Monday, October 27, 2014

Common Sense vs. Tenure Reforminess

In Spanish, they say, “Common sense is the least common of all the senses.” Nowhere is that argument clearer than in the arguments against teacher tenure, most recently played out on the cover of Time, the paragon of publishing that matched Michelle Rhee with her broom and declared Hitler "Man of the Year."

There are all these arguments about bad vs. good apples, but they ultimately seem absurd to me. Basically, the argument is tenure protects bad teachers, and it therefore should not exist. Self-appointed education expert Campbell Brown repeatedly dredges up a few cases and pastes them all over Twitter and any paper that will print her.

What shall we do, then? Shall we eliminate tenure so as to make it easier to fire the so-called bad apples? Or should we simply take tenure away from them and leave it with the better apples? And if we do that, who gets to decide who deserves it and who doesn't?

In fact, UFT leadership moved, again, to weaken tenure in the last contract. There is an unfounded but popular prejudice against ATR teachers, and leadership reinforced it by adding a second-tier due process for them and making them easier to fire. Endorsing insane notions like this one gives reformy demagogues like Campbell Brown fodder to plod ahead with their absurd arguments. After all, if punchy Mike Mulgrew thinks ATR teachers deserve fewer rights than others, there must be something wrong with them. And therefore the reformy hordes can ask for fewer rights for other questionable apples.

But that’s not, in fact, the argument they’re using this year. The argument is that no teacher should have tenure. Instead, we should trust in the good graces of those people who failed to identify and/ or fire the alleged bad apples before giving them tenure. After all, since accountability applies only to unionized teachers, no administrator can possibly have made the remotest mistake, ever.

So with that assumption in mind, they plod ahead. It makes no difference if kids live in poverty, don’t speak English, or have severe learning disabilities. The only reason they fail standardized tests is that their teachers suck. Therefore, we must remove all job protections for teachers and fire at will.

Aside from the preposterous assumptions implicit in this argument, there’s something quite reminiscent of bigotry here, that the bad ones spoil it for the good ones, and therefore none of them should have rights. In fact, were you to take this argument and apply it to the country at large, it would suggest once the police picked you up for something, you were guilty. Certainly some people rob banks, commit atrocities, and do various other things that fail to merit the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and you could reason that stripping everyone of basic due process would make it harder for the bad apples to get away with such things.

Then there’s the argument that other Americans don’t have tenure and can be fired for a bad haircut. Diane Ravitch tells the story of two farmers. One says, “My neighbor has a cow and I don’t. I want his cow to die.” That’s the sort of thinking that goes behind attacks on tenure, and also attacks on health benefits. Somehow, we’ve managed to become one of the only non-third world countries that doesn’t offer health care as a basic right. We’ve also managed to pretty well decimate union nationally, and corporate frauds like Fox News can sell Americans on the concept that this is somehow a good thing.

This blog may or may not be meaningful to you, but without tenure you would not be reading it or others like it. And it’s important for teachers to speak out. Take a historical look at societies that have attacked teachers and you may not find we’re in such good company.

Make no mistake, the reformy zillionaires don’t give a damn about you, your kids, or your students. If they did, they’d be protesting low tax rates that starve school districts, rather than giving cash to demagogues like Cuomo or Astorino. They’d be using their money to fight poverty rather than the teaching profession.

The proposition that working teachers need fewer protections or benefits is an attack on what remains of the American middle class. The sooner we wake up, realize that, and put a stop to it the better off we’ll be.
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