Thursday, June 22, 2017

At the Skinnies

The highlight of the educational season, of course, is the Class Size Matters Skinny Awards. Leonie Haimson organizes them and finds a whole lot of cool stuff happening in education. In fact, I won one year. People are always coming up to me and saying, "Hey, aren't you that guy who won the Skinny award?" I get all "Aw shucks," before coming around and saying, "Yeah, that's me."

The restaurant was okay, and we got a coupon for a free drink. However, they didn't have tap beer so Norm Scott and I ran down the block and found some. Norm picked up the tab, and I'm thankful, but three years ago we drank fourteen-dollar beers at the NY Hilton and I paid. I'm still waiting for someone to buy me a fourteen-dollar beer. But you can hardly find them anywhere. 

This year there were multiple people and things that bore celebrating. First, of course, were the lawyers who gave their time to Class Size Matters. There were up and down stories, but I was very happy to hear of a victory against one of my least favorite humans, Andrew Cuomo. Though Cuomo claims to be a "student lobbyist," he lobbies for less money for schools that most need it. Wendy Lecker and David Sciarra put an end to that plan.

Another victory was rendering School Leadership Team meetings public, and that was led by Arthur Schwartz and Laura Barbieri. When this first happened, I wondered why it was so important. At my school, SLT meetings are not particularly eventful, and I always kind of thought if anyone wanted to watch, well, go ahead. In fact sometimes people did ask and that's exactly what we told them. But things are different elsewhere, and I'll get back to that.

It was amazing and inspiring to see two student journalists from Townsend Harris. Brian Sweeney, their faculty advisor, had nothing but praise for Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, and it was great to see students honored in a forum that usually recognizes adults.

These particular students worked to expose their then-principal, Rosemarie Jahoda, and I don't suppose she'll be sending them a Christmas card. There is, nonetheless, a never-ending supply of shortsighted Leadership Academy principals with little teaching experience and even less regard for either students or faculty. It's really hard for me to understand why the DOE looks at an administrator who's presided over other disasters and says, "Hey, let's give that person a promotion."

A great moment for me was when the CPE 1 parents were honored. Their determination and dedication is an example for us all. I've watched them for months as they showed up everywhere and anywhere to tell their story to everyone and anyone. They broke into song as they were honored. They represent what can be if we are fearless and determined. They are a model, and given Orange Man's plan to make the USA Right to Work, we're gonna need a good model. They attended not only their SLT meetings, but also the 3020a hearings of the chapter leader, like the UFT delegate, facing charges for no reason whatsoever, according to the arbitrators.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa was there. Diane Ravitch was there. Representing the UFT as far as I could see, other than Norm and yours truly, were Katie Lapham, Jonathan Halabi, Gary Rubinstein, and Aixa Rodriguez. UFT leadership sent exactly no one to celebrate these achievements. At the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly they spoke of what a good job they did at Harris and CPE 1, but it appears beyond the pale for them to either celebrate with or give any sliver of credit to spontaneous and independent education activism. 

I don't doubt that leadership helped with both of these situations, but these things don't happen in isolation. The key factor in both these situations was the actors themselves, to wit, the people being honored at the Skinnies. Leadership's role was one of support. To praise itself while ignoring the incredible bravery of the kids at Harris, or the community at CPE 1, is folly, to say the very least.

Therefore, UFT leadership's absence on Tuesday night was beyond disappointing. Come Right to Work America we're gonna need all the help we can get. Activism will no longer be optional, and we will need to not only celebrate it, but also replicate it wherever possible. If we're too timid and cautious to ally ourselves with those who support progressive education, we're gonna find ourselves out on a limb and all alone. It's sorely disappointing that not one UFT official could show, or even assign someone else to show.

I sincerely hope that leadership can be just a little more forward thinking, beginning right now, and I hope to see someone next year representing the union at large. I'm sure there will be similar events before next year, and in case they want ideas, they know where to find me. As for the Skinnies, if they can't scrape up the money to buy a couple of tickets next year, it's on me. Just let me know.

Little things can mean a lot.
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