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

October 4, 2015

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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.”

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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.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on Friedrichs Vs. California, Eva Moskowitz, and Human Dignity”

  1. rastamick Says:

    Not to mention what they’ve done to perfectly innocuous words like “grit” excellence” and “reform.” Your forecast is brilliantly depressing Paddy. Maybe it will wake up some of our tuned out colleagues.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Yes, Sean the contempt the reformers have for language is stunning and horrific. I don’t men to be depressing, only to be as aware as I can be of who and what is trying to destroy me and mine. We are both fathers, Sean, and as such we need to know these things. As for our tuned out colleagues…they try one’s faith, that’s for sure.


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