For those of us struggling within our teacher unions, particularly here in Illinois, to try to get them to stand and fight to defend our hard-won bargaining rights and for good education policy, this has been a tough year.
Senate Bill 7, which essentially took away the right to strike in Chicago and our tenure and seniority rights throughout the state, was actually championed by our union leadership.
After a massive campaign in which tens of thousands of public service workers told their state political leaders to oppose any change in employee pensions, the state union leadership appears ready to cave on that as well.
From the outside, Republican governors and legislatures are making a frontal assault on teacher unions. From Florida to New Jersey, Michigan and Wisconsin, even the basic right to collective bargaining is under attack.
Unfortunately, many progressive opponents of the Obama and Duncan education policies have not been as outspoken in defense of teacher unions as those of us inside those unions would wish.
Two notable exceptions have been Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling-Hammond.
Recently Darling-Hammond received the UFT’s John Dewey award. In her award speech she said,
“Teacher unions are the only ones now standing up for public education funding and for real education that goes beyond data and test prep,” she said.
“There are no teachers more vigilant than the UFT in New York City,” she said in accepting the award, “and there is no more important place to be today than standing in solidarity with the UFT.”
And in a speech to the graduates of Columbia Teachers College:
Then, as now, the creation of truly professional educators was subversive business. As scientific managers were looking to make schools “efficient” in the early twentieth century—to manage schools with more tightly prescribed curriculum, more teacher-proof texts, more extensive testing, and more rules and regulations—they consciously sought to hire less well-educated teachers who would work for low wages and would go along with the new regime of prescribed lessons and pacing schedules without protest. In a book widely used for teacher training at that time, the need for “unquestioned obedience” was stressed as the “first rule of efficient service” for teachers.
No wonder that obedience was prized, when the scientific managers’ time and motion studies resulted in findings like the fact that some eighth grade classes did addition “at the rate of 35 combinations per minute” while others could “add at an average rate of 105 combinations per minute”—thus schools were to set the standard at 65 combinations per minute at 94 percent accuracy. One speaker at an NEA meeting in 1914 observed that there were “so many efficiency engineers running hand cars through the school houses in most large cities that the grade school teachers can hardly turn around in their rooms without butting into two or three of them.”
During that decade, precisely 100 years ago, nationally distributed tests of arithmetic, handwriting and English were put into use. Their results were used to compare students, teachers and schools; to report to the public; and even to award merit pay—a short-lived innovation due to the many problems it caused.
Does any of this sound familiar?