Sunday, October 15, 2023

End the Mysoginy at the UFT HQ. Restore Amy Arundell as Queens Rep. Remove Michael Mulgrew as President

End the Misogyny at the UFT HQ. Restore Amy Arundell as Queens Rep. Remove Michael Mulgrew as President

UPDATE: Michael Mulgrew will have the audacity to show his face at the Queens UFT office tomorrow at 4 PM to exaplin this latest example of the pure contempt he has for professional women who rise through the ranks. He will be flanked by three other men. If he reads this, he will probably bring a token woman along with him. 

Folks who know the UFT have long known that a culture of suspicion and fear permeates the organization. Its headquarters at 52 Broadway is a hotbed of fear and loathing.  It has been described by many as a toxic place to work and has made many victims of great teachers and unionists. This culture is not entirely built upon the misogyny I am about  to describe but the contempt, mistrust and suspicion of women -specifically women who dare to reveal themselves as equals to the men who actually run the union- has had a significant presence on that culture for many years. This is the reality of the UFT office staff under president Michael Mulgrew and has been since Randi left for the AFT. This, among folks who know the union, is known and never mentioned. 

It's ok to be a woman if you work at UFT HQ, by the way.  Just don't ask to be seen as equal to the small handful of men who make all of the decisions. It's ok if you're not a man, mind you. It's probably better if you dress nice or make the important men feel nice. Just don't you dare present yourself as equal to those men. If you do, bad things will happen. It is the most disguised and disgusting form of misogyny that we have in New York City.  The women are there. They're capable. They go to every meeting, attend every event and support every initiative that is requested of them. But they are nowhere to be found in the highest levels of officership in the union and they won't be any time soon.  

When Amy Arundell took over the Queens office, there was no UFT presence in those schools at all. Teachers were harassed and abused in the workplace in schools all across the borough as a matter of routine. It became common. Nearly all of the hardcore unionists, including the bloggers arose from Queens precisely because this fact.  As Queens Rep, Amy Arundell began organizing chapters, supporting chapter leaders and supporting individual teachers. She held "organize your chapter' events and  took to social media posts to answer teacher questions and concerns. She became widely known as the only UFT official who really cared about teachers' rights and teachers' work experience and teachers from all over the city came to knowAmy Arundell's tough, direct approach. "Amy Arundell is the Best Unity Has to Offer" is how well-known teacher Arthur Goldstein described her. By the end of the last contract negotiation, Amy was organizing teachers all across the city for professionally themed days of action and was personally responsible for the UFT's newest tool; the Contract Actions Teams (CATs). Those teams helped organize chapters of schools all across the city. She is also the only UFT official who has refused to say "don't strike" when prompted to on a zoom training that she (as opposed to anyone else) organized and offered to all teachers. 

No one was paying much attention last Friday, October 13, when this dynamo uniost (the same one who organized the entire borough of Queens by supporting teachers) was quietly removed from her position as Queens Borough Rep. No one was paying attention when a white man replaced her either. That's how misogyny breeds: It grows when no one is paying attention. And no one pays attention on a Friday afternoon. That's when workplace abusers do their best work. 

But the fact is that on that on a rainy Friday in October, when he knew the DA would not meet for another month and he knew the Executive Board would not meet for another 2 weeks, Michael Mulgrew had another man, Anthony Harmon, send an ALL STAFF email out to every UFT employee in Queens informing them that the person who rebuild that borough office had been reassigned. The email gave no explanation (after all, who are they to have to explain themselves?) but said that Mulgrew was coming down on Monday -with three other men- to speak about it to staff. 

When no one is looking. When no one is paying attention. That's how this contempt for women leaders grows and sustains itself. 

Teachers found out anyway. Many took to DOE Teacher Chat -a Facebook group with almost 32,000 NYC UFT members- to share the news and to express their outrage at the decision. Amy is the *only* union official who routinely helps teachers, you see, and much of her work has been done in that group. So it stands to reason that some of the posts and comments told a tale of anger and betrayal. You see, none of those UFT people give a sh*t about teachers and we know it. Amy does and we know that, too. So the anger was there on Teacher Chat all weekend. 

"Why did Mulgrew remove a person who has been sop helpful to us?", wrote one teacher. 

"Shame on whoever removed Amy Arundell as the Queens Borough rep. I am absolutely disgusted and embarrassed for our union hearing about this" wrote another. "I urge every Queens chapter leader in this group to mobilize their staff and pusg back against this nonsense"

One Chapter Leader from Queens started a petition in support of Amy which, after 18 hours (over a weekend; when on teachers pay attention) neared 500 signatures. (You can sign the petition here).

And the union trolls -those despicable union officials who normally patrol the DOE Teacher Chat by shaming teachers into silence there- were noticeably silent throughout the entire weekend. Hiding, I'm sure under the nearest rock they could find. 

They are almost all men, by the way  The trolls are mainly DRs  and member reps from the Brooklyn and Manhattan offices and many of them help Michael Mulgrew sustain the culture of fear and suspicion that he has established over at the UFT. They are almost all men. 

(Some of them were, no doubt, behind this misogyny (as in I have no doubt) and, as a consequence, they hid in silence -like slugs who hide from the daylight; the hid away while teachers expressed how abandoned they felt to have the one unionist they felt was ont heir side removed.  The trolls posted nothing under the real names all weekend. But when things turned bad on Teacher Chat, they did try to post -anonymously- to throw shade on the woman who they had targeted.  Otherwise, they shelter in the swamp they have helped nurture.)

Now misogynists will always make an excuse for their abusive acts of misogyny. This is a fact of life for successful woman. Behind those excuses, though, is a simple contempt for women who can do the job better than the cigar smoking man ever could (Amy Arundell does the job better than them). Misogyny takes the form of a silent accusation before the woman is usually swept away. This case is no different.  No sooner did word about her removal begin to spread, did we all started reading sudden anonymous posters on facebook who claimed that Arundell had yelled and screamed and defended Palestinian civilians last Wednesday (Arundell is not a yeller or a screamer and many witnesses have publicly said this never happened). One of the accusers -a man- had accused her of trying to amend a resolution. That wasn't true.  Another -again, a man- said that she didn't defend Israel or some such. Witnesses again say no. 

Since contempt for women is on the menu, it didn't much matter than two Zionists immediately went public in their defense of her. One actually wrote that that, "Her views on the government of Israel are totally in line with many of my Jewish friends and family". None of that matters at UFT HQ. The culture of fear and suspicion had all the ammunition they needed to attack another woman and they used it. 

The Misogynists had their excuse to get the woman who made them feel threatened. That's Misogyny. It's just that simple. Last Friday, misogynists took false advantage of an historically horrible moment and attacked the woman who made them feel threatened. That's how the game works at the UFT. 

But Michael Mulgrew will have the audacity to show his face at the Queens UFT office tomorrow anyway. He will be there at 4 PM to mansplain his latest example of the sheer contempt he has for professional women who stand on the same level and who do the job better than he.  He will be flanked by three other men. If he reads this post, he will probably bring a token woman or two along with him. 

Michael Mulgrew and the two other men who run the UFT are hiding behind a terrible moment in history specifically to remove a woman who they see as a threat to them and to their power. Mulgrew needs to be removed as president. This union is suffering under his poor leadership and is hurting under his overcompensating act of punishing a woman -or anyone- who can do the job better than he can. 


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Why You Should Vote YES On the Contract Tomorrow

It's raining this morning. I write when it rains. 🀷‍♂️

Let's be clear. This is too much damn work for a lousy 3% yearly raise.  This is bullsh*t. Teachers work very hard stressing every single detail every single day. Teachers know hard work. We're no strangers to it.  Yet even by teachers' standards, this raise is bullsh*t. New York City teachers work twice as hard as even their own colleagues in other urban districts and many of us have been discovering that the teacher shortage has now made its way to New York's suburbs as well. I see more and more leaving for the suburbs every year. This contract will accelerate that process and the reason that process will be accelerated is that this is too much damn work for a 3% per year raise. The realities of financial life will lead teachers and potential teachers to make their own economic decisions from this very practical position. It's too much damn work for that level of pay. We will have a brain drain soon, if not a full-on shortage. That dye has now been cast. 

I am glad that Power's That Be in the UFT and NYCDOE have concluded that, sure, they can probably loose x% of their teaching corps to higher paying jobs in the suburbs or the private sector over the next few years yet still operate a school system. That's nice. It must be nice to look at a whole system in that light.  It fails to capture that those of us who are not going to leave for the private sector or the suburban school districts are going to suffer from a peculiar type of anger that will only seethe toward or employer but will be fully and professionally expressed in union interactions, andso I am sure it must be nice. But that's going to be the tone and tenure of this teaching force over the next several years. Whatever to the DOE and screw the UFT is going to be the theme over the next few years and that is because of this terrible pay increase. 

If I weren't less than 10 years from one of the last livable pensions in the US, I'd bounce, too.  If an Uber driver coupled with a few free-lance gigs from home, can land a person more cash than a tenured teacher's salary in New York City, then why else stay?  I can explain why I would go: Because this is too much damn work for a lousy 3% raise for the next few years. There is no other way to assess this financial package. 

Having said all that, if you haven't voted by today (July 4th) then I suggest you take a subway down to the AAA tomorrow 7/5 and vote yes for this contract. Here's why:
American Arbitration Association
120 Broadway, New York 10271 

1. It's less work than we had in 2018. 

Many of us will be paid for as many as 55 minutes each week for what many of us already do from home; call parents. Also, we will have to be in the building for at least one day less every year (more, actually). It agrees that PTC are remote. This all means less work at work and that frees up time. Some of us may get a jump on traffic so that means even less time commuting! It means less time to be away from the family and friends and more time to be near them. That's what it means. 

The extension of OPW time means less time being droned at by supervisors in meetings. For me, being droned at feels like work. But spending that same time in my classroom, grading papers so I have less papers to grade when I'm at home doesn't feel like work. Maybe that's just me.  For me, that's just getting some work done so that there is less for me to do at home. Don't let people fool you: Extending that OPW time means less work for us. That is now our time to catch up. This is less work. 

This is too much damn work for a lousy 3% yearly raise. And it is still too much work. But there will be less of it because of this contract. That's why I voted yes. 

