You Don’t Stand With Us: My Response to an #EDUSolidarity Highjacking Attempt

Two weeks ago, I was asked for the umpteenth time why a teacher like me would support the UFT, let alone want to be chapter leader. Realizing that answering the question by myself would do little to change anything, I reached out to some colleagues, and very quickly the EDUSolidarity project developed.  Twelve of us, including my hero, Deborah Meier, signed on as co-sponsors, and a week later, we had the pleasure of watching over 100 teachers stand up in solidarity to answer this question.  Each poster interpreted the “like me” part in her or his own way and used it as the foundation for why she or he supports unions.

In a Gotham Schools Community post (where I also blog), Ruben Brosbe claimed to stand up with us.  EDUSolidarity was an open thread and he was certainly entitled to write whatever he wanted in response to it.  His post, however, was an insult to everything we were trying to do, and failed to address who he is as a teacher.  I want to explain this through the lens of what I meant by “teachers like me.”  A teacher like me teaches students first, using the content in my class to engage them as people and current or potential citizens.  Among the different things I teach my students, I teach them about philosophy, democracy, and character.

Philosophy Means Defining Your Terms

One of the subjects through which I teach my students  is philosophy.  Teachers like me teach students how important it is to establish the definitions of key terms, as this is what allows for intelligent conversation when there is disagreement.  So let me start there: what did I mean when I wrote about “teachers like me“?

First and foremost, I was writing for teachers who, like me, are damn good teachers.  The National Board thinks I am one, and my principals agree: I’ve been called a teaching treasure by one, and I am deemed “highly effective” under the city’s new teacher evaluation guidelines by another.  I am a progressive educator who does everything I can to ensure my students get the skills they need to succeed in college and to be critical citizens through my history classes, despite the fact that the Regents stand in the way of this goal.  Nonetheless, my pass rate for the US Regents is better than the city-wide average, despite the fact that the majority of my students were 1’s and 2’s in middle school.  I’m the teacher who every year is asked to write more college letters of recommendation than any other. When we ask our alumni what prepared them to be successful in college, my course is one of the two most often cited.  I’m also the teacher who asks to take on the most challenging students every year. I always take nearly all of the special education students and English language learners into my sections.  Last year, I took the 15 fourth-year students in most danger of not graduating and essentially taught them everything and prepared them for all of their Regents.  Twelve of them have since graduated.  I am a teacher whose classroom is routinely visited by guests to the school; some have been impressed enough by what they saw that I have been asked to do professional development for teachers in the turnaround high schools this year.

But I am also what many rightfully distrust in education. On paper, I am the type of teacher who usually does it for a few years before going on to so-called “bigger and better” opportunities: I am a young, white, middle class guy from Ohio who has moved to NYC to teach black and brown students.  I graduated in the top 1 percent of my high school class, and have Ivy League degrees from Brown, where I earned my teaching license, and Columbia, where I earned a master’s in African-American Studies.  I am clean-cut and well-mannered. I work hard and I have positive relationships with people in power.  I am the top 1/3 some people are trying to get in classrooms.  Unlike most of those who are like me in these ways, however, I have no intention of leaving the classroom until I have my thirty years.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Through my US History and Government class, I teach my students about the meaning of democracy.  Teachers like me are fully committed to democracy and its messiness.

I am the democratically elected union rep of my school. As such, I am a member of the key decision-making body of the UFT, the Delegate Assembly, where decisions are made democratically (I am going to get eaten alive for that comment by members of the minority caucuses within the UFT, and probably rightfully so, but that’s another topic). Democracy means you don’t always get what you want, but that you still accept the will of the majority and the system that delivered it.  It means that when you don’t get what you want, you don’t seek outside powers to force that change on your democratic bodies.  If those who opposed Bush or oppose Obama sought support from other countries to force change, we would call that treason.

