Yesterday I was visited by some charming representatives from the City of New York. They were doing an investigation, and I got called out of one of my classes. A member was sitting there. It was not very difficult to know what to say.
"Please give us your card. The member will be happy to speak with you as soon as we have representation."
I've been chapter leader for eight years now. I was trained to say this, I tell all my members to say the same thing, and that's the protocol. In the last eight years, I know of only one member who failed to follow this advice. He was fired. I'm not saying that wouldn't have happened anyway, but I'm absolutely certain it didn't help.
Every time I've given the card speech, the rep has handed the card, and the member was represented. One of these guys was different, though. He was indignant.
"Do you know what this is about?" he asked.
"No, I don't."
"Do you care what this is about?"
"No, I don't."
Whatever it's about, the protocol is the same. The investigators from are not our friends. I've seen them drag people through the mud for no reason. They might say you aren't the target and target you anyway. But this guy, he had an answer.
"YOU don't care about CHILDREN! All YOU care about is protecting TEACHERS!"
There was some back and forth and I told him that was a strawman.
"YOU don't know what a strawman IS!" declared the investigating genius.
In fact I know very well what a strawman is. A strawman is a logical fallacy. It's when you fabricate or misrepresent your opponent's argument in such a way to make it look ridiculous or impossible to defend. It's when you tell your opponent what he thinks. Actually, though, this was also an attempt to rattle me. And it worked. I was pretty angry. I work for children every day of my life. I will not hesitate to go to jail for them if guys like this one come into my classroom.
I went outside with the member, who told me what the issue was. We then went back inside. I decided to make him mad this time.
"We've discussed the issue. NOW I know what we're talking about. Please give us your card and the member will call you as soon as we have representation."
The DOE guy got visibly upset, screaming more about how I don't care about children. Evidently, if I cared about children I would advise my members to give up their rights to due process. I would tell them to submit to the lies and manipulation of guys like these without question. Then the kids, the ones this guy cares about and I don't, could grow up into a world in which they unquestioningly submit to guys like this one.
I asked the guy if he fancied himself the Amazing Kreskin, what with his reading my mind and all. I told him I'd be filing a complaint about him. I don't much appreciate being slandered and vilified for doing my job. He then turned to the member, and shouted, "Well, if you won't talk now, we're not coming back here. You'll have to come to Manhattan, or maybe Brooklyn." Threats and intimidation designed to make the member give up due process.
You know what? Everyone should get due process. Accused murderers get lawyers. Whatever happened, my member needs to be protected. If my member isn't protected, the children this man supposedly cares for won't be either.
Later that afternoon I called 311 to file a complaint. After much conversation they told me they were switching me over to DOE, and that I could file the complaint anonymously. I told them I didn't want to be anonymous and they said that was OK too. I told them if it was DOE I'd like to do this through UFT instead, so I hung up and reached out to someone there. I figure a complaint from the United Federation of Teachers will carry more weight than it will from just me.
But if they don't do it, I'll do it myself. Whatever happened in this case will come out, and the city is simply going to have to follow procedures to make that happen. Their bullying and intimidation tactics change nothing. I guess, though, that they work sometimes, maybe often, and that's why we need to answer them.
The only thing I regret is that I lost my temper as well. Clearly that was this guy's intention. That won't happen again. When kids do that to me, I'm ready. I respond to provocation with complete calm, offer gentle reproaches, and think about what I'll do next. That's what I'll do the next time this or any other city rep tries to intimidate me.
Correction--I'm now told that this agency is not part of DOE, despite what 311 told me. I've revised the piece to reflect this.
A Prescient Warning that Was Ignored
6 hours ago