Thoughts on Friedrichs Vs. California, Eva Moskowitz, and Human Dignity

October 4, 2015


Some time within the next few months the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If the justices decide in favor of Friedrichs, all public employee unions across America will be decimated and all public employees would immediately become “at will” employees laboring under the Right to Work model.
For anyone wondering what a Right to Work model would mean for a teacher in New York City one could do worse than take a long hard look at what lays within the recently leaked five page internal document addressed to the staff of Eva Moskowitz’s non-union Success Academy.

From what one can gather from the leaked SA doc, outside of having zero job security, no say whatsoever in working conditions and working endless hours, the “at will” teachers at Success Academy are apparently obliged to do whatever it is their leader orders them to do or else. According to the document, this would include (but not be limited to) debasing their language, creating a false sense of crisis and conning the parents of their students into attending whatever it is master Moskowitz desires them to attend regardless of whether they could afford it or not.

The document was written by something called Success Academy’s “advocacy team,” whose job apparently is to supply “messaging assistance” to staff. In this case the “messaging assistance” consists of not only helping teachers convince SA families to attend a rally but to help teachers convince these families that the transparently political event is somehow not political by supplying the language they are to use with the parents. (The rally, organized by the sleazy and cynical Families For Excellent schools, yet another billionaire created front for school privatization, was meant to take place on Sept 30 but was postponed because of rain.)
“This is not a political event,” employees are being asked to tell parents who may be hesitant about participating in a rally with political implications, reported Politico. “This is an event in support of your scholar, our school, and the right for families to have access to equal schools.”


Of course, for anyone who has been unfortunate enough to “co-locate “ with a Success Academy, the fact that Moskowitz forces her teachers to debase the English language is evident on a daily basis. Take, for instance, the word “scholar .’’ Here is a word you will hear SA teachers saying in passing 10, 20, 30 times a day. You will here it drop incessantly from the lips of administrators in meetings between your school and Success Academy. Once I heard it while waiting to see the nurse when a teacher from SA called a mother on his cell phone to inform her that “your scholar fell down in the playground and hurt her elbow. “ In every other part of the English speaking world the word scholar is commonly understood to mean a distinguished academic, a specialist in a particular discipline or, at the very least, 
a person who is highly educated.

Not in Moskowitz land. There the word “scholar” means every student in Success Academy, excepting of course those kids with lousy test scores who are booted out and into the land of non-scholars as quickly as possible. In Success Academy “scholars “ are children as young as five.

Now I understand the rationale behind this misuse of language – somehow addressing them as “scholars” inspires them to great heights and all that — but as I do not support forcing teachers to debase their language, never mind to practice magical thinking on other people’s children, I whole heartedly reject it. And I do not find it harmless. It is to use language in the same manner and for the same reason as an ad company: to sell a product. Misuse of language is never harmless. As even one of Moskowitz’s five year old “scholars” knows, calling an acorn an oak tree does not magically make it into one, even if Eva Moskowitz demands you say it does.

Then there is Moskowitz’s singular use of the word “civics, ” as if taking 9000 school kids up to Albany or marching them across the Brooklyn Bridge during school time is actually engaging them in a “civics lesson. ” This too one assumes must also be echoed ad infinitum by the teachers in her employ. Of course, if this outrageous behavior is indeed presented to SA students as a civics lesson, you can rest assured that there would be no mention of the fact that the exact same actions are strictly forbidden for a public school, that any public school teacher involved in such a stunt would be sighted for theft of services and any principal who allowed it would have his or her job on the line.

One can also safely assume that SA teachers would be careful not to mention the extremely un-civic demand given by their “advocacy team” that their memorandum be carefully kept away from parents less they see how completely they are held in contempt.

To my way of thinking, to oblige teachers to debase their language, act against their conscience, and betray their intelligence while insulting that of their students’ parents or risk losing their livelihood is morally, intellectually and spiritually grotesque. Simply put, a person who has been stripped of their language by being forced to speak another’s has been stripped of their personhood. And yet, as “at will” employees, even if such a teacher wishes to grieve such degradation, they have nowhere to grieve it.

That said, I have no doubt whatsoever that, even if Moskowitz is extreme, these kinds of demands and worse will begin to be made in schools across the board and across the United States should the Friedrichs decision be made against public unions. Should that nightmare scenario come to pass, all of those who remain public school teachers will find themselves working to one degree or another for some one like Eva Moskowitz. Those who have been trying to recreate American schools in their image will have removed the last barrier to complete and utter domination. They will flood American schools with their corporate apparachiks who, like Moskowitz, will delight in making humiliating demands and in destroying the careers of seasoned teachers — all for the good of the children, of course. Should that nightmare scenario come to pass, the war against public school teachers which has been raging for over a decade, fueled by the richest individuals on earth in cahoots with the most powerful politicians in the United States, may at last end with the both American children and their parents on the losing side. At the very least, it will be an enormous step backward and, if the Moskowitz model is any guide, a massive and insidious assault not only on the dignity of teachers but on all Americans from coast to coast.

King To Replace Duncan in DC Insuring that the Campaign to Privatize Public Schools Will Continue Unabated

October 2, 2015


Today it was announced that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he who has used the awesome power of the federal Government to wreak layered and relentless havoc on the entire public school system, will resign in December.

Duncan said he was resigning to spend more time with his family and stated, in what appeared to be complete seriousness, that he expected to find work “expanding opportunity for children.”

Duncan was the longest serving education secretary in U.S. history and easily the most appalling.

Even as candidate Obama campaigned with Linda Darling-Hammond, in a bait and switch maneuver that can now be seen as characteristic of his presidency,
President–elect Obama named non-educator Duncan Secretary of Education. The appointment, made at the insistence of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a group made up almost entirely of hedge fund managers, signaled that under Duncan the Department of Education would serve in essence as a conduit to the whims and wishes of private foundations, most prominently and disastrously, the Gates Foundation. These private interests,it must be said, Duncan has served with complete fidelity.

Tragically, Duncan will be replaced by former New York State Commissioner John King, whose obsequiousness in the face of wealth and power is equal to Duncan’s, likewise their shocking arrogance if not outright disdain for the public they nominally serve. Having taught three years in a classroom, two in a charter school, King has infinitely more teaching experience than Duncan who has zero. Not that this will make an iota of difference.

In essence, in terms of policy, Duncan will be replaced by Duncan or perhaps Duncan on steroids.

King was last seen on tour in New York condescending or dissembling to parents on stages in Poughkeepsie and New York City in a failed attempt to sell them the miserable and increasingly loathed Common Core. I caught his act in Manhattan where even shills from Students First and Educators For Excellence could not rescue King from his well-earned pathos.

Soon thereafter King resigned as Commissioner in New York only to emerge as an extremely well paid something-or-other in Duncan’s Department of Education where he has hung out ever since.
King’s appointment insures that the Obama administration’s signature education policies of high stakes testing linked to insane and immoral teacher evaluations, mandated charter schools, union busting and ultimate privatization of the public school system will continue until Obama leaves office. And that,in turn, insures not merely massive teacher shortages as teachers flee the profession, but student misery and parental outrage; above all it means billions of dollars in public money to testing companies and millions more to a multitude of other “education reform” parasites. Lastly, it also insures Barack Obama’s standing as the worst education president in the history of the public school system, far more effective in the destruction of public schools than Reagan, Clinton, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush combined.

Notes On NYC Labor Day Parade and the Horror of Trump Tower

September 14, 2015

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So New York City’s Labor Day Parade was held on Saturday and, as a dutiful union man, I made my way up to 45th St in the morning and met up with the UFT contingent massed together awaiting our turn to march among the thousands of ironworkers, plumbers, postal workers, carpenters, laborers, nurses, and all the rest of the noble souls who collectively form the central nervous system of the city and keep the city running. The turnout among teachers was disappointing but I was grateful, as ever, to meet up with my friend and union brother, the prize winning blogger nyceducator and his delightful protégé. Together we managed to squeeze out some laughs and skillfully avoid the oily hands of various politicians – most notably the cadaverous looking Sen. Chuck Schumer, his arms seeming to multiply like the Hindu goddess Durga, desperately seeking something to shake — and walk the 5th Ave route from start to finish on 64th St.

At parade’s end we parted, the nyceducator and protégé heading east to lunch, and
I back tracking south along 5th Ave passing the parade that went on and on and on. Somewhere around 62nd St I came to a realization that New Yorkers dread: my bladder was sending me the unmistakable message that I needed a bath room, a need ridiculously difficult to fulfill anywhere in NYC, that much the more in that neighborhood of Tiffany’s and the Plaza Hotel.

I understood I had no choice but to soldier down 19 or so blocks to a branch of the New York Public Library and so, with ever increasing urgency, did I begin.

Lo and behold, not far into my increasingly miserable journey I looked right to find none other than the garish Trump Tower, with the words “open to the public” above the glass doors calling me to follow like the star of Bethlehem.
Besides, I reasoned, what better person to leave such a gift with after a Labor Day Parade than Donald Trump, no longer merely an obnoxious media whore billionaire but, crazily, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States! So, for the first time in my life, albeit with an extremely limited mission in mind, I entered a building owned by Donald Trump; which is to say I entered into a physical space mirroring the horrifying sensibility of Donald Trump.