But outside support is exactly what Educators 4 Excellence seeks to get; thereby discounting the democratic opinions of teachers.  They do not agree with the democratically determined positions of the UFT, so they take outside funding to support the passing of laws that would go against these positions.  This shows a commitment to the union only when they agree with the union.  It is simply not possible for a member of E4E to stand in solidarity with the union if they are going to outside forces to push through a change that are antithetical to what the union stands for.  The so-called LIFO bill they supported is a fundamental attack on due process.

This bill, and Brosbe wrote about his support here, would have taken away the due process protections that are the very heart of the union’s positions.  Brosbe and E4E claim to be against the simple binary Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory evaluation system we currently have, but they supported a bill that would have used that binary system without the current due process mechanisms built into it to allow teachers to be laid off.  Brosbe claims to think tenure is given too swifty, yet he supports allowing teachers whose probation has been extended to lose their jobs solely because their probation was extended. It also must be noted that there is no due process appeal procedure for the decision to extend probation.  This bill was a fundamental attack on all the core positions of the UFT, and is an act of treason against those of us who stand in solidarity.

What It Means to Have Character

My most important class, though, is advisory.  As an adviser, teachers like me teach students that to be of high moral character, they must have integrity, commitment, and accountability.

People with integrity are honest.  Organizations with integrity don’t need to resort to bribery and deception to earn members.  E4E claims to have over 1,300 members, yet they get these “members” by sponsoring free happy hours at bars throughout the city .  They encourage people to come to discuss how to support their students and to win classroom supplies, all while getting free drinks( who could resist?).  At the door, they then require that you sign on to the group’s Declaration in order to enter.  So when they make claims that 1,300 educators stand in solidarity with them, don’t believe the hype.  Their number lacks integrity.

People who are committed realize that it takes more than three years to serve the people you wish to serve.  Organizations that value commitment have people at the highest levels who have seen those commitments through.  With the exception of Mulgrew, all the key leaders of the UFT still teach students every day.  All the key leadership in the UFT taught students full-time for a long time before claiming to speak as experts.  The leaders of E4E taught for three years each (with no formal training to do so), then quit to run E4E full time.  Their works shows a commitment to their selves and their politics, not to their students.

But perhaps more important than anything else I teach, I teach my students to be accountable to themselves and their community.  I have never met Brosbe, so I don’t know if he’s failing to be accountable to himself, or the larger world, but Ruben, let me be perfectly clear: by choosing to give an “E4E take on EDUSolidarity,” you insulted everything we were trying to do. You are either failing to be accountable and honest with yourself, or you are being disingenuous in your post.

You don’t stand in solidarity with us.  You write in your post as if the union is not something that you are even a part of.  You work with an organization that lacks integrity and commitment and that is fundamentally opposed to the democratic voice of the majority of teachers.  You supported a bill which would have used the very systems you claim don’t value teachers’ work to take away jobs from these same teachers.

But more than any other area, Ruben, where your post lacked credibility and integrity was in your failure to explain in any way what kind of teacher you are.  In our letter asking people to join us, we asked teachers to “explain how being a union member supports and enables you to be the kind of teacher that you are. ”  I challenge you, Ruben, to take on that question:  What kind of teacher are you?

10 thoughts on “You Don’t Stand With Us: My Response to an #EDUSolidarity Highjacking Attempt

  1. Stephen,

    I completely understand your disagreement with my point of view, and expected it when I decided to participate in #Edusolidarity, even though it was promoted as open to all teachers who support the union. A few thoughts:
    1.

  2. wow this netbook really sucks… let me try that again.

    1. I was hardly the only teacher who focused their support more on “why I support the union” and neglected the “teachers like me” portion. Why single me out? Pretty obvious.

    2. I wouldn’t have participated in the meme if I don’t truly support the union. We clearly disagree on that. Your stance and the stance of many others is that E4E is an attempt to dismantle the union. My post was in part an effort to refute that, but more so, I was just expressing my genuine support for the union, in spite of my differences with the leadership. In doing so, I highjacked #Edusolidarity? A tad melodramatic, no?

    I appreciate you being forthcoming to me about your intents for your post, and giving me the opportunity to respond. Looking forward to a continued dialogue.

