Last night on Real Time, Bill Maher said it's impossible to fire a teacher. That's patently untrue, and it's irresponsible of him to be propagating such nonsense on the air. I'm reposting this column for him, which originally ran March 30, 2009, just in case he has any passing interest in reality. It's particularly galling to hear boilerplate anti-union crap from someone who makes films labeling religion as mythology. People like that, in fact, ought not to be promoting mythology.
always illuminating to hear things from people who have not the
remotest notion what they're talking about, and as a teacher, I get to
hear things from all sorts of people. For example, you get folks like
Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walmart family, who toss money about to
make sure unionized employees are marginalized, all under the guise of
"protecting the children. "
Never mind that when the children grow up they'll have to choose from the crappy jobs Bill, Eli, and Wally World have left them.
you get lower-level hedge fund guys, like Whitney Tilson, who invest
heavily in companies like MacDonald's and Walmart, and want to make sure
we have a ready crop of low-salaried drones to keep pumping bucks into
the pockets of rich people. All together, they form odious groups like
the "Democrats for Education Reform," which push non-unionized charters
to exploit teachers, one of the last bastions of organized labor in the
It's very disappointing to find someone like Bill Maher lining up with these demagogues.
Maher, as you may recall, was dismissed from his ABC show in 2002 for
making controversial remarks. You'd think he'd have some empathy for
teachers who could find themselves in the same situation. Maher thinks
unions need to be broken, but it's pretty clear what can happen to teachers without unions.
It's also clear that folks like Joel Klein and Al Sharpton are fine
with working people being treated like that, but I'd think Maher would
question the privatization of education, particularly given what he said
about the Bushies for eight years.
Personally, I'm not
much enamored of bad teachers, and I'm afraid I have little sympathy
for them. On the other hand, teacher unions neither hired them nor
granted them tenure. What does Maher have to say about the
administrations who did? What does Maher think about Chancellor Klein
going to Albany to plead for the right to retain 14,000 teachers who
couldn't pass a basic competency test, some of whom had failed it dozens
of times? While these tough times may allow cities the luxury of
denying employment to these folks, the fact is they'll drag them back as
soon as the economy looks up and they need to continue paying the
lowest wage in the area.
And personally, I value tenure
a great deal. A few years ago I identified two kids in my ESL classes
who were fluent in English but could not read. I remember one of them
had remarkable listening skills, and was very good at participating on
the basis of what he'd heard, but was unable to identify words like
"house" and "mother" when I wrote them out for him. I found out he'd
been kicking around the city system for years, and when I called his
mom, she knew about it and asked me to help him.
same time, I'd been communicating with a NY Times columnist who wanted
to use this info. He asked if he could use my name, and said it would
be OK if I had tenure. This in itself suggested without it, I couldn't
have told the truth.
Nonetheless, when the writer used
my name in a fax to the DoE, I got called for a marathon session in the
principal's office, in which school leaders of every stripe made sure
their posteriors were covered, and not one word was uttered as to the
welfare or future of the kids I'd identified, both of whom had somehow
stopped attending by the time things hit the fan. This was regarded as a
positive thing by some, who claimed it provided additional cover. I
was later told by an uninvolved administrator there were no programs
available for such kids.
And I found myself unable to
get textbooks for my students for over a year. Ironically, when some
geniuses from Tweed came and saw my kids sharing the decrepit books I
kept in my classroom, they complimented me for utilizing cooperative
learning. Still, I have no question I'd have been fired if I hadn't had
tenure. And lacking Mr. Maher's celebrity, I've no doubt my teaching
career would have ended right then and there if that principal had half a
Where I live, teachers are thoroughly
interviewed before they get to set foot in a classroom. And tenure is
not granted as a matter of course. But teachers who bother to question
the often preposterous things that occur in places like Mr. Bloomberg's
New York, teachers like me, we need tenure.
that Bill Maher has opted to join the ranks of the wealthy and ignorant,
who can't be bothered with those of us who need to support our
families, let alone our kids, who will need to support theirs as well.