Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The UFT and Learned Helplessness

A colleague of mine told me yesterday about an experiment in which dogs were shocked when they tried to leave their cages. After a while, their cages were left open and the dogs didn't leave anymore. She said it was called "learned helplessness." It sounds like a fair description of the 83% of our colleagues who can't be bothered voting against our autocratic and inept leadership. Why bother? The same people always get elected anyway.

I vote every chance I get, and I can't think like that. But I get the strong impression leadership is fine with it. The very first question at the DA when they were pushing the contract was something like gee, Mike, I love standing here taking in your wonderfulness and by the way, what happens if we vote no? The answer was a straight appeal to fear. We'll have to wait in line behind 150 unions and we won't get anything at all. Scary, huh? Maybe we shouldn't try to get out of this cage. Who knows what lurks out there? They toned it down a bit for last night's post-webcast tweet, but here it is again:

Screw the ATR teachers. Who cares if they get second-tier due process? Who cares if there's some vague agreement about health savings? It doesn't matter to me that UFT leadership has backed down from its promise that costs won't go up, and that my whopping 2% raise could get eaten up in fees in arbitration. I can't think about that. It's too scary!

I want to get my 18%, years and years from now, if a safe doesn't fall on my head between now and retirement, and if some future mayor doesn't appeal it as too costly, maybe I will. And if I don't resign I can get the money. Screw all the people who did resign and get nothing. I'm getting money years from now, if I'm lucky, and that's all that's important!

The other notion the UFT is floating, aside from the appeal to fear, is this one:

That's a classic strawman, and I've seen it propagated by other UFT supporters on Twitter. In fact, neither I nor any teacher I know believes teachers shouldn't be empowered.  I have never seen that argument articulated anywhere and it is utter nonsense. But when you're defending a contract that renders some UFT employees second class citizens, when you're describing utterly untested policies as fair, ideal, and maybe perfect, you need to blame someone. Actually, making it easier to fire ATR teachers is not precisely empowering them.

Mulgrew declared it a myth that we might have to pay for health care. But as details of this plan came out, and it was clear that arbitrators can decide what we may have to pay, it may not be a myth at all. It's more like a shot in the dark. Let's vote up this piece of crap and hope we don't lose too much of our increase paying for health care. Let's vote up this pile of garbage and hope we don't become ATRs. Let's vote up this stinking river of bilge and hope not too many ATRs get fired because Leadership Academy principals accused them of shouting in the halls.

Because after all, there's a bribe bonus for me upon signing, or maybe in September, or maybe some other time. And there's that immediate 2% raise that may or may not end up as a contribution to health care. And maybe if I get hit by a bus before 2020 UFT may negotiate my next of kin gets it.

We should put our trust in the people who thought the ATR agreement was the bestest thing ever in 2005. Let's have faith in the people who told us the DOE was way too inept to send them school to school, week to week. Let's hope the people who proudly showed us the junk science evaluation they helped design know what they're doing. After all, it's not their fault they couldn't negotiate it as they promised. It's not their fault they thought corporate ideologue John King was a fair mediator. Why should we blame them for supporting mayoral control in the beginning, and then after it proved to be an abject disaster, yet again?

We need to listen to what they say. To not do so would be risky. It would be stepping out of the cage, and we can't do that.

Can we do it? Can we think outside the cage?
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