2. New Opportunities to Make Extra Money

This blog has always been super favorable of UFT HS VP Janella Hinds. I have called her transformative in the past and this contract is an example of the transformative leadership I was writing about. Our remote learning experience has done many things. Among those many things is advance the process of teacherless teaching.  This was a real concern. This is exactly what Bloomberg meant when he said he wanted to cut the amount of NYC teachers in half (half!). At one time in high schools,  classes for credit recovery had as many as 100 students in them or more, each learning from some dumb watered-down not educating online system or another -and one teacher being paid to watch over it. COVID's remote learning experience threatened to advance that process. The technology package of this contract ensures that good paying remote teaching jobs, for teachers, go -to UFT teachers. Not to some website or company sucking on the teet, but to city teachers. And not for per session, but pro rata. (Per session is a fixed amount per hour rate. It is worth roughly half of the hourly rate of top salary teachers. Pro Rata is 20% of your annual pay for each year-long section or course you teach). The UFT and the DOE have guaranteed that remote learning can continue to grow in New York City without watering down the learning process and without preventing teachers from being paid a fair wage for doing so. This whole topic was a lemon for us and had been for years and Janella Hinds and her team turned it into lemonade (that's the transformative part). This is money. This is a chance for teachers to make more money in good paying pro rata overtime jobs -forever- from our homes. 

There are lots of items I choose to indignantly ignore about this contract. For instance, the "signing bonus" is insulting, but I'll probably spend it. The "annual retention bonus" promises -someday- to pay just enough for a suit and pair of shoes to wear on our next job interview, but I'll probably spend that on something else. The terrible pay increase negotiated for para educators ensures that no para will ever be asked to work in my presence again (THANK YOU for coming in to do this with us every day). And keeping track of the time allotment among these new complicated SBO choices for the school day has officially become more difficult than the statistics unit from an AP Psychology course. But I have developed a lot of indignance over the years, so I will continue to ignore. 

I'm angry at the pay. But the creation of new time means less work and the chance to work from home for some good overtime are the two reasons you should head over to the AAA tomorrow (before 5PM) and vote yes for it. 

American Arbitration Association
120 Broadway, New York 10271 

It's just across from Zucotti Park. You can take the 4/5 to Wall Street. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Our New Annual Pay If The Pattern Holds By Year

As we approach the end of the school year, it's a pretty good time to remind you that the union and the city both want a new teacher contract in place by the end of the school year. As we wait, there has been a lot of published misinformation about the possible pay from this soon-to-be-agreed upon contract (and way too much commentary). 

As it stands, it's probably a good bet that we won't receive any pay from this deal until just beyond September.  This is because some folks would have you believe that if you don't VOTE NO on the contract, your medical insurance will run out and you won't be able to visit a doctor. But it is also because others will soon soon be running across the whole city trying to get you to believe that if you don't VOTE YES on the contract, your medical insurance will run out and you won't be able to visit a doctor). 

They're both nuts. 

Yes we're getting screwed. And yes, we're also getting a raise. And we need to know how much it looks like we're going to recieve. 

Here at doenuts, I subscribe to an insanely old theory that teachers are highly educated and can make up their own minds for themselves.  So I took a minute and calculated how our raises may look if we get the same patterned deal that DC37 received. That deal includes:

  • A $3000 check if we vote yes.
  • 3% for 2023
  • 3% for 2024 
  • 3.5% for 2025 
Here is what DC 37 received (don't forget,  their first two years of raises were from the city's previous pattern. We have already received that pattern raise so I added an annotation so it makes more sense). 

 This data comes from the DC37 website and I added the annotations after. Here's the link

So how would these raises look in our paychecks? I used this old tool (called math) to figure it all out and, want to share it with you here. You all have lives and families and we can all use at least an idea of what the new pay will be.  See below. 

(Karen Disclaimer: While there may be a mistake here and there, these numbers are fairly accurate calculations and should give you an idea of how your new check will look.  But if you do catch a math error, just let me know in the comments and I'll adjust (if you're correct. If you're one of those sanctimonious folks and you're wrong, I'll just make fun of you here for as long as I care to and send you a box of day old doenuts).


Saturday, February 4, 2023

The UFT Teach-in. Part 3: A Briliant Stroke

This has been adapted from a thread I wrote on Twitter.  You can read that by clicking here and tapping 'show thread' 

In order to more fully describe the flex, I should probably explain why this teach-in was such a smart move…

πŸ©πŸ‘‡Part 3. A brilliant stroke πŸ‘‡πŸ©

Of course what happened was a teach-in. But beneath the surface, what occurred wasn’t about a teach-in at all. The Labor Movement in America has long been on a terrible decline. In New York, those who have worked toward its resurgence have been slowed by laws, decisions, contracts or cultures that have prevented unions from ever reaching step 1 (I talk about the three steps here). 

One example about being slowed by skewed law is Sam Amato, a unionist who was fired from Starbucks. His firing was legal here in New York State. Had his colleagues not staged a walk-out in support of him, we wouldn't know his name today. 

Here is an example about how culture slows hopes of a resurgent union movement; specifically how Amazon tried to discredit Chris Smalls, hoping to discourage unionism there (I would have broke. Chris Smalls is a superhero).  

NY Teachers have their own law: The Taylor Law. It's better than the law they had before 1968, but it is so harsh that *any* service that would otherwise normally be performed cannot stop without it being against the law. This means that the UFT can’t even call for a work action where all teachers stop grading HW at night w/out it being illegal. This frustrates any notion of resurgence. Here is what the very radical Workers' World published about the Taylor Law's "Work to Rule" language:

The Taylor Law in New York State prohibits public employee unions from conducting strikes, or even job actions like “work to rule.” Violation of the law leads to fines, sanctions against the union and even jail for union leaders. But there is no pressure on employers to bargain fairly with employees.

