Friday, March 11, 2011

Can You Have Dialogue With Ed Deformers?

At our film (The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman) preview at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn last Saturday, during the discussion afterwards someone said there was an attitude in the film demonizing charter school backers. "There are some good charters," he said. Sam Anderson, who is in the film, was on the panel and said something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing):
The charter school movement at the macro level will result in the destruction of the public school system, the draining of enormous resources out of the hands of public control and into private hands, and enormous harm to the majority of children over the long run. They should be demonized.
My response (to myself) was: fuck 'em.

Now, Michael Fiorillo, made a similar, but more eloquent than my expletive (as expected) statement in response to a thoughtful essay by Mark Anderson at the Gotham Schools Community board. Anderson talks about Labor and Management. Though Anderson comes from a business background and understands the points of view:
I often find the debates that are ongoing in the education policy world suffer from a lack of explicit acknowledgement of underlying values, even as those debates are really just a fundamental clash of values. As I read articles heralding the decline in union power and calling for budgetary bloodletting in public services, I might posit that some values that the authors would hold are that of efficiency, expediency, and force as an agent of change. As someone who has been in positions of management, I can understand the perspectives that channel from such values. We seek immediate and replicable solutions to problems, to make systems run more smoothly and efficiently, and to increase performance and productivity.
As Diane Ravitch explains in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” education leaders such as Joel Klein and Alan Bersin seemed to turn a deaf ears to their employee base as they rammed through reforms, as if this were effective leadership. Michelle Rhee has also most famously exemplified this style of leadership. Problem is, this is not effective leadership. Not in the business world, and most certainly not in the realm of education. At least, not in any sort of sustainable way. It might seemingly work for a few years — in that people conform because they have to —until the results start trickling in. Turnover will be high. Motivation will be low. And increasingly hostile rhetoric and a culture of mistrust will develop between labor and management.
Anderson seems to be scratching his head as to why these so-called business leaders would be using a tactic that will fail in motivating teachers and is calling for a dialogue. between the two sides. What he is missing in that the intentions of the ed deformers is NOT to improve the schools but to take them over, turn over the massive amount of money into private hands while running the rudimentary school system left over on the cheap. THEY HAVE NO GOOD INTENTIONS AND YOU CANNOT ENGAGE IN DIALOGUE WITH PEOPLE WITH NO GOOD INTENTIONS. EVIL MOSKOWITZ INDEED!!!

Phew! I feel better.

Now, on to Michael's much more reasoned response:
When the balance of forces so overwhelmingly favors management and capital, as it currently does in this country, and when those unregulated forces are literally sociopathic, as is the case with the DOE and all urban education systems under mayoral control, then to speak about "building relationships" is naive and preposterous. It's hard to build relationships with people who are trying to kill you. I suggest you ask teachers in Wisconsin about how "dialogue" works in the middle of a class war.

Management's reflex to control labor as a cost and a factor of production, and to make it as fungible as possible, is axiomatic. Rather than reading the fairy tales contained in management how-to manuals found in airport bookracks, I suggest you carefully observe management behavior. In the social darwinist swamp that is the neoliberal economy (and Michael Bloomberg's New York City), behavior is the most honest form of communication. That behavior includes de-skilling labor, eliminating whatever vestiges of autonomy it has, and using that as leverage to reduce its wages, its benefits and maintain unilateral control over the terms of employment. Labor's status in this "partnership" is akin to that of school principal and student council president. They may listen to each other, respect and like each other, but the dynamics of power make it impossible to call it a true partnership. Sure you'll get your meeting, and maybe they'll even agree to serve chocolate milk in the lunchroom, but the parameters of power are set.

Additionally, your analogy about the woman on the subway is false, since as a civilized human being you responded appropriately to her established position by the door. Had you been the DOE (as a proxy for all corporate ed deformers), however, you (and your cronies, contractors, consultants, subsidized researchers, politically-connected vendors, advocacy satellites and astroturf shills) would have grabbed her handbag and pushed her and the people around her out of the way. In fact, you would have grabbed as much of that public space as you could, used it as your own, and proclaimed your munificence to the people you had just evicted.

Take a look around the world we live in, and especially the regime too many teachers in New York work under: can you say with a straight face that those in positions of policy-making and power are "building relationships" and "listening?"

The reality is that management and labor have intrinsically opposing interests, and that only in those rare periods when labor is able to counterbalance management and capital's inherent advantage (which does not exist at the moment) can we achieve the best we can hope for, which is a wary accommodation. Without that, the situation is the one we currently find ourselves in, that of one-sided aggression, deception (and self-deception) and contempt for the public good.

Here are some related blog posts for you to check out if you have time:

Filmmaker Michael Galinsky, a public school parent who I have run into at various events, is going to do a film on education. Here are some of his thoughts.

NYC Educator has 2 must reads over the last few days:

I'm Not Against Tenure, But...
So says faux-Democrat Cory Booker in his love letter to the reformers who put him where he is today. Sure, let's not abolish tenure. Let's simply make it meaningless. The Wal-Mart family did not finance Booker so as to help working people. Wal-Mart money subverts public schools because union is a scourge that must be stopped, so that people can do as they're told, shut the hell up, and work until they die. MORE

The Value of a Teacher

There is no question in my mind that the path we're embarking upon is littered with, reeking of, completely composed of sheer nonsense. We're moving into an evaluation system that relies on "value-added" information, information that can make an exemplary teacher look like an utter incompetent. And we're also playing right into the hands of "reformers," yet again. MORE

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

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