Before I go any further let me say that, like any more or less sensate New Yorker, even before his insane entry into presidential politics and elevation into the same, I have been forced into an awareness of the vulgar and supreme narcissist who is Donald Trump. Moreover, cycling to work from the Lower East Side to Harlem, as I do, I am reminded of his existence via his brutal phallic buildings just about any route I take. There’s a Trump monstrosity on 1st Ave near the United Nations. Another when you leave the bike path at Central Park and 59th St.. There are still others along the Hudson Bikeway on the Westside. I was also unwittingly aware, seemingly through a process akin to osmosis, of Trump’s idiot TV show, his get rich seminars, his wives and other aspects of his garish life.

That said, even with all I knew of this man, nothing prepared me for what I was to find inside Trump Tower. Being inside Trump Tower feels like being in the center of a diseased psyche. It feels like mental illness made normative. It feels like narcissism so unbounded it has a palpable presence. Inside, the image and name of Trump is as omnipresent as was that of Kim ll-sung’s in North Korea. Indeed, even in a nation as frighteningly and increasingly narcissistic as America — the land that created and perpetuates “the selfie, ” — Trump brings a horrifying new dimension to the unseen and deadly affliction.
In the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus, unable to pull away from his own reflection, or so internally fractured he could not believe he even existed without constant affirmation, drowns in a pond. The myth is instructive should one be open to instruction. Like the junkie needs junk, the narcissist must see his or her reflection everywhere they look; must hear the echo of their own voice every time someone else speaks; writhes in agony at the reality that others exist and others matter; that they are not the sun and moon and stars. It was narcissism that compelled a Michael Bloomberg to do his best to remake Manhattan Island in his gilded image of the same. It is narcissism that compels a Bill Gates to try to insidiously reduce education, and indeed all life, to a mirror image of a computer operating system. It is narcissism that compels a Donald Trump to perceive the presidency of the United States as an entry-level job and one that he, Trump is capable and worthy of.
Trump’s conceit is merely pathetic. What is deeply disturbing is that many, many Americans seem to agree with him. And that too is a form of narcissism.

Enter Trump Tower and you can feel the illness in the air. Visit one of the two Trump Stores inside. There the only “books” for sale are books “written” by Donald Trump. ( “Think Like A Champion”, Think Big and Kick Ass” , “Time To Get Tough” and more. ) There the only shirts for sale are “designed “ by Donald Trump. There one may purchase a Donald Trump tie, a Donald Trump teddy bear, a Donald Trump baseball hat, or a bar of chocolate in the form of a bar of gold labeled “Trump.”


If you are hungry you can find nourishment at the Trump Café while a drink can be procured at the Trump Bar. Or you can bring the kids for a cone at Trump’s Ice Cream.
If you desire the effluvium of Donald Trump — and what “winner” wouldn’t? — you may purchase one of the two Donald Trump perfumes, “Success” or “Empire.”

All of this might be darkly funny if Trump were merely continuing his pathetic pre-political lust for perpetual attention. But he is not. Americans have allowed Trump to emerge, somehow, as a legitimate political figure, indeed the front runner of his party as they prepare for another debate this Wednesday. Many, many Americans appear to love and admire this man.
And that is the place where the disturbing reality of Donald Trump merges with and reveals the disturbing reality of all too much of America.


Addendum: And here is a bit of that reality.

The Daily News Outdoes Itself with a Masterpiece of Ugly Spirited Nonsense

September 7, 2015

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Even in a campaign based almost entirely on public relations and perception management, yesterday’s editorial on “education reform” in the Daily News may be the most dishonest, manipulative and ugly spirited I’ve ever read on the subject. And I’ve read a lot.

Indeed, the unsigned editorial might well be studied as a masterpiece of manipulative bullshit, chock a block full of absurd assertions, gross insults, lies of omission and out right falsehoods – all to do nothing less than to poison public perception of the teachers’ union on the eve of Labor Day.

The phantom editorialist begin be lamenting that Andrew Cuomo, he who referred to the public school system as “the last monopoly,” was wrong in calling for a weasel worded “comprehensive review” of the deceitful and catastrophic Common Core standards. (For a brilliant and concise history of this long term con job, see Common Core Dilemma/ Who Owns Our Schools? by Mercedes K. Schneider.)

