The union executives, who control the unions, are on the other side, opponents, not potential allies, and should be treated as such. We need clearer ideas about what is going on in school and society, organizations to take action, and ethics to test and judge new leaders.
Not crap. Real good sense.
Plus data. See the Sept 10 2000 NyTimes ad titled "Challenge Me". It is a one of about 1/2 dozen ads the AFT and NEA in conjunction with the Business Roundtable, US Chambers of Commerce, and others, took out before and after NCLB, supporting a regimented curricula and high stakes exams. The union execs and the elements of the ruling classes in the US who influence education (meaning almost all of the ruling class groups) are folds in the same cloth. They have minor differences, but their broad outlook and their practice is much the same. NCLB, like the invasion of Iraq, is a bipartisan project made with plenty of union support.
I blame, above all, Al Shanker. He was surely not the only one responsible for the AFT as we know it today---a real weapon of reaction---but he led the way, starting from the racist Ocean-Hill Brownsville strike right through his connections with financiers like Felix Rohatyn (sp) to his deep ties with the National Endowment for Democracy, and later on, his insistence on NCLB-like projects.
NEA trailed Shanker. But now little distinguishes NEA from AFT, except I think NEA has an edge in internal democracy (if we can really call it that anymore).
Here is an old piece on Shanker ( http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/SHANKER.htm) Others may want to google for Paul Buhle's take on him.
I am close with many second-tier NEA staff (including some managers on down to local uniserv directors). That only comes because I worked for NEA and affiliates for quite a while, because I was always open about what I thought about things like capitalism, and because we came to value friendships over political differences. So, I do know a bit about what goes on inside NEA, even today. As I was fighting AFT staff in organizing campaigns, we came to know each other as well, and we still talk, but less so than my friends in NEA.
What NEA and AFT leaders say and do about NCLB often doesn't connect. The NEA and AFT execs know there is a lot of anti-nclb sentiment among the members, as well as a lot of anti-union sentiment (I think you may have been at nea when an internal poll showed that about 1/3 of the members would quit if given the chance). So, yes, they are treating the members, as you say, like useful idiots. NEA and AFT execs want the appearance of opposing NCLB, without the reality. You can just check the rapidly shifting lines of CTA over the last nine months to see that play out. In sum, NEA and AFT execs lie.
That is exactly like the UAW leadership claiming militancy, even today, when the UAW has lost more than one million members, and done nothing but organize retreats and concessions (you don't need to pay dues to a union to do that, you can do it alone), but the UAW bosses still do pretty well financially, don't have to work in the plants, and can claim they are part of a working class movement. The reality is that the UAW leaders have repeatedly used violence, organized UAW goon squads, to smash their own members' strikes, at Chrysler Mack Avenue, the Detroit Newspaper Strike, and elsewhere.
All told, there is a vast gap between what union execs say these days, and what they do.
NEA and AFT do all they can to not keep their members truly informed, to not encourage them to make real plans to take control of the value they create at their work sites, and to begin to exercise that control. But NEA and AFT leaders repeat the mantra that this is OUR union, when it is abundantly clear it is THEIR union, not ours. Who controls the money? That's an easy journalists' question. Multiply the 3 million members of NEA (more than that, I think more, but no matter) by about $500 dues per year per person (probably a low dues estimate, but as NEA represents many support, non-certified workers, it may be close), and you get---a lot. Who controls that money and where does it go? For sustained rank and file training, action oriented organizing? Nope.
Instead, NEA and AFT execs urge people to do nearly anything but to take collective control over their own lives and work places (meaning power that can be sustained, not evaporated in the wind like almost all political promises). Instead: rely on your uniserv director. Rely on NEA. Rely on Hillary or Obama to save your butt.
Nobody is going to save our butts but us. That requires new form of organizations which don't divide people, as unions do, but unite them. In our case, that means uniting parents, students and teachers in the same room, in consensus discussions, where the payment of dues does not set up voting rights. It requires what may be tritely called class consciousness, a recognition that this really is a struggle between rich and poor, and the rich know it, and we do not, yet. And it requires ethics of equality, internationalism, democracy, anti-racism/sexism, and sharp opposition to mysticism--a grasp that we may not be responsible for our birthrights,but we are responsible for our histories. NEA and AFT want none of that.
The social and political realities of our time (inequality, racism, the very real promises of meaningless jobs and perpetual war) create a society that is going to make what appear to be strange demands on schools, as in the creation of dutiful servants and volunteer patriot warriors through NCLB. Those realities are not going to go away, no matter who is elected from the cast of millionaires, who will spend billions huckstering their own interests. NCLB's name may change, but the project will not. A skunk by any other name......
