Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jesse Hagopian For President!

The entire Muskegon Heights, Michigan public school system is run by a for-profit "education management organization" called Mosaica Education, Inc. This charter school company was handed the reins by what is called an Emergency Manager, a blatantly anti-democratic idea that has been operating in the great state of Michigan for several years now. Essentially, this means the governor can summarily replace local elected officials with an appointed dictator should he determine that a municipality is in financial straits. It's an idea based upon the neoliberal economic fallacy that the private sector (i.e., for-profit business) can always produce a better "product" at a better price than can the public sector (i.e., government).

Now I know it's hard to ignore the fact that 80-90 percent of new businesses fail within the first 5 years, and many of those that do survive are hardly profitable, putting the lie to this core neoliberal argument. And in this case it's even harder to ignore the fact that this particular "for profit" savior is so mismanaged that it had to beg the state (i.e., taxpayers) for more than a quarter of a billion dollars in order to make payroll. And it's almost impossible to ignore the truth that quality education is simply not a product or a service and children are not human resources. Education cannot be measured via profit: indeed, a for-profit corporation must, by law, pursue profit above education, making learning, at best, a byproduct of the corporate process. But even if we make the outrageous stipulation for a moment that the neoliberals are right, and that Mosaica can somehow deliver a better product at a better price, we are still left with the hard fact that what's going on in Muskegon's schools (and the state of Michigan) is a bald-faced subversion of democracy. 

This isn't why Mosaica and Muskegon came to my attention, however, but rather that one of their schools recently decided to celebrate "Teacher Appreciation Week" with compulsory teacher humiliation. As the chief administrative officer (i.e., principal) wrote to her staff:

. . . we are conducting some fundraisers to ensure that faculty will be treated well. This means that whatever the students pay for you to do, you MUST do it.

This included male cross-dressing, teachers in bibs and sucking on pacifiers, pies to the face, hair and cosmetic make-overs by kindergarteners, and being forced to stand in the parking lot with picket signs begging to keep their jobs. This is how to ensure that professional teachers are treated well, dress them as babies?

Oh, and did I mention that one of the other "benefits" that privatizers see in for profit charter schools is that teachers are not unionized? In fact, knowing what I do, I suspect that union busting is their number one objective.

For whatever historical and emotional reasons, American business guys tend to hate unions, slurring them with labels of like "thugs," when the historical record shows that organized workers are much more likely to be the victims of corporate thugishness than the other way around. They hate these democratic institutions called unions set up in the heart of their corporate dictatorships. This is not true of all business people. The management of Volkswagen AG, for instance, embraces their unions, as witnessed in the ongoing kerfuffle in Tennessee in which anti-union elected representatives and business interests are pitted against the German corporate giant that actually prefers a unionized workforce. VW seems to have discovered that a well-paid, well-treated, involved (German unions have seats on the boards of their corporations) workforce actually makes for a healthier company, one that, in VW's case, has been much better able to bounce back from economic challenges than its American counterparts with their always contentious labor relations. In other words, VW has found that democracy works.

I support unions for this reason and I am a particular supporter of teacher's unions that fight not only for the rights and dignity of the teaching profession, but also, by extension our children. As historian and author Diane Ravitch points out, our teacher's working conditions are our children's learning conditions. We do not live in Germany, which is at a more advanced state when it comes to the relationship between capital and the human beings that are so often reduced to mere "resources," almost as if we exist to serve the economy rather than the other way around.

I write and speak a lot about democracy. It is important to me and important to my profession. It is my contention, one that was supported by our nation's founders, that an educated population is essential if self-governance is going to work. Citizenship, not vocational training, is the purpose for public education. Of course, it's easy these days to look around and feel that democracy has already been lost, especially when you consider the kind of oligarchic corporatism that has taken hold in places like Michigan and Tennessee. It's easy to feel helpless which is why it's important to stay focused on the things we can influence: like local politics.

Jesse Hagopian

This month, the Seattle Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union is electing a new president and it's time for a change. In an era in which public schools, students, and teachers are under attack, current union leadership has taken an unacceptably soft, conciliatory approach. I am joining newly elected school board member Sue Peters in endorsing Garfield High School history teacher Jesse Hagopian. As an activist teacher, Mr. Hagopian first came to my attention as one of the leaders of last year's walk out of the controversial standardized MAP test, a protest that made national headlines and brought teachers, students, and parents together in a stand against the corporate assault on public education. He is currently a union representative at Garfield, has served as the Black Student Union's faculty adviser, is an associate editor of the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine, the recipient of the 2012 Abe Keller Foundation award for "excellence and innovation in peace education," a 2013 Secondary Teacher of the Year nominee by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, and is a founding member of Social Equality Educators.

Hagopian is a well-informed, well-spoken, and clearly dedicated educator. He will make an outstanding union president, one who will not stand down in this time when standing up is the most important thing we can do. Below is an interview from last May with the great Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

As institutions, our public schools are under attack from billionaires who would privatize the whole thing. As a profession, teaching is under attack from billionaires who would reduce teaching to low wage test proctors who are appropriate targets for pies to the face. And as a result, our children's future is under attack from billionaires who see them as their next crop of cubicle fodder. The only way to successfully and democratically push back against those with deep pockets is to come together as teachers, parents, and students: numbers beats money, but only if the numbers turn out. In Seattle, it's happening behind the leadership of dedicated teachers like Jesse Hagopian, and this is how it will happen across the country, one state, one school district, sometimes even one school at a time.

If there is a Jesse Hagopian where you live, support him. If there is not, find him or be him. To donate or to learn more about the campaign, click here or check out his blog, I Am An Educator.

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1 comment:

Nancy Flanagan said...

Another great piece--and yes, GO JESSE! A role model for all who would be real union leaders, rather than "managing the complexity" of wrong-headed education policy.

Muskegon is my hometown, however--and I'd like to make a couple of clarifications about the state takeover, via Emergency Manager. You are absolutely correct that this represents a disenfranchisement of elected boards and the superintendents and teachers they hire. It's a wedge into democracy, for sure. But Muskegon and Muskegon Heights are two different districts and cities. And the ridiculous "teacher appreciation" antics were proposed in Pontiac, across the state from Muskegon Heights (although both schools are under Emergency Management). The "teacher appreciation" crapola was cancelled, largely due to the exposure provided by Eclectablog, proof that blogging makes a difference in Ed World. Keep it up!

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