Tuesday, April 15, 2014

May We “Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse?” Let's Fight the Injustice of Pension Thievery and So-called Education Reform Together


Anthony Cody describes teachers as ‘reluctant warriors,’ as men and women who chose a profession because they wanted to teach, not to engage in political battles over their basic rights as professionals.

The profession is under attack, as everyone now knows. Pensions are under attack. The right to due process is under attack. The policymakers want inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who won’t talk back, who won’t collect a pension, who will turn over rapidly:

“…In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

“But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

“No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students. The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

First, the privatizers came for the schools of the poor, because their parents and communities were powerless and were easy marks for privatization. Then they came for the union and the teachers:

“…Schools of the poor were the first targets. It was easy to stigmatize schools attended by African Americans and Latinos, by English learners and the children of the disempowered. Use test scores to label them failures, dropout factories, close them down; turn them over to privatizers. But this was just the beginning. And now, as Arne Duncan made clear with his dismissal of ‘white suburban moms,’ they want all the schools, and are prepared to use poor performance on the Common Core tests to fuel the ‘schools are failing’ narrative.

“Teacher unions are under ruthless attack by billionaires, who conveniently own the media, and provide the very ‘facts’ to guide public discourse. Due process is maligned and destroyed under the guise of ‘increasing professionalism.’ Democratic control of local schools is undermined by mayoral control and the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

“Congress and state legislatures have been purchased wholesale through bribes legalized by the Supreme Court, which has given superhuman power to corporate ‘citizens.’

“Teachers, by our nature cooperators respectful of authority, are slow to react. Can the destruction of public education truly be anyone’s goal? The people responsible for this erosion rarely state their intentions. With smiles and praise for teachers, they remove our autonomy and make our jobs depend on test scores. With calls for choice and civil rights, they re-segregate our schools, and institute zero-tolerance discipline policies in their no-excuses charter schools. They push for larger classes in public schools but send their own children to schools with no more than 16 students in a room. Corporate philanthropies anoint teacher ‘leaders’ who are willing to echo reform themes – sometimes even endorsed by our national teacher unions.

Now, he says, as the truth gets out about the privatization movement and its bipartisan support, teachers are starting to fight back. They are joining the BATs, they are joining the Network for Public Education, they are speaking out, they are (as in Seattle) refusing to give the tests, they are organizing (as in New York City) to protest the low quality of the tests.

Join in the fight against high-stakes testing, which is a central element in the privatization movement. They use the data to target teachers, principals, and public schools. They use the data to destroy public education. Don’t cooperate. Join the reluctant warriors. One person alone will be hammered. Do it with your colleagues, stand together, and be strong.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
What do we do best as teachers?

We inspire others. We influence and move people to action. We take a person’s potentiality and make it an actuality. We offer our help to others because of our compassion and our empathy, because of our humility and our dignity. We communicate truths because of our integrity. We never give up because of our moral responsibility towards one another and the importance of trust among individuals. We fight against all injustices. We understand; we discuss; we mediate, and we act. We do what is right and model our behavior for others. We hold ourselves accountable for what we do and what we believe is true. We set the example.

What are we as teachers? We are leaders, consultants, diagnosticians and evaluators; we are life-long learners; we are architects for the experiences of others. We are what we want to see in others: our idealism, our indomitable spirit, our commitment to human rights and to the creation of a better society. We are responsible, intrepid and just. We are one of last bastions of hope for a society driven by amoral envy and indifferent greed.

And we are appalled by hypocrisy and lies, by incompetence, irresponsibility and cronyism. We are appalled by intentional faulty logic and the unethical scapegoating of others, by arrogance and self-interest, by prejudice and the injustices done to others. We are appalled by indifference because “indifference is not a response”; therefore, we unite and fight the injustice being perpetrated against ourselves and others. Join in the fight against pension thievery and so-called education reform!

Monday, May 30, 2011
An Open Letter to All Teachers in Illinois:

Challenges remain before us. We must never become complacent in our belief that justice exists for those who simply “fight the good fight”; nor should we become indifferent to political power and what exorbitant wealth can buy: a “democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder” (Bill Moyers).  

Although we can infer that legislators will often pass laws for their own advantage, most of us still adhere to the belief that the legislators’ duty to act justly stems from their duty to keep a promise.  Perhaps we should recall that despite their pledges, the legislators’ criteria for justice are their consideration for what is most expedient for them—their re-election, which is concealed often by a counterfeit concern for the general welfare of their constituency and the state’s financial situation.   

Undoubtedly, our pension is not generally viewed as in the best interest of the welfare of a legislator’s entire electorate.  Our pension serves no purpose, except solely for our enviable, financial promise…All of us claim certain beliefs as truths. Nevertheless, what we must remember is that we, both retired and working teachers, cannot abdicate our right to representation in a decision-making process that affects only us, and although our entitled pension conferred to us by the State and U.S. Constitutions is not “an inalienable right,” for most of us, it is our final and only source of income.   

It is up to us to secure what we have earned by opposing the wealthy influences of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Civic Federation, and their unethical legislators.  We must defend our dignity with stubborn resolve.  Our primary task is to enlist every teacher and every other public employee in a unification of wills to protect our “alienable” rights and benefits that we deem fair and equitable because they are earned, incentive payments for our life’s labor. This undertaking perhaps forestalls our pro-active and continual engagement with some of the bankrollers’ marionettes in the Illinois General Assembly. 

Indeed, our fortitude and knowledge give us power, and this power must motivate us to action.  Our collective financial fate is challenged and will continue to be in the future.  We are intrinsically bound to one another in this regard.  As Martin Luther King eloquently stated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”   Let us heed King’s message of “direct action,” unify our efforts to confront wealthy interests and unethical legislation, and “arouse the conscience of not only our colleagues but our communities” by proving that our right to a defined-benefit pension is not to be "diminished or impaired" because it is the solution and template for the preservation of justice and dignity of all workers in Illinois.  

A demanding call for engagement will intensify for us in the future. We cannot remain on the sidelines. Join in the fight against pension thievery! "Indifference is not an option," even though “It is so much easier to look away… so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes” (Elie Wiesel). With concerted determination and indomitable courage, let's meet these challenges before us… Truly, “We Are One,” but only if we demonstrate a willingness to organize and to act upon principles that we believe are so valuable that to do nothing would be an injustice. 

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