Thursday, September 20, 2012

New Visions from Chicago--Farewell, TINA, We’re Glad to See You Go

By special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

Though they may not know it by name, public school teachers everywhere have close contact with TINA (There Is No Alternative). TINA is everywhere in the schools, though often changing shape and contradicting itself. The contradictions don’t matter. What matters is that teachers be constantly told There Is No Alternative, and provided object lessons (u-ratings, scapegoating, school closings) in the punishments that await them if they dare not submit. Unfortunately, far too many teachers have discovered that submission is no guarantee that you and your school won’t be punished anyway. TINA is a cruel master.

This expression came into being with the onset of Neoliberal economics, symbolized by the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Thatcher was big on telling workers whose unions she was busting that There Is No Alternative. On the economic policy level, TINA is characterized by deregulation of business, increased dominance of the economy by Finance, loss of national sovereignty in the face of global trade agreements written by and for trans national corporations, and privatization of public institutions and resources.

That last one, privatization, has particular meaning for teachers, since it is the driving force behind charter schools, vouchers, online schooling and for-profit colleges. It’s behind the constant high stakes testing, and the teacher evaluations based on that testing – even our own union tells us There Is No Alternative to test-based evaluations! – and its behind the constant school closings and budget cutbacks.

It’s behind the ongoing destruction of the neighborhood public school, and the attacks on the teacher unions that are the most powerful institution in defense of the public schools.

Always authoritarian, intended to short-circuit thought and debate, TINA ranges from the systemic to the nit-pickingly absurd. I’m sure every reader has their own favorite TINA mandate, gravely delivered by a Principal or AP. As the constantly churned administrative structures of the DOE stagger from disruption to disruption, TINA says there is no alternative to Regions. But wait: now TINA says there is no alternative to Networks, whatever they are. There was no alternative to Cathie Black, until there was. Consistency doesn’t matter, but obedience does. Just ask those PEP members who had the effrontery to think for themselves about Bloomberg’s social promotion policies a few years ago. Of course, a few years down the line, different political optics take over, and now TINA says Everyone Must Pass, and it’s the Teacher’s Fault if they don’t.

TINA says children must sit on rugs; TINA says children must sit in rows. TINA says the hallway bulletin boards must be just so. TINA says last year’s panacea is deleted, but today’s (Common Core Standards, anyone?) commands genuflection and compliance. TINA exists to make you feel small, powerless and alone, while a charter school measures the rooms it will be taking over in your school, rooms your students will be banished from.

But last week, the Chicago Teacher’s Union went a long way towards kicking TINA out of the schools. No matter what the result of the current strike, the discussion about education has been irrevocably changed by the courageous actions of the CTU. Now, frauds like Michele Rhee and  Joel Klein will not have the same unlimited media lines of credit they once did. Their insipid and false stories of miracle schools and (young, white, cheap, temporary) Superman teachers are going to be critically examined for once, and exposed as the self-serving deceptions they are. The lies of the corporate education reformers may have had a twenty-year head start, but they are beginning to have run their course, and will fall apart under the weight of their own dishonesty and un-workability.

The reality is that There Is An Alternative to the willful destruction of the neighborhood school, to the de-professionalization of teaching, to the disenfranchisement of parents and communities in governing their children’s educations, to the disfigurement of children’s educations by high stakes tests that embody the venal worldview that says children are products to be monetized, and that teachers are factors of production to be ruthlessly managed.

The CTU has not only changed the debate, but has given us a road map – - to reclaiming the schools for students, with a well-rounded curriculum, smaller class size, broad support services, and acknowledgement that social justice issues – segregation, aggressive policing of minority youth, iniquitous school funding, the writing off of some school populations – are integral to the functioning and performance of the schools. There has been an enforced media lockdown on that debate for years, while brave dissidents like Diane Ravitch keep reporting the truth, insulted and lied about when not ignored. But Karen Lewis and the CTU have blown the lock off that cell door.

TINA is dead in the schools; we should neither mourn nor celebrate, but organize. It’s time to continue what the CTU has started, and drive the money changers from the Temple of Learning.
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