Monday, September 08, 2014

A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven

I was pretty surprised to read a story in the NY Post with a picture of a few dozen white teachers wearing NYPD shirts. Apparently they'd triumphed over the insidious UFT, which had somehow advised them against wearing said apparel. There was talk of appropriate apparel, and vague threatened consequences for wearing things deemed inappropriate. I guess UFT was trying to be tactful.

I respect NYPD. My daughter aspires to be NYPD. I don't wear an NYPD t-shirt because I haven't got one, but I might if I did.

Still, I wouldn't have gotten together with 20 of my colleagues and worn one to make a statement the first day of school. Why not?

I'm gonna suppose that most of my readers are teachers. So imagine this. A teacher gets caught selling cigarettes on the street one day. One single policeman decides to stop this. The teacher decides to resist arrest and said policeman kills this teacher.

On the first day of school, after your colleague is killed on the street, you walk in to your place of work. You're greeted by the principal, and by all the APs, and they're all wearing NYPD shirts. They want to show support for NYPD on this particular day. How do you feel?

Imagine this, instead. You are not an adult. You are a student, a minority student. (In fact, that's an odd term, because minority students form the majority of NYC students.) You've heard stories about how one of your own was killed on the street by a policeman. When you meet your teacher, your teacher is wearing an NYPD shirt, to show her support for the police. All the other teachers are wearing the same shirts.

Why are they celebrating the police right after a police has choked one of your people to death? What can your young mind conclude?

And then, there was the Staten Island march, protesting this act. A lot of people took this as disrespect for the NYPD, but I don't see it that way at all. In fact, it was an occasion to deplore an act that was plainly deplorable. I have never suggested that the policeman who did this act should not receive due process, nor has anyone from UFT. I have no idea what that entails, and I'm not qualified to decide how this should be dealt with. However, I don't think people who sell cigarettes should end up being killed on the street. So I stood with all the people who felt the same.

There was a UFT Facebook post about that. I was horrified by some of the comments on it. I was glad when that post was taken down. Some comments seemed borderline racist, and others seemed to go right over the line. Reading those comments made me decide to go to Staten Island and stand against racism, against violence, against needless death. Had the police killed a machine-gun wielding Scarface wannabe, I'd surely have felt differently. But that was not the case here.

And then there was that "tactful" UFT message. I was pretty surprised at how it was worded. Why didn't the UFT simply say, "If you wear an NYPD shirt right after a black man is killed on the street by a police officer, your students of color may perceive your choice of wardrobe to be an expression of approval for that act." And why would that not cross the minds of any thinking person who chose to dress like that, particularly if they chose to do so as a group?

There's also been quite a bit of talk about Al Sharpton. I'm not a fan, particularly since he teamed up with Gingrich and Duncan to spread reforminess throughout the land.  Then there's talk of UFT President Mike Mulgrew, and how he needs to resign for asking UFT members to participate. Regular readers of this blog know Mike Mulgrew would like nothing more than to punch me in the face, and Mulgrew's theme at the rally, that it was "time to teach," rang quite hollow after all that punchiness.

But I didn't go for Gingrich, and I didn't go for Mulgrew. I went because I'm a teacher. I went because I'm part of a community. I went because people who are not harming other people ought not to be killed on the street.

I'm sure the overwhelming majority of NYPD members don't do any such thing, and I would never suggest we need to deprive even the one who did of whatever due process entails.

It's ironic, because stereotyping teachers is almost our national pastime. Where's the outrage when our tenure is under attack for no good reason? Where's the outrage when Campbell Brown takes a few outrageous or contrived examples and smears us all? I don't recall cops or anyone, anywhere wearing UFT shirts to show solidarity when not one, but all teachers are under ridiculous scrutiny. And, lest it isn't obvious, we haven't killed anyone.

We do more than help kids pass tests. We help guide them. We help teach them right from wrong. We set an example. And when we see outrage perpetrated on the street, we should stand up and say so. Shall we wait until our family members are killed? Shall we wait until people with the same skin color, religion, sexual preference, or whatever are killed? Or should we say it's time for the killing to stop, and now?

There's a bigger purpose in what we do. Sure we should ask for more money. I've got no problem with that. When we get more money, it means those who follow us will be better off.  Sure we should improve working conditions. Sure we should keep this job a route to middle class for our minority students, for all students, and for any and all who aspire to do this vital job we've chosen.

But before we do any of that, we need to ensure that our kids can walk the streets without fear. And if that takes action above and beyond negotiating the next contract, so be it. If we want to be role models, we need to act against injustice.

And if you are a teacher, no matter what the bullshit city ratings say, it behooves you to be a role model. I don't care what John King concludes--you are not effective if you think it's okay for family members of your students to be killed in the street.
blog comments powered by Disqus