Tuesday, August 01, 2017

On Putting Children First

You hear that a lot. The DOE motto under Klein was Children First, Always. It sounds like a great thing. Let's take care of the kids. How could anyone argue with that? If you think that's wrong, you must hate children. It feels like a pretty good argument if you consider argument a tool to shut off virtually all response.

Here's the thing, though--a lot of people who chant this mantra are part of a system that does no such thing. I'd argue that the very best advocates for children are their parents, and the city fought to keep them out of School Leadership Team meetings, going so far as to ignore a judge's order otherwise. Why? Likely to preclude things like the activist parents from CPE 1 ousting an abusive principal

It appears the city wants to put "children first" via doing any damn thing it pleases. Otherwise, why would it have placed another administrator with a demonstrated history of abuse in charge of Townsend Harris, a well-respected Queens selective high school? I mean, seriously, why can't we all get along? Isn't that how we set examples for the children we're putting first?

And on yet another plane of putting children first, there are class sizes. In high schools, our max for most classes is 34. In my building, at least, it's become more norm than max. And yet the CFE law said we should have classes of no more than 25 by now. I find it amazing to be lectured about putting students first by people in a system that denies children one of very few things that have been demonstrated to actually help them.

Let's put aside the hypocrisy of those who lecture us, just for now, and let's focus on when they do it. In my experience, it happens when you stand up for your rights. Let's say you file a grievance because you got nothing you asked for. I once sat with an AP who said, "Gee, I'd love to fix it, but it's impossible." She then showed me a program, made up in a Delaney book with movable cards. I looked at it for one minute, swapped two cards, and asked, "Why don't we do this?"

The AP looked at my suggestion for a minute. She thought for a while, and then said, "Well, it's bad for the children to change their teacher. I'm gonna leave it like this because it's all about the children." So, in other words, screw you, screw the contract, I don't want to inconvenience myself or admit I made an error that could easily be corrected. Instead I'll do nothing, blame you for not caring about children, and let you proceed with the grievance that conclusively establishes you do not.

Usually, when I hear someone speak about putting children first, it has more to do with telling someone to shut up and stop asserting themselves. Why are you talking about your contractual rights instead of the children? It's a strawman argument they pull out and they think you won't notice. If you assert your rights you therefore don't care about children. I had some moron from SCI scream at me that I didn't care about children because I insisted a member be represented before talking to him. The fact that he was broadcasting a baseless lie about me indicated my member needed all the help she could get.

Although a whole lot of DOE reps are not as overtly slimy as he was, they're doing the same thing when they tell you to shut up, sit down and do as you are told for the sake of the children. Remember that it is you who wakes up each and every morning to serve those very children, while those people who lecture you sit around each day doing God only knows what. In fact, when you sit down and shut up, you make their jobs easier. They can tell themselves they are saving the children by getting you to waive and ignore your rights. In fact, they are doing no such thing.

We are role models. If we wish to put children first, we want them to have more, not fewer, options and more, not fewer, rights. We want them to stand up against injustice.

Sometimes people who talk about putting children first don't like disagreements. Sometimes they don't like it when teachers stand up for their rights. In fact, sometimes they don't like union. In fact, there's a "social justice" charter school that just fired a teacher for joining the UFT. It's amazing that people who dare to wrap themselves in a social justice banner can openly reject their absolute right to join a union.

Here's the thing--these people are not doing this to put children first. They may believe they are, but they are not. They are doing this for their own convenience. The SCI guy wanted to get this done right now. He didn't want to bother with representation, or rights, or any of that nonsense. If the member got herself in trouble, well, too bad for her. If I folded when he shouted me down, well, so much the better. Maybe he gets a gold star every time he intimidates a UFT member into waiving her rights. Who knows?

First and foremost, we are role models. Do we want our children to grow up and be sheep? Do we want them to grow up and be steamrolled like the coyote, pictured above, every time they open their mouths? Do we want them to believe that social justice is any damn thing the boss says it is? Do we want them to live in perpetual fear?

If you answered no to those questions, you know the way to place children first is to assert yourself. You know you need to teach children to assert themselves as well. I'm not afraid of children disagreeing with me, and I don't need to tell them to sit down and shut up when they do so. I will listen to them and present my point of view. If they're right and I'm wrong, I'll just say so. I have no idea why some people are so insistent on being right all the time. It's an impossible and crazy burden.

We get up each and every morning to directly serve these children. Let others sit around in offices doing whatever and lecture us on putting children first. Let them worry about shutting us up so they can spend a few extra minutes sitting around in their offices. But remember one thing--we are the ones who put children first. That's why we spend every day of our working lives with them.

If we fold when faced with nonsensical strawman arguments from overpaid bureaucrats, we aren't doing our jobs. Assert your rights, lead by example, and teach our children to do the same.
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