Some folks may say "screw it, let's break the law" (and, let's be clear; my heart is with some folks!). But 
for the first time since Al Shanker ran it, the UFT found a way to hold a perfectly legal, powerful city-wide worksite-based job action.  This happened during the workday; at the work site and in hundreds of schools across the city. They threaded all of those needles.  To the trained eye, what I just described is next to impossible in New York. The whole system is designed to *prevent* union members from coming together at all. 

And even if they do, over a job action? At work? During the hours covering the general work day? This is next to impossible here. The powers that be have carefully crafted an entire apparatus that keeps teacher unions' hands tied. 

Yet UFT organizers found a way to do it anyway.  

If we had met to discuss a strike, this work action would be illegal. If we had discussed a sickout or other work stoppage, this would have been illegal. But, with the strategy of teachers teaching teachers during work, the  UFT organizers found a legal middle ground where they could stage a work-based action that *also* fulfilled its duties to the law. 

Management didn’t see that coming. 
Most of us didn’t. 
Some in oppo still don’t. 
But it happened.

This is a precedent. This is a brand new language of unionism. It isn't as harsh as some of us would like to act but it was legal, which means we (or any union) can do it again. No reasonable manager in any industry could stop something like this from happening.  Other locals in other industries are going to find ways to emulate this *perfectly legal and new strategy of finding (legal) ways to perform wide scale job actions (legally). 

But that’s only part of what actually happened on Monday … 

It’s said that when James Madison read the decision in Marbury vs. Madison in 1803, he paced up and down the president’s office growling “wrong wrong wrong, but the life of me, I can’t understand why”. Madison was a crankly, but brilliant person who wrote the constitution and most of the Federalist papers but the decision was so brilliant, even he didn't understand it at first. 

That's because the power of that decision lied in its consequences. 

In denying itself the power to issue a writ of Mandamus, the US Supreme Court was able to do something far more powerful: it got to be the one to tell Congress “No”. It was a brilliant stroke. 

Something somewhat similar has happened here.In performing the innocent and harmless act of a teach-in, more than 500 principals were informed by their staff that it was happening —and the teachers and their union were the ones informing them. (Again, this happened across all 5 boroughs. 73% of all UFT members out in Queens were part of it. 

This is subtle but it’s a profound shift in the dynamic between the UFT and the City of New York and the DOE. Literally all of the rules and laws and customs are designed to stop exactly that from happening city-wide. But it happened anyway. It was legal, professional, ethical and honorable.

Yes. Last Monday, tens of thousands of New York City’s Smartest freaked out their bosses by teaching each other; as a union thing. And it was coolπŸ’™). 

Generally, when you ask to do something, your will to do it is dependent on the will of another person to grant you permission to do it. But if you inform a person you're going to do something, well your will doesn't depend on theirs so much, does it?  Just as in Marbury, The flex was in the power of being the ones to say so.

Navigating the legalities of getting there was smart enough. But convincing tens of thousands of teachers to say “we *are* doing this” as well? That was a brilliant stroke. 

And somewhere between 17,500 and 34,000 thousand teachers teaching teachers, and the union brothers and sisters who love and support them, allowed Mike Mulgrew to toughen up his language and flex through the press. This headline you see here isn't power. It’s strength (step 3). 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The UFT Teach-in. Part 2: The Flex


This has been adapted from a thread on Twitter.  You can read the second part here.


To understand the flex, we should chat briefly about the strength of any union. Generally, strong unions follow a 3-step process. 1. They grow their numbers. They do this by getting a lot of members to join together over something. That brings them power, so 2: They grow their power. This power lies *somewhat in tens of thousands of members wanting & talking abt the same thing but it *mainly lies in management seeing this and becoming concerned. 

That fear is institutional, not personal. But it lies at the heart of the union’s new found power. Check out step  2 in action. Take the 1.3% that I mentioned in my earlier post as an example. This 1.3% means that, whatever  happens moving forward, the union now has 1000 more *active* foot solders within its ranks than it did before this happened. In a labor movement on the wane, any management would see this as an outlier and that management would be concerned. That’s step 2. 

Step 3 is simple. After having earned that power, 3. Become strong. After a while, a union begins to exert its power by getting great deals for all of its members. For unions, these great deals come in the form of great contracts. This is when all the magic happens.  Most of our rights came from a contract signed in 1965.  We didn’t even strike that year πŸ˜‚!! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚That’s not exactly power.  That's strength. That’s rule 3.


Now management is part of the trained eye. Please know this! They usually do their best to foil a union at step 1. They do this by pitting teachers against teachers over a copy machine or some overtime, or by keeping friends away from each other on lunch break or by harassing, retaliating or scaring the loud teacher so much that the other teachers will watch and will become too fearful to gather for a union event (sound familiar?). 

The list of their tactics they use goes on and on and I refer to them as doenuts because, frankly, there is no other thing to say about them. But that's them stopping us at step 1. That's the typical dynamic in NYC schools. 

Every so often, though, a union does reach step 1: They do find a way to grow their numbers. This doesn’t  happen often these days but when it does, it means something special is afoot: It means that management’s first line of defense has been swept away by the tide of upset employees. Let's be real here; who the hell cares about getting trouble at their job if their job isn't even putting food on the damn table? 

