Sunday, March 24, 2013

Should Working Mothers With Sick Babies Attend the DA?

There's a small ruckus on the MORE blog about whether or not UFT President Mike Mulgrew should debate his sole opponent, Julie Cavanagh. While the respondents are often more civil than the juvenile ravings that haunt the ICE blog comment section, their arguments are bizarre, to say the least. As it happens, candidate Julie Cavanagh has an infant son, and the best argument they can seem to muster against her is that she doesn't attend the DA frequently enough.

The implication that she would neglect her duties, as a result, is beyond offensive. With all due respect, Mulgrew is not a full-time teacher. It is one of his primary responsibilities to conduct the DA. Cavanagh's primary responsibility is to teach her classes. If she couldn't be bothered doing that, we might have something to discuss. Or, depending on the circumstances, we might not. But to expect a young mother to teach a full day, tend to her infant child, and travel to meetings without fail is ridiculous at best, and misogynist at worst. 

When I go to the DA, I'm often amazed by what I see. I've watched Mike Mulgrew explain how we needed to participate in Bill Gates' MET study, to get that coveted seat at the table I hear so much about. I've seen us participate in a program that would utilize VAM but which absolutely, positively would not result in teacher scores going public. As a result of that, all scores did, in fact, become public after our less-than-trustworthy partner, the DOE, urged papers to file FOI requests. Individual working teachers were humiliated in the pages of the NY Post.

The first time I went to the DA, I voted against something. I can't remember what it was, but I do remember how everyone looked at me for doing so. A nearby Unity rep was horrified and started screaming at me. Our conversation turned to the 05 contract, the one that turned so many teachers into miserable ATRs, and red-faced, he shouted, "But we got MONEY!" in response. I will spare you my answer. Of course there are many Mom and Apple Pie issues on which I vote in the affirmative. It's disturbing to see Unity members now arguing against Mom.

On another trip to the DA, they were discussing Joel Klein's decision to only fund schools certain hours of the day. As my school opened before those hours and closed after those hours, I raised my hand. This was the one and only time I tried to be heard at the DA. Mulgrew called on a Unity member three feet to my left, not once, not twice, but three times. I was wearing a suit, unlike most in the auditorium, but I found I was invisible to the UFT President. I was certain I had the most salient point in the room, but it made no difference. It's ironic that I can be heard at the PEP, albeit for two minutes, but can't get heard at the UFT.

I regularly attend borough-wide chapter leader meetings, where there is open discussion. While I don't agree with everything that is said, I do hear important things and bring them back to my members. I also read everything written about education everywhere. Were I to rely on CL meetings, or the DA as a sole source of information, I'd have to ignore, for example, Diane Ravitch's opposition to VAM, mayoral control, and Common Core.

I went to vote on whether to accept Bloomberg's deal to avert firing teachers. I was torn, because the plan also forced ATR teachers to travel week to week, school to school. My friends in Unity all assured me the DOE was too incompetent to do this, and it would therefore never happen. James Eterno assured me it would. I abstained, unwilling to vote for firing teachers but unsure whether they'd treat the ATRs this way. As we all know, Eterno was right, and the DOE did indeed find a way to send ATR teachers all over the place.

At one DA, Mulgrew declared this system was a success because there were now more transfers. I suppose you can weigh the misery of ATRs, many of whom would have been placed under the old system, against the satisfaction of young teachers who've found places in the Open Market. I meet a lot of ATRs, I've got an open email address on this blog and I hear awful stories about their treatment on a fairly regular basis. There is no way I can celebrate a system that demoralizes so many working teachers.

The last time I went to the DA was to vote against the junk science evaluation system. I brought all our school's delegates with me. We were prepared to take a principled stand against VAM, but we all knew we would lose overwhelmingly. In a system where Unity recruits make up over 90% of the DA, a system in which every Unity member has signed an oath to support Unity positions in all public forums, there is no way principle will triumph over the junk science that Unity has deemed worthy of our support. Still, as a chapter leader, you do what's best for your members. Of course, if you've signed an oath agreeing to support your caucus whether or not what they're doing is right, that could prove difficult at times..

If you read David Selden's The Teacher Rebellion, you'll see that Unity has been expelling dissidents ever since Shanker. In fact, he threw people out of Unity for the offense of opposing the Vietnam War. So if you want to continue going to those groovy conventions on our dime, you need to tow the party line whether or not it benefits the teachers you ostensibly represent.

In any case, it's beyond absurd to maintain, as they now do, that the few minutes Julie Cavanagh may or may not get to speak at the DA is a substitute for the debate Mulgrew has thus far declined.  In fact, her opponent presides over the DA. Perhaps some Unity members believe democracy entails your opponent moderating and controlling the debate. They're certainly free to their opinions, but that particular one is beyond preposterous.

UFT members deserve to hear the ideas of those who'd presume to lead us in a free and open forum. If, in fact, Unity's ideas are so much better than those of the opposing caucus, it behooves them to demonstrate it.

The notion that the DA is remotely a substitute for free and open debate is preposterous. It is an insult to the intelligence of teachers everywhere. Anyone who contends the DA is a suitable forum for a debate between candidates is disingenuous and misleading, qualities I wouldn't seek in a chapter leader, let alone a union employee. 

Note--I will be traveling much of this week, so blogging will be light. I wish all readers of this blog a restful and joyous week off!

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