Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bloomberg's Billions: Why Some NYC Teachers Are Experiencing Collective PTSD

It is its own sub on Reddit.  NY Magazine has used it Left (and right) Wing Haven the Seattle Sun Times has used itIt trends, every so often, on TwitterAnd now, Sunday's NYTimes has embraced it.

From "Blood-Soaked Mayor Bloomberg Announces Homelessness
No Longer A Problem In New York City" in The Onion
The term "Bloomberg's Billions" is quickly becoming synonymous with the wealth and power exhibited by the one percent in America.

More specifically,  the term is being used as a metaphor with how wealth yields power in the United States today  (through, according to today's Times, charitable donations to organizations which also wield political power).

Most folks point to his extreme use and defense of Stop and Frisk (a white-washed term the press has used to describe what the UN has identified as a Human Rights Violation). Others defer to his embrace of charter schools and his anti-union reputation -including his record as NYC mayor.

But teachers -not the teacher union, but teachers themselves, ones who worked and lived in the city during the Bloomberg years- recall something far more dark and sinister when confronted with the term -and those folks have to deal with a fair amount of PTSD because of it.

It's not his 2005 contract which removed rights for teachers and which helped start this EDU blog that caused this PTSD. And it's not his 2007 "Gotcha Squad" which sought out to match teachers with violations in order to fire them. That move filled the rubber rooms and helped lead to the creation of this NYC EDU blog. But that's not what causes PTSD either. It isn't even the accepted fact that many of us have still not been made whole by receiving the pay raises which we should have received in 2009. That is not the true nature of our collective PTSD.

Teachers who lived through and survived Bloomberg know full well what he actually achieved: Bloomberg erased the institutional memory of the NYCBOE and, because of this, its union, the UFT. It is as though the system that existed, including workplace protections and a concentration on the whole-child, before 2002 has been erased from the chalkboard. Any remnants of the way things were have long since been swept away. They will take decades to fully restore. And that is at the root of the collective "Oh, my God" that is swirling around more senior classrooms throughout New York City.

In order to illustrate my point, let me ask you a few questions. What happens to students and to teachers when we give a principal too much power? In what ways do we redress that principal? What happens when metrics, ones which many simply do not understand, are used to determine the worthiness of continued employment? What happens to a union that must divert resources to explain these metrics to its members? When actually happens when the overwhelming majority of a workforce -whole school communities across five boroughs- report to an underpaid job each day with no real job protections? What goes on inside those school communities? Is there a balance that takes place? Or are teachers forced to work for free every day, as was the case with Maspeth High School just three years ago?

Were you able to answer these questions? If you're answer was no, then you must understand; teachers just one generation ago were.

Check Facebook's Teacher Chat and you'll find an entire generation of educators just now learning the answers to these questions -just now beginning to build back the institutional memory that this one man successfully erased. But there was once a time when these were readily available in any teacher lunch room and through virtually any chapter leader in the city. These answers helped new teachers understand the lay of the land and helped older educators pass the torch of 'how to get by'. This is just a small part of the effect of erasing our collective institutional memory. And this is what causes PTSD for many more seasoned teachers.

It's not one or two parts of the whole. It is the gestalt; the sum total of the whole which many of us did not fully at first fully understand and had to, slowly, piece together for ourselves, then deal with. We see that happening again and we don't want it to.

Within the walls of 52 Broadway, headquarters of the UFT, it is generally understood that teachers during the definitive 1968 teacher strike were part of our greatest generation of UFTers. After all, these were the folks who built the union. They assembled at Randall's Island (by the tens of thousands) every August to demand a fair contract. These were the ones who walked out -and stayed out- in order to assert the basic due process protections that you and (currently on payroll) enjoy today. These were the ones who fought for decent pay, decent benefits and decent hours -and they are the ones who won.

Yet much of what they accomplished has been forgotten. This is why the final story may well reveal the current corps of city teachers to be the UFT's greatest generation.

These folks now -the ones who, through social media or through the demonstrating or attending meetings, or even harmless union bowling events- are the ones who are rebuilding (almost brick by brick) the institutional memory that Bloomberg's Billions were able to erase. They are the ones surrounding untenured employees and preventing them from being mistreated in the work place. They are the ones just now beginning to speak up or to speak out during staff meetings in defense of the profession (which is just another way of saying in defense of our students against really stupid policies). These are the folks who question almost everything they hear from a supervisor and are brave enough to speak up about it.

This is probably why this generation of teachers are the ones who really are rewriting that playbook and who find themselves tackling challenges (such as what it means organize around an issue or to just simply stand together through a difficult time) when so much effort is devoted to dividing them. These are the ones who are forced to, sometimes, speak up against their own supervisors on behalf of students, even though they're still not sure if the've committed original sin by doing so or have scored one for the students. With almost no one around to tell them that they have scored one for the students, they make these stands out of almost pure gut instinct.  Bloomberg's Billions has given this generation of teachers the short straw in this manner and his billions are, even now, compelling them to do things akin to walking up to the headmaster and making that age old plea; 'please sir, may I have some more?' without having one single notion of what may happen to them as a result.

The "greatest generation" had an active union behind them. These folks have only their wits and a general sense of what is right and wrong. These are folks who have inherited Bloomberg's real legacy and they're the ones who find themselves rebuilding that institutional history which his billions helped take away.

Just to be clear: I'm not speaking of my generation of teachers (folks who probably read this blog). My generation of teachers got their asses kicked. We were the ones who were fired or were fined or had their schools close around them or had to deal with stereotypes that exist as a result of the ATR.  We were the ones who faced retaliations of all kind for speaking out, even a little. We are the generation who were castigated in the press and were investigated for simply speaking (or missing eleven days of work (true story) or passing gas (again; true story) or raising a question during SLT (most famously, a true story) and were powerless to stop it. We were the ones who heard stories from the rubber rooms and hid away out of fear. We were the ones who read in the papers what Bloomberg's money did to teacher David Pakter (who was almost fired for bringing plants for his new school, who spoke out against the attempt, and who soon found that Bloomberg's Billions had planted a false story in the New York Post falsely accusing him of sexual abuse (he had not committed this act. It was a political hit job, only done on a school teacher (again, true story. That actually happened.  Pakter's lawsuit against the Post for $10 million dollars was still in court documents last time I checked).

The general point I'm making is not only accurate but important to assert: The current veteran teachers, the ones like me, were the ones who totally lost to his billions and we're the ones who are now in a process of quietly working our way toward a pension. We are far from any greatest generation of UFTers. Mr. Bloomberg's money made damn well sure of that.

And, as part of that process, some of us try to take some time to remind people and to warn them, sometimes with every breath we take, that a Mike Bloomberg presidency would be just as much of a disaster for anyone in the working class or in the professional service class, as it was for teachers in the 2000s in New York City. And if it looks like older teachers are losing their minds, it's just because we're experiencing a heavy case of PTSD as we watch this man buy his way into another round of political relevance.  We want for him to not matter anymore. Yet his money ensures that he does.

 It's almost like a mission  -to remind folks that this same man who, during the very week the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans were ruined, paid a sympathy call to  the HQ of Goldman Sachs to make sure that the bankers knew he had their back.

He is currently running 3rd place in the overall polls for the presidential primaries. So it is a good time to jot down some thoughts: Mike Bloomberg sucks. His billions can come after me again (they know who I am) but he sucks. He sucks for working class. He sucks for teachers. He sucks for people of color. He sucks for anyone except the ultra rich and the people who spend all of their time wanting to be the ultra rich. He will cut Social Security. He will cut Medicare. He will continue to allow retail workers in this country to work for substandard pay and require welfare benefits just to survive -and then he will cut their benefits.  He will cut all entitlements that he can, will increase military spending, will reduce taxes for high earning professional class, while balancing that increasing taxes for regular folks and he will declare victory while doing it.

Because it will be a victory. It just won't be ours. This is the truth that Bloomberg's Billions is seeking (successfully) to obfuscate. Older teachers know it (the way old dogs can feel in their bones when it's about to rain) and we simply can't believe we're watching this happen.


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