Management never realizes this until it is too late. The bosses never realize something is up until it's just too late. The DOE is no different than any other management when it comes to this. On January 26 (at 6 in the evening!) the  DOE OLR sent this missive out to all principals in NYC (click to enlarge from the Twitter version of this post)

Important to note that they sent this five days before the event took place and only *after* learning that 1000 teachers had already  showed up to be trained to go back to their chapters and do this unionism thing. 

That shook them enough for an after hour email to every Principal in NYC.  

Each principal is assigned their own school attorney. The attorneys could have provided this advice and in fact, much of a school attorney's day is spent offering advice just like this about employee rules and laws. That this email came straight from OLR hints at the urgency with which it was sent. They didn’t have time for proper channels! So they just sent it out to everyone they could. That urgency came partly from the late arriving realization that something involving a very large number of teachers was about to happen and that they could not stop it. 

And therin lies the flex: The union grew its numbers of active members across all 5 boroughs and the DOE was powerless to stop them. It's now documented that 1000 school based union leaders were christened last week. Those 1000 members then turned and christened between  17,5000 and 34,000 members into dignified, honorable, legal unionism this week.  And management could not stop it.  In fact, it all happened right in front of the DOE's eyes -and all they could muster to stop it was an urgent, after hours email. 

This reaction was on school levels, too. At least one school in LIC, Queens, opted out of the teach-in because, as the chapter leader put it, “the principal got an email that there about this whole thing so , yeah, we are staying away from that”. (Quick side note: This is scary business and most of us who would have held the teach-in anyway fully understand this concern).

Getting management to react in this way helps unions grow their power. The trained eyes saw the doe react. The trained eye knows what it means when you get your opponent to react: it means you have that power. 

That DOE email helped the UFT reach step 2. We grew our power. (They, literally, helped us do it. (This also happened in that school out in LIC: those teachers went home and saw colleagues from all across the city did what their chapter leader said shouldn’t be done. There is power in that, too). Because that same chapter leader sent an email out to all members the very next day assuring folks at that one school that they would find a way to hold the teach in sometime this week. (That Chapter Leader's email isn't part of the flex. It is a result of the flex).

Now, in order to more fully describe this flex, I am going to have to explain why this teach-in was such a smart move. Given the legal, political and cultural environment surrounding NY schools these days,  I'm going to have to explain the brilliance behind the idea of a teach-in. Look for that explanation in a few short days. 

The UFT Teach-in. Part 1: The Untrained Eye

This has been adapted from a thread on Twitter.  You can read the original thread here. 

To the untrained eye, it sure looked like the NYC teacher union held a teach-in on Monday. While the final tally isn’t in yet, sources inside the UFT say that teachers in more than 500 schools participated in the event. 500! For proof that this is remarkable, consider this: Sources in the DOE have long mentioned that the average school in NYC serves app 800 students. Rough estimate:a school that size is served by been 70-100 staffers who are also UFT members. If only 1/2 of each staff participated, then 17,500 people were part of this teach-in.

For more proof that the event was remarkable, consider that a city-wide event such as this hasn’t occurred since the days Albert Shanker ran the union (that’s 3 UFT presidents, 4 decades 8 US presidents ago. It’s been that long). This was remarkable.

That untrained eye may have noticed news stories covering the event. Here’s one:

And here is another. It is noteworthy that teachers having lunch together made the news.

It is also important to remember. Lunch … will make the news, if you can get enough teachers there.

That the event has garnered enough attention to be covered by the news is one thing. But the depictions coming from the news outlets bare mentioning as well. There is something about teachers coming together that captures the imagination. Here is one example of this that City and State chose to publish:

“People at this moment are paying attention to the world around them and we see a lot of workers in motion,” said Amy Arundell, UFT borough representative for Queens and an organizer for Monday’s teach-ins. “People are saying I want to be in motion too, I want to participate in my own survival as a worker and as an educator and make things better for myself and for my students.” 

In the weeks leading up to the event, more than 1,000 teachers had volunteered their own time to be trained on how to conduct a teach-in back at their schools. This should be mentioned here too.

That is 1.3% of the entire NYC teaching force. They were so fed up about teacher pay that they stood up to be leaders (not participants, but leaders) back at their schools and lead their colleagues in the all too familiar struggle for a fair wage. The untrained eye might have missed that fact, but it doesn’t really matter. When between 17,500 & 34,000 UFT members or more (including 73% of all members out in Queens) participate in a teach in for a contract for teachers, folks notice. They notice perfectly well.

What the untrained eye saw is perfectly accurate. But there are trained eyes in NYC politics too. Those trained eye saw something very different on Monday. And only those trained eyes know full well what actually occurred. I'll talk about that in Part 2.

Click here for the blog version of Part 2. The Flex


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

It was the Best of Musk. It was the Worst of Musk. (Pt. 2)

 I just wrote. a quick post about Elon you can read if you want.  Here's a recap:

  • He's a major funder of OpenAi's ChatGPT
  • He has been at the center of many of America's economic shifts since the late 90s
  • The innovations he has taken a part in creating have changed all of our lives one way or another
  • They have also reshaped how our future will look
  • Those innovations are the best of Musk 

Glad you're all caught up. Let's start talking about the worst of Musk.

