Friday, July 10, 2015

The Narrow, Myopic Vision of the Solidarity Caucus

7/14 postscript on doublethink below.
A novice United Federation of Teachers (UFT) caucus, Solidarity, is making a premature run for the 2016 union election. Much attention has been given to related personal controversies. This article takes the opportunity to look at the caucus, its origins and its campaign program or platform.

The caucus had in its genesis an intense opposition to both the MORE Caucus and the Unity Caucus statements of empathy for Eric Garner, who was killed in a chokehold by New York Police Department officers. In the nearly one year since, deadly police brutality, particularly against people of color, has become the civil rights issue of the nation. People from across the political spectrum were shocked and quite disappointed when a grand jury issued no indictment against any of the officials involved in killing Garner. This is important to recall when considering the character and principles of the caucus.

In its founding it insisted on staying narrowly focusing on teacher issues and on eschewing any attention to any other concerns beyond teachers' issues. Yet, while it appropriates the images of Albert Shanker, Unity Caucus leader of the UFT, it ignores that more largely, the labor union movement has taken stances of solidarity with civil rights activists and anti-war activists. It ignores that in 1957 the American Federation of Teachers dismissed locals that refused to desegregate. It ignores that the United Auto Workers, the AFT and other unions marched in solidarity in the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.  It ignores that strikes have had their greatest popularity when they had reached out to the community. Witness the work that the Lawrence 1912 Bread and Roses textile strikers did in reaching out to the community prior to their strike. Witness the parallel work that the Chicago Teachers Union has done when it took a year of community outreach in preparing for its 2012 strike. The CTU won widespread parent support after making sure to have a two-way dialog to understand the concerns of parents and students, instead of simply pursuing an employee-centered contract and strike campaign. Teacher-community partnership continues to this day in other examples such as St. Paul, Minnesota

Hypocritically, in the quest for allies for its caucus once it had an election in mind, it opportunistically parted from the caucus' founding principle to eschew larger issues or the community and solicited support from a community anti-high-stakes testing group, Change the Stakes.

Now, let us look at the Solidarity Caucus' platform and what is missing

While it gives attention to the special needs of Absent Teacher Reserve teachers (ATRs) where others are silent, this is almost where its issue attention ends. It does not look to the experiences of the regularly assigned teachers. One wonders if the authors even consulted regular classroom teachers. There is no specific discussion about the Danielson Framework, the New York State-dictated Measures of Student Learning (MOSLs) or other aspects of New York City's Advance teacher evaluation system. There is no attention to structural dynamics such as mayoral control, which determine the parameters of what the City Department of Education can do. There is no attention to the Common Core State Standards, which are alienating teachers from their profession and are alienating students from learning. There is no attention to the parent-student solidarity movement which is so essential for teachers who are suffering under the over-testing regimen, the opt-out movement. 

The caucus platform includes complaints about the use of tests in value-added metrics to evaluate teachers. However, the platform does not recognize how the testing emphasis is directly linked to other larger issues, some of which are issues that lead directly to the excessing of teachers into the ATR category: the DOE's testing focus narrows the latitude of what teachers can do in the classroom, the testing focus on core academic subjects crowds out attention to non-core subjects such as foreign language, the arts or physical education. Moreover, the platform studiously ignores larger social-economic-political realities. It ignores that there is a corporatist campaign by politicians in both major parties and an economic privatization campaign by privatizers that capitalize by the test-based stack ranking (rank ordering) of teachers and students and overall privatization of curricula, tests and schools.

Additionally, the caucus program's focus on the teacher involves an ignoring of the effect of the high-stakes tests on students themselves. It ignores the emotional stresses upon students and the attendant alienation from the schooling process in this overall climate of high-stakes testing and driving non-tested subjects out of the curriculum. Just as a decent doctor would care about a patient personally and their living and working conditions and how those impacted the person's health, one would hope that teachers would care about their student charges and the factors that impacted on their life. Just as one commenter on a blog in reaction to the formation of the caucus by saying that he cared about the living conditions of the students, I would echo those points. Teachers are choking under the attacks by corporatist politicians and by privatizatizers, and more rank and file teachers are recognizing this. Yet, Solidarity has made a big conceptual error to ignore this larger context in their program. In this sense, it is mirroring the conceptual errors that conventional, mainstream unions or caucuses, that Michael Mulgrew and the Unity Caucus makes.

Teachers ought to consider the larger social conditions impacting on students. As emphasized previously on this blog, income disparities are extreme in this nation and within the nation, income inequality is more extreme in New York city and state. (See this posting re inequality in the city; and regarding poverty impact on learning see introductory comments at this blog posting.) The stresses of race and class inequality impact on students' lives and negatively impact their educational performance. From issues of police mistreatment of youths of color to profound personal emotional stresses of poverty, these experiences inform the lived reality of the children that we teach in our classrooms. If we wish our students to have the best educational experience, we as teachers should not only attend to our own craft, our own performance, but we should also be concerned with recognizing the social inequality; we should work to change that inequality. This is why I am a social justice education unionist.

There are many aspects about the organizing tactics of the key personalities in the caucus that are at once deceptive and deeply disturbing.  Most recently, a social media page connected with the group has been created. A Solidarity page headline boasts an army of 10,000. It turns out that the organizers of the page snatched up 10,000 names and made them --unwittingly, mind you-- into "supporters." This is putschist organizing at its basest.
New exploitative techniques in political deception on Facebook:
Just when you thought it could not get worse. The leader of Solidarity has taken the names of a few dozen well-known opponents of Michael Mulgrew and posted their names in Facebook postings. The risk is that the uninitiated would think that these persons endorse the Solidarity cult.
Doublethink alert:
The Solidarity leader ignores that the New Action caucus supports Michael Mulgrew in every election in NAC's quid pro quo for executive board seats, and he cries foul when Mulgrew and Unity opponents challenge his desire to ally with NAC, questioning whether they are truly an opposition caucus. Yet, Solidarity claims to oppose Mulgrew and Unity. Thus, this is a classic example of doublethink: the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, especially used in political indoctrination. If you cannot be clear how Solidarity leaders think, can you be clear where their true convictions lie?