Saturday coffee.

My buddy Steve at the NEA RA.

The reports are that a front will come through about noon today and the four days of 100 degree temperatures will end.

Poor Ulysses will be able to put his paws on the sidewalk again.

Maybe next Saturday Anne and I can have our Saturday Coffee outside at Letizia’s. But not today. It was still too muggy and hot.

We were back at Peet’s. The news is that Emma is back from Argentina. Laura is having a baby. And Kerry Wood was having his coffee. I gave him a nod. He gave me a nod. And that is the extent of our relationship.

Good thing my skin is thick. Since my return from the NEA RA, I have caught hell.

One blogger called me an unabashed cheerleader for the NEA. This guy isn’t a right-winger. So why is he mad at me?

He’s got data that shows that the job of teaching has gotten shittier over time and the NEA has existed over time and that shows that teaching has gotten shittier even though there has been an NEA. Got that?

Let me answer the charge that I am a cheerleader for the NEA.

It is true.

This is precisely what I tell the union leadership. I am an unabashed cheerleader for my union. “Unabashed.” Without regret or embarrassment.

The leadership will swear to you that I am an anti-union bomb thrower because I have the nerve to criticize their leadership when they earn the criticism.  I have demonstrated an alternative unionism in my local and have done it for years: A unionism that fights for its members, defends collective bargaining and promotes a humane view of teaching and learning.

Then I got this comment:

But more importantly is why are so many teachers attending this conference so clueless??? I bet they know more about “The Bachelor” than what’s going on across the country in education. When did Duncan become the good guy?? In her blog, Ravitch reminds us just what he stands for.

Oh! How nice of the delegates to support Chicago when they refuse to say anything negative about the man who ruined Chicago schools. I wonder how many of them will wake up when they get pink-slipped over some arbitrary statistic known as VAM.


Am I the only one who finds talk like this really disturbing? And way too common?

I can’t help but read a subtext of sexism into this kind of attack. And not so sub.

Do they know that the largest proportion of the delegates to the NEA RA are professional and working women?

The Bachelor?


Would anyone talk this way about 9,000 delegates to an academic conference of mostly men? Even if they disagreed with the decisions that were made?

The other subtext to this union bashing from these so-called progressives and leftists is their opposition to Obama.

The irony is that a year ago when the early endorsement of Obama was actually an item on the floor of the NEA RA, we were fighting the early no-strings endorsement.

Hey. Where were you people then?

And when a long list of criticisms of the Duncan DOE was presented to the NEA RA, we were fighting for it and won. And NONE of these people made a peep.

As we say at Wrigley, you can look it up. Do a Google search. See if you can find them talking about it anywhere a year ago when it actually mattered. Talk about a late closing of the barn door.

Say what you will about the delegates to the RA this year. They  aren’t stupid or clueless. Whether they watch The Bachelor or not is of no consequence to me. They made a political decision not to have a public dispute with Obama five months before the election. I may disagree with that, but it isn’t stupid or clueless.

I may not have allowed the NEA to use my name in their Educators for Obama, but I also know that the only demographic group in America that supports Romney is white men.

So who is stupid and clueless?

Here are my rules:

Changes to my union must be led and made by our members.

Secondly, we must fight to make our union stronger, not to eradicate it or start a new one.

Third, it must be fought over issues, program and action, not simply slogans.

And fourth, we always must distinguish between the members and the leaders.

And even the leaders must be given room to change.

I’m pretty unabashed about that.

16 Replies to “Saturday coffee.”

  1. First, not angry. Second, I hope you got that the “data” presented in the post is totally bogus. It does, however, represent the deplorable decline in teacher autonomy and professional worth over the last decade, perhaps more. I’m a teacher-educator, so I work with student teachers. Over the last two years, I’ve observed the invasion by Pearson of colleges of education. I supervise student teachers in environments dominated by test preparation. We strive to introduce student teachers to a diverse set of methods; yet, very few of these methods can be attempted in public school classrooms because it doesn’t fit with the test-prep model. Or, if it’s social studies or science, it simply isn’t taught.

