Monday, April 08, 2013

Does Unity-New Action Really Want to Talk?

I was a little surprised to receive mass emails from Unity chapter leaders, including one I happen to know and like. Ironically, the first one was written in protest of mass email. It complained MORE chapter leaders had acquired an email list of chapter leaders, and have used it to communicate with them. Oddly, the Unity chapter leaders appear to have used the very same list to communicate with the same group. Apparently that is not objectionable.

One point made in this note was that MORE was too vitriolic in their comments. I was surprised by this. Actually, I've run this blog for years and have regularly deleted meaningless and juvenile comments from anonymous supporters of Unity. They now seem to know better than to try this over here, preferring to focus on the ICE and MORE blogs.

I'm open to discussion with anyone. However, calling me or my friends idiots doesn't cut it for me. Comparing me to Rush Limbaugh because I don't present both sides doesn't much qualify either. This blog is entirely subjective, and has never maintained otherwise. If Unity-New Action representatives want serious debate, they are welcome to it. I'm here every single day.

The email went on to protest a statement that Al Shanker was a strong anti-communist. David Selden's book The Teacher Rebellion mentions that Shanker expelled people from the Unity Caucus for the offense of opposing the Vietnam War.  In case that's not enough, Richard Kahlenberg, his biographer also speaks of his anti-communism. I fail to see why the claim is so outrageous.

It protests calling President Mulgrew "chicken." To me, it appeared the email had quoted a Post headline. I've read many comments criticizing MORE members for speaking to the Post, though the story clearly reached out to a Mulgrew aide, who'd presumably be Unity-New Action. Personally, I speak to just about any reporter who calls me, whether or not they're from the Post. UFT President Michael Mulgrew gave quotes to the Post as recently as last month. I recall Randi Weingarten writing a column for the Post. Does that make us all traitors too?

More to the point, Mulgrew has indeed declined to debate his opponent. That's something that certainly merits discussion, and all this talk about who spoke to the Post, and how awful they are for doing so is nothing more than an attempt to obfuscate the issue.

The email goes on to criticize the failure of the letter writers to differentiate between VAM, mandated in the state law Mulgrew had a hand in crafting, and the "growth model" Mulgrew's advocated from his lectern at the DA. However, I've seen no evidence anywhere that this model works any better than VAM. If there is any, I'd love to see it. I've seen quite a bit of evidence that VAM doesn't work at all. I'm afraid appeals to shut up and sit down are less than persuasive, since I can't help but read Diane Ravitch, Gary Rubinstein, and Aaron Pallas, all of whom understand this better than I ever will.

As a matter of fact, I just attended a session at the UFT about the upcoming evaluation system. I heard a lot of talk about all that needs to be negotiated, but I also heard that no negotiation is currently taking place. Should this continue, it will be reformy John King who gets to dictate what our system will be. I'm fairly certain Bloomberg's proposal will be reformier than the union's, and it's very hard for me to simply hope King would not just accept and impose it. We are in a pretty tough spot.

I'm disappointed to get such messages from someone I respect. It's really just a repetition of the message the UFT has for all non-Unity-New Action members. Central UFT is expert at shutting out voices that differ with it in any way whatsoever. I would be in trouble if I had to depend only on the UFT to get my voice out there. While I can find multiple workarounds for that, I don't know if everyone can.

I will not stereotype union leadership. There are some great Unity people in the UFT, people I rely on and admire. However, neither they nor anyone is well-served by a policy of building brick walls around dissident voices. There are several non-Unity-New Action chapter leaders whom I know to be among the best-informed and most dedicated unionists anywhere.

How can a chapter leader be prohibited from seriously challenging things like mayoral control, teacher evaluations, or the spectacle of Bill Gates as AFT keynote speaker? How can you make Diane Ravitch the next keynote speaker and effectively shut out anyone who agrees with her?

How could I be a good teacher if I didn't allow my students to question me?

And how can you protest mass email by sending me mass email?

I suppose that's the least important of my questions here. But a union encompasses all voices, not just those who make deals to support the status quo, or those who sign a written promise never to publicly deviate from the party line.
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