Monday, March 10, 2014

No Country for Sacred Cows

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From Ravitch by way of Politico : 

EXCLUSIVE: AFT SHUNS GATES FUNDING: The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards — a Gates priority — among other initiatives.

I omitted the addition of the Breaking News! banner affixed to the story by Diane Ravitch for what I hope are obvious reasons. Somehow this "story" fails to grab me in my union bowels and launch me from my chair with a raucous fist pump and a scream of Yeaauuuh Randiiiiiiii! It reminds me more of someone being congratulated and applauded because they have agreed to stop stealing from the petty cash fund. Hey folks, gather round for cake and punch, Rob here has agreed to stop stealing from us...
If you didn't need any further evidence of Randi Weingarten's opposite world of union leadership she still  didn’t believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction, but still had to sever the relationship. “I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing – not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders – that it was important to find a way to replace Gates funding,” she said. Weingarten plans to ask members to vote this summer on a dues hike of 5 cents per month, which she said would raise $500,000 a year for the Innovation Fund. 

So it wasn't so much that Weingarten had an epiphany or like Saul on the Road to Damascus, had a transformational experience that led her to the obvious truth rank and filers have known since Day One -- that Gates' money is dirty and we don't want it. No, none of that transpired. Instead Randi Weingarten tells us it was the level of distrust she was seeing on The Twitter and from the mouths of the small people that forced her to scupper the deal with Gates. Using David Sedaris tongue in cheek voice now, smirk, shrug and say -- Well, ONE of the deals... Good thing you tweetists and union big mouths made such an unholy stink about the Gates money. Of course none of you knows a porthole from a platform but the mere fact that you all are arranging your chicken heads and horsehairs and other quaint little superstitious totems against Gates' involvement in Public Ed. means a sage leader like Me (Randi) had better stay ahead of the curve. Randi is like the dorky middle class suburban kid at the mall strutting around strapped with an oversized Flavr Flav clock in 1996. You can be sure by the time it reaches her it's, how they say, "played out." 

So how many blog posts, tweets, heckles and hostile emails later, Randi Weingarten the President of the largest teacher's union in this country has now in March of 2014  reached the penetrating conclusion that accepting money from a plutocrat who's hellbent on destroying public education and teacher's unions isn't such a hot idea. That a portion of said millions is to be set aside to further and foment a set of "National Standards" written and promoted not by educators but by businessmen doing what they do -- trying to turn a profit -- is such an egregious lapse of leadership from Weingarten it strains credulity that she has ever represented the interests of teachers when given a choice between them and the interests of plutocrats. There should be no celebration or raucous cheering for this ridiculous bait and switch of a labor leader being forced against her own wishes to stand up for her constituents in the face of a predatory plutocrat who would like nothing better than to see her union dissolved and teachers sent scrambling to earn a living wage. There should be a quiet shaking of heads and a muttering along the lines of "Bout goddamned time..."

In the current desperate state of public education we really can't afford sacred cows. Diane Ravitch for all of her upside needs to take a long hard look at the dismal dearth of leadership Randi Weingarten has provided to her members. Ravitch may well be her friend, in fact if I have read that once I have read it a hundred times. That's nice. But I never held a cabinet post in D.C. with a President nor have I hob nobbed with the power brokers these two trade emails with on any level. It's all well and good that they are friends and Diane is her loyal friend. But I am not her loyal friend. Our career trajectories are diametrically opposed.  One day in my fifth year of teaching, I broke up a knife fight by myself in the dark back hallway of an automotive vocational school. The kid with the knife was arrested 2 years later after fatally stabbing someone in a home invasion. The other guy's nickname was "Knuckles."  The day of this event I went home and wrote my transfer letter. Eventually I transferred to a school where a security guard was shot in the leg by a student the previous year using the lightning doesn't strike twice theory. I think my experience has a little more in common with a lot more urban teachers than Randi and Diane sipping Perrier with their shrimp bisques and remembering their good old days. If you want to be one of us and you want to put up the banner that says I support teachers you need to stop enabling a power monger who's been stepping on teacher's heads on her way up the ladder for far too long. Sometimes friends need to call out their friends. And you want to tell us what great friends you are maybe it's time you started acting like one. And if you can't lead and you don't want to follow then do us all a favor and get the hell out of the way. 


  1. Thank you Sean.

  2. RW's getting out of the way is long, long overdue...

  3. Agreed Michael, but the zillion dollar question is how. There are, as I see it, two major obstacles. The first is the totalitarian hold on power RW enjoys. Consider myself, a three time elected UFT chapter leader who has devoted thousands of hours of unpaid labor to the UFT and endured countless attacks on my livelihood because of the same and still I am not trusted enough to be a delegate to the AFT which means I have no vote as to who runs our mother union. And there are many in exactly my position at the same time there are thousands who are delegates and are more than willing to degrade and disgrace themselves by voting for whom they are told to vote.

    The second problem is getting rid of an incompetent like RW without playing into the hands of our enemies. Nothing the plutocrats and their employees in the Republican and and Democratic parties would like better that to see a large deeply wounded union ripping itself apart from with in. We are in a fix. But we have no choice but to find a way out. It's our only chance.