Somehow Cuomo’s attempt at appearing to listen to thousands and thousands of politicized parents of New York public school children, so enraged and disgusted by his reckless and damaging education impositions that they have refused to allow their children to take the tests he has forced down their throats,
“stands as a loud warning that the drive for teacher accountability is in dire jeopardy.”
The Daily News does not trouble itself with inquiring why any parent, never mind thousands of parents, would somehow not want their child’s teacher to be held accountable.

Better to skip that one.

The News is utterly flummoxed that a mere five months after an apparently all-powerful Cuomo used the budget to “push(ed) through the Legislature major changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system, heightening reliance on kids’ Common Core standardized test results to gauge instructor performance, while shielding kids from consequences, “ parents across the state, mindful of what the “major changes” are doing to their children as well as their children’s teachers are, in greater and greater numbers and with more and more passion and articulation, simply refusing to go along with it.

I am one of those thousands and thousands of parents. I am also one of the thousands and thousands of teachers whose livelihood and professional reputation could easily be destroyed by the unconscionable and incomprehensible evaluation system that non-educator Cuomo rammed into law without a single debate or discussion as to its merits – not unlike the Common Core which apparently was consecrated as holy writ even before it was written. Meanwhile, in Long Island, a dignified and universally praised teacher whose reputation has been sullied by the evaluation system in question has brought the unholy mess to trial.

None of this troubles the Daily News who prefer to believe and in believing traffic the sweet and insidious lies that the states’ evaluation system is fair and just; that the Common Core was not, in fact, rushed into existence surreptitiously by a handful of education entrepreneurs funded by the Gates Foundation but “developed over many years by the nation’s top education experts. ”

It is instructive that the Daily News choose not to name the “nations top education experts ” or the exact length of time they toiled over their heavenly goal.

It is even more instructive that, in a statement that is beyond ludicrous,
The News insinuates that the parents who have opted their children out of the testing debacle have done so because they have been “ginned up” by the teacher unions. In other words, the thousands of parents who have opted out are so many human balloons with little tiny brains, pushed this way and that by the evil Svengali-like teacher unions.

Not only is this idea a grotesque insult to thousands of parents — and one that will hopefully resonate across the state and move thousands more to opt out — it is completely and tragically untrue.

I am a member of the largest teacher union local in the state and like many of my unions brothers and sisters I have and continue to be dismayed by both my unions’ support of Common Core and refusal to support the Opt Out movement.
But, of course, this disgraceful piece of propaganda was written exclusively and consciously for those who have no knowledge of what ed reform truly is and no way of finding out the truth of the matter in the media. It was written to deceive, to enrage, to divide those who do not know any better by those who do. And it was done at the expense of millions of children. It was written to be read on the eve of Labor Day to poison the souls of all who read it, indeed to do nothing less than “gird for war” against teachers who educate our children, against the public schools that have helped create the most powerful nation on earth, against unions that have created the middle class and given dignity to countless millions, and even against parents who stand up to the hubris of the state in defense of their children.
“O, “ wrote Walter Scot “ what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! “

SAT Scores Point to the Systemic Failure of Education Reform

September 5, 2015

So on Labor Day weekend the College Board releases SAT scores that show that said scores have slipped to the lowest level in ten years, with New York scores falling below the national average.

What to make of this? What to make of this in a nation where public education has long ago been hijacked by private citizens and absolutely dominated by their untested and unproven notions of “education reform”, all of it designed to make students “ college and career ready, “all of it centered on test scores as the ultimate criteria of both student learning and teacher “effectiveness.”

I, for one, find the use of test scores as anything more than one criterion among many to be as cynical and intellectually lazy as one can get. But that said, those who live by test scores should have the integrity to follow out their own logic. If their reforms are working, why after a decade are SAT scores going down? If they are
not, why are they allowed to continue ?
One would think that the people responsible for such failure, should they be reasonable and decent people, might be somewhat humbled at what they have essentially inflicted upon a generation of other peoples’ children.
But humility and decency are qualities in short supply amongst education reformers.

At any rate, New Yorkers were given a prelude to the SAT revelation – the ocean between the promises of reformer and the results of reform — in June 2014 with the startling news that not a single one of the “little test-taking machines
of Eva Moskowitz’s endlessly praised Harlem Success Academies was able to pass the test needed to enter New York City’s selective high schools.
Not one.
That news too should have been met with humility but, of course, it was simply buried, as this too is likely to be buried. But in the mean time you can rest assured that as you read this there are well paid mercenaries busy figuring out some angle with which to blame this failure on teachers and argue the need to double down on the insane policies ed reformers have been allowed to inflict on millions of American children.


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