Just as the US is not going to leave Iraq for reasons of regional control and oil (see Alan Greenspan), so the US ruling classes are not going to halt their demands for the regimentation of knowledge (what people know and how they come to know it) in school: social control trumping, but not ignoring, profiteering. That regimentation of knowledge requires proof, and a divided, demoralized, alienated work force; teachers whose minds are replaced with the minds of their employers; hence the textbooks, teacher guides, relentless work of overseers, and the exams. I think your research offers evidence of much of that.
At the end of the day, NEA and AFT execs are going to do nothing substantial at all about NCLB, because they know which side their bread is buttered on, and we should know that about them too. The $450,000 Reg Weaver earns puts him at odds with us, as does his outlook, his daily life, and his habits developed over decades of NEA hierarchy. Weaver, Dennis Van Roekel (the next NEA prez) and all those NEA or AFT bosses in DC are, bluntly, enemies. That is, for the most part, true of the bosses of the state affiliates, but not all of them.
I explained some of the "why" of that in my earlier note, but here is some more.
NEA and AFT bosses both uphold the preposterous claim of the Democrats and Republicans, that it is possible to do school reform in not only the absence of social and economic reform, but in a society where those who profit from inequality and exploitation often drive the call for school reform. NEA and AFT bpsses repeatedly say they support the "goals" of NCLB, and ostensibly the good will of those who wrote it. To me, anyone who accepts that premise has to be incredibly stupid, or dishonest. I do not think the NEA and AFT execs are dumb.
NEA and AFT leaders, again, both trumpet what former NEA president, Bob Chase, called "New Unionism," the unity of business, labor, and government, "in the national interest." They see that as standing above all else. This means the NEA and AFT leaders reject the reason most people join unions---the fact that working people and their employers have contradictory interests. This also is the philosophical basis for their support of NCLB, which is very real. Here is an organizational link demonstrating this kind of McGraw-Hill/NEA unity in practice in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=42&Itemid=69
Consider the little things NEA or AFT could have done. In California: they could post the law about opt-outs on their web site and urge teachers to inform parents about it, as is their right (and NEA could defend, zealously, teachers in trouble for that). But they don't do it. As you know, I think, the people at NEA are corrupt, they are not dumb. They could figure it out.
Or NEA (not AFT, this could not be done in AFT) could reinstate the list serve they set up for teacher discussions (really school workers is a better word) about NCLB, the role of the union, etc. You will remember that NEA set such a thing up briefly before the RA that voted against AFL-CIO-AFT affiliation, and immediately killed it when the discussion was used to build rank and file consciousness.
Or NEA could fight for real academic freedom and class size clauses in contracts, really fight for that, but they don't, always trading both for a few dollars more, and actively selling that view to teachers.
NEA and AFT could, both, tell school workers that when wages and benefits are attached to test scores, educators in poor districts will be hit first, a move steeped in racism and antiworking class reality---and that no suburban teacher should let that stand, as an injury to one only goes before an injury to all. Sadly, Detroit and its suburbs stand as a very real counter example to that development, right now.
NEA and AFT could take clear measures to fight the racism that is profoundly reflected in the demographics of the teaching force. Instead NEA and AFT lobby hard to add expensive and time consuming barriers to entering the job, locking out black educators especially, in much the same way the AFL did not long ago--resulting in the ruined AFL-CIO today.
At the very least, NEA and AFT execs could address the fear that is pervasive in school systems in the US today. Fear was without any doubt one of the key themes Bob, Susan, and I encountered on our California tour. The comments of educators we met match my experiences in Detroit, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York. School workers are flat out scared. It takes no imagination to think through the impact of persistent fear in classroom, the effect on kids, learning, and the foundational base of freedom.
NEA and AFT have plenty of resources to back administrators off, and down. NEA and AFT could swamp fear with resistance.They have more lawyers than they know what to do with (but to few organizers, who would be much more effective). What does NEA and AFT do? They hardly acknowledge it.
Right now, I am looking at my copy of the September 2007 issue of the California Educator, the voice of NEA in California. It has one, count-em, one article on NCLB, focused on CTA's opposition to merit pay, not NCLB. But there are plenty of pages of ads for banks, Broad-sponsored universities (USD), etc. I think that is a good example of where NEA stands.
Take a look at coming issues of Substance, check out what I hope will be expanded conversations on the Calcare listserv, and come on to the Rouge Forum conference in Louisville in March next year, to see the real opposition growing. To one degree or another, these groups realize we are in a fight, not a discussion. That distinguishes them from NEA, AFT, and nearly every other ed reform group around.
All the best, r
At 11:29 AM 9/22/2007, ----- wrote: