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The Real Stand for Children

Pop History Quiz: Do you know how children ended up off the factory floor and in classrooms?

Unionized adults.

From the 1830s until the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, organizations like the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen, the American Federation of Labor and others led the fight to end child labor and institute compulsory schooling laws. (That fight, by the way, continues.)

The reminder seems important now, especially today as Chicago teachers walk picket lines in the largest educator strike in years. For several years, organizations and individuals pushing corporate-driven education policies have repeatedly and cynically argued–directly or otherwise– that unions represent the interests of adults, not children.

But in the real world, beyond the exclusive communities and lofty offices inhabited by the special interest groups pitting families and communities against teachers, the interests of adults and children overlap more often than not. For example, the 19th and 20th Century working men and women who pushed for child labor and mandatory education laws made their point for two overlapping reasons, from their perspectives as working people who were also responsible for children: their concern over competition from smaller, cheaper laborers as well as their concern for the health, safety and well-being of those often-exploited children.

Likewise, as Chicago teachers strike today, they are doing so to promote the shared interests of the entire Chicago community. From the children who stand benefit from smaller classes, more arts programs, libraries, and social workers who can enrich their lives; to the community whose local economy would benefit from more working professionals who can pay for the things businesses sell– as well as the extra child care and other expenses many of those professionals will incur if they work a longer day; to the educators themselves, who stand to win both the fair pay and dignity they’re due for their hard work.

By contrast, the policies pushed by their opponents actually do put the interests of SOME adults over the interests of children and the broader community alike. Read More

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Rhee-defining collaboration

Is it just me, or is it disturbing to watch Michelle “my-way-or-the-highway” Rhee continue her attempt to rehab her image, and present herself as someone who promotes open, honest collaboration?

By way of reminder: this woman burst on the national scene after posing on the cover of Time magazine with a broom, visually asserting that she believed her employees– the flesh-and-blood educators of Washington, DC– were trash she planned to sweep away. She laughed while describing how, as a new teacher, she taped children’s mouths shut to silence them. She invited a camera crew to film her while firing a principal; her visible excitement over the opportunity to humiliate one of her subordinates was described, charitably, as “stunning.” (Now, how exactly does that kind of callous behavior promote cooperation?) Read More

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What We Will

Last week, Republican Convention delegates cheered as known-outsourcer Mitt Romney feigned empathy for working Americans who “lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, [and] took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits.”

I was so. angry. “What is wrong with us? How can we be this comfortable accepting, even applauding, one of the people directly responsible for this kind of blatant injustice?”

Similarly outraged, a friend sitting next to me asked, “Instead of asking if we’re better off today than we were four years ago, we should be asking if we’re better off today than we were thirty years ago.”

An excellent question. Here’s another: Do you take eight hours for work, eight (full) hours for rest, and another full eight hours “for what you will”, every single weekday? If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are currently anxious and overworked, the answer is no. And if you’re one of the millions of Americans who is unemployed or under-employed, working an unpaid yet full-time job just looking for work, the answer is also no.

As easily as we forget or ignore our history, we as a society tend to realize even less that we are also living through history, and making history on a daily basis. And right now, regular people are living the effects of a thirty-plus year reversal of the victories won by working people before us. Working Americans are less organized and powerful than we have been in generations, because a tiny group of political and economic elites have undermined our ability unite and negotiate for fair hours, pay and benefits. Read More

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If we really want to #protectourkids, let’s have an honest conversation.

As a society, one of our most important shared responsibilities is the one we take to raise children who are ready to become productive, engaged members of our communities. It’s up to all of us to keep them safe, healthy and whole, so they can do the hard work of learning and meeting their full potential. Keeping kids safe and healthy requires trust and cooperation among the adults in each child’s life, as well as vigilance among the members of the broader community. This is why we have laws and policies against child abuse and neglect, as well as policies and practices that aim to prevent—or in the awful cases when that fails, to report and prosecute—such abuse.

This is a serious issue, which is why it’s incredibly offensive and dangerous for it to be politicized and trivialized, as has happened over the past few days.

Last week, former journalist Campbell Brown published an incendiary op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, falsely accusing unions of failing to protect children. This is demonstrably untrue; the union-district contract calls for anyone accused of misconduct to be suspended without pay, and fired if found guilty. Still, she repeated the lie again on national television, and then initiated a Twitter attack on AFT President Randi Weingarten (who has actually promoted reforms on this issue nationwide) to further publicize the claim. Realizing that her family ties to both StudentsFirstNY (SFNY) and the Romney campaign—both strongly anti-union—could explain the sudden attack, people began to ask why she didn’t disclose the connection upfront. She accused those questioners of sexism, and SFNY sent an e-mail blast asking subscribers to help continue the attack online.

Anger and offense continues to mount on both sides, and most media coverage of the issue ever since has revolved around Twitter fights, phony accusations of sexism,  problematic analogies and more– everything BUT the bigger issue of protecting children. Read More

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On the ethics of selling slingshots

I was very happy when I learned of Change.org’s decision to end their relationships with two astroturf organizations operating against the common good in education. It’s always heartening to see how people faced with tough decisions can listen to (often heated) input and weigh sometimes competing  concerns. Having spoken to some of their staff, I know they take our concerns very seriously, and I applaud them for having the courage to publicly take this important first step towards ensuring that their business commitments fully align with their stated values.

For those unfamiliar with why this became such a contentious issue, let’s return to the David and Goliath metaphor some of Change.org’s staff and many commentators use to describe the site’s impact.

How would you feel about King Saul if, just after sending a slingshot-armed David into battle, he turned and sold upgraded slingshots to Goliath and the rest of the Philistine army? That’s how many public education advocates had begun to feel about Change.org. Read More