Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I know that one of my faults or "charming quirks" is that I get upset about too many issues. I fight over things that I know I will loose. I should keep quiet until I have a chance of winning. Effective politicians do this and do it without loosing their integrity, though sometimes they do.

I always remember Everett Dirkson, a politician who I did not agree with. But when it came time to deal with Richard Nixon he said, enough, the constitution matters and he was one of the most vocal prosecutors in the Senate. He played realpolitik most of his career and then when it counted he drew a line and stood up for principles.

In the Sixties the two biggest things going on were the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. Unions choose to support the war and they chose to effectively deny civil rights. The antiwar movement was to a great extent an issue of style. A generation was saying that they did not buy America no matter what. This generation grew up with a basic anti-union attitude. An attitude that is still hurting the unions today. Particularly when they go to organize white collar workers.

The Civil Right movement was even more serious. It was obvious that blacks had been seriously discriminated against in obtaining good paying union jobs in America. The unions took the position that it was not their problem and that seniority was the most important factor. They denied that they needed to do anything to address past abuses of a large number of people. They wanted jobs for those who had them and for their children. This was a great moral turning point for trade unions and they failed. I think that ultimately this hurt the union movement. When unions started they had the moral high ground. They were helping workers get a fair deal. In the 60's they lost this and I don't think that they have ever recovered. Their leaders took the popular route with their members. This helped define the mid-west today and hasten the movement of people out of the area and to the coasts.

In the 30's unions worked hard to provide workers with good working conditions. In 68 and 69 when I went on strike for the UFT I did it for more money and for better working conditions. The UFT promised they would work to provide me with a work place that treated me like a professional. In the end the UFT settled for more money and for gutting the civil rights inspired community control of the schools. The UFT obtained a great deal of power. The workers only received more money. The state of the UFT today is reflective of these decisions. We are well paid and are treated like crap. We have almost no relationship with the communities we work in. The UFT treats us like crap and so they don't really get why we are upset when administrators treat us like crap. The UFT powers make very large amounts of money.

Today I was getting off the subway and a very stunning woman passed me on her way to the train. I usually don't see anyone on the train, but I noticed her. While I was going up the steps I heard a commotion. I kept going up and as I got to the top I turned around and saw this stunning woman coming up the stairs yelling and screaming about something that was not clear. It reminded me of the concept that if you see someone who you think might be better than the woman you have forget it. You would probably just trade for something that was even crazier. Might as well stay with the craziness you know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Midwest

My daughter is currently living in Michigan and counting the days until she can move to the east. What got me thinking about this was the current issue of the Atlantic. There were two articles that particularly caught my eye. One was on Reinhold Niebuhr and the other was on Saul Bellow. It turns out that Niebuhr got his start in Detroit. Of course Belows is from Chicago. Both these guys were great thinkers. They did there most important work before 1970. I left Michigan in 1969. Not that I am at all equal to Niebuhr or Bellow. But the dates are significant.

In 1962 a bunch of people who would soon become my friends got together in Port Huron Michigan. They wrote a document that is still interesting today. If you have never read it take a look at the Port Huron Statement. The people I knew at the University of Michigan were often the kids of union organizers, one kids father had fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The dads were generally doing well but when we needed bail money to get us out of jail after some protest they could usually be counted on to help out. They were generally proud of their kid's activism. This was the exciting intellectual world of the Mid-West.

While Michigan was never New York, it was something. So was St. Louis and Cleveland and Buffalo and Minneapolis . People lived there with great ideas. The union movement attracted large numbers of intellectuals who felt that they could change the world. In fact they really did change the world but they never went far enough. They settled for high wages and no change in the basic structure of industry. They came to do good and stayed to do well.(Sounds a little like the UFT and Albert Shanker)

So when I got to college a lot of their kids decided it was time to change the world. I imagine that we did change the world, just not as much as we wanted to. In the end we were not that much different than the union organizer fathers of so many of the SDS kids.

What is most sad about all of this is the fact that the middle of the country seems to have lost its intellectual core. Today when you think of most of these places you think of reactionary thinking. People who are anti homosexuality, abortion, immigration, evolution and almost every thing else.

The middle of the United States once elected a socialist to congress, they founded the Grange and the Farm Workers Party. The mid west was home to the Cleveland Symphony and the Detroit Opera. Artists did not leave as soon as they could. Is this still true? Actually I know that it is still true to some extent. There are still small theater groups in Buffalo and Minneapolis and I am sure lots of other cities. There are lots of smart people out their but they are slowly but surely being pushed out.

I think the current immigration debate is a symptom of something that has been building for a long time. The desire of too many of the Mid Western politicians to push everyone but their constituency out. Often people with different ideas were are part of this unwanted group. The reason the coasts have done so well is that these unwanted people have moved there and many of them turned out to have something good to offer. Taking in the unwanted is what places like New York have always been good at. The problem is, can this country prosper with this type of division? It is sad that Michigan is going to loose a liberal voice.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rules and Regulations

Years ago I remember reading a book called Hawaii. This was a fictionalized account of the founding of Hawaii. One of the things that happened was that when the missionaries arrived they realized that the Hawaiian people were have too much intercourse. They did not like this. They wanted to push the idea of marriage and of course the missionary position. They thought that they might create a law that forbid all the types of congress that they did not approve of. They realized that if they did this that this would just give the Hawaiians ideas on things to do that they had not thought of. So this is the law they came up with:

any other species of lewdness be committed, such as is not mentioned in this law, the judge shall consider it well, according to the best of his knowledge, he shall pass sentence in accordance with the general spirit of the law. Thus shall he punish that crime
In other words, we aren't going to tell you what is bad, but don't do it.

