Taking care of our own

Richard Farkas with teachers Norma Avlet, Jason Beard and Stacey Weingand UFT Vice President Richard Farkas met with the staff at IS 96 in Brooklyn on Oct. 18 to discuss union and school issues, including the Nov. 6 elections and the Common Core Learning Standards. above: Farkas (second from left) with (from left) teachers Norma Avlet, Jason Beard and Stacey Weingand and UFT District 21 Representative Judy Gerowitz
Chapter Leader Dani Kirschner (right) and teacher Esther Drebin with Farkas. Chapter Leader Dani Kirschner (right) and teacher Esther Drebin with Farkas.

For most of you, the summer of 2012 is now just a fond memory. My summer highlights were a golf trip to Montauk Downs State Park and a Bruce Springsteen concert at MetLife Stadium. Everything in between, including the Republican National Convention, was quite disturbing.

On my Montauk trip, I came across a wealthy individual, a 1-percenter, who made his money in the glory days of the stock market. He was a pleasant and engaging guy when it came to golf, but when the discussion turned to education in this country, his disposition turned passionately arrogant.

Obviously we had our differences. Everything that was wrong with education he blamed on the teacher unions. He voiced the usual issues of tenure, merit pay and evaluations. Further, he opined, education was being misdirected.

Subjects like music, art and physical education should be eliminated. Focus should be only on math, science and literacy. Students, at an early age, should be tested and those not passing muster be placed into paths that do not lead to higher education. Issues of poverty and homelessness were excuses made by teachers and served merely to divert attention from their failure to properly educate children. Any argument to the contrary fell on deaf ears, and I left wondering, how can someone be so far removed from the realities that our teachers and students face? Could his wealth have made him so immune?

The same kind of union bashing was on display at the Republican convention when both Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, attacked unions for opposing merit pay based on testing and set forth an agenda that would dismantle unions by advocating a $25 billion federal voucher program. Class-size limits are not important, Romney said during the Education Nation forum and by the way, we love our teachers; it’s the unions that are the problem.

This was not the first attack on unions by the Republican Party. Bob Dole, in his acceptance speech for the 1996 presidential nomination, attacked teachers unions. And in 1997, during the New York Senate race against Congressman Chuck Schumer, Sen. Al D’Amato ran a campaign that centered on attacking the teachers union.

D’Amato ran a 30-second television commercial that began, “Like you, Al D’Amato wants to put children first, but not the liberal teachers union.” In the ad, the senator went on to advocate for merit pay. Sound familiar?

In late August, the sequel to last year’s “Waiting for Superman” became an official event at the Republican convention. While it purports to be inspired by true events, “Won’t Back Down” is another attempt to vilify teachers and their unions and was funded by charter school privateers whose sole goal is to make tons of money off of the educational system. So, as one of the characters in the movie stated, “When did Norma Rae become the bad guy?” Why this seemingly never-ending assault on teachers and their union?

The Education Industry Association values the privatization of education as a $1 trillion potential industry. Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the educational technology company Wireless Generation and his naming of Joel Klein as its educational CEO is his attempt to cash in on the business of education. And in New York City all we have to do is look at those charter school operators whose salaries approach $500,000. So if we got rid of unions, their reasoning goes, we probably could make more.

Pensions and health benefits are, after all, expensive and stand in the way of the bottom line. So it is no surprise that the labor movement — the folks who brought this country a middle class, a minimum wage and heath care and who fought and still fight for the civil rights of all — has become the enemy of the corporate world.

I guess my summer officially ended at the Bruce Springsteen concert at MetLife Stadium. The song, “We Take Care of Our Own,” was especially meaningful and put a lot of what’s going on in the proper perspective. Among other lines, Springsteen writes, “The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone … We take care of our own.”

Put your own meaning into it, but for me, it meant that if we don’t take care of our students, our schools, our communities and our families, no one else will. That’s what this union is about and we should be proud of that.

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