    Now, I work with very reasonable, intelligent, and well-meaning folks in these schools. But, they are presiding over a transformation of their “profession” into something more akin to service sector jobs. That is, scripted curriculum limited to knowledge that can be tested will ultimately render the professional educator obsolete, expensive, and unnecessary. This has all been happening under the watch of the largest organizing body in the world. It’s being propagated by an administration that was lauded at the NEA.

    You know, I wish I took a picture of a state delegate holding up a white board emblazoned with “cheer.” That’s right, when the President was speaking on the phone, leaders thought it was necessary to “encourage” their delegates to cheer at the right moment, kind of a like a studio audience on Maury Povitch. I voted for Obama in 2008, volunteered for his campaign in Indiana. I was ecstatic when he won the state. I felt I had something to do with that because I registered dozens and dozens of voters. I will likely vote for him again, but I will NOT be volunteering or donating money. That’s because I’m an “education voter.” Sure, it’s the vote that counts and he has it. But, I think from a progressive support perspective, Obama is going to have to sweat a bit.

    I’m not and never have been a member of the NEA or the AFT, even as a former public school teacher. As a new teacher, like many folks in their twenties, we never think we’ll actually need a union’s help. And I am one of those many thousands of five years and under who got the hell out of Dodge right after NCLB because my career was going nowhere. I did not strap myself with almost $50K in student loan debt for a Masters in Teaching to read a script and prepare for tests.

    You definitely understand the nuances of Roberts Rules and NBI’s and the political gamesmanship that must occur. I respect that. From the outside, as I read about Philadelphia, the state of Wisconsin, New Orleans, DC, and Chicago, all I see is a HUGE organizing body that is failing. Celebrate your victories at the RA, more power to you. Fantastic! I do understand that the far right-wing, which now includes Romney, is an opponent of all public sector unions. But you know what, President Obama actually went to George Clooney’s house, but he simply called into the NEA on a crappy phone connection that you could barely understand. What does that say to you? Sure, sure, politics is money, it’s the new reality, and he has to fundraise to compete, I get it. We all get it.

    I can’t help but feel that educators are the red-headed stepchildren of a bastard son… so to speak.

  2. Uh oh. ChalkFace also accused me also of being “unabashed.” Now he’s gone to far.… I’ll get u for this, ChalkFace.

  3. Interesting how you ignored my reply when I told you I didn’t mean this as a war of words and went on to explain the term “clueless”. In fact, you still have my 2 replies as “awaiting approval”. It’s your blog so if you want to censor my replies, it’s your right. But to do so after my explanation is not professional either.. I am a great believer in unions otherwise I would never have become a chapter leader. Sexism?? No!!!!

  4. I second the comment above. I, too, voted for and contributed to the campaign of Obama in 2008. I was ecstatic when he won the nomination and then the presidency. And I’ll vote for him again, but not with the same joy. And I won’t work for or donate at money to his campaign. There’s no doubt that Obama disrespected teachers by merely making a phone call to the conference. But much more important than the symbolism is the reality of his educational policies, the manner in which he’s rammed them down the throats of the profession and the nation, and his refusal to remove the abjectly clueless and insensitive Arne Duncan, a soulless corporate robot who has no business playing any role in public education policy.

    And I wonder how you (Fred) managed to find it sexist that someone suggested that many members know more about THE BACHELOR than what’s going on nationally in education? You REALLY think that was a comment “about women” and that the same comment wouldn’t have been leveled if the majority of teachers were male? I think that’s truly a desperate reach to deflect the essence of the criticism, particularly given that the criticism is most definitely coming from the Left. On my view, you owe an apology to whomever sent that comment, and to the rest of us who aren’t trying to destroy “your” union, but rather trying to help remind it to start doing some serious fighting before it’s too late.

    1. Thank you Michael. Fred does not know me or my politics. But I am beginning to see a really cantankerous man–especially if you have a different opinion than his.

  5. You’re probably right, Michael Paul Goldenberg. How could someone suggest that anyone on the Left was guilty of sexism? But forgive me if I hold off on that apology for a while?