I left off pointing out that he is a devout capitalist and how that fact has implications on how the rest of us will access his innovations. Let me explain what I mean by devout. I mean he's here to get rich(er). There is nothing wrong with that. I'm not sure he leans more toward the libertarian side or the socialist side. Whatever side it leans toward, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The point is that he is committed to pursuing profit. In fact, he wouldn't be successful if he hadn't followed all of the rules of capitalism and found a way to make a profit for his ventures. In the game of corporate profits, Elon Musk is the absolute winner. In the entire world. You don't get to the top of that hill without having a committed approach to profit. See Max Weber's '...Capitalist Spirit' if you want to read more about the commitment that is required in order to be successful in capitalism. Elon's devout.  

Not all of us are devout capitalists. Sure, we all benefit from profit and many of us believe in it. I like to go to a for-profit Italian style bakery near my house every Sunday for bread. I like my iPhone. I like my video game collection. But I also like government services like garbage collection, police and fire protection and a good solid school I can send my kid to every day. I am in this capitalist system as a public school teacher, so I like that too. Sure ,there may be some who believe that my Italian bakery should be government owned, so that Sunday bread can be evenly distributed to everyone in my community. I respect that point of view.  Others may feel that the ladies who own the bakery shouldn't be forced to follow any safety regulations at all and that they should not be asked to treat their workers in a humane manner.  I respect that point of view as well (although I would also stop buying my bread from there if any of those were the case). 

In my travels, I have learned that most of us aren't devout about anything. The rest of us are sort of mixed in our opinions. And that's what most of us aim for. We aim for a mixed economic system where folks are protected while also having a shot at making their cheddar cheese by way of good old fashioned profit. Socialism alone would be a failure. But capitalism alone would be a failure as well. Both have flaws. Most of us like to pick a little bit from each buffet tray.

In its practical functions, capitalism requires huge sums of money (called capital) to be swept away from some so that it can be redirected toward others. This isn't a slight against free market systems or anything. It's just how this particular one works. 

Where did you think your TDA investment into the Sustainable Equity Fund went after it was deducted from all of our checks last week? That money lands in an investment fund that benchmarks (aims to follow) the Russell 1000 Growth Index. That's an investment fund of 1000 of the biggest, fattest most well-known corporations you can think of. Each of them are accepting your money  -twice every month- by simply extending their hand (i.e selling shares).  That's right. The money you make as a teacher goes to defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and to 1%er banks like the Bank of Carnegie Melon and Blackrock. These institutions are the very pillars of modern day capitalism. Of course there is a promise that you will get your money back for whatever their paper is worth at that time. That's the deal you make when you choose to invest. But that choice means that you have allowed your money to be swept away from you this month and have it redirected toward the devout capitalists who operate those corporations. Again, this is not a slight against the system. I am simply describing to you how it works. 

Many of us are not entirely comfortable with how much money gets swept away from the 'many' and toward the 'some'.  We have a homeless problem in our nation, but local organizations including governments have no money to address it.  We have an opioid crisis  too, but there seems to be no money to assuage it. 13.9% of all New Yorkers live below the poverty level (that data seems low to me) and they can divert no money to help because it has all been swept away to go elsewhere. That's capitalism too. Through many paths and means, all of that capital lands in a bank accounts of a large US corporation, where it is invested. That's capitalism. 

Elon Musk is a devout that.

On any given day, the Sustainability Fund may also be invested in Tesla. I am sorry to break the news to you, but Elon has your retirement money. He's probably buying coffee with it right now. 

Unlike the rest of us regular capitalists out here running through our daily lives placing reasonable expectations on our local governments for things like garbage collection, schools and policing, devout capitalists are here to get paid. Those capitalists have your money so they can profit off of it by making great things that you can buy.

Hopefully. Whatever you're buying, there is someone else who can't afford it. 

Because this is how the whole system works, everything Elon does requires a profit in order for him to survive.  And that profit comes from people spending money on the things that he sells. That may be hard for folks to see at first. But go ahead and try join the EV revolution: The starting price for that is around $50,000. Why don't you buy some of that Starlink? The cost for that is $1300 per year with a $700 deposit. Want to go to Mars? Sure! That'll be $500,000, please. Welcome to the revolution.  The experts say that, soon, ChatGPT and tools like it will not be free eitherThat seems to make sense when you think about capitalism . But that locks people (namely the ones I work with) out of all of these possibilities.  That's capitalism.

Do you get it yet? This is the man who helped common folks sell things online.  This is the man who changed the automobile industry. This is the man who bought a space capsule home using rockets to land. 

And last week, his efforts with ChatGPT led the New York City Department of Education to divorce AI from its professional educators and students. That is the fruit of a tree that Elon has helped to plant. This historic innovation, which brings with it a profound statement of boundless exploration and hope for political, cultural and economic advancement, is now off limits for the seventy-four percent (74%) of city students who lived in poverty in 2018 (here). The DOE has run away from this as fast as they possibly can. (🍩). He's that guy too. 

And now he has brought that devout spirit of capitalism to Twitter. When he bought the company, he fired half of the employees. Many wound up being more loyal to the DNC than they were to Twitter (here). Shortly thereafter, he sold the blue dot for $8 per month. And just recently, he introduced a new product where, for a couple of hundred dollars (or less) users can easily boost views on their tweets and links.That last innovation brings that spirit of capitalism within eyesight of a core American value: Elon has capitalized free speech. 

And that's why I'm writing this series. This devout capitalist who has become the richest most impactful person in the country is selling something new: Your ability to be heard. That's a small but profound shift and part three will focus on that; on a possible reality where people cannot be heard because they cannot afford to. 

Before I write the lats part, though, I'm going to drop a few dollars to boost the reach of this blog post. I would like see just how much free speech money can buy me in this harsh economic environment.  