The SEC years ago decided that if they specified all of the illegal things that banks and stock brokers should not do that they would provide a gold mine for lawyers looking for loopholes. For instance there is a section of the tax code that says you should not do any financial maneuver just to avoid taxes. This is much better than telling you what you can't specifically do. It relies on the reasonable interpretation of good behavior.

I have been reminded of this with all the controversy surrounding the memos written in a Queens high school about what to do in case of an emergency. It would seem that the part that is missing is to do what makes sense in the situation. If you are looking to create a series of rules to govern behavior, sometimes less is more.

Of course you need guidelines in any organization. You need to tell people the clear chain of command, but then you have to trust people to do the right thing if the chain doesn't make sense. The memo should have started by saying that everyone was expected to do what is appropriate if they feel someone is in danger and then go on to describe what to do if they are not. All these explicit memos do is feed into the control mentality that too often governs schools while avoiding making people responsible for their own actions.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do they always win?

About 6 months ago I decided that it was time to get on with my life. I signed an agreement that I did not love, but which at the time looked like it was the best I was going to do. The idea was that I could move on. Not true. I forgot, and apparently so did my lawyer that bureaucrats can almost always win.

In terms of my "career" with the DoE I was left with the prospect of finding a new job. I did not object to that. Clearly I should have done this years ago. I logged on to the DoE web site and noticed immediately that the majority of available Assistant Principal jobs were for AP organization (APO). This is not a surprise. Small schools usually only have one AP. The old model of subject matter AP's is quickly disappearing in NYC. The problem is that in NYC you need what is called a certificate of eligibility(COE). This is a concept that makes sense for subject matter AP's, you should know something about a subject if you are going to be an AP of that subject, but for an APO this seems kind of silly. There are no extraordinary qualifications for this job. You just have to do what the principal needs you to do. Usually this has to do with money but not always.

For most AP's the process for getting a COE to be an APO is you pay the board ten dollars and you make sure your fingerprints are up to date and you don't owe child support. But this is not how it works if you are me.

In early July I applied for the proper COE to be an APO. But I didn't get it. What I got was a letter asking me to come to 65 Court St. I did, and they told me that because of my record of evil doings they would have to investigate me. Would I like to add anything in my own defense. I did and then I heard nothing. It is now October 15 and I have still not heard anything from them. As far as I know my application is just sitting on someones desk. By not acting on it they have essentially stopped me from getting work.

This is what bureaucracies are good at. They are good at doing nothing and by doing nothing hurting people. This is why they win. Doing nothing is usually a more powerful act then doing something.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's a nasty group of people

Two interesting and I feel related articles appeared on October 10. The first was in the Times. If you are interested in the whole article it is at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/education/10education.html?_r=1&oref=slogin This article was by Samuel Freedman, a guy I exchanged emails with last year. He is the Times' education writer. Some how or other he managed to spend three hours in my old rubber room on 7th Avenue. It has gotten worse. teachers are no longer allowed even the small amount of dignity they used to have. Here is the quote from the Times;

The room in question was about 1,100 square feet and on blueprints submitted to the Fire Department was designed to hold 26 people. On this day, it contained upward of 75. It had no windows, no land phone, no Internet access, no wall decorations, not even a clock. Any personal belongings left overnight were removed by custodians.

This is like it was last year, but know listen to this;
Still, the stultifying atmosphere of that rubber room is not simply the opinion of its unwilling, disgruntled residents. I spent several hours there last week observing the listless routine, and what I saw confirmed the complaints I had heard privately from teachers before my unannounced visit.

Until this year, teachers could at least keep some personal items: a seat cushion, a tin of tea. A teacher with a damaged leg who needs a support dog was permitted to sit at a table just outside the rubber room. A physical education teacher even held fitness classes in the hallway.

All that has ended. The department supplied new chairs and tables at the outset of this academic year, but also stopped allowing any of the personal touches.

The room has always been punitive, but now it is a nightmare. The bureaucrats at the DoE think that this is great. They assume that you must be scum if you are there, they never allow the possibility that the scum might be the principal who sent you there.

The second article was in the Daily News. Here it is in its entirety;
A Manhattan gym teacher facing 27 counts of misconduct allegedly threatened to kill the arbitrator presiding over his case, authorities said.

Theodore Smith, 46, who taught at the Museum School in Manhattan, allegedly said he was going to "kill that f---ing arbitrator" and "break him in half," according to a report by Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon.

The Education Department will continue to seek Smith's termination, a spokeswoman said.

What is amazing about this is that if you asked the DoE to comment on an ongoing investigation they would tell you that they could not, that there were confidentiality issues involved, even if the teacher being investigated was willing to wave his/her rights. But on the day that the Times breaks a story on the rubber room suddenly the DoE releases this story. That hardly seems a coincidence. As a matter of fact the release of this item would seem to violate the DoE's policy. Maybe somebody should investigate them. At the very least this guys union should file a suit against the DoE for giving out this information.