Monday, July 11, 2016

Mediocrity Rules

 Sometimes I think we need to teach our students what logical fallacy is. Lately I think that more and more. I often find myself debating with adults who quickly resort to ad hominem and strawman arguments. I'm really amazed that adults, teachers, and union leaders jump to name calling and nonsense so quickly.

It's like junior high school all over again. I thought I was past all the rank out sessions, but I'm not, evidently. As life is short, I cut these conversations as quickly as I possibly can.

But politics is kind of a third rail.I've gotten a lot of flack about my decision not to vote for Hillary. Thus far, no one's really addressed my reasons, but rather I've been accused of supporting Trump via my lack of support for his opponent. That's simply ridiculous, as is Trump. Trump is amoral and reprehensible, for my money absolutely unacceptable. On the other hand, I've long felt a whole lot of GOP pols were pretty much the same as Trump, but found little weasel words to avoid saying outright what Trump does. Trump shouts the bigotry other Republicans know to only hint at.

Were I in Ohio or Florida I'd think twice about it, but if Hillary's NY race is competitive enough that she needs my vote, chances are she's lost anyway. Our Electoral College system is bizarre and undemocratic, and votes in my state are just not worth that much.

I'm a public education advocate, and if you want my vote you'd better either share that priority or be so good on everything else that I'm willing to overlook it (as was Bernie Sanders). I'm sorry that people are so upset about this, and I fully expect UFT to run an all-out, no-holds barred push for Hillary over the next few months. I believe that Hillary will likely not be as awful as Trump, but I fail to understand why we didn't extract significant concessions before going all in.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, he broke my heart, and I made a personal decision not to vote for reforminess anymore. When Cuomo ran on a platform promising to go after unions, I voted for Green Howie Hawkins. In 2012, I voted for Green Jill Stein for President, and I expect to do so again in November.

But I'm really shocked at some of the pushback I've gotten lately. A local union President from somewhere or other got on my Facebook page and called me names. That's not argument at all. I mean, if you can show me that Hillary will really work for us, you might persuade me. Personal insults are the province of people bereft of ideas, and we need to do better. You know, we're teachers, role models. Are we raising our children to thoughtlessly insult one another?

That's not the first time I've heard such nonsense, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Though there are a handful of people I really respect in leadership, I'm not seeing that as a rule. I have no problem engaging people, and I respect people's opinions. What amazes me is people approaching me with no argument whatsoever and absolute conviction that they are right. Why are they right? Well, they went to a meeting and someone told them this was right, and that's good enough for them. How can they be like that?

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. ~Upton Sinclair

When people tell me what a threat Trump is I understand. He would be an awful President, full of bluster and baseless ideas. And those who follow him blindly are really dangerous, as they could follow him into some pretty bad places. I found it ironic that someone, in defense of Hillary, would call me a "loser," as that's what Trump calls everyone and anyone who disagrees with him. What does that even mean anymore?

But I wonder how a leader of teachers can skate by with an inability to muster an argument that rises above juvenile name-calling. What does that say about us? I've met a whole lot of chapter leaders who got the job simply because no one else wanted it. I see places where the gig appears to be passed around like a hot potato. That's kind of understandable. Who's crazy enough to argue with the principal?  But someone has to do it.

Why can't we get good people? There are reasons, of course. One is that our system kind of encourages and perpetuates mediocrity. I mean, UFT leadership takes a stand, sort of. They supported mayoral control. When it came up for renewal, they asked for changes, didn't get them, and then supported it anyway. Now Mulgrew says they support it, but not as is. What does that even mean? If they don't support it as is, why the hell did they support it ever?

Leadership sort of sits on the fence on testing. Mulgrew's gonna punch all our faces out if we don't support Common Core, but they complain about the rollout, which is the same nonsense Cuomo rationalizes it with. They're against excessive testing, but when opt-out actually does something about it, they spout the same crap as Reformy John King. When opt-out places fear into the alleged heart of the Cuomo, and inspires him to make a few superficial changes, they declare it a victory (and take credit). But as they declare absolutely everything a victory, that's got kind of a hollow ring.

They attack everyone and anyone who disagrees with them. If they can't think of a good argument, they dredge the bottom of the barrel, and spit out whatever they come up with. Who cares if it's accurate or not? Anyone who's signed a loyalty oath will believe it or lose their free trip to Schenectady next year. Or maybe an after school gig. So they don't contradict it, and just as likely don't even bother to think about it.

What is the quality of representation you get when you hire people who won't and possibly even can't think? What is the quality of representation you get when no one is allowed to question the Great and Powerful Oz, and everyone just runs around pretending how mysterious he is?

Sadly, you get what we've got now. You get some very good people, and a lot of others who blindly do as told and fully expect never to have to explain it. When put in uncomfortable positions, they blurt out whatever nonsense comes into their heads.

If you read this blog I have to assume you know that we, teachers, are under assault. We are the last vestige of vibrant unionism in these United States and as such folks hate us. Some of those folks are Eli Broad and the Walmart family, and they donate heavily to candidate Hillary Clinton. Well, if Hillary is so great for teachers, why the hell are the reformies-in-chief donating to her?

Hey, if you want to vote for Hillary, go right ahead. I won't call you names. But if you want to be a leader, if you aim to persuade, you'd better be prepared to stand up and explain why you do what you do. There are certainly plenty of capable people. But we're not gonna inspire them to work with us if we're represented by those who behave like 12-year-olds.
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