I'll leave off with a link to a song about Musk that my teenage kid listens to. The lyrics fully capture the complexities that Musks' many (many) shifts have wrought by addressing where those contributions are already falling short. 

🎡When I said take me to the moonI never meant take me aloneI thought if mankind toured the skyIt meant all of us could goBut I don't want to see the stars if they're justOne more piece of land for you to colonizeFor us to turn to sand
So f** your tunnels fuck your carsF** your rockets fuck your cars againYou promised you'd be TeslaBut you're just another EdisonBecause Tesla broke a patentAll you ever broke were hearts 
I can't believe you tore humanity apartWith the very same machines that could've been our brand new start


Sunday, January 15, 2023

It was the Best of Musk. It was the Worst of Musk. (Pt. 1)

The other day,  I wrote about how ChatCPT was blocked by the NYC DOE and how banning it was a step in the wrong direction. 

OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT is one of Elon Musk's companies! It was founded back in 2015 as a non-profit company. 

AI created this profile picture
Elon Musk has been at the center of nearly every shift in consumerism since he founded PayPal back in 1998. That service created a shift in the way people moved money and eventually allowed regular Americans to access major websites like E-Bay and Etsy to make money by selling their stuff.   His ownership and leadership of Tesla is famous for creating another economic shift -in the automobile industry. GM and Ford, two automakers who had resisted producing electric vehicles for decades, are now producing EVs because of the competition that Tesla brings to their market. That's all because of Elon Musk. 

Think of Elon (in a symbolic way), as a real-life Tony Stark. We live in an age of EVs, privately owned spaceships and artificial intelligence. All of it is available to the masses (if in a technical sense) because of what he has been involved with creating. The world hasn't seen anyone like this since Edison, Tesla and Ford were alive.   So when I first learned that Elon Musk was supporting OpenAI, I knew that another shift (the age of AI) was going to creep up on us as well. And here it is.  

This is the best of Musk! We have choices and opportunities today that we could only see on TV when we were kids. But here's the thing: Elon is a devout capitalist. That has implications on how the rest of us access his innovations and that will have implications on all of us. 

The best of Musk is reflected in something like ChatGPT (please give it a whirl! And think about how it can expand your reach into the people that your students will become). But that is the short story. You can't have the short without the long. Long and short sort of define each other when you think about it.  

So I am going to write a few posts about Elon and try to tell the longer story about how the societal changes may look.  He has a true gift for finding profound shifts in human progress through profitable innovations and that gift is beginning to have profound implications for the rest of us. As I hinted in the title, not all of those implications are great for us so please check back here. Part 2 will be about Capitalism and part 3 will be about Free Speech. But this series is all Elon! As it says in the song ... 

🎡I can't believe you tore humanity apart
With the very same machines that could've been our brand new start🎡

Friday, January 6, 2023

The DOE Blocked ChatGPT. It Was the Wrong Move. Here's Why

If you haven't heard of ChatGPT, let me briefly introduce you. 

It's a chat bot. 

You access the chat bot (ChatGPT) by creating an account with the company who hosts it. (That company is partially supported by Elon Musk). The chat bot is called ChatGPT. But you chat with it. That's all you do. It understands and answers you as though it is a well informed human being. 

It isn't a human being, mind you.  It's an artificial intelligence chatbot. But it knows a lot about a lot andso it will answer you. 

And what folks say about it is true! It can, indeed write you a complete essay, in the form and structure of your choosing, and in whichever writer's style you prefer -and it will do this in less than one minute. This is the essay killer.  

Here's what it wrote when I asked it to write for me. (Here is what I asked it):

Hi! I am a school teacher who is frustrated with the decisions my school district makes. I write a blog called nycdoenuts. Can you write me two paragraphs of satire about my school district in the style of Charles Bukowski?Thanks!

It delivered this to me in less than 45 seconds:

"The school district is a place of endless bureaucracy and red tape, a labyrinth of paperwork and meetings that seem to accomplish nothing. The administrators sit in their plush offices, issuing edicts and decrees from on high, while the teachers and students toil away in the trenches, struggling to make sense of it all. And yet, despite all the nonsense and frustration, there is a strange sort of beauty in the chaos, a poetry of sorts in the absurdity of it all. So we keep trudging on, day after day, hoping against hope that someday, somehow, things will get better. But we're not holding our breath.

The school board is a collection of self-important blowhards, each one more pompous and out-of-touch than the last. They talk a big game about "student achievement" and "closing the achievement gap," but all they really care about is the bottom line. They'll cut corners and make deals with the highest bidder, all in the name of "efficiency." And the teachers and students? They're just pawns in the board's grand scheme, expendable assets to be shuffled around and used as leverage. It's enough to make you want to pull your hair out. But what can you do? It's a dirty game, and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches."

This is fairly close to accurate, if you know what I mean!! It does have one fatal limitation but that's something I will talk more about a little later. 


With all of this "Self-writing" involved, it naturally stands to reason that NYCDOE would have a knee-jerk reaction of completely banning ChatGPT from any and all city schools and city devices. On the surface, banning this seems very (very) pragmatic. After all, we can't have all these kids having the internet write their essays for them, can we? And, yes, steps should be taken for security purposes. 

