Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teachers are not to blame for education crisis; they are victims of it.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We hear it over and over again; autoworkers are the cause of the problems in the auto industry.  Muni (public transportation in SF) operators are the cause of the problems with San Francisco’s mass transit service, and social workers are to blame when young children are abused.

The war on the public sector is ferocious and the 1% and their representatives in the two Wall Street parties have teachers and their unions on top of their hit list, the main teachers Union, the NEA, is the largest Union in the country.  The capitalist offensive is determined to put the US working class on rations to do that it must wage a war on organized labor.

I just read an article in my local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle.  The article is about a new report being released today which calls for  “ overhaul..” of  the way Oakland, a major city on the East Shore of the San Francisco Bay, runs its public school system.  I haven’t yet read the report itself which is the product of an evaluation by the National Council on Teacher Quality but it is clear that this is the same old story----blame teachers for the crisis in education. 

The evaluation was sponsored by a group called the Effective Teacher Coalition of Oakland which according to the Chronicle includes, “..local parent and youth groups, one of the school district’s labor unions, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.”  The group commissioned the evaluation in order to get an “outside perspective on improving teaching in Oakland” and “a third party perspective.”, and got their wish.  The project also received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  That should be a red light right there.

The recommendations from the NCTQ focuses on “..using market-based forces to improve teacher performance…”. But it is market based forces that are the cause of the crisis in education just like they were the cause of the 2007 crash, the cause of the crisis in auto, the cause of homelessness and lack of health care. 

Oakland CA Lakeview School sit in
It is shameful that a trade Union supports the project although it should come as no surprise given the role the leaders of this Union played last August during the occupation of an Oakland school that was scheduled to be closed. Such recommendations like curbing seniority rights; reducing sick leave from ten days annually to five, ending tenure for teachers after two years, and that districts be free to layoff teachers without using seniority which is now required by law are eventually supported in one way or another by trade Union leaders at the highest level throughout organized Labor. These attacks occur throughout all industries.

The response from leaders of the Oakland Education Association,  (OEA) as far as I can see, is the usual astonishment at the ferocity and full frontal attack, The Chronicle quotes Trish Gorham, OEA president,  “It’s an advocacy piece” she says.  Yes it is Trish, yes it is.  She adds, “It’s over the top, it wasn’t even subtle.”  This is the voice of a Labor official that has no answer whatsoever to the austerity agenda, it is a plea for help,  “We accept the changes are necessary but please be a little less aggressive.”  And the bosses have not been subtle for quite sometime, how could anyone not have noticed that.  Teachers have been savaged over the past period with job losses and wage cuts.  In this period concessions just lead to more concessions.

“The teachers’ union criticized the report as divisive and custom made to drive a broader policy agenda” the Chronicle writes. What on earth would make anyone think otherwise?  Have the policies and practices coming out of Washington and the US Congress regarding social services or toward workers and our families been “subtle” of late?  And of course there is a broader policy agenda. The question is, what is the leadership of organized Labor from the top down going to do about it?  So far they have cooperated with the austerity agenda as they whine about the excesses. The Labor hierarchy is wedded to the Team Concept, the view that workers and bosses have the same economic interests and this is what drives their class collaboration.  They worship market forces too and look to the market for answers to all things.

I worked as a teacher’s aid in the Oakland public schools many years ago.  It taught me to have nothing but the greatest respect for teachers; it is not easy to give a child the attention they need when you have 30 or 35 of them in a class speaking five different languages. But it is poverty and social disruption that is the main cause of the crisis in education. Children bring all the ills of capitalist society in to the classroom.  Job losses, home eviction, parents working sixty hour weeks, wage cuts, elimination of public services of all kinds, these have an affect on personal relations in the home. When capitalist economic crisis becomes more severe like the period we have come through, this makes matters worse. Social crisis makes it harder for teachers to teach and harder for students to learn.  The report says they want to cut down on absenteeism, but like social workers, these conditions outside of the classroom weigh heavily on teachers, making their jobs very stressful.

What really happens is that students, parents, family life is hit by capitalist crisis and through that, the teachers in our schools.  And like any job or profession, some people have difficulties or when conditions are bad become more disillusioned than others, the task is to help them. The report pays lip service to this but its main focus is on blaming teachers and weakening their Union.

According to the SF Chron. The report recommends giving principals complete control over hiring, a sort of education equivalent to Detroit’s new one-man dictatorship.  The report adds that, “Oakland needs to find ways to consider the best interests of students when deciding where to assign teachers…”

Since when do these people care about the “best interests” of students?  Oakland has been closing schools left right and center, schools that are attended primarily by students of color, an already distressed community in the madness of capitalist society, this will add to problems this community faces.  But all aspects of public education are on the chopping block. We saw the beginnings of what could have been a mass movement to drive the capitalist offensive back in 2010 when college students arose in masses to oppose fee hikes but the heads of organized Labor in California, with 2 million workers affiliated to it refused to bring the power of Labor to the table.

These battles cannot be won by individual cities, individual school districts or individual local Unions.  Beyond the Occupy movement we have also seen numerous pockets of resistance to foreclosures, environmentally destructive projects like the pipeline, the prison industrial complex which houses two million souls, and against cuts in education. We must link these struggles together and we do that by broadening our demands.

We have to build a generalized mass movement against all aspects of the austerity agenda.

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