Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Big Sell Out

For the last day or so I've been inundated with messages on Twitter that this agreement is a sell out, that we shouldn't have done it, and all sorts of other things. I understand the feeling. I also understand what our asks were, and what we got. I'm not entirely sure all the critics of what we did have that clear.

For the record, I came into this debate wanting only online instruction. I wrote an op-ed in the Daily News back in June saying the hybrid plan made no sense.  I've learned more about it since. For example, we will not be teaching from classrooms and zooming at the same time. Still, I stand by my assessment of the hybrid plan. If anything, it's even worse now that we have this blended learning remote nonsense. This system is poorly thought out, and it will collapse under the weight of its lack of vision.

This said, when UFT made demands, the demands were not, in fact, for all online instruction. I was disappointed. It wasn't what I wanted. The city's hybrid is crap, and students would be better served online. In fact, the conditions under which we're expected to teach are bizarre, unnatural, and likely to depress students more than inspire them. It's particularly egregious since the geniuses at Tweed are demanding that those without accommodations teaching remotely do so from school buildings, many or most of which lack the bandwidth to even support it.

This notwithstanding, I was ready to strike for our demands. I spent hours, days talking to members, writing about plans, meeting with all sorts of people, and worrying about how the hell we were going to carry this off. I wrote an op-ed or two. I spoke with journalists and even appeared on TV a few times. It wasn't what I would've asked for, but I stood behind it. I was ready to walk, and do everything in my power to organize 300 members in my building to join, do social distanced picketing, or whatever it took.

I wasn't the only one who seemed to accept this plan, I didn't see a whole lot of disappointment, for example, from many of the very people who are now screaming bloody murder about the UFT agreement. We planned a strike. The demands were that we have adequate PPE and ventilation, that we had processes in place, and that we had a testing program. It was an interesting moment as a whole lot of people on social media who'd often been in opposition fell into agreement. 

What has changed from our demands to the agreement? Our first two demands were met in full. We fell short on the testing piece. We had asked that everyone be tested before entering, students and adults. I really thought that was a good idea. It seemed we'd get a clean start, at least. However, both Mulgrew and a science teacher I respect have now told me that this would only be the case for about three days, not the ten we'd provided. My science teacher friend explained a lot to me about random sampling, and thinks that's important. 

A lot of people asked for a delay in opening the buildings. What we got is a week or two delay in when students come in. Do we have enough time to prepare? Probably not. The hybrid plan is fundamentally impossible, and no matter how much prep time we have, we cannot create teachers that don't exist, or ensure the good performance of people dragged into situations in which they lack either experience, subject knowledge, or both. 

On the positive side, if your building doesn't have PPE, or if it doesn't have ventilation, it won't open until it's corrected. If your building runs out, or if things stop working, we have a mechanism to close either the affected building or room. I've been through the UFT grievance process a hundred times. It's cumbersome and time-consuming, and you can wait months and get stuck with a troglodyte arbitrator who doesn't know how to read. If we have a clear agreement that's immediately enforceable in court, that's a big improvement. 

Look, you can do what you wish. You can scream at me on Twitter, in the comments here, or both if you like. The fact is, though, that if we'd won every demand as written, we'd still be going back. Maybe the testing would have delayed it more. It would still be scary. Strikes are scary too, and a whole lot of UFT members were scared of that as well. I was too, but I wouldn't have hesitated one moment.

I will have more on how we can better mobilize very soon.

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