But if we dig beneath that surface, you may realize that the city DOE did (again) exactly the opposite of what students in the 21st Century actually need. We are no longer locked in the 20th century mindset of answering questions to demonstrate how prepared we are. We're in a whole new world. I mean, if the last twenty years of education and American History hasn't showed you that our students are more than just a performance score on a standardized test, then I don't know how many more years you will need before you realize that this method of teaching and learning is approaching its end. 

And there are skills that students do need for the 21st Century! A few years back, some conservative-leaning policy makers teamed with with a former president of Tanzania and created a list of 12 skills that they felt every student on Earth will need for the 21st Century.  They sound new when you read them but the 21 Century Skills are, truly, old-school ideas that come straight from the days where you and I were in school and were asked to problem-solve.  They are as old school education as you can think of. Here's how one website defines them

21st century skills refer to the knowledge, life skills, career skills, habits, and traits that are critically important to student success in today’s world, particularly as students move on to college, the workforce, and adult life. 

There are 12 of these skills in all spread across three categories of Learning Skills, Literacy and Life Skills.  These are international skills, not just the US. And any student who possesses them will be, as the research goes, be successful in the 21st Century. Take a look at the chart below and think about what's there! Then think about what may be missing:

 Did you notice how essay writing isn't listed as one of the 21st Century skills?

Wait, stop. Of course students will need to write essays. I am not trying to make that point. Please read on ... 


I want to go back to my point about ChatGPT's "fatal limitation": It does have one and that limitation is super fatal. It is greatly limited by what questions the user is able to generate. And being able to understand facts and basic details from a high level text and then phrasing those facts into a question are high order thinking skills. In the world of Bloom's Taxonomy, we call these "synthesis" skills.  

Take my example from above. In order to get the chat bot to write what to me in the style of Charles Bukowski,  I would have needed to be able to perform these tasks:

  • 1) phrase a question in writing (after reading and understanding a difficult text)
  • 2) Know enough to specify the critique my school district and 
  • 3) understand and internalize the writing style of one Charles Bukowski (here he is!). 

Do you see the massive shift there? This changes everything. Students in the 21st Century will be required to ask, not answer, the right questions in order to be prepared for the world.  

Please let that sink in. Everything is changing -soon. This is a massive massive shift.  This is the era that ChatGPT has ushered in and the skills required to generate even these simple two paragraphs are some very high order thinking skills indeed. 


I was going to play with this in the classroom during the month of January. I was going to ask students to use ChatGPT to "describe" how a picture of Mansa Musa might look using specific details from some primary source documents I have. I was then going to have them use another popular AI tool, called Dall-E 2 to generate a picture based on their description.(Yes. That happened as well last year. DallE 2 will take your description and generate a brand new original image based on that description).

The results would have varied by each student's knowledge of the my academic articles they read and how well they were able to phrase the questions they ask the software.  It would all have come down to how well they read the document I assigned to them. Good annotations? You would have a great picture. Bad annotations? You would have generated poop. It would have been a fun little "end of semester" activity. 

Only it won't happen, because the DOE has blocked it all. 

Of course, I tested this activity out for myself. Wan to see?

When I tested my lesson activity, ChatGPT was asked this question (the specifics were based off of the reading I was going to give to my students about Mansa Musa):

Can you describe how a picture of how Mans Musa's would look? I read somewhere that he dressed in wide trousers, which were made from about twenty pieces of a kind of cloth that only he was allowed to wear, that his weapons were all made of gold and were kept near his throne at all times. I also learned that he dressed  a page would always stand on his left holding a silk umbrella and that the surmounted by a dome and a gold falcon. How would a picture of this? I would like to ask Dalle to make me one.

ChatGPT then returned this full description (pic below):

But then I read and paraphrased that description and asked that other AI tool I mentioned (DALL E 2) to generate an original picture based on my paraphrase. Here's how I paraphrased the answer from ChatGPT:

"A picture of Mansa Musa depicted as a regal and imposing figure, dressed in luxurious clothing and surrounded by symbols of his wealth and power including wide trousers made from sumptuous cloth, and a page  standing beside him holding his silk umbrella, and a depiction of his throne, which was surmounted by a golden falcon. " 

The pictures you see below were generated by the other AI took; DALL E 2. But the description came from my interaction with ChatGPT. There are no other pictures like these anywhere on Earth. They are completely unique and based on my recollection of the reading I had ready for my class. 

(Ok. Yes they are probably based on familiar paintings, and pictures, but each of these includes specifics from the article that I was going to have my students read.  This is the skill of phrasing a high order question and then paraphrasing the answer to that question).

I think they are great images and they would have looked good in my classroom. But, as I mentioned,  the tool has been blocked. you see, from all DOE devices and all DOE networks. So now I can't. 


And maybe that's not so bad! It may well be pragmatic for the DOE to block all use of this for now.  After all, my students will have to answer a bunch of questions and write an essay next year in order to pass their high school regents exam, won't they? This isn't the future. It's high school. 

But this is how the future will look. This is what's coming. And, believe it or not, it is going to open up great possibilities for our students and completely disrupt the way future teachers do their job. Blocking it for now is a pretty good move. But preparing for the inevitable arrival of AI in our classrooms and lessons should also happen -now. If I know the DOE, there are probably more appetite for donuts than to begin addressing this. But this would have been the correct move. 

Look, the first personal computer went on sale in 1971. The first laptop? 1981. Social media wasn't invented until the 2000s, and the iPhone, or greatest invention, was born in 2007. We now muc add 2022 to this list of special years because AI is here. Now.