teacher blog action day

according to EDUSolidarity (moving images
on the screen; yick) or this f’book page,
today is “teacher blog action day”. so i’ve signed on…
and should now post a piece on why i’m pro-union.

“why teachers like me support unions.”

this is harder than it sounds.
it’s my old “imagine an appropriate audience” problem.
everybody *knows* (or they think they do)
the reasons union supporters support unions;
everybody knows how they feel about ’em.
why should *my* testimony change anybody’s mind…
or even excite their interest?

in face-to-face interviews, by exercising incredible
amounts of patience, one can… very rarely in my
experience… sometimes discuss *local* political
issues in what seems to me like a meaningful way.
but almost all of what passes for “talking about politics”
is worse than useless.

this is pretty well-known; anyhow, it’s a cliche
that *religion* and politics are taboo subjects
for polite conversation in some contexts.
both for the same reasons: everybody’s already
picked their side and listens to the *other* side
*only* to try to spot weaknesses that will allow
them to vary their “i’m so right” speeches with
some “you’re so wrong” seasoning.

you’ve got to already have made some commitments
to function as a social being… even if only to the
very common “a plague on both houses” stance
i’m illustrating here. for god’s sake, let’s talk
about something where you won’t be tempted
to try to bully me into saying things i don’t mean.


“i’m pro-union because i don’t like being pushed around”
is probably about as good as i can do. but if someone
should respond with “how is *another layer of bureaucracy*
going to get you pushed around *less*?” i won’t have
an answer that satisfies even *me*… i have to fall back
on “hope is better than despair” or some such
*attitudinal* thing. anyhow, i do unless i’m talking
about a *particular* workplace at some *particular* time.

together, *maybe*, we can do something about
some particular abuse-of-power by management;
one that we feel powerless to do anything about
by individual action. if your ideological commitments
won’t let you go *this* far, you’re much too far gone
for there to be any value in this part of our conversation
at all. even those who *oppose* unions have to admit
that they can sometimes be effective in changing policies
(even if it’s only about *which* squeaky wheels get greased).

when i worked as an organizer, one of the clearest messages
i got from the veteran organizers during “training” was this.
listen sympathetically while the prospect talks about
their problems with their jobs. then, when you’re
about to ask them to sign on, you can come back to
“we’ve got a plan for dealing with [your issue]:
stick together and *make* ’em listen.”

it’s the “all politics is local” phenomenon.
people talking about *their own lives*
don’t *engage* in the same ways as when
they’re talking about the perfect-world fantasies
that make up almost all “religion and politics”
as encountered in day-to-day life… and almost
the *only* way to get through the fog of
“that’s not how i was taught to believe”
is to speak of *very particular* incidents
from our very particular lives.

so… sorry, internet… i can’t *tell* you
“why i support unions”.

here’s a cliche dump for ya just the same.

because my enemy’s enemy is (sometimes) my friend.
because “love your neighbor” is a lovelier law
than “might makes right”.
because individual human beings
are openly treated as *resources*
by money-machines determined
to respect *only* much larger
entities in making their decisions.
(even the courts now admit that
mere human rights can’t be allowed
to trump *corporate* rights in
our money-uber-alles political system.)
because hope is better than despair;
because co-operation is better than violence.

enough. anyhow, there’s plenty of pro-labor
stuff by me out there i think. i did a blog once.

yadda, yadda, though, i guess. in real life
i don’t pay dues to a union and, as these
remarks suggest, i avoid talking about ’em.
mostly because i never get anything *out*
of talking about ’em but frustration.

much of my working life persuades me vividly
that it’s much harder to get people to change
their minds… about *anything*… than we
usually let ourselves think. even when i’m
armed with *certain knowledge*… in algebra,
say, where the opinion i’m trying to convert
the student to is *universal* among
students will pick up new ideas only
*very slowly* and typically only then
by *getting them wrong* over and over
until finally finding a way to get rid of
whatever conceptual block it was that
led to our discussion in the first place.

if i can’t get people who have actually
*paid good money* to hear what i think
to believe that, say, “clearing fractions
is helpful in solving certain kinds of equations”…
why, then, how am i going to get ’em to
believe me if i said “your god is an idol”?

never by acting alone, is how. persuasion?
over-rated. come over to our side.
treating people as ends-in-themselves
is more *fun* than treating them as cannon fodder.

  1. live links at the actual site.

    Ken Bernstein – Social Studies, MD – teacherken
    Anthony Cody – Science Instructional Coach, CA – Living in Dialogue
    Ed Darrell – Social Studies, TX – Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub
    Nancy Flanagan – Educational Consultant, MI – Teacher in a Strange Land
    Jonathan Halabi – Math, NY – JD2718
    Jamie Josephson – Social Studies, DC – Dontworryteach
    Stephen Lazar – Social Studies/English, NY – Outside the Cave
    Deborah Meier – Professor of Education, NY – Deborah Meier’s Blog
    Doug Noon – Elementary, AK – Borderland
    Kate Nowak – Math, NY – f(t)
    Sabrina Stevens Shupe – Educational Activist, CO – Failing Schools
    Jose Vilson – Math, NY – The Jose Vilson

  2. So there I am. I wanted this. Helped organize it.

    And wordpress says I can’t post, not just yet, and I am about to go out, yes just yet.

    But I understand your points, or at least most of them.

    My audience is easy. It is you. And other teachers.

    We are in a war. And our weak and ineffective organizations, and that is what many of them are, and worse I guess I could say, but these are all we got. They bring us together. They give us a few blunt instruments to fight back with, or at least to circle wagons for a time.

    You don’t want to fight a lion with a folding chair. Until you realize the alternative is to fight without the chair.


  3. vanessa

    sorry to have missed this, probably flogging something else mar 22. maybe that damn useless “community college summit” on how education is to make everybody a more productive drone. why? good question. 2 board members got invitations. there is still this hope that all is more likely to change if we get invited to sit at the table and mind our manners. no eating peas with knives or toothpicks

    what to say? sing the refrain from mask of anarchy.

  4. this was my favorite “teacher blog action” post.

    yep, if it’s hard to convince someone that, say, -1 times -1 is 1 then political dialogue is will be tough going. i will remember that point.


  5. thanks to all the commenters.

    “favorite”?… *special* thanks
    to rolfe schmidt.

    RS’s old blog
    was not entirely about
    endurance training.
    not that you shouldn’t
    check out the new one…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: