Thursday, May 19, 2022

The UFT Official Election Results.

 The official results from the union election are in. You can download them here. 

I'm proud of Camille Eterno. She really understands how collective action can be used to influence policy and workplace rules and how to keep public education public. I hope we hear more from her in the future. 

Also happy the Schirtzer got reelected and excited to see how Lydia will add to that mix. I trust she will know when to stay with the UFC and action and policy and when to stand out on her own. Her and Schirtzer may well make an effective combination.   Much to feel sad about some great union names not being elected. That's always a bummer. But I was also excited to see so many new leftists from the MORE caucus show a good solid voting base. I hope their voices continue to come more front of that caucus. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

This Is Not A Bomb Track

When I first started teaching, the Global History Regents would test students about Japan's economy.

But then Japan lost a whole decade of economic progress --and they stopped testing students about it. 

Shortly thereafter, they started testing students about Aung San Suu Kyi; the politician-turned-activist-turned-politician from Myanmar who stood up to the military dictatorship there and bravely negotiated a democratic government with them.

But then Aung San Suu Kyi supported the military as they committed genocide against the Rohingya minority (one which included 43,000 deaths and at at least 700,000 displaced persons) --and they stopped testing students about her. 

The Global History Regents has been testing students about Globalization for some time now. Globalization is obvious to you and I. It produces the products we buy. It provides the services we use. It keeps prices cheap and it allows up to go on relatively inexpensive vacations. 

Like many things, Globalization follows its ebbs and flows. We go through long periods of history where the world becomes more economically interdependent. Right now, we are going through a period where that dependency has shrunk, at least a bit. The many pauses in manufacturing in China (here) and the the international container ship backup (here) as well as the war in Ukraine (here) and the ongoing effects of COVID (this is but one example) have revealed, for corporations, a major weakness of interdependence during these new times: You just can't make a profit if you have nothing to sell because it's stuck on a boat. You can't get rich if the factories in China aren't open. And you can't make shareholders happy in the middle of a wide-spread international wheat shortage (which has the potential to effect many countries (many of which produce our 'stuff'!)). The data in the chart, showing that Globalization is in a bit of a 'retreat' only validates what makes perfect sense to everyone who pays attention; we are too interconnected given the present challenges we face. It only makes sense that the corporations and governments untwine, a bit, and become less interdependent; at least a little. 

And that sense is backed up by some blaring evidence. The signs that we are becoming less interdependent are everywhere. Wolfspeed, a semi-conductor producer, recently announced a new manufacturing plant to be opened here in New York (here). Intel is opening a manufacturing facility back here in the US as well (here).  These decisions are not confined to just one industry. Ford has announced it is moving some of its car production back the US from Mexico. Tesla is actually hiring at the factory that produces Model Y cars in Texas (here). We are beginning a transition. Some work is coming home. 

Will they stop testing students on the basics of Globalization, now that the fundamental structures of it are changing? 

All of the above information about the Ford and Tesla and Intel and Wolfspeed is knowledge that, if taught, might lead an inquisitive student to go look the possibility of getting hired. If the Global Regents were to test it, administrators all across the city would freak out and teachers in every classroom from Red Hook to Arthur Avenue and in between would teach it. But, like testing students on Aung San Suu Kyi or on Japan's economy, I expect the Global history regents to eventually just stop testing students about Globalization altogether. That's what they tend to do when the topics become a little too sticky. Besides, teaching any information that could lead to a job opportunity isn't exactly what the Global History people in NYS do. It's outside of their professional scope and, therefore, outside of my professional scope. 


One time, the Global History Regents asked students to consider the impacts of the road upon which Globalization travels; free trade. Specifically, they tested students on the point of view of one group that has been affected by Globalization; women union activists from a manufacturing plant in northern Mexico.

Chew on this doenut for a second, okay? Fifteen year old students in New York had to read a part of a speech to determine what topic a woman union activist from another country was talking about when she gave as speech about how terrible working conditions were (she was talking about workers rights and health in northern Mexico under NAFTA). In order to, someday, graduate high school, my students first had to answer this question. They have not been asked to understand their perspective in their world of the greater NYC Metropolitan area.  

The standards (upon which all of my curriculum is built) do not require me to teach my fifteen year old students how Globalization may have affected them in a negative way. I am not required to teach them that the once easy-to-get factory jobs in New York (and around the US) went away a long time ago and that they have to engage in even more job training after they graduate (either in college or a career training program) if they don't want to live a life of first-world poverty. Exactly no one is required to teach them that, here in the US,  there really was a time when a seventeen year old could land one of those jobs and have enough money to pay the rent and enjoy their youth without living in their parents' house.  I don't think I am suppose to tell them that it is technically easier for a poor high school student in China to break into the middle class than it is for a poor high school student in the US to break into the middle class, either. 

That's a very narrow statement, of course. My students have tons more opportunities in front of them, if they are able to make it in our first-world success game. But, in order to consider 17 year olds' perspective,  I think it is a statement that's worth making. (It's true, by the way. China produces more cars than our entire nation consumes and almost all of them are small, EVs intended to be purchased with a factory level wage. The most popular is around $8,000 USD. This is because tons more people can afford them because they are now in the middle class. But that's just an aside).  

And, as I reflect, it occurs to me that I was never required to teach them the protests against Globalization in Seattle in the 1990s (here) and I was never tasked to attend a PD to understand exactly why blue-collar, non highly-educated service workers over in the UK were furious that Globalization wasn't working for them and absolutely wanted out of the EU just as soon as possible.  (Heck, I'm not even sure if I should be teaching them Brexit. Should I be teaching Brexit?). 

I want to be teaching my students how to open a bank account or do their taxes. But the law does not permit a legitimate fifteen year old high school student, who is engaged in legitimate study, to have a bank account. And the law does not require them, even in nominal form, to pay any taxes. They would like to know how to write a check. I would like to teach them that no one writes checks anymore but here's how to use debit card or bank card in an great way to pay your bills. I used to (decades ago) teach them how to do stay within a household budget. But then they all stopped moving out, because the last of the jobs that had been there had finally gone. I'd like to teach them how to invest now (while they are still young and have time to grow a real portfolio); but they are not allowed. 

And I am not allowed, either. Before my students can do any of these things, they first must demonstrate to the world that they can be an educated citizen or resident by working and being over eighteen. They are told that, in order to have a job, they would be better off with a high school diploma. And, in order to obtain that, they must pass this test. (That's where I come in. I spend a whole year of their life teaching them about Japan's miraculous economy, about Aung San Suu Kyi, ('just incase she pops up on a regents again')  and about how Globalization is visible in NAFTA and the EU and the WTO and IMF and World Bank. I am required to teach them about NAFTA and the World Bank and about Aung San Suu Kyi, but I can't teach them how to open up a bank account or how to find a job at Tesla. I do this for salary, you see (for a good salary, by the way). So I do it.  And, if they pass this test, then they can do those and other things which we have not at all trained them for either. 

And I'm not sure how many of them will ever work with NAFTA or the World Bank or will ever become an international activist who will allow their military to crack down on a Muslim minority by killing 43,000 and displacing 700,000. I am not sure how many will open up a business or ever visit Japan. I suspect less than 1% will follow a career path that requires them to engage in these topics. And they won't be prepared to pay rent on a store front or open an Amazon FBA account, or how to apply for a business loan or to go to have a general understanding of the amazing background of the peoples who are living right there in their neighborhood or on their block. I'm on a train that, somewhere along the line, went right off the rails. But, dammit, those kids are going to learn about Aung and Japan and NAFTA and the EU and the WTO and IMF and the World Bank. 

This, of course, isn't new. 1992 was thirty years ago. And that's when Rage dropped these lyrics; 'The teacher stands in front of the class, But the lesson plan he can't recall, The student's eyes don't perceive the lies, Bouncing off every fucking wall, His composure is well kept, I guess he fears playing the fool, The complacent students sit and listen to some of that, [Bull__] that he learned in school, What about that, the system?'  

I love that group, by the way! I came into teaching to rage against the same machine! I think the Global History Regents people did, too although I cannot often tell. But we do now all just shut up, pay our mortgages and buy nice things with the salaries we earn and then go home. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Dolores' Dreams -I

It was obvious. From distance, anyone who watched her could see that she was dreaming. Her eyes were closed. Her bag was zipped up shut and propped on the chair next to her. Her legs and feet, both stretched out in front of her torso, weren't moving and her arms were folded in tight over her chest. Most noticeably, Dolores' eyes were strenuously bouncing around inside of their lids without hesitation. It was obvious to anyone who paid attention that she was in the rapid eye movement phase of sleep. Sleep. She had fallen asleep. From a distance, anyone could see.

But that's now how it felt to her. To Dolores, the most vivid dream anyone could imagine, looked, felt, sounded and smelled as though it were actually happening to her.  It felt real and, as far as Dolores was concerned, she was really living it. To the outside world, Dolores Polonius was just catching a quick nap on her lunch break before heading back to teach her last two classes for the day. But Dolores was in a completely different reality than the outside world.  

She was on the subway heading to work. She was concerned about her safety during her morning (or was that afternoon?) commute. It was ,fuzzy, you know? Like a dream. But she left so early each day and returned so late that whole months went by where her entire commute ended in the dark. And riding the subway in the dark had long since become a concern for Dolores Polonius. She just didn't feel safe. And none of the other teachers at work did, either. So she forgave herself for being confused.  

And then, in a flash, she was in the hallway just outside of her classroom.  There was a kerfuffle of some sort and she had to address it. Her high school students (though typically polite and respectful), had taken to laughing at the mere suggestion of facing any consequences for poor actions at school. This all boiled over when they laughed at Ms Polonius when she asked them to please move along or to keep it down because she was teaching. Ms. Polonius wasn't the type to be laughed at. She was the nice teacher. But when they laughed, she pointed her index finger straight up toward their chests and gave them the biggest, boldest "Hey!!" that a five-foot-one-inch woman could possibly give. 

"Hey!!", she pursed, as her eyes bobbed around inside of their lids. There was a brief moment of silence in the hallway just outside of Dolores' classroom. And then the group of students burst out into laughter and told her to get back into her room.  

And then, in a flash, she was all alone. It was just her, in a dark room. Sitting. Thinking. Reflecting. And it occurred to her that, for the first time in her career, there were students who refused to work in her class. There were students who refused to respond to the counselors or deans and who declined to attempt any effort at all to exceed or to even pass. She wasn't a judgemental teacher. She had just never seen any student simply decline to do work for her, let alone whole groups of students. This was new. They no longer cared about the zeros that they would get for not completing class assignments. Just last week she had been greeted with a jovial student who jokingly refused to do any work."What's the point, miss? They're just going to make you pass me anyway!". 

To Dolores Polonius, this was all spectacularly peculiar. From a distance, one could see her murmur "powerful dream" under her breath, as though reassuring herself that this wasn't really happening. 

It was widely understood by the students that teachers would be harrassed, bullied, terrorized, observed by multiple administrators or worse if they issued a failing grade for students who refused to do any work in class. All of this was intentionally done, according to the widely held understanding,  in front of the students so that the students could see what happens to a teacher who issues more than just a few failing grades. It was an issue over which some students felt sympathy and other students felt a sense of buyer's remorse so severe that they cared not to think about it. But it was widely understood and quite widely held by students all across the city. And that was the reality within which Dolores had to teach. 

I mean, who would think you could go to a school, not do much for four years, watch your teachers get intimidated if they failed you and then walk out with a NYC diploma? Clearly! Dolores was dreaming! 🍩 But, within that dream, was the reality that she alone had to navigate. 

And yet it felt so real! It almost felt as though a high school aged student could face no consequence for anything at all, unless one became violent toward another person (and even then, it was only a standard ("principal") or extra strength ("superintendent") suspension). For Dolores Polonius, it just felt so real.  

And then she heard something. She couldn't identify it at first, because it was so muffled. But, as the sound came slowly into focus, she recognized it as the voices of two giggling students sneaking out of their favorite teacher's classroom next door to her. "Such great kids", she murmured to herself. "I teach them soon". This was all followed, of course, by the sound of a teacher calling 'please don't leave until the bell rings. Come away from the door, please'. And then, finally, the sound. The bell. 

The bell. 

Dolores Polonius woke up in a flash. Before her eyes had fully opened, she had grabbed her bag, her coffee and checked for her classroom keys. And, as it slowly dawned on her that the lunch break had ended, she smiled at the thought of having just two of her favorite classes to teach before being able to launch out into the warm Spring afternoon. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Behind The Scenes: Commentary On Both Campaigns

This is just a quick commentary on both campaigns as I observed them throughout the election. 

It's been a campaign of declining horizons for the UFC. What started as an idea to unite all of the teachers in the city who weren't too happy with Unity, quickly moved into a working group that would consider uniting all of the left teachers in the city who weren't too happy with Unity. That, somehow grew into a campaign tailored to all of the already activated teachers on the left who weren't too happy with Unity but were, at least, paying attention. At the end of the day, people from all of the groups who ran oppo for years wound up running this campaign. The new blood that had come into the process had come only through those same old faces and had been along for the ride through the same old tricks. The only difference from years past is that, for 2022, they were all on the same page. That is still not too shabby and it was more than enough to shake Unity out of its slumber for this election. 

In the Fall, the UFC truly had a chance to win a majority of working teachers. That would have put the leaders of the UFC in a very strong position over the next three years. A majority of working teachers would have allowed them to heavily influence union policy until the next election cycle. That would have been historic.  Given the many missteps (some, stemming from mean spirited internal moves made over the course of the campaign, and others which wound up playing right into Unity's "We Do the Work" strategy),  that outcome will not happen. But, like any Confederate solider who was at Gettysburg the moment before the battle began, there was once was a moment where all that and more was possible.  

Unity, on the other hand, used this election to organize its caucus like it has never done before. Before this election, the Unity caucus was a big, sprawling group of people who seemed more concerned with their small 'team' (or piece of turf) than they seemed to be with the union as a whole. Many of these people didn't know one another. Many more seemed almost preoccupied about brandishing their own career reputation, or settling internal caucus disputes, then they were with the union as a whole. 

They all know one another now! So far as I see, each person inside the Unity Caucus sees the purpose of their work in a whole new light. As a group, they seem more organized in thought and in word than I have ever seen before. And they have been forced to be more reflective of who they are when they speak about these issues. They don't attack regular members anymore on social media. They sound like professionals when they add a comment. They avoid that demeaning tone that Unity had become known for. They're better. Their "all-in" approach has made them better and this election has been a blessing in disguise for them (and, by extension, the rest of us). 

And, as they are in better shape, so too is the UFC. The United Federation of Teachers is not a union of teachers of the left and the UFC is a group made up of teachers and teacher supporters of the left. Despite this, they are a united left. That's important for the rest of us. They have a long history and knowledge base of taking to the streets that they all employed this year. The new found cooperation led them to learn from each other, share each others' ideas and approaches and benefit from a sort of cultural diffusion from which the left does not typically benefit.  They now know how to launch a media campaign now and they  (caucuses who made up the slate) are all in a position to organize and bring more to their respective causes. If they were smart (and they are at least smart enough to read this blog), they would start organizing forums and other gatherings around their issues now -before the campaign becomes too forgotten  and while so many are still paying attention to them. 

I doubt whether that will happen, though. They are, after all, of the left and the left is notorious for not staying together for very long. I have already written that they will probably get 'about as far as the next few stops on the subway'. That could give them up to one good solid year of being on the same page and helping one another. If they could 1) Stick to their points of unity, they will see  2) a growth in their numbers, then they'll 3) become more powerful. 

Alas, the old way of doing things, which are rooted in suspicion, had prevailed in the final construct of their organization. They yelled for more voices, yet they organized their group around a small council of older ("wiser"?) members some representing their caucus and some representing just themselves. That part didn't feel very new.  Though brimming with energy and brilliance and motivation, the younger voices inside MORE have still not come to understand that the caucus is controlled by four or five of the same people (and some of those people have blown up joint slates in the past). But this group almost didn't happen and it did and that greatly matters. 

(Side note: Someone needs to do a history of the UFT oppo groups. Only oppo is too scared to do it, because then they'd have to admit to some of the things they do.)

Looking out in the distance, the UFC's future is very questionable. If the younger real organizers can't figure out a way to work around the older voices who cause damage, then the entire UFC may well be a memory by the time the next election rolls around. And, while there are other members (like the entire group over at ICE UFT) who hold all of the institutional memory and who understand how to be helpful to newer activists instead of competing against them, the truth is there are about 4 or 6 people from the UFC slate who could help the cause by stepping aside starting now and allow the younger voices to take it from here. Sadly, if those key members don't decide that it is time to hang it up, then the UFC will not have a fighting chance to make any difference at all in three years time, because the UFC will no longer exist. 

But Unity has never been in better shape than they are right now. And that fact, along with a newly formed oppo group challenging them at every legitimate turn, will be good for working teachers. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

My Picks For The UFT Election

What a campaign. Now that it's over (polls closed today) it's time to write about it. Despite the toxic ugliness that marked the opening rounds of the event, the election it was a bonafide wasterhsed event for both oppo and the ruling Unity caucus. 

It won't wind up having a direct effect on regular classroom teachers across across this the city, but the way the UFT represents members, as well as the way opposition caucus reach out to work with members is going to be guided, in part, by the experiences and the lessons of this 2022 election. Unity will continue to improve and the oppo groups may well be able to work together (more on that in another post).  

So here is how I think the vote count will go:

Majority of members This is a no brainer. Unity will win the election as a whole. This will mean that all of their VPs and "at-large" candidates will win.  This margin will narrow from 2019 but will still send a clear message as to who the winner is. Oppo will cry that "margin of victory matters!". It doesn't. And it won't. Unity will continue to reach out to work with oppo anyway. And oppo will continue to work with Unity for almost every opportunity it has. 

