It is about time that we create a Movement for 3 Great Transformations in Public Education: Transforming Public Education, Transforming Public School/Public Education Governance, and Transforming our Union.
Transforming Public Education VS Charter Schools
The politicians allied with the billion-dollar corporations, private universities and the corporate-embedded media are selling poor urban school districts charter schools as the only model for reforming Public Education. In reality, the charter-school model is really a backdoor way of forcing poor Black and Latino people to swallow ‘vouchers’ to privatize the Public Education system.
The Federal, State and City governments are gradually relinquishing responsibility for Education to the private sector. They are doing this in the most repugnant and unethical way. They play a psychological con game by lying about the real causes of the problems in our Public Education System.
Primarily, in line with the corporate agenda, they blame the Teachers’ Unions for everything that’s wrong with Public Education in a propaganda blitz that aims to divide Teachers, Parents and Communities. They are blaming Public Educators for a state of affairs we did not create. They are clamoring our sentencing for crimes we didn’t commit.
Historically, the Public Education System evolves with its strength and weaknesses. All along, the strength of Public Education has been Unionized Public Educators. They provided stability and consistency for the development of the Teaching Profession. In most instances, Public Educators spend millions of dollars of their own money to make up for lack of supplies and resources in the schools.
Public Educators have been the backbone of the Public Education System. Its main weaknesses have been all the bureaucracies that were allowed to govern the system and did not allow Public Educators to have a voice in how the schools are run. If given voice, Public Educators allied with Parents and other stakeholders can transform Public Education. We are able to organize instructional content to deliver quality education for every student. The private sector cannot transform Public Education. They are only vying to make a profit on the backs of our children, parents and taxpayers. Whatever they can do, we can do it better with more passion because, by definition, we are Public Servants by choice not to make a profit.
It is unfortunate that President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are playing so much in the hands of the private sector to favor privatization of our Public Education System through the establishment of charter schools. Public Educators working together with parents and communities are the direct answer to the challenges facing Public Education today.
Transforming Public School/Public Education Governance vs Bureaucracy
One of the major plagues affecting Public Education has been governance. For the most part, the Public Education System has been governed by rigid bureaucracies. Pubic School Educators rarely have input in decision-making pertaining to the curriculum, formulation of school policies and governance. They are merely treated as second-class citizens who should have no opinions about anything.
Guidelines, Scope and Sequence, Teaching Guides, Standards are usually imposed. Creativity is simply stifled. We are told what to do with no questions asked. The tyranny has been unbearable. Principals are given sole authority over everything and everybody. In such state of affairs, how can we, Public Educators, be blamed for the things that don’t work in Public Education? It is ludicrous to make us the scapegoat of the failings of such a system. In such conditions, using the failings of some Public Schools to clamor in favor of privatization through charter schools is proof of shallow, fuzzy logic or the result of intentional dupery for the true purpose of reaping profits for the private sector.
If the powers-that-be were really honest people, they would naturally look first at the question of school governance as a very essential and important factor in Public Education. Instead of quickly enacting laws favoring closing Public Schools and opening up charter schools, they would create dynamic governance structures that truly represent the Educators, Parents, Administrators, and other stakeholders in Public Education. They prefer to offer lip-service in setting up dysfunctional structures that cause more damages than solve anything only to turn around and blame us for the failings of their very ruses.
We want to transform the Public School/Public Education Governance Structure. We strive to develop more dynamic School Leadership Teams that are truly representative of the Educators, Parents, Administrators, and other stakeholders in the Public Education System. They should not be pliable SLTs at the service of principals. They should be real where all stakeholders will have input in the way the school is run: decisions about curriculum, formulation of school policies, creation of programs etc. The collective governance structure of the school level should be reflected also at the District, Citywide, State and Federal levels.
Transforming our Union vs Union Bureaucracy
Our Union, the United Federation of Teachers, has been taken hostage by a Political Party known as the Unity Caucus for as long as the Union has been in existence. It is the largest Political Party in our Union Federation. Largest Political Party does not translate being in our best interests as Education Workers.
We have to create committees of educators who are committed to the Union Movement, building understandings of why we need dynamic Unions. We want to start conversations about Social Justice Unionism in the various school buildings throughout the city. Our members will be able to develop the Union Spirit. They will less likely be inclined to allow administrators to divide and conquer in their midst. Our members will play a more active, dynamic and pro-active role in their Chapters. They will apply the ethics of Social Justice Unionism in their Chapters, Communities and throughout the Union.
In this process, the members will build democratic Chapters which will allow them to grow into capable, dynamic, and well-rooted Social Justice Unionists. They will work together to build Platforms of Concerns to be addressed in their school buildings. Those concerns should be addressed in all avenues established in the school, namely, the School Leadership Team, the Consultation Committee, the Safety Committee, and other appropriate committees and gatherings organized at the building level.
Throughout this process, the Grassroots Education Movement will provide guidance to the members through committees we have been able to establish at the school level. Those committees are not going to be our committees but will have some level of relationship with the Grassroots Education Movement.
The Chapter should have an internal Newsletter for the dissemination of pertinent information for the members. The Chapter structure should allow for networking with other Chapters in the surrounding areas and other Educator groups around the City. It is important to take our conversation beyond the walls of our Chapters and internalize conversations from other Chapters and other groups.
With that process, we will be able to think together, work together and act together on small and big issues at both the local and citywide levels. Chapters alone or in collaboration with other Chapters will work to frame and develop Resolutions about issues of concern for our members in the Union or the social justice struggles in the City or the world. Those resolutions will be presented in the Delegate Assembly by the delegates of those Chapters framing the resolutions.
Our members at the grassroots don’t usually know what goes on at the Delegate Assemblies or how to frame resolutions to be presented at those meetings. The Union bureaucracy does not encourage such initiatives either. Most resolutions are drafted by the bureaucracy behind our backs. We must change this practice. Our members should know it is their right to be able to send resolutions to the Delegate Assembly to be considered for a vote of the delegates. Most likely the Unity loyalists will shoot them down. However, it is no less important and essential that our Chapters exercise this right within our own Union.
Our members will seek ways to organize and work collectively on various issues of concern to them at the building level, the community, the city, and the world. That is the essence of Social Justice Unionism. It means that we are not only concerned about our own well-being but also about the well-being of our Fellow Human Beings here and abroad. We practice Solidarity, Compassion, Love and Fellowship.
Our goal is to transform the United Federation of Teachers into a dynamic, agitating, and democratic Social Justice Union.
By Tony Da Fighter