On Being the Loyal Opposition
by Cheryl Binkley, Member of BATs
originally posted on her blog: http://3rdmilleniumteacher.blogspot.com/2015/09/on-being-loyal-opposition.html
As a member of both NEA and the Badass Teachers Association, I have watched over the last two plus years as BATs have collectively tried to navigate being both change agents and Union supporters.
The BAT leadership has carefully stood firmly behind the Unions conceptually and as activists; yet simultaneously, there has been a strong strain of frustration among rank-and-file union members across the country and among BATs on the page.
It’s easy to blame the politicians, and policy makers, the pseudo-education experts, the billionaire edu-dabblers, the test purveyors, the untrained teacher corps, and charter school vendors for the coordinated acts of vandalism against public schools and all our children-- and absolutely, they are to blame for attempting to deconstruct the greatest school system of all time.
The dilemma becomes harder when confronting people you rally with, teach alongside, and whom you know are giving what they believe is their all for children and fellow teachers.
Yet, honesty requires coming to grips with the fact that the drops in union membership and existence of the multitude of resistance organizations-- BATs, NPE, Opt-Out, Lace to the Top, and so many others that have burst onto the scene-- is at least in part because the states and national Union leadership of the last fifteen years have not found a way to address the attacks against teachers and public schools more effectively.
Difficult as it is to admit, we BATs exist because of a failure of our Unions to meet the challenges we all face. Even as we recognize the magnitude of the challenges they/we have faced, it has become imperative that our unions recognize:
The policy of appeasement used for years with our enemies has not worked.
BATs’ very existence is a symptom of the need for a course change for both NEA and AFT-- if we are to be successful in saving the greatest institution on the planet-- our public schools.
The most recent manifestation of the “loyal opposition” dilemma is the recent controversies over early endorsement of Presidential candidates. Once again the leadership are moving or have moved in both AFT and NEA to endorse when no candidate has committed to real substantive changes from terribly damaging Reform movement policies. (And make no mistake, nice speeches about pre-K and college tuition are important, but are side-bars to the comprehensive policy problems in K-12 created by the Reformists that candidates are skirting and refusing to address). And, as we have learned with President Obama, unless changes are explicitly agreed to before the deal, what comes after the election is a bloodbath for poor children, poor school systems, and all teachers and communities.
Conceptually, BATs are dedicated to the idea of Unions. Without collective participation by workers in the conditions of their jobs, and the directions of their institutions, our communities are left to be run by those who see their mission as to get the most work for the least pay and benefits, and to control the input of the various stakeholders for the sake of streamlined management.
Unions are not just an important part of a balanced society, they are necessary to it. Otherwise the ordinary working people have no voice, and the actual community members are completely disenfranchised from the important decisions about their workplaces and community institutions. Unions are critical to a functioning democracy and quality of life for all citizens.
So how do we navigate between the devil and the deep blue sea of being deeply committed to our Unions and being deeply disconcerted by the the Union leaderships’ choices? How do we change what’s going on in the greater world when we have to change our Union leaders’ minds first? How do we protect the children, not only from the malevolent decisions of profiteers, but from the well-intended appeasement of those profiteers by our own elected and paid staffs?
So is the dilemma of the committed and faithful Unionist these days. At this point our pleas for change can no longer remain internal. There is not enough time to spend years gradually developing internal change.
So I’m here to proclaim publicly-- I still believe in my Union! I still am here paying my dues and working events, and volunteering, but ---We’ve got to alter course! Dear leaders, you’ve got to change your hearts and minds, not just a few sentences in your speeches, because the present path and in part Your choices have led us to this chaotic, disastrous present and the possibility of even more inequity and educationally impoverished futures for America’s children.
- We can no longer accept money from our enemies and allow them to indoctrinate our membership against our own best interests.
- We can no longer allow think tanks, pseudo- education experts, and media to commit slander against us in the public forums and then invite them and sit with them on the conference dais nodding and smiling.
- We can no longer give candidates who offer only the most cosmetic and easy issues but withhold on other devastating funding-testing-accountability policies, the credibility, boots on the ground, and voting booth numbers for election.
Please, we implore you-- Insist on more for your members, our schools, and for the children.