Retirees Unity. They lost a few votes because of the Medicare issue but not as many as folks think. Unity will win. These folks have whole careers behind them and fresh memories of events like the 1975 strike. They stuck with their union through layoffs,  0-0 raises under Giuliani and the Bloomberg attacks on teachers and on teaching. One little mis explanation of their medical benefits will not cost a majority of them to switch their vote. Unity wins retirees. Again, oppo will claim that margin of victory matters here. But those same groups won't do a thing to build relationships with groups of retirees. There will be strategy for organizing  retirees because that's not the way oppo does things. So this vote will, literally, just be an indicator for how many retirees are pissed at Unity. Again, short term embarrassment for Unity but the oppo groups are not in any position to pose a long term threat to Unity's solid retiree base. 

Majority of working teachers This was briefly up for grabs at the beginning of the campaign. It is, of course, a fairly distant improbability for the UFC now. Unity will win a majority of working teachers. Most will come from elementary and middle schools. But a larger margin than most folks think will come from the high school division.  

Majority of non-teacher members Unity. That's all there is to it. This has always been a stronghold for Unity and will continue to be so .

Paras (because Paras deserve their own category, in this space). Unity. As long as the union takes care of its paras, the paras will take care of the Unity Caucus. Also, please continue to take care of our paras. Fewer of them will vote to for Unity, but look for them to vote Unity. Opposition leaders who are able to build relationships with para educators do so on a basis of world-view. It's nice for leftists to connect and work with other leftists. The moderates and conservatives have kept the left separate for far too long.  But that's not what a majority of paras want andso the majority of paras will stick with Unity. 

Elementary Schools There was once hope that this division could have been taken. Many elementary school teachers are conservative and moderate and, while more will vote with opposition this year, Unity will stay win a majority (although the margin will only be between 10-25 percentage points).  

Middle Schools This may well wind up being the biggest disappointment of the campaign for the UFC. There was once real hope (and a whole strategy in place) for making sure they won middle schools. The odds of an opposition group winning middle schools had never been higher and, if it would have happened, it would have made history. The ultimate composition of the UFC (which require all groups to be in consensus with every major move the UFC made) sent this goal to the back burner. They were replaced by goals that were more related to the formation of the group and it's candidates. All sides needed to know they believed in the same issues. So those issue had to be addressed and resolved. The ads, though beautifully produced, didn't help attract new eyes and the campaign in general seemed to loose site of winning Middle Schools as a campaign priority. The results will speak for themselves and Unity will win (by between 5 and 20 percentage points). There will, though, be enough in the middle school vote so that both sides and claim a bit of victory. If the UFC can continue to organize in middle schools, they may be able to make progress.  

High Schools Whenever there has been an organized opposition, the Unity caucus has lost the high school vote. This has been true for every single election I have heard. This year's election presented the classic scenario of Unity losing the high school vote again. They still may well loose it. But all of that changed when the city's biggest blogger and most famous teacher, Arthur Goldstein, decided to announce that he was running again with Unity. That changed again when Arthur put, in public, the reasons why (Unity gets stuff done. The opponents have a less than professional and less than healthy history where working with others is concerned. And more).  When Unity lost in 2016, it was because Arthur's chapter, the biggest in his borough, urged members to vote for MORE. That chapter has not voted against the Unity Caucus since.  I don't believe they will this time around, either.  This is a person who has been this city's most vocal defender of teachers since 2005 (since many of them were, themselves, in school). The name and the blog both command too much respect for Arthur Goldstein's announcement to be dismissed. 

And Arthur is not the exception. He's the rule. The Unity Caucus has been organizing in high schools all across the city over the past three years. Nobody has written about that. But it is the case. I think the UFC will win more votes than the last few elections. Of course. But I Unity surprise a few folks here. At the end of the day, Unity will capture more votes as well. And almost all of the new votes will be Unity. They have newer participating members in the borough of Queens and I don't think the UFC understands that just yet.  That has to be factored in as well.  

What also must be factored in is that this division goes with the weather. Sometimes, Unity wins more than 2500 votes (as in 2010) and sometimes, they get 1000 less (earning only in the range of 1500 in 2013). It does follow cycles but these cycles aren't very predictable. I correctly called a big Unity win last time. Were it not for Arthur, and for the organizing in Queens school in general (and in high school in particular), I would be calling. a big (big) UFC win this time. As it stands, Unity has turned high schools into a real fight -and I don't think the UFC is up to the task. 

But still there is this golden rule: Whenever there has been an organized opposition, the Unity caucus has lost the high school vote.  This is definitely too close for me to call. Whoever wins, high schools will be won by less than 500-750 votes. I do not know which group will win it. I guess why they count the ballots.