Sunday, May 29, 2016

Social Justice Isn't Crap

All due respect to my friend Chaz, you can't discount social justice. We are not living on a remote island. We are part of a community.

Hey, I love to get a raise. I want a new Mac, pretty much all the time. I have a kid and she is expensive, what with going to college and stuff. And man, life in general is expensive, what with property and school taxes and fixing stuff. I live 23 miles from my workplace and without a reliable vehicle I'd be hitchhiking back and forth. Pretty sure my principal would be less than sympathetic if I missed classes because I couldn't thumb a ride.

But my job is serving the children of New York City. I advocate for them collectively and individually. I'm very proud that UFT VP Janella Hinds and I were able to put our differences aside and produce a resolution at the DA to support the kids I serve. Our resolution, in supporting kids, also supports teachers. And I am trying to build on this. Aixa Rodriguez and I were on television talking about it. I'm trying to get Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa to get involved, albeit without much success, and I'm working on reaching out to multilingual communities to fix what hurts us and our students.

The very "reforms" that Chaz and I abhor are an affront to social justice. In fact, by making working conditions so awful for teachers we are gradually robbing our children of a great opportunity--that of doing the best job there is. I don't know about you, but I want my kid and my students to have opportunities other than making eight bucks an hour at the BJ's cash register. One of the surest ways to support that is by supporting union. Union itself, in fact, is a form and facet of social justice.

One of my former ESL students is now a math teacher in my school. She comes from a family that works very, very hard just to get by. They scrimped and saved and put her through Queens College. She's as smart as anyone I know, and for all I know in a few years she'll be my boss. She is the American Dream personified, and I want her story replicated. That's why I support social justice.

The opt-out movement, in my view, is the most important movement there is against the insanity that is reforminess. John King could run around, spout baseless ideas, and refuse to subject his own kids to them, sending them to a Montessori school. He could even walk out in a snit,  refusing to defend his ideas to the public, dismissing teachers and parents as "special interests." But the parents were demanding social justice for their children by attacking the ridiculous tests that labeled not only their children, but also their children's teachers. The activist parents in New York State are our best friends and our most ardent supporters. If we demand better conditions exclusively for ourselves, we will lose that support.

And let me add that I absolutely support better working conditions for teachers. I absolutely oppose the ATR and the conditions imposed on teachers stuck there. I've been writing about the ATR since its inception, and if you search this blog you'll see it mentioned literally hundreds of times. I advocate for ATRs and several of them are now permanently employed in my school. Fighting for them is, in fact, fighting for social justice.

We fight such things not only because they hurt us, but because the very existence of such idiocy hurts our children as well. We are part of something larger than ourselves, and if we fail to acknowledge that, we cut ourselves off from our community.

And community is vital. When I attended multiple sessions at Jamaica High School and others, I saw communities up in arms. It wasn't just us alone. When I held demonstrations at my school, I did so in coordination with our PTA. On a small level, when my students have issues and run into red tape, I run interference for them. I don't have to wait on lines the way they do.

Social justice is standing up for our communities, and it's a win-win. If we don't stand with them, why should they stand with us? And if we don't stand up for those we serve, how are we even doing our jobs? We are role models. Do we want to foster a generation that cares only for itself and no one else?

I don't know why everyone does this job, but I want to make a difference. If all I cared about were imparting subject matter and making kids pass tests, I'd support the reformies. But we are something more, and we do something more.

Again, this is the best job there is. But it's certainly not because it's the best paying or easiest job there is. It's because we make a difference, right there in the classroom. And if we think about keeping this job the best job there is, we have to think about improving our communities. We have to fight folks like Bloomberg, folks who care only about folks like Bloomberg. It may not be laid out in black and white in the UFT Contract, but that's part of our job too.

Update: Chaz answers that social justice is crap indeed. My response is below:

You'll pardon me, but I am a strong advocate for smaller class sizes, and have been for years. And I've spoken out about the contract all over the place. When Mulgrew said bloggers were "purveyors of myth" on health care, he was certainly talking about me. He turned off Eterno's mike as James said we'd negotiated the lowest pattern in history, something he's yet to refute.

I read the comments on the UFT Facebook page on the Garner march. They were overtly racist and I was disgusted. I joined the march and I'm proud to have done so. And far from being "strangely silent" on the discipline code, I had a piece in the New York Daily News a week or two ago absolutely opposing it.

Most importantly, by painting everyone with MORE with one brush, you do us a great disservice. We don't sign loyalty oaths, and we are free to believe as we wish. We are not a group of fanatical ideologues, and we are diverse in our beliefs. Saying we believe this and that is nothing but a stereotype, and you've actually not addressed anything in my blog post. I'm pretty shocked you seem not to know me better than that.

I don't actually know much about restorative justice, but someone on my blog yesterday told me it entailed tolerating assaults on teachers and students peddling drugs. Seriously? You're gonna tell me this is what I support? I write and work in defense of members every day of my life. I advocate for ATRs on multiple levels, and have helped several to get hired permanently. I'm not always successful, but it's not for lack of trying.

I take it very seriously when members are abused. That's not any kind of justice, and I'm not at all shy about standing up for members. Being chapter leader of the largest school in Queens is not precisely a walk in the park, and I take the implication that I tolerate such nonsense as a personal insult.
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