  3. This is a terrific post, Stephen. I remain very skeptical of E4E’s motives and continue to wonder who their backers are. In fact, at this point, I’m more interested in why they won’t come clean about who their backers are than who the backers actually are, if that makes sense.

    Ruben continues to endorse the E4E party line, which he is certainly welcome to do, but I found it laughable at best that he would do so under a rubric of “solidarity.”

  4. Steve, I disagree. He was much more of a gate-crasher than a highjacker. EduSolidarity went off beautifully, and his impact was almost nil (‘sides p’ing us off).

    Central to his claim is that he “supports the union” – yet there is no evidence that this is true. He is not active in the union. He has not spoken out in defense of the union. Has he used his blog or the Post or Gotham Schools to oppose DoE policy? Has he phone-banked? Has he participated in one of the UFT’s professional organizations? Has he urged others to join the union? Demonstrated?

    The union allows us to act in concert. He speaks in concert with Bloomberg.

    And what does he claim to support the union FOR? A series of vague protections, most of which come from state law, not the UFT.

    I think he was really just playing for attention. I’ve given him more than enough.

  5. @Ruben – you were singled out because you posted as a member of E4E, a group I could not possible oppose more. My response is much more of an attack on E4E than it is on you. With that said, I’m still working my way through all the posts, so there could be more. Here’s one place I commented, though, in disagreement with the author: http://bit.ly/dGaMTQ. With that said, I have corresponded with Mary before, and I know we are on the same page on the issues that matter most to me. I’m not sure I have anything else to say on why you can’t support E4E and be in solidarity with the union. You can support the union on some issues and be E4E, as you do, but you’re certainly not standing in solidarity with us when you stand with them.

    @Ruben & @Jonathan – I stand by highjacking. I’m willing to take Ruben at his word that this was his intent, but nonetheless, I think his post was an attempt to use our group against ourselves.

    Thanks all for the kind words.

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  8. Stephen, thank you for posting this wonderful piece.

    As I said on Gotham Schools, E$E is a group that’s receiving funding from entities that would like nothing more then the complete destruction of the union. They are the same entities at work in Wisconsin and Ohio. It’s amazing that Ruben fails to acknowledge where E$E’s money is coming from and what their patron’s endgame is.

    I don’t think Ruben’s a bad guy, I think he’s struggling to fit in, and out of desperation he has allowed himself to drink the E$E KoolAid. Mix that up with a little arrogance (from his well off background) and stubborness (even though he’s a teacher, it doesn’t matter if you present fact to teach him, he’ll still recite his opinion back to you) and you have the current incarnation of Ruben as the E$E blog-monkey.

    Now I know me calling him that is not nice, but he’s misguided and putting a lot of effort into spreading beliefs that go against the basic pillars of unionism. And, I’m a proud union member coming from a union family several generations deep. My relatives fought to get certain protections that Ruben and E$E would simply dismiss.

    As Jonathan mentioned above, I think maybe Ruben should spend some time contributing at various UFT activities where he could truly be productive in embracing teaching as a career. Maybe he should even ask himself why Evan and Shitney have never attended any UFT events.

    Finally Stephen, I want to thank you for educating me. I’m one of those people who all too often are quick to paint a broad brushstroke of Ivy grads using teaching in NYC as a quick stepping stone to something else. Perhaps that’s a faulty defense mechanism manifested in the current attacks on teachers and the union. But, your passion has reminded me that I shouldn’t generalize. Thank you for that!

    Ruben, I hope there’s hope for you!

  9. I am a grad students at NYU and am almost done with my social studies education program. I am currently taking a class that deals with integrating media and technology into the classroom and as a tool for educators. I have shared you blog, as well as the EDUSolidarity site with my class as an example of how the internet can create a community of educators from all across the country. I think this project really shows how the internet can be used as a place for teachers to share ideas, and spread awareness about issues that are effecting everyone in education. As a student there is a lot of talk about unions and the future of our chosen occupation, but it is really interesting to see the opinions and thoughts from teachers who are currently working in the trenches. Thank you for supporting teachers!

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