    1. Weak, sarcastic, and ultimately unconvincing, Fred. You’re indulging yourself in some pretty transparent cheap rhetorical tricks to try to deflect valid points about what went on at the convention and what continues to be weak and manipulative leadership. The sexism charge isn’t going to hold up under scrutiny because even were it true (which I very much doubt), the point remains valid: there are simply too many teachers who don’t follow education politics. That’s not speculation. It’s based on 40+ years in the field.

      I fully understand why many teachers, PARTICULARLY in the current climate, don’t feel they have time to keep a closer watch on the larger political game that is infecting public education. The job is difficult, time-consuming, and exhausting, and reading even a small percentage of what needs to be read in order to stay politically informed is challenging enough as it is.

      But seriously, without needing to bring in any contrasts that you can call “sexist” (unless you’re already planning to accuse me of that by twisting what I wrote above into some slap at (specifically) women’s intellectual capacities or commitment), I ask you: what percentage of teachers do you think followed the late Gerald Bracey’s work? He worked tirelessly to keep people informed about understanding educational statistics and research and how they’re used to fraudulently promote horrid policies. You think that folks who respond to “Clap” signs and have no problem with a convention where “politically incorrect” motions and speakers are suppressed represent an informed rank-and-file that diligently does its homework on the horrors of corporate education deform?

      I never let anti-union comments go unchallenged when they are made by folks who clearly represent people who want to see unions and collective bargaining destroyed. But I and many other educational and political progressives aren’t going to sit by quietly when anti-democratic tactics are employed within teachers’ unions, particularly not when those tactics are being used to silence anyone who isn’t toeing the party line. You can try to dismiss and others who’ve been critical of the passivity and weakness of the NEA and AFT in the face of deform (and Obama’s and Duncan’s support of it), but you need something a bit more substantive than phony accusations of “sexism.”

  6. ChalkFace – in your original blog, that Fred linked above, you write: “I really don’t know what else to say at this point. I suppose we can’t expect anything from anyone during an election year, that’s the lesson. But all I know is that there are still children and communities suffering out there and, from an outsider, all I saw the NEA doing was sitting on their asses and passing resolutions. Very quaint, oh so democratic, and weak.”

    I am floored. Really.

    OK… so I will admit, like Fred, I am an unabashed cheerleader for our union. Unlike Fred, I have only been at this union thing for a few years. My first decade and a half of teaching, my union was simply a safety net. To say that I was ‘un-involved’ with the daily workings of my union is an understatement. As I became more involved with activism and took it online, I heard many bashing my union… calling my leaders “thugs”. So, I decided to check it out. I went to a union Rep meeting.

    I expected it to be like our Chamber of Commerce – fancy, catered… It was not. In fact, I sat in the large room that looked like a warehouse, on a metal chair, staring up at a decaying ceiling and a lone pic of Martin Luther King, Jr… wondering. Wondering where are all the thugs? Wondering what kind of building I was in…

    I learned many things since that night. I learned, from the shaking of the metal wall behind me each time a plane passed, that my union hall was an old plane hanger. I learned that the ‘thugs’ were all plain old folks, like me, dedicated to teaching and fighting for the future of public ed. I learned that they were ready and willing to help my grassroots campaigns. I learned that together, we accomplished more.

    I also learned that there are many unions out there, just like my own. I visited firefighters and other public workers, councils… anything meeting that I could. And as I sit in each hall, whether a plane hanger or an old fire station… I realize that I am not alone. There are others out there who are also fighting for democracy, public schools, due process, equal education, social justice. They sit in halls and garages all over our nation, together.

    I also learned this: The one hour that they sat on those metal chairs at that Rep meeting, for many, was the only hour that they sat, all day.

    So, Chalk, with respect, for you or for anyone to say that our NEA sits on their asses is laughable, and offensive. My NEA, because my NEA is me, and Fred, and countless others… My NEA are working their asses off.

    And, I thank them… and, Fred for the coffee.

    1. Fellow NEA member here, and while we may all be working our asses off, is it on the right causes?

      The energy that we’re being asked to put into the Obama campaign is absolutely fascinating to me. I disagreed with DVR last year when he put the early endorsement forward, and I’m really saddened at the chicanery that went on this year regarding the Save Our Schools March. We’re tying ourselves to a president who is not right on our core issues, and I really can’t understand why–if we can’t tell President Obama that he’s wrong on these things without being afraid of the blowback, is he really our friend?

