regulations that obligate employees.

    But what’s going on across the city is way more than firing teachers for just cause. It’s become a battlefield here, and BloomKlein is not on our side. (There’s not much evidence they’re on the parents’ or the kids’ side either, but that’s for another discussion.)

    In this restructured and chaotic bureaucracy they call a Department of Education, there's a remarkable shift away from the kind of balance-of-power system described by Safire towards a de facto “sole authority." Principals and superintendents will have their way with us. They're not firing people outright all that much, but empowered by Klein’s minions and a union that refuses to draw a line in the sand, they are nevertheless managing to thin the ranks.

    Here is a sampling of this chancellor’s battlefield strategies in this “theater” we call NYC public education. All will demoralize the average teacher and set him thinking of early retirement:
    Letters-in-the file that can no longer be handled by a grievance (Art.21.A.5). The union claims that members now have a right that is “superior” to a grievance, in that you can remove negative material in the file after three years, but only if it's not used for any disciplinary action (Know Your Rights, Feb. 28).

    What a crock. The whole purpose of a deceitful letter is to make sure it is entered as evidence into a U-rating, discontinuance or 3020a procedure. If the union says it can’t be removed from the file in these cases, who then is it protecting, the BoE? The principal? It sure ain’t us.

    Tolerating a malicious use of the Evaluation and Observation System described in Art.8J of the contract. First of all, where did the wording in this clause:
    the traditional classroom observation by a principal or supervisor which includes pre- and post-observation conferences and written feedback/comments
    get changed to:
    Ask for both pre- and post-observation conferences, in writing if necessary.
    That's in Know Your Rights also, which clearly implies these conferences are something you have to go around requesting. Re-interpreting (i.e., weakening) the contractual language is either union complicity or union stupidity, take your pick.

    It’s hard to keep track of the cases of teacher abuse on this score. We hear that pre-observation conferences are frequently scheduled inconveniently, skipped, or otherwise mismanaged. Observations, too. In one school, for example, a principal thought he was allowed to pop in for the formal observation on teachers any time during a whole week! Written feedback often includes lies, and important explanatory material can be purposely omitted. Your letter of refutation might just as well be sent directly to the dead-letter department at the local post office for all the good it will do.

    Wrongful arrest of teachers by police (here and here), and why unless the crime is egregious and front-page news are handcuffs necessary? Does anyone think a teacher would flee the classroom or the principal’s office if he's not being arrested for a specific crime and just being asked to discuss a matter outside of the school building?

    Gimme a break. If teachers are the felonious types these cases imply, there’d need to be a lot more pre-employment checks on us than just a set of fingerprints to keep the potential bad guys away from children.

    The monstrous acceptance of bad behavior by administrators who abuse and demean staff, particularly in front of kids. They're not going to get any slap on the wrists by this BoE, and you can't file a harassment charge against them on your own. Only the UFT can do that (under 23A), and mostly that doesn't happen.

    The monstrous acceptance of bad behavior in the upper grades, when kids should know better. An entire culture of rudeness, vulgarity, insults, false accusations and the like has taken root in our system and there are no stipulations anywhere in the BoE’s regulations that call for a student's actual apology.

    The continued shortage of guidance counselors and social workers, the large class-size caps and tolerated overages that simply don’t match the magnitude of this social issue, and the revolving-door detention rooms all speak to the BoE’s complete ineptitude and/or unwillingness to recognize that one heck of a lot of kids need to be counseled or re-introduced to the basics of social intercourse.

    Abuse is abuse no matter whose mouth it comes from. It permeates some schools and is very depressing. I would like to know why the BoE chooses to look the other way on this issue.

    Hearings for 3020-a charges that end in bargaining with the arbitrators over the amount of your fine. I heard that at the center of many of competency cases is insubordination, so you’ll go back to the classroom, but you'll only get there with a fine. This practice of bargaining your fine is both inappropriate and unacceptable. Maybe it's a special BloomKlein method of trimming the salaries of the most expensive employees.

    Activities of OSI (Off. of Special Investigations) specifically designed to catch a member off-guard. The UFT can publicize its “Don’t say anything to anyone without union representation” as much as it wants, but the vast majority of teachers are people with a heightened sense of morality and service, ergo their choice of profession. They also have as a social group an unusally healthy respect for their rights and obligations under the Constitution and the laws of the land; they know in their very bones that these are designed to protect children as well as themselves.

    Educators are not, however, legal eagles, and they don’t think like such animals in situations that cry out for a measure of self-protection. Your sophisticated “gotchas” will be successful, but they don’t guarantee any wrong has been done.

    Union-bashing, political posturing, encouraging the press to bad-mouth teachers, etc.

    With the contract under this chancellorship rendered meaningless in so many ways, we are now all serving, whether we like it or not, at the pleasure of the principal.

    April 8, 2008

    Graphic illustration

    Let’s make it really simple.

    This is how principals used to staff their schools:

    Roughly a third of the faculty are pretty new at the job, learning the ropes. Most have their Masters degree or are finishing it up. They look to learn things from the teachers who have been around for a while and often admire them for their easy way with kids and how they manage their classes.

    The middle third of the staff really has a handle on most things. Class management fine, they know their stuff and can experiment comfortably with new lessons and methods as they come along. They're settling in for the long haul, enjoy teaching and accomplish much. They can still run up and down 3 or 4 flights of stairs without any effort.

    The last third, the vets, generally know what they can expect from the student populations and the profession itself. They are pretty secure in their style, don’t have any illusions about the job, and disdain jargon and untested methodologies. (They don’t like untested administrators much either.) Most know what works and avoid what doesn’t. Some look towards retirement, most keep plugging away. A surprising number still like teaching and hang in there, they say, for the kids.

    Those schools are long gone in BloomKlein world.

    Just for fun, a couple of us plotted the faculty of our school the other day and discovered the NEW model for staffing city schools :

    This man-made disaster is characterized by youth, a lot of people without permanent certification, a kind of institutionalized arrogance (best described by learnersinherit), and tremendous turnover.

    The whole dynamic in schools has changed under this chancellorship. Purging the ranks of experienced teachers, Klein has aimed to cut salary costs and cut blowback. In these he has succeeded, but in educating students and giving them safe, stable, and uncrowded environments he’s failed miserably. He doesn't want you to see the data for faculty experience and longevity. It's shocking, and it is dangerous to society.

    Teaching is a craft, and it’s done best when apprentices are nurtured until they become practitioners, and when practitioners — those mid-career and the veteran teachers who used to make up two-thirds of the faculty — are relied upon to carry the educational weight of the school.

    The BloomKlein model reduces schools to a culture of perpetual newness, confusion, and inexperience. How on earth can this be the environment of choice for thinking people.

    April 6, 2008

    Studying contract: a PD everyone can enjoy

    If you’re looking for the best ways educators can spend their time twice a month “developing” themselves, I can think of few topics more essential to our working life than studying contract.

    It came to me after I finished reading Chaz’s article on probable cause, which is one of many posts in the blogosphere that focuses on something ambiguous in the current contract. The hearsay issue he discusses (Appendix H) has dangerous implications for teachers, perhaps even illegal ones. The ICEblog examines other clauses (e.g., 55/25 here, and letters in the file here), and doublespeak and obfuscation problems are explored by Ednotes (excessing), on this site (the stealth linkage of merit pay and 55/25), and elsewhere.

    We need to spend more time studying contract.

    And not only us. Principals and APs should show more interest in spending time with it as well, because as much as the contract has been weakened by union management's inexplicable passion for collaboration and BloomKlein’s ruthlessness, many administrators will still try to circumvent it. Some guess their way through the protocols or work from articles long since superseded. Others use it maliciously, or bend it with the help of weak or misguided CLs. A few just don’t know it well enough and can really hurt us through sheer ignorance, especially when it comes to charges.

    Perhaps it’s the Board’s own grievance hearing people who would most benefit by contract PD. They’ve been denying pretty much everything at Step II, and nobody can convince me it’s always the grievant who’s wrong. Wouldn't it be nice if they too sat down on a regular basis and studied contract.

    It’s a daunting task to get a handle on this tome of a Memorandum, and if the truth be known, I barely looked at it for the first ten years of my career. The vets did, though. I remember seeing them refer to their dog-eared copies all the time.

    We all need to study contract.

    I’m sure if we did this regularly in afternoon PD sessions — picked it apart, exchanged experiences relevant to particular articles, analyzed the ramifications of this or that, explored the history of the changes, posed questions and made up hypotheticals — we would get back two things we lost as a union a long time ago: perspective, and solidarity.

    The Press: "Teachers won't go on record."


    Many of us are really concerned that newspaper reporters aren’t, for whatever reason, telling it like it is.

    Maybe their hands are tied by corporate policies. Maybe they already know of colleagues who have been axed for muckraking and are as fearful for their jobs at the paper as we are in the classroom.

    Some teachers have become ed activists, though to become familiar with a spectrum of educational, sociological and political issues and actually discuss them in a variety of fora is time-consuming. Doing it on top of a full-time teaching job can just about knock you out. It requires a kind of dogged dedication to an unpaid task, not to mention some sacrifices on the homefront.

    But there are those who are doing this work, and it is sad that the majority of events concerning public education get scheduled on school days, when teachers cannot attend them.

    Some of these events are hearings or legislative sessions, others are conferences mounted by educational organizations, like AERA or the Manhattan Institute. It’s difficult to schedule these things other than during the day, and of course membership requirements sometimes restrict entry. But, there are political ramifications to these constraints. Those with the most hands-on classroom experience in present-day classrooms are just not in the room. They're teaching.

    So, what happens? The politicos and ed “authorities” get to deliver their sometimes questionable messages in a relatively protected environment, similar to the town meetings that candidates arrange with all those stacked audiences. The speakers at these conferences might have to take a few elephant-in-the-room questions from the likes of Ravitch (ed historian), Scott (union historian, retiree), and Haimson (class size warrior), but they can for the most part avoid a barrage of adverse reaction and the embarrassment that may go along with it. That’s because the people who know what’s going on in schools are just that, in school.

    It's the reporters as well who don't get much of a chance to hear from working teachers at these events. I'm not convinced all of them really want to. If one is in a self-protective mode, I can understand that, trust me.

    But where does that leave us educators, and where does it leave the kids or the parents? Do we keep plugging away on these blogs, redouble our efforts in letter-writing, become more activist in our schools and put our jobs at risk?

    I wrote Jennifer Medina this morning (extracted below), but it could be sent out to any of a number of other education reporters in the city’s pressrooms:

    Corporate tyranny has to be exposed, because that’s just what it is, and the media who prop up their bias towards public education are very much part of the problem.

    So, press. Try contacting us. We're taking calls.