      1. As you know, I agreed then and now that the early no-strings endorsement was dumb. I spoke against it from the floor of the Illinois caucus, wrote against it on this blog. There was no debate allowed on the floor of the RA. I spoke in favor of the anti-Duncan NBI last year. We won that fight.
        As for the SOS chicanery (it is a conference, not a march, btw), this was not a leadership issue. This originated with a group of Florida delegates (and one from Illinois, I suspect), who for reasons unclear, slandered SOS.
        You will find no defense of Duncan or Obama’s education policies here. Quite the opposite if you only scroll down. The issue here is over an attack on teacher unions under the guise of self-proclaimed progressive politics by people who, for the most part, are not in the NEA or the AFT. And a demeaning and disrespectful characterization of NEA members, teachers and education workers.
        Whether from the Left or Right, you can’t claim to support public education and disrespect public school teachers.

  7. Thanks for shining a light on the RA process, Fred. I have learned more from your comments than anywhere else.

    I agree that we need to change the IEA & NEA from the inside. However, I would like to inject one thing about the November elections. We have to quit voting for the lesser of two evils for president & governor. While the Republican candidates have been awful, we did survive 8 years of Bush. I do not see the value of voting for a Democrat just because they are not Republican. Voting for someone slightly less abhorrent while still not supporting teachers (or frankly most people) isn’t beneficial. Just because we are losing at a slightly slower rate is not a victory (the frog is still boiled). Obama said something to the effect that “we have to make him do things” that we want…however, he listens, nods, and ignores.

  8. I couldn’t agree more. This enthusiasm for the TRUTH is more refreshing than the dank glass of Kool-Aid that’s repeatedly shoved in my face.

    Just read through this thread and certainly appreciate the comments. I do sense your heart is in the right place. However, given the results of what happened in Chicago last summer, I am now inclined to smack anyone who asks me to ‘toe the line’.

    You see, I cannot understand why 3 years have passed since Arne Duncan sat on the main stage at the San Diego RA and informed us of his Vision and we simply ignored the coming mess we now find ourselves in. Heck, I’m no political expert, but I can read; let me summarize the writing on the wall that day: “My education policy will have you quickly longing for the salad days of NCLB, while simtaneously erasing decades of collective bargaining gains.”

    However, on that day and for the next week, NEA leadership was more interested in protecting Universal Health Care. Go figure: ignore the fact the house is engulfed in flames while you stay focused turning down the furnace.

    I’m also more inclined to be floored by our “leadership” given its sheer lack of effort for pushing back the reformist entrepreneurs, the political ignoramouses, and the promotion of WHO we are, WHAT we do, and WHY we do it. I get more professional (and personal) validation from Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, and many unknowns on this blogging board and in person than The Union. Hell, even Jon Stewart has my back more than our current representative leadership.

    Please don’t placate me with “WE are the NEA”. I do not feel represented. No one asked me if I agreed with the Test Score Evaluation Sell-Out of last summer. No one asked my wife either. In fact, not one teacher I know was asked. How is this respresentative? How can such a monumental shift in philosophy be attributed to me? It cannot.
    It. Never. Will.

    I do not feel respected. I feel disconnected. Disconnected from the very people who asked me to trust them to look out for my best interests and professional well being. And that’s hard for me to admit given my Commitment, Involvement, and Passion for this Association.

    At this point, I cannot tell if I am more disillusioned in the Sell-Out itself or fearful of the fact that I and my classroom colleagues now find ourselves in the precarious position of the Reformists’ Bullseye. I am, however, quite confident our representative Entity feels neither. For you see, we are now on that slippery slope — you know, the one that ends where we all know it will. Funny. I never suspected it would be my dues dollars which actually shoved me onto it from behind.

    One more thing. I have about as much faith in Dennis VR actively listening to and carefully considering the concerns of this classroom teacher as I do that other President and his educational leadership.

    Henry C Hale, M. Ed.
    National Board Certified Teacher
    Worthington City Schools
    Ohio Education Association

    1. Last May, the NEA Foundation received a great deal of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Could this have something to do with it? It doesn